The Youth Group discuss Gay Pride

Ricky and May, the workers,
explain the history of the movement
with photos and posters.
An unpleasant memory stirs:
a primary school trip
to the Discovery Museum.
Frankie reminds Derek, who says
Yes. It was massive, old,
remember The Time Tunnel?
Frank says
A few of wer got lost;
in this big room in the basement
we saw pictures of people
with banners, marching,
women in bars, men in makeup.
We stopped and stared –
when Sir caught up with us
Paddy called Sir, they’re Gay People sir!
an Rujina said What’s gay ?
another lad said If you’re gay, that means you’re infertile.
and Sir said:
No, there’s something else wrong with them.

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Frankie can’t imagine

telling Dad, saying
the words I’m gay.
He didn’t have to
with Mam – but she’s
always had a different way
of communicating. Mam
just knows things,
but keeps them to herself,
keeps the peace.
Dad would blow his top,
most likely. Frank tries to picture
the moment how and when:
in the car? over tea?
Dad I’ve got something to tell yer…
but after that his mind
goes blank.
He’s discreet
when and where he meets
Paul. Always in town,
anonymous, away from neighbours.
Nebby spies, the lot of them.
says Frank. They go clubbing
or to pubs, as long as Paul buys
using his ID. Sometimes
the cinema, or a walk
on the sands at Whitley Bay.
Not for long, never in private.
They daren’t hold hands
or touch, though sometimes
Paul will catch him behind a wall
down a back lane, and snatch
a kiss, like a spark of electricity
that leaves them breathless,
laughing, the sun, the sea
a perfect backdrop
to their summer romance.

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Frankie gets a summer job

serving in The Singing Hinny
on Adelaide Terrace – not lattes
and Americanos but Horlicks
and strong Yorkshire tea to OAPs
with bacon stotties and scones.
Paddy’s helping Dad at the garage.
The weather’s warm. It’s calm
at home, for the moment.
One night at the Youth Group
Frankie tells Derek about Grandad
his suspicions, the mystery
about his disappearance.
Mebbes he’s dead, but
I’d love ter find out.
What about that man
you met at the funeral
who said he knew your Nana?
But I divvent kna where he lives.
Look in the phone book.
Haway, Derek man,
there’ll be millions
of Robert Armstrongs.
It’s a start.
Aye. Mebbes.
Then Derek looks serious,
But Frankie, maybe you ought
to think about coming out
to your Mam and Dad.
Deal with the present
before you go raking up the past.

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How Mam finds out

Frankie and Corinne are in the kitchen,
Mam’s showing her the birthday photos.
Corinne’s laughing at Paddy unscrewing
Frankie’s ear, gets out her phone –
Here, I took some of Frankie too,
she flicks one onto the screen:
Look at this Aunty Marie.
Mam looks at it, puzzled
says: Who’s he?
Oh, wrong one, Corinne flicks
through more pictures,
That was Paul.
Frank can’t help himself
he’s gone bright red,
Mam looks at him –
he knows she knows
without anything being said.

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What’s he like?

asks Corinne,
Frank is sitting across the table
at a coffee bar in town,
Well, Frank fiddles with his spoon
He’s older than me, at college.
He’s from Spain originally
Aye? How’de end up here?
His Dad’s an engineer, worked
on the car Ferries, Santander
Bay of Biscay ter Plymouth.
They moved here cos
his Dad’s on the Nordic run now,
gans across ter Norway.
His real name’s Powlo.
Powlo? Not Paul then?
Neebody calls him Powlo.
He smells – foreign.
What – stinky?
Nah, sorta nice – like a mixture –
garlic sausage and body lotion.
An sometimes he calls me Francisco.
Corinne laughs:
What are ye like!

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Frankie writes in his journal

I’ve had three first kisses:

Derek at Benwell Primary
was experimenting,
we didn’t feel guilty,
it was innocent
but we knew
not to tell

kissing Ned
was like a dried out sponge
that smelled of a cupboard
under the kitchen sink
I didn’t want to do it
but I was more afraid
of what would happen
if I didn’t do it

was mango smoothie
soft rain on warm tiles
the perfect dive
swimming naked in a midnight sea
a burning shock, a stopped clock
the longest breath
a little like death
but being alive
it was coming home after a long journey

ps I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!!

He doesn’t even mention Becca.

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Next afternoon

Frankie sits under a tree, looks
at the river stretching away,
he takes a deep breath
gets out his phone
searches for
Paul’s number.
He feels the bark dig
into his back, his legs
get pins and needles
as he waits for the courage
to press: Call

Frankie arranges to meet Paul.
The millennium bridge stretches and curves
like a nervous smile,
its struts are teeth, it swallows
the river in dry gulps.
the sun is bright, piercing, dazzling.
Frank waits, blinded, holding the rail
it’s cool and tremors with the wind.
Down below his feet
the water rushes in like blood
into a beating heart.
Each side watches
the tide rise, the banks are close
yet never touch.
but the bridge knows
and brings the two together.

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Frankie, Derek and Corinne
have had a few, are letting
their hair down. No more exams –
the rush has hit them.
Get this, says Corinne
doing the Twist, Frankie
laughs, he’s doing air guitar
I’m a heedbanger,
he shakes his hair
windmills his arm,
it bangs into a drink
wet and sticky on his shirt:
Ee sorry, he turns, a young man
is looking down at spilt beer,
then he looks up, their eyes meet
and Frankie’s suddenly afraid
Sorry, sorry. The other lad
frowns, then smiles
and shakes his head
disappears through the crowd.
Derek says:
Don’t worry, that’s Paul,
he’s ok.
Frank’s remembering
a cheekbone in the dark
a flame flickering in an eye.
He goes home with Paul’s
phone number.

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Frankie goes to Swingers

Paddy’s gone bowling with his mates.
Frankie says he’s going into town
with Corinne, but doesn’t add
that Derek’s promised to take him
for a night out.
At the bottom of Westgate Hill,
Corinne and Frankie head for the club.

He pushes open the swing doors
they hit a wall of heat and noise
it parts and swallows them.
Red and silver strobe Frank’s body
like hands stroking him
that slide off along the sticky floor.
His ears throb with heat
stuffed with cotton bass thrum
smoky shapes flit and jive
legs and arms move in a tangle
the whole room’s alive
a wriggling mass. His eyes pick out details:
spiky hair, red nails, black leather
metal studs, T shirts cling to thin backs
eyes touch him, lips open and grin,
then he hears Frankie!
above the din, Derek pushes
through the crowd, and faces him:
How yer doing? Hiya Corinne
remember me?
She smiles, they start to chat
but in the corner
Frankie can’t stop seeing a grey haired man
snogging another,
they’re still and right, not dancing
not bothered, deaf to the music
blind to the people, cool
as you please in the microwave heat.
He watches and sees, he takes it in –
men loving men.

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