Tag Archives: Notting Hill

Another Entry In The Journal Of An Eternal Nocturnal. By Steve Swindells.

12 Aug

Another Entry In The Journal Of An Eternal Nocturnal.

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(The stairwells – one already stripped of glass bricks – at the complex where I live) 

For the fourth day on the trot I was rudely awakened, at 8.30am, by a loud, motorised buzzing noise as a hydraulic platform rose to the top of the stairwell which is on the Northern-western side of the gated enclave where I live in a so-called ‘gritty area’  (although now no doubt ‘up and coming’, being so close to Notting Hill), in North West London. This was followed by several, deafening thuds from a sledgehammer.  A workman whooped as he threw the first of hundreds of dislodged glass bricks into a skip three stories below, with the inevitable, jarring crash of breaking glass.  Despite my annoyance and irritation at this intrusion, I couldn’t help inwardly smirking as I recalled an unusual, hit song by Nick Lowe from the late 70s called ‘I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’, featuring that most excellent and radically ‘different’, jagged piano solo, played, I think, by Chaz Jankel of The Blockheads. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’ve googled it big-time, but have been unable to find the answer).

I grabbed some pathetically ineffective orange (why?), foam earplugs from the bedside table and, despite the morning heat of the first day of August, closed the window, hoping that the ineffective double-glazing of my New York loft-style apartment – in an apparently jerry-built complex – might help shut out this appalling, galling, teeth-gnashing intrusion into my hitherto sweet dreams.

This being the journal of an eternal nocturnal, I’d been trying – with the help of some prescribed Zolpiden sleeping pills (having been previously informed about ‘ the upcoming works’ in a ’round-robin’ to all twenty five apartments) to adjust my body-clock back to what many disapproving ‘normal’ people would describe as ‘conventional’ hours – that is, going to sleep around midnight, or soon after, and waking up at around 8am.  Hah! Dream on (as it were)!

I need lots of sleep because of my various illnesses (the main ones being chronic pancreatitis and emphysema), but – being an artistic polymath – there’s nothing I like more than dancing with my muses, when most of the world around me is asleep, and the spirits are buzzing like cicadas around a secluded, funky beach house in some imagined sub-tropical paradise – with no neighbours to complain about the noise.

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The complex where I live was seemingly jerry-built about twelve years ago, as all the huge, external, steel frames and double, glass brick-clad stairwells of this U-shaped building (which acts as a natural amplifier of sound – any sound – like a residential, whispering gallery) are covered in rust.  Major rust – not just little blemishes. This signifies, as my landlord explained when I moved-in just over four years ago  (although the flat itself is my current apogee regarding my dream-home), that the company which constructed the building had obviously used cheap steel to save money and, that there was an ongoing, insurance claim taking place.

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(My kitchen-dining area)

This was only recently settled – hence my peace now being disturbed – and it transpires that both stairwells are apparently going to be totally rebuilt and the work is scheduled to take TEN bloody weeks. Nightmare. Teeth-gnashing, angle-grinder hell to follow, no doubt. I have a horrible feeling that I’m about to morph into Dustin Hoffman being cruelly, dentally tortured by Lawrence Olivier in the film Marathon Man – for TEN, agonising weeks.

Xxxxxxxinnnnnnnnngggggggg arrrrrrgh!

Then there’s  also the sound of drilling and banging and crashing emanating from the flat next door, through the thin, breeze-block wall behind my bed- head.  This is because another apparent corner-cutting aspect of the construction of these otherwise fabulous, spacious, apartments, with their high ceilings, etched-glass panels and industrial detailing, is that the walls separating each flat are only one block thick! This means that if there are any noisy sexual antics taking place on either side, then all parties can hear every grunt and gasp, or screams and wails.

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(My living area)

So, with the ridiculous orange earplugs stuffed in my ears, I tried to grab maybe another hour of sleep. It didn’t work. The earplugs fell out (I’m a ‘tosser and a turner’, especially when aurally disturbed), and simply couldn’t go back to sleep because of all the noise around me.  Was this a karmic punishment for some vile crime that I’d committed in a past life? Could I have been Hitler, Dracula, Attila The Hun, or other evil villains in history – or just just some badly-behaved, low-life scoundrel?  Answers on a psychic postcard from beyond the grave please.

I threw on my favourite pair of Nike, pale-green swimming shorts – this meant that I would be going swimming in them later –  a nice, refreshing thought – took my wake-up handful of meds washed down with effervescent vitamin C; inhaled twice from my steroid inhaler (two in the morning, two after dinner); fed almighty JJ the God-cat (he must have Egyptian roots); then fired-up my MAC PRO (about ten years old and slightly knackered – but still somehow, mostly rocking) and checked my emails.

Glad to be reminded that my Linkedin.com connections have passed well-over a thousand people (many of them seriously influential) and that I was in the top 5% of profiles viewed last year.

Before you jump down my throat with any figurative, judgmental disapproval about my braggocio; may I simply inform you (not justifying anything – I NEED this kind of feedback) that I am a songwriter who’s had much artistic and critical acclaim, but who has hardly ever made money out of this all-or-nothing career (despite covers from Roger Daltrey – he’s done four –  Lulu and Hawkwind – how’s that for eclectic?). So, therefore I’m suffering under the possible illusion that online, social networking might help lead me to finally attaining some sort of ‘hit’ (via a cover version – I’m way too old) or enjoying having a big song in a hit movie. My songs tend be evocative and cinematic. Wide-screen. So, the latter is perhaps more probable.

I am sixty, after all.  But I write songs right across the board, even R&B (are you shocked, maybe because I’m white? Why?).  I am not hidebound by homogeny. Having said that, I suppose that my most successful song to date is ‘Shot Down In The Night’, from 1980, and I’m very proud of it. Did you know that there’s an excellent, brand new CGI video of my original version of the song (as opposed to Hawkwind’s cover version), which was created by the very talented Phil Gornal, on You Tube?

Talking of moving pictures, a few months ago, an American guy called Damon White inboxed me on Facebook and explained that he had written, and was also directing, a film called Holy Galileo, which he explained had been inspired to an extent by The Who singer Roger Daltrey’s cover version of my song ‘Martyrs And Madmen’, which was released in 1982 (along with my song ‘Treachery’, that were the two ‘bonus’ tracks on Daltrey’s compilation album ‘Best Bits’. The two songs also made it onto his ‘One Of The Boys’ compilation, when it was reissued in 2006).

Damon then added that he had been unaware of my original, 1980 recording until I’d recently added it to my soundcloud and ‘shared’ this on FB and Twitter. The remastered track was taken from my double CD The Lost Albums, which was released in 2012 on Flicknife Records. Damon stated that, having suddenly discovered it, he really liked my original version, and wondered if it would be possible to use it in ‘Holy Galileo’, which he was shooting in Texas, Pisa, Florence and LA.  He also suggested that he’d like to interview me on-camera when he visited London in the fall, to capture my back-story about how the song came about and why the follow-up albums to my 1980 release Fresh Blood (now available on CD and iTunes folks!) were never released: for the documentary about the making of the movie.

I replied that, in principal, that would be fine, providing that we could sort out a mutually acceptable deal regarding him using the song in the film, and assured him that I could guarantee ‘fast clearance’, as I now owned 100% of the publishing.

This helps to explain why, as an artist, I tend to put so much faith in social media. How would Damon have come across my original version of the song (as sung by Daltrey), which helped inspire his script, if it weren’t for FB (Facebook)?  How would I have collaborated with Jay Tausig in the US, and Pigs Of Oblivion in Canada were it not for FB?  Many fresh opportunities are also arising through Linkedin.

As I continued my inadvertently early (thanks to the destruction of glass bricks), bleary-eyed, morning routine, I noted that I had 58 emails – mostly from peeps posting on Mixcloud (block-up my inbox, why don’t you?), along with notifications, messages and requests from my large number of friends on Facebook, including Damon White.

Being in Pilot (’76) and Hawkwind/Hawklords (’78) then getting my second major, solo record deal with Atco/WEA (Warner Music) in ’79 (I was signed in person by Doug Morris, who is now the all-powerful president of Sony Music), makes me wonder why good, even great, songs should not prevail in this corrupt and corrupted thing which we still refer to as ‘the music industry’.

