Tag Archives: NYC

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 12.

22 Oct

Farewell To NYC; Fear And Loathing In Florida – then Back Home To Rancho Deluxe.

 

 

Rockerfeller Plaza.

Rockerfeller Plaza.

 

When I got back to the hotel, I was elated and excited and gushed-out the unbelievably good news to Leonardo; but he seemed oddly unmoved, as if I’d made it all up.  After all, wasn’t I just a struggling artist who lived in one room in a semi-derelict basement in Notting Hill, who was lucky enough to enjoy ‘his lordship’s’ gracious patronage? Undaunted, although somewhat non-plussed, I asked him where we might celebrate my  sudden change of fortune – and he suggested, almost reluctantly, that we could eat at the NYC branch of Fred Dexter, one of my favourite London restaurants (where Jeremy Organ, Christa’s ex-husband, had always spoiled us with endless, free bottles of Rioja Siglo when he’d been Maitre’D) and then we could go to one of NYC’s hottest clubs, the Paradise Garage.

Then he was on the phone again, ordering more cocaine and rent boys, and soon went out, leaving me to my own devices. I was immediately on the phone myself, excitedly telling Christa and my mother the amazing news that I’d landed a major record deal in NYC within THREE days!  They were, naturally, thrilled.

I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t all for real. And I was correct. That didn’t mean that it was all going to be hunky dory in the long-term.

Then I remembered an offer of anther kind that had been made by Cody Cadillac, a good-looking, white, thirty five-year old, erstwhile radio DJ from Miami, after we’d spent a wild weekend fucking and taking cocaine (which he’d willingly paid for) at my dingy basement in Notting Hill, in the spring of ‘79.  He’d said that if ever I was in the US, that I had to come and visit him in Miami – and that he’d happily pick-up the tab for a cheap, standby flight (you could get them easily in those days – how retro-civilised). So I called him.  He seemed surprised, yet pleased to hear from me, especially when I told him the good news about my record deal with Inco. He immediately steamed-in with:  ‘Hey man, I can be one of the first people to play your album in the US! Can you arrange an exclusive?’

‘Well, I haven’t even started to make the album yet, Cody,’ I dead-panned, ‘But I’m sure that will be possible.  I’ll give you a call in a couple of days to let you know when I’m coming, so that you can arrange a standby ticket for me to collect at JFK.  I may well have just been offered a record deal  – but I’m stony broke!’

There was a tangible pause, then he said:  ‘Well…I did, er, offer to pay for your flight… so no problemo dude – I’ll see ya in a few days!’

My first, tropical adventure!  Images of the 60s TV show ‘Flipper’ flashed through my mind, along with the recalcitrant (for their time) cultural legacies of Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway… and my own lustful thoughts of beautiful, coffee-coloured, Cuban men.

Flipper

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

I floated-off on a cloud of joy for a celebratory saunter down Broadway – which seemed somehow appropriate – then wove my way through the leafy streets of The West Village, looking at (and trying to peek inside) the fabulous houses and apartments, and fantasising about which one I might one day live in.  My mind was buzzing with plans and possibilities.  I felt like I was walking on air and was suddenly aware that I was probably grinning like an idiot. All my wildest dreams had suddenly, potentially fallen into place: Torn Genes, my second album, was definitely going to be recorded AND I was going to be managed by Phil Oldbelly, the manager of The Why.  Wow!  I wondered who might produce my album – perhaps the American mega-producer Vinnie James? Then, might I come and live in New York?  I was already in love with this exciting, over-the-top, fascinating and teeming metropolis: such a beautiful city in its own uniquely edgy, urban way.

That evening, a strangely subdued Leonardo took me to Fred Dexter, which looked exactly like the London branch – all exposed bricks, red-checked tablecloths and theatre posters.  And the waiters (mostly gay) were just as rude as those in London.  The menu was pretty much the same as well: basically (white) soul food from the American South. They even stocked my favourite Rioja Siglo, in its signature, hessian-covered bottle, although this time it wasn’t free.  Well, not to the Count, at least. He’d indicated that a certain black and famously outrageous female superstar might be joining us, but she never showed-up.  Leonardo had, at least ‘introduced’ me to her on the phone before we left, presumably to impress me – and possibly her. ‘This is Thom Topham and he has just got a record deal with Inco: Thom: meet Joan Grayson!’ He’d passed me the phone. She purred  – or was it slurred? – ‘Heeelloo Thom!’ in my ear.

Rioja Siglo

I did actually meet her many years later at a club night called The Pleasure Garden at The Oven, in Brixton in London… but that’s another story – and almost a chapter in itself. Suffice to say that it involved me and her and her entourage of jealous and suspicious (of me) queens driving around South London in a mini-cab in an unsuccessful search for cocaine, whilst she flirted with me in an overtly sexual fashion. Eventually, after an unsuccessful quest, as we neared my home near Elephant And Castle, I made my excuses (what – you couldn’t find cocaine for Joan Grayson, dammit!?) and went home, with my tail, to a degree, between my legs. But then again… even superstars can’t get drugs willy-nilly –  it’s not like going to a late-night supermarket – and nor can they ‘convert’ gay men… unless said gays are hustlers, out for what they might get.

Having paid the bill, Leonardo had suggested that we ‘freshen up’ before heading for The Paradise Garage.  That meant snorting a big line of coke off the mahogany shelf on top of a cistern in the cubicles in ‘the men’s room’ at Fred Dexter, and popping a ‘lude’ (qualude) each.

The Paradise Garage Building By Day,

The Paradise Garage Building By Day

We headed for Hudson Square and found a sizeable crowd hanging outside what was a former, two story, art-deco parking garage. The dress code – if there was one – seemed far less flamboyant than at Studio 54 – more funky-bohemian – and the people waiting to get in were a polysexual (as we’d say these days) mix of black/white/latino/gay/straight/male/female – and the vibe was buzzin’  – and so where the people… literally.

