My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 1.

9 May

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Boy

Chapter 1.

Cornwall, June 2010.

I am in a very beautiful place.

If only I could say the same of myself.

The views from the sash windows of the cottage are quite breathtaking in the crystalline evening sunlight that is reflected in perfect technicolor by the gently-bobbing flotilla of boats of various colours, shapes, ages and sizes which dot the bay, then are fragmented in natural kaleidoscopes in the sunbeams dancing on the waves. Only a couple of ominous-looking, battleship-grey (of course) naval ships on the horizon lend a touch of monochrome menace to this otherwise idyllic panorama.

Right now, the sea is more like a lake; there’s very little wind. Children with their nets and buckets shriek with delight as they find a tiny fish or crab in the numerous rock pools; dogs bark joyfully as they run in and out of the sea retrieving sticks, or unsuccessfully trying to locate casually tossed pebbles.

Neighbours congregate by the sea wall outside the house with a glass or three of wine (a phrase that won’t stop echoing around my head today), catching the last rays of the sun before it sets behind these picture-postcard-perfect twin villages with their higgledy-piggledy ice-cream-coloured, flint, brick and natural-stone cottages clustered around narrow lanes and little squares. It doesn’t really feel like England at all – much more Mediterranean – with shrubs and flowers bursting out of every nook, cranny and pot. There are some dull-looking, suburban-looking houses and bungalows on the fringes, along with the odd ‘executive-style’ monstrosity from the 80s, and the homes that were created in the old fort up on the hill overlooking the villages look a bit 80s too, but it’s a private enclave, so I’ve never seen inside. The views from the flats across to the south-east coast of Devon must be quite spectacular though.

The majority of the itinerant population, or those who have second homes here, are warm and friendly, apart from a very rare, token ‘grump’ or the occasional gossipy harridan, or whatever the male equivalent is: a harriman ?   I suppose there will always be something, or someone, slightly bitter and twisted in any small community – it’s only human.  Apart from that, these villages could be rightly considered to be heaven-on-sea. They segue-in to each other with no apparent join or distinction (apart from a plaque marking the old, official border between Devon and Cornwall) and the sheltered bay they straddle was gifted ‘a windbreak’ by nature; in the form of a two-mile-long, densely and delicately wooded headland called Smuggler’s Spur which defends the bay’s southern edge to keep us all safe.  Pirates! A Tsunami! The Spanish Armada. Dutch Courage! A glass or three of wine (echo…echo).

My pay-as-you go mobile broadband dongle has, having accepted my credit card payment online (funny that), finally decided that it will, after all, download the ninety-seven emails I’ve yet to read; most of them, no doubt, requesting my attendance at some PeoplePages (the outrageously successful social networking site, generally known as ‘PP’) friend’s shindig in Whoreditch, Dollstone… or perhaps Noho.

The ‘helpline’ oik from my pay-as-you-go ‘provider’ (now there’s an oxymoron) told me on the landline earlier today that he was surprised that I got any reception at all, as the nearest mast was over ten miles away from the cottage, behind the hills. His wasn’t, at least, an unintelligible Indian accent, for a change. ‘That didn’t stop the ineffectual, corporate robber-barons of O!U from taking my money, did it?’ I dead-panned, quietly replacing the receiver to stop myself becoming abusive, imagining that: this call may be recorded for training and quality purposes.

I was, with some justification, fucking furious. NOW they tell me, after they’d sent me on a wild goose chase – on the day before I came (any excuse to hint at one of my favourite Abba songs) down here – running around London’s West End with their false information about where I could get the new sim card that I needed to update my mobile broadband pay-as-you-go. They LIED. Their shops were all SHUT! So I had to stop off in Plymouth after a four-hour train journey from London to pick up a new (albeit free, and I should think SO) one from their crass little corporate, ‘one-stop-shop’ staffed by gormless geeks, which was located in a gruesome, sixties shopping mall in the city centre.

We are talking planned obsolescence here, as my dongle is only two years old. Bloody corporate mafias. At least I got it and it vaguely works, but generally only after midnight and – with a fair wind (to stay with the sea-fairin’ vernacular).  Slowly.  Yo ho ho and bottle of red wine (I wish)!

