Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A long friendship

Antony Grey writes:

I heard today of the death of one of my oldest friends. Henri Methorst was 98. I and my partner first met him in the early 1960s when we frequently visited Amsterdam, which in those days was a beacon of freedom for homosexuals from all over the world. Apart from ‘gay tourism’, Amsterdam was then an extremely pleasant city – much more so than is the case today, from what I can gather. The Dutch are a friendly and hospitable people, and there were no visible ethnic or religious tensions: the post-WW2 immigrants were almost entirely from the Dutch East Indies, and blended easily into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city.

I did not go to Amsterdam merely for pleasure. I was then already actively engaged in the campaign to reform the cruel and primitive British laws penalising all male homosexual behaviour, and there was much to be learned from the Dutch about attitudes and tactics. During the war, Holland – like all countries occupied by the Germans – had the equally backward German penal code foisted on it by the Nazis, and homosexuality was driven underground. But even before the war ended a small group of courageous Dutchmen were planning a postwar campaign for what would later be known as gay liberation. One was a leading radio and television actor, Niek Engelschman, who [under the name of Bob Angelo] took the initiative in bringing together a nucleus of like-minded people in a discreet literary reading circle which after the war emerged as the COC [‘Cultural and Recreational Centre’] – still after 40 years Holland’s leading gay rights organisation. One of Bob’s foremost helpers was Benno Premsela, an architect and member of one of Amsterdam’s leading business families. Another was Henri Methorst.

When we first visited Amsterdam we naturally paid an early call on the COC, where we received a warm welcome from Bob, Benno, and Henri who were all extremely interested in and supportive of our work in England. They had proceeded, wisely and correctly, on the principle that gay freedom was a human rights issue, and that if society was ridding itself of Nazi repression, homosexuals should claim a share of the action. Between the end of the war in 1945 and the early 1960s they had achieved a remarkable degree of success. The COC had clubhouses in several Dutch towns, and had achieved a measure or royal patronage: Queen Juliana’s portrait hung prominently in the COC Amsterdam clubhouse, a spacious place with an excellent bar and restaurant and – amazingly to British eyes – a dance floor where male couples partnered each other.

Because of his professional life, Henri Methorst was especially interested in the international aspects, and held office in the international gay organisation established under the COC’s auspices. Henri was a top-level international conference interpreter – a brilliant linguist speaking several languages who frequently flew around the world providing simultaneous translation services to governmental and other important events. He ran his own consultancy in partnership with his wife, who remained a close friend and colleague after he ‘came out’ as gay and began leading a separate personal life.

When we met Henri he was in his early ‘50s: affable, alert, interested in a wide range of topics, and with a well-stored and penetrating mind. Conversation with him kept one on one’s toes. He was also very kind. Coming from a well-to-do family, he had an extremely pleasant apartment in a nineteenth-century house near Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, and he generously lent this to us on two or three occasions when he and his partner went south for their Mediterranean summer holiday. This was most welcome, enabling us to relax more than was possible in hotels, and allowing us to take our car with us a couple of times so that we were able to see a good deal of the Netherlands.

It is more than twenty years since I last saw Henri, but he had the old-fashioned concept of friendship as a permanent link that was more than just a matter of “out of sight out of mind”, and we continued corresponding once or twice a year until his death. In his later years he settled happily into a sheltered home for retired artists near to Amsterdam, from whence he wrote in great contentment of his busy mental life, his supportive family and friends, and his continued enjoyment of playing chamber music well into his nineties [he was a fine musician]. Although sad that yet another old friend has ‘dropped off the tree of life’, I can scarcely be surprised at such a great age, and I think Henri was extremely fortunate to have lived so long and so well. The news of his passing has brought back many pleasant and interesting memories.


pela68 said...

Sorry to hear about your friends demise. To morrow will be the fifth year since my mother passed away. Thing is- At the moment of her death ( or really when I heard about it)- I did'nt really feel anything.

Does this make me a coldhearted bastard? Maby, but we did'nt have much contact- besides over the phone. She lived down south in Sweden and I was 1600 km away.

The ironic part is that I was accepted as a med major at the university right next door from where she lived; and was going to move down south, but only two weeks before my planned move her diabetes caught up with her...

Also- it's just a week to when it's a year ago, when I last spoke to a very dear friend. He still lived in Lapland, and we really never got around calling eachother. He died last autumn very suddenly. I miss him very much!

A beautiful post AC

I have shedded many a tear over my mum since then...

I have

anticant said...

Peter - No! You aren't a cold-hearted bastard! Bereavement of close loved ones is a shock to the system, and the grieving process takes a long time: initial shock and disbelief is followed by months and sometimes years of working through feelings of desolate emptiness, and sometimes anger, towards ultimate acceptance where we can get on with our own lives and are comfortable with our memories.

When my own Mother died aged 88 someone said to me "Now you'll feel really grown up for the first time". What I actually felt, as well as the sadness, was immense relief that she had died quickly and painlessly.

I always do my best to look at death from the viewpoint of what is best for the deceased person, as well as the feelings of those left behind.

Jose said...

History outside "the" History that we are taught at school. This history should be enclosed in the text books for everybody to see and understand. Thank you, Anticant for sharing it.

I have been many times to Holland and found it was what you say above, although a friend of mine went over there recently and tells me she observes a slight change to the negative in people's behaviour.

We must abide by what Nature has in reserve for us and ours.

My sympathies.

anticant said...

The change you allude to, Jose, is I fear the outcome of the common problem that is spreading throughout Europe - the reluctance of not only the Muslim immigrants, but also of their European-born descendants, to integrate - let alone assimilate - into our more open cultural traditions. The murder of Theo Van Gogh was a turning-point for many hitherto racially and religiously tolerant Dutch people.

I am sorry that I never had the opportunity of discussing these matters with my old friend Henri, as he was a highly attentive and well-informed student of politics and society.