Once upon a time (before waxed cotton was invented) there was a certain kind of very smooth black and shiny, tough and rugged waterproof two-piece motorcycle suit. From the first moment I saw one I wanted to touch it, feel it, rub myself against it. Most of all I wanted to zip and strap and snap myself into one and stomp around in it. As at that time I was fourteen years old, this was pure fantasy. I soon discovered it was called a ‘Black Prince’ suit, which seemed appropriate because to me at that age anybody wearing one looked like a modern knight in shining armour.
That was a lot of years ago and, even then, my attraction towards tough waterproof fabric wasn’t a new thing. Since before I could remember I’d been somehow excited by images of masculine men wearing thick and restrictive ‘gear’. When I was only seven my uncle Ted who was ‘away at the war’ had stored his massive heavy, shiny, long black motorcycling coat in the big walk-in wardrobe on our landing. Don’t ask me why; I guess his wife’s cupboards weren’t big enough. I only know I was drawn to it, and used to sneak into the dark interior, shut the door and wrap myself in this slippery, rubbery Greatcoat, as it was called. It was so heavy the loop to hang it up by was made of chain; another thing that attracted me to it. There in the breathless blackness I would feel it and smell it long before I knew what being turned-on was.
By the age of ten, American Fliers stationed near our provincial town who wore brown leather bomber jackets somehow attracted me, but not as much as my mother’s youngest brother, a cherubic looking young airman with a tangle of curly gold hair. When he came home on leave he wore a sheepskin flying jacket with brown leather outside, heavy white oiled wool high neck sweater, and wellies turned down at the tops with white sea-boot socks showing. I think it was the gear - but it could have been the man, although at that age I thought in terms of Heroes. I was also attracted to pictures of knights totally encased in metal armour.
When the first ‘Black Prince’ two piece suits came onto the market for motorcyclists in the late Forties they made even Uncle Ted’s blanket-lined full skirted shiny black ‘Storm Coat’ look very old fashioned. The Pride and Clarke mail order biker catalogue I’d so guiltily sent away for and drooled over, informed me that the Black Prince was ‘ ... the ultimate in weather protection, comfort and style’. Pictures in motorcycle catalogues from that era still turn me on, though at that time they really made my palms sweat.
By the age of seventeen I was working temporarily in Barrow in Furness (the wilds of the Industrial North) for a pittance. My landlady’s husband worked in the ship yards; ex-navy, he rode a motorbike, went fishing on his own and spent a lot of time gardening on his bleak allotment on the outskirts of Town. I fancied him rotten in an unfocussed way. At that time, though, I just wanted to be like him; masculine, confident and unselfconscious. He wore clapped out navy oilskins to and from work more often than not, and a sensational Government surplus heavy twill Tank Suit for when off on his bike in cold weather. I also fantasised about wearing this suit and being wrestled into submission in it by him while wearing his black ex-navy oilskins. My instinctive preferences were at that time still trying to find a focus.
When a spanking new Black Prince suit arrived for him by mail order (from Pride and Clarke) I was in serious mental turmoil, and he got the rough edge of his wife’s tongue for this piece of financial self-indulgence. But as he climbed into the glistening suit for the first time, and zippered and strapped and belted it, and all its tough snap fasteners and collar flaps and ankle flaps were snapped into place, I was filled with secret lust for the suit and seeing him in it. Here was the ultimate ‘Black Prince’ for me. I wasn’t clear what I wanted him to do to me or with me, but I was in danger of making a fool of myself because he was less than impressed by me. He was also not too happy at having me lodging in his house, but his practical wife insisted that they needed the extra cash (Three pounds a week for full board!).
