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2012 in review

12 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 8

12 Jun

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You Tube Clips Of Memorable Moments From My Mental Hard Drive.

I’m having another beautiful wake-up moment in the cottage.  As I blink and open my eyes I’m mentally massaged by the sound of the waves, the sparkling sunlight on the sea and the sensual, salty air wafting through the open window. I do believe it’s Thursday.  This is definitely a feel-good morning.

I roll out of bed, pull on my baggy, camouflage cut-offs and a white T-shirt and go downstairs, barefoot. Kettle on. Two slices of wholemeal bread in the toaster. Slice a banana. Put a normal T-bag and a peppermint one in the teapot, as is my wont.  Teaspoon of set honey in a mug.  Butter the toasts and spread honey on them, then add the banana slices.

I take my breakfast and my laptop outside and sit at the cast-iron table,  inhaling the air with relish and enjoying the hot sun on my face, arms and lower legs, then I try to check my emails –  but the signal is still pathetically intermittent and eventually I give up in frustration. After a while I go inside for a refill of tea, taking the laptop back inside, then pick two notebook/diaries at random from the selection on the dining room table and take them outside with my mug of tea. By pure coincidence, they turn out to be from 1978 and 1979.  So (deep breath)… I’ll be in my idyllic – for  two and a-half years, at least – relationship with Maddox, whom I met in 1976.  Then I’ll become a rock star with The Eaglekings – and Maddox will morph into being our temporary roadie.  Then, in ’79, the lead singer of the band will have a nervous breakdown and leave, one the original (and best) drummers will briefly return, the money will run-out, they’ll ask me (yes me!) to be the lead singer), one of the original (and best) guitarists will rejoin, then I’ll leave and eventually make some excellent demos (with the aforementioned drummer and guitarist, plus the bass player from The Counter Geigers), paid for by an Italian count who will then take me to New York (for my first visit) and I’ll get a record deal worth £80,000 (on paper) within three days!

I open the first book and an untitled, two-page poem in (my) red handwriting is loose inside the front cover, where I’d simply written: ‘Thom Topham. 1978′. Then underneath, somewhat cryptically: ”When my creative juices are flowing, you’re not going to be my condom’, along with some squiggly doodles and a London phone number (only seven-figures as opposed to today’s eleven) for someone referred to as simply ‘K’.

Keith? Kate? Kevin?

On the next page i’d drawn a graphic exhortation to myself: ‘DO IT! In ’78’ (it must have been New Year) and then, on the facing page, I’d written a list of mental targets and musings.

‘Direction —-> art versus commerciality?

Compromise?  Result: bland-out.

Commitment = obscurity (& integrity?). Eventual success.

AIM… commercial, yet committed ART.

Cliches work!  Create new cliches?

Don’t over-analyse – get on with it (oh yeah?).

SUCCESS in ’78.

Stick to what you feel is right (there’s nothing new in that).

DISIPLINE/regular WORK.

Time ALONE.

Get up earlier (very difficult, especially when you’ve been working late).

CONFIDENCE (PLEASE – just tell me I’m good)!

No more excuses – BE in love and enjoy it.’

I turn the page to find another untitled poem.

‘Don’t be downhearted, we haven’t  just started –

our hopes for the future won’t always be right.

Don’t be downhearted, we won’t become parted,

you’re not just a stranger who stays for the night.

You’ve given me strength, you’ve given me weakness,

by breaking defences and helping me fight.

I’m lost in my loving, so bold and uncertain,

not scared of commitment and changing my life.’

I was evidently referring to my relationship with Maddox – my first-ever long-term lover.  I was now 25 years-old and he was 24.  We must have been having the first blip in our previously fantastic relationship after nearly two years together.  We had great sex, great conversations, great fun and intellectual interaction and we were mostly rolling along sweetly.  Plus – he was so masculine and handsome.

My mind takes me back to the dingy basement flat which we shared at number 9 St Dukes road in Notting Hill – you hopefully recall, dear reader, that Maddox had moved in with me the day after we’d met.

Christabel now lived alone in my former, one-bedroom flat on the first floor, having split from Jeremy Organ, her first husband, in… 1976?  Ah – the mists of time!  They’d remained very good friends – right up until his untimely death in 2006.  I’d moved downstairs because I couldn’t afford the rent upstairs – it had been £18 a week –  but had made sure that Christa and her then husband could move in when I reluctantly downgraded.  There was also another more pressing reason:   I’d had big problems with the thuggish moron who lived in the flat above with his frumpy wife – we had to share the bathroom on the half-landing – who was always complaining about the noise of my nocturnal songwriting.  Once, he came banging on the door bellowing the immortal words: ‘Come out dinky or you’re dead!’  Dinky? Me? How very Orton-esque! I’d merely stopped the noise and ignored him, but it had shaken me somewhat.   The flat was, however, a really cool, light and spacious one-bedroomed pad with two almost floor-to-ceiling, sash windows overlooking the street.  The kitchen was big enough to eat in, and in nice weather you could put the table outside, on the roof of the porch and eat al-fresco, which was very civilised, but you had to be wary if you’d drunk too much wine, as there was no balustrade.

That was where we’d witnessed the police literally herding crowds of  black teenaged boys to the youth club at the end of the road… like sheep, in ’75 and ’76.  It was outrageous. We were only one street up from what was known as ‘The Front Line’  and the police were always hassling the yoot (youths) and arresting them on ‘Suss’ (suspicion of being in possession of… black parents?).  At the Notting Hill Carnival in ’76 you could smell the trouble coming – the tension on the streets was palpable – and the riot started right beneath Christa’s balcony. It was really exciting and we were cheering on the insurgents who were throwing bottles and cans at their long-time oppressors.  The police could only protect themselves with dustbin lids, which was faintly comical, and they soon, briefly, retreated.  There were hundreds of thousands on the streets.  I went out to investigate.  It was just the lull before the storm.  What had started as little pockets of resistance was to turn into a full-blown uprising.  I was standing outside the crowded local pub having a beer in the early evening sunshine, when I heard a huge roaring sound coming from the direction of Portobello road.  Then there was the most amazing sight: literally thousands of yoot (of all colours) running backwards and hurling missiles at a huge, ominous black wave – hundreds of police that had been belatedly mobilised.  Suddenly,  the turbo-charged, fired-up rioters were grabbing bottles and glasses off the tables outside the pub and all the drinkers, including me, retreated inside and shut the doors,  craning to catch the action through the windows.  The noise was incredible and the police were also adrenalised – on an aggressive high.  The black wave eventually passed and we poured-outside.  Some of the police literally grabbed drinks out of peoples’ hands and knocked them back in-one, then carried on chasing the riotous throng.  Afterwards, Notting Hill looked a bomb had hit it.  The Police had been oppressively racist for years, pure and simple.  The people had spoken and it signalled the beginning of a sea-change which took a hell of a long time to materialise: it’s still ongoing today (The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the ‘institutional racism’ of The Metroplitan Police springs to mind).

My basement ‘flat’ really was just one largish room in the front of the house with a large bay-window looking out onto a tiny front garden and the dustbins which belonged to the four flats in this rather down-at-heel, typical Victorian, terraced house.  But the rent was just £9 a week!  My king-sized double bed sat in the window, which I’d curtained with dark blue velvet, and was also covered with the same material.  I’d painted the room white, as it didn’t get much light.  There was the original working fireplace, which was just as well, as there certainly wasn’t any central heating. There were a couple of lovely leather armchairs from the 1920s, which my mother had given to me, and my beloved Wurlitzer electric piano (Knock knock – who’s there?  Wurlitzer!  Wurlitzer who? *Adopt Elvis voice*: Wurlitzer one for the money, two for the show…)

I had a  small black and white cat called Tiddles (her name was supposed to be ironic). My slightly battered gate-legged dining table from the 1940s was covered in green chenille on the back wall, with four matching, wooden chairs, and there was an hexagonal Art-Deco coffee table with a glass top, that I’d bought at the top end of Portobello Road for a couple of pounds.  The floor was covered in cheap, faded,  pale blue, fitted carpet.  An all-in-one stereo unit with record deck, radio and cassette (how quintessentially 70s!) sat in the corner, with two large Wharfedale speakers on either side of the bed, which doubled as bedside tables.

The corridor outside was flagstone-floored and virtually derelict. It was riddled with damp, with peeling paint, crumbling plaster and crusty mildew everywhere. There were even clusters of yellowish mushrooms! This led past the back room, which our landlord, who owned the whole house,  the repulsive and appositely-named Mr Lurcher, used as a storeroom for all his hoarded, useless junk. You could barely open the door it was so full of rubbish, including great piles of chipped, china plates which Christa and I would take great delight in flinging down the corridor and breaking on to the crumbling stone wall, with it’s broken window, by the front door, screaming things like ‘I hate you world!’ in really bad, vaguely Greek accents, on various occasions when we were feeling stressed-out. It was tremendously therapeutic.

We’d nicknamed Mr Lurcher ‘Scrooge’, as he dressed like a tramp and always wore the same moth-eaten, green, tweed overcoat and brown scarf (even on hot summer days), both of which were inexplicably covered in scorch marks.  He apparently owned four houses in the street and was a devout Christian Scientist.  He had a horrible whiney voice and made it his business to be as unpleasant as possible to his tenants.  He truly was from central casting – for a TV series set in Dickensian times. You simply couldn’t have made him up. He made the famously super-grumpy Mr Ripley in TV’s ‘Rising Damp’ look like a heroic renaissance man in comparison!  He’d actually tried to evict us 1976 when we withheld the rent because of the state of the house. We were issued with court summons, so we took pictures of all the various defects.  ‘Scrooge’ actually turned up in his usual tramp-like clothes at the hearing. Christa and I were power-dressed and the judge evidently took quite a shine to her (Galway, her family name, and its famous Irish Whisky brand didn’t do any harm either). As Lurcher blathered on angrily about us and our animals in the witness box, the judge actually said to him sharply ‘Mr Lurcher! If you don’t stop your gobbledegook I’ll have you thrown out of this court!’  Scrooge was hoisted by his own petard, and we won the case and the right to stay put. An ironic, if not exactly pyrrhic, victory.

The dank corridor in the basement led to a tiny, barely-functioning kitchen at the back, which contained a filth-encrusted, ancient, rusty gas cooker, a 1950s sink unit with just one tap -cold-only, obviously -and one of those tall, all-in-one, 1950s kitchen dressers – in pastel blue in this case – with a fold-down enamel work-top and two frosted-glass doors above (they’re actually regarded as retro-chic antiques these days). There was also a totally unusable, grimey old bathtub, which I’d covered with an old table top I’d found in the street. The half-glazed back door led out to a small, overgrown garden which was full of rubbish,and broken furniture (handy for the fire though) and – are you ready? – An OUTSIDE toilet!   The only one available in the basement! This was a virtually uninhabitable slum! I’m ashamed to say that I used to pee in the bath. If I wanted a bath, I had to go outside and into the house (I had a key) upstairs to use the communal  bathroom – which was also unheated.

I chuckle inwardly as I reminisce once again about the delicious irony of being dropped-off outside my seedy basement in one of those classic, black Daimler limos, after doing one of several TV shows with the successful pop group Aviator – who’d had a string of top ten hits – but unfortunately, not during my year-long stint as their keyboard player in 1976.  I recall that I was paid a rather measly £60 a week retainer and a £700 fee as a session player on the album that we recorded in the legendary Studio 2 at Abbey Road.  I was good friends with Freddy McGhee,  my predecessor in the band, and he’d recommended me for the job when he’d left the group (I suspect that they’d bored him into leaving – all they ever talked about were their upmarket cars and Scottish football).  He co-wrote ‘Sparkle’, their biggest hit, which went to number one in the US, and had also been a founder-member of the hugely successful seminally Scottish boy-band The Big Town Bentleys.  He was gay and, sadly, he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989.

I had a beautiful, intelligent and characterful fluffy white dog called Ben; a collie/retriever cross – we’d found each other at Battersea Dog’s Home in 1974.  He went everywhere with me and would sit on stage next to my keyboard sporting sunglasses, a baseball cap and a red kerchief when I performed on TV shows with Aviator. We were performing at The Wimbledon Theatre to an audience of a thousand screaming girls, for a TV special on the band.  The stage set featured open, square, white-painted wooden boxes arranged to form a pyramid about thirty feet-tall on the back wall of the stage.  I was playing away happily when I noticed the audience all looking up at something behind me.  Then the follow-spots and the TV cameras turned up towards the top of the stage.  The number came to an end.  I turned around to see what everyone was looking and pointing at – and there was Ben, right on the very top of the pyramid stage set, wagging his tail furiously and posing in the spotlights – rather like the MGM lion.  Then he tossed his head like a doggy diva and loped elegantly down the pyramid steps, tail madly wagging, to huge applause, then had a canine cuddle with me on stage. What a show off!  What an amazing dog.

When we were recording the album I used to tie a luggage label with the studio phone number written on it (along with ‘My name is Ben and my master is recording in Abbey Road Studios’) to his collar and leave him to roam free around the leafy and prosperous streets of St John’s Wood.  We were actually recording in the studio for nearly two months – very extravagant. He was very street-wise and even knew to cross roads at Zebra Crossings – including the one made famous by The Beatles, of course.  Reading this, you may think that this was very irresponsible of me and dangerous for the dog.  I can only say that we had a strong spiritual bond and great communication. Nothing untoward had ever happened to him over the years of our libertarian, dog-man relationship.  He know intuitively when it was time to come back and would sit patiently waiting by the entrance to the studios, until someone let him in.  One evening, I was doing multi-tracked keyboard overdubs in the cavernous, atmospheric ‘live room’, with its fabulous ghosts (although Lennon was not to be murdered until 1980) when the producer Adam Priestly’s voice came over the tannoy:  ‘There’s a phone call for you Thom.’  I ran up the famous stairs, picked up the receiver and an upper-class, campy voice said ‘Your adorable doggy Ben has been entertaining us for some time, but we have to go out to the opera, so would you like to come and pick him up, we’re just around the corner.’  I wrote down the address and went to retrieve my… semi-retriever.  It was an enormous, six-storey, white stucco-fronted mansion.  I could see huge chandeliers, rococo mirrors and extravagant, gold and green brocade, swagged curtains through the windows: money, but little taste, evidently.   I rang the bell and it was answered by a foppish old queen dressed in a green velvet dinner suit with an enormous red-spotted bow tie.

‘We’ve quite fallen in love with Ben haven’t we Quentin?’ He cooed.  ‘He’s utterly adorable!’ shouted a slightly less camp voice from upstairs. The posh queen introduced himself as Stanley and added: ‘Ben’s in the master bedroom,’ leading me up the ornate staircase into a massive, luxurious but totally over-the-top bedroom filled with what looked like seriously valuable (but gaudy) antiques and and vast expanses of vulgar, velvet curtains.  There was an huge four-poster bed that looked Jacobean and… there was Ben, idly licking a huge fillet steak that was on a silver platter next to him on the quilted, red satin counterpane.  He slightly wagged his tail, as if to suggest that he’d rather be staying where he was!  Stanley insisted that I take the steak and produced a Harrods carrier bag. ‘That’s what you call a doggy bag!’ I quipped and they both giggled as I thanked them and left, Ben trotting beside me, somewhat reluctantly, it seemed.  ‘Ben’, I said, giving him a wink and a ruffling his head, ‘you’re such a tart!’

The Aviator album proved to be the band’s swan song, as they split-up soon after it’s completion and the guitarist and bass-playing singer were absorbed into their producer’s vaguely prog-rock concept, The Adam Priestly Project, which went on to sell millions, for some inexplicable reason.

And I was out of a job.

I have an abiding ‘video’ in my head of Peter McBairn, the singer, turning around to me in a limo – after we’d been shepherded to it by security men through a back-stage crowd of screaming girls – and saying brightly ‘So how does it feel to be a pop star?’ In a rather patronising fashion. My wan smile should have told him the answer, but he was too high on the adulation to get my gist.

Another You Tube clip of  memorable moments from my mental hard drive.

I feel warm raindrops on my nicely arms – aw!  Only the second shower in the six days that I’ve been revelling in my lonesome seaside reverie. I grab my books and mug and go back inside and stand at the window watching the filigree curtain of silvery rain falling over the sea, with intermittent shafts of sunlight providing a pleasing visual effect.  People run by the cottage looking to find shelter, perhaps in The Pilgrims’ Progress, the gastro-pub just a few yards down the Cleave.

Now sitting at the oval, antique dining table inside, I turn another page in the 1978 notebook to find another untitled poem – or perhaps a lyric in the making.

‘I wonder if you realise just how beautiful you are…

When I look into your eyes, I am looking at the stars.

I wish that you and I could make some kind of future plan,

to take away the barriers and begin to understand.

I wonder why it takes so long to get down to the core,

to brush away the cobwebs and the cuttings on the floor.’

Turning another page, I see that the words have progressed into the lyrics of  a (potential) song called ‘Surrendering My Soul’.  It was never recorded, as was the case with so much of my work in those days.  I could only dream of the luxury of having my own studio (which, I’m glad to say, I do  have now) and I had to pay for studio time, meaning I became used to working really fast – unless I could persuade my  music publishers to put me in the studio, which happened only spasmodically (which, frankly, rather defeated the object).  I’d signed a deal with them in the autumn of ’77 and had received the then enormous sum of £3,000 as an advance –  but there was little left the following year, as it had been mostly used to pay of debts and my overdraft, as I recall, apart from being my only income, until I’d joined Aviator.

Again, obviously, the song was about Maddox.  How wonderful to surrender one’s soul. I can’t recall the last time I took such a romantic and emotional leap of faith. I would be so happy if it could happen again.  I really need some emotional feedback – I sometimes feel like  a love-sick alien these days.

Maddox had endured a very strict upbringing in the North of Scotland and had been pushed to study hard as a teenager by his dour, Calvinistic parents, meaning that he never really lived like most teenagers do, or did, in the heady days of the sixties (he would have been fifteen in ’68) and early 70s. So when he met me (yeah!), he suddenly discovered fun and frolics, horny man-sex, recreational drugs, getting drunk, laughter and, indeed, love!  But this meant that, despite his intelligence, he was initially somewhat gauche and unworldly in ‘company’ and would try too hard to ‘fit-in’, not quite ‘getting’ the subtleties of intellectual punning and deliberately childish pranks, which Christabel and I referred to as ‘the therapy of silliness’.  Or was it ‘stupidity’? Either way, you get the gist. He also hated me calling him ‘Madd’ for short!

As I turn the pages – poetry and lyrics progressing steadily through 1978 – I realise that this notebook has no prose and… I  wonder why.  Thinking about it, being in a relationship might explain the absence of my usual prolific scribbling, which is much in evidence in my other notebooks.  As a jobbing songwriter, I could hardly hide them as they were always on top of my Wurlitzer, so Maddox would have been able to easily read my intimate diary, should I have actually written one. Maybe I should have.

Then, sadly, leafing through to the end of the book,  as 1978 drew to a close, it seems that our relationship was unraveling – after he became illogically paranoid about our perceived monogamy, increasingly believing that I was having sex with other people, when I simply wasn’t.  I was hurt and upset.  It was so unjust, so wrong.  But, eventually, in the spring of ’79, I felt compelled to surrender to his paranoia and let him go… whilst understanding that it had all been so good, so right, so fine. Was it a conspiracy of fate which killed this hitherto fabulous relationship?  I’ll never know, I can only surmise.

‘The Point

Last night was a turning point, I went back down the street,

remembering my old routines whilst beating a retreat.

It happened like I’d planned it, near the point of no return,

I played the one-armed bandit and lost everything I’d earned.

We played like naughty schoolboys, getting drunk, out on the town,

and reached a point of harmony which we had rarely found.

