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This is your life, p.19

This Is Your Life, page 19

 

This Is Your Life
 


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  ‘Just how much have they had to drink?’ he asked angrily.

  The girl in charge of filling up their glasses pointed to a carrier bag full of empty beer cans.

  ‘Oh well, that’s not too bad,’ said Piers.

  And then she pointed out the two bulging bin liners brimming with empty beer cans as well.

  ‘This is bloody ridiculous. Whose idea was it to give them real booze?’

  ‘Yours.’

  ‘Was it? Well, you didn’t have to give them so much.’

  ‘I was just told to keep the glasses at the same level for continuity.’

  ‘Well, they were sober for the first take and now they’re completely rat-arsed, so what sort of continuity is that?’

  ‘I want to go to the toilet,’ said the extra still lying on the floor. By now a group of them had started singing. Others had forgotten that they were supposed to be working and were getting up and helping themselves from the stack of distinctive gold cans.

  ‘Special Brew!’ shrieked Piers. ‘I don’t believe it! I thought you were only allowed to drink that in the park. Why don’t we give them a meths and paint-stripper chaser while we’re at it!’ he muttered as ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ echoed tunelessly around the room.

  The extras were eventually herded off the set and Piers could barely believe how reasonable I was about the whole thing.

  ‘Honestly, Jimmy, I’m so sorry about all that,’ he kept saying.

  ‘It’s fine, don’t worry about it.’ I shrugged, relieved that I was no longer the reason we were running behind schedule.

  ‘God, I’ve never known a performer be so understanding. We’ll have to change things around a bit. Do some close-ups after lunch, and some hand shots. Get Simon’s hand to Makeup please!’ he called out, and Simon went with it.

  The adverts were recorded in two days as scheduled and were due to go out later that month. The first time I saw one was a Tuesday night at eight-twenty. It wasn’t a big deal or anything, but I thought I might as well switch the telly to ITV at around that time just to see it. And then everyone else in the Red Lion said: ‘Great, Jimmy, can we switch back to the football now?’

  One initial transmission didn’t change very much. But it’s like a hit record: the first time it comes on the radio you barely notice it, but then you hear it a second time and the chorus stays with you. And then it’s played again, and now you remember some of the words and notice the saxophone solo in the middle and you find yourself humming along, until with repeated exposure you discover that the whole song has got under your skin and you know every note. The first time my advert went out was like any other television appearance. But it was the cumulative effect of its repeated transmission that really changed things. Jimmy Conway the comedian was repeating the same punchlines on television over and over and over again until the whole nation knew them off by heart. It wasn’t an advert for text message banking, it was an advert for me.

  Strangers would recognize me and have to stop themselves laughing when they thought about how funny I was. Even though there was no whole joke told on the screen – you just heard a punchline and saw the audience’s hysterical reaction – the subconscious association was still ‘that face equals funny guy’. People I had barely spoken to over the years would see me coming down the street and grin from ear to ear, nodding as if to say, ‘Here comes the joker, what’s he going to say now!’ Lorry drivers would spot me from their cabs and shout out, ‘No wonder Mr Spock’s ears are so pointy!’ and giggle to themselves as they sped past. I knew things had really changed when I walked past a building site and all the men on the scaffolding called out after me: ‘All right, Jimmy?’, ‘Wotcha, Jimmy!’ and ‘Oi, talk about floppy disks!’

  Blimey! I thought. Finally I am truly famous! Either that, or I’m being harassed by a load of gay scaffolders.

  At last I was somebody. Great punchline, no joke: that’s me.

  9

  27 Elms Crescent,

  East Grinstead,

  West Sussex,

  England

  Dear James,

  They say that fame makes a man attractive. The more famous you are, the more attractive women find you. By that logic, they must think the Pope is drop-dead gorgeous. Not that that’s a great deal of use to him. He can hardly cruise around in his Popemobile picking up hitch-hikers and suggesting they pull up for a bit in the car park of the woods behind the Vatican. The Pope is a celebrity who is celibate. They should coin a special phrase for it. He could be called a ‘celebaty’ ‘celibatatery’ a celibate celebrity.

