Bed and breakfast?
“16.8.88 . Hotel America. Barcelona.
I’m lying naked, freshly showered, on starchy, white linen on a king-size, antique, metal bed, letting my body absorb some cocoa butter – I love its simple, sensual smell – and the fact that it automatically reminds me of making love with beautiful black men. I’m in a large, square, simple, almost monastic, high-ceilinged room with a big old fan spinning slowly above me. There are plain white walls and a terracotta-tiled floor, along with a perfect black-and-white-tiled art deco, en-suite bathroom. All this for under £20 a night. I just followed my nose and found it. Why book a room in advance – how dreary and unadventurous is that?
A small, spindly, round, 50s metal table and two chairs, in pleasingly distressed pale green, sit in front of the tall, french (or, surely, Spanish?) windows, which are flung open in front of a juliette balcony, with their white, muslin curtains gently billowing in a slight breeze. It’s a fantastically classy, filmic cliche; I’m feeling Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus – although that was set in Nepal. Meanwhile, I’m writing the lyrics to a potential song called, strangely enough, Barcelona.
Steamy, hazy heat and echoey sounds drift-up from the wide, winding alley below. The scene seques into something by Jean-Luc Godard. A beautiful, whispy-haired French girl is trying to play castanets on the balcony opposite and giggling, in a charmingly tinkly fashion – at how bad she is at it, I presume. How do I know she’s French? Earlier, I heard her being very Betty Blue with her companion (boyfriend, lover or husband?), who looks a lot like that famously handsome, French actor from the 50s/60s – the swarthy one who always used to wear brown-leather flying jackets. Alain Delon? Yes. And when he sported a moustache in Le Cercle Rouge, he was the spitting image of Maddox, my long-lost, deceased love.
This makes me realise and recall that I was loving the inherent sensuality of Barcelona and lost in… longing. Wishing that I might belong to somebody – in my deep, romantically-inclined mindset. Not, however, ‘romance’ in the way that it’s commonly perceived: I’m talking strong, passionate and lusty mance-to-mance, not the chocolate-box, airy-fairy fripperies that the word usually evokes. Mance-to-mance? Looks like I’ve dreamed-up another bit of cool, left-field, gay branding! Better register that dot com right now! With a ‘2’ intstead of a ‘to’. Dot com. Got it.
I’ve been there, but, it never really went beyond the idea of being ‘together for life’, apart from, perhaps, and perversely, in the case of Derek. We’re still doing our own weird version of romance after all these years (you love me a little bit, don’t you?). He still wants us to have threesomes though, which really doesn’t appeal to me as there’s always one who’s rejected: its often a way for an established couple to spice-up their possibly-failing relationship, not that that really applies to us – we only see each other every two or three weeks, usually on a Friday. ‘Our Friday’ as we call it, which is rather touching. I’d like to fuck him whilst he fucked someone else though – we’ve never done that. Naughty. But I’d hate someone else to fuck him. That, wierdly, is exactly what happened with the only threesome we ever had in all these years. It was a handsome, bisexual black guy I’d been shagging fairly regularly, so that came as a bit of a surprise. And why did Derek let him ‘slip one up’ so easily? Okay, it’s true that we were all a bit ‘out of it’, but, surely Derek: you knew that it wasn’t me? Then again, why did I let it happen? I guess I was taken by surprise and that my genuine shock was responsible for my lack of objection. Then I thought, oh fuck it… literally.
Lately, he’s been letting me know, very , very subtly, that he needs me and feels for me. Is it all based on the fear of rejection? Surely that’s as much of an old turkey as ‘all artists must suffer for their art’. I honestly don’t believe that I’m frightened of rejection. What’s the point? Either they feel you or they don’t. As for the art, it’s in my soul to be a poet and a musician and, hopefully, a portrayer of faces, spaces and places to be; someone who knows that he can, on occasion, also be a magician. I can say that with confidence, despite my utter lack of… self-confidence. I guess that I’ve lived in the bubble of relative failure for so long and therefore have rarely sought to have it pricked by potentially feeble feedback from the outside world. That is my fear of rejection: it’s as an artist, not a lover. It really is time to change that. But some degree of genuine, palpable success is the only thing that would convince me. It’s all very well people telling me I’m a genius, and really talented (thanks people, I really appreciate it, believe me), but I need someone massive to sing one of my songs – then I’ll start to truly believe in myself. I know I’m an artist, otherwise I wouldn’t keep on keeping-on after all these years. It’s just like a person called Time – *contemporary song by me alert* – You Go By. Everything passes, then fades to grey? That’s also a classic, if slightly precious, 80s track by Visage. But it was a HIT. Unlike anything I’ve ever recorded.
Luckily, I’m only just starting to get grey in my goatee – my hair remains defiantly dark brown. Loopy, my lovely sister, suggested to me last year that ‘obviously I dyed it’. I was mortified! As if I would do such a thing? When I go grey, I will go grey gracefully. Time… you go by.
