A Photo Blog Canon EOS 30D. GoProHero3BE. iPhone4S and iPhoneSE (using the Camera Plus Pro app and Instagram). Cover design and graphics by Steve Swindells Here’s my ambient instrume…
Source: The Towers Of London (Part 1)
A Photo Blog Canon EOS 30D. GoProHero3BE. iPhone4S and iPhoneSE (using the Camera Plus Pro app and Instagram). Cover design and graphics by Steve Swindells Here’s my ambient instrume…
Source: The Towers Of London (Part 1)
Cover design and graphics by Steve Swindells
Here’s my ambient instrumental multi-track album The Enigma Elevations for your listening enjoyment to accompany the photos. I recorded this on my Korg T2 in the late 1980s.
On Saturday July 16th 2016, the weather forecast was good (although you wouldn’t think so from the ominous-looking clouds swirling around the ever-photogenic Shard in the photo above) so I decided to set off on a photographic odyssey, capturing not just tall buildings, but London towers of every description. I started off from London Bridge then headed down the beguilingly beautiful Bermondsey Street (the White Cube Gallery is awesome, but doesn’t count as a tower) taking pics of The Shard – designed by starchitect Renzo Piano – from various angles on my three cameras. The GoPro was a recent gift (thanks so much Abdul) and the quality really has blown me away – it’s tiny and looks like a toy, but certainly is not. It shoots great video too. My iPhone 4S recently died on me, so I was forced to buy a new one. I’d seen good reviews of the iPhoneSE and had noted that it was smaller and cheaper than the 6S, so I piled yet more pressure on my credit cards and took the plunge. The quality of the lens is quite amazing – as you will see in the next photo.
A Shard Day’s Night. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells
I suppose I could have done the obvious thing and payed the outrageous sum of £28 to go to the viewing platform on top of The Shard, but I suffer terribly from vertigo – it actually makes my legs hurt really badly and I get really dizzy – so that wasn’t an option. One thing is for sure – it’s a breathtakingly beautiful building and truly iconic and sculptural. Truly a thing of wonder.
I bought this excellent camera – complete with a 50mm lens – for £600 from a close friend in 2003, or thereabouts. He’d been a bit of a pop star and was constantly upgrading his ‘geek gear’.
Glass And Steel. iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells
Ain’t No Stoppin’Us Now. iPhoneSE ©Steve Swindells
The housing and architecture on the South Bank of the Thames as you head towards the dramatic architectural statements of Canary Wharf are quite dull and muted. Mostly dreary 80s stuff with some warped and tired vernaculars going on. But the warehouses and their residential and office (or live-work) conversions in Rotherhithe are mostly quite spectacular. But where are the shops? A lovely old lady (a bit central-casting to be honest) was leaning on the wall above the river looking kind-of wistful. She must have been in her late 70s and was wearing way too much make-up. She’d seen me taking pics – and had asked why I was doing that. ‘Just because I want to.’ I’d replied. Apropos of nothing she pointed back behind us and stated: ‘That’s my balcony’. It was on the first floor of an ugly 80s block and had a magnificent view across the river to Wapping. She must have read my green-fingered mind and said: ‘The plants are all fake, so much easier my dear.’
I surmised that this was social housing, and that she’d been rehoused when all the initial Docklands development had started in the 1980s. But I figured it would have been churlish to ask for the details. Then I suggested: ‘It must be wonderful living with that amazing view!’
She replied: ‘Well, love, once you’ve seen it once, it doesn’t mean a thing.’ Then she added kind-of sadly , pointing across the river towards Wapping: ‘I grew up there love, everyone worked in the docks.
‘The main reason that you don’t like living here is the lack of shops. Am I right?’
‘Spot on, my darlin’.’ Said the old lady, with a slightly plaintive wink.
I jumped on a bus to Canada Water and took the Jubilee Line To West Hampstead, then the Overground to Willesden Junction, five minutes from where I live in central Harlesden.
The following day, which was hot and sunny, I decided to journey deep into the heart of the beast known as Canary Wharf (which is incidentally now owned by a Qatari property company, aka the Royal Family).
Arguably, the most beautiful tube station on the entire TFL network. The architects were Norman Forter & Partners and it opened in 1999.
#1 Canada Square from the shopping mall below. GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells
A security guard was approaching me in a somewhat challenging fashion and trying to engage me in conversation. A power-dressed elderly woman who was sitting nearby in the lobby pointed out: ‘The security guard wishes to speak to you’. I shrugged my shoulders and said ‘How dreary. I know I’ve got a bit of a tan, but do I really look that Middle-Eastern?’ And strolled off purposefully, pointing my camera upwards, as if to find its weak points, or more accurately, its architectural details.
It would seem that a ‘street artist’ has been commissioned to make a ‘gr0ovy’ design on the DLR bridge beneath The JP Morgan tower. How unintentionally ironic.
#1 Canada Square From Beneath. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016.
#OlympicChampBolt #VirginMedia #Capital #ism #City #TheTowersOfLondonBlog
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells
#GroProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016
I have dubbed this nearly-completed tower thus as I have no idea what its name is. I believe that it will be a residential tower. It cuts quite a swathe on Canary Wharf already.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2016.
GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells. July 2016
GoProHero3BE © Steve Swindells July 2016.
The next day, the weather was again really beautiful, with a very special ‘light’, so I decided to take the overground train just a few stops to Hampstead Heath, from where it’s a short, uphill walk to take in the stunning view of London. I did take a few pics on my three cameras, but decided that just one would suffice.
The following day was bright and sunny as I set off to Greenwich, taking The Tube to Bank, then the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to Greenwich Cutty Sark , where I tried to get a seat in the front of the driverless train (So I could pretend, as usual, that I was driving), but it was too busy. So I pulled my Canon out of my bag and went to the doors, brushing by a scruffy-looking man with a rucksack on his back. ‘You’re trying to get in my bag!’ He suddenly yelled, evidently drunk (it was about 2pm). ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ I shouted, as people in the packed carriage looked rather worried. I pointed to my camera, which I was holding towards the window and stated: ‘See, CAMERA, WINDOW… oh, and by the way, your bag is open.’ Several bottles of wine were pretruding from it. He continued to rant, slurring his words, this time about people posthing photos on the intherneth withouth permissionth. I decided I’d had enough and got off at the next station to grab some shots, then jump on the next train.
I headed for the park in the glorious sunshine after a light al fresco lunch in a funky cafe.
Coming back from Greenwich, I emerged from the DLR station at Bank (literally The Bank Of England) into the heart of The City Of London, The Capital’s financial hub, which really is an architectural treasure trove. Contrasts sums it up in one word. Narrow streets and alleys now mere footnotes to the ever-growing cluster of towers looming above them. My undoubted favourite is Richard Roger’s Lloyd’s Building, the modernist daddy of them all, with its sinuous curves and exposed ducts and fire escapes. Early evening, then sunset, on a gloriously sunny summer day, proved to be the perfect setting in which these ruling Towers Of London could strut their stuff.
Check out this amazingly detailed and well-presented piece from The Guardian Online on the bevy of bold new towers being built in The City.
The title above the above photo is a quoted lyrical slice from ‘Turn It On Turn It Off’, from my second album ‘Fresh Blood’ which was released on Atco/WEA worldwide in 1980. It reached #3 in the US airplay charts in its second week of release.
And here are the lyrics from the rather romantically crumpled inner sleeve of my only vinyl copy of Fresh Blood.
The Lloyd’s Building By Richard Rogers
Opened by The Queen in 1986, it received a Grade 1 listing in 2011, the youngest-ever building to achieve this status – and well deserved IMHO. I captured it at the perfect time on a beautiful summer’s evening – it’s sinuous curves and famous inside-out innards (known architecturally as bowellism) glowing gold as the sun began to go down.
One of my all-time favourite buildings in London.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.
This is all that remains of the original Lloyd’s building. Personally, I love the dramatic and rather cheeky contrast.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.
The ‘Walkie-talkie’ dwarfs The Lloyd’s Building in its curvaceous shadow.
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells July 2015.
#GoProHero3BE © Steve swindells 2016.
Designed by Norman Foster and The Arup Group and opened in 2004. Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells July 2015.
The ‘Cheese Grater’ and its towering neighbour, subtly reflecting the Lloyd’s Building.
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells July 2016.
Originally known as The NatWest Tower, this was designed by Richard Seifert, whose practice also designed Centre Point (coming later) and was also opened by her Maj, in 1981. Standing 183 metres tall, It was the first of the City Of London’s mega-towers but will soon have a plethora of towering young pretenders raining on its parade.
iPhoneSE © Copyright Steve Swindells July 2016.
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells
This slender tower is a monument to the Great Fire of London and is 202 ft (62 m) tall and 202 ft from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666. An elegant Doric column topped with a gilded urn of fire, it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and opened in 1677. 311 narrow, winding steps take visitors to the top. It could perhaps be described as the 17th Century forerunner to The Shard’s somewhat loftier viewing platform.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells
I head South out of The City Of London and cross back over the river to Bankside in the vibrant evening light.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016.
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016
Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells
Time For A Sundowner? Canon EOS 30D © Steve Swindells 2016
iphoneSE © Steve Swindells
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016
iPhoneSE © Steve Swindells 2016
Suicide Note And The Amateur Dramatic Society. Part II.
By Richard Racket.
My suggested soundtrack to this continuing saga is ‘Enigma Elevation 7’ from Steve Swindells’ Enigma Elevations Album.
It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: over my hangover, at least, and all the love. It’s enough to make me want to live forever.
Yeah right. Back to reality with a bang. I felt truly, awfully mercenary opening those envelopes, hoping that there was maybe money inside. Being broke destroys everything: Your confidence, dignity, self-respect, pride and your good health.
Sometimes, you can wake after a sexy dream feeling momentarily terrific, before sinking back under the duvet with the awful realisation that pennies must be counted, bills and bags of laundry must be ignored – and stress-reducing leisure pursuits must be postponed until your ‘budget’ has crept past the £10 mark, depending on the generosity of friends, family… and fate.
Back to the first person.
The loneliness and hopelessness is further compounded by the fact that the phone is, yet again, cut-off, which makes you feel like you’re marooned on an urban desert island.
You can’t invite people to join you for a humble repast because: either there’s not enough food; or when you find a pay-phone that’s actually working, you encounter multiple cheery-toned rejections in the cruel, inhumane form of the answerphone.
You don’t want to leave a message because people can’t call you back, which makes you feel pathetic, like a total loser.
Consequently, you find yourself spending an awful lot of time alone, which only increases the paranoia, feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth and adds to the general demise of your fighting spirit, resulting, I guess, in your disappearance from peoples’ radar screens.
The only wreckage to be found is your piddling, or possibly brilliant, scribblings and jottings, which might make your life seem worthwhile. All that work, all those hours, all that intensity and poetic enthusiasm teased from the dark night of your soul (which is always 3am – as I believe F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote).
All that effort, all that striving, all that chasing and selling and smelling and meeting and chatting and battling and… bullshit.
All those promises and wind-ups and tricks and double-crosses from bosses and tossers, all those crosses you bore… but that doesn’t mean that you’re a bore. Does it?
On a slightly lighter note, there is one advantage to not having a phone. Most of my calls seem to be from people wanting something. Sometimes, they even have the temerity to demand what they require of me without even enquiring after my well-being. Nice.
How incredibly thoughtless and rude, as if I were a free, one-man agency for every aspiring two-bit researcher, socialite, would-be club runner, journalist, singer, actor, musician, painter, rent boy and cleaning lady in London. Generally, I’m happy to help people with advice or connections, but what about me?
MY career, MY needs, My income, My happiness? Good old Ricky, always there when you need him. So confident, always smiling, in charge, happening, major, Mr Man, on top, out there…
‘That’s Ricky Racket…’ people would whisper as I walked by in my own little world, as if I were actually famous. Hah! I’ll show you famous. I’m only marginally more famous than Van Gogh was in his lifetime – and the only thing I’ve cut-off (but not intentionally) is the goddam phone!
Have you ever tried to have a proper conversation in one of those call-boxes that are open to the elements in a howling gale (my open-plan office, as I jokingly refer to it, with more than a tinge of bitterness)?
Apart from the elements, the roar of traffic, or Concorde passing directly above you, there’s inevitably a queue, either before or after you, and that’s only if the call box is actually functioning.
Have you ever tried to set up a meeting from a call box? Apart from the inherent psychological disadvantage, which automatically diminishes your natural assertiveness, as the people whom you wish to speak with are always in meetings (or pretending to be).
‘Can so-and-so call you back?’ Asks the receptionist, secretary or PA (if you get that far up the chain of command), who is usually called Sharon.
‘Erm… well, I’m waiting for a line to be put in as I’ve just moved to a new flat… ‘ You trail off, realising the absurdity of it all, and give up.
And that point, a minor indulgence like brunch at Bar Italia in Soho, would soothe your troubled breast.
Reading the paper, doing the crossword, people-watching, munching delicious delicacies and sipping cappuccino… but no, you’ve spent the last of what little money you had talking to answerphones, Sharons and walls.
It’s 5:30PM and it’s already dark, cold and windy. I’m feeling horny. This is not practical. I don’t WANT to feel horny, even though it’s the most natural thing in the world, especially for us allegedly sexy Scorpios.
PWAS (people with AIDS) can have safe sex, just like anyone else, if the other person is willing to take the risk (which is why sex with a fellow PWA is less stressful). But… I haven’t told anyone, and even having safe sex without telling someone that I have AIDS would be grossly deceptive.
I guess it will have to come out at some point soon.
My balls are aching with all that unreleased cum. I take a long bath and wash my hair, then reluctantly decide to have a wank, just to ease the pressure. A succession of faces, bodies and bottoms flash across my mental screen. Stolen moments. Thighs and whispers. Memorable nights of real passion. Dirty/wholesome, meaningless/loving… SEX.
God, I miss it. I suppose masturbation is, in a way, the ultimate self-indulgence and tends to be the only sexual activity that induces something approaching a feeling of guilt in me.
Is it because I feel I might be wasting moments of love? Or that mummy or daddy might walk in on me (I added that one for creepy laughs)? Or is it because it’s somehow mundane and lonely?
I catch sight of my body in the mirror – something of a masturbatory cliché in itself – and note that the stomach, aged 40, is still doing a reasonable imitation of a washboard and that the bum is quite round and pert.
Some friends hanging out on my giant bed
I wish my pectorals were more pronounced, but that’s my fault, I should get into swimming or ‘gymming’, but that costs money.
I idly brush my left nipple and there’s a perceptible inner reaction (my nipples have always been hard-wired to my dick, unlike many men – I guess it must be something in the homo genes). More faces from the past flit across my consciousness like warm shadows… so whom shall I invite into the bathroom for virtual intimacy today? They come in one-by-one, peeling off their pants, or running shorts (mmm, my favourite, especially with the smell of fresh sweat) to reveal the warm, dark curves and the soft hairy crevasses beneath. Aghhhhh! I’ve come in about 30 seconds.
I blink as if I’ve just awoken, wash the spunk off my dwindling tumescence and get out of the bath, feeling unburdened, at least temporarily.
Then I have a shave and tell myself in the mirror that I’m OK.
I’m carrying on… for now.
The flat is a disaster area. The floor hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks, there’s a pile of washing up and dirty clothes, towels and bed linen are overflowing from the laundry basket. I just can’t face doing something about it – and it ain’t nothing to do with my physical condition.
Oh nostalgia – the days when I could afford a cleaner! It was a small price to pay for the mental stimulation of a pristine flat. Now, the more I let it pile up, the more depressing it becomes.
I want to go out somewhere. I want someone I like to come and eat with me, talk with me and be with me. I’ve got post-birthday blues. The former centre of attention is now all alone and feeling sorry for himself. The child within, the child without. Without company. Without love.
The carnival is over within these walls, within my mindset, within my heart.
I haven’t been to the launderette for weeks – the cash flow dribble dictating that somehow eating was more important than clean sheets. Being something of a clothes freak, however, I’ve usually got something clean to wear. Now I have a little money, birthday presents from friends; but I can’t face doing the washing today – I want to treat myself.
SHIT! OF Course! I’m brain dead! It’s the ‘Sue Summers And Sake Party’ at Anna’s place. I nearly forgot!
Help! I need props! I don’t have any sex toys! Maybe I can improvise with some phallic articles?
I’m off to buy cucumbers and carrots!
This has immediately made me feel immeasurably better… I’m already giggling to myself with the thought of how stupid we’ll be. Sigh…just like old times.
“Ooh…uh… aaaaagh… that feels soooo good. Yeaaaahhhhhhh!”
Dick bucked and groaned.
Stephen gulped and hungrily swallowed Dick’s semen.
Crash! Suddenly, the cabin door was flung open. Burly arms grabbed the unsuspecting pair and hauled them to their feet from the bunk, as they tried to pull up their underpants and trousers.
They knew that they were busted and that there was no point in protesting, so they stood and hung their heads, like naughty schoolboys who’d been caught smoking behind the bike shed… but this was much more serious.
Their two pieces of irrefutable evidence drooped and shrank, as if to cement their humiliation, which was only made worse by their realisation that bringing up the rear, so to speak, of this unwelcome boarding party, was Admiral Peregrine.
Now we’re in for the high jump, they thought in unison, like an imagined scene you’d never, ever, see in one of those post-war, black and white, British movies.
Celia eyed the various shades of green in their room with distaste as she flicked through a copy of House And Garden (which Miss Platt, the landlady had ‘handed down’ to her, once she’d finished reading it), sitting on the only piece of furniture in the room which could lay claim to being welcoming – a battered, faux-suede armchair, which she’d draped with an antique shawl that an aunt had given to her, in an effort to make their ghastly digs more homely.
‘Pristine Christine’ read the headline above some archly posed pictures of some minor starlet’s dream palace in a Surrey suburb. Celia grunted dismissively at the actress’s bland, nouveau riche décor and thought: at least our place is real.
