Tag Archives: mixed-race

Shifty Shades of Gay. By Steve Swindells.

16 Aug

Shifty Shades Of Gay

By Steve Swindells

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      Amongst the many tribes, creeds and nationalities of the so-called ‘black community’ – which is just as heterogeneous as the so-called ‘Gay Community’ – there exists a mysterious, cultural curiosity known as DL.

This is an acronym of Down-low, which is a term pertaining to masculine, black men who like to have sex with men, but who generally pretend to be straight  – especially to themselves.  They’re often in relationships, or even marriages, with unsuspecting women, who would probably never even imagine that their big, ‘butch’ blokes like cock and ass. After all, gay men are just a bunch of girly men, aren’t they?  And there’s no such thing as a gay, black man, right?

HAH!  What planet do you, or they, they live on?

There was an American TV series called ‘The DL Chronicles’, which I’ve never seen. I can only hope it’s better than that appallingly awful US show ‘Noah’s Arc’  which, unfortunately, I have seen a couple of episodes of.  It features a bunch of stereotypical, black queens swishing around and being…well… queens. A cringe-making, gay-blacksploitation embarrassment, as far as I’m concerned,

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My favourite black, gay character on TV is definitely the handsome, masculine, wise and intelligent cop, played by Mathew St Patrick, who’s the boyfriend of the badly-behaved, gay son in the brilliant and much-lauded ‘Six Feet Under’. In the series, he’s most definitely not on the DL. What a great role-model for young, black men who think that they may be gay.

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My good friend Monty has been homeless for a while and is sofa-surfing with friends and family in London.  He stays with me quite regularly and is mostly a total pleasure to spend time with – unless I happen to trigger his tumultuous temper, which has, unfortunately, happened on a couple of occasions, usually when we’ve had a few drinks, thereby triggering my equally tempestuous temper! Thankfully, these rare explosions end as swiftly as they begin, and we always end-up apologising to each other profusely and giving each other big, conciliatory hugs.

Monty is a thirty year-old, gay, multi-mixed-race (Lebanese/South African/Trinadian/Tunisian), black man who’s about to finish a course in massage therapy.  He’s planning to get a job working for one of the major cruise lines in the Caribbean – his tutor has already sent him to an informal ‘open-day’ interview with one of biggest tour operators, who informed her thereafter that they would definitely offer him a job, once he’s qualified, which he will be next month. Monty evidently charmed the pants off them, though not literally, of course. That might have qualified as a corporate-cruise orgy!

Monty is charming, articulate, complex, intelligent, funny, immaculately-dressed and extremely good-looking. And, in case you’re wondering: no, we haven’t and nor will we. He’s not my type – despite his looks – and I’m not his.  End of,  as the saying goes.

I’ve met Monty’s mother – we took her to GhettoFabulous, London’s biggest and best monthly, ‘urban’, polysexual (but mostly gay-black) club in South London.  It’s about the only club I go to these days.  Not only is the music – R&B, house and various variants of reggae –  fantastic, but the eye-candy count is usually around sixty percent – which is incredibly high – and Monty is certainly in the top-ten percent.  He’s as handsome as his mother is beautiful (she’s only forty-eight). She chatted to me as we smoked a joint (made with herbal tobacco, as I gave-up smoking many years ago) on the large, heated, ‘smoking terrace’, and explained that Monty was actually christened Montgomery, after her favourite actor, Montgomery Clift.

‘It’s a shame he turned-out to be so ugly,’ I quipped – Monty’s mum looked momentarily non-plussed – ‘but at least he’s got a sense of humour,  that’s why I call him Monty Python!’ Then she roared with laughter – a great big, throaty chuckle – and gave me a hearty high five… then slipped me an E, with a conspiratorial wink.  What a naughty mum!

Sometimes, Monty randomly shows me pictures of stunningly beautiful, masculine-looking, muscular, mostly mix-race guys, with their tops off, on his smart-phone.  He enjoys clocking my reaction (which is mostly jaw-dropping), I reckon.  At first, I assumed that they were perhaps porn stars and/or models (many of them are indeed the latter), but it soon transpires that they are either his ‘exes’; people that he’s recently met – or what us poofs refer to as fuck-buddies. He certainly is a magnet for beautiful, masculine men. Unfortunately, many of them are apparently on the DL.

A couple of months ago, when he started his Level Two course (he’s now on Level Three), he’d told me that there were several ‘hotties’ studying massage as well. One in particular had caught his eye – and, apparently, vice-versa:  ‘Apart from being stunning-looking, with an awesome, muscular physique,’ Monty had told me, ‘he’s black, but with huge BLUE eyes!’

“You’re kidding!’ I’d responded, ‘Are you sure they’re not tinted contact lenses?’

‘Deff not,’ said Monty, ‘he’s mixed-race:  Greek-African, and he’s called – are you ready? – Apollo. He makes sure that he sits beside me all the time in class and is always volunteering to massage me, and yesterday, he walked me to Baker Street Station, even though his station is Marylebone Overground. And, he also asked for my number.’

‘Hmm, ‘I said, stroking my goatee in an ironic fashion, ‘I suspect that your gaydar monitor is off the scale!’ Monty nodded and smiled; then I added: ‘Greek-African – that’s highly unusual – although, strangely enough, I had a boyfriend who boasted exactly the same exotic, mix-race parentage, in the 80s – he didn’t have blue eyes, but he rejoiced in the name Achilles, I kid you not, and I used to refer to him as a Bleek.’

‘I’ll bet he was a bit of a heel,’ quipped Monty, as his phone pinged, indicating that he’d received a text ‘but why Bleek?’

‘Black-Greek, of course, just like Blindian is Black-Indian,’ I said, then added, ‘I was with Achilles for over two years, but he wasn’t a heel per-se, perhaps more of  a high heel!

‘Duh… obvs! That’s brilliant, I’ll ask Apollo if anyone has ever referred to him as Bleek at college tomorrow,’ said Monty, chuckling, then suddenly gasped and pulled an exaggerated jaw-drop face, looked at me with a broad grin, handed me the phone and said:  ‘You are so not going to believe this – I wonder if you can guess who it is…’

I have to confess that my eyes popped out of my head as I clocked the photo of an incredibly beautiful, muscular body (the head was deliberately out-of-shot, a typical DL trait) – obviously taken in a gym – with an impressive hard-on poking into a strategically-placed, white towel, on which he’d scrawled with a large felt-tip pen: Go Obama!

Monty carried on grinning, as a psychic thought popped into my head: ‘OMG, it’s Bleek, the godlike Apollo, isn’t it?’

‘It sure as hell is,’ he replied, his head now shaking in an I don’t believe it fashion, ‘and he’s invited me over to his place in Hampstead on Friday!’

He then showed me a picture on his phone of yet another stunning and muscular (this time much-tattooed), mixed-race man who was posing topless with a combat rifle, wearing camouflage fatigues, in what looked suspiciously like Afganistan.

‘Bloody hell –  who the fuck’s this bloke, giving it loads?’ I asked, handing him back his phone, wondering if I might run out of exclamatory words or phrases – other than ‘Wow!’ – in reaction to this procession of beauties that were waltzing before my eyes like actors in an imagined play, featuring the most beautiful, masculine, black men in the known universe.

‘Oh, that’s Paolo,’ said Monty nonchalantly, now texting away again on his phone, ‘he’s a Blatino, with Brazilian parents’

A thought occurred to me that Brazil is one of the few genuinely multi-racial, ‘rainbow nations’ on this earth, along with South Africa, The US, Cuba, Canada (just) and The UK. Then I asked:  ‘And who might this stunning-looking man be to you?’

‘Oh, Paolo is, or was, a fuck buddy, he’s in the army and is also a model’ he said, tapping away on his phone from the chill zone in my living area; ‘but he lied to me.’

‘How so?’ I asked through the open door of my studio, where I was multi-tasking away, checking my emails and advancing various, creative endeavors. ‘So, that pic was taken in Afganistan – and how did he lie to you?’

‘Yes, he was in Helmand province for a six-month tour of duty – and he still has his fantastic legs.’

‘Dark,’ I commented drily, whilst uploading one of my latest mixes on Garage Band * subliminal commercial break alert* a cool collaboration with a soulfully talented Israeli girl called Hadas Balas, whom I’d met and jammed with – instant rapport – at a house-warming party for my new neighbour Doctor Clive – who has his own circus, as you do, and is also a real doctor – earlier this year *commercial ends*.

‘Quite,’ said Monty in his usual sprightly fashion, then continued: ’ Well, we’d been fucking for a while – and he really is a fantastic shag –  but he’s on the DL.  He’s not even out to his friends – even the army guys who he has sex with… and there are several – he’s shown me pics’.’

‘Damn…’ I said (inadvertently crashing my MAC by being impatient – and through having way too many windows and tabs open. Firefox is usually the main culprit), ‘that’s pathetic!’

‘It is a bit,’ said Monty, with a kind-of rueful disdain, then added:’ Anyways,  I kind of gave him an ultimatum.  Either he came out to his friends, colleagues and family, or he wasn’t gonna get any more of my ass!  So he promised me he’d start by telling his parents. I was pleased, and naively thought we might be heading into a genuine relationship as a result, especially as he’d finished with his long-term girlfriend, ostensibly to be with me.  But I was wrong.  On the night that he’d supposedly confessed all to his parents, in Surbiton, I was supposed to go over to his place in Kilburn, after his return. But he was suddenly unavailable.  When I texted him to ask why, he said that he was hanging out with his army mates and ‘chilling’.

‘That was somewhat insensitive.’ I suggested.

‘Indeed it was,’ agreed Monty; ‘he insisted, however, that he’d told his parents. But my instinct, however, told me otherwise.  So I went over to his place at One in the morning and banged on his door until he opened it – looking fabulous as ever in a pair of running shorts.  I dismissed all thoughts of lust, and, when we went inside, I accused him of lying just so that he could continue to have sex with me. He tried to deny it, but his eyes told me the truth, and I promptly left.’

‘That’s really sad,’ I said, as my MAC stuttered back into life, ‘that’s DL for you. Perhaps it should stand for damn lies. Looks like he wanted to have his cakes – and to eat them too!’

‘You know what I’m saying?’ Said Monty, slightly plaintively. His phone pinged again and his eyes widened as he read the text: ‘You’re not going to believe this…’

‘Paolo’s asked you to marry him?’ I suggested, jokingly.

‘Nope, but Apollo the Bleek has asked me over right now, says he’s got a bottle of voddy and some nice skunk. I’m gagging!’

‘Just as well you’ve got the day off tomorrow then.’ I said drily.

The next day, Monty rolled-in at around 2pm and slumped onto my chill-zone-come-guest-bed in the living area. ‘God! I’m hungover!’ He moaned, rolling his eyes.

‘So… what happened?’ I asked.

‘He got me really drunk and vaguely seduced me, in a clumsy sort of way, then laid-back and let me do all the work!

‘Typical behaviour of a DL!’ I said, before Monty promptly fell asleep.

A few days later, he came ‘round after college and exclaimed:’ The Bleek is, as of now, excommunicated!’

Why, what happened?’

