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My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 10.

13 May

Poverty, Promiscuity, Paranoia, Parables… and Princesses.

TT 1979

“Sat. 6. 7. ‘79.

£5 to last the rest of my life!

The future of humanity will not manifest itself performing under The Westway.  Stories… tales of the shitty city.  A fenced-in expression of society’s disgust.  I should, I could have got up on that stage and shouted it out, but the bedraggled audience were too scraggy and insignificant to make it worth my while.

At least, on this occasion, it was possible for any no-hoper to get up and scream out his pain/ego/demons/traumas (delete where applicable) to a raggle-taggle hotchpotch of old hippies, Hells Angels, tourists, freaks, punks, leather-queens, gender-benders, chick-with-dicks, proto-anarchists, members of campaign groups such as Rock Against Racism and Legalise Cannabis… and me.

The DJs seemed to be running the show, with a rather irritating and unnecessary, vaguely Rastaaaafariii (mostly white) running commentary on the mic’, echoing around the arch beneath the motorway to the two or three hundred people drifting around, or sitting on the stony ground getting drunk and/or stoned.

Chain-link fences, barbed wire, concrete, graffiti, rusting corrugated iron, struggling saplings, and rubbish everywhere.

A tube train rattled by and at first I thought that it was part of the music. Hey, I confess that I broke one of my own rules by having a daytime joint,

Punk is so dated already, so last year; but I have a certain admiration for the whole ghetto-gang shabang. Hippies and punks, gays and football hooligans, Rastafarians and trustafarians, rude boys and rent boys and all the variants thereof. The un-united tribes of London.  Everything sub-cultural and ‘minority’ eventually gets absorbed into the mainstream (which is so typically British), from the Westway to the West Coast of the US. Perhaps it gets subjugated and absorbed into the blandness of it all, exploiting its inherent weakness, finding cracks; the San Andreas Fault, searching for eccentric Americans who’ve discovered irony living under a rock.  Intelligent neurosis is soft-centred… and a harder nut to crack.

Sunday 7. 7. ’79. < < < Three sevens! Wowee?  Full moon? I hope so. I enjoy a bit of mystical madness.

Slept and slept and slept. Am I cracking up? William played god today – gave me a fiver. The phone is not working – has it been cut-off again? Is there anything else left to go wrong? Oh!  The gas is still on, at least. Feel like getting drunk.

Monday 8. 7. ’79.

Yep, that was a good idea. I actually felt confident and relaxed and had a good time at the dreaded Bellstaff in Earls Court – England’s oldest gay pub (usually with a clientele to match – but this time it was different, if you ignored all the old leather- queens discussing opera and musical theatre), as I met a bouncy Yank who was both a music teacher and a gymnast – a near-perfect combination. His name is Mike and he has hard muscles and baby hair. Made me feel alive again – so much so that I couldn’t sleep. I guess that’s the price you pay on the rare occasion when you meet what appears to be a truly desirable man:  chunky, hunky, funky, spunky, punky… great sex, warmth and intellect too!  He thought I was Spanish or Italian initially – so do lots of people.

What am I going to do for four days before I see Johnny and Thomas? Arghh! No money.  Must try and relax – but how? I’m in the danger zone again and my Wurlitzer is virtually unplayable – there’s something wrong with the mechanism behind the notes. And I want Alfred.  HELP!

Now I’ve been round to see him and I don’t think I want him anymore.  How refreshing to be wrong.”

I put down the book, and try to remember who Johnny, Thomas and Alfred were – or maybe still are.  Thirty one years eh? William, I can still vouch for as a talented screen-writer and conceptualist who never really ‘made it’ (sound familiar anyone?) who now runs a video shop in his native Scotland, somewhere near Inverness, I believe, so I never see him, although we still crack jokes with each other on People Pages. ‘Home-made’ ones, as it were, as opposed to the ‘have you heard the one about the whatever’ variety, which tend to spout from ‘blokes’ whose mates repeat some racist or sexist joke ‘down the pub’ and viralise it, fueled by a pint or six. Shudder. A truly redundant form of recycling, without any apparent benefits to anyone, apart from the malignant, macho morons of this world.

