Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 6


Sunday was my birthday. A brisk walk in soft old desert boots because of budding corns on little toes, took me to Hyde Park Corner and Marlborough Arch, plonked like a gigantic 18th-century folly in its island of grass, then along Park Lane to where a crowd of goggle-eyed fame -watchers was standing opposite The Dorchester.

A black Rolls rolled up and discharged a small woman who hurried straight into the foyer without a glance at the crowds. According to the woman next to me it was Elizabeth Taylor.

A ten-minute stroll took me to Marble Arch; according to urban myth, yet another folly - built for Victoria's wedding but too narrow for her coach. In fact, it was designed as the entrance to the Court of Honour of Buckingham Palace in 1827, and built between 1828 and 1830 before Victoria came to the throne. Queen Victoria's coronation procession passed easily through the Arch as it left Buckingham Palace on its way to Westminster Abbey in 1838. Shortly after that, the Court of Honour was enclosed to provide extra accommodation required by the royal court and Victoria's expanding family, so the Arch was dismantled and moved to its present location in 1847. Queen Elizabeth II's coronation procession travelled safely through the Arch at its current location in 1953.

I had to keep reminding myself it was real. I was actually there. That I could smell, touch, hear, and experience those places was more like a dream than reality and I couldn't stop grinning. I felt as if I'd been grinning ever since I arrived on this 'Sceptred Isle'.

At Speaker's Corner, a variety of soapboxes from cheese crates to elegant lecterns were stages for the riotous ravings of communists calling for the overthrow of private property, Christians calling for the overthrow of civil liberties, republicans calling for the overthrow of the monarchy, socialists calling for the overthrow of capitalism, libertarians calling for the overthrow of censorship, fascists calling for the throwing out of all non-whites, and a few who were simply taking the opportunity to throw out a few ideas.

Harangues, even the most sincere, appeal mainly to the converted, and as I was too ignorant to realise I held political opinions, I was filled with admiration for both speakers and hecklers whose ripostes were as interesting as the diatribes. How did they come up with such ideas? How did they dare try to convince others they were right and everyone else was wrong?

My sole concern in life so far had been to ensure I was left alone to work out my own path to salvation. When someone started singing the New Zealand national anthem I scurried away and spent the rest of the day wandering through Hyde Park to Kensington Palace.

The park was more beautiful than I'd expected in winter; bare trees sharp against a startlingly clear, cold blue sky, everyone in warm woollens and bright scarves, kids standing on their heads in drifts of leaves, walkers, joggers, even brave boaters on the Serpentine where I noted they permitted swimming in summer. The park is huge, but so is the population it serves. I guess I saw a few thousand people. What were the other millions doing on that first sunny Sunday for months?

I bought a sandwich at the kiosk; a celebration in anticipation of my first pay. As I wandered away, debating the value of the tasteless morsel, I noticed a lean, Gypsy-looking fellow leaning against a tree; face up to the sun, collar open, red tartan scarf worn like a turban. The urge to talk stirred in both head and loins, so I asked the name of the structure that looked as if it had fallen off the top of a cathedral.

"Is that the best you can manage?" he yawned – unsmiling.

"What do you mean?"

"If you're trying to pick me up, at least be original."

I was mortified, insisting I wasn't doing any such thing, I had no idea what the building was because… He grinned and we wandered over to the Albert Memorial, the prodigality of which I found somewhat indecent. What right had anyone to erect such a gothic monstrosity in a public park? I doubted then if Victoria's suffering at losing a loved one was greater than anyone else's, and I doubt it still. Methought the lady did protest too much.

When I asked about the red brick 'colosseum' across the road, we crossed to the Albert Hall to check out the programs. Britten, Vaughn Williams, Beethoven. Quoting Kath, I declared that Romantic music was mere emotional bombast lacking intellectual rigour. My companion smiled at my pomposity, not revealing his own opinion. I discovered later he didn't have one, never having been interested in classical music. We couldn't get inside, so wandered back to the park.

