It’s a dented, stained cardboard box. Inside; a tiny knife and fork on a white satin bed. I look at it and remember the lessons from the man who gave me this little gift, all those years ago:
Elbows off the table
Pause between bites
Never move your head toward the food, bring the fork toward your head …
I was genetically predisposed to being the Fag Hag I am. My mother, an incredibly glamorous hairdresser in the 1960’s Bloemfontein, was a Fag Magnet of note. In an era when homosexuality was a criminal offence, our home was a safe haven for parties few people ever forgot. I grew up with many, many uncles. There were my mom’s fellow hairdressers, fondly known as Bennie en Hennie (slang for a popular brand of cigarettes at the time; smoking was de rigueur back then). Bennie could always be relied on to dance with a lampshade on his head, or wear the flokati rug as a shawl while he sang Cole Porter classics.
Then there was Uncle Arch. Uncle Arch stayed at the same seaside hotel as us every December in Margate. Uncle Arch was a ‘bachelor’ and never wore shorts to the dining room, even if it was only going to be a buffet. Uncle Arch taught me that it’s not worth having a martini if there aren’t any olives and that I shouldn’t ever bother with chaps who wore socks a shade lighter than their trousers. Uncle Arch could take a 5 cent piece from behind my ear and let me keep it to buy a bead necklace at the beach. People marveled that such a handsome and erudite man had never married. Gossip had it that there had been a romantic disappointment. My mom and Uncle Arch sipped Gin Slings by the poolside and wondered what possessed that woman to think she should show the world the back of her legs, or why that pathetic man woke up this morning and thought it a quite good idea to wear satin jogging shorts in public.
My grandparents had the ultimate marriage-of-convenience. They had separate bedrooms from day one; they took sea cruises as often as they could. They adored one another in a sedate and very civilized manner. He was in charge of the drapery department at John Orrs and their home had baroque pieces of fabric hanging all over the place, even where there were no windows. He knew Evelyn Waugh in his youth. By some unspoken, impeccable code of conduct, he was probably what I think of as a ‘navy moffie’:” only when on board, if it’s good for morale”!
Growing up, I somehow always ended up partnering the ‘artistic guy’ to the school dances. It was just more fun to plan my outfit with someone who appreciated that my long gloves were vintage, who’d suggest we do the whole retro-Charleston thing properly or not at all, including tortoiseshell cigarette-holders.
My most enduring relationships have been Pink. I value the uncomplicated acceptance and support, I love the exuberant shopping and travel experiences, I adore the drama and excitement of the build up to Pride every year. I’ve shared the shockingly cruel pandemic that is AIDS, I’ve mopped brows and carried chicken soup during the dreadful fight and lost too many times. I’ve done the flowers at too many funerals, but I’ve always come away enriched by the strong sense of community and support. And I always come away, somehow, with one more Gay Best Friend.
Not even my husband is brave enough to say, as my camp-as-a-row-of-tents Hairdresser friend did: “sny jou bolla, Dolla, you look a hundred in the shade”*. Gotta love him.
*cut your hair, Doll, the bun makes you look old.