What to do on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday

It rained all day on Monday August bank holiday and while the Notting Hill Carnival crowds were shivering and sheltering under umbrellas my swimming club Out to Swim went white water rafting at the Olympic Centre in the Lee Valley.  Mike & I took the easy route by train from Liverpool Street to Waltham Cross then a short walk to the centre.  Others chose more challenging transport arrangements.

The Lee Valley White Water Centre is entirely man made, a fantastic facility with two courses, though only one was going when we went.  The water is clean and chlorinated to swimming pool standard so no danger of contracting any exotic diseases such as might be found in muddy tropical waterways.

We started off with a welcome briefing where we were issued with wet-suits and rubber boots.  Into the changing rooms to struggle into the tight fitting suits and emerging into the rain looking like the crew of the Star-ship Enterprise, we waited for a few stragglers to arrive.  Then it was the fitting of life-jackets and helmets then the signing of a form which absolved the Centre of any responsibility in the case of an accident.  We were divided into two teams and allocated a boat captain each.  The guys did a sort of double act training us.  How to rescue a man overboard was first up, then instructions on how to float down-stream feet first and grab hold of a rescue rope thrown from the side.  In the boats we started in a huge mill pond learning the instructions: Forwards (paddle,) Back (paddle), Fast, Stop, lean left, lean right, get down.  We then had to all jump in with a star shaped belly flop (no streamlined dives) and swim to shore. Next was to jump in a rapid and float down stream feet first then when instructed, swim to shore.  They guys had advanced warning that we were a swim club so were confident that we could actually swim.

OTS White Water RaftingTo begin the first run the boats had to mount a travellator which lifted us up to the start.  We had a dash to be first boat up, which caused a bit of excitement.  The others won that round.  Our first run was more or less straight down which went pretty well. Only one man fell out but was rescued immediately.  Gathering confidence, our next run messed about in some of the rapids getting drenched, having to lean over to prevent the boat capsizing – all great fun. Our captain confessed that they were hoping the swim club was going to be women and asked our name.

 ‘Out To Swim we’re a gay club,’ someone said.

‘We’re the butch ones,’ I added.

So, on the next run he asked if we wanted to be even more dangerous or would we like to do a straight run.

‘More dangerous,’ we shouted.

And so off we went several more times.  On the penultimate run the captain warned we could flip on one rapid, and indeed we did.  All fell out of the boat.  I was momentarily trapped underneath emerging with feet facing upstream but still clutching my paddle.  I managed to turn around and when the captain shouted that we should grab any spare paddles, I ended up with one in each hand which made it a bit difficult to swim.  All along the course, rescuers were at the ready and I got thrown a rope which I managed to clutch along with the paddles, to be dragged ashore, backwards.  When we emerged we found we were a man down.  He’d had an argument with a rock and had gone to the minor injuries unit. There was time for one more run with only six in the boat.  Hot showers finished off what was undoubtedly and unanimously the perfect activity for a rainy day.


Gay Dads Chapter 1

Chapter 1


It’s Nineteen Ninety and I’m feeling pretty good about myself.  After twenty years, I’ve managed to finally give up smoking; I have a cute little boyfriend called Adrian and a whole house in East London bought for a song ten years ago.  I’ve just done the design for a new play at the Bush Theatre and am going back to Theatre Go Round for their next kids show. I don’t let on about doing children’s theatre but it’s money and I can whack the design out in a couple of afternoons.  More importantly I’m designing for a translation of a new German play to have a British premier at the Lyric Hammersmith Studio.  The mortgage will be paid, what can possibly go wrong?  Answer – listening to Radio 4.  People often talk about where they were when import events happen.  For me it’s always the same, I’m in the kitchen having breakfast and listening to Radio 4.

Thus it is one morning that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is being discussed by parliament and some Tory tosser is complaining that Lesbians are getting free sperm from banks.  There’s outrage that children can be conceived by Lesbians and on the National Health.  Now the previous decade has been tough, what with AIDS and the scare mongering that has gone on.  We’ve lost friends and ex lovers.  Adrian and I have gone over it hundreds of times; have we always been safe?  We have, but you never know and paranoia is a terrible thing.  We’ve even been tested for other sexually transmitted diseases under false names, believing that MargaretThatcher is going to round us all up into isolation camps, although when questioned about confidentiality, the clinic assures us that there is no way the government could access our records.  We are not mollified by this and don’t come clean.  We leave feeling somewhat guilty that we’ve just cost the clinic twelve pounds each to open new files.