All you need is one big CHART hit and then you’re set-up for life.  Not me though.  Still wishing and… hoping (as the great Dusty Springfield once sang).

Back in the real world…

Read/answered all my emails. Played with my Words With Friends ‘opponents’, then also online Scrabble; freerice.com (English vocabulary being my chosen field, starting at level 21); followed by Cryptoquote and Multipopword to wake up my brain – as is my wont – whilst drinking endless cups of black, minty tea (from a teapot, of course… I am British, after all).

I then checked my editing and proof-reading of Chapter Two of ‘Mitty In India’, the second volume of my mother’s most excellent historical trilogy (I’ve already edited the first – ‘Mitty’s Letter’ – which you can read chapter-by-chapter as a blog here.

Re-read the lyrics of ‘Damage Limitation’, my new transatlantic collaboration with Ralf Lenz, of Pigs Of Oblivion.  What a wonderfully daft band name. I’m hoping to sing all the vocal parts in my digital, home studio tomorrow afternoon.  The track is rocking. My lyrics are about an evil PR company called Cosmo Nought that exists only in space and is therefore beyond jurisdiction.  Have I now invented vaguely poetic, political space rock?

Carried-on proof-reading Chapter 11 (will it be the final chapter?) of my good friend Thom Topham’s multimedia autoBLOGography ‘My Unplanned Obsolescence. In this, he’s been taken to New York City for the first time by an Italian Count in the fall of 1979, and he lands a major record deal within three days, leading to the 1980 album ‘Torn Genes’.  Thom is going to feature my 2010 remix of the title track in this chapter, he tells me.

This must have been the hottest day of the year so far. I put a clean towel, T-shirt and underpants into my new, Adidas knapsack (Argos – £17.99) and got lucky with the immediate arrival of the 206 bus, which stops right outside my home, and headed for Willesden Sports Centre.  Ten Minutes.

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(A random shot – nice back eh? –  taken on my mobile phone outside the sports centre that day)

I didn’t need socks because I was wearing ten year-old, velcro-fastened-open-toed sandals that I bought in a shopping centre in Bangkok in 2003 for £3. ‘Woolfies’, as  X , my ex-best-friend, had dubbed them, having insisted that I was evidently a German paedophile. Silly man. I miss him so much.  But the ‘Wolfies’ are still going strong after ten years – unlike our previously, rocket-fuelled friendship, which he decided to end in 2009. Only he knows why: Cue sad shrug.  I sincerely hope that all is well with him and his lovely dad. I wish that he misses me too.

Free bus ride (thanks to my over-sixty-Oyster-photo-pass card – or whatever it’s called).  Free swimming (also thanks to being 60).

I headed for the male changing room, which was deserted apart from a grossly obese, hairy white man who was scrubbing his pubic area with long-handled brushes in the shower (obsessive or what?) and then took a shower myself, wondering why there are no sinks where you might shave, for instance, or something as obvious as drinking fountains. I guess the sports centre hopes to boost their meagre, municipal budget by selling mineral water from vending machines?

The faintly homoerotic smell of a male changing room – fresh sweat and socks – tripped my mind back to when I was a six year-old and used to go to the municipal swimming baths in, yes – Bath (the city) – most Saturdays.  I usually went with my older brother Rob and sometimes on my own.  Kids, it seems, were far less supervised in the oh-so-innocent, late 50s.

Audrey, my mother, had walked-out on the father of us three boys (I am the second), when I was five, in Handsworth Park in Birmingham, and had somewhat reluctantly, having no other viable option,  taken us all to live with her parents –  who lived their lives in some kind of eternal 1930s,  Ivor Novello fantasy-land – in a spacious, three-bedroomed, third floor flat overlooking the Roman Baths, opposite a Chinese laundry, in Swallow Street, a narrow thoroughfare of tall, mostly warehouse-type buildings, in this beautiful city.

The laundry’s chimney constantly pumped-out strange-smelling – but not unpleasant – steam.  My olfactory recall is one of cleanliness, but also a certain pungency. My aural recall is of  my mother and my grandmother having endless, screaming rows.

Many years later, my mother and my stepfather Harold (whom she married about a year after our arrival in Bath) had ‘gone halves’ with Nana – who lived to receive the famous, signed card from The Queen when she passed her centenary (although these days you have to request it) – and GP, as our Grandpa was dubbed, to buy a capacious, ground floor flat in a classic Georgian house overlooking Victoria Park in Bath, as GP, who’d been a heavy smoker of ‘roll-ups’,  was having difficulties with all the stairs leading up to the flat in Swallow Street, which they’d rented for years.  My parents and grandparents had inherited £3000 each, after the death of an elderly, female relative in Bournmouth: this was a large deposit at the time.  My brother Rob, having recently passed his driving test, got the ancient Austin 7 (therein lie many more exuberant teenaged tales – and this vintage car didn’t even have a clutch!).

After Nana died, my parents sold this centrally-located flat for a tidy sum.

This triggers another, more recent flashback.  I was on tour with The Hawklords in 2011 – it was very heavy going for me because of my health issues – and I used to share hotel (well, Travel Lodge) rooms with Ron Tree, the singer.  He’s from the Bath area, and is now living in the boho, arty town of Frome.  I was reminiscing with him one night, as we drank red wine after a gig, about how fate had brought me to Bath at the age of five and told him about my grandparents’ flat in Bath, opposite the Chinese laundry and over-looking the Roman Baths. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he said: ‘You’ll never guess who squatted in that flat for a few years, back in the day…’

‘You’re right, I said, I won’t.’

Well, it was me and a bunch of n’er-do-wells!’  Exclaimed Ron gleefully.

‘No! Coincidence or what? You really couldn’t make that up!’ I responded.

The municipal swimming baths in Bath were a short walk away, through elegant and visually-pleasing streets.  I can distinctly remember admiring naked men in the changing rooms and finding them – well, some of them – attractive.  Mostly the olive-skinned, brown-eyed, masculine and athletic-looking ones. My eyes were also drawn to their dicks (mind you, all men’s eyes always are, it’s only natural) and some kind of inner voice stated:   ‘You seem to like men’.  I just knew, even at that tender age (but only confirmed it to myself, as it were, when I was a pupil at The Bristol Cathedral School, aged fourteen, as I was now regularly having sex, of sorts, with school-friends and so forth. And girls.  I was never short of admirers).

One man in particular – he rather resembled a young Sean Connery – used to encourage me to hitch a ride in the water on his muscular back, and seemed to enjoy my vague, boyish attempts at humping his pert, round, muscular bottom, as we did laps. I was a little… fucker! Looks like my preference was almost pre-determined. But I wasn’t abused per se at the pool… only on paper.

I enjoyed it – there was no trauma.  It was almost as if was in control of the situation.  Never under-estimate the power of precocious young boys who know in their hearts and souls that they’re ‘gay’ (in my case, way before the word was brought into general use in the late 70s).

After our saturday swims, me and my brother Rob would invariably head to Evan’s, a large fish and chip shop just off Abbey Green, around the corner from Nana and GP’s flat. We used to have chips, served ‘open’, in newspaper, and always asked for free ‘scrumps’, the crunchy bubbles of batter that had been left in the fat-drainers after the fish had been served. Freshly fried, hand-cut chips (and scrumps) always tasted doubly delicious after swimming, with salt, malt vinegar and tomato ketchup, when your skin tingled and you felt pleasingly hungry.

When fate decided many years later that my younger brother Frank would find himself living in a double-aspect, second-floor flat overlooking Evan’s chip shop on one side (Abbey Green was on the other) about twelve years ago, it was still there.

Sometimes we would be treated to a proper, ice-cream milkshake at Hand’s Dairy (which was also still going the last time I looked – maybe it still is), opposite the Abbey Churchyard, which was utter heaven for us kids.  ‘Yum yum, pig’s bum!’ we used to chorus before noisily sucking the utterly delicious, creamy concoction through straws; then giggling as we reluctantly reached the bottom of the glasses and enjoyed deliberately exaggerating the loud, gurgling noises that we made sucking up the foamy dregs.  My favourite flavour was strawberry.

There used to be a tiny antique/curio shop, with a bow window, in the pedestrian street to the side of Hand’s Dairy, which led into Abbey Green. I used to gaze longingly at a large, red crystal bauble which was in the centre of its window, which was displayed in an ivory-coloured, silk-lined case (I’d decided that it was definitely magical), and eventually saved up enough of my pocket money to buy it. It was all very Dickensian: maybe it was even called The Old Curiosity Shop.  I do believe it might still be there.

