I don’t know how many of you are Strictly Come Dancing fans, but I hope there are a few of you out there. Last weekend we watched the third episode of this series and the professional dancers did one of their group numbers at the top of the show. Johannes was a handsome Prince and a ball was being held in his honour. As he entered the ballroom he saw the couples dancing on the floor, but seemed isolated and alone. Until a male dancer, Kai, stepped forward and asked him to dance. As they started to move round the floor his face lit up and so did mine. The other couples on the floor reformed until the ballroom was full of same sex couples. It was a joyous dance about acceptance for who we are and the ability to be open about our sexuality. It really brought tears to my eyes to see how happy Johannes was to do this dance. So, for me this was exactly the right week to read a book I’ve seen doing the rounds of BookTwitter for since January. I know I’m seriously behind most people in reading this little gem from Matt Cain, but I couldn’t miss a chance to talk about it- just in case there are other people living under a rock like me who haven’t encountered Albert Entwhistle yet.
The books sits perfectly next to the Strictly dance I mentioned, not just because of the subject matter, but because both are simply little parcels of joy! I felt uplifted every time I sat to read a few pages of this wonderful story. There’s a further little link to Strictly too, as Albert reminisces about a trip to Blackpool with his friend George. They were both young men at the time and they visit the iconic tower ballroom, where George is taken with the dancers whirling round the floor. He asks Albert to think of a world where they could take a turn round the floor like every other couple there. George exclaims how romantic it is and Albert agrees. It would be romantic, but it’s inconceivable for two men to partner up and take to the floor. In fact it seems so taboo that Arthur imagines there’s a written rule against it. Years later, when he’s 64, he revisits the ballroom to show his friend Nicole and sees a couple of men his own age, waltzing round the floor with no one batting an eyelid. A realisation follows; how can anything change while gay men remain hidden? It takes trailblazers, people willing to be uncomfortable and face public displeasure, to make things change. This gives him the courage he needs to face his fears and perhaps even alter the lonely future he imagines. Maybe he could find his friend George and talk again? He doesn’t dare to hope that the feelings could still be there, but there is a small nugget of longing for that dream. Why not? After all, he still feels the same way about George.
Until now Albert has lived very closed off from the rest of society. He’s a postman, and has a routine of arriving at the sorting office at the same time each morning, organising and sorting his load for that day. He doesn’t really interact much with his colleagues, beyond normal pleasantries. We see his lonely life at home, with rare moments of joy when he puts on a show tune and dances with his cat Gracie. So, I loved how Albert’s search for George opened him up to other experiences, particularly his friendship with single mother Nicole. He’s never been to a soft play centre before or even been this close to children. Yet she doesn’t let him hesitate or worry, and just places her daughter on Albert’s knee before he can argue. He’s never been to a pub quiz before either, but once he takes the plunge, he’s surprised how much he enjoys these new experiences. It also makes him more aware of other people’s loneliness and he starts to make little changes to try and make their lives better. His dread about revealing his sexuality to people seems disproportionate, because we live in more tolerant times. Yet, when we think back to Albert’s teenage years, homosexuality was still a crime. It’s amazing to think it was as recent as Sam Gyhima’s stint as justice minister in 2017 for a government pardon to be made to everyone jailed for their sexuality. This followed a royal posthumous pardon in 2013, for the mathematician Alan Turing. The writer’s trips back into Albert’s past, remind the reader that there are years of prejudice behind these uplifting stories. Strictly’s same sex dance routine elicited tears of emotion, because what’s now accepted enough to be on family television at prime time on Saturday night, used to elicit abuse, rejection and even criminal charges. So I found this book moving and I really did fall utterly in love with Albert. The story was heartfelt and uplifting. I would really recommend it to anyone looking for beautiful characters to engage with and story full of human emotion.
Published 27th May 2021 by Headline Review
Meet The Author
Matt Cain is an author, a leading commentator on LGBT+ issues, and a former journalist. He was Channel 4’s first Culture Editor, Editor-In-Chief of Attitude magazine, and has judged the Costa Prize, the Polari Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. He won Diversity in Media’s Journalist Of the Year award in 2017 and is an ambassador for Manchester Pride and the Albert Kennedy Trust, plus a patron of LGBT+ History Month. Born in Bury and brought up in Bolton, he now lives in London.