God pays back in mysterious ways. Fear is my just desert for morbid voyeurism.
In retrospect my next action was stupid. I ride on by the men mass and think, ‘It’s just too bizarre. Where would I start?’
What I should have done is got off, locked the old wire donkey to the nearest lamppost, and gone in and mingled. I should have found out what animated them and tried to understand what is going on in their minds. Truth is I’m still too squeamish about breaking a taboo so engrained into my youth.
Around the corner is the beautiful Viktoria Luise Platz, where many people just go to hang out on a warm summer’s evening. I thought that a quiet moment of introspection was needed.
The fountain in the middle of the square is remarkable and casts a fine cooling effect across the lawns and out over the gravel-sand paths, to be finally trapped by hedges. There are plenty of seats just in front of the hedges, but all are occupied – one by an old trampess, who was amazingly fat for someone living out of waste-bins. I know I should sit next to her and chat and give her a couple of Euros, but for the second time that evening my courage fails my convictions. Plenty are sitting on the grass, but I am not up for that. Sitting on the ground and standing up again from a squatting position have become so difficult that I know I fail to do it elegantly. Why can’t one wear one’s age with pride? Just look at all the beautiful young people putting on the agony for the opposite sex and you will understand why one doesn’t want to ruin their efforts with inelegance.
Snogging couples occupy most benches. I don’t want to intrude so rule them out. OK! They probably wouldn’t even notice me, but one has to show consideration. Or does one? It’s not like in my young day (I wish I hadn’t written that but I’m not going to delete it) because we had to screw in the back of cars or under park benches if it got really desperate. Parents always contrived to make it as hard as possible – well my mother did, bless her. She would lie about her comings and goings so we never thought we had even time for a quickie. The old man felt for his sons and their need to get their end away sometimes. Nowadays every young couple has a private somewhere, where they can shag their brains out so park benches should be left for the aged and infirm, who need somewhere to sit.
And there is the rub. My wife’s cousin Mildred is always banging on about how useless and lacking in drive and motivation many young men are nowadays. School and university graduation results would seem to substantiate her assertion. Girls have more about them than the lads. I blame the mothers! I’m sure my brother and I and all our mates, achieved a high degree of determination and a low degree of cunning because our mums did their best to keep us pure. Obviously they didn’t succeed, but we had to work a lot harder for it than lads do now.
Mildred was a psychotherapist and has another theory. She says the large number of broken homes mean that many women are left isolated with the kids to bring up. In their loneliness, they take a son as husband surrogate and de-skill him so he is dependent on the mother. I like my theory more. It gets you down your pint quicker.
Right I’ve ruled out the grass. Besides problems of elegance, my hay fever is giving me hell. I’ve ruled out the snogging benches out of feelings of decorum. And lo! I spy a bench with a single woman of mixed race, forty something, with a slightly careworn but very caring face; a face with serious character and interest in it. I’ve long known that I am a face person. Never mind the legs and body. If the face is right I can fall in love in seconds and that face was right.
But she is sitting on her own and probably wants to be on her own with her thoughts, certainly has a partner of some sort in her life, for such a beautiful woman cannot be short of admirers and she had just got another one. If I sit down next to her, she will surely think I want to hit on her and she will feel disturbed. That isn’t fair. Everyone is entitled to a bit of space. On the other hand, why should I sit on the hay-fever ridden grass when she is occupying a whole bench?
I walk over and stand near her.
‘I’d like to sit here but I really don’t want to disturb you.’
That sounded pathetic.
A weak smile says, ‘Lying bastard. I’ll give it two minutes before you try to ask me out.’
I sit down and remain silent, watching the fountain. She stares resolutely in any other direction but mine. She takes out a book to read. Looks heavy stuff but my bifocals won’t focus. The reading lens is too short and the distance lens too long. Bloody age again! But I know I won’t give in and get varifocals. I may be old, but I’m not condemning myself to tunnel vision one day earlier than necessary.
She has to look up from her book. A young man winds up his jeans as far as they will go, and pulls his pink shirt over his head like a footballer who has just scored a goal. Why do footballers do that?
Anyway, we can’t see his face, as it is well covered in shirt and he presumably (like me) has only limited vision. That isn’t stopping him. He climbs into the fountain basin and wades round trying to keep dry. Can’t be done! After two rounds of the fountain, he is soaked. At the end of his fountain odyssey he stops. He punches the water vertically two or three times with his left arm which has a strange dark blue colour. I can’t identify why or what he is wearing on his arm. He then climbs from the basin and walks off, head still covered, jeans still rolled up to over his knees, as though his actions must be comprehensible to his audience. I realise the dark blue arm colour is a plaster-cast or something similar to hold a fracture firm. Perhaps the tour round the fountain gives him a few minutes relief from itching under the plaster.
‘Does he do that every evening?’ I venture to ask her; she who is next to me and is no longer reading.
‘No idea. I’m not usually here,’ she answers.
‘Looks almost like a ritual,’ I risk saying.
She returns to her book. I now dare try a disruption. Her face has me so enchanted that I have to chance something.
Part 3 tomorrow.
For another LGBT study, try my coming of age novel Someone Tell Me What Is Going On.