The nearest thing that us Brits could muster to match the delicious Alain Delon was Dirk Bogarde (who was rather beautiful too), but, despite his sexuality – which he eventually, reluctantly admitted to in his somewhat precious, albeit well-written, autobiographical volumes. He never seemed to have experienced that pure animal attraction, possibly because he was, in reality, a bit of a prissy queen. The closest he got to that on screen was in the 1952 (my god, the year I was born!) film ‘Hunted’, where his role was, frankly, bordering on the pedophiliac. Delon, meanwhile, was alleged to be bisexual, and involved with gangsters and far-right politicians. The usual suspects. But the couple in the apartment opposite in Barcelona in 1988 really were Alain and Natalie Delon… at least for me, in a purely romantic sense. And I still cherish a brown, French (it says so on the label), 50s leather jacket that I found in a charity shop in West Hampstead for twenty quid about eight years ago. I call it Alain. Delon and winding road, as Paul McCartney might sing, if he was doing a gig in Paris. OK, I’ll get my coat (a brown, French vintage leather jacket).
All these evocations stir the memories like a well-flavoured, finely-seasoned selection of tapas, served with a glass or three of Rioja Reserva (echo… echo). This is a very good thing, apart from the fact that I can’t actually drink any red wine currently, because, as you may recall, I am detoxing here in Cornwall.
I read on… I’m enjoying this trip down memory lane (or mammary lane, as Jeremy Organ would have said).
“People from all walks of life and many nations saunter by beneath my window laughing, singing and/or even dancing: all dressed-down, sun-kissed and summery. I wish I had an old Tennessee Williams-style, portable typewriter with me, so I could sit wreathed in mysterious cigarette smoke at the green, metal table by the window, writing a dark, romantic and slightly over-melodramatic screenplay for 80s versions of 50s and 60s movies. That means Elizabeth Taylor, who’d shot to fame as a beautiful young girl in a film about a black stallion (no, not that one!) in the mid-Forties. She was apparently totally in love with her unobtainable co-star, the darkly handsome and charismatic Mongomery Clift, who was gay, of course. And Williams was obsessed with him too. This made for sizzling interactions, apparently, although Monty did tend to over-analyse his characters’ motivation a tad too intently apparently, having studied at the Actor’s Studio – as had been suggested in a biography I’d read about eight years ago, when I lived in tiny three-bedroomed pre-fab off London’s Old Kent Road. Yes indeed, a 1940’s pre-fab. It was £40 a week and I loved it.
The place literally used to shake when you had sex. It was hilarious, unless it was with my ‘pet psychopath’ Billy Medina, in which case the pre-fab-shaking turned it into a little hammer house of horror. Monty leads to Medina in one fell swoop – but I don’t want to dwell on the dreaded Billy, Hey – I’m on holiday in Barcelona (although The actual Medina is far less threatening). And, not having access to a Tennessee-style typewriter, or one of those new-fangled portable word-processors (ooh-arr, wish-list!), I’ll have to make do with this notebook.
I’m left-handed, so I write upside down and twisted to the right. It’s a human evolutionary process: you’re simply avoiding smudging as you write – especially if, like me, you grew-up before ball-point pens were in general use (no wonder there was a 50s doo-wop group called The Ink Spots – they were probably all cack-handed). I hope I don’t get writer’s cramp. I can, however, still be wreathed in fag smoke as I write, if I so desire, when I make one of my customary roll-ups.
Note to my American readers: ‘fag’ is one of the words us Brits use for cigarettes, in case your knowledge of people from countries that you have a ‘special relationship with’ is similar to some of your politicians’ formulation of foreign policy. Having said that, in the context of US culture, ‘fag smoke’ sounds rather intriguing, perhaps invoking burning homosexuals at the stake (bring on the faggots! Sorry that’s another English word – for wood-kindling and also some kind of low-rent meatball), or the suggestion that there’s ‘no fag smoke without fire’ – a gift from me, with love, to all you closet-cases, especially all the black sports/pop/rap stars who remain firmly ensconced in their ghetto-fabulous, blingin’ walk-in wardrobes, sorry, closets.”
I didn’t mention it in that particular diary, but I do remember meeting Tennessee Williams once. Yes, I really did. It was at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s Charing Cross Road in 1977. I vaguely recall that Christabel Galway had managed to get hold of some free tickets for what would turn-out to be his last play: ‘The Red Devil Battery Sign’. She was friendly with a well-known actor and bon viveur called Timothy Kitchens who lived in a large studio flat in the apartment block above the theatre (the over-rated art-film director Derek Jarman also lived there for a while, and he was an admirer of a young Thom back in the early 70s, but that’s another story). Kitchens, as he was/is universally known, was having a fling, or a thing, with Jeremy Organ, her by-now-separated husband, but it was all very amicable and grown-up.
Polysexual frienships, where ‘exes’ became buddies with ‘newbies’ and everyone got on famously – especially in our gang – were very common in those days. Are they still that way amongst arty, creative, media, theatre and music-biz types, or are people more circumspect, responsible and paranoid? I don’t know, I don’t get out much these days, mostly because it costs a fucking fortune and I am, inexplicably, broke. Anyway, that’s how The Countess Of Monte Christabel met her dashingly handsome second husband; above the theatre, in Kitchens’ flat, I think, perhaps even IN his kitchen, where Jeremy, her ‘ex’, was living with him (not just in Kitchens’ kitchen, obviously, in the whole flat!) for a while. Pricelessly most-podern (dare I write LOL at this point?). I hope you realise that I invented Most Podern! One could even add an e (although they’re simply not happening these days, I hear, it would appear that Mother, Daughter, Maiden Aunt is a much better option, not that I’d know, of course). That would have to be Kitchens in drag as Hyacinth Bucket, sorry, Bouquet .
I do believe that he recently took part (maybe he even won?) in the hit, ritual humiliation show ‘I’m a Nonentity, Get Me In To Here’.
