Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Another life

Strange, sitting in bed with the window open on a far-too-hot-for-May morning with a zillion birds tweeting, to recall a certain day way back in mid 80s London. I'm including these few paragraphs from an early novel, Going out in the Midday Sun, in my latest book as an illustration of the decade's excess when it came to food advertising budgets (and probably everything else); I imagine they are now somewhat less extravagant, or maybe not . . . 

I'm meandering into non-fiction territory with the new book, at the moment entitled, Celebrating the Inconsequential inspired partly by a very long walk which I described a few posts back. We'll see where it goes. So far I'm enjoying a new literary departure very much, when I get a chance to write in between trying to keep our garden/bird and insect sanctuary alive in this alarming heat.

On a Monday in 1986, a stylist is late for an office furniture shoot.


    Randy Fisher's photographic studio sat in a Kings Cross backstreet. The client and slimy Marvin, the art director, were due there at 9am. It was 9am.

    Holly had the knowledge as well as any cabbie, but all the snarl-ups were well in place plus a few extras, including a lorry unloading toilets into a new loft complex in Leonard Street. The driver, attired in baggy shell suit, a fag drooping from his lips, wore an unhurried air as people leaned from their car windows yelling and gesticulating; the air was thick with honking and swearing. 

    Holly found her notebook and added a phrase to her anti-styling song, humming another slice of the tune. Calm: there was no point getting worked up. If she did, she would be lying in the back of the car under a blanket with a firework-display migraine by the end of the afternoon.

    She arrived at the studio at 9.15 and climbed the iron staircase, nerves jangling. Randy's new assistant Marcus opened the door and mouthed: "Watch out, Marvin's already had three coffees." Randy was up a ladder fiddling with the large-format camera, the height revealing cowboy boots under too-tight white jeans The Eagles were on the sound system and the client was leafing through a book of models.

    Marvin kissed Holly lecherously and lightly groped her backside. Coffee breath and stale cigarette smoke enveloped her: Marvin, the huge beaky bird of prey, shaking from his diet of fags and intravenous black coffee with five sugars drip. 

    "Hi darling, you're late . . . we'll have to spank you."

    "Yes, sorry. Traffic." But he was already gone, sucking up to the client.

    "Holly our Stylist — Roger Hillway from Streamline products."



    "Did you find everything Holly?" said Marvin, looking even more beaky than usual. 

    "Yes – selection of smart office wear dresses, new Mac computer, phone, and . . . the donkey head." 

    "Good, good," said Marvin, rubbing his hands. "Well, we've chosen the model." A round of snorting laughter emanated from the three men. "She'll be here at 10.30, should be done by 12.00. While we're waiting for the lab to process the film, we thought we might all go out for lunch."

    Charlene arrived, blonde and busty. The outfit was chosen, the props arranged, lights placed. No need for makeup as Charlene was to wear the donkey head. 

    "But you could have just used me," Holly was about to say, but realised Charlene and her breasts were the reason for lunch.

    The courier came for the film, they all got in a taxi and were at the door of 'School Dinners' by 1pm.

    Holly groaned internally at the sight of the restaurant. She had gone there once before with a crowd of advertising executives and had hoped never to return. They were shown downstairs into the cavernous space and presented with menus by a gazelle-like young woman dressed in blazer, stockings, suspenders and painfully high stilettos. The client and Marvin perused the wine list, occasionally stopping to mentally undress Charlene, while Randy flashed his new mobile phone: "Yeah, sure I can fit that in this week, what's the budget? Not bad . . . on the way to getting the Porsche, eh! See you on Thursday then — ciao." 

    Holly glanced around the room at the tables of overfed businessmen on expense accounts and wondered how the world had got into such a state. She requested the day's special after a brief glance at the menu and excused herself to have a few quiet moments in the loo away from Marvin, who had started to rub a foot up and down her leg. 

 The loo was already occupied with women checking their makeup. Holly made do with a perfunctory glance at herself in the reflective steel hand dryer: short blonde hair, disarrayed from the rushed start to the day, winter pale skin. 

    The large brown eyes stared back while her mind wandered: What are you doing here? Why did you spend four years doing an art degree then to work in this superficial world? —must phone mum — wonder what Sam is doing now . . . do I miss him? No, but . . . Her thoughts were interrupted by a blast of Robert Palmer singing 'Addicted To Love' as the door opened and two more women swayed in to the crowded room, one of them bumping into Holly. "Oops sorry . . . d'you think he's going to ask me out then?"

    "Why wait — grab him! I would . . . if I wasn't already attached — here try this, it's new by Givenchy, Organza."

    "Oooh, that's just what I need, an Organza . . ." 

    Holly left and weaved her way back around the crowded tables. "Oh, there you are — we were beginning to wonder what you were doing in there," grinned Marvin, nudging the client.    

    "Champagne all round," Randy announced to a waitress in a gymslip. 

    "Would you like a caning with it?" She produced a long thin cane and whipped it across her stocking encased thigh, thwack! Today's special is sausage and dumplings," she added, pouting, lips glossy red.

    "Waahay!" shouted Marvin. "Yeah, bring it on!"

    From a long way off, Holly saw herself sitting on the cliff edge near Durdle Door in Dorset — a warm breeze, nodding pink scabious, the cry of wheeling gulls. She had to get off this hamster wheel: wake, rush, buy crap for stupid ads, sit in traffic, home, sofa, crash, eat, sleep.

    Randy’s elbow nudged her. "Top up? How's the sausage . . . phwoooaah!"

    At last the bill came: three hundred and fifty quid, to be hidden in the final invoice. 

    Taxi back, film back, no re-shoot. Holly packed the props, slipped out from the studio and found a car-shaped space where the car had been.



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