Games For Boys

In Southwold for one day before Latitude. I’m staying with Mum & Dad in the cottage they’ve rented every year for decades, their choice of week conveniently coinciding with the music festival nearby. Two things hit me most after coming straight from London: the palpably fresher air, and the almost sinister tidiness of both beach and street. Modern changes: smoothies on the tea room menu. Less modern: small boys playing football on Gun Hill, using – yes – jumpers for goalposts.

I’m wearing my new chalk-white linen suit: more Alec Guinness than Man From Del Monte.

A couple of young men chatting by a ladder stop and snigger as I walk by. The first time I came here during Latitude week, walking around Southwold High Street in my cream suit, a young man stuck his head out of a passing van and shouted, ‘Hello, Poof!’

I’ve had the same treatment on Shaftesbury Avenue, though. And indeed, in the toilets of the South Bank Centre the other day. I was there for a discussion on the future of literary magazines, hosted by Erica Wagner from the Guardian.

Two young men in shorts and backpacks were at the urinals. As I went in to check my hair in the mirror, the boys looked at me, then at each other, then one started to pretend he was having a loud orgasm, while his friend laughed. Seconds passed and his friend exited, yet the orgasm boy was still making his faux-ecstatic racket. As it was just me and him in the toilets I felt the need to say something.

‘Are you all right?’

He stopped.

‘Yeah, yeah. Just…. having a wee…’ He smirked feebly, zipped himself up and headed for the door without washing his hands.

Then as he left, his tone turned to a half-muttered playground retort: ‘No, are YOU all right… white suit!’

I saw them both walk off into the Centre to attend a talk on the legacy of Swinburne. Okay, no I didn’t.

Maybe I’d still get catcalls at The International Conference for Allegedly Poofy-Looking Men In White Suits. (‘Oy! White suit!’ shouts Tom Wolfe).

A Jeremy Hardy joke, not unrelated. ‘A sign on the back of a white van: ‘No tools left in this vehicle overnight. During the day they’re in the front seat.’


Also in Southwold I pass by the putting green opposite the pier, and remember Grandad took me and Tom for games there over twenty years ago. Once I actually managed to score a hole in one, though by a sheer fluke. Otherwise I was less interested in the actual putting as I was by the vintage-looking yellow score card that came with the putter and ball.  Sport was baffling; stationery divine.

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