Party One – Birthday
My nose is still bleeding and Dulcie is surgically attached to my elbow as I roughly push my way through a small group of e-listers smoking by the front entrance to Jonathan’s palatial Hampstead residence and immediately come face to face with his lordship. Jonathan, with Jane close behind him, looks shocked by my appearance then he smiles and shakes his head as if to imply that he is used to seeing me walking around with blood trickling on to a two-grand jacket. I’m not sure if this is true or not. What is true is that Jonathan has a new toy, this one in the form of a short, stocky, Indian-looking guy with a bald head. Jonathan looks pleased with himself and pats the Indian’s bald head in fast-motion like Benny Hill used to pat Jackie Wright’s. He laughs too much and shouts: ‘Er… Ian… nice to see you, me old muckah… And… Hum… Del… Della… How are you darlin’? Better late than never…” His voice can just about be heard above the sound of Shirley Bassey singing Goldfinger and in the red light of Jonathan’s huge reception area, polished marble and thick Persian rugs, I catch glimpses of various celebrities wandering around with glasses in their hands. Rio Ferdinand is here, his closely-cropped head jutting above the crowd of partygoers, deep in conversation with a girl I’ve never seen before. Chris Evans wanders by and gives me the nod; ludicrously, he’s wearing a radioactive green three-piece suit, presumably in an effort to outdo Jonathan, who is apparently wearing something forged from glitter and tinsel. Standing at the foot of a huge white painted staircase Ricky Gervais is gesticulating aggressively towards Melvin Bragg, who looks around anxiously for a means of escape. Various other faces turn to watch me arrive. Jane offers a cheek and then hurriedly withdraws when she notices the blood. I give her a half-hearted kind of hug, our bodies self-consciously not touching, and steal a glance at her well-packed dress. A drink is placed into my hand while Dulcie’s stubbornly finds its way into the other. For some reason I smile at Dulcie – who, if asked would tell you that she is a model, although her CV comprises a couple of lingerie shoots and the inevitable soft porn pot-boilers – and inexplicably wink. She looks good, like a bustier, better looking version of Paris Hilton, she draws admiring glances from some of the men in the room and hateful glares from some of the women. “Ian… Hum… Della… meet… Raj,” says Jonathan, gesturing grandly at the small Indian guy at his side. I pull away from Dulcie and reluctantly hold out a hand, which Raj ignores, a big grin on his ugly emaciated little face. Then Jonathan’s new toy opens its mouth to reveal that it is in need of several thousand pounds worth of dental rehabilitation. “No… No… No… No!” he keeps saying, in a strange high-pitched staccato voice, “No… No… No… No!” Shirley Bassey hits the high-C to end the song as Jonathan catches the confused look on my face and erupts with laughter, as do several others in the room including David Bowie, who I’m yet to forgive for what he did to me at the Hamptons last Summer. David notices my irritation and stops laughing, he turns away and is soon pretend deep in conversation with – I think – Mel B or perhaps his wife, although in the darkness I can’t be sure. I take a sip from my drink and when I hold it up to the light to see what it is I’m drinking I notice pink droplets of blood mixing with the contents of the glass. “No… No… No… No!” Raj continues, beaming in triumph like he’s just added a new word to the Oxford dictionary. I turn to Jonathan and I know that I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself: “Who…” I say, already knowing the answer to the question I am about to ask: after all, it’s Jonathan, surely quick-witted Jonathan can help me make some sense of what is happening. “Who… What… I mean… Who… What… What was… Nineteen-ninety, Jonathan… What, who won the World Cup semi-final in nineteen-ninety?” Now it’s Jonathan’s turn to look confused. He thinks for a moment and then laughs so much that I’m sure he’s going to wet himself. “Ian… Lovely Ian…” he says, “You’re fucking mental. Men-tal.” Only Jonathan would speak to me like this. He laughs some more but he cannot resist a challenge. He pretends to be thinking hard and then he says: “You fucking weirdo… You’re asking me who won the nineteen-ninety World Cup semi-final – what the fuck for?” Dulcie grabs my hand again – almost tenderly – and in the corner of my eye I see Matt Lucas marching by dressed as a Red Indian, unaware or unconcerned that it isn’t fancy dress here, closely followed by Stephen Gately. Simply Red are now singing Holding Back The Years. “Terribly sorry about this, Jonathan,” shouts Dulcie above the din, shaking her head at him and frowning, “He keeps asking everybody he meets, it’s his… his… Thing.” Jonathan looks Dulcie up and down, as if surprised that she is able to talk. “Who won it, Jonathan?” I urge. “Who won the semi-final?” Jonathan turns towards Jane and laughs even harder. “Fucking mental, “ he repeats, looking around the room. “Well most people would say Germany but it’s West Germany, of course… On penalties… Now who was it who missed them? Chris Waddle missed the second – almost hit the corner flag if I remember rightly – and who else was it? That’s right, Stuart Pearce missed the first.” And then without warning Stuart Pearce emerges from the throng of people, looking older, a little drunk and very hard and says: “Fucking hell… Gimme a break!” Jonathan continues to laugh as I move towards the stairs, confused and disappointed. “No… No… No…No!” I can hear Raj repeating before a delighted audience.
