My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 3

11 May

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Chapter 3

Paradise Lost… And Found 

Outside in the sunshine in my shorts (sun-block alert!), I randomly select a red, dog-eared, hard-back notebook on the cover of which I’d scrawled – back then – in thick, black, felt-tip ink: Aug’88 – Oct’ 88.

Just two to three months and the notebook was full? It must have been a very interesting and creative time.

I see that I’d scribbled my name on the inside-page and the date: 10.8.88, along with my address at the time in the aptly-named Crapton Street in South London, near The Elephant And Castle in Central, South-East London. It was a bijou (ie miniscule), converted, one-bed council flat with its original, working fireplace in the little living room, a small bedroom and a just-about-eat-in kitchen – I could squeeze-in six around the 50s, red-formica table –  in a run-down Victorian mini-mansion or tenement (if you prefer) block, one of several virtually identical, six-storey, quite ugly rectangular buildings covering several streets, which were mostly inhabited by boho artists, musicians, junkies, drug-dealers, single-mothers and old, working-class couples – they were too small for families – while some were squatted by vegan-traveler-anarchist types (AKA ‘Crusties’), who parked crudely-converted 1950s ambulances and ‘ironically’ customised ex-military vehicles in every available space on the estate. No parking restrictions in those days.

There were also scores of terraced, two-storey, Victorian, artisan workshops on either side of the cobbled streets behind the blocks – a bit like lower-class mews-houses (bearing in mind that mews houses-proper are mostly found in upper-class neighbourhoods and were designed to house horses and coaches, and servants upstairs). The local council offered these to modern-day artisans at low rents, although many were squatted as live/work spaces. I dreamt of knocking through the cupboard at the back of my first-floor flat into the empty workshop/studio behind, which was a large room, with a one wall of its original windows, and was about fifteen feet by twenty-five. Wistful, wishful thinking… how wonderful would that have been? I heard recently that several people living on the now-gentrified estate had done precisely that. Bastards!

A couple of years earlier I’d held a really successfull, underground, illegal, all-night warehouse rave in several of the spaces, which, in this particular ‘mews’ terrace, were linked by large, double connecting doors. It was billed – cue Aussie accent – as The Mine Event (you may recall that one of my successful club nights was called The Mine) and had been rammed with a friendly, mixed crowd of more than three hundred people, with two dance floors playing soul, reggae, rap and funky US garage/disco. There was also proper Caribbean food, plenty of beer and wine – and lots of love – especially in the rooms downstairs. If only digital cameras had been invented then (snigger). I even made some decent money from the door-takings and the booze, despite the fact that my prices were very reasonable.

I flick through several pages of lyrics and songs, many of which were never completed, or, indeed, recorded, although, by that time I was the proud owner of one the first digital keyboards (the Korg T2 I’ve already mentioned, which I still have) that is actually a sixteen-track sequencer – ie a digital, instrumental recording studio as well – which my mother, Delia and my stepfather, Gerald had kindly bought for me in 1987. As I recall, it cost the enormous sum of £2.250, which would be, perhaps, £10K,or more, these days? But, back then, it meant that I could, at last, record all the backing tracks of my songs in the comfort of my own home (I used the three-hundred built-in sounds, which were mostly excellent), before taking them to a recording studio to add vocals, or by borrowing a Fostex eight-track tape recorder and a small mixer from a friend, to record vocals at home. The latter was preferable as there was no cost involved. I learnt to become a recording engineer virtually overnight; it seems that I was quite naturally gifted in that department. I apologise for boring you with all these techy details, but it goes with the territory, at least to some extent. I’m certainly not a geek (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that), but I am a singer/songwriter – and many more creative things besides.

Contrary to when I was in my craven (and artistically-yearning) youth, I now feel that mathematics are a major part of creativity, on so many levels, along with primally-sourced spiritual sincerity and the actual craft of creativity. Converting pure, gut-led inspiration (which usually comes at night, as long as no-one is banging on the ceiling) into credible art requires processing it by moulding the first burst into the second wave, then honing and editing it to perfection; probably the next day. Or dumping it completely. An artist has to be harsh with him (or her) self. Subjectivity (inspiration) morphs into objectivity (craft) naturally – with years of experience. Just don’t let the crafty craft kill the purity of the inspiration if you can help it.

It’s still best when no-one can hear you and you can go all primal and dance around the top of your vocal range – and your living room –  then do gospelly licks all the way on down to the deep, dark bottom, singing like a soulful angel. Pretty fly for a white guy – but only in a soundproof room (which is, unfortunately, more commonly-known as a commercial recording studio). I still dream of knowing that no-one can hear me. For instance, this lovely cottage is virtually perfect on that level, but getting the stuff down here needs more than one person, even though it’s do-able. I’ve only managed it once, when Tommy came here for the first (and last?) time. Wouldn’t life be grand if I had a boyfriend with a car, who was, say, a photographer, or a painter, and/or even a singer-songwriter? Just like me! We’d probably last no more than a few weeks – unless, perhaps, I learnt to drive (again), as he probably wouldn’t take kindly to being my erstwhile roadie. But wouldn’t I have to obtain some ridiculously bureaucratic photo-document called a driving licence?  I digress.

The cottage was the perfect, magical setting in which to be creative. I’d brought my smallest, lightest keyboard, which I could carry in its ‘soft case’, with a shoulder-strap, and set it up on the ironing board (which was inherently and consistently amusing) in front of the window in the main bedroom, looking out to sea (see pic above), along with my laptop, a small mixer, and then used my ‘Madonna mic’ (a radio microphone that sits on your head and sticks out in front of your mouth), as, obviously, it didn’t require a stand, for singing.  I was in songwriting and recording bliss because no-one could hear a thing – apart from Tommy. I wrote and recorded a song called Six Degrees in that wonderfully carefree week which we spent there. I think it captures that mood beautifully, whilst whilst also evoking my own private melancholy and strange detachment.  Degrees of separation, degrees in an angle…

To some those of you who ever loved me, I say sorry, but it was not down to me, that you made wishes that I flew above the trees…are you sorry that you threw away the keys?

To some of those who never loved me, I say nothing, but I wonder why I am free to go fishing in an empty sea – is there anything more, is there anything more than angry?’

Tommy, like every one else, fell in love with the place and its environs. We went for long walks and had leisurely dinners with a glass or three of wine (echo… echo) each, then I would carry on working upstairs afterwards, with a beer or two and a spliff, whilst Tommy would perfectly contentedly read his book or go online on his iPhone.

Just two days later than 10.8.88, ‘on paper’ (I must have spent hours handwriting all those lyrics – there were at least thirty – some presumably copied from loose pieces of paper or paper napkins back then), I leaf through to the first diary entry:

12/8/88. 6:am. There can be no such thing as everlasting joy, I guess. Milton has gone to sleep, sprawled-out on the black cotton sheets like a satiated love-god, his soft, mahogany skin and muscular curves gleaming in the candlelight. Sadly, it’s the last night of our wonderfully warm and intense, ten-day fling. I just got back from navigating the mean streets, having got some tobacco from the twenty four-hour garage. I managed to avoid potentially dangerous situations with hustlers on the street, considering I was pretty out-of-it, because, basically, there weren’t any (phew, makes a change), although I enjoyed a bit of a flirt with the tasty Bengali bloke behind the counter in the garage shop. His eyes were twinkling like christmas lights. Always a bit of a give-away. Or maybe he’d been chewing khat.

