John Walsh: Tales of the City

I resolved to visit the Land of Youth no more, but now the musty scent of age is rising
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Friends Reunited get in touch with news that two old schoolmates of mine are trying to contact me. Would it be fun to see them? One is Rafe "Piggy" Beauchamp who, he explains in his submission, has been living in Singapore since the Eighties because he admired Lee Kuan Yew's crackdown on littering and speaking too loudly on public transport. Piggy is on his third wife, has two sons that he never sees, and hopes I co-invest in a new leisure resort in the Maldives. The other is Nicholas Gimson, a year below me at school, who recalls with rapture our long discussions about Gramsci on the lawn near the gym, and hopes that the "unfortunate embrace incident" has been forgiven if not forgotten. I can remember nobody of that name, nor any conversations held on any patch of greensward near any gym. I've never read a word of Gramsci. As for the gay pass, if that's what it was, it went in one ear and out the other. What a disgusting image that conjures up.

I gave up the past some time ago, and I don't want to go back. Just can't get interested any more. God knows I'd put in the hours - I wrote two volumes of memoirs and, when research was needed, I gazed at faces in photographs, trying to see into the lives of young versions of my friends and myself. Fruitless, of course - trying to taste the past is like biting on an iron bar. I resolved to spend no more time visiting the Land of Youth, and weeping over my old orange-jacket Penguins and my Van Der Graaf Generator albums.

My oldest male chums tend to agree. Though we've known each other for nearly half a century, we do not bang on about the past. We are lively, energetic, go-ahead, kick-ass, essentially modern guys. We are healthy as butchers' dogs, we do windsurfing weekends (well, they do), we have bright eyes, firm handclasps and tungsten abs. We are attractive in a grizzled, seasoned-timber way, like Caine and Connery in The Man Who Would Be King.

So when the four of us met in a bar near Waterloo for a modern, thoroughly au courant, life update, I had no qualms that we'd get stuck in Yesteryear.

"You're looking well," said Ian to Tony.

"Just had the annual medical," said Tony. "Pronounced 105 per cent for a man of my, you know, years. I felt like cheering."

"You just had a medical?" said Sam. "Me too! Did you get the old prostate checked?"

"God, yeah," said Tony. "The long finger up your arse. It's no fun, is it? Especially the moment when he wiggles it a bit, like he's waving to someone."

"Or he's got a finger-puppet on," said Ian.

"Guys," I said weakly. "Can we talk about someth-"

"You know James?" said Sam. "His wife's got diverticulitis. Nasty. I live in terror of getting a bowel disorder like my Mum had."

"Guys," I said, "Anyone fancy going to see the Pogues in December? They're back in Brixton Academy. Shane MacGowan included."

"I had a bit of scare over the summer," said Tony cheerily. "Every-thing I ate went straight through me like an assegai. Some random strain of bacteria, they said. Bacteria pyloris, I think."

"Nah," said Ian, "That's not the bowel. Pyloris, that's your stomach, as in pyloric stenosis, which is projectile vomiting. Unless you had that too?"

"I had a ride in the UK's fastest speedboat the other day," I said. "It's called the Bladerunner 51, and it goes bombing round the Isle of Wight at 70 knots which is, like, 90 miles an hour ..."

"You remember John Lucas, that cousin of mine?" said Sam, "Just had a stroke. Only a mild one, but he's walking around on eggshells all the time now. He says it's like being electrocuted, only ver-y slow-ly. Mind you, his liver must be the size of the Albert Hall after the amount of Macallans he's put away."

"Guys," I said. "Have you seen the new issue of Front magazine? Katie Downes and Natasha What's-her-name get their kit off and have a bitch-fight over eight pages of sizzling carnality ..."

"How was the blood pressure?" asked Tony.

"Hundred and eighty over sixty," said Sam without a pause. "Bit of a bullseye, that. How's your cholesterol level?"

I sat dumbfounded. When did this happen? One minute, it seemed, our conversations were about Savile Row tailors and whether you'd rather be stuck in a broom cupboard for 15 minutes with Marie Helvin or Katie Derham. Now the only subject in town is how ill you are, or are about to become. The musty scent of age and mortality is rising around us like marsh-gas. Soon, we'll be talking about the tax advantages of booking a burial plot before next April.

There was only one thing to do.

"Guys, do you remember Piggy Beauchamp from school?" I said. "He got in touch the other day. Dear old Piggy. I remember the time when he- "

The other three looked at me. "Piggy?" said Sam. "Is he well?"

Alien invasion

The town of Gruyere in Switzerland is famous for two things, and one is its whole-milk cheese, enjoyed best in a classic fondue, that corner-stone of Seventies cuisine. It's a wholesome food which reflects credit on the region. A contrast with the town's other legendary feature, namely H R Giger the mad visionary who produced the original designs for the monster in Alien, and whose petrifying hybrid of dripping slime and vagina dentata jaws has had audiences cowering under their seats for 20 years.

When a Giger Museum was commissioned, local councillors went along with it. But when Giger put a full-size Alien - jaws, mucus, black carapace, saurian tail - against the wall outside, they had it removed, in case it upset tourists. "I need this type of sculpture to be outside," moaned Giger, "so visitors will stop and look and then maybe come into the museum." Or, alternatively, run away screaming until they reach the Alps.

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