We were swished through the ubiquitous velvet ropes and walked up the long, concrete ramp which led into the club, which was flanked by walls filled with thousands of plain, white lightbulbs – which was a bit startling – then straight into a huge, rectangular dance floor about the same size and shape as a British football pitch.  Arranged at regular intervals all around the perimeter were huge stacks of white, floor-to-ceiling speakers which were pumping out the most exhilarating and soulful grooves – what was soon to be known as ‘New York garage music’ – with a heaving crowd making shapes with genuinely happy faces and much warmth and good energy. The atmosphere was totally electric and uplifting, and I’d never heard such a powerful sound system – the bass almost knocked you off your feet.

Paradise crowd dancing

There was no alcohol – just various fresh juices, sodas and waters.  The walls were black and unadorned, apart from some huge projections at one end of the dance floor.  The bar itself was like a giant, raised refectory table – and this was in a large, separate room which also featured a cinema, which had simple, wooden ‘bleachers’ (like you’d see at American collegiate sports fields) and was showing cool, underground films, without sound.  There were large bowls of fruit punch – which was free – served in Styrofoam cups.  This was, of course, rumoured to be laced with something-or-other.  I had no reason not to believe it, as I was already dancing on the ceiling, at least metaphorically speaking.

There was no V.I.P area per se, apart perhaps from the DJ booth, which was a large, wooden room with unglazed windows overlooking the heaving throng, reached by stairs to one side of the centre of the dance floor.

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

PG Flyer by Keith Haring

Even Leonardo’s apparent celebrity couldn’t get us past the forbidding-looking security guards who controlled access to the legendary DJ Danny Divano, who played (allegedly drug-fuelled) four or five-hour sets of monstrously good music.

Many years later, in the early autumn of 1992, I was at a record company party at London’s  later answer to The Paradise Garage – The Department Of Dance in Elephant and Castle – and I was getting a (free) beer at the long, concrete bar, when Jonathan Goldberg, one of the co-founders of the club, sauntered over with a handsome, black man who appeared to be in his late thirties, wearing a red plaid shirt and jeans, sporting a crew-cut and a neatly-trimmed, goatee beard. ‘Hi Thom,’ said JG, as he was known, ‘I’d like you to meet Danny… Danny Divano.’ Then he promptly disappeared, leaving the DJ legend and I locked in to… what felt to me… to us… like love at first sight. Our eyes were immediately looking deep into each of our souls as we talked… and talked… and talked; as if we’d known each other all our lives.  This was interrupted only by visits to the gents (or men’s room, if you prefer) to partake of the excellent coke which he kindly shared with me.

Six hours later, after we’d spent a wonderful night talking, bonding and falling in love, he had to leave, to catch a flight to France.  This was after we’d exchanged numbers and agreed to work together in the recording studio in East London that I was handling PR for, at the time.  I walked with him to the exit with my arms around his muscular shoulders and we hugged and looked each other in the eyes. Then he walked backwards down the ramp – sporting a huge smile – and shouted repeatedly ‘Somebody understands me! Yeah! Somebody finally fuckin’ understands me!’

His arms were outstretched and sending me  a whole lotta love, as he disappeared into the cold, grey light of a London dawn.

I had heard that he was rumoured to be a heroin addict – but saw no evidence of that on that unforgettable night when we met.

Danny died of a heart attack in November of that year, in New York.

Back at The Paradise Garage in 1979, after an exhilarating night, the crowd was finally thinning out and the lights were coming on – I think it was about 5am. Much to my surprise, Leonardo suggested that we go to another club, which was downtown in Wall Street (of all the unlikely places), and was called AM/PM, as it was an after-hours club which opened at 5am and closed at 5pm.  Yes, really!  The club was spread over five floors and was like an ice-palace, as everything was white – all the staff were dressed in white as well.  Apart from the ground-level dance floor, each floor above was a V.I.P-only space and, as you went up, eventually to the fifth floor, each space became more exclusive and difficult to get into.  This is a faintly ludicrous tower of elitism, I remember thinking, as we were swished through the (white) velvet ropes into the penthouse  – where huge amounts of cocaine where freely available on the white marble ledge surrounding a tinkling ice-fountain. And the only drink that was available  – at huge cost – was vintage champagne. This was excess at its most outrageous.  The atmosphere, as a result, was cold and slightly twisted, and the people were wired and aloof – in stark contrast to the warm vibes of the incomparable Paradise Garage.  We soon knocked back our champagne and returned to the hotel to sleep for a few hours, before I was due to attend my second meeting at Inco Records, which was, thankfully, scheduled for the civilised hour of 5pm.

Phil Oldbelly had left a message saying that he’d call at 3.30pm.  So I was showered and dressed and drinking a cappuccino (I’d soon given up trying to get a decent cup of tea), when the phone rang.  Phil explained that Inco had faxed-over a ‘Heads Of Agreement’ to him, which was a preliminary ‘letter of intent’, prior to a full-blown contract, and that his lawyer had okayed it for me to sign when I went to the meeting later. He explained that there was to be an advance of £35,000 for the first album, which was to be released worldwide in 1980, and then the record company would pay an advance of £45,000 for a second album, should they decide to take up the option to renew my contract.

This was a lot of money in 1979, especially for a unknown artist like me. That was £80K… at least on paper.  What he neglected to point out was that the advances also had to pay for the recording costs.

The meeting was with Vince Verrucio, Inco’s head of A&R (an acronym for the quaintly old-fashioned  – even in 1979 – ‘Artist and Repertoire’) in an office only marginally less plush than that of the label’s president, whom, he explained, ‘was doing business in LA’. Meaningless niceties were exchanged ‘Great to have ya on board Thom, everybody thinks that you’re gonna be a huge rock star man!’ Etc etc… blah blah, before the letter was produced with a flourish, for me to sign, as all the staff trooped-in, led by Morris’s  secretary Claudia, wheeling a black and chrome drinks trolley full of jangling champagne bottles and silver flutes (of the drinking variety). Much gushing from the assembled staff ensued as I basked in the attention, at least in theory. I think I was more embarrassed than enamoured by this group of corporate zombies who had sprung from the US record industry’s central casting agency – all homilies and fakery and teeth and smiles.