How ironic that fate conspires to keep me up late, as is my wont, even on a working AND detoxing holiday by the sea. It seems I can’t escape being defined by late nights – and the smug, social snootiness that is sometimes directed at me through pursed lips as a result, like: have you adjusted to normal times yet, Thom? Judgemental jealousy, probably.  Apart from the fact that various ailments exhaust my poor body and mean that I often require over ten hours sleep a night, I happen to be happiest working creatively in the early hours – and any other hours, apart from mornings – especially if I’m alone (not that that was what I had in mind this time) in, say, a magical place where the full moon is shining its shimmering silver silence across a beautiful bay of tranquility.  Sigh… like last night.

‘The truth came back to find me, a vision that could blind me

once again, oh my friend, hello lonely, once again.’

I’m luxuriating in high-end solitude, rather than fighting it as if it were somehow unfair, or made me feel deeply lonely.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that ‘Hello Lonely‘  is the first song on ‘Who Is Thom Topham?’, the new album I’m working on. I actually wrote and recorded this track in 1985. But… a glass or three of wine, red, red wine.  That would be fine.  Deep breath.  Will mere fruit juice help me get rid on the whining, nasal tones of UB40 that are threatening to invade my head though? ‘Red red wine… goes to my head…’.  Trivia fact: Neil Diamond wrote that song.  Vegas goes to Birmingham and wins another million-dollar jackpot.  Bring on the skin-tight, rhinestone-encrusted jump-suits.  Or maybe he’d stopped wearing them by then? Truly gruesome.  One can only hope. He has, however, written some great songs, when he wasn’t being too characteristically mawkish.

You see, this week I’ve decided I’m not going to drink alcohol. It will be the first time for over five years. That was when I managed three whole months of total abstinence having been diagnosed with pancreatitis (only after my suggestion that perhaps a CT scan would be a good idea after eight or nine years of a debilitating and painful mystery illness). Then, the Creon – twelve-a-day for the rest of my life-  immediately killed most of the constant, dull pain in the lower back, and eased the chronic runs and heartburn that I’d suffered for all those years. When you have varying degrees of discomfort (this was generally at its worst when I woke up, and it made me want to go straight back to sleep, but I couldn’t, because it hurt too much – a classic Catch 22), after a while your body, or nerve-ends, become almost inured to it, because you have no choice in the matter. Then, after aeons of suffering, when it suddenly floats away in a dark cloud of malice, you blink, shake your head and think – wow, that was really bad pain – has it actually gone?

It had, for five years.

Now I’m not so sure.

Having proved that I wasn’t an alcoholic after all, I decided that the drugs did work – obviously, I’m referring to the medication – and went back to a glass or three of wine (echo…echo) with dinner; maybe a beer or two after.     And it was fine on that level for a few glory years, seemingly helping to ease my depressive state, about which, to be honest, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I was ‘swimming in a river in Egypt’, at least on papyrus, sorry, paper. De Nile? Geddit? I thought I’d invented that phrase – but doing some research recently, it popped-up as one of many brilliant Twainisms.

Late last year, however, I started to get seriously dehydrated whilst asleep, then the soaking night sweats started, followed a couple of months later by a new, random, stabbing pain at various points around my back – it started, visually-speaking, at Two O’clock (between my scapula and my upper spine); yesterday it was at Five, today it’s at Seven – waking me up almost every hour.  It ‘s been an all-sweating, all-water-drinking, cold-sweat nightmare – especially after I put on a towelling dressing gown back home in London and tried to get back to sleep on top of the duvet (which was soaked with sweat underneath), under the comforting faux-zebra fur bedspread. Then, after a while, the back pain wakes me up again and/or because my mouth is dry. I try to turn to get some water from the bed-side table, but gag with pain because turning is virtually impossible. I grimace and grope for one of two, giant, black corduroy cushions on the floor and clumsily prop one under my back and force myself to sit-up in bed, using my hands. Having managed to drink some water, I try to get back to sleep, this time on my back, propped-up high on the cushion. Ziggy Zee the cat, my gorgeous, enormous ginger tom, who always sleeps on my bed, miaows hopefully, thinking it’s breakfast time. I give him a reassuring stroke and try and snuggle-up to sleep. I only know if I’ve succeeded in grabbing some shut-eye if I remember a fleeting dream (usually totally scary and off-the-wall) whilst looking at the clock. Why is it always exactly an hour later? And so it goes on, night after night. Even, so far, here in Cornwall, although it does appear to be easing a little, night by night. This is not fun.