Then we went our separate ways – for the sake of something new?

And lost that magic feeling, when the point was me and you.

You found yourself a stranger and i found myself alone,

to walk the windy streets in search of bodies, rags and bones.

In retrospect this punishment was just what I deserved,

I forced the situation, maybe, living on my nerves.

At least it showed me something – I could love you without fear:

just give me time to show it and the point will be quite clear.’

A sparkle catches my eye; it’s sunshine on a wave.  The rain has stopped, and a pale, misty pastel rainbow forms above the village to the west. I look out to sea and I’m transported back to the late summer of ’78 when Maddox hired a Mini (he drove, I didn’t…and still don’t) and we went on a spontaneous camping holiday to North Devon – with Doggie, my second pooch, in a wooden trunk on the back seat – with her six, new born puppies: five mostly black, and one white.  Wonderfully eccentric.  Luckily, I took a camera. More of that magical mystery tour later, although the quirky pictures you may have already seen certainly tell the proverbial story.

Ben had uncharacteristically disappeared back in the summer of ’77.  I was devastated (and felt guilty) and put up photocopies of his picture on all the trees in the street, and, after a few days and several fruitless visits to the Dog’s Home, in desperation, I even got the local paper to run a piece, with his picture on it, with the headline ‘Ben The Randy Dog Is Lost.’ He was actually bisexual too – he’d shag anything with a tail and four legs!  Prior to him going missing, I’d had so many calls from posh people in Kensington or Chelsea (via my canine ‘luggage tag system’), saying that he’d been ‘begging’ outside their mansion block, or whatever, and, just like the two old queens in St John’s Wood, they’d always find him adorable – which he was.  After a two weeks there was no sign of him, and I could only surmise that he’d been taken in by one of these upper-class people – perhaps a lonely old dowager duchess.  This was some small comfort. But Ben was gone… forever.

One day, there was a knock on my door – I opened it to find Maggie,  the local alcoholic, junkie, Irish prostitute (she lived next door), outside my door holding the cutest little brown puppy. ‘I heard about you losing your lovely Ben,’ she slurred in her thick, Irish brogue, thrusting the little brown dog towards me, ‘so I brought you Bambi!’  Bambi?  How could I say no? However, no amount of post-modern irony would persuade me to retain her name.  Doggie was daft, but sounded vaguely similar to Bambi to a puppie’s ears, I hoped.

Bambi, sorry, Doggie’s arrival soon prompted Tiddles and I to have a perfectly amicable divorce.  She decided to move in with Maggie *Cue Irish accent* the junkie whore next door.

Christabel worked for a rock music management company called Way Hey based in the nearby Yarrow Road – basically, she ran the office – and very efficiently too.  The company was pretty successful as they looked after Eaglestorm, the Uk’s most successful space-rock band after Pink Floyd; their equally happening offshoot band Engineface (whose singer Gimme had been their bass player, until he’d got busted for possession of amphetamines in Canada, whilst they were on tour and was summarily sacked by the band’s erstwhile leader Frank Ferret).

One day in July, she’d called me, sounding rather excited, suggesting that we meet for dinner in our favourite restaurant on Portobello Rd, as she’d ‘had a stroke of genius regarding my career’.  So… what was afoot?

When I arrived she was sitting at the bar with a cocktail, looking fabulous, as ever, dressed in retro pink and black satin, wearing a  black pillbox hat with a pink ostrich feather in it. ‘Daaaarling!’ She enthused, jumping off her stool and embracing me extravagantly. At this point we pretended, as was our wont, to virtually make love on the spot.  There were some raised eyebrows, giggles and whispered exchanges from the clientele. We just fell about laughing, as ever.  I ordered a Bloody Mary and eventually she breathlessly rattled-off her cunning game plan.  ‘Guess who’s urgently looking for a new keyboard player?’

‘Hmmm… one of Way Hey’s bands, i would imagine?’ I suggested, rather hoping it would be the hugely successful American funk band Congress Of Crazies, whom they managed in the UK. ‘Go on then, tell me.’

She stirred her cocktail, pausing for dramatic effect, then said in an exaggerated stage whisper: ‘I’ve already told them it HAS to be you… it’s Eaglestorm (they were huge!  They sold-out major venues all over the country)!’

‘So! One of their roadies is going to pick you up tomorrow and take you to the farm where they’ve just started recording their new album in Cornwall, and, you’ll get the job, believe me.  You can take the very pregnant Doggie too!

‘Wow – that’s incredible! but I don’t have any suitable space rock keyboards.’

‘Oh don’t worry about that!  She said, tossing her elegant head, her eyes sparkling, ‘they’ve got all the latest polyphonic synthesisers and string machines, echo units, even some vintage keyboards too.’

I shook my head disbelievingly, but I couldn’t hide the huge grin on my face.

I hugged her and said ‘Thanks so much darling – you’re amazing.’

I was indeed invited to join the the band the very next day, after my ‘audition’ at the farm, and went straight into recording the album with them, playing the fantastic Yamaha CS-80, the first-ever ‘portable’ (although it took four people to lift it) polyphonic synthesiser, and a cool selection of keyboards. They were soon to change their name to The Eaglekings as they were,  it transpired, locked in a contractual battle with Enigma, their record label, so Frank Ferret, the band’s guitarist and erstwhile leader took the unilateral decision to change the band’s name, albeit for just a couple of years.

This brings us full-circle to the present day, after a thirty two-year hiatus.  The Eaglekings did a six-date mini-tour (with no rehearsals!) earlier this year with two original members (myself and Mr Wallbanger) and the cream of the ex-members of Eaglestorm, including the increasingly deaf founder-member Rik Bunsen, but certainly not the fiendish Frank Ferrett (the stealer of peoples’ souls), who has sole ownership of the Eaglestorm name, and still tours and records with what’s left of them.

I flick through the notebook and and see that I recorded that six puppies were born on my bed at the farm on August the 4th, 1978.

The album took about six weeks to record at the rented farm, which was a rambling, Victorian building decorated in a pleasingly shabby-chic style,  surrounded by rolling hills, verdant fields and forests. All the live recording took place in a massive barn – just as well it was summer –  which had great acoustics for drums and vocals.  They’d hired a mobile studio, which was housed in a beautifully-restored Airstream caravan(the classic American chrome ones from the 50s) which belonged to Reggie Street, the bass player from 60s acid-popsters-turned-raucus-rockers The Places – formerly known as The Tall Places.

The sessions went very smoothly and it seemed that I got on well with the band, which was a five piece. Although Frank Ferret kept his distance, he seemed amiable enough, despite insisting on talking like a Monty Pythonesque officer in The RAF, which soon became irritating. He referred to himself as The Commander. The bass player rejoiced in the name Winston Wallbanger, which was obviously a pseudonym.  He was charmingly avuncular, even at the age of thirty, and was rather badly behaved, drinking heavily and taking drugs (speed was his favourite) to excess, but he was always witty and intelligent, with a twinkly, knowing smile.  The drummer was called Grahame Radcliffe and was a flamboyant, rather corpulent character, evidently from an upper-class background, who seemed to come from another era-  Falstaff-meets-Terry Thomas, if you like. But he was good company and great raconteur, although a bit of a show off, especially when there were attractive women to endeavour to impress. Steven Elgin, pale and interesting, was the charismatic and characterful singer.  His lyrics were very poetic and pertinent and his voice sometimes reminded me of Brian Ferry, and at other times David Bowie (although technically he was nowhere near as good), but his delivery, rhythm and diction were spot on, and really quite compelling. His dress sense was wonderfully eccentric and whacky, which matched his droll and highly intelligent sense of humour.  We would construct elaborate, spontaneous jokes using clever word-play and arcane references, which I found pleasurable, as I boasted a left-field, daft-yet-clever sense of humour myself.  He was quite the creative genius and a truly original visionary.  We became IBFs:  instant best friends.

Steven suffered from manic depression (now more commonly known as bipolar disorder) and had massive mood swings, and, before long, I found myself acting as his ad-hoc, erstwhile therapeutic  ‘swingometer’ and sounding board. He was really relaxed with me and his extreme  mood changes became less frequent after I joined the band. At least for a while.

Christabel came down for the weekend, soon after the puppies were born and she, like everyone else, fell in love with them. ‘I have to HAVE one!’ She trumpeted, in her pantomime, Queen Of Hearts voice: ‘give me an adorable PUPPY or it will be ORF WITH YOUR HEAD!’  She chose the only bitch (hah!) and named her Maisy, knowing that she’d have to wait for a few weeks to take delivery, upstairs in St Dukes Road.  I, meanwhile, had chosen a black male with a white flash on its chest, and named him Slash.  Now there was a potential problem – how was I going to get Doggie and her brood back to London?

The phone rings:  ‘Hello’

‘Hello daaaarling!’ purrs Christa.   Typical:  psyching-in again.

‘Just reading my notebook from 1978, but you knew that didn’t you?’

‘Of COURSE!  Do you remember the HORSE?’

‘Which horse?’

‘At the farm with The Eaglekings, when I came down when you were recording the album.  There was a beautiful brown stallion in the field next to the farm and I wanted to ride him, but when we went to see him in his field you were a bit uptight – somehow scared of him.’

‘Ah! I forgot  all about that.  It’s because I used to go horse riding as a seven-year old kid and had a trauma, despite having those wonderful memories of galloping bareback at full tilt across fields and jumping over gates; horse and kid in total accord. But one day, a horse trod on my foot and broke it.  I’m sure he didn’t mean to, but, at my age, it signalled the end of my riding.  But I’ll never forget  those  beautiful, evocative memories of animal and boy galloping across the fields.’

‘That’s very sad,’  said Christa, ‘but it sends me lovely visual messages. But do you remember that I suggested that you truly communicate with the brown stallion, just relax, treat him as if he were a dog.  Then suddenly, you were like best buddies; with Doggie, you and him chasing each other around the field and bonding.  It was wonderful.’

‘But did you manage to ride him? I don’t remember.’

‘Sure did.  He was determined to fuck-me over.  NO-ONE rode this muther-fucking STALLION!  I wasn’t having it though. He bucked and bronco’d, he tried to throw me, but I just kept saying: no way Jose.  I’m here to stay.  Then suddenly he calmed, tossed his mane and I was riding proudly around the fields like a female warrior taking a break from the rigours of battle, with my trusty steed.’

‘I love that.  Heroics, healing and horses.’

‘But please don’t let people see the nude pic of us on the beach… that’s just a step too far.  I don’t do body parts.’

Wo nurries Contessa!  I won’t. So… do you remember the night of my 26th birthday in ’78?’

‘Of course, darling.  Maddox and I had organised a surprise party for you and had insisted that you dress-up for the occasion, but you got all grolschy and were moaning that it was YOUR birthday and that YOU wanted to go and hang out and have a good time, not just have an intimate dinner for three!’

‘Ha ha ha! That’s so funny, I’d forgotten that.’

‘Well, it WAS thirty-two years ago my angel!  Gotta go. Love, love love!’

‘Back atcha you old slag…bye!’

I’m naturally uplifted by Christa’s uncanny ability to zone-in on just about everything.  What a wonderful woman and an amazing friend. My bestest.  Shame that she now lives in the country with her very talented fourth hubby (he acts, he sings, he plays guitar, he teaches) and we never really see each other anymore – perhaps just at Christmas in Bath with my family.  I return to my reminiscing with a smile on my face.  Christa has doubled the power of my flash-backs with her enthusiastic recall.

The weather  in Cornwall in the summer of ’78 was really hot and sunny and a whole bunch of us decided to have a picnic on Porthcannan Sands, a stunningly beautiful  beach with miles of white sand, dunes and great surfing waves.  Strangely, the beach was deserted, so Christa and I decided to have someone (I don’t recall who) take the aforementioned picture of  Christa and I before we all ran into the huge breakers. After several minutes of swimming, jumping and splashing around, I suddenly realised that I could no longer feel the ocean floor.  I was looking towards the dunes and suddenly noticed that my bright-red towel seemed much further away.  Uh oh! We were being washed out to sea by the currents! I shouted and waved at everyone in the water, indicating emphatically that we had to get back on dry land… NOW!  Andy, one of the roadies, began to panic, so Christa and I shouted at him to calm down, then grabbed his arms and helped him to swim back to safety. Eventually, we all collapsed onto the beach, gasping for air. ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, breathing heavily, ‘THAT was a close call.

Just before the album was finished, Maddox came down for the weekend in a quite impressively macho, rented truck.  Christa, ever resourceful, had ‘swung it’ that he could be a temporary roadie – he even got paid –  as some of the equipment needed to be taken back up to London.  So that’s how Doggie and her puppies got back to my place –  the puppies were in a cardboard box on the second passenger seat next to mine, and Doggie was at my feet.  Maddox was relishing his roadie role, dressed in a pair of the customised overalls that Christa had given him, which had been created by the famous artist and designer Dougie Dibbles,  as part of the whole touring concept for the band, which he was conceptualising with Steven Elgin, the Eagleking’s singer  – a heady, dystopian cocktail of Abstract Expressionism, Punk, Nietzscheian Nihilism, Modernism, Fritz Lang and The Bauhaus –  and hard rock. We laughed a lot, caught sight of each other’s eyes and squeezed hands:  it really felt like we were in love.  I get a lump in my throat even now, thinking about it.

We were soon to rehearse for the extensive autumn tour.  Along with the Yamaha CS-80 (with its groundbreaking ‘strip’ which ran the length of the keyboard, so you could play it like a violin, or make big fat chords rise or fall over three or four octaves in dramatic melodic freefalls), I also selected an ARP Solina string machine, a vintage, red Vox Contintental organ (its keyboard featured black notes that were white and white notes which were black) and a monophonic Mini Korg synthesiser for playing solos and swirly, spacy noises on, from the Eagleking’s large selection of keyboards. I was also to have four WEM echo units – and 3,000 watts of personal monitoring power on tour (which might explain the irritating tinnitus that I now occasionally suffer from in my left ear:  I always played sideways-at-an-angle, facing the band, on ‘stage right’).  This selection was going to make a fantastic wall of sound for the live gigs. I was also informed by Way Hey, the management company, that I could commission a custom-built, four-tier keyboard stand from a metalworks, to be ready for the rehearsals back at the farm. Rock n’ roll glamour!

I faxed my design and the measurements to the office.

We had a two-week break before rehearsals for the tour began, so that was when Maddox and I spontaneously decided to hire the Mini and go on a camping holiday in the South West – with Doggie and her six puppies in a wooden chest on the back seat. We stopped off at my parent’s house in Bath and spent the night there – we needed to borrow one of the family tents.  My sister  Loopy and the twins, Danny and Spike, were still teenagers and still living at home, which, in 1978, was one of those classic townhouses in Great Balustrade Street, which my parents had bought for £29,000 in ’74. Why was it such a bargain?  Because it had previously been converted into a warren of bedsits – many of the rooms having been crudely divided – but the stunning original features, including a genuine ‘Adam’, marble fireplace in the first-floor drawing room – had miraculously survived. They’d made a handsome profit on the house that my siblings and I had grown-up in, in the idyllic old part of a village called Tideford, by the river, between Bath and Bristol, so were able to commit a massive £60,000 to restoring the Georgian house in Bath – with me in charge. This design-and-architecture buff and enthusiast  was suddenly in seventh heaven.

When the old house in Tideford – a large, square Victorian six-bedroomed semi – had burnt down, just after Christmas in1968, leaving just four walls, I’d had a wonderful blank canvas on which to design the new one.  I created a highly detailed model for its rebuild, which later helped me to ‘sail’ into Art College in Bristol.  We had to live in two caravans in the garden for a year, before the insurance claim got successfully paid-out.  My parents and the three younger ones shared a wonderfully camp, kitsch pink, 50s monstrosity about forty feet-long (it was very similar to the one featured in the  John Waters movie Pink Flamingos), and us three older boys shared a smaller old wreck which they’d bought from a farmer for £50.  I completely gutted it and rebuilt it inside with two bunks forming an L-shaped ‘conversation area’ and a third bunk built above a communal desk, which was mine. I decorated it in shades of chocolate brown and orange. Austin was thirteen, I was sixteen and Bear was seventeen.

On the ground floor of what was now a burnt-out shell, there had originally been four reception rooms, each of which was about thirteen-by-twelve feet, along with a small kitchen extension ro the side.  I redesigned this to become two, double receptions, with folding, glazed wooden doors connecting them via the large, square, entrance hallway in the centre of the front of the house.  Then there was an arch from the kitchen/dining room (with its original cream-coloured, coke-burning Aga, which had survived the fire) containing a large, island breakfast bar, with eight stools around it, to the new, much larger kitchen extension, with its large picture window overlooking the lovely garden.  A spacious new sun-room extension by the front door was accessed from the dining area: it had a balcony on its roof, which was accessed from a glazed door in the first-floor hall.  This was truly radical and way ahead-of-its time.  I’d sacrificed one of the four bedrooms on the the first floor to create a luxurious bathroom with a rainforest theme when the house was rebuilt – totally to my design.  I painted a Henri Rousseau-inspired mural on two of the walls to give the impression that you were bathing in an open-sided, ‘The Castaways’-style, jungle tree house.  I recently heard through the family grapevine that this mural, having apparently being painted-over, had been re-discovered by new owners of the house and fully restored.  I’ll have to go and knock on the door the next time I happen to be passing and find out if it’s true: digital camera at the ready.

Before the fire, there had been two long, thin attic rooms on the second floor.  One had been a genuine  enclave for Bear, myself and Austin.  Our parents, despite being relatively strict on certain levels (especially my stepfather), had decreed that it was an adult-free zone, and never ventured into our magical kingdom, for which I had overseen the decoration – walls of purple and orange and room dividers made of chocolate-coloured curtains. The other attic room was a study and store room for our stepfather Gerald’s huge stamp collection. This was was his calling: he was a philatelist.  My mother had taught herself to become a numismatist (a specialist, or dealer in coins and medals) in an organic fashion, after marrying him, when I was six. They owned The Stamp And Coin Shop on the Adam-designed Balustrade bridge (with its amazing views over the weir) in Bath.  My brother Spike now runs the shop – along with his own mosaic tile business.

In my design, the attic became what we would now describe as ‘a loft apartment’ (like the one I’m blessed to now live in). Instead of two narrow rooms, I designed a large, lateral space of about thirty-five feet by twenty-five feet, with a massive dormer window overlooking the old village and the river valley and open countryside beyond.  This was to become teenaged party-central! As my reward for my endeavours, I designed a small bedroom (for myself) and a second bathroom for all three of us – just across the hall.

Everything got built according exactly to my plans.  There was no architect involved officially, apart from a family friend (who was one) and who drew-up the plans based on my designs and model, for nothing.  Grand designs!  At the time, I had considered the idea of studying to become an architect, but noted that it took seven years plus two years of internship, which was somewhat off-putting.  I was already playing in bands and writing songs, so it seemed logical to continue on that path.

These days, one of my of my regrets in my life is that I never been able to implement my plan to buy ‘wrecks’ in up-and-coming areas of London and turn them into arty dream-homes, making large profits and moving up the housing ladder as a result. There’s still a chance it could happen one day, I guess. I hope. I wish.

When work started on the Georgian town house in Great Balustrade Street in Bath in 1975, I was, living as I did in London, a part-time project manager .  This beautiful building had six stories, including a large  basement and a cellar.  The fact that it was adjacent to the house on the corner meant that it concealed a hidden secret: it was ‘double-fronted’ at the back, as it were, i.e L-shaped, and therefore massive – it boasted close to twenty rooms. With the aforementioned generous budget, I was able to oversee the restoration of this magnificent building to its former glory, whilst incorporating some somewhat radical design innovations, such as a shared en-suite bathroom for my teenaged siblings, a parental suite on the first floor, adjacent to the spacious and beautifully-proportioned, high-ceilinged drawing room, reached through new double doors; and in the large, open-plan kitchen-diner in the self-contained, two-bedroomed, top-floor flat (which was let mostly to actors performing at the Theatre Royal), a floor-to-ceiling, six foot-wide window created from glass tiles – which was inspired by Parisienne ateliers, after my first visit to Paris in 1974, to promote my first album ‘Mediums’.