To be fair, I always found him to be very funny, genuine, witty and, well, cuddly – so good luck to him and to all who sail in him.
Christa and I met Saint Tennessee in the stalls and complimented him on his work – after the play was over and the audience had left. He was pleasantly avuncular, slightly tweedy, frail and friendly, but still had a sparkle in his eye (always the sign of a true artist). I resisted asking him why his work always featured some hunky ‘bit of rough’ in a white vest (tank-top to you Yanks) but did manage to question him about that famous photo of him typing, wreathed in cigarette smoke.
‘Oh, it just happened by accident, I can’t even remember where it was; Key West maybe,’ he shrugged, putting his hand on my arm, but not in a pervy way, ‘I guess you would say here in the UK that I was smoking a fag !’ That was a good gag. Christabel (who was dressed in a wonderfully eccentric, 30s’style ensemble, including a black velvet beret with a matching ostrich feather) and I laughed heartily. I don’t remember much else – and that includes whether Tennessee’s final play was any good, I fear, as we were quite drunk, having had free, pre-theatre drinks at Fred Dexter’s, our favourite restaurant, in Covent Garden, where Jeremy, who, sadly, is no longer with us, was the Maitre d’ at the time. It was a favourite with thespians, musicians and celebs, because you could eat really late – last orders were at midnight. How civilised.
Christabel, myself and many of ‘the old gang’ had held a celebratory dinner there about three years ago after we’d buried Jeremy’s ashes in Highgate cemetery, which had been one his last wishes. The other was that we would have a damn good party – a celebration of his life – after his cremation, which I’d organised… literally… in Paradise – in Kensal Spleen, oh alright, Green. It was a fantastic night. There was a great turnout of Jeremy’s fabulously fascinating friends at the funeral and at the party afterwards, including the cream of London’s meeja stars, as Jeremy’s career path had taken some startlingly varied twists and turns over the years. His first job had been as a chauffeur, which included driving a famous pop star of the future (who somehow ended-up playing in my band BiJingo in 2003) to school in his father’s Roll’s Royce, in Highgate. He had a brief foray as a rent boy (as you do), many more ‘odd jobs’, the aforementioned stint as Maitre d’ at Fred Dexter’s – which lasted several years, before my brother Danny helped him land a sub-editing gig at 24/7 magazine. He progressed steadily up the journalistic ladder, on the underground-trendy-chic side of things, ending up as a director and executive editor of the achingly hip Paint+ group.
‘The name is ORGAN and I’m the editor of THIS esteemed ORGAN!’ He would enthuse loudly, after yet another liquid lunch . He loved ‘entertaining the troops’, as he would put it, by doing things like donning a mangy old wig, pulling an old-hag face and spitting-out, whilst pointing at his various underlings: ‘The name is Thrope, MISS ANN THROPE and I hate YOU, YOU, YOU AND EVERYTHING!’
He could, it has to be said, occasionally be pompous and a bit bitter and twisted as well. He used to try and seduce various lovers and fuck-buddies of mine by treating them to expensive meals, when we were sharing a flat off Ladbroke Grove, in Notting Hill (he loved black men too), but I don’t know if he really got anywhere. He also once accused me of being a ‘journalist manque‘, many years later, which hurt a bit (especially as I had a weekly column in 24/7, a monthly column in Vaguely and was the editor of their website at the time), but it was, no doubt, a throwaway comment. He had been guilty of being jealous of me in the past – perhaps because I often ‘got’ all the good looking guys – but I hoped he hadn’t carried that into the 90s like a bitter badge of resentment. Jerry was, however, fiercely intelligent – and, conversely, intelligently fierce. But his loyalty was always without question.
He always found anything metaphysical or ‘spiritual’ quite preposterous (I think that ‘High Church’ was more his thing), whereas Christabel and I were always checking our horoscopes (horror scopes, as he would say), having our fortunes told, our cards read – and even holding seances. He used to scoff that ‘it was all a complete nonsense’. Now here’s a funny thing. Everyday when I wake-up, I go online, check my emails, then kick-start my tired old brain by playing various word games. There’s one where you have to be terribly quick, it’s a ‘multi-player’ called, in trendy lower-case, multipopword You’ll find Thom Topham on there regularly, quite often leading the field – I’m usually in the ‘difficult room’ 5A . Soon after Jeremy’s demise I noticed strange things happening as I was playing multipopword. The word ‘organ’ (oh ho ho!) would appear repeatedly, then Jeremy (which doesn’t count as a ‘scoring’ word, of course), then Contessa, Christa, Dexters, manque, and all these jokey little clues ‘from the other side’, with ‘insider knowledge’, which seemed to suggest to me that he was trying to tell me that he was happy and at peace, which was a great irony… and really, quite deliciously… wonderful.
He still ‘visits’ me regularly and tries, as I see it, to offer me subtle snippets of advice, as does Maddox, my first lover. It doesn’t frighten me at all; quite the opposite. It makes me smile and feel good inside. I even presume to think he’s trying to redeem himself spiritually.
Back when Christabel and Jerry were a couple, in the mid-70s, they’d managed the twenty four-hour bar and restaurant at the terribly trendy (darling) Mushroom Hotel in Notting Hill for two or three years, where we would drink free booze and smoke dope all night, hanging out with people like Leonard Cohen, The Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, John-Paul Getty (minus an ear, after his kidnap) and many more left-field, cultural luminaries and icons of the past, the present and the future.