I’ve recently written and recorded a song called ‘How Do You Measure Pain?‘, with particular reference to the medical professionals who have to both believe that you’re suffering and trust that it’s true. Not being a drama-queen (or any kind of queen at all, except maybe an irony-queen), I tend to be stoic and crack dark jokes, which probably just makes them think that I’m OK – when I’m not. Uh oh,  I just blew it for myself there eh?  I think to myself.  I was only trying to help the professionals in their no-doubt constant struggle against self-serving morons, masochists, junkies and alcoholics – who just love to suffer.

‘That’s why I say ‘I hurt so bad, I cannot even think,

my head has turned to hades and I really need a drink’.

How do you measure pain?  Do you just believe what someone tells you?

Why does it still remain? Like someone obsessed, who can just smell you?’

I thought it was another mystery illness – after all, the drugs did work, didn’t they? Maybe it is, but all manner of tests – even one for TB and another CT Scan – revealed nothing new. Surely, it has to be the alcohol, if the pancreatitis has somehow worsened – although, that would have shown-up in the scan?  Maybe I’ve invented my own, unique  form of cancer.  Soon, hopefully, all will be revealed.

Yesterday was also the sixth anniversary – to the day – of my quitting smoking, which I’d done on the day that an Xray had shown that I had emphysema.  I just stopped dead, as it were, with the aid of nicotine patches and gum, gradually reducing over a three-month period. It worked. No nicotine has passed my lips since, I’m proud to say. Very character-building, albeit a bit late in life. One thing that helped me enormously was some sage advice from the fabulous Christabel Galway, one of my OLDEST friends (we’ve always made exaggeratedly silly statements about each other with great glee), of the wealthy, famous and somewhat notorious Irish Whisky dynasty. Although, it should be noted, she’s from the South African branch of the family and not in the slightest bit rich, or interested in a horsey/shooting/huntin’ n’ fishin’ lifestyle in some draughty, old country pile in Ireland or Gloucestershire.  Just before successfully dumping the cancer sticks herself, she’d advised me: ‘Always remember darling – the craving only lasts three minutes!’ That really helped get me through. I’m holding-off on introducing you to her properly, for now. Why? Because she’ll be all over my recounting of my many notebooks and diaries with her ENORMOUS… personality. She will, however, be dropping into this book to make her prodigious presence, prescience, perspicacity, purity and just plain LOVE of people felt, before I happen to come across her, so to speak, in my diaries.  I haven’t even randomly selected and opened the first one yet!

I’ll get around to that later.

You could say that my hard-partying (mostly in a professional capacity, I hasten to add) in the 80s and 90s had come back to bite me on the bum; but I could think of worse environments than here in Cornwall in which to ditch my drink habit and reluctantly don my virtual monk’s habit – minus the slightest vestment of religion – my ‘oath of silence’ easily broken by chatting on the phone, texting, emailing and chat-rooming (albeit at a frustrating snail’s pace). Then talking to neighbours and people in the village, like Maxwell and Lucinda Baxter, who run the funky little cafe-cum-deli a couple of hundred yards down The Cleave, the little lane that runs above the sea wall like a rustic promenade. They’re my generation – and cool baby-boomers, just like me (although they live in Cornwall). He makes colourful, almost cubist, but sixties-inspired collages and she creates naive-pop-art paintings. They have three handsome sons in their late teens and early twenties who have an indie-style band called – surprise! – The Baxters. They’re huge fans of a The Eagle Kings, a band I recently rejoined after a thirty two-year hiatus. I’ve jammed with the Baxter boys a few times on my last few visits, playing their (pretty annoyingly basic) keyboard, and once, even one of my own smaller ones – A Roland Juno-D – in the scout hut, in their house and in the bar which serves the campsite in the extensive grounds of the evocative, half-derelict mansion on top of the hill (some of which is used as artists’ studios), with its enviable, ever-changing sea-views. with a little more work and application The Baxters could ‘have it going on’. They might even follow my not-entirely-serious advice to call their first album ‘Soup’!

