‘In my opinion,’ says Alistair Webster QC, author of the Liberal Democrats’ internal report into Lord Rennard’s droit de seigneur-style pulling technique, ‘the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.’ I’ll tell you what behaviour that violates personal space is.
I was on a Nile cruise press trip: Aswan to Luxor. We were three hacks and a woman from the PR company. We’d done Edfu, Kom Ombo, Karnak, Thebes, the Valley of the Kings. In bed at night, if I shut my eyes tightly, I could see hieroglyphics emblazoned on the insides of my eyelids.
Our last night was spent at one of Cairo’s better hotels. The other two hacks were abstemious. The PR woman was permanently on duty. Every night had been an early night. I was ready for a good drink and this looked like a good place to have one. We dined with the hotel manager at a table in an enormous banqueting hall of gilt and polished marble.
He sat next to me. He was a courteous, civilised, sceptical man with Cupid’s bow lips and a feminine delicacy in the way he held his cigarettes low down between his middle fingers. In both appearance and spirit he reminded me of the Alexandrian poet C.P. Cavafy, of whom I am a devotee. He drank steadily and smoked throughout the five courses, eating little, and his staff attended to him with grave respect, replacing his ashtray with a clean one after each cigarette. His English was perfect and his conversation ranged far and wide. He had tried all the mainstream religions, he said, and believed Hinduism to be the most profound. Tomorrow he was leaving for a week of solitary contemplation in the Sinai desert. While grinning dancers thrust their tasselled bellies at us, he successfully flattered me by listening with concentrated stillness and attentiveness to my glottal-stopped inanities as though I were a Solomon or a Kant.
We talked intensely throughout the meal. The others, after a week in each other’s faces, were glad to watch the show. Finally, pushing his dessert bowl wearily aside, he lit yet another cigarette, regarding me with a slightly fatuous glint in his eye. ‘But tell me, Jeremy,’ he said, ‘have you ever made love with a man?’
I was a pretty boy as a teenager and so I was happy to have, and well practised at, the conversation which I now knew was coming up. ‘No,’ I said. He leant back in his chair, placed a hand over his heart and studied me with patient amusement. ‘Why not?’ he said. ‘Too busy,’ I said. ‘Come with me to my bed tonight,’ he said. ‘I have an uninterrupted view of the pyramids, and I will make love to you like you have never been made love to before. I will demonstrate to you, Jeremy, that there is infinitely greater pleasure in making love with a man than with a woman. Come. Please. Open your mind.’
The others, true to form, hared off to their beds as soon as was decently possible. I stayed to drink. I had only to look significantly at a waiter and seconds later another drink would arrive. Marvellous. Meanwhile the manager pleaded, cajoled, insisted, argued, begged and mocked until he became boring about it. Finally he tried subterfuge. ‘Come to my office,’ he said. ‘I have something very interesting to show you.’ I scoffed. He held up a hand to bid the universe stop for a moment while he solemnly swore there would be no funny business.
His office was just off the palatial marble foyer. As we went in he slammed the door behind me and launched himself at me. He pinned me against the door with fanatical strength and clamped his cherubic lips on to mine. His strength amazed me, and it took the entirety of mine to prise his face away and then force the rest of him off. And then he came back at me with even greater fury than before and I had to wrestle him to the ground. He fought me every centimetre of the way. He was so strong I wondered whether mine wasn’t going to be enough and I’d have to get my thumb in his eye. And then his strength gave out and I got up off the floor and made it through the door. I’d walked perhaps ten yards across the marble to where a concierge was standing behind a desk, when the manager came flying out of his office, slipped over and glided for a good five yards on his shirt front along the marble. I looked at the concierge. He looked back at me as if to say, ‘What?’
Now that is having one’s personal space violated. It is not, surely, having a hand brush against your leg so lightly that it is uncertain whether it was intended or not.
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