The Man on the Platform Queers


The Man on the Platform

Monologues charting a century of the UK gay experience. A man returning from the First World War trenches recollects a love that dared not speak its name.


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Transcript


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GENTLE PIANO MUSIC

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This programme contains some strong language.

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BUZZ OF CHATTER

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Douglas Fairbanks there thinks he's in with a chance.

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A bit of company on a wet Friday night.

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Except old Dougie doesn't have a cast in his eye and a built-up shoe.

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At least, not last time I was at the flickers.

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It's always the eyes.

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That's how you know.

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A glance held just that little bit too long,

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dragged off to one side, like the trail of a Very light in the dark.

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After the do, the, um, interview...

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..the officer asks me, not unkindly, I must say, "So how do you chaps,

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"chaps like you and the captain, know one another?"

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So I told him.

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Not my words, something somebody said to me once.

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"A certain liquidity of the eye."

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That's how HE knew.

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My eyes are bad, mind you.

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Too bad for shooting Prussians at any rate,

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so I was shunted onto hospital work.

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"Cushy", says Sam.

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"That's a charabanc holiday, Perce.

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"You always wanted to see France, didn't you?"

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I remember my first day in resus - the resuscitation tent.

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That's where they take the dying or the nearly dying

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and the shocked ones.

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There's heated beds to put some life back into them, and transfusions.

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Our guns were going hell for leather.

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The sky was all lit up - powdery, green.

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Horrible green.

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Like the air was sick.

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Star shells, Verys, dumps going up.

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And then the ambulances come in and we have to ferry them in,

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the ones that can't walk.

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And they've got these labels on them

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that tell you what's wrong with them.

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Like left luggage.

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Have you ever carried a stretcher?

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Bloody horrible.

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You feel like your arms are going to pop out of their sockets.

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Some chaps can get very heavy.

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Those that can walk into the hospital...

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..are covered in mud and salt sweat.

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Caked in it.

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All stiff and cracked, like moving statues,

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like those poor fuckers in Pompeii what got covered in lava.

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I've seen photographs of them in the lending library.

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And then, in the resus tent, a thing you'd never expect.

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Silence.

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Not a moan or a groan.

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They're beyond all that, I suppose, most of them.

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Smoking, breathing, just about.

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Mind you, I've seen what a transfusion can do

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and it is a bloody miracle.

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Lads with one foot in the grave and their pulses all thready,

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they have the transfusion, they're up, they're joking,

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they're having a smoke in a couple of hours.

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I said to Captain Leslie, I said, "You wouldn't credit it, would you?

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"It's like... It's like witchcraft."

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"Sounds about right", he says,

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"since we're in hell."

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But he says it with a smile and when he does that

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there's these creases in his cheeks like ripples in the sand.

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"You're a credit to this unit, Percy", he says to me.

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"You've all the tenderness of a woman."

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And he shakes my hand.

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"It's Terrence," he says and I says, "What is?"

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He says, "Me.

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"My name. Terence Lesley.

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"Do call me Terence.

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"I can't bear all this formal rot."

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But he's an officer and it don't seem right, so,

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"I'll stick to Captain Leslie," I say, "if it's all the same."

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He just smiles again and shrugs.

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And his eyelashes are long.

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Long and blonde.

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I can't see much of his hair cos it's under his cap,

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but then one day I'm bringing in a stretcher...

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..and he takes his hat off and, just like that, his hair tumbles out.

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Yellow as corn.

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And I must have stared because he grins at me

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and pushes his hair out of his eyes and says,

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"Come along, Perce, stir your stumps."

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But I don't move.

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And just for a bit...

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Well, like I say, held just a...

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just a moment too long.

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Douglas Fairbanks over there will give me a wink in a minute.

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There you go.

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HE SIGHS KNOWINGLY

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I've always been a skinny bugger, me.

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Thin as a whip, Mother says.

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Father was the same.

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Mother always had a bit more beef on her after she had Albert and me,

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and there was one before us.

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A boy.

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But he died.

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He was called Percy, an' all.

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Poison berries. Never think a thing like that can happen, but it does.

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I can remember Mother showing me the pictures in the medicine book,

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all shiny and glossy pictures like Jesus in the book at Sunday School.

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And little Percy had grabbed a handful of these berries and...

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..that was that.

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Box, I think, the berries.

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Black, like little bullets.

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Like liquorice sweeties.

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Maybe that's what little Percy thought they was.

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Anyway, they done for him and then, a year or so after that,

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along comes I and they call me Percy, too.

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A bit odd, some might say, a bit morbid,

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but Mother always said that she could see him in me.