I wanted Milton and got him and he wanted me and got me – but we couldn’t have each other. He has a long-term lover in New York City and has to go back later today. Today! It was ‘no more than a good time‘.

‘But you’ve got someone over there, and I’ll have someone soon. The two of us just came together, playing the same tune.

 In was no more than a good time, no more than a good time, it was no more than a good time in the short time that we had.’

C’est la vie. I wanted to BE with him – but it was impossible, too dangerous, as we both knew. Milton. Soon, I will soon reluctantly sleep – and breathe in your beautiful aura, probably for the last time.”

I look up as I hear voices and a couple of older, touristy types walk by and smile in that beatific ‘Isn’t this idyllic and aren’t you lucky to live here?’ fashion as I briefly put down the book, watching the ever-changing floating panorama of the bay whilst musing about what I’d just read. I smile back airily and manage to resist saying: ‘But I don’t live here. If I did, I’d probably go bonkers! Cod, whiney LA accent: Have a nice day.’

I put back on my glasses (expensive tri-focals that turn into ‘shades’ in the sunlight, which is perfect for al-fresco reading in the summer) and pick up the diary again.

“I’d met Milton at  Nirvana, London’s most successful gay club, ten days before. That would have been on a Saturday, during the hot, sultry summer we were having. He was part of a group of six extremely good-looking black and mixed-race men who were dancing wildly with their tops-off, showing-off their amazing physiques. I was transfixed, especially by Milton, the best-looking and charismatic of the group. They were totally immersed in the music and busting some serious moves. They owned the dance floor, and the rest of the room, as my really good friend Mitzi Williams, the DJ (she’d held-down the job for several years after I’d recommended her back-in-the-day) pumped up the volume with soulful, New York house and garage music – featuring mostly gospel-tinged, black, female vocals. She was dancing joyfully, tossing her  long, luxuriant auburn locks and punching the air – and the crowd were whooping and hollering and loving it back. The vibe was beyond good, it was transcendental.

I leant on the large oval-shaped bar with a beer, experimenting with how to communicate with Milton’s evident ‘good spirit’ without being too obvious or crass. Much to my amazement and pleasure he soon responded to my vibe and smiled and waved. How fantastically fulfilling! I always felt that sending strong signals actually can WORK – if they are wanted! Mind you, it wasn’t the first time. I guess we de-programme our brains and downgrade the experience as ‘too good to be true’, or ‘don’t fool yourself, kid.’

Uh oh – here we go again: Lights! Action! Sound!

I pointed pointedly at my bottle of Grolsch and nodded and grinned in an exaggerated fashion. He nodded back enthusiastically and gave me a thumbs-up, whilst dancing like a demon. I therefore felt sufficiently confident to buy him a Grolsch (you might remember the old-style, larger bottles that had a cream-coloured ceramic cap held in place by a metal clasp which you could fiddle with?) and before too long he bounded over with a huge grin. I handed him his drink, he thanked me and asked me my name: Thom, I said.

‘Good to meet you Thom! Milton!’ He said warmly, shaking and squeezing my hand and then giving me a big, slightly-sweaty-but-fresh hug.

Ah – an American accent, and a deep masculine voice. Yum yum. I asked if he and the other guys were professional dancers, with an ironic ‘as if you weren’t’ look. ‘How could you possibly tell?’ He laughed, looking me directly in the eyes in a pleasingly warm and lustful-yet-spiritual fashion.

Think. Blink. Wow!

It turned out that they were all members of probably the most famous and successful black dance troupe in the world – Ballet Bronx. The other five guys came bounding over and Milton introduced me to them all. They were buzzy and friendly and were obviously really enjoying themselves. ‘So would you like to come to the opening night at The Coliseum on Monday?’ Asked Milton, ‘that gives us the rest of the weekend to play – just you and me –  then he leant-in to my ear and whispered sexily:  providing you’re willing to invite me to your wonderful home…’  Then he lightly licked it.

He doesn’t mess about, I thought, whilst counting my blessings – I stopped when I got to about twenty-five. 

‘I don’t see any problem on any level regarding your invitation and your request!’ I replied pretend-laconically (hoping I wasn’t over-exhibiting the huge surge of excitement I was feeling, and coming on too strong). It had been a while since I’d met someone so evidently full of the joys of life; so beautiful, physical, intelligent, warm… and masculine. Before long we were in a black cab heading south. It transpired that it was his first visit to the UK. He’s twenty-eight and I’m eight years older. ‘Wait until you see the view from Waterloo Bridge’, I said as we sped along The Strand. There’s The Saveloy Hotel, I said jokingly, waving to the right, asking whether he knew that it had a type of sausage named after it (no). Then Somerset House on our left, as we came onto the bridge (I resisted the urge to say that I was born there). ‘That’s The South Bank Centre, London’s main multiple arts complex – to the left and the right,’ I pointed out, ‘Check the kinetic, flourescent light sculpture on top of The Wayward, sorry, Hayward, Gallery – it’s controlled entirely by the wind!’ The enormous sculpture did a magical, megatronic, multi-coloured routine, seemingly just for our pleasure. ‘There’s The Houses of Parliament Funkadelic and the clock of the Purple Prince – could you slow down please cabbby?’ I shouted, then told Milton I was simply being silly, and he responded in an exaggeratedly deep voice: ‘I know. I like it’.

Then I did pretend-enthusiastic, tourist guide: ‘Look to your left to see St Paul’s Cathedral and the rest of The City – isn’t it a beautiful view?’

Wow!’ enthused Milton, his lovely warm eyes gleaming, ‘it’s amazing.’

‘I think you might like my eight-foot-wide bed – I bought it for £100 at an auction in Chelsea,’ I added, with a wink, as we sped around the roundabout on the other side of the bridge, holding hands… masculine hands; ‘we’ll be at my place very soon.’ He smiled in a really sexy and natural way, looked in my eyes, squeezed my arm and slowly kissed me. Nirvana, it would seem, might well have segued inexorably into heaven. I spotted the cab-driver’s angry, bigoted eyes in his rear-view mirror, but I was too happy to give a shit.”

I put the notebook down and look out to sea with a sigh, drinking the last of my smoothie (beetroot, carrot, apple, lemon and blueberry, if you were wondering). Milton and I had had a magical, horny, sparkley-eyed time, with much lustful playfulness and warmth, along with wonderfully stimulating intellectual and artistic discourse. It was great to be transported back there, just by reading an old diary. I now easily recall that the performance at the Coliseum had been an awesome display of athletic virtuoso and, frankly erotic (or was it just me?) dancing – a mesmerising mixture of jazz, street and classical. And guess who was the main soloist. You got it: Milton. I remember later: licking him all over, with his firm, round silky muscles and that perfect dancer’s butt, when we got back to my place – what great, horny, erotic, emotionally-fulfilling and friendly fucking that had been! But I hadn’t allowed myself to get in too deep emotionally, because that would have been a disaster. After all, he had a boyfriend in NYC.

Then he was gone. Apart from his delicious smell – for a little while – and some sensational memories. I got on with my life.

Barely a year later, I heard the jaw-dropping news – third-hand – that he’d died of AIDS.