  For most other stars it must be very tempting to sleep with every gorgeous girl who throws herself at you. However, it would be morally wrong to take advantage of your fame in this way. By now, Jimmy, you will probably be having to resist this kind of temptation on a daily basis. Like, you’ll just be at some party and a beautiful blonde model will grab you and take you into a luxury bedroom and lock the door and she’ll take off her clothes and let you see everything. You will just have to politely explain that yes, you find her attractive, both physically and intellectually, but it would just not be right for you to engage in sexual relations. Even if she’s really sexy and has long hair and a silky black bra which is slipping off her shoulders and she wants you to tug it free because she’s really desperate to have full sex with you right away and she’ll even let you feel her bosoms and everything. You’ll have to firmly say, sorry, but you aren’t interested. That you have absolutely no intention of squeezing those full rounded breasts with the erect nipples that she would let you rub and jiggle about as much as you wanted, even while she is sitting on top of you and you are really doing it, up and down, up and down, up and down.

  Where was I? This is a while later now, I got distracted by something and had to break off for a bit. Oh yes, the point I am making is that a real star should not go to bed with some stranger he has never met before. That gorgeous model might be a tabloid journalist under cover. Well, I suppose she can’t be under cover if she’s completely naked. Though you could argue it’s a disguise of sorts, since she wouldn’t be in the nude when she was in the offices of the Sun, unless she was also a Page 3 girl of course, but I don’t think many of them are journalists as well. Anyway, what I am saying is that I bet she wouldn’t tell you she was a tabloid journalist until after you had done it and she would end up writing embarrassing things about you not being very experienced in bed, and having a small penis and not lasting very long, and silly tittle-tattle like that which really is irrelevant and ridiculous and anyway not at all true.

  The good news is that you won’t be tempted by all the girl fans who want to sleep with you all the time because you will have such a full and loving relationship with your beautiful wife. I won’t actually go as far as predicting that my wife will be Jennifer Barrett because she doesn’t even seem to notice me at the moment. Even though I made a deal with God that if I got triple twenty on the dartboard in my bedroom she’d definitely kiss me, she still hasn’t come near me yet.

  But if it isn’t Jennifer then it will be someone even lovelier and Jennifer will look back and wish that she’d taken her chance when she had it. She should have recognized me as the go-getting high achiever I’m going to be. Right, I’d better go and start my history project. We’re back to school in a week.

  Mine sincerely,

  Jimmy

  The 1980s were a terrible time, although not for the reasons they show in all those documentaries. They get the emphasis all wrong. They go on about the Falklands War and the Miners’ Strike, the unemployment, the corporate greed and all that political stuff, when in fact the overriding burning issue of the 1980s was: ‘When am I going to lose my virginity?’

  This was the crucial topic of the age. When will Jimmy Conway get to do it with a girl? was the question to which no politician or newspaper editorial ever gave a satisfactory answer. But what a momentous event it would be when it finally happened! Mrs Thatcher would emerge from 10 Downing St
reet where the assembled pack of journalists and photographers had gathered having heard that something really big was about to break. And then she would step up to the microphone to introduce the minister she was permitting to relay this wonderful news, even if she had to be there just to be associated with such a momentous announcement.

  ‘I would like to hand you over to the Minister for Having Done It, who has got some news I think you might like to hear.’ And then the Minister for Having Done It would step forward as the cameras flashed and whirred, trying to look statesman-like but succeeding only in looking smug.

  ‘At approximately twenty-three hundred hours this evening, we received the following communiqué: “Be pleased to inform Her Majesty, that Jimmy Conway has just done it with Jennifer Barrett in his parents’ bed while they were staying the weekend at Grandma’s. Let it be known that consequently from this day, the fifteenth day of August 1983, Jimmy Conway is, no longer, a virgin. God save the Queen!’

