My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 2.

9 May

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Chapter 2.

Uncle Thom Cobbley – And All.

I first met Tommy Haslam in Slam Dunk – a funky, friday-night, polysexual, but mostly gay, male, black club on London’s Oxford Street – in the glorious summer of ’97. I spotted a lanky, good-looking (but not, I’d say, ‘my type’), mixed-race guy dancing wildly on his own to some some streety R&B, like a (stylish) man possessed. We got talking just before the club was closing and forged an instant, rocket-fuelled friendship soon after we went back to my tiny, Victorian, top-floor flat across the road in Manway Street, behind The Madonna Mega Store (before its demise a decade later), at around 4am. I gave him a quick tour, which took about a minute!

The floorboards and walls were all painted white. The living area had two dormer, sash windows looking out over the rooftops of Soho with a table (covered in an Aztec-style cloth) and two turquoise, fifties, leatherette chairs on each side –  I’d got them for a fiver each in a junk shop in a railway arch off the Walworth Road back in the mid-eighties. They were originally fromThe National Liberal Club, apparently (but I doubt if they ever hosted Nick Clegg’s bum). There was an attractive, cast-iron, art-nouveau fireplace, also painted white, and two huge, red velvet chesterfield armchairs which I had draped in white sheets, to give the impression of  more space. To the left of the fireplace, behind an ancient ‘portable’ TV sitting on top of a rather chic, fifties, yellow formica cupboard, there was a tiny, scruffy kitchenette. My bedroom (which was, mercifully, at the back, thereby avoiding most of the noise from this central-London street) was simply, but tastefully furnished. The bathroom – freezing cold in winter, as there was no central heating – was actually half-way up the entry stairs and the separate toilet was off the hallway. This also led to the miniscule second bedroom, which just about had room for a futon sofa-bed (for guests and, ahem, pleasurable pursuits), where I’d painted a couple of abstract/surreal murals and some random stencils on the walls. I’d also just about managed to squeeze-in my keyboard and stereo, which I had to play sitting on the sofa.

The flat could be described as small, yet funkily-formed – but it also held a heavenly and magical secret: it always gave me great pleasure for me to reveal it to my guests. As Tommy was visiting for the first time, I grabbed a couple of beers from the ancient fridge and my spliff tin (joints, if you prefer) from the cupboard, beckoned him to join me in the hallway, pulled-down the old wooden folding stairs that led to the roof with a flourish, and said enthusiastically: ‘Wait ’til you see this – follow me!’ He said ‘Wow’ as the Hale-bop comet appeared framed by the hatch directly above us on what was a beautifully balmy, star-lit night. We then clambered-up clumsily, being quite inebriated, onto my secret, self-created roof garden, the centrepiece of which was a large, ‘four-poster’ table-cum-pergola which I’d built from bits and pieces I’d found in the street – including a wooden ladder. It was covering in night-jasmine and honeysuckle – their heady scent hung in the sultry air – and was lit by strings of multi-coloured fairy (no stereotypical jokes please) lights. There were interesting pots overflowing with colourful plants which I’d planted or grown from seed, like nasturtiums, geraniums, night-scented stock and busy lizzies, along with a selection of waterproof cushions, various chairs and benches, a barbecue and Sinead, a mannequin that I’d found in a skip, stuck in one of the chimneys. It was, obviously, exactly the size of my tiny flat below – about thirty-feet square – and was surrounded on two sides by a low wall topped with concrete tiles which was, conveniently, at seating height. So, essentially, it was roof-party-central!

‘Yeass!’ said Tommy, dancing like a slow-whirling dervish in front of the backdrop of Centrepoint, which rose above us like some iconic citadel of the sixties:  ‘this is truly magical – and you created this from nothing?’ I merely nodded and smiled in a mock-enigmatic fashion. We stretched-out on some cushions with our beers, both rolled a joint and he offered me some yellow-white powder that he’d twisted in a cigarette paper. ‘Knock it back chook!’ He said in a deliberately bad, vaguely Mancunian accent. ‘Oow what the ‘ell!’ I said, in a similarly dodgy accent, and swallowed it.

No wonder he was dancing like that – it turned-out he was speeding off his tits, as the saying goes – and soon, so was I, albeit on a more subdued level. I didn’t want more than one ‘twist’ as it was so late. It transpired that Tommy was ‘a class act’, as we chatted, as it was ‘base’, a more civilised (or uncut with various poisons) version of said evil, addictive narcotic (allegedly).

It transpired that Tommy came from a bit of a ‘posh’ background, having attended Saint Swithins, one of London’s more salubrious public schools, and had attained a PHD in quantam physics aged twenty six – he was twenty-nine when we met – and later, when I got to know him better, he turned-out to be a bit of a geeky genius; highly intellectual, with a brilliantly clever, dark sense of humour, a fearsome temper when roused (like when I consistently forgot his bidet , as we called it, better known as his birthday – it was just an in-joke, although I’m glad to see that it’s actually ‘caught-on’ online), notionally bisexual, somewhat emotionally inexperienced with men and a hell of a lot of fun to spend time with – as long as he wasn’t in that frame of mind which Winston Churchill famously referred to as ‘black dog’.  I’ve recently realised that old Winny –  I’m old enough to remember seeing his state funeral on black and white TV – was a mighty fine writer.  And, apparently, he drank five bottles of champagne a day. Classy.

