Sunday, 21 April 2013
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts
I read this tremendous and heartbreaking novel in two days, reading great chunks at a time. It wasn't hard to read, but it was hard to bear. Marion meets Tom, the love of her life when she is in her teens. He's the brother of her best friend. They meet when Marion goes to tea, or sometimes in the street, but he has no idea of her intense feelings for him. They grow up, Marion trains and becomes a teacher; and Tom, after National Service (at that time in Britain you were compelled to serve in the armed forces for a period of two years - a practice that ceased in 1960) joins the police force. He's back in town and Marion cannot see what the reader can - that he likes her, but has another kind of furrow to plough. She is desparately in love with him, and there just is no-one else. They swim, they have a few meals, they go to the cinema; and whilst this is just a platonic relationship on Tom's part, Marion reads so much more into every word, every movement, every touch. And suddenly, her wish is granted - he suggests they marry. Tom's best man is Patrick, a museum curator, smartly dressed, a little older, knowledgeable; and who is also desparately in love with Tom......
It is hard to understand the way homosexuals were treated just a short while ago. Homosexuality was against the law, even between consenting adults, and it was not the sort of thing that any policeman would have been able to declare. In fact, it would be very difficult for anyone who was gay at that time, full stop. My own memories of that time about gay men are different to many people. We had a neighbour who's son became a steward on a liner. His sister came to see my Mum in a panic to tell her that she'd opened her brother's case on his last visit home so that she could unpack for him and found bottles of colognes and other unctions (at a time when working class men - his own background - smelt either of Wright's Coal Tar soap, Carbolic soap or sweat). My mother's view about people either gay or straight, black or white was that some are different to others but that didn't make them bad people. A few years later a family who rented the house next door consisted of a weekend drag queen, who was married to a deaf lady and who fathered two lovely children. These people were just in my life. So whilst I was reading this moving story, those memories came back, and I thought again how hard it must have been for any gay person to stay "under the radar", hold down a job, keep from being beaten up in the street, and all those other things that their sexuality would make troublesome for them.
I cannot say enough about this well written book and its subject. It deserves a wide, wide readership, if for nothing else, so that people find out how hard it once was to just be who you are. Recommended.