Rugby players' ordeal on the streets of Soho

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The Independent Online
I SEE no reason whatsoever why straight men shouldn't play rugby. They're generally fit enough and tough enough, physically at least. Admittedly, they tend to turn into big girls' blouses at the slightest upset - look what happened when two hard nuts were dropped off to spend five days in Soho with a gay couple for the benefit of the clever BBC2 series, Living with the Enemy (Wednesday). They couldn't handle it. They were scared stiff, as it were.

Wayne and Mick play rugby league for Castleford Lock Lane, and it was clear as they told the cabbie at King's Cross that they couldn't quite believe what they were about to do.

"Two rugby lads to spend five days in London with two poofs," said Mick with the thick neck.

"Need a cab to take you round?" the driver replied, " 'cause this I've got to see." His instinct was sound, as it made compelling viewing, undermined only slightly by the laughable predictability of what unfolded. For there was no celluloid sentiment in this story. As Seinfeld put it when he was setting the ground rules for his comedy behemoth: "No hugging, no growing."

Things didn't begin too well when gay Mark asked straight Wayne what his wife thought about how he was spending his week. "She told me to take a cork with me and sleep with my eyes open," he said.

"Your wife said that? That's really weird," Mark replied.

"And my mum," said Wayne.

The lads' first exposure to the streets of Soho left them incredulous at the blatancy of it all.

"Most people on the street would think you were gay, 'cause you've done the rugby thing," said Mark.

"Give over," the lads replied, blushing like maidens. For all the cavemen jaw-dropping, Wayne was intelligent enough to note that Soho's straight milieu, with its video shops and strip bars and sticky peepshow booths, is irredeemably seedy, while the gay scene is "trendy and open". By the end of the first day, there was the possibility that the lads and the boys might come together in some kind of harmony during the week.

"They're pussycats really," said Paul, though the fur was to fly later.

"They seem all right," said Mick for his part as the lads spoke to camera in their bedroom (they appeared to be sharing a bed, by the way, the saucy devils, but we'll let that pass). Wayne agreed.

"Anyway, they've not done anything in front of us to make us feel sick," he said. So, the early signs were good. What went wrong?

It was the shopping. The Clone Zone, with its clamps and restrainers, its leather chaps and gates of hell, its switches and paddles and cuffs and hoods and collars and gags, was not a good idea. The lads were afraid. Very afraid.

"Let's get out of here," shrieked Mark.

Give them eight hairy giants pounding towards them and they're happy. Show them a stainless steel butt-plug and they whimper like puppies.

Over dinner, Mick reflected on their ordeal. "Some of the people we've seen today, I'd think nowt about giving them a good kicking." Now it was all coming out. When he misunderstood a question from Paul, he looked dangerous for a second: "Are you saying we've got homosexual feelings? Are you saying we're not real men?"

"It's very threatening," said Paul later. "They're big guys - there's always the potential threat that they could be violent towards us." In the other bedroom, Mick was doing his best to be understanding.

"The two kids we're with, they're trying their hardest to make us feel welcome ... but at the end of the day, whatever they do, they're gay bastards." Partly. The next morning Paul persuaded Mark not to walk out.

The only common ground was when the lads turned out for King's Cross Steelers, a gay rugby team, though it's a good job Mick didn't hear Paul say: "What does he look like in that headband? He looks like Olivia Newton- John in Xanadu."

Despite all the post-match bonding (and it was unclear whether the naked ritual going on was a gay thing or straight thing), the lads didn't shy away from airing their views. If Mick knew his unborn child was gay, he'd have it terminated, he said.

On the last night, it descended into a childish stand-off.

"You make me feel like the lowest of the low," Mark told Mick.

"You are the lowest of the low," Mick replied.

"No, you are."

"No, you are."

"No, you are."

Honestly. they sounded like two queens. Especially Mick with the thick neck.