1: I Last Saw Maj…

1
I Last Saw Maj…

Melba Most (AKA Melvyn Corns), drag queen extraordinaire:
It was, ooh, ages ago. Years. That’s showbiz for you. I’m on tour so much, it’s hard to synchronise diaries.

We’re in touch, though – Christmas cards and the like. And she did visit my mother when she had her hip replaced, which I’ve always very much appreciated. She always loved Mom, did Maj; used to say she was, among other things, ‘the best cook in the entire world.’

It must be said that back in the day Majella was no Nigella. I can still remember winter nights when I had my coat and three jumpers on because the kitchen window had been hurled open to purge the flat of putrid smoke. I mean, how can you burn a Pot Noodle?

Even now, I have joyous memories of that microscopic flat in Brum city centre. Testing each other on our lines; swapping frocks.

Ah, I miss Maj. I’m itching for a natter with her right now. In fact, where’s my address book…?

Linda Dyson, top comedian and actress:
It was over twenty years ago, sadly at the funeral of a mutual dear friend of ours.

We didn’t speak much on that occasion. Pity. Back in the proverbial day, before fame and all that jazz beckoned, we were great mates. Flatmates, in fact; along with Mel and Nelson (not forgetting Tesco the cat, of course).

There are things I don’t think she will ever forgive me for. As I say, such a criminal pity. Things she said at the time wounded far more than any heckler ever could, or even this critic in today’s Daily Mail who is calling me…let me see…oh yes, ‘a Zippy from Rainbow lookalike and poor man’s Jo Brand.’ Water. Duck’s back.

I mean, Jo Brand! I was around years before her.

Gareth Rushcliff, lead singer with seminal 80s group Glinda Spitfire:
I saw Majella Bracebridge (though she no longer calls herself that, it seems) two days ago, in fact, on Come Dine with Me. Sadly not the celebrity version – for the artiste formerly known as Majella Bracebridge is employed in a very different capacity to when we were acquainted – but the one featuring members of the public cooking for and entertaining each other.

I can’t quite believe I’ve just admitted to watching that. Put it down to tour-bus boredom. Along with seven other bands, we’ve hit the oft-trodden comeback trail. Again. In fact our comeback has outlasted our original chart career, but who gives a crap? As long as our ageing groupies continue to drench their drawers over us, we’ll keep chugging out the old hits. This particular enterprise is called the Now That’s What I Call a Pension tour.

Anyway, Come Dine with Me came from Wolverhampton that day, which as a Midlands boy raised a faint glimmer of interest.

During the black pudding and goats cheese starter, one of the contestants, a gay insurance clerk called Wayne who apparently wears feather boas and enjoys fire-eating in his spare time (Where do they dredge these people up from?), squawked at the hostess, ‘Hey, weren’t you the girl from that advert?’

I confess the last time I experienced a jolt like that was an early gig at the Old Hill Plaza, when the ancient lift which contained the four of us and our instruments ground to a juddering halt. I hate lifts.

The object of my sudden fascination blushed behind her wine glass and admitted that yes, she was briefly known in the 80s for an ad, one which gave rise to a short-lived catchphrase. Cue squealing repetition around the table of said catchphrase, in the manner it once echoed through school playgrounds and pubs. Behind her beautiful head I even spotted a framed photo of that bloody cat of hers – what was his name, Tesco, or something?

‘Howzit going, geezer?’ Joe, our drummer, joined me, cracking open his sixth beer of the day (it was quarter-past-five) and thrusting one at me. I took it from him robotically. The television was echoing and eddying at me as though along a tunnel. Joe vaulted into the leather seat, stretching out his stocky little legs. ‘Hang on, ain’t she that wench you was knocking off years ago?’ He woggled a pudgy hand in front of my eyes. ‘Earth to Gaz. That blonde sort there, next to the fat poof.’

Political correctness, it is fair to say, has bypassed Joe.

‘I know which one she is, thanks!’

‘Woo, touchy!’

I took a deep breath, cursing my telltale loss of restraint. ‘Sorry, mate.’

‘Not like you to get mushy over an ex. You can still tell it’s her, eh? Swanky kitchen she’s got there.’ He expelled an impressed whistle. ‘Didn’t you say she used to burn Pot Noodles?’

‘Hmm.’ I took a wobbly gulp from my beer can. A different brand, incidentally, to the one she used to advertise.

Joe chuckled. Even when he was twenty-one, a Record Mirror interviewer described him as possessing ‘guttural tones.’ In middle age he’s a Brummie Arthur Mullard. ‘Who’d have thought it, eh? Tell you what, though,’ he glanced around to check we were not overheard by our backing singer/dancer, ‘she’s aged a lot better than bloody Romy. She’s looking as rough as mustard these days – kinell! Rotunda by name and nature. Her norks are round her knees.’

He was being kind. Braless, they reach to her feet.

He pointed at the TV. ‘Perhaps you shoulda stuck with that one, mate.’

Joe was right that the years had been considerably kinder to Majella than to Romy Rotunda, my intermittent lover and Glinda Spitfire’s unofficial fifth member. And, I couldn’t fail to notice, than to my wife Katy (Katy is wife number three, if you’re keeping count).

While Majella’s guests shared memories of the advert that had brought her fleeting fame, I found myself compulsively – hypocritically – scrutinising for a wedding ring. Were I watching on DVD (can you even get Come Dine with Me on DVD?), I might have even been poised over the pause button.

I entertained a brief paranoia that the lack of shots of her left hand was a deliberate dodge, to tease and spite me. At one point she reached for the wine bottle with said elusive left hand – only for the camera to cut maddeningly to Wayne inanely simpering.

‘I’m amazed you all remember that,’ she was saying with modest but obvious delight. She sounded the same too: the Midlands inflection, refined by drama school.

Oh, I remember, Maj. I remember.

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4 Comments

  1. Nina said,

    February 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Leigh,

    Can I say that I think this is the best opening for a novel of yours I’ve read? (well, I just have!) That isn’t intended to come across as derogatory to your other ones – it’s just I think this is such a clever way to introduce a main character. You’ve got me really curious about Majella now, as well as cleverly introducing the other characters too (Gareth Rushcliff in particular is a fantastic narrator; looking forward to reading more about Glinda Spitfire – and while we’re on the subject, where do you get these names from?!) The three characters each have distinctive voices and I love the ‘celebrity’ aspect to this as well – but not stellar celebrity which is even better. And a welcome return for Melba Most!

    Really looking forward to reading on.

  2. leighm123 said,

    February 10, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Thank you so much for that Nina! I am so glad the “taking my pen for a walk across the page” approach appears to have worked. I loved having a bit of fun with this and seeing where the narrative took me. It’s very unlike me to embark on a project without having a whole plot rigidly mapped out.

    L xx

  3. Nina said,

    February 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Well, it was the black pudding and goats’ cheese starter that stuck out for me on the second read! I’m a vegetarian, but still intrigued by how that would taste. I still think this is brilliant for what it’s worth – the characters, including Majella, jump right off the page and the whole thing has such a friendly feel – like you’re sitting down with a cuppa and some mates, reminiscing. So very much potential, and leaves you with a warm smile on your face when you’ve finished too. Love the image of Melba Most shivering in three jumpers!

    What are you waiting for – get writing that next chapter if you haven’t already! x

  4. Sam Roberts (SammoR) said,

    October 17, 2013 at 12:11 am

    I read the original first chapter months ago – so glad you’ve come back to this, Leigh! Enjoying it already and looking forward to the new chapters.


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