Chapter 5

5
(She Just) Died on Her Arse
Mel’s Musings

Recently, when I was meeting Don in a city ‘coffee lounge,’ the sight of a man marching towards the toilets with a Daily Mail jammed under his arm evoked an amusing memory.

We catch up when we can during my tours.  My schedule is brutal.  I’m as unfathomably popular as ever in the guise of Melba Most.  At least assuming a drag persona on stage enables me to wander round relatively incognito when I’m in civvies.

Lately I’ve contemplated scaling back; seeing if I’m cut out for the retired lifestyle.  There was a time when growing vegetables, learning to knit, and watching daytime TV shows whose ad breaks endorse walk-in baths and funeral plans would have featured in my vision of hell, but I’m starting to rethink.

I could never kill Melba off.  I love her like the twin sister I never had (it’s true!) – but perhaps I could retire her to a luxury rest home for decrepit dames and bring her out by popular demand if I get bored?  I could do endless ‘farewell tours,’ like Status Quo did.

Or I could devote eleven months of the year to my garden/knitting/whatever and narrow my workload down to panto.  Or be ‘reduced’ to doing panto, as the snooty press always phrase it, in ‘provincial theatres.’  I mean, what other types are there, in towns outside of London?  I don’t see it as a reduction at all, but rather a noble, fun way to earn a living during the festive season.

Anyway, this meeting to which I refer occurred at a fairly early stage in our relationship, when Don was still insistent on meeting me in ‘classy’ venues.  I’m not quite sure where Don derived the impression either I or the coffee lounge was classy.  He didn’t know me too well yet, and was in the eager-to-impress phase.

In fact, I’d go for a good honest greasy spoon any day.  Bacon, a gorgeous plump tomato, fried egg, baked beans, huge flat mushroom swimming in an oil slick, white doorstop toast, squeezy farty sauce bottles with dregs of ketchup welded to the sides like wax dripping from a candle.  You’re hungry now, aren’t you?  Admit it.

There are people who assume I’m vegetarian.  I can see the way their mental connection works (‘He’s limp-wristed, I bet he can’t handle anything more robust than asparagus stalks and rocket.’), but I can annihilate a fry-up.

Rather that than pay a fortune for a cardboard panini containing soggy rocket and half a cherry tomato, and a bucket of bitter coffee which, despite the server’s promise, never does have quite enough ‘room for milk.’  You always end up disappointed and somehow sad with the world.

By contrast, the cheap and cheerful fry-up is joyous, filling, hearty, colourful.  And disastrous for my cholesterol, I know.  Hence it’s a treat, to be enjoyed infrequently.

In a similar vein, I love corner shops.  There’s something fun and naughty about nipping out in your slippers to pay over the odds for a bag of Skips rather than a reasonably priced multipack from Morrisons.  I’ve been accused of being an inverted snob.

Maybe it’s due to having lived so many years in proximity to general stores, both during my childhood and the shared house days when one or more of us was forever flitting to Brian’s corner shop with the munchies.  I adore the randomness of those establishments.  Cat food next to Sellotape and stale fig rolls.  There’s also no expectation to dress to impress; in fact it’s almost a prerequisite to rock up wearing at least one component of your nightwear, hastily concealed by an anorak.  It adds to the sheepish urgency of it all.  You duck your head as you slide your coins across the counter.  The transaction is akin to a drugs deal.  You don’t meet eyes.

Why are these soulless coffee ‘lounges’ so-called anyway?  They certainly don’t resemble my lounge in any way, despite the faux ‘cosy’ sofas.  My housekeeper Sheila keeps mine immaculate; she’s a whizz with Mr Sheen.  I still feel embarrassed saying that, ‘my housekeeper.’  I worry about sounding like a smug prat.

She wouldn’t abide stains like these.  A myriad of perfect, coffee cup-shaped circles besmirching the pale wood.  Guaranteed to make OCD customers twitch.