Their dad had casually pointed out, the last time that I was here, that I was actually mentioned in, and in the index of, 70s and 80s fashion icon Ossie Clark’s Diaries. I have some vague memory of meeting said legendary fashion designer in the mid-80s, or later, in the kitchen of a very cluttered and boho flat in Maida Vale. So I bought the book on Amazon, and found a misspelt reference to me (Tom Toppam) in the index, and decided to do the honourable thing and read the book until I came upon ‘my entry’ naturally. I’ve bought it with me and am about halfway through – in 1985. So ‘my bit’ hasn’t happened yet.  I’m sure it’s very minor and trivial. In another sense, it’s a mirror for my own diaries and notebooks. Evidently, we had quite a few mutual friends and acquaintances, but, obviously, had only met the once. Soon I will find out – it’s the perfect bedtime reading to offset against my own autobiographical efforts. From what I’ve read so far, he was obviously even more badly behaved than me and, mentally, a complete mess.  Plus, his writing abilities were average, at best, and he seemed to have an in-built resentment about just about everyone or anything who was more successful than him – particularly David Hockney.  Now, in a sense, I can relate to that, having not ever been in a position to own even a modest flat (but why would I resent anyone who was more successful than me – unless they were completely talentless.  Hmm, come to think of it. No… let’s not go there). Well, maybe in the 80s, but I blew it by enjoying myself and spending all the money I was earning on eating-out and taking taxis everywhere. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I really feel that being bitter and twisted can only lead to, well, being even more bitter and twisted. Is this the curse of the queen? Hah! I should be OK then, as I’ve never subscribed to the so-called gay, cultural reference that ‘we’re all queens dear!’. Fuck right off (and I’m not uptight about it, I just resent the apparent, absolute inference that it’s a perceived, er, wisdom)!

I’m just a man who happens to be gay. Boom boom. Hello – is there anyone home? Is there anyone homo? It means MAN, and as far as I’m concerned (sorry girls). I’m not interested in making love with women – I gave that up when I was twenty-one when I realised I was homosexual, queer, a poof, a bummer –  before the term ‘gay’ was even, um, invented. This is definitely despite all the ancient Greek and Roman closet-cases evidently fucking (or being fucked by?) ‘pretty boys’ rather than having an obviously more natural one-to-one with an equally masculine man (unless you were a eunuch or a screaming queen, of course). No wonder Nero fiddled while Rome burned, or Alexander The Great – note that he was acknowledged as a great warrior – fucked some queen/man/eunuch/bi-curious (delete where applicable) guy before invading the rest of the known universe. Maybe he loved to get fucked himself. This is not something you often hear or read about in the so-called ‘classics’. Don’t even get me started on pervy, old tweedy, Oxbridge Dons. *Shudder*. I have read The Symposium by Socrates and, to be honest, it reminded me of that truly awful and excrutiating faggy film ‘The Boys In The Band‘. Just the same old ‘classic’ cliches, and, curiously, just like with Socrates, with absolutely no reference to love. Same old shit.

It’s always apparently ‘young boys’ getting fucked as some sort of ritual ‘coming (hah!) of age’. And still it continues in modern culture in… oh my god, where do I start? North Africa, anywhere Muslim, The Middle East, Saudi Arabia – any culture where you’re forbidden from fucking women until you’re officially betrothed. We are talking medieval. It’s perhaps akin to The Council Of Nicea which decreed the re-writing of the bible – removing all the honest and sexy bits (maybe the so-called Apostles were Jesus’s fuck-buddies?) like ancient spin-doctors – back in AD 325.

Ancient and modern hymns, or hims, like some misogynistic rappers, or fundamentalist preachers of hate, putting-down and oppressing what they feared the most – the queer, male fun-da-mentalists.

