Ben and Tony Hand-holding and world improvements

Text: Tug Dumbly

Ben and Tony walk hand in hand to the pool. They swim like they walk, no urgency. Half of each swim they spend draped over the lane dividers down the deep end, just chatting with each other and the ladies in the neighbouring lanes. With them it’s like the swimming’s incidental, not the main aim.

Meanwhile me and Turtle John, and other regulars like Little Scum, the Golden Triangle and the Supertanker, get on with the business of making whitewater, racking up our medicinal Ks. I think we envy Ben and Tony their lizard elan, their lax approach to the work of the laps. Sure, when it occurs to him, Tony’ll glide out for a bit of freestyle, smooth and splashless. Ben’ll remember what he’s there for and lazily kick off for some breaststroke, like a drugged frog across a hot-tub. But I doubt they count their laps. If any calories are getting burnt they’re on a real low flame.

I don’t know Ben and Tony’s real names. I call them that because they look like Ben Stiller and Tony Abbott. They seem the most tranquil couple on the planet, gay or otherwise. I mean they look deeply serene, hand-in-glove content. True, I’ve only ever seen them in their swimming context, right before and during. Still, they give a good impression of weeding each other’s garden well.

I’ll often pass them when I’m walking my daughter to school. They’ll be on their way to the pool, and if it’s one of my swimming days I’ll see them there after. By the time I drop her off and circle back to the pool they might be just emerging from the changeroom, or maybe sitting on the blocks in their speedos, working up to sliding in. Or maybe not. Like I said, with them there’s no rush.


I first saw them about three years ago. It was their dedicated hand-holding that most struck me. Not for any reason of fusty queer shock. Maybe just the opposite. It’s the sheer nonchalance of their hand-holding that impresses; the unselfconsciousness of the gesture, which is actually no gesture. There’s no agenda or politics to Ben and Tony’s hand-holding, no novelty cartoon arrow above their heads screaming ‘LOOK! WE’RE GAY!’ Just two middle-aged men (who happen to look like Ben Stiller and Tony Abbott) who happen to like holding each other’s hand in public. I s’pose they stand out too because, aside from randy uni students, pretty much no one, of any persuasion, holds hands in public. At least not with the organic insouciance of Ben and Tony.

I’m guessing they’re a bit older than me, mid-to-late fifties. They don’t seem to work, at least not regular hours. (Obviously I don’t either, because I see them at the pool, around the same hour, the same two or three mornings a week). They both look pretty fit and thin. Ben’s shorter and sparkier (naturally). The one more inclined to nod and sling a greeting or quip in passing. Tony’ll smile but is more contained, has something serene and monk-like, even in his speedos. He’s taller, gentler, no sudden movements. Like Tony Abbott, but with all the evil removed. Ben had a cane for a few months but still always held Tony’s hand on the way to the pool. It was touching, a bit like that famous old photo of those two muddy footballers after that grand final, or wounded soldiers supporting each other on the Kokoda.

Me and Turtle John plough on, up and down our lanes, graceless but steady, like we’re guiding yoked oxen. I take the odd quick stop, just to defog my goggles. It’s enough time to see Ben and Tony floating down their lane, like Sunday drivers. Or else just hanging over the divider, like a pair of sneakers over electricity wire, talking, laughing, doing bugger all. I pass them in the street, pass them in the pool and wonder in passing about their lives. What’s their history? How do they live? I don’t know.

But to see them together is to know that they support each other very well. It’s always a lift to see them. Even as I exercise they bring my heart rate down. Their presence slightly improves the world. They keep me sweeter with the planet for five or ten minutes longer than I otherwise might have been.


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