I shoulder my way through the crowds and locate the staircase. Dulcie continues to clutch my hand in hers as we head off in search of a bathroom. In my pocket iPhone Number Two starts to vibrate – finally, at last, the call that I’ve been waiting for, it has to be. Several of the other guests reach for their pockets and handbags when they hear the Old Phone ringtone, they look disappointed when I withdraw the iPhone from the left hand pocket of my jacket and swipe its surface with my finger. It’s Mr. Tickle, he should have called two days ago. My stomach has been churning. The blood continues to drip but my hopes are raised. Mr. Tickle is calling from Cuba, the line is faint and polluted with static. I move quickly up the stairs and enter the first room that I find, which is in darkness, discarding Dulcie and closing the door behind me. “Usted es tarde!” I yell into the phone. “Puedo jodiendo le mata!”
“El no pareció,” says the garbled voice of Mr. Tickle. “Tuve que esperar dos días que joden.”
“¡Usted jodiendo a idiota! ¡Si usted no entrega por el viernes el trato está apagado! Yo no soy un tonto. Yo no aprecio la tardanza. ¡Consígalo derecho usted jodiendo a bastardo!!”
The line goes quiet as Mr. Tickle thinks for a moment. Then he says: “Lo siento. Yo lo conseguiré derecho. Usted tendrá su entrega el viernes – Usted tiene mi palabra.”
“We’ll see…” I reply, more to myself than anyone else. Then I’m struck by a thought. “¿La señora Diana – está ella muerta o viva?” I yell into the phone. Before he can answer the line goes dead.
I stand alone for a few moments growling to myself, saliva and blood mixing together: “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” and my eyes grow accustomed to the darkness of the room I’m in. It’s a child’s room. White carpets with High School Musical posters on the walls, a small television, a computer, a robotic cat. Fortunately, it’s uninhabited. There are already droplets of blood on the white carpet. I open the door and find Dulcie waiting impatiently for me outside. She grabs my hand again and leads me back on to the landing where a neat line of obedient celebrities and industry faces are waiting for the toilet. I jump the queue and forcefully hammer on the toilet door. “Hurry up!” I urge, “I’m bleeding out here!” The door opens quickly and a flustered Boy George emerges. “Bloody hell, you OK Ian?” he asks, his angry look subsiding when he sees that it’s me. Ignoring the question I push past him with Dulcie still attached to my hand and enter the bathroom to be hit by the smell of artificial lemon and sour faeces. Dulcie locks the door and I grab a toilet roll.
The bleeding is not as bad as expected. I look at my reflection in a bathroom mirror and beginning mopping up the worst of the blood. Finally, at last, it seems to be clotting. My left nostril is filled with dried, crusty deposits. The nose began bleeding almost a week ago – on the day that Bobby Robson died, on the day that things began to change, at least I think that’s when it started. Since then it’s been doing it on and off almost continuously. “You’ve got to see a doctor,” urges Dulcie. “I will!” I snap, continuing to be irritated by her presence.
Despite the nasal disfigurement I’m pleased with what I see. The hair that I had darkened a week ago is still successfully masking the grey. The skin looks firm and clean and relatively unwrinkled. The eyes manage to look clear and almost white. I practice smiling in the mirror, watching for any effect that this has on the bleeding. A small bubble of crimson forms in my right nostril. I mop it away. Dulcie puts her arms around me for a moment, it’s almost a loving gesture.