That’s how it was in those days. Beautiful people dropping like flies, initially (at least publicly) in America and The Caribbean, then in the UK (who can forget the doom-laden Iceberg Commercial’ on TV?), and then, later, of course, it become a dreadful pandemic in Europe, Africa and the rest of the world. There was so much prejudice, ignorance, denial and downright homophobia – and there still is in Africa, India, China, Russia, Eastern Europe, The Middle East… shall I go on?

At least in parts of Europe and the US, all the painful steps that we’d slowly climbed-up on a metaphoric, great pyramid that had promised some liberation and equality, then had seemed to just crumble into dust beneath our feet, slowly covering the bodies of hundreds and thousands of our friends and lovers, the volcanic ashes of disaster sacrificed to the media, to twisted fate and into the sweaty hands, rabid hypocrisy and crazed lust for power and money of the conveniently ‘born-again’, religious far-right. However, before long, with exquisite timing, some of those very same people were being exposed as cheats, frauds and charlatans in one great media orgy of drug-fuelled, filthy, low-down, sado-masochistic skullduggery – which helped.

Evidently, God really was a DJ.

The good times had ground to a traumatised halt until…until… after a while, certain people started becoming aware that being gay could be about breaking-the-mould, forging trends and being strong, brave and adventurous – in happy cahoots with their polysexual and gay-friendly friends. The old funfair had become a sad roundabout of funerals – but we knew, at least, that the wakes were guaranteed to be wickedly wonderful. We had to give our dearly beloved, our brothers (and, by now, the occasional sister), a great send-off, then celebrate their lives. That was a curiously difficult mixture of joy and pain. And out of it all there grew a new breed of flourishing gay artists, fashion designers, musicians, singers and creatives, along with people in the public eye like politicians, teachers, broadcasters and even lawyers, policemen and people in the military who were newly bonded in adversity: this was the birth of a new confidence, even swagger, as gay people started to be really successful as openly gay people, and, eventually, the press gradually laid-off the luridness and the lies (although it took a few years for the tabloids to catch-on and catch-up), because civilised beings just didn’t care any more – most enlightened straight people had close gay friends and vice-versa.

The taboo had been broken through genuine solidarity and, dare I say, love. And Christabel was one of those sisters – but there was no way she was going to succumb to any grim reaper, she was too strong, blessed, wise and focussed. She’d already co-founded the first charity for women with HIV/AIDS (with special emphasis on Africa), had co-organised the first-ever major AIDS benefit at Wembley Arena in 1987  on International AIDS Day, April 1st –  with a stellar line-up of stars including George Michael and Elton John  (I’d suggested that they name it The Party, so as to make it a Celebration with a capital C); and Christabel was soon to get Princess Diana on board as patron of the charity. So her saint-like status was already burgeoning as she fought her way through the minefield of misinformation, ignorance and misery that was called HIV/AIDS. She is, as I write, soon to celebrate being with her fourth husband, the well-known actor/singer Chris O’Rourke, for ten years.

Christabel you could say, is my heroine fix.

And it had been in the spring of 1987 that I help to organise the first-ever Fashion- AID benefit held at Trilby’s – where Wilderness was held every Monday. I was on a committee which read like a who’s-who of movers and shakers in 80s media, fashion, PR, music, clubbing and arts, which was headed-up by the PR-guru Frances Linklater, who was later, famously satirised in the classic UK series ‘Totally Tremendous’ in the 90s, which came to be known simply as Totes Trem. She never denied that the character was based on her, but agreed that it was somewhat exaggerated for comedic purposes. Mind you, she did rather sweep-in and take all the credit at the Fashion-Aid party, air-kissing all and sundry and basking in glory as only those in fashion can. Still, my role had merely been to organise the actual event, and I wanted to ensure it went smoothly. It was a huge success and raised thousands of pounds. And, because I’d consciously waved my magic wand of sparkling soul-dust, the atmosphere had been genuinely amazing. Result.

Obviously, there were always going to be some old-school, bitter and twisted, tragic queens – the sort who thought (or still think) that every gay man should be referred to as she (shudder) and who rely on a one-page script of faggy cliches (ooooh, who does she think she IS girlfriend?). I give people like that short shrift if they are invading my space with their petty putdowns, by simply advising them to read the collected works of Oscar Wilde.

Despite the pathetic posturing and mincing of said time-travelling-poofs-from-another-planet; gay-mixed clubbing in the 80s was mostly buzzy, friendly, fashionable (in a funky way) and definitely, defiantly ahead of the game – especially, though not exclusively, at my increasingly successful nights. And me and Adrian Oasthouse, my business partner in The Sure Organisation, had certainly been in the vanguard of this gay-mixed, new-wave, friendly, aspirational-but grounded, organic movement; where the music was the message and the message was… enjoy!  

Soon, famous and successful people starting ‘coming-out’ – and giving the world the finger, in a sense – and an insight into life-beyond-stereotypes. And I’m proud to have been one of the people who’d helped facilitate this revolutionary reality check. Those who truly believe that they can change things just by making it happen tend to be able to instinctively create a really warm, interactive and buzzy ambience. I was one of those people: my clubs were rockin’ – and were as famous for their trouble-free, friendly good vibes as for the music and the genuine (not schmoozy) networking opportunities. This made picking someone up (or politely declining them, like I did with ‘The Indian‘ from The Village People, who had been dressed, perhaps sadly, in his full regalia), or being gently turned-down yourself, all the more natural and much less stressful. It wasn’t like a bunch of white, male ‘clones’ lining the walls of more conventional gay clubs and bars with attitudinal, exaggerated, cold, gay sexuality – which is probably why Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett never came to Wilderness, as far as I recall – perhaps because people, even total strangers, actually smiled and communicated with one another, rather than acting like they were auditioning for a 70s gay porn movie.

I also felt it important that my role was to introduce up-and-coming artists, writers, actors, producers, DJs, managers, club promoters, presenters, stylists, photographers, painters, journalists – even politicians – and so-on – to those who were already successful, like John Galliano, Sade (who tried to ‘pull’ me… twice! That’s what I call a boost to the ego!), New Order, Vivienne Westwood, Duran Duran, John Richmond, Sharon Redd, Dylan Jones (now GQ Editor), Bananarama, both Petes (Burns and Shelley), Bruce Oldfield, Alix Sharkey, Steve Strange, Jazzy B, Nelly Hooper and Soul II Soul, Leigh Bowery, Shalamar, both Georges (Boy and Michael) and Culture Club, David Holah, John Maybury, Chris Sullivan, Kim Mazelle, Dougie Fields, Robert Elms, Jellybean Benitez, Marshall Jefferson, Fingers Inc, Sheryl Garrett, Bernstock and Spiers,  Ten-City,  Anthony Price, Rifat Ozbek, Mica Paris, Belinda Carlisle, Rupert Everett, Tony Parsons, Steve Dagger and Spandau Ballet, Paul Gambaccini, Stephen Dante, Labour MP Chris Smith (who went on to become the first, out-gay cabinet minister) Judge Jules, Peter Tatchell, The Boilerhouse Boys, Leee John of Imagination, Jonathan Ross, Rusty Egan, The Stephens (Jones and Linard) Bronsky Beat (the first British band to actually ‘come out’), The Sex Pistols, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (who were the second), and I’d suggested to London’s biggest gay club that they stage Frankie’s first show, and indeed they did. The one filmed for the original ‘Relax’ video).  I had a big crush on Nathan, of  Brother Beyond, one of the first-ever boy bands, but I think he was straight! The (guest) list goes on and on! Janet Jackson even hung-out at Wilderness on a couple of occasions – but no-one recognised her. She didn’t pull any diva stunts – just asked to be able to discreetly use a back door. Rod Stewart came once briefly, so to speak, but I don’t think Elton ever made it – he wasn’t really a clubber. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a VIP room: that’s because the whole club was one!