Tommy is Bipolar. It can be can be hard work sometimes, believe me.

And when he was up he was up, and when he was down he was down, and when he was only halfway up, he was only halfway down‘.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of anti-depressants. Wrong, wrong, wrong!  Anti-psychotics actually appear to be far more successful in stabilising someone who suffers from this enigmatic and much misunderstood condition.  Luther, my favourite ‘ex’, also suffers from it, but deals with it with great gusto and believes that exercise is the key to beating black dog.  His generally cheery demeanour bears this out, although he can become very aggressively animated if he hasn’t had a chance to ‘work-out’.  Mind that’s probably more because of his anger at the lack of time he can find to do it.  Tommy signed-up with a gym once, booked a session with a personal trainer – and never went back.

The medication also tends to make the person listless and cruelly curbs any ambition, or creative impulses. In other words: they are successfully and, perhaps, scarily subdued. As a layman, however, I must confess that I can’t remember, or discern, the difference between ‘type one’ and ‘type two’. I suspect, from what I have observed from these two close friends, that the psychiatric profession is lost-and-all-at-sea with bipolarity, whether it be type one, two… or sixty-nine. Have these people not moved-on from dogmatic dinosaurs like Freud and Jung? How dare they cast aspersions and dare to ‘give therapy’ to people who are frequently more intellectually developed and knowledgeable than they themselves are, with their cold cognizance and pitifully patronising put-downs. Bastards.

I was staying in New York City with (the by now somewhat successful) Tommy in the week of Halloween in 2004, when he stopped, or forgot to take – which is very common among people with the disorder – his wrongly-prescribed anti-depressants, and was about to spontaneously throw himself under a subway train. Just as well I was there to grab him! We picked himself up, dusted himself down (so to speak) and went to have a calming glass or three of Champagne in Grand Central Station. Then he insisted on treating me to dinner at The Stuck Pig, New York’s most trendy, English-style eaterie, in the meat-packing district, to genuinely thank me for ‘being there for him’.  I joked that no doubt the waiting staff had to do an audition to test their squealing panache.  The place was cramped and over-decorated in a frou-frou ‘Shabby-chic, English Country House’ style, the food was OK and, of course, outrageously expensive, but the staff were fantastic. ‘I think they like our dark sense of post-attempted-suicide humour,’ I’d suggested to Tommy, ‘or sense of houmous, had George Michael been here…’

‘He would have been treating Ms Jones to dinner and would have regaled her with a meze, Grace ?’ Retorted Tommy, giggling, wearing a crisp linen serviette folded on his sleeve and squealing (like a stuck pig), before slipping it into his bag, to add to our collection of ‘expensive shrouds’, as we called them. Well, if you were shelling out around $150 for two for dinner, surely you were allowed a small souvenir? They also came in handy as all-round props when in silly, dressing-up mode.  Being daft is so therapeutic.

Tommy lived in a cool,  spacious, but fairly basic studio apartment in Soho, just around the corner from 6th Avenue, where the huge Halloween parade begins.  It was his last week of living in NYC for a year, which he’d really enjoyed,  and he’d insisted on paying for my flight, just asking me to bring a big, empty case to help him move his things back to the UK.  He still had to ship back a large crate of stuff, like the achingly cool, retro-modern pieces that he’d found in thrift stores in Chelsea.

Earlier, during the day of the 31st,  I’d had a kind-of romantic rendezvous with Matt, a beautiful, masculine, black American from Atlanta who I’d met online a few years before, and we’d become virtual lovers.  He happened to be staying in NYC that week, on Staten Island, with another, older black guy whom he told me was a fuck buddy (although he’d have liked Matt to have been a lot more, I figured). So when I met Matt, for the first time, in one of the many cool bistros on Grand Street, I also had to meet the jealous fuck buddy, which was kind of awkward.  I  wrote all about it – and the extraordinary parade (you think The Notting Hill Carnival in London is big? This is, like, the whole city in fancy dress) the next day, in my song ‘New York Halloween‘.

It’s the best place and the worst place that you have ever been.

It all the beauty and the beast that you have ever seen.

There are rocks and those hard places where you live a tortured dream.

Then go mining for the fuel of love in never-ending seams.

Behind masks there might be blades, it’s a New York Halloween, dressing-up and getting laid and… in-between. 

It’s a New York Halloween...’

Soon after I’d met Tommy back in 1997, I’d ‘landed’ the editorship of the online version of Vaguely , which was, inexplicably, one of the UK’s most successful gay magazines. It was just a small part of the publishing portfolio owned by Rupert Western, a somewhat unsavoury, spivvy businessman who’d made his fortune with seriously tacky porn mags like Chinese Girls Next Door and was now making millions from a big-selling gossip rag called ‘You What?’