In the basement and sub-basement I was able to run wild with a double-height, private cinema with raked seating for nearly thirty people.  I also designed a farmhouse-style kitchen in the spacious former dining room on the ground floor, with a red Aga (set against a chocolate brown wall), hand built units and a dresser created from reclaimed pine – again, way ahead of its time.  The tiny, former kitchen became Gerald’s study and the capacious, ground floor living room was a library and a cosy haven for the family, with its working, Victorian fireplace, art-deco three-piece suite (which I’d found at auction) and archway to a book-lined library alcove.

All the original pine window shutters were stripped down to the natural wood, as were the bannisters and newel-posts on the staircase. A beautiful wide-planked elm floor was revealed, then stripped and varnished in the first-floor drawing room, with it’s three large, floor-to-ceiling sash windows and (working) marble Adam fireplace and later – joy-of-joys! –  white, baby-grand piano (I think it was a present to thank me for all my design input into the house). All the reception rooms were painted with Georgian eggshell colours.  Pale blue, yellow, green and cream. The house was the ultimate, funky-and-friendly family home – not formal at all.  It was always full of interesting people.

And so it came to be that Maddox and I spent the night there with Doggie and her six adorable puppies (much cooed over by the family, of course), borrowed a two-sleeper tent with a sewn-in groundsheet and a flysheet, then set off the next day, with Doggie and her pups on the back seat in the wooden trunk (with its lid open, of course) , to a destination unknown, somewhere in Devon or Cornwall. We were adamant that we should just drive and follow our noses and have fun on the way.

We headed south- west.  All I can remember is laughter and love – we just had the best time-ever and were so relaxed, able to be really silly (always a good sign of true love), being a bit outrageous with the photos we took and having a great holiday – from the word go. As I recall, our first stop was at some very twee tea room in North Devon – I think it was in either Lynton or Lynmouth – and we were just taking the piss, pretending to be silly queens, which we weren’t; so there was a double irony which made it all the more enjoyable.  We were two handsome, masculine men who happened to be gay – and, we were in love.  We really were.

We wanted to find somewhere to camp (boom boom!) which would appeal to us because of its name.  It was getting late – dusk would soon be coming, and we had to pitch our tent and make sure Doggie and her pups were safe and sound.  Then we came across a road sign saying – and I kid you not – ‘Welcombe Mouth‘.  This was obviously destined to be our destination, so I asked Madd to take a picture of my very own ‘welcome mouth’ – then we headed for our soon-to-be legendary destination.  There was a campsite on a farm –  I think it cost £1 a night – which was set in rolling fields above a beautiful, sandy/rocky bay on the Atlantic coast. There was even a pub that did food in the tiny hamlet nearby.  There was a large stream running through the middle, with deep pools for (very cold) natural bathing and waterfalls.  As we arrived, it started to pour with rain, and we had great difficulty trying to erect the tent in a hurry, but managed eventually – and ended-up all snuggled-up on a double lilo under a duvet, with the puppies and their mother, drinking a nice Rioja, bathed in mellow candlelight (it was safe in a glass lantern) in our idyllic haven, with the romantic sound of the heavy rain on canvas – well, nylon –  eventually lulling us to sleep.

Could anything be more wonderful? We slept, spooned in perfect harmony, hugging and squeezing each other and celebrating being genuinely together in such an idyllic spot.

I was woken the next morning by the roaring sound of rushing water and noticed, to my alarm, that the side of the tent was actually fluctuating.  I shook Maddox and  told him to wake up – QUICK – then opened the zip and realised that we could be about to be swept over the cliff in a raging torrent – we’d pitched out tent right by the stream in the near-dark.  We rushed to take Doggie and her pups-in-the-trunk to safety in the car, then hurriedly took down the tent, just in the nick of time.  We then re-pitched it in the middle of a rolling field looking out to sea, on much higher ground.  The sun came out as we cooked sausages and beans on our single-burner Calor Gas stove, having made a pot of tea, as the puppies frolicked with their doting mother in the glorious sunshine as the clouds lifted above the sea. We were so happy, and, literally, in such a great place.  The photos say it all.

We spent a blissful, idyllic two weeks in this beautiful spot and were never, ever happier together. And the puppies were kind-of like the Disney-esque icing on the cake.  I remember that Doggie barked furiously if anyone came within fifty yards of our tent – protecting her brood.

When we reluctantly returned to London, Maddox agreed to look after Doggie & her doggielets – he didn’t have much choice really –  whilst I headed back to Cornwall for rehearsals for the UK tour, which was to take-in a massive forty venues – mostly hosting at least a thousand people – over the autumn of 1978.  The rehearsals went well and Steven (the ever-eccentric singer) and I bonded even more – I was his psychiatric support network, sending him good-energy-boosting vibes to make him perform freely as himself, not to be bogged down and hampered by his mental health issues.  He was happy. We laughed a lot.  His singing got even better, more strident and confident.  The band were tight and punchy…punky, even.  This is evident if you listen to the never-before released CD ‘Eaglekings: Live ’78’ which was released on Grapes Of Wrath Records in 2009, along with ’24 Hours Beyond’, the Eaglekings album which was recorded in the barn in Cornwall,  my first album ‘Mediums’ and my second album ‘Torn Genes’ (which went to number three in American Airplay Charts in 1980). All these CD re-releases occurred last year in 2009, the year that I moved to Rancho Deluxe – all good omens.

I close the book, go outside and sit on the sea wall in the early-afternoon sun, then, realising I’m hungry,  I decide to jump on the bus – having checked the timetable by the phone – and head to the Ferry Inn, for another of their delicious fresh crab and salad baguettes.  I also take my laptop to check my emails, as the signal had already proved to be strong there – knowing that my wretched broadband dongle actually worked in anything other than a coastal village behind the hills. When I got there and checked, there were over a hundred emails. I deleted most of them, apart from ones from family and friends and an interesting one from Larry Rogers, the Eaglekings guitarist, where he was mooting the idea that  he would take-on the organisation of the band touring Europe and The UK in the autumn of 2011, providing I would do the viral, internet PR and press, which I was already doing anyway.  I replied to his email in the positive/affirmative.  The last time I went on the road was with The Eaglekings in 1978, thirty-two years ago, which would have been the next instalment in the current notebook I am reading… had I written about it!  But I remember a great deal about that tour.  I’ll enlighten you further down the road, maaan!

I’ve spotted a boat with ‘Oudle River Cruises’ painted on its side coming towards the stone jetty by the pub.  That could be something a little different I think: why not?  Even though I don’t have my camera with me. I grab my bag and walk down as the crew tie-up alongside.  It’s £5.50 for an hour and-a-half.  And I haven’t been cruising, as it were,  for a long time.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any interesting men onboard.  So much for a holiday romance – the nearest I’d come to that was with Goldie – which was a complete fantasy long-shot – and chatting with various local yokels (arf arf) on Bangr, the gay, male hook-up Ap, which is currently only available on iPhone, although it will soon be on Blackberry too, I’m reliably informed. Enough social net geekery – it’s time to feel the river.

I climb the steep, metal stairs to sit on a darkly-varnished bench on the relatively empty, open upper deck as the boat heads into the estuary, snaking between four large car ferries criss-crossing the river – more like floating bridges really – which are propelled by huge chains which lay on the river-bed, I notice we’re passing the rather foreboding naval dockyards, with a variety of huge battleships, submarines and support-craft moored alongside vast hangars (or are they called sheds?) where they presumably get repainted (you can have any colour you like Captain – as long as it’s battleship grey!) and fitted-out.  Great rusty cranes dot the horizon like giant automatons, dipping and turning in a slow, random dance… of death?  Well, if this flotilla was heading for The Arabian/Persian Gulf, then that could indeed be the case.  We round a bend, leaving the dockyards behind us and there’s Brunel’s famous Oudle Railway Bridge high above.  The next road bridge is another twenty miles-or-so up-river – hence the ferries.  Eventually, the ugly, pebble-dashed, terraced houses and sprawling council estates of Raleigh on the right bank give way to verdant water meadows, teeming with wildlife.  I see a Cormorant diving from a bright green buoy and catching a fish near the muddy banks, then shaking off the water vigorously, the droplets hanging in the sunshine like a silvery haze. A beautiful, classic Georgian mansion appears on the left, with manicured lawns running down to the water’s edge, where there stands a large, two-story Victorian, wood-clad boathouse, with a large, first-floor balcony which I immediately fantasy-design-in-my-head as my new studio and holiday home – Rancho Deluxe Two!  Could this fantasy studio be the first place ever in my life where I could truly ‘freestyle’ without restraint of any kind,  singing my fucking tits-off really loud to a PHAT backing track – without anyone complaining, banging on the ceiling, knocking the door, texting me, phoning me… calling me ‘annoyingly noisy neighbour’, as opposed to simply ‘dead talented’? Long have I dreamt of such a songwriter’s Shangri-La, or, indeed nirvana (R.I.P Kurt); a fantasy of living and working where I can float into artistry on a cloud of no restrictions, across a river of inspiration, under a sky of true expression – without fear of having my magical moments disallowed by lemon-lipped, neighbourhood normality. I don’t blame them really – they have to get up for work and stuff.  I’m just a selfish singer-songwriter who loves to work at night.  It’s a frustrating catch-22.

The idea, however, of living in total isolation, as one who doesn’t drive, also miles from the nearest supermarket, simply  wouldn’t work for me, unless I was filthy rich, which, naturally, I fully deserve to be. So the likelihood of it happening is remote, to say the least.  It doesn’t stop me dreaming about such a perfect situation, and hoping fervently that one day it will before I evolve, or devolve,  into a doddering, spliff-smoking pensioner.

Now I’m getting fired-up: I need to shout, scream and dance to a great groove.  Scream down the house where no-one lives nearby and no-one cares – until they hear the results of this post-dated, somewhat senior baptism of fire – blown out of a delicious vacuum of complaints in the air, yet exhibiting a significant gulf stream of surging warmth and exhilaration; fecund, organic, growing, knowing when the tides are flowing and blowing in the wind.  And I will be a Merman:  waving, not drowning. Or perhaps… raving, not frowning.

I feel light drops of rain falling on my arms and head, and beat a hasty retreat to a seat in the boat’s cabin, with its panoramic windows revealing kinetic tales of the riverbank. I can feel words forming in my head and so I grab the 1978 notebook and a pen from my bag, find some blank pages and start to write:

‘The light… the water…the rain…the river….

it’s a serenade of  love for strangers who are in flux…

for the renegades of Rancho Deluxe.’

If only I could sing out my heart and soul at any time, day or night, without  the fear of metaphorical buckets of cold water being poured onto my head, then I would be in Rancho Deluxe Two, a heavenly place in which to simply CREATE fabulousness. Stretching boundaries, opening borders, crossing raging rivers, disobeying every order, in order to EXPRESS what is often locked in my heart, because of the constricts of control.  Noise pollution.  Neighbourhood watch.  Never being able to shout and sing like a true artist, yet, still managing, within those constraints, to write, sing and record passionate and committed songs – with heart and soul, against all the odds. Fate is a bastard sometimes.

So, all I need is for the Lord Of The Manor to give me the Boat House for… well,  life, in return for me being artist-in-residence and free mentor to those people who I see have natural gifts, which I can help to bring to fruition though advice and encouragement – following my week-end, open-mike, make-it-up-on-the-spot summer festival in the grounds of the mansion.  I’d better think of a good name for it.  The forests and meadows drift by through the boat’s windows. The words come into my head like a sea breeze:   The Fields Of Gravity.  But, unfortunately, like so many of my great ideas, it’s just a fantasy… until fate, luck (and some hard work from me) conspires to make it a reality. All fall down. Send in the clowns.

The boat has arrived back at the jetty by The Ferry Inn.  I disembark, having enjoyed a cognitive reflection whilst spending time alone in this wonderfully restorative environment.  I get lucky with the once-an-hour bus and hop-on after just five minute’s wait.

I stop off at the shop and get a frozen margarita  pizza –  which, naturally, I will customise with fresh herbs, red peppers and chorizo – and walk to the cottage feeling thoughtful, reflective, sober and, to be honest, more than a little lonely.

I make my ritualistic Virgin Mary (a glass or three… echo echo) and sit on the sea wall looking out to sea.  The first night of The Eaglekings’ forty-date tour comes twisting back to me like a headline-twisting rewind sequence in Citizen Kane. It was in Oxford, as I recall, at The New Theatre, in early October.  The show had gone very smoothly and it had been a turbo-charged performance – the musical interaction between us band members was electric.  There was a huge backdrop depicting a city of the future (from the early, 20th-century past), and four, scaffolding towers about twenty-feet tall, in each corner of the stage.  Atop each one was a follow-spot operated by roadies dressed in Dougie Dibbles’ paint-spattered white overalls. There were six dancers prancing around in a fairly meaningless manner (they only lasted a few dates),  cavorting with fluorescent hula-hoops.   The show was sold-out and the mostly male crowd roared their approval from the word go.  Backstage afterwards, in the capacious green room,  the mood was celebratory and much red wine and spliff was consumed by the band and crew (which comprised an astonishing twenty-two men).  I remember being asked by the road manager if I’d like to join him and several of the crew for a game of poker – gambling with stakes of no more than a pound.  I’d never played before, and when I explained this –  to hearty guffaws (they assumed I was being disingenuous – poker-faced, even), they simply didn’t believe me, especially when I later took the entire pot – then, naturally, bought everyone a drink!  I had been totally honest, as is my wont, and winning my first-ever game was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

The band were staying in decent hotels – sometimes even five-star – in single rooms (what a relief not to have to share) and we travelled in a proper tour bus with a toilet, kitchenette and even a couple of beds, at the back, which Steven and I commandeered for ourselves,  acting like naughty children, holding court like reclining, Romanesque rock gods, and constantly laughing. So much laughter.  Suddenly, I had morphed into being something of a rock star.  The level of adulation was almost embarrassing at times, but always very good natured.  There was always a large crowd waiting at the stage door after a gig, waving their programmes and records to get signed, sporting the band’s T-shirts and badges. Even in those days, the merchandise was really what made money. The production costs – especially with that mega stage set and huge crew – were enormous.  The ticket receipts barely covered it.  We were on a wage  – I think it was about £100 a week, plus we got perdiums – a daily allowance of £20 to cover expenses (mostly used on drink and spliff – although I rarely indulged until after a show).

Christabelle and Maddox joined us on the tour bus as we drove to another sold-out date, this time at Milton Keynes Leisure Centre, after a day-off in London.  One of the advantages of playing at such venues was that the band and crew got private access to the amenities – swimming pool, gym, sauna etc – once it had closed to the public.  On this occasion, no-one other than Maddox and I took up the offer, so it was great fun to be naughty boys and have sweaty, slippery sex in the sauna.

On another occasion, the bus had stopped at a service station somewhere in Kent for us to get some brunch.  Steven and I had been lolling about on our rock n’ roll recliners in track suits, seriously discussing the faintly ludicrous idea of going for a leisurely jog, perhaps only because we were vaguely dressed for it.  There was a garden centre adjacent to the service station and we set off, giggling, running down the path.  After about five minutes, we looked at each other, roared with laughter, sat down on a bench and had a cigarette – I smoked roll-ups (although I gave-up immediately – with the help of nicotine patches –  when I was diagnosed with emphysema in 2006) and he smoked Marlboroughs. We then ambled back to join the others in their feast of tepid baked beans, rubber toast, greasy, limp bacon and overcooked eggs. Life ‘on the road’ eh? Keruac and Dylan spring to mind, but the reality is, mostly, more prosaic.  But ‘space rock’?  Well, Steven was a star, a poet and something of an inspiration, so he made it all worth while, along with the excellent interaction between the musicians in the band. It was all good –  very good. We were very good.

A few days into the tour we’d ditched the Dougie Dibbles overalls (along with the ineffectual ‘dancers’) which we had initially been wearing, and a group of good-natured Hell’s Angels (who came to every gig for free as they acted as our unofficial security) insisted that I wear a ‘Hell’s Angel Original’ –  a sleeveless, leather biker’s jacket covered in badges – on stage.  I loved the honourable irony: me, a gay man, wearing such an ostensibly macho garment!  Mind you, there was definitely some gay – or bikesexual, perhaps – innuendo with The Angels. They angled for my attention (after all, I was a good-looking, young rock star!), one of them even lifting his jacket in the Green Room to reveal a tattoo inked above his arse which read ‘Pay before you enter!’ in typically gothic lettering

One night, we’d played at Bradford Town Hall, and were hanging out at the bar of our hotel at around midnight – I think it was a Holiday Inn, or something equally bland and dreary –  with our road crew, when the hugely successful, post-punk band The Angel Grinders shuffled in with their equally massive crew.  They’d also played in Bradford that night.  I ended up playing pool with their singer Paul Byron, who, it turned out, was also gay (but not ‘out’).  We were getting on famously – not that I found him in the least bit attractive;  too scrawny and short – when there was a sudden commotion by the bar, on the other side of the room. Then all hell broke loose:  fists were flying, glasses smashing – it was our two road crews having a massive brawl!  Guests fled the bar, fearing for their lives, a cigarette machine and a phone were ripped off the wall, chairs and tables were smashed and the place was trashed.  Paul and I hastily decided to retire to my room for a spliff (remember the days when you could smoke in hotels?) and a drink, leaving our tour manager to sort out things with the management – not only of the hotel, but of the bands.  Their problem, not ours.  Anyhow, there was always a fiscal contingency for such occurrences on tour in those less-than-halcyon days.

It was my 26th birthday when we were on tour too – November the 12th – which was actually a ‘day off’ in London, when Christa and Maddox informed me that they’d organised a birthday dinner for me. It was to be at a surprise venue; just the three of us.  Christa insisted, however,  that we had to dress-up for the occasion.  So we did – all in matching black and white.  Maddox looked so handsome. Christa looked stunning.  We shared a bottle of Champagne and a couple of spliffs at my place, then hailed a cab and headed North-west.  I can remember us being very raucous in the back of the cab and doing daft voices and indulging in general intelligent stupidity. Maddox was at last beginning to ‘get’  our ‘therapy of silliness’.  The cab pulled-up by Camden Lock Market.  ‘Come along birthday boy! ‘  Trilled Chista, in Queen Of Hearts mode, ‘We booked for eight and we’re very, very late!’.

The venue was that rather cool wood and glass restaurant that overlooks the dock and the lock itself –  it’s still there, I believe (it’s called The InSpiral Lounge these days, although it looks very ‘hippy’ now)), but I can’t recall what it was called back in ’78.  As we arrived Maddox said ‘You go first Thom, it is your 26th, after all.  Age before beauty!’

I swung open the door and was wonderfully shocked when about thirty people (seated around a square, banqueting table formation) chorused in unison ‘Surprise!’.

The rest of the night is a boozy, spliffy haze – but I certainly had a great time.  And so did one and all.

The next day The Eaglekings were playing at The Hemel Hempstead Pavilion (the glamour eh!), and when I arrived on stage for the sound check there was a large, flat white box sittting on top of my Yamaha CS-80.  ‘What’s this?’ I asked no-one in particular..

‘Open it!’  Everyone shouted.

It was one of those over-sized, really bad-taste, flowery sentimental birthday cards – an ironic joke, of course – which all of the band and crew had signed with lots of silly comments such as ‘Happy birthday Thom, leave your hotel room door open later – my bum is all yours tonight!’.