As I disrobed in the bland changing room at the Sports Centre, I noticed a few, small, blue-ish-yellow bruises around my arms. Where the fuck did those come from, I wondered. Then I recalled that last Friday, after I’d invited six people – all immediate neighbours – over to dinner (emphatically NOT a dinner party, what a horribly bourgeois concept, but we had a wonderful night – I’d served my own-recipe, deluxe Shepherd’s Pie Provencal) – that way too much red wine had evidently over-reacted with my various medications and that I must have fallen over or something, after everyone had left.

The next day, I was surprised to find that what I’d dubbed the ‘Madmen (the cult TV show set in an advertising agency in New York in the 60s) tribute, 60s coffee table’ which I’d found in the street in Willesden Green in 2006 was smashed and my beloved Mathmos, rocket lava lamp was broken. No memories. Just bruises.

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(My dinner guests, having ‘a fag break’ outside the flat next door)

This was not good. Luckily, I have another, fabulous retro-modern table – German, branded underneath as from 1960 – which I’d picked-up in a charity shop in West Hampstead in 2006, for £25. It has a black glass top, which is etched with thin strings of electric yellow and blue and is inset with tiny, jewel-like, iridescent rectangles of Nacre (more commonly known as mother-of-pearl).

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(my ‘Madmen’ tribute table, mark two)

As I headed for the pool from the changing room, a squealing cacophony assailed my ears.  Just what I need, I thought, after my unwanted, wake-up call of sledgehammers and broken glass.

The main area of the pool appeared to be packed-full of scores of very noisy little tadpoles – mostly black, but some brown and white, all squirming and splashing about and squealing.

There were two lanes for swimmers, such as myself, who wished to do laps. Medium and fast.  Clockwise and anti-clockwise.  All the ‘lane swimmers’ were, for some unknown reason, doing the opposite (had they recently arrived from Rumania or Latvia perchance?).

I clocked all my fave bodyguards and swimming teachers. There are at least four guys who work at the sports centre who tick my various boxes. It’s encouraging to have some eye-candy to spur-on your physical efforts, I always say, although I can only see fuzzy beauty without my glasses.  I was vainly hoping that they might have been impressed by my backwards froggy-swim, which is quite original.  I swim like a frog… on its back.  But I don’t, or won’t, croak. Yet.

Then I always do a breast stoke for the next length, trying to remember to do that seemingly unnecessary dip-your-face-in-the-water-then–breathe-when-you-resurface thing.  What’s that all about?

I’d swum ten lengths, and was sitting on the edge of the pool, thinking of leaving, when a beautiful black man, perhaps about twenty five years-old, swam towards me, then touched the pool’s edge beneath me, breathing heavily with evident triumph (perhaps he’d beaten his own record?), then smiled at me with warmth and… something.

Obviously, I grinned back at him, and he returned my grin.

You may have gathered, by now, that I’m mostly attracted to black, or mixed-race men.  Don’t ask me why. It just evolved organically after I opened my first successful, polysexual-but-mostly gay, one-nighter The Lift, at the deservedly legendary Gargoyle Club in London’s Soho, in 1982. The music we played every Thursday night in this wonderfully wacky space (art deco-meets-60s) on the top two floors of a building on the corner of Dean and Meard streets, was a heady mixture of seriously streety black music (mostly American) and English Electro.  The Lift was an instant hit and ran successfully for about five years in various venues, after The Gargoyle sadly closed down in 1983, despite the efforts of the various promoters (myself, The Mudd Club, The Language Lab, The Bat Cave etc) who ran nights there, tried unsuccessfully to raise the money  – which was, as I recall, £75K – to buy the lease.

I swam another two lengths, perhaps in honour of the black swimmer’s fineness, noted that he’d disappeared, then headed back to the Spartan, pale-blue-tiled, male changing room, which was deserted, as ever (most people use the cubicles in the so-called ‘changing village’); then showered, dried-off, got dressed and wandered back home in the hot sunshine, feeling energized and refreshed, wondering what fate might have in store for me next time at the sports centre; now that I’ve vowed to go at least twice a week.

As I headed home, I was musing about surreptitiously putting a print-out over the new ‘do not enter’ signs on the three floors of the  North-western stairwell.

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It would have read: ‘People who live in stone houses should not throw glass (bricks)’.

But, wishing to preserve the peace (if not ‘my peaceful sleep’), I reluctantly decided against it.

© Steve Swindells. 2013.  All rights reserved.

The Topic Of Cancer. A Short Story By Steve Swindells.

17 Jan

The Topic Of Cancer.

The suggested soundtrack to accompany this short story is ‘The House Of Healing’ from my Bam Boo album, which you can also download online.

Image It’s best to keep your eyes shut, thought Roger, as he lay on his back in his underpants and clenched his fists tightly.  The lights were hot, bright and in-his-face. He was trying not to imagine the horrible things that were about to be done to him, so thought of pleasant diversions instead, like the sound of the waves lapping outside the window of the cottage in Cornwall that he and his family owned. There were seagulls wheeling and squawking above, as the fog horn of a distant ferry sounded across the bay. The white curtains billowed in the sea breeze on a beautiful, late summer morning.  He could smell the sea through the open window as he lay in bed cuddling Charlie, who smelled pretty good too.

‘Just a little prick,’ intoned a soft, female voice, interrupting his reverie. He didn’t bother to stifle a snort in response to such an obviously unintentional innuendo, but maybe she had realised as she allowed herself a mild chuckle, then gently coughed,  as she was perhaps being a tad unprofessional.  ‘Just one more.’  She said softly.  He drew a sharp breath as the second one went-in sharply. ‘Ouch!’  He said through gritted teeth, then allowed a teasing smile to play around his lips as he briefly opened his eyes and wondered if she was surreptitiously checking-out his athletic, six-foot-plus physique, surfer-boy, sandy-coloured-sun-streaked, floppy hair and hippie-chic, goatee beard. The jury was out, but made their decision within minutes.  Guilty (of being hot).

‘There, that’s the worst over, no more injections, so you can relax now.’ Said Dr Aziz in her pleasingly soothing tones, as the local anaesthetic started to take effect in the areas of the two, small lumps on his chest. He tried not to picture the scalpel cutting into his skin, or the blood spurting out and thought instead about what might happen the next evening, which was New Year’s Eve.  He was going to spend it quietly at the cottage in Cornwall with Charlie, his long-term lover. They were planning to drink champagne at midnight, take a small amount of Class-A drugs and make love all night to the sound of the waves beneath the window, then just chill for a few days.

Everything was under control at the club. His management team had been hand-picked, he trusted them to make the biggest night of the year go smoothly.  He composed a little rhyme in his head: ‘Let’s open new doors in double-O four,’ as Dr Aziz carried-out the biopsies on his mysterious lumps.  Then he came-up with an alternative: ‘In two thousand and four, you won’t be a whore anymore!’  There was no way he was going to open his eyes any more, as he was squeamish about needles and even more so about surgical instruments. ‘Yeuch!’ He shuddered inwardly.

‘This won’t take long, Mr Sidebottom,’ said Dr Aziz, as she stitched-up the wounds.  Mr Sidebottom?  How formal, thought Roger… and what a ridiculous surname to get saddled-with at birth! Professionally and artistically, however, it was a different matter. He was more commonly known as Roger Senseless: seventies punk legend and lead singer of Senseless, his eponymous band, successful, ground-breaking club promoter in the eighties, tabloid gossip columnist in the nineties, and now the proud owner of Senseless, a hugely successful bar, restaurant and club – the latter was members-only – in what had once been the most neglected, north-western corner of West London’s outrageously expensive and trendy-yet-gritty Notting Hill.

The Senseless brand had certainly matured nicely. Aged forty eight, he lived alone above ‘the shop’ (which he’d converted from a former factory in a Victorian warehouse) in a fantastic, loft-style apartment overlooking the rooftop pool and the canal below. He loved to watch the boats go by.  He owned a converted, seventy-foot barge called The Jolly Roger moored alongside the restaurant’s mediterranean-style terrace.  After all those years of dreaming about design fantasies when he was struggling and poor, he’d created a monster… of cool. ‘The interiors of boats are always so dull and traditional, like floating caravans,’ he’d said in an interview in the cutting-edge, style magazine  The Head, ‘I wanted to break the mould and create something really stylish, yet a bit-tongue-in-chic.’