Gillian, the unflappable manageress, happened to be the mistress of one the UK’s comedic leading lights – many would say ‘the father of alternative comedy’ – who was a secret transexual. Adrian Lewis, the wonderfully rude, tall, blonde receptionist, was notorious for his acerbic put-downs of famous people: ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are darling; but this hotel is FULL so just fuck off!’ The original gay punk (which was pretty rad for the time), he was famously arrested on Piccadilly, ludicrously, for ‘gross indecency’, because he was wearing Vivienne Westwood’s iconic two-cowboys-with-their-dicks-out T-shirt. And now she’s a dame and has turned into a gamine old bird. Adrian became a well-respected film critic, with his own fantasy-film festival in London. Isn’t it great how things turn-out sometimes?
Christabel had been largely responsible for organising Jerry’s funeral, so laughter and cheers, rather than tears, were the ‘order of service’, when his white, cardboard coffin appeared in a hearse that was the sidecar of a vintage motorbike driven by a bear (as-in ‘fat gay bearded bloke’) in full leathers, with his similarly-attired, dykey assistant leading the procession on foot. Sheer brilliance. Kudos to the Kuntessa! And the eulogies had the packed crematorium chapel rocking raucously in the pews to these ribald remembrances – then smiling and biting their lips, as the affectionate tributes to Jerry’s brilliance, badly-behaved-yet-brilliant wit, intellect and generosity of spirit were recounted.
Talking of which, the also rather badly-behaved-but by-now successful film director Robert Burton (whom Christa had indeed met back then at Timothy Kitchens’ flat – having announced herself on the entryphone as ‘Christabel with the ENORMOUS CUNT’ – who was soon to become her second husband and the father of her second daughter), insisting on picking-up the tab for about twenty people, including Jeremy’s deeply disapproving younger brother and wife, who’d been horrified by my impression of One Foot In The Grave, which involved me, erm, putting one foot in the freshly dug little hole in which Jeremy’s urn of ashes was sitting in a beautiful spot in the cemetery – which he’d chosen himself, when he’d known that the cancer was terminal – and then shouting ‘I don’t BELIEVE it!’ Everyone (apart from the prissy relatives) had fallen about laughing, before Anwar, his unbelievably beautiful lover for the last year of his life – a talented, Tunisian photographer – had covered it in soil. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was playing in my mental jukebox: we know Major Thom’s a junkie. Actually, he never was and never will be. Apart from the fags (finished!) and the booze (working on it).
Of course, It never occurred to his prissy relatives that Jeremy would have throughly approved. And what a great way, in a sense (why be doomy about it?) to depart this mortal coil; with a stunning, spiritual and talented man being there to guide you into the afterlife like some kind of pre-ordained, karmic love god. Way to go!
‘You’ve got to keep believing – feel it burning down below, it’s a way to go…’
What next – My Unplanned Obsolescence, The Musical? I don’t think so; the title doesn’t exactly suggest West End, coach-party audiences. More art-house stylee, perhaps in a workshop production in Oedipal House, in Sarf Lahndan.
There are so many stories: they run into each other like a motorway pile-up of memories. Luckily, most people walk out of the wreckage without a scratch. Some get wounded and recover; others simply don’t make it. Different narratives emerge from death, like characters who vaguely know each other through some connection with the deceased – like in a novel, play or film – then they converge, briefly merging, before diverging as the plot thickens or thins, while the thread maybe continues, or simply snaps.
I’m writing this – and quoting from my old diary written in Barcelona in 1988 – in Cornwall in June 2010. Just thought I’d remind you; especially if you’ve suddenly discovered this blog (from my autoBLOGography) for the first time, here in Chapter 4. Obviously, I’d advise you to go back and start at the beginning with Chapter 1, but I hope you’re enjoying it regardless.
The sun has swung around (the yard arm?) and now shines above the roofs of the cottages in a brilliant, clear blue sky. I really must go for a nice, long walk tomorrow, with the weather here being so perfectly glorious, I say to myself, in a vaguely Northern Irish accent, for no apparent reason – maybe it was because I was just reminiscing about Jeremy, as we often fondly bellowed at each other in the manner of The Reverend Ian Paisley when we were drunk, back in the day. Jeremy (aptly-named) Organ and his pendulous penis. Now there’s something to be remembered by!
I take a sip of my T.N.T and return to reading my 1988 diary.
“The Hotel America is a cool, clean, gay-friendly and stylish budget hotel exhibiting what, apropos of nothing – apart from the fact that I’m in Spain – I like to call ‘catholic taste’, like the delicate wrought-iron work in the lobby. It’s just-off The Plaza Real, a medieval square which boasts an ancient circular, central fountain surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and tapas bars housed in what could be described as shady cloisters. There are also Romany hustlers playing concertinas (generally really badly) for the tourists. Fuck off, por favor!”
I must confess that I rather romanticised the Romanies in Barcelona, the song, when I wrote the lyric as noted in my diary in… Barcelona in 1988. It’s called poetic licence, I guess.
‘TVs blaring and radios, the wail of police cars – and gypsies playing concertinas, in the cafes and the bars.
A big ship sounds its foghorn, like a mournful mating call, in the night like we were passing, touching chords that said it all ‘.
“The Plaza Real is, in turn, just off the famous pedestrian thoroughfare Las Ramblas, near to the bustling, ever-fascinating harbour, where I love to wander and sit, watching the transitory people, the boats and the beautiful men of all hues coming and going. Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. Thank you Otis Redding, for my teenage enlightenment that soul music could be both melancholic and uplifting.
