THE RCA BOAT CLUB: ITS WINE PARTIES AND PECADDILOS.
Hockney resolved forthwith to make great friends with Kitaj. It never occurred to him that there could be the slightest difficulty in carrying out this resolve. After such a passage as they two had had together that afternoon on The Serpentine, he felt that the usual outworks of acquaintanceship had been cleared at a bound, and looked upon Kitaj already as an old friend to whom he could talk out his mind as freely as he had been used to do to his old tutor at art school in Bradford. Moreover, as there were already several things in his head which he was anxious to ventilate, he was all the more pleased that chance had thrown him across a man of so much older standing than himself, and one to whom he instinctively felt that he could look up.
Accordingly, after Hockney had gorged himself in the RCA canteen but saw that Kitaj had not finished his lunch, he strolled out, meaning to wait for his victim outside, and seize upon him then and there; so he stopped on the steps outside the hall-door, and to pass the time, joined himself to one or two other men with whom he had a speaking acquaintance, who were also hanging about. While they were talking, Kitaj came out of the hall, and Hockney turned and stepped forward, meaning to speak to him. To his utter discomfiture, Kitaj walked quickly away, looking straight before him, and without showing, by look or gesture, that he was conscious of our hero's existence, or had ever seen him before in his life.
Hockney was so taken aback that he made no effort to follow. He just glanced at his companions to see whether they had noticed the occurrence, and was glad to see that they had not (being deep in the discussion of the merits of a new secretary in the department office); so he walked away by himself to consider what it could mean. But the more he puzzled about it, the less could he understand it. Surely, he thought, Kitaj must have seen me; and yet, if he had, why did he not recognise me? And yet common decency must have led him to ask whether I was any the worse for my ducking, if he knew me.
He scouted the notion, which suggested itself once or twice, that Kitaj meant to cut him; and so, not being able to come to any reasonable conclusion, suddenly bethought him that he was asked to a wine-party; and putting his speculations aside for a moment, with the full intention nevertheless of clearing up the mystery as soon as possible, he betook himself to the room of his entertainers.
It was a fair-sized room for a South Kensington bedsitter, furnished plainly but well, so far as Hockney could judge, but, as it was now laid out for the wine-party, the digs had lost all individual character for the time being. A London postgraduate's room, set out for a wine-party, will tell you little about their character. All their possessions are shoved away into the background, and there is nothing to be seen but a long mahogany set out with bottles, glasses, and dessert. In the present instance the preparations for festivity were pretty much what they ought to be: good sound port and sherry, biscuits, and a plate or two of nuts and dried fruits.
The host, who sat at the head of the board, was one of the mainstays of the college boat-club. He was treasurer of the club, and also a kind of a boating nurse, who looked-up and trained the young oars, and in this capacity had been in command of the newbies four-oar, in which Hockney had been learning his rudiments. He was a heavy, burly man, naturally awkward in his movements, but gifted with a steady sort of dogged enthusiasm, and by dint of hard and constant training, had made himself into a most useful oar, fit for any place in the middle of the boat. He was the most good natured man in the world, very badly dressed, very short sighted, and called everybody "old fellow."
His name was Richard Hamilton and he wasn’t actually a student at the RCA. But for the sake of the boating club everyone pretended Hamilton belonged to their college. Hamilton was slightly older than the other boaters and had the eccentric habit of making an easy chair of his hip bath. Malicious acquaintance declared that when Hamilton his digs, and, having paid the valuation for the furniture in his room, came to inspect the same, the tub in question had been left by chance in the sitting-room, and that Hamilton, not having the faintest idea of its proper use, had by the exercise of his natural reason come to the conclusion that it could only be meant for a man to sit in, and so had kept it in his sitting-room, and had taken to it as an arm-chair. This I have reason to believe was a libel. Certain it is, however, that in his first term he was discovered sitting solemnly in the tub, by his fire-side, with his spectacles on, playing the flute - the only other recreation besides boating in which he indulged; and no amount of quizzing could get him out of the habit.
When alone, or with only one or two friends in his room, he still occupied the tub; and declared that it was the most perfect of seats hitherto invented, and, above all, adapted for the recreation of a boating man, to whom cushioned seats should be an abomination. He was naturally a very hospitable man, and on this night was particularly anxious to make his rooms pleasant to all comers, as it was a sort of opening for the boating season. This wine of his was a business matter, in fact, to which Richard had invited officially, as treasurer of the boat-club, every man who had ever shown the least tendency to pulling - many with whom he had scarcely a nodding acquaintance.
Hockney, and the three or four other newbies present, were duly presented to the coxswain as they came in, who looked them over as the colonel of a crack regiment might look over horses at Horncastle-fair, with a single eye to their bone and muscle, and how much work might be got out of them. They then gathered towards the lower end of the long table, and surveyed the celebrities at the upper end with much respect. Eduardo Paolozzi, the coxswain, sat on the host's right hand - a slight, resolute, fiery little man, with curly black hair. He was peculiarly qualified by nature for the task that he had set himself; and it takes no mean qualities to keep a boat's crew well together and in order. Perhaps he erred a little on the side of over-strictness and severity; and he certainly would have been more popular had his manners been a thought more courteous; but the men who rebelled most against his tyranny grumblingly confessed that he was a first-rate coxswain. Like, Hamilton, Paolozzi didn’t actually belong to the student body at Kensington Gore, but so that the RCA might be masters of The Serpentine everybody pretended he numbered among the postgraduates.
