To most people he was a leper, a pariah and a filthy pervert. Remember those were the days when the most enlightened opinion thought of homosexuality as a disease and the least considered it an abomination and a crime against nature. Archie had lost count of the number of times some testosterone laden, knuckle dragging, hero had dished him out a beating. He was safe nowhere – even the neighbourhood children would taunt him with vicious insults and throw stones at him; Archie would simply stare at the ground and quicken his step through the gauntlet of abuse.
He did most of his drinking at the Railway Club where - although he was shunned by the other customers - he was at least afforded a little peace. I’d see him in there sitting in the corner avoiding eye contact and nursing a pint of special. I spoke with him sometimes – even bought him a pint or two – much to the amusement of the locals; consorting with a known homosexual made me suspect in their eyes.
Once prised from his shell Archie exhibited a delightful sense of humour and was something of a raconteur. He had a million stories from his days as a wheel tapper on the railways – a job he’d had to leave when his secret was discovered as no-one would work with a dirty queer. He seemed to bear no grudge against those who spurned him – neither did he complain about the caprice of nature which had made him an untouchable.
I once asked him why he did not move to the city where he was bound to find others like himself. He simply replied that everyone he knew was here in this dirty old industrial town and that cities were too big and heartless for him. I tried not to pity him, but he was a pitiful specimen; frail in stature and temperament. Archie was a prisoner of his circumstances and destined to lead a lonely life – he seemed reconciled to his fate – forever outside looking in.
I once attended a party in one of those rare households where Archie was accepted. It was back in the day when people sang at parties and each guest had a signature song. When Archie’s turn came he sang ‘My Way’ and I was blown away by his beautiful velvety baritone timbre. He sounded like a Sinatra style crooner. It was hard to believe that big voice emanated from such a diminutive man. He was cheered on and sang several more songs to great approbation, but as much as the singing it was the look on his face that impressed me – he was happy, exultant even. As his voice soared heavenward I remembered something he once told me; he was a lapsed Catholic – no longer welcome in the chapel - but he believed he had a home on high where questions of sexuality no longer mattered. That was many years ago and Archie has surely passed on; if there is any justice in the universe he now sings in a heavenly choir and that beatific expression is permanently etched upon his face.