‘All the guys were in the showers (the course took place in an up-market health club in Marylebone) after a work-out, and he made that typical oh-so-straight, alleged joke, you know:  be careful you don’t drop the soap in the shower guys! Everyone laughed, except me; I was furious with him.  It’s a matter of principal, you can’t be hypocritical like that, it makes me fuckin’ sick! ‘

‘Did you express your disgust in front of everyone?’ I asked.

‘Nearly… I had to bite my lip to stop myself, but nah, I told him when he tried to walk me to the station, and stated in no uncertain terms that I don’t live a lie, and I don’t wanna be friends with people who do, and walked off.’

‘Good on ya!’  I said, giving him a hug, then simply said: ‘respect!’

More recently, during his Level Three course, Monty reported a frisson of flirtation with a great big black hunk, a semi-pro rugby player called Mack, who was showing interest in being his ‘new best friend’. Monty told me that Mack was an awesome figure of a man, and that the gaydar needles were seemingly flickering on the dials as well. Or was he fooling himself?

The funny thing was that Bleek was also on the course – and was apparently watching Monty and Mack like a hawk.

‘Did you say ‘hi’ to Bleek?’ I asked Monty.

‘Yeah – of course,’ he replied, ‘But, I was just polite and kept my distance. Then Mack asked me to be his partner in a stretching session in the gym and… well, I do believe that there was a level of tumescence in his shorts.’

I laughed and said: ‘All hail the latest admirer!’

A few days later, we were having dinner (my new signature dish of  salmon fillets marinated in lemon, honey, coriander, soy sauce and sesame seeds then char-grilled with courgettes, red onion and baby corn) and Monty received a text. He turned to me with a serious jaw-drop look and passed me his phone. The pic’ was of a stunningly beautiful, black body – but with no head (no surprise there then).  The guy had a huge hard-on poking through a white towel in what was obviously a gym. ‘Is this history repeating itself,’ I asked Monty. ‘ who the fuck is it this time? Mack?’

‘You got it babe.’ Replied Monty, with his winning smile.

The next day, after college, Monty reported back to me that he’d informed (a no-doubt slightly shocked) Mack that he simply shouldn’t send pictures like that, as nothing was going to happen;  but that it was cool to be friends. Mack apparently took this in stride, was not freaked-out, and was even more indulgent towards Monty as the day carried on – with Bleek observing their every move. I suggested to Monty that this might be… well, perhaps less of a DL situation than usual. Was my sixth sense smelling a burgeoning relationship – or just willing it to happen?

Mack is totally Monty’s type. He loves those big, masculine, muscular guys, especially if they’re intelligent and happily gay… and not on the DL.

Steve Swindells © 2013.  All rights reserved

Children Of The Night. A Short Story By Steve Swindells

19 Jan

My suggested music to accompany this short story is a selection of tracks from my all-star jamming band The Plastic Sturgeons (currently #1 on Reverb Nation London as I write).

Children Of The Night.

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New Years Day, London, 1987. The hour before the dawn.

New Years Day, London, 1987. The hour before the dawn.

Beverly Beveridge was being taken from behind by a black hunk in the bathroom of her bijou, funky, South-London flat.  Known universally as Red because of her luxuriant mane of naturally flame-coloured hair, she had selected her sexual partner from the usual retinue of admirers at her eponymous club which she hosted every Saturday at Nancy’s,  a slightly down-at-heel gay club  in London’s Soho.  At ‘Red’, sexuality was irrelevant,  anything went.   At least in theory. Her New Year’s Eve party had been a great commercial and artistic success, but making money was the exception rather that the rule.  Sheldrake, the latest black, soul, singing sensation, had performed his new single, and had gone down a storm.

Red’s flirtation with him backstage had apparently been less than successful, but why did she feel that he was interested?  Nancy’s was a jaded,  seventies-style club with black walls, revolting, purple, swirly carpets and a capacity of around six-hundred people.  But it had a good layout – there was a balcony all the way around, where you could sit on stools and see the stage and the dance floor, a pumping sound system, decent-enough lights, plenty of dark booths, a quiet bar upstairs for networking and flirting and an overall, faded charm that somehow worked. Most weeks, however,  Red was barely breaking even, which was probably due to her over-generosity with the guest list. ‘A busy club is a hip club.’ She’d say defensively, but the club was hip, and got lots of coverage in the style press and on TV and radio.  The London listings magazine What’s Uphad recently put her on its front cover dressed as Marilyn Monroe, under the headline ‘Red Or Dead’.  Was that anything to do with the fact that the editor was trying to get into her knickers?  He didn’t stand a hope in hell, but Red saw it as ongoing PR,  leading to something bigger, where she could be creatively fulfilled – and seriously successful.

Surely, someone with her looks, talent, big personality and natural charisma couldn’t fail to succeed? Red  – nearly six feet tall, a striking, full-lipped beauty with alabaster skin and a voluptuous figure – was looking forward to having her orgasm, dismissing the stud, then potentially annoying her neighbours by indulging in a little post-coital horn-blowing on the roof of the run-down, Victorian mansion block that she lived in… on her tenor saxophone.  It was her own, private way of greeting the new year and something of a cry from the heart.  She saw herself in a movie written by a latter-day Tennessee Williams:  the misunderstood heroine making beautiful, melancholy music, alone, but in control, dressed in a full-length, white, faux-fox fur coat.  As she played, a limpid, winter sun rose behind the grim, grey tower blocks of South East London and her mind went back to the party at her club and Sheldrake performing onstage.

‘Shut the fuck up!’ Shouted a distant voice from the window of one of the flats below.

Meredith McCormack was dead.  Aaron Kaminski was vaguely aware of a strange presence — then dismissed it as paranoia — as he bashed-out a drum track on some newly-acquired recording equipment in his luxurious, minimalistic, high-tech-style loft in Chelsea in New York.  Meredith, now a ‘higher being’ called Mila – an angel, if you like – was feeding thirty year-old Aaron lyrical ideas from ‘the other side’.  His role as a ‘ghost-writer’ was totally influencing what was otherwise a fairly mediocre poetic talent as he sat unseen next to Aaron; his celestial – well, ghostly – body glowing with a faint aura of white light.  Aaron’s strength lay in making great, ground-breaking music.  He couldn’t work out where his new-found lyrical inspiration was coming from, but he liked it.

Levi Flowers – the handsome and intense, twenty six-year old, mixed-race DJ who played soulful tunes at his good friend Red’s club – was composing a fax to his other close friend Aaron: ‘The best things always happen in the middle of the night’.  He wrote. He was missing his buddy. They’d met at Red’s a couple of years previously and had clicked immediately. It was a rocket-fuelled, instant friendship.  Then after a couple of months, Aaron had inexplicably returned to New York.  What was that all about? Levi couldn’t get his head around it.

Aaron was bisexual.  Levi was ostensibly straight.  Red felt attracted to Aaron (somewhat influenced by his inherited wealth),  Aaron was obsessed with Levi and Levi wondered if he was in love with Red. The usual stuff.

Meredith had been the second love of Red’s life.  Scottish, with a Spanish mother,  he was a handsome, deep-thinking man with wavy-brown hair, huge brown eyes and olive skin. He was an aspiring writer, who reluctantly made a living teaching English.  He was also a bit eccentric, vague (traits, it would seem, that stayed with him in the after life) and somewhat unworldly.

Red had sort-of corrupted him  back then by turning him on to non-dangerous recreational drugs and a night life-orientated lifestyle.  ‘It was down to him at the end of the day. I wasn’t a dominatrix!’  She’d say later. He’d died of a suspected overdose at her club night.  People whispered that they had earlier seen Tyrone Khan, Red’s psychopathic, former lover, sneaking out of the toilet where they had found Meredith’s body.

Meredith, or Mila as he was now known, was frustrated in his attempts to communicate with his old friends.  He now knew – being on ‘the other side’ – that they had all known each other in past lives, as they had often mused, but he could only make his mark through the medium of Aaron’s songs and by surreptitiously putting ideas into Red and Levi’s heads;  particularly when they read each other’s tarot cards.

Soon, Red and Levi found themselves regularly visiting a hugely overweight, Jewish, lesbian medium known as Morgana who wanted Red, not only in bed, but for her psychic energy. Unfortunately,  Mila hadn’t done enough research.  He was new to the (angelic) job.  Morgana was bad news, but it was too late.  Even a trainee angel could screw-up.

He consulted his ‘Mindset’ again, on Angel Training Mode.  ‘Just picture the forehead from the inside  as a computer monitor’ his Angel-mentor had instructed and… now it was beginning to make sense.  He studied the data intently – on his forehead monitor.

It was early February.  Tyrone Khan broke into Red’s flat and was waiting for her when she came home from the club,  wielding a knife. He was off his head on quaaludes, alcohol and cocaine. He’d never recovered from her rejection after a year-long relationship when they were both twenty-two – and the only way he could possess her was by force.  He was psychotic, it was too dangerous to resist him.  He raped her at knife-point.   She’d had to admit to herself later that part of her had almost enjoyed it (they’d had a tremendous sex life when they were together),  but NO-ONE forced Beverly Beveridge to do anything.  Once he’d climaxed – which didn’t take long – she managed to knee him in the balls and spray mace (which she kept in a bedside cabinet) in his face.  He’d screamed, pulled-up his pants and staggered-off into the night.

She pulled herself together and phoned Levi, distraught. He advised her not to call the police because Tyrone could blow the cover on her drug-dealing past and her tax-evading present. But she would have her revenge.

Levi,  despite his beautiful face, intelligent mind and athletic body, was having a hard time.  He was built like a sprinter and people found him charismatically threatening, both physically and mentally (he looked a lot like the Welsh, gold medal-winning hurdler Colin Jackson, minus the vaguely Chinese eyes – his were dreamy and deep), but he was sensitive inside. ‘You’re just a soft-centered chocolate.’  Red would tell him, giving him a hug.

He never seemed to be able to get on top of situations: fate pulled him down every time.  What about Red,  the charismatic dynamo:  shouldn’t they be lovers?  Sometimes their friendship was so close that it hurt.  Then there was Aaron, who obviously wanted him badly and was working his nerves.  He was confused.  He loved them both, but seemed to fall between two stools.  He just couldn’t visualise making love with a man  – although Aaron was a strong character and a classic, blond-haired, blue-eyed adonis  – and Red was so wild and deep the she might just eat him up and spit him out, just like she’d done with so many men, apart from Meredith. Trust him to die!

They were all dissatisfied with their emotional lives.  There had to be a solution. Mila was trying to work it all out too.  He had to study hard to master the complexities of his ‘Mindset’ (It was much worse than MS-DOS)  There were a lot of epigrams, riddles and puns thrown into the program.  It was mildly irritating sometimes, but as he became familiar with its curious subtleties, it gradually led to suitably angelic chuckles.  ‘Hey!’ Said Mila to Dalai, his Angel-mentor, ‘so there is life after death, with intellectual punning as part of the heavenly package?’  Dalai chuckled and replied ‘Yes, my wannabe angel, if only the world realised that laughter was the key to immortality!’