There are hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured jewels in a 50s glass vase with air-bubbles in it (which I found on flea market stall for about £1 yesterday) on an antique mahogany chest by the bed. I ‘mined’ them earlier today from the white sand on San Sebastian beach, in front of that magnificent ruined, rococo palace that I fondly fantasise about turning into the ultimate beach-front hotel, restaurant and dance club… one day (see photo above – with ‘Barcelona’ graffiti). It sits beneath the route of the rusty old cable cars that creak and crank high across the harbour at regular intervals. The beach is a long, but rather bland stretch of white sand (full of tiny, hidden jewels, of course), with a few restaurants and cafes in glorified shacks at one end, on the seafront, which are reached by an ugly, concrete promenade. Not a palm tree or sun-lounger in site, which is good. An urban beach, essentially. Barcelona is a big city: I think we’re talking two million souls.
The ‘jewels’ have been my glass bead game for the single traveler. Very simple, childish and somehow therapeutic, especially when I found a rare ‘ruby’ (well, a tiny piece of sea-smoothed, red glass), soon followed by a splendiferous ‘saphire’, but the real prize was the ‘turquoise’ (which happens to correspond to my star sign, Scorpio, I think – or is it a topaz, or both?). The browns, greens and whites were merely costume jewellery.
I left the beach in the late afternoon and took the trusty, rusty cable car across the harbour, so I could take pictures on my cheap camera, but I didn’t look directly down. It felt like we were hundreds of feet up in the air, but it was still less vertiginous than being on a tall bridge, and for some reason, my legs didn’t turn to jelly. Each car holds about twenty to thirty people, and there are large openings with yellow and red metal frames and slatted, tatty old dark-wooden bench seats beneath. The views of this beautiful city were spectacular in the late summer’s, misty, golden evening sunshine. And there, in the middle of it all stood La Sagara Familia, Gaudi’s famous, unfinished cathedral – the most amazing building I think I’ve ever seen. It was like a vast, dark-but-divine magician’s palace, with elegant filagree towers soaring into the heavens. I don’t know if Gaudi was religious, but surely no-one had ever designed a place of worship that was so beautifully whacky and also so wondrously beautiful? One also can’t help wondering if he was a fan of opium.
Then I came back the other way on the cable car and had a very late brunch (Spanish omelete in a soft baguette) at at the Cafe Miramar, which sits in the cliffs overlooking the harbour at the terminus. The city’s other cable car, looping up the hill above the cliff, looks kind-of 50s with its brightly coloured seats, which are like flying saucers set side-by-side – more like a fanciful ski-lift. It seemed, unfortunately, that the nearest station was a way away, so I walked-up the steep hill to find a rather bland old fortress and and a sad-looking funfair at the top. The views of the city were majestic and magnificent, but the setting was surprisingly bleak and there wasn’t much fun to be had in the fair. By then, the ‘flying saucer’ cable-car had ceased operations, which seemed strange; maybe there was a fault, or they had some intuitive monitoring system which shut down the system if there weren’t enough passengers?
I headed back here to the evocative ambience of my room at Hotel America on foot, downhill all the way (not that I was feeling anymore inherently melancholy than usual), until I reached Las Ramblas and Plaza Real, for a bit of a writing session – hello, here I am! – and perhaps a nap. After that, I’ll be heading out to find somewhere new and intriguing to eat in, then another fantastic club (they’re incredible here in Barcelona – so cool, daring, different and radical in their design) in which to wile away the balmy night until the dreamy, drunken dawn, maybe in the company of a beautiful stranger.
‘Barcelona, on my own, away, under the stars, watching the world passing from the cafe Miramar.
Barcelona home-from-home, alone, but not too far, from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar.'”
Pause. I was writing the words of the song Barcelona in my notebook – much which I am now sharing with you now – in Barcelona, of course, WAY before that dreadful cod-operatic song by Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe. I tried to ‘get it’ to the relevant Olympian committee after I’d recorded it when I got back to London, but, I guess the cassette got lost in the post.
“The Spanish tend to eat dinner really late, which suits me just fine, but I must remember not to drink to many spirits before (or after) dinner – the measures here are so massive, and so cheap, and so’s the wine – A Rioja Reserva for £2? Astonishing. Una cerveza por favor should, perhaps, be my new mantra after dinner. That’s the spirit! Or not.
The best and cheapest places to eat are to be found off the touristy beaten track, where many families turn the front rooms of their ancient, pastel-painted and shuttered, adobe-rendered casas into ad-hoc restaurants. You can take your own wine, and the host or hostess simply decides what you’re going to eat. Several tapas and a couple of main courses for under £5, sharing with locals and visitors, usually at one big table. I can manage a smattering of Spanish (hola guapa – vamos a mi casa ?) but most people speak at least broken English: cue Marriane Faithful’s breakthrough album and ‘her own little oyster’, although here, perhaps, mussel (in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce) would be more appropriate. Christabel, no doubt, would have merely alluded to her giant octopussy.
19.8.88 . Plaza Real. 8pm.
How ya feelin’? Hot! Hot! Hot!
I spent the afternoon (I don’t do mornings) at San Sebastian beach with Tallulah, of all people, whom I’d simply ‘bumped in to’ on the beach. He’s a famously good-time-camp-yet-soulful DJ from London, a legend really, who does a wonderfully ironic and trashy drag act as well – a Hollywood-meets-rock-chick kind of thing.