The Vaguely website’s sponsorship and surprisingly large budget of a hundred grand a year just for the creative side (Yee haw!) were provided, perhaps surprisingly, by the hugely successful software giant Macrohard.  Within days I’d installed Tommy as my deputy editor and so our wonderful journey (by using that nauseously over-used term I am being satirical, you understand) of friendship and adventures began, working with a fantastic production team of creative and inspired people. Unfortunately, it soon transpired that WonderWeb , the production company (‘run’ by cowboy, corporate hustlers) under whose umbrella we were operating, and the people from Macrohard , who were like robotic Moonies, were going to screw everything up. The Macromoonies didn’t listen to my repeated warnings that there would soon be blood on the boardroom floor at BlunderWeb (as Tommy and I referred to them). Meanwhile, my team had produced, in a period of a few months, an awesome product (using mostlyShockwave Flash , for the geeks amongst you) with contributions from famous journalists, photographers, artists and authors. For instance, a gay, future Booker-prize winner (I know this because I’m writing it many years later) had given me permission to quote from his words for a fashion shoot which we’d themed on one of his best-known books. It was photographed at the deliciously photogenic and genuinely art-deco Tooting Bec Lido in South London. He’d also written extensively about my first club The Mine in said classic, but he’d called it …The Shaft.   Brilliant. I had no idea about this until I was actually reading the book, by chance, in the mid-eighties and realised that he was describing, in perfect detail, my very own club night of a few years before.  Priceless.

Vaguely Online (the name was my idea, natch) wasn’t yer average website as we know it today – it was a classy, stand-alone, digital product in its own right, unlike its parent magazine, which lived up to its unfortunate name by being limp, indecisive, and throughly old-school. There were lots of pictures of barely-legal, semi-naked boys, interviews with ‘straight’ soap stars and faded disco queens, along with the editorial caprice of pretending to be serious and socially aware by addressing issues like AIDS, STDs and homelessness (cue more pictures of barely legal, semi-naked boys). Yawn.

Tommy, who became one of my bestist friends ever, will be sharing his eloquent wit and things like how to build a computer from scratch from parts of an old vacuum cleaner, discarded scratch cards, lighters and condoms, as we progress on this, erm,  journey.  Suffice to say, for now, that one night in ’98 we correctly predicted that the first decade of the new millennium would be called The Noughties – and so it was. Thom and Tommy: what an intelligent and witty double act we were. And next year we’ll be in the Teenies, pulling faces in our fabulous places, sometimes such lonely spaces, lost in the deep situations we find ourselves in and trying to pull ourselves out of them, perhaps?  I miss you big-time Tommy, especially the deliciously intellectual-yet-spontaneous laughter;  but not your  very occasional pursed-lip prissiness.

We hooked-up on 6th Avenue and Grand, just for a drink,

the photographs all flew away, I fell for you I think.

In the flesh you were so beautiful and warm, beyond the screen. I wish that I had slept some more, that my act had been more clean.

There was rain on my parade on this New York Halloween, like the love we never made… the unforseen.

This is New York Halloween…’

I came to Cornwall to avoid Gay Pride. Well, not exactly, but it was a happy coincidence. It seems I always slipped beneath that particular radar, hoping that they’d come-up with something a bit less Strictly-Come-Sex-Factor-with-a-pink-plastic-cowboy-hat and get a bit more, well, real and funky! Gay Pride (or Gray Dried as Tommy and I refer to it) is just a lowest common denominator-dominated-commercial-fuck-fest run by the small group of hard-headed business people (the gay mafia, essentially) who control our alleged ‘gay culture’ in our supposed ‘Gay community’. What? All those over-the-top bears/drag/fat/queens swishing around like made-up, multi-coloured inflatable dolls, pretending they’re having fun with their pink pounds and their bounding pounds of flesh and the pounding, monotonous beats and droning buzz-saw riffs of ‘our’ music – another ‘hardbag’ remix of Kylie, Girls Aloud or The Scissor Sisters, perchance? Please, no! And seven-foot drag queens tottering around on crutches (and K, or GHB) miming really badly – but not in an ironic way – to Lady Ga Ga’s ‘Bad Romance’ or was it ‘Paparazzi’? I get mixed-up.

At least Ga Ga has stolen Madonna’s crown.  Miss M must be a bit miffed! Maybe she’ll retire gracefully now, or she might end-up like a pumped-up, mini-Mae West, forever parading around in a skimpy ‘naked’ leotard with a toy-boy dancer, before dragging him off to Malawi in a private jet, sipping chilled Kabala water, to adopt another gorgeous, black doll, sorry, child.