Aaron had been inspired by Levi’s fax,  but felt sadly romantic inside. He sat at a table in the window of a cafe on the Lower East-Side of New York –   it looked like a film-set based on that famous painting by Edward Hopper and could have been the setting for a moody commercial for a coffee brand.  The neon lights were reflected in the puddles outside as the rain poured down.  He wrote his thoughts into a notepad; a free-form poem and soulful rap – he imagined – as he pondered his surroundings, drank black coffee and thought of Levi and the evocative, cinematic,  dark side of America.  He (or should we say Mila?) called it ‘The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe’.

‘The whispered words of freedom in the wind…’  rapped Levi softly and deeply,  as the video cut to him wandering through the rainy streets of the meat-packing district.  ‘ … the choirs of voices calling-out your name,  the same old dilemma, searching for romance and riding solo…Sooo low.  You know you’ve got to go away but you stay – always the ballad,  the ballad of the sad cafe.’ A bag lady dressed in rags sat in a doorway opposite the cafe, playing with an illuminated yoyo.

Mila smiled angelically at an adjacent,  empty table.  He was feeding something special to Aaron and it made him feel fulfilled.  He put a dream-vision into Aaron’s head.  So there was Levi performing another poem-rap with Irie and Drumgold,  the famous Jamaican rythmn section,  alongside Red on sax and Aaron on keyboards with Sheldrake singing lead vocals; right there in the cafe he was sitting in.

Levi was reading Aaron’s reply to his fax in the DJ booth at the club before it opened.  Aaron had enclosed the words to ‘The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe’.  Levi instinctively knew what he was writing about.  Aaron signed-off with the surprise message that he would be in London the following week.  Levi was pleased, but strangely trepidatious.  When he showed Red the fax she immediately recognised that the song was a paean to Aaron’s unrequited love and told Levi so.  He told her not to be so daft…  knowing it to be true.

Morgana the medium, meanwhile, was not exactly laying her cards on the table.  She was weaving a spell, trying to draw Red into her evil sphere by influencing events and lulling her into a false sense of security with overly-optimistic tarot readings.  Levi had his suspicions about her and asked Red:  how had Morgana’s reclusive girlfriend Lottie died? Was it suicide, as Morgana had insisted, or something more sinister?  Hadn’t Red noticed how Morgana had treated Lottie? What about the heavy, glass ashtray incident?

Mila was worried too.  His cosmic game-plan had backfired a bit.  He had to put it down to, well, inexperience. Aaron was planning to stay in London for a couple of weeks.  Levi and Red met him for brunch at an Italian cafe in Bloomsbury.  They discussed the emotional potential which everyone, including themselves, seemed to squander. They bemoaned the cold, cynical approach to life that most other people had, and wondered why three such attractive, creative and intrinsically good people should be without partners and a degree of success. *Group shrugging of shoulders*. At least they had each other.

Red, the club night, was suddenly doing very well, but that was part of Morgana’s dastardly plot. She had aimed to take Red up, then bring her down, so that she’d be under her evil spell.  She really was a gifted healer and psychic, but an innate bitterness had twisted her and made her abuse her powers.  The renewed success of the club made certain people constantly snipe at Red, especially Danny Dinkins, the overly camp manager of Nancy’s, who was a misogynistic queen of the old school.  Red suddenly found that many other attractive and successful women also seemed to be overtly jealous of her media-profile.  That really pissed her-off:  they were worse than the fucking queens!

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Red was twenty eight; she wanted to form a band before it was too late, but no-one took her seriously, apart from Aaron and Levi.  The nearest she’d got to it was by playing her sax along to records in the club while dancing on the dance floor.  The crowd loved it; but in the sometimes-superficial night life world she was seen as a glamour-puss, a larger-than-life caricature of herself – a good-time girl who hid behind her glamourous dress sense and big personality.  Nobody could get close to her because they were generally, or genuinely, in awe of her. She was, in some respects, a troubled being. Her attempts at telling home-truths and enlightening people usually fell on stony ground.  Disillusioned by the image that people had formed of her, she was a charismatic paradox: both cynical and wise, then innocent and trusting. Plus, sometimes she drank too much, and maybe got too high, then became slightly overbearing, her frustrations and fears gushing-out in a stream of unconscious angst.

Levi and Aaron were her real friends; only they could understand her inner strength and her aspirations.  Couldn’t people see that the fact that she drove a red, sixties Cadillac convertible with fake, zebra skin-covered seats was simply an ironic, post-modern joke and a quasi, self-promotional laugh?  Regardless, she  certainly relished playing the role of the white-trash, sex goddess.

Aaron had plenty of money. His grandmother had left him a small fortune, but he was enigmatic about about his wealth and certainly didn’t splash it around (much to Red’s dismay).  In the early summer of ‘87, he decided to move back to London, rented-out his New York loft  apartment and bought a classic, Victorian, five-bedroomed house with a patio leading onto one of those beautiful, magical, secret communal gardens, in Notting Hill. Levi had a rudimentary understanding of keyboards and percussion, so he and Aaron spent many happy hours fiddling about with Aaron’s equipment (he wished!) and getting stoned with Thai sticks or Moroccan hash, whilst jamming musically and learning to feed-off each other’s  intuitive creativity.

Levi started to develop real poetic, lyrical and percussion skills under Aaron’s sensitive and enthusiastic (it’s always easier when you’re in love with someone) tutelage, and recently they had started to write a funky rap tune.  Aaron was too sensitive to push his mild obsession with Levi, and Levi certainly wasn’t about to surrender to a physical attraction that was anathema to his male conditioning, despite the obvious bond between them.  One night,  Red showed-up with her sax.  ‘What do you think of these words Miss Beveridge?’ Asked Levi.  ‘Hit it maestro!’  Aaron pressed the space bar on his Atari computer and Levi talked over the track in his smokey voice.

‘To the people who are cold and the people who are hard, I know myself, I show my cards, but it’s so hard to unwind sometimes, seems like not only love is blind.’ ‘Tell me about it. Yeah’  Said Red, punching the air,  putting the mouthpiece on her sax.

Levi continued:  ‘You try to work it out, so what’s it all about?  Are you crying wolf or crying out to someone who shows honesty when times are hard but the spirit’s free? Can you answer me – maybe, show me some empathy?’

‘Wow, that’s fantastic guys, gimme some paper, I’ve got an idea for a chorus, can we call it Be Yourself?’ suggested Red enthusiastically,  ‘imagine doing this at The Albert Hall with Sheldrake and a gospel choir!

They continued to work on the song whilst seriously discussing forming a band; a fusion of funk, jazz, hip-hop and the Chicago deep house music which was still massively popular in the hipper, London clubs, despite the recent acid house explosion.  After much frivolity about choosing a name (Under The Bed,  Scarlet Fever, The Blind Venetians),  they finally decided to call themselves ‘Marrs’ and agreed that it would be a good name for a bar too. ‘The Marrs Bar; great for sponsorship.’  Joked Red, believing it might actually be feasible.  All they needed was a handsome, seriously good, soulful singer. Red knew exactly who’d fit the bill:  Sheldrake.

Red had wanted him on New Year’s Eve – and now she wanted him even more, as there was suddenly a valid reason. Dick Starling was the avuncular owner of Nancy’s.   He was a wily old fox in his late fifties, an ex-merchant seaman and a secret alcoholic.  He loved to regale Red and her friends with unlikely tales of conquests in far-off lands in the sixties and seventies, after luring them to his lair with the promise of after-hours drinks.  He was actually quite lonely, which was why he encouraged visitors to his sparsely-furnished office deep in the bowels of the club.   The engine room, he called it.  His nickname for himself  was Captain Pugwash.  Other members of staff were called names such as Seaman Stains and Master Bates, or whatever amused him. When Red had introduced Dick to Morgana, he’d instinctively disliked the woman and had warned her to steer clear.  ‘That dyke is definitely not kosher, Reddy Brek,’  he pronounced, then wagged his finger and winked,  adding loudly:   ‘AVAST  behind! Steer clear!’ in a nautical fashion, then waddled-off to count his money.

Tyrone Khan lurked behind a pillar as Red walked by, his dark eyes glinting with menace.  She spotted him, but pretended not to notice.  She went to find Kennedy, a handsome, well-built, tall, gay, black bodybuilder who ran security for the club.  ‘Who the hell let Tyrone in?’ She asked him.  ‘He said he was on the permanent guest list – gorgeous boy – I thought you two used to be…’   ‘Hah! Wrong!’ Snorted Red, then took him to one side to suggest something that would be of  benefit  to them both.  Kennedy would lure Tyrone to his flat with the promise of free quaaludes and cocaine, then have his wicked way with him.  Kennedy smiled – he liked tight, virgin arseholes.  And Tyrone was definitely an arsehole.

Red headed for ‘the engine room’ to see if she’d made any money that night.  The outer door was suddenly flung open and Billy Bates – the cute, young barman known by Dick as Master Bates – came rushing out, his face flushed, trying to do up his shirt.  ‘He’s dead!’ He yelled. ‘Dick’s dead!’ Red told him to get the police, then gingerly opened the inner door.  Dick Starling was lying on his back on the floor, minus his trousers. And rigor mortis had set in… in the most obvious place.  He must have died of a heart attack screwing Billy Bates,  she correctly surmised.  Hmmm, God smiled in the dick department, she thought.  Just as well Billy was sitting on him, not lying under him.  But what the hell would happen now, she wondered, with a sense of dread,  whilst trying to ignore the inevitable black humour of the situation, like… it must have been a dead good fuck.

Mila sat on a barstool and consulted his ‘Mindset’,  whilst pulling a less-than-angelic ‘Oh shit’ face. Then the data delivered made his mouth drop with relief.  There was a solution.

Nancy’s had to close until everything was sorted out.  Suddenly,  Levi and Red were an income-free zone.  Everything had possibly gone pear-shaped, or horribly Pete Tong. Aaron had gone to New England because his mother was ill, but was then uncharacteristically generous, for once, and gave them a thousand pounds each, so they could develop Marrs, their mutual, musical project. Phew.  So they decided to to do some research.

Their first outing (we need inspiration for stuff, Red had said) took them to Rush, an underground club which was happening illegally every friday in a Gym in South London.  What was this clubland buzz about some new, Ibiza-inspired scene?  Rumour had it that a new wonder-drug called ecstasy was readily available there. They were intrigued. Red and Levi arrived to find a massive queue but were soon swept in by security – who recognised them – and were ushered into a long corridor lined with twinkling fairy lights. She’d made sure that their names were on the guest list.  They swished-in to find the walls and ceilings of the club covered with billowing, white parachutes, which were softly-lit from behind by sixties-style, swirly projections.  Multi-coloured laser beams cut through clouds of dry ice and smoke.  The atmosphere on the dance floor was electric;  hundreds of people dancing wildly and punching the air in baggy, smiley-face T-shirts, to a new kind of hardcore, dance music which was soon to become known as acid house.

Tommy Acorn, the promoter, spotted them and steered them through the crowd into a large, private room, where a couple of hundred people chatted, smiled and hugged each other a lot. ‘Are you sorted?’  He asked – they looked puzzled – then handed them some small, yellow pills, grinned manically and left them to it.  They shrugged their shoulders at each other with a ‘what the hell’ look and downed a pill each.  An hour later found them at opposite ends of the room, engaged in deep, meaningful, touchy-feely conversations.  Levi was vibing with Master Bates, the handsome barman from Nancy’s, and Red with Sheldrake, whom she’d fortuitously met on the dance floor.  His eyes had found hers like laser-guided, vibe-fueled missiles. They graduated towards each other, locked-in, entranced. He’d asked her for a light,  in a jokey, ironic, pick-up-line sort of way.  Then suddenly they were dancing, hypnotised, with the fire in their eyes, laughing with the relief of romantic recognition and flying high. Sorted indeed.

