Being Irish Part Two–Trains

I remembered the Belfast railway station as a lofty Victorian-era iron-and-glass terminus where I’d bought my first whisky at the age of 14 or 15, a walk from the city center across a bridge over the Lagan. When I was a child horses still pulled coal carts over the cobblestones. Today’s station (the last time I was back in 2000) was a simple walk from my hotel to what looked like a flimsy small-town bus station for the poor and the old in a car society, no pub that I remember noticing.
I’d taken the train from Bangor to Belfast when I escaped from the house, to a picture in one of the big Belfast cinemas on a Saturday afternoon, or maybe on my half-day after I got a summer job when I was 14 in a tiny general store. Or maybe I went to spend the money I’d stolen from the till on a cheap record player at Smithfield Market. A few times I got to travel alone late at night to the Ulster BBC (I think on Ormeau Avenue) to rehearse and play troubled children in radio plays. After my voice broke (I started making strange grunting choking noises at unpredictable moments) I auditioned for adult roles, but with no guidance I chose for my audition an American poem that included the words “on glory of split bourbon float.” I pronounced “bourbon” as if it were a French king, and I swear I heard a man in the control booth having hysterics. As usual, ignoring the laws of consequences, I continued hoping to be called for an adult part.
Maybe on those late night train journeys I hoped for a replay of what I’d read about in the racier but unsuccessful alternative paper to our stodgy Bangor weekly The Spectator. A disgusted reader reported coming across two men in an otherwise deserted carriage, one hiding on the floor, another feeling his crotch. I’m sure that letter fueled my already busy masturbatory fantasies, but I doubt I’d have gone through with a similar opportunity if it had been offered to me. Once, sitting near the front row at the Adelphi cinema on Main Street in Bangor, a man had felt my crotch. I knew what I was getting into when I sat next to that young man: lust radiated from his tight light-colored trousers, his knees spread wide. But I chickened out and fled.
Not soon enough to avoid the couple in the foyer. “There’s that thing,” the woman said. I ignored them, my cheeks burning, afraid to make eye contact in case I knew them, which would entail unavoidable unthinkable shameful consequences. One night in a BBC rehearsal studio, the juvenile lead walked over to me and thrust his crotch an inch away from my face in full view of the rest of the cast while I sat on the floor. I kept my head bowed until he moved away, but I remembered wondering where we’d go to do it. The lavatory, I supposed.
That day back in Bangor in 2000 for the first time in 30 years (longer, more like 40 years, since the last time I only came back to Northern Ireland as far as Belfast) I found myself in another lavatory in an arcade on Main Street. I’d had a hefty slice of Christmas fruitcake with marzipan paste and white icing hard enough to break a tooth on (yummy) and needed to go. When I came out of the stall there were too many idling men and two policemen hovering, as if deciding who to confront. I made brief cool uninterested eye contact, a good thing to do whether you’re guilty or innocent, washed my hands and left. In a stationer’s store on the same side of Main Street (it was a Sunday, but to my astonishment the shops were open, the street far busier than it had ever been on a weekday when I was a kid) I noticed a solitary copy of Gay Times. But as I left a hostile voice said to its female companion: “As long as he’s not gay.”
On second thoughts, it’s vast progress for that shite to openly acknowledge even the possibility that a son of his might turn out gay. MORE TO COME

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