An Italian boy in Camford Pt. 06byWittePiet©
[No sex in this short instalment, but please keep reading. There will be plenty in Pt 07.]
Chapter Thirty-three: Ben's engagement
One morning late in August, Tom and Ben were running in the Parco Emilio Guzzone, when Ben suddenly announced, "Last night I asked Leonora to marry me, and she said yes!" Tom was taken by surprise. He stopped abruptly and Ben, who had been running beside him, stopped and turned back.
Tom put an arm round his sweaty companion and said, "Congratulations. She's the best woman I know, apart from my sister and Luke's grandmother. You are very lucky. It's always good when two of one's best friends get together. You will be good for each other. Luke will be delighted. Leonora has a lot to learn about men, and neither Luke nor I could give her what she needs. We could tell her that men are different from women, but we would never be able to prove it. Moreover, I think that you have much more understanding of women than either Luke or I have. I hope that you are an opera fan! But you'll have to come to an understanding with her about faith. It is very important to her and you will have to accept that it will always play a big role in her life. When and where do you plan to get married?"
"We're not certain, but probably not for a year or so, to give Leonora a chance to get her teacher training finished and start a job. As to where, probably from her home."
"You will like her parents. They were never keen on the convent plan. They want grandchildren, and she is their only child. We met them a few months ago in Orta San Giulio."
"You mentioned opera. I don't know much about it, I've always been a Country-and-Western fan."
"In that case, I'll get Luke to get us tickets—just the three of us, he will be working backstage—for Luke's latest production, which might suit you, it's Puccini's La Fanciulla del West."
So it happened that Ben, Tom and Leonora attended the opening night of Puccini's opera at the Teatro Musicale early in September. The tenor lead role of Dick Johnson, sung by Caruso in the opera's première in New York in 1910, was sung by an Australian tenor, who was rather disappointing, but this did not spoil Ben's enjoyment of the 'exotick and irrational entertainment' that Dr Sam Johnson named opera. Ben said that he could see that opera could be a very enjoyable spectacle as long as you didn't take it too seriously. (In any case, he had been seriously engaged in holding Leonora's hand!) She was glad that he felt able to come with her to opera performances. Tom said that they must both come the following year to the three different operas in which Luke's father David would be appearing. "I think that he's the greatest tenor in the world at present," he told them "The twenty-first century's successor to José Careras, and the greatest gay tenor since Peter Pears."
Chapter Thirty-four: Exchanges of E-mails I
(1) From firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com
It's a long time since I wrote to you. I hope that you are keeping well, that you are continuing to enjoy Italy and that your work is going well.
This is to tell you something that I have told no-one else. I am going to get MARRIED! He's a couple of years younger than me, and he's absolutely sweet. Now I know what it's like to be in love. I've always envied you and Luke, though I tried not to show it. He runs an IT business, but it's totally different from mine. He's into electronics and server technology and internet hardware. He's not been in business as long as I have, but he's doing very well. His business is in Newcastle, and when we get married, my business will relocate to Tyneside. All my employees (all three of them!) are happy to move, so we will move first, and I will then marry Aidan, probably in September next year, and we expect you and Luke to be there. Knowing Aidan has changed my life. You know how tense and hassled I used to get? Well Aidan has changed all that. You might guess from his name that he's not a working class boy. Children's first names are a dead giveaway as far as social class is concerned. He does come from these parts, but he's a Camford graduate, he went to Winton College.
I have not told Dad or any of our sisters yet. I'm not even sure about inviting them to the wedding. None of them has given a shit about you or me for the last six or seven years, I don't see why I should spoil what I hope will be one of the best days of my life by inviting them. What do you think? The last time I heard anything, Dad was not too well. I think he is in danger of lung cancer. One thing we can be sure about: his bitch friends will not give a fuck if he gets taken ill. None of them will nurse him. Nor will I. One of our sisters will have to do it.
How is my sweet Luke? Not fucking you too hard, I hope! (I shouldn't have said that, should I?). Give him my love.