Later, the four of them went back to Aaron’s house in Notting Hill – which Levi was ‘house-sitting’ – and took more Es, smoked spliffs, drank vodka and kissed their erstwhile partners endlessly.  Then it all went blank until the next afternoon, when Red woke to find herself in bed with Sheldrake whilst Levi found Billy Bates curled-up beside him.

‘It was alright y’know…’  Said Levi slightly nervously, referring to his first, ever homosexual experience as he made coffee for everyone in the kitchen. You bet it was alright!’ Croaked Red in a reasonably good Southern American accent, rolling her eyes lustfully, ‘ And I’m going to get some seconds – why don’t you too!’.   She went back upstairs, but Sheldrake had disappeared.  And she hadn’t given him her number, dammit!

Tommy Acorn opened the suitcase and patted the wads of cash inside.  It was sitting on the parquet floor of the hall in his smart, spacious flat in Maida Vale.  ‘A hundred K.’ he muttered, grinning, as the doorbell rang.  ‘Yeehah?’ He trilled into the entry phone, wanting to sound lighthearted.  ‘It’s Chester and the lads!’ Yelled a sightly crazed, midlands accent downstairs.  Tommy rubbed his hands.

‘Mad Chester’ was the singer with ‘The Far-out Flowers ’, a group from Birmingham who were getting noticed on the underground scene with their housy-acid-loopy-indie-laddish ‘Brumtastic’ tunes.  But the heroin and e-addled group had had a few problems financially…and Tommy was about to provide their get-out clause.  The hundred grand was in return for a vast amount of ecstasy that Chester had promised to bring.  The ammonia they sprayed in Tommy’s eyes as they made-off with the cash was in return for his naivety. Sorted, mate.

It was late summer. Tyrone Khan had been successfully dealt with by Kennedy and had apparently fled to Trinidad.  Red and Levi had made a conscious decision to ‘cut’ from Morgana – with unseen, spiritual help from the rookie, spirit-guide Mila – and things were starting to look up. Levi called Red to say that Aaron was back in town and was treating them to dinner at Mo Dylan,  a restaurant popular with thesps and show-biz types, which they all loved, as it was so easy to relax and talk there, despite the fact that the food was only slightly better than adequate.  He’d added that there was a surprise for her.  Red was intrigued.  She instinctively dressed to impress and, on being ushered to one of the best tables, was amazed to see Sheldrake sitting with her friends, who were grinning conspiratorially.

‘So what the fuck happened to you?’ She asked the singer in a mock-theatrical, hands-on-hip fashion.  Sheldrake motioned her to sit down, smiling slightly sheepishly.  Aaron and Levi continued their animated conversation and left them to… interact.   Sheldrake shyly held her hand under the table, looked her in the eye, and explained that he’d had a girlfriend – the relationship had run its course –  but that he’d always been attracted to her from the moment that they’d met, when he’d performed at her club.  Her arm tingled, her face glowed. ’R… really?’ She whispered, her eyes shining.  She could hear celestial background music beginning to play. ‘Yeah,’  said Sheldrake in his honeyed tones, squeezing her hand  ‘and when we met again and got  nicely high it was too much for me – and I felt guilty about… anyway, she’s my ex now and  it’s all about what’s… in your eyes.

He started to sing softly into her ear and they soft-focused into a world of their own. Red felt a warm glow run up her back.  Her back!  Why had there been a rash there since…?  For some unknown reason she decided to tell Sheldrake about Morgana  (Mila nodded enthusiatically,  a ghostly presence at an adjacent table).  Sheldrake’s eyebrows shot up.  ‘You know that evil witch?’ He asked, surprised, and suddenly angry.  ‘She really fucked-up my career and, you know, when I cut-off from her, I developed this nasty rash on my back, just like… you?’ He looked at her intently, then their jaws dropped as they slowly clocked what they had in common.  ‘Wow…’ Said Red slowly, ‘… that’s scary.’ Aaron’s hand found Levi’s leg beneath the table.  ‘Yeeesss!’ went  Mila,  punching the air at the next table.

It was Marrs’ first gig at Dicks, formerly known as Nancy’s.  Billy Bates had been massively and pleasantly shocked that Dick Starling had left him the club in his will, so he’d re-named it in his memory. The band had a group hug.  They were about to go on stage at the Red new year’s eve party when Kennedy the bouncer swung into the room.  ‘There’s some bitch called Morgana at the door, says she’s on the guest list.’  He announced.   ‘Tell her to naff orf’,’ pronounced Red, in an imitation of The Princess Royal, ‘she can pay double to come in as she’s so FAT!’  Everyone laughed, happy to have the tension of their debut diminished.

Tommy Acorn marched into the room wearing outsized shades and a yellow suit  featuring a smiley-face print, with a gorgeous girl on each arm (Rush was now the Acid House night, with many imitators,  but he enjoyed the funky, laid-back atmosphere of Red’s night, even though they didn’t play ‘hard music’).  He hugged Red and she raised an eyebrow:  ‘Glad to see the eye operations were successful – worth the money eh?’  He looked slightly taken aback. How did she know ? Marrs ran on to the stage and the crowd roared, more so when they recognised the legendary Irie and Drumgold  on the bass and drums. The first song was the one inspired by their first time at Rush, along with reflections on where they were at and where they were going,  which Red, Sheldrake, Levi and Aaron had written soon after their visit to Mo Dylan.  It was called ‘Children Of The Night’.

‘Unspoken thoughts hang in the air and broken dreams are everywhere, then someone asks you for a light.’ Sang Sheldrake huskily, swaying to the funky beats, ‘You know you’ve got to find that spark, one magic moment in the dark makes everything alright.’  Red danced across to his side, blowing mean licks on her horn.  ‘Then suddenly the music’s fine, the bodies dance around your mind with eyes like tigers, burning bright.’    Mila banged an invisible, tambourine and got a little carried away onstage (hey, when you’re an angel, you’ve got carte blanche!) next to Levi, who was hitting the hell out of his congas.  ‘And all the sorrow in your soul says let me out and lose control with the children of the night’.

The dance floor was a sea of smiling faces and dancing bodies. Mila received a ‘priority’  message on his ‘mindset’.  It looked like it could well be karmic pay-back time for his rookie, cosmic game-plan.  Was this his angelic graduation?  Shit!’  Muttered Mila to himself. ‘Tyrone Khan’s had a sex change.  Why didn’t I check?’   He left the stage (not that anyone would have noticed, as he was a ghost).  A beautiful, black-asian woman was hovering by a pillar, wearing silver, dagger earrings and a little black dress.  Her dark eyes glinted menacingly.  A voluminous, forty-ish, female figure emerged out of the shadows, dressed in what looked like pink,  ruched curtains, sporting a blond, big-hair wig.  Tyra, as she was now known, shuffled flirtatiously.   ‘Hi honeybuns,’ said Morgana, grabbing Tyra’s waist, ‘you’re an Aries aren’t you – do you wanna play with momma?’.

© Steve Swindells. 2000.  All rights reserved. Photos by Steve Swindells (c). All rights reserved.

FYI The songs ‘Children Of The Night’ and ‘By Yourself’ Do exist, but probably only on cassette. So ‘Bear with’ me on that. SS

The Remote Control. A Short Story By Steve Swindells.

16 Jan
The Remote Control - new cover pic Aug 2016

The Remote Control

 

 

Nillesden Green.  2004.

Jack’s space was being invaded by an annoying ringing noise. He reluctantly picked up the phone as he tapped away on the keyboard of his new iMac… swathed in cigarette smoke. ‘Very Tennessee Williams’, you might have thought if you’d been a Mac-user on Instant Messenger watching him via his iSight camera, which he’d forgotten to turn-off.

It was his land line ringing.  “Hello!” Said Jack brusquely. Then, quickly realising that he probably sounded aggressive because the caller had interrupted his online word game, he jokingly added in a deliberately bad Spanish accent: ‘Magathine…  Ello! Magathine.’

He continued trying to score points as he reluctantly listened to Minnie, wondering if she could hear his mouse clicking (or perhaps squeaking) as she spoke.  ‘Got any scandalous pics of minor royals in their LOVELY homes, my beloved, heh heh?’ Asked Minnie, ‘So how are you chooky-egg?’ She added in a suspiciously syrupy, false manner.

Jack cradled the digital, cordless phone against his ear, irritated at having his game interrupted by someone whom he didn’t really care for, who was also sounding suspiciously cheery.  In other words, she was probably about to burst into tears, as usual.  He continued to run his mouse around the online page, hoping to come-up with longer words. He saw a double ‘D’ on his screen, then an ‘E’ and an ‘R’. Damm!  There was an ‘ING’ as well.  Was there something leading nicely into ‘ING’?  Could he use the ‘DDER’ and the ‘ING’ within the time limit? Would the bitch fuck off? ‘Oddering’? Nope. He was about to score over two thousand points fergodsake! ‘Uddering’? Nope. Shit.

‘Um….’, (click, click, click), he said, ‘I’m cool thanks Minnie…’ (click, click). ‘Oh sorry, got a call-waiting, hang on a momento…’  he added,  lying through his teeth, then quickly pressed the ‘recall’ button on his phone and just managed to ‘drop’ the word ’shudder’ on-screen as the seconds counted down.

YAH!’ He shouted out loud and punched the air: ‘A luffly, bick, fat, final zcore of two thoussand, eight huntred ant ninety nine!’

There weren’t many Germans in leafy-yet-multi-cultural Nillesden Green (and Jack had never got past the first page of Sadie Jones’ locally-based novel Black Lips. Pretentious, ‘I’m-determined-to-be-a-novelist’ crap, he’d thought, although the TV adaptation was quite good), but there was a German record producer who had a studio in Nillesden Lane whom he worked with occasionally, who also had a good sense of humour, contrary to popular myths about Germans. ‘Vwee arrh licking ziss inklish ironic!’ He would say, chuckling as only Germans do, ‘ but don’tz menschen ze vwar!‘.

There was a thirty-second wait before the next game. Ten seconds-in,  Jack’s mobile phone bleeped. It was a text message, or ‘txt msg’, if you like.  Jack quickly opened it to see that he had received a picture message.  He was puzzled. His mobile (or cell phone, if one was American) was just a bog-standard, pay-as-you-go Nokia 3410:  it didn’t ‘do’ picture messaging.  As the seconds counted down to the next word game, he wondered who the ‘pic msg’ was from, then the game started and he swished and clicked his mouse like a maniac, having seen a potential eight-letter word or three.

Jack Black was a thirty-eight year old, mixed-race, black man who would – or should – have been a star, but wasn’t. Sadly, it was unlikely that he would ever be, as he was seen as too old in the eyes of an industry that was now controlled by desperate, record company-cum-TV-production-executives, promoting the sad, yet curiously entertaining cruelty that was the Reality TV Talent Show. Jack said ‘it was great TV, although you obviously don’t approve of it morally as they are so cynically manipulative.’