I can’t stand traditional drag, it just bores me; all those tired old man-crones trotting-out the smutty cliches with pantomime makeup and huge falsies in dreary old Victorian pubs with sticky, swirly carpets, cheap, faded furnishings and fag-stained walls, which are patronised by tired old queens, pervy plebs, raggedy rent boys and assorted ‘clones’, closet-cases and vague leather-queens. Not my thing.
Tallulah is, thankfully, much more original in ‘her’ act and today resembled a large alabaster budha in too-tight, black swimming trunks, lounging on the white sand on a tatami beach mat in the blistering sunshine. I even have a photo (see above)! We had a laugh about life in London – where we both are, after all, movers-and-shakers on the club scene – and he soon got right into my glass bead game, becoming quite obsessive about finding the elusive turquoise gems, like me.
I was recounting how I was trying to remember how I’d ended-up getting into a cab with a handsome, black Frenchman at 5:am that morning… I was so drunk and perhaps a little high – I think someone had given me an E. Perhaps that’s why he (the Frenchman, not Tallulah) seemed a little cautious and apprehensive. I’d had to reassure him that I wasn’t about to steal his wallet or abuse him. He relaxed a little when we got back to my cooly filmic room at Hotel America and took a shower together, kissing under the huge chrome showerhead in the massive, art-deco bath. All I really remember him saying was: ‘How old are you Thom?’
‘You haf ze body off a nineteen year-old.’
Was that flattery – or maybe I needed to put on some weight and bulk-up a bit? He still appeared to find me a little etrange and our love-making was, sadly, somewhat awkward and perfunctory. Soon after, he made his excuses and disappeared into the dawning day. I went into a deep sleep and dreamt of Milton, dancing just for me on an empty stage in a derelict theatre in The Bronx, with burning love in his eyes and fired-up, fuck-me-fire in his fabulous thighs. Until some black closet-case crack-head in the dream ruined it all by shouting ‘The land that time faggot!’ Over and over again. Milton promptly flew up into ‘the flys’ on theatrical wires and I woke up abruptly, wondering: where has Milton gone? Why do I suddenly think I’ll never see him again? It’s only a dream, isn’t it?
Another mutual pick-up happened with a Panamanian guy the other night – we went back my hotel, and the sex was better – more raunchy and real – but he hadn’t been wearing the proverbial hat. That rather spoilt my reverie that we were going to be reliving a scene from a Graham Greene novel. He spoilt things further the next morning, well, afternoon, when he declared, in an accent straight from central-casting, that ‘he LUFFED me and we should haff a champagne breakfast togeffa.’ Yeah right, after just one night? Muy Bien amigo. Adios.”
A phone rings, but there isn’t a phone in my hotel room. Blink. Reality.
I look out to sea and see an elderly man rowing an old wooden dinghy towards the beach. Looks like the waves will soon be crashing-up against the sea wall in Queensberry with the early evening high tide. I love that. I reach over and answer the phone.
‘Hello dear, how’s it all going at the cottage, what’s the weather like?’
It’s Delia, my mother. Still a bundle of energy and light aged 82. ‘Who’s there with you – are you having fun?’
‘Hi mum, sorry, I was miles away in Barcelona…’
‘Barcelona – what you went on the Santander ferry to Spain and back? But you’ve only been there three days! Barcelona was always my favourite of your songs – ‘Barcelona, on my own, away under the stars. Watching the world passing, from the Cafe Miramar’ – and I love that melancholic, moody trumpet.’
I complete the chorus, singing on the phone: ‘Barcelona, home-from-home, alone, but not too far, from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar .’
I thank her for remembering something from so far back, then gently point out. ‘Actually, it was a flugel horn, it was played by a guy from Sade’s band and, yes, I just read the song as I first wrote it in Barcelona in 1988… right now. I was perusing one of my old notebooks – remember Spike found a bag-full in your loft and brought them to me in London? Well, I grabbed a small, random selection and brought them with me. I’ve been reliving my visit and evidently had a wonderful, if somewhat badly-behaved time. I do believe I’m about to head-off to the beautiful and exciting island of Ibiza on the night-ferry tomorrow.’
‘But the Santander ferry doesn’t go to Ibiza from Raleigh… oh, wait a minute, you mean in the diary. Sorry dear, I was momentarily confused.’ Delia chuckles. ‘It’s old age finally catching-up with me.’
‘Nonsense Delia,’ I reply, ‘you’re bright as a button. I’m surprised they haven’t painted the Santander car ferries bright red and filled the decks with Porches and Ferraris owned by odious, fat-cat bankers. A marvellous target for anarchists in rubber dinghies with paint and stink bombs. I always wonder why anarchists actually hold meetings – doesn’t that rather go against their apparent ethos? Anyway, in answer to your questions; the weather is beyond fabulous, I’m having a sort-of lovely time and… none of the guys could make it.’
‘That’s a shame, so you’re on your own, and why sort-of ?’ She asks, probably picking-up on potential problems and nuanced negatives, as only mothers can.
The guys all had perfectly valid reasons for not coming – all too busy – and that’s not to say they didn’t want to, especially Luther, as he’s never been before, and because the others have enthused about how wonderful it is here to him. And Tommy fell-out with me last new year, as you may recall. You know, black dog – as Churchill dubbed it – and all those pits and peaks. Maybe I should have invited Alistair after all. Anyway, I really don’t mind being on my own as I’ve got my laptop, I’m vaguely online and I’ve started my autobiography at last.’