Temporary traffic lights are another bête noire of my life.  I once sat for an inordinate amount of time poised on the clutch (that’s one of my worst habits, not applying the handbrake) at a set that were stuck on red.  As a consequence, I’m paranoid they’re all faulty and I’m doomed to remain marooned in four-way filter hell.  They take such an age to change, you never know how long to give it before deeming they are stalled on red and cautiously driving off.

But I digress.  I do that a lot, as you’ll have gathered.  I’m like a gay Ronnie Corbett doing one of his meandering monologues in that oversized chair.

This particular establishment was called Juno’s.  Pencil drawings of the Colosseum and Leaning Tower of Pisa bedecked the walls, to push home the Italian connection implied by the Roman goddess namesake.  I couldn’t work out whether one of the Pisa pictures was wonky in deliberate homage to the leaning qualities of the landmark or because it had been coincidentally hung by someone with either no spirit level or a slapdash work ethic.

I eschewed coffee on this occasion and ordered a glass of milk.  I love milk – another surprise weakness of mine.  Such a basic, comforting drink.  The first liquid any of us ever consume.  Cold, silky, childish; the mid-morning nursery school refreshment served with a biscuit.  Its more ‘adult’ use, in tea or coffee, in my opinion diminishes its creamy joy.  When taken in its purest form it’s a delight.

Anyway (I keep saying that), the toilet-bound DM reader evoked a bygone afternoon when Majella and I enjoyed a boozy lunch, in a far friendlier haunt than Juno’s; one of those dark, city pubs that were popular before ghastly ‘gastro’ and chain pubs began to proliferate (no, you’re right, there really isn’t much I like about contemporary eateries).

It wasn’t even a weekend.  It was a Tuesday, from memory.  Folks like us, not constrained by conventional working hours, could enjoy luxuries like idle Tuesdays.  We loved the naughtiness of it all; the sense we were out of kilter with the rest of the universe.

We were surrounded by offices; the archaic buildings in that quarter of Birmingham still to this day house banks, accountants and barristers’ chambers.  The pinstripe-clad yuppies for some reason favoured dingy haunts for their elongated lunch breaks.  As they were hauling themselves back to work from their cigars and prawn baps, we bought another round and stopped on.  For the whole afternoon!  On (as I might have mentioned already) a Tuesday! What a life.

I had half hoped one of the pinstripes would tumble, Del Boy style, through the bar flap, but alas none of them obliged.  However, one swaggered to the bogs with a Financial Times under his armpit.

‘I know the quantity and quality of the bog roll in here’s a bit hit and miss,’ I observed, ‘but this is ridiculous.’

‘Do people still read on the loo?’ Majella snorted into her wine.  ‘My dad used to spend entire afternoons in the bathroom with the latest Frederick Forsyth.  Sometimes he’d take the radio in there as well, listen to the football results on WM.  Do people still do that?’

She was blithely giggly, her shoes were installed beneath the table, her feet not in them but tucked comfortably under her bum, a sign she was well and truly settled in for the afternoon.  Her second bag of scratchings was open on the table between us.  In her profession she usually watched her figure – except when the munchies hit after a spell on the sauce.

Her hair was tethered up into a casual bun, and for once she wasn’t daubed in war paint (nor was I).  Majella didn’t look like this often enough.

‘Maybe they don’t have time?’ I suggested.

‘Or are more regular these days?’

‘Due to their high fibre diet.’

‘No need to spend hours reading a novel while coaxing out a shy poo.’

‘The muscles are relaxed enough.’

‘I really don’t know.  Perhaps you could write a thesis on the subject.’

‘Thesis?  You’re the student, my girl.  Or were.  I’m a graduate of the university of life, remember.  Anyway, you brought the subject up.  By the way, I’m sure FT man hasn’t come out of there yet.  I haven’t seen him.’

‘Maybe he’s doing the crossword and got stuck on a hard one.’

‘Oh, we’ve all been there!’

We frittered an entire afternoon debating the waning custom of people reading on the toilet, the pathetic hilarity of it all escalating in direct correlation with the amount of alcohol consumed.  It was one of those impromptu get-togethers that turned into an unforgettable joyous lark.

