Drew Payneís Website
6.37pm, April 30th 1999
I was put on hold for a long time until I got through to Simon's extension.
"Hello, Simon Walters speaking," Simon's voice came onto the line.
"Hi, it's me," I said.
"Hello me, what can I do for you?"
I took a deep breath, I knew what I had to say wouldn't go down well.
"There's a problem here at work. I'm afraid I've got to stay here to sort it out. I won't be able to meet you tonight. Sorry."
"Shit. You and that bloody job."
"I'm sorry Simon."
"Yes, I bet you are."
"Iíll be home as soon as I can. Iíll make it up to you, I promise."
"See you later," Simon said in his flat voice, the one he used when he was annoyed with me, then hung up on me.
Friday evenings, straight from work, Simon and I would meet at The Admiral Duncan Pub, in Soho, for a drink. It was our way of starting the weekend. Simon worked in the West End and I worked in Bloomsbury so meeting in Soho was easy for both of us, plus we liked the Admiral Duncan. That Friday Simon's cold tone preyed on me.
I work for the Church Childrenís Charity as a project manager. I enjoy my job, it's the most fulfilled I've been since college, but I'm deep in the closet at work ("So far the light doesn't reach", Simon said). Everyone there is very conservative so I keep my head down and get on with my job. I'm good at my job; so I don't see why I should leave because of what I do in bed.
It took me ages to sort out the mess at work; it was nearly seven o'clock when I got home. I could feel the tension in the air as soon as I walked in the front door. I sighed to myself. I was probably in for a cold and difficult evening. Simon didn't approve of my job because Iím very in the closet there, so every time I worked late he would give me a hard time, especially on a Friday. I didn't want an argument but I could feel one in the air.
"Simon, I'm home," I called out.
"In here! Come in here now!" Simon called from the sitting room.
He was sitting on the sofa, wearing only a tee shirt and boxer shorts, staring at the television. On the television was a news program showing a city centre street full of ambulances and police - there was something familiar about it but I couldn't place it, the picture was so full of movement and people that I couldnít actually see the street. Simon was staring at the television - he was usually not very interested in news programs.
"What is it?"† I asked.
"The Admiral Duncan. The bastards blow it up," Simon said in that flat voice.
"Oh my God," I gasped. I dropped my bag on the floor. "Oh my God. Oh my God," it was like something suddenly hit my head, stunning my mind, knocking all my thoughts out of there.
I sat down on the sofa next to Simon. I didnít bother taking my work clothes off, I'd forgotten all about them.
"What happened?" I asked.
"It was that bastard, the one who planted the other two bombs. He went for us this time. He left the bomb at the back of The Admiral Duncan. Those poor sods didn't stand a chance."
"How... How many have been hurt."
"They haven't said."
"Oh my God," I said.
It was the third bomb in as many weeks. All nail bombs aimed at minorities. The first one, two weeks before, went off in late Saturday afternoon, Brixton - the black community. The next went off the Saturday following, again late afternoon, in Brick Lane in the East End - the Asian community. The press, the media, the whole of London it felt like, had been buzzing with speculation. Everyone thought it was the work of some ultra-right white power group. The speculation was the next target would be somewhere in the Jewish community, black then Asian then Jews, so the logic went. But the logic was wrong.
The bomber had struck early, Friday not Saturday, and this time it was the gay community. It was the Friday before the May Day Bank Holiday. Soho would have been crowded and so would have the Admiral Duncan. It was too calculating to think about.
We spent the rest of the evening, sat there together, watching television. As the evening past I eventually changed out of my work clothes, during a commercial break, and Simon ordered a take-away pizza, much later.
(Later in the evening we were watching an off-the-wall Channel 4 comedy show when a joke came up about bombing someone's house you didn't like. Simon pointed the remote control at the television, changing channel, saying: "I'm not taking this shit!")
I spent the evening in numbed shock as the news of the bombing tumbled from the television, the descriptions of the bombing, the causalities and then the deaths. The horror of it numbing my nerve endings. The worst part was how personal it felt. It felt like it was aimed at me. It had been planted in a gay pub, it was intended to hut gays, and I' a gay man. Suddenly my community was under attack by terrorists. Before it had always been someone else, somewhere else, now it was aimed at people like me and somewhere I know well.