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 6

25 Aug

The Living Room Window Looking Out To Sea

A Stately Home And A Baleairic Castle

Maddox is sitting beside me at the antique, oval table in the living room of  the cottage.  I could have sworn I felt him gently stroke my left arm just now as I gazed out of the window and across the beach, whilst eating sliced banana and honey on wholemeal toast and slowly working my way through a large pot of tea (one bag of Tetleys, and one of peppermint which I drink with honey, no milk), while checking, or trying to check, my emails. He was speaking quietly into my left ear in that wonderful warm, Scottish burr: ‘I’m so sorry I ever doubted you, I should have been more trusting, I guess I must have been obsessively jealous and paranoid. That’s why I’m here for you now. You were there for me, and I blew it and now I’m on the other side… but it’s all beautiful, it’s another dimension and really hard to explain.’

I’m sure that’s what he said, even if I didn’t entirely trust my own psychic ‘ears’ (we rarely do – it generally scares us shitless and we need to remind ourselves that ‘the first thing that comes into your head’ is actually ‘it’).  I didn’t ‘cheat’ on him ever:  only in mutual sense, when we’d had our one and only threesome – and that was about six months after we’d split-up.  It was with a guy I was vaguely seeing at the time, which might look a bit twisted, on paper, I suppose.  He was the original oily Levantine – in terms of central casting – but, in reality, I felt little for him emotionally apart from the fact that he was worldly, wickedly intellectual, intellectually wicked – and witty with it.  I really just wanted to be with my beautiful and once-so-compatible Maddox again. Which doesn’t quite explain why me and Garfunkel, the oily one, both fucked Maddox – at the same time. He was not best pleased:  it must have hurt, in more ways than… two.  Then again, he didn’t stop us. I’ve always felt bad about that.  Maybe it was a form of revenge from me for him not trusting me and thereby creating ‘I will definitely be dumped’,  his self-fulfilling prophesy .

I never understood it and never will.  Despite that, he’s now he’s an angel on my shoulder.  My left one, I think.

Talking of self-fulfilling, my despicable little ‘broadband’ dongle is now threatening to become entirely obsolescent – the emails are slowly slithering into my in-box like snails on valium. I could simply resort to my iPhone, but that would be defeating the object and allowing the money-grabbing, totally inept, new-media, corporate bastards to win.   I look out of the windows at the clear blue sky and the blistering sunlight glistening on the waves, check the time – it’s One O’Clock – and decide it’s time to hit the heathery high road to the glorious gardens of  Harbinger Hall, the beautiful, pink-walled Tudor stately home, which is about an hour’s walk away, depending on which route you take. The one over the top of the hill, through the deer park, is the fastest way to wander in, and marvel at, the magical formal gardens designed by Capability Brown, that super-star creator of follies, fountains and fantastic visions and vistas.  His ‘planting’ was pretty amazing too, as my horticulturalist younger brother Austin (AKA Grizelda, as opposed to ‘Powers’) would inform me.  Shame I’ve only caught the very tail-end of the flowering season for the rhododendrons and azaleas. Those jewel colours would look spectacular in this intense sunshine as it sends multiple golden shafts of light through the trees.

I put my two digital cameras (a fairly new Canon EOS 30D and an older Sony Cybershot that I bought in NYC in 2004) into my knapsack, along with a mini-umbrella (just a precaution), a cold bottle of water, the red 1988 notebook, my laptop (so I can check if the dreaded dongle works better nearer to Plymouth) and a light,  cotton V-neck sweater in pistachio green. I’m wearing a white T-shirt from Asda (they’re the cheapest and the best), light-green camouflage cut-offs and a pair of sandals that I bought in Bangkok in 2003;  well, they’re not really sandals, they’re more like open trainers – with velcro-straps – you know the type.  They’ve lasted all these years and are very comfortable and cool to walk in, although, in sunshine like this, you guaranteed to get a suntanned pattern on your feet.  Back then, Tommy Haslam – who’d taken me to Thailand as a treat – called them my ‘Wolfies’.  He insisted that ‘they were the evil footwear of an eponymous German paedophile who worked as a guide at the Dachau museum, trying to lure unsuspecting visiting youths into the former gas chambers for some one-to-one tuitional experiences.’ He went on, now adopting a cod-German accent: ‘Vwolfie had  been introduced to ze charmink and readily afailable chailbait off ‘Ze Golden Triangle by Harry Highlights, ze ludicrously successful glam-rocker of ze 70s, as, confeniently, he ran his (now defunct, due to Harry’s propensity for teenaged girls) Cherman fan club. Heil Harry!’

Tommy… I miss your wonderfully wicked humour. I chuckle at the memory as I cross The Field Of Gravity (as I call it), heading for the proverbial hills.  The locals know it as The Whinnybrow (must be derived from some ancient, Arthurian Cornish myth, or something), and it’s essentially the sweepingly picturesque ‘park’ of the twin villages, stretching for several acres atop the low, wooded cliffs above the assorted sandy, pebbly and rocky beaches below.  But I’ve always known it as the place where me and myriad friends visiting the cottage over the decades (yes, decades!) would come and talk and drink and marvel at the moonlit sea and the extravagantly starlit sky at night when we were totally drunk and/or stoned.  Why The Field Of Gravity?  Because it sloped so steeply that one would inevitably end up at the bottom, and would be in danger of being pricked by the gorse bushes, or, even more scarily, kidnapped by pirates (ooh arrgh!), or perhaps by  hard-pressed, local paedophiles who would probably make-do with pretty people in their twenties, or even thirties, given half a chance.

On this occasion, of course, I’m not drunk, certainly not in my twenties or thirties, and manage to remain on the broad path (dotted with wooden benches at regular intervals) at the top of the meadow-cum-park, which looks like it’s been freshly-mown.  Actually it hasn’t;  it’s organic.  The clue is in the little piles of tiny brown balls that dot the grass and the regular sight of fluffy white tails disappearing into the bushes as I approach.  A veritable army of Disney-esque, lawn-mowing rabbits!  Even when I was a heavy drinker (like last week), I never, ever drank in the day (unless I’d been up all night, of course) – even on holiday, apart from once or twice, like that time in The South Of France, during a fabulous five-course lunch in a garden overlooking the River Tarn in Albi (the birth-place of Toulouse Lautrec) in, um… perhaps the mid-80s? – with my outrageously camp French friend Genet (I’ll wait for him to ‘pop-up’ in the notebooks, like a trendy one-off , left-field club night in Whoreditch/Shoho). Yes, I know; I’ve stated that I don’t generally have camp gay friends, but Genet is a lovely old Gallic queen with a big heart and soul and is very, very funny and extremely badly behaved. He claims that he lived  – as a lover – with Firing Javelin, an enormously successful reggae star in Jamaica, for seven years in the 70s – and indeed, he probably did. He told me that there was this whole group of reggae stars who were all living the DL (‘down-low’) lie back then –  and the only batty men that they were  ‘shooting up’ were… their own bredren – and/or vice-versa. Isaac Edwards and Gregory Dennis were more big names that he mentioned who apparently used to hang out around Javelin’s pool and who maybe invented the whole concept of DL, perhaps in some sort of unspoken collusion with their American and British ‘brothers in arms’.  How underground is that?  And still the PR-led DL denial goes on. There are so many huge R&B , hip-hop and sports stars who are gay, or at least conveniently bisexual, who will probably remain in the closet that stays closed… forever. The lion (of Babylon and Judah), the witch and the wardrobe. And R Kelly.

Genet once took me to Paris for the weekend,  at around the same time in the 80s (the actual date is, not surprisingly, lost in time).  His bank had mistakenly credited his account with gazillions of Francs. So we lived the highlife in an outrageously extravagant and decadent, five-star, champagne and cocaine-fueled fashion, eating at all the best restaurants (and in Paris that really does mean good) and buying complete strangers (who we probably fancied) drinks in stupidly expensive  night clubs like Les Bains Douche and Le Palais.  It was fantastic.  And, better still,  the bank never discovered their mistake until much later, when it was too late.  Genet had disappeared under something of a cloud (it transpired he’d been somewhat ‘flexible’ with the accounts of the trendy French restaurant he ran in Soho for many years), only to surface in the Seychelles, where his brother, conveniently,  ran a 5-star hotel.  He lived there in luxury for many years, before relocating to Tunisia after a near-fatal car crash.  We recently ‘friended’ on People Pages after nearly thirty years, so he was able to update me.  I just wish he wouldn’t call me ‘sweetie’  online in public and would at least attempt to speak better English after all these years. What will my fans think? ‘Hay – hoo give a fuk, mon petit choux!’ As Genet would say.

I’m walking in brilliant sunshine, the wide reaches of the gravitational meadow are bordered above, to the left, by wonderfully evocative (Tolkein, perhaps?) windswept woods, where the trees are universally bent in the same direction, shaped by the prevailing winds.  After about a quarter of a mile, the track narrows into a sandy/gravelly path sheltered by hedgerows on each side, bursting with wildlife and flowers, with regular views of the sea to the right, woodland and gorse to the left and of the forest and gardens and deer park of Harbinger Hall up ahead. Then it takes you briefly into the forest, and a sun dappled dingley dell, and before long you’re out into the sunshine again.  Crickets twizzle,  birds twitter (although not literally, in the sense of social networking), and today, at least, the sun beats down wonderfully remorselessly whilst sea gulls (and the occasional birds of prey) circle and squawk in the azure heavens, coasting on the warm-air currents.  Is there anything more deliciously sensual than the feel of the sea breeze cooling the hot sunshine on your skin and making it, and your heart, tingle and glow? Then, when it gets dark later and you chill-out, you see that the feeling on your skin and in your heart persists, and is a wonderful therapy to repel all the evils of the world – at least temporarily.

I take photos, using both cameras.  I want to compare them later. Sometimes the ones on the cheaper Sony actually look better than those taken using the ludicrously expensive Cannon, with its SLR technology. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been that interested in the minutiae of taking pictures;  I just have a good eye. I know how to compose and frame stuff and, hopefully, to capture a moment or a feeling without losing that sponaneity by twiddling knobs and dials and squinting into an LED display – especially in this bright sunlight – trying to make sense of meaningless squiggles, symbols and mumbo-jumbo.  Point and shoot say I!  I’ve just got to find that perfect ‘default’ setting on the Canon again, the one that Tommy Haslam set-up for me when he sold me the camera and its 50m lens about four years ago. It used to work for everything (no flash required, even at night, providing the lighting was bright enough), but my dear brother Danny (a professional photographer) ‘lost it’ when I asked him to take pictures of  me and The Eagle Kings at The Pavilion in Bath earlier this year.  I don’t blame him – he’d just assumed that I would know what it was, but I didn’t. And Tommy  had never explained the details – he’d just set it up for me, and it was perfect, regardless of whether you were using auto-focus, the default camera setting on the main dial, or the other more arcane ones like ‘AV’ (no, I don’t know what it means either).

I can hardly email Tommy now and ask him what it  actually was, seeing as he has disowned me, as mentioned before, for reasons best known to his dark (and formerly fabulous) self.  I hope he misses me like I miss him. He sure as hell should, after all I did for him over over the years. The list  of my good works is quite lengthy, but  did I get no recognition at all (a platinum disc would have been nice) for the fact that I introduced him (as his pseudonym Flounder) and his musical partner (Flatfish) to the label that was to release what was to become their million-selling, number one single in 1998 ?  Maybe he was testing me when he told me, blow-by-blow, in that devastating phone call just before new year, that he really didn’t feel he could be friends with me any more.  Did he want to see just how much I needed his friendship?  I don’t think so; I may be wrong, but it could be the case.  I believe that he’d already made-up his mind that I was ‘good gone bad’, or something.  I also think that his Churchillian black dog got the better of him.  Perhaps it was subjugated by my very own devils on horseback.  I wonder whose depression rated higher on the Thom Topham-invented trauma-ometer, at least in his book?

*Music alert! If you’re reading this online, please have your headphones ready, or your speakers on – then click the hyperlinks.*

I’ve never revelled in my depression myself, nor used it as some kind of egotistical,  emotional blackmail (yes; people who are depressed can also be egotistical and warp it to their supposed advantage).  To me, it’s always something to get over – to beat.  But I’m not bipolar,  I just suffer from depression due to… well, a whole heap of stuff; but mostly, my bona fide status as an alien on this earth, and an unsuccessful one at that.  A lot of people just don’t get me.  Well, that’s because I’m  from planet Thom – and possibly a ‘genius in a sea of mediocrity’, as my favourite ‘ex’ Luther once dubbed me.  Or as Van Morrison sang decades ago on Astral Weeks ‘I’m nothing but a stranger in this world’.   Boy, did I relate to that back in 1968.  Nutshelled nicely Van! And one of my all-time favourite songs – and it’s only got two chords! – on one of the greatest albums ever made.  Much more relevant than ‘The Outsider’ by Camus, ‘The Catcher In The Rye’ or, indeed ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath and pretty much anything by Queen (apart from Another One Bites The Dust and Under Pressure, with David Bowie).

Rites of passage?  Yeah –  right up your own arses!  Okay, I’m deeply pissed-off at my own lack of success and/or recognition, but I just don’t understand how or why music that is basically mediocre and utterly lacking in soul or substance becomes not only hugely successful, but also allegedly iconic.  Why – because it doesn’t challenge anything other than people’s compliance with the norm? What about emotional reactions?  I get the feeling that most people go through life walking down a stoic, unchallenging and dreary path – and perhaps showbiz is their only fizz. What else is ‘pomp rock’ but showbiz? That includes many of the so-called ‘indie’ bands.  Yeah right duuuude.  Read and believe:  Muse and Green Day will end-up playing Vegas in a decade or so. No doubt  in cahoots with some vaguely esoteric and supposedly ‘ground-breaking’ most-podern ((c) Thom Topham) twiddly waddly circus troupe de nos jours.

The path meanders along the wooded cliffs for about another quarter of a mile, then opens up into scrubland and reaches a kissing gate. These strangely British contraptions always evoke memories of me in my young teens – I grew-up in an urban country village –  with my various girlfriends:  I would always make it de rigeur to have an actual kiss over the gate, even if it was only on the cheek.

To the right there’s a Boy Scout encampment in an idyllic spot overlooking the sea:  this triggers more childhood and early-teen flash-backs – all those silly songs we used to sing around the campfire like ‘Gin gang gooly gooly gooly ging gang, ging gang goo, ging, gang goo…’  and other complete, harmless nonsense.  And I was never abused, sexually or otherwise, by Akela or any of the Scoutmasters either.  It’s pleasing to debunk myths sometimes – especially as someone who is happily homosexual (if not entirely happily human). I do recall fiddling about with my fellow scouts in our tents at night now and then, which was fun.  I was a Sixer too! In my mind I won the imaginary Friend-Fiddler badge!

In front of the kissing gate there’s a beautiful, isolated home which looks like a 50s gingerbread house.  It has a lovely landscaped garden with a large lily pond. Look! A huge orange and turquoise dragon fly! I cross the lane that leads, on the right,  to Fort Ficklecombe, a rather bleak-looking, megalithic semi-circular structure built on the rocks, which was converted in the 70s into maybe thirty ‘luxury flats’, all with impressive sea views and their own 007-esque harbour.  I’ve seen pictures of the interiors in estate agents’ windows though, and they look pokey and almost suburban. A style-free zone. Like so many British homes. The bane of the officers of the taste-police.  Naturally, I’m a superintendent, at least.

Through another kissing gate (banish any lonely thoughts) and I’m climbing the hill, which is dotted with yellow-flowering gorse bushes, and rising steeply ahead of me.  I am now in the extensive grounds  of Harbinger Hall – around eight hundred acres –  and heading for the scenically persuasive (I’m thinking of instigating a rock/cultural festival here) deer park on the plateau above.  Question:  why is grass at the seaside always springy?  The hill is like a giant grassy green beanbag! As I rise hundreds of feet, I turn back and look at the amazing view of the twin villages and Smugglers Spur, and the fertile hills beyond, and the now tiny boats bobbing in sparkling waters of the bay.  Breathtaking.  A water skier cuts a swathe through the calm waters out in Raleigh Sound, the speedboat sounding like an angry wasp.  I sit down on the natural, grassy cushion, drink some water and take some pictures. Since I left the village I haven’t seen a soul so far… not one, single person. In my head, I realise that I’m singing ‘Nature Boy‘, a beautiful old classic song, my favourite version being the George Benson one, although the song was first a hit for Nat King Cole (what a beautiful, deep, velvety voice!).  I wonder if he wrote it?

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy… they say he wandered very far, very far, over land and sea…

I Google ‘Nature Boy’ on my iPhone, wondering if there’ll be a WiFi signal up here and –  miracles!  –  there is, although slow.  It transpires from Wikipedia that the song was written by one Eden Ahbez and was published in the US in 1947.  Intriguingly, Ahbez was apparently a member of one of the very first hippie-like communes in Los Angeles at the time (that was even pre-beatnik) and the song was allegedly a paean to their evidently radical, pioneering lifestyle. It also features the same melody as parts of Dvorak’s piano quintet No 2 in A, I read, but it’s not known if this was a coincidence, or actual plagiarism. But the lyrical denoument is surely one of the best lines ever:

‘The greatest thing you could ever learn is to love and be loved in return.’

You’re telling ME Eden Ahbez!  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Imagine if that person was sitting next to me right now? I’ve never heard the Massive Attack/Bowie version either.  I’ll have to wait – I didn’t bring my headphones out today.  I’m not really a listener of Mp3s with headphones clamped onto my ears.  I like the sound of what’s all around me… and I spend hours working on, and listening to music at home. My own. So the sounds of nature, and of the city, are fine by me, when I’m not slaving over a hot MAC.

Suddenly, I feel a cool breeze brushing my face.  Thanks Maddox. Thanks. Deep breath.  I bite my lip, push myself up of the grass, dust myself down, put my bag on my shoulder and we… carry on up the hill.  Various species of  magnificent trees (Oaks, Ashes, Beeches, Silver Birches and more) are intricately detailed in the brilliant sunshine, against a dazzling electric blue sky.  Not a cloud, not even in my heart – at least temporarily – to be seen, as I cross the deer park.  Not a deer to be seen (I would have loved to have said ‘hello deer’ – in an Australian accent, naturally – if one had materialised) either, only hundreds, no, thousands of sheep, raising their heads from chewing the grass and staring at me intently as if to say: ‘Excuse me, who are you and why are you here in our lovely meadows? Have you got any grass?’

Now I can see Plymouth stretching out before me, across the Tamar estuary and the marina. The city is an ugly mass of greyness, apart (in terms of colour) from those three 60s residential tower blocks, which have unpleasant patterns on them painted in primary colours, and the red and white-striped little lighthouse on The Hoe (who you callin’ a hoe?!).

The sea is now on three sides, teeming with boats, ships, cat and trimarans, gin-palaces, jet-skis:  to my right The Sound becomes the Atlantic – a huge Santander ferry heading to Spain sounds its foghorn as if to make that point – and to my left I see a series of salty creeks and lakes dotted with boats, surrounded by little villages, farms and fertile fields and forests.  The sheep scatter as I amble through the fields making my way to the magical gardens of Harbinger Hall. I see the first folly – a fake ruin – which signals that it’s time to descend the hill to the sensual awakening that awaits.