In my diary, however.  I was evidently having a terrible time of merely surviving, despite having a music-publishing deal.  The phone was regularly being cut off, due to my non-payment of the bill (although it makes me chuckle to recall that I’d usually get it put back on using a different name).

Back in the 70s there were red phone boxes on many street corners. A story springs to mind. The nearest one to me when I was still living in the dingy basement at St Dukes Road in 1979 was outside the wonderful Spanish deli that used to be next door to the local pub on Westbourne Grove, the name of which I’ve forgotten (it’s probably been renamed The Royal Trustafarian now). One sunny afternoon I raided my ‘change pot’ to use the phone box (copper coins were acceptable in those days), which was occupied when I got there. I only realized this when I tugged open the door (they are quite heavy, as anyone over forty might remember) to find myself almost walking straight into a beautiful young, mixed-race man, wearing khaki shorts and a white vest, which displayed his muscular limbs to perfection.  I apologized profusely. He smiled, looked me in the eye, cupped his hand over the receiver and said, softly and sweetly: ‘I won’t be long’, then continued to smile at me whilst talking on the phone as I waited outside, smiling back at him.

Something was afoot!

When he came out I patted him lightly on the shoulder and said “Oh bugger the phone call, I’d rather bugger you!’ Or… probably  something less crudely forward.

My ‘gaydar’ had indeed been correct and we ended up having a wonderful time… and beautiful, fabulous sex.  Better still, he was actually an apprentice footballer with West Ham. Phwooooar!  Fantasy, or what? Sadly, I never saw him again.  I used to look out for him for years whenever The Hammers were on TV, to no avail.  I guess I’ll never know what happened to him… unless, of course, he’s reading this.

The iPhone ‘tings’ and I pick it up see that I’ve had a missed called from my French friend Marcel. The signal here in Cornwall is so pathetic that you have to go outside and walk up the Cleave for about thirty yards to even text someone.  It’s not only my mobile broadband dongle suffering from unplanned obsolescence: albeit temporarily. Both sim cards are on O!U, whose nearest mast, as you might recall, is ten miles (over the hills and far) away.

I call back Marcel on the landline. He answers ‘Allo…’ slightly questioningly, as he obviously doesn’t recognize this Cornish number. French accents are always so pleasing on the ear, I find, especially when the participants are being mischievous, or telling jokes. The French also ‘get’ irony, it would seem.

‘Marcel, hey, it’s Thom – I’m at the cottage in Cornwall – you called mon petit ami straight?’

He chuckles at my Franglais.

Oui, mon vieux queer Anglaise… how is ze wethurr down there?’

‘It’s parfait, mate, beacoup de soleil, et je suis un petit brun!  How are you – what was the call in aid of?’

‘I’m good mon ami.  Well, I have this French friend who came to visit London for the first time and he wanted to go – can you believe it? – to The Hard Rock café…’

‘…The HARD ROCK CAFÉ?  NO-one in London EVER goes there!  Only tourists!’

‘Exactomundo!’ Says Marcel ‘but he really wanted to go ; anyway, after queuing for about half an hour – big yawnz – we got a table for two right in the middle of the restaurant by the central pillar, underneath your album Mediums…’

‘No! What? You’re kidding me?’

‘No I’m not!  My friend was very impressed when I said that I knew you. The depiction of your album on the pillar is like a glass painting of the cover, an etching perhaps, and it’s back-lit, just above head height.’

I don’t believe it!’ I say, doing a Victor Meldrew; ‘but… that means it must have been there for over thirty-six years! I simply don’t believe it!’

‘Well, you do ‘ave one foot in ze grave!’

Yes, hmm, well, let’s NOT go there right now…

 ‘I’ve been FRAMED – and I didn’t even know!’

Oui, oui, c’est vrai, mais ce n’est pas mal!’

‘I guess not.  Sometimes you get happy mediums when you least expect them.’

Oui oui! Like my hamburger at the Hard Rock – I asked for mediums rare…’

‘… and they brought you a well-done, old friend on the pillar! Cha boom!’