I was born in The Midlands and anybody from south of The Pennines was already suspect in the eyes of this slightly dour epitome of northern working class maleness. Drafted into Barrow for six months on the local newspaper on an exchange scheme, I was judged to be a pen-pusher rather than a real Working Man. My landlady, on the other hand, hoped that having somebody she considered to be a little more cultured in her home, some might rub off on her rough diamond of a husband. Considering he was eight years my senior, the likelihood of me being a civilising influence was doomed from the start. On the other hand, I was ripe for initiation into the traditional chauvinism of the Industrial North. “Banny”, as he was known, was just the bloke to rise to the challenge of counteracting my “ponsified southern ways” as he called them, and show me how a real man should behave. Little did he suspect that my natural instincts had already prodded me in forbidden directions. Although he frequently referred to my ‘poofy’ hair and ‘ponsy’ ways, if he’d seriously thought I might be even latently queer he could never have dealt with it.
Generally referred to as Banny because they were Lil and Reg Bannerman, in their homely street they were a popular couple and regulars in several of the local pubs and Working Men’s clubs. I was welcomed into their circle for their sakes, Lil introducing me as something of a cultural feather in her cap. She was no snob, and one of the most wonderfully genuine people it has ever been my luck to know. However, she was secretly concerned that after ‘a good war’ her husband was perhaps slipping backwards socially and becoming dangerously like his father, one of the grimmest of grimly resentful unskilled labourers who had struggled through The Depression. ‘Our Lil’, on the other hand, not being from industrial Barrow was a feisty Lancashire lass; daughter of a farmer and raised on the storm-swept north coast of Morecambe Bay. She was determined to make life better for herself and her man, having escaped her primitive farm to do ‘war work’ in the shipyards. Her Mam and Dad and three weather-beaten brothers really didn’t actually think much of Banny, particularly because after four years of being wed to their Lil he still hadn’t produced a ‘nipper’. They also suspected him of being ‘deep’ and, even worse in their exuberant close-knit family circle, of being a 'loner'.
When I first arrived, his brooding presence in the small backstreet house carried a little menace, but Lil would wink and tell me he’d ‘Get used to it!’. They were both enthusiastic supporters of their local soccer team, so the fact I knew enough about Midland teams to name names (I’d covered matches for the Leicester Mercury), Banny and I found our first point of contact (or conflict). His notorious dark moods and need for solitude intrigued me. He’d been at sea from an early age, thrown together with dozens of men, escaping from a large family living in a very small house on a very low income ruled by a tyrannical father. Now he worked unsociable hours, drank rather too much and spent a lot of time off on his own, either out on his bike or up on his allotment.
Lil’s determination for me to ‘pal up’ with her husband embarrassed me, particularly because I was quite fearful of unintentionally revealing my guilty secret. Homosexuality was still a criminal offence so, although I’d done nothing about my natural instincts so far, I was less than comfortable around Banny. I found his northern blokeishness slightly menacing because I wasn’t yet able to deal with my own potential gayness (a term not yet in general use). I envied Lil her husband and felt slightly sorry for her. She was a lusty lass and although I knew she was sexually regularly ‘attended to’, I guessed there was little imagination behind her morose husband’s efforts at love making.
Because Lil really loved her Banny and was afraid his ‘deepness’ (as she called it) meant she was ‘too ordinary’ for him, she actually told me she thought I could stimulate him in a way she couldn’t ... poor innocent lass! She kept hinting that he should take me on his bike, fishing or at least show me more of the local countryside that she loved. She occasionally rode pillion with Banny (as even she called him), mainly to visit her family’s remote farm on the Coast Road. Eventually he sighed, as was his habit with Lil, and did as she suggested.
He tentatively offered to show me a bit of the Lake District one Sunday, and I prayed it would threaten rain just enough for me to legitimately wear his cast-off oilskins. The idea of being head-to-borrowed-boots in industrial waterproofs behind him on the bike with him wearing his shiny and tightly belted Black Prince two piece with sexy collar flap and ankle straps shut tight against the weather was a dream ready to come true. The day turned out to be unusually sunny, but he wore his new bike jacket anyway ... and I got to hug him round the waist and press my nose against his back as the pungent fabric warmed and softened as we rode out to look at hills he wasn’t much impressed by, but was willing to introduce me to because he knew it would please Lil.
