I was once in a party of talkative travel hacks on a Nile cruise and didn’t realise that one member was gay. I forget how it came up, but in conversation I said that I’d read somewhere that the directors and many of the writers of the US sitcom Sex and the City were gay, adding that it was remarkable how queer culture, via that popular show, had influenced heterosexual culture. This self-consciously civilised, mild-mannered man went ape – incandescent at this nasty repetition of anti-gay propaganda. Judging by the reaction, it must have been one of the most homophobic remarks to which he’d ever been exposed. His journalistic brief for the trip was a fifty-word piece. You’d have thought he’d have tried to enjoy himself in spite of one off-colour remark. But it had left him depressed and bitter. His trip was spoiled. And we hadn’t even cast off into the sacred river yet. He had nothing to say about the soft beauty of Aswan and refused to speak to the other passengers. He turned in on himself. I felt rotten.
One morning I woke up early and went down to the restaurant for breakfast. He was there already, conspicuously seated as far as possible from the few other early birds. Here was my opportunity to extend the olive branch. I would join him at his table and chat away affably