The day ended in McDonald’s, with us propping each other up.  Chips staved off the drunken munchies like no other snack.  Whether they were from Bert’s botulism burgers or the Cypriot chippie by us, where they doled out free scraps at the end of the night.  There was an 80s joke beloved of piss-heads passing chip shops on their way home from clubbing:

‘Got any leftover chips?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, you made too many then, didn’t you!’

Ah, I bet that never got old.  Anyway, the fast food colossus ‘Macky D’s’ was still a novelty in the West Midlands then; a red and yellow blaze of American culture.

‘I tell you what,’ I said, launching a handful of wispy chips (I hadn’t yet got used to calling them ‘french fries’) into my mouth, ‘you’re funnier than me, girl.  I’m putting all that in the act.’

‘I’ll sue you when you’re famous.’  She was eyeing her towering Big Mac warily, clearly contemplating how to tackle it.  In the absence of cutlery, did one flatten the structure or separate it into bitesize segments?

I did put it in the act.  The entire spiel: FT reader, football results, high fibre diet and all.  Majella didn’t sue me, of course.  When I started making enough money to have programmes printed, I credited her.  ‘Additional material by Majella Bracebridge.’

‘Additional material’ in a comedian’s credits is a grand way of saying a joke was somebody else’s concept.

******

I certainly found Majella funnier that day than Linny was in her stand-up debut – or at any point during her career, in fact, but that’s just my (controversial) opinion.  I’ve always found Linda Dyson a tad ‘Emperor’s New Clothes.’  Not that I ever said as much.

It’s possible I was crabby because my own audition at Loff, the venue of her first stand-up gig, had failed so spectacularly a few weeks earlier.

Loff was a new underground (literally, occupying as it did the basement of a forlorn 60s shopping complex) alternative comedy spot in Birmingham.  Though not so ‘alternative,’ it seemed, as to chance it with a gay club turn looking to cross over from the niche audience of Larry’s.

‘Drag is passé, mate,’ I was informed by Wesley, the ‘talent booker,’ a thin, bored man with long unwashed hair, who was virtually concealed behind both his gigantic glasses and the smog from his continuous cigarettes.  I was still Heidi Sausage then.  ‘You’re obviously straight.  Drop the Mr Humphries act.  It’s OTT.  Embarrassing.’

‘If I’m straight,’ I hissed, ‘you’re the new star of the Alberto Balsam campaign,’ before turning on my stilettos with what I hoped passed for dignity.  I took pride in that line; a brave, sharp riposte in the circumstances.  Wesley, however, did not call me back with a ‘Hey – that was a brave, sharp riposte in the circumstances!  Go on then, we’ll give you a try!’

The lone echo along that endless, fuggy corridor came from my cloppy stilettos.  Until I stopped, wrenched them off in a drama-queeny gesture and padded disconsolately to the toilets to change into my sneakers.

The ‘slut feminist’ got the gig, though.  That’s not bitchiness on my part; she actually blazed on to the tiny stage and announced, in her broad Derbyshire twang, ‘I’m Linda Dyson, slut feminist of our generation!’

Petite and feisty, with a gingham bandana wrapped around her blaze of blonde curls, she wore a denim mini that barely skimmed her crotch.  Her stocky legs had been unshaven for several weeks.  There was the ‘slut feminist’ paradox right there: it was all on show for the taking, but no smooth ride could be guaranteed.

To couch it in polite terms, she had not quite honed her act at that point.  If I ever hear that Cutting Crew song (I Just) Died In Your Arms, which was released a few years later, I always change the lyrics in my head to ‘She just died on her arse that night,’ and applied them to her.

Fond of filth as I am, I do like a routine with more substance than what to my ears was a volley of ‘Tampons!  Vaginas!  VAT on sanitary fucking protection!  Outrageous!  Periods!  Jam rags!  Gussets!  Scargill!  Vulvas!’ with little linking narrative.

I remember that night so well.  A big night for one of our tribe.  I took it upon myself to book and pay for our taxi into Brum city centre.  I was chivvying everyone along.