So many people, many of them black – now much older and (none the) wiser, like me – come up to me in clubs and in the street these days and say things like: that’s what we miss Thom – the atmosphere, the buzz, the sexy vibes, the networking and the good times that you used to make, as if by magic. *Glow*. Who wouldn’t be pleased to be given that latter-day, feel-good badge of honour?

Unfortunately, the successful black sports-people and artists, with the odd exception (such as recently, John Amaechi, the British-born, US Basketball star), sometimes with tragic results (take Justin Fashanu. I knew him well – he was a beautiful man in body and soul, but he did have a penchant for pretty, very young blonde boys) took another few years to trickle ‘out’ – kudos to Johnny Mathis, the middle-of-the-road crooner, for being the first black, male star to come out – and we’re still waiting really. When you’re ready peeps! You can’t just keep producing adorable children with your secretly lesbian or financially secured ‘partner’ and hint that you’re ‘vaguely bisexual’ when challenged, as if it was the latest street-wise, fashion accessory! We know who you are – and so do you.

I raise my hat (wherever it may lay) to Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Luther Van Dross: three of the finest gay voices ever to inspire the world. Well, Gaye was bisexual.

Regarding beautiful Milton’s untimely demise: apart from being devastated by his strangely-removed passing, I wasn’t worried for myself (we’d played safe). I was just overcome with sadness – and sexy, magnificently romantic, joyful memories. I couldn’t recall the last time that I’d felt so fulfilled and at-one with someone. Then he’d been plucked away from my reverie, like an obituary torn from a magazine;  just a piece of paper in the wind.

The same applied to Maddox, but in a different, even more profoundly sad way. Maddox McFadden was possibly the love of my life, or should have been. If only I’d known what that long, strange, sad and deeply disturbing look that he’d given me one night in 1986 was all about when it occurred; not that it would have made the outcome any different. We’d split up after a mostly fantastic and fulfilling relationship (apart from the last few months) maybe six years before – and I rarely saw him, because he’d gone a bit mad, in truth. Incredibly sad. It was upstairs in the bar at Wilderness, me and The Sure Organisation’s masssively successful Monday-night club at Trilby’s, which featured Fit Freddy – in his first-ever, regular DJ job – and Frankie Farrell from Kiss FM on the proverbial wheels of steel.

Maddox, who I hadn’t seen or heard of for a couple of years, was sitting alone at one of the low, round blue formica tables, staring through the glass at the heaving dance floor below, looking really, really ‘down’. I noticed him as I came back in and sat on my usual bar stool in the corner, at the back, by the end of the big, long, quieter bar, having checked all was running smoothly on the door and on the floor. He slowly turned and looked at me with such great sadness and sorrow in those huge, green eyes, but also with, somehow, great love.

My mouth slowly, dropped open, at least inwardly, and I froze, then felt naturally compelled to send him some love back with my eyes and… all the spirit I could muster. I was deeply perplexed – either he’d really ‘lost it’ this time, or something was very, very wrong. Then he got up and left, not even looking back. It was the last time I ever saw him.

I bite my lip with the memory and am taken back to the autumn in 1976. Earlier that year I’d finished recording what was to be their final album with a successful pop band called Aviator, in the famous Abbey Road, Studio Two. I was only employed as a session musician – I seem to remember that they payed me the princely sum of £60 per week – and also played the odd TV show with them, traveling in one of those grand old black Daimler Limos and, somewhat incongruously, being dropped-back home to my glorified bedsit in Notting Hill, slamming the door ostentatiously so that the neighbours could see my short-lived status as an erstwhile pop star – in a post-modern, ironic fashion of course. Aviator broke-up soon after and, suddenly, career-wise, I was floundering – although, luckily, a successful publishing company signed me later that year, with a hefty, at the time, advance of £4,000, which, basically paid-off a lot of debts.

I was coming out of Notting Hill Tube Station through the Northern exit – heading for my shabby, basement in St Lukes Road. I’d moved downstairs from the more salubrious first-floor flat – despite its shared bathroom on the half-landing – for economic reasons (upstairs cost the enormous sum of £18 a week, whilst the barely habitable ‘flat’ – one room, a sort-of scullery and an OUTSIDE toilet – downstairs was a more affordable £7) and had suggested that my best girlfriend Christabel Galway and her husband Jeremy Organ (and their ailing marriage) take over the lease upstairs, which they did. I’d always enjoyed the walk though Notting Hill, maybe down Portobello Road, or cutting across Westbourne Grove, or passing by Aleister Crowley’s spookey old house, then through Powis Square, past the successful artist David Hockney’s former home, a large, slightly shabby, white stucco Victorian house, with its quirky little conservatory above the porch, where they’d famously shot the erotic bathroom scenes in the film Performance. Memo from Topham – as opposed to Turner. You know, the song Mick Jagger sang so well, which features some great lines: ‘I remember you in Hemlock road in nineteen fifty-six. You’re a faggy little leather boy with a smaller piece of stick…’

The sometime legendary fashion designer Ossie Clark had lived there for a while, he reports in his diaries, somewhat bitterly, before falling-out with Hockney (whom he dubbed Mr Magoo), yet again.

As I emerged into the mellow September sunlight, I noticed a rather exotic-looking young man – maybe about my age (I was nearly twenty-five) and height, a little shorter – wearing a vaguely cool, dark brown suit, a shirt in a similar shade and a bright pink tie. He was leaning on the railings bordering the busy road in a slightly-forced, yet languid fashion, reading a paperback. Was he waiting to meet someone outside The Tube? As I approached him, I observed that he looked Italian, with a shock of thick, wavy, jet-black hair, and a moustache, but didn’t look ‘gay’ at all. He was also very, very handsome. Clear, smooth, light-olive skin, great cheekbones and what appeared to be a sporty build – like a footballer. He looked-up quizzically, displaying huge, emerald green eyes that looked like they were lined with kohl, but weren’t. I had to do something!

I glanced down at the book and read aloud: ‘Catcher In The Rye?’ Then looked up: ‘That’s a bit of a rites-of-passage cliche isn’t it?’.

He looked slightly surprised. ‘I’m enjoying it…’ He said in a pleasingly warm, Scottish accent, and smiled directly into my eyes. His were startlingly crystalline and direct.

I reeled slightly, inwardly, in a ‘Wow! I-can-feel-something-special’ fashion. We just started walking… and talking, like we’d known each other for ages, then intuitively and mutually stopped for a drink in that architecturally unusual old pub with an obscure name, a curved building at the top of Portobello Road (now ‘gastrofied’, of course). Then he told me he was an English teacher, that his name was Maddox, Maddox McFadden, he’d just moved to London to look for a job, was twenty-three, and – after he’d had another drink, or three (echo…echo) – that he’d never slept with a man, as he was straight, but that didn’t mean that he would rule it out. This was because I’d already told him I was gay and a musician et al when we were walking from the station. We went back to my place and talked, ate, drank, smoked dope (it was his first time) and fucked all night. He moved-in with me the next day.