I felt a juddering sensation under me, and there was a strange jangling sound as I looked-up from the front seat on the empty, upper deck of the bus to Raleigh, which seemed to have transmogrified into a boat. We were crossing the estuary, close by all the naval docks and hangars.  I blinked, then realised, of course, that the bus had driven on to the front of the ‘floating bridge’ vehicle ferry and that the loud jangling was the sound of the huge chains which were being pulled through capstans to get us to the other side. I looked out to sea for the last time with a  nostalgic sigh, as we headed through Raleigh’s dreary, pebble-dashed suburbs towards the station.

Top Point Ferry

I flicked through my ‘79 notebook, but there was no mention of my leaving NYC, the standby ticket that Cody Cadillac had arranged for me to pick-up at JFK and the adventures and nightmare scenarios that were later to follow in Florida.

I remember that the flight to Miami was on some obscure South American Airline – I think it was, somewhat latterly appropriately, Columbian – and that this ancient plane actually had rust on the wings, the seats were full of holes which had been patched-up with gaffer tape and the plane shuddered violently as it took-off.  This was something of a white-knuckle ride, which was mercifully, relatively short.  I recall imagining that the jet was probably held together with elastic bands.

When the automatic, glass doors slid open as I exited Miami’s air-conditioned airport, the heat hit me like a fireball. This was, after all, my first visit to a tropical destination. Cody waved to me from his huge, two-tone, cream-and-white, Sixties Cadillac convertible-with-its-top-down, which was parked nearby. I threw my bags into the back and jumped into the white-leather passenger seat as we greeted each other with a hug.  He immediately flipped-open the over-sized glove box in front of me with a broad grin.  This revealed two huge lines of coke and a massive joint:  ‘Grade A, 99% pure Columbian and a joint of pure Hawaiian buds,’ he drawled, handing me a rolled-up fifty-dollar note, ‘welcome to Miami!’

Then he took me on a tour of this rather beautiful  – at least in parts – city.  In my suddenly-mega-stoned state, I was particularly taken with all the run-down, art deco hotels and apartment blocks which flanked Miami Beach and asked him why they hadn’t been redeveloped (ever-prescient, me).  He replied that this was where the poorer, Jewish people came to die and that people of class were only interested in brand-new condos and the newly-created, man-made islands featuring clusters of rather vulgar, Spanish-colonial-style mansions which were materialising in the shallow waters around the city.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

Cody then took me for a late lunch in a waterside restaurant, where he insisted that I try one of the local delicacies, Clam Chowder, which I loved, and Key Lime Pie, which I thought was sickly-sweet and disgusting.

Then we headed for Miami’s inner suburbs, through endlessly cloned, palm-fringed streets of little white, Spanish-style houses with white picket fences and neatly trimmed front lawns. Suddenly I was in every American horror film I’d ever seen; but I wasn’t getting paranoid… just yet.

His house was larger-than-usual, white, modernist and vaguely Spanish-influenced, with what looked like a sizable garden full of fruit trees.  As he unlocked the tall, wooden front door, we entered a cool, double-height, living space with a vaulted ceiling where everything was white, apart from a latino youth who looked really young, who was sprawled on one of two huge white sofas watching  – was it ‘Peyton Place’ with Spanish overdubs? – on an enormous TV.

‘Hey Henrique, this is Thom , my rock star friend from London, he just got a record deal in New York! In three days!’ Gushed Cody, kicking the boys legs. The boy looked-up blankly and said ‘Hi.’ Then returned to the TV.

‘Henrique hangs out here.’ Said Cody, by way of vague explanation. ‘His parents are illegal Cuban immigrants.’

Charming, I thought, by now getting the first hint that all was not what it might have seemed. Henrique looked about sixteen at the most.

Cody showed me around the spacious house, which had three bedrooms, and then the garden, proudly inviting me to pick avocados, peaches, oranges and lemons off the trees. I was impressed on a horticultural level, but couldn’t avoid the nagging thoughts – not paranoia, just instincts – which were invading my consciousness.

He’d already offered me two more huge lines of Coke, which I’d declined (he’d looked offended).  I’d tried to explain that I didn’t need to do lines of coke every fifteen minutes, no matter how good it was (and indeed it was).

It suddenly seemed like I’d jumped from Leonardo’s frying pan into Cody’s fire. And he made it clear that he wanted sex. With me and Henrique.  I was not interested, and feigned tiredness, asking if I might take a nap. Then the phone rang. He spoke in Spanish; then after telling Henrique to go home, he informed me that some very important guys were coming around in a few minutes, and could I keep them talking about my rock-star credentials, whilst he dealt with ‘some business’ in the back?  I reluctantly agreed.

Cody disappeared into his bedroom and there was soon a knock at the door and I opened it to find three huge, muscular, tattooed Cuban guys with their tops off, with guns… yes GUNS… in holsters in the belts of their jeans.

Cody rushed out from whatever ‘business’ he was attending to and hurriedly and enthusiastically introduced me:  ‘This is my hombre Thom Topham from London, England, he’s just signed a major record deal with Inco Records in New York and is staying with me to sort out a live performance and an exclusive, first airing of his album on my radio show on Hex247.FM!  His manager looks after The Why as well! I’m just sorting out your merchandise!’ He then scurried back into his bedroom, leaving me to sweet-talk these fearsome-looking gangsters – the reality now suddenly dawning on me that he was probably ‘cutting’ industrial quantities of cocaine to sell to them.

I had no choice but to deliver an Oscar-winning performance. The Why were massive in America, especially after they’d starred in the seminal rock/festival film ‘Hipstock’ over a decade before – and the Cuban gangsters seemed to be immediately impressed with my connections and credentials.

‘Did you ever meet Wally Planet, their drummer who died from an OD last year?’ Asked one, in a heavy Cuban accent. Luckily, I could add veracity to my reply, as indeed I had met him backstage at a huge outdoor gig at West Ham FC’s Upton Park Stadium in 1976, where Christa had introduced us.

I tried to suppress horny thoughts of the hunky, mix-race, West Ham apprentice whom I’d met outside the phone box in Notting Hill a few months before – when we’d had delicious, sunny afternoon sex.  Whatever happened to him?