I open the gate (and close it behind me, as requested on a notice – as if they needed to say it) and enter an enchanted forest.  Despite the fact that the glorious blooms of the rhododendrons and azaleas are, sadly, mostly depleted, I’m still immediately transported into a sylvan, bucolic wonderland as I follow the slowly spiralling, sun-dappled path down to the water. Capability (it was a nickname, his real name was the equally flamboyant Lancelot) created these wonderful vistas and they lift the spirits and make you want to keep on keeping on,  all follies notwithstanding. I pass the lake and the willow at the bottom of the valley, photograph the neo-classical white ‘temple’ folly to my right, then turn left, walking along the path that runs besides the rocky sea shore and then across the gently rolling lawns of Harbinger Hall, before entering the formal garden through a large double-door-sized gap in what must be the biggest hedge in the world.  It has to be one hundred meters-long-by-ten-meters-high! Then suddenly you’re in another magical world – it’s very Alice In Wonderland – and you have a variety of delicious visual and scenic options to chose from.  There’s the exotic fern and palm garden to your left, the well-ordered and colourful symetry of the parterre garden to your right, the English country garden straight ahead, the topiary garden further to the right and the tropical garden, with its apparently spontaneous ‘geyser’ fountain which suddenly spouts and falls onto giant pebbles as you pass by  (it’s actually triggered by an infra-red, remote control).

*Check the slideshow above if you’re reading this online.* 

My rumbling tummy reminds me that I must get to The Orangery for a late lunch, before it closes. It’s a huge, stunning beautiful and perfectly symmetrical, white, single-storey Georgian building with giant sash windows about twenty feet tall, set in a formal Italianite garden with a very grand, baroque central fountain and ne0-classical statuary.  Inside, there’s what passes as a restaurant, with awful, cheap, cane furniture and unpleasant fixtures and glass-fronted fridges and chill cabinets that make it look like a wannabe motorway service station. Sacrilege! Unfortunately, I find that there’s nothing left to eat but ice cream – then remember that ye olde country pubbe just outside the estate, close by where the foot ferry comes in from the marina, has been renovated quite tastefully, is under new management and serves decent, if overpriced food.  At last!  Fresh crab (with salad in a freshly baked baguette)!  Why is it so difficult to find, so close to its natural habitat?  I get a large apple juice (from a carton, not fresh) and take my lunch out to one of those ubiquitous ‘picnic tables’ which litter the British country and seaside, which look like they’re made out of glorified wooden pallets. I imagine that obese people have a bit of a problem swinging their legs around and under the table.

The baguette is stuffed full of genuinely fresh crab and exotic ingredients like red onion, chopped pimento and Lollo Rosso lettuce. Quelle Surprise! Delicious.  Of course, the bracing sea air always gives one a healthy appetite, which is something of a rarity for me, especially with my poor, malfunctioning pancreas.

Watching the boats is endlessly fascinating.  The foot-ferry moors at the pier – it’s high tide – and disgorges a motley crew, well, passengers;  they seem to be mostly local people, all chattering away with their West Country burr.  Teenagers looking like they’re about to audition for The X-Factor; the boys with that silly side-swept basin cut (how much hairspray must they need?) and skinny jeans which look SO wrong worn low on the butt, whetto-ghetto-style.  The girls walk awkwardly on too-high heels up the cobblestone jetty in tiny mini-skirts which are more like belts, wearing cut-off, stripey tank tops, cheap hair extensions and huge  earings. Then older men with wrinkly sun-baked and wind-blasted complexions in paint-spattered overalls, fat mothers with too-short skirts and badly-dyed hair wheeling double buggies holding rosy-faced, wailing kids and vast amounts of supermarket carrier bags on the handles.  Then the holiday-makers, mostly middle-class, trying to look like they’re wearing Barbour or Burberry, wielding ludicrous ‘hiking’ sticks and bulging plastic cooler bags. This being Cornwall, as opposed to Hardesden in London, the majority of the passengers are white, but there’s one Asian family, and a lone, rather handsome , young-ish black man who nods and smiles at me as he passes. I smile back thinking:  surely not?  Then I see A VW Beetle convertible coming down the road and stopping by the bus stop.  I recognise the driver as a ‘neighbour’ in the village – his daughter is married to the black guy.  Hence the smile. We met a while back.  He gets in and off they go.  I could have asked for a lift, but I can get the bus back;  I make a mental note to check the timetable – they only come about every hour but are always exactly on time.  How very un-British!

Having finished my baguette, I decide to continue reading my old, red notebook.  The sky has clouded over slightly, and it’s become slightly cooler, although the wind’s not too gusty, so I don my light cotton sweater, and turn to where I left off last time.  I was evidently still in Barcelona.

“20.8.1988

Plaza Real.

4pm

Of course, I got-up too late to get a ticket for the night-ferry to Ibiza. Everything closes here at 2pm for siesta (note:  rhymes with fiesta).  I’d wandered down to the harbour to the ticket office for the ferry, which was at the end of a rather bleak, industrial wharf, under one of the rusty towers which support the cable car as it clanks above.  There was at least a sign which said (in Spanish): Next Ferry to Ibiza.  23.30.  Yay! So, providing I can get a ticket later, I’m going on a night cruise to The White Island!

Talking of cruising, it really is the most irritatingly stupid way to carry on (Carry On Cruising?), if you look at it objectively.  Grown men, like me, wandering around in ever-decreasing circles looking for what… a fuck? Warmth? Love? I always wanted  to meet someone beautiful who was interesting to talk to.  I know, it’s a bit of a tall order, but one which I could claim to live-up to, to a degree (depending on your taste) myself.  So why should I not expect it of others? Unfortunately, the whole gay ghetto ethos of cruising is that you don’t talk, you stalk.  How mind-numbingly mundane.  I think it’s time for a change, it’s time we GREW UP!  Somebody once said that promiscuity is ‘hopping from bed-tobed in search of love’.  Maybe it was me?

Having said that, I’ll probably spend all night cruising around the ship, should I get a ticket,  looking for some sort of encounter, dependent on the quality of the male passengers and their availability, of course. Should be good for the leg muscles anyway, all those steep stairs (I imagine).

Cruising The Mediterranean (now find a rhyme for that!  Uranian, alien, subterranean?) on a beautiful ship of fools…

10pm.

I’ve just had dinner in one of the numerous restaurants that surround the Plaza Real. They’re all pretty good and not too expensive.  So I guess  I’m in ‘restaurant rotate mode’, along with the Gypsy, Spanish and African hustlers.  Have they noted that I definitely don’t ‘donate’ and have they compared notes? I certainly doubt the latter. Earlier – post-siesta-time –  I queued for what seemed like hours in the hot sun to get my ticket for the night ferry to Ibiza. Done.

In a way, I’ll be glad to get away from Barcelona, but only because it’s not quite carefree enough, as holidays destinations go (there’s always someone tapping you on the shoulder hustling for money.  One ignores them, of course.  I must learn the Spanish for ‘go away!’).  Anyway, it seems that my steely laser-eye look usually does the trick, which is a relief.  I can be a real soft-touch on occasion though. Employ METHOD man!   How long is it since I’ve been to La Isla Blanca?  Maybe four years?  I wonder how it’s changed and could it be for the worse? Have the hustlers tapping one on the shoulder moved in with the English football hooligans on agony (well, acid) and ecstasy?  I certainly will be avoiding San Antonio and hope to find somewhere to stay in Ibiza town itself. I’ve been advised that it’s better and much cheaper not to book;  just go to a gay bar when you get there and ask if they have any studio apartments for rent. A bit risky at high season, I know, but I like living dangerously.  If there are hassles and thuggery then I’m sure that I’ll be able to find placidity on Escavallet, my favourite beach in Las Salinas, which is primarily gay and nudist.  It’s right at the end of the promontary, far from the madding crowd, near an ancient tower (a former lighthouse?) which I fantasise about converting into a bijou holiday home with unbelievable views.  This sandy beach has a funky little beach bar and barbeque – well, it did last time I was here. Maybe it’s become more commercialised – it wouldn’t surprise me.  Then I can go wandering (okay, cruising) through the sand dunes and the fragrant pine forests behind the beach for hours, hoping for that  elusive holiday romance… at least for a few days. That would be wonderful. Even better if it turned into the real thing.

Why am I so deprived of emotional fulfillment?

Before dinner I had my Tarot Cards read on Las Ramblas.  It was intriguing that Gypsy Rosa Sangria (my name for her) pinpointed the apparent conflict between my head and my heart (her English was excellent), as did another clairvoyant recently, in London.  I’ve been trying to work it out. Does it mean that I over-analyse and thereby block my emotions, or that I let my emotions lead me blindly? I would have thought that my cock was the main offender in that sense.  Ibiza – watch out!

I wish that I could shake off all these irrational anxiety attacks –  where do they come from and why? – along with the infamous Barcelona eczema rash (which I develpoped the last time I was here, for some inexplicable reason).  Last time, though, it was on my the back of my neck, as opposed my back.  Maybe it has something to do with the salty water-quality measured against my emotional stress levels?  Last time, I was preoccupied (in London), or maybe even obsessed,with Jusef, someone very beautiful that I’d had amazing sex with, just once, then we’d become friends. I wanted more, but he was an uptight Persian who was not in touch with… a great deal, really.  He had a nice Italian sports car as it happens, but I was wasting my time believing we had a future.”

I remember telling my friend Steve Swindells about it at the time – and him promptly writing a song about it called ‘Breaking And Entering‘ and recording it in Pete Townsend’s Eel Pie Studios in Soho. I think it was in 1980. He tells me that his Lost Albums (of 1980) are coming out soon on Flicknife Records.  Not before time Steve!  We’ve been talking about forming a band that makes-up songs on the spot spontaneously, like at his legendary Groove jam sessions at WKD in Camden in the late-eighties and early nineties.   He’s come-up with the brilliant name The Plastic Sturgeons – and he’s got the dot com.

My iPhone plinks. I put down the book.  It’s a text from Steve Swindells.  I laugh out loud (LOL?).  That’s a bit psychic!  He’s asking if I’m having a good time and wishing he could be there too – and could I call?  I text him back to say I’ll give him a shout when I get back to the cottage and that I hope he’s okay. This makes me remember that I was going to check the dongle signal and check my emails.  I pull out my laptop and fire it up.  Eureka!  The signal is full-on.  The emails are flooding in, like the tide (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one).

I return to the diary.

“This time, my mind is full of Tony, Tony McCord.  The lost ‘chord’ (I’m feeling a song).  Tony is my obsession of a the last few years:  we’ve never had sex and I’m afraid that I’m in love with him, but, unfortunately, we’re just really, really good soul-buddy friends, when he’s in the UK, that is.  He spends half his time in LA (he’s a scriptwriter, he tells me, although I’ve never seen any evidence of his work; he’s extremely inscrutable) and the other half in London, in his huge, stunningly cool apartment overlooking Regents Park.  He’s black, masculine, handsome, fit, a couple of years older than me, extremely intelligent and funny.  We get on like the proverbial house on fire.  But my sex is on fire too.  I guess we’re not lovers because we’re both ‘tops’?  Or maybe I’m just not his type?  We certainly are very close, which makes it all the more frustrating, but, it’s still wonderful to actually BE close to someone, regardless.  I never try it on –  I don’t do ‘loss of dignity’ unless I’m really, really drunk (I have, of course,  blown it, on various rare occasions, I’m afraid).  He told me that his long-term lover of many years, a highly successful American, black lawyer, had died in the early 80s, not long before I met him.  So I did wonder if Tony was rich as a result of his inheritance… and was merely an aspiring screenwriter.  Maybe I’ll find out one day. Meanwhile, I’d love  to be playing the beautiful Beckstein baby grand piano in the middle of his massive living room overlooking the park,  fabulously furnished and decorated in shades of sensual, mutually-Scorpionic dark-brown, whilst he makes us the bestest vodka-martinis and lights loads of candles, smiling into my eyes… always smiling deeply into my eyes.”

I take a drink of my juice, blink,  stretch my body, cast my mind back twenty two years and sigh deeply.  Tony, Tony… you were like a mysterious, protective guardian angel sent by the Gods.  Why did you have to suddenly disappear from my life?

When we dance,  we dance… alone.

The foot ferry is coming in again and disgorging its passengers.  I need to check the bus times. I amble over to the stop and check; It’s cool – the next one is in precisely twenty minutes. Back at the ugly al fresco picnic tables, a magpie is actually perched on the edge of someone’s discarded wine glass and drinking the remains.  Amazing.

I open the next page of the diary and note that I’m suddenly in Ibiza.  I guess it’s hardly suprising that I didn’t write anything on the night ferry, although I can remember it well, even now.

I didn’t really know what to expect of the boat from Barcelona to Ibiza (the journey time was approximately ten hours, as I recall).  I walked down the same bleak, industrial wharf that housed the ticket office, but the visuals were way more romantic than in the daytime.  Lights  reflecting on water, the moon rising over the harbour, that kind of thing.  A sense of adventure.  I would love to say that my ship came in… well, it did, in the form of the ferry, but unfortunately, despite the hot and balmy mediterranean night, there was no romance other than in my mind. No poetry by Lorca or Cocteau, no handsome. swarthy sailors, just a great big car ferry, entirely similar to the British cross-channel ones, and with about as much style and class – ie very little.  People just slept, which was hardly surprising. I’d bagged a sun lounger on the open, upper deck and simply lay gazing at the stars, or looking wistfully over the rails at the calm, moonlit sea, as we plowed on through the night. My idea that there would be a bunch of beautiful and fascinating polysexual, international ravers on board was sadly misplaced.  I found it very hard to sleep – the mere romance of wanting romance was enough to keep me awake (along with several brandies and a couple of spliffs), but I managed about three or four hours sleep eventually. Then I woke as the first glimmer of the sun rising made a golden arced, sliver above the horizon, and a shiver of excitement ran through me as Ibiza, Ibiza town, slowly materialised  on the horizon as the new day dawned.

I recall that it was 9.30 in the morning on the quayside, some of the cafes were just opening their shutters, but nothing was actually open.  I walked out onto the nearest thing that Ibiza town has to a pier, the breakwater at the harbour entrance, sat on a stone bench and looked at the curious mixture of white gin palaces and genuine fishing boats in the harbour. I couldn’t, or didn’t want to walk too far with my luggage, so I just hung out and watched Ibiza town wake-up, along with all the fishing boats returning to port and offloading their silvery cargo onto the quay,  until I noticed a cafe open, at last.   I had a breakfast of omelette (Spanish, of course) and a capuccino and read my diary from Barcelona, just like I’ve been doing again for the first time, after all these years.  It’s fantastic how it takes you straight back into the action – like Youtube of the mind..

As it approached 11am, I felt that there might some sign of life in the gay bar (I can’t remember its name – probably something American-based like The Bronx –  that I’d been advised to visit, to ask for a somewhere to rent.  It was in the next street up from the cafe, as the centre of old Ibiza town is built on a hill – and very picturesque it is too.  I imagine it still is – I haven’t been back there in years.  I knocked on the antique, brass-studded wooden door and after a while a quite handsome, dark man wielding a mop opened it. Luckily, he spoke English, and within ten minutes I was clutching the keys to a second-floor studio apartment on Carrer De Mar (the imaginatively-named Sea Street, I assume); all mine for under £20 per night.  Sorted!  It wasn’t far away and I was surprised at how cool and chic it was.  Really spacious and light, with an open-plan kitchen and ‘neutral decor’ (as we say these days).  The sun streamed through French (oh okay, Spanish) windows which opened onto a balcony overlooking this pedestrian street – a broad alley, if you like –  which boasted a little metal ‘bistro’ table and two matching chairs. There was a large, comfortable beige futon sofa-bed, a plain mahogany dining table and four chairs, a beanbag, a coffee table, a large TV,  a terracotta-tiled floor, and plain white walls.  It was just perfect. I think I stayed awake deliberately  – and don’t remember much at all until my first diary entry  the next day.

“Ibiza

22.8.1988

My left hand  has started twitching (which I’ve recently realised is a sign of psychic/spiritual activity), having just got out of bed. I figure that it’s evidently time for some automatic writing. So here it is. I am  deadly serious! I’m going to write this straight out:

You were born into this world to create something. So far, you haven’t achieved it. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel guilty.  The title of your debut album makes the path clear. But you have been blocking the messages and, basically, working out your sexual karma. The two are linked, but the right side of your brain has dominated the left, hence the constant romantic idealism. You will go up to the castle today and a further message will be given.’

22.8.1988.

In The Cathedral in The Castle.

I’m sitting in a pew in wonderfully cool (as-in not hot) Baroque nave and my left hand (I’m left-handed) has started twitching again and become sweaty, whilst my right hand remains dry.  The sign of a spiritual presence.  I immediately start more automatic writing:

You are entitled to do whatever you wish for the good of mankind and yourself.  You may move freely throughout the world without fear. You are meant to be here. You know it well. You have conquered in this life, whereas you were conquered before, as the abbott of this monastery, by The Inquisition, and imprisoned here for many years. You had created a beautiful garden in this very place.  See if you can now find it. Don’t be sad and nervous.  Be happy for what is coming in the near future. Be at peace with yourself and remember that  you’re here for a purpose. You will discover what it is very soon.'”

Then there’s a squiggle that looks some kind of  arcane signature, and what can only be described as an automatic drawing, which resembles either a man in a cloak, or perhaps a plan… of the castle… or both?  Beneath it is written:

Hamni-on, oublieatt.’ What the hell language, if any, is that?  I Google it on my laptop thinking, yeah… dream on, and take the last slug of my juice.  The first thing that comes-up is the word Oubliette.  It’s kind of spooky in as much as it means ‘a dungeon or cellar that is reached through a trap door in the floor above’, in French.  Typing simply ‘Hamni-on‘ reveals that Hamni seems to be a christian name, apparently in several cultures and countries, mostly Eastern, but also North African.  It also appears to be associated with Japanese martial arts, as some sort of fight move, a swing of the arm. Perhaps the Abbott, my erstwhile past-life regression, was named Hamni,  and was maybe a Moor from North Africa and had been imprisoned in an oubliette in this very compound?  All very Da Vinci Code! But perhaps less contrived.

My eyes are drawn to an RTF (rich text format) file on my desktop entitled ‘The Keeper Of The Keys’.  I read the lyrics, which are  strangely apposite in many ways –  to what I’m reading and recalling, to my current situation (I wrote and recorded the song quite recently), and… there are ferries everywhere! Multiple metaphors and meanings (the keys and their keepers) and so many memories and question marks.

The Keeper Of The Keys

The keeper of the keys

is watching from the waterside,

he’s waiting for the ferry man

to take him for a ride.

The keeper of the keys

is fated to be engaged, 

to someone who is invisible

and locked in their own cage.

The keeper of the keys, he’s not like you and me,

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

The keeper of the keys, he’ll never set you free,

Because you’re animal and criminal and something that must be beaten….

The maker of the waves

is waiting for the full moon tide

He’s not fated to be otherwise

Every storm is his to ride.

The angel of the dark

is staring through your window.

No more demons bringing broken dreams,

It’s time to burn all your back-pages.

The keeper of the keys, he’s not like you and me,

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

The keeper of the keys, he’ll never set you free,

Because you’re animal and criminal and something that must be beaten….

The keeper of the keys.

The keeper of the keys, he has no place in society.

Words and music by Thom Topham (c) 2009. Copyright Control.

I don’t need to add anything.  I hope that the song speaks and sings for itself.

*You did click the hyperlink from the title to hear it, I trust?*

So, did I find the secret garden?

I turn the page to find out more.

“Cafe Montesol

Mon. 22.8.1988

I didn’t find the secret garden and I can’t make out the drawing, although, if it were a map, it seems to suggest that the garden is beneath the castle wall, just like Incognito, the gay bar.  Hey – hang-on! Maybe it’s a metaphor.  No wonder I like it there. It’s probably one of the most beautiful gay bars in the world. Terraced outdoor seating, ethnic (Hamni?) cushions on low walls, cool modern, Italian-style furniture inside, warm lighting and candles,  plants and flowers everywhere and a wonderful view over Ibiza Town to the sea and the harbour. It’s about as ‘incognito’ as a monk in a gay disco, if you’ll pardon the, er, parallel.   I think this could indeed be Hamni’s secret garden. Spirit messages, I have found, can perhaps be more easily interpreted if you allow a little humour and playfulness into the equation. Perhaps more will be revealed as I read on.