He’d designed the sleek, modernist, minimalist- yet consciously ‘retro’ – interior himself.  It was a symphony of wenge wood and stainless steel with more than a hint of James Bond – very  Alfresco* Magazine.  It also acted as the ultimate – i.e. cocaine-user-friendly-super-VIP space at the Senseless complex (not so much a complex, more a lifestyle; although running it was quite a complex operation).  One of Roger’s favourite things was to go chugging-off down the canal in the Jolly Roger with a bunch of friends and family, or with Charlie, just to literally float and to enjoy fabulous, late brunches and midnight indulgences. He loved cooking, it was therapeutic and fulfilling, although he  never referred to any of the trendy cookery books written by some of his club members, as he liked to invent his own dishes.

The barge had two double cabins (which served as guest bedrooms) and a large saloon fitted out with ivory-coloured, suede banquettes. It wasn’t a traditional narrow-boat (‘nasty floating corridors with bunks’, as Roger called them), but a ‘floatel’, a former floating hotel, which was twice as wide as a narrow-boat.  So it was more like a luxury apartment which was mobile, with a sun deck on top. Lush. Senseless  – which he’d conceived and designed – covered about eight-thousand square feet over three floors.  It was situated on a narrow street of warehouses, most of which had now been converted into live-work apartments, restaurants, bars, galleries, shops and, of course, estate agencies, on the back of the success of his venue.

Naturally, he’d made sure that he’d set-up a property company in order to benefit from the ongoing development financially.  The area had become known as NoKen (north of Notting Hill, south of Kensal Rise), which Roger had dreamt-up and ‘leaked’ to local estate agents, so they could claim it as their own. It had become a very fashionable and trendily-bohemian area in which to live. The ground floor of Senseless was a bar and restaurant, where the decor was simple, yet stylish.  The walls were sand-blasted brick and featured some cool and quirky artwork (some by Roger), mostly by local artists. There were large refectory-style wooden tables and long benches; seventies, three-piece suites in brown and cream leather; low tables made from railway sleepers and a huge bar made from giant bricks created from recycled, crushed, plastic mineral-water bottles.

The centrepiece of the double-height room was a massive, fifteen-foot-diameter chandelier, created from the same bottles. Roger, always canny about creating zeitgeist terms, had come-up with ‘Recyclo-chic’ to describe his new, eco-friendly, stylistic innovation.   The Head  magazine had adopted his buzzword and had based a whole issue around it in the summer of 2003.  Eighteen-foot-high glass doors led on to the softly-lit, jasmine-scented terrace overlooking the canal, which had under-floor heating and lighting and a twenty-foot high waterfall cascading down a back-lit copper wall (complete with verdigris) at one end.  It was furnished with stylish, aluminium tables and chairs designed by the famous architect Keith Jacket (a former lover of Roger’s in the seventies), and was dotted with pieces of sixties abstract sculpture.The planting was mediterranean in flavour – evocative of Ibiza.

On the first floor there was a dance area with raised balconies and floor-to-ceiling, burgundy, velvet-covered booths – the look was seventies-disco-strip-club. A larger-than-life wardrobe door (The Lion, The Witch and…) led into the performance space-cum-theatre-and-cinema, which seated up to one hundred people on tiered, cushioned seating covered in fake-cowhide upholstery. It was also used for private viewings, showcases by new bands, product launches, cable TV shows and, of course, the annual Senseless Panto, featuring various members (many of whom were famous actors), sending themselves-up rotten – all for charidee, of course. The next one was premiering soon:  It was Snow Black And The Seven Vertically-challenged, Trendy, White Liberals, featuring Roger as The Wicked Witch of The Westway and the British soul-diva Emily Bright as Snow Black, with fashion designers, pop musicians and actors from various soaps playing the dwarves.  The famous actors had insisted on taking the other, major leading roles, of course. And the ‘dwarves’ had to act on their knees.

The second floor housed the private members’ club STH (Stairway To Heaven), which was themed after the classic Powell And Pressburger film A Matter Of Life and Death (it had been entitled Stairway To Heaven in the USA and was probably/possibly the inspiration for the classic track by Led Zeppelin). Unsurprisingly, the decor was all-white and featured a ten foot-diameter, circular viewing gallery (just like in the film)  so that the private members, who were known as ‘Angels’, could survey the mere mortals below them on the dancefloor.

Two thirds of the third floor was taken-up by a huge, modernist conservatory with a retractable, glass roof, then outside there was a turquoise-tiled swimming pool and jacuzzi, surrounded by deliberately ironic, Jackie Collins-esque sun loungers and tropical plants.  There was a retro-futuristic, forties-style bar (think Fred And Ginger), and changing rooms.  Above this, on the fourth and fifth floor, was Roger’s duplex apartment, which was relatively modest (although uber-chic), mostly open-plan and filled with modern design (largely Italian) and coolly-kitsch classics, and the odd, older antique, along with state-of-the-art, hi-tech features.

All Roger’s creative dreams had become reality through sheer hard work, networking and self-belief.  It had always been a struggle, but he’d finally pulled it off – the Senseless complex had opened in 1999 – and they had certainly partied like it was 1999 at the opening bash.  Now a potential threat hovered over him like, well, Dr Aziz, although he doubted if she  was a threat. In fact, she could possibly be his saviour in helping him find out what his own medical sword of Damocles might be.

‘I wonder if the Appleton sisters gave birth here… you know, All Saints.’ Roger wondered aloud. He felt the thread being used in the stitches (yeuch!) on his chest. Dr Aziz giggled, patted his leg gently and replied:  ‘I think they both went private, but it would have been rather appropriate, I guess.  There you go, all done.’  There was a soft, swishing noise as the operating table was lowered pneumatically, ‘that’s so you can get off easily.’  Said Dr Aziz.  ‘How would I not get-off easily?’  He joked as he opened his eyes and sat-up, noticing that she looked slightly embarrassed as she busied herself with labelling the plastic bottles containing his bloody tissues.

It was Dr Mikado, his Anglo-Japanese, general practitioner, who’d fast-tracked him into being seen by the Dermatology Department at All Saints hospital that day. This was something of a surprise, as she had always appeared to have a bit of a problem with him. Roger had had a mystery illness for over ten years.  The symptoms were vaguely similar to M.E (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and believed by many medical professionals to actually be ‘all in the mind’), but M.E didn’t give you constant diarrhoea, nor an incessant, inner back pain (‘It’s NOT muscular.’  He’d tried explaining to her, when she’d insisted on sending him for an X-ray of his spine).  Plus, he’d developed an irritating, itchy-sore rash on his back and head at the same time as the other symptoms all those years ago, which none of the doctors had seemed to relate directly to ‘the gut problem’, whatever that might be.

He’d been shunted from specialist (pillar) to specialist (post) over the years, with none of them reaching any conclusions at all, apart from the gastroenterology consultant at All Saints who’d suggested that the Spirochaetes that had been detected in his large intestine after a colonoscopy had been a deeply meaningless ‘red herring’. It had been fun watching his polyps being removed on a monitor, thanks to a valium drip in his wrist, although it later transpired that the polyps were pre-cancerous, which was a relief. Just as well he’d had the colonoscopy then. Recently, he’d decided to take matters into his own hands and had researched his illness online, based on the symptoms.  ‘Thank God for Boogie, the best search engine on the net.’ He said to Quentin, his best friend, who happened to be the ultimate tech-head.

He reached the conclusion that he was suffering from Male Candida Of The Gut, for which there was apparently no specific treatment. When he’d informed Dr Mikado of his discovery, she’d snorted derisively and stated: ‘Men don’t get Candida!’  Yeah, right, you stupid cow, he’d thought, as her own allergy – to studying, or knowledge – manifested itself.  She’d always been sceptical about his illness – especially when he’d needed monthly medical certificates from her in order for his insurance company to pay-off a bank loan when he’d temporarily been receiving sickness benefits eight years before.  Her responses had suggested, perhaps, that she thought that he was a hypochondriac, a malingerer, or even a fraud, which really pissed him-off.  He couldn’t help wondering if she was actually a homophobe, or just a bitter, thirty-something woman who found him attractive (he was a handsome fellow) and knew – not unreasonably, as he’d been totally honest about his sexuality – that she didn’t stand a chance. Well, he thought, he wouldn’t have fancied her anyway, even if he had been straight. Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof!