‘Ze mediums is ze message!’

We both laugh.

‘Well, thanks for letting me know – I’m genuinely shocked.  And the weird thing is that it was reissued last year on Grapes Of Wrath Records.  I think I might have to write a song about it called You’ve Been Framed!’

‘Nice play-on-words Thom. I’ve got to go – le touriste wants to go to Madame Tussaud’s…’

‘…Is it still THERE? At least Madame Tussaud was French.  Now if you can persuade him to go somewhere that’s cool AND Franglais, you should take him to The Café De Paris.’

‘Ah hah! That’s a good idea. Didn’t you play there with your band… with the famous drummer?’

‘…BiJingo.  Yes, in 2007. Our one and only gig.’

‘Well, c’est la vie.  I ‘av to go!’

Au revoir. A bientot!!’

You’be been framed  hovers in my mind like a word-cloud which is about to produce light, summer rain – in the form of arcane, poetic lyrics. So, I instinctively pick-up my current notebook and start to write.  It comes pouring out just like the epic title track of my first album ‘Mediums’ (that has famously, of course, been on the central pillar of The Hard Rock Café for over thirty-six years), which was written from ‘spirit’ and was actually about what the lyrics pertained to – automatic writing – just like when I wrote intuitively about the secret garden and the oubliette dungeon in the environs of the cathedral in Ibiza town back in ’88.

 You’ve Been Framed

Look out for the hidden messages…

No nothing will ever be the same

You are the flotsam and jetsam of the past.

And people who refuse to play the game

will be guaranteed to always be the last

In the queue where no-one knows your name

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

like a roller-coaster ride that’s always going faster…

You’ve been framed – like a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster,

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

Hung up on a wall for ever after, in the hall of fame of tears and laughter..

You’ve been framed, you’ve been named.  It will never be the same.

In the middle of London’s Hard Rock Cafe – look out for the hidden messages….

Seen in every portrait, there’s a truth and there’s a lie

and everything that you were taught is an idea coming from on high,

Look out for the hidden messages….

by the spin doctors of phoney thoughts,  religions based on power,

hypocrisy from twisted minds who would crush anything that flowers.

Look out for the hidden messages….

In the queue where no-one knows your name,

you are forgotten like 80s ghetto blasters,

it’s so cynical and clinical, oh the shame

like a roller-coaster ride that’s always going faster…

You’ve been framed – like a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster,

You gotta play the game to please your masters.

Look out for the hidden messages….

Hung up on every wall for ever after, in the hall of fame of tears and laughter,

You’ve been Framed, you’ve been named. It will never be the same.

In the middle of London’s Hard Rock Cafe – look out for the hidden messages.

You’ve been framed.

 (Words and music by Thom Topham ©  Copyright Control.  All Rights Reserved).

The Interior Of London's Hard Rock Cafe

The Interior Of London’s Hard Rock Cafe

Joyce the cleaner pops her head around the door and says brightly: ‘Right, that’s me all done, I just need to put the Hoover back in the cupboard under the stairs. Well, it’s not a Hoover, it’s a Henry – isn’t it funny how we call all vacuum cleaners Hoovers?’

‘…even Dysons,’ I interject, with a chuckle, ‘and all ball-point pans are Biros, regardless.  Well, that’s the power of good branding I guess.’

She puts the Henry back in the cupboard under the stairs in the corner, then nods in the direction of my open notebook and asks: ‘Writing a song then?’

‘I think so.  It looks like it’s going to be called You’ve Been Framed – a bit of a play on words.’

‘Sounds interesting… do you think Amy Winehouse has been framed by the press, what with them hounding her all the time? Do you know her? I think she’s so talented, but somehow so screwed-up.’

‘Well, she’s certainly a rich source of stories for the tabloids – partly her own fault, I guess, with what appears to be her addictive personality and her apparent lack of self-esteem.  I think that she’s incredibly talented and deserves every plaudit that comes her way. I don’t actually know her, but I do know her bass player and guitarist – both of them have played at my jam sessions on several occasions.  I’m particularly friendly with Dave Daleham – he’s her musical director. He played bass on three of my BiJingo tracks’

‘Ooh – I love your BiJingo stuff as well! But what about that awful, junkie husband of hers – he went to prison didn’t he?’

Love Is A Losing Game indeed – that’s my favourite Amy song.  Well, they divorced last year, thank god. She’s a got a new boyfriend now, he’s a film director, I believe.’

‘I hope she cleans-up her act, otherwise I think she might kill herself with all that excess…’  She trails off, then shakes her head and adds brightly: ‘Anyway, I must  be off!  Lovely to chat.  Hope to see you again soon!’

‘I’ve got to get the train back to London at 4, or should I say sixteen hundred hours? I always hate to leave, especially when the weather is so wonderful. You take care!’

I’m about to go and sit on the sea wall in the sunshine, perhaps for one last time, when a cloud obscures the sun, and a  sudden, silvery drizzle forms a gossamer curtain out in the bay.  I go out to the front door and watch as it approaches; then a huge rainbow suddenly appears above the village. The mythical pot of gold is up on what I call the Field Of Gravity, I muse to myself, then wonder if it’s a sign of sorts.  My fantasy of a potential, magical festival…

 There’s still a while before I have to get the bus back to Raleigh, so I make myself some more minty tea in the kitchen, then decide to dip-back into the roller-coaster year of ’79, wondering if the fortunes of my twenty seven-year old self had improved yet. It’s July the fourteenth, I observe, as I open the notebook. When did Leonardo, the Italian Count, eventually take me to New York? Was it in September of that year that I suddenly had some rocket-fuelled success? I don’t want to’ cheat’ by fast-forwarding; I’d like to understand my mind-set-of-the-time more fully.  After all, this is the first time I’ve read this notebook in – gasp! – over thirty years!

“Sat. 14. 7. 79

I have to thank the weather and various angels for helping me out this last week.  Beautiful sunshine and sultry summer nights. The last few days have been unusually carefree, apart from the ever-present paranoia about my relentless poverty.  On Thursday I waited for over three hours to see Stirling Johnson – my music publisher – who was getting pissed with someone who is vaguely famous and not very talented.  Eventually I got to play the arrogant bastard my new songs and he said that he really liked them,  declaring himself to be definitely impressed. Really. Impreshed.  Well, he was stupidly drunk.  Got home and collapsed, with just 20p in my pocket.

Later on, I decided to take John and Joseph a cassette and they loved the songs, cooked us all a delicious meal and gave me a lift to the Trop’, where Rick, my regular fuck-buddy, ex-army hunk and a working rent boy – well, rent man (not that he’d dream of charging me) – supplied me with money for drinks all night – and I somehow managed to come out with a profit!  Enough for brunch the next day.

On Wednesday, Jeremy had rescued me with a perfect day at The Y (Y.M.C.A) on Tottenham Court Road and dinner at Fred Dexter’s – where he’s the Maitre D’, of course. Fabulous.

On Thursday I’d ended-up having a good honest fuck with Mark – again – with some emotional response, for a change.

On Friday, Jeremy did it again by treating me to a swim and a sauna at the Y followed by dinner at Melksham’s in Covent Garden (an English restaurant specializing in pies, owned by the eponymous noble lord), where we stuffed ourselves silly. Then on to the Trop’, somewhat predictably, where everyone seemed unusually laid-back – must’ve been the glorious weather.

There were even scores of attractive men, including someone I’ve been after for years (I’ve even dedicated poems to him in the past), but he’d never seemed tempted. On Friday, I sensed that he was aware of my presence and was making a bad job of ignoring me and trying not to smile; but evidently he was with a bunch of friends.

We finally made contact; the attraction seemed mutual, yet muted. Then, as he left, (he appeared to be quite drunk), I called cheekily ‘Do I have to wait another five years?’

Jeremy and I had decided that it was time to leave and we hung around outside, as did lots of other people – I was feeling quite sozzled –  then Mr Five-Years-Of Nothing came back around the corner and smiled at me as he came close and I just said: ‘Will you come home with me?’ And he said ‘Yes’.

I was surprised… but not really.

Name: Den.  Occupation: dog-handler.  Face: beautiful.  Smile: melter! Nice man, easy-going, relaxed. We made LOVE… I’d almost forgotten what it was like. It was a shame that he had to leave at dawn to get back to his dogs.

I slept very well and woke-up feeling fresh and alive – and it was another beautiful day.  The song ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ from ‘My Fair Lady’ was running on repeat in my head, which was quite annoying, but still made me smile. I had brunch in the café in Holland Park with Christa, but there was a slight tension between us, which is unusual. I think it’s maybe because I’m broke and she, quite rightly, resents giving me handouts. We spent the afternoon in the park with the dogs and I bumped into Francisco… and we talked. He seemed pleased to see me. I think he’s one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever met (and shagged) – a true, golden Adonis.  He’s Portuguese, tall and athletic, with dark olive skin and naturally blond, curly hair. I was hoping that he’d like a re-run of our passionate night together a few weeks ago. I certainly wouldn’t object.  I’d met him in the Italian Garden in Hyde Park – another popular, yet more subtly, dare-I-say discreet (I hate that word) cruising spot in ‘The Royal Parks’ at the Western end of the Serpentine lake. He has to go to work – he’s a waiter – but he smiled as he walked away, backwards, holding an imaginary phone to his ear. Good – that means he’s going to call.“

I stroke my goatee thoughtfully as a bunch of kids on mini-scooters clatter noisily by the cottage’s windows – and endeavor to remember if I ever saw Francisco again.  I recall that he lived in a basement bed-sit in Bayswater (sounds like a line from a song by The Betting Shop Boys) and we had a romantic fling for a while, before his father suddenly, unexpectedly died and he had to return to Lisbon, never to be seen again. Sigh. Not exactly a Portuguese Man O’War, but certainly another fine ship that passed in the night.

I flick through the notebook again – lots of lyric-writing (‘By The Ruins Of The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon’ about the cruising area of Hampstead Heath, for instance); angst about survival – I was truly living on a knife-edge – and philosophical musings and poetry, such as:

‘Lying in the sun, in the alcoholics’ garden, with the noise of the traffic drowning out the birds.  Nothing to be done; survival getting harder, another day of tension as I’m just waiting for the word.’

Then more and more increasingly solid and assured strong structures – lyrics, chords and melodies (I always write the principle notes of the main melody above the lyrics) –  start to develop through the pages.  The album was evidently beginning to take shape, not that I knew that at the time.  Having made some very basic ‘demo-demos’ in the poorly-equipped little studio at Warmer Music, although actually getting a couple of days in there was something of an achievement in itself.  However, I wasn’t very pleased with them, despite the fact that my drunken publisher had been impreshed ; there was something lacking – like a backing band – a goddamn 70s Linn drum machine does not provide sufficient oomph.  I’d been hassling my publisher  (whose company Big Ben Music was licenced through Warmer Music) to cough-up some money to put me in a proper studio with the musicians of my choice.  Then I found myself budgeting for that eventuality, making lists of goals, songs, people to see in the music biz… and starting to take control of my life, not just languishing in my ongoing poverty.

This approach was soon, at last, to reap dividends. Sterling had finally agreed to fund the sessions to the tune of £250 – which, however,  simply wasn’t enough.  I’d worked-out that I needed around £450 (which would be about equivalent to ten times that amount today) to get the results I needed.  But Leonardo had promised to help me fund some demos – so everything was swifly falling into place.  The knowledge that I’d finally won the support of my publisher, as well as The Count  had spurred me on to write some powerful, dark-yet-uplifting songs.  The project was evolving into a potential concept album about life on the streets, cruising and survival; and what would become the apposite title track ‘Torn Genes’ had started developing in my notebook

‘Torn genes, from the leather queens, to the cowboys and the clones.

Torn genes, from some magazines, not just words, but sticks and stones.

Torn genes, like those darker dreams, that can chill you to the bone.

Torn genes, like a silent scream, then you’re walking home alone…’

So often, I would walk home from the bars and clubs in Earls Court through the beautiful, half mile-long Holland Walk, a curiously romantic place, both visually and in my mind. I used to love singing soulfully there, just making stuff up, whilst drifting in my own world and heading for my bed, or perhaps, someone to share it with (which often happened as well, generally organically, rather than by the homogenous ‘gay rules’ of detachment).  I didn’t give a damn what people thought.   Reading those rather dark and dissolute lyrics reminds me of a series of extraordinary incidents which occurred on ‘The Walk’ which are related by a common thread: it was either the threat or the actuality of violence… but there was also always the risk of being arrested simply for being there, or for shagging in the park, having jumped over the fence. On other occasions there could be high farce, like the time I was heading home via ‘The Walk’ and heard raucous laughter in the distance. As I reached the second locked gate that led into the park, I was astonished to see three drunken, uniformed policemen on the other side waving daffodils – it must have been spring –  at the astonished cruisers. Yes, I really had to pinch myself, blink and shake my head with that particular vignette. It wasn’t a hallucination – it really happened.

In the early hours of another morning that year, I remember crossing Kensington High Street and entering Holland Walk through those huge, ornate gates, which were always open – as it was a pedestrian thoroughfare (to the immediate left, the curvaceous green roof and the turquoise façade of the 50s architectural gem The Commonwealth Institute used to provoke fantasies of me turning it into the most unusual club in London.  I believe that these days it’s standing empty, which is a great shame, and a waste of a great space). On this occasion, however, I ‘smelt’ that something wasn’t quite right. Why was there a great wave of woofters –  some with dogs – heading towards me at speed?  As they approached, I asked a cloney bloke with two, large chocolate-brown poodles, what was going on – was there a police raid? He replied that that wasn’t the case, but that there was a large gang of youths shouting abuse and causing trouble.  I asked whether they were queer-bashing people –  and he replied that he wasn’t sure if they were or not.

So I started shouting at the fleeing faggots, admonishing them for being a bunch of pansy cowards. Why wouldn’t they just turn around – complete with ‘attack-poodles’ – and face-up to their erstwhile attackers, who were apparently a bunch of kids?  There were at least a hundred of us – so I suggested that we face-up the little fuckers!  They ignored me and streamed out of the gates. What a bunch of wusses.

I was determined to not be beaten (either figuratively or literally) by some ignorant teenaged boys, so strode manfully up ‘The Walk’ singing soulfully, as was my wont, until I reached the bench that was positioned by the entrance to the Youth Hostel, which is all that remains of Holland House, the park being its former grounds, which had been purchased by London County Council in the the year I was born, from it’s last owner, the 6th Earl Of Ilchester (it says here  on my MAC – now that I’m editing and revising all this at home: ah – the joys of Google and Wikipedia!).

I sat down on the bench and started to make a roll-up.  I could hear the ‘gang’ approaching, but their shouting was becoming more and more muted, as there was obviously no-one left to abuse – apart from me, I suppose. Eventually, it just became teenaged chatter as they drew level with where I was sitting, as I lit my cigarette. I nodded at them – they looked about 17 or 18 years-old and there were perhaps twelve of them, mostly white. There were three mixed-race boys too. One of them asked me for a light and I lit his cigarette for him, asking him what all the shouting was about. He replied that ‘they were just having a bit of a laugh’.  The other boys shuffled their feet sheepishly.

‘You’re not queer are you?’ Asked a white boy, as if to suggest that I couldn’t be, because I didn’t look it.

‘Does it matter whether I am or am not? I suggested, shrugging, with a grin. ‘As it happens, I am, and I don’t give a damn what you think…’

‘You don’t look queer mate,’ said the mixed-race boy with the cigarette, ‘what’s it like to be a homo?’