I am gazing in awe at the great big, beautiful sea and sky, while whistfully thinking about the lack of love and success in my life, as (cue the sound of the waves crashing louder as the Mahler-esque score reaches its mournful crescendo) ‘You’re Getting On For Sixty‘ appears in satirically-cruel, darkly gothic cloud-writing on the deep-purple horizon… smoke on the water, you could say. It just so happens that Octopussy, the first band that I was actually in, once supported Deep Purple at The Malvern Winter Gardens, or was it The Birmingham Odeon in, um…1970?  Fuck knows – we are talking forty years ago! Octopussy, however, were hardly yer average rock band. We played rock versions of classical ‘hits’ such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Dukas and The Planets Suite, by Holst, burning cardboard cut-outs of skinheads and the cheesy Radio One DJ Willy Whitehouse on stage, whilst the drummer smashed-up toilet pans with a sledge hammer between songs. Rad (as we say these days)! I played my colourful Farfisa organ at a rakish angle, dressed in ironic gender-bender drag, wearing Doc Martens, an afro wig, a fifties-style prom dress, a black Jelaba cloak and loads of attitude. Somewhat ahead of its time, you could say:  big time.

I’m glad I’ve found some Thai Sticks to smoke again, as opposed to ridiculously over-priced skunk. Hey – you oriental ‘students’ from (it vaguely rhymes with career) don’t even have to smuggle it in;  you just grow it in the lofts and garages of  the flats or houses that your gang-masters lease for you in anonymous suburbs in the UK, utilising the sacred and modern wonders of hydroponics. So why is it so expensive? Godamn (fake) daylight robbery! I’d recommend that you save money by smoking it in small doses, as it’s so strong, like sprinkling black – or green pepper, in this case – in a spliff. But what about my quitting nicotine, you may wonder?

Simples ! I only use herbal tobacco in my joints.

No wonder there are so many semi-psychotic teenagers roaming the urban and rural streets in feral gangs traipsing and villaging and showing-off their little, round multi-cultural bottoms in baggy, low-slung fake-designer jeans. Educate them to smoke something more mellow (dare I say), organic and real, whilst legalising ALL drugs, you supposedly libertarian ConDoms, sorry ConDems , that we just, very stupidly, as a democracy, voted-in, sort-of. The Cons chose The Dems and flattered them into forming a coalition. A great song written by Cat Stevens and performed by PP Arnold ( I fondly remember it from my school days when I was about twelve) plays in my mental jukebox: ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest ‘(baby you know). I wonder if the cuts will affect Yusef Islam‘s Muslim ‘Faith School’? He wrote the song, after all. If this brave new ConDem world heralds the end of PC-as-we-knew-it under New Labour(ed), then, hey, that will be, at least, erm, interesting.

Talking of PC, here’s a good one: who’s going to be the first to blow the whistle on the massive corruption that exists in local councils across the urban UK, especially the housing departments and their associated agencies, most of which appear to be run by Africans and Asians (particularly in London, where both Hackbeth and Lambney  – I think I might have a cold – housing departments had been busted)?  Oh – that would be me then – especially as this will, no doubt, be a blog of the second chapter (before being published and selling gazillions)! Here I  go then *gulp*.

From a certain North-East African country, loads of kids, more on the way (the benefits are enormous)? Don’t like your five-bed, 1920’s semi-with-parking-for-your-four- 4WDs in Kensal Green? Then get rehoused by your cousin who works in the housing department to a mansion in the Royal Borough of KFC, for a mere £1,200 a week, which the taxpayer will fork-out! Woo hoo. Black Hawk Down! Result, my brother. Then parade your many wives who hide their undoubted charms beneath their burkhas and dominate the pavements walking five-abreast with expensive, double baby-buggies yabbering in Arabic; or block the aisles in the low-price supermarket Liddle (shop of horrors) refusing to speak English, or to even acknowledge the presence of their fellow denizens, especially us porky, filthy Kuffers? And how many houses in the UK are you now buying with the proceeds of your gangster cousins’ piracy-of-the-high-seas back in your sacred, formerly war-torn homeland? Just thought I’d mention it, as no-one else appears to have the courage to bring-to-light these previously PC-protected situations.

That’s not to say that all people from said country are antisocial scroungers. Heaven forfend! Only last week I had a pleasant  chat with a guy who hailed from there, in the sauna at my health club. He was bemoaning the fact that his wife had left him because, as he put it, ‘he wasn’t a bastard’, in good English, and was slagging-off Sharia Law and Muslim fundamentalists, much to my pleasant surprise. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t about to tell him I was gay. In a straight health club – are you kidding? I go there at least twice a week and do not want to be ostracised – imagine if the steam room cleared of men every time you walked-in? It’s the only area of my life where I’m not ‘out’ . The only person there who knows that I’m gay is my friend Ethan, who was a personal trainer at the club, before he decided to be a wage-slave on the cruise ships – not that he knew that, of course; when he committed to a nine-month stretch of cabin-fever and the obligatory rites-of-passage (literally). At least Ethan found through this that he had a natural ability to charm people into delightful submission. And everyone fancied him, including me, of course. He knows that and it doesn’t affect our friendship at all.  He has a cool, kind older gay cousin who was like a father to him, he explained, when I asked him how come he was so laid-back around gay people.

