08 November 2006

Pride and Partiality - Chapter One : A fabulous rumour

“Bennett, darling,” said his partner to him one morning, “have you heard that the penthouse at Netherfield has been let at last?”

Bennett replied that he had not.

“But it is,” said Queenie, “for Richard Long has just telephoned to tell me all about it!”

Bennett made no answer to this.

“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his partner impatiently.

You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”

This was invitation enough.

“Well, darling, Richard says that it has been taken- no pun intended- by a young man of very large… ahem, fortune! He’s from the north of England, which can’t be helped I suppose, and he came- no pun intended- on Monday in a fabulous little Aston Martin to see the place, and was so delighted with it that he took it- no pun inten-”

“Yes, yes!” said Bennett. “What is his name?”

Bing-lay. That’s ‘bing’ as in the sound that a doorbell makes, and ‘lay’ as in-”

“I take it that Richard suspects he might be gay?”

“Darling, to be sure! A man with impeccable hair and excellent dress-sense who mentioned that he was going to see a musical later this evening, and enquired about whether there was a gym nearby before asking if he knew of any good delicatessen in the area…”

Bennett conceded that no further evidence was required.

“What a fine thing for our girls!” Queenie remarked.

For several years, reduced circumstances had required Bennett and Queenie to lease rooms in their splendid home to five single gay men who had moved to the city. This enabled them to continue paying an exorbitant rent without having to work for a living or reduce their household expenditure. It was an arrangement that worked for the most part, although depending on her ever-shifting moods, Queenie regarded those tenants as a blessing or a curse from hell. When feeling affectionate, she referred to them as ‘her girls’ or ‘her sisters’: when she was not feeling affectionate, her terms of reference became more colourful. They were lucky to escape by being called filthy slappers.

“How can it affect the girls?” enquired Bennett.

“Darling, how can you be so tiresome?” Queenie snapped. “You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them… or at least giving one of them a good seeing-to!”

“Is that his design in settling here?”

“Design? Nonsense, how can you talk so! But I consider it very likely that he may… and perhaps he will even fall in love with one of them!”

Fall in love? Have you been at the gin already? I thought we agreed, no cocktails before midday?”

“You’re trying to change the subject, Bennett. All I’m saying is that you must visit him as soon as he comes.”

Visit him?”

“That’s not what I meant! I simply mean that you must call to introduce yourself-”

“Well, I see no occasion for that!”

“Really, Bennett! I do wish that you wouldn’t insist on turning every innocent remark into a bawdy double entendre. When I say visit, I mean give him your name and telephone number… that is to say, enable him to make contact with… oh dear!”

“You and the girls may go, Queenie, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them and Mr Binglay might like you the best of the party.”

“Darling, you flatter me! I certainly had my share of extraordinary good looks, but I do not pretend to be anything now. When a man has five decades of dance music in his collection, spanning disco to electro-house, he ought to give over thinking of his own beauty.”

“In most cases, a man has not often much beauty to think of,” Bennett remarked. “In the case of those who took recreational drugs throughout the decades in question, often they have no capacity to think.”

There was an awkward pause before Queenie continued.

“Darling, you must indeed go and see Mr Binglay when he comes into the neighbourhood. Consider the girls! Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them! According to Richard, Ivana Hardman and Sue Narmi are determined to go, on account of that halfling creature they’ve taken under their flaccid wings. They don’t visit anyone who haven’t paid to see that awful show they’ve been doing over at the Imperial, the one that’s been running longer than their mascara.”

“I see… so you’re determined to have Mr Binglay savage one of your girls in order to score one up on those two!”

“Are you suggesting that I think of nothing but getting one over on those trolls?”


“Really, as if I have nothing better to do with my time! To hear you, anyone might think that I am a petty selfish creature who goes around interfering with other peoples lives for my own amusement. ”

“That’s one way of looking at it!”

“Hmmph! I wasn’t thinking of myself, no indeed! Why, our girls have feelings… needs that must be satisfied! You must think of them, Bennett! Indeed you must go!”