Meanwhile, if I see anymore hairy, muscled, suntanned legs in shorts, I’m gonna… have to have another drink and chill out… in my secret garden. Incognito, of course.

Backtrack to my first day.  Having arranged everything in the apartment to my liking, and put all my clothes etc away, I  take a shower and head straight off  to get the bus to the beach at Es Cavallet. I hope that being dressed in black Adidas (lycra/nylon?) running shorts and a black ‘Fashion Cares’ T-shirt should have the desired effect.

Ibiza – I have arrived!”

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 5.

23 May

Devils On Horseback – And Angels On My Shoulders


Fears and anxieties seem to follow me like devils on horseback.  Apocalyptic horses. I worry about bringing home the, well, the bacon – and the sausages of success, or the lack of them.

I get stressed because no-one appears to be impressed enough with my talents to invest in them.  But why am I apparently being pursued by a plateful of chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon?  It’s not Christmas – that’s the only time anyone seems to eat such alleged delicacies, as part of ‘all the trimmings’ that traditionally accompany turkey, at least in the UK. I’ve never spent Yuletide anywhere else, so I don’t know. 

And why can I hear waves crashing on a seashore, as if I’m sleeping on a beach?

I wake up and blink, shake my head and pull the curtain open on the window by the right-hand side of the bed.  Of course, I’m in Cornwall – and it looks as stunning as ever.  The window is open and I inhale deeply.  The sea looks quite rough today – I remember, it’s a high tide –  there’s a pleasant, spumy breeze and the sun is breaking through the clouds.  The clock on the tower of the village social club reads 11.15.

It’s Tuesday – I really must take a long walk today and take some pictures, especially as it looks like it’s going to be a scorcher.  

I take a slug of water from the glass on the windowsill – that was a very strange dream – and lay back on the pillows, half-closing my eyes. Then I fall back to sleep.

I was sound-checking with my band BiJingo, it would seem that we were to perform in that large, white , tented pavilion by the Westway, off  the Portobello Road (cue floods of memories from my various visits in the late 60s and then in various homes there throughout the 70s) in Notting Hill –  where they have the vintage clothes flea market and where bands play at The Carnival.  In my dream, it was for some different kind of festival.  Something to do with Oxfam?  But all my equipment was malfunctioning and I was becoming increasingly frustrated.  My three keyboards and the little mixer and leads, pedals, lights and the mic were just like a pile of electronic spaghetti in front of me.  Nothing would work!  I was fiddling with this little circuit board and it was driving me nuts. I looked across at Jason Greenaway, our infamously famous drummer, who was playing slightly annoying and repetietve  rolls on his tom toms and grinning at me maniacally.

Jack Mann-Davies waved cheerily at me from some sort of kiosk he was in under The Westway – the raised motorway that runs over Central West London –  and beckoned for me to come over.  Jack and I had had a bit of fling in early 1994, when I was living in a tiny room in my ex-business partner Adrian Oasthouse’s upside-down (the huge living room with the stunning view over London was in the converted attic) penthouse in Highgate.  Jack and I had actually met back when I was doing the PR and helping to design a fabulous venue called Strictly Ballroom set in twenty acres of lush grounds in the country in Surrey the year before.  Adrian and his cousin Clive had somehow managed to obtain a twenty-year lease and get a late licence for it.  They’d raised half a million from the bank and from pop-star investors who were friends with Adrian, to completely renovate the buildings and the grounds and turn it into a destination –  which is where I came in. There was an incredible, 1920s wood-built ballroom, straight out of Agatha Christie,  with french windows in it’s five-sided facade, behind the stage, opening on to balconies overlooking a small lake, in which there was a simple, spouting fountain.  It was linked, at the other end, by a corridor , to a massive, lofty, medieval barn, which housed a bar and restaurant, which I’d designed.

Finally – I got to design a bar/restaurant! Eureka!  It had a forty foot-long bar down one side clad in five-inch, black and white tiles (my homage to the seventeenth-century painting style known as Dutch Interiors), with a row of oversized, industrial-style, aluminium pendant lights hanging low above it from the medieval beams, with quirky framed canvases and tasteful arty black and white prints on the walls.  It was furnished with a deliberate mish-mash of retro-modern and shabby-chic antique furniture which I’d had great fun buying in auctions.  Nothing matched,  apart from the odd pair of armchairs, which was quite deliberate on my part.  It was also inspired by The Freud Club in Soho, that chrystaline maze of media and celeb networking and intrigue.

Strictly Ballroom’s grand opening featured my all-star jam session, in the ballroom, of course, where we made-up songs, as ever, literally on the spot – with Jason Greenaway on the drums, a guitarist who’d played with Madonna, a percussionist who’d played with Soul II Soul, the bass player from Major Offensive  (or was it SImple Minds?) and several singers, some well known, some unknown.  Jack was one of the latter. There were several limos in the car park – The Betting Shop Boys and The Fourth Reich were amongst the eight hundred guests.

It was a great success, on a beautiful summer evening, so people could happily wandder in the grounds, around the lakes and ponds, which I’d lit with flaming torches and strings of old-school coloured lights. I was in my  extreme comfort zone – ie PR, design, and making-up songs on the spot with some fabulous musicians and singers.

 Later, I had an in-depth conversation with one particularly erudite gay, pop-star, who, after he’d told me how much he’d enjoyed the jam session – which he said he’d felt soulfully unqualified enough to join-in with.  He had then asked, apropos of nothing, if I’d like to guess how much money he had in the bank (I think he’d had a line or three of coke).  Slightly taken aback, I’d suggested around a million.  Not bad, he’d replied cheerily:  nine hundred and fifty-eight thousand.  These days, he’s fully paid-up member of London’s art establishment.

Jack (who is black) and I got talking afterwards; he was obviously gym-fit and masculine, but evidently also had a keen intellect, which is always a plus.  We’d never met before – one of the other singers had brought him along –  and I’d been impressed with his powerful voice, although I’d noticed that he over-emoted to an extent, or perhaps he was trying to show-off a bit with his ‘licks’, like people in gospel choirs, and Mariah Carey, do. I didn’t know if he was gay or not, but I had a feeling he could be.  We exchanged numbers and it turned out that he also lived in Highgate, well, more like Crouch End,  about a mile away from Adrian Oasthouse’s grand-yet-slightly-bland domicile.

I invited him round for a drink a few nights later and we  talked and talked into the early hours.  It turned out that he was bisexual – and was living with a guy who knew me from when I lived in a a squatting community in Camden (small world, big belly) , when I’d first moved to London in 1973 – when I was twenty-one. So Jack, who was thirty-one,  was ‘taken’, it transpired, by a very obese white person of forty-five; which was weird, as Jack was so fit and sexy.  I therefore discounted any chance of sexual interaction, but we soon started writing songs together in their slightly dingy place down the road, when Michael, his ‘other half’ was out at work at some ‘youth outreach’ program in Kentish Town.  He would come back home and make me feel slightly uncomfortable, as if he saw me as a threat, whilst feigning friendliness; but I was innocent, so I always made my excuses and left.  I’d never ‘tried it on’ with Jack and he never gave the impression that he found me attractive. This carried on for several months, as we wrote and recorded several songs together.

I’d moved to a funky little studio flat which I’d  sub-let (illegally) from its young, gay, slightly hippyish tenant, who wanted to go back-packing for a year or so.  It  sat alone on the top floor, the fifth, of a Victorian, charitable housing trust estate near London Bridge, in South East London, way before the area became gentrified.  Perhaps it was formerly intended for a janitor.  My stay in the little room in Adrian’s penthouse had only only been intended to be temporary. And Strictly Ballroom, despite being quite a success (apart from the restaurant, which they’d closed after a few months, having ignored my advice how to make it work), was to mysteriously burn down a couple of years later.  The cousins’ official line was that it ‘been as a result of an electrical fault’, but tongues were soon wagging that they’d fallen-out and that Clive had done it deliberately to claim the insurance, after ‘buying Adrian out’.  They never spoke again. And how Clive later twisted the knife with Adrian over Nirvana was a whole different ball game.

Jack knew someone who was happy to lend me a Fostex eight-track tape  recorder and little mixer, the make of which I forget.  I soon learnt how to use them in my delightful little  impromptu studio, with its wonderful skyline views on three sides. And when Jack wasn’t there I was able to record many of my own songs, which was very liberating and satisfying – and  it was also a first.  That’s where I wrote and recorded *click here!* ‘Chatterton‘.  

‘Chatterton is hangin’ out, on forty-second street, just another youth who found that truth gets trampled underneath your feet.

Chatterton is goin’ round all those corridors of powers – to show his works to coked-out jerks, who never could smell a perfect flower’.

The song had been inspired, to an extent, or at least triggered, by the view from the main bedroom window at the cottage in Cornwall, where I am right now. It had made me think of that famous, somewhat mawkish, Pre-Raphaelite painting by Henry Wallis, depicting Thomas Chatterton, the seventeen year-old poet, as he lay dying, having poisoned himself with arsenic, beneath a window looking-out over what was apparently the English countryside. He actually committed suicide  in Brook street, in London’s Holborn, in 1770.  My song put Chatterton in the modern age, in New York, where I myself had been trying unsuccessfully to tout my musical wares just the year before. You can tell that there’s quite a strong Tom (Thom!) Waites-meets-Springsteen influence in the song.  My respective faves (as you may have noticed if you clicked the hyperlinks just now <<<< echo…echo) are ‘Tom (THOM!) Traubert’s Blues’ and The Streets Of Philadelphia (which, incidentally, I don’t find cheesy at all).  I like the low-tech fact that you can actually hear me clicking the tape on at the very beginning of the song to record the lead vocal.

It will be interesting to pull the 1993 diary out of the bag, but I’m not going to do it now (I’m only half-way through the one from 1988 and ‘will be going to Ibiza on the night ferry’ very soon).

Outside ‘the shoebox’ in London Bridge, I even had the whole roof  – which was L-shaped and about fifty yards long – all to myself.  One evening, having had an al fresco dinner and drinks out there in the delightful summery night,  Jack and I were singing and recording multi-tracked backing vocals together on the mic, back inside, and they sounded so good on playback that we whooped and hollered and hugged each other.  That’s when it happened. We didn’t stop hugging…  and could hardly ignore our sudden mutual hard-ons.

Before long, we were regularly having sex after our recording sessions – or even during! Despite this interesting development, I was trying to get Jack to be more laid-back in his singing.  He was always trying to hit really high notes, but in a slightly melodramatic, over-stated way.  He was a naturally gifted soul singer, but maybe his inner hang-ups were reflected in his delivery. This was also evident in his sexuality.  He only went ‘half the way’, as it were – meaning he loved to have his beautiful, round butt played with and his tight little arsehole licked forever, but wouldn’t get fucked, dammit. He had marvelous, almost heroic, pectorals, but he hated his nipples being played with.  Once, I playfully slapped his arse whilst were having half-arsed (geddit?) sex and he almost hit me, becoming, for a moment, slightly pyscho, holding me in an aggressive bear-hug.   He’d split from fat Michael, but, regardless, after a while, we  also drifted apart.  Plus,  no one in the music biz seemed interested in our collaborations – the songs were really quite good – although the best thing we ever did was a version of  Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’.  He disappeared to Turkey, where he met a local girl and lived  in a relationship with her for many years.

Flashback to a few months after I’d unexpectedly had sex with Jack:  I was in The Workhouse , a gay club in Soho, the very same club (but under ‘new management’) where ‘my night’ The Mine had been so successful on Fridays for five years, up until the late Eighties, although the wonderful pillars-which-were-aquariums (inspired!), that had been so beautifully described by the gay, Booker Prize winning writer, were long-gone.

I saw this handsome, manly-looking black guy with a neatly clipped beard by the bar, talking to a friend.  I sensed that he was checking me out.  He looked very un-gay, which is, as you may have noticed,  is always a thumbs-up for me. Eventually, I went to get another beer and found myself standing next to him at the bar.  He smiled shyly.  He had nice eyes, silky mahogany skin and full, soft, pink, kissable lips.  I smiled and said ‘Hi.’

‘Hello.’ He said, with a half-smile, which a revealed a fine set of teeth, then turned around and carried-on chatting to his friend.

I went to check out the music – nice funky house – and smoked a sneaky mini-spliff, disguised as a roll-up, that I’d made earlier, jigging around on the dance floor (obviously, you could smoke at least cigarettes in clubs back then).  After a while, I sensed a presence behind me… and there he was again – half-smiling.  I stubbed-out my spliff on the floor (there wasn’t enough left to offer him any) and went over to him.

‘Fancy a drink?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, why not,’ he said, in a deep, slightly metallic-sounding voice, ‘that would be nice.’

We went to the bar, at the same place where we’d met, in the corner. I got us two cans of Grolsch. ‘My favourite,’ he drawled’

‘What’s your name?’  He sked. I told him and asked his: ‘Derek, he said.’  

Suddenly he kissed me… and kissed me.  We held each other close. I was grabbing his impressively round, muscular butt cheeks and could feel an equally impressive erection pushing into my crutch, where my dick was also responding extremely positively.

Before too long we were climbing the five flights of stairs to my little eyrie, the shoebox on the roof, with its evocative, romantic views over London on three sides. You would have been able to see The London Eye, had it been built at the time. We had fantastic sex that night.  We were definitely very compatible on that level.  But on a mental level he seemed distant – maybe he was just shy.

Despite this,  Derek soon became a regular fuck-buddy; but  only in a relatively detached way.  He would generally only come to visit very late. I think he came to a ‘proper’ sit-at-the-kitchen-table dinner (with its amazing view over South London)  just once.  That’s when he asked me if I thought he might be schizophrenic. I replied that I didn’t, but suggested that he had some sort of mental affliction. He agreed, but explained that he had no idea what it might be. I said he should go and see someone about it – maybe get his his doctor to refer him.  He did eventually, a few years later, and the problem seemed to ease, but not his inner anger.  He even did the washing-up that night.  Just once – in seventeen years – or is it eighteen?  But  he would mutter  gibberish under his breath, like he had a private language for himself, and was telling himself off for something, then would chuckle in a slightly manic and almost sinister fashion. Still, the sex was so goddam good and he liked to get high and get fucked, which was fine by me (and he still has the most perfectly beautiful butt…ever).  He drank a lot too, and so did I. He still does – in fact,  he’s probably an alcoholic.  He said so the other day.  Just a glass or three of wine… echo…echo.

Back in my dream, at the BiJingo sound-check by The Westway, I went over to Jack’s kiosk, which appeared to offer a range of tiny electronic items.  ‘You need a new wah wah circuit board,’ he said, in his slightly strident, teacherish voice, offering one to me. It was like a little metal staple gun, but covered in silicone chip…olatas. All that was missing was the streaky bakolite. Electric devils on horseback.

There were beautitful  people of all races dressed in vintage, mutli-coloured clothes swarming around everywhere, which made it hard to concentrate on getting everything up and running.  I went back to my electronic spaghetti and fiddled around with the circuit board.  Jason continued to do pa pa pa rolls on his tom toms. Then Maddox appeared from nowhere, grinning broadly, wearing a brown suit, with a matching shirt and a big, pink silk tie. To say I was somewhat taken aback would be an understatement.

It  really was Maddox, looking just the same as when I’d first met him outside Notting Hill tube station, as large as life. ‘It took me so long to get here from Memorylania.’ He said pleasantly, looking at me intently with those huge, green eyes, ‘the traffic was really awful.’

‘It took you well over twenty years Maddox,’ I said, with a rueful smile, ‘but I’m glad you made it at last, in the flesh, as it were, or at least in spiritual 3-D.’

‘So you’ve noticed when I’ve visited you in spirit?’ He asked.

‘Of course, I think I sensed you most times.  It was a comfortable, reassuring feeling, as if you wanted me to know that you were alright and that you were there to guide me and gently push me in the right direction.’

‘Oh good! I’m glad, very glad.’ He said.  ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ ‘But the sound-check… ‘ I protested. ‘Fuck the sound-check.  Let’s walk to Cornwall.’ And that’s, of course, when I woke up, smiling; safe in the knowledge that he was indeed an ‘angel on my shoulder’ –  and willing and able to help me do battle with the devils on horseback.

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter4.

14 May

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Chapter 4


Bed and breakfast?


16.8.88 . Hotel America. Barcelona.

9.30.pm.

I’m lying naked, freshly showered, on starchy, white linen on a king-size, antique, metal bed, letting my body absorb some cocoa butter – I love its simple, sensual smell – and  the fact that it automatically reminds me of making love with beautiful black men. I’m in a large, square, simple, almost monastic, high-ceilinged room with a big old fan spinning slowly above me. There are plain white walls and a terracotta-tiled floor, along with a perfect black-and-white-tiled art deco, en-suite bathroom. All this for under £20 a night. I just followed my nose and found it. Why book a room in advance – how dreary and unadventurous is that?

A small, spindly, round, 50s metal table and two chairs, in pleasingly distressed pale green, sit in front of the tall, french (or, surely, Spanish?) windows, which are flung open in front of a juliette balcony, with their white, muslin curtains gently billowing in a slight breeze. It’s a fantastically classy, filmic cliche;  I’m feeling Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus – although that was set in Nepal.  Meanwhile, I’m writing the lyrics to a potential song called, strangely enough, Barcelona.

Lost in ancient alleyways, I am inside Gaudi’s mind. Like Christopher Columbus, I will seek, and I will find .’

Steamy, hazy heat and echoey sounds drift-up from the wide, winding alley below. The scene seques into something by Jean-Luc Godard. A beautiful, whispy-haired French girl is trying to play castanets on the balcony opposite and giggling, in a charmingly tinkly fashion – at how bad she is at it, I presume. How do I know she’s French? Earlier, I heard her being very Betty Blue with her companion (boyfriend, lover or husband?), who looks a lot like that famously handsome, French actor from the 50s/60s – the swarthy one who always used to wear brown-leather flying jackets.  Alain Delon? Yes.  And when he sported a moustache in Le Cercle Rouge, he was the spitting image of  Maddox, my long-lost, deceased love.

This makes me realise and recall that I was loving the inherent sensuality of Barcelona and lost in… longing. Wishing that I might belong to somebody – in my deep, romantically-inclined mindset.  Not, however, ‘romance’ in the way that it’s commonly perceived: I’m talking strong, passionate and lusty mance-to-mance, not the chocolate-box, airy-fairy fripperies that the word usually evokes. Mance-to-mance? Looks like I’ve dreamed-up another bit of cool, left-field, gay branding! Better register that dot com right now! With a ‘2’ intstead of a ‘to’.  Dot com.  Got it.

I’ve been there, but, it never really went beyond the idea of being ‘together for life’, apart from, perhaps, and perversely, in the case of Derek. We’re still doing our own weird version of romance after all these years (you love me a little bit, don’t you?).  He still wants us to have threesomes though, which really doesn’t appeal to me as there’s always one who’s rejected:  its often a way for an established couple to spice-up their possibly-failing relationship, not that that really applies to us – we only see each other every two or three weeks, usually on a Friday. ‘Our Friday’ as we call it, which is rather touching.  I’d like to fuck him whilst he fucked someone else though – we’ve never done that. Naughty. But I’d hate someone else to fuck him.  That, wierdly, is exactly what happened with the only threesome we ever had in all these years.  It was a handsome, bisexual black guy I’d been shagging fairly regularly, so that came as a bit of a surprise. And why did Derek let him ‘slip one up’ so easily?  Okay, it’s true that we were all a bit ‘out of it’, but, surely Derek:  you knew that it wasn’t me?  Then again, why did I let it happen?  I guess I was taken by surprise and that my genuine shock was responsible for my lack of objection.  Then I thought, oh fuck it… literally.