Dr Aziz was a different matter, however, as she was a rather beautiful and evidently cool woman of maybe… twenty six? Was she Anglo-Pakistani, or, perhaps, Iranian?  He sensed that she was subtlety flirting with him. He didn’t mind that at all, as it was rather flattering.  Plus, her bedside manner was easy-going, she made him feel at ease. She also seemed concerned about his mysterious condition, after he’d explained the symptoms to her. But she didn’t actually confirm his suspicions about what he thought it was. So she wasn’t that hot.

Two weeks previously, Dr Mikado had tried to dismiss him from her consulting room, having impatiently printed-out his usual prescription of useless medications. She was motioning for him to leave with a dismissive wave when he surprised her by stating firmly: ‘You know those little lumps I’ve had on my chest for years?’  She nodded reluctantly, whilst poring over her computer (horribly-outdated, thought Roger, it had green text on it! Was it an Amstrad?)  ‘Well, one of them has started bleeding for no apparent reason in the last week, could you have a quick look before I go (terribly  sorry to ask)?’ It was his sort-of boyfriend Charlie who’d suggested that he’d demanded some kind of response from his GP.  ‘Put your foot down!’ He’d insisted, ‘how the hell are you going to find out what’s wrong if you don’t make a fuss?’  He didn’t generally expect Roger to act on his advice, but Roger actually respected his opinion.  Charlie didn’t realise – whilst trying so hard to be ‘normal’ – that he was more than just intuitive, he was a natural psychic.  But like many people ‘who knew’, he was scared of the unknown, put-off by the potential dark forces.  Plus, he was  an accountant.

Dr Mikado sighed, then motioned for Roger to lift-up his top.  ‘See…?’ He asked, as she reluctantly examined the scabby little red lump in question.  Then, much to his surprise, she stated: ‘I think you’ll need to have that looked at by the dermatology department at All Saints.  It could possibly be a cause for concern.’  Eureka!  He’d had other possibly suspicious lumps removed at another hospital a couple of years before, after he’d been seen by the far-more sympathetic Dr Ogboke when Dr Mikado had been on maternity leave (whose child was it anyway – a sperm donor’s?).  One lump had been on his side and the other on his lower lip. The lip had been the worst: after it had been removed the stitches felt like barbed-wire in his mouth for ten days, or more, it was torture, but they’d found nothing malignant in the tissue that had been removed. Relief.

The GPs at the group practice still left it to the seemingly random specialists to deal with his mystery illness.  It was true that they were horribly overworked, but they showed no interest in his condition and waved their hands dismissively when he’d almost apologetically ask about it: ‘Oh, it’s all in the hands of the specialists.’  He got the feeling that he was going nowhere ‘in the system’.  He was stuck up a creek without a paddle.  Just because Dr Mikado fancied him/hated him?  That seemed extraordinarily unfair. He could have gone private, but it was against his principles. He paid tax to supposedly support the NHS, after all. Roger got off the operating table and Dr Aziz motioned for him to sit opposite her at her desk. ‘Keep the plasters on, or replace them,’ she said in her seductive voice, ‘until the stitches are removed.  Make an appointment with your GP to have that done in ten days. Then we need to see you as soon as the results of your biopsies are in.  Trouble is, everyone’s gone home today so you’ll have to call-in for your appointment, it should be in about fifteen days, but I suspect it might be longer, because of the time of year.  Sorry about that.’   ‘No worries.’ Said Roger.

She wrote-out her telephone and bleeper numbers, which surprised him after years of being dismissed as a hypochondriac, or whatever, by his GPs.  Shit!  Did this mean he was, well, you know… in danger? Or was she just a nice doc’?  ‘So what are you doing for new year’s eve?’  She asked, handing him her written details.  ‘Escaping to Cornwall!’ He said brightly, ‘we’re off tomorrow afternoon. I co-own a cottage on the beach, and I’m going with my other-half. How about you?’  He put back-on his T-shirt, which he’d designed, then his hooded sweat-shirt and the tan, D&G leather jacket that Charlie had given him. ‘That sounds fantastic,’ she replied, ‘well, a girlfriend – a colleague actually – of mine knows the owner of this trendy restaurant and club called Senseless in North Ken’ and she’s managed to get us tickets to the New Year’s Eve bash, even though they were sold out!’

Hah! If only she knew, he thought, but decided to reveal nothing, as it was more fun. ‘Wow, lucky you, hope you have a great night.’  But who was this colleague? He didn’t know any female doctors as far as he was aware. He left the hideous, institutional-looking outpatient’s building (drab, sixties, prefab architecture – it could have been in East Berlin prior to the fall of the wall) and lit a Camel Light in the dark as the December rain drizzled down between the older, Victorian sections of the hospital – that must be a chapel up there, he observed, noting some murky, full-length, stained-glass windows – then checked his mobile for text messages.  Nothing from Charlie.  Well, he was at work, but Roger knew that his vaguely-committed lover suspected that he might be a bit of a hypochondriac too, and lazy, he’d once said. Big mistake. Red-rag to a bull.  Laid-back he could have accepted, but not lazy.  There were a few text messages from concerned friends and family.

A handsome, young black man in a white coat was having a cigarette close by and looked at him meaningfully, a doctor he supposed  He decided that he had enough on his plate, ignored him and went for a very late lunch in a patisserie on the other side of the aptly-named Plague street. Roger had always worked his arse-off, mostly at night, but he didn’t make a big deal about it.  He wasn’t in any way religious, so the protestant  (or indeed catholic, jewish, hindu, buddhist, pagan or muslim) work ethic wasn’t something which he cared, or felt guilty, about. He’d always been a ‘night person’ and was constantly exasperated by ‘day people’ who expected him to speak to them at nine in the morning, when he’d often been working until three hours before. Thoughtless twats!  Smug, strangely-moralistic bastards who were trying to make him feel guilty.  Guilty about what?  Years of struggle, innovation, passion, creativity and, at last, some fantastic results, as-in success?  There was nothing to be guilty about. Plus he was avowedly honest. How else could you live your life? He’d spent nearly five years trying to help Charlie get through his psychological problems (whilst having endless, beautiful, spiritual and magical love-making nights), but Charlie didn’t see the big picture, nor did he understand the creative process – or pretended not to.  Was it because he worked in an office and felt poorly qualified to comment on this ‘glamourous, creative world’ which he wrongly assumed was utterly false.

Charlie moonlighted for Roger, doing his accounts for him a couple of evenings a month.  ‘Listen Charlie,’ said Roger as he cooked dinner while Charlie typed data into spreadsheets on his laptop, ‘don’t you understand that I’m helping genuinely talented, creative people to network with the people with the money and the contacts to help them achieve their goals?’  Charlie said that he refused to believe that there could actually be genuine altruism in such a phoney world. ‘How the fuck do you think the artistic salons in Paris in the Impressionist period achieved such fantastic results for instance?’  Asked Roger (actually, thinking about it, The Impressionists were derided in their time. Whatever).  Charlie didn’t know what Impressionism was.  Roger brought out some coffee-table books to back it up – Matisse, Degas, Seurat- ‘Oh, all those blurry blobs!’ Anyone could have done that.’  Said Charlie dismissively as he took off his clothes – God! His body looked good, thought Roger – as Charlie walked-out of his spacious, post-modernist-retro, open-plan, kitchen-diner for no apparent reason and disappeared upstairs. ‘Niiice butt!’ Shouted Roger, wondering why Charlie felt it necessary to suddenly wander-off and mutter abstract nonsense to himself. Was he seeking attention, or needing therapy?  Hmm, maybe it was sexual therapy – like a good shag – that he was after. You never knew.  His big attraction was his mystique, he supposed, but Roger loved him more than he’d ever loved anyone else.