Around the house he gradually began to tolerate me more like a younger brother rather than a ‘mucker’ as they say in Barrow, and at that time our relationship was a tightrope for me. There was no way Banny could be even experimentally gay and continue with the life he’d been brought up to. Although regarded locally as something of a Dark Horse, he was essentially what they used to call a man’s man. At that time in the north, Working Men’s clubs, Lodge Nights, lad’s nights out, exclusively men only pub rooms were all part of the cultural heritage. But this story is about a ‘Black Prince’ rather than the complications of growing up gay in the Industrial North.
I did get to wear Banny’s fantastic new suit, but only when he and his wife were out of the house together for the day or even over night. One night I even slept in it and was then worried that it wouldn’t have cooled down again before he came home or he might smell me on the oddly flannelette-like lining. I hung it inside out in the bike-shed where he kept it, until the time they were due home. Another of the problems was that in those days nobody locked their front doors and any of Lil’s family would regularly walk into the house without knocking, any time they were in Barrow. To ferret around Banny’s motorcycle and fishing suits and boots was a constant temptation when nobody was home; so there was a delicious danger about masturbating over it all. I started to fantasize about two of Lil’s horny handed brothers dropping in unexpectedly and finding me tying myself up in his gear ... and carrying me away to their barns and windswept farm cottages (specially the two who weren’t yet married and lived together in muddy isolation). But, like sex itself, it was all fiction in my mind ... not that any male-male fiction of that type was being published anywhere in the world at that period ... not as far as I knew, at least.
Eventually, I did get to wear a set of Banny’s ex-Navy oilskins semi-legitimately. It turned out there was a second set he kept in his shed up on the allotment that supplemented their limited post-war household budget. This deliciously stiff and pungent foul weather suit he’d somehow managed to ‘borrow’ from the Navy at the end of his service. The heavy hooded anorak and pants were brand new and had lain folded away for several years. The reason he’d never worn them was because he regularly wore his old set of ‘skins’ to and from the allotment when he was ‘in his muck’ as he called it.
My job with the Barrow Herald included a lot of evening reporting assignments so there were afternoons when I was officially off duty and at a loose end. Banny frequently worked nights by choice, so after a sleep and mid-day drink he spent many solitary afternoons tending his plot. My offer to help with some digging was met with a sardonic smile. But, perhaps because he thought it might ‘toughen me up a bit’ (a phrase he often used), he agreed.
On the Barrow peninsular where wind and rain is part of the landscape, it was common practice just to ignore the drizzle and work outdoors. So before long it was logical for me to climb into his spare oilskin smock and trousers to work alongside him on my occasional visits. Most of the individual plots out on that remote hillside had their own rudimentary wooden shack where tools and seeds could be stored. Banny’s hut also had a Primus stove for brewing tea, and a rough cot on which I suspect he’d slept off many a boozy lunch time. It was something of a den for him; a hideaway for a curiously solitary man. At first I thought he might resent my determination not only to get to know him better, but ‘muck in’ alongside him. He never mentioned the fact that I always seemed to have free time on days that threatened rain, but he would occasionally stop and watch me happily digging or hoeing, sweating away in his spare ‘foul weather’ suit and say with a smile ‘We’ll make you one of us yet’. If only!
As Lil predicted, he ‘got used to it’, and I became his ‘mucker’ ... and nobody looked twice as we worked in the rain and sat around in the hut in wellies and oilskins on long autumn afternoons and occasional Sundays. Banny being ex-navy, it was inevitable that when we were alone I’d work the conversation around to my favourite topics; knot-tying and the man-to-man roughhouse games. My most potent fantasies had always been based on competitive masculine horseplay especially when it involved ‘tying-up’. So, as a budding reporter I played the ‘Learning about life I’d never experienced’ card and asked about pranks that matelots played on one another. With quiet humour Banny would recount stories about the physicality of randy blokes at sea and ashore and apprentices in the shipyard when he was younger, usually implying that he’d watched from the sidelines rather than taking part in such mucking-around as he called it.