  This would be the cue for the news hounds to shout excited questions.

  ‘Minister! Minister? Are there any plans for them to do it again?’

  ‘Do all of Jimmy’s school friends know that he has done it?’

  But then the PM steps in to cut them off: ‘Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate Jimmy Conway and Jennifer!’

  And then the two of them disappear back inside the door of 10 Downing Street as television programmes on all four channels were interrupted with a news flash to show the historic announcement once again.

  But as the decade wore on, the likelihood of any such proclamation seemed to be getting no closer. It didn’t have to be Jennifer Barrett. I wouldn’t have minded having sex with any female, really. My maths teacher Mrs Slough, Kim Wilde, Nancy Reagan, Mother Theresa, Auntie Jean; I didn’t feel I was in any position to be too choosy. It seemed to me to be the greatest injustice that there were two billion females on Planet Earth and I had not so much as touched one breast of a single one of them. That’s four billion bosoms in the whole wide world, give or take. They couldn’t all be completely out of bounds.

  Although I did eventually lose my virginity a few brief centuries after writing the above letter, the anticipated golden age of constant sexual activity never seemed to materialize. But once I became a celebrity, suddenly everyone wanted to flirt. In fact, I even received a letter from now mother-of-three Jennifer Barrett, delighted that I was doing so well and confessing that when we were teenagers she’d always rather fancied me but had never had the courage to do anything about it. For God’s sake! I thought. Now she bloody tells me!

  Everything had changed. Suddenly I was an attractive and interesting person for the opposite sex because they recognized me off the television. It’s all so shallow, isn’t it? So phoney, so demeaning. I mean, what sort of man wants to walk into a room and suddenly find attractive women flirting with him just because he happens to be on the telly? Answer: me.

  This is how I came to meet Tanya. She was so amazed to find herself in the same room as Jimmy Conway, she kept talking and blushing and saying how she’d never met anyone famous before. She thought my adverts were ‘brilliant’ and that I was really funny and brilliant and she’d heard me on the radio (‘brilliant’) and seen me reading the nominations at the British Soap Awards and it was brilliant and then she said she’d give anything to be a celebrity. She had gone along to the auditions for Pop Idol but she reckoned they were prejudiced against people who couldn’t sing. She was going to try and get on Blind Date next, she said, because she thought if she was spotted on that, it might lead to a job as a weathergirl or a presenter on Crimewatch UK or something.

  ‘What it’s really like being famous?’ she asked me longingly. Her question crystallized it for me: I had finally reached the destination I had always longed for. Now I was recognized wherever I went; waiters never kept my table waiting; security men didn’t ask for ID but jumped up and opened the door for me. That week the Sun had a picture of a buxom starlet meeting Prince Andrew and his eyes were momentarily focused on her cleavage and the headline read ‘Talk About Floppy Disks!’ Wherever I went people demanded that I utter these four words and then they would fall about laughing when I did.

  ‘Well, it’s very exciting,’ I said to Tanya. ‘You know, interesting and frightening and exhilarating all at once.’

  ‘Hmmm. Say “Talk About Floppy Disks!’”

  ‘Er, I’d rather not.’

  ‘Go on. Here, Janet! Come and listen to this: he’s going to say it!’

  An expectant hush fell over the whole room.

  ‘Talk About Floppy Disks!’ I said and everyone burst out laughing.

  There was one sensation I didn’t report to Tanya. Celebrity status didn’t make me feel fulfilled. Obviously my quality of life had improved as everyday barriers were whisked away and money was easier to come by and people treated me with respect, but I still felt that same indefinable emptiness inside. On the homely set of the breakfast TV show on which I’d appeared, there was a grand flight of stairs leading to an ornate door at the top. When I’d watched that show at home I’d always wondered what was behind the door. But then I got to appear on the show and afterwards I got to walk around the set, to climb to the top of that showbiz staircase and see where it led. I opened the door. There was nothing behind it. It led straight back down to the studio floor again.