Nelson – for whom every minute of the day was a rehearsal opportunity – was whirling around the lounge to Rondo Veneziano, oblivious to the driver tooting his hooter downstairs, until I snapped the tape player off.  He was still bundling himself into his coat in the back seat.  He slithered out of the taxi the other end like an It Girl pulling up at a premiere.

‘You’re our mommy,’ Majella clucked, kissing my cheek.  I felt like it that night.

The seating arrangement in Loff resembled a comprehensive school science lab: rows of deliberately mismatched desks and uncomfortable chairs.  Mistyped menus listed the gastronomic horrors on offer, which were served by bored girls with Max Headroom wedge haircuts and Max Wall leggings.

For reasons best known to us at the time, we decided to avail ourselves of the chicken and chips in the basket.  I may have admitted to a penchant for junk food, but I still like it to be cooked, and presented to me with minimal bloodshed.

These drumsticks were essentially coal on the outside but pink inside, seeping their vile juice over sad chips arranged on kitchen roll in dirty raffia.  A similar basket housed the toilet rolls in our bathroom at home.

This chicken, to maintain the comedy/joke theme, looked capable of getting up and crossing the road.

All thoughts of putrid poultry were obliterated when Linda was announced on stage and we cheered with rowdy loyalty – although we soon regretted advertising our association with her.

Linda still talks today of how she became a phoenix after she was booed off at that grubby club that infamous night.  Comedy – as exemplified at Loff and the more famous Comedy Store in London – was enjoying an anti-Tarby, anti-mother-in-law joke backlash, but she proved too random even for that audience.  Certain punters rewarded Linda by pelting her with tampons, or ‘jam rags,’ as she called them.  We got our money back for the chicken; others demanded refunds of their entrance fees.

‘I’d rather listen to fucking Tarby talking shit about golf,’ was one critique I heard being yelled.  I must note that the paralytic critic’s hands were around the box office clerk’s throat at the time.

Linda devotes several paragraphs of her autobiography to how, despite watching her cry pursued by Lil-let missiles, ‘Wes’ saw something in her (ahem!), mentored her and hooked her up with her agent, Kevin Light.  Kevin’s surname was conveniently apt for showbiz.  The name of his agency, Light & Sound, can’t have won him any originality awards.

To be fair, after weasly Wesley took her under his wing (again ahem!), she became less shouty and honed her timing.

I once asked Linda how she could stand Wesley’s ratty hair dangling all over her.  She said the ticklishness added an edge to the sex, ‘and anyway shampoo is a symbol of oppression.  A needless invention of a cosmetics industry run on shallow, Thatcherite values.’  She stopped washing her own trademark 50s-esque blonde wave.  That was until Kev Light advised her a manky mane would look terrible on television.

The slightly scrubbed-up ‘slut feminist’ soon became the most popular turn at Loff.  She even returned for a sell-out guest appearance to mark the club’s twenty-fifth anniversary, when she unveiled a blue plaque commemorating it as the venue where ‘top comedian, writer and actor Linda Dyson’ made her stand-up comedy debut.  I heard rumours the same chicken was still on the menu, and the same unmatched school chairs and desks remained in situ.

Shortly after breaking into television, Linda ditched wet Wesley and earned herself a reputation for shagging her way through a series of Channel 4 and later BBC comedy producers.  Now I would hate to accuse Linda of sleeping her way to success – but, hey, if the (Dutch) cap fits!

These days Linda is as mainstream as they come (not that I have much room to talk).  She’s competed on Celebrity Maserchef and Let’s Knit for Comic Relief.

My own route to success was, it’s fair to say, slower.  I took the now oft-trodden talent show route.  My auditions for the legendary New Faces, filmed in Birmingham, failed.  It was not until well into the 1990s, when drag started enjoying an earthier renaissance, that Melba Most was victorious on The Big Big Talent Show.

I was able to purchase my dream abode in Upper Bratchley, a village in South Staffordshire to which many Dudley residents aspire to relocate.  I ensconced my beloved mom in an apartment in Lower Bratchley, the only slightly less upmarket neighbouring village.  She remains there to this day.  Home prior to that was our old family terrace in Kates Hill, and for years pride had thwarted my attempts to re-house her.