Nothing stops me having the odd flirt at the health club, of course, especially if it’s mutual. Once, I’d seen this tall, ripped (as us cool, masculine faggots say), perfectly beautiful black man working-out in the gym and, apropos of nothing, he’d smiled at me, then turned around to reveal a pert, muscular, round bottom in red silk shorts, and had lifted some fairly heavy weights. Later, I went into the sauna and he was there, chatting to a Pakistani guy, who was always particularly friendly to me (how come you’re working in a health club when you’re overweight?), who was training to be a sports therapist at the club, he’d told me. They were discussing what ‘Mr Perfect’ should do about a neck sprain he’d sustained in training. ‘At least we got the bronze and my team are the British champs.’ He’d stated.  Hmm – fascinating. Later, I joined him, completely by chance, in the jacuzzi. He smiled sweetly enough to melt my heart and said ‘Hello again.’ I sank into the bubbles opposite him and said ‘Hi! I couldn’t help overhearing what you were saying in the sauna, of course.’

‘No worries, man.’ He said pleasantly, brushing bubbles off his smooth, sculptural and muscular arms.

I grinned: ‘So I can’t resist guessing what sport you play, if you don’t mind?’

‘Go ahead and guess,’ he laughed, looking me in the eyes.’ Clue: he was at least six foot-four.

‘Basketball.’ I said, with a knowing grin – and a deep and meaningful look into his beautiful eyes.

‘Spot on dude,’ he said, shaking my hand across the bubbling water. ‘I’m the captain of the England team, as it happens. We won bronze at The Commonwealth Games recently. Ike Grayson. Nice to meet you.’

‘I’m honoured.’ I mumbled, pleasantly shocked, then rendered temporarily speechless. I was sitting in a jacuzzi with the mostly-naked, stunningly fit captain of the England basketball team!

After some more lively conversation – he was really interested in the idea of a digital home studio (and I was really interested in mentoring him in…whatever), he stood up to get out saying: ‘Google me if you like.’ Wow – that bum, those legs. I just waved ineffectually as he strolled confidently down the side of the pale-green-tiled pool like some god-like gay icon , then disappeared into the changing rooms.

I did Google him, and indeed he was who he said he was. But there was only one picture of him and no social networking links! Another one bit… the proverbial dust. 😦

Back in North-East African territory, I feel obliged to point out to the Lib-dems the old saying: ‘behind every liberal lurks a fascist‘. So why not just go for the full-on bareback, and bugger the ConDems without condoms? Bareback Mounting, you might say. By the same token, behind every male ‘sacred homelander’ lurks a warlord/pirate/uncle/Imam/politition (delete where applicable) who raped him when he was thirteen ‘to help make him a man’. How convenient. Those ancient, proud and traditional ‘tribal customs’ die hard. A fact that doesn’t appeal to a lot of good-hearted, second or third-generation West Indians and Africans here who are, in fact, British and proud of it. Those particular ‘sacred homelands’ and the antics of their former and current inhabitants are not very well-thought-of in those ‘communities’. Mind you, there are plenty of same-sex skeletons lurking in many black, British homophobic closets as well. Who shot the batty man? The batty man, of course.

I wonder what my MP (Member Of Parliament) and PP (PeoplePages) ‘friend’ (young, female, white, frumpy, highly-intelligent and firmly middle-class) might feel about all this?  We’d met by the cashpoint, and then again on another night in the chip shop in Mapesbury Green last year.   She’s very shy in person, but is effective, if a little prim, as a political pundit on TV. I privately messaged her on PP: what did she make of it all, from her newly elevated position as a ConDem junior minister in the DOPC (Department Of Prime Cuts)? Why were so many of these N.E Africans granted asylum here in the first place – did we start their civil war which has now apparently been resolved (or so the guy in the sauna-who’s-wife-had-left-him told me)? And why are their male teen offsprings apparently so culturally brain-washed into becoming members of gangs of low-life thugs, terrorising and controlling the very neighbourhoods that had been forced to take their parents into their less than ample bosoms? Strangely, she never replied. Too busy hanging on to the giddy and previously unexpected high called power, I assume.

So I didn’t see much point in sending my next proposed message, which was to be about the Eastern European Mafias who’ve somehow taken-over the lower end of the sex trade (sleazy little high street saunas and massage parlours) from the Maltezers  – gangsters of Maltese origin – where they’ve imprisoned teenagers from their glorious arian fatherlands – you know how it goes: get them here with fake job offer, seize their passports, make them sell their bodies to pay back the extortionate ‘loans’ for their ‘travel costs’ at ludicrously high interest rates? A slick, sick, slave trade in innocent, naive young girls, the prettier the better, of course. Then these misogynistic low-life animals deliberately turn them into junkies. How did they get granted citizenship here? Why are they allowed to stay when they have gang wars over drugs and girls and weapons in dreary, dead places with, appropriately, no heart or soul, like Wembley, Swindon and Basildon? Do they blackmail certain of their clients who are, shall we say, more in the public eye? And why are so many of these African, Asian and Eastern European pond-life perennials clogging up our prisons and costing the state a fortune when their sentence should be to be sent back home on a tramp steamer and forced to work their passage as a deck-swabber? Who dropped the soap eh, Abdullah/Demitri? Now there’s a way to make serious cuts effectively, you ConDem arseholes!