Lately, he’s been letting me know, very , very subtly, that he needs me and feels for me. Is it all based on the fear of rejection?  Surely that’s as much of an old turkey as ‘all artists must suffer for their art’.  I honestly don’t believe that I’m frightened of rejection. What’s the point?  Either they feel you or they don’t. As for the art,  it’s in my soul to be a poet and a musician and, hopefully, a portrayer of faces, spaces and places to be; someone who knows that he can, on occasion, also be a magician. I can say that with confidence, despite my utter lack of… self-confidence. I guess that I’ve lived in the bubble of  relative failure for so long and therefore have rarely sought to have it pricked by potentially feeble feedback from the outside world.  That is my fear of rejection:  it’s as an artist, not a lover. It really is time to change that.  But some degree of genuine, palpable success is the only thing that would convince me. It’s all very well people telling me I’m a genius, and really talented (thanks people, I really appreciate it, believe me), but I need someone massive to sing one of my songs – then I’ll start to truly believe in myself.  I know I’m an artist, otherwise I wouldn’t keep on keeping-on after all these years. It’s just like a person called Time – *contemporary song by me alert* –  You Go By.  Everything passes, then fades to grey?  That’s also a classic, if slightly precious,  80s track by Visage. But it was a HIT. Unlike anything I’ve ever recorded.

Luckily, I’m only just starting to get grey in my goatee – my hair remains defiantly dark brown.  Loopy, my lovely sister, suggested to me last year that ‘obviously I dyed it’.  I was mortified!  As if I would do such a thing?  When I go grey, I will go grey gracefully.  Time… you go by.

The nearest thing that us Brits could muster to match the delicious Alain Delon was Dirk Bogarde (who was rather beautiful too), but, despite his sexuality – which he eventually, reluctantly admitted to in his somewhat precious, albeit well-written, autobiographical volumes. He never seemed to have experienced that pure animal attraction, possibly because he was, in reality, a bit of a prissy queen. The closest he got to that on screen was in the 1952 (my god, the year I was born!) film ‘Hunted’, where his role was, frankly, bordering on the pedophiliac. Delon, meanwhile, was alleged to be bisexual, and involved with gangsters and far-right politicians. The usual suspects. But the couple in the apartment opposite in Barcelona in 1988 really were Alain and Natalie Delon… at least for me, in a purely romantic sense. And I still cherish a brown, French (it says so on the label), 50s leather jacket that I found in a charity shop in West Hampstead for twenty quid about eight years ago. I call it Alain. Delon and winding road, as Paul McCartney might sing, if he was doing a gig in Paris. OK, I’ll get my coat (a brown, French vintage leather jacket).

All these evocations stir the memories like a well-flavoured, finely-seasoned selection of tapas, served with a glass or three of Rioja Reserva (echo… echo). This is a very good thing, apart from the fact that I can’t actually drink any red wine currently, because, as you may recall, I am detoxing here in Cornwall.

I read on… I’m enjoying this trip down memory lane (or mammary lane, as Jeremy Organ would have said).

“People from all walks of life and many nations saunter by beneath my window laughing, singing and/or even dancing: all dressed-down, sun-kissed and summery. I wish I had an old Tennessee Williams-style, portable typewriter with me, so I could sit wreathed in mysterious cigarette smoke at the green, metal table by the window, writing a dark, romantic and slightly over-melodramatic screenplay for 80s versions of 50s and 60s movies. That means Elizabeth Taylor, who’d shot to fame as a beautiful young girl in a film about a black stallion (no, not that one!) in the mid-Forties. She was apparently totally in love with her unobtainable co-star, the darkly handsome and charismatic Mongomery Clift, who was gay, of course. And Williams was obsessed with him too. This made for sizzling interactions, apparently, although Monty did tend to over-analyse his characters’ motivation a tad too intently apparently, having studied at the Actor’s Studio – as had been suggested in a biography I’d read about eight years ago, when I lived in tiny three-bedroomed pre-fab off London’s Old Kent Road. Yes indeed, a 1940’s pre-fab. It was £40 a week and I loved it.

The place literally used to shake when you had sex. It was hilarious, unless it was with my ‘pet psychopath’ Billy Medina, in which case the pre-fab-shaking turned it into a little hammer house of horror. Monty leads to Medina in one fell swoop – but I don’t want to dwell on the dreaded Billy, Hey – I’m on holiday in Barcelona (although The actual Medina is far less threatening). And, not having access to a Tennessee-style typewriter, or one of those new-fangled portable word-processors (ooh-arr, wish-list!), I’ll have to make do with this notebook.

I’m left-handed, so I write upside down and twisted to the right.  It’s a human evolutionary process: you’re simply avoiding smudging as you write – especially if, like me, you grew-up before ball-point pens were in general use (no wonder there was a 50s doo-wop group called The Ink Spots – they were probably all cack-handed). I hope I don’t get writer’s cramp. I can, however, still be wreathed in fag smoke as I write, if I so desire, when I make one of my customary roll-ups.

Note to my American readers: ‘fag’ is one of the words us Brits use for cigarettes, in case your knowledge of people from countries that you have a ‘special relationship with’ is similar to some of your politicians’ formulation of foreign policy. Having said that, in the context of US culture, ‘fag smoke’ sounds rather intriguing, perhaps invoking burning homosexuals at the stake (bring on the faggots! Sorry that’s another English word – for wood-kindling and  also some kind of low-rent meatball), or the suggestion that there’s ‘no fag smoke without fire’ – a gift from me, with love, to all you closet-cases, especially all the black sports/pop/rap stars who remain firmly ensconced in their ghetto-fabulous, blingin’ walk-in wardrobes, sorry, closets.”

I didn’t mention it in that particular diary, but I do remember meeting Tennessee Williams once. Yes, I really did. It was at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s Charing Cross Road  in 1977.  I vaguely recall that Christabel Galway had managed to get hold of some free tickets for what would turn-out to be his last play: ‘The Red Devil Battery Sign’.  She was friendly with a well-known actor and bon viveur called Timothy Kitchens who lived in a large studio flat in the apartment block above the theatre (the over-rated art-film director Derek Jarman also lived there for a while, and he was an admirer of a young Thom back in the early 70s, but that’s another story). Kitchens, as he was/is universally known, was having a fling, or a thing, with Jeremy Organ, her by-now-separated husband, but it was all very amicable and grown-up.

Polysexual frienships, where ‘exes’ became buddies with ‘newbies’ and everyone got on famously – especially in our gang – were very common in those days. Are they still that way amongst arty, creative, media, theatre and music-biz types, or are people more circumspect, responsible and paranoid? I don’t know, I don’t get out much these days, mostly because it costs a fucking fortune and I am, inexplicably, broke. Anyway, that’s how The Countess Of Monte Christabel met her dashingly handsome second husband; above the theatre, in Kitchens’ flat, I think, perhaps even IN his kitchen, where Jeremy, her ‘ex’, was living with him (not just in Kitchens’ kitchen, obviously, in the whole flat!) for a while. Pricelessly most-podern (dare I write LOL at this point?). I hope you realise that I invented Most Podern! One could even add an e (although they’re simply not happening these days, I hear, it would appear that Mother, Daughter, Maiden Aunt is a much better option, not that I’d know, of course).  That would have to be Kitchens in drag as Hyacinth Bucket, sorry, Bouquet .

I do believe that he recently took part (maybe he even won?) in the hit, ritual humiliation show ‘I’m a Nonentity, Get Me In To Here’.

To be fair, I always found him to be very funny, genuine, witty and, well, cuddly – so good luck to him and to all who sail in him.

Christa and I met Saint Tennessee in the stalls and complimented him on his work – after the play was over and the audience had left. He was pleasantly avuncular, slightly tweedy, frail and friendly, but still had a sparkle in his eye (always the sign of a true artist). I resisted asking him why his work always featured some hunky ‘bit of rough’ in a white vest (tank-top to you Yanks) but did manage to question him about that famous photo of him typing, wreathed in cigarette smoke.

‘Oh, it just happened by accident, I can’t even remember where it was; Key West maybe,’ he shrugged, putting his hand on my arm, but not in a pervy way, ‘I guess you would say here in the UK that I was smoking a fag !’ That was a good gag. Christabel (who was dressed in a wonderfully eccentric, 30s’style ensemble, including a black velvet beret with a matching ostrich feather) and I laughed heartily. I don’t remember much else – and that includes whether Tennessee’s final play was any good, I fear, as we were quite drunk, having had free, pre-theatre drinks at Fred Dexter’s, our favourite restaurant, in Covent Garden, where Jeremy, who, sadly, is no longer with us, was the Maitre d’ at the time. It was a favourite with thespians, musicians and celebs, because you could eat really late – last orders were at midnight. How civilised.

Christabel, myself and many of ‘the old gang’ had held a celebratory dinner there about three years ago after we’d buried Jeremy’s ashes in Highgate cemetery, which had been one his last wishes. The other was that we would have a damn good party – a celebration of his life – after his cremation, which I’d organised… literally… in Paradise – in Kensal Spleen, oh alright, Green. It was a fantastic night.  There was a great turnout of Jeremy’s fabulously fascinating friends at the funeral and at the party afterwards, including the cream of London’s meeja stars, as Jeremy’s career path had taken some startlingly varied twists and turns over the years. His first job had been as a chauffeur, which included driving a famous pop star of the future (who somehow ended-up playing in my band BiJingo in 2003) to school in his father’s Roll’s Royce, in Highgate. He had a brief foray as a rent boy (as you do), many more ‘odd jobs’, the aforementioned stint as Maitre d’ at Fred Dexter’s – which lasted several years, before my brother Danny helped him land a sub-editing gig at 24/7 magazine. He progressed steadily up the journalistic ladder, on the underground-trendy-chic side of things, ending up as a director and executive editor of the achingly hip Paint+ group.

‘The name is ORGAN and I’m the editor of THIS esteemed ORGAN!’ He would enthuse loudly, after yet another liquid lunch . He loved ‘entertaining the troops’, as he would put it,  by doing things like donning a mangy old wig, pulling an old-hag face and spitting-out, whilst pointing at his various underlings: ‘The name is Thrope, MISS ANN THROPE and I hate YOU, YOU, YOU AND EVERYTHING!’

He could, it has to be said, occasionally be pompous and a bit bitter and twisted as well. He used to try and seduce various lovers and fuck-buddies of mine by treating them to expensive meals, when we were sharing a flat off Ladbroke Grove, in Notting Hill (he loved black men too), but I don’t know if he really got anywhere.  He also once accused me of being a ‘journalist manque‘, many years later, which hurt a bit (especially as I had a weekly column in 24/7, a monthly column in Vaguely and was the editor of their website at the time), but it was, no doubt, a throwaway comment. He had been guilty of being jealous of me in the past – perhaps because I often ‘got’ all the good looking guys – but I hoped he hadn’t carried that into the 90s like a bitter badge of resentment. Jerry was, however, fiercely intelligent – and, conversely, intelligently fierce. But his loyalty was always without question.

He always found anything metaphysical or ‘spiritual’ quite preposterous (I think that ‘High Church’ was more his thing), whereas Christabel and I were always checking our horoscopes (horror scopes, as he would say), having our fortunes told, our cards read – and even holding seances. He  used to scoff that ‘it was all a complete nonsense’. Now here’s a funny thing. Everyday when I wake-up, I go online, check my emails, then kick-start my tired old brain by playing various word games. There’s one where you have to be terribly quick, it’s a ‘multi-player’ called, in trendy lower-case,  multipopword You’ll find Thom Topham on there regularly, quite often leading the field – I’m usually in the ‘difficult room’ 5A . Soon after Jeremy’s demise I noticed strange things happening as I was playing multipopword. The word ‘organ’ (oh ho ho!) would appear repeatedly, then Jeremy (which doesn’t count as a ‘scoring’ word, of course), then Contessa, Christa, Dexters, manque, and all these jokey little clues ‘from the other side’, with ‘insider knowledge’,  which seemed to suggest to me that he was trying to tell me that he was happy and at peace, which was a great irony… and really, quite deliciously… wonderful.

He still ‘visits’ me regularly and tries, as I see it, to offer me subtle snippets of advice, as does Maddox, my first lover.  It doesn’t frighten me at all; quite the opposite. It makes me smile and feel good inside. I even presume to think he’s trying to redeem himself spiritually.

Back when Christabel and Jerry were a couple, in the mid-70s, they’d managed the twenty four-hour bar and restaurant at the terribly trendy (darling) Mushroom Hotel in Notting Hill for two or three years, where we would drink free booze and smoke dope all night, hanging out with people like Leonard Cohen, The Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, John-Paul Getty (minus an ear, after his kidnap) and many more left-field, cultural luminaries and icons of the past, the present and the future.

Gillian, the unflappable manageress, happened to be the mistress of one the UK’s comedic leading lights – many would say ‘the father of alternative comedy’ – who was a secret transexual. Adrian Lewis, the wonderfully rude, tall, blonde receptionist, was notorious for his acerbic put-downs of famous people: ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are darling; but this hotel is FULL so just fuck off!’ The original gay punk (which was pretty rad for the time), he was famously arrested on Piccadilly, ludicrously, for ‘gross indecency’, because he was wearing Vivienne Westwood’s iconic two-cowboys-with-their-dicks-out T-shirt. And now she’s a dame and has turned into a gamine old bird. Adrian became a well-respected film critic,  with his own fantasy-film festival in London. Isn’t it great how things turn-out sometimes?

Christabel had been largely responsible for organising Jerry’s funeral, so laughter and cheers, rather than tears, were the ‘order of service’, when his white, cardboard coffin appeared in a hearse that was the sidecar of a vintage motorbike driven by a bear (as-in ‘fat gay bearded bloke’) in full leathers, with his similarly-attired, dykey assistant leading the procession on foot. Sheer brilliance. Kudos to the Kuntessa!  And the eulogies had the packed crematorium chapel rocking raucously in the pews to these ribald remembrances – then smiling and biting their lips, as the affectionate tributes to Jerry’s brilliance, badly-behaved-yet-brilliant wit, intellect and generosity of spirit were recounted.

Talking of which, the also rather badly-behaved-but by-now successful film director Robert Burton (whom Christa had indeed met back then at Timothy Kitchens’ flat – having announced herself on the entryphone as ‘Christabel with the ENORMOUS CUNT’ – who was soon to become her second husband and the father of her second daughter), insisting on picking-up the tab for about twenty people, including Jeremy’s deeply disapproving younger brother and wife, who’d been horrified by my impression of One Foot In The Grave, which involved me, erm, putting one foot in the freshly dug little hole in which Jeremy’s urn of ashes was sitting in a beautiful spot in the cemetery – which he’d chosen himself, when he’d known that the cancer was terminal – and then shouting ‘I don’t BELIEVE it!’ Everyone (apart from the prissy relatives) had fallen about laughing, before Anwar, his unbelievably beautiful lover for the last year of his life –  a talented, Tunisian photographer –  had covered it in soil. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was playing in my mental jukebox: we know Major Thom’s a junkie. Actually, he never was and never will be. Apart from the fags (finished!) and the booze (working on it).

Of course, It never occurred to his prissy relatives that Jeremy would have throughly approved. And what a great way, in a sense (why be doomy about it?) to depart this mortal coil; with a stunning, spiritual and talented man being there to guide you into the afterlife like some kind of pre-ordained, karmic love god. Way to go!

You’ve got to keep believing – feel it burning down below, it’s a way to go…’

What next – My Unplanned Obsolescence, The Musical? I don’t think so;  the title doesn’t exactly suggest West End, coach-party audiences. More art-house stylee, perhaps in a workshop production in Oedipal House, in Sarf Lahndan.

There are so many stories: they run into each other like a motorway pile-up of memories. Luckily, most people walk out of the wreckage without a scratch. Some get wounded and recover; others simply don’t make it. Different narratives emerge from death, like characters who vaguely know each other through some connection with the deceased – like in a novel, play or film – then they converge, briefly merging, before diverging as the plot thickens or thins, while the thread maybe continues, or simply snaps.

I’m writing this – and quoting from my old diary written in Barcelona in 1988 – in Cornwall in June 2010. Just thought I’d remind you; especially if you’ve suddenly discovered this blog (from my autoBLOGography) for the first time, here in Chapter 4. Obviously, I’d advise you to go back and start at the beginning with Chapter 1, but I hope you’re enjoying it regardless.

The sun has swung around (the yard arm?) and now shines above the roofs of the cottages in a brilliant, clear blue sky. I really must go for a nice, long walk tomorrow, with the weather here being so perfectly glorious, I say to myself, in a vaguely Northern Irish accent, for no apparent reason – maybe it was because I was just reminiscing about Jeremy, as we often fondly bellowed at each other in the manner of The Reverend Ian Paisley when we were drunk, back in the day. Jeremy (aptly-named) Organ and his pendulous penis. Now there’s something to be remembered by!

I take a sip of my T.N.T and return to reading my 1988 diary.

“The Hotel America is a cool, clean, gay-friendly and stylish budget hotel exhibiting what, apropos of nothing – apart from the fact that I’m in Spain – I like to call ‘catholic taste’, like the delicate wrought-iron work in the lobby. It’s just-off The Plaza Real, a medieval square which boasts an ancient circular, central fountain surrounded by a plethora of restaurants and tapas bars housed in what could be described as shady cloisters. There are also Romany hustlers playing concertinas (generally really badly) for the tourists. Fuck off, por favor!”

I must confess that I rather romanticised the Romanies in Barcelona, the song, when I wrote the lyric as noted in my diary in… Barcelona in 1988. It’s called poetic licence, I guess.

‘TVs blaring and radios, the wail of police cars – and gypsies playing concertinas, in the cafes and the bars.

A big ship sounds its foghorn, like a mournful mating call, in the night like we were passing, touching chords that said it all ‘.

“The Plaza Real is, in turn, just off the famous pedestrian thoroughfare Las Ramblas, near to the bustling, ever-fascinating harbour, where I love to wander and sit, watching the transitory people, the boats and the beautiful men of all hues coming and going.  Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay.  Thank you Otis Redding, for my teenage enlightenment that soul music could be both melancholic and uplifting.

There are hundreds of tiny, multi-coloured jewels in a 50s glass vase with air-bubbles in it (which I found on flea market stall for about £1 yesterday) on an antique mahogany chest by the bed. I ‘mined’ them earlier today from the white sand on San Sebastian beach, in front of that magnificent ruined, rococo palace that I fondly fantasise about turning into the ultimate beach-front hotel, restaurant and dance club… one day (see photo above – with ‘Barcelona’ graffiti). It sits beneath the route of the rusty old cable cars that creak and crank high across the harbour at regular intervals. The beach is a long, but rather bland stretch of white sand (full of tiny, hidden jewels, of course), with a few restaurants and cafes in glorified shacks at one end, on the seafront, which are reached by an ugly, concrete promenade. Not a palm tree or sun-lounger in site, which is good. An urban beach, essentially. Barcelona is a big city: I think we’re talking two million souls.

The ‘jewels’ have been my glass bead game for the single traveler. Very simple, childish and somehow therapeutic, especially when I found a rare ‘ruby’ (well, a tiny piece of sea-smoothed, red glass), soon followed by a splendiferous ‘saphire’, but the real prize was the ‘turquoise’ (which happens to correspond to my star sign, Scorpio, I think – or is it a topaz, or both?). The browns, greens and whites were merely costume jewellery.