Charlie was built like a rugby player, albeit a relatively short one, and was blessed with silky, mahogany-coloured skin, perfect white teeth, a fantastic smile, soft, pink lips, an arse like a brown, velvet football and, yes, in Charlie’s case, it was  indeed ‘true what they said’.  What did ‘they’ know? He’d come across (come across ha ha!) plenty of black people with small dicks, as it happened. Charlie was a thirty year-old black Brazilian – well, his father was – and his mother was Trinidadian, but he was second-generation British.  He’d been brought-up on a fairly rough council estate in Tottenham, in North London, but had done very well at school and subsequently, university, despite the fact that an older, male cousin had abused him sexually as an eight year-old. Roger had tried to get him to talk about it, but Charlie was not buying-in to the fact that it had blighted his life.  He was essentially brushing it under the carpet.

‘Psychotherapy is what you need to rediscover the real joy and romance in your life, then you might realise that I’m quite a joyful, romantic person for you too, not a fucking threat!’ Roger had suggested. Charlie’s degree in accounting had enabled him to him forge a career that had led to his dull, but quite well-paid job at the All Nations Bank. He also did Roger’s accounts, of course.  Roger’s best friend Quentin liked to wind him up by suggesting that Charlie looked like the star of the bank’s TV Ads, which was unfair, as Charlie was a handsome, masculine and intelligent man who simply didn’t ‘get’ arty-farty stuff.  Why should he?  He was an accountant. That didn’t mean he was dull, or lacking in intuitive depth. ‘I wish he’d go back on the ADs’, thought Roger, as he checked his emails; ‘he’s a much nicer person on Prozac’.

It was eight days since Dr Aziz had performed the biopsies.  Roger had returned from a refreshing and romantic time in Cornwall with Charlie. It had been wonderful to take long, bracing walks then relax in front of a real fire with storms raging outside  – and make love all week.  But he was feeling unwell. The phone was ringing.  He let it go to voice-mail, then looked-up and saw 9:AM (Quentin had given him a clock for Christmas which projected the time onto his bedroom ceiling).   He heard his mobile phone ring too, but it was too early in his morning and he wasn’t speaking to anyone, so he went back to sleep. When he reluctantly hauled himself out of bed at noon, he noticed there was a voice-message on the mobile. He made some tea then checked it. ‘Hello Mr Sidebottom, this is Dr Amelia Aziz from All Saints,’ the message went, ‘and we’d like you to come in as soon as…’  Then it cut-out.

What the fuck was that all about?  Was there something wrong with his lumps… and with his mobile?  Were they calling him in earlier than the appointment that he’d eventually managed to make for the twenty-first, after myriad calls that had inevitably led him back to the switchboard and some dreadful ‘Early Music’ while they’d kept him on hold? It later discovered that it was only Dr Aziz’s coded reference (‘XTC, override all bookings’) that she’d written down for him that had achieved the desired result  He’d also noticed some weird, error messages on his mobile over the last few days that had made no logical sense.  So he took the phone to his local telecommunications shop.

‘It’s fucked mate.’ Said Mohammed, the boss’s eighteen year old son, having run some tests on it (‘He’s barely legal,’ Quentin had noted a few days previously, after buying a top-of-the-range PDA, ‘but cute’).  ‘It’s about four years old, that’s like a lifetime these days, but could you transfer all my numbers from my Sim card if I bought a new one?’ Asked Roger. ‘No problemo.’  Answered Mohammed, with a dazzling smile.  Roger bought a new polyphonic phone. But he he couldn’t check his messages until he’d charged it up for twelve hours.  Then he remembered that he had Dr Aziz’s bleeper number.  After many attempts, he eventually got through to her, on his landline. ‘Hello Mr Sidebottom,’ she said in her velvety voice, ‘how good of you to get back to me, happy new year…erm, we just wanted you to come in ahead of the appointment you made.’  ‘Uh oh,’  responded Roger, ‘does that mean I’ve got something to be concerned about?’  ‘Well, I’m really sorry, I can’t discuss that right now as I’m with a patient,’ she replied, ‘but could you come in to see me tomorrow at around four-thirty, as we’d like to run some more tests?’

Hmm. So there was something going on. ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘see you then’. Happy new year indeed! Now he was apprehensive, but also determined to be philosophical.  So what if fate had decided that he was to be a cancer victim when he’d finally succeeded in all his aspirations?  That would be a cruel twist, but if it was the case, what could he do?  Most cancers were treatable these days, weren’t they, if they’d been discovered early enough? But hang-on, he’d had those lumps… well, the first one was about five years ago, the other was about three, and the new one on his neck was about one year old, right?  What about the one on his tongue which had been there since the end of the eighties?  That was hardly ‘catching it early’, was it?

He called Charlie and explained what was going on. He was genuinely concerned and sympathetic, for a change.  Then he spoke to Quentin, who was a bit of a medical buff, in fact, he was a qualified nurse, so he offered to come along to Roger’s meeting with Dr Aziz and asked if he could stay the night in Roger’s flat above Senseless, as he lived in in an Art-Deco ‘semi’ in the trendy-cool city of Brighton, on the south coast.  ‘You know you don’t have to ask.’ Said Roger. Quentin was thirty-five and was also known as Biggy – the black one in the duo Biggy and Skunkhead – who’d had a huge R&B hit in the UK a few years back with ‘Coffee-coloured Baby’. ‘Let’s leave early so we can grab some Bugger  King before the appointment!’ Said Quentin cheerily the next afternoon, pulling-on the baggy, pale-blue D-Squared trousers he’d bought in New York.  Roger pulled a face. ‘Yeah, health-food, just what I need… hey, everyone likes a bit of trash sometimes, don’t they?  Quentin, you’re crisp!’

A little later, they were eating their burgers and reflecting on the sad, over-lit ambience of the half-empty (or was it half-full?) ‘restaurant’, which seemed to be the exclusive domain of a bevy of lost, black souls.  ‘How come no-one ever coined the term black-trash, or even Asian-trash?’  Whispered Quentin, ‘everyone knows what white — and trailer-trash — is, especially if they’ve watched the Larry Ginger show – did you know it’s an opera now? Or is it a PC issue?’ ‘Of course I know, it’s a hit,’ said Roger, ‘it’s Larry Ginger, The Opera – I thought it was a musical – and I’ll never forget when Larry presented you both with your Boom Award at the Albert Hall. Do you remember how pissed-off Underground Mixx looked when they lost-out to you in the Best Dance Record category?  As for black-trash, I guess it’s a PC thing. There’s always gonna be some kind of under-class, but everything claws its way out of the pit in time. There’s an evolved, educated black middle-class in this country, in America and all over the world, but the stereotypical portrayal of American blacks, sorry Affericans – I just invented that! – in movies as pimps, crack-heads and gangsters is not so different from the stereotypical portrayal of gays as tragic, effeminate queens. And both ghettos, sorry, communities, sometimes actively support and encourage that old-school bullshit sometimes.  It’s time to evolve!’

They had to wait for forty minutes in the depressing waiting room at the clinic. Soon, they were the only people left. Dr Aziz eventually appeared, apologised, touching Roger’s arm, smiled at Quentin and beckoned them into her consulting room. Roger was wearing fresh, clean clothes.  He never went a day without a bath or shower and never wore clothes next to his skin for more than once a day anyway. The brand-new, self-designed T-shirt he was wearing had a sort-of arty, contact-sheet of digital pictures that he’d taken printed on the front, mostly of Thailand and Cornwall.  The trousers were his favourite, comfortable, chunky-cord, beige combats with classic, white Calvin Kleins  briefs underneath.  He never wore any other underpants.  Quentin had recently bought him back a dozen pairs from New York, where they were much cheaper.  Roger introduced Quentin to Dr Aziz. ‘He’s a qualified nurse.’ Said  Roger brightly, knowing this wouldn’t do him any harm. They sat in front of her as she opened Roger’s bulging file on her desk.

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‘Okay…’ she cleared her throat and shuffled the papers in front of her, ‘the results of your biopsies are in.  I’m sorry I couldn’t speak to you about this on the phone, but it transpires that you have an extremely rare condition in both the lumps on your chest, which is known as Granular Cell Tumour.’

‘So what’s the chance of them being malignant?’  Asked Quentin, thinking: what the hell is that? Never heard of it. ‘The likelihood of it being malignant is remote,’ replied Dr Aziz, then turned to Roger, ‘but Mr Sidebottom, would you mind if our head of department,’ she lowered her voice to a stage whisper, ‘Dr Garfunkel… had a look at them?’ ‘Sure, no probs.’ Replied Roger.  He knew something was up, so he had to deal with it. But why the ‘boss scenario’?  And how did it relate to his mystery illness, if at all?