The gradual relaxing of his guarded nature was encouraging to experience. It was not a seduction because (a) it would be dangerous and (b) I liked him as he was. The first invitation to go fishing with him was quite a concession according to Lil who had long ago accepted that he was a man who needed solitary time, or at least time apart from her.
On our first experimental fishing trip together it was logical for me to take along the now familiar oilskins from the allotment. Banny had still been taking his old ‘skins’ and waders along on his regular solitary fishing jaunts even after the advent of the Black Prince suit which he now wore regularly on his bike in rain or shine. I might have risked asking to borrow the padded Tank Suit if we’d been going far but the spot chosen for this tentative trip was very close to home. However, the weather was dull enough to warrant me wearing my ‘skins’ (as they’d become) clinging close to the Black Prince on the back of the bike for the first time.
He seemed to enjoy schooling me in the gentle art of lake fishing and the trips became a regular feature in our lives. Quite often he took along a small tent in case the weather got really shitty when a long ride from home. He admitted that he used to enjoy an occasional overnight stay so he could do very early morning fishing but Lil had never enjoyed the tent. An offer seemed to be on the table. I suddenly became especially interested in learning more about dawn or even night fishing. The idea of a night in a small tent in the pissing rain with two sets of oilskins and his Black Prince suit hot off the bike to give the small space a special smell and ‘atmosphere’ ... at least I could fantasise and get off on the possibilities.
It was a seriously dangerous progression and the first time we ‘slept over’ I was naturally extra cautious. So, I sensed, was he. His status in the local community as a touchy and unpredictable hard man was quite scary. There were stories of sudden social violence in his past. Any suggestion of anything questionable about our relationship could have ended in disaster. However, as the degree of his comfortableness with me grew, my occasional cautious returns to the topic of challenging roughhouse games between men were carefully connected to my journalistic development. #
He still thought of me as having had a pampered upbringing, so he was forthcoming about the benefits of manly physical competitiveness and body contact sports. This theme I developed in casual conversation, eventually reintroducing a topic I’d studiously resisted returning to too often. I told him I intended to do an article on Harry Houdini’s tours of northern England and the challenges people brought to him.
On several previous occasions I’d asked Banny about rope and cable tying in the Navy. Hammock stowing and lashing and general horseplay with guys getting lashed up in their hammocks or to deck-rails at night were, I already knew, old Navy practices. So, tying up techniques suddenly became a legitimate topic because of my speculation on what sort of challenges might be brought to Houdini by the public today.
We were sleeping overnight on a fishing trip up the Cumbrian coast the first time I got him to tie me up. The weather was foul so not only were we in the tent early, but he was wearing his Black Prince suit and I the foul weather suit and boots because it was intensely cold and damp. Inside the tent from early dusk we talked about possible Houdini challenges. He had previously mentioned that on board one ship there had been a ‘regular Houdini-freak’. Later that evening, after a wet ride out for a couple of beers and fish and chips, back in the tent I steered the conversation back to how Houdini might have been foiled. He wasn’t easy to convince that he might know a useful trick or two, but he did say he’d watched as others challenged the guy aboard ship. When I asked how and if the guy got out - he laughed and said there were several simple ways to rope somebody inescapably. That was all the encouragement I needed - in the cause of ‘research’ he had to show me.
He had fishing line, a few odd straps (for strapping things to his bike) and some rope - and I’d thoughtfully packed some extra rope just in case, as the saying goes. It seemed acceptable to him to while away a couple of otherwise dreary hours - and I was secretly determined to spend all night trussed up next to this dark and sexy man dressed in boots and a Black Prince suit worn over corduroys and seaman’s sweater.