Yesterday afternoon in Cornwall was wonderfully warm and sunny. Suddenly, I got a visual shock as, wrapped in just a towel (very wannabe porn-film), I looked down from the main bedroom’s open, ocean-facing window, having just got out of the new, en-suite shower and wondered if I might be hallucinating. A deeply-tanned, white, masculine gay-fantasy-man – straight from central-casting – was leaning over the sea wall directly below. He was calling what I supposed to be a dog on the beach. He looked about thirty and was wearing just a pair of walking boots and tight, desert combat pants, which showed off his muscular and ridiculously round bottom to magnificent effect. His fantastically athletic, flawless body was the colour of dark, golden honey. A small and simple tattoo of a rose adorned his ripely-rounded left shoulder. He turned around, revealing a fantastic torso, beautiful big, brown eyes, a six-pack and perfectly-formed pectorals. But he didn’t spot me ogling above, despite my instant (yet obviously flawed) summoning of the great spirit lookatmeuphere ! Then, a somewhat older man with a greying, goatee beard appeared (could he be as old as this man with a goatee?) and they strolled down the path to the left, towards the rocks and the secluded sandy beaches beyond, with two dogs bounding ahead; what looked like a collie and some sort of miniature terrier. Hmm, I thought, that’s possibly a bit… gay.  All that was missing was them holding hands.

What were they doing here, I wondered, as I wandered past the stylishly designed new gastro-pub on the seafront (I’d got a pleasant design-police shock the day before, when I went to check-out how they’d done-it-up: it was fabulously stylish and surprisingly classy and chic) then up the winding lanes to the village shop in the glorious sunshine, which made everything look like an cubist/impressionist painting, perhaps by Renoir.

I bought some groceries and wine… argh no! Um, JUICE and The Mirror , my regular daily tabloid, largely because it features, perhaps surprisingly, the most fiendishly difficult Code Word (i.e clueless crossword), which I am addicted to, and complete in five-to-ten minutes every day and always succeed in doing so. Not entirely clueless then! My psychic research suggests that I helped to crack The Enigma Code in a past life at Bletchley Park. Well, obviously ! The Mirror is also a reasonably good newspaper; well, certainly the best of the supposedly lower class, red-top rags.

As it happens, I always took great delight in writing deliberately pretend-supercilious, most-podern – sorry, post-modern (and hopefully intellectually-amusing) – headlines when I had ‘freelance hack’ notched on my bedpost through much of the 90s with my weekly internet column for 24/7 , a monthly column about designer gizmos in Vaguely and the editorship of the magazine’s website, that I’ve already alluded to. Said bedpost also boasted the notches of a whole heap of lovers and of too many metaphorical ships of all shapes, sizes – bearing many nations’ flags – that had passed in the night.

I hear the mournful and evocative sound of a foghorn that resounds, along with a misty visual, featuring the full moon over the bay, which regaled me last night. Alone, stretched-out, thinking, reflecting, sleeping in a silky cocoon of sea breezes – minus the vodka – and clouds of crispy-clean, white cotton bedding.

Romantic realism (yes, it would appear that I also invented THAT term) is at its best when the reluctant loner is beautifully located : cue the sound of the gently crashing waves and ‘Oh Sole Mio‘ playing in your head like an annoying commercial for some insurance cartel masquerading as a ‘comparison website’. I was thinking of ‘solo’ in English, of course, not the Italian sun , although that also has a distinct relevance, as it’s been deliciously cloudless and hot since I got here three afternoons ago and my spirits have lifted, somewhat, and so has my appreciation of them. Hey, happy holiday to this solo-mio-monk-on-detox. I don’t think I’ll fall into the ice cream  (just one Cornetto!) or cream tea trap either. Luckily, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Bring-on the home-made smoothies and a glass or three of… lovely, relaxing, camomile tea! Hmm.  Not very convincing, am I?

So is Ethan coming? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. That’s a shame. I love Ethan. He’s currently only one county away, but I think I understand why he can’t make it. He’s still exhausted after that lengthy stint as a personal trainer/slave on a the cruise ships in the Caribbean. Tommy (aka Flounder) certainly won’t make it either as we fell-out, well no: HE fell-out with ME in the new year. We had such a great time when he came down here with me in 2008 – the eleventh year of a formerly wonderful friendship.  He’s recently been working with Fritz (aka Flatfish) again – after a ten-year-plus hiatus which followed their big pop hits – for months. I don’t think Fritz approves of me; or maybe he’s jealous. That didn’t stop them briefly working with this talented young gay, black singer that I’d recommended to them, and making him spend most of  the small amount of money they’d allocated to him (as an advance) on a lawyer, nominated by them (intrinsically corrupt), to allegedly make sure that they ‘wouldn’t be ripping him off’ – then abruptly chewing him up and spitting him out. I was, frankly, furious. This young guy, totally inexperienced in the music biz,  was stressed-out beyond belief as a result.