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And she looks so funny when she says that to me...

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..and she looks so sad.

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But I don't think it's just because of little Percy because there was

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another time she looked at me the same way.

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It was freezing, I remember that.

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We was waiting for a train.

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Dad had some business in Reading, I forget what it was.

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We were to come with and make a day of it.

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I was 15, thereabouts.

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Albert was 12. I'd been dispatched in search of tea and buns.

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They all sat in the waiting room, steam coming off them like wet dogs.

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Anyway, I'm on my way to the refreshments

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and there's a commotion, so I think, "Oh, the train must be coming in,"

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so I say to the girl behind the tea stall,

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pretty girl I remember with bows in her hair,

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I ask her to get a shift on.

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She says, "What's the hurry? The Reading train isn't in for another

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"quarter of an hour." So I think, "What's all the fuss about, then?"

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And then I see it ahead of me on the platform.

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Policemen, at least I think they're policemen,

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but then I look properly and they're not, they're from the jail.

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Dark uniforms, little hats with shiny brims.

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And between them,

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well, a...a prisoner...

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..waiting to be taken away, I suppose.

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And it's not the first time I've seen as such.

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I used to see them a lot, poor bastards,

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shuffling along in their chains and the arrows on their clothes.

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And it's rough clobber, like to make you itch, worse than this.

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So, "Why are all these folk whispering and pointing?" I wonder.

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So I look at the chap in the chains and he's a big chap,

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sort of like a big bear of a fella.

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With a big slack, pouchy face.

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Fat-ish, except it's all sunk in now,

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and his hair, which was most likely black as your hat

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is now shot through with grey.

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And he looks wretched.

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As well he might. There's rain dripping off his hair

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and down the creases in his big face.

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And then I realise, it's not just rain, he's bloody crying.

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And then he looks at me.

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And there it was.

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In that moment...

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..a certain liquidity of the eye.

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And then he looks back down at his boots...

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and it's as if the whole world has come tumbling down around him.

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I stand there.

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And I think,

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"He knows me.

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"He knows me for what I am.

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"He can see it in me."

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And I start to shake.

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And it's not from the cold, it's shame.

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And fear and...

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..terror.

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And someone starts laughing.

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And there's a little girl and she's wandered close to the prisoner.

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She's got a little wooden horse on a dirty bit of string.

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And then her mother goes up and drags the girl away from the man

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as if he were like to eat her up.

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And then I hear it, a name.

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Whispered behind fancy gloves

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and November hands what are stiff with cold.

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"It's him, isn't it?"

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And suddenly Dad's beside me and he's gripping my arm and he says,

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"You all right, Perce?"

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And he's proper worried.

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And there's a sort of ringing noise in my ear and I feel for a moment

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like I might faint, but then this chap goes straight up

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to the prisoner on the platform and he...

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He spits in his face.

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And Dad looked shocked.

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And just then, the train comes puffing into the station,

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steam everywhere.

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And I look back to the prisoner,

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but he's covered now in a great big cloud of steam.

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Dad picks up the tea and the buns and he gets us into the carriage.

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It smells of damp wool and musty, like church,

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and there's little beads of rain on the window, the open window.

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And Mum pulls down the leather strap and the sound sort of...

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..snaps me out of it.

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"What was all that fuss about there, Clem?"

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And Dad sups at his tea and it hangs in little drops from the ends of his

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Kitchener 'tashe. "You won't believe it," he says.

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"Out there on the platform, waiting to be taken to prison..."

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"Who?" pipes up Albert.

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And he looks at us and he shakes his head in wonder.

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"Oscar Wilde!" he says.

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And then Mum looks at me.

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Tender, like...

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I've never had the nerve.

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That's the thing, I suppose.

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A notion of getting in trouble or being a bother...

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I could always imagine Mother's face

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if she found out I'd been up to things.

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And I couldn't bear it, I couldn't bear to disappoint, so

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I didn't, I didn't do anything about it.

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Not even a tuppeny wank with Sam or nothing.

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I kept my own counsel, as they say.

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Also, there was a girl who was sweet on me.

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Annie.

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And that sort of stopped people asking, I suppose.

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We courted for a long while,

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but she got fed up because I never asked her to marry me.

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I took on like Annie had broke my heart and then,

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what with one thing or another and then the war, it sort of, somehow,

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I got away with it. A lot of questions, of course.

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Especially when all us Tommies were billeted together

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for the first time. "You married?" "No."

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"You got a girl?" "Well, I used to."

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And then one day, in Amiens, there was a sort of lull.

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Hot as hell it was.