‘I’d rattle in anything that vast,’ she’d said.  ‘One of them could billet a family of thirty.  Don’t you gooo a-spending on me, our Mel, it gives me more pleasure to see you doing so well.’

I knew I’d officially Made It when I acquired a stalker.  A woman, would you believe, who for a couple of years wrote me relentless letters on Garfield stationery.  She rumbled my identity – and this was in the days before social media made celebrities’ everyday lives an open book – and informed me she had once spotted me in M&S in Kidderminster (guilty as charged).

‘You have the most beautiful eyebrows,’ she blathered.  She went on to make earnest assertions that she could ‘turn me,’ if only I would ‘give hetero pleasures a chance and let her make love to me, ‘softly and slowly,’ in her bedroom, which she described in intimate, peach satin detail.

She evidently grew bored of her effusive one-sided pen pal correspondence (or perhaps she died, or Garfield writing paper was discontinued – I never investigated the matter), because her epistles abruptly dried up.

Linda Dyson has had scores to stalkers, she says.  She oh so humbly asserts to be at a loss as to why these men have been rendered so unhinged with lust for her.  Well, that makes two of us.

In her autobiog she reveals Wesley tragically overdosed because he never got over her (oh please!); she maintains his death remains on her conscience and is one of the reasons she still receives such a glut of hate mail to this day.

As for me, I recently revived the ‘reading on the toilet’ routine.  The contemporary twist is that I now speculate on whether the people who used to read a hardback while having a poo are now more regular these days, or take their iPhones in there instead.

******

I recently had the displeasure of the company that Gareth Rushcliff.  What a tosser!  We were on Alan Carr (so to speak), a Chatty Man Midlands special.  There was me, ‘reformed 80s legends’ Glinda Spitfire and a surgically-enhanced young lady called Daisy from Bull Ring, which is apparently a new reality series set among the beautiful people of Birmingham.  She did little beyond giggle, wiggle her jumbo boobs and repeat ‘Orlrite’ in a helium voice.

‘I’m surrounded by you,’ Gareth sneered at one point, during the after-show bash.  ‘Alan, you, Trev.  Good job I’m here to realign the straight vibes, eh?’

No, I had no idea either.

The band were releasing a blu-ray of Phosphorescence (no idea why it was called that), the documentary they’d made in their heyday.  Filmed in ‘arty’ black and white, it was full of lingering close-up shots and ‘insightful’ musings, made mainly by Gareth while exhaling smoke plumes and staring dolefully at ceilings.

I did chuckle to myself when his magnanimous ‘Who wants an autograph?’ offer to the knot of young people outside the stage door was met with a derisive ‘We’re here to see Daisy, you old fossil!’

Of course he was drooling like a randy Great Dane over Daisy.  She tagged alongside Alan or me at the do, as if for protection.  She looked ludicrously young and naked, in her baby pink crop top and white jeans, slung strategically low enough to display her diamante thong.  I harboured a rare paternal urge to put a cardigan on her.

The TV people laid on cars for the guests.  I saw her to hers, to ensure she wasn’t pursued by a geriatric pop star.

‘I’ve never heard of you, Melinda,’ she trilled, kissing my cheek, ‘but fanks anyway.’

How wounding!

Talking of wounding, one of the runners on the show later said to me, ‘Apparently her boyfriend’s in Winson Green.  Armed robber.’  So much for defenceless Daisy.

Going back to Gareth, though, he was as big a tosser back in the days when poor Majella was so gullibly besotted with him.  Whenever I’ve encountered him in the intervening years, he’s never acknowledged meeting me in the 80s.  I know not whether his ignorance is genuine, and he really doesn’t compute that Majella’s skinny queer friend is now the international diva (ha!) Melba Most.

I remember the first time I was officially introduced to the Glinda Spitfire members.  Maj was so proud and excited for me to meet her new ‘friends.’  It was not a comfortable night.

There was clear antipathy towards Majella, towards regular girlfriends in principle.  She was barely tolerated by Joe, Mike and Romy; politely acknowledged by Trevor.