I’ll get into writing about ‘rave culture’ when I’m good and ready: suffice to say – many former football hooligans on ecstasy learned that getting their asses fucked and/or vice/versa, was not such a bad thing after all! You scored! Encore! Bravo, my brother!

Back to ancient Greece, Rome, and most of the rest of the world during that time, give or take a few hundred years, with all that ‘boy-loving’ nonsense: I believe it’s a historical cover-up, and, swords and sandals notwithstanding. I reckon that it’s time that someone did some serious unearthing of the actual truth! Don’t hold your breath – 0r your finely-crafted leather dildo. 

I started my self-imposed alcohol-free regime two nights ago, on the day I arrived. That evening was my first night without a glass or three of wine (echo… echo) with my dinner – with maybe a beer or two after and perhaps a vodka-and-tonic to help my creatively over-active brain go to sleep – for over five years.

I hadn’t, however, told my doctor or my specialist (the head of gastroenterology at St Martha’s in Maddington) that I was drinking more than ‘the odd glass of vino’. Imagine how amusing it would be to try and say ‘gastroenterology’ correctly when pissed! Gashteroh…enter…my holiday ! They might, however, have tried to pack me off to some bleak, rehab’ clinic where they’d no-doubt hold ‘soul-bearing’, group therapy sessions, should I have ‘confessed’.

That’s my idea of self-indulgent, breast-beating, melodramatic hell. Like being locked in a room-full of drag queens knocking back absinthe and bitters, having inadvertently necked shit-loads of GBH, thinking it was Ketamine. Almost certain death.  They would fall like dominoes onto the grey, swirly, institutional lino, their cheap, slightly matted Amy Winehouse and Lady Ga Ga wigs askew, legs akimbo, lipstick smeared into grotesque caricatures… dissolve to swirling-return-to-real-life visuals

Sorry about that somewhat disturbing dream-sequence. Anyway, what would there be to ‘bare my soul’ about? The relative merits of a vintage Aussie Shiraz over a Rioja Reserva? Ka!

As it happens, alcohol helps (or helped) me relax, chill, be creative and go to sleep, dammit! I admit that if you’re depressed, then, being a depressant, it will probably only make it worse – and it does fuzzy-up your head quite a bit the next day. Also, it affects your motivation and judgment adversely, when you have over-indulged: OMG! I didn’t send that cantankerous, drunken email to (delete where applicable) friend/ex-lover/someone-who-you-once-worked-with last night did I? Quick! Write a grovelling apology the minute you wake-up, blaming the drink, the drugs, the depression, your recently-discovered cancer, the death of the cat – anything to stop them sending a bunch of vigilantes to beat you to a pulp and steal your laptop and the last of your precious Thai Sticks.

Seriously though, I need to find out if the demon drink is responsible for this new wave of mystery illnesses – so I was trepidatious when I went to bed at around 1:am on my first night here – early for me! However, the balmy sea air wafting through the open windows and the always soothing sound of the waves provided a natural tranquilliser – which I’d sensibly backed-up with a real one – as I drifted-off to sleep thinking… this process of elimination will hopefully lead to a progress in illumination.  Nice.  The flickering lights out at sea turned into dreams of shipwrecks, scurvy, rats, sinking ships and half-naked, drunken sailors, whom I’d rescued from the raging seas, gratefully drinking my home-made vodka-based smoothies – laced with MDMA. Then the back pain woke me up. The sweats, at least, stayed away. It must have been the invasion of all those negative ions from the sea air (as opposed to the body-snatchers). I drank some water and thankfully returned to my reveries within a few minutes. The now-naked sailors were evidently enjoying each others’ company immensely and seemed pleased to see me return. Avast behind, me hearties!

Back online (ish), I see it’s 9:pm already and the gloaming is shrouding the bay and the headland like a gossamer fishing net, as the lights of the buildings and the boats start to reflect and twinkle on the water. It actually makes you sigh with pleasure… it would be even better with a nice, big glass of South African Cabernet Sauvignon. Yo ho ho and a bottle of…water.

Perhaps I need to catch-up with my myriad (well, one or two) potential lovers online, on PeoplePages and various gay dating-cum-shagging sites, where, being sensible, I only use the ones that are gratis, with unlimited messages and access. Why do dating sites charge people? They can surely easily earn from advertising and, perhaps, links to more, ahem, adult sites and naughty merchandise? But, of course, I’m a gay man who’s a bit blase about how easy it is to get laid; no doubt a more raunchy (and frankly honest) approach would be deemed improper by mainstream dating sites – as they’re aimed at middle-class professionals and the burgeoning ‘silver surfer’ market, which, unfortunately, I could be viewed as being part-of, in terms of, well, age.  I’m fifty-seven – fifty-eight in November.  I further confound their out-dated, homogenous demographic by living in gritty Hardesden in North London and I’m way too hip, bohemian and ‘off message’ to be of any use to their nonsensical, outdated and unedifying whimsies. Escorted tours? Coach trips? Cruises? The horror.

The baby boomers like me who were simply born cool (and, in my case, homosexual) didn’t suddenly discover a penchant for tasteless, cheap porcelain, hideously unstylish sofas sold (always ‘half-price’) in warehouses near motorway slip roads, plastic conservatories, nasty knic-knacks, anaglyptic wallpaper, polyester, bare (not even energy-saving!) light bulbs, white plastic outdoor ‘furniture’, floral-print plastic shopping trollies, frozen faggots (no comment!) and tasteless ready-meals, doilies and swirly carpets did we? That’s plain caravan-common, which is, of course, British for trailer-trash. You read it here first.

No, us cool BBs remain true to our icons, artists and gurus centered around fin de siecle Paris, like Picasso, Diaghilev, Monet and Stravinski – from Modernism, photography, film and philosophy in the late Twenties and the Thirties with Art Deco, The Bauhaus and the likes of Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe and great artists like Cole Porter and Cocteau; from the Forties, the birth of cool, the television revolution, the ‘new deal’, the ‘new look’, swing, Sinatra, and the end of austerity; The Fifties – Boho hip, beat poetry, abstract art,  space-age design, the birth of new technology, mass-marketing, Elvis, great inventions, Marylin Monroe and the rebellious teen; the Sixties, sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll, pop-art, Warhol, The Beatles and the Stones and definitive UK style and, for some, prosperity – you’ve never had it so good; the Seventies – Kitsch, gender-bending, trash, riots, thrash and glam; the Eighties – soul, Thatcher, strikes, graffiti, protests, rap and the birth of the new UK clubbing generation (which I’m pleased that I was a pivital part of), in conjunction with an explosion of creative dynamism in fashion, culture and punk. Then… it all went a bit flat and drearily commercialised (TV commercials became mini-movies and people’s messy beds became art) in the Nineties, apart from socio-politically – like the fall of the Berlin Wall and The Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe – along with a new industrial revolution known as The Internet. I guess that The World Wide Web initially sounded too James Bond-villain – or conspiracy-theory friendly, as-in The Illuminati.  Funny, that.

Mind you, in the early days, like around 1995, the media mostly maligned and mocked The Net, as it would later be generally known, as something merely for geeks and ‘anoraks’ As for the next decade, it might as well have been called the Noughty Netties, such was the impact of being online with broadband (Pirates!) on vast swathes of society.

Even shanty towns have makeshift internet cafes now, which is a good thing. And it also satisfied us human beings’ innate desire to twitch the proverbial net (muslin for the middle classes, naturally) curtains online – both from inside and out.

The Muslim fun-da-mentalists, meanwhile, just merely twitched before flicking their suicide bombing switches.  If you don’t allow ‘your people’ to possess audio or video cassetttes or CDs and DVDs – then how come you spread your gruesome hatred and frankly medieval attitudes via the net?  Fucking evil hypocrites. I’ve been told that must Muslim ‘fundamentalism’ is actually mostly political and territorial and mainly tribal warlords seeking power. Suicide bummers, indeed.

