This book by Tony Peake is short but it contains a big story in the limited number of pages. It is a story of awakening in 60s South Africa. Young Paul is different from his contemporaries in many ways, not least because his parents came to the country to avoid a grim post war Britain. Here, they hoped to build a life for themselves among the white population whose attitudes are alien and sometimes hostile.
Paul has to board during the week and is desperate to belong. He is included in a select group of pupils by a teacher who aims to broaden the minds of his charges by getting them to discuss the news. Of more worth to the young Paul is the attention from popular boy Andre Du Toit. The gang that gather around this boy vie for preferment. Du Toit encourages them by keeping a pecking order and regularly demoting boys so that their loyalty is always to them and not each other.
Paul watches as his parents also try to belong and the attention of Du Toit’s father. What starts as acceptance turns into something else when the questions about the regime threaten to spoil a useful friendship.
The story is told in flashback so we have an adult Paul driving in modern day South Africa in search of a person who may have been more influential than he realised when he was a boy. This person stands as a role model for the adult Paul and represents the moral code that was missing in apartheid South Africa. The crossing of boundaries involves the race issue as well as class and nationality and, finally, sexuality.
‘North Facing’ by Tony Peake is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This manga by Japanese artist and writer Gengoroh Tagame provides an interesting insight into a society where being gay is rarely celebrated. The story involves a visit from a foreigner whose presence in the lives of a father and his daughter makes the father reflect on his views and prejudices.
Single parent Yaichi brings up his daughter Kana, earning a living by renting out property in the local area. This gives him time to look after his daughter, something he does with great love and care. Kana’s mother lives elsewhere but is still part of her life; she visits and stays in the family home but obviously has a high powered job elsewhere.
Into their lives comes Mike, a Canadian visiting Tokyo to see the childhood places his husband talked about before he died. Mike’s husband, Ryoji, was Yaichi’s brother.
Kana adores Mike from first meeting and insists he stay at their house. Yaichi feels obliged to agree and the manga tells the story of Mike’s time with the father and daughter. Yaichi confronts his own prejudices and sees Mike through his daughter’s eyes, coming to terms as he does so with his feelings about his brother and how he handled his coming out.
It is a brilliant tale of accepting people for who they are and seeing beyond labels. The homophobia in society is raised through reactions of local people to Mike’s arrival but, in what was for me the most poignant scene, the arrival of a teenage boy to their door shows that gay people do exist in Japan and the need for validation is of high importance.
‘My Brother’s Husband’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The BFI player is a wonderful resource and I was able to watch a programme I first saw in the late 70s. London Weekend Television used to produce some impressive dramas and this one, about a children’s home, was broadcast on a Friday night. Called ‘Kids’ the series had linked dramas with each story apparently based on real life stories. The central cast of actors who played the professionals stayed the same each week but the children and teenagers changed from story to story.
James Hazeldine played the benevolent manager of the centre who did his best in an uncaring system. The episode here was remarkable for me because it portrayed a gay character. This was still a rarity in the 70s and even in this episode, written by William Corlett, the gay character is viewed with suspicion.
Liam is the camp, gay boy who has no friends and who refuses to tone down his behaviour to suit other people. Advice given to him is that if he changed his mannerisms and ‘hid’ his gayness, he might get on better with other people. Such were the times that the problems were all seen as his. When Michael arrives at the home after a suicide attempt he becomes the only one who befriends Liam. They get on but there is a switch in their friendship towards the end of the episode that shows the prevailing attitudes of the time.
It is an interesting period piece now and the production values of television were, then, behind those of cinema but as a reminder of how gay people were portrayed, if they were seen at all, it is worth watching.
This is the first manga series I read! Inspired by an article in the New Statesman magazine, I searched out the first volume and then read through to the twelfth and last. Written and illustrated by Maki Murakami, it tells the story of Shuichi Shindo and his band as they rise to stardom. Shuichi is in love with the romance novelist Eiri Yuki. The two men form a relationship which is odd since the aloof Yuki is hard to like. Their first meeting came when Shuichi’s lyrics blew out of his hand in a park and were picked up by the writer. His response that the work was rubbish hurt the aspiring singer but the enigmatic figure intrigued him enough for him to pursue him, a decision that led to their relationship.