His name was Melvyn. He managed the men's department of a clothing store on Bond Street and, like me, loved brass bands so we spent an hour on flimsy seats at the Kensington Gardens Rotunda listening to somebody's guards play stirring tunes that made your chest thump. Afterwards we wandered past Peter Pan, watched boys sail boats on the pond, and arranged to meet for lunch later in the week.

Being alone isn't lonely. It's the best way to meet people. A person on their own is not threatening, whereas two people can be. When alone, experiences seem more in focus. Senses are more alert as there's only oneself to rely on. Emotions surge and the yearning to share a view or experience triggers a delicious ache in the heart. When with someone else, powerful emotions seem silly. Sensations are diluted when filtered through others' eyes, and passions are dissipated if your companion doesn't share your enthusiasm. Every new place should be viewed for the first time alone.

As for my birthday, I've always thought that either every day is a celebration – or none is. Therefore I'd never celebrated it – still haven't. I'd received the expected letter from Mother and one completely unexpected from Dad – the first and only letter I received from him in my life. After reading them, I was more convinced than ever that I was now in the right place.

I'd exchanged amiable greetings and a few words with about a dozen people during the day, cementing my belief that I was living in the most civilized city on the planet. Genial men and women – noble souls inhabiting a noble metropolis. My heart was full.

The following morning, Sam was waiting in the same black gear, not so fresh, and thinner than ever, if that was possible, twitching and irritable although I was on time having left home at eight. He dragged me across the square to Club Strip, the long, narrow interior of which was dressed up as a Wild West Saloon waiting for Tom Mix to swagger in and let loose with his six-guns.

The owner ran other less salubrious strip joints and clubs in the area, and was also the importer of the jewellery. Club Strip would be the venue for the publicity photos and the first show. The second would be somewhere in Chelsea.

In the centre of the long right hand wall, a proscenium arched over a tiny stage hung with red and gold tasselled curtains. Wooden tables and chairs were arranged in front. A mirrored wall behind the bar on the end wall reflected an astonishing array of liquor in colourful bottles, and the walls opposite the stage were hung with huge gilt framed mirrors creating an impression of spaciousness.

Two heavyset men – bouncers I guessed – perched on stools at the bar. One flicked his unsmiling head to indicate I should go through the door beside him. The sound of Sam's urgent whispers to them followed me.

I arrived in a functional room. Six dressing tables with well-lit mirrors, and chairs. A row of metal lockers along the opposite wall, a couch on the near wall, and a large table at the end where a nondescript middle-aged man in a grey business suit was putting jewellery into fabric bags. Two sullen girls sat on the couch; one a washed-out blonde, the other darker – exotic. I can never remember names so mentally labelled them Blonde and Brown. Both would have been pretty if they'd smiled.

The two bouncers came in and perched their bums on the table; staring at us. Unsmiling. The grey man looked up. As no one was speaking, I took it upon myself to be civil and with a smile that could melt icebergs, stepped forward, extending a hand in greeting. "Hi, I'm…"

"I don't care who the fuck you are, get your clothes off. You, too." He nodded towards the girls. It wasn't said rudely, merely as if he was bored out of his mind. Chastened, I followed the girls' example, hanging my clothes in a locker; glad I'd brought nothing of value because there was no key.

The two bouncers were immobile basilisks apparently as bored as their boss. One was bald, pockmarked, about thirty, in a shiny sharkskin suit stretched to bursting over either fat or muscles. The other was older – fortyish, red of hair, face and hands, fingers like saveloys. Their silence made me feel vulnerable. It took an effort not to cover my cods with my hands.

Pockmark saw me looking at him and snapped, "You a queer?"

I shook my head in horror at the suggestion.

"If you are, I'll fucking rip ya balls off!"

I assured him I wasn't, inventing a girlfriend waiting at home.

"You talk like a fuckin' homo; all la-di-da. Poncing around in the nud in front of everyone… like a girl."

"Leave the kid alone," Redhead snapped, "or we'll never finish."

"Queer cunt."

Pockmark's sneer was the last straw and I'd opened my mouth to resign when the boss handed me eight numbered bags. We would each make eight appearances, wearing a different selection of jewellery each time. A trot along the catwalk and back would take about two minutes, so with an interval to sell alcohol; the show should run for about an hour and a half.