  But like me before, Tanya thought fame was the answer to everything. She wanted to know how she could get into show business and what various other celebrities were like ‘in real life’ and I took care to answer all her questions as best as I could, as if this was somehow now part of my duty. I talked to her for ages. It was all very selfless of me. I did her that courtesy at the party where I met her and I did her that courtesy in the taxi on the way back to her flat,

  Joseph Kennedy said that ‘sex was an itch that needed to be scratched’. As the weeks since my last scratch turned into months I had found myself itching all over. I had invisible rashes all over my legs and arms. I had imaginary chicken pox and virtual eczema. The last time I had woken up beside a woman I had to apologize for snoring and dribbling throughout the flight.

  As I paid for the taxi and Tanya apologized for the un-glamorous location of her home, I sensed that some unspoken contract had been drawn up between us in which we had already agreed to go to bed together. ‘I, Tanya Callaghan, do hereby undertake to engage in sexual activity up to and including full intercourse with Jimmy Conway for one evening only on condition that I may tell all my friends that I had it off with that comedian off the telly, you know the one who says Talk About Floppy Disks. I undertake not to become a demented stalker and will not break into his house and stab him for failing to talk back to me from my television screen.’

  Tanya was undeniably attractive, short and slim with a tanned midriff that was exposed because her T-shirt seemed to have shrunk in the wash. She poured me a glass of wine and we sat down on the sofa together. Then before I had even taken a sip she leaned across and began kissing me as if I was in urgent need of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Her eyes were closed while mine surveyed this stranger’s flat. On her television were photos of her with her family. One of them featured her and her sister posing next to Goofy at Disneyland Paris and there were no kids in the photo. All of us have had sexual encounters we’ve regretted, but could I really go to bed with the sort of woman who went to Disneyland without children? Her bookshelves featured several videos, a spider plant and a collection of soft toys of which I recognized only Snoopy and Garfield.

  I jumped slightly as she began to grope my crotch. I had never known a woman be so direct before, and while I can’t deny that the predatory male side of my character was excited at the obvious imminence of sex, another part of me couldn’t help feeling that this was all rather bad manners. Normally before the outbreak of all-out war there’s a little bit of diplomatic tension, a couple of border incidents, increasing hostility until the troops are eventually mobilized and the explosions
begin. This was straight in there with Pearl Harbor. She wasn’t exactly keeping me guessing about where I stood. Hmm, now she’s squeezing the bulge in the front of my trousers, what can this mean? It must be some sort of subtle coded signal, but you could interpret that in a number of ways, couldn’t you?

  ‘Have you got a condom?’ said Tanya, momentarily releasing my exhausted mouth. There she goes again. Another cryptic half-clue to leave me guessing just how far this girl was prepared to go on this first date. Oh, if only women could just be a bit more up front about everything instead of forcing us to go through this elaborate dance, all this second-guessing ‘does she want to or doesn’t she?’ stuff.

  ‘Erm, a condom? No, no, I haven’t.’

  ‘Doesn’t matter. I’ve got some by my bed,’ she said, launching her face against mine once more. A bed? She’s talking about a bed now. I wondered if that had as many soft toys on it as her bookshelves had.

  It was true that I didn’t have any condoms. I hadn’t gone to that party with the deliberate intention of casually seducing someone just because I was now recognized wherever I went. Besides, I couldn’t buy condoms any more because now I was recognized wherever I went. What does Prince Charles do if he needs some contraceptives? He can hardly wander around the chemist and hope to sneak it past unnoticed with a comb and a toothbrush.

  I think by this point I must have been expected to be fiddling with Tanya’s bra strap or squeezing her breasts through her turquoise crop top or something, because she suddenly broke off.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ she said.

  ‘Nothing, what do you mean?’ I said, slightly too defensively.

 
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