Philip Hensher: It’s as simple as holding hands


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Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best. A London man, Dave Watkins, noticed that many gay people, perfectly happy and open in all other parts of their lives, preferred to walk through the streets anonymously. Long-standing couples walked side by side, never touching. Why did they never hold hands? A fear of making themselves vulnerable? Self-consciousness?

Not wanting to be first? But the end result was that a substantial minority had made itself all but invisible to the world, which often had no idea that it was looking at a gay couple.

The answer, to Dave Watkins, seemed a simple one. His website and organisation, A Day in Hand, is based on two ideas: that LGBT people should be able to live their lives openly and without shame; and that if they did so, the larger community would begin to recognise and acknowledge lives which were not so different from their own. One gesture would do it: hold your partner's hand when you walk down the street. National Same-Sex Hand Holding week was born, and it starts today.

Only in some parts of the world is same-sex hand holding regarded as an indicator of homosexuality. Many tourists have become slightly giggly at the very sweet sight of pairs of Egyptian soldiers holding hands with each other while on sentry duty. I remember a couple of teenage Italian exchange students at the Cambridge swimming pool one afternoon in the Eighties, making a tour round the pool with their hands held tightly, quite unaware of the rude comments being made by the locals.

Now, two adult men holding hands in the West unequivocally signals that they are having a sexual relationship. Anyone who says that they don't wish to be informed of that fact probably ought to explain why they don't also object to a man and a woman doing the same thing. That generally signals exactly the same thing.

Probably, in England, gay couples only feel confident about doing it in that little patch of Soho between Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street. They wouldn't feel so happy about it even as far south as Trafalgar Square, where a gay man called Ian Baynham was kicked to death in October last year.

That is the trouble: that you identify yourself, and run the risk of abuse or violence. But if nobody does it, things will never change. If everybody does it, of course, then the person who seems weird and ridiculous is the teenage girl, windmilling her arms and shouting "Batty boys" on Old Compton Street. No, Dave Watkins, who himself has been queerbashed in the past, is right. A Day in Hand is a simple, beautiful idea. I can't improve on the words Dave uses to further his case: "If you want to live in a world where you can hold your partner's hand walking down the street, hold your partner's hand walking down the street." Just do it.

Don't mention the accent

When Mark Lawson asked the actor Russell Crowe quite why, in the new Robin Hood movie, he had made the folk hero sound a bit like an Irishman, several possibilities must have presented themselves. He might have expected a merry laugh, and a suggestion that an American audience warms to a Celtic touch. Or perhaps Mr Crowe was going to say "Dunno mate – it just came out like that." Or he might reasonably have predicted that the actor would scowl – it is hard to scowl on radio, but Crowe managed it – before saying that Lawson had "dead ears" and terminating the interview.

Actors are touchy when their accents are brought into question, and when tens of thousands are sunk into sessions with a dialogue coach, they often refuse to believe that anything could be wrong. For the rest of us, the result can be a film that will live for ever for sheer comedy gold. Who could forget Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves channelling Lloyd Grossman as they attempt upper-class English accents in Dracula? Or Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman "doing" Irish in the camp classic Far and Away? ("Yer a corker, Shannon!")

Mr Crowe's attempt on a Northern accent in Robin Hood is not of a Dick van Dyke order of badness, but the Irish undertow is unmistakable. It is curious that he thought himself better placed to judge the accuracy of the impersonation than a native Englishman, but there it is. Anyway, nobody has the least idea how a Dark Ages North England bandit would have spoken – probably not very much like a cross between Michael Parkinson and Graham Norton at all.

Bringing a touch of class to the Peak District

Last week, an English family on a sailing holiday in the South Atlantic hit an iceberg and had to be rescued by the Royal Navy. Worldwide interest in the family was piqued when it turned out that the parents went around calling themselves the Lord and Lady of Hollinsclough. They live in Chel- morton, in the Peak District, and are local philanthropists, or "overwhelming," "pushy" and "Lord and Lady Delusions of Grandeur," depending on whom you speak to.

Of course, they are not peers at all, but plain old Carl Lomas and Tracey Worth. They paid £8,000 or thereabouts in 1999 for the title of Lord of the Manor of Hollinsclough, buying it off a company called the Manorial Society of Great Britain, which operates from an address in Kennington Road in London SE11.

The title is meaningless, and socially worthless, since everyone knows the difference between the Duke of Devonshire and someone who paid the price of an Ikea kitchen for a piece of paper. I doubt it would get you a better table in Pizza Express.

It seems harmless enough, however. Carl and Tracey like to call themselves Lord and Lady Hollinsclough. The owner of Fulham football club has improved his name into Mohammed al-Fayed. An old friend of mine is often referred to, by his circle, as the Duchess of Arlingtonia. Now that the House of Lords is being transformed out of recognition, why doesn't the state take over the business of the Manorial Society of Great Britain, and flog meaningless but sonorous titles to the gullible? A million quid for a barony, 10 million if, like me, you've always rather fancied being Duke of Battersea.

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