Had the record companies listened to certain internet pundits in the late nineties, they might have noticed a certain prescience regarding their industry’s potential demise, due to the onset of digital piracy on a grand scale – along with millions of teenagers ‘burning’ CDs for their mates, of course. The music industry hadn’t done its homework and they were panicking even more as 2K4 began. But that didn’t help Jack Black, the Lenny Kravitz of Nillesden Green. Maybe he’d have to diversify and write the script, the book, the album, the computer game… and the T-shirt.  Not forgetting the Turner Prize-winning installation (or The Tina Turner Prize, as he preferred to call it).

Jack was very talented, in lots of creative areas, and had conversation-stopping charisma, smouldering good looks, great cheek bones and pectorals and an amazing rock n’ soul singing voice. He could paint, play guitar like Carlos Santana, write, design and had plenty of intuitive intellect – despite having not gone to university – along with that special kind of X-factor that somehow made people potentially jealous and resentful, or somewhat in awe of him.  Some people tended to see him as a threat – rather than helping to nurture his many gifts – and often tried to ‘put him down’ in order, perhaps, to make their wannabe lives seem more interesting and rewarding.  Others found his presence overbearing, or even an emotional challenge.  Many people, of both sexes, fell hopelessly in love with him as he was beautiful, masculine, toned, tall, naturally funny and a generally groovy, black (one is tempted to make you scroll/read down at this point)

…gay man.

Yes, you read it right: a black man who just happened to be gay. Not some faggot stereotype or stupid queen.

So-called ‘gay culture’ left Jack cold. He was not a fan of Aussie pop stars-who’d-been-in-soaps, nor did he rate The Village People as acceptable, sartorial role models. Neither did he feel it necessary to hang-out with queens who talked only in ‘bumper-stickers’, quoting from a one-page script that had been written by perky, white, uptight, upper-class, closet-cases in the fifties.  He also had a problem with gay, black ‘self-help’ groups, where the fresh, young participants were treated like sexual bush meat and instructed, sorry, encouraged, not to stray from their racial roots in their choice of sexual partners,  but to ‘interact’, preferably with the ‘team leaders’ and ‘motivators’, who were somewhat competetive over who could bed their young charges first.

Jack’s mother was Spanish; a former Flamenco dancer and singer; an ageless, wild and passionate bohemian. His father, a naturally charming, laid-back Antiguan, shared a seventies, modernist, glass and steel house in the New Forest with her, and dealt in retro-modern, mid-century antiques. He was, unlike many of the older (and indeed younger), black generation, quite easy-going about Jack’s sexuality. Many of his customers were trendy, urban, loft-dwelling gays who snapped-up his Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Verner Panton and Bauhaus pieces. Jack referred to the parental business as The Antiguan Road Show, pretend-mockingly, also knowing that he was blessed with really cool parents.

Jack Black was more commonly known as Black Jack  – ‘Life is always one big, fucking gamble!’ He’d say – and was the lead singer of The Remote Control, the band he’d formed with some of the best musicians in the UK.

On drums there was the radically Islamic Moses Noses, a former pin-up from the  hugely successful eighties outfit The Dub Vultures.  Moses had had a somewhat scandalous – for that time – relationship with the band’s outrageously camp singer  Gracie ‘Cheddar’ Gorge, who had been dubbed  a ‘gender-bender’ by the tabloid rags, despite the fact that she was all-woman (allegedly).  He was now married with seven kids and lived in tremendous style in two massive, twenties, modernist penthouses knocked-into-one in Whygate, stuffed with Mathew Hilton and seventies and eighties designer furniture, Picasso prints, a huge collection of priceless, retro-Korans and a fat, Filipino maid.

As it transpires, Jack just made all that up. It was all a dream (cue cheesy, American voice-over): ‘He emerged from the shower naked after thirty episodes of The Soap. He didn’t die nasty, and he re-emerged cleansed.  That really celebrated the genre. That was a whole lot of soap.’

Maybe Jack would have to add ‘novelist’ or ‘script writer’ to his CV.  He could, perhaps, be promoted as the male Sadie Jones (remember, the writer who put Nillesden Green on the literary map… ish?) but Jack was not the kind of acceptably coffee-coloured man who’d play the designer-joss-sticks-and-scented-candles-ethnic-garb card. He preferred to dress just as he pleased, to feel comfortable in his own skin. He was his own man. One day he would straddle cultures like a colossus. Yeah, right. Or create The Hanging Baskets Of Babylon in his own back yard. And the drummer was actually a Pakistani dyke from Stratford called Asheila Eastern.

The bass player was a big, loveable, Jamaican called Harold Handy, who had played with ‘everyone who was everyone’, from ageing pop divas to hip, underground, indie dance acts and balding rockers, in the eighties, nineties and noughties.  He’d even played on a duet between Willy Robbiams and Mylene Kinogue.  He was just about the best bass player in the country.

Jack had met the keyboard player Gary Henry when they’d both played at a reunion concert at The Hoxton Academy with Eaglebreath, a legendary space-rock band which they’d both been members of until they’d got disillusioned and left, having discovered that the self-proclaimed ‘boss’, Dick Rock, the guitarist and singer, had been ripping them off by putting out albums of them jamming, then hoovering-up all the royalties. That would explain the secret, Olympic-sized swimming pool concealed in a barn on his Texas Chainsaw Massacre-like, horror-hippy farm in Wales that Gary had told him about in a conspiratorial moment over a bottle of wine and a desultory dinner in what passed for a gastro-pub in North Wales.

Jack had shuddered at the memory of one of Dick’s mangey dogs biting him when he was rehearsing on the farm for the gig.  He’d been staying in what he’d dubbed ‘the Heartbreak Hotel’, which was a huge, sprawling, architecturally-challenged B&B pub in the middle of nowhere, catering to travelling salesmen, middle-aged, dirty stop-outs and ageing jazz musicians who jammed for free drinks in ‘The Cabaret Barn’. Dinner consisted of various roasted joints (of meat, silly) and soggy vegetables  which were kept warm under  some very large lamps with large copper shades (which, ironically, would have looked cool in any self-respecting modern kitchen). ‘Chicken, Beef or Pork, only £4.95 inc veg!’ Read the chalked-up sign.  ‘The Carvery’, they called it.

The decor was Jack’s worst nightmare of Barbie colours (pink and turquoise) tied-in to a Tudor-bethan ‘ambience’, with a gas, log-effect fire, fake antiques, horse-brasses (why would anyone consider such things aesthetically pleasing?) and all the atmosphere of a cheap, horror B-movie, with the added benefit of locals who looked like extras from The Stepford Wives-meets-Psycho.  All this entertainment cost a bargain £16 a night, including a ‘Full English’.  As opposed to a ‘Full Welsh’.

‘Fuck it!’ Muttered Jack under his breath, as the phone’s insistent ringing interrupted his word game once more. He had just been about to score one thousand points with the word ‘Shocking’, then his time was up.  It was his mobile phone this time.

‘Yes!’  He said, not bothering to conceal his irritation, ‘Who’s that?’   ‘Oh, hi…’ said a slightly nervous, vaguely Northern voice, ‘did you get the picture message?’

‘Well, yeah, I saw the message, but not the picture,’ said Jack wearily, ‘I can’t open pic messages on this mobile and who the fuck are you?’

‘Shit… sorry!’ Stuttered the caller. ‘You must be a wrong number’.

‘Yes… and?’  Said Jack, strumming his fingers, wanting to return to beat lionheart, dyslexysmidnight, notcloset, mad ranter, trusty and trace-e (the game’s graphics were in trendy lower-case) and all the rest of his fellow, star players on his favourite, multi-player, online word game. He sometimes worried that he was addicted to it, yet he hadn’t even managed to score three thousand points yet and the top-five players were scoring four thousand-plus. How pathetic was that?  Obviously, it was a mouse issue. He was giving it a quick clean with an anti-static, wet wipe, with his mobile phone balanced precariously under his chin.  He reluctantly let another game opportunity go, then the caller suddenly asked: ‘Are you gay?’

‘Whaaaat?!’  Pregnant pause… ‘Well… yes I am as it happens.’  Replied Jack, somewhat taken aback, in his naturally masculine, deep voice.  ‘What of it? You sound kind-of black? Are YOU gay? Where the fuck are you?’

‘Well, yeah, I am black, but most of my friends are white. I’m nineteen and… I think I’m gay. My name is Ricky and I’m in Leicester right now, but I’m studying in Nottingham.’

‘Leicester said about that the better!’ Quipped Jack, wondering how the hell this had come about – and why.  Was it just a weird coincidence?  ‘So who were you hoping to send this message to and what was the picture of?’ He asked, talking into his shoulder, watching the screen, as the next game was about to start.

‘Oh, just a friend, it was a silly picture of me flashing my bum taken in a tacky, seventies wine bar with leatherette banquettes, glitter balls and stuff in Nottingham. The place is trendy ‘cos it’s so kitsch, it’s called The Orifice… you know, student irony. Obviously, it was a wrong number, sorry.’ Said Ricky. ‘Oh… and, do you mind if I ask…?’  He hesitated.

‘Yep? ‘ said Jack, eyeing his computer screen, then added: ‘Twenty seconds to go until the next game.’

‘What game?’  Asked Ricky.

‘Oh, I’m sure you wont know it,’ said Jack, ‘it’s a an online, multi-player word game whereby you have to identify, or drop, as many big words as possible, eight letters max, from a grid of letters and… oh shit, hang on, I’ll call you right back!’  Jack pressed the red button on his mobile and quickly ‘dropped’  the words ‘remote’, then ‘control’. Just a strange coincidence, surely? Then he tried ‘closetry’ but it obviously wasn’t in the dictionary – a bit ‘noughties’; too much of a modern term to be included, he concluded. Did someone compile the letters on the game, were they just random, or had the spirits entered the equation? They’d always liked a laugh when he read the cards for his friends. The spirits, that is, or was…

Then his land line rang.  He minimised the word-game window in frustration.  ‘Hello!’  He stated, ‘this is Jack’s answering service, please leave me a MASSAGE, Shiatsu and ALL the extras, after the tone…’ then made a rather obviously non-digital, beeping noise.

‘Jack!  Chooky-egg!  I know you’re there my beloved!  Pick-up the phone!’ Shrieked Minnie, sounding rather tinny, tiny and desperate from the cordless phone, discarded on the desk.  To Jack it suddenly morphed into a helpless, overturned cockroach with its legs flailing.

‘Oh Okay,’ he said, sighing, reluctantly picking up the phone again after realising that he didn’t need the sound, or hassle, of a stuck-pig squealing through a cheap trannie.  ‘Is that Minnie Driver?  Wow!  Is your middle- name Cab?  By the way, fuck off! You’re a fat, evil bitch.  I know your surname isn’t really Driver, it’s hah hah isn’t it?  Anyway, I’m seriously fed-up with your twisted obsession with my best – gay, white, as it happens – friend and the way that you’ve used your pre-pubescent,  teenage daughter to try and emotionally blackmail him.  I mean – he’s gay for fuck’s sake!  Why do some women persist in believing that they can ‘convert’ gay men when all the gay men were doing was just trying to be good friends with them?  The sound of Minnie’s crocodile tears and gulping breaths reached epic proportions, in full Dolby Surround Sound.