Later, as we lay together on the sofa watching another news report, this time a reporter was stood outside St. Thomas' hospital reporting the latest causalities, Simon said:
"That could have been us."
"Oh my God, yes," I muttered,
I hadn't thought about it until then but suddenly the realisation hit me. Simon and I would have been in the Admiral Duncan, or else wondering around outside in Old Compton Street, in that warm and sunny evening. We would have been caught up in it all, in all that nightmarish violence. The thought was too disturbing; I didn't want to think about it. If I hadnít stayed late at work we would have been there. If we hadn't had an argument on the phone Simon might have gone there alone. If and if and if...
We went to bed late that night. We stayed there watching television into the early hours. Neither of us wanted to move in case we missed any more information, the more facts that came out the more we couldn't look away. Eventually no more new news came. Two people were dead and over eighty were injured, many mutilated, it seemed the horror could no longer get any worse.
"Shall we go to bed?" I said.
"Yes, I'm tired. This has taken it out of me."
In the bedroom we undressed in silence. It was like neither of us had the strength to speak. We just undressed silently on either side of the bed.
In bed we lay inert and separately, cold sheets between us, for a long moment. Then I said:
"I know, Iím scared too."
We rolled together into a tight embrace, arms and legs rapping around each other. Then we kissed, passionately and deeply.
I dreamt about the Admiral Duncan that night, but an abstract and disjointed dream, no logic to it. When I woke up I couldn't remember it only the uncomfortable and disturbed feelings it left behind.
Simon slowly rubbing my back, in the playful and seductive way he has, woke me up. First stroking his fingers over my back, then dragging his nails over my skin and running quick little kisses from the nap of my neck down my spine to my buttocks.
"You awake?" Simon asked.
"I am now," I whispered back.
"I do need to make love to you. I really need to."
The sex we had that Saturday morning was passionate and full of life.† It felt like, we didn't just have to prove it, to ourselves, that two men could make real love. I knew sex couldn't remove all the pain and horror of the previous night, but for a short while it numbed those feelings. It made me feel alive.
Afterwards we lay still, rapped up together, among the tangled bed sheets. My head was on Simon's chest, breathing in his scent.
"I love you," Simon said.
"I love you too," I said.
I lightly kissed his chest.
Simon wasnít casual with his feelings. He didn't often use the word love. He didn't use it like a scattergun, telling someone he loved them when he only meant thank-you. So when he said it he meant it. That Saturday I could feel the warmth from his body as he said it.
The rest of the morning we lazed around our flat. An unseen lethargy seemed to have taken hold of us. Mid-morning I switched on the television but there was no more news, only rehashing of the previous evenings events. Shortly after Simon went out and bought a selection of newspapers but I couldn't bring myself to read any of them. I didn't want to read any sensational reports of the bomb, it seemed too morbid.
Mid-day Jenny, Simon's sister, telephoned us. She had only just heard about the bombing (She's a nurse working nights in a Nursing Home). She had panicked, remembering that we always went there on a Friday night. Simon reassured her, telling her we hadn't gone there (He didn't say anything about our argument). This seemed to relax her, the two of them then talked for ages.
(None of my family telephoned to see how I was, but none of them knew I went to the Admiral Duncan because none of them know I'm gay. They think Simon and I are only flatmates)
That evening we had planned to go and see the Hitchcock film Rear Window at the Prince Charles cinema, in Soho. The Prince Charles cinema shows a whole different collection of films in repertory, often you only get one or two chances to see a film. With all that had happened I assumed we wouldn't be going anywhere near central London.
"What should we do tonight?" I asked Simon, mid-afternoon. "We could rent a couple of videos."
"Why? We're going to see Rear Window. We agreed ages ago."
"But with all that has happened. Well, I thought..." My voice trailed off, I didn't know how to politely put it.
"No. We're going to see Rear Window, as we were going to. No bastard of a bomber is going to stop us. If we don't do what we were going to do they've won and we should give in and stay in the closet."
