This is another one for Pride month #pridenotprejudice; but I was going to read it anyway, because it’s about a postman in Farnworth. Well, it’s set in a fictional Lancashire town called Toddington, but it’s very obviously Bolton (BTW, if anyone should happen to read this and be unable to remember the name of the posh department store which closed down, it was Whitakers. Thank you, Google.), and Albert’s postal round is “the Flower(s)Estate”, which is the Harper Green area of the Farnworth area of Bolton. It’s that bit you go through if you’re trying to get to the northbound M61 from Whitefield/Radcliffe without going on the M60. “Toddington Hall’ is Turton Tower, I think – could be Smithills, but the Second World War bunker where teenage Albert used to meet his boyfriend is definitely up near Turton Tower, .
OK, so to get back to the point 😀 , Albert Entwistle is a closeted gay man who’s about to turn 65. He appears to have no living relatives, and has no friends – which, poignantly, we learn is because he’s always been frightened to get close to people, in case they realised that he was gay and rejected him, or, before same sex relationships between men were legalised, it even resulted in his imprisonment. As with a lot of things in life, a lot of this goes back to bullying at school. It’s also, as is often the case with LGBT people, because of the attitude of a family member – in Albert’s case, his late father. The only things really going on in his life are his cat, his job and Coronation Street. Then his cat dies, and he’s told that his employers have a policy of compulsory retirement at 65.
Albert decides that it’s time to turn his life around. He finally comes out as gay, makes friends with Nicole, a 19-year-old single mother who’s got boyfriend trouble, and decides to try to track down his high school sweetheart – a man named George, whom we later find out was arrested by Albert’s dad, a policeman, whilst Albert ran off and left him to his fate.
Some of it’s really very moving, especially Albert’s reflections on thinking that no-one could love him because he was gay, and the flashbacks to discussions he had with George about why their relationship should be seen as wrong. However, some of it’s a bit OTT. The day after Albert tells his colleagues that he’s gay, he arrives at work to find that four of them have dressed up as the Village People and the building’s been decorated with rainbow bunting. However supportive you might want to be of a colleague who’s waited until the age of 64 to come out, would anyone actually do that?!
He then learns that George was working in the Gay Village – i.e. the Canal Street area of Manchester – at one time, and he and Nicole set out to try to find him. It turns out that George has moved to London and is a drag queen – and, unlike Albert, has always been out and proud and a campaigner for gay rights. Drag queens were really big in Manchester when I was a kid in the ’80s, thanks mainly to the wonderful and much-missed Foo Foo Lammar. I don’t see why they had to say that George had moved to London, but maybe it was just to extend the story: finding him so close to “Toddington” would have been too easy.
We then learn that Albert’s dad knew about him and George, and blackmailed him into ending the relationship by threatening to prosecute him otherwise. Of course, once Albert finds George and explains this, they get back together and presumably live happily ever after. And Nicole’s relationship with her boyfriend also gets sorted out, and they presumably live happily ever after as well.
The author’s slightly overdone several passages involving George thinking that he’s doing this for all gay men who had to hide their true selves, all gay men who were ever imprisoned, anybody whose life’s been cut short, etc etc. And the ending’s a bit cheesy and predictable. But, all in all, it’s a moving story. It’s a very Northern story, too – Albert, Nicole and George would all fit right into Coronation Street!
Not bad at all, and an important reminder of the issues faced by gay men – including the fact that, even after relationships between men were legalised, the age of consent was higher than that for heterosexual relationships and remained so until 2001 – and the impact of those on people’s mental health and daily lives. Please always be kind to others ❤️🙏.