‘Oh sorry,’ Jack continued, ‘someone’s breaking down my door and throwing bricks through my windows, I’ve gotta go. I think it’s your not-so-beloved’s smack-head boy-fiend trying to get in touch with his inner demons.  Oh!  And why did God invent Gay Disco’s ? I’ll tell you.  So fat, black girls could have a good time!  Must run muppet! Laters!’

He put the phone in its cradle with a sigh, went to his Smeg, stainless-steel fridge, made a large vodka and tonic, took a deep gulp, had a couple of hits on a joint, then called back Ricky, the mysterious closet-case from Nottingham.

‘Hi Ricky, it’s Jack, sorry about that, I had Rochelle-from-Pop Idol-meets-that-fat-black-bird-from-Big Brother on the phone, sobbing uncontrollably and threatening to commit suicide live online – she’s got Broadband too.  So, you were saying?’

‘Well, er…’ muttered Ricky, ‘ I was wondering what it was like…’

‘Wondering what what was like?’ Asked Jack impatiently, scrolling through some new, digital pictures he’d taken of recent conquests whilst having sex with them.  ‘Wondering what it was like to commit suicide live online, or what it was like to be fabulous and talented?’

‘Well, er, no…’  stuttered Ricky. ‘I was wondering what it was like to be fucked by a man’.

Oh, here we go, thought Jack,  Another coincidental, transcendental, teenaged-phone-wanker.

‘Well, I don’t get screwed, haven’t been for years… no-one ever really tried anyway,’  replied Jack, ‘but in order for it to work, you’ve got to want it badly – and the guy doing it has to make you want it badly – plus you need plenty of lube.  Oh, and you’ve got to have had a good crap and washed your arse, preferably with a shower. It’s  all very Will And Grace, although they’d say ASS. Poppers are good too – providing they’re real’

‘OK – so what’s lube?’ Asked Ricky innocently.

‘Lube, well, it’s lubrication!’ Replied Jack –  not really wanting to give a coincidental, transcendental, counselling session to a nouveau-gay at that time of the night – then added, ‘but make sure the person isn’t trying to drag (drag, hah hah!) you into being a queen, so avoid that tired, old pressure to be part of something that belongs in the fucking 1950s, man.  See if you can rent a DVD of The Boys In The Band to see how truly horrendous it really was.’

Jack wondered if his least-favourite movie might have been too left-field to get released on DVD. But Video Killed The Radio Star (the only viable competitor to Clockbusters) had an extensive arty section, didn’t it?  Was there one in Nottingham? Probably not.

They talked some more about the perils of being gay in provincial time-warps and their respective aspirations.  Ricky was apparently at Trent University studying textiles and avidly reading books. Rite-of-passage stuff.  He thought he might like to be a novelist or a journalist, or both, as well as a textile designer and maybe something in TV.  He said he aspired to be a renaissance man who was into sports as well.  Jack laughed a multi-media laugh, tried to picture him, then thought: who the hell employs visionaries; do you have to write a ‘how-to’ book? Anyway, in an ideal world, who’d want to be employed?  At least visionaries were often artists, struggling maybe, but they were also ostensibly free to be themselves, having chosen their own, sometimes lonely, paths.

Jack and Ricky talked some more about sexuality, but Jack wasn’t lusting after the picture-message-he’d-never-seen, as he generally liked older – but in-shape – blatino men. He had a long-standing fuck-buddy called Antonio, a fifty-year old, oil millionaire from Caraccas, who’d once said sagely: ‘Hey, people are strange, but strangers are people sometimes…’

‘You know that word game you mentioned?’ Said Ricky suddenly, ‘do you have to get as many big words as possible and is it on a website that promotes new writing?’

Jack’s eyebrows raised.  ‘Yeah, that’s the one, it called west of the net dot com. How bizarre that you know it, I imagine that it’s a bit obscure compared with, say, big black dicks dot com.’ Rickie chuckled. ‘Have you ever noticed,’ added Jack, warming to his theme, ‘how white people always expect black people to have huge dicks?  Like it’s  a cliched fantasy for them.  What about black men who have a fantasy about getting screwed?’ By white men, even?

Ricky laughed, perhaps a little too readily, then rapidly changed the subject. ‘You know you said you were the singer in a band?’ He asked, ‘Yep, we’re called The Remote Control,’ replied Jack in a casual fashion, rolling another spliff, ‘and the album will be called Don’t Lose It.  Unfortunately, the dot com and, even worse, the dot tv – that would have been brilliant eh? – have been registered as domain names by other people.  I’m well-pissed-off.  I mean what use is a dot org unless you’re a charity?  I managed to get the dot co dot uk though’.

‘Cool,’ said Ricky, ‘so does the album title have Under The Sofa in brackets as well?‘  ‘Only metaphorically’.  Replied Jack, laughing, thinking: ‘Boy, this boy is not stupid’.

‘I know you might not believe this – I just psyched-in – but I reckon your user name on the word game is ‘Remote’.  Said Ricky.

‘Shit!’  Said Jack, ‘I don’t fucking believe it, you’ve sussed my subliminal advertising ploy!  I always wondered who the people playing actually were, what they were doing, why they were playing and where they were and everything, but that means you’re on… PlopDrop, as I’ve dubbed it! What the hell is your user name?  Shall I guess?’

‘Yeah, guess!’ Said Ricky, chuckling,  ‘along with my star-sign.  Mind you… if you turn-on ITV2 right now… have you got cable or free-view?’

‘Yep, I’ve got free-view,’ Said Jack. ‘I suspect you’re a Scorpio’.

‘Just turn-on your TV – using the remote control of course, hah hah – to check out a new programme.  Nope, I’m a Taurus. You might recognise someone if you’ve got a mirror handy.  Are you in?’  Ricky was suddenly speaking in a Scottish accent. Jack turned on the TV, slightly confused, yet instinctively smelling a very large, decomposing rat.  Cue images of golden geese in Jack’s head as the penny dropped.  ‘Okay, I confess,’ continued Ricky, ‘that’s me being filmed as I speak to you on the program live’.  He waved to Jack from the TV,  ‘so there’s you being secretly filmed in your own home!  Jack jumped as he saw himself on TV… from his own sofa. ‘Surreal’. He thought.  The camera cut back to Ricky: ‘It’s a new Reality TV show called Not Really, about people pretending to be the opposite of what they are sexually, or whatever hah hah hah! I’m really sorry for taking the piss Jack’. The TV audience stamped and whistled.

‘You bastard!  Shouted Jack in a mock-angry way, in a vaguely Northern accent, whilst thinking to himself: ‘Hang-on a minute; there’s gold in them, thar hills!’  He decided it might be of some benefit to play along.  ‘So, that means you must be Notcloset on Plopword, not-as-in-Notts, as it were.  Well, you’re def not a closet in Notts, more the remote controller from bonnie Scotland. Congratulations on your clever ruse you… shit-face!  I see that the researchers did a very thorough job’.

‘Thank you for your generosity of spirit,’ said the so-called Ricky,  ‘I’m actually a massively rugged, black heterosexual called Denzel who plays Rugby for the Hebridian Tigers!’  The  studio audience applauded wildly as shots of his sporting triumphs were projected onto giant screens.

‘Oh well, the Hebrides are a bit remote. So no chance of a shag then?’  Said Jack. ‘Although I much prefer Ronnie Tilkinson.  Actually, that was an ironic joke, just for live TV. That should get the macho, couch-potatoes putting cushions over their laps. Do I get brownie points for spontaneity, having had the fucking piss taken out of me?’

‘Hey, people are strange,’ said Ricky/Denzel, ‘and strangers are people sometimes…’ ‘By the way,’ he continued. ‘Yeah, BTW what?’  Asked Jack, trying to work out where the secret camera was hidden. ‘Well…’ said Denzel/Ricky, as a drum roll accompanied by a cheesy, cinema organ-type fanfare was cranked-out by the ageing, drag-queen band in the TV studio, ‘The Remote Control have just won… a million-dollar recording contract with Reality Records!’ The cameras cut to the rest of Jack’s band already onstage, waving and smiling as smoke bombs exploded and strobes flashed, then they switched back to the hosts of the show, Beetle and Flex.  Jack’s door bell rang.  ‘Jack, you’d better get your coat quickly, you’ve scored!’  Said Beetle chirpily.  ‘Yes, the limo’s waiting outside your house!’ Added Flex.  They cut to Willie Robbiams, dressed as a chauffeur, ringing Jack’s doorbell.  It had rung thirty seconds earlier than on the TV.  Ah, the live TV security lapse, thank God, thought Jack, that he’d quickly hidden his newly-declassified, druggy bits and pieces.

‘I suspect I wont be sueing then!’  Said Jack on TV, grinning more widely than the most smiley Emoji available on Instant Messenger, ‘I’ll see you very soon, I think I might call the next album… Interactive Red Button!’  He waved in the direction of the free-view box on top of his TV (he’d finally worked-out where the secret camera was concealed), then grabbed his guitar and his mobile. Willie Robbiams was waiting outside, holding open the door of the limo for him in a theatrical fashion. The camera panned-in to him squeezing Jack’s bum, or butt, as the Americans would say.

Steve Swindells. (c) 21.1.04.

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Aside

The Remote Control. A Short Sory by Steve Swindells

15 Jan
The Remote Control - new cover pic Aug 2016

The Remote Control

 

 

Nillesden Green.  2004.

Jack’s space was being invaded by an annoying ringing noise. He reluctantly picked up the phone as he tapped away on the keyboard of his new iMac… swathed in cigarette smoke.

‘Very Tennessee Williams’, you might have thought if you’d been a Mac-user on Instant Messenger watching him via his iSight camera, which he’d forgotten to turn-off.

It was his land line ringing.  “Hello!” Said Jack brusquely. Then, quickly realising that he probably sounded aggressive because the caller had interrupted his online word game, he jokingly added in a deliberately bad Spanish accent: ‘Magathine…  Ello! Magathine.’

He continued trying to score points as he reluctantly listened to Minnie, wondering if she could hear his mouse clicking (or perhaps squeaking) as she spoke.  ‘Got any scandalous pics of minor royals in their LOVELY homes, my beloved, heh heh?’ Asked Minnie, ‘So how are you chooky-egg?’ She added in a suspiciously syrupy, false manner.

Jack cradled the digital, cordless phone against his ear, irritated at having his game interrupted by someone whom he didn’t really care for, who was also sounding suspiciously cheery.  In other words, she was probably about to burst into tears, as usual.

He continued to run his mouse around the online page, hoping to come-up with longer words. He saw a double ‘D’ on his screen, then an ‘E’ and an ‘R’. Damm!  There was an ‘ING’ as well.  Was there something leading nicely into ‘ING’?  Could he use the ‘DDER’ and the ‘ING’ within the time limit? Would the bitch fuck off? ‘Oddering’? Nope. He was about to score over two thousand points fergodsake! ‘Uddering’? Nope. Shit.