“If Mr Binglay has no acquaintance in the city, I dare say that he will be glad to have someone call… even you. For my own part, I will send him a message to assure him of my hearty consent to his shagging whichever he chooses of the girls to within half an inch of their lives, although I must throw in a good word for Joe-”

“You will do no such thing! Joe is not a bit better than the others! I am sure he is not half so handsome as Dylan nor half as good-humoured as Craig. But you are always giving him preference!”

“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied Bennett. “They are all silly and ignorant like other young gay men. But Joe has something more of quickness than the others.”

“How can you abuse your own sisters in such away? There’s enough prejudice in the world as there is, without turning on our own! You take delight in vexing me, I’m sure! Really, Bennett, whenever we have a conversation, you insist on being unpleasant… saying things that I don’t agree with, or making me think! There… I feel a splitting headache about to come on… you’ve completely ruined my morning. I’ll need at least three martini to fully recover…”

“Shall I make one? Best if you rest quiet, let it pass!”

“Yes, make one… quickly, quickly… and for heaven’s sake don’t SHAKE it! You have no compassion on my nerves! Stir gently… GENTLY!”

“There you are, darling!”

Queenie managed to steady her trembling hand for long enough to throw back her martini without spilling a single drop.

“You do not know what I suffer!” she exclaimed, setting the glass aside in a theatrical fashion.

“Don’t upset yourself by trying to describe it!” said Bennett. “Besides, I’ve already heard enough this morning about your haemorrhoids-”

“You’re not taking me seriously, you tiresome beast! Please remember that I’m at a delicate age when the slightest thing might push me over the edge!”

“You’ve been at that delicate age for some time, Queenie. Persistent shoving hasn’t had any effect.”

There was little chance of Queenie remaining silent, so Bennett determined it was safer to continue speaking.

“I have no doubt you’ll live to see many young gay men of large fortune enter the neighbourhood and leave again. In and out, in and out… it’s all they ever do, these young gay men, pushing up the property prices as they do. They come to live in a city anticipating that it will be liberating and free, and that their new life away from the prejudice of towns and villages will be wonderful, expecting to meet the man of their dreams. They’ll meet a wonderful man, some by accident and others by design, but upon finding themselves surrounded by other wonderful men, most prove capable of resisting everything except temptation. After a few years, they move to the ghetto, lose touch with all of their former friends, except the fag bangles, and then lose touch with reality, dispensing with all sense of proportion in the process. Years continue to pass, with one melodrama after another, and somewhere along the way those young gay men forget what they were looking for in the first place. They’ll be as prejudiced towards the rest of the world, and their own kind, as the rest of the world is prejudiced. Freedom becomes nothing more than a song that George Michael used to sing before he toppled out of the closet, while Liberation is mistaken for a new fragrance by Calvin Klein. When at last these young gay men recognise that they’re no longer young gay men, usually several decades after the event has come to pass, they either resign themselves to continue living that sad shallow existence, or compromise themselves with an unsatisfying and unequal relationship that offers little more a form of emotional support, a crutch at best, with nothing but stability or security to recommend it... You aren’t listening, aren't you?”

“I got distracted by that ‘in and out’ part,” said Queenie crossly. “All I can say is that it will be of no use to us, if twenty such young gay men should come to the neighbourhood, Bennett, since you will not - visit - one - of - them!”

“Depend upon it, Queenie, that when there are twenty, whether they come simultaneously or in rapid succession, I - will - visit – them - all.”

Bennett turned away from his partner’s cold disapproving look. He was so odd a mixture of sarcastic humour, caprice and quick parts that the experience of a twenty-three year relationship had been insufficient to make Queenie understand his character. Perhaps this was no surprise, given that Queenie was a person of mean understanding. Her mind held little information and her own character was marked by an uncertain temper. In a youth that had extended well into middle age, the business of her life had been to get shagged senseless and she had achieved her objective. Now, it was the business of her life to arrange for other young gay men to get shagged senseless; its solace was gossiping about this in great detail. Whenever discontent, she fancied herself in need of a stiff something… and nowadays had to settle for a stiff drink.

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