I don’t say anything to Adrian about the Lesbians and sperm banks, It’s an idea that’s growing; a possibility that I can help and strike a small protest against the regime and pass on my genes at the same time.  It’s all quite muddled at the moment so I need to think about it.

Later in the week we’re down in our gay local, the Old Globe on the Mile End Road.  It’s a narrow strangely shaped pub which has recently gone Gay.  Pubs are in difficulty these days so that before going under, they try to ride it out on the pink pound.  Adrian and I are classified as DINKYs and have a few bob to splash around.  We say to ourselves that we’re only going in for the papers, I have a pint of bitter, Adrian a half of Guinness and we sit reading and watching the drag show.  This week it’s Dave Lynn, who unlike most of the others, can sing.  He’s also the only one who uses a male name, which for me at least acknowledges his gender.  I’m not keen on drag and spend my time between wondering if this is an insult to real women and being intrigued how they manage to tuck their genitals away.  It must be awfully uncomfortable.  Adrian used to sing in the northern clubs and so enjoys this middle of the road music with a camp spin.

Later he says to Dave, ‘What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing in this job?’

‘I get twice the money if I sing in a frock,’ he archly replies.

We walk home with the ‘gaypers’ under our arms.

‘How do you know he’s Jewish?’ I ask.

‘I just do,’ he shrugs.

I’m still thinking about donating sperm, the trouble is I don’t know any Lesbians, let alone ones who might want to have a baby.  I’ve decided I don’t want to do all the nappy changing (occasional duty is fine) and the getting up in the night to warm milk.  In the more sensible light of home I find the personal ads.  They are mostly men looking for men and a few women looking for women.  Surprisingly the mixed section is quite large.  These include bisexuals or ‘Bi curious’ or straight couples looking for threesomes. There are, I notice these days, a growing number of ads for sperm donors from Lesbians.  They range from complete anonymity with no contact required to ‘full involvement welcomed’.

‘What do you think?’ I say to Adrian.

‘I don’t think I could do the no contact required thing.  I’d need to be involved.

‘I could do it, might be interesting to be contacted in eighteen years time.  Kids want to know who their fathers are, don’t they?’

He shrugs. ‘It’s fine by me Mark; it’s not going to change us, is it?’

I sit down with the Pink Paper looking at the classifieds. I’ve long been fascinated by these adverts though never had the courage before to reply to any.  There is a notice at the beginning of the section saying that ‘Men’s advertisements are accepted on the understanding that they are submitted by and addressed to, persons over the age of 21.’  It’s a reminder that we are still illegal under that age.  There is no such disclaimer for Lesbians.  The men’s columns, the most numerous by far, come from all over the country.  Many ask for discretion (probably still in the closet) and older guys are mostly looking for something younger, while none of the young ones are looking for older.  Some are just looking for fun and fuck buddies, others ask for photos and some want explicit photos.  I’m not sure how you get explicit photos past the chemist; I’d need to invest in a Polaroid camera.  It’s the mixed column where I find the sperm donors but they are interspersed with pleas for Lesbians to come forward for ‘beneficial arrangements’.  Guys have fallen in love with foreigners who need to get married in order to stay in the country.

I notice that there’s a guy advertising himself as ‘Healthy’.  He wants to father a child ‘positive role essential, would like someone caring. London area only.’  This week there are two possibilities for me, one advertiser seeking anonymity and another wanting to meet but have no involvement.

LESBIAN COUPLE seek anonymous donor.  No involvement London areas. ALA Box 2267


LESBIAN, seeks sperm donor, no involvement. Oxford area, can travel. ALA Box 2265

I sit at the Amstrad and compose letters. I write that I’m happy to be anonymous but that if any child in eighteen years time would like to get in touch that would be OK as well. I also add that I’m intending to have and HIV test.  I post them off to the box number with a stamped envelope inside each one and forget about it.

The woman from Oxford is the first to reply, by phone two weeks later.  I’m slightly surprised that she’s phoned rather than written, but when I find that she is in her late thirties, I realise that she is probably in a bit of a hurry.  Her name is Emily but she doesn’t sound like one.  Her voice has warm cracked overtones of smoky bars and excessive jazz singing and she’s been a nurse.  She seems quite vague so I press her about her circumstances and why she wants a child.  He partner of ten years has recently died leaving her two daughters to look after.  I immediately worry that someone is gong to take these teenage daughters away form her but all is well and neither the state nor her partner’s relatives have intervened. Emily says she is coming to London at the weekend and can meet us at a friend’s place, so a time is agreed.