I am one of those people who, every so often, misses out on massive cultural successes, only to discover much later on that…well, that they were successes. In 2003 my reason for considerable shame was the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — a big inspiration for my novel here which I’m not just trying to shamelessly plug, honest — and many years before that, at secondary school, it was when the big-bad-bully Jason Simons (head the size of a cow) got punched in the face by this really short boy (much smaller head) who everyone said was a virgin (this new word had appeared a few days earlier and nobody knew what the hell it meant; sadly, I was at home faking an illness that didn’t exist and pondering the what seemed to be werewolf-like transformation of the girls at school, I think, and so I missed it all). When I look back, I regret missing the punching success the most — everyone had been saying that the short boy was so weak that the wind could cut him badly, so this revelation that he was capable of horrific violence against people of considerable evil stature meant a tidal wave of excitement for all of us who were pre-pubescent under-dogs. And terrified of the bigger boys with massive heads.
The other one, the book by Mark Haddon, well, that wasn’t my fault at all. Blame my girlfriend at the time. She dumped me six months after she told me about the book, and so the very last thing I was thinking about was returning to her house to go over her reading list. Was it a cleverly orchestrated plan to ruin my life? I find that unlikely. I have seen her in the street since then — we talked just like an episode of Sex and the City — and it was fine. Being the gent that I am, I of course didn’t bring up any of this. Instead, if I remember rightly, we talked about how unfair the world can be, a popular topic with everyone, I think you’ll agree.
Another cultural success I missed out on was Brokeback Mountain, which hit the screens two years later in 2005. I’d like nothing more than to blame my ex-girlfriend for making me miss this as well, but I don’t feel that would be a wise move. Firstly because a) I don’t want her to think that she hurt me as much as she knows she did, and b) I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the girlfriend I had in 2005 by making her think that I was only thinking about my previous girlfriend and her reading list and not my present girlfriend in 2005 (not to mention they both might be reading this, come to think of it, which could spell double-trouble!…Although I don’t have a girlfriend right now, so at least I can’t piss her off, which is nice). As you can see, there was just no way I could have seen Brokeback Mountain when it came out (excuse the pun), nor, to be honest, was I that bothered (weird considering I’m a massive advocate of cowboy boots) about it, as films which attract mass attention often make me run the other way, or at least sit down and drink tea and watch something else. I hoped that the short boy who’d punched the bully was having more luck than me. That he was some kind of mover and shaker or something and had maybe even punched others in the face since the massive-headed bully.
Why is Brokeback Mountain (it’s actually quite good I think) relevant to this post? You might not have been thinking that but I couldn’t be bothered with creating a fascinating intro to this paragraph, so it was much better to just blurt it outright, as with all good writing. The point is that something happened last night which was just like something out of a Brokeback Mountain inspired movie (and not a seedy one, before you start your demented sniggering; I’m talking more a modern indie film). So definitely not such a gay film — it’d be hard to be gayer than BM — but definitely a film which was along those lines. Only infinitely less successful as I was one character and my friend was the other and we are both 100% straight and in no way experienced actors.
How it happened:
Me and my friend had some catching up to do, and so, despite the weather not being warm and it raining very lightly — I refuse to use the word drizzle until I am 50 — we ventured forth into the great outdoors. Not so much Canadian wilderness as a river which ran through a stretch of countryside which was just plain nice by English standards (and without shopping trolleys in the water). It was then, on the way to said river, that we decided to buy a disposable barbecue and have ourselves an early evening feast down by the river, just the two of us. And now I read that back I look at it and think Oh dear, that does sound quite gay doesn’t it? Yet the truth couldn’t be more different. Like I said, we’re both straight — just two straight guys down at the river — and my friend even has a wife and everything. I’m told they are always at the Intercourse and even though my friend has an unhealthy fascination with Kate Bush — I love Kate too — we all know that modern men of the world can like such things and be of the straight disposition.
I just wouldn’t tell some of my other friends in other parts of the UK, is all. I think I’d rather admit to liking The Vengaboys. As long s I’d remembered to bring my sick bucket with me.
So what happened was this: once we had located the disposable BBQ sets, my friend — who I won’t name because he will genuinely kill me if he reads his name on this blog and so will his wife even more so — grabbed 3 because they were on offer: 3 for £9. Sounds like a stupendous deal, right? Consider that just one was £4. But wake up. I quickly stepped in and, being the voice of BBQ reason, said this was bad news, and, rather than being a good deal for us, was actually a carefully-honed technique that the supermarkets used to deviously con money out of us. My friend then put the 3 down and we took just one, he really had no choice. I patted him on the back — in the way that long-time mates can and it doesn’t feel weird at all — and we made our way to the till at the end where you could buy lighters and alcohol.
It was at this point that the friendly debating began, because no sooner had we placed our goods on the counter than my friend and I had entered into a discourse concerning the purchase of a lighter or matches. My friend wanted matches, as he is of the old-school attitude, and I wanted a lighter, because I’m not stupid and don’t generally like wasting my bloody time with ancient technology that doesn’t work as well as lighters. Once I had convinced him that he would be wise to shut up about buying matches, because I would be relentless in my pursuit of the lighter, the lady shop assistant smiled and asked me what colour.
This was when I started to think there was something slightly strange…
The woman — Liz — was only speaking to me, yet she was looking at my friend in a slightly different way… It was almost as if I was an old man who she had to be more formal with, wearing a suit and tie, and my friend was a small bridesmaid in a pretty dress holding a rare orchid which the shop assistant had always wanted to see close-up. I wish I hadn’t thought up that vision, but at least I am grateful I didn’t think of it at the time.
“So which is it to be, then?” said Liz. “The red or the white? We have yellow too. Lots of colours for you two.”
Yes thanks Liz, I thought, I’m not seven years old.
There was then a brief debate about how much the lighters cost, as my friend will debate the price of anything because he’s just a bloody nuisance like that. Once I had told Liz that we would throw caution to the wind and spend a whole 69p, I looked at my friend, and, just at the exact moment when I was about to say “It doesn’t bloody matter just gimme one” he put his right arm around me, leant in and said, “go on, I’ll let you decide this time,” in a highly camp, 100% gay fashion.
Liz winked at me and said: “No problem, I tell you what, how about one that’s nice and bright?”
My friend had by now backed-off. I had shifted slightly to the right to make it clear that this invasion of my private space was bang out of order. Back the hell off”
“Alright then,” I said. I may have done a grunt. Thrust-forth my raw unbridled manliness and all that. “That’s fine.”
“Something you can see in the dark,” Liz said, turning around to get the lighter, and I said, “brilliant.”
Walking back to the car, the worrying thing was that no awkward silence descended between us. So I forged one for necessities sake, and then I told my friend to never do that ever again (this was followed by a brief discussion about how two male friends can no longer buy a disposable BBQ together whilst simultaneously enjoying banter, as it will make said pair look like one of those new-school gay couples who don’t like to be labelled and who do odd things like go and have a BBQ when it’s not the time of the season as deemed by most people). It was all gone in a few moments though and I forgave him with a friendly pat on the back.