‘By the way,’ he asked Dr Aziz, ‘how was your new year’s eve at Senseless?’ ‘Oh it was wicked, what a fabulous place, I had a brilliant night,’ she replied, smiling, ‘but I never found out who sent a bottle of Krug to our table!’ ‘That’s very intriguing.’  Said Roger, winking surreptitiously at Quentin, who was ‘in’ on the story. ‘Here’s Dr Garfunkel.’  Said Dr Aziz. There could have been a drum roll. ‘Ah ha, Mr Sidebottom, pleased to meet you!’ Boomed the head of the department, shaking Roger’s hand enthusiastically.  He was straight out of central-casting; late-sixties, with half-moon glasses and wild, grey, mad-professor hair. ‘I’ll come back in a minute, if you could just disrobe’. ‘Do you mind?’ Asked Dr Aziz, motioning towards the examination bed.  She pulled the curtain across (‘Nurse! The screens!) and he took off his clothes. ‘This is all a bit of a carry-on!’ He joked to Dr Aziz, who chuckled, then whispered: ‘Can I mention…’ She motioned to where Quentin was sitting, giggling occasionally, reading something that what evidently amusing on his laptop. ‘You know… the test?’ ‘Oh!’  Said Roger deliberately loudly, ‘he knows all about the fact that I’m HIV negative, no probs – don’t you Quent?’ ‘Yep!’  Said Quentin brightly. ‘What’s the story you’re reading?’ Asked Roger, sitting on the examination table in just his ‘Calvins’. ‘Oh, it’s really good, it’s from a multimedia book called ‘My Unplanned Obsolescence’ and it’s by someone called Thom Topham; I found it online.

Dr Garfunkel returned and examined Roger’s lumps, whilst asking him various questions. ‘Mr Sidebottom is HIV negative.’ Volunteered Dr Aziz. ‘Excellent!’ Said Dr Garfunkel, as Quentin giggled beyond the screens. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Roger, ‘he’s just reading a funny story’. Dr Garfunkel left, Roger got dressed and returned to Dr Aziz’s desk.  ‘Sorry about that,’ she said soothingly, ‘but do you know, Dr Garfunkel has never, ever seen a case of these tumours in his forty years of practicing!’ ‘Well, er, glad to be of service.’  Said Roger, pulling a ‘gee thanks!’ face. Dr Aziz continued: ‘I wonder if you could do me – and the department – a big favour?’  Roger shrugged and looked at her enquiringly.  ‘Would you object to being examined by the department of dermatology at Saint Thomas’s in Lambeth next week?’ She asked. ‘No, not at all, if it helps sort things out regarding my mystery illness, then that’s all good.’ He answered. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘I’d also like you not to tell any of them what the condition is, if that’s okay.’ Roger tapped his nose in a conspiratorial fashion, then said ‘ Sure, but I’d like to ask you something: if these tumours are so rare, where have they previously been found?’ She looked slightly uncomfortable and said ‘Well, uh…’ He shot her an encouraging, I-can-handle-it look. ‘It’s generally only found in African-american women’.   Quentin and Roger had to suppress their laughter.

‘Get yer weave-on… right-on girl !’ Squealed Quentin double-ironically when they were outside again, lighting-up cigarettes and still laughing. ‘Oh yeah!’ said Roger in a deliberately bad, West-Indian accent, ‘I want those big, twisty, multi-coloured plaits in big beehives on my head, sister dread!’ ‘You know, I get the feeling,’ said Quentin, in something approximating an Indian accent, ‘that the lovely Dr Aziz is… just a little bit ambitious!’ Roger raised his eyebrows: ‘Yeah, she’s hoping for the front cover of SKIN, The British Journal Of Dermatology. Next thing you know they’ll be wanting to take pictures of my lumps at the hospital using a dodgy back-drop of some hospital gown held-up with masking tape!’ How very prescient he was.  His lumps were to become celebrity lumps, as they were indeed featured on the cover of SKIN, before they were removed.

The following week, Roger showed-up at the allotted time at St Stephen’s. He’d been asked to report to the nurses’ station in the dermatology department on the first floor of the South Building, wherever that was. This was London’s leading, teaching hospital and it was a sprawling complex of Victorian buildings with various architecturally dubious additions from the twentieth century bolted-on. He got lost several times in endless corridors, and was surprised to suddenly come across an old man playing Debussy on a grand piano – rather well – in a vast, lofty, Victorian lobby featuring marble pillars and ornate ironwork. as he searched for the dermatology department. He eventually found the right stairs and announced his presence at the nurses’ station. He was asked to follow one of them, who had obviously been expecting him: ‘Just wait there for a little while, if you don’t mind,’ she said as she ushered him in to a clinical, bare, pale-green room, ‘you’re about to be inundated, welcome to the Gulag!’ Dark humour seemed endemic in hospitals, he thought, as he sat down and started to work out the Codeword in The Daily Mirror – it was looking like number ten was the ‘E’ – then the door swung open and a gaggle of doctors of all ages, sexes and colours crowded into the room and started firing questions at him.

They asked him to remove most of his clothes, then ushered him on to the examination bed and turned on a bright light above his head.  They wanted to know every detail. ‘This one is about five years old…’ said Roger, pointing his finger at a lump, ‘and this one about three. I’m HIV negative and also have a mystery ailment which I suspect is Male Candida Of The Gut. I’d like to find out if there’s a link between the two conditions.  He felt like saying ‘anyone fancy a shag?’ But decided against it. The first group of doctors left, to be replaced by another ten or so. Roger started to feel like he sounded like a stuck-record (‘this lump five years, this one three’), but that didn’t stop him cracking jokes – ‘If it IS a yeast infection, hopefully I’m a funghi  to be with!’ – and making cheap innuendoes.  There was, however, no Hattie Jacques look-alike, which was a shame, he found it quite fun to be the official centre of attention. Eventually, the third posse of docs were leaving, apart from one, a pretty, young-ish blond woman, dressed in what looked like a Chanel suit.  She introduced herself as Dr Rachel Rashing (talk about ‘born to the job’, thought Roger), Dr Aziz’s colleague.  Roger winked at her and whispered ‘I haven’t given the game away!’ She whispered back ‘Thank you, you’ve been a complete star, this lot won’t forget you in a hurry! Dr Aziz sends her apologies, she was called to The Palace to do some private work.’ ‘I always suspected that Princess Anne had a nasty case of eczema – probably due to the horses,’ quipped Roger, putting his clothes back on, then asked her, ‘please could you try and pull all the info together regarding my mystery illness, which I think might be Male Candida Of The Gut, and see if there’s any link with these superstar, ultra-rare tumours?’  She nodded emphatically.  Roger continued: ‘I don’t want to be used for any self-aggrandising, ambitous purposes, I need to get to the bottom, so to speak, of this bloody long-term, health nightmare.  Can you imagine having the runs five times a day for ten years? Now… how the hell do I get out of this maze?’ They walked out of the ‘Gulag cell’. She pointed him in the right direction, then suddenly said: ‘You’re Roger Senseless, aren’t you? I recognise you from that interview you did with The Head magazine.’ ‘Certainly not,’ he replied in a cod-punky, mockney  voice, ‘I’m just a looky-likey.’ ‘Pants on fire!’ She responded swiftly, grinned, then added: ‘listen, can you do me another favour, I know you’ve been totally brilliant, but I sort-of lied to my immediate boss Amelia, I mean Dr Aziz, when I pretended that I knew you, in order to get the new year’s eve tickets at your wonderful club.’ They walked through the grand Victorian lobby as the same old man played Chopin Etudes on the grand piano. He eyed them quizzically.  ‘The truth is, I only know your accountant Charlie – he’s a Cancer, just like me, as it happens –  and he swung it for me, bless him.  I used to go out with him many moons ago.’