The lovely Luther, my favourite ‘ex’, has to study as he’s nearing the end of his course in personal training, so he had to cancel coming to Cornwall, and Alistair (a tall, handsome masseur and aromatherapist and sometime fuck-buddy of mine, of second-generation Nigerian-via-Scotland extraction, aged twenty-eight) has been here twice before, so I didn’t invite him this time, ‘cos I thought the others were coming. Harumph and twice harumph.

Therefore, it’s time for some solo navel – or even naval – gazing, a little stock-taking; re-phasing and wading into the past and the future, looking out to sea, to see if I can make any sense of why I’m so frustrated, anxious and wondering if, perhaps, I was Attilla The Hun or Rasputin in a past life (along with the code-breaking genius from Bletchley Park, of course). Or just a crab being… crabby.

I stroll back along the narrow seafront promenade, The Cleave (so-called because it forks into two?), back to my family’s pink holiday cottage with its white shutters in its idyllic setting on the corner where The Cleave narrows before the village ends, looking across the bay on one side and across Raleigh Reach and out into the Atlantic ocean on the other; right above the sea wall. I feel like I’m walking on air with all those negative ions swirling around – and breathe deeply and gratefully. Cobwebs fly out of my ears. Spiders, flies and toxins are evicted from my arse as I sit on the toilet in the en-suite, where no-one can you see through the open door, because the cottage is on the corner, looking out to sea, across the bay. Location managers? Just Google me.

You marvel at the ever-changing vistas. You chill out completely, but it takes time. For Londoners, at least, I estimate that you need two to three days, especially when you’re on a heavy-duty detox (a glass or three of wine…echo…echo ). Then you eventually reach a foregone conclusion: DAYUM! The capital really is ridiculously fast and furious! How the hell do we deal with all that chaos, angst and the constant stressful threat of being fucked-over in one sense or another? Street violence, hustlers and cheats, burglars, corrupt politicians, fraudulent bastards, identity thieves, terrorists, fundamentalists,  bullshitters, fantasists and people who write only in text-talk, who think soaps are real life and who’s only ambition is to be famous.  Tragic.    I call it ‘the unschooled, tacky-reality-TV-drool-no rules-wannabe-famous generation on a bloodyjourney to nonentity’ as we head into this new age of ignorance, which, unfortunately, I suspect, will feature very little bliss.

Sieze the end of cool culture-as-we-know-it while you can. Everything is going down the pan – except conspiracy theories, mercenaries, mafias, gangsters, warlords, politicians and fraudsters – and that’s not just in a certain square mile. The noughties will soon be over. Bring on The Goodies. I wish.

I hear hammering noises through the open door of the cottage next-door-but-two as I reach the front door, put down my shopping and unlock it. Then my mysterious, gay male fantasy (I’ve named him ‘Goldie’) comes out and shoos the two dogs into a Land Rover and disappears back inside without registering my presence, much to my disappointment. I notice, however, the older ‘goatee man’ looking slightly suspiciously – is it my imagination? – at me from an open, upstairs window. Perhaps he’s observed my admiring glances directed towards what would appear to his muscular, bronzed work colleague – and/or lover? It would seem that they are doing some renovation work on the house – but are they contractors, or do they own it? Eventually, they lock the cottage and drive off, which suggests that they’re the former, which is a shame. The potential for a delicious, on-going flirtation with Goldie now, or on future visits, is totally diminished. I pull a private, exaggeratedly disappointed face in the mirror in the hall, just for my own benefit.

Leafing through the cottage’s information folder by the telephone (it’s bulging with leaflets advertising mostly rather twee local amenities and services), I muse that there may possibly be some reference to my imagined ‘Goldie & Goatee LTD ‘(there would be a pic of them posing in front of the Land Rover with the adorable doggy-woggies), ‘Your Trusty Local Building And Decorating Company ‘. As if.  Nothing. Then I spot a visitors’ book underneath the folder, which is strange as I’ve been coming here for thirty years or more, and never noticed it. Perhaps it’s new. I open it and, indeed, the first entry is only a year or so old. My older brother Teddy (known as Bear) must have bought it and brought it, as he’s taken-over the running of the place from brother Spike. Everyone signing it seems to have found the cottage perfectly, well, perfect. No surprise there then. I write: ‘As ever, always a joy to visit – and a pain to leave – the cottage! Enjoy your stay in this magical place. Thomas Neville Topham (the second in line to the throne).’

