The last time I saw Richard

…was Rome in 1984. He’d recycled himself as a tout for study holidays in England, with a windowless office in the basement of a travel agency near the station and a Battle of Britain style moustache (or maybe he’d always had that). He’d found the job through some family connection so plus ça change… He’d lost the haunted look he had on Capri and acquired a jaunty air that went with his new status as salesman.

He was living in an illegal structure on the roof of an abandoned new brutalist building that had once housed the Rome offices and showroom of Alfa Romeo (and is now the home of the Faculty of Letters of the university I work for). I remember dark blue carpets running up the walls, though that can’t have been the case, and one of the first home computers I’d ever seen, with a program for landing planes on it. It had the air of a fuck pad, though not much fucking went on in it as far as I could tell. The word I’m looking for, to describe both Richard and his flat, indeed his life style at that time, is louche, tinged with sadness. We had a drink one evening on what he called his terrace, an expanse of untreated concrete roof surrounded by derelict factories, raised dual carriageways, railway cuttings.

Richard wouldn’t believe I was gay, not really gay. I didn’t have what he called a ‘gay mouth’, the infallible test apparently, a pursed affair, like Charles Hawtrey saying Matron. I had a boyfriend called Ian at the time, whose surface sweetness concealed a worryingly anarchic streak, as though Andy Pandy had a belt of explosives under his pyjamas. He looked a few years younger than he was (23), and Richard disapproved. The fact that Ian didn’t have a gay mouth either only confirmed his feeling that I was being taken for a ride. (I wasn’t.)

He changed his mind one evening in an Irish pub called the Old Goldoni, behind Piazza Navona, when Ian and I, hopelessly drunk on a mixture of wine and Guinness, began to neck for all we were worth, rolling across the table and onto the floor. Despite being a converted theatre, the Old Goldoni wasn’t really the place for this kind of behaviour but the only person who seemed to mind was Richard, who’d bonded with the owner in a laddish way and felt we were disgracing him, as I suppose we were. We ended up in the Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona that night, narrowly escaping arrest. I don’t know what happened to Richard after that.

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