Still head-to-foot in oilskins, I suggested wearing gloves so my hands wouldn’t get cold if the escape took ... “too long”. He refused to allow gloves because he instinctively knew this would make escape easier. Being a practical man he approached the challenge seriously. After tying my hands efficiently but not dangerously tightly behind my back (in a small tent, this meant me lying face down with him kneeling astride me) he then used a small canvas pouch he kept fishing weights in to cover both my hands, cinching the strap tight enough to stop me working it off. He said it was to keep my hands warm but it also prevented me using my fingers through the thick canvas. Needless to say the ropes were inescapable. He offered to let me free almost immediately and it wasn’t easy to invent excuses to persuade him to leave me trussed all night. Eventually I just said ‘Fuck it Banny, it feels great! I think I must be kinky. I like the feeling of being bundled up and tied up with no possibility of escape’.
Well, I guess that’s when I learned that honesty pays. It made him smile his quizzical dark-eyed smile, but from then on he would tie me up whenever a suitable opportunity arose. When Lil went to visit her mother or when we were off fishing he’d good naturedly indulge my ‘kink’ for a good healthy struggle and sweat, and challenge me to get out or deal with it. The allotment hut became a treasure house of stuff he specially introduced to vary his strapping and wrapping. He seemed to look on it as a toughening up process, leaving me trussed for unspecified periods - sometimes over night - but only, according to him, because he knew I liked it. Significantly our activities were never mentioned when Lil was around, and I’m sure he never told her in private. His willingness to invent quite elaborate ‘challenges’ coupled with his refusal to admit any erotic involvement drove me crazy with frustration. But I convinced myself that one false move on my part could spook him and, should our activities become openly sexual, our relationship would either explode or freeze.
This may have been a cop-out on my part. Perhaps I was over cautious. Perhaps he was not as naive as he appeared. After all he had spent several years in the navy - but he continued to truss and rope and wrap - doing me a favour, as he put it. Gradually, he developed the game, bringing from the ship yard industrial tape and metal crate strapping bands. The periods of restraint became longer and more physically uncomfortable with me never knowing how long before he’d come back. He would return and taunt me for enjoying being trussed - but telling me it was good for me - toughen me up. Sometimes, coming back after leaving me in a seriously uncomfortable situation, he’d then leave again before finally returning to release me. But, never once did he make any overt sexual overture or remark or leave me any opening to suggest eroticism or even genital teasing. In fact, he noticeably no longer ever accused me of being poofy or poncy but insisted such situations were to encourage endurance and strength to struggle out of his ‘challenges’ or learn to survive them.
Such deliberate avoidance of possible homo-eroticism may sound unbelievable today but in those sexually inhibited times blokes just didn’t even talk about that sort of stuff in Barrow in Furness, even as a joke. There were ‘poofs and pansies’ in the town and Banny and all his drinking cronies knew who they were. There was no harassment of them, in fact most people deliberately steered very clear of any social contact. In my work I met them when covering amateur drama, at the local theatre and Arts events. Today this may sound disgracefully stereotypic. There were even rumours of Rough Trade in the town; men who fucked men they despised for money. I made a couple of cautious attempts to discuss such situations with Banny, but as far as both he and Lil were concerned ‘That sort of thing!’ was totally beneath contempt ... full stop, end of discussion. So, I had to chose between outwardly agreeing with them or sowing seeds of doubt about my stance on issues the social climate of Barrow in Furness in the late Forties was not yet ready to admit.
Banny was certainly not sexless. He screwed Lil resolutely in the hope of cementing their marriage. In a small terraced house it wasn’t easy to ignore their regular efforts to procreate. Occasionally Banny even mentioned to me that he wished she could ‘catch’. I wondered if he was afraid he might be infertile. Uncertainty about his manhood may have been another reason he so studiously kept our little games on a non-sexual level.
