15:57. I’m late. In the last few of hours I took at taxi back to the Castle de Miles and repacked my stuff, heading for the only B&B I could find after countless costly enquiries through those bloody 118 numbers. On the one hand it was convenient as I never got the chance to return or take any calls from ‘concerned individuals/nosy little bastards’ about my apparent lack of employment. Unfortunately I did miss a call from Dad who left a short and to the point message asking if I’m okay. He must have read the story too! I also didn’t get the chance to ring Suzy back, not that I’d know what to say without sounding like a gibbering idiot…ironic seeing as that’s how I make a living!
I half entertained the notion of staying in the Major just to see how it’d been fucked up over the years, but I figured I’d get enough opportunity to criticise during the next few hours. Managed to score the last room in the Tallow Grove – last minute cancellation they’d said. I’m wondering now if the intended guests had realised that the showers were freezing cold and had seen evidence of apparent rodent activity and decided to change their minds. It’s small, it’s damp, plus it only has one mirror in the bathroom which is just big enough to spot single strands of facial hair while shaving in a bathroom with a flickering neon light – not that handy when trying to fix a tie. (I hate wearing ties. I’m sure they were invented by women to remind us that we are in effect just dogs who need to be lead round by our necks.) Still, location wise I’m lucky, being just round the corner from the wedding venue. Wedding started at ‘14:00 prompt’, but there was no chance of me making that. To be honest, it didn’t seem right me going, or anyone closer than family going. Wedding ceremonies should always be real small, private affairs, making more room for party guests afterwards. I get a move on.
Five minutes later I’m walking through the rear car park of The Major Hotel, past its resident moron staff, to that faded grand entrance. My heart sinks further than expected. If I had any cigarettes I’d be lighting up ten in a row right now. A few more nameless late arrivals rush past me through to the main reception. I take a deep breath of cleansing sea air mixed with air-conditioning unit fumes, casting a glance over the sea to the black clouds hovering on the horizon. The wind is picking up, blowing the storm right toward us. Not sure whether to dismiss it as ‘just bad whether’ or view it as some kind of omen, I step over the threshold.
Inside my brain can’t seem to decide whether I’m in a ‘modern, lavish hotel’ as the website seemed to boast, or the new south-coastal branch of Ikea. There’s nothing here of the grand establishment that it once was. Any life or soul has been sucked dry. It’s a zombie! I’m going to a wedding reception in a hotel zombie.
“S’cuse me sir, you going to the wedding reception of Burt and Chennapra…Chennapragadadada…..Chenna…”
This bit was always funny! “Um, Brad and Karim? Yes, yes I’m here for…..that!”
“Do you have your invitation please sir?”
I reach in to my jacket pocket. There’s my wallet, the B&B room key in one, my mobile in the other. Oh shit! “Um, I don’t seem to, um…”
“Yeah, he’s okay. He’s with us!” Max looks different. Not physically. He’s still got the Fat Elvis thing going on, highlighted by what I can only describe as a really bad Blues Brothers outfit minus the hat and shades (maybe they were left in the hall!). But he’s also minus the big invisible dark cloud that had been following around for most of the last decade. He’s got some of his mojo back. Maybe in the short time between me changing accommodation he’s managed to fix the marital problems. Not sure how though. “Glad you made it buddy” he over-enthuses. “Thanks for coming!”
I hate over-enthusiasm (almost as much as I hate the word “buddy”!). Makes me feel, shall we say, ill at ease. You always know there’s something simmering down there in the pit of personal hell that’s bound to come out eventually. No time like the present as far as I’m concerned. I stop us both in our tracks, blocking the entrance to what is apparently the main party hub. “So, everything sorted then?”
“Sure everything’s fine”.
Again, too over-enthusiastic!“Really? Cos from what you were saying earlier…”
Max ushers me over to one side. We lean against the plain white walls. “Listen” he says, smiling round the room before fixing his hardened gaze back at me. “Let me make this very clear, okay? I’m not too thrilled with you being here, but this ain’t my wedding so who am I to bitch and moan? Bottom line, you and me, never gonna happen, okay? I just wanna get through tonight with as little hassle and as much alcohol as I can manage. After that, won’t bother me if I never see or hear from you again. We on the same page?”
He leans in ever closer. I’m half convinced the hand he’s leaning on will break through the thin plaster any second now. “Fine with me!” I shrug, honestly not that bothered. “Let’s just make the most of it!”