She’d had enough ‘reality’ to last a lifetime in the month that Dick and her had been married – and in Denmark before. The de rigueur honeymoon period had never even happened. End of story.
Being married seemed to entail her mostly being alone. She patted the small bulge in her abdomen which was the first product of this liaison – this loneliness – and imagined loving and nurturing their first child, as a pleasant distraction from the mundanity of struggling to survive.
She was discovering things about Dick which were as sobering as he was drunk most nights.
Staggering in in the early hours, waking her from crying herself to sleep, demanding to fuck her, then falling asleep halfway through his limp impersonation of an inebriated missionary (position).
What little money he gave her was barely enough to cover the rent and to buy food to cook on the single gas ring which sat on the floor by the yellowish-brown-tiled, boarded-up moderne fireplace in front of which there was also a battered, single-element electric fire.
‘Out of the frying pan… into the fire.’ She sighed, as she knelt on the brown lino and cooked sausages for their dinner, awaiting his return, which could have been anytime.
She heard footsteps on the wooden stairs and annoyed herself by leaping up and patting her hair as she checked her appearance in the cracked mirror above the mantlepiece.
‘Perfect little wife…’ she whispered to herself in a nursery rhyme voice, scowling at her broken reflection.
A few moments later Dick slowly opened the door, looking tired and ashen-faced.
‘Dick… whatever’s wrong?’ She took his coat and fedora hat, absentmindedly brushing a hair off his lapel as he sunk onto the bed, sighed deeply and undid his brown brogues, throwing them on the lino.
‘It’s all over!’ He said, putting his head in his hands, messing up his beloved coiffeur.
She sat beside him and put her arms around him, waiting for him to explain what had happened.
‘He took a deep breath and said: ‘I’m finished with The Navy… I… I’ve been chucked-out, dishonourably discharged…’
‘But Dick.. why… what happened? What did you do that was so awful?’
‘I didn’t do anything, sweetheart. I was set-up… and spat out. Just like that!’ He made a futile gesture with his hands and and shrugged his shoulders.
Naturally, Dick wasn’t about to tell the truth. She wouldn’t have believed him anyway – after all, he was a married man, so he couldn’t be ‘that way’.
He’d had to pull a few strings to make sure that there was no publicity about the Court Marshal: Admiral Peregrin’s rather thick string, in fact, along with a cat-o’-nine-tails that Dick administered to his rear. Rear admiral. The admiral, putting his uniform back on, had been grateful… and apologetic.
‘I’m so sorry, my dear, beautiful boy, you know Captain Blonde is such a spoilsport, but one has to go along with it. Mustn’t rock the proverbial boat, eh what?’
This attempt at making little pleasantries was lost on Dick, who was merely relieved, not only of his duties, but to get the hell out of this vile old queen’s quarters, safe in the knowledge that his secret was safe… for now.
Criminal acts, not having two pennies to rub together, loneliness and the struggle to survive were not supposed to be in Celia’s curriculum vitae. They were forced to do a ‘moonlight flit’ from Miss Platts’ boarding house; which she ruefully had to admit had given her a certain satisfaction.
Dick brought the battered Austin Seven to the back alley, having instructed Celia to keep watch for the landlady, then she’d thrown their possessions over the back fence and her husband – this is my husband? – had thrown them in the boot and on the back seat – and they were off, to Birmingham – where her cousin Nelly (who was also pregnant) had agreed that they could stay with her and her mentally retarded (that’s the term people used in those days) husband in their small house in Acock’s Green, a grimy, smoke-ridden, working-class area of the city – having been told a pack of lies by Dick.
‘Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it sweetheart, he’d urged her.’
Celia’s far-from-little head was growing in bitter experience by the hour.
She stood at the side of the road clutching her coat collar to her throat with one hand and disconsolately waving the other with its thumb raised, to hitch a lift, as the cars, vans and trucks thundered by in the cold drizzle in Warwickshire.
Dick leaned against the boot of his broken-down car, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, rather like James Dean in ‘A Rebel Without A Cause’.
‘Hitch-up your skirt a bit, old girl, then someone will soon stop.’
She reluctantly did so and within a couple of minutes a truck screeched to halt fifty yards down the road. It started to back up, but when Dick emerged from the shadows, it halted abruptly, then sped off into the inky darkness.
‘Oh Dick, this is BLOODY AWFUL! Wailed Celia, feeling utterly frustrated, cold, tired and disillusioned. She’d surprising herself by swearing.
‘Can’t we at least try and get the old wreck started again?’
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with it!’ He said, shrugging his shoulders, ‘Why don’t you just keep trying to thumb a lift?’
Celia stomped over to the stricken vehicle and opened the bonnet.
‘Oh that’s a laugh… ‘ snorted Dick, stubbing out his cigarette with his shoe ‘… and now she’s a bloomin’ mechanic!’
‘The fan belt’s gone!’ She announced with a grim smile, then, balanced on one leg, she unclipped a stocking from the other, then pulled of her shoe and the stocking as Dick looked on, nonplussed.
‘Where the hell did you find out about stuff like that?’ He asked incredulously.
‘During the war… I used to watch the airmen tinkering with their cars…’
She nearly lost her balance. Then lent on the wheel hub, tying the stocking where the fan belt had been and added, with a certain breezy satisfaction: ‘There – that should do the trick, there are only about twenty miles to go!’
‘Sometimes you amaze me.’ Sighed Dick, his lazy macho pride slightly wounded.
They arrived at the dreary-looking Victorian, terraced house in Acock’s Green just after Midnight.
The area looked rather like Coronation Street, the as-yet-unheard-of soap opera.
Celia knocked gingerly at the door, as the house was in darkness. Sounds emanated from within and the hall light went on. Her cousin Nellie appeared, dressed in a pink candlewick dressing gown and brown slippers, her smile conveying relief as she ushered them inside with their battered cases.
‘You finally made it, thank goodness you’re alright, what happened?’
Everyone was talking at once as they dumped their belongings on the floor of the sparsely furnished dining room.
‘Now don’t you worry, my sweets, leave all your stuff there for now, I think what we all need is a nice cup of tea.’
Celia took a deep breath, comforted by her cousin’s down-to-earth homeliness.
The doors of the serving hatch from the kitchen to dining room were suddenly flung open from inside.
‘Hello folks!’ Said Cedric, her husband loudly, in a reedy Birmingham accent, then slammed the doors shut as abruptly as he’d opened them.
Nellie smiled ruefully and raised her eyebrows and whispered: ‘Don’t mind him, he means well.’
This was the first of many performances of that particular routine to be witnessed by the new arrivals. It soon transpired that Cedric insisted on living in the kitchen, sleeping on an old camp bed. The ‘hatch show’ was basically his only form of communication.
Despite this bizarre ritual, after just a few days of acclimatization, Celia felt more secure than she had for some time.
Nellie was a true friend: warm, caring, motherly… and pregnant with her first child, just like herself (how her husband had managed it didn’t bear thinking about – and why had she married such a strange creature?). This was not the time for questions, only answers and practicalities.
Having her cousin there to share their impending births was a comfort beyond belief, although the house was dismal, cold, and draughty.
Nellie had no concept of design or décor. The house, which she had inherited from an elderly maiden aunt, was pretty much the same as it had been for forty years. Everything was brown. Shit brown.
The relief of having her own space – the spare room was quite large – and relative security was enough to bring out Celia’s natural, cheerful and resilient creative spirit. Soon, she was able to persuade Nelly to let her ‘brighten up the place a bit’ with bits and bobs which she would source very cheaply from local junk shops and markets.
The fact that Dick was continually absent, supposedly looking for a permanent job, was dealt with philosophically. The cousins had much cause for shared laughter concerning their husbands’ shortcomings and idiosyncrasies.
Within the space of three months Dick had flitted in and out of various jobs, ranging from an electrician to an undertaker, a television salesman and a clerk in a betting shop, doing various dodgy deals, gambling, womanising, petty theft and hanging out in Gentlemen’s Public Conveniences along the way.
However, even he had become more relaxed and grounded and Celia was happy to note that his natural charm had reappeared, along with his seductive grin.
He was quite a hit with Nellie’s neighbours as well: running errands, fixing leaks and generally performing the role of local man-about-the-house. Especially the bedrooms. His sex life with Celia was now nonexistent, as her bulge became bigger and the birth was imminent.
Her sexual needs, however, were tempered by the glow emanating from the heartbeat and movements in her womb.
Lawrence was safely delivered by the local Midwife in June, swiftly followed by Nellie’s Rupert in July.
They had a joint Christening, as both mothers attended the local Anglican church regularly.
Everyone, including Celia’s parents Gladys and Henry (who had recently moved to the city of Bath) and a gaggle of dull, lower-middle-class relatives in their ‘Sunday Best’ duly witnessed the official naming of the boys by a Vicar who was straight out of central casting – perhaps for an Ealing comedy – complete with goofy teeth and a tendency to misread the texts.
Next came a reception of sorts at the house in Acock’s Green, where little men in ill-fitting suits, sporting pencil moustaches, and rotund matriarchs with tight little perms, which looked like they’d been formed from clay, wore twinsets in pastel shades, fake pearls and horrendous floral, swirly frocks.
They were sipping tea in dainty little china cups and eating cucumber sandwiches and Celia’s homemade fairy cakes and exchanging pleasantries with the Vicar, whilst cooing at the two babies in their Moses baskets, when suddenly, the doors of the kitchen hatch were flung open and Cedric exclaimed ‘Hello Folks’!
Some of the children stifled giggles and a few tea cups rattled in their saucers in the brief silence which followed before Cedric pulled the doors shut, then everyone carried on making small talk and exchanging trivial pleasantries… as only the post-war, British lower-middle classes could.
October 31st, 1992.
It’s 8 O’Clock and Hercules hasn’t arrived yet, damnit!
I reluctantly throw on a warm jacket, grab my phone card and head for my open-plan office… the call box down the road. Much to my annoyance, Hercules answers the phone.
‘What the hell are doing there?’ I ask, irritated. ‘I thought you were coming straight after work… the party starts at 9 and it’s in my honour, well, along with Stephen Redford, who’s birthday it is today. There will be plenty of sushi to eat; I’m starving, and Anna will be pissed-off if we’re too late.’
‘Oh God, I’m leaving now, I didn’t realise the party was so early,’ says Hercules in his usual gentle and unassuming manner,’ and I’m looking forward to meeting your very own Mrs Madrigal.’
I laugh at the comparison, although Anna is not actually a sex change (whoops, sorry about the spoiler if you haven’t read the books).
Hercules has amazed me recently by revealing his love of the brilliant ‘Tales Of The City’ series by Armistead Maupin. I wasn’t aware that he read anything!
‘The Bunch’ (as-in ‘wild’), which is how this group of my close friends describe ourselves, all relate to various characters in the books – I suppose I must be Mouse. It was Anna who introduced me to them, and I was instantly hooked. Hercules was very impressed when I told him that I’d met Armistead Maupin on two occasions, when we’d both been performing (him reading, me playing the piano) at AIDS benefits in the late 80s.
Hercules arrived, slightly breathless, at nearly 9 O’Clock.
‘The bloody cab driver went the wrong way and I ended up in poxy Peckam. So I refused to pay him and got out and had to get a bus!’
‘A bus! My goodness, the indignity!’ I say sarcastically, pouring us a glass of cheap, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon (actually, quite drinkable) each.
‘Happy belated!’ He says, clinking my glass, and pecks me on the cheek, looking intently at me with his enormous, warm, caramel-brown, liquid eyes.
‘Peckham-On-The-Cheek!’ I say with a chuckle. He looks slightly confused.
‘Well, you know that there a little tributary of the Thames called the River Cheek which runs through Peckham, where you were recently stranded!’
‘You silly man!’ He laughs, then throws a sizeable lump of black hash on the red, formica, 1950’s kitchen table. ‘Now make yourself useful and roll us a big fat spliff before we head off to Mrs Madrigal’s!’
I suppose Hercules is the nearest thing I have to a boyfriend right now. He’s only 21, strangely beautiful, sometimes too effeminate (which turns me right off), and very shy. He sports a shaved head – it’s a good symmetrical shape – and wears funky (as opposed to prissy) designer clothes (Chipie, Armani, Chevignon etc), as he works in a ridiculously over-priced menswear boutique called The Study in South Molton Street in Mayfair. He gets paid a basic wage plus a generous commission on the sales he makes, so he’s not short of a bob or two, as he’s very charming, if a little shy
He’s told me that his father is African/Greek (how unusual is that?) and owns a newspaper in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where he grew up, and that his mother is French/Sengalese – hence his exotic beauty. He came here to study at the renowned St Martin’s School of Fashion and graduated last year and is working whilst he looks for backers for his first womenswear collection.
Naturally, I’ve seen his sketches, and he’s very talented.
His mother is apparently a bit of a raver (she’s MY AGE!) and lives in Hackney with her second husband, whom Hercules has been trying to seduce by doing the vacuuming wearing just a skimpy pair of Nikos briefs, bending down to reach into corners, showing-off his small-but-perfectly-formed, round posterior. His stepfather has yet to ‘rise’ to the challenge, apparently.
His telling of this story actually made me feel slightly, well, jealous, whilst finding it amusing, regardless.
I’ve been seeing him for nearly a year, maybe once every couple of weeks or so (which makes us fuck-buddies, I guess).
We have wild, safe sex, usually off our faces. His body is like a Greek statue, in mahogany-coloured marble.
He gives me absolutely no indication of his emotional requirements, makes no demands, doesn’t seek attention.
He’s recently begun to show more warmth, as if he’d previously been afraid of the consequences of cuddling, slowly building a more emotional base? Who knows?
He fascinates me – except when he gets a bit girly.
We smoke the joint that I’ve rolled and I show him the ‘dick noses’ that we should wear to make our entrance with, wondering if he’ll be too shy to wear one.
As we head towards the tube at Elephant And Castle in the rain and cold, he suddenly offers to pay for a black cab to take us to Anna’s place in Kilburn. I readily concur, but after several roar by on the Walworth Road – with their ‘vacant’ yellow lights on – having observed that I’m with a BLACK man (who would obviously ‘do a runner’, or mug them) I suggest that I should ‘play the white man’ and that he should hide behind the bus shelter. Sure enough, one screeches to a halt immediately and we jump in triumphantly, sniggering.
As I ring Anna’s doorbell, I put on my dick-nose, he hovers behind me, holding his nervously.
‘Dahhhling!’ Screeches Anna, throwing her arms around me and thrusting her hips into mine in a pretend-lustful manner. She looks terrific, dressed as rock-chick groupie, in black leather and lace.
‘Meet the lovely Hercules!’ I say, as she ushers us into her flat, where ‘Shit On My Finger’ by Millie Jackson is playing at full blast on the stereo. ‘The Bunch’ all seem to be there and are dancing in sex-shop costumes and joshing, as usual, trading pretend insults.
‘Where the fuck have YOU been faggot?’ Demands David Hackney, grinning and grabbing my crotch. Hercules looks slightly taken aback. I wink at him, to reassure my fuck-buddy that’s it’s all part of ‘The Bunch’s’ usual ritual. David’s dressed as a sixties pimp, wearing mustard-coloured Farah hipster slacks, and a purple satin shirt with a huge collar, worn open to the waist, revealing an enormous and particularly unpleasant fake-gold medallion.
Anna’s bisexual, first ex-husband Jerry Judge sidles over – he’s flown-in from France, where he’s the editor of Paris People magazine. He casts an admiring eye over Hercules and looks back at me questioningly. I shrug my shoulders with a wink, as if to say, yes, he’s with ME! Hands OFF! Hercules hovers uncertainly.
I don’t blame him. Meeting this lot for the first time would be testing for anyone, no matter how gregarious they might be.
‘This is Hercules!’ I announce, pulling him into the circle, ‘and this…’
I wave my hand mock-dismissively around
‘… bunch of degenerates are some of my OLDEST friends!’ Everyone groans at this tired ‘old’ in-joke, but that IS the joke.
‘Come and get some Saki and have an ENORMOUS line of Charlie in the kitchen! Shrieks Anna, grabbing the now broadly-grinning Hercules by the hand.
Anna’s two-bedroomed flat is co-owned by her second ex-husband Jason Toogood, who is the father of her nine year-old daughter Jasmine, who’s generally known as Jazz.
Anna had kick-started his career by making him art director on big-name pop videos that she had produced in the early 80s. From there he progressed to directing them, then commercials, then Hollywood and movies.
Elton John’s manager once told me that the only reason that he’d ‘made it’ in LA was because all the gay, Jewish film producers fancied him. However, unlike Anna’s first husband Jerry, he wasn’t bisexual and I’m *ahem* sure that he didn’t lead them on at all.
The flat is a spacious and well-proportioned Edwardian conversion, with large, sliding patio doors leading out from the main bedroom onto a patio and a lawned garden with a large tree, where Jazz had asked me to build her a large tree house, inspired by the classic movie ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ which I’d given to her on video for Christmas. Unfortunately, I never got around to it, blaming the distinct shortage of bamboo growing on the railway embankment.
Anna is happy to have somewhere to call her own home, after several years of struggle and uncertainty. She’s HIV positive.
Until recently she was running a charity for women living with HIV and AIDS called Female Focus, until it was taken-over in a coup by a pair of PC lesbians (a demographic which is, ironically, the lowest-risk regarding ‘the gay plague’) , leeching-in on the burgeoning AIDS industry.
‘You’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties!’ I sing as Anna pours warm Saki into shot glasses and Jerry, who’s dressed in biker’s leathers, offers us large lines of coke on a mirrored tray.
Clementine appears, dressed in a nifty peach-coloured satin slip and gold sling-backs, looking amazing for her 45 years.
‘Hercules, meet Clementine Casely-Smith!’ I intone with fake grandeur, followed by a loud snort as I ingest the coke: ‘She’s older than your MOTHER!’ She mock-scowls at me, then smiles demurely at Hercules and introduces us to her latest toy-boy, who’s dressed in a pink rubber mini-skirt, and is sporting a black bobbed wig.
Soon, David Hackney, who is one of the foremost fantasy film critics in the country, is urging Hercules to give him the inside dope on a celebrity party which he recently attended, thrown by the 90’s answer to Greta Garbo, an actress called Inga Thompson, where he spent the evening talking with Joan Collins (very camp), Sylvester Stallone (he’s tiny) and various stars of stage and screen.
‘But tell me how Joe Flirt tried to pick you up and offered to take you to the States!’ Insists David, having been given the low-down the day before by your’s truly, on the phone. I’ve been astonished by Hercules’s ability to effortlessly hang-out with the rich and famous – and was slightly pissed-off that he hadn’t asked ME to accompany him to said bash. He shoots me a you big gossip look.
Joe Flirt is probably Hollywood’s most bankable, young male star and sex symbol of the 90s. He’s supposedly rampantly heterosexual.
Evidently, he likes youngish black men – just like me.
Hercules is not the first of my bed-mates to have been approached by him either. I once had a wild night with one of Grace Jones’ live stand-ins (hence the apparent ultra-fast costume changes), who’d been chatted up by Joe Flirt when Grace and her boys had hitched a ride to New York on his private jet.
Hercules seems to be enjoying all the attention and ‘The Bunch’, for once, are being really quite nice to Hercules, as if they’ve psyched-in on his self-consciousness, which I have been trying to break down gently, over a period of time. I want him to be confident and self-possessed – and, I have to admit, more masculine, which is a bit of a long shot.
Anna lurches elegantly towards us, smiling benignly, glass of saki in one hand and a joint in the other. She’s enjoying herself; releasing the tension of the last few months – her relationship with rich socialite Kenneth (call me Kenny) Cockburn (pronounced in the english, upper-cass way: kohburn) all washed-up. On Ice. Finished. Or maybe not. So no more pre-dawn trips to the seaside for Anna and The Bunch in his Bentley convertible.
For now, she doesn’t care, she’s flying, having fun.
Just like old times.
‘He’s an old softie really, that Ricky Racket!’ She exclaims into Hercules’s ear in a stage whisper. He smiles enigmatically.
‘Don’t believe that hard, cynical front that he gives out – it’s bullshit, darling, he’s sensitive and kind and caring and… ‘ She raises her voice theatrically ‘… I juss lurve him to death!’
‘Anna is just gushing again.’ I say, patting them both on the bum.
Hercules looks blissed-out and Anna is like the cat that got the cream, the saki, the smoke and the coke.
The doorbell rings. Someone lets in Tonski (Best Drug Dealer in London award, 1992), his wife Alana and Eddie, another dealer who’s reputedly the son of a major gangster (and therefore higher up the food-chain than Tonski: his ‘wholesaler’ I would imagine).
This is opportune, as cocaine supplies seems to have dwindled somewhat.
‘Darling!’ Purrs Anna, squeezing my arm, ‘Could you be an absolute angel and zip down to the cashpoint for me, I’m FAR too off my face!
I agree and she whispers her pin-number in my ear then intones loudly in her mock-Queen Of Hearts voice: “We feel that more class A drugs are required immediately!’ Then adds, before doubling-up with helpless mirth, ‘Orf with their heads… as we’re all orf ours!’
I glide off towards the cashpoint in the November drizzle on an imaginary hover board (imagine if such a thing existed!) powered by saki, hash and cocaine, having pressed a mental ‘save’ key to remember Anna’s pin number.
Her flat is just around the corner from the dubious merits of Kilburn High Road, a never-ending cartoon strip of trash shops, pawn shops, betting shops, greasy spoons, old-school pubs, kebab-and-chicken-take-aways and, curiously… a Marks And Sparks. It’s seemingly populated by Irish hookers, homeless people with dogs-on-strings, junkies, drug dealers and begging Romany women. It’s hard to believe that there’s so much prosperity in the nearby tree-lined streets, which are filled with handsome Victorian and Edwardian houses – mostly converted into flats.
I reach the cashpoint, check there are no mugger-types in the immediate vicinity, and am amazed when it generously gives me the £100 that I’ve humbly requested. It makes me nostalgic for the days, back in the 80s, when my own account regularly delivered such amounts without question.
I put the money safely in a zip-up side pocket in my cargo pants, pull the hood on my jacket over my head, as the rain is getting heavier, and wander back to the party, musing about people who’ve never used (with the emphasis on used) recreational drugs. It may be difficult for them to comprehend the therapeutic benefits which can be derived by someone who, like me, has a good mental handle relating to the partaking of various illegal substances.
Allow me to ellucidate.
If you’ve spent the majority of the past year in tense suspension – waiting, pushing, hoping, praying, surviving and basically believing in yourself and your abilities… then, getting off your face, out of it, high, bollocked, smashed, zonked, mashed (and all the other ever-changing colloquialisms that describe this state of being) takes the form of a welcome release, a virtual holiday, a breath of air to blow away the cobwebs of struggle.
Because of your rich experience in this matter, you find that you are always ‘on top’ of said situations, unless you deliberately wish to reach a cut-off point – which could be described as planned amnesia, I suppose.
That particular combination that I have snorted, smoked and imbibed does not induce paranoia in me at all, largely due, I guess, to the saki, which has a mellow, warm, calming effect.
Cocaine never makes me edgy (probably ‘cos I’ve never been ‘strung-out’ on it – and I don’t believe that it’s physically addictive, just habit-forming, because it can give people with low self-esteem the belief that have snorted super-powers), but oddly enough, smoking dope on its own without alcohol (red wine preferably), can lead to me questioning everything about myself in a most irrational manner.
So I don’t.
I depends on one’s metabolism, I guess – you could say that there are two distinct ‘types’ amongst dope-smokers: those, like me, who find that it triggers creativity, stimulates the intellect and sexuality; and others, who it makes all floppy, dopey, stupid and sleepy, banishing all deep and meaningful thoughts from their minds, preferring to drift down a shallow stream (not necessarily of consciousness) to the sea of oblivion.
I always seem to find unexpected rapids and waterfalls around the next curve, and enjoy a bit of metaphorical white-water-rafting and then, when I reach the sea, I scan the horizon looking for new adventures, then turn around to see a beautiful, half-naked stranger (male) emerging from the woods behind the dunes on the deserted beach walking towards me, with arms outstretched.
A person exhibiting their shallow metabolism’s beatific, stoned smile and hollow, self-conscious cackling, reminds me of people with no direction in life who’ve been brainwashed into becoming Seventh Day Adventists, or who follow some bogus guru or whatever, and are high on their belief that it’s good for them and their low self-esteem. To me, they’re just cannon fodder for manipulative masters-of-their-own-universe who make a career out of exploiting stupid people.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I suddenly realise that I’ve walked way too far down the road – well, all the houses look the same – then turn around and go back, allowing myself a self-derisory chuckle.
Back in the living room I pronounce in a stentorian fashion: ‘The machine refused to give me any money – it said you didn’t have ANY!’
Anna looks momentarily stunned, almost believing me, before I whip out the £100 and throw it on the carpet snarling: ‘Grovel bitch!’ She gathers up the money, after everyone pretends to steal i, and stuffs it in her bra, like a gangsters moll, helpless with laughter. I follow her into the kitchen with my hands around her waist, singing ‘Hi Ho, hi ho, it’s off to coke we go!.
Keiron Davies is sitting at the kitchen table rolling a huge joint, dressed in a white Victorian lace frock and sporting a huge black wig and huge pair of fluffy rabbit ears above his ever-mischievous visage. Just like me and Clementine, he never really made it creatively – in their case in the film industry – and after five years of trying to break through in Hollywood, with his brilliant scripts.
He’s now back in the backwoods of Wales – running a video shop.
‘We’ll all get there in the end Keiron,’ I say, reassuring him, maybe reading his mind, ‘So what’s your latest story? I ask. Hercules listens transfixed as he takes us into his latest magical world of mystery and monkey business .
We talk about talent and managers and agents and all the hoops we have to jump through in order to even begin to make any headway.
We get in deep: not silly, druggy deep, but real baby. Telling it like it is. Mutual support, admiration and understanding. Emotionalism is not an issue to be avoided, like in a professional manner.
Why can’t we get at least ONE away? Is it because we make people uncomfortable with the truth?
He seems surprised, relieved even, and points out: ‘That’s the first time we’ve ever talked like that.’
‘Nah… really? Impossible, after all these years’. We’ve know each other since the mid-seventies. Maybe he’s right.
After this, my memory banks go into meltdown and a delightful blackout ensues, until Tonski’s voice enters my consciousness announcing: ‘Hey Ricky – our cab has arrived man!’
You may recall that Tonski and his wife life near me in The Elephant And Castle. ‘I wonder if he’ll take five people?’ I wonder aloud, my natural organisational abilities springing into life, despite my drugged and drunken state. I leap unsteadily to my feet.
‘Offer the driver a couple of quid to wait for a bit.’ Says Tonski, slapping his recumbent wife gently on the cheek to bring her to life, pressing a £20 pound note into my hand; then poking Eddie, who’s fast asleep, in the ribs.
I run out into the now pouring rain where the inevitable Orange Datsun is waiting, with its equally predictable African driver, who happily agrees to my request, once I show him the money.
Somehow I manage to muster the flock and we squeeze into the cab for the journey South (giving the driver directions all the way, as per usual) which seems to take minutes – cocaine always makes the mundane enjoyable – and I invite everyone in for Chilli Con Carne.
I display an early grasp of the Elvis sneer, aged 7 months
Not surprisingly, I don’t recall a great deal about my first birthday, in Handsworth Park in Birmingham, but another photo taken on that day exists (I just can’t find it) showing myself and my older brother Lawrence, who was always known as Larry, sitting on mutli-coloured bedspread depicting flying yachts, in that rather cool, stylised design peculiar to the 50s.
Larry, was already a good-looking boy, blond and blue-eyed – like his dad – and there’s little me, chubby with jet black hair and big brown eyes, with a dreamy, far away look in them, exhibiting a goofy, toothless grin.
Both of us were dressed identically and rather charmingly in bright red woollen waistcoats (which our mum Celia had knitted), yellow, short-sleeved shirts and blue bow ties.
This first-floor flat had three bedrooms, one of which had been occupied for over a year by a couple of lodgers who were actors performing in repertory (rep’, as it was known) in various theatres in the Midlands.
Celia’s brief taste of the spotlight with the Amateur Dramatic Society in Great Yarmouth had been the start of a frustrated love affair with the theatre and show business in general (which lasts to this day). So she was only too happy to accommodate two people who could give her vicarious access to a world which was denied to her. They, in return, were happy to have a charming, intelligent and attractive landlady who would devour their their thespian gossip, listen to their problems with a sympathetic ear, and help them read-through their scripts, taking, of course, the female roles.
I think that she already knew that she’d never get the chance to become the great actress that she have been, should her destiny had taken a different path.
Both actors were to become very famous indeed – through the rapidly burgeoning medium of television. One, Donald Piper, as the husband who wished to live off the land in suburbia in a hugely successful 70s sitcom which ran for years, and the other, Peter Toddington, as the nouveau-riche husband next door who totally disapproved. Celia was to be so thrilled that both her former lodgers were to become massive TV stars in the same show.
In later years, the former became a distinguished member of The Royal Shakespeare Company, playing many of the major roles, including King Lear, whilst the latter became uber-famous when he played a minister who later became the prime minister in what was allegedly Margaret Thatcher’s favourite TV show of the 80s – although I must confess that I find it hard to imagine her laughing at anything. Ice queen.
They both remained friends with Celia as the years went by, and would often visit her for a cup of tea if they were passing through Bath, where she now lives with my stepfather, or performing at the Theatre Royal (she adored the fact that they would be given free tickets). She still likes to drop just their christian names into conversation, expecting everyone to know who she’s talking about.
Back then in Birmingham, Celia’s life had reached a plane of tolerance. My parent’s stay at her cousin Nellie’s house had ended not long after Larry’s birth, after the local council had offered them a council flat in Handsworth Park (although sub-letting a room to lodgers wasn’t, of course, legal).
Dick’s nocturnal wanderings had eased-off to a degree, now that he had a young family to support; he’d actually managed to sustain a self-employed job as a TV repair man for over a year. The fact that the ‘repairing’ consisted of using his bottomless pit of charm to persuade his mostly female customers to buy ‘reconditioned’ TV sets (i.e stolen) from him, then covertly selling their damaged ones, once he’d repaired them, as if he was ‘doing them a favour by getting rid of them’, only helped to bring in more ‘housekeeping’ money. Celia would have been horrified if she’d known the truth, but with Dick’s income and the additional money from the lodgers she was, for the first time in her life, relatively secure.
She also thoroughly enjoyed the company of her charming lodgers. Donald Piper was a cheeky sort of chappie (as they would have said in those days) aged 23, with an engaging grin and wonderfully natural comedic talent. His mimicry used have my mother in fits of laughter.
‘He has me tickled pink!’ She’d exclaim, in that curiously clipped fashion that we find so amusingly twee in 50s black and white movies these days,
‘He’s an absolute HOOT!’
He reminded her of some her airman friends back at The Links in her youth, having been in the Airforce, and even imprisoned in Colditz.
His best friend and colleague Peter Toddington was 24, tall and handsome, with Italian features, jet-black hair, large and luminous come-to-bed eyes and an undeniably alluring sexual charisma. He and my mother seemed to have a magical bond between them which was almost mystical.
November 2nd, 1992.
The flint on my gunmetal black Zippo lighter has ‘gone’. Smoking roll-ups, as I do, which are constantly going out, this is causing me some consternation, especially as I can’t afford to buy any more. Surely I have some in a box somewhere? It will probably be easier to raid the change jar and buy a disposable lighter for 20p in the market.
Back to counting the pennies again dammit! I’ve lit a candle, as is my wont, to provide me with a sort of focus, to re-light my soggy cigs, to create an evocative atmosphere and maybe to help ward-off malevolent spirits (just like I’ll be doing when I do the dreaded deed). Suicide appears to invoke a cast of ghost characters who will accompany you into the dread zone, where you will float, like an exotic fish in a cosmic aquarium on the other side which is ‘actually just about around the corner.’
Who would think that such a pathetic little hiccup could cause me such anguish? Why can’t I have a box full of disposable lighters with colours to match my moods?
What, all of them black?
No, that’s not fair on myself, even in my current impasse.
I’m able to laugh, hang-out with my friends, get high and pissed, flirt, have an almost-love-thing with Apollo and great sex, tell pathetically awful jokes… write this… the longest suicide note in history… no doubt.
That’s hardly gonna help your mood is it? Says the still, small voice inside.
Sometimes my ‘higher-self’ gets on my tits.
Uh-oh, he’s getting pissed off with me!
He’s beginning to mock me! Hey you up there, or wherever you are, how about a bit of sympathy and solidarity huh?
You’re getting tired and ratty – why don’t you try to get some sleep?
It’s true, I’m exhausted, but I doubt if I’ll be able to sleep. I wish I had a new book to read…
You could always read what you’ve just written?
Oh great, that will cheer me right up! If only the TV worked, then I could ‘veg-out’ and stop being so intense with myself. Maybe the TV not working is some kind of warped karma, like father-not-like son, or something.
I stopped paying the rental several years ago, and the computer just sort-of forgot about me, not that it was in my actual name (I’d rented in my father’s name just to amuse myself with the double irony)!
I can hardly ring them up and demand that they fix it, can I? Although it would be a tantalising dare. Anyway, it’s only got four channels! How antiquated.
So what indeed have I go to look forward to tomorrow? Two meagre units left on the Phone Card. Small change rattling in my pocket (I really shouldn’t have bought that musical, two-speed Elvis vibrator – Love Me Tender and I’m All Shook Up – for the party) and… might my would-be benefactor be back in the country yet? I somehow doubt it.
I can’t ask my sister for anymore cash – it’s not fair, with her being the only member of the family on the spot, in London.
Mother relayed a message through her the other day suggesting that maybe I should get a job.
In this state, just after my fortieth birthday? If only she knew.
It’s the old catch 22. If I’d had a job, then I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all the things that I have (two major record deals, enormous success as a club promoter and party organiser, for instance). And now, fucking great mountains of creative outpourings all stored to floppy disc on my 16-track Korg T2 digital dream machine, which ma and step-pa bought for me in 1987, bless ’em – and it cost £1,200!
Maybe I could, or should get a job, perhaps be a consultant to an ad agency, or a trend advisor (I always accurately predict everything that’s going to happen – for instance: people have no idea how communicating by using computers will be like the second industrial revolution).
But people would look at incredulously and say ‘But you’re Ricky Rackett! You’re a legend, why should you need a job?’
So if I signed-on as unemployed (or claiming disability because of my condition – now there’s a thought), there would be probably be some lefty, right-on queen, with hair shaved at the sides and a dreadlocked ponytail on top, presiding behind the glass screens and the iron bars, lord of all who must grovel in her presence, who turns out to have been a regular at some of the hugely successful, one-night clubs I promoted throughout the 80s, who would proclaim loudly enough for all the other failures, alcoholics, junkies, queers, dykes and down-and-outs to hear: ‘My GOD, I thought I recognised you! What on earth is the famous Rocky Racket doing slumming it HERE? Well, well, how the mighty have fallen!’
Exit AIDS-infected former semi-famous person and failed songwriter/poet/author/spiritual healer/interior designer/potential consultant to the creative industries… with tail very much between legs.
Besides, you have to wait over six weeks to get a penny, then you get a paltry weekly sum like twenty quid, which would last about two days, once you’ve re-stocked the fridge with beer and food.
Mind you, just like with the TV rental company, databases do have a tendency to forget my existence, which, in some respects, is something to be grateful for. I haven’t paid the rent on my little council flat for months – and I haven’t heard anything… yet. But as Social Security instruct the local council to pay one’s rent when signing-on, it’s obvious that my cover would be well and truly blown should I go down that route.
Ohlordgivemestrength and several thousand pounds and pass the bag of tamazapan! I’ve had enough of this endless frustration,
I just need to get in a recording studio to do the vocals on all the songs I’ve recorded at home, before it’s too late.
Now, if I told people of my condition, they would probably whisk me into the studio before you could say Terence Higgins… but I can’t use that kind-of sledgehammer, emotionally blackmailing approach; it’s just not right.
I want someone to invest in my talent because they believe in ME, not out of sympathy.
‘That’s more like it!‘ Says the small voice in my head, appearing to be supportive this time, for a change: ‘Keep saying it, keep believing it will happen… you know I’m on your side.’
But sometimes you make me feel like I’m a schizo, like my own rationale’s making me think I’m going off the rails, hearing voices…
‘Forget it kid, take a nap, you’re becoming delirious…’
You’re right, I will.
‘… and don’t forget to press SAVE!’
Fuck, yeah, thanks!
Nov’ 2nd 1992.
I first met Christopher Goldberg in the new year of 1992. He was perched on a stool at the oval-shaped bar at the centre of The Lear Lounge at The Starlight Club.
He twinkled at me in what I assumed to be a psychic, rather than a flirtatious manner; at least, that’s how I interpreted it, perhaps due to the fact that dumpy, Jewish Americans aren’t my cup of (Kosher) meat, as it were.
Despite being vertically challenged, he had a handsome, smiley face and a cool, expensive-looking haircut.
I sat on the stool next to him and we immediately got into a lively conversation about the nomenclature of the bar.
I’t’s called The Lear because it’s trying to look like a V.I.P Lounge – and failing miserably – like where people might board Lear Jets.’ I snorted.
‘No, it’s because everyone is leering at each other!’ He joshed.
‘Well, it’s nothing to do with Shakespeare,’ I cut-in, perhaps surprising him with my un-British, quick fire delivery.
‘Talking of King Lear, ‘ he said brightly, ‘isn’t that Ian McKellen being histrionic in the corner?’
‘Sir Ian, if you don’t mind, or Serena, as he’s sometimes known by some of his more campy friends!’
The barman, an occasional porn star, who’s apparently straight, put two cocktails on the bar in front of us. Christopher handed me one – a shot glass with three layers of liquid in shades of brown – I looked somewhat nonplussed.
‘Go go! Drink! Down in one!’
We clinked the glasses and I did as he instructed.
‘It’s called a B-52, and the layers are Bailey’s, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. ‘ He grinned.
I gulped, feeling a warm glow spreading through my lower abdomen.
‘Mmm – wow that’s lovely – don’t you think that’s taking the aeronautical theme a little too far though, presuming that it’s named after a giant bomber?’
‘Oh no, this baby was invented by a fan of the eponymous band in NYC in the 70s!’ Explained Christopher, ordering us another on his bar tab, as I surmised that he obviously wasn’t short of a bob or two.
‘Great band, I saw them once at The Electric Ballroom in 1979 – which inspired my song Fall Down Fred – it appeared on my second album in 1980.’
‘Oh my gosh – I’ve just met a gay rock star!’ He laughed.
‘Gay, yes, rock star no!’ I said ruefully, rolling a cigarette, ‘but talking of the dreaded music industry, do you know who owns The Starlight – the biggest gay club in Europe, as it happens?’
‘I don’t actually.’
‘It’s that quintessential multi-millionaire English eccentric Cornelius Maiden, owner of Maiden Records, Maiden Airlines, Maiden Clubs, Maiden Holidays…’
‘… Maiden England!’ He quipped.
‘… and the town of Maidenhead, for all I know,’ I suggested, ‘and that’s why the various areas in this salubrious establishment allude to Maiden Airlines – here we are in The Lear Lounge, then the main room is called The Jumbo – the second The Concorde…’
‘…And what does he call the toilets, the Mile-High club?
I laughed as he handed me another B-52: ‘Well, yes, that would be rather appropriate with all the shenanigans going on in there – not that I give a flying fuck!’
Ten months later, it’s just after 11pm and I’m heading for the Starlight again, where the aforementioned Christopher and Anna’s ex-hubby Jerry Judge (who hasn’t yet returned to Paris) are awaiting my arrival. I’m kind-of walking on air because I’ve actually eaten out, albeit at the good ol’ Tonno in Soho. It’s hardly La Crevette, but it’s a cheap n’ cheerful Italian cafe with rather charming 60s décor and a boho ambience. I’ve been going there for nearly 20 years, long before there were queues of starving trendies waiting to get in.
It’s the perfect place to eat alone in this loneliest of cities. You can’t avoid talking to people, unless you have a chronic case of laryngitis, because everyone shares the cramped tables. I got seated – having been ushered in front of the queue as I am, or was, a regular (before my more recent financial fall from grace) – with a stylish and intelligent caucasian Canadian couple, which is, ahem, unusual in itself. Stylish, I mean; well, they weren’t wearing lumberjack shirts.
He, it transpired, is in advertising and she is a journalist. I employed my usual tactic of feigning shyness, or indifference, whilst listening to every word of their conversation, then weighed-in at an appropriate point with my considered opinion on a moot point they were discussing, swiftly dousing the flames of any potential hostility by then swiftly asking; ‘Canadian?’
All Canadians get pissed-off by being presumed to be American, so their momentarily frozen expressions were immediately replaced by broad grins.
So I was allowed to join their intimacy, which also gave me carte blanche to tell stories about myself.
In case this might appear selfish, I’d like to point out that I’m one of those people whom others often perceive as a sounding board (or a sponge, as I see it) for them to tell me all their problems, rarely pausing to enquire about mine. MY TURN! I decided inwardly, and careered on, apparently charming the Canadian pants of them.
They, in turn, managed to get a few words in edgeways (or Edgware, as I like to quip). Of course, I’m being satirically hard on myself: I play good conversational table tennis.
I was enjoying this rare opportunity so much that I lost all track of time and had started to wave my arms around like a deranged acid house dancer in 1998, due to two double espressos I’d consumed (after a half-carafe of dubious red plonk), which was also designed to wake me up after the debilitating effects of the excesses at Anna’s party.
I leapt to my feet and shook their hands.
‘It’s been great to meet you!’ Said the girl brightly.
‘Yay, good luck and SUCCESS! Said the guy, making a clenched-fist salute.
As I float swiftly down Charing Cross Road on a cloud of caffeine, I figure that they must have liked me and found me interesting, or it would have shown.
Apparent confidence is a flimsy fence which conceals our anxieties. It would never have occurred to them that the ‘novel’ that I had told them about was actually, probably the longest suicide note in history. Maybe it was always MEANT to be a novel anyway, or the proverbial ‘semi-autobiographical’ one. Who knows?
What a warped life.
But hang on, I AM writing a novel, as I trust my dear readers might recall: ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’ being the (ahem) semi-autobiographical tale of my my mother and father’s early married life.
So it could all end-up as a book-within-a-book, despite it possibly (probably?) ending up like… well… you know.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.
Suggested listening to accompany this travelblogue is The Enigma Elevations by yours truly.
July the 19th, 2015
On a recent warm, sunny Sunday, I spontaneously decided to visit a Kentish seaside resort with a bit of a dodgy reputation, both from the past and the present. I’d heard, however, that the town’s future, if not orange, is probably bright, due to the relatively recent opening of that guaranteed saviour of any run-down town or urban area – an art gallery.
The Turner Contemporary turned-out to be simply magnificent.
Brilliantly cool architecture and judicious curation meld this inspired addition to the cultural cannon of Kent into a massive draw for this surprisingly alluring and aesthetically-pleasing resort.
It was formerly renowned as a tacky ‘kiss-me-quick’ resort for mostly working-class Londoners who were attracted to its golden sands and, later, for its proto-Coney Island, pre-theme-park attraction – the recently restored and re-opened Dreamland.
Then latterly it was on the cultural map as the stomping ground of alleged artistic icon Tracy Emin (sorry, I just don’t get her, beyond the hype) and the late, bipolar genius Hawkwind/Hawklords singer Robert Calvert (I was a member of the band in the late 70s). Margate’s most famous son, however, is indisputably the great English artist Turner. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to have a gallery named after him.
This was to be my first-ever visit to Margate.
My journey… no, I really can’t use that reality-TV cliche to describe my excursion (that’s better) from the urban wilds of Willesden Junction, five minutes from where I live (in a dreamy loft apartment gifted by the gods in Central Harlesden), to Margate, by train from Charing Cross (changing at Gillingham), not realising initially that I could have travelled there direct from St Pancras on the UK’s only high-speed train.
Heaven Night Club, now a populist shadow of its former ground-breaking self (owned by supposed gay-culture-spokesperson Jeremy Joseph), still lurks in the arches beneath the station and is, regardless, a great venue that resonates with its long history of innovative and inspirational club nights in the 80s, a couple of which – Bad and Babylon – I instigated and promoted. Happy daze.
The train rattled past South London’s landmarks and emerging neighbourhoods and new architecture, the views from the tracks always offering a unique visual insight into the exponential rewards (monstrous carbuncles n’ all) of London being newly-annointed ‘best city in the world’.
The train trundled through Lewisham (now there’s a property hotspot, I imagined, with its DLR terminus, fine Victorian housing stock and new-build blocks sprouting like genetically-modified concrete crops), Blackheath and Charlton (memories of living in some old queen’s little terraced house with a bunch of gay hippies in the early 70s invaded my brain) and then, after Dartford and the great arc of its crossing, at last, the big skies and verdant pastures, hop fields and salt marshes of Kent, along with its power stations, docks, gravel pits, industrial estates, caravan-common parks, Travellers’ camps, mega-shopping centre at Bluewater, and a seemingly randomly moored prison ship, offering no chance of escape, other than a freezing swim to freedom. Or perhaps it’s designated to be converted into a floating Travel Lodge for illegal immigrants (this being the county closest to our often xenophobic French cousins).
I caught a glimpse of the sea, a silvery sliver in the sunshine, as the train approached Whitstable, already established as Notting Hill-On-Sea, with it’s seafood restaurants and rustic, perhaps now trusticarian, half-timbered housing stock.
I was reminded of a strange period in my life in the early noughties, when X, my long-term fuck-buddy and muse (he was the nearest thing I had to a lover for many years) revealed that he was in love with someone who shared the same birthday as me (weird), who’d invited him for a day out to Whitstable with some friends. Great – thanks for sharing. He then revealed that he’d attacked this obsession of his, whom he told me looked like a well-known TV news-reader, in a gay bar in Clapham, because this guy was ‘with someone else’. I advised him to go and seek help at The Maudesley Hospital, South London’s premier mental health destination, whilst wondering why he felt it necessary to burden me with all these strangely disturbing details. Was he testing my jealousy threshold, or just being a bastard? The latter, I suspect.
I cut X from my life last year, after realising that he was draining the lifeblood out of me and was a waste of space; someone whom I’d wrongly thought was special to me, by default, in the absence of anyone more substantial or less disturbed. What really ‘did it’ was when he wound-up JJ, my now fifteen year-old ginger tom, by pretending to threaten him with violence. JJ had always hated him, and now this was compounded and X was duly excommunicated.
As the vistas of Kent sped by like an alt-tourist video on YouTube, I sighed and wondered why I’d been beguiled by X and his wonderful bum for nearly twenty years. Oh yes, it was nothing more than his beautiful bottom, wasn’t it?
Then the train pulled-in to Herne Bay Station, and I was mentally transported back to a sunny afternoon in said seaside town back in September 2008, when I’d joined several mutual, former members of Hawkwind and The Hawklords at The Kings Hall to commemorate the 20th anniversary of former frontman Robert Calvert’s death with a rather ramshackle, unrehearsed benefit for his last wife Jill, who was very ill.
I recall it being a beautiful day, weather-wise, and ‘a jolly good time’ as erstwhile Hawkwind leader Dave Brock might have said in his favourite cod-colonel voice, had he bothered to attend.
When I’d played keyboards and sung backing vocals on The Hawklords’ seminal, classic album 25 Years On, and played with them on a huge, sold-out UK tour in 1978, Calvert and I had become very close, so I felt it important to attend and perform, unrehearsed, with a host of other ex-members (apart from main-men Dave Brock and Lemmy) for this anniversary gig. The venue was terrific, there was a great turn-out and the atmosphere was rocking. I immediately dubbed it ‘Hernia Bay’, which was possibly a bad thing to do Karmically: I got my very own umbilical hernia about five years ago, whilst having particularly vigorous sex.
I love travelling alone on a train as it evokes memories. which can be something of an emotional roller coaster ride.
The train arrived at Margate, but no memory buttons were pushed, as this was my first time. I was, I suppose, a Margate virgin.
I emerged from the architecturally impressive station (the facade seemed vaguely art deco and somewhat reminiscent of all those Fascistectural – I just invented that – railway stations in Italy) into glorious sunshine and immediately noted that I was a stone’s throw (not a pebble, as the beach is famously sandy, so na na na Brighton) from the seafront.
As I surveyed the scene, my eyes were immediately drawn to the right, where the town’s only tall building, the iconic (if you’re into ‘brutalist’ architecture – which I am) Arlington House, erected in 1964, dominates the town’s skyline, along with the newly-opened Turner Contemporary Gallery and the harbour’s clock tower. I realised immediately that Margate was extremely photogenic – especially on that Sunday, with dramatic cloud formations immediately evoking Turner’s vigorous and vibrant brushstrokes.
Arlington House could be described as Margate’s answer to Notting Hill’s Trellick Tower, but unfortunately minus the outside spaces. Later research revealed that a small, two bed flat with a sea view (they all have sea views, although one facing West would be best) and needing total refurbishment, could be had for a mere £80K. Although, apparently the service charge is quite steep.
Facing Arlington house across a small park is a rundown terrace of houses and shabby hotels diagonal to the seafront – with views across the bay. Ripe for redevelopment, obviously. How great would it be if the terrace could be gradually bought by a housing association, with a good percentage devoted to social housing (funded by the other percentage of better-off buyers). Don’t hold your breath.
Then, heading down to the promenade and looking a few hundred yards to the right, you’ll see the iconic, retro, vertical signage of Dreamland on its brick tower, which gave me a bit of a photographer’s hard-on, sorry, thrill.
Next – to the promenade, to take pics of the parading passers-by and the beach and its immediate surrounds. First-up, A nicely-restored pavilion on the prom’. A shelter, I guess you might call it? But it’s rather beautiful.
Then the deliciously retro-tacky-cool delights of the still-faded facades of the newly-reopened Dreamland (which immediately transported me to my youthful memories of seaside, family camping holidays in the 60s) which I didn’t visit this time, as I was more interested in the Turner Contemporary Gallery as my first objective. The exterior visuals of Dreamland made me almost salivate – so who knows what visual joys will captured on my next visit when I take a ride through this vintage amusement park’s living history?
Why can’t I live in a duplex apartment in the tower which hosts the vertical sign? Come on fate – gimme a break! It would be vaguely redolent of a young Woody Allen growing-up in a shack beneath the Coney Island roller-coaster in – what was it? – Annie Hall? Yes.
Apparently, the big wheel and the retro-roller-coaster aren’t open yet, but I love this Instagram shot of a family passing by the still semi-derelict vibe of Dreamland. Fun for all the family! Kiss me quick! Saucy seaside postcards! Hot dogs, warm cider and unrequited teenaged love and…
Now for some random peeps-on-the-prom shots – mostly taken using my Canon EOS 30D. The other shots (can you work out which are which?) were taken on my iPhone 4S using the Camera Plus Pro App – highly recommended.
Now here’s a pic (taken on the Canon) of what appears to be the continuation of another deliciously retro 50s/60s throwback – a bikers’ cafe on the seafront, as I continue my walk along the prom’ towards the Turner Contemporary Gallery.
Soon after, I came across some serious gentrification on the seafront as I headed for the gallery, whist musing about what fun it would be to set up The Tina Turner Contemporary Gallery as an alternative pop-up, in some derelict art deco lido, or something. Imagine if there actually was one? 😉
The view from The Sands Hotel (which is pretty cool, I see from the website, although I didn’t go inside).
Then next door…
Bring on the gallery!
I really liked the building immediately. It looked totally ‘right’ and beautifully clean and simple with more than a nod towards a maritime, local-fishing-industrial vernacular.
The next pic looks almost like a Canaletto transported to 2015.
The kinetic installation – or is it a sculpture? – in the foyer features a whole lot of cymbals. Does that make then cymbolic? The backdrop is real though, that’s a huge window overlooking the sea. Cool huh?
I was thrilled to observe that the featured exhibition was by Grayson Perry, a supremely talented and out-there potter and artist – and Turner Prize winner. He’s a very confident cross-dresser, or transexual, with a great deal of style and intellectual panache, coupled with an almost Hogarthian observation of our social mores, laced with satire and affectionate humour.
It was called Provincial Punk, which raised an inner smile. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in this free exhibition, so I bought a postcard of one of his punky pots (featuring Kurt Kobain and Janet Jackson) and a really funny/cool postcard collection entitled ‘Playing To the Gallery’.
As I left the gallery I mused about the award-winning British film Mr Turner, starring the consistently excellent actor Timothy Spall and directed by the uniquely talented Mike Leigh, whose clever, improvised films I’ve always enjoyed (he doesn’t do scripts).
There’s a Swindells family link to both the movie and the location; as Margate in Turner’s time was recreated in the Cornish village of Kingsand where my family are lucky enough to own an idyllic holiday cottage (which is available for rent) overlooking the beach. And our cottage was one of those transformed for the few weeks of filming, before being returned to exactly how it looked before. Here’s my elder bro Rob looking distinctly un-19th century posing on ‘the set’.
Here’s the cottage returned to normal.
I walked past the gallery and along the sea shore, wondering what I might discover around the corner. I was not to be disappointed.
I came across the crumbling, strangely beguiling facade of a Victorian or Regency building (with art-deco additions), which seemed to me to be hiding an architectural mystery secreted in the stubby chalk cliffs. I wondered what it might be.
I noticed that an exit door was open – it would appear that some sort of matinee performance had just ended. Was it a theatre? I wandered in unchallenged to investigate.
Welcome to The Margate Winter Gardens. An absolute gem, both culturally and architecturally.
The original Edwardian building (later research revealed that it was constructed in 1911) was obviously re-styled in the 30s.
As I wandered around taking pics on both my iPhone4s and my Canon, I noticed a kind-of pantomime throne with a cheap cardboard ‘crown’ on its seat cushion sitting randomly on the edge of the auditorium. So I couldn’t resist taking a deliberately silly ‘royal selfie’ of ‘King Stephen’.
Sometimes, I wonder how many people actually get ‘double irony’. Then again, having probably invented the term myself, I guess it’s in its cultural infancy.
To me, as I wandered lonely as a kiss-me-quick postcard along the nether regions of Margate’s enchanting seafront, I felt I was acknowledging not only the genius of Grayson Perry, but also all those faded, end-of-the-pier stars of British variety and comedy that had been part of my youth.
I was mentally transported back to my childhood holidays with three maiden aunts who shared a tasteless little modern bungalow in Polegate near Eastbourne in Sussex.
The lovely, subtle scent of sweet peas, geraniums and pinks in the outside space of my loft apartment in North West London immediately transports me back to those halcyon days spent in their little garden (I recall making a puppet theatre out of a stool), when I used to travel unaccompanied on the train (it was still STEAM – and I remember my train once being powered by that awesome, blue, iconic modernist loco the Mallard) from Bath Spa, aged 7 and 8, to London Paddington.
The ‘Aunties’ as we called them (I wonder if they might have been lesbians? Nah. No way) used to meet me there, then we would travel on the wondrous and magical (to little me) tube across to Victoria, to get the train to Sussex. They used to spoil me rotten, and special treats included going for afternoon tea at a wonderfully glamourous (to me ) Italian cafe called BonDolfi’s (which, with hindsight, was an art deco delight) in Eastbourne, where my favourite indulgence was a Marron Glace – a delicious confection of meringue, chestnut puree and whipped cream.
Then they would take me to shows at the end-of-the-pier theatre, where the big star was a tame, but rather charming old drag queen called Sandy Powell, or a variety revue called The Fol-De-Rols, which inspired me to dance along the promenade afterwards and jump-up and swing around lamp posts, like a wannabe Gene Kelly.
Then I wandered into the delightfully tasteless bar, with its plastic plants and awesome views.
As I left the Winter Gardens and continued my walk, I was reminded how blessed I was with good weather and great views. Margate was being rebranded in my mind into MGate. I began to wonder if I might live here one day.
OMG – what the hell was this wonderfully evocative, semi-derelict building? All my entrepreneurial instincts started to automatically kick-in as wondered why such an apparent gem had been allowed to go rack and ruin.
As I turned the corner I realised what the fascinating derelict building was – the bar, restaurant and nightclub attached to what had been Margate’s (now abandoned) art deco Lido, which had originally been a Victorian sea-bathing resort.
Later research revealed that the local Council, Thanet, have indeed mooted redevelopment of the Lido, but I didn’t see any evidence of regeneration.
The sound of raucous, youthful laughter echoed from the remains of the walls. So I shot a suitably ironic mini-art movie to try and capture the elusive MGate zeitgeist *add pinch of irony to taste*.
It turned out to be a bunch of Spanish students hangin’ out in the ruined Lido, who, noticing my camera, asked if I’d take their pics. I was happy to oblige.
Then I took one on my iPhone and gave them my name on Instagram, so they could check it out.
This is MGate’s second iconic ‘vertical logo’, after Dreamland, and it’s damn beautiful – and still so well-preserved, unlike the derelict buildings and mysteriously beguiling subterranean aquatic facilities beneath it.
I crossed the road to check out the run-down-yet-charming Cliftonville area, where it soon became evident that this was a bit of an ‘immigrant ghetto’ and obviously somewhere where seaside bargains might be had, if one was in a position to invest.
I reminded myself that the local UKIP candidate for Thanet had been a favourite to win a seat in Parliament at the last election, but, thankfully didn’t.
So fuck you Farage!
I only wish I’d been able to see inside Frank’s club, but there was no sign of life. Then I imagined the tacky, 60s flats above, with their direct sea views could be bought and refurbished very cheaply and turned into something rather special. I would relish such a challenge.
I reluctantly turned my back on the sea to check out the Victorian and Regency terraces (along with some modern ones copying the vernacular) of Cliftonville and entered a square with a kid’s play area in the middle, where I captured this lovely moment.
The area was scruffy and run-down, but had a certain charm and some interesting architecture, along with great views of the sea as the shadows lengthened on this gloriously sunny, late afternoon. Then I turned the corner into what seemed to be the High Street, which was parallel with the seafront a couple of blocks away – lots of fast-food outlets and Asian corner shops – I could almost have been in somewhere like Bradford if it weren’t for the bracing fresh air. Then my inner gaspomoter went off the scale as I spotted a beautiful Victorian Warehouse behind a Car Wash and wondered if it was empty and, naturally, er… when I might move in!
I turned the corner, back towards the seafront, and was astonished by the facade of this magnificent building, obviously a former storage facility for a removals company. I saw a man about my age coming out of the main entrance and asked him what went on inside and he replied that the building’s spacious rooms were let out to local artists. ‘Are the rents cheap?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘very cheap really.’
‘Lucky local artists!’ I responded and he smiled enigmatically.
As I walked down the hill I saw a group of young girls coming towards me, dressed in colourful, ethnic clothes, which seemed to be a cross between Romany and Middle-Eastern. They had rosy cheeks and olive skin and were laughing a lot. One of them pointed at my camera and they giggled as she asked in broken English ‘Can take picture of we?’ I was excited to smilingly agree but forgot to click the auto-focus; so, unfortunately, what could have been a great photo later turned-out to be all blurred.
When I’d asked where they were from, they’d all happily chorused ‘Slovenia’.
Now I was in a very attractive square surrounded by gorgeous Georgian, Regency and Victorian terraces – I was obviously in MGate’s renowned Old Town – but it was far more appealing than I could have imagined.
I saw a ‘For Sale’ sign at the end of an alley that widened into a little square and saw a very strange little house that seemed to have been designed in the sixties in a cod-Tyrolean vernacular – overlooking the Morrison’s supermarket car park. A friendly-looking woman got out of her car to go into her adjacent cottage and she said hello with a smile. I grinned-back and said ‘Hi,’ then pointed towards the little house: ‘I saw the For Sale sign and just wondered what it was…’
‘Oh it’s been for sale for ages.’
‘It looks tiny – maybe just one bedroom.’
‘This is my first visit to Margate – what’s it like living here?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I love it.’ She replied. ‘Quite a lot of locals moan about the immigrant population but I like the cultural diversity that they bring to what would otherwise be a rather dull, sleepy little provincial, seaside town.’
‘Has the Turner Contemporary gallery made a big difference?’
‘It’s been a total game changer,’ she enthused, ‘now there are lots of artists moving here and independent galleries are springing-up in disused spaces. It’s breathed new life into the town – and it’s made property a good investment too, although it’s still pretty cheap…’
‘Compared to somewhere like already-gentrified Whitstable?’
‘Absolutely – and a lot less pretentious!’
Now I was in retro-vintage heaven! This was the third such shop I’d seen. I was drooling over both sideboards in the window. I made a mental note to come and visit again on a weekday, when the shops would be open, but I did notice that the fabulous Seventies one sitting on top of the Sixties (?) one below was priced at £150 and looked to be in very good nick. If that had been in a shop in Shoreditch, Islington or Clerkenwell, it would have been about £600 at least.
Then I came into the main Market Square and noted that there were several art galleries and bistros housed in various beautiful old buildings.
I headed back towards the seafront, intent on getting some fish and chips, which I would accompany with the decent bottle of Chilean Merlot I’d bought with me (half-price at Tesco), along with a plastic glass, before reluctantly getting the train home. This being a Sunday, I didn’t want to get stranded. On my way, I noticed some cool development opportunities. Ah – if only I was in a position to implement them.
I later found out that these two beautiful houses with direct, Westerly sea views, one comprising four flats; the other a three-bedroomed house, were priced at £475 (which is what my two-bedroomed, London loft apartment might cost if I could buy it) and £450 respectively. Drool.
I found a fish and chip shop that was just about to close (at dinner time?), but this meant that the affable owner gave me a huge piece of cod and loads of chips for just £3, as, he said: ‘That’s me last bit of fish mate!’
I ate my dinner on a park bench in the West-facing square overlooking the beach in front of Albert Terrace, where the two aforementioned houses were for sale (the fag-ends were not mine!). I was trying to work out how I was about to see the sun going down, when I was on the North-Eastern tip of Kent. The mystery was solved when I got home and found that MGate is actually situated on a promontory and faces West. I screwed the cap back on my half-consumed bottle of wine so that I could finish it on the train home, then ambled back to the station taking pictures of the sunset and it’s reflections, both on my iPhone and my Canon. The next Instagram photo looks like it could have been taken in St Tropez!
That was another Instagram – now for some taken on my Canon EOS 30D (with its 50mm lens).
That’s the setting sun ‘illuminating’ the big wheel.
Turner would have liked this cloud formation.
When I reached the station and checked the departure board, I was delighted to discover that I could get a high-speed ‘Javelin’ train direct to St Pancras – and would only have to wait ten minutes. Excellent! That meant I could sit at a table on the train and charge my phone, which was nearly dead, despite me having brought an extra battery (because of the scores of pics I’d taken), then process my Instagrams via the Camera Plus Pro app that I use, whilst finishing the rest of my Merlot. Happy daze again!
And finally, Rochester Castle silhouetted against the sunset, taken from the train.
All photos © Steve Swindells.
BTW – the etched-glass sleeping pod for two people in my live-work loft apartment is available to rent via airbnb for just £49 a night. I’ve had eight five-star reviews so far!
A #multimedia collection of short stories, true tales, photos, original music, poems and artworks
October 31st 1992. 5AM.
To whom it may concern.
I have decided to end my life.
It is the morning of my fortieth birthday, or would be.
The Big Four-oh.
I am most definitely having a mid-life crisis. Although, at this juncture, bearing in mind the decision that I’ve taken, it could be more accurately be described as end of life crisis. Terminal. Kaput. End-of. Expired (anyone for a dead parrot sketch?).
I can’t just top myself, however, without thanking those who have supported me through the hard times – the never-ending hard times and tests, jumping through hoops, over hurdles and getting lost in dark tunnels, looking and hoping for the light at the end. Now it is the end and there is no light, only darkness.
I should have been called Jason, but the only golden fleece that I will be awarded is a funeral shroud (and the number of times I’ve been fleeced doesn’t bear thinking about).
The ubiquitous clichés of the awards ceremony: ‘People too numerous to mention (they might know who they are), my analyst (I don’t, and have never had one… no wait! I lie: but that’s another story).
My dogs, my cats, my lovers, my friends, my family, my mother – the blessed Celia Racket (thank you for everything Ma, even though you never fully understood, you tried, especially when I was seriously trying). For forty years I seem to have been trying. What went wrong?
Whilst pondering this eternally irritating question, I absentmindedly flick open the first page of the type-written manuscript for my semi-autobiographical first novel ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’.
“October 30th 1952.
I was born in a toilet in the armpit of England, that grey mass and mess of industrial wastelands, motorways and wasted lives known as Birmingham, where people speak in an accent only marginally less unpleasant that that of South Africa.
The toilet in question was the smallest room in a very ordinary flat on the first floor of a very ordinary little pebble-dashed, semi-detached house in Handsworth Park, a while before the area became inhabited largely by West Indians.
My mother Celia Tinderman, as she was known then, had been married to Dick Tinderman for just over two years, and I was her second son. My father was an East Anglian of Dutch/Jewish descent and mother’s family boasted Italian, French and even Romany blood.
I was most definitely due to make my debut at any time that morning, but Celia mistook my wish to be born as a bowel movement. If first impressions are lasting impressions, then perhaps I should have been known as ‘The Little Shit’. My mother was somewhat surprised to hear her ablution crying, so she waddled through into her and Dick’s bedroom with my blood-and-placenta-covered head poking out, phoned the midwife, and out I unceremoniously plopped.
The midwife soon arrived and a neighbour was dispatched to find my father Dick, with the whispered advice as to his whereabouts involving the names of various local pubs and betting shops. The midwife clucked her tongue and continued with the no doubt gruesome task of making me presentable for the imminent arrival of my doting dad. He was eventually tracked-down to a pub with the somewhat appropriate name of The Cock And Bull, where he’d been attempting to chat-up what was surely a role model for the young Bet Lynch (the tarty barmaid in the UK’s longest-running TV Soap, ‘Coronation Street’).
My older brother Larry, aged 18 months, slept blissfully through my inauspicious arrival into this world. In those days, of course, fathers weren’t expected to be present at births, they were more likely be living that other cliché; pacing the floors of some green-painted hospital corridor chain-smoking – Senior Service, no-doubt. This archetypal 50s brand would have been appropriate for Dick, as he was in The Navy – a Petty Officer (and a petty thief).
My mother had married this charming and rather attractive rogue at the the tender age of nineteen, in order to escape the clutches of her parents Gladys and Henry, who seemed to think that life was an Ivor Novello revue; lower-middle-class snobs who had never reached the social strata to which they aspired. They’d dressed little Celia to look like Shirley Temple and had brought her up in an atmosphere where children were to be ‘seen and not heard’. She spent most of her teens confined to her room reading quite serious literature.
Culture for her parents involved sporadic visits to the Quaker Hall in Great Yarmouth where the Amateur Dramatic Society performed chintzy little musicals and whodunnits. This unlikely setting provided Celia with her escape route, for it was here that she got to know Dick who, having joined the group, tended to land the roles of the romantic lead, to which he applied an almost ‘method’ approach; living the part, so to speak, in various dark and dusty rooms, with his female (and sometimes male) counterparts wearing their underwear around their ankles.
Thus Celia was partnered with Dick in The Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of ‘No No Nannette’. During rehearsals, Larry was conceived under the stage on a pile of old pantomime costumes.
Dick was not deflowering a virgin though. My mother was concealing a dark, mysterious and curiously romantic secret.”
Stay tuned (to the bakelite radio).
I s’pose I’ve been the black sheep of the family – or perhaps the pink one? I’ve not been particularly ‘bad’ (more like ‘badly-behaved’) or ‘criminal – just a minor record for when I was busted as teenager in Bristol for possession of three ‘roaches’ (cardboard filters for joints, in case you weren’t aware).
I’m an artist and therefore sensitive, yet assertive; unconventional, yet stubborn; gay, but certainly not misogynistic (why does the media still promote this myth?); continually struggling financially, yet always hopeful and optimistic – perhaps until now.
I’ve always been close to my brothers and sisters – there has never been any distinction about the three youngest being from a different father, my stepfather WIlliam Racket. But even after he adopted us three boys, he was very strict, especially towards me. He used to pull me out of bed in the morning by my feet, calling me ‘scrounger’ and making a point of telling me how much he hated me, staring at me with cold eyes, usually over the breakfast table when it was just him and me in the room – thereby ensuring that no-one knew of my secret torment.
In 1973 I moved to London to live in a squat in Summerstown in Camden, aged 21. As I subsequently lurched from one financial crisis to another, often caused by the incompetence or greed of others, my parents always offered their support where possible, but it was my mother really making the runnings – William was merely supporting the wife he clearly adored (and who wouldn’t?). I’d also landed my first major (obviously, not financially) music publishing and record deals that same year.
I later discovered from my younger siblings that I been something of a father figure towards them in our formative years, as both our parents were running the family business, the stamp and coin shop, which my mother had enthusiastically thrown herself into promoting, with her natural flair for PR. This meant that I was cooking from the age of eight – mostly cakes and puddings. We did have a succession of au-pairs and pregnant single mothers (in the early 60s it was still considered morally wrong) staying with us, and they would cook too. The parents would usually get home at around 7pm, in time for dinner, which we all ate together at a large, refectory table in the dining room in the six-bedroomed Victorian house which we had now moved to in the pretty, old part of a village by the river, in between Bath and Bristol.
Despite getting two major record deals (in 1974 and 1979 respectively) and joining a successful pop group in 1976 and a space-rock band in 1978, I was always in debt – not because of any extravagance on my part – but a combination of being exploited, ripped-off and mis-managed.
As a result of the younger ones looking up to me in the 60s, they were at a loss to understand why I wasn’t consistently happy, successful and solvent.
I lost Omar, the first love of my life, to AIDS in 1986. I only found out about his death third-hand. Someone – I think it was Digby – had almost casually mentioned how awful it was about Omar at Swamp, the wildly successful Monday-night club I was running in London’s West End. I remember literally reeling in shock – I had no idea that he’d been ill, apart from mentally.
I’d left him in 1980, after he’d spent months imagining that I was seeing other people – which I wasn’t – and we’d had hardly any contact after that.
And after? A string of minor obsessions and unrequited agonies, an awful lot of casual sex and another long-term young lover (we’d met when he was actually just 17, but he’d lied about his age being 20) who slowly developed into a raging psychopath before my very eyes: he tried to kill me, it would seem, on several occasions. Destiny seemed determined to wind me up and spit me out.
Alone again, naturally.
I’d always had the benefit, from my early teens, of ‘knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up’. Songwriting. I was already a musician. A poet. A writer. A singer… maybe a star? STAR had always seemed to written in neon on my forehead, at least as far as several friends, teachers and family saw it, from an early age. I wasn’t so sure.
Meanwhile, there’s a cruel twist of fate – a psychological and physiological head-fuck – to deal with.
A lot of the dear people who I would have wanted to say goodbye to me have already departed this mortal coil into the unknown destination of whatever the afterlife might bring. Another dimension – perhaps the fifth, or even the sixth. Many, or most of them were taken by a cruel force which we could have never possibly imagined in the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s. The BIG A. Our war. Our grief. Our problem.
HIV. I have it. AIDS. I have it. Full-blown AIDS. I’ve got AIDS.
I carry-on reading ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’, wondering, for the final time, if it might actually be any good.
“During The Second World War, my mother’s parents, Gladys and Henry Rogers, were the stewards in a golf club on The Norfolk Broads which had been appropriated by The War Office as a convalescent home for injured or mentally traumatised officers from the British and allied airforces.
Pretty little Celia, in her ribbons and bows, was their only child, and despite the miserably inadequate love and attention she received from them, she was something of a mascot to the convalescing airmen.
Her parent existed in a shallow, social pool of whist drives, cheap novels, lower-middle-class morality, snobbishness and self-righteous hypocrisy. This, however, enabled ‘our boys’ to do precisely what they wanted behind the Rogers’ backs.
Gladys was like a domineering-yet-clueless caricature of all that was worse about the British in the war years: parochial, small-minded, totally devoid of intellect and jolly good fun at parties.
Henry, her long-suffering husband, was the epitome of the the downtrodden little man; at his wife’s beck and call. She made him wear brilliantine on his ‘short back and sides’, which was slicked back and parted in the middle. He looked like a band leader without a band, but somehow managed to retain some dignity by being something of a snappy dresser and raconteur, with a quirky sense of humour.
‘The boys’, as the wounded and traumatised officers were generally known, referred to Gladys as ‘The Dragon’ and generally felt sorry for Henry, whom they indulged to an extent, in order to be able continue with their extra-mural activities, which included drunken parties in the old boathouse, which was far enough from the golf clubhouse (where the Rogers lived in a small a flat) for their raucous laughter to remain unheard.
Here, they would invite local, lonely wives whose husbands were away fighting and help to fill the holes in their lives, as it were.
Young Celia received a rather thorough sex education, which she couldn’t have hoped to get from her uptight parents, by being a secret and frequent observer of the Bachanalian rites, through a hole in the boathouse wall.
She was a lonely, only child and had developed an inner fantasy world which was based, to some extent, on the stories which the airmen had told her and the antics which she’d observed.
One kindly officer had supplied her with the books that she craved: not cheap romances or pot-boilers, but classics of modern and not-so-modern literature: Dickens, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Trollope, D.H Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh and E.M Forster, to name a few. All these had enthralled her and transported her into a world where she was not just a pretty, young thing sporting ribbons and curls. She was learning about life from the combination of literature and the battle-scarred airmen that she served as a mascot to. She had no intention of being as ill-educated and narrow-minded as her parents were and was already developing a precocious wisdom and survival instinct which would serve her very well in later life.
After the war was over, the golf club continued to serve as a sanctuary for allied airforce officers recovering from the various ill-effects of combat.
When Celia reached seventeen, she had become a virtual slave to her parents, serving as a waitress, general dogsbody, glass-washer, dish-washer, housemaid and all manner of menial matters that were simply beneath her; but she held herself higher than her tasks, thanks to her self-education and burgeoning sense of self.
One day in April, 1947, there was a new arrival and Celia was there to welcome him, take his bags and show him to his quarters. Count Vladimir Romanofski was a Polish flying ace who had been shot down over Burma and taken prisoner, but after just a few weeks he’d somehow managed to make a daring and heroic escape and had found his way to Singapore, soon after the Japanese had surrendered to the allies. He’d had to have his left arm amputated below the elbow, and was suffering from the after-effects of malaria.
Celia was quite taken by his resemblance to Clarke Gable. Her parents had taken her to see ‘Gone With The Wind’ at the local ‘flea pit’ as an erstwhile treat for her seventeenth birthday, but this rare outing was short-lived and she only got to see about half of the movie: she’d been hustled out of the cinema by Gladys and Henry because of their distaste regarding the ‘heavy petting’ taking place all around them.
As Celia took the Count’s coat (he wouldn’t let her take his bags) he decided, as he eyed this blossoming beauty, that things were not bad as they might have been.
Celia was quire taken aback by the sudden, uncharacteristic attack of shyness which had overcome her. As she observed this tall, dashing and handsome man from beneath her eyelids she couldn’t help wondering if he might be able to provide her with the real-life, second part of ‘Gone With The Wind’.
With her natural innocence tempered by an innate understanding of the ways of the world, due to the company of the airmen and the books that she’d read, she allowed herself to make an ironic observation – that he probably would be ‘gone with the wind’ before too long. The aptness of this thought, considering the Count’s chosen vocation, made her chuckle to herself involuntarily.
“Iss cood choke?” he asked, curious.
Celia merely lowered her eyes and mumbled: “Maybe…”
The Count was now certain that this girl was not only lovely to look at, but mysterious and intriguing as well as… a challenge. He was twenty five-years old and a little taller and slimmer than Clarke Gable, but had a similar mysterious charisma and a nonchalant detachment.
Celia was soon to be become quite besotted with him. He was, of course, the perfect gentleman who was equally aware that by being so he would possibly… probably be able to deflower this delectable and charming virgin. Besides, he genuinely liked her. He too had been an only child, brought up by his Polish Father and French mother in a crumbling, once elegant chateau in Normandy.
He spoke several languages and had been studying politics and philosophy at The Sorbonne when The War had cruelly intervened. He’d volunteered to join the Polish Airforce in 1940, having lied about his age.
Gladys and Henry were terribly impressed with this charming, aristocratic gentleman-officer and unwittingly encouraged their daughter, whom they considered to be no more than a little girl, to spend time in his company. Celia’s first sexual experiences were subsequently magical and exciting.
The other airman were amazed by the rapid changes which occurred in her personality and demeanor. She was blossoming into a confident and sophisticated beauty before their very eyes.
The Count indulged her by bringing her clothes, stocking and perfumes, after he was given leave to visit Paris, where his parents now resided, at Christmas Time in 1947. This made the girls in the village gossip and become jealous of Celia as, in those frugal post-war years, she was the first to sport what was dubbed ‘The New Look’, which had been created by by Christian Dior.
The Count was very gentle with her, as he was skilled in the art of seduction, building-up slowly towards his intended conquering of her silky defences. She, meanwhile, wondered why he was taking so long.
One balmy evening in late spring he was rowing her across the golf club’s lake in a skiff. He had somehow managed to get hold of a bottle of champagne. Celia had never experienced such a effervescent high. She felt elated and wanted. As he rowed them back to the boathouse, she felt a dryness in her throat and an insistent moistness between her thighs. Is this it? He helped her off the boat and she giggled and nearly fell in the water. Will it hurt? Please don’t let it hurt.
They went up the rickety wooden stairs into the sail loft where the early-evening sunshine streamed through the cobwebs on a crumbling circular, stained-glass window. He carefully laid her down on a pile of boat cushions, kissed her first gently, then more deeply; then slowly, artfully made love to her. Once he was inside her it was… too wonderful.
He was her fantastical, dashing hero.
Nine months later, Anastasia Romanovski was born. In Denmark.
When Celia had realised that she was pregnant, she kept it a secret for some time. Luckily, she didn’t suffer from morning sickness, but even her remarkably unperceptive mother noticed that she was having eating binges, which Gladys assumed were just as a result of ‘growing pains’. Celia was therefore able explain her expanding waistline in a fairly satisfactory manner.
After four months, she felt able to tell Vladimir. He appeared to be delighted, yet aware of the problems involved. He made it clear to Celia that an (illegal) abortion was out of the question.
He then secretly started to hatch intricate plans, whereby the baby could be, well, taken care of.
Celia was beginning to wonder why he hadn’t asked to marry him. She loved him unreservedly, but some sixth sense told her that it was somehow not to be. She had never felt so happy and fulfilled in her short life: but was her dream about to be demolished?”
Anna Karlsburg is one my oldest girlfriends – she came to England in 1973 from South Africa after her mother had moved there with her as a baby with her husband Arthur Karlsburg, a member of the famous Danish brewing family, who ran the family’s business operation there.
Anna is HIV-positive and, erm, quite positive that she isn’t going to die anytime soon, at least not from The Big A. She firmly believes that positive thinking (ironic isn’t it?) will help her survive. In the absence of any known cure, it certainly has… thus far. She was diagnosed in the mid-eighties, one of the first women in the UK. She, unlike many, knows exactly where and from whom she caught it. She had a wild night of drink and drug-fuelled passion with a bisexual man in Australia (the long-term boyfriend of someone whom I was obsessed with in the 70s, as it happens), who was diagnosed as positive about a year later.
Anna will be furious – and devastated – when she hears that I’ve ‘topped’ myself. And hurt. She’ll call me a negative, selfish shithead. Her best friend. Her soul-brother. Gone… with the wind.
The thought of observing her grief and reaction from what we presume to call ‘the other side’ is enough to make me reconsider my decision.
What options do I have? Nobody knows I have AIDS. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone of my plight for various reasons. I couldn’t bear the character changes which would affect my friends and family. I would loathe the forced chumminess which would be made even more awkward with their awareness of my impending demise. The eyes that indicate: ‘I don’t know what to say’. The sympathetic little smiles, the reliance on the nostalgic memories, all those good times we once shared, soon to evaporate into the acrid air above the crematorium.
Of course, I guess I could milk it for all I was worth; hitting social security and various charities for whatever I could get out of them; but then I would have to look ill. I would have to act like I had AIDS. Perhaps vanity has something to do with it… and pride and my desire for privacy.
The loneliness of the long-distance bummer, the eternal bohemian.
I’ve never looked healthier.
As a result of my ongoing failure to get anything off the ground career-wise, despite my own – and other’s – belief in my abilities, along with my reluctant reliance on my friends and family for financial support, I’m going to kill myself.
Because fate seems set against me.
I work my arse off creatively whilst trying to promote myself. I’m bloody good at what I do. I’m multi-fucking-talented. I can sing, write, play, perform, organise, design, conceptualise, predict trends, inspire and teach. I’m a spiritual healer and even a clairvoyant.
I can help people on so many levels and so many people take that for granted, as if it were their God-given right.
I am regarded as a demi-deity or a demi-devil. Extremes. I am under-estimated and over-estimated but never correctly assimilated.
I feel lonely, confused and lost. Broke. No food. No tobacco. No lifestyle (that dearly-beloved term of 80s). No escape from myself. I am chained inside my own fertile brain, like a hamster on a wheel. No alcohol. I need a fucking drink! I want to get drunk and just FORGET! Maybe that would probably be the best way to wave goodbye to my wayward world – vodka and barbiturates.
I would just drift away into oblivion, with a beatific smile on my face… no doubt.
Then there’s always the river; the majestic, murky, malevolent River Thames. My morbid alliteration triggers a horrible memory from only three years ago: The Marchioness Disaster.
I was travelling home in a taxi after a night-out (I think my date had payed), crossing Westminster Bridge, when I saw all the ambulances and police cars. The driver slowed down and said: ‘I hear that there’s been a major incident guv’, lots of people drowned on one of those party boats which sunk.’
It later transpired that I knew at least 20 of those who had lost their lives. More to add to my miserable tally of misery, with all those deaths of friends from AIDS. And there was worse, much worse. When the so-called ‘Emergency Services’ discovered that it had been a largely gay party, it was rumoured (and later corroborated by an enquiry), that in their ignorance, they actually refused to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on victims who might have been saved and to have any (dead) body contact with those who had drowned.
I love the iconic view from both sides of Waterloo Bridge. Who doesn’t? The graceful arcs of that wonderful building that looks like it’s going to sail away from Charing Cross Station; The Palace Of Westminster beneath a hazy sunset, redolent of a water-colour by Turner; that fabulous wedding cake of building which houses The National Liberal Club, where the artist Felix Topolski lives in a duplex penthouse in one of the towers. How I would love to see inside before I depart this mortal coil.
Then, in the other direction, the huge dome of St Paul’s still dominates the skyline, despite the glass-and-steel young pretenders springing up in The City (aka The Square Mile). The only contender for iconic status so far is the magnificent Lloyds building, with its blue lights and exposed, industrial innards. I’m sure it won’t be long until London’s skyline begins to resemble that of Manhattan or Hong Kong.
Then to the right lies South Bank centre, with its design representing the 50s (the rather fabulous Festival Hall and The National Film Theatre), the 60s (The Purcell Room and The Queen Elizabeth Hall) and the 70s (The National Theatre And The Hayward Gallery). It’s a bit like a modernist architecture master-class.
Then there’s a body washed-up on the muddy, rubbish-strewn bank at low tide – probably in one of the bleaker areas of the newly developed Docklands, that capitalist joke which mis-fired. No life, just megalithic towers full of empty offices. No life in my body either – after it was discovered by some yuppy walking his his English Bull Terrier (for protection from the dwindling, indigenous working-class population?) along the windswept embankment, wondering what attraction this cold, new city of lost souls ever held for him.
Anyway, drowning in the Thames would be cold, dark and extremely unpleasant – rather like my flat.
“In the early summer of 1949, Vladimir had arranged for a distant relative who was a minor member of the Danish Royal Family (which would of course thrill the easily-impressed Rogers) to come and chaperone Celia for a month’s ‘holiday’ in Copenhagen. This was, of course, so that Celia could give birth in secret.
Eva Kronen, The Count’s third cousin-once-removed, had been chosen specifically because she was barren and desperately wanted to adopt a child.
This was to be Celia’s first trip abroad and she was flushed with excitement: the baby, Vladimir, the trip… but her intuitive heart kept missing a beat.
Vladimir had a acquired a rather racy, rattling, three-wheeled Morgan sports car.He strapped their luggage onto the rack above the boot, Eva squeezed onto the narrow ledge behind the front seats and everyone came to wave them off. Disabled veterans waved their white scarves and omnipresent tobacco pipes, the staff waved white napkins and Gladys and Henry hugged Vladimir and Celia – more for effect that out of affection – before they clambered into the car and roared-off to Harwich to board the ferry to Copenhagen.
The Count was due to be discharged from The Links in a week’s time, and he insisted that he would join them afterwards. After he helped them board, he waved from the dock, silhouetted against the setting sun, as the ship sounded its foghorn and sailed off. Soon his figure became tiny and Celia’s heart-stops told her that he was gone… forever. She started shedding torrents of tears and Eva comforted her, assuming that her weeping was as a result of the emotions of leaving home for the first time.
Eva and her husband Dachiel had a beautiful-yet-simple, wooden holiday home in a larch forest overlooking a lake, thirty kilometres from Copenhagen. Celia was enchanted and felt very relaxed in this sylvan setting. Eva had made sure that everything was just right for the birth, including telling her husband that she was pregnant by him, but that she would like to be alone for the birth, with only the company of a midwife.
He happily agreed, with some relief, so that he could go about his business in the burgeoning pilsner lager trade and continue to bed various comely, buxom blondes.
A letter arrived from Vladimir and Celia opened it excitedly, but with some trepidation, whilst Eva grimaced behind her, as she already knew what the contents would be, having planned every move with The Count in England.
May 1st, 1949
My dearest Celia
Please do not be angry with me, but I’ve had to go away – to Australia. An uncle recently died and bequeathed me a sheep farm in his will. Whilst this is fortuitous, unfortunately he also made a stipulation that no women were to be allowed on the property unless they were working in the kitchens. As I would never allow you to be subjugated thus, it is with the deepest regret and sorrow that I leave you in the capable hands of my relative Eva, whom, I trust, will be able to take care of the baby. At least then I can rest assured that the product of our love will in safe hands.
Celia, understandably, was dumbstruck, yet at the same time, she felt an irrational calm, as if she had known that this would happen all along. Eva held her from behind and made suitably comforting noises as Celia softly sobbed .
Count Vladimir Romanofski was, at that moment, prospecting for gold in Northern Canada.
Celia had no option but to hand over the child to Eva, who, to be fair, had grown fond of her, despite being smitten with guilt about deceiving her. She had also payed Vladimir, who was largely penniless, a small fortune to adopt the baby. To say that Celia was devastated, emotionally traumatised and utterly disillusioned would be an understatement.
On the lonely journey back to England, having bid a tearful goodbye to her daughter, whom she had named Anastasia, with a certain rueful irony (the Romanov that got away), she tried to force herself into denying that these awful events had ever happened. At the tender age of eighteen, she had been given a crash course in harsh realities and cruelly twisted manipulation, the sudden, unexpected nature of which gave her innate wisdom which would serve her well in the years to come. She maintained her dignity and inner strength, against all the odds.
She reluctantly encouraged herself to subtly flirt with some of the single males on board the ferry, knowing instinctively that to harbour bitterness and to hate all men would be counter-productive and foolish. The compliments and flattery that came her way helped her, in a curiously warped sense, to slowly regain some vestige of her shattered self-confidence.
Dick Tinderman flung his canvas kitbag onto the threadbare, candlewick counterpane covering the thin mattress of a rickety, steel-framed single bed and ruefully surveyed his new home. He had never seen so many conflicting patterns in ghastly shades of pastel pink and green. He spat into the cracked wash basin, then turned on the only tap, which sputtered, then fizzled out, as ancient pipes rumbled in the bowels of his seedy lodgings in Great Yarmouth. There was a knock at the door. He cursed under his breath, then shouted cheerily: ‘It’s open!’
His new landlady, a Miss Pratt, shouted ‘Are you decent Mr Tinnerman (she always got his name wrong)’?
‘I’d like to think I’m always decent!’ Replied Dick, turning on his ever-ready charm with a chuckle.
She poked her head (which was wrapped in a gruesome lilac-coloured flowery scarf to conceal her omnipresent rollers) around the door: ‘I just wanted to see that everything were alright with the room n’ all.’ Miss Pratt leant against the doorframe in what she considered to be an artful pose.
‘All ship-shape and Bristol fashion ma’am!’ Said Dick, with a snappy salute, wishing that she’d get lost.
‘Oooh, you sailors are soo saucy!’ She cooed, as she sashayed out and shut the door, leaving a vapour trail of cheap perfume and over-boiled cabbage.
‘Silly cow.’ Muttered Dick, pulling a face as he started to get his things organised. He looked at his watch (fake Omega, bought in Hong Kong) and cursed. He was due to meet Stephen at the docks in Harwich. His ship was due in under an hour. He could just about make it if he hurried.
Stephen and Dick were lovers. Sort-of. In 1949 it was virtually impossible for any male to admit to being homosexual (queer, bent, poof, shirt-lifter, shit-stabber) and actually doing it was, well, so squalid. Their sex-life comprised of little more than embarrassed fumbles on lumpy mattresses in anonymous, musty rooms. wiping-up their come with cotton handkerchiefs. Hardly the stuff of great romantic novels.
The word gay hadn’t yet entered the lexicon of sexuality – that wouldn’t happen until the late 60s – and was only used to describe a certain frivolity, like gay abandon.
Anyway, Stephen and Dick weren’t ‘that way’, they were ‘just playing around, having a giggle’, usually after a few drinks, or ‘feeling horny on a hot afternoon’ after looking at some cheap porn.
Stephen, eighteen to Dick’s nineteen, was hopelessly in love with him, and hated it when Dick would say that ‘they should go out and find some crumpet and make babies.’
Dick hurried out of the room, casting one more withering glance at the décor, as he slammed the door behind him. He was still wearing his uniform, not having had time to change.
Celia stood at the top of the gangway and briefly paused to survey the scene before her. She was, in a curious way, pleased to back in England, although she didn’t have the faintest idea what the future held in store for her. One thing was for sure: her taste of freedom on her first trip abroad, away from her parents, had convinced her that her stay at The Links would be as brief as possible.
Something had hardened inside her – a steely resolve, which would help her through many a crisis in the years to come.
One of her male admirers offered to carry her bags, but she gracefully declined, thinking that she’d never get rid of him. What she’d not factored-in was her relative physical weakness following the birth of her daughter. The bags were heavy. Eva had insisted on giving her some money blood money, despite her protestations, so at least she could take a taxi to Bourton Water. Now where was the nearest cab rank?
She staggered along the dock with her luggage then noticed a young, blond, good-looking man in naval uniform sitting in the driving seat of a slightly battered old Austin 7, smoking a cigarette with his arm on the windowsill. He’d spotted her and asked through the open window: ”scuse me miss, are you a little lost?’ Displaying his usual winning charm, then that devastating devilish smile.
She faltered, having heard tales about charming sailors. ‘I… er…I’m looking for the cab rank.’
She dropped her bags with a sigh of relief and waved her hands in a gesture of futility.
‘C’mon, hop in young lady, I’ll drive you to the cab rank.’ Again, that smile. He stubbed out his cigarette on the window sill, and jumped out.
‘Th…thankyou,’ said Celia, thinking she must be mad, but he seemed, well, charming. Dick flung her bags into the back seat and she sat on the passenger seat.
‘No thanks, I don’t smoke.’
‘I was waiting for a mate of mine, but his ship’s late arriving, so I’ve got a bit of time to kill. Would you care for a quick cuppa in one this fair town’s celebrated caffs?’
She laughed and threw back her head. Exorcising the pain. She couldn’t think of anything better than a steaming mug of English tea.
‘Yes, thankyou, that would be lovely.’
‘Atta girl!’ Said Dick, patting her gently on the knee.
Celia leant back in her seat and observed Dick as drove, through the corner of her eye. He had a fine, healthy-looking, handsome face, sparkly cornflower-blue eyes and thick blond hair, swept back from his forehead. A smile seemed to play around his lips constantly. Suddenly it widened into a grin and spoke: ‘What, may I ask, are you looking at young lady?’
Celia was somewhat taken aback, but she summoned a confident tone: ‘Oh, I was admiring the wonderful designs created by the spots of rust above your window!’
She stifled a guffaw and he laughed as they drew up outside a cafe on the seafront called ‘The Milk Bar’. Music from a jukebox filtered through the open windows.
‘Frank Sinatra honey!’ He said, in a fairly awful American accent, ‘Aint ya a bobby sox kinda gal?’
She hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about; light classics from the Victor Sylvester Orchestra being the preferred radio soundtrack back at The Links.
The Links? They’ll be wondering where I’ve got to… oh well, I can telephone and say that ferry was delayed. I like this person, he makes me laugh, he’s charming and attractive. Damn the rules!
The smell of freshly-ground coffee assailed her nostrils as Dick led her inside and pulled-out a red, formica and bentwood chair for her to sit in at a red gingham-covered table by a window overlooking the promenade and the sea.
She couldn’t help smiling. I need to feel frivolous!
She observed that the cafe was obviously popular with young people, who seemed to be mostly dressed in black, gathered around a garish-looking Jukebox. A girl sporting a pony-tail pouted at her, chewing gum, and boy in a black leather motorcycle jacket winked at her. She lowered her eyes and fiddled with a paper napkin she’d taken from a chrome dispenser on the table, aware that a smile still played around her lips, yet feeling that she didn’t belong in this faux American tableau.
Dick observed her mixed emotions from the counter whilst he waited for their tea. Celia was certainly very pretty and slender, with her luxuriant mass of auburn curls and peaches and cream complexion. There was also something mysterious and detached about her, which intrigued him, but her lively, raucous laugh indicated a free spirit, unbound by conventions.
He imagined that she would be good ‘in the sack’ although, if he were frank, he could only admit to having fumbled with a fair amount of people – both men and women – but he’d never actually made love with anyone.
He put the steaming mugs of tea and a couple of rock cakes on a brown, bakelite tray and took them to the table, with a napkin draped over his arm. ‘Danish pastries are off ma’am,’ he said in a piss-elegant waiter’s manner.
Delia laughed, but looked at him quizzically.
‘Well, aren’t you just back from the land of the aforementioned delight?’ He suggested, eyebrows raised over imaginary spectacles.
She giggled and nodded, then stirred her tea absentmindedly.
He switched to a broad East Anglian accent: ‘Uz zailerz knows about them boatz you knowz!’
She hooted with laughter, looking straight into his cobalt-blue eyes.
The baby. My baby.
She poked him in the ribs with her teaspoon and did a passable imitation of Ingrid Bergman as she replied: ‘You are a very clever sailor, but do you realise that I was staying with minor member of the Danish Pastry Royal Family?’
He leaned-in close to her ear and half-whispered: ‘You should be an actress…’
She was surprised, yet flattered; such a thought had never occurred to her.
‘And so should you!’
‘Well, I did once play one of the Ugly Sisters in S.S Pygmalian’s production of Cinderella, somewhere South of Chile…’
‘Oh, I’m sure you’d look delightful in a dress!’ She chuckled.
He affected a look of mock horror and held her hand. She didn’t attempt to take it away.
His blue eyes blazed into her luminous, dark brown eyes. She held his gaze.
‘Right!’ He leapt up out of his seat, ‘That’s it! You have to join the G.Y.A.D.S!’
‘I’d love to…’ she said sweetly, ‘If only I knew what that was!’
‘You’ll be gyad to know that it’s The Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society!’
‘Ah ha – I see! And how does one go about joining said venerated society?’
‘One gets to know…’ intoned Dick deeply, somewhat in the style of Lawrence Olivier, touching his nose conspiratorially ‘…one of the leading men!’
‘And… might he be known as a bit of a clever… dick?’ Suggested Celia, in her best Ealing Studios, little-starlet-voice.
They embraced and knocked over the remains of her cup of tea.
‘Existential…’ murmured the girl with the pony tail by the Jukebox.”
It might seem strange, but I feel that it’s time for a cup of tea. I now realise that writing one’s suicide note isn’t as straightforward as one might imagine. There are certainly not any literary precedents that I’m aware of.
I can’t just write: ‘sorry, thanks and goodbye’ because I have explain and justify, to an extent, my rather extreme action.
Maybe this is merely a note to myself; perhaps I haven’t got the courage to go through with it.
The reader (should there ever be one… you see, even killing oneself as a final, definitive creative pursuit induces feeling of self-doubt) might wonder why I have a tendency to turn erstwhile tragedy into black comedy.
I guess it stems from years of facing yet another nadir with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders, suffering as they are from the combined weight of the world, the guilt of the Catholics, the oppression of the Jews, the repression of Muslim women and several million closets which, let me tell you, adds-up to a great deal of pressure, even if they are of the bedsit variety, sporting the finest teak-effect veneer and gilt handles (or should that be guilt?)… I digress.
Yes, the weight, the puns, the jokes, the yokes, the deliberately pathetic one-liners, anything to raise a laugh. How we laughed! All the way to the bank… of the river, where we would wander, dreaming of converting one those Victorian warehouses into New York-style lofts, where would have studios and host wild parties and make merciless fun of any brainless zombie who was unfortunate enough to stray into our sparkling flight paths. Being zombies, of course, meant that they never noticed, which made our ‘extraction of their urine’ quite harmless, if not entirely innocent.
That was back in the 70s, before the monster corporations saw the potential and watered down our pioneering fantasies with concierges, underground car parks, communal gyms and swimming pools and absurdly high prices – especially if there was a river view.
We remember Andrew Logan’s original Alternative Miss World Contests with great affection. The first one was held in a squatted warehouse in Butler’s Wharf, overlooking Tower Bridge on the South Bank Of the Thames, before Terence Conran got his hands on it and turned it into a ‘lifestyle opportunity’.
Being a writer, of sorts, I can’t help, well… writing. Therefore, there’s a chance that this suicide note might delay my death by days, weeks or even months. Now, however, it’s the grey, drizzly morning of my 40th birthday. I’ve been up all night writing, reading ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’, thinking and drinking what was left in my 50s cocktail cabinet (£15 in a local junk shop), with its mirror-mosaic-front rounded bit which turns around to reveal… well, at this juncture, precisely zilch, because I’ve drunk it all; even the hideous Martini, which is only marginally less vile than Campari, which tastes like mouldy boiled soap.
Now who could wish for a greater justification for suicide? Hence the tea. Damn! No milk! What do I have in my pocket? 32p. See, fate is determined to humiliate me even at the hour of my intended demise. Milk costs 37p in the local 7-11.
If I go down there I’ll probably be accosted by the punk who habitually hangs around outside and asks ‘prosperous-looking’ people like me if ‘they can spare any small change?’ I always feel like saying ‘No, but could you? I’ve just rummaged through my change jar to find enough for a pint of milk OK, nuff said?’ Then adding, with a flourish that only the nouveau pauvre can muster: ‘but at least I didn’t have to lower myself to one-pence pieces, they are such small change!’
The punk would no-doubt shift and shuffle uncomfortably in his purple and green-painted Doc Martens, hands deep in the pockets of his dirty, drainpipe jeans, no doubt to muffle the giveaway rattling of several pounds in small change. Have I got any small change indeed! Perhaps I could throw myself under a number 12 night bus in front of him, having exclaimed ‘I’m BROKE and I’m gonna KILL myself!’ before leaping athletically over those ridiculous railings that Southwark Council have, for some inexplicable reason, installed all the way down the Walworth Road, which we local gays refer to as The Straza, because it’s so cruisy – mostly with local black guys (who, natch, have wives or girlfriends, or both).
‘Penniless’ punk as undertaker? No, he’s an agent of the devil himself – and it would so unfair on the bus driver. They have enough to contend with already, dealing with people on god-knows-what-the-latest-cheap-high-is, taken by the latest incarnation of hippius extinctius. It’s weird for us thirty-somethings – well, I was, until this morning – to observe the cycle repeating itself and people making all the same mistakes that we did, except that then the world seemed lighter. Less cynical. Oh! The wonderful naivity of the 60s (the tail-end in my case). Not that I ever indulged in any Warhol-esque decadence, which is probably just as well, judging by what happened to the likes of Edie Sedgewick and co. I do remember wearing a flower in my long hair to the Bristol Cathedral School (which was a very liberal establishment), thinking it terribly daring. I was fifteen at the time.
Back to the business of the pint of milk. Semi-skimmed. My last one ever, possibly? But I haven’t got enough money, dammit! And… I’m more-or-less certain to bump into one of my nightlife acquaintances, no doubt ‘off their faces’, buying crisps, chocolate, tobacco and ‘skins’ (cigarette papers). They will no doubt mumble something like ‘How ya doin’ man?’
I always feel that if someone enquires after my health and general well-being that they are obviously genuinely interested in my welfare, so tend to launch into a detailed low-down on my week’s high and low points, and soon their eyes glaze over and they search for the pause button on their metaphorical remote control, but it won’t work.
‘7-11 does sell Triple-A batteries!’ I might suggest helpfully, before performing a little jig in the aisles.
You’re never going to believe what just happened – well, actually, it was a few hours ago, but I’m only writing it up just now. I never did make it to 7-11.
I was typing away happily on my borrowed word-processor – as happily as one realistically can whilst writing their erstwhile suicide note – having just reached the bit about the batteries in 7-11, when BANG! Off went the electricity and the flat was plunged into darkness. I thought, either this is symbolic synchronicity, my flat is committing suicide out of sympathy, or… the money has run-out on my high-tech, budget electricity key. The latter was, unfortunately, the prosaic truth. There was one major problem. Cash flow paralysis. The early hours. No milk – and now, no way of boiling a kettle, although, thinking about it, one could heat a saucepan of water on the rather wonderful, pale-blue-and-cream, 50s gas stove.
I rummaged around in a draw and found a candle and rolled a cigarette, having spent my last pound on tobacco. This had been based on the logic that when one is about to kick one’s own bucket, having recently discovered that one has full-blown AIDS, that there some justification for describing said situation as stressful in the extreme. Comprende?
Dinner had been the remains of dinner from the day before – cauliflower cheese – reheated and served with garlic bread and petit pois from a tin, washed down with my last bottle of Grolsch.
What a way to go! Actually, what should or indeed could be my last meal turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Food tends to mature in the fridge overnight and tastes much better the next day. I’m sure the recipe is to be found in ‘Ricky Racket’s Urban Cookbook’, yet another of my creative projects. But I don’t need to tell you about it because when I’m dead it will just part of the veritable INDUSTRY which will spring-up around my name. My songs, my lyrics, my poetry, my paintings, my photos, my musicals, my diary, my letters, my book ‘The Amateur Dramatic Society’ and… possibly this epitaph to myself, which I find myself writing right now.
At least I won’t be stung by any criticism. Or will I? I’m thinking of that wonderful post-war British film by Powell and Pressburger where David Niven played an airman who crashed and died and went to ‘heaven’. What was it called? Oh yes, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’. Not the most riveting of titles. In fact, I seem to remember that it was retitled ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in the US, and that was allegedly where Led Zepellin got the inspiration for their eponymous, rather irritating song. Anyway, he ascended said giant stairway to heaven and it was an all-white, sort-of fifth dimension in the clouds (did dry ice exist in those days?) where the ‘angels’ observed what was going on down below on earth through large, horizontal, circular windows. So there you have it. The proof. There IS life after death. At least in the movies.
My life, my art: I’ve spent all my existence working on it and never really got anywhere beyond the occasional major record deal that went nowhere. Dropped. Spat out. Hung out to dry. Once, a few years ago, a friend and sometime lover reassured me after I’d moaned that sometimes my career felt like swimming in treacle and I didn’t know which direction to take… and he’d stated: ‘your role in life is being Ricky Racket – that’s your career.’
I seem to remember gulping and suppressing a grimace. He was horribly correct. What an indictment of my failure to deliver anything other than a vaguely charismatic personality!
So… the lights went out. I had managed to press save on the word processor after the word batteries, but have forgotten the punchline, if indeed there was one. Although, under the circumstances, batteries was somewhat close to the bone. Maybe that was the punchline? You see, my brain is going. I’m typing out stream-of-subconscious rubbish that even I don’t understand. And I’m not on speed, like Kerouac or Burroughs.
But I can’t stop. I am compelled, nay driven… even though I’m as sober as a nun at a hen party.
Continue Ricky, you have nothing to lose… indulge yourself and enjoy, for tomorrow, or the next day, or week, or whenever: we die.
Thus spake Zarathustra, my higher self (that’s his name, I didn’t steal him from Nietzsche, honest guv’ – it’s just a coincidence); the still, small, voice inside. Apparently, our higher self is a golden, androgenous figure that is with us throughout our lives – all of them. There could, however, be a small problem with taking your own life, regarding what happens afterwards. There’s a rumour flying around in my brain which suggests that people who committed suicide become trapped in a sort-of nowhere-land, becoming the unhappy, homeless spirits who often make guest appearances at seances and tarot card readings and the suchlike. I know – I’ve met some of them, and pretty bitter and twisted they are too. How long have they been trapped? A 100 years? In limbo, suspended? This I don’t like!
The concept of heaven and hell is anathema to me. Religious propaganda to foster fear, guilt and obedience in the masses. Then the divine and blessed forgiveness. How convenient! Step right up Mr mass murderer! Give us all the loot you stashed in your mother’s cellar and we will absolve you, as long as you accept Christ/Mohammed/Siva (delete where applicable) as your saviour and you will be sure to go heaven! Boom boom! Just like that! Just like artists believing their own publicity, the mass murderer starts to believe his own little religious scam, even though those nasty little truthful voices are saying: you giant con-artist, who do think you’re fooling, you fucking hypocrite? Heaven, as such, does not exist. Karma is what it’s all about, kid!
The mass murderer then thinks (whilst absentmindedly admitting to himself that the small voices are indeed speaking inside his head): er, yeah, but what about all those villains who make millions in so-called ‘legit’ businesses, like managing rock groups, or property deals, when all they’ve done all their lives is to shit on people from a great height, usually with the aid of electric drills, blow torches and chainsaws?
My dear mass murderer, continues the small voice, I do believe that your recently discovered religious vocation is blinding you to certain truths. Making millions is by no means a recipe for happiness, fulfilment and inner peace.
SO, sailing on the horns of that particular dilemma I continue, with my metaphors as mixed as ever (all in the name of double irony), because it amuses me to play with preconceptions, images and cliches, whilst being a lover of beautiful language. I suspect I’m something of a philistine. Just call me Phyllis. She has no guilt or shame. She’s as pure as the driven… cocaine.
Last night, being my last night, winding-down this proverbial mortal coil – well almost – I decided that it would be appropriate to go out to a party. Somebody was opening a new gay night called KY down by London Bridge in a museum called The Clink (London’s first jail, apparently). Having decided to go, I was trying to work out whom I might visit to hit-up for some cash, so that I might at least get annebriated. Can you imagine going to the last party of your life sober?
I couldn’t call anyone as my phone card had run-out the day before. It had to be someone local who stayed-up late – it was already 1AM. I did a fairly accurate reconstruction of Rodin’s The Thinker which yielded a suitable candidate in the form of my friend Tonski, the handsome, dreadlocked drug dealer who, conveniently, lived on the way to the party. I just hoped he would be at home.
I set off towards the Old Kent Road, anticipating being mugged by several beautiful young men (if the reader is a heterosexual male he might compare this slightly warped fantasy with being robbed by five gorgeous young women).
I started to compose a surreal reaction in my head that would render the muggers speechless and open-mouthed, frozen in their tracks.
Good morning gentlemen, but I’m sorry, not today thank you…
Mmm, a bit weak.
How about the old standby of being a partly-deaf tourist in a no speaky de Engliss kind of way?
No, they probably think that all foreign visitors (regardless of any disabilities or ineptitude with the English language) are loaded.
Okay then, let’s try that old maxim that telling white lies that are close to the truth are generally effective, regardless of who the recipients are – it usually works with one’s bank manager, for instance, and what are they if not robbers?
So now I’m thinking of something along the lines of: Jesus (turning-out my empty pockets)! This is the final fucking straw!I’m penniless, my fake Rolex is broken, my phone card’s run out and I’m going up there (points at vast, grey, council-owned tower block) to jump-off!
An optional extra might to throw in a reference about getting some charlie off your mate Tonski, the local dread drug-dealer, because they might be impressed by your social standing and high-level connections.
By now I had reached the council block that Tonski lived in – un-mugged. Tempting fate can often have the opposite effect, I like to think.
I shudder every time I think about visiting. If he lived somewhere less like a film set for A Clockwork Orange, I might come by more often than in times of emergency. Like now.
This shoebox-shaped 70s building rejoices in the name Dunstable, which is barely decipherable due to the amateurish graffiti adorning the building. Tonski lives on the 6th floor.
I gingerly opened the metal door, with its shattered ‘safety’ glass, and entered the litter-strewn, bare concrete lobby. There, waiting to transport me to heaven, were two of those brutally functional lifts designed to take coffins which, if they are working, seem to take forever to arrive and even longer to reach their destination.
There’s an omnipresent odour of urine and the discarded ephemera of people ‘chasing the dragon’ (cooking heroin on tin foil).
This nightmare, when repeated in reverse, after visiting a generous, friendly drug dealer, is enough to induce a heart attack brought on by the acute paranoia caused by a combination of the dystopian environment and the tasty selection of international delicacies the the dealer has proffered unto thee, wot wiv you being his mate.
Thankfully, Tonski was home and seemed happy to see me. I was pleased to see that his wife Alana, an attractive, blonde, American woman who looked like a 60s movie star (on a good day – perhaps something directed by Russ Meyer) had returned to England after her mother’s funeral. We hugged. I apologised for calling around so late as Tonski shut me up by shoving an enormous joint into my mouth, grinning broadly. The lift!
I took a deep toke – damn that’s strong! – and explained that I needed to borrow a tenner so I could go out to a party and that my electricity was about to run out and that I was sorry and embarrassed… I waved my hands around in a gesture of hopelessness. Tonski nodded his head and passed me a small mirror sporting a huge line of coke –The Lift! – and a crisp, rolled-up £20 note. ‘Keep the paper.’ He said, patting me on the back. I was definitely in the mood to get high, so damn the paranoia. What the hell did I have to lose?
Anyway, Paranoia is just a state of mind that mostly rookie drug-takers, or stupid people who cackle a lot when they get high, are likely to succumb to. If you refuse to accept that such a silly, subjective thing can succeed in entrapping you, then poof, it floats away like an acrid, purple cloud of smoke, to invade some other mother-fucker’s space.
Having become a conscientious objector to the Big P, I was now ready to enjoy myself.
Your final hours and you finally get it right, dick-head!
I stayed a while and chatted – Alana revealed that she was pregnant and I congratulated them both – and partook of more of Tonski’s excellent wares, whilst his three mobile phone jangled incessantly and the radio played cool mixes from Lips FM, the recently legalised, former pirate station.
Tonski is a beautiful-looking man. Tall, lithe, lean-yet-muscular, with finely-chiselled, classic West Indian features mixed with, I don’t know: Portuguese? South American? Add a stunning smile and a wicked laugh, seriously stylish dress sense and the demeanour of a gentleman, and you have the coolest drug dealer in South London. His merchandise is also always of the highest quality and dispatched with flair and generosity.
I’ve known Tonski for nearly a decade and, to be honest, he has flirted with me, but that’s because I’m his buddy, who happens to be gay. Straight men appreciate having a gay mate, because they can be more emotional and warm with them than with laddish, straight friends.
I’ve never tried to get Tonksi into bed, that would be just foolhardy. Mind you, I never try to get anyone into bed.
I sailed out of there at about 1.45 in the morning. The dreaded, descending lift was somehow transformed into a chariot of the Gods, but my enjoyment was short-lived when I reminded myself that I had to walk about a mile or so to the party. What the hell, I thought, I’ll take the scenic route down Borough High Street (that was my little joke to myself, although there are some fine, grandiose old buildings at the London Bridge End).
It was really quite warm for late October and the blustery wind felt stimulating as leaves and papers flew by my face. I imagined that I was walking on an endless travelator which carried me into the Victorian splendour of Borough Market. This is very reminiscent of Covent Garden when it was London’s main fruit, vegetable and flower market (think ‘My Fair Lady’), before the market was uprooted to the wastelands of Vauxhall in 1974 and renamed New Covent Garden. And the original was transformed into a giant vacuum cleaner to suck-in gullible tourists’ cash.
I remember it well from the late 60s and early 70s, when I used to hitch-hike up to London and stay with gay, hippie friends who lived in fabulous squats in Notting Hill. I can remember emerging from the legendary dope-smoky haze of the legendary Middle Earth club into the bustling hubbub of Covent Garden Market, and finding everything so evocative and atmospheric – a tall, entranced teenager felt like a wide-eyed, magical prince, scattering metaphorical fairy dust on everyone he encountered. He could also be invisible if he so desired.
Borough Market was buzzing with life, sounds, smells and colours as the hands on the clock on the tower of Southwark Cathedral hit 2am. As I sauntered through it, I felt like I was an extra in an Ealing Comedy based on Dickens, where all the salt-of-the-earth traders and barrow boys call anyone who appears to be above their station Guv’.
Former gas lamps cast an amber glow over the multi-coloured fruit and vegetables, spilling out of crates and boxes piled high beneath the vaulted wrought-iron and glass roofs of this otherwise open space.
As I glided by filming-with-my-imaginary-camera-0n-a-dolly-on-rails, I had to admit that despite how miserable the British can be at work, there was a carefree, light-hearted atmosphere. People, young and old, were laughing, shouting, joshing, telling jokes (even at that time of the morning), whilst loading their boxes of fruit n’ veg into vans and trucks. I doubt whether the Victorians were aware of avocados, sweet potatoes, yams, mange-tout, globe artichokes and aubergines, I mused, as I glided past the workers, who totally ignored me.
I left the market behind and found myself in the Dickensian gloom of Clink Street, a narrow thoroughfare behind the tall, imposing warehouses fronting the Thames. All thoughts of Jack The Ripper and his ilk were politely told to fuck off. I arrived at The Clink Museum – ostensibly on the site of England’s first large prison, hence the name. I looked at the very large, black doorman quizzically and he informed me that I couldn’t come in, as ‘the place was packed’.
‘Oh that’s OK, I’m on the guest list.’
‘Windy’s’ I replied, trying not to sound too smug.
‘OK, the guest list is at the bottom of the stairs.’ He said brusquely, waving me in.
I’d discovered this building in ’83, having been the first person to hold illegal, all-night raves in this fair city. Gay raves were first! Hooray! Straights and not-sures, however, were always welcome, so long as they conducted themselves in a suitably cool and non-aggressive fashion. My party had been held on New Year’s Eve in the spacious, sound-proofed rehearsal studios on the top floor. The memories came flooding back, but my wave of nostalgia was short-lived – the door whore asked for my name and waved me in.
Good times never evaporate, I thought, as I stepped into the gloom, assailed by a barrage of soulful house music, they remind of your self-worth, guv’, especially when people come up to you, bright and fluffy-tailed with happy memories, and you allow yourself to wallow a little in their indulgence, with a rewind and a… pause. For thought. Luv’…
I headed through the gloom – a half-empty dance floor – towards the makeshift bar, to find that they’d already run out of booze. Amateur hour! I reluctantly bought a can of Perrier water and thought to myself: if this is a commercial museum, it can’t be doing very well if the management let a bunch of funky fags take it over on a Friday night.
I noticed a few people I vaguely knew and they made small talk. I half-heartedly joined-in and then spiced things up by telling someone how difficult it was to write a suicide note without it turning into a veritable book. Their glazed-over eyes showed me that they had no idea of what I was alluding to and obviously thought I was bonkers and off-my-head. A bit close to the bone, perhaps.
The ‘party’ dragged on. At least the music was good. I couldn’t connect, certainly not sexually. All that went out of the window with my wretched diagnosis. Who’d want to sleep with a PWA (Person with AIDS)? I figured that I would only be able to have sex with fellow PWAS – not that you would guess from looking at me, yet… and I wasn’t gonna be going round clanging a bell with a ball and chain around my leg croaking ‘Leper’!
Most males who have full-blown AIDS look very thin and sickly, often yellowish, and their facial skin is stretched tautly, almost like parchment. Often, they get mistaken for junkies, although, in some cases, they are. The new curse of the shared needle – along with hepatitis.
I guess there’s a certain thrill in being unavailable, the comfort of knowing that attractive men still find me irresistible. Not tonight Jo, I’ve got to be up in time to kill myself for my birthday dinner.
Shit! That’s truly awful. How could I be such a bare-faced selfish cunt? All my friends expecting me at La Crevette at Nine O’Clock to celebrate my big Four-Oh (no) and I’ll doing my impersonation of a dying swan in some gutter somewhere (whilst the world walks by ignoring my final, pathetic performance).
What a wretched way to draw attention to myself and my sorry plight. I’m appalled by my brutally introverted, bloody-minded dickheadedness!
This suicide is postponed until further notice!
I left the party and walked back home, forgot to load-up the electricity key and fell asleep in the dark – the sort of slumber that you’re surprised to wake-up from (you’ve might remember that this was yesterday, before my written thoughts took-over). So I’d cancelled my subscription to The Suicide Times (this week’s headline: Guilt-wracked Ricky Returns From The Grave!).
You may, dear reader (there’s probably only one), be wondering after all that nonsense about batteries and Seven-Eleven whether my power, as it were, was restored.
Could product placement have any validity and financial benefit in this curious project? Funeral homes? Cheap vodka? A brand of sleeping pills? Batteries?
Well, I’m EVER-READY to deal with an ongoing crisis, but it’s tough when you wake up the following day and find that the money has been half-inched by some dodgy rent-boy type at the party-in-a-prison. This was, at least, my impression when I awoke from a dream that featured my death and departure down a long tunnel to Elysian Fields, or whatever, escorted by Marvin Gaye, Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix.
The truth was more prosaic. I’d put the money in a sock in my top drawer. I was being practical, but not really admitting to a bout of paranoia.
The Great Yarmouth Friendly Society was certainly living up to its name. The two lead actors in the G.Y.A.D’s (Great Yarmouth Amateur Dramatic Society) production of ‘No, No, Nanette’ were being very friendly AND getting their proverbial oats beneath the stage of the building that also served as a theatre. Dick had climaxed and rolled-off Celia’s half-naked body, sighed contentedly and lit a Senior Service.
‘Do you have to smoke those horrible things?’ She coughed, ‘you’re going to send this place up in smoke!
He grinned and cupped her chin in his his hand. “I’ll give up if you give-up your body to me.’ He said, cigarette dangling from his lips, running his other hand up the inside of her silky, bare thigh.
‘I already have, on occasions too numerous to recall.’ Said Celia in her best convent-girl voice, patting the pile old costumes and curtains that they had fashioned into a Rubenesque love nest.
A cloud of dust rose into the air. Dick stubbed his cigarette out in the mouth of the pantomime horse.
‘One day soon, we’ll have our own bed, our own place.’ He murmured, looking her in the eyes, then tenderly kissed her upturned face.
Anything to get away from the folks, she mused, hmm, how appropriate… it’s to break the chain around my neck. My stifling parents and their chintzy little fantasy…
Dick interupted her reverie: ‘C’mon my little duckling, it’s time to return you to the bosom of your family’.
‘Yuck’ She pouted.
Gladys and Henry had, perhaps conveniently for Celia, left The Links a few weeks before, following the departure of the last wounded officer. They had moved with their daughter to a brand new, rented, semi-detached house in a dreary suburb of Great Yarmouth, after Henry had secured a mundane lower-managerial job in a mustard factory.
They’d welcomed Dick’s intrusion into their humdrum lives. He was, after all, an officer (albeit petty) who presumably had a good career ahead of him. They basked in the small-time reflected glory of his and Celia’s success in ‘No, No, Nanette’ and were the life and soul of the sherry party in the mayor’s parlour at the town hall after the opening night, especially when the happy couple used the occasion to announce their engagement.
Naturally, tongues were discretely wagging, as they do in amateur dramatic societies.
Certain members of the group, both male and female, were jealous of the fact that Celia Rogers, a relative newcomer, could spoil their chances and land a leading role.
Dick, ever mindful of people’s needs, was only too happy to apply his new-found sexual confidence to the chosen few. After all, despite his roguish behaviour, the Count had been an excellent teacher of the finer details of lovemaking and Celia had been able to pass-on this knowledge to Dick. He, in turn, passed it on to whoever took his fancy, male or female.
Chains were being broken and chains were being perpetuated, an arrangement which seemed to suit all concerned. Celia, however, was blissfully ignorant of her fiance’s wandering hands.
They were acting out a trite, tight little English drawing room drama, with all the fierce passions and resentments smouldering beneath the thin veneer of the amateur dramatic society’s social mores.
Celia discovered that she was pregnant in September 1949. The marriage was brought forward, with unseemly haste, to October. The secretly agnostic Dick (Gladys would have hit the roof if she’d found out) was persuaded to attend the main Anglican church in Great Yarmouth – not a cathedral as it didn’t hold city status – in order that the happy couple could have a white wedding on consecrated ground.
The wedding went without a hitch. Celia looked like a film star and Dick looked very handsome in a dark suit. The best man was Dick’s supposed best Navy friend (another fuck-buddy). The reception was held in the main hall of The Quaker Friendly Society. Scores of rather boring relatives whom Celia had barely met had turned up, and, of course she was to meet new family members from Dick’s side, some of whom were Dutch and had come on the ferry from The Hook Of Holland to Harwich.
Celia had only met them recently, but got on very well with Dick’s parents, and his younger sister, who looked rather like Doris Day. They lived in Ely, Britain’s tiniest city, located in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire. The seemed to be kind people and liberal free-spirits – compared to her own.
Dick and Celia were to live temporarily in Dick’s room at Miss Platt’s seedy, seafront boarding house, until they could find somewhere more permanent. Celia was not at all happy with this arrangement, but anything was better than the stifling atmosphere of her parents’ bland and tasteless new home.
Ordinary Seaman Stephen Harris was whistling chirpily whilst carefully folding his clothes and putting them in the locker beside his bunk, deep in the throbbing bowels of HMS Pygmalion, anchored in Portsmouth harbour.
Petty Officer Tinderman flung open the door of the cabin. ‘Dick!’ Exclaimed Stephen, throwing his arms around him.
‘I’ll give you dick!’ whispered the object of his affection glancing over his shoulder for an unwanted audience, before closing the door.
‘That’s what I was hoping!’ Said Stephen with a grin, pushing Dick’s shoulders back and looking into his cornflour-blue eyes.
‘Look… I’ve got something to tell you Stephen. Sit down.’
They squeezed onto the narrow bunk.
‘I know you sucked somebody’s knob to get transferred to this ship, OK, there are ways and means…
Stephen tried to interject, but Dick put his hand over his mouth.
‘I’ve tied the knot – I’m married.’
Stephen held his breath, removed Dick’s hand from his mouth and slowly exhaled.
‘You bastard! You know I love you!’
Dick looked around the cabin, trying to find something to focus on. Suddenly, Stephen was on him, grabbing at his uniform, with madness, sadness and lust in his eyes.
‘Just one more time Dick pleeeease…’
Dick, despite himself, felt sorry for him and held him close. Reluctantly wanting him. Feeling his own cock getting harder.
‘Let me… please.’ Whispered Stephen, brushing his hand over the growing bulge.
‘I’m not queer.’ Said Dick, matter-of-factly, as Stephen un-buttoned his flies. He sighed, closed his eyes and, in the manner best known to men of vanity, put his hands behind his head and lay back on the bulkhead.
‘Just one more time… yulp.’ murmured Stephen, taking Dick into his mouth.