"It makes me nervous, going to Soho."
"But we can't stop living our lives."
"You're right," I gave in. I couldnít bring myself to tell him how scared I was.
The West End had a strange tense feel to it that evening. The weather was hot, the air dirty and stale, the people hurried around as they always did, but there was something else in the air - almost like a collective unease. I didn't want to let Simon out of my eyes for a moment. Walking along Charing Cross Road I stopped to glance in a bookshop window. When I looked up Simon was gone, I couldn't see him. I was suddenly gripped by a panic, all kinds of imagined horrors running through my mind. I turned around and there he was, behind me. It had only been a few seconds but it seemed an eternity longer.
"Don't get spooked on me," he said when he saw my expression.
I couldn't relax during the film. Even though I've seen it before, Rear Window is one of Hitchcockís best, but I simply couldn't settle. I kept listening for sounds outside the cinema, listening for sirens and sounds of chaos whenever there was a quiet moment in the film, and I kept glancing over towards Simon to reassure myself he was still there. I couldn't concentrate on the film.
After the film we went and ate, in one of our favorite pizza restaurants, off Leicester Square. We ordered our meals and ate in silence. I felt awkward sitting there; I wanted to be safely at home. The longer I spent there the more nervous I got. Simply because nothing happened didnít ease my nerves.
As we finished eating I asked Simon:
"Did you enjoy the film?"
ďItís still one of his best films.Ē
"But did you enjoy it?"
"Not today I didn't."
We left the restaurant shortly after nine and slowly wondered through Leicester Square. As we walked across the square, Simon said:
"I want to go to Old Compton Street. I want to pay my respects."
"I don't want to gorp or anything like that. I want to pay my respects. People died there because it's a gay pub. I have to go there."
"I know. It's not morbid, I know."
Quietly we walked through China Town and then Soho, toward Old Compton Street. Neither of us spoke, just walking in silence through the bright West End night.
Old Compton Street was unnaturally quiet. The few people there moved slowly and those that spoke did so with hushed voices (Usually Old Compton Street would have been busy, noisy, lively and full of people). The far end of Old Compton Street, were the Admiral Duncan is, was curtained off by two large, blue plastic sheets stretching across the whole street, from rooftop to rooftop, with a crush barrier and a few policemen. In front of it was a mass of flowers, cards, candles and tributes to the bomb victims.
Simon and I stood in front of it all and stared. I felt so confused by all the emotions that seemed to well up inside of me. It felt like I was on a giant film set, it was so unreal. Yet also it felt so real, driving home the reality of it all, as I stared at that blue plastic curtain. Behind that was chaos, pain and death.
Quietly two women walked up and stood next to us. One woman bent down and added a small bunch of lilies to the mass of tributes on the ground. Then she burst into tears. Her friend embraced her and slowly led her away.
I felt Simon slip his arm around my shoulders.
As we walked back through the West End, to catch the tube home, Simon stopped to buy one of the first edition of the Sunday newspapers off a newsstand. The headline, running across the whole page, was that the police had caught the bomber (In the end he turned out to be a lone madman).
As Simon paid for his paper the man on the newsstand nodded towards the headline and said:
"See they've finally got the shit that's planted those bombs."
"Caught him too late," Simon said.
"If I had my way we'd hang the shit," the man said.
"Yes," Simon agreed.
I said nothing.
The next day, Sunday, there was a vigil in Soho Square for the victims of the bombing, especially those in the Admiral Duncan. I didn't want to go, it felt morbid and like that all there was to that weekend was bombings. Simon wanted to go, and said so bluntly. I didn't tell him how I felt, I couldn't. The bomb had so affected him that to even try and tell him would have hurt him, causing his mood to fly off into anger. Instead I kept quiet and that afternoon we caught the tube into Soho.
The vigil was like any other vigil Iíve been to. There were rousing speakers and songs sung by The London Gay Menís Chorus, but the atmosphere felt different. Soho Square was packed with people, a large number of gay men and lesbians, all of them seemed moved by the whole emotion of the thing, many openly cried, many same sex couples embraced and held each other.
