Halloween looms; the time when we conjure up all things ghoulish. I wonder how easy it is to genuinely scare the Bejesus out of today’s children, being used as they are to images that would have sent us quivering under the bed covers for months at their age. One of my vivid memories as a small child is of sitting at the dining table with the family during dinner and bawling in fear: my brother Robin had me convinced the Loch Ness Monster dwelled in the hallway of our three-bedroom semi. I had no firm concept of what a Loch Ness Monster might entail or be capable of, enhancing its reputation and elevating it to Unknown Dread. It’s fine though – Robin has been paid back handsomely over the years and also earned an immediate parental cuff round the ear. He would have picked up scare tactics from our older cousin Rory, who had my brother sobbing at the age of five with a tall tale of Daleks on the tracks during an unscheduled train stop between stations. What goes around. Nowadays I’m less afraid of intangibles although I’m prone to an involuntarily shriek if a person walks into the room unexpectedly. This is particularly frustrating for anyone unfortunate enough to live with me, who should (not unreasonably) expect to enter a room as a natural component of getting on with their life without the unwelcome side effect of having their eardrums perforated. Although my propensity for screaming is an everyday hazard for those close to me, there have been occasions it has caught others off guard:
Backstage, Wembley, 1984. It was the sixth and final night of a run of Culture Club gigs at the famous London venue and the hospitality area was awash with well-known faces, including Ringo Starr, Stephen Fry, Elton John, Herbie Hancock, Paul Young, Meatloaf and Bob Geldof. I was having a delightful and smug gossip with George Michael, due to an unwittingly canny move two years previous to that, whereby Roy and I had chanced upon a newly formed band by the name of Wham at a nightclub opening. Like most at the time, Roy had gravitated towards the vivacious Andrew Ridgeley, assuming he was the power and creative force behind their first single that was nibbling at the edge of the chart. I had immediately engaged the underdog George Michael in conversation at a time when he couldn’t get arrested, if you’ll pardon the phrase. We had been locked in conversation for a couple of hours. George M was shy and overwhelmed at having to promote himself publicly and I gave him a motherly pep talk that was characteristically presumptuous, considering I was a 20-year-old non-mother. Thus when I had extended a hand at Wembley and introduced myself to the megastar he had become, George M laughed, “Don’t you remember me? We talked for two hours at the Embassy!” I was mortified at forgetting, but he couldn’t have been sweeter. An idea had been put forward earlier in the day to attempt to recreate the Band Aid Christmas single as a finale to the last night of the tour but George M also wanted to seize the chance to perform a live version of Culture Club’s song ‘That’s The Way’, something he had long been an admirer of. It hadn’t been included in the set list but at his suggestion, Roy had thought it a splendid notion and sped off to alert Other George. He returned with the nod on the proviso that he could go over the chords to familiarize George M in a brief rehearsal rather than gamely debuting to 13,000 people and cocking it up completely. There wasn’t much time. George M grabbed my hand and we began to dash from room to room, giggling and flinging open doors, searching for an appropriately quiet space to practice. Stymied, our hopes were high on reaching the last door along the corridor and I burst through it hopefully, only to be confronted by the lush sight of Mr. Loaf in his entire splendor, with his underpants around his ankles. Meat & Alison let out simultaneous blood-curdling screams, although his was far more melodic than mine. Frankly, the picture of it is seared upon my memory for evermore. Both songs were later performed flawlessly to the rapture of the audience but I was too traumatized to think of anything else but Meat’s Y Fronts.