‘Um….’, (click, click, click), he said, ‘I’m cool thanks Minnie…’ (click, click). ‘Oh sorry, got a call-waiting, hang on a momento…’  he added,  lying through his teeth, then quickly pressed the ‘recall’ button on his phone and just managed to ‘drop’ the word ’shudder’ on-screen as the seconds counted down.

YAH!’ He shouted out loud and punched the air: ‘A luffly, bick, fat, final zcore of two thoussand, eight huntred ant ninety nine!’

There weren’t many Germans in leafy-yet-multi-cultural Nillesden Green (and Jack had never got past the first page of Sadie Jones’ locally-based novel Black Lips. Pretentious, ‘I’m-determined-to-be-a-novelist’ crap, he’d thought, although the TV adaptation was quite good), but there was a German record producer who had a studio in Nillesden Lane whom he worked with occasionally, who also had a good sense of humour, contrary to popular myths about Germans. ‘Vwee arrh licking ziss inklish ironic!’ He would say, chuckling as only Germans do, ‘ bot don’tz menschen ze vwar!‘.

There was a thirty-second wait before the next game. Ten seconds-in,  Jack’s mobile phone bleeped. It was a text message, or ‘txt msg’, if you like.  Jack quickly opened it to see that he had received a picture message.  He was puzzled. His mobile (or cell phone, if one was American) was just a bog-standard, pay-as-you-go Nokia 3410:  it didn’t ‘do’ picture messaging.  As the seconds counted down to the next word game, he wondered who the ‘pic msg’ was from, then the game started and he swished and clicked his mouse like a maniac, having seen a potential eight-letter word or three.

Jack Black was a thirty eight-year old, mixed-race, black man who would – or should – have been a star, but wasn’t. Sadly, it was unlikely that he would ever be, as he was seen as too old in the eyes of an industry that was now controlled by desperate, record company-cum-TV-production-executives, promoting the sad, yet curiously entertaining cruelty that was the Reality TV Talent Show. Jack said ‘It makes great TV, although you obviously don’t approve of it morally as they are so cynically manipulative.’

Had the record companies listened to certain internet pundits in the late nineties (like Spyder at Time Out Magazine), they might have noticed a certain prescience regarding their industry’s potential demise, due to the onset of digital piracy on a grand scale – along with millions of teenagers ‘burning’ CDs for their mates, of course. The music industry hadn’t done its homework and they were panicking even more as 2004 began. But that didn’t help Jack Black, the Lenny Kravitz of Nillesden Green. Maybe he’d have to diversify and write the script, the book, the album, the computer game… and the T-shirt.  Not forgetting the Turner Prize-winning installation (or The Tina Turner Prize, as he preferred to call it).

Jack was very talented, in lots of creative areas, and had conversation-stopping charisma, smouldering good looks, great cheek bones and pectorals and an amazing rock n’ soul singing voice. He could paint, play guitar like Carlos Santana, write, design and had plenty of intuitive intellect – despite having not gone to university – along with that special kind of X-factor that somehow made people potentially jealous and resentful, or somewhat in awe of him.

Some people tended to see him as a threat – rather than helping to nurture his many gifts – and often tried to ‘put him down’ in order, perhaps, to make their wannabe lives seem more interesting and rewarding.  Others found his presence overbearing, or even an emotional challenge.  Many people, of both sexes, fell hopelessly in love with him as he was beautiful, masculine, toned, tall, naturally funny and a generally groovy, black (one is tempted to make you scroll/read down at this point)

…gay man.

Yes, you read it right: a black man who just happened to be gay. Not some faggot stereotype or stupid queen.

So-called ‘gay culture’ left Jack cold. He was not a fan of Aussie pop stars-who’d-been-in-soaps, nor did he rate The Village People as acceptable, sartorial role models. Neither did he feel it necessary to hang-out with queens who talked only in ‘bumper-stickers’, quoting from a one-page script that had been written by prickly, white, uptight, upper-class, closet-cases in the fifties.  He also had a problem with gay, black ‘self-help’ groups, where the fresh, young participants were treated like sexual bush meat and instructed, sorry, encouraged, not to stray from their racial roots in their choice of sexual partners,  but to ‘interact’, preferably with the ‘team leaders’ and ‘motivators’, who were somewhat competetive over who could get their young charges into bed first.

Jack’s mother was Spanish; a former Flamenco dancer and singer; an ageless, wild and passionate bohemian. His father, a naturally charming, laid-back Antiguan, shared a seventies, modernist, glass and steel house in the New Forest with her, and dealt in retro-modern, mid-twentieth-century antiques. He was, unlike many of the older (and indeed younger), black generation, quite easy-going about Jack’s sexuality. Many of his customers were trendy, urban, loft-dwelling gays who snapped-up his Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Verner Panton and Bauhaus pieces. Jack referred to the parental business as The Antiguan Road Show, pretend-mockingly, also knowing that he was blessed with really cool parents.

Jack Black was more commonly known as Black Jack  – ‘Life is always one big, fucking gamble!’ He’d say – and was the lead singer of The Remote Control, the band he’d formed with some of the best musicians in the UK.

On drums there was the radically Islamic Moses Noses, a former pin-up from the  hugely successful eighties outfit The Dub Vultures.  Moses had had a somewhat scandalous – for that time – relationship with the band’s outrageously camp singer  Gracie ‘Cheddar’ Gorge, who had been dubbed  a ‘gender-bender’ by the tabloid rags, despite the fact that she was all-woman (allegedly).  He was now married with seven kids and lived in tremendous style in two massive, twenties, modernist penthouses knocked-into-one in Whygate, stuffed with Mathew Hilton and seventies and eighties designer furniture, Picasso prints, a huge collection of priceless, retro-Korans and a fat, Filipino maid.

As it transpires, Jack had just made all that up. It was all a dream (cue cheesy, American voice-over): ‘He emerged from the shower naked after thirty episodes of The Soap. He didn’t die nasty, and he re-emerged cleansed.  That really celebrated the genre. That was a whole lot of soap.’

Maybe Jack would have to add ‘novelist’ or ‘script writer’ to his CV.  He could, perhaps, be promoted as the male Sadie Jones (remember, the writer who put Nillesden Green on the literary map… ish?) but Jack was not the kind of acceptably coffee-coloured man who’d play the designer-joss-sticks-and-scented-candles-ethnic-garb card. He preferred to dress just as he pleased, to feel comfortable in his own skin. He was his own man. One day he would straddle cultures like a colossus. Yeah, right. Or create The Hanging Baskets Of Babylon in his own back yard. And the drummer was actually a Pakistani dyke from Stratford called Asheila Eastern.

The bass player was a big, loveable, Jamaican called Harold Handy, who had played with ‘everyone who was everyone’, from ageing pop divas to hip, underground, indie dance acts and balding rockers, in the eighties, nineties and noughties.  He’d even played on a duet between Willy Robbiams and Mylene Kinogue.  He was just about the best bass player in the country.

Jack had met the keyboard player Gary Henry when they’d both played at a reunion concert at The Hoxton Academy with Eaglebreath, a legendary space-rock band which they’d both been members of until they’d got disillusioned and left, having discovered that the self-proclaimed ‘boss’, Dick Rock, the guitarist and singer, had been ripping them off by putting out albums of them jamming, then hoovering-up all the royalties. That would explain the secret, Olympic-sized swimming pool concealed in a barn on his Texas Chainsaw Massacre-like, horror-hippy farm in Wales that Gary had told him about in a conspiratorial moment over a bottle of wine and a desultory dinner in what passed for a gastro-pub in North Wales.

Jack had shuddered at the memory of one of Dick’s mangey dogs biting him when he was rehearsing on the farm for the gig.  He’d been staying in what he’d dubbed ‘the Heartbreak Hotel’, which was a huge, sprawling, architecturally-challenged B&B pub in the middle of nowhere, catering to travelling salesmen, middle-aged, dirty stop-outs and ageing jazz musicians who jammed for free drinks in ‘The Cabaret Barn’. Dinner consisted of various roasted joints (of meat, silly) and soggy vegetables  which were kept warm under  some very large lamps with large copper shades (which, ironically, would have looked cool in any self-respecting modern kitchen). ‘Chicken, Beef or Pork, only £4.95 inc veg!’ Read the chalked-up sign.  ‘The Carvery’, they called it.

The decor was Jack’s worst nightmare of Barbie colours (pink and turquoise) tied-in to a Tudor-bethan ‘ambience’, with a gas, log-effect fire, fake antiques, horse-brasses (why would anyone consider such things aesthetically pleasing?) and all the atmosphere of a cheap, horror B-movie, with the added benefit of locals who looked like extras from The Stepford Wives-meets-Psycho.  All this entertainment cost a bargain £16 a night, including a ‘Full English’.  As opposed to a ‘Full Welsh’.

‘Fuck it!’ Muttered Jack under his breath, as the phone’s insistent ringing interrupted his word game once more. He had just been about to score one thousand points with the word ‘Shocking’, then his time was up.  It was his mobile phone this time.

‘Yes!’  He said, not bothering to conceal his irritation, ‘Who’s that?’   ‘Oh, hi…’ said a slightly nervous, vaguely Northern voice, ‘did you get the picture message?’

‘Well, yeah, I saw the message, but not the picture,’ said Jack wearily, ‘I can’t open pic messages on this old mobile… and who the fuck are you?’

‘Shit… sorry!’ Stuttered the caller. ‘You must be a wrong number’.

‘Yes… and?’  Said Jack, strumming his fingers, wanting to return to beat lionheart, dyslexysmidnight, notcloset, mad ranter, trusty and trace-e (the game’s graphics were in trendy lower-case) and all the rest of his fellow, star players on his favourite, multi-player, online word game. He sometimes worried that he was addicted to it, yet he hadn’t even managed to score three thousand points yet and the top-five players were scoring four thousand-plus. How pathetic was that?  Obviously, it was a mouse issue. He was giving it a quick clean with an anti-static, wet wipe, with his mobile phone balanced precariously under his chin.  He reluctantly let another game opportunity go, then the caller suddenly asked: ‘Are you gay?’

‘Whaaaat?!’  Pregnant pause… ‘Well… yes I am as it happens.’  Replied Jack, somewhat taken aback, in his naturally masculine, deep voice.  ‘What of it? You sound kind-of black? Are YOU gay? Where the fuck are you?’

‘Well, yeah, I am black, but most of my friends are white. I’m nineteen and… I think I’m gay. My name is Ricky and I’m in Leicester right now, but I’m studying in Nottingham.’

‘Leicester said about that the better!’ Quipped Jack, wondering how the hell this had come about – and why.  Was it just a weird coincidence?  ‘So who were you hoping to send this message to and what was the picture of?’ He asked, talking into his shoulder, watching the screen, as the next game was about to start.

‘Oh, just a friend, it was a silly picture of me flashing my bum taken in a tacky, seventies wine bar with leatherette banquettes, glitter balls and stuff in Nottingham. The place is trendy ‘cos it’s so kitsch, it’s called The Orifice… you know, student irony. Obviously, it was a wrong number, sorry.’ Said Ricky. ‘Oh… and, do you mind if I ask…?’  He hesitated.

‘Yep? ‘ said Jack, eyeing his computer screen, then added: ‘Twenty seconds to go until the next game.’

‘What game?’  Asked Ricky.

