Oliver Cross: A gay day for history but one tinged with sadness

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A VISIT to the cinema this week reminded me of how much things have changed over the last 30 years.

I watched Pride, the story of an unlikely alliance between a group of lesbians and gay men and a group of South Wales pit villagers during the 1984-5 miners’ strike. Like Brassed Off , Billy Elliott and The Full Monty, the film centres on community spirit, life-affirming action, rousing music and brilliant British acting, and is set against the collapse of mining and heavy industry during the 1980s.

Pride is as well-told and feel-good as the others, with the bonus that it is based on a true story. Before seeing it, I hadn’t realised this and as I watched it, I thought to myself ‘This is very good, but it can’t have happened in real life.’ Apparently it did.

I remember during the strike emptying my pockets into tins rattled by miners’ support groups (well, apart from the banknotes – I had a young family to feed); being shocked at the police’s transformation from benevolent neutrals into a violent militia and worried that Arthur Scargill might not be acting in his members’ best interests when he ranted about the government’s determination to destroy miners’ jobs. It turns out he was putting it mildly.

I had no connection with coal mining but, living in the north of England, I knew how important it was; how pit closures would leave many towns and villages with little purpose in life. Pride makes much of this in a way which might seem sloppy and sentimental, but is really to do with simple humanity and kindness.

I did not at the time know much about the gay community, or indeed that there was a gay community – community being a word I don’t trust because it forces people into corners. But I knew that the Thatcher government was generally hostile to gays and can see now why, united by a common enemy, a group of (and I don’t want to use this word but can’t see a way round it) sometimes flamboyant gay people from London might want to make common cause with a village-full of dour Welsh mining families surprised by the sight of a man wearing an earring.

The argument of the gay activists in Pride is that both they and the miners face prejudice and state aggression, particularly from the police, and that they must stand together. Not everybody on either side is convinced; a gay Londoner brought up in Durham remembers being regularly beaten-up by miners because of his sexuality – although I don’t think the word ‘sexuality’ was widely used in 1984, it being something we didn’t much talk about.

However, the two tribes (to quote a rather gay disco song of the time) reach an understanding and the film ends with a display of unity which, assuming you’ve got a heart and don’t belong to the all-conquering Margaret Thatcher Fan Club, will leave you both inspired and rather snivelly.

What’s happened since is good news for gays and lesbians, including – an issue for one of the young men in the film – the equalising of the age of consent for gay men, which was 21 in 1984, and same-sex marriages, which in 1984 would have been as unthinkable as chattering through the number-calling at a miners’ welfare bingo night.

The miners lost almost all, but non-miners lost a lot too. Beating the National Union of Mineworkers was a prelude to beating all unions, so secure employment, inflation-matched wages and amply-funded public services have slipped away from many of us. It’s understandable that we get a bit misty-eyed when remembering that things might have been different.

Wedding do ‘to do’

AT THE weekend, I went to a wedding ‘evening do’, which surely somebody should be able to think of a more elegant name for, and was very pleased to see the young bridegroom wearing a very attractive brown tweed suit with, I thought, a 1930s feel. It’s not the sort of thing you’d find it in a wedding shop.

On austerity, practicality and taste grounds, I’m against the wedding-shop culture, which is why I hate royal weddings, where young princes wear ludicrously opulent military uniforms which would be utterly useless in combat situations.

Similarly, wing collars, kilts and tailcoats which will never be used again should be banned and bridegrooms should wear good - meaning interesting and durable - suits, suitable for many occasions.

The bride, incidentally, wore a lovely long white dress which could have been used after the wedding for a number of practical activities, including punting on the Thames and emoting at the Taj Mahal.

The wedding couple, both bookish types, offered as ‘favours’ a choice of very good books, nicely inscribed as keepsakes from them on the occasion of their wedding, which means, because I take these things seriously, that my chosen book can’t be thrown away except by my executors.

I picked the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin and the book happened to fall open at The Whitsun Weddings (which contains a haunting description of the Humber estuary “where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.”)

The poem had nothing to do with this particular wedding but did, I think, amount to a very good omen for Paul and Rachel.

Barking mad pub visit...

I’M SITTING in my local pub, the Chemic Tavern in Woodhouse, Leeds, on a Sunday afternoon so quiet that I’m tempted to set fire to myself.

Then, out of the boredom, a huge St Bernard dog (huge even by St Bernard standards) lumbers into the bar, closely followed, as a delightful coincidence, by a tiny Chihuahua.

It would have been a good opportunity for a joke if I could have thought of one, or a photo-opportunity if I had thought to bring a camera, but as it was I just felt pleased to live in a world where biodiversity is such an effective antidote to Sunday-afternoon tedium.

The two dogs were presented to each other nose-to-nose rather than, in that rather off-putting dog way, nose-to-tail, and got on fine.

The gentle St Bernard could have eaten the Chihuahua for starters but evidently had some sort of DNA-recognition capability which told him that the Chihuahua, although it must have looked to him like a rodent, was also a member of the canine family and not to be snacked on.

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