Moons, Cancer?  Who was writing this script?  She must be older than she looks, he thought.  Charlie was thirty-eight. He’d never mentioned a blonde woman, even though, like Roger, he’d had some relationships with women in his younger days and had told him about them… of course. They only ‘did’ honesty, didn’t they?  All of a sudden, maybe not. At least… degrees of honesty? Roger suddenly stopped,  gently grabbed her arm and turned and looked into her eyes as they reached the exit of the hospital by the newly-installed Cafe Nero concession: ‘Listen Dr Rashing, he’s been my boyfriend – mostly – for well over four years. Didn’t he ever tell you?’  She looked somewhat shocked and responded: ‘He never, ever told me that…’ Roger continued:  ‘Guess who he was with in Cornwall over new year?  Where did he tell you he was? At his parent’s place in Tottenham?’ He suddenly walked-off rapidly, keying-in Charlie’s name on his mobile then shouted: ‘the bottle of Krug on new year’s eve was from me, by the way’. He didn’t look back.

Charlie was still at work, so he had to leave a message: ‘I just met a secret ex of yours,’ He said, trying not to sound too angry, ‘blond, female, Chanel suit… you know the one, Rachel, Dr Rashing, she’s on the dermatological team at St Thomas’s. What a coincidence! And a Cancer, just like you too. How ironically appropriate.  So do you still shag her occasionally and were you planning to start a family in your fervent desire to be Captain Normal? You’d better get your fine arse over to my place tonight and explain yourself’. Roger almost banged into the automatic doors in his rush to leave the hospital. They never open quickly enough when you’re angry, he thought, then took a deep breath and told himself:  calm down, you fucking idiot.  Poor Dr Rashing, she was obviously oblivious to his relationship with Charlie, plus she was on-side, health-wise. There was no reason to believe that Charlie and her had been intimate again recently, was there?

He decided that he should take a walk along The South Bank, breathe some virtual sea-air by the brown, broody River Thames, clear his head and, well… chill.  He gazed at the Millennium Wheel thinking: how can you tell if it’s turning, why don’t they light it up more and where are the lasers? He considered checking out the Satchi Gallery, but figured that it might not necessarily be the best cultural experience for him in his current state of mind. Had Damien Hirst, Britain’s most famous, modern artist, ever featured biopsies in his medically-inspired works?   He was admiring the almost communist-style, monumental architecture that was County Hall (it housed art galleries, an aquarium, the inevitable tacky souvenir shop, restaurants, a hotel and some rather bland apartments) when a crusty-looking young man with white dreadlocks shoved a leaflet in his face and said: ‘Hi! My name’s Damien, just mention my name on reception at The Satchi Gallery and you’ll get a free set of arty postcards!’  He was obviously Australian. ‘Cool, er, cheers mate.’  Said Roger, lapsing into an Aussie accent and taking the flier.

He had been meaning to check the new gallery out. He was here, life was weird… so why not? He’d had this posh girlfriend (girl… friend) in the eighties called Darcey.  Her mother was a bit of a left-field, advertising legend (she’d come-up with the famous sixties slogan ‘made to make your mouth water’) at a major advertising agency, and Darcey had suggested that Roger would be a good ‘trend consultant’ for them, as he was a highly successful club promoter, had organised parties for superstars like Mariah Carey – the biggest female star in the world –  and even Michael Jackson, when he they were doing shows in London, and generally had his finger on the pulse (whatever that was).  So he’d been wheeled into their palatial, arty offices and been drip-fed copious amounts of champagne.  Then they’d attempted to pick his brains on all sorts of levels.  ‘Hellooo? Think I’m stooopid?  You’re all taking the fucking piss!’  No response, apart from insipid, non-comprehending, watery smiles. So he smashed his flute (how poetic) on the floor, told them they were all cynical, manipulative bastards unless they paid him one hundred K a year, then tipped-over the table and walked out.  Ah: such poignant memories of  pretentious prats being hoisted by their own petards!

It had started to rain and was dark, windy and miserable, yet mournfully beautiful. He walked up the dramatically expansive granite steps to the gallery’s entrance, then turned back to look at the view across the river.  There was a mass of twinkling lights reflecting in the Thames; a deep, wide, dark drain of swirling currents:  brutally inviting if you were feeling suicidal, no doubt.  Cold and strangely alluring even if you weren’t.  He shuddered inwardly, recalling the awful death of many of his young friends in the infamous Marchioness river boat disaster in the eighties, then turned and approached the entrance.

There wasn’t another soul in sight apart from the smiling black woman who held the door open for him as he entered.  ‘Thanks.’ He said and smiled (it was all a bit bleak, so how did she feel?)back  as he entered what looked like a mausoleum.  A brilliant choice of venue then.  Marble walls were adorned with hundreds of names in a grand lobby.  Bloody hell, he joked to himself, very Brit-Art, who did this, Damien Hirst, or was it the Chapman brothers? Of course, he knew very well that it was actually the lobby of the original building, which had once been the seat of local government in London. He loved private jokes.  As he walked down the corridor he started to forget his problems and began to enjoy himself. This was an other-worldly experience.

‘Okay, love you babes, talk later!”  Said the South African-sounding, surfer-dude cloakroom attendant on his mobile phone before he took various items of clothing, a bag and a trilby hat from the mousey, arty-professor-type man in front of Roger in the  short queue.  ‘Make sure that that hat doesn’t get crushed.’ Said the man in a whiney voice to the attendant, suggesting a creepy, neurotic and self-obsessed psyche.  He was obviously American; not that that automatically made him a creep.  Roger was tempted to wind him-up: ‘Hello, my name’s Justin Thyme, I’m a journalist writing for Alfresco*!’  Then the pervy-looking American academic would respond ‘Oh Al… yeah how is he?’

An artistic statement that was otherwise a normal, dark red, antique-leather Chesterfield sofa, apart from the giant orb bulging from its seat in the same material, was exhibited in the cloakroom area.  Funny.  But not art. Yeah, it made you think, but… you couldn’t sit on it.  Roger set off around the gallery and found much to amuse and delight him.  There was a lot of crap on view – literally, in the case of several paintings by the Turner Prize-winner Ben Ofili, who was famous for using camel dung on his canvasses, although Roger loved his work – but the gallery was generally stimulating, thought-provoking, entertaining and enervating and helped him escape from himself and those who didn’t understand him, at least for a little while. Hardly surprising really.  There were some lovely fireplaces too, but they were also from the original building.

He was assessing the supposed artistic merit of Tracy Emin’s ‘Bed’ (what a messy, dirty girl!) in the spectacular, main gallery when his mobile rang.  It was Charlie.  ‘Hi,’ said Charlie, ‘how are you?’ ‘I’m fine Charlie,’ said Roger, ‘so how are you?’ ‘So how are you then?’ Asked Charlie. ‘No, how are YOU!?’  Replied Roger, then fired:  ‘listen, did you fuck Rachel Rashing recently… or not?’ He could have been an ‘installation’ himself for all the other gallery visitors knew, as, apart from a bevy of Japanese tourists, the American academic, some Scandinavian tourists and a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls, visitors were a bit thin on the ground on this cold, winter evening.  Plus, there was something naughty about having a live conversation with someone he was pissed-off with taking place in a ‘radical’ art gallery.  Suddenly, he felt relaxed.  Then Charlie sighed and said: ‘Well, if you must know, we did have a reunion quickie once, about five years ago, when we were a bit high.  Just once.  But look, I love you, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.  Where the fuck are you by the way?’ ‘Well, I’m in the Satchi Gallery in County Hall.  I’ve recently been prodded and probed by over thirty specialists in St Stephens  – including your secret ex, Rachel, she seems very nice, I must say – and now I’m going to go home to suspend myself in formaldehyde, as Damien Hirst is coming to dinner.’ ‘That’s, er nice, ‘ Said Charlie, not quite sure what Roger was talking about – some arty bollocks, wasn’t it?  ‘So what IS the story on the cancer thing?’ He asked. ‘Well Charlie, great, mysterious and masculine love of my life,’ said Roger, as some Japanese tourists asked if they could take some pictures – he motioned an affirmative with a wave of his hand – ‘You’re Cancer, I’m Cancer, your ex-girlfriend Dr Rashing is a Cancer, but I’m the only one currently in danger of succumbing to it, although I think recent reports of my death have been somewhat exaggerated.  Hang on Charlie…’  He stuck the mobile phone in his mouth for the benefit of the Japanese tourists and did a little arty dance.  They made appreciative guttural noises as their camera bulbs flashed. ‘Charlie, you there?’ ‘Yeah, what’s going on?’ ‘Well, you’ve got to have a sense… of tumour, haven’t you?’

Steve Swindells (c) 4.2.04. All rights reserved.

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