Archive | Literature RSS feed for this section

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter4.

14 May

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 1.

9 May

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Boy

Chapter 1.

Cornwall, June 2010.

I am in a very beautiful place.

If only I could say the same of myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had, for five years.

Now I’m not so sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll get around to that later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 2.

9 May

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.