Si senor, I did meet Wally.’  I told him.  ‘My friend Christa invited me to their gig in a football stadium in East London, and all the V.I.Ps were in a the stand behind the stage, so we were able to observe his antics at close quarters…’

The three gangsters nodded their approval at each other.  Evidently, it was quite unusual for them to meet someone so apparently close to British rock royalty.

‘His drum roadie brought him a pint glass of clear liquid – my friend Chrysta, who now works for their management company – told me that it was an extremely large gin and tonic.’

The gangsters laughed approvingly.

‘It was during a musical breakdown.  He took a gulp then threw it all over his roadie, after the guy had enthusiastically banged the massive gong behind his drum kit for him, then he continued to play his drums in typically manic fashion.’

Now the gangsters were slapping me on the shoulders – so it looked like Cody and I weren’t about to get shot – and another one asked me if I’d ever met Eric Clapton.  Again, veracity added integrity to my anecdote.

I told them how I’d been recording in Island Studios in Notting Hill in 1975 – for my proposed second album with a major label – and how I’d heard this fantastic reggae backing track coming out of the open door of the smaller studio downstairs (I was recording in the main studio upstairs) when I’d gone down to get a sandwich from the café and had poked my head around the door to say hi – and had been handed a huge joint by a guy with dreadlocks who’d said: “Hi – my name’s Bob… Bob Marley.”

Now the Cubans were applauding every sentence and apparently eating out of my hands, much to my relief. I remember hoping that Cody wasn’t cutting the coke too much and thereby potentially incurring their wrath… and why hadn’t he actually mentioned that he was coke dealer, before continuing with my recollections.

“Then this guy walked into the studio with a guitar case and Bob Marley said: ‘Thom, I’d like you to meet Eric, he’s gonna play some lead guitar on our track ‘Jammin’”

‘Wowza!’  Exlaimed the Cubans, in unison.

‘Then, later that evening, I ended-up playing table football with Clapton, Marley and his bass-player Peter Tosh.’  I added with an anecdotal flourish (all true), as Cody returned with what appeared to be several ounces of the white stuff.  The Cubans sampled it and left, apparently satisfied, after handing-over several thousand dollars.

Cody, the newly-revealed-major-coke-dealer, thanked me for being ‘a genuine English rock dude’ and suggested that we go out to dinner in ‘a really cool, Cuban place, where he knew everyone.’

We jumped into the Cadillac on a typically sultry Miami night and he stopped-off to show me Coconut Grove, which appeared to be Miami’s equally vulgar and ostentatious answer to Rodeo Drive in LA, then drove us to a Cuban neighbourhood, which appeared to be quite edgy, in a filmic kind of fashion. We pulled up in the parking lot of a seedy-looking motel – there was mucho technicolour neon – and walked through swing doors into a huge diner, which featured several rectangular bars-in-a-row – like horizontal, architectural castellations – where around 20 people ate at each one, sitting on stools, served by waiters from within. Cody’s rictus, coke-induced grin never left his face as one of these serving stations immediately cleared as we walked in – rather like when the piano player stops playing and everyone stares when dodgy strangers walk into a wild-west saloon.

‘Hey, that’s cool, mi amigos are making sure we get a seat,’ he insisted, in a totally delusional fashion, ‘Everybody loves my radio show in Miami!’

You could have cut the air with a knife.  It was obvious that us gringos were not at all welcome in this Hispanic eatery, but he was oblivious.  He ordered us Mojitos and was suggesting that we eat Ropa Vieja, which he explained was the Cuban national dish.  I made an excuse that I wasn’t hungry, and I gulped down my drink and managed to get us out of there… hopefully before his car got trashed or stolen outside.  Mind you, I guessed that these Cubans weren’t really interested in vintage cars – surely, they had enough of those back home in Havana – albeit far from as pristine as Cody Cadillac’s 60s Cadillac.

I finally gave-in to having a line of coke from the proverbial glove box, before he took me on tour of some amazing gay clubs, which were all in an industrial zone not far from the centre.  They were situated in anonymous-looking, converted factories and featured large, outdoor terraces or gardens, which were invisible behind high walls and… the music. Wow! This was an incredible blend of latin and soul, which was uplifting, vibrant and eminently danceable. This was, of course, later to become known as The Miami Sound. I seem to remember having a quickie with a beautiful Cuban guy in a toilet cubicle. Me bad. Hey – it was time to at least enjoy the high… after the low of realising that I was not with one of the good guys. Cody was evidently a jerk.

When we got back to his place in the early hours, he wanted to have sex, but I wasn’t interested, as now I’d discovered the real him.  He insisted on sucking my cock for hours, even whilst I was asleep, which was extremely irritating. Eventually, I escaped to the guest bedroom in the eaves – which, unfortunately, didn’t have one of those ubiquitous, metal air-conditioning units on the window ledge.  Somehow, despite the heat, I managed to sleep for a few hours, before he woke me up by sucking my cock obsessively and offering me cocaine, which I refused.

Now I was beginning to feel trapped. I had no money… at all.  I couldn’t escape, not without a cheap standby flight back to the UK.

In his inimitable and irritable coked-out manner, Cody suddenly offered me two options.  Would I prefer to visit Disneyland, or The Florida Keys?  The latter, I said immediately. Perhaps I might meet someone civilised who could help me escape from this maniac?  I’d heard that Key West was already a major, gay ‘destination’ and was intrigued, regardless of my host’s moronic nature, thinking of drinking-in the cultural history of the island as well, ‘Flipper’ notwithstanding. Perhaps he might find someone else to have sex with, and leave me to my own devices?

Now the double-decker bus was pulling into Raleigh train station and I clambered out with my bags, noting that I had at least half an hour before my train was due to arrive.  I was trying to recall: how the hell did I extricate myself from the evil clutches of the Miami moron? I found an empty bench to sit on and flicked through to the end of my ’79 notebook, looking for clues.  Again, there was nothing relating to Miami or The Florida Keys. Although I was distracted by an entry which read:

“Break The Chain… 10.12 ’79.

Move into 25 Eavesham Road in Holland Park.  RENT FREE!”