Evidently, he had been waiting to meet someone outside the tube station: me.

My walk down memory lane is disturbed as two dogs, one spaniel-like, one a little terrier, come rushing round the corner by my al-fresco table, barking joyfully, briefly muzzling my bare legs. ‘Goldie’ appears behind them, nods at me in a perfunctory fashion, then says (to the dogs) ‘Just a quickie guys – we’re off home tomorrow – gotta hurry up!’ In a pleasingly manly voice. A quicky? No, I’d rather have a longy.   With YOU!  Yeah, right, as if? Then he bounds off to the left, over the rocks towards the sandy beach. Cirrus clouds start to scud across the sun. I gather my ragged notebooks, The Mirror and my laptop and head inside as the first drops of rain fall on my sun-warmed, now slightly golden arms.

I put my bits and pieces on the somewhat wobbly oval, antique dining table in the cosy-but-stylish, dual-aspect living room of the cottage, power-up the laptop (a Macbook Pro, in case you’d wondered) and watch a silvery rain-shower making misty, visual magic across the bay as maybe a dozen, brawny, sun-bronzed lads from the local rowing club scythe across the water at great speed in one of their lovely old skiffs, or whatever they’re called, in a sudden shaft of sunlight.  This is turning into something of a Greek Odyssey, at least visually, especially if I include ‘Goldie’. And being on my own means that I can imagine that I’m Aristotle (that’s what some silly ‘Which Greek Philosopher Are You?’ app recently revealed to me on PeoplePages), who is being thoroughly, ahem, philosophical about the sudden lack of a glass or three of wine (echo…echo) and turning to his books for creative comfort and residual reflection, but definitely not wishing to write a Greek Tragedy.

Unfortunately, I came pretty damn close to such a situation towards the end of the summer of 2008, although thankfully, wasn’t stressed enough to want to gouge-out my mother’s eyes.  It lasted until June 2009, before transmuting into something even more toxic. It was the nadir of a stress cycle brought about by the unpleasant, ex-wife of my still hen-pecked landlord of eleven years in Mapesbury Green in North-West London.  She’d been hassling him to sell the property for years, so she could get ‘her half’ of the proceeds, having run-off to Austria with their builder (as you do) many years before, taking her ex-husband’s no-doubt bemused and traumatised young son with them on their Tyrolean ‘journey’.

My rented home was a slightly shabby but characterful, somewhat eccentric, extremely spacious one-bedroomed converted garden flat about thirty-seconds from the shops and tube station, in a late-Victorian terrace. It was also very quiet, because of a ‘traffic-cooling’ barrier which blocked the road right outside, making it virtually a car-free zone.

At the back there was a very large, long, white-painted kitchen-diner, with a seriously groovy 70s hand-built kitchen made of honey-coloured marine-plywood, along with caramel-brown tiles and white formica work tops. It also boasted an eight-foot island-unit with a hob set-into it which acted as a low-level room divider. In reality, it was a breakfast bar (the suburban horror!), but I easily disguised that with a table covered in my old Aztec bedspread and a pair of repro’ Marcel Bauer chrome and hide chairs (which I’d picked-up for £20 each) on each side of it, as the old turquoise leatherette chairs from The National Liberal Club had finally given up the ghost (of Jeremy Thorpe, amongst others, no doubt). There was also space for more fantastic, local junk-shop bargain finds.

For instance, there was a very cool, eight-foot, seventies, olive-green, soft leather banquette sofa (it was actually two pushed-together lengthwise: £75) with two huge mirrors (formerly wardrobe doors from a 70s hotel: £10 each) behind it, a high-ish black-and-chrome coffee table on wheels (that was the only ‘expensive’ thing, it was £100 from Habitat), an overly large-yet inexpensive TV/DVD/Video combo from the local supermarket and two beautiful, branded Karl Andersson chairs from 1973 (£12.50 each – now worth hundreds) under the windows which overlooked the patio which I’d lovingly nurtured over the years. It was like a magical, mediterranean, shaded enclave which mostly got the morning sun, then about two hours-worth in the afternoon, because of the gap between the semi-detached house next door and the house itself.

There were various shabby-chic pieces of outdoor furniture, buddhas, interesting and unusual pots, a home-made water feature (which a giant frog lived in!) and plenty of shape and colour in my planting. This led, to the left, through an improvised arch in a thicket of night-jasmine  – which smelt delicious on warm summer nights –  to a small lawn surrounded by trees and shrubs, with my marble victorian table and vaguely-modernist white stools, a barbecue that looked like a satellite and two modern, lime-green, plastic-raffia, bowl-shaped chairs, which I later gave to my brother Danny and his lovely German-Sri Lankan wife Dhalia, along with my beloved giant tree fern, when I finally moved to my new home after a huge battle against time (because of my imminent eviction) to find a new one and not to be homeless.   No one loves you when you’re down and out.  It was all horribly last-minute-dot-com.

My sister Penelope (aka Penny, which morphed into Loopy over the years) and her intense and talented Iraqui-Kurdish hubby Sharmaran (what a rainbow family I have) got some of the shabby-chic bit and pieces, which looked great in the stunning garden of their idyllic Georgian cottage in Bath. Austin (aka Grizelda – erm, some other time, when I feel like reminiscing about my childhood: it’s a long story) and his glamourous, blonde German-Kurdish girlfriend Ludmilla didn’t need anything ‘cos Austin is a landscape gardener. Spike and his equally exotic French-Italian wife Suzette were away in Italy at the time. And Bear and his wife (and childhood sweetheart) Flick didn’t really need any of my old boho stuff in their magnificently manicured garden in Bristol. My mother and father got some of my copper-coloured cordyllines, which they put on their expansive terrace in their fabulous garden overlooking the canal in Bath.

You see, one mention of family and I’m off and running! It’s unavoidable. You may wonder about my mother’s second daughter and youngest child? Well, she’s called Sarah and she’s a spirit guide (that’s what Delia says and I think it’s a great way to deal with it) as she was aborted when my mother was just thirty-six – on ‘medical grounds’. Things were not quite so grown up in those days. I’m sure Sarah spirit-guides me too – as does Maddox. I reckon they’re sitting on each side of me right now. They can’t hold my hands though, or I wouldn’t be able to type. I’d appreciate it if they helped make this fairly excruciating random back pain go away though. I’m beginning to think it’s RSI (repetitive strain injury) from all this typing and making music and talking online. Maybe I should suggest that to Doctor Fatwah. He’ll just offer me some antibiotics as usual, no doubt – although I think that Tamazapan would be more appropriate. And they want GPs to run our hospitals?  

Back to my funky old flat.

The spacious front room, with its classic, Victorian bay window looking onto the street, was also painted white (apart from one wall) and was my recording studio, office, partying, chill-out and guest room. It had a small double bed covered in brown faux-fur and a big pile of exotic cushions, heaped against a chocolate-brown, suede-effect wall, with six, A3 digi-pics I’d taken in Koi Samui in Thailand in 2003, printed on canvas and arranged symmetrically above. It was great love-nest too and, I’m glad to report, often functioned as such. So much so that one of the bed’s legs had broken and had been replaced by a pile of old books, which were concealed by the bedspread. Tommy used to love lounging there under a duvet – especially if he was with one of his love-interests. They would often pretend to be making-out, although, sometimes (he told me later), they actually were! Shock! Horror! 

