In the shower today I remembered a lovely Dutch lover from 1979, 12 inch dick, thick as your forearm, we met in Den Haag but he found me wanting in a few ways. He’d just broken up with his best friend, a woman, I was his first serious gay bloke. In the disco he said I danced like a black boy, ok I’m 6 ft 4 inches, gangly. Others have said it but not with embaressment. He also said he could see my Yugo background in my face [ie I wasn’t really Dutch, not one of them, really, not totally].
I realised that there’s a context for this critique. I’m currently reading Ngaio Marsh’s Black as he’s Painted, about a minor African embassy in London. A lot of the negative racial commentary is expressed at quite a visceral level, smell for instance. Please note, I’m not using the word “racist”, much overused, it seems to me. Also I must admit, my sense of smell is not overdeveloped. Middle class tv ads have people walking around testing the atmosphere for “unpleasant surprises”. Sorry, again not my world. BUT, when people have trouble coping with others on such a basic level, it makes you think. My mum could not cope with the Thai daughters in law her 2 sons brought home to meet her; she thought they smelled off. And Asians apparently think we Euros smell like sour milk or stale cheese.
I feel that it pays a psychic dividend to be open to these insights, to recognise them as lodged at a visceral level of consciousness. Sandra Pullman, chief boss cop in New Tricks, goes to therapy for her destructive competitiveness; her shrink starts to scribble scribble. What are you writing, Sandra asks, B for bitch? Breakthrough, her therapist sighs. I hope mine was too; after all Holland is one of the freest countries on the planet: sex, drugs, euthanasia. The first step to a breakthrough is recognition. For the socially conscious Dutch people in Australia who refused to acknowledge my Dutch experience, I would add that I roamed the streets of Den Haag, far from any designated tourist quarter. The Dutch love to hang out, and if they cannot interact they eavesdrop. People told me time and time again that white South Africa was the jewel of the Dutch empire. I was speechless then. Often I made social gaffes like enthusiastically praising the beauty of the black songstress in Hot Chocolate, singing By the Rivers of Babylon, on the tv of a thoroughly carpeted living room in Hilversum. My, how my hostess’ face curdled at the comment.
Once we have recognised the atavistic thought process still lodged in our darker mental filing system, we can let go. William Butler Yeats lived through lifelong romantic rejection by Maud Gonne, magic, rabid nationalism. Finally, through sheer exhaustion he was able to forgive himself the lot and lie down on the floor of the rag and bone shop of the heart.
John, you were lovely, massive. Loved your delicate celadon collection. We were young and foolish. Hope time has been good to you.