“Agreed!” He smiles again, and we step through the portal.
* * *
Karim’s wedding reception feels like false advertising. Looking around it’s less of a celebration about his recent nuptials to Brad Burt and more of an exhibition of his own work. There’s portraits (granted mostly of the happy couple) and landscapes (featuring the happy couple in front of, behind, or more disturbingly in one case simulating full-on man love on top of…at least I hope they were simulating!) and the occasional ad campaign. None of which I’ve seen before, but I think I get the messages, eventually. The pseudo-exhibition is punctuated gracefully with more traditional wedding garb like flowers and guest-books. The (to be frank cheap imitation) chandeliers now harness enough streamers it looks like the room’s been decorated by a giant spider with a garish sense of colour. The room is elegantly arranged with round tables for afternoon tea, apparently Brad’s idea. There’s no one I remotely recognise here. Even if they were from Bournemouth university I seriously doubt I’ll be able to put a name to a face. At least until I see an all too familiar two-headed beast.
“Dan?” I get asked in stereo. “The famous Dan Shears? Is that really you?”
“Well well, Mr. and Mrs. Shapiro!” Rick and Jenna always were the perfect couple. They did everything together. Lived, shopped, travelled, and this was before any of us in Bournemouth even knew them. It’s like they were born married. It was sickening back in the day but I’ll be honest, seeing them now, in a world where relationships seem to burn quicker than a cheap cigarette it’s actually quite refreshing. Doesn’t stop it being annoying though!
I get a group hug from apparently the second happy couple in the room. “You’re looking good” one of them remarks. “You’ve been working out” the other one says…I hope it was Jenna! We have a brief catch-up. Turns out they’re both living the dream, running their own little bistro restaurant on the Poole quayside, and judging by the jewellery Jenna is sporting a very successful one. They seem really excited about this whole reunion thing, if a little freaked out. They ask if I’ve seen anyone yet – by ‘anyone’ they mean Rita of course. Then a nameless parent walks past us both holding a screaming child, and for a split second their high spirits take a sharp nose dive. It had become common knowledge over the years that the Shapiro’s were unable to expand their family numbers beyond two by normal methods. No one knew exactly why. No one wanted to know. And it seems now that rumoured attempts at IVF treatment hadn’t wielded any results either. It’s sad. When you think of all the children brought in to this world by accident, or just plain unwanted, and then you see these two – these parents without a child – it puts a lot of things in perspective. At least until one of the little fuckers comes along and kicks you in the shins!
“Oh God I am so sorry” another nameless guest says. The mother I’m assuming judging by the way she picks the squirming little shit up off the floor. “Hey, Dan right?”
“Yes, that’s right!” I don’t have the faintest clue who she is. I’m not even going to try!
“Wow, they said you were coming, I just never thought you would. Becca Grimes. You probably don’t remember, I was in the same study group as…”
“Holy shit it is you!” comes another voice from behind me. Male this time. “The Sharp One! Mike mate. Mike Davis. Man I can’t believe you’re…”
“Danny-boy, fuck me!”
“Um, I’d rather not!”
“Ha, ever the joker! Remember me? Dave Phillips? We used to…”
“My God you’ve changed” A female voice this time. Then another voice, and another. I’m practically surrounded by everyone and I don’t have a fucking clue who any of them are. They all tell me their names, and what we used to do at university – in the same study groups or lectures, many of them admitting they were groupies from those many nights at Landmarc. I’m speechless, which as anyone in my profession will tell you is hardly a good thing!
“Yes yes, isn’t it special” announces a loud, and lets be honest camp voice as it manoeuvres through the gathered crowd. “We have a celebrity in our midst. But just remember guys, this is the man who was boning that Suzy Ryder and dumped her because he didn’t want to be tied down.”
“Ha yeah. What a twat!” comes another anonymous voice from the back of the crowd. Either that or I’m now an uber-ventriloquist and am able to really throw my own voice!
“So, the groovy Dan Shears! How are you?”
“Um…groovy?” What else can you say to that? Karim hasn’t changed a day - still just as gay (in every possible sense of the word!) and outlandish as before, especially when it comes to his wardrobe. And he hasn’t disappointed today, decked out as he is in what can only be described as a pink baby outfit and a Mohawk wig. I always thought the gays were renowned for their fashion sense! Still, he did always like being the centre of attention, so he probably wasn’t too impressed when a tall and handsome London based DJ with a reputation for fun and frolics had (unwittingly) stolen the limelight.
