Focus: Who's looking for what on Clapham Common

Emlyn Jones, a gay Welshman in his forties with a high-profile public-sector job in London, tells Catherine Pepinster

When Emlyn Jones (he asked us to change his name) was growing up in south Wales in the 1960s and 1970s, there were no gay men. There were eccentrics, and confirmed bachelors, and sometimes men who were both. Even now, overt homosexuality is unusual in the valleys.

Last year, Emlyn went home for the weekend to find two pages of the local paper devoted to the issue of homosexuality. After two men had been prosecuted for cottaging in a public toilet, the paper had published a letter which suggested that encounters in lavatories would stop if the town had a gay bar where men could meet. The following week's edition contained two pages of letters from local people, saying: "We don't want their kind in our town."

It was partly a sense of that disapproval beneath the civilised surface of the town that stopped Emlyn from admitting he was gay when he was still in Wales. "To some extent I was repressing my feelings. I don't know if that was Wales so much as the experience of anyone living in a provincial town," he says.

What made Wales different, he feels, is that there was an outlet for repressed homosexuality through the traditional culture of the nation. "It was there in the musical tradition of Wales, in the choirs; in all those places you could find an outlet for a certain sensitivity."

Emlyn escaped to London, seeking some way to express his sexuality. "As a closeted gay man, I felt guilty, dirty, helpless and unfulfilled." Until his thirties he had had sexual relationships with women. "I think of myself as having had successful relationships with women, but I had had the occasional sexual encounter with a man. As far as I was concerned men were for having sex with, not falling in love with."

That identification with men as sex objects took Emlyn to Clapham Common. "There are hundreds of gay bars in London but you have to feel at ease with yourself and not be worried about being identified. The common is dark, but not too dark. You will meet a stranger and you can have sex with him. He won't always want to talk and there'll be no questions asked.

"There is a release of sexual tension," Emlyn says. "It can be a very emotionally sterile transaction and that is all it is - a transaction."

Since his early encounters on the common Emlyn has moved on to meeting men in clubs and bars, and has had relationships which lasted some time with people he fell in love with. "I feel more comfortable with myself. I don't need that experience any more."

Others clearly do. Clapham Common attracts all manner of men, from the out gay man to the married man looking to experiment and discover his own sexuality. "There are lots of married people, professional people and then those who are out for fun; men who do go to clubs but want something more risque

"You don't have to commit yourself in any way. There are people you can spend a few minutes with, and have oral sex and mutual masturbation. Penetrative sex is not so common. Sometimes you start talking and it leads to something, other times to nothing. You don't think of the danger, even though the common is easy picking for muggers."

There are other dangers, of course, such as being caught. The police, says Emlyn, are more interested in catching criminals than queers, but occasionally they do venture on to the common. He recalls one man he met, a lawyer with the Crown Prosecution Service who was caught by torchlight having oral sex in the bushes. Interviewed later by the police, they accused him of having sex in public. What was public about it, he asked. After all, I was in a very private place, a bush, only made public by your torch. He was let go, without charge.

Emlyn does not think legalised cruising areas would ever kill off a place like Clapham Common. "People want the thrill of it, the anonymous sex, the sex on tap. It isn't a gay thing, it's a man thing. If there were a place where heterosexual men could get sex so easily, they'd go. Men are biologically formed that way: they spill their seed."

But married men who cannot resist the urge are not approved of, Emlyn says. "You think: 'You silly man. Your poor family.' It's time he looked at the real issues in himself."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea