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.