There were two more chairs; one was a genuine 1940s hairdressing chair that I’d found in a skip outside Shellfishes, as I like to call it, on Oxford Street. The other was a chic, classic, upholstered-in-soft-brown-fabric 70s, Danish bucket chair (with an ellipse cut-out in the back) that had actually been in the flat when I moved-in. I wish I’d brought it to the new flat, like the fifties, yellow formica gate-leg table which I, ahem, eventually liberated, as my former landlord probably would have later thrown it away. 70s sacrilege.

The bedroom was square and reasonably-sized. It was between the other two main rooms, and looked out to the garden through large,  rather ugly, aluminium sliding patio doors, which were, however, great for summer parties, as people could circulate via them and the door to the kitchen/diner and around again. It was also mostly white, including the James Bond-ish padded-leather bed (half price and on interest-free credit from Sleepy Heads!), shaggy rugs from Habitat and sheepskin chairs (£20 each) and The Cabinet Of Doctor Calagari (£15) – sitting on top of a set of plain, wooden shelves (found in the street) – which was a lime-green wood-and-glass display cupboard (see pics above) with three glass shelves full of magical things designed to amuse the children, that I’d picked-up (no, not the children!) in charity and novelty shops.

 I have thirteen nieces and nephews and lots of friends with kids. I like to think that said cabinet is a mystical thing of magic and wonder to them. The older ones couldn’t wait to get on my keyboards, or, unfortunately, my computer. It’s OK though, I had a special kids’ desktop setting (Tommy had shown me how to do it – I had no idea), where they couldn’t screw-up my recording studio or discover my home-made, live-action porn pics! An ancient oak chest of drawers that had come from my late grandmother sat beneath a large, abstract painting I’d recently created. It’s a bit Pollack-esque and now lives above the same bed in… um… sorry I got carried away: I guess I was being a bit nostalgic about my old home of over eleven years – before coming to the point and beyond. I was mostly very happy there: good memories, parties, dinners, barbecues, bountiful creativity and horny times (most consistently with Derek, my handsome-but-huffy love-buddy of sixteen – or is it seventeen? – years) and fun times, especially with Tommy. There was only thing missing.

Where was the loving relationship?

I must confess that I’d had a major crush on tall, dark, handsome Alistair Abadeyo, with his genuine appreciation of my music, great, intelligent sense of humour and slightly dizzy, happy-go-lucky nature – but he was twenty-two at the time, for God’s sake! I guess I was fifty-three. Mind you, he’d seduced me – and I’d hardly fought him off. He’s still my big ol’ beam of Scottish sunshine and we remain close friends.

Derek Henman and I were a bit ‘on-off ‘for all those years, and still are. That’s probably more down to me as he never really shows or says anything emotional to me – apart from the odd squeeze of the hand and subtle hug. Still terrified of being hurt, or just incapable of showing emotion (apart from extremely subtly)? He’s fifteen years younger than me and we were/are perfectly compatible sexually, the best, even; but even though we cared (and still care) about each other, we didn’t/don’t have enough in common to go ‘full-time’, he has always been of the opinion that what I do in life isn’t ‘real work’, which has always gone down like a lead balloon (unlike his perfect posterior) with me. We still have fantastic nights together –  good ol’ miserable, hung-like-a-horse, Derek and I. And he still won’t look me in the eye. I wonder why? The trouble is, maybe it’s the romantic (and hopeful) fool in me, but I’ve lost count of the number of songs I’ve written about him.  He really is my muse. It just doesn’t make sense. 

Luther Greengrass – a very charismatic and pleasingly eccentric thirty year-old – and I were, and are, very close, sometimes like soul brothers, but, unfortunately, not really (as we’ve admitted to each other) sexually compatible despite his dazzling intellect, sparkling smile and frankly flawless body. But the mutual attraction remains. How do get your head (or arms) around that?  I’ve never felt more comfortable and happy sleeping with someone recently, like some divine embrace of warmth and optimism sent by The Gods.   We’d managed a nine-month relationship about eight years ago, when Derek and I were having a hiatus. I ended it because of his strange behaviour. If he’d told me about his bipolarity, maybe things would have worked out differently, but he was heading-off to Uni at Leicester anyway. The Leicester said about that, the better, as I used to quip (and still do, at any given opportunity). I totally heart Luther and thank him for just being him

There was to be a pleasant and mutually rewarding respite with Charles Hereford, a delightfully intelligent, erudite and witty twenty nine-year old American medical scientist that I’d met on a gay dating site called (I just made that website name up – good enough to register though!),  when he came for Christmas 2008. We’d had a wonderful time, considering the risk taken: we’d only met once before, when he came for a week in the summer –  and then I invited him back to meet my family for Christmas in Bath  But everyone really liked him and vice-versa.  That was just the sort of present I needed. Now it’s the past – but – there could be a future. I’ve invited him to come to spend time with me in London (he’s never seen the new apartment), to my brother Bear’s sixtieth birthday in Bristol for a big family party and here with me (hear hear!), to Cornwall, where he’s also never been, next summer, in 2011, I’m awaiting his confirmation.

That was the point. Now here’s what lay beyond it: the dreaded email of doom came in August 2008.

My wimpy landlord had finally caved-in to his craven ex-wife:  his missive stated that my official notice to quit was in the post.

Shit. This was serious. I was on housing and sickness benefits (perfectly legitimately, I hasten to add) and had grown used to everything in my lovely garden flat – apart from my health – being relatively rosy for eleven years. The bathroom (and the ‘utility room’ – I use the term loosely) were the only part of the aesthetic equation that let it down, it was tiny and tiled in pink – with matching bath, sink and toilet – which had been literally sinking into the rotting floorboards, until I’d got a pair of very able lesbian plumbers to fix it about four years ago – and *shock* the landlord had actually paid them, despite getting me to arrange it all. Somewhat shirking his duties, don’t you think?

There was soon also an increasingly large hole in the roof, where the rain would pour into one of those big, plastic storage boxes from B&Q – or was it Homebase? –  on top of the washing machine in said utility room (a ludicrous granny-style, semi-derelict, mini-conservatory) which the landlord claimed he couldn’t fix because ‘he was broke’. If it’s broke –  and you’re broke –  then you don’t fix it , one might say. He claimed that the rent had been underpaid, which was, in fact, his fault, because he’d never bothered to renew the initial one-year contract. He said that the contract stated that I had to pay a 3% more each year – but why didn’t he simply send the contract annually – was I supposed to be my own landlord? We were both right, and I was slightly wrong but was definitely occupying the moral high-ground. Unfortunately, his version actually stood-up in court, for some annoying reason. Tommy, who had a good understanding of the law (and the meaning of life and the universe) had informed me of this, before it turned-out to be true.

So I had no option but to see if there was a chance of getting housed by the council, or a housing association.

Don’t hold your breath, Thomas.