We were stood in the crowd, me standing in front of Simon (We often stand like this in crowds, Simon's six inches taller then me and I just about reach his shoulder). When, almost at the end of the vigil, there was a two-minute silence I felt Simon slip his arms around my chest and embrace me. I hesitated for a moment, when he touches me in public I always feel as if everyone is staring at me, and then relaxed.
After the two minutes silence The Gay Men's Chorus sung the song Something Inside So Strong. Normally I don't like that song, I feel it's far too sentimental, but that afternoon it seemed perfect. I lent back into Simon's arms and took hold of his hands. At the end of the song, as the choir's voices faded away, Simon kissed the top of my head and whispered into my ear:
"I love you."
"Thanks," I said back to him. "Me too."
(It seemed, perversely, that the horror and inhumanity of the bombing had bought Simon and I closer together. The hatred and homophobia of the bombing, the personal threat of it, had lead to a deeper emotional dept to our relationship. Much later I would feel guilty about this, wishing it had been anything else that had bought us closer, but at the time I felt glad - something good coming out of so such tragedy.)
That night I had a nightmarish. I was wondering through Soho, the streets were packed with busy people, all moving very quickly, and I was looking for Simon. The more I looked, the more I couldn't find him and the more panicked I became. Soon I was running hysterically through Soho's streets, screaming Simon's name.
I woke-up with a start in the early hours of Monday morning. The bedroom was pitch dark, the only light was the glow from our digital clock. I could hear Simon in his sleep, he was making noises that were halfway between snoring and deep breathing. I rolled towards him and gently put my hand on his chest.
Monday morning and my work seemed to be buzzing about the bombing, even though the story had been pushed off the front pages of the newspapers. I quickly avoided any of those discussions and headed straight for my office. I was relieved to find that Vivian and Paul, who I share an office with, weren't there. Paul was on annual leave that week and I didnít know were Vivian was. I quietly got on with my work, hoping I won't be disturbed because I didn't want to have to talk to anyone that morning.
At just after ten o'clock Vivian rushed into the office, all fluster and noise.
"Sorry I'm late but I had an awful time getting here this morning." Vivian announced as she dumped her bag on her desk. "The buses are still running slowly because of that awful bomb, and I overslept."
"Sure," I said not looking up. I hoped she wasn't in one of her talkative moods, but she was.
"That bomb on Friday night was awful, not that the other two bombs weren't awful but at least no one was killed. Awful, simply awful."
"Yes," I said.
"All those people injured, awful. Though they shouldnít have been there, not like those poor souls injured in the other two bombs. A tiny baby was injured in the first one."
"What?" I looked at her. Vivian was sat at her desk and staring back at me.
"That poor baby..."
"No, what you said before that," I interrupted her.
"It's true, not all of those people were innocent. Those people shouldn't have been there. If they hadn't been they wouldn't have been hurt."
"How can you say that? I suppose those people injured in Brixton and the East End bomb shouldn't have been out in those streets. If they'd stayed at home they wouldn't have got hurt."
"Not at all. Those people injured in the first two bombs were innocent. They were all going about their normal lives. Those people on Friday night were in a homosexual pub and they should have known better. Homosexual pubs are very dangerous places."
"That's rubbish!" I snapped at her.
"No it's not. Homosexuality is a sin, everyone knows that."
"That could have been me on Friday, if I hadn't had to work late."
"What?" She had a puzzled expression on her face.
"I meet my partner, Simon, each Friday evening, after work, for a drink. We used to go to The Admiral Duncan until that sick bastard blow it up... And thank you for asking, Simon's okay because he didn't go there either."
"But you're not homosexual, are you?"
"Of course I am, I live my male partner."
"That's wrong, it's a sin. You should stop that awful lifestyle, now. God doesnít want you to live like that in sin."
"That kind of homophobia leads to violence like that bombing. You're justifying prejudice."
"How dare you! I'm not prejudiced or homophobic. I'm a Christian and what you've said is awful and hurtful. How dare you be so mean to me.Ē
"You don't get it, do you?"
I stood up and walked out of the office before she could reply, before I started screaming at her in anger.