I left the beach in the late afternoon and took the trusty, rusty cable car across the harbour, so I could take pictures on my cheap camera, but I didn’t look directly down. It felt like we were hundreds of feet up in the air, but it was still less vertiginous than being on a tall bridge, and for some reason, my legs didn’t turn to jelly. Each car holds about twenty to thirty people, and there are large openings with yellow and red metal frames and slatted, tatty old dark-wooden bench seats beneath. The views of this beautiful city were spectacular in the late summer’s, misty, golden evening sunshine. And there, in the middle of it all stood La Sagara Familia, Gaudi’s famous, unfinished cathedral – the most amazing building I think I’ve ever seen. It was like a vast, dark-but-divine magician’s palace, with elegant filagree towers soaring into the heavens. I don’t know if Gaudi was religious, but surely no-one had ever designed a place of worship that was so beautifully whacky and also so wondrously beautiful? One also can’t help wondering if he was a fan of opium.

Then I came back the other way on the cable car and had a very late brunch (Spanish omelete in a soft baguette) at at the Cafe Miramar, which sits in the cliffs overlooking the harbour at the terminus. The city’s other cable car, looping up the hill above the cliff, looks kind-of 50s with its brightly coloured seats, which are like flying saucers set side-by-side – more like a fanciful ski-lift. It seemed, unfortunately, that the nearest station was a way away, so I walked-up the steep hill to find a rather bland old fortress and and a sad-looking funfair at the top. The views of the city were majestic and magnificent, but the setting was surprisingly bleak and there wasn’t much fun to be had in the fair. By then, the ‘flying saucer’ cable-car had ceased operations, which seemed strange; maybe there was a fault, or they had some intuitive monitoring system which shut down the system if there weren’t enough passengers?

I headed back here to the evocative ambience of my room at Hotel America on foot, downhill all the way (not that I was feeling anymore inherently melancholy than usual), until I reached Las Ramblas and Plaza Real, for a bit of a writing session – hello, here I am! – and perhaps a nap. After that, I’ll be heading out to find somewhere new and intriguing to eat in, then another fantastic club (they’re incredible here in Barcelona – so cool, daring, different and radical in their design) in which to wile away the balmy night until the dreamy, drunken dawn, maybe in the company of a beautiful stranger.

Barcelona, on my own, away, under the stars, watching the world passing from the cafe Miramar.

 Barcelona home-from-home, alone, but not too far, from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar.'”

Pause.  I was writing the words of the song Barcelona in my notebook – much which I am now sharing with you now – in Barcelona, of course, WAY before that dreadful cod-operatic song by Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe. I tried to ‘get it’ to the relevant Olympian committee after I’d recorded it when I got back to London, but, I guess the cassette got lost in the post. 

“The Spanish tend to eat dinner really late, which suits me just fine, but I must remember not to drink to many spirits before (or after) dinner – the measures here are so massive, and so cheap, and so’s the wine – A Rioja Reserva for £2? Astonishing. Una cerveza por favor should, perhaps, be my new mantra after dinner. That’s the spirit! Or not.

The best and cheapest places to eat are to be found off the touristy beaten track, where many families turn the front rooms of their ancient, pastel-painted and shuttered, adobe-rendered casas into ad-hoc restaurants. You can take your own wine, and the host or hostess simply decides what you’re going to eat. Several tapas and a couple of main courses for under £5, sharing with locals and visitors, usually at one big table. I can manage a smattering of Spanish (hola guapa – vamos a mi casa ?) but most people speak at least broken English: cue Marriane Faithful’s breakthrough album and ‘her own little oyster’, although here, perhaps, mussel (in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce) would be more appropriate. Christabel, no doubt, would have merely alluded to her giant octopussy.

19.8.88 . Plaza Real. 8pm.

How ya feelin’? Hot! Hot! Hot!

I spent the afternoon (I don’t do mornings) at San Sebastian beach with Tallulah, of all people, whom I’d simply ‘bumped in to’ on the beach. He’s a famously good-time-camp-yet-soulful DJ from London, a legend really, who does a wonderfully ironic and trashy drag act as well – a Hollywood-meets-rock-chick kind of thing.

I can’t stand traditional drag, it just bores me; all those tired old man-crones trotting-out the smutty cliches with pantomime makeup and huge falsies in dreary old Victorian pubs with sticky, swirly carpets, cheap, faded furnishings and fag-stained walls, which are patronised by tired old queens, pervy plebs, raggedy rent boys and assorted ‘clones’, closet-cases and vague leather-queens. Not my thing.

Tallulah is, thankfully, much more original in ‘her’ act and today resembled a large alabaster budha in too-tight, black swimming trunks, lounging on the white sand on a tatami beach mat in the blistering sunshine. I even have a photo (see above)!  We had a laugh about life in London – where we both are, after all,  movers-and-shakers on the club scene – and he soon got right into my glass bead game, becoming quite obsessive about finding the elusive turquoise gems, like me.

I was recounting how I was trying to remember how I’d ended-up getting into a cab with a handsome, black Frenchman at 5:am that morning… I was so drunk and perhaps a little high – I think someone had given me an E.  Perhaps that’s why he (the Frenchman, not Tallulah) seemed a little cautious and apprehensive. I’d had to reassure him that I wasn’t about to steal his wallet or abuse him. He relaxed a little when we got back to my cooly filmic room at Hotel America and took a shower together, kissing under the huge chrome showerhead in the massive, art-deco bath. All I really remember him saying was: ‘How old are you Thom?’

‘Thirty Five’

‘You haf ze body off a nineteen year-old.’

Was that flattery – or maybe I needed to put on some weight and bulk-up a bit? He still appeared to find me a little etrange and our love-making was, sadly,  somewhat awkward and perfunctory. Soon after, he made his excuses and disappeared into the dawning day. I went into a deep sleep and dreamt of Milton, dancing just for me on an empty stage in a derelict theatre in The Bronx, with burning love in his eyes and fired-up, fuck-me-fire in his fabulous thighs. Until some black closet-case crack-head in the dream ruined it all by shouting ‘The land that time faggot!’ Over and over again. Milton promptly flew up into ‘the flys’ on theatrical wires and I woke up abruptly, wondering: where has Milton gone? Why do I suddenly think I’ll never see him again? It’s only a dream, isn’t it?

Another mutual pick-up happened with a Panamanian guy the other night – we went back my hotel, and the sex was better – more raunchy and real – but he hadn’t been wearing the proverbial hat. That rather spoilt my reverie that we were going to be reliving a scene from a Graham Greene novel. He spoilt things further the next morning, well, afternoon, when he declared, in an accent straight from central-casting, that ‘he LUFFED me and we should haff a champagne breakfast togeffa.’ Yeah right, after just one night? Muy Bien amigo. Adios.”

A phone rings, but there isn’t a phone in my hotel room. Blink. Reality.

I look out to sea and see an elderly man rowing an old wooden dinghy  towards the beach. Looks like the waves will soon be crashing-up against the sea wall in Queensberry with the early evening high tide. I love that. I reach over and answer the phone.

‘Hello dear, how’s it all going at the cottage, what’s the weather like?’

It’s Delia, my mother. Still a bundle of energy and light aged 82. ‘Who’s there with you – are you having fun?’

‘Hi mum, sorry, I was miles away in Barcelona…’

‘Barcelona – what you went on the Santander ferry to Spain and back? But you’ve only been there three days! Barcelona was always my favourite of your songs – ‘Barcelona, on my own, away under the stars. Watching the world passing, from the Cafe Miramar’ – and I love that melancholic, moody trumpet.’

I complete the chorus, singing on the phone: ‘Barcelona, home-from-home, alone, but not too far,  from times when two will tango to the sound of your guitar .’

I thank her for remembering something from so far back, then gently point out. ‘Actually, it was a flugel horn, it was played by a guy from Sade’s band and, yes, I just read the song as I first wrote it in Barcelona in 1988… right now. I was perusing one of my old notebooks – remember Spike found a bag-full in your loft and brought them to me in London? Well, I grabbed a small, random selection and brought them with me. I’ve been reliving my visit and evidently had a wonderful, if somewhat badly-behaved time. I do believe I’m about to head-off to the beautiful and exciting island of Ibiza on the night-ferry tomorrow.’

‘But the Santander ferry doesn’t go to Ibiza from Raleigh… oh, wait a minute, you mean in the diary. Sorry dear, I was momentarily confused.’ Delia chuckles. ‘It’s old age finally catching-up with me.’

‘Nonsense Delia,’ I reply, ‘you’re bright as a button. I’m surprised they haven’t painted the Santander car ferries bright red and filled the decks with Porches and Ferraris owned by odious, fat-cat bankers. A marvellous target for anarchists in rubber dinghies with paint and stink bombs. I always wonder why anarchists actually hold meetings – doesn’t that rather go against their apparent ethos?  Anyway, in answer to your questions; the weather is beyond fabulous, I’m having a sort-of lovely time and… none of the guys could make it.’

‘That’s a shame, so you’re on your own, and why sort-of ?’ She asks, probably picking-up on potential problems and nuanced negatives, as only mothers can.

The guys all had perfectly valid reasons for not coming – all too busy – and that’s not to say they didn’t want to, especially Luther, as he’s never been before, and  because the others have enthused about how wonderful it is here to him. And Tommy fell-out with me last new year, as you may recall. You know, black dog – as Churchill dubbed it – and all those pits and peaks. Maybe I should have invited Alistair after all. Anyway, I really don’t mind being on my own as I’ve got my laptop, I’m vaguely online and I’ve started my autobiography at last.’

‘Oh Eureka!’ Exclaimed Delia, ‘About bloody time! You were always such a good writer and a natural story-teller, your teachers at  secondary school seemed to encourage you. I don’t recall a time that you weren’t top in English and also – it has to be said that you haven’t exactly led a dull life!’

‘That’s certainly true, apart from that teacher who slapped me once, apropos of nothing – I think it’s because he fancied me and because I was too intellectually advanced about interpreting Shakespeare,’ I reply, ‘it’s going really well – not my life, I mean, my book – especially with the help of the notebooks, and it’s very cathartic and becoming quite fulfilling.’

‘Oh, that’s really good, and, well, not so good… have you got a title for it yet?’ She asks, ‘Once you’ve got the title you’re off and running, I reckon.’ Delia had had a good stab at writing a book herself, an historical novel.

‘Well, yes, it’s called My Unplanned Obsolescence…think about it Granny Google.’

All Delia’s offspring call her that, as she not only has the latest iMAC, but also an iBook and loves staying in touch with everyone in the family using PP (People Pages)- we’re all on it – and by email. And no doubt Sarah, as she named her, her spirit guide and what would have been her seventh child, helps her to pick-up and communicate things on more esoteric, metaphysical level. ‘The Wisdom Of The Years‘  is a song I wrote with reference to, and in deference to Delia, and to my own knock-backs and disappointments in my fifty-odd years – I penned it in 2004.   She’d struggled so hard financially and emotionally in her twenties, despite her film-star good looks and intelligence, or perhaps because of those apparent plus-points.

The song was also alluding to the long-standing ‘relationship’ between Derek and myself. I think that maybe I was in a romantically optimistic, or forgiving frame of mind. The Wisdom Of The Queers doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Delia’s marriage to my father – they were co-starring the in The Felixstowe Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of No No Nanette when they suddenly got hitched when they were both in their early twenties – only lasted about nine years. As a single child, it had been perhaps her only exit strategy from her parents’ sometimes frothy, lightweight, wannabe Ivor Novello-esque world, at the time.

The result was three rather good-looking boys, of which I was the second, and our father, who art in heaven (or somewhere) being banished to the backwoods of Birmingham and airbrushed from our lives after she left him. That’s how it was in those days. It must  have been extraordinary, however, to have lived through all those huge cultural and socio-economic upheavals after the war.

My mother had phoned me after watching Germaine Greer presenting a programme about the origins and usage of swear words several weeks ago. I told her that I’d watched it and enjoyed it.

‘I loved it, she said, slightly breathlessly, ‘it was so liberating to realise that it’s OK to use the word CUNT!’

I was only slightly taken aback, but thrilled that she could be so cool.

‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the word!’I told her.  We both snickered like two kids, still enjoying the sheer naughtiness of saying the word cunt,  after it had been deemed OK by a doyen of intellectual feminism.

‘I’m thinking… mmm, that… you could be relating your current situation to modern technology… in a metaphor…whilst reflecting on your past, present and future, perhaps?’ She states, thinking aloud.

‘Spot on, you nutshelled it mother!’ I say, pleased that she can be so perceptive.

‘It was inspired – or not, as the case may be – by the fact that my broadband pay-as-you-go dongle was a massive two years old and wouldn’t work without a new sim card, so I had to stop off in Raleigh to get one – at least they didn’t charge me for it, and I’d have been furious if they had!’ I explain.

‘How annoying for you, dear, did you eventually get the sim card and did your internet connection work properly?

‘Yes, eventually,’ I reply, ‘but really only after midnight. How ironic is that – with my lifelong addiction to night-owl-ism?’

‘You couldn’t really make that up could you?’ She says and chuckles. ‘Seriously though, surely, that title – My Unplanned Obsolescence –  and… or theme could be seen as being somewhat depressing or negative?’

‘I just did make it up! However, indeed it could! So am I supposed to pretend that I live in some rosy world of all-is-well? The reality is a great deal of struggle, lack of recognition and general poverty, and now, of course, my various serious and equally annoying illnesses. And just to add to the equation, there is my bitter-sweet lack of a love-life, which has been the case throughout most of my adult life. What the hell is that all about? This is the hand I’ve been played and there is no sweet little middle-class clause in my contract-with-reality that somehow exempts me from this ongoing often lonely and challenging situation. Therefore, without melancholy there is no joy, and without reflection – especially on the ever-changing sea – there is no conclusion. Who knows how it could all unfurl?’

My mobile phone chings. It’s a text from Derek.

You love me a little bit, don’t you?’ It reads. Wow. I’ll text him a bit later.

‘I hope there’s a flag-waving, happy ending darling!’

‘That would be great, but, unfortunately, I guess it ends when I die, so I don’t know if that counts as particularly happy. Otherwise, obviously, it remains to be seen whether I get to finish it before my untimely demise. However, what I’ve just started already looks like it might just end-up as being Volume One, as there’s so much ground to cover and there are all these hand-written notebooks and pre-digital diaries to read and to type-up, not to mention all sorts of type-written chronicles, short stories, poems, lyrics, songs (of course), three musicals and even a half-finished novel,’ I continue, ‘but I’m also using this time here to detox and to to undertake an alcohol-free experiment, to see if that’s what’s causing all these weird symptoms – the night sweats, the back pain and dehydration and all that, on top of my usual afflictions – and believe me, it’s tough. At least the home-made smoothie diet I put myself on has got rid of my midruff bilge, sorry, midriff bulge, ha ha, in just over a month, which is amazing, but… there’s nowhere more lovely than here to enjoy a glass or three of wine (echo…echo), so that makes it all the more difficult.’

I’ll add a 😦 just for the blog.

‘That’s so true – especially on the sea wall outside as the sun goes down behind the village and lights-up the bay and the boats; the colours, the sparkling jewels of light in the water…’ She enthuses.

‘Hey mum – who’s writing this book?’ We both laugh.

I  go on to explain to her that I’ve ‘branded’ my smoothie concoction as T.N.T (Thom’s Neutralising Tonic, in case you’d forgotten) and am looking for an appropriate dot com – once I can get  back-on-bloody-line. And then how I don’t understand my lack of success, particularly as a songwriter, not just materially, but in terms of recognition and fulfilment, with the emphasis on the writing, rather than performance. I’d always been terrified of performing as me and, having had my brief brush with rock-stardom, following my dalliance with the pop-star lifestyle – complete with screaming teenie girls back in the 1976 – my later conclusion was that I really wanted great singers who were already successful to sing my songs. That would be perfect,  apart from doing some gigs and hopefully some recording with the recently re-formed Eagle Kings, which was a whole different kettle of kippers.

‘I know darling, you always seem to get knocked back, just when things are starting to seem to go your way. It’s just bad luck – it’s certainly not your fault. You’re so talented and all the family believe in you – and always will. None of us understand why you’ve never really made it. Well, good luck with the detox, I think after all you’ve been through with your health issues, you may well be right about the alcohol. After all, what caused your pancreatitis in the first place?’

‘Exactly, it grew from me being Mr Clubsville and a bit of a party animal through the 80s and into the 90s – all that free booze for five or six hours a night whilst being a promoter and party organiser finally caught-up with me, I suppose, which is just the luck of the draw – but it still doesn’t stop it being deeply depressing, I mean, the idea of having to stop drinking ; especially red wine with dinner.  Anyway, I’m going to change my name back to me in November.’ I say, suppressing a chuckle, wanting to lighten things up a touch.

‘Why? What are you talking about?’

‘I vill no lonka be Heinz in November. You vill haff to coll me Thom again!’

‘Why Heinz? German? Ah, no wait – spaghetti hoops and all that! Oh, I get it – you are fifty-seven…’ She correctly surmises.

‘… and I’ve been full of beans and have fifty-seven varieties of multi-tasking talents! What a clever yummy mummy you are, you are, oh what a clever mum you are.’

‘Oh, that’s funny dear. I’d better go dear, Gerald is calling me, you know what they say about very old men reverting to childhood! And it will be time for dinner soon and there’s some good, intelligent stuff on TV for a change. I can’t see the name Heinz catching on in the next few months though, he he. Goodbye m’dear, take care, stay positive and get WELL!’

‘Thanks mum – well Gerald is 90 – I’m going to make a spicy virgin mary served with a celery stick and have that as a ‘sundowner’ on the sea wall before watching some of that intelligent TV you mentioned, with my dinner.  I brought down stuff like fresh herbs, limes, parma ham, grain mustard, parmesan cheese, chillies, red onions, shallots and more – things that you can’t get in the local shop – in an ice-bag. You know me, I love to cook, even if it’s only for myself. By the way, talking of being positive – as it were – I tested HIV negative a few weeks back. Just thought I’d mention it as I do get tested every year. No STDs either!’ I added cheerily, ‘love to everyone. Byeeeee!’

‘Well, that’s always good to hear dear. Bye darling.’

I put down the phone and go to the well-equipped, brand-new kitchen and mix my ‘cocktail’ (tomato juice, lots of ice, Worcester Sauce, Tabasco, celery salt, lime juice and black pepper), take it outside, sit on the wall and look out to sea, stirring it wistfully with the celery, before taking a crunchy bite, and wishing that it had vodka in it. Not that vodka has any taste. So it could easily be a bloody – as opposed to a virgin, mary – at least in theory.

I text Derek back: ‘Yep, I do you love you a little bit.

For some reason, he hates me saying ‘yep’. When he finally came down here with me for the first time, maybe four years ago, when we walked in (it was a beautiful sunny afternoon), he immediately shut the curtains and turned-on the TV. He complained that it was ‘like living in a goldfish bowl’ and went back to London after just two days. Ever the romantic, our Derek. I was not pleased, although, of course we still had fabulously sensual sex later that night – as usual.

Robbie Rowlock is the weather-beaten old local who owns the vintage, wooden boat that I sometimes borrow from him, because I love rowing – plus rowing is very beneficial for the pecs and the abs . He uses it to put out lobster and crab pots in the bay and sells them to the local restaurants and those in-the-know for two or three pounds each. The only other time you can buy fish in the village is on a Friday, when The Fish Man comes in his van (no fish – right by the sea in Cornwall! How ironic is that?). Robbie’s pulled his boat up onto the beach, offloaded his crab and lobster pots – plus a bucket with some claws waving about in it – and is now securing it vertically to the metal railings about five feet above the beach with a padlock, because of the imminent high tide.

‘Hello Thom’, he shouts jovially. ‘How long are you down for? Haven’t you brought any of your young black friends with you this time?’

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.