Evidently, I was finally to escape from the grungy basement flat in Notting Hill, it would seem, soon after my evidently successful escape, well, return, from the US.  This was a beautiful, spacious, one-bedroomed garden flat in Holland Park (yes, really), a Victorian terrace that was ‘owned’ (it later turned out that it was actually a squat) by a female friend of Pete Knacker, who’d played bass on my ‘Torn Genes’ demos and was later to play on the eponymous album early in 1980.  Perhaps inspired by my recent adventures in NYC and Florida, I later turned this unexpected dream-home into a completely, all white-space.  The diary then records how the bass-player’s friend then suddenly demanded £21 a week for me to live there, once she’d discovered that I had a record deal worth £80K.  Never trust a hippy, as Johnny Rotten had once snarled.

Then my Miami memory banks kicked-in once more, like overloaded, external hard drives (not that anyone could have imagined what those were in the late seventies – that would have been the stuff of science fiction).

Cody had suggested that we pack small bags with enough clothes for a few days. There was no need for a passport. We threw them into the trunk (aka boot) and set off for the Florida Keys at around 6 O’clock in the evening.  ‘On the way, we’ll stop off for dinner at an exclusive restaurant where everyone knows me – we’ll get one of the best tables!’ He’d stated bombastically, his all-ready coke-induced, over-inflated ego on overdrive, ‘then it’s just a couple of hour’s drive to Key West.’

Part of me was loving this sultry, tropical faux-romance of living life on the edge in an enormous 60s Cadillac convertible – although I’d have preferred it to be without him – and I was almost morbidly attracted by the evident danger of various ‘On The Road’ fantasies.  But my antennae were waving around frantically on top of my head on red alert, like an imaginary moose’s antlers, totally unaware of where I might be heading, being driven on a twisted road to nowhere by a drug-fucked lunatic. .

After we’d passed through the first of the Florida Keys (islands) – which was fairly unspectacular, just shopping malls, motels and gas stations – and crossed a longish bridge, he drove through some huge, ornate, wrought-iron gates and pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a Spanish-style, Hollywood mansion. ‘Welcome to Casa  Fantastico, the most exclusive restaurant in Key Largo!’ He trumpeted, as we screeched to a halt right outside the front entrance, before he threw his car keys to a ‘valet parker’, wrapped in a fifty-dollar bill.  Images of Humphrey Bogart crept into my mind.

He ushered me into the lobby, which looked like something from a Joan Crawford movie – but without any apparent irony. A female receptionist, who was dressed like Mildred Pearce (was there a theme here?) asked curtly if we had a reservation. My dubious host replied:  ‘We don’t need a reservation, I’m Cody Cadillac of Hex247.FM – I’ve been coming here for years!’

The receptionist looked down her nose at him and replied: ‘I wasn’t aware that the station was back on air…’

Cody gulped momentarily and stammered: ‘Oh, it’s just a temporary aberration my dear… a misunderstanding over taxes… now will you please let us in? I’m Cody Cadillac!’

Part of me was enjoying his humiliation, another part was hungry and another thought… let’s get the fuck out of here.

‘I’m sorry Mr Cadillac, but you don’t have a booking.’

I grabbed his arm and said: ‘Obviously there’s been some mistake, I think we should go.’

The receptionist raised her plucked eyebrows at me, as if to say… yes, I think you should.

‘I’m sure there are other fabulous restaurants on the Florida Keys where  we can dine with impunity.’ I stated firmly, grabbing him by the arm and marching him out of the building.

The parking valet looked a little surprised, as we’d returned so swiftly, but brought the car back regardless. He didn’t get a tip this time.

After we’d driven a few hundred yards, Cody – now palpably angry –  pulled up on the edge of the road, took a swig from a bottle of tequila (50% proof), passed it to me, and chopped us out two huge lines of coke and suggested that we drop another ‘lude’ each to help get us to our destination – Key West, about a hundred miles away. I complied, if only to help make sure that we got there in one piece. I was evidently on a road trip with a psycho – this was turning into fear and loathing…in Florida.

THE HIGHWAY THAT GOES TO SEA CONNECTS KEY WEST TO THE MAINLAND OF FLORIDA

The road, it’s called Highway 1, to Key West from Miami is a very unusual thing in the US – it only has (or ‘had’ – maybe it’s been upgraded since) two lanes  – yes, two lanes – once it enters The Florida Keys, as it was built over the tracks of the old Florida Coast East Railway line, much of which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1936. There are several bridges linking the Keys, one of which is seven miles long.  With two lanes… and only one thin ‘hard shoulder’.

There is a drop of scores of feet to the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico to your right, and to the Atlantic to your left.

We’d stopped off for a coffee and a burger at some tacky diner on the way, where an obese couple wearing matching Hawaiian shirts at the next table had commented on my ‘cute accent’ and had asked whether ‘I knew The Beatles’. I seem  to recall merely replying ‘No.’ And then ignoring them. The initially amusingly ironic quirk of ignorant Americans-without-passports-or-any-knowledge-about-foreigners had soon worn thin.

Cody foolishly necked another lude with his coffee before we headed back to the car, with him on suddenly, unsteady feet. Now I was literally holding him up.

‘Cody,’ I urged, wondering if I should slap him (not just a wake-up call, but also because I was furious with him), isn’t there a motel where we can stay round here? You can’t drive in this state, and you know I don’t drive…’

‘Listen dude…’ he drawled, as we got back into the car, ‘we’ll just have some more coke, that’ll keep me awake and alert – there’s not far to go, we’ll be in Key West before you know it!’

He handed me another lude (which I pretended to take, then put in my pocket), before chopping us-out two more enormous lines.  This time, I had to take it, so that we’d have marginally less chance of dying whilst driving to America’s southernmost point.  Coke does at least keep you awake and relatively alert, whilst, particularly if you’re an asshole, you think that you’re the king of the road… and the world. I was a little more pragmatic (it’s called staying alive), as we headed for the next bridge.

‘Hey maaan!’ Shouted Cody, the sudden sea breeze blowing his hair into his eyes, ‘We’re now on one of the longest bridges in the whole goddam WORLD!  This is SEVEN MILE BRIDGE DUDE!’ Then accelerated violently.  Luckily, the bridge was relatively traffic free. Cackling like a maniac, he drove onto the wrong side of the road, and nearly brushed the low crash barrier that stood between us and the dark, swirling Gulf of Mexico, far below. My heart was beginning to palpitate, but I somehow managed to stay calm and in control. Now his head was starting to loll.

