I have been married twice in my life, and I would probably have got married far more often, as both times have been fairly successful, if it wasn't for the dread of having to go through that thing which seems to be expected of you at marriage time: the stag party. On both occasions I managed to get away with not having a stag party, but I might not be so lucky a third time. I have only once in my life been to a stag party and it was such a dreadful occasion that I couldn't really bear to risk going through with it again.
(Nothing particularly dreadful happened. We ate a lot and drank a lot, and then the younger members of the group said: "Come on, let's go down the West End and have a night on the tiles", at which point a still, small voice said inside me: "If you want to get very drunk and go to a strip club and be sick on the pavement outside, this is your chance", and I went straight home to bed. Next day I asked the others what had happened, and it seemed they had gone to a strip club and drunk a lot and been sick and returned home poor. "We had a great time," they said, but they didn't look as if they meant it.)
The thing is, I don't really enjoy a lot of all-male company. At least, not the hearty, laddish variety. I can't see the point of getting in coaches and singing and getting drunk, and going to rugby matches, and getting beaten and coming home again with more singing and drinking. When you read about the great days of the big bands, in the 1930s and 1940s, you realise that the jazz musicians of the time spent most of their time, not playing, but sitting in (mostly all-male) coaches, drearily going hundreds of miles across America, and they hated it. They would do anything to while away the boredom - play cards, take drugs, anything except, presumably, sing. Guys who make music for money don't waste a lot of time making it for pleasure. The Cab Calloway Band, like many other American bands, even had its own baseball team which was managed by the best player in the band, the trombonist Tyree Glenn. Calloway once said that one of the worst moments of his professional life came when he was dropped from the team by Glenn. "It's my team!" he said, "And I've been kicked out of it! I can't believe it! " The Stan Kenton band was so big it had to travel in two coaches, and this gave the band the chance to split into those who wanted noise and fun, and those who didn't. So one lot played cards and told dirty jokes, and the others... Well, they had no idea what the others did, so one day they sent over a saxophonist to see what the quiet lot were doing. He came back awestruck.
"I can't believe it! They're reading!" He said.
I'm with them. I'd rather read a book. For most of my life I have taken care to carry round a book with me for such moments, of being either by myself or with lots of people. I have occasionally been at dinner parties where suddenly all the women are led away and the men are left behind to drink port, talk about politics, and exchange dirty stories. It is at moments like that I wish I had the courage to get a book out and start reading. Or follow the women, of course. I did follow the women once. It wasn't very successful. The women wanted to be alone and discuss the men frankly and cattily, and they found it harder with me sitting there.
Looking back, I think I have done a lot of my reading while sitting on lavatories, and it is certainly a good idea to take a book with you to a public lavatory, as the reading on offer there is limited in the extreme. Why do men write such dreary graffiti, and why is so much of it about their sexual fantasies? And why are their sexual fantasies so repetitive? Why do they never have other kinds of fantasy, such as eating fantasies? You can imagine what they'd be like... "God, I'd like to get hold of this really luscious cheese sandwich with pickles coming out all over it and really sink my teeth into it - I've got these really massive teeth - until the cheese sandwich yelled for mercy, but I wouldn't stop, I'd go on and on munching this really huge cheese sandwich ... "
Somebody once told me that if I found male lavatorial graffiti unimpressive yet disturbing, I ought to sample the graffiti in female lavatories. It was a woman who told me this. She said: "Women's graffiti are startling different from men's because..." I wish I could remember what she said after that, because I still want to know, and I still haven't have the chance to visit a representative sample and find out.
For many years I used to play in an all-male group called Instant Sunshine. There were only four of us, which wasn't enough to form a baseball team, but it gave me the feeling of what it's like to be on the road in a single sex group. We once came up against an all female group. This was when we were recording a programme for Jackanory, which involved play-acting a tremendously exciting yarn I had written called" Journey to the Source of the M1", and the director of the programme was a woman. She said to us one day, "Do you find it very odd working with an all-female production team?" and none of us had realised till that moment that everyone ordering us about was female, which made me realise that they felt it odd to be in an all-female team, whereas we didn't feel at all odd to be in an all male group....
I'm sorry. I've been talking non-stop. It's a male failing, I believe. We just go on and on and on ...
The Big Issue December 1994