The story of the ups and downs of living together is told across the twelve volumes along with the complementary plot of the success of the band which Shuichi formed with his best friend Hiroshi Nakano. As with most of the manga and anime that feature late teenagers, the parental presence is reduced so that decisions about moving in with a famous romance novelist can be made without reference to parents.
The manga was a lot of fun, especially in the early episodes. Later stories stretched the patience somewhat but, having started, I was determined to finish. ‘Gravitation’ led me to explore other manga series and anime so it has a special place in my hinterland as the starting point for the further discoveries.
In Manchester so I went to find the statue of Alan Turing which acts as a memorial to the great man who was instrumental in the Bletchley Park code breaking programme in the second world war and the development of computers. He worked at Manchester University after the war and it was while living in the city that he was arrested for gross indecency since he was homosexual at a time when it was against the law.
His statue is in Sackville Park near Canal Street, the centre of Manchester’s gay village. It is fitting that he is here. The artist Glyn Hughes shows him sitting on a bench in a slightly ill-fitting suit. He is eating an apple, a significant addition since he committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide in 1954 just before his 42nd birthday. His conviction in 1952 resulted in chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment.
So, here his memorial sits. It is possible to sit next to him, should you choose. It isn’t possible to undo the harm done by unjust laws. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, issued an apology on behalf of the British Government in 2009 for the way Alan Turing was treated. His conviction must have seemed harsh to a man who is credited for playing a significant part in the allied victory of World War Two.
Central to this film version of Andreas Steinhofel’s amazing novel is the theme of identity. Phil has a gap in his knowledge of himself since his mother, called Glass by everyone, refuses to reveal the name of his father. Phil and his twin Diane grow up in an unconventional way with a mother who is something of a free spirit in a large house that is remarkable because of its bohemian look. The rest of the town may look down on them because of their unorthodox lifestyle but they don’t care because they have each other.
I declare the following: I thought the book was amazing. I loved it when I first read it which was when it first appeared in English, translated from German. I also love the work of Andreas Steinhofel. I did not love this film but I liked it!
Phil is gay so when he meets Nicholas and is smitten he is thrilled to have his feelings returned. The relationship becomes a sexual one and Phil finds himself accepted by somebody outside his family which is just as well as this is the moment when conflict between Diane and Glass threatens their unit. Things are made worse by the fact that neither sister nor mother will tell him why they are in dispute.
Phil retreats into his relationship and appears to have found love. There is even room for Phil’s best and long term friend Kat and the three become friends. Glass may reject lovers after just a short while but Phil is different. So when the betrayal comes, of friend Kat and boyfriend Nicholas, the pain is acute. When the truth of the rift between Diane and Glass is revealed Phil questions his place in the family.
The film has reduced aspects of the book, how could it do otherwise and stay within a reasonable theatrical showing duration? Yet, for me, although the relationship between the two boys is well portrayed and the pain shown by Phil when he realises Kat has betrayed him is poignant, many of the other characters lose their fullness and come across as self- centred or immature, as in the case of Kat and Glass, or are not well developed at all, as in the case of Diane.
Louis Hofmann is brilliant as Phil. ‘Centre of My World’ enters my hinterland but mostly so it can sit alongside the book which remains a true artistic expression of young love.
Frisch verliebt: Phil (Louis Hofmann, li.) und Nicholas (Jannik Schümann, re.)
This 2016 film from director Henry Coombes only made it into my hinterland because the part of Albert, played by co-writer David Sillars, is so engaging and entertaining. He plays an older gay man in semi- retirement who is called upon by an old friend to help her grandson with his depression. Albert, once a Jungian counsellor, now spends most of his time in his dirty apartment painting. He does not welcome distractions but agrees to help out his old friend.
Ben, the grandson who arrives for his sessions, is sweet enough but in a relationship with a boyfriend so unpleasant that you sort of get the feeling that ditching him might be all the advice he needs from Albert.
The film works only because of the central performance of Sillars who is great when conducting counselling sessions and when dancing in the gay club. He carries the film and this does weaken the whole enterprise as, when he isn’t on screen, the story is less powerful. Power to the elbow of Henry Coombes for trying, though. The film is never less than interesting!