‘Oh, I’m sure you wont know it,’ said Jack, ‘it’s a an online, multi-player word game whereby you have to identify, or drop, as many big words as possible, eight letters max, from a grid of letters and… oh shit, hang on, I’ll call you right back!’  Jack pressed the red button on his mobile and quickly ‘dropped’  the words ‘remote’, then ‘control’. Just a strange coincidence, surely? Then he tried ‘closetry’ but it obviously wasn’t in the dictionary – a bit ‘noughties’; too much of a modern term to be included, he concluded. Did someone compile the letters on the game, were they just random, or had the spirits entered the equation? They’d always liked a laugh when he read the cards for his friends. The spirits, that is, or was…

Then his land line rang.  He minimised the word-game window in frustration.  ‘Hello!’  He stated, ‘this is Jack’s answering service, please leave me a MASSAGE, Shiatsu and ALL the extras, after the tone…’ then made a rather obviously non-digital, beeping noise.

‘Jack!  Chooky-egg!  I know you’re there my beloved!  Pick-up the phone!’ Shrieked Minnie, sounding rather tinny, tiny and desperate from the cordless phone, discarded on the desk.  To Jack it suddenly morphed into a helpless, overturned cockroach with its legs flailing.

‘Oh Okay,’ he said, sighing, reluctantly picking up the phone again after realising that he didn’t need the sound, or hassle, of a stuck-pig squealing through a cheap trannie.  ‘Is that Minnie Driver?  Wow!  Is your middle- name Cab?  By the way, fuck off! You’re a fat, evil bitch.  I know your surname isn’t really Driver, it’s Hah Hah isn’t it?  Anyway, I’m seriously fed-up with your twisted obsession with my best – gay, white, as it happens – friend and the way that you’ve used your pre-pubescent,  teenage daughter to try and emotionally blackmail him.  I mean – he’s gay for fuck’s sake!  Why do some women persist in believing that they can ‘convert’ gay men when all the gay men were doing was just trying to be good friends with them?  The sound of Minnie’s crocodile tears and gulping breaths reached epic proportions, in full Dolby Surround Sound.

‘Oh sorry,’ Jack continued, ‘someone’s breaking down my door and throwing bricks through my windows, I’ve gotta go. I think it’s your not-so-beloved’s smack-head boy-fiend trying to get in touch with his inner demons.  Oh!  And why did God invent Gay Disco’s ? I’ll tell you.  So fat, black girls could have a good time!  Must run muppet! Laters!’

He put the phone in its cradle with a sigh, went to his Smeg, stainless-steel fridge, made a large vodka and tonic, took a deep gulp, had a couple of hits on a joint, then called back Ricky, the mysterious closet-case from Nottingham.

‘Hi Ricky, it’s Jack, sorry about that, I had Rochelle-from-Pop Idol-meets-that-fat-black-bird-from-Big Brother on the phone, sobbing uncontrollably and threatening to commit suicide live online – she’s got Broadband too.  So, you were saying?’

‘Well, er…’ muttered Ricky, ‘ I was wondering what it was like…’

‘Wondering what what was like?’ Asked Jack impatiently, scrolling through some new, digital pictures he’d taken of recent conquests whilst having sex with them.  ‘Wondering what it was like to commit suicide live online, or what it was like to be fabulous and talented?’

‘Well, er, no…’  stuttered Ricky. ‘I was wondering what it was like to be fucked by a man’.

Oh, here we go, thought Jack,  Another coincidental, transcendental, teenaged-phone-wanker.

‘Well, I don’t get screwed, haven’t been for years… no-one ever really tried anyway,’  replied Jack, ‘but in order for it to work, you’ve got to want it badly – and the guy doing it has to make you want it badly – plus you need plenty of lube.  Oh, and you’ve got to have had a good crap and washed your arse, preferably with a shower. It’s  all very Will And Grace, although they’d say ASS. Poppers are good too – providing they’re real’

‘OK – so what’s lube?’ Asked Ricky innocently.

‘Lube, well, it’s lubrication!’ Replied Jack –  not really wanting to give a coincidental, transcendental, counselling session to a nouveau-gay at that time of the night – then added, ‘but make sure the person isn’t trying to drag (drag, hah hah!) you into being a queen, so avoid that tired, old pressure to be part of something that belongs in the fucking 1950s, man.  See if you can rent a DVD of The Boys In The Band to see how truly horrendous it really was.’

Jack wondered if his least-favourite movie might have been too left-field to get released on DVD. But Video Killed The Radio Star (the only viable competitor to Clockbusters) had an extensive arty section, didn’t it?  Was there one in Nottingham? Probably not.

They talked some more about the perils of being gay in provincial time-warps and their respective aspirations.  Ricky was apparently at Trent University studying textiles and avidly reading books. Rite-of-passage stuff.  He thought he might like to be a novelist or a journalist, or both, as well as a textile designer and maybe something in TV.  He said he aspired to be a renaissance man who was into sports as well.  Jack laughed a multi-media laugh, tried to picture him, then thought: who the hell employs visionaries; do you have to write a ‘how-to’ book? Anyway, in an ideal world, who’d want to be employed?  At least visionaries were often artists, struggling maybe, but they were also ostensibly free to be themselves, having chosen their own, sometimes lonely, paths.

Jack and Ricky talked some more about sexuality, but Jack wasn’t lusting after the picture-message-he’d-never-seen, as he generally liked older – but in-shape – blatino men. He had a long-standing fuck-buddy called Antonio, a fifty-year old, oil millionaire from Caraccas, who’d once said sagely: ‘Hey, people are strange, but strangers are people sometimes…’

‘You know that word game you mentioned?’ Said Ricky suddenly, ‘do you have to get as many big words as possible and is it on a website that promotes new writing?’

Jack’s eyebrows raised.  ‘Yeah, that’s the one, it called west of the net dot com. How bizarre that you know it, I imagine that it’s a bit obscure compared with, say, big black dicks dot com.’ Rickie chuckled. ‘Have you ever noticed,’ added Jack, warming to his theme, ‘how white people always expect black people to have huge dicks?  Like it’s  a cliched fantasy for them.  What about black men who have a fantasy about getting screwed?’ By white men, even?

Ricky laughed, perhaps a little too readily, then rapidly changed the subject. ‘You know you said you were the singer in a band?’ He asked, ‘Yep, we’re called The Remote Control,’ replied Jack in a casual fashion, rolling another spliff, ‘and the album will be called Don’t Lose It.  Unfortunately, the dot com and, even worse, the dot tv – that would have been brilliant eh? – have been registered as domain names by other people.  I’m well-pissed-off.  I mean what use is a dot org unless you’re a charity?  I managed to get the dot co dot uk though’.

‘Cool,’ said Ricky, ‘so does the album title have Under The Sofa in brackets as well?‘  ‘Only metaphorically’.  Replied Jack, laughing, thinking: ‘Boy, this boy is not stupid’.

‘I know you might not believe this – I just psyched-in – but I reckon your user name on the word game is ‘Remote’.  Said Ricky.

‘Shit!’  Said Jack, ‘I don’t fucking believe it, you’ve sussed my subliminal advertising ploy!  I always wondered who the people playing actually were, what they were doing, why they were playing and where they were and everything, but that means you’re on… PlopDrop, as I’ve dubbed it! What the hell is your user name?  Shall I guess?’

‘Yeah, guess!’ Said Ricky, chuckling,  ‘along with my star-sign.  Mind you… if you turn-on ITV2 right now… have you got cable or free-view?’

‘Yep, I’ve got free-view,’ Said Jack. ‘I suspect you’re a Scorpio’.

‘Just turn-on your TV – using the remote control of course, hah hah – to check out a new programme.  Nope, I’m a Taurus. You might recognise someone if you’ve got a mirror handy.  Are you in?’  Ricky was suddenly speaking in a Scottish accent. Jack turned on the TV, slightly confused, yet instinctively smelling a very large, decomposing rat.  Cue images of golden geese in Jack’s head as the penny dropped.  ‘Okay, I confess,’ continued Ricky, ‘that’s me being filmed as I speak to you on the program live’.  He waved to Jack from the TV,  ‘so there’s you being secretly filmed in your own home!  Jack jumped as he saw himself on TV… from his own sofa. ‘Surreal’. He thought.  The camera cut back to Ricky: ‘It’s a new Reality TV show called Not Really, about people pretending to be the opposite of what they are sexually, or whatever hah hah hah! I’m really sorry for taking the piss Jack’. The TV audience stamped and whistled.

‘You bastard!  Shouted Jack in a mock-angry way, in a vaguely Northern accent, whilst thinking to himself: ‘Hang-on a minute; there’s gold in them, thar hills!’  He decided it might be of some benefit to play along.  ‘So, that means you must be Notcloset on Plopword, not-as-in-Notts, as it were.  Well, you’re def not a closet in Notts, more the remote controller from bonnie Scotland. Congratulations on your clever ruse you… shit-face!  I see that the researchers did a very thorough job’.

‘Thank you for your generosity of spirit,’ said the so-called Ricky,  ‘I’m actually a massively rugged, black heterosexual called Denzel who plays Rugby for the Hebridian Tigers!’  The  studio audience applauded wildly as shots of his sporting triumphs were projected onto giant screens.

‘Oh well, the Hebrides are a bit remote. So no chance of a shag then?’  Said Jack. ‘Although I much prefer Ronnie Tilkinson.  Actually, that was an ironic joke, just for live TV. That should get the macho, couch-potatoes putting cushions over their laps. Do I get brownie points for spontaneity, having had the fucking piss taken out of me?’

‘Hey, people are strange,’ said Ricky/Denzel, ‘and strangers are people sometimes…’ ‘By the way,’ he continued. ‘Yeah, BTW what?’  Asked Jack, trying to work out where the secret camera was hidden. ‘Well…’ said Denzel/Ricky, as a drum roll accompanied by a cheesy, cinema organ-type fanfare was cranked-out by the ageing, drag-queen band in the TV studio, ‘The Remote Control have just won… a million-dollar recording contract with Reality Records!’ The cameras cut to the rest of Jack’s band already onstage, waving and smiling as smoke bombs exploded and strobes flashed, then they switched back to the hosts of the show, Beetle and Flex.  Jack’s door bell rang.  ‘Jack, you’d better get your coat quickly, you’ve scored!’  Said Beetle chirpily.  ‘Yes, the limo’s waiting outside your house!’ Added Flex.  They cut to Willie Robbiams, dressed as a chauffeur, ringing Jack’s doorbell.  It had rung thirty seconds earlier than on the TV.  Ah, the live TV security lapse, thank God, thought Jack, that he’d quickly hidden his newly-declassified, druggy bits and pieces.

‘I suspect I wont be sueing then!’  Said Jack on TV, grinning more widely than the most smiley Emoji available on Instant Messenger, ‘I’ll see you very soon, I think I might call the next album… Interactive Red Button!’  He waved in the direction of the free-view box on top of his TV (he’d finally worked-out where the secret camera was concealed), then grabbed his guitar and his mobile. Willie Robbiams was waiting outside, holding open the door of the limo for him in a theatrical fashion. The camera panned-in to him squeezing Jack’s bum, or butt, as the Americans would say.

Steve Swindells. (c) 21.1.04.

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