‘Oh Eureka!’ Exclaimed Delia, ‘About bloody time! You were always such a good writer and a natural story-teller, your teachers at secondary school seemed to encourage you. I don’t recall a time that you weren’t top in English and also – it has to be said that you haven’t exactly led a dull life!’
‘That’s certainly true, apart from that teacher who slapped me once, apropos of nothing – I think it’s because he fancied me and because I was too intellectually advanced about interpreting Shakespeare,’ I reply, ‘it’s going really well – not my life, I mean, my book – especially with the help of the notebooks, and it’s very cathartic and becoming quite fulfilling.’
‘Oh, that’s really good, and, well, not so good… have you got a title for it yet?’ She asks, ‘Once you’ve got the title you’re off and running, I reckon.’ Delia had had a good stab at writing a book herself, an historical novel.
‘Well, yes, it’s called My Unplanned Obsolescence…think about it Granny Google.’
All Delia’s offspring call her that, as she not only has the latest iMAC, but also an iBook and loves staying in touch with everyone in the family using PP (People Pages)- we’re all on it – and by email. And no doubt Sarah, as she named her, her spirit guide and what would have been her seventh child, helps her to pick-up and communicate things on more esoteric, metaphysical level. ‘The Wisdom Of The Years‘ is a song I wrote with reference to, and in deference to Delia, and to my own knock-backs and disappointments in my fifty-odd years – I penned it in 2004. She’d struggled so hard financially and emotionally in her twenties, despite her film-star good looks and intelligence, or perhaps because of those apparent plus-points.
The song was also alluding to the long-standing ‘relationship’ between Derek and myself. I think that maybe I was in a romantically optimistic, or forgiving frame of mind. The Wisdom Of The Queers doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
Delia’s marriage to my father – they were co-starring the in The Felixstowe Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of No No Nanette when they suddenly got hitched when they were both in their early twenties – only lasted about nine years. As a single child, it had been perhaps her only exit strategy from her parents’ sometimes frothy, lightweight, wannabe Ivor Novello-esque world, at the time.
The result was three rather good-looking boys, of which I was the second, and our father, who art in heaven (or somewhere) being banished to the backwoods of Birmingham and airbrushed from our lives after she left him. That’s how it was in those days. It must have been extraordinary, however, to have lived through all those huge cultural and socio-economic upheavals after the war.
My mother had phoned me after watching Germaine Greer presenting a programme about the origins and usage of swear words several weeks ago. I told her that I’d watched it and enjoyed it.
‘I loved it, she said, slightly breathlessly, ‘it was so liberating to realise that it’s OK to use the word CUNT!’
I was only slightly taken aback, but thrilled that she could be so cool.
‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the word!’I told her. We both snickered like two kids, still enjoying the sheer naughtiness of saying the word cunt, after it had been deemed OK by a doyen of intellectual feminism.
‘I’m thinking… mmm, that… you could be relating your current situation to modern technology… in a metaphor…whilst reflecting on your past, present and future, perhaps?’ She states, thinking aloud.
‘Spot on, you nutshelled it mother!’ I say, pleased that she can be so perceptive.
‘It was inspired – or not, as the case may be – by the fact that my broadband pay-as-you-go dongle was a massive two years old and wouldn’t work without a new sim card, so I had to stop off in Raleigh to get one – at least they didn’t charge me for it, and I’d have been furious if they had!’ I explain.
‘How annoying for you, dear, did you eventually get the sim card and did your internet connection work properly?
‘Yes, eventually,’ I reply, ‘but really only after midnight. How ironic is that – with my lifelong addiction to night-owl-ism?’
‘You couldn’t really make that up could you?’ She says and chuckles. ‘Seriously though, surely, that title – My Unplanned Obsolescence – and… or theme could be seen as being somewhat depressing or negative?’
‘I just did make it up! However, indeed it could! So am I supposed to pretend that I live in some rosy world of all-is-well? The reality is a great deal of struggle, lack of recognition and general poverty, and now, of course, my various serious and equally annoying illnesses. And just to add to the equation, there is my bitter-sweet lack of a love-life, which has been the case throughout most of my adult life. What the hell is that all about? This is the hand I’ve been played and there is no sweet little middle-class clause in my contract-with-reality that somehow exempts me from this ongoing often lonely and challenging situation. Therefore, without melancholy there is no joy, and without reflection – especially on the ever-changing sea – there is no conclusion. Who knows how it could all unfurl?’
My mobile phone chings. It’s a text from Derek.
‘You love me a little bit, don’t you?’ It reads. Wow. I’ll text him a bit later.
‘I hope there’s a flag-waving, happy ending darling!’
‘That would be great, but, unfortunately, I guess it ends when I die, so I don’t know if that counts as particularly happy. Otherwise, obviously, it remains to be seen whether I get to finish it before my untimely demise. However, what I’ve just started already looks like it might just end-up as being Volume One, as there’s so much ground to cover and there are all these hand-written notebooks and pre-digital diaries to read and to type-up, not to mention all sorts of type-written chronicles, short stories, poems, lyrics, songs (of course), three musicals and even a half-finished novel,’ I continue, ‘but I’m also using this time here to detox and to to undertake an alcohol-free experiment, to see if that’s what’s causing all these weird symptoms – the night sweats, the back pain and dehydration and all that, on top of my usual afflictions – and believe me, it’s tough. At least the home-made smoothie diet I put myself on has got rid of my midruff bilge, sorry, midriff bulge, ha ha, in just over a month, which is amazing, but… there’s nowhere more lovely than here to enjoy a glass or three of wine (echo…echo), so that makes it all the more difficult.’