I took pictures of the (totally illegal) damage and went through a whole worthless charade with the ludicrously-named Helping You With Housing office of the local council, in some god-forsaken, wind-swept industrial estate near the North Circular Road. From my first interview (with a patronising, unfriendly and brusque woman of NE African origin wearing a hijab, whose command of English was merely rudimentary) and in subsequent ‘appointments’, I was treated with disdain and suspicion and made to wait for my ‘health assessment’ for several months, getting more and more stressed as the court date for my eviction – yes, EVICTION! – loomed ever closer.

One day, I phoned the HYWH office in frustration, asking politely what was happening with the delayed health assessment and a heavily-accented African woman literally screamed at me: ‘You WILL NOT be housed by this office, never… EVER!’ And slammed down the phone. I was horrified and outraged and immediately called back and demanded to speak to the manager in order to make an official complaint of racism and homophobia. After being kept on hold (with the same dirge by Enya repeating tinnily in my ear) for ages, some brusque official said they would send me a complaints form. It never arrived. Ironically, I was already too stressed to pursue it because it was too much pressure and hassle, which is precisely what they wanted.  

They then reluctantly assigned me a ‘care worker’ who was probably the only white, vaguely middle-class male there. He soon frankly told me, after going through the text-book ‘caring’ motions on the phone, that I was wasting my time: just go to the private sector, he said. But the private sector estate-agents don’t take-on people on benefits, I said. They might, he said, now that the recession was beginning to bite. But I was getting seriously ill with worry. Anxiety attacks were not something I had previously been familiar with, although I was used to panic attacks, as I suffered from emphysema, and had to carry an inhaler with me at all times. Soon, I could be forced to live in a hostel, or on someone’s floor if I couldn’t find anywhere to call my own again. I had a fabulous cat, two computers, four keyboards, and a lifetime’s worth of  shed-loads of… cool stuff. This was indeed turning into a Greek tragedy unless I pulled something out of the bag. Quickly.

The first desperate inspiration that could lead towards my salvation was to get my landlord to write a really glowing reference. Well, he HAD to get me out, so it was in his interest to do so. Actually, all of what he wrote was true. Then I got a couple of famous, well-connected people do the same and suddenly, all the local agents, even the posh ones, were taking me on. I had a small deposit and, with the help of my parents, upped it to £3,000. But nothing suitable came-up. Some agents showed me places that were just disgusting, sub-urban slums, with gardens full of rubbish, once-grand rooms divided in three, and tiny kitchens with one cupboard. One pair of Pakistani tricksters even tried to con me out of my deposit money on a nasty little basement ruin that I’d felt obliged to take, as I was running out of options.  Tommy, who was now living in the top-floor flat (because I’d met the owner in the communal hall when he was doing it up and had suggested Tommy as an ideal tenant) above me, soon scared the living daylights out of them by literally zapping them like a smiling, intellectual assassin – and the money was soon returned to me in their tangibly trembling hands, much to my relief.  Tommy was very good at being a virtual attack dog – he could scare the shit of out anyone who dared cross the line – and was fiercely loyal and protective.  Until he decided earlier this year that I wasn’t up to scratch and didn’t make the grade, or fit the bill any more… amongst all the other assorted cliches of unexpected rejection.

Why did it feel like it was perhaps some sort of  emotional resentment?

The housing situation, however, was getting increasingly desperate: it had reached the point where I had to take my final eviction papers to the county court to ask for an extension of forty days (FORTY FUCKING DAYS MAX?), on health grounds, before I was, essentially, ON THE STREET. And no-one could help me… except myself, it would appear. I came out of the court into the drizzly late-spring rain, feeling like it was the end of the world as I knew it. Fifty-six years of striving, driving and almost thriving… and it had all come to this.

I was sheltering from the rain at a bus stop outside the courthouse as I fumbled to put up my broken umbrella. Suddenly, I heard some heavenly, orchestral harp music in my head and saw a bright light before me. It was, in fact, a car, a silver BMW 7-series, coming out of some heavy, electronic iron gates across the road, Puccini was playing on its sound system. I blinked and immediately and literally ‘flashed-back’ to about nine years before: I’d been on the bus going to the hospital in Park Royal to have a small lump removed from my side. Routine. No probs (it was many years later that they discovered the rare cancer). The bus had stopped at the very bus stop that I was sheltering under now. I’d been sitting upstairs on the right-hand side and had noticed a large sign across the road, above those same, heavy, iron gates. It read: ‘Spacious Live-work Loft Apartments For Sale And Rent. Available in December’. I’d noticed lots of sculptural steel struts, glass bricks and attractive design features, with large wooden windows and wood-cladding. This looked to be a cool complex for creatives like me. It was three stories high and called The Old Metalworks. It appeared to an architecturally interesting enclave in a desert of urban mediocrity – but the area had a reputation as being a bit rough, to put it mildly. Gangs wars: crack and guns. The council were planning to demolish the sixties estate where most of the trouble took place, but it hadn’t happened yet.

‘You’re going to live there one day Thomas.’ My flashback remembered me saying to myself, as I crossed the road from the bus stop under my broken umbrella to get a closer look. My heart was beating a little faster. I took that as a good sign. A flat in The Old Metalworks might just have my name on it, I thought, hopefully, aware that the troubled, crack-and-guns estate in Hardesden had, by now, been demolished and replaced by well-designed, low-rise blocks and houses and gardens. The area was ‘on the up’, albeit slowly. It wasn’t as if Starbucks and Waitrose had suddenly materialised on the high street, but it was still pleasingly ghetto-fabulous, reminding me of Brixton in the 80s.

When I got home (but only for forty days MAX!) I got straight on the computer (how would that work in a HOSTEL, I wondered, surely it would be stolen by crack-heads?) and put ‘Live-work loft apartment to rent in Hardesden’ into Google and… EUREKA! Much to my amazement, up came a flat to rent in The Old Metalworks; over-budget but do-able, with two bedrooms, on the first floor. I HAD to get it. And, better still, it was with a GAY agency. It looked a total mess in the photos, but I could see that this was superficial – the current tenants evidently had no taste (flowery, cheap duvet covers? Tasteless prints? A vast pile of clothes on the ironing board? Clothes and bags strewn everywhere?) so I rang the agency. ‘Your name sir?’ asked the agent politely. ‘Thom Topham’. I said.

‘Thom! He exclaimed! How are you? It’s Joseph, Joseph Jaeger… do you remember?’

‘Of course, Joseph… long time… how are you?’ I was wracking my brains, but thought it politic to play along.

‘I used to LOVE your clubs – and do you remember that night… you know… Crapton Street down by The Elephant, on the roof, after that fantastic illegal rave you had in those sort-of warehouses behind your flat! It was wicked!’

My god, all that time ago. That’s it – the police had politely asked us to close it down because of the noise, at around 4:am. I did remember, vaguely. Mixed-race. Small-but-perfectly formed. Niice little, round bum. I’d shagged him against the chimney on the roof, I think.

Now THERE was a stroke of luck.

I went to formally view the property after two, nail-biting days, having first asked whether the landlord would accept someone on benefits (yes, with those references, after I’d emailed them) and how much was the holding deposit (£600)? Thank God I’d sold some retro-modern antiques on aBay! It HAD to be mine! The Asian, lesbian couple who lived there in tatty chaos were friendly enough – they were watching a DVD of The Wizard Of OZ on a huge flat-screen TV (did it come with the flat? Indeed it did) when I was waiting for Joseph, who was very late. When he finally swished through the door, full of typically fake, estate-agent  apologies (the traffic, the weather, the tube breakdowns!) I immediately slapped the £600 in cash onto the beechwood breakfast bar (which thankfully didn’t look in the slightest bit suburban) which was part of an island-unit in the nicely-designed, open-plan kitchen and stated: ‘This place has my name on it. WANT it!’