Bear is the rich one in the family – the only one, so far, as it happens – and as he’s heading for retirement, he decided to lend the cottage over twenty grand last year to provide central heating, the aforementioned new en-suite bathroom to the main bedroom, fully restored floors, new limestone-tiles downstairs and thick, wool, sandy-coloured carpets upstairs, along with a big, squishy new, reddish-brown sofa-bed in the living room and stylish, built-in cupboards, restored from the original ones in the main bedroom, which also has a very comfortable new bed. The newly sanded and varnished, wide, original boards (elm?) in the living room are a delight and there’s a large, rather valuable Persian rug in autumn shades, donated by the parents,  Delia and Gerald, taking centre-stage in front of the original art-nouveau fireplace. The hall floor had for years been covered in vile, tile-effect lino and no-one had ever thought to look underneath. Now two very large, original gray-green Cornish slates take pride of place, leading to the brand-new kitchen and bathroom. Job-well-done Bear. He’s also upgraded the cottage’s website and it shouldn’t take more than five years to pay his loan back from the rentals. The cottage, not surprisingly, is now in even higher demand. Even the Topham family have to book well in advance, at ‘family rates’, in order to help pay for the upgrade.

I read the newspaper and zip through the clueless crossword, after a light, al-fresco lunch (a crispy bacon and Boursin sandwich with grain mustard on thick-sliced, wholemeal bread, with a large glass of my home-made smoothie) in the brilliant sunshine at the wrought-iron table and chairs outside, overlooking the bay by the sea wall. Then, finally, I turn to a small pile of assorted, rather battered-looking notebooks that I’ve put on the other chair: just a selection from a bag-full of notebooks written in my earlier (pre-digital), adult life from the seventies right through to 1997, when I got my first Apple MAC (I don’t agree with the sentiments in that link at all, it was excellent) – a beautiful, black, all-in-one baby.  It cost nearly three grand (with a printer thrown-in). My straight (but-gay-friendly), lovable-rogue, mixed-race friend Benny had lent me the money to buy it. Pay it back when you can, he’d said airily, giving me a hug. Thank you, thank you Benny, you big, hunky, handsome, house-music-loving, dodgy diamond geezer. Still no chance of a bit of one-to-one? Nah. Get used to it Thom.   Never. I think it took me nearly ten years, but I paid it back. Benny was cool – he always had plenty of money. You just didn’t ask where it came from.

The black MAC had built-in software that enabled you to watch TV on its 24 inch screen (there’s was even a remote-control) which was a luxury – especially as my old TV had recently died – and it had a built-in digital/midi studio for me to learn how to use with my wonderful, old Korg T2 keyboard. I had suddenly been lifted-up a lifestyle level or two and catapulted into a brave new world where computer-aided creativity was literally at my fingertips. Anytime I had an inspiration, I could make it come to life with the fantastic tools that were now at my disposal. I was also the proud owner of one of Kodak’s first commercial digital cameras (they’d leant it to me in order for me to review it and its website in my weekly internet column in 24/7 . I’d just, ahem, forgotten to give it back). So now I could take instant, good quality (oddly painterly) pictures and enhance, crop, edit and catalogue them, then show them as full-screen slide shows. Great at parties. No, I don’t mean those kind of parties!  Group sex is something I’ve managed mostly to avoid since the late seventies. One-to-one? Well, then the photos are ART! And there were plenty of pics of my roof garden, architectural curios, urban-scapes, anonymous strangers, clubs and bars, portraits and landscapes and friends and family having fun and being fabulous. I’ll be posting some of  the best ones online soon.

My mind is temporarily spirited back to the birth and gradual growth of the commercial business/personal computer in the early-eighties. Amstrad led the field, you might recall, if you were around. We had a couple in our office (The Sure Organisation; more of that later), with their space-invader screens with green graphics. DAMNstrad! We used to growl, wrestling with the twelve-point-five megabytes of memory, or whatever it was, and a massive instruction book. Hardly The Apprentice, the TV reality show hosted by Amstrad’s spikey, multi-millionaire boss Lord Sugar these days, although, apparently, his real office is a dreary, run-down sixties block in Brentwood in Middlesex.

I’m still outside at the table by the sea wall and have picked-up the first notebook that comes to hand. Spike, my brother Danny’s twin, and the youngest of my four brothers (Danny’s half-an-hour older), had recently brought a big canvas bag- full of them up to London from our hometown of Bath, where they had languished in our parents’ loft for nearly twenty years, after the last-but-one-time I’d  inadvertently been made homeless, in 1991. Very sweet of him. He’s always so thoughtful and kind. Now I can dip into them at my leisure, selecting notebooks at will, without trying to make them chronological. I just want to harvest random memories and thoughts – poems, lyrics and mostly diary entries (some of which are almost chapters in themselves), to be filtered through my current situation – to help me get a handle on why everything is so difficult, yet, in another sense, possibly, sort-of drifting into a potential new dawn. Think Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton film where he stumbles across a strange and magical village. Metaphorically and physically, I suppose I’m already there – albeit for just a week.

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