‘Cody!’ I shouted, grabbing his arm, trying to sound calm – rather than the reality, which was totally panicked… ‘Slow down man… you’re off your head Cody, you’ll kill us both if you don’t slow down.’  I could see the far-off  lights of an approaching car.

Cody suddenly blinked, shook his head, blinked, and mercifully stepped off the gas.  Then I grabbed the wheel and manoeuvred us back into the right-hand lane.

‘Look Cody, I said quietly, confidently and urgently, still holding onto the wheel, as we veered slightly to the left, ’we have to get over Seven Mile Bridge, then you can have a big line on the other side, wake-up a little and get us safely to Key West. OK?’

As soon as we’d miraculously reached the safety of the other side, he pulled into a parking lot and chopped us out two huge lines.  It was at this point that I slugged down the hidden lude with a large gulp of tequila.  I was exhausted after my terrifying ordeal and decided to take a risk and get in the back seat, stretch out and try and relax. Seemingly refreshed by the coke, Cody drove on and I promptly fell asleep.

I woke-up as we were driving through streets lined by beautiful, 19th century, French-colonial style houses and tall palms – like you see in movies set in New Orleans. But I was surprised to see that there was someone else in the passenger seat.

Key West nightUnknown

‘Where are we?’ I mumbled, asking Cody to pass me the bottle of tequila to slake my dry throat. A large, rather unattractive black man turned around and grinned at me with gap-teeth and slurred ‘Hi  – my name’s Guerilla.’

The next thing I knew was that were pulling into the forecourt of some garish sort of guesthouse.  It was constructed of wood, painted an unpleasant shade of apple green, and looked like it had been built in the 50s, perhaps as the set for a B-horror movie.

We grabbed our bags and headed inside, along with Guerilla, then found ourselves in a sparsely furnished ‘triple room’.  There was one double and one single bed, both covered in gruesome, green and purple, floral-patterned nylon ‘comforters’.  I just wanted to go to sleep, but no, Cody had decided that we were going to have a threesome with Guerilla. I’d already tried to crash out when I found a huge, black dick nudging against my mouth. I reluctantly opened my eyes and noticed that it was completely bent – at right angles, like an L-shaped, 12–inch nightmare.

Then, mercifully, I passed out.

Bright sunlight filtered through the orange, rayon curtains as I heard Cody organising coffees for us on the phone.  The display on the cheap, pink plastic bedside radio-alarm showed 3pm.

‘Where’s Guerilla, I asked, stumbling into the mould-infested shower-room to get a glass of water.

‘He had business to attend to.’ said Cody soberly.

I went to get my bag.  I’d put it in the bedside cupboard before I’d passed out.

‘Cody, what did you do with my bag?’

‘What are you talking about?’ he replied irritably, like all people who need a line of coke with their morning coffee.

The bag was gone, obviously stolen by Guerilla and his L-shaped dick. There went my brand new Levi 501s, several T-shirts, swimming shorts, pants and socks, but not, thankfully, my passport or my treasured, black-leather biker jacket, which I’d left at Cody’s hacienda.

Cody was somewhat contrite and took me shopping for replacements after we’d had brunch on the terrace of a beautiful, funky, bohemian restaurant on the beach.  Then we headed to a idyllic beach  – white sand and palm trees, natch – which was full of seriously beautiful men, and sunbathed on the pier, which stretched into the bay. I went swimming from there in the limpid, blue water, and was hauling myself out of the sea when I clearly remember a huge stingray swimming directly beneath me.  Argghhh!

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Then I met some guys who invited me to go out on their Hobie Cat – one of those smallish, one-sailed catamarans with canvas slung between the floats. There were three of us, dressed in shorts… and it was an exhilarating and exciting experience.  The wind out at sea was quite strong and you had to hang off the edge of the floats to stop the boat capsizing.  It was brilliant, an experience I’ll never forget, rather like the dreaded crossing of Seven Mile Bridge, but perhaps marginally less life-threatening.

We stayed at the ghastly, green guesthouse for a couple of days, and, somehow, Cody calmed down, as if he’d developed a kind of reluctant respect for me and my lack of need, or reliance, for coke.  I loved wandering around the island, drinking in the ghost of Hemingway (who’d penned the immortal line: ‘write drunk, edit sober’) and wondering if Tennessee Williams still lived there.  Apparently not.

Of course, as you may recall, I was to meet TW a few years later with Christa, at The Phoenix Theatre in London, for the performance of ‘The Red Devil Battery Sign’,  which was, sadly, to prove to be his final play.Red Devil

Everywhere you looked there were beautiful, masculine ‘out’ gay men.  But they were all white (apart from their suntans); there was not a gay Cuban or black man in sight, apart from those collecting glasses in the bars, emptying garbage or performing various other menial roles.

I managed to briefly escape from Cody  – he’d found himself some new young boy to corrupt – to go and hang out at one of the most amazing gay clubs I’d ever been to. It was called The Monster.  It was mostly outdoors and had obviously been inspired by the 1950s movie The Swiss Family Robinson, which, by some delicious coincidence, was the first film that I’d ever seen, aged about five.

monster-fl-keywest-outside-sign

It featured a series of  palm-thatched, wooden tree houses and terraces arranged over several floors, with a main dance floor surrounding a swimming pool on the ground level. Everywhere there were giant candles in antique lanterns and strings of coloured lights.  The atmosphere was completely chilled-yet-vibrant, with funky (as opposed to faggy) music to match – with large speakers hanging from the bridges connecting the various levels.  I seem to recall that I flirted with several men, but nothing happened, and it didn’t matter, I was in some kind of tropical, gay heaven where the guys were not all swishy queens – most of them seemed to be cool dudes, which made a change from the more conventional strictures of ‘the gay scene’ in London in 1979, which was mostly lost in the past and apparently going nowhere.

Luckily, Cody had run-out of drugs, and there seemed to be little available on the island apart from some excellent grass (yay!).  So, after a couple of days we headed back to Miami without mishap, but with me increasingly wondering how the hell I was going to get back to London. When I asked him about my standby ticket when we returned, Cody kept avoiding the subject and kept offering me more coke, which I increasingly refused.

I realised that he was on a reverse-psychological power trip, having effectively been rejected by me.

I just had to sit tight, but uptight would have described it better.

Eventually, after two or three days, he apparently came to his senses, realising that kidnapping a would-be English rock star was perhaps not a good idea, and drove me to the airport. Our farewells were terse.  I was just relieved to get the fuck out of his mad-zone.  It was only when I got on the plane that I realized that, in my rush to leave, I’d left behind my treasured black, leather biker jacket, which pissed me off no end.

A few months later, after I’d successfully finished recording and remixing my Torn Genes album, Christa and her then boyfriend Robert Burton, who was by now making a name for himself as an art director on major pop videos (thanks almost entirely to her), told me that they were going to Miami for a working holiday. So the ‘Contessa’ and I hatched a cunning plan. They would call Cody and go and hang-out with him – albeit briefly – as he would definitely be impressed by their celebrity credentials; then they would get loads of free coke, retrieve my leather jacket and fuck off on holiday.  Which is precisely what happened. Many happy karmic returns!

Once safely home, back in my dingy basement, I continued to plan for the recording of the album.  Now, apart from my scuzzy living environment, THIS was a reality I could handle.  All sorts of famous producers were offering their services, albeit, as I later found out, at a price. One day in early December I was in my management company’s office and Billie Oldbelly, Phil’s wife and erstwhile business partner, grinned and handed me a post-it note on which a famous rock star’s PA had scrawled: ‘Brody Davidoff loves Thom’s demos and would like to produce his Torn Genes album’.

This was beyond amazing.  Brody (as he was universally known) was one of my heroes; a left-field, charismatic artist who was truly mould-breaking, a terrific songwriter and singer who was in the habit of adopting different personas and identities and who was already a massive star. But, it later transpired, after I ended-up producing the album myself at Up The Creek Studios in Cornwall in early 1980, that Brody, then in his somewhat, visually cadaverous ‘Snow King’ persona, had been beyond strung-out on cocaine and various chemicals.  Shame.  Imagine what might have happened?  Many years later, in the late 90s, he sent me a fax, saying ‘The album still sounds great’, which I framed, and still hangs on the wall of the studio at Rancho Deluxe

At the time, when I’d enquired as to how negotiations with Brody’s people were progressing, Billie Oldbelly had said dismissively: ‘Oh we really think that your egos might rub-up a little, so we don’t think it’s a good idea.’  I remember retorting honestly (somewhat miffed, to say the least): ‘No way  – I’ll do anything that Brody tells me to do!’

The rest, as they say, wasn’t history.

An announcement came over the tannoy: the next train arriving at platform one will be the sixteen hundred train to London Maddington, stopping at….

My head was full of memories (The Paradise Garage, my all-white garden flat, the horror of Seven-Mile bridge, Up The Creek Studios) as I gathered my possessions, put my ’79 notebook into my bag and positioned myself on the platform where I thought I might be close to Coach C (I’m that sort of person – I love a mildly O.C.D challenge), where my booked seat was to be found.

The train drew in, smelling as ever of diesel and overflowing toilets, and my Coach C guess wasn’t too bad – I was positioned right by the end of Coach D.

I hauled my luggage into the corridor, stowed the big bag in the racks at the end of the carriage and headed for my seat, only to find that I was going to be squeezed into a window seat at a table with a harassed-looking mother and her two young kids. I reluctantly took-up my seat, as the children shrieked and jumped around, the one next to me hitting me in the ribs whilst having a tantrum, then spilling juice on my trousers.

After my blissful-yet-monastic week of self-induced rehab (a glass of wine or three echo… echo) I wasn’t in the mood to hang with the kids, and after about five minutes I decided to upgrade to First Class, as this was a Saturday and thankfully financially do-able. Yes, it was extravagant at £20 (inc’ free tea and biscuits, woo hoo!), but, I felt that I deserved it.  Also, there would be plug sockets, so that I could check all my emails and go on People Pages, without worrying about the battery running out, assuming that is, that my famously malfunctioning mobile broadband dongle might splutter, at least metaphorically, back into life – apart from when the train was going through tunnels.

I found myself in the peaceful zone of a totally empty, first-class compartment. This was  beyond perfect. I plugged in the power and fired-up the laptop, then was pleased, no, thrilled, to see that my airport was showing five bars of reception.

I immediately downloaded all my emails (408) and went straight onto PP, where everyone was concerned that they hadn’t heard from me whilst I was in Cornwall.

I had been kidnapped by drug smugglers and sold to Somalian pirates, I quipped.

The train drew into Exeter and a slightly disheveled-yet-strangely-groomed, gangly guy with what looked like a carefully quaffed, blond hairdo and an elegantly wasted, almost styled sartorial demeanor got on. As he passed my seat and nodded hello, I typed into my PP status update: OMG! You’ll never guess who just got on the train! He’s one of my heroes! Lemme give you a clue (NO not THAT Lemmy!), Nuclear…

Meanwhile, Stephan Lincoln, the lead singer of Nuclear TV – one of the biggest rock bands in the world – settled into a single seat diagonally opposite from me and pulled out an iPhone and a MACBOOK Pro (we evidently had plenty in common) from his expensive-looking, brown-leather hold-all and put them on the table in front of him, along with a can of Carlsberg (oh dear, a bit of lapse of taste there then) and what appeared to be a takeaway salad (it later transpired that it was a vegan one from Anthony Carluccio), which he proceeded to eat, whilst sipping from the can of beer and presumably, checking his emails, or whatever.

I, meanwhile, opened a new tab to check out the Nuclear TV website, whilst staying in touch with everyone on PP, of course.  It was obviously him, but I just wanted to double check. After all, maybe my brain was reverse-fried after all that abstinence, sunshine and immersement in negative ions.

He glanced at me and I smiled a ‘We’re both on MAC’ (and seriously talented and poetic songwriters) kind-of enigmatic smile, then decided spontaneously not to let-on that I knew who he was.  He wouldn’t be used to that eh?  Plus it would be interesting and amusing for me psychologically, and deliciously humbling, for him… at least on paper.