‘But there are two more people viewing after you!’ He whined.

‘Cancel them. Don’t care – MINE! And I want long-term – my last tenancy lasted eleven years! And you have seen my excellent references haven’t you?’

It had to be for me, surely. The flashback, the sound of the harp, the bright lights in my head and an acronym of The Old Metalworks is… T.O.M. Success? Rescue! Please?

I moved-in in the first week of June, 2009 – result! – although I was furious about having to ‘rinse’ my already strained credit cards to pay a SIX HUNDRED POUND extra deposit for THE CAT! How GAY AGENCY was that? The blessed Ethan drove the Luton van I’d hired and Tommy and Luther helped me pack-and-load and it took two trips as I had so much stuff to shift, including a small selection of low-maintenance plants and shrubs from my lovely old *sob* garden for my new, little outside space. Alistair was unavoidably away in Scotland, and I was more than slightly pissed-off that I had to stash loads of his stuff in the garage of the old flat, as he’d stayed with me for several months a couple of years before, rent and bill-free. A bit cavalier Alistair, what with all the stress and moving and everything, even though I did get to play with that phiine azz (that doesn’t really work in a Scottish accent, does it?) on many pleasurable occasions. That was hardly the point, but Alistair was just a bit charismatically dizzy, trying to make his way in the world –  but certainly not malicious.

A new life was opening-up for me, as this live-work loft (I kept repeating it to myself like a mantra) was definitely going to be my dream home. Check the spec: a massive, L-shaped, open-plan living space with a huge floor-to-ceiling, wood-framed (spruce? Or maybe redwood?) window with a sunset-facing, balcony-cum-bridge outside the front door, which would soon be surrounded by many of my favourite plants. High, industrial-style aluminium ceilings supported by huge, chunky, white-painted steel beams. The perfect room for my studio occupying a room in the corner, with etched-glass internal windows, where I put the landlord’s deco-style furniture, then his Ikea desks in an L-shape for my computer, printer, studio bits and pieces; my keyboards sat on their three-tiered stage-stand diagonally in-between. Fully-tiled, Italian ‘pod’ bathroom in black and white with a massive mirror above the bath. Solid oak floor and under-floor heating. A bedroom like an art gallery, with a walk-in wardrobe. Within hours I had it looking like it was in Soho in NYC with its greenish, etched-glass screens, white-painted breeze-blocks and all my retro-modern furniture, exotic cushions, shaggy rugs, African statuettes and masks along with my own paintings and photos. And the landlords beautiful king-sized, oak bed made the perfect, deluxe chill/guest/love zone, with my huge pile of exotic cushions and faux-fur spread. There’s was even my sixties coffee-table ‘shrine’ to the art directors of the cult-hit American TV show Madmen. It was my perfect dream home. I could breathe again. Or so I thought.

It didn’t take long for the post-traunatic stress disorder to kick-in. After a while I started drinking too much to dull my fears. How would I ever hold-on to this wonderful apartment? I had to find around £250 a month above what the council payed me in housing benefit – which was the maximum allowed. A musician friend who wrote and recorded advertising and film music told me that he had recently received a loan from The MRS (Musician’s Rights Society) and I should check it out online, as I was a member. I did, but I only earn peanuts from my songs, for some inexplicable reason (grrr), so didn’t qualify. Then I noticed that – ah ha! – there was a MRS Members Benevolent Fund and realised that my bad health and straightened circumstances – along with the recent traumas I’d been through – meant that I might be eligible for financial help with my rent. So I rang them up and, they said they’d send me an application form, which I filled-in and returned. After a few weeks I got a call from a friendly-sounding woman (MRS Members? I mused) who wanted to make an appointment to come and see me to discuss the situation. I was a bit worried, as I am living in what looks just a leetle like an erstwhile penthouse, so what might she think? I decided, as ever, that honesty was the best option and when she walked in saying: ‘What a lovely place, aren’t you lucky?’ I told her about how I’d come so close to being on the street, the courthouse opposite, and the hospital/flashback story (leaving out any sexual references to Joseph, of course) and googling and finding the flat. She was really supportive and charming and, when she left, she said that The Fund would be in touch, once they’d had their next committee meeting the following month. But just prior to that meeting, a letter arrived with a cheque for £250 attached, saying: ‘The Fund has awarded this to you as an interim payment.’ Wow! Rescue. Then, the very evening after their committee meeting, the same kindly woman called.

‘I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got some good news for you.’ She said cheerily.

‘Really?’ I said, a little a shocked,’it’s not often I’ve heard that recently.’ I added, thinking that maybe they’d awarded me a grant of thirty pounds a month, or something.

‘Well,’ she said, after a small dramatic pause, ‘The committee has decided to award you £250 per month, for life.’

‘That… that is amazing.’ I managed to stutter. ‘Thanks so much for letting me know. I can’t believe it.’

It’s a pleasure Thom, and it was a pleasure meeting you too.’

I immediately opened a bottle of Wolf-Blass Shiraz (it was half-price in Tesco Metro) to celebrate.

Despite that very reassuring fillip, here I am in Cornwall reflecting on it all, still not really believing I’ll be able to hang-on to my dream home, while trying to shake off the worry, the stress and the doubts of last year and the year before. Where is my career, my love life and my health? I’ve been obviously been suffering from severe depression and, no doubt, alcohol being a depressant has made it it worse.

At least Joseph Jaeger at the agency called to asked me last Thursday (it’s Monday today) if I’d like to renew the lease for another year – that’s a huge relief. I couldn’t bear to go through that edgy, gnawing tension of trying-to-find-a-decent-flat-whilst-on-benefits ever again. I hurried to their trendy office in Shoreditch on Friday afternoon and signed immediately – before being given the run-around by O!U and their wretched sim card. Phew. Hurdle cleared elegantly, like former Olympic champion Wayne Jones at his finest. And he was fiiiine. Surely, the rumours were true, or was it his doppleganger who whispered ‘Fireworks‘ in a Welsh accent one night in ’97, behind some bushes in one of London’s finest garden squares, as he shot his load with the assistance of my moistened middle-finger up his magnificent bum and my tongue flickering on his left nipple?

Maybe my soul is starting to feel cleansed in Cornwall –  of memory, of pain, of failure, of let-downs, knock-backs, depression and… alcohol. The trouble is that drinking helps you forget – and sleep.

The next-door neighbours, from the white house around the corner, walk past the windows and smile and wave. I wave back. I breath deeply and slowly and start to feel better. Another year in Rancho Deluxe, as I call it, my dream home, is guaranteed.

Come on Thom – lighten-up man!

I pour myself a home-made smoothie, smile to myself (you’ve signed the lease for another year Thom! The rent’s taken care of!), then open the same, red notebook again, where I’ve marked it, and check the next diary entry.

It would appear that I was on holiday in Spain.

2 Responses to “My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 3”

  1. Dropbox Enterprise at 9:53 am #

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