In the late ‘90’s I’d been pleased to host George for a flying visit to LA where he was due to put in a solo appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Even for a seasoned veteran of television, Leno is a daunting prospect, going out as he does to millions of homes across America. George was uncustomarily nervous in the hours leading up to the taping. Typically, he will limit the amount of people he can bear to be around as he readies himself and only a trusted few will have access to his dressing room. Eschewing a make-up artist, George was doing his own, but was getting increasingly agitated as a few beads of anxious perspiration kept threatening to dent his exquisite handiwork. He was in a flap, banning everyone from the room but myself. It became my task to calm him as well as field the continuously interrupting knocks on the dressing room door for ever more disingenuous reasons. One of the Tonight Show staff wanted him to sign the illustrious guest book. Someone else wanted to fit the radio mic. A man arrived with towels. A secretary needed a Performing Rights slip filled. Snacks were offered. Unbeknown to the two of us, Leno visits his guests before taping, unlike David Letterman, who allows his staff to badly research facts then attacks on air to ambush his interviewee to maximum effect, having grandly had nothing to do with them until the pivotal moment. He likes to emerge as the victor at someone else’s expense. Jay, ever the gentleman, makes a social call to disperse the nerves he understands may occur when not just on air but meeting him for the first time. He would never acknowledge the magnitude of his own celebrity; it is unspoken. He uses the social call to graciously discuss in advance a few anecdotes he might prompt the guest to share, leaving no nasty surprises when in front of cameras and a live audience. Nevertheless, on the seventh knock at the dressing room door, George was at boiling point and instructed me to tell whomever it could be to fuck off and leave him in peace. I cracked the door a fraction, distracted and a little impatient, and Jay Leno’s head popped through suddenly. Instantaneously, I screamed in surprise and dismay almost slamming the door on his face. Quick as you like, the lovely Jay smilingly responded with, “Wow! Am I that ugly?” before introducing himself to me modestly – as if he needed to explain who he was.
My phone just emitted an innocuous bleep to indicate full battery charge, provoking a faint cry of alarm from me. I’m more nervous than a badger in a brush factory. Mostly this is due to last week’s Spider Incident. The quite rainy summer has, according to news reports, made for ideal spider growing and although my house gets cobwebs I rarely see one – until last week. I was watching TV when an enormous one ran out from under the living room curtains and crouched by the VCR. I thought to myself, I’ll ignore that and pretend I didn’t see it. I was hoping it would sidle off behind the TV stand and both the spider and I would be happier, but no. For reasons best known to the giant spider it decided to gallop straight towards me at 50mph across the wood floor. I really hate this because it means I’ll have to deal with it. I whipped off a slipper and thwacked it hard but then was obliged to stare at the slipper for an hour to make sure it didn’t limp out from underneath. The slipper sat for 3 days, in the middle of the room, until I got the courage to lift it up and dispose of the mangled carcass. Damn thing. I was walking around with one slipper on. No sooner had my anxiety subsided than one evening I entered the kitchen, snapped on the light and there, pulsing malignantly on the counter, was its parent. A spider the size of a bagel. My scream harmonically resonated at such a high sonic frequency that I set off a passive burglar alarm in the next room. The next room. Putting aside the disconcerting thought that a burglar alarm coupled with screaming failed to rouse the concern of the neighbours, I was faced with the bald fact that the insect spray resided in the cupboard directly beneath Shelob. With the slow and cautious precision of a bomb disposal expert I levered the cupboard doors open with the longest implement to hand: a bread knife. No spray. I was all out. A noise escaped me that can only be described as grizzling. However, here’s where initiative comes in handy. Under there I also accumulate mounds of plastic recycling bags that get tossed onto my doorstep weekly in an optimistic gesture that I will avail myself of them. They are orange, and are bound in long, thin rolls about two and a half feet in length. I suddenly had a vision of myself, clad in flowing robes, wielding a roll with both hands in the manner of a Jedi Knight. They are ideal weapons, although I’m fairly certain that was far from the goals of the Local Council’s Green Initiative when they were first imagined. Gingerly liberating one with my foot, I lined myself up with the spider and prepared for an incisive Vader lunge. You only get one chance before the jig is up and efforts descend into a frenzied chaos of panic battering. Got it in one. The Force was with me. But then it was days before I had the courage to confront the corpse and suction it up with a vacuum cleaner extended by several hoses. I’ve since spent cowardly hours lifting the edge of anything not nailed down in the event a domestic monster has claimed habitation rights.
So I’m not best prepared for Halloween and my nerves are on a hair trigger. If anyone shows up at my door dressed as Meatloaf, Leno or a bagel-sized spider, be warned. I have plenty of festively orange recycling bags just itching to be useful.
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