I rinse my face with cold water and rifle through a bathroom cabinet. Neatly arranged bottles are swept to one side and I find a tube of hair gel next to a bottle of Minoxidal. Dulcie watches in silence as I massage a wad of gel into my thick black hair, in my mind’s eye I’m again replaying the England goal: it’s the first half of extra time and Chris Waddle charges towards goal, I’m sitting in Martin’s house in the summer of 1990 with a cold lager in my hand. We both scream uncontrollably as Waddle’s ungainly looking and purely tentative shot hits an upright and rebounds across the German goal line. “Yes!” I find myself saying aloud, which brings a look of concern from Dulcie. There is banging on the toilet door and someone shouts: “Get a move on!” Winding some toilet paper around my hand I exit.
I wander downstairs and find myself in one of many spacious reception rooms. On a vast leather sofa, various anonymous actors are sitting talking. They look over as I enter the room, Dulcie still with me, and one or two of them try to catch my eye. I move to a table that is empty except for a few discarded glasses and a sixth-generation iPod sitting atop a Bang and Olufsen Soundbuster. Simply Red are almost finished so I pluck the iPod from its perch in order to select a more suitable track. The music immediately stops playing and the house falls silent and a collective groan can be heard throughout. I return the iPod to its position and quickly move away, glumly apologising as I do so.
Denny Mancini appears from nowhere and taps me on the shoulder. “All right, my son,” he says, frowning at me. “You bleedin’? You should put some o this on it”. Denny is a well-known cuts-man, better qualified than anyone I know when it comes to the business of blood. He withdraws a small bottle half-filled with a clear liquid from his jacket pocket. “It’s adrenalin, I always carry a bottle,” he explains. “Put some up your nose and it will stop the bleeding, take it, here, keep it…” As well as being a blood expert, Denny is as close to anyone in my immediate circle who can be described as someone whom I like and who likes me; he keeps asking me to ghost his biography. I met him in a gym back in the late 1980s. I remember he was leaving the shower and was completely naked, his enormous, enormous, belly providing a remarkable contrast to the incredibly well-toned, muscular torsos of the professional fighters that surrounded him. I did not admire his body but I could not help admiring the total lack of self-consciousness that was and is his trademark. “Do it now, son,” he urges.
I unscrew the cap and dab some of the liquid on to my finger and gently prod at my nose, wincing a little. “Not like that,” says Denny, snatching the bottle from me and grasping my nose between his finger and thumb. He holds this position for a full 30-seconds. The pain is intense. I scream like a baby but Music To Watch The Girls Go By by Andy Williams has just started up and it drowns out the noise. Denny smiles good-naturedly and Dulcie strokes my arm. “Like this,” he says.
We swim through the crowds as more people shuffle by: Stephen Fry, Ambrose Mendy, Salman Rushdie, Delia Smith, David Soul (David Soul?!). It’s Jonathan’s fiftieth and he’s pulled out all the stops. Waitresses dressed as French maids are serving up sausages on sticks personally prepared by Gordon Ramsey, the drinks are delivered by waiters who have been selected for their height: all of them are over seven feet tall and have their skin painted green and wear ragged, torn trousers, I take a glass from one of the trays the nearest one is carrying, “It’s our special cocktail,” he says, emphasising the word ‘special’ in a voice that is incredibly – and I mean incredibly – deep.
An actor sidles up to me and asks if we can talk. I shrug back at him, meaning I can’t hear what you’re saying but he persists. I’ve met him a couple of times before but was never going to remember his name; he was – or is – in The Bill or Eastenders or Emmerdale or some kind of dreadful rubbish like that. He grabs my arm and I stop still and glare at him. He backs away apologising like a little child but still he persists. The reason for such persistence is standing next to him: she’s young – nineteen, twenty, I guess, blonde, quite beautiful. The actor beckons for me to follow him out to the garden and more out of boredom than anything else I do as I am requested.
Jonathan’s garden is huge with a neatly cropped lawn that is half the size of a football pitch. At the far end are tennis courts and a swimming pool. There are peacocks wandering around hissing at anyone who approaches. The actor draws me closer to him, “Listen,” he says, “I’m sorry – I’m very sorry – to impinge upon your time but this is Cristabel…”
“Hi Cristabel,” I smile, flashing my perfect newly capped teeth. Beside me Dulcie is squeezing my hand almost to the point that it hurts.
“Hi Ian,” Cristabel replies overconfidently. “I’ve heard all about you…” She purrs the last sentence like a cat. Her disrespect annoys me but I say nothing.
The actor butts in: “We were wondering, well hoping really, if… Well… If Cristabel could be… Could be added to… You know… Your client list… You know… Your list of… Clients.”