He wraps his string bean arms around my right shoulder and ushers me away from the gathered masses. “Well I never expected you’d be here!” I don’t think anyone has ever really discovered whether Karim knows he’s one of the rudest fuckers alive. “Still, it’s good you came my friend, but not that way! At least, not yet!” I cringe a little inside as he whispers those last few words directly in to my inner ear, just so it burns extra bright in my subconscious for the next decade or so. Suddenly we stop, or rather bump in to a man who should be given the title role in the next Hercules film. “Oh Dan, where are my manners? Oh right, never had any! Dan this is my life partner and husband now. Brad Burt. Brad this is the infamous Dan Shears.”
Now I’m your typical straight as a blade hetero guy, but I challenge any of you out there of the same ilk, or any ilk for that matter, to not fancy this blonde haired, blue eyed Adonis…at least until he opens his mouth! “Oh my God Dan Shears. I love your show my friend it’s so edgy, so irreverent. I really don’t know how you get away with half the stuff on your show, it’s amazing! Plus of course lots of people here talking about you so I feel like I almost know you already, how amazing!” He’s like David Beckham on speed.
“Well now I’m at a disadvantage Brad, ’cos I know nothing about you!”
He wraps his tree-trunk of an arm round my shoulder, and walks me through the hall. “Well let me fill you in…so to speak!” I guess I walked right in to that one! We take turn about the room, and I’m more aware probably than at any other time in my life that all eyes are watching me as I’m flanked by the newly married couple. I feel like all I need is a dog lead and the illusion will be complete! Still, I find out a little more about Brad, who unsurprisingly started off as a model, which I guess explains how he met his beloved. “Underwear and body shots mainly, nothing above the shoulders. My nose is far too crooked.” For a split second I wonder if he’s fishing for a compliment, but thankfully he doesn’t miss a beat. Seriously, I think the dude missed his calling as a chat show host! “But I’m stepping it up a gear, taking it more seriously!”
“Always a good thing!” I commend.
“I’m going to a launch party of a modelling agency on Sunday, in London as it happens. You live in London don’t you?”
“I do yes!”
“Wonderful, you and I should totally hook up!” he enthuses. “Hey, maybe you should come to the party. The agency is called…”
“Vantage?” I interrupt. It seemed obvious really. I mean all the other elements of my life seem to be converging here tonight, why leave out my most recent fuck-up?
“Oh of course, you know Suzy don’t you? Delightful girl isn’t she?”
“Yes. Yes, she really is.”
Timed to perfection Max reappears with a welcome chilled bottle of beer. “Oh yeah, she really is!” he nudges me in the side.
A rapid succession of camera flashes goes off. Karim starts bounding up and down like a small child just after consuming a litre of Sunny D. “Oh, this is brilliant” he cheers, clicking away with his over-sized camera. “The dynamic duo back together again! See I told you Brad, it’s just like old times, especially later.”
I regret these next words even before they’ve formed in my voice box. “Why, what’s happening later?”
“Well you two. You’re doing a set for us. Like I said, old times!”
This little get-together has been on the cards for a good few months now, and no where in any communication was there mention of a ‘Dan & Max Reunion Gig’. As far as I was concerned there was more chance of a full on Beatles reunion tour!
“I mean that is the only reason you were invited!” If those were spoken by anyone else you’d be thinking they were just playing around. With Karim, you have to wonder if he’s being serious.
I look over at Max to gauge a reaction but he’s too busy glancing around the room and waving at a few familiar faces. I don’t think it’s a good idea, and from our intimate chat earlier I seriously doubt my former partner will either. I make the excuse that I didn’t come prepared, I don’t have any gear with me and I’m just here to pay my respects to the happy couple. By this point we’ve attracted a few more people interested in our little conversation, and my most recent comments are not being welcomed too well. There’s growing disappointment in the form of disgruntled moans and boo’s. There’s clapping and chanting: “Max and Dan, Max and Dan, Max and Dan…” I feel myself smiling (primarily because I have my brother’s comments on a perpetual loop inside my head!) and relenting to the pressure. And then, on a growing wave of expectant euphoria, I crash back to earth with a bang.