A very different man was the captain of the boat, who sat opposite to Paolozzi; altogether, a noble specimen of a very noble type of our countrymen. Tall and strong of body; courageous and even-tempered; tolerant of all men; sparing of speech, but ready in action; a thoroughly well balanced, modest, quiet Englishman; one of those who do a good stroke of the work of the country without getting much credit for it, or even becoming aware of the fact; for the last thing such men understand is how to blow their own trumpets. He was perhaps too easy for the captain of the RCA boat-club; at any rate, Paolozzi was always telling him so. But, if he was not strict enough with others, he never spared himself, and was as good as three men in the boat at a pinch.
Finally a handsome, pale man, with a dark, quick eye, walked in and took his place by the side of the host as a matter of course.
"Who is that who has just come in?" Hockney asked the man sitting next to him; simultaneously using this as an excuse to touch the fellow’s thigh very close to his crotch.
"Oh, don't you know? That's Robert Fraser; he's the most wonderful fellow in London, although he lives mainly in the United States right now," answered his neighbour.
"How do you mean?" said Hockney.
"Why, he can do everything better than almost anybody, and without any trouble at all. Paolozzi was obliged to have him in the boat last year, though he never trained a bit. Then he's in the eleven, and is a wonderful rider, and tennis-player, and shot."
"Aye, and he's so awfully clever with it all," joined in the man on the other side. "He can write songs, too, as fast as you can talk nearly, and sings them wonderfully."
"Is he of our college, then?"
"No but we have to pretend he is, or he couldn't have been in our boat last year."
"I don't think I ever saw him before."
"No, I daresay not. He’s living in the USA and even in London he never gets up now till the afternoon, and sits up nearly all night playing cards with the fastest fellows, or going round singing glees at three or four in the morning."
Hockney sipped his port and looked with great interest at Fraser; and, after watching him a few moments said in a low voice to his neighbour,
"How wretched he looks! I never saw a sadder face."
Poor Fraser! One can't help calling him "poor," although he himself would have winced at it more than any name you could have called him. You might have admired, feared, or wondered at him, and he would have been pleased; the object of his life was to raise such feelings in his neighbours; but pity was the last which he would like to excite.
He was indeed a wonderfully gifted fellow, full of all sorts of energy and talent, and power and tenderness; and yet, as his face told only too truly to anyone who watched him when he was exerting himself in society, one of the most wretched men in the world. He had a passion for success - for beating everybody else in whatever he took in hand, and that, too, without seeming to make any great effort himself. The doing a thing well and thoroughly gave him no satisfaction unless he could feel that he was doing it better and more easily than Victor Musgrave, John Kasmin or Peter and Charles Gimpel, and they felt and acknowledged this. He had would enjoy the full swing of success for a few years to come, and then his Nemesis would descend in the form of creditors.
For, although not an extravagant man, art dealing as a pursuit in which he wanted to eclipse all rivals required riches, and Fraser was not rich. He had a fair allowance, but was considerably in debt, and even at the time we are speaking of, the whole pack of London tradesmen into whose books he had got (having smelt out the leanness of his expectations), were upon him, besieging him for payment. This miserable and constant annoyance was wearing his soul out. This was the reason why his oak was sported, and he was never seen till the afternoons, and turned night into day. He was too proud to come to an understanding with his persecutors, even had it been possible; and eventually, at his sorest need, his whole scheme of life would fail him; his love of success would turn into ashes in his mouth; he would feel much more disgust than pleasure at his triumphs over other men, and yet the habit of striving for successes, notwithstanding its irksomeness, was too strong to be resisted.
Poor Fraser! He would end up living on from hand to mouth, flashing out in his old brilliancy and power, and forcing himself to take the lead in whatever company he might be; but utterly lonely and depressed when by himself--reading feverishly in secret, in a desperate effort to master the art of rubbing a small metal statue of The Buddha for endless wealth. As Hockney said to his neighbour, there was no sadder face than his to be seen in London – and give it a decade and it would get way sadder yet.
And yet at this very wine party Fraser was the life of everything, as he sat up there next to Richard Hamilton - whom he kept in a constant sort of mild epileptic fit, from laughter, and wine going the wrong way (for whenever Richard raised his glass Fraser shot him with some joke). Fraser relaxed after the first fifteen minutes; and Hockney, by the same time, gave himself credit for being a much greater ass than he was, for having ever thought Fraser's face a sad one.