I’ll add a 😦 just for the blog.
‘That’s so true – especially on the sea wall outside as the sun goes down behind the village and lights-up the bay and the boats; the colours, the sparkling jewels of light in the water…’ She enthuses.
‘Hey mum – who’s writing this book?’ We both laugh.
I go on to explain to her that I’ve ‘branded’ my smoothie concoction as T.N.T (Thom’s Neutralising Tonic, in case you’d forgotten) and am looking for an appropriate dot com – once I can get back-on-bloody-line. And then how I don’t understand my lack of success, particularly as a songwriter, not just materially, but in terms of recognition and fulfilment, with the emphasis on the writing, rather than performance. I’d always been terrified of performing as me and, having had my brief brush with rock-stardom, following my dalliance with the pop-star lifestyle – complete with screaming teenie girls back in the 1976 – my later conclusion was that I really wanted great singers who were already successful to sing my songs. That would be perfect, apart from doing some gigs and hopefully some recording with the recently re-formed Eagle Kings, which was a whole different kettle of kippers.
‘I know darling, you always seem to get knocked back, just when things are starting to seem to go your way. It’s just bad luck – it’s certainly not your fault. You’re so talented and all the family believe in you – and always will. None of us understand why you’ve never really made it. Well, good luck with the detox, I think after all you’ve been through with your health issues, you may well be right about the alcohol. After all, what caused your pancreatitis in the first place?’
‘Exactly, it grew from me being Mr Clubsville and a bit of a party animal through the 80s and into the 90s – all that free booze for five or six hours a night whilst being a promoter and party organiser finally caught-up with me, I suppose, which is just the luck of the draw – but it still doesn’t stop it being deeply depressing, I mean, the idea of having to stop drinking ; especially red wine with dinner. Anyway, I’m going to change my name back to me in November.’ I say, suppressing a chuckle, wanting to lighten things up a touch.
‘Why? What are you talking about?’
‘I vill no lonka be Heinz in November. You vill haff to coll me Thom again!’
‘Why Heinz? German? Ah, no wait – spaghetti hoops and all that! Oh, I get it – you are fifty-seven…’ She correctly surmises.
‘… and I’ve been full of beans and have fifty-seven varieties of multi-tasking talents! What a clever yummy mummy you are, you are, oh what a clever mum you are.’
‘Oh, that’s funny dear. I’d better go dear, Gerald is calling me, you know what they say about very old men reverting to childhood! And it will be time for dinner soon and there’s some good, intelligent stuff on TV for a change. I can’t see the name Heinz catching on in the next few months though, he he. Goodbye m’dear, take care, stay positive and get WELL!’
‘Thanks mum – well Gerald is 90 – I’m going to make a spicy virgin mary served with a celery stick and have that as a ‘sundowner’ on the sea wall before watching some of that intelligent TV you mentioned, with my dinner. I brought down stuff like fresh herbs, limes, parma ham, grain mustard, parmesan cheese, chillies, red onions, shallots and more – things that you can’t get in the local shop – in an ice-bag. You know me, I love to cook, even if it’s only for myself. By the way, talking of being positive – as it were – I tested HIV negative a few weeks back. Just thought I’d mention it as I do get tested every year. No STDs either!’ I added cheerily, ‘love to everyone. Byeeeee!’
‘Well, that’s always good to hear dear. Bye darling.’
I put down the phone and go to the well-equipped, brand-new kitchen and mix my ‘cocktail’ (tomato juice, lots of ice, Worcester Sauce, Tabasco, celery salt, lime juice and black pepper), take it outside, sit on the wall and look out to sea, stirring it wistfully with the celery, before taking a crunchy bite, and wishing that it had vodka in it. Not that vodka has any taste. So it could easily be a bloody – as opposed to a virgin, mary – at least in theory.
I text Derek back: ‘Yep, I do you love you a little bit.‘
For some reason, he hates me saying ‘yep’. When he finally came down here with me for the first time, maybe four years ago, when we walked in (it was a beautiful sunny afternoon), he immediately shut the curtains and turned-on the TV. He complained that it was ‘like living in a goldfish bowl’ and went back to London after just two days. Ever the romantic, our Derek. I was not pleased, although, of course we still had fabulously sensual sex later that night – as usual.
Robbie Rowlock is the weather-beaten old local who owns the vintage, wooden boat that I sometimes borrow from him, because I love rowing – plus rowing is very beneficial for the pecs and the abs . He uses it to put out lobster and crab pots in the bay and sells them to the local restaurants and those in-the-know for two or three pounds each. The only other time you can buy fish in the village is on a Friday, when The Fish Man comes in his van (no fish – right by the sea in Cornwall! How ironic is that?). Robbie’s pulled his boat up onto the beach, offloaded his crab and lobster pots – plus a bucket with some claws waving about in it – and is now securing it vertically to the metal railings about five feet above the beach with a padlock, because of the imminent high tide.
‘Hello Thom’, he shouts jovially. ‘How long are you down for? Haven’t you brought any of your young black friends with you this time?’