They commandeered the snug of a crammed pub in Erdington (now a 24-hour super-gym), which they apparently favoured because the regular punters were unimpressed by celebrity and left them alone.  I ventured towards the bar, which was four deep with blokes, only for Gareth to scoff, ‘They don’t serve your type in here, ducky,’ before ironically sending Trevor up to get drinks instead.

To be fair, he had a point.  The clientele was an uneasy mix of overcoat-clad codgers and human bulldogs in shiny suits with tattooed knuckles.  Both groups incessantly smoked roll-ups.  Neither, I imagined, had been impressed by celebrity since George Formby came to town during the War.  Ironically, as it turned out, this was a pub owned by the Arrowsmith & Broom brewery.

The only females in the joint were Majella, Romy, the aged barmaid – an alleged genuine Romany gypsy, who resembled Cher’s granny – and Linda, who spent most of the evening engaged in a furious row with Joe about the Sun (his favourite newspaper, which she considered the devil’s rag), before getting off with him.

‘He’s an ace snogger, for a sexist gargoyle,’ she later professed.

The band had evolved from their florid New Romantic image to adopt a slicker, more masculine style, favouring suits and Brylcreem, both on and off stage.  Joe looked especially incongruous in his whistle and flute, resembling a schoolboy from the Beano wearing his big brother’s uniform.  They all walked with a wide, cowboy gait, as if their enormous manhood couldn’t possibly breathe freely if they kept their legs together.

Majella confided me in that she ‘preferred Gareth in jeans,’ because he ‘looked softer and more approachable.’  I’d have preferred him in a concrete overcoat but, hey, personal choice and all that.

Their cringeworthy body language put me right off my crisps.  Most couples cuddle, but she nestled right into him, as though she was trying to climb inside his pocket.  The feisty, self-assured actress disappeared, and I hated this particular part she assumed.  Gareth was not a partner who could ever bring out the best in her.  He held her at such an angle as to display his ownership of this adoring girl, while preventing her from rumpling his suit.  I also caught the frequent loaded glances he exchanged with Romy Rotuna the feral cat.

Romy was prone to touching men’s knees for prolonged seconds (even mine – I always said she was indiscriminate, that one).  Her hair was a hedge from behind which cigarette smoke belched and into which pints of beer would disappear and emerge empty.

There was an apple-cheeked Princess Di (Lady Di, as we still called her then) quality about Majella then.  She embodied early 80s style, with her shimmering blonde pageboy cut and the rosy, natural glow which no girls nowadays seem to possess.

She’d been riveted by the Royal Wedding, and fantasised about Gareth and she assuming the label of the Charles and Di of pop royalty.  Right there all the time was Romy, the ‘other woman,’ the Kwik Save version of Camilla to Gareth’s Charles.  How easily we bought into ‘fairy tales’ back then.  Even if Gareth’s facade fooled nobody but Majella, the world certainly still had yet to learn about Charles and Camilla.

The band’s imminent video shoot was one topic of conversation that night.

‘I’ll be in your video if you like,’ Majella simpered.  She routinely made such offers, in a jokey, coy tone that never fooled me.  With her thespian grounding she ought to have been well placed, but her offers were never taken up.

‘No offence, love,’ Joe chuckled offensively, squashing his fag into the brimming ashtray, ‘but Romy is be the only bird we want in our vids.’

Majella laughed valiantly, as though a starring role as Gareth’s sexy love interest in one of Glinda Spitfire grandiose videos was not her aspiration.

I sensed Romy’s triumphant smirk, despite her face being virtually veiled by her riotous hair.  I wondered how smug she looked later down the line when, as the band’s budget multiplied, ‘the only birds’ welcome in their promos were supermodels.

‘Majella, chick,’ Gareth swiped a fiver out of his breast pocket and jabbed it at her, ‘why don’t you go and fetch us some more crisps, eh?’

She patted his lapel submissively and pouted in anticipation of a kiss, but there was an insistent look in his eye as he nodded and gestured with the note, that suggested he was in no mood for flirtation.  Accepting the note from him, she trotted off to the bar like an obedient puppy.

‘I’ll come with you,’ I offered, ignoring Gareth’s crack about me not getting served.