I noticed that he had several backstage, security wristbands on his left arm, along with his watch, which looked like a chunky, expensive Swiss diver’s type. I pointed at his left arm, he looked at me quizzically, then pointed at his watch in a questioning manner.

‘No, no, not the time – I have that here, you fellow Mac-head,’ I said, grinning and waving my hand towards my iPhone and MACBOOK Pro on the table in front of me, ‘no I was wondering what the armbands are… are you a musician?’

A monetarily non-plussed look crossed his face like a fluffy cloud, then he said ‘Well, kind-of…’

‘Oh – so you’re more of a singer then?’

‘Yeah – you could say that, ‘ he replied, smiling and visibly relaxing, although his eyes were exhibiting something possibly called ‘lack-of-rock-star-recognition’ syndrome.

I was quite enjoying myself.  ‘Yeah, it’s definitely him’, I typed into my ongoing status thread on PP, which was by now attracting quite a few comments from my increasingly intrigued friends.  It wasn’t that I was being mean or trying to put him down, it was just my way of saying ‘hi’ – with a twist. After all, we were just two, Mac-head, singer-songwriting strangers in first class on a train heading towards London (the difference being that he was hugely successful and worth mega-bucks), although I’d already guessed that he’d be getting off at Reading, in order to change for somewhere in Berkshire, where the band were based.

‘So…?’ I wondered aloud, pointing at his wristbands, ‘these must be backstage passes to festivals?’

‘Indeed they are,’ he replied, with an enigmatic grin, reeling-off several festivals that I’d never heard of, before saying: ‘and this one is Somersby, although I never went anywhere near the main stage!’

This made me chuckle inwardly – Nuclear TV had headlined Somersby, the UK’s biggest and most successful festival, the year before – and I was now viewing his own page on the band’s website, where I could see that he was extolling the virtues of being in the farthest-flung field at ‘Somebo’. It just so happened that, simultaneously, a friend on PP wrote that Lincoln had performed a spontaneous, solo set in said far-flung-field at the festival, and I was therefore subsequently impressed by his modesty in the face of my alleged ignorance. Still, he looked just ever-so-slightly bemused, as, I guess he was so used to people asking to have their photo taken with him and all the no-doubt tiresome trappings of being a major (albeit ‘alternative’), international, rock star.

I guess that I wanted to know what his mindset was, and where he was coming from. I was also a serious fan of his work, particularly his songwriting – all those finely-woven, intricate melodies and cryptic, poetic lyrics.

People on PP were by now beginning to correctly guess who he was, but kind-of applauding my alleged ignorance.

‘So what were you doing in Devon, if you don’t me asking?’ I asked him.

Stephan looked slightly embarrassed, but in an ironic way (only what I would have hoped for) and replied: ’Hmmm, well, you know, slightly bonkers, feral, male-bonding stuff in the woods…’

‘Oh, saunas in yurts and all that?’

‘Yersh, that kind of thing,’ he said taking a swig of his beer, ‘anyway, I’ve got to get on with some work…’ he said, pointing at his laptop.

Some kind of remix, I imagined, then smiled and airily waved my hand to suggest that he carry on (arrogant, moi?), whilst inwardly chuckling some more.  What an excellent end to my monastic and contemplative week, I mused, as I continued to chat to people on PP, and wondering if I might allow myself drink (a glass or three of red wine, echo… echo) with my dinner – probably a take-away, when I got home. After all, didn’t I deserve it after my privations?

Then we were nearing Reading.  He finished his Carlsberg and scrunched-up the can on the table and started to put his stuff back into his bag.

As we approached the station, I said drily:  Hey, it’s been a pleasure to meet you Mr Lincoln…’

He turned to face me with the broadest (and slightly taken-aback) grin.

‘I’m a singer-songwriter as well – here’s my card – and I’m a huge fan of Nuclear TV, but particularly of your songwriting.  You’re the finest that England has to offer – a genius in a sea of mediocrity.’

The train was now drawing into the station at Reading. He walked backwards towards the nearest door with his arms outstretched (thereby ringing a delightfully Danny Divano bell, minus the mutual, sexual attraction), grinned broadly again, looked me directly in the eye and then shouted amiably: ‘It’s all about the songs Thom, it’s… ALL about the songs (echo…echo…echo)!’

© Thom Topham.  2010. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter4.

14 May

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Chapter 4


Bed and breakfast?


16.8.88 . Hotel America. Barcelona.

9.30.pm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19.8.88 . Plaza Real. 8pm.

How ya feelin’? Hot! Hot! Hot!

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

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

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

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

‘Thirty Five’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll add a 😦 just for the blog.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why? What are you talking about?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Unplanned Obsolescence. By Thom Topham. Chapter 3

11 May

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Chapter 3

Paradise Lost… And Found 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think. Blink. Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidently, God really was a DJ.

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

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

Christabel you could say, is my heroine fix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to my funky old flat.

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

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

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

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

Where was the loving relationship?

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

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

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

There was to be a pleasant and mutually rewarding respite with Charles Hereford, a delightfully intelligent, erudite and witty twenty nine-year old American medical scientist that I’d met on a gay dating site called masc2masc.com (I just made that website name up – good enough to register though!),  when he came for Christmas 2008. We’d had a wonderful time, considering the risk taken: we’d only met once before, when he came for a week in the summer –  and then I invited him back to meet my family for Christmas in Bath  But everyone really liked him and vice-versa.  That was just the sort of present I needed. Now it’s the past – but – there could be a future. I’ve invited him to come to spend time with me in London (he’s never seen the new apartment), to my brother Bear’s sixtieth birthday in Bristol for a big family party and here with me (hear hear!), to Cornwall, where he’s also never been, next summer, in 2011, I’m awaiting his confirmation.

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t hold your breath, Thomas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now THERE was a stroke of luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on Thom – lighten-up man!

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

It would appear that I was on holiday in Spain.

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

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Chapter 2.

Uncle Thom Cobbley – And All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a New York Halloween...’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is New York Halloween…’

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

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

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

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

Simples ! I only use herbal tobacco in my joints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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