Your loving sister, Liz XXXXXXXX
(2) From firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com
My darling Liz
What brilliant news! So you finally took my advice to find a nice man. Having found one myself, it's advice I give to all the unmarried girls that I know (which isn't many). But I've got a lot of questions. What's his surname? How tall is he? How much does he weigh? What colour is his hair? What's he like in bed?(or shouldn't I ask?).
We have all been bowled over by the news that my brother-in-law Sandro is gay. He has made a bad start to his love life. He broke up with the man he had fallen for just after his exams. Fortunately he did well in his exams and got a college scholarship like Luke and I did.
Luke is going to be very busy for the next few weeks. They will be without a répétiteur at the opera house until October, and Luke's boss will have to be répétiteur until then, and Luke will have to do his boss's normal job. Luke's former fag-hag Leonora has just got engaged to one of my lab colleagues, a big change of mind and heart for a girl who was going into a convent! I take some credit in having advised her to find a nice man and introducing them to one another.
As far as Dad is concerned (and our sisters too, for that matter), don't invite them. If you have a church wedding, I will gladly give you away. I will be there whatever happens. Luke may have problems, but if the new répétiteuse proves good at her job, he might just be able get three days off to come with me.
My darling Liz, I wish you the deepest possible happiness with this lucky man who has fallen for you. He could not have made a wiser decision. You have been a mother to me since Mum died, and you deserve the best. I hope he comes up to expectations! But knowing your judgement, I'm sure that he will.
Your loving brother,
(3) From firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com
Good news! Sarah and I are going to become civil partners in September, just two years after you and Luke tied the knot. I've wanted it ever since we were at your ceremony with Luke. Sarah was quite ready to commit, but she wanted to get herself fixed up with a job and a pension first, before she would say yes. A year ago, I graduated and was awarded a studentship to do Ph.D. research in the Chemical Laboratory and Sarah is now working as a teacher. We will be living in Camford. Please let me have a street address for you both, so that your formal invitation to the ceremony can be sent by snail-mail. It will arrive very soon, and we expect you both to be there. No presents are requested. Like you and Luke, we both want to give something to help students enjoy Camford as much as we have, so please send a few euros to St Etheldreda's student hardship fund. I hope that you and Luke are enjoying Italy and getting on OK, without any major bust-ups. Give him our love. Do you get to hear much music? I miss being able to hear concerts with you.
With my best love,
(4) From firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com
My dear Margaret
Congratulations! I can recommend civil partnership. It gives that wonderful advantage of maximizing temptation and maximizing opportunity! But maybe women are not so obsessive about sex as men.
It took me a very long time to adjust to life in a foreign land. I love Italy, and now feel quite at home here, but it always keeps reminding me that I'm not Italian. Settling down here would have been very difficult were it not for my wonderful Luke's constant concern and moral support. It was a huge struggle to get proficient in the language, but now I don't have any problems, thanks in part to the huge vocabulary of dirty words that Luke has taught me! We live at Via Gioachino Rossini 176B, Trabizona, Emilia-Romagna.
I'm enjoying my work in the lab and have good colleagues and an excellent boss, who is as gay as a nine-pound note! Unfortunately, Luke's working hours are pretty horrible. On performance nights, we sit down to dinner at 11 pm, which is not good for either our digestions or our sex life. Regrettably, many of the concerts and musical events in Trabizona happen when Luke is working, and I don't really like going on my own, so I miss quite a lot. We do a small amount of singing, in the choir of the English Church in Bologna, but nothing much really. I've also resumed the piano lessons that stopped when my mother died. Luke may have a problem in getting time off for your partnership ceremony, but he will do his best, and whatever happens, I will be there to see you and Sarah united. Give her my love and tell her from me that she's a lucky girl!
My deepest good wishes to you both
Love, Tom XXXX
(5) From firstname.lastname@example.org to email@example.com
I have been so busy lately that I have got quite slack with my prayer life. Although fairly regular in prayer, church attendance and sacramental life, I am conscious of a need for spiritual refreshment, to give some time to God. I am going to be in Camford for a few days in September to attend a Civil Partnership ceremony, and I wondered if it were possible for you to suggest somewhere where I might spend a day in quiet and prayer. My darling Luke is unable to get time off to come with me, but is otherwise keeping busy and well. We worship nearly every Sunday at the English Church in Bologna, and sing in the choir. We did have one spirituality day at the Sacromonte in Orta, but that was months ago.