When the room was quite full, and enough wine had been drunk to open the hearts of the guests, Richard rose on a signal from Paolozzi to speak in tongues:
“Anal sex, also called anal intercourse,” Hamilton shrieked, “is the sex act in which the penis is inserted into the anus of a sexual partner. The term can also include other sexual acts involving the anus, including pegging, anilingus, fingering, and object insertion.“
“While anal sex is commonly associated with male homosexuality,” Richard continued, “research shows that not all gay males engage in anal sex and that it is not uncommon in heterosexual relationships. Types of anal sex can also be a part of lesbian sexual practices.”
“Many people find anal sex pleasurable,” Hamilton droned on, “and some may reach orgasm - through stimulation of the prostate in men, and clitoral and G-Spot leg stimulation in women. However, many people find it painful as well, sometimes extremely so, which may be psychosomatic in some cases.”
Richard Hamilton continued speaking in the same vein for a good hour. Everyone was relieved when he finished and applauded loudly, not because they’d enjoyed the speech but because it had ended. Soon afterwards, coffee came in and cigars were lighted; a large section of the party went off to play pool, others to stroll about the streets, others to whist; a few, let us hope, to their own rooms to read or practice still life drawing; but these latter were a sadly small minority even in the quietest of the RCA parties.
Hockney, who was fascinated by the heroes at the head of the table, sat steadily on, sidling up towards them as the intermediate places became vacant, and at last attained the next chair but one to the Captain, where for the time he sat in perfect bliss. Fraser and Paolozzi were telling boating stories of the Henley and Thames regattas, and the talk came gradually round to the next races.
"Now, Captain," said Paolozzi, suddenly, "have you thought yet what new men we are to try in the crew this year?"
"No, 'pon my honour I haven't," said the Captain, "I'm working on my sculptures and have no time to spare. Besides, after all, there's lots of time to think about it. Here we're only half through Lent term, and the races don't begin till the end of Easter term."
"It won't do," said Paolozzi, "we must get the crew together this term."
"Well, you and Hamilton put your heads together and manage it," said the Captain. "I will go down any day, and as often as you like, at two o'clock."
"Let's see," said Paolozzi to Hamilton, "how many of the old crew have we left?"
"Five, counting Fraser," answered Richard.
"Counting me! Well, that's cool," laughed Fraser; "you old tub haunting flute-player, why am I not to be counted?"
"You never will train, you see," said Richard.
"Hamilton is quite right," said Paolozzi; "there's no counting on you, Fraser. Now, be a good fellow, and promise to be regular this year and hold off returning to the United States."
"I'll promise to do my work in a race, which is more than some of your best-trained men will do," said Fraser, rather piqued.
"Well you know what I think on the subject," said Paolozzi; "but who have we got for the other three places?"
"There's Boshier would do," said Richard; "I hear he was a capital oar at school; and so, though I don't know him, I managed to get him once down last term. He would do famously for No.2, or No.3 if he would pull."
"Do you think he will, Fraser? You know him, I suppose," said Paolozzi.
"Yes, I know him well enough," said Fraser; and, shrugging his shoulders, added, "I don't think you'll get him to train much."
"Well, we must try," said Paolozzi. "Now, who else is there?"
Hamilton went through four or five names, at each of which Paolozzi shook his head.
"Any promising newbies?" said he at last.
"None better than Hockney here," said Hamilton. "I think he'll do well if he will only work, and stand being coached."
"Have you ever pulled much?" said Paolozzi.
"No," said Hockney, "not much till I came up here to London. Now I’m meeting plenty of rough trade in public toilets!"
"All the better," said Paolozzi; "now, Captain, you hear; we may probably have to go in with three new hands; they must get into your stroke this term, or we shall be nowhere."
"Very well," said the Captain; "I'll give from two till five any days you like."
"And now let's go and have a pull," said Fraser, getting up. "Come, Captain, just one little circle jerk after all this business."
Richard insisted on staying to play his flute; Paolozzi was engaged; but the Captain, with a little coaxing, was led away by Fraser, and good-naturedly asked Hockney to accompany them, when he saw that he was looking as if he would like some rough sex. So the three went off to an all night public toilet; Hockney in such spirits at the chance of doing two, three or even more men that night, didn’t notice that he was roaringly drunk."
They found the nearest public toilet full of men looking for a good time, and Hockney was able to suck one off while lying on his back with his legs over his shoulders as he pulled an anal train. This left both his arms free and he was able to give hand jobs – two at a time – to those that wanted them. Hockney returned to his rooms; and, when he was by himself again, his thoughts recurred to Kitaj. How odd, he thought, that they never mentioned him for the boat! Could he have done anything to be ashamed of? How was it that nobody seemed to know him, and he to know nobody.
Most readers, I doubt not, will think our hero very green for being puzzled at so simple a matter; and, no doubt, the lusts and desires of the outright sadist are well known to us all. But Hockney’s previous education must be taken into consideration. He had not been told by his mother or father about the birds and the bees, and had gone to a school were sado-masochism and a love of the opposite sex were not common vices. So Hockney had yet to discover the ways and joys of about 90 percent of the world!