“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
When I walk from the embankment to the Garrick club, I will always take a moment at Adelaide Street. Not because I am flustered after the steep incline of Villiers Street but because I like to stop and pay deference to an intellectual and cultural leviathan.
The little street between The Strand and Covent Garden is home to a bronze coffin shaped plinth with a languid head tilted at the end. The head is unmistakably that of the witty, intelligent dandy Oscar Wilde.
The Irish sage’s children’s stories filled my imagination as a boy and inspired me to write myself. As I grew, his sardonic plays amused me and his final papers – the Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis – made me weep.
I have read biographies of him and there is an excellent movie starring Peter Finch that helped feed my interest. Wilde was without any doubt a truly a tragic man, not through depression but because of the laws of the day: How sad that a man who sprinkled beauty on the world would end up a vilified outcast.
The great man was in my mind this earlier in the month, when Parliament endeavoured to pass the Turing act, which would retrospectively pardon all homosexuals who have been criminally prosecuted.
The law was unfortunately not passed due the arcane rules of the House of Commons that enable MPs and government ministers to talk out private members’ bills.
Nevertheless I’m sure the idea has sufficient momentum that the legislators will eventually catch up.
That it would be named after the code breaking genius, Allan Turing, interested me greatly. Turing – who was instrumental in winning the war – was an Old Shirburnian, the Dorset school that housed me for five years. In fact, the biology lab that I failed to learn anything about the anatomy of frogs was named after Turing.
Turning, though a national hero, was chemically castrated in a bid rid himself of his sexuality, following his arrest in 1952 for homosexual acts and gross indecency.
His brush with the law succeeded only in depressing him to suicide. He was posthumously pardoned by the Queen in 2003.
Wilde was, of course, arrested for gross indecency in 1895 and thrown into Reading Gaol. The man who, once, could only declare his genius became frail and melancholic. He spent his final days in self-exile eventually dying in a miserable garret in Paris.
It still saddens me that these two great men were made to feel like outsiders and end their days lonely and devoid of dignity. Thankfully 2016 allows for all creeds, colours and sexualities to be open and, on the most part, get on with their lives.
Nevertheless, though it is not illegal to be in a same-sex relationship, I would suggest that attitudes behind the net curtains are still the same. The acceptance of homosexuals in a world that votes for Trump and Farage is, in my opinion, low to middling.
Lest we forget that the most popular put-down in the playground is “gay”, while the knuckle-dragging skinheads in the pubs prefer to use “faggot”.
Now I’m not part of the gay community but I have several friends who are and, even in liberal London, there is still discrimination a foot. There is a perception that because some prefer the company of the same sex, they are should be an interior designer not a barrister. I actually know more of the latter.
That sweeping generalisation should have gone away with John Inman’s passing. To some extent it has but with next to no openly gay sportsmen – which goes against international averages – and few Hollywood leading men, it raises the question of why?
Perhaps from our lofty heights of ‘normal’ – whatever that may be – it is easy to tell people to be pioneers and get on with it as Gareth Thomas or Nigel Owens did so bravely. Perhaps, it is not my place to discuss at all?
Nevertheless, when you find yourself near Adelaide Street, do pause next to dear old Oscar and think for a moment how cruel the world can be that it so readily stamped out such a wonderful butterfly.