Philip Hensher: Let’s hear it for ‘baggage-handling’

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George Rekers is a Florida psychologist who is strongly critical of gay lifestyles, and in particular of gay adoption.

As such, he has made himself a small career in the service of state legal services. He testified in Arizona, where the judge said that his testimony was “extremely suspect and of little, if any, assistance to the court”. The Attorney General in Florida paid him at least $60,900 for similar testimony challenging a gay adoption. What does he do with the money he earns by contradicting the shared wisdom of his profession?

He hands some of it over to male prostitutes. Mr Rekers took a recent trip of ten days to London and Madrid. He was not alone, but accompanied throughout by a 20 year old man, subsequently discovered to be Jo-Vanni Roman - I guess that was an attempt to spell Giovanni, if you were wondering. Mr Roman advertised his personal services under the names of “Geo” and “Lucien” on a website called www.rentboy.com. He seemed like an improbable companion for Mr Rekers, who is an officer of the anti-gay National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.

Presented with evidence of this, Mr Rekers made a memorable statement. Mr Roman was employed, not as a catamite, but as a baggage handler – Mr Rekers was recovering from surgery and could not lift his own suitcases.

He was not discovered on rentboy.com, but through advertising. When Mr Rekers discovered, only halfway through the trip, how “Lucien” earnt his living, he took the opportunity to spend the rest of the time explaining the benefits of the Christian faith to homosexuals. Research, so far, has failed to discover whether this innovative outreach policy has been successful.

Quite why a Miami rentboy would prefer the wages of a bag-handler for ten days over what he could earn in his usual line of business, I can not guess. Nor why Mr Rekers would think it necessary to bring someone along to perform this service, when Heathrow airport only charges £8 to carry your luggage on request.

The widespread incredulity at this wonderfully baroque version of events has, however, added a sublime new euphemism to the vocabulary of innuendo, in the form of “baggage handler”. Public figures, discovered in unlikely company at the oddest of moments, have done a good deal to enhance our vocabulary in this area.

There is “badger watching”, after the Welsh secretary Ron Davies, caught in a well-known cruising ground in broad daylight, claimed to be looking for these shy nocturnal creatures. There is “toe-tapping”, after the Republican senator Larry Craig was accused to trying to attract the attention of a gentleman in a neighbouring toilet cubicle in an airport by this means – unfortunately, he turned out to be a police officer. Innuendo was unbounded when Mr Craig asserted that he had no intention of attracting a partner in joy; he merely had a “wide stance” when using the lavatory.

If Mr Rekers really did advertise, and found himself employing a rent-boy, it seems much more likely that he was the victim of entrapment than of an unfortunate coincidence. He only has to produce the original advertisement to dispel our incredulity, and stop the phrase “baggage-handler” going into the language.

What exactly is the point of Harrods?

Harrods is being sold by Mohammed Fayed to the Qatari royal family. The price is £1.5 billion, and good luck to them. But who on earth shops there? Selfridge’s reinvented itself, and is now about as cool as a department store could ever get. Harvey Nicholls is still enjoying some of the boost it received from Absolutely Fabulous. But Harrods is mostly remarkable for the almost inconceivable vulgarity of its interiors.

Years ago, it genuinely surpassed its competitors, and not just with its once-famous ability to sell wild animals unflappably. (“I’d like a camel.” “Certainly sir: one lump or two?” as the story went). Foodies now go to Borough Market; fashionistas have no end of better choices; and its furniture department is unique only in a way which can’t be recommended.

The only reason I ever have to go there is their perfumery department, which stocks unusual lines like Amouage and Ormonde Jayne, and where the staff often know their stuff.

It’s true that whenever you go, it’s absolutely packed, though it does give the impression of relying a lot on tourists, and does a conspicuously roaring trade in Harrods-labelled souvenirs. It is clearly a stop on the weekend break. The first task for the new owners is, obviously, to remove quite a lot of the Egyptian adornments in the style of Wilson, Keppel and Betty. But then, surely, they ought to make a virtue of its twenty-eight restaurants, none of which even aspire to fashion. If Londoners can be persuaded to eat there, as Berliners do in the gorgeous top floor of KaDeWe, they may decide that they want to shop there, too.

Comedy like Morris’s must be defended

The families of the victims of the 7/7 bombings will, of course, not want to see Chris Morris's comedy about the jihadists, Four Lions. Obviously, everyone will respect their feelings. But the argument that a film like this should not be made, and that it will never be a subject for comedy, is profoundly mistaken.

Comedy is a means by which intelligence defends itself. During the Second World War, the British consistently laughed at Hitler and his pretensions. The jihadists are terrible in their project, but we should not be afraid to voice the perception that they are individually ridiculous and even risible. The noise of laughter represents the opposite to the violence and hatred perpetrated in these crimes; in fact, the noise of laughter, and the freedom it springs from, is exactly what the jihadists most hated about the country they grew up in.

Morris is a voice on the right side, and Four Lions is a firm and even inspiring defence of the traditions which came under assault on 7/7.

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