London has long since lost its allure for me — altogether too many cars, foreigners, cyclists, middle-class liberals and people who, like me, work in the media, as they call it. I was born in London but only feel truly at home in the north-east of England, an area of the country within which the constituents of that list I quoted above are almost nonexistent. But I am thinking now of moving back to the city — it’s possible that I could afford a flat in somewhere such as Brockley, or perhaps Catford — to take advantage of a radical new development in our capital. Because rumbling along the streets of London quite soon will be homophobic buses.
I’m well into my fifties now, and jaded, so nothing much that happens in the world induces a sense of marvel and excitement. But homophobic buses really do it for me. As the Proclaimers once sang, I would walk 500 miles — just to sit, proudly, on a homophobic bus. It would not matter where the bus was heading. It’s the travelling that’s the thing, don’t you think, not the arriving?
The Court of Appeal, rather wonderfully, has called for an investigation into the Mayor of London’s decision to ban homophobic buses from the streets of the capital. These were buses upon which the Core Issues Trust, a Christian charity, had placed an advert reading: ‘Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post Gay and Proud — Get Over It.’ The adverts had been placed there in response to one from the gay pressure group Stonewall, which read: ‘Some people are gay! Get over it!’ Both adverts seem a little bit camp to me. Anyone who says ‘Get over it’ (especially with an exclamation mark), I tend to mark down in my little red book as ‘probably bats for the other side’, or some similarly dated and off-colour euphemism.
In any case, Stonewall’s advert seemed, at first, entirely superfluous to me. We know that some people are gay, I thought to myself when I saw the ad — all we have to do is turn on the TV and there they all are, jabbering excitedly to one another, or telling us that it’s going to rain tomorrow and we’d better take our ‘brollies’ out with us. I may have been wrong about this, however. The latest census returns suggest that there are far, far fewer gay people in Britain than the gay campaigners would have you believe. Indeed, Britain’s population of lesbians is apparently vanishingly small and even endangered — and it might be that one of these days we shall need to set aside an area of the country where they can be successfully re-introduced, for reasons of biodiversity, much as the RSPB has done so gloriously with red kites in Buckinghamshire and beyond. It would be a magnificent spectacle, to watch lesbians soaring hither and thither in the skies above the Chilterns on their outstretched wings, fierce gimlet eyes perpetually on the alert for carrion. But I am getting ahead of myself here.
The Court of Appeal adjudicated that Boris Johnson, the mayor, and formerly of course great panjandrum of this parish, may have acted improperly by banning the anti-gay advert. Political reasons, it was suggested. In other words, Boris didn’t want to hack off the gays when he was standing for re-election as mayor, and didn’t really give a monkey’s about the Christians, presumably because they were electorally insignificant or already voting for him. Well, sure, that’s London for you, I suppose. But now we are to have an investigation into our mayor’s motives with the possibility that the Christian charity’s advert could be reinstated on the side of a bus. Hopefully one that runs through Islington, or down the middle of Old Compton Street.
The clincher seems to be that while gay people have their rights protected by the 2010 Equality Act, so too do people who were once gay but are now gay no longer, perhaps having settled down with a nice girlfriend, or having taken a somewhat fundamentalist version of Jesus Christ into their hearts. That’s paragraph 98 of the act, Boris me old mate, if you’re thinking of looking it up. And then there’s paragraphs 80–82 of the act, which suggest that Transport for London would have been better off not running the Stonewall advert in the first place — keep everything politically neutral, and so on. The thing is, Stonewall probably think their ad is politically neutral.
As you might guess, I am hugely in favour of homophobic buses. Not because I hold any animus against gay people — far from it. There isn’t an economically more successful section of the country, nor one less disposed towards criminality. But I think it is vital that everyone, regardless of who they are, or what they do to one another under the cover of darkness on Hampstead Heath, should be afforded the chance to be offended on a daily basis, in the hope that it will enable them, eventually, to ‘get over it’. And to get over it without recourse to lawyers and legislation; just to abide by someone else’s view and accept that they are hideously misguided, or plain wrong, or possibly right but you don’t really care — and not to worry about it any further. The right to be offended. I think it might catch on, you know.