I hope all is going well at Buckingham.
My love and best wishes in Christ.
Chapter Thirty-five: Life in Trabizona continues
Tom took an hour off work one morning to see Costanza, the boys' cleaning lady, in order to discuss with her the menu for entertaining Arturo and Bastian to dinner. Between them, they devised an attractive menu involving a main course of venison cooked with truffles, with a prawn lasagna starter and a rather special Sicilian dessert that Costanza asserted was her prize dish. Tom insisted on coming with Costanza to buy the meat and truffles, partly in order to enlarge his vocabulary of food items. Luke chose three wines including a delicious dessert wine, and they would begin the evening with Franciacotta instead of the usual Prosecco.
Tom fixed with Luke some dates when he was not working and went to see Professor Sescandante. The latter said to him, "I think it's time that we wrote a paper about your new bioassay method, but I was wondering about patent protection."
"I think a patent is a waste of time. It would create a long delay before we could publish anything, and because there are several other bacterial mutants that could be used, already in the public domain, it would be easy for someone to devise a method using one of those. But maybe we should check out the method using other mutants. I'll get going on that today. It shouldn't take long. By the way, what I came to see you about was that Luke and I want you and Bastian to come and dine with us at home. I've got several possible dates."
"Oh, thank you. I'll talk to Bastian and come back to you with a date. I hope you or Luke will sing for us."
"We both will, if you like. You've never heard me sing Luke's father's gay anthem, Dear Pretty youth. It's by one of England's most underappreciated composers, Henry Purcell. Did we tell you that Tom's father will be doing a season in Trabizona next year? He'll be appearing in L'Italiana in Algeri, La Traviata and Lucia di Lammermoor. The tenor part in Lucia will be a new role for him."
A date was fixed at the beginning of September, and on it at 7 pm, a smartly dressed pair of men climbed the outside steps to Luke and Tom's apartment. The neighbour's children, playing in the courtyard, gawped in amazement at this unusual sight. Tom had arranged with Costanza to come along to serve the meal, but that she would leave after serving the main course. They assured her that they would take care of the washing up after she had gone. The cooking was mainly done by Costanza, except for the vegetables and the truffle sauce, which Tom prepared.
The meal was a great success. Luke had been kept in the dark about the menu and forbidden entry to their small kitchen, so the meal was as much a surprise to him as to Bastian and Arturo. The visitors brought flowers and a bottle, which Arturo said should be kept for another day. Everyone enjoyed the exotic food, and while Tom's cooking was not that of a professional chef, being very plain, with only vegetables as a side-dish to the carne di cerva con tartuffi, it was absolutely delicious, and all of them, Tom included, were bowled over by Costanza's Sicilian dessert. Luke had been and talked to the neighbours to warn them that there might be music later in the evening. Tom sang his beloved David's song Dear pretty youth, a very unoperatic melody, but Bastian in particular loved it. If I with you, all night could be, he kept repeating. Sescantante grinned at him. Tom wondered if these men were as cynical as they seemed, or whether there was an underlying streak of tenderness in their relationship. This is, after all, a romantic story and love is an emotion not confined to the young. He then sang for them a couple of David's Handelian numbers: Ombra mai fu, the famous largo and Where'er you walk. The evening ended with both boys singing the duet by Bizet that they had sung at their civil partnership reception, Au fond du temple saint. It was midnight before their two guests left by cab.
Chapter Thirty-six: a quick trip to Camford
In mid-September, Tom negotiated four days off from the lab. He had written the paper on the bioassay method, Arturo had approved it, and it had been submitted to a highly respected analytical journal. They both felt that Tom deserved a short break. Luke was so busy at work that he was glad that Tom was out of the way. Tom flew to Heathrow from Valerio Catullo-Villafranca airport, took the fast train to central London and then the train to Camford from Fennington station.
