FOLKS, when I started full-time work back in the distant days of 1984 the two worst things you could be called in heavy industry were, one, a 'bludger' and two, 'gay'.
Close behind was three, a 'whingeing Pom'.
We kids quickly discovered that our new workplace, a large refinery, was an extremely male environment where you could just about hear the testosterone sloshing about as the workers stomped through the gates.
Our next shock was discovering that the walls of every lunchroom, workshop and toilet were plastered from floor to ceiling with pornographic images of women so explicit that it was hard to tell if the photos were actual erotica or cut out of a gynaecologist's manual.
Looking back I realise now that this graphic wallpaper must have been even more daunting for the cleaning ladies.
We lads soon got used to it, along with the smoking, hangovers, swearing, smells and casual violence.
Yet, no matter how coarse, or obscene, our tradesmen were at work, outside the factory they were the essence of manly courtesy, consideration and respect towards the fairer sex.
I never once heard one of them swear in front of a woman, no matter how drunk they were.
But as they stepped back through the factory turnstiles they instantly morphed into mouth-breathing, rude, crude cavemen.
So if anyone was crazy enough to admit that they liked something even vaguely effeminate, like cocktails or hugs, then some homophobic yobbo would shout, "Bums to the wall!" and the victim would be mercilessly ridiculed until he did something to prove his masculinity, like belt the smallest bloke in the room with a large spanner.
Frankly, our factory was not the sort of environment that encouraged anyone to come out of the closet, which was probably why nobody did.
How things have changed. Today, the filthy pictures, lunchroom ashtrays, random cruelty and gay-hating Neanderthals have gone the way of the dodo, tea ladies and typewriters.
It's okay to be gay in today's workplace. In fact, we're almost open-minded enough now to tolerate whingeing Poms.