I look at the actor, irritated but not yet ready to react. He’s in his forties or fifties, overweight, balding and unappealing – a combination that severely delimits his chances of future success. I look at the girl: young, attractive but already she’s had a little work done. The nose has been altered slightly and the breasts have been enhanced too cheaply.
“Sorry,” I shrug, “I’d like to help but…”
“…Cristabel already has a record deal and she’s getting great reviews.”
“A record deal?” I say, mock interested. “Who with?”
“It’s… Hum… a small independent label…” says Cristabel.
“Can’t say I’ve heard of them, sweetheart. I’d have remembered if I had.” I smile at my own feeble joke and the pair of them feel obliged to laugh nervously in unison.
“Sorry,” I repeat, shaking my head, “no can do.”
Simon Cowell drifts by in the shadows accompanied by the obligatory Sinitta. He pretends not to notice me. “That’s who you should be talking to,” I advise.
“Ian…” says Cristabel, “Hum… Sorry… Mr… Mr Price… It may sound like I’m hustling but I’d really like to work with you. I admire what you do so much.” She overemphasises the word ‘so’ and again Dulcie squeezes my hand, pissed off.
“Sorry,” I repeat again. “I can’t trust you.”
The girl audibly gasps and looks over at her companion, who stares at me with a frightened, pleading look in his eyes.
“I beg your pardon?” she says. “Trust?”
“That’s right, I can’t trust you. You’re a fake.”
“Yes, a fake. I’ve only just met you but I can tell that you’re a fraud. You’ve got a fake nose and you’ve got fake tits. You’re fake. You’re duplicitous. Look at you – you’re still a child and already you’re an inveterate liar. I can’t trust someone like you.”
“What do you mean? Someone like me? What are you talking about?” says Cristabel, tears suddenly welling up in her eyes.
“Do I have to spell it out? It’s simple really. When I see people like you, fake on the outside, I can tell that you are fake on the inside. Believe me, I know these things. It’s not your fault. You’re just fake.”
Dulcie stops squeezing my hand as the other two trudge away, beaten, shaking their heads, shell-shocked. Then Cristabel looks over her shoulder at me and silently mouths the word: ‘wanker’. Happy Birthday by Altered Images strikes up and I know that it’s edging closer to midnight.
Jonathan’s few words become many as a crowd gather around him in the garden to pay homage. I close my eyes and rock my head and try to think of other things during a full six minutes of fireworks. I hate fireworks. You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. The blood begins to drip again and in the right hand pocket of my blood spattered jacket I absent-mindedly play with iPhone Number One.
In the distance I can hear Raj continuing his inane chant” “No… No… No… No…” For a reason lost on me people find the little prick amusing. I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder and abruptly turn to face it’s owner. Eric Guy smiles at me. He is dressed as Elvis, a cheap, ill-fitting nylon hairpiece superglued to his shaven skull. “All right boy,” he says, as always irritatingly over-familiar. “How’s the wife and kid?” He notices Dulcie and winks slyly at her. “They’re… Hmm… OK…” I reply. Eric has no right to be here, everybody at the party knows that. But even Jonathan is not about to ask him to leave. Eric is like one of those tiny Pilot fish that a shark will tolerate because it cleans its back of debris and detritus; or a Cattle Egret that perches on the backs of cattle to feed off parasites. Nobody knows why he’s here and nobody can understand why his presence at events such as this one is never challenged. Eric is friends with everyone – even with me apparently; his Facebook profile boasts a list of friends that exceeds 7,000. And until one can be sure of exactly who is sponsoring him, who is protecting him, who wants him to be here, he must be tolerated. “The missus not here?” he asks provocatively. Eric knows that she is not here, everybody knows that she is not here. But still he asks. I clear my throat and think back to a year ago, when she was here, and everybody knew that she was here. Eric continues to talk and I fade into autopilot, drifting away and trying to imagine where they are now. What they are doing, who they are with. My nose begins to bleed again.
It’s still dripping when I get back to the house, having managed to slip away unobserved while Dulcie was speaking to Danni Minogue. On iPhone Number One are no less than six voicemails and seven texts from Dulcie. The first text reads ‘where r u?’, the last one ‘you fuckin bstard!!!!!!!!!!’. It’s very late but Ania is sitting in the lounge watching an old Bruce Willis film. She smiles softly when she sees me enter and heads into the kitchen to fix a drink. I watch Willis and his wig rescue a group of children from some terrorists and quickly fall asleep. Later, I awake to birdsong and find myself in bed with Ania sleeping naked beside me. There is blood on the pillow and sheets. Always there is blood.