And guess who wrote one of the first weekly columns about the phenomenon? In 1996, yours truly reinvented himself as a journalist, adopting the pseudonym Webfoot to write the weekly internet column for 24/7 , London’s foremost and hippest, weekly listings magazine. My brother Danny was their nightlife editor, had been for several years, and had posted me the weekly rag when I was living back home in Bath with my parents in 1995, following my unwitting homelessness ( I wonder if wrote about that particular trauma in my diaries at the time?). I used to read the mag avidly, greatly missing living in the capital – and even managed to take-in its nascent internet column, which was almost apologetic in its dullness.

I’d started hanging-out in the city’s first internet cafe in a former bowling alley in the back of a pub in trendy, boho Walcot Street, possibly motivated by my great thirst for knowledge and expanding my horizons, not to mention my desperate desire to get laid (the city having only one gay pub, which was full of stereotypical, seventies-style fags who made me feel like I was in the wrong bar in the wrong decade; just plain wrong). Having read said dreary column I simply suggested to the editor (who I knew, having organised their 20th anniversary party for them), that I could do a much better job and would happily have a go at writing it. He agreed to let me try. I wrote my first attempted column and got the job immediately.

Thankfully, this enabled me to move back to London in early spring in ’96. In my various pieces over nearly five years, I correctly predicted most of what’s happening online now: social networking, gambling, porn, music and film piracy (but the latter bloated and arrogant industries naturally ignored my warnings. NO surprise there then), free downloads, political emancipation through people-power, the growth of cheap, online market research and… that internet advertising revenue would probably supersede that of television soon after the New Millennium – which brought howls of derision from the advertising industry in the 24/7 letters page. I feel quite smug about being right – right now – because it DID.

Overweight know-alls with oversized, red spectacles and novelty braces holding-up their too-tight Prada trousers. And women? Mostly in subservient positions, tending to their masters’ frivolities and foibles through gritted, but glistening teeth (Madmen, the Visually-stunning American contemporary TV series set in the 60s springs to mind). My column lasted until late 1999, when Tricia Cuthbert, my former landlady, a man-hating, PC-led, lipstick lesbian (when it suited her), became the editor and then immediately sacked me, slurring her words, slouched behind her desk, after one of her regular liquid lunches, saying it was because there were too many people complaining about me in the letters page. I later found out that it was, in fact, because she wanted her then girlfriend (they’d met, slept together and got a joint mortgage the next day) to write the column.

Tricia lasted three months – about the same time as her relationship. Shadenfreude? You bet. But the higher-ups at 24/7 forgot to invite me back and nor did I ask; anyway, the money was crap.

I’d been heading for a career catastrophe, but, luckily, the previous month, fate had intervened. I came downstairs one afternoon (as is my wont) to find a plain, brown, handwritten letter sitting on the mat. It contained a list of all the ex (or current) members of Eaglestorm (AKA The Eagle Kings from 1978 – 1980, especially in my case) who were eligible for shares of a settlement relating to a former record label that had been brokered by their former manager Neville (Nev) Brown and his wife Ellie. I hadn’t spoken to Neville for a few years, and he’d tracked me down through my dear friend Christabel, who’d used to run their office, and had suggested me for the job with what was one of The UK’s most legendary space-rock bands. 1978? I’m looking forward to that particular year and the next, in my diaries – then we’ll see who actually wrote what!  Ask Frank Ferret – singer, guitarist and bastard thief and bootlegger of Babylon, or at least North Devon.

Now all I had to do was sign my consent, Nev and Ellie would take a quite fair 10%, and a cheque would soon be in the post for over £6,000 – once everyone else had signed too. Just as well, as the same delivery had also revealed a more official-looking letter which revealed that my one-year lease on my little flat and self-created roof-garden would be ‘up’ in two months and the landlords were giving me formal notice to quit, for no other reason than ‘The flat is required for a member of the landlords’ family to use as a pied-a-terre.’ The slightly oleaginous Iranian who used to collect the monthly rent couldn’t resist telling me that it was, in fact, for one of the landlords’ mistresses.

‘How fascinating – with a free roof garden thrown-in for nothing?’ I’d responded sarcastically.

Didn’t the landlords have any other similar properties to offer me? It wasn’t as if I was behind with the rent or had smothered the flat in anarchistic graffiti or used it as a gay brothel.

2 Responses to “My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 1.”

  1. best at home Business April 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

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