Some of the pieces were complicated – like the coiled silver snakes that had to be more or less screwed onto Blonde's large breasts, and the large gold coin attached to a plastic cucumber thing, which when inserted into Brown's vagina looked as though someone had stuck a medal on her slit.

My bracelets, anklets, and chains were simple to put on. The cock rings slipped on easily and the ball rings were hinged; held closed with a small pin. There was a 'gold' set, a filigree pair, another made to look like plaited rope, and intertwining snakes with emerald eyes. The earrings needed a hole, so Red iced my left ear lobe, then shoved a red-hot needle through it. It didn't hurt until they rammed in an earring. The fashion for piercings was well into the future, thank goodness. I'd have baulked at the piercing of nipples – or worse! I looked in the mirror and laughed.

"What's so fuckin' funny?"

Instead of the family jewels dangling tastefully between my legs, they were bunched up and thrust slightly forward, outlined in gold. The boss grunted and asked the girls' opinions. They thought for a bit, then reckoned it was good because just as men didn't like to see women with sagging tits, women weren't turned on by men with sagging bits. That settled it.

Throughout the 'dress' rehearsal we were pushed, pulled, told to shut up, stand, sit, bend. When I suggested they treat us like humans, Redhead smashed me across the side of the head, knocking me to the ground. I staggered up expecting the boss to support me. But all he said was something about not giving me any bruises, nodding agreement when Redhead said they'd be gone by Saturday.

Later, the girls told me I'd asked for it, and I shouldn't talk so la-di-dah… it made me sound like I was up myself, and that's why the boss didn't like me. They spoke the same as the heavies; 'somefing' and 'nuffing' and glottal stops. They were creatures from a parallel universe; looking like humans but missing what I'd always thought of as 'humanity'.

As the afternoon progressed I was 'accidentally' knocked and pushed several times. Not hard, but it wasn't funny. I'd have walked out if it hadn't been for the money and the fact they knew my address and looked as if they'd gladly tie rocks to my feet and chuck me in the Thames if I annoyed them. We were merely shop fittings.

I had a go at discussing this with the girls, but their eyes glazed, mirroring their flat, dull voices. They were just pretty zombies, as different from the girls I grew up with as the boss and his heavies were unlike the funny, smart-arse guys with whom I used to hang out. A type of human I had no way of reading; no way of winning over… and I felt a twinge of fear.

Weighed down with chains, bracelets, anklets, earrings.... we posed for the photographs in an overdressed bedroom. As the posters were going on the streets we had to hide our bits and after a few minutes of pressing my groin against Brown, to my relief I got a hard-on that I made sure Pockmark saw to prove I wasn't a homo. That made Sam ask about the forty-five degree law, but the boss said not to worry because Phil was going to be on duty.

Afterwards, Sam explained it was illegal for a penis, either in public or print, to stray more than forty-five degrees from the pendant vertical. Phil was a tame cop who would overlook such minor transgressions in return for favours.

I spent the rest of the day wandering along the Embankment to the Tower, and then climbed "The Monument to the Great Fire of London", gazing over the City in an effort to rationalise my nervousness. Evening found me in the gods at the Criterion watching Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head. My sole memory of that purportedly funny play is the low rumble of the tube trains on the Piccadilly line, running only a few metres beneath the theatre.

Monday's unpleasantness kept bugging me, so late Tuesday I called on Mr. Feeney. As I had no appointment, I had to wait while an assortment of performers came and went. A fellow dressed as a butler; a couple of clowns; two women wrapped in furs and carrying stilts; a one-man band, and a girl who appeared to have been cloned from Blonde.

Mr. Feeney, it seemed, was agent for loners with special skills. I had no special skills and told him so when I finally got in to see him. Not so, he assured me; Sam had contacted him and reckoned everyone had been pleased by my professional attitude on Monday. This made no sense, so I told him what had happened – showed him the bruise on my face. He dismissed it as a misunderstanding. The Boss's tough exterior hid a heart of gold. Yeah. Right.

It was late, the secretary had gone and I stood to go but he told me to stay, poured himