Back to Toronto. Part five of A gay life in the first year of It’s a Sin.

Robin Rowland
16 min readMay 15, 2021
The funeral dance from the movie My Own Private Oshawa. (screengrab)

(Contains spoilers and may trigger some AIDS survivor readers. Names in quotation marks are pseudonyms. Many of the names from the 80s aren’t mentioned because I don’t remember. Other names are real, taken from my occasional diary or letters I wrote)

The job that changed everything

After the job at the “semi-gay pub” ended, I quickly got a new job at a busy pub in central London. I had been working there for a few days when “Darren” came in just before the afternoon closing. “Darren” ordered a half pint from me and took a seat at table, waiting. At closing time, the manager asked, “Is he with you?”

I said. “yes.” The manager reached into the till, counted out some cash and told me “Get out of here.” I was fired.

One of the reasons that I had gone to London was to do research for a book I was hoping to write. I used a reference letter that CBC News had given me when I quit to get accreditation to do research in the magnificent circular reading room of the British Library, then part of the British Museum. And yes, like many people, one day I was able to sit in Karl Marx’s famous seat.

I wanted a job with a little more stability than tending bar. It soon came up. My somewhat limited high school French landed me a job with French Travel Service, the British tour arm of the French National Railway. Société nationale des chemins de fer français.

Although the travel agency had its own dedicated mainframe computer, it was also experimenting with the experimental early British interactive videotex system called Prestel. While I never did any work with the terminals, I saw a future there.

After a couple of months, I answered a blind ad for someone interested in Prestel to work for a Fleet Street news agency. I got the job. It was with Universal News Services., the British arm of the PR Newswire. UNS was also experimenting with Prestel to send out news releases to smaller papers as an alternative to teletype. The office was in Gough Square, just a few feet off Fleet Street, across from Dr

Robin Rowland

Independent visual journalist in Kitimat, BC, Canada. Author of five books, more at