When night arrives, it’s always too soon.
Misspent days and tender nights
How could I have so badly misspent the time afforded to me: to work, to write? The day was a park for me to run around, to climb its frame, swing high towards the sun, even sink into its sand pit. Instead, I hover on its edges, as if handcuffed to a park bench. I stared, I dreamt. I reminisced. I walked a little, I wanted the day to both contract and extend. I did’t complete anything; a book, a workout, an assignment. I produced stuff, but I didn’t breathe the day’s oxygen deep into my lungs. The day slips by like a man you’ll never date.
I prefer night-time. I prefer its texture: the hard edges of the day are softened as if I’ve taken my spectacles off. The day sheds its skin; the forsaken possibilities are smudged. All apparently seems fine, save perhaps the day’s lingering compromise. I cushion these mental reminders: that I didn’t complete or achieve what I needed to. I sink into a sleepier state. I’ll invite night and its tenderness with a glass of wine or a three-hour bath.
It’s less clinical. I feel less exposed, my contradictions are erased. And under pressure only I apply to myself, I sit up straight and vault over to my computer when most would head to bed. The night has a sinuous rhythm, it matters little whether it’s half-past midnight or ten to five. You’re up, it’s “late”. Or “early”. It matters very little how you define it, because you’re in the deep beyond, the upside-world that defies rational thought.
Late at night, or early in the morning, I’ll observe the glittering orange lights from the bay opposite, to the north. To its west, lies St Cyprien, the resort we holidayed at as a family in the summer of 1991.
It was perhaps the most wondrous holiday we ever took, driving all five of us in the Volkswagen Passat from Calais to Langres near Dijon, and then all around the Hexagone: from Langres and its view of the cathedral to Sausset les Pins close to Marseilles; from Sausset les Pins to St Cyprien here in the Pyrénées-Orientales; St Cyprien to an obscure village in the Dordogne, Cabarets; Cabarets to a ladybird-infested resort in the Vendée in the West, Jard-sur-Mer; and for our final stretch, Jard-Sur-Mer to a hotel in a converted convent that smelt of rotten eggs. A place where Mum was convinced she saw a ghost of a nun.
St Cyprien was the apotheosis of that three-week quest. Little could my Dad have appreciated or anticipated its effect, but nearly thirty years later, I revel in the memories he created, of the two of us in a paddle boat. Of days lounging in an aqua park with Mum.
There was a young girl, well, no younger than me, who seemed to fall for me in a strange and unwelcome way. I was nine. Her name was Clara and I vaguely recall she was from Essex. Together with her brother and sister, us three kids used to hang out with them at the pool. She soon made a show of asking whether I wanted her to apply sun cream to my back.
There’s an awkward photo – goodness knows where it’s now gathering dust – but it shows the six of us kids, bronzed and in sleeveless cut-off t-shirts. Clara turns inward, partly looks at me, and makes another show of her pre-pubescent affection. She was crossing my bows, so to speak, as bow-legged I sat. Anyone who had the faintest idea of these things could see I was quite effeminate. I was already starting to experience premature puberty or whatever was nascent that summer, for I started to experience feelings towards boys and discovered it late at night.
Night’s endless furtiveness
Night, at once furtive and forgiving, particularly for gay boys, like me, who grow up and sleep in the same room as their sisters, on summer holidays at least. But for the illicit pondering which boy back at school I like most, David Morrish, or Stephen Sheehan – night would have been dull and flat. Try growing up age nine or ten when you’re working out your feelings and day is a block, an unfortunate hyphen in a sentence you want to complete.
When you do reach that final clause, night-time is a sanctuary for your weirdness; not wanting attention from nine-year old girls from Essex. She sent me a Valentine’s Day card in February 1992, when I was age 10. In fact, perhaps it was posted from Dunstable, Hertfordshire, I forget.
Oddly enough, I took pride in her then. It was my first and only Valentine’s Day card from a girl. I placed it proudly on the ‘island’, the elevated workstation built from brick that cut the gas hob, fridge and oven from the rest of the timber-framed kitchen.
Night came, and I’d lock myself away in the upstairs toilet, for eight or nine minutes at least, flicking through my sisters’ teenage magazines, Just seventeen, or Mizz. I’d reserve and store away the images of topless – male – pop stars in my very own mental safe. Quite specifically Mark Owen from Take That.
Night-time was a flight of fancy, when after the ‘act’, I’d try and stave off feelings of guilt, although I did occasionally tell myself that whatever odd feelings these were, they must soon end.
Flickering in the distance
Twenty-nine years later and St Cyprien flickers and flirts from a few kilometres up the Mediterranean coast as we await Monday’s easing restrictions. It would be pleasant to drive there, but then again, we might need to wait. No one truly knows how anyone else is going to behave when the formal lockdown ends.
Perhaps it would be more romantic to keep staring at it, late at night, when most of the world is asleep; not to ever reacquaint myself to its dull campsites or experience adult day-time disappointment. To preserve its childhood memory – my first exploration of same-sex desire, late at night, in mosquito-filled and too-hot-by-far shared bedrooms.
To imagine Mum still there, holidaying, laughing, smiling that large smile of hers’. Not to be exposed to the day-time reality that she’s not. I’ll stick to night.