Our life as ‘muckers’ developed to bizarre levels with visits to the Dog Track, the Speedway Track and local football matches. Best of all were the hillside bike scrambles, togged up in the muckiest of waterproofs and wellies, standing around with dozens of other masochists shivering and squelching around as the bikers sprayed all and sundry with muddy slime. Helpfully diving forward to drag some beleaguered bike out of a ditch only to be sprayed with mud for your trouble as it roared away or was overtaken by other riders, was considered to be good manly fun. Lil even sometimes came along, which involved a second bike. On such occasions I automatically rode with Banny, with Lil behind one of her farmer brothers because they remained suspicious of me ... quite rightly because I fancied two of them rotten.
Those winter afternoons had all the potential for a muddy orgy - especially when it was only Banny and his ‘young mucker’, as I was known. We sluiced one another down with gallons of water from brook or seashore before riding home; sometimes we peeled off and dried out in the meagre Lancashire sun before returning to the mundane life in a Barrow back street. One night Banny even got drunk at a pub rather than going home at the expected hour. Lil was livid and Banny got blamed for getting me into bad habits. If only she’d known! I’d seriously considered getting him drunker and chancing something developing - but once again I chickened out or was sensible - whichever!
Memories of Banny in his glistening Black Prince suit leaning over me and wrapping and tying, breathing into my ear and holding me down because I started resisting while he was tying (but never enough to discourage him). Was I a fool not to push our activities into overt sexuality? Did he regret that I didn’t push him or did he want it and thought I didn’t? Even when I met him later in life when Lil was dying of cancer (the dormant cancer which had prevented her bearing a child) it was too late to be honest with one another. Probably my fault because I didn’t fully come out even to myself for another fifteen years. He could have helped me. He never even let me tie him down. He never left himself open to a legitimate approach from me. I still believe all the shutters would have rolled down and I would no longer have been welcome in his house. He could not have faced his drinking mates with me at his side. At least, that’s what I hope; because if I got it wrong and he was waiting for me, this is a modern tragedy I’m writing. Or might it have been a brief ‘encounter’ that wrecked an amiable marriage - or could passionate sexuality between us have been just a happy chapter in both our lives with no long term effects?
The image of this dark and sexually powerful Black Prince, booted and goggled (no statutory helmets in those days) is still vivid in my sensual memory. Banny was the first man I saw and felt while wearing that tantalising fabric. Sometime before my stay ended he was talking about buying a Waxed Cotton version, the latest thing. One of Lil’s brothers had bought one and Banny had tried the jacket on as I stood and lusted. After one particularly rugged Trial Bike meeting in the mud, big Dan (the brother) decided his suit needed re-waxing. Lil had offered that Banny would lend a hand, and of course I was game to assist ... while her tough farmer brother was wearing it ... in the little brick back yard in Barrow-in-Furness on a sunny Sunday. Lil took part in the process and I stood by as she and her sexy husband laughed and wiped the sticky wax all over the brother’s body ... with lusty squeals as she massaged his crotch and down his legs and under his armpits. Oh, how we all laughed as she daubed Banny’s nose with wax and he grabbed her and threatened to do the same to her. He even called on me to help hold her still while he threatened her with dire consequences. She invited me to attack him and protect her ... and I didn’t. As J B Priestly said, our lives are full of dangerous corners when we make a snap decision and take one road rather than another, and it perhaps changes our future.
It’s not a case of luck or fate - perhaps we make our own luck and chose our own fate. Who knows? I just know that Black Prince suits still hold the appeal for me they held when I was seventeen and now I’m sixty-five. I can now play comfortably in them and with people who get-off on wearing them, whenever I like now ... and have been doing so for forty years. Because all those years ago (on the day I left Barrow in Furness) I vowed I’d never again hang back when something tempting was within reach. Since then I’ve taken chances, made opportunities and been honest with myself and other people about what I like. I told Banny I like to get tied up - but never told him I wanted him to fuck me or do whatever he wanted to do with me - I never told him I sort-of loved him - but didn’t want him to change his life for me - or become something other than what he already was. But then again, perhaps he knew I wanted him to fuck me rigid and perhaps he knew that I ‘sort of loved him’ - and that was his problem.
I hope he had a happy and fulfilled life. I have.
Jim Stewart - revised July 2000