I welcomed our protracted absence from the group.  In those days, a ‘family pub’ was an alien notion, and boozers were a testosterone-dominated domain; true to form, it was an aeon before ‘Cher’ the barmaid flicked a scalped eyebrow in our direction, which was to be interpreted as ‘Whaddya want?’

It’s funny, by the way, how pub culture, such as it was it was then, has largely disappeared now.  Café culture, coffee culture, more commonly associated with Europe and America, began to burgeon in the decade that followed.  It’s not my favourite thing, as I’ve covered, but there’s no getting away from it.  Few pubs don’t do food now.  Back then, crisps and Big D nuts were the only cuisine on offer.  This place was all beer mugs and darkness, the chief source of light being the jukebox that belched out Glen Campbell and Foster & Allen on a loop.

‘Do you fancy a holiday?’ I asked, as much to my surprise as Majella’s.  ‘Abroad?’

I couldn’t tell you what brought forth that whim.  Maybe it was a sense of claustrophobia engendered by that dismal pub, the riots in Birmingham (which The Specials sang about, while Glinda Spitfire were posing on yachts, warbling about eyeshadow), or the incessant rain for which Britain remains infamous.  I’d only ever been to Brean Sands or Bridlington before, but package tours to Spain and Greece were becoming popular, more affordable and temptingly accessible.

It was only a few weeks later that poor Majella discovered her beloved Gareth in flagrante delicto in a Polo with rancid Romy.  The perfect justification to ‘get away from it all.’

‘You know that holiday you suggested,’ she sniffled.  That was that.  We marched into a travel agent (remember those?) in Corporation Street and booked five nights in Benidorm.  Finally we utilised our beloved Woolworths photo booth for sensible shots, which would grace our first passports.

We lived on crisps, prawns and Sol beer.  I got sunstroke, and Majella puked for three hours one night after consuming a dodgy prawn.  It was ace.

We were quite hilariously naive.  Spain, and even Birmingham Airport, seemed so colourful, hot and friendly in comparison with home.  The fact both were full of Brits was a bit lost on us.

We availed ourselves of the duty free, or to put it another way, we got pissed on the plane.

I sent Mom one of those dreadful postcards saying ‘Benidorm by Night’ over a plain black background, thinking it was hilarious, not realising they were sold everywhere from Shanklin to Cancun and the joke would wear thin very quickly.

I had to forcibly stop Majella sending a pleading postcard to Gareth.  Years later she confessed she sneaked out and posted it anyway (‘I had to feel I was fighting for him, but I cringe as I came across as so needy.  And of course I never got any sort of reply from the git!’

I’ve flown hundreds of times since then.  Everybody does now.  It’s arguably easier to fly these days than to catch a bus.  I’m absurdly blasé about it.  However, I still associate that ‘airport’ smell with Majella.  That heady brew of bacon, coffee, jet fuel, magazines, disinfectant, perfume and fatigue.  That smell never varies, whether you are in economy class or upgraded to first, and it always evokes that first Spanish sojourn.

That holiday cemented our relationship.  We were inseparable.  Trailblazers, in a fashion, since these were the days before a GBF – a gay best friend – was considered every straight woman’s essential accessory.  Some wit one said, ‘If I didn’t know you better, Mel, me old mate, I’d swear you were giving her one.’  We loved ABBA, Soft Cell, Lena Zavaroni, Judy Garland, and later on Madonna and The Communards (so clichéd).

I spent a lot of time shielding her from references to Gareth Rushcliff, which was no easy task as he was everywhere for a while.  Thank goodness, though, there was no social media back then, and just three – later four – TV channels, so it was only a matter of taking her out for a walk when Top of the Pops came on, or steering her away from the magazine rack in Brian’s.  Ah, how simpler things were when ‘everywhere’ didn’t literally mean everywhere, and we were not saturated by celebrity culture.

She still maintained a complex about him, which was never healthy.  As I may have covered, he was one ‘idol’ for whom I never saw the appeal.  I always found his music limp and tasteless.  Like this sandwich in Juno’s coffee lounge.

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