Sandro was still at home, and Jon and David were still in Heemstede, although due back before the beginning of term in October in time for David to begin rehearsals with his new choir, the Saint Andrew's Singers, so there was no problem at Fountain Street. Tom had Sandro's room, because Cathy was now in residence, having finished her course at Oxbridge earlier that summer with an upper second-class degree. She had a job lined up with a major computer company starting in October. She would be working in London, and thus her bedroom would be free from then on. Tom found that she also had been invited to Margaret and Sarah's civil partnership ceremony.
The ceremony took place the following day. To his delight, Tom found that he was to be one of the signatory witnesses, along with Margaret's father. Sarah's family was boycotting the ceremony. Her parents were not happy to have a homosexual daughter. The event did not involve formal or fancy dress, Tom looked perfect in his Armani suit, sartorially outdoing Margaret's father who was wearing a suit from a high-street men's outfitter.
After the short session at the Register Office, they all moved on to the Sparrowhawk for a reception, which filled Tom with nostalgia, remembering his and Luke's happy occasion two years before. He kissed each of the girls and apologized to them for Luke's absence. There was a significantly larger female attendance than male, and Tom secretly wondered if the total Lesbian population of Camford had been invited. There were a number of chemists of both sexes present, and Tom knew several of them quite well. They greeted Tom enthusiastically and asked him how his work was going. Tom arranged to meet them in the evening for a drink. Professor Elizabeth Tomkins, the chemistry department's only female professor was there, and in a quiet moment Tom asked Sarah if the professor was a Lesbian, and was told that she was, and had been a great support to Margaret when, as a research student, Margaret had come out of the closet. Of course, not all the women there were gay, and several of them approached Tom and got into conversation with him as someone who looked as if he was unattached. He got a couple of invitations for the evening, which he turned down on the grounds of his previous engagement with the chemists.
This proved to be a boozy but very enjoyable evening. Several of the chemistry dons were present, including both Colin Vaughan, Tom's old tutor in Buckingham and Dr Mills, who had supervised his final-year lab project. Both were glad, and rather surprised, that Tom had settled so well in Italy, and had a paper in the press. Dr Mills told Tom that his name would appear on one that he was preparing, which included most of Tom's undergraduate project results. Tom's former colleagues were rather amused when he told them that his Ph.D. supervisor was as queer as a nine-pound note. They humorously warned him to watch out for amorous advances. Margaret and Sarah called in at the pub for half an hour before leaving for their honeymoon in Wales.
The next day Tom got up early and got on a borrowed bike to ride the short distance to the suburbs of Camford to reach the House of the Servants of the Gospel, an Anglican religious order. He was welcomed and given a card with the times of meals, the times of the divine office and the very limited times when speech was allowed. Tom had chosen to go to that house because of the fact that except for the worship, speech was not allowed. He was in fact, the only retreatant that day. He was given free choice to use the book library and the media library to choose suitable material for meditation. He chose one book only, Aelred's Spiritual Friendship and as it was a warm, sunny day, he went into the garden to read before the office of Terce. David had recommended this book to him several years before, but he had never had time to read it. After Terce, he remained in the chapel to pray. He prayed for all his friends who were entering or sealing relationships, Leonora, Ben, Margaret, Sarah, Liz and Aidan. He prayed for Sandro, asking God to guide him in his life-choices. He prayed for his extended family and particularly for Luke. He even prayed for Arturo and Bastian. After Sext and lunch, he spent the afternoon reading Aelred.
After None and Vespers, tea was served and Tom left and went home to change prior to dining with Francis Eglantine at the Venezia after a drink with him in his college rooms. Francis's wife was away on a course. Before they left for the restaurant, Tom asked Francis to bless the cross that Luke had given him, so they went into the college chapel and Francis blessed the cross and made Tom kneel and also be blessed. Over dinner, Tom said to Francis, "Although I have only kept touch with you sporadically, Francis, I still regard you as my spiritual director. There are so few people that I am close to, I don't make friends easily, and I don't want to lose the few that I have. Even if you move away to a parish or a canonry or an academic job, I still want to come and see you."