Today I saw a message on Facebook from Maurice, one of the founders of the Hankie Quilt Project, reminding us that it has been a year since the launch of this brilliant idea. HIV isn’t just about on World AIDS Day, it’s here 365 days of the year, and so are the memories of the people we have all lost to AIDS; here is my memory of one of those people, my lovely friend, M.
joined the ship in Germany. On my first, night, while sharing a small cabin with three straight men, I began to wonder if I was the only gay on board, when I heard someone shout, “M’s in the corridor and he’s wearing a dress!” My heart leapt as I ran out to see my saviour in sequins!
M and I became friends instantly and I quickly packed my belongings and swapped cabins with a straight guy (both of us were greatly relived) and moved in with M and two other gay men.
Apart from having to wake up in shifts to shower and avoid any squabbles over the one mirror in the cabin, sharing that cramped space was filled with much fun and laughter.
During our time at sea, M said he wanted to put together a drag revue show for the staff party. M’s passion for the show saw him enrol our cabin mates and we became The Ruby Sisters. M was the type of person who made things happen; he gained us a budget for our drag and wigs (which we bought in New York) had our dance routine put together by two of the women from the Peter Gordino dance troupe and our wigs where back combed to heavenly heights and make-up thickly applied by the prestigious Steiner Salon hairdressers/beauticians.
The show went down so well, we were asked to perform it again that same night for the customers. Just as we had brought the house down for the staff do, as we came dancing down the sweeping stair case to “We Are What We Are”, the effect was even greater when our customers suddenly twigged that their professional stewards, who had given them a five star service in the restaurant for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, were now transformed into glamorous drag queens. The show was such a successes, that we performed it for next few transatlantic crossings.
M and I worked together, played together and shared a cabin 24/7 for eight months, then we both came back to dry land. M and I stayed very close, with me visiting him in London or him coming down for a weekend in Brighton and even doing a few ad-hoc shows for friends and one memorable alcohol fuelled show in a London bar.
The months flew by with so many laughs and boozy nights out, we thought it would be like that forever; then one day I had a call to say that M had been taken ill.
AIDS swallowed M too quickly. Within a month he was taken into the Mildmay Hospital. M was defiant to the end, propped up in bed, cigarette poised just above his left shoulder, delivering his ever cutting wit, but it was obvious I would never see him alive again.
At his funeral he had a flower tribute of the QE2 on his coffin and a pair of red high heels, while his favourite song, ‘Cabaret’ played as his body was brought in.
Even after all these years I still miss M a lot. I guess I just want to say. ‘Thank you’ to Maurice and Peter for creating the Hankie Quilt Project, it has been a privilege to make a panel for M, a lovely, lovely, man who will never be forgotten.