I suggested that, if they’d like to know, that they were welcome; but to bear in mind that not all queers, homos or gay people, were homogenous, or  ‘the same’, but that we were a minority which comprised different cultures and personalities, predilections and preferences, just like black people, for instance, and that, ultimately, we were just human beings. Then I started revealing the names of some famous people – singers, sports-people – who were gay (if not ‘out’) and that really grabbed their interest and soon they were sitting on the grass in front of me in a neat semi-circle. The ‘queer-bashers’ had been neutralized – and I was rather pleased that my devil-may-care – perhaps brave – approach had worked.  It could have all turned out quite differently, but my instincts proved to be correct.

After about half an hour of ‘education’ from Thom T – it transpired that they all attended the famously liberal, comprehensive school which was adjacent to the park – they all shook my hand and trooped off – newly enlightened; leaving me with a smile on my face and  sporting a pleasantly proactive, metaphorical productivity badge.

On another occasion – I think it was a couple of years earlier –  I had been heading home through ‘The Walk’ on a cold autumn night – it was pretty deserted as a result – and heard a commotion up ahead and came across a white thug actually attacking a black guy, who I assumed to be gay. My survival instinct kicked-in so I shouted forcefully at him to stop, which, to my amazement he did, and ran off. The black guy was just a bit winded and his face (which was very handsome) was bleeding slightly.

Once he’d caught his breath, he smiled, looked me in the eye (he had huge, soulful eyes) and thanked me profusely for rescuing him, and asked if I would like to come for a drink at his flat around the corner in Philbeach Gardens (how very posh!). I happily agreed and was pleased when he hugged me, This not-so-beaten homosexual appeared to be one beautiful (and, as it soon transpired) intelligent and charming man.

His flat was a spacious, one-bedroom garden flat which was very stylish and chic – he evidently had style and taste as well.  I asked him his name as he poured me a Remi Martin.

‘Rodney Meadows’, he replied.

That rang a bell somewhere… wasn’t he the up-and-coming couturier who’d grown-up in a children’s home?

‘Didn’t I read something about you in The Evening News?’ I asked, as he handed me a large brandy glass – swilling it around and taking a grateful gulp.

‘Yeah – Black, British Former Orphan Dresses Foreign Princesses,’ he said in a mockney voice, then, reverting to his well-spoken self, added: ‘all a bit embarrassing really, as they are just faux royalty from some tin pot principality.  I met them at a party and now they’ve become customers.’

‘A terrific career boost though, ‘I suggested clinking his glass, as he sat down beside me on the huge, low-slung, black leather, Italian sofa. Our eyes met… and… well, you can guess.

We had a wonderful night together, which soon evolved into an easy-going semi-relationship, for about six months, before he became something of a shooting star in in the fickle world of fashion and got swept-up into that swirling whirlpool of cocktails, air-kissing, bitching and bullshit.

We always stayed as friends – we recently ‘added’ each other on People Pages – and subsequently, I couldn’t resist privately asking him my veritable pertinent question in his ‘inbox’: ‘So how is the Princess?’ Knowing full well what his reply would be.

‘Which one?’

//

//

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My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 6

25 Aug

The Living Room Window Looking Out To Sea

A Stately Home And A Baleairic Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“20.8.1988

Plaza Real.

4pm

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

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

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

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

10pm.

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

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

Why am I so deprived of emotional fulfillment?

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

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

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

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

I return to the diary.

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

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

When we dance,  we dance… alone.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ibiza

22.8.1988

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

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

22.8.1988.

In The Cathedral in The Castle.

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

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

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

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

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

The Keeper Of The Keys

The keeper of the keys

is watching from the waterside,

he’s waiting for the ferry man

to take him for a ride.

The keeper of the keys

is fated to be engaged, 

to someone who is invisible

and locked in their own cage.

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

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

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

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

The maker of the waves

is waiting for the full moon tide

He’s not fated to be otherwise

Every storm is his to ride.

The angel of the dark

is staring through your window.

No more demons bringing broken dreams,

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

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

he changes with every stranger that he meets.

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

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

The keeper of the keys.

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

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

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

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

So, did I find the secret garden?

I turn the page to find out more.

“Cafe Montesol

Mon. 22.8.1988

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

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

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

Ibiza – I have arrived!”