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Not what you think. People think of all that mud and rain,

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but we was there the live long year

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and sometimes it was hot and parched.

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Fucking flies everywhere.

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Blue and green bellies on them. Fat.

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Great clouds of them because of the dead bodies.

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And Captain Leslie comes up to me

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and he slaps me on the shoulder and he says,

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"Come along, Perce, we're going hunting."

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And I say, "What?" He says, "Butterflies",

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because we're camped on this sort of downland.

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And there's marigolds and poppies all over, little splashes of colour.

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I can still taste the dust.

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Chalky in your mouth and your hair and...

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..on the Dunlop tyres like white paint,

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because Terrence had only gone and got us bicycles, the silly bugger.

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And it was only for a few hours

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but you could forget, you know, for a bit,

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everything that was going on.

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And we came to this sort of lake.

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It was a crater hole, I suppose,

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and the water was glass green and clear like a perfume bottle.

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And Terence, he starts hollering and rattling the bike down to the water

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and he pulls off all his clothes and in he goes.

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I follows, and then we go splashing about in our birthday suits.

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And he's brick red from the sunshine,

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but not where his shirt's been,

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so he's got this sort of red face and arms, and the rest of him is...

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He's like a ghost.

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And after we've swum about,

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we just lie in the grass and fall asleep.

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You can hear the buzz of the flies, but they are way off

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and some of the ones that are closer are butterflies,

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so that's all right, and I just...

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..lie there and I watch Terence sleeping and...

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..his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

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And his hair is golden.

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And the line of his jaw is just sort of...

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..perfect.

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Like a draughtsman's drawn it.

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Like I'd drawn it.

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And his lips are dark and full and they're like bramble.

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And all I want to do is bend down and...

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And he opens his eyes...

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..and squints.

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And he lifts his hand to cover them so he can see better.

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And he says, "We'd best be getting back."

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We all had on us the stench of death.

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The bread we ate, the stagnant water,

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everything we touched had a rotten smell.

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But that day, everything was OK.

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It was bright.

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And it was pure, you see?

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And nobody had seen, had they?

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I've done my bit.

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The officer mentioned that.

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Exemplary service.

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When he took me aside for a quiet word.

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And of course, what had Terence and me...

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What had the Captain and me...

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..got up to?

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Sweet FA.

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But someone had seen us and...

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..they thought, "Hello, what's going on here?"

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And it's bad for morale and all of that, so I was to be sent elsewhere.

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And, of course, I didn't get to see the Captain, did I?

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Because he'd been transferred, too.

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I was packed onto this carriage...

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..sweat and tobacco smelling and fellas pushing up against you

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and shoving for room, and the train gives a great big lurch

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and then it starts off.

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I just sit down on the floor and pull me cap over me eyes

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and drift off.

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I don't know how much time has passed, but...

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I wake up and it's dark outside.

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And the train's pulling into a station

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and in the carriage it's just these little night lights on - bluey.

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They make everyone look three-parts dead.

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And the train pulls into the station

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and it's going slow, like, puffing,

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like some of them boys in the resus tent.

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And then, I do see him.

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Terence.

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He's out the window, on the platform.

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Grey coat, hair tucked under his cap, neat.

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And he's talking to someone.

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And they must have made him laugh

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cos there's those little lines in his cheeks again.

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But he don't see me.

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So I push through the carriage past the other fellas

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and it's not easy now cos most have dropped off

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and I trip over some poor bugger and he curses me,

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but I make it to the window and I pull down the sash...

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..and the air outside is warm.

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And all I want to do is wave.

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But, of course, what can I say?

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Um...

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"So long, Captain Leslie?"

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"So long, Perce."

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But then he does see me.

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He glances over,

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but he's still talking to his pal

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and just then the train lurches forward.

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The brakes go on and the blue lights go out

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and just like that, pitch-black.

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And all the other fellas in the carriage start groaning

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and someone says, "Oh, here we fucking go,"

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but all I can feel is my heart beating and the air.

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And the darkness pressing against the window

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and my hand gripping the window ledge.

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And then someone takes my hand.

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Someone outside on the platform.

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And it's Terence.

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And he takes my hand and he just...

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..lifts it to his lips and he kisses it.

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There's no train then, there's no troops, there's no war.

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There's just his bramble lips

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pressed against the tips of my fingers...

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..and all the hair on my neck goes up on end.

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And then the train lurches forward

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and he's let go of my hand and all the blue lights go on, and...

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Outside there's nothing but steam.

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Steam and darkness.

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In the first of eight short monologues written in response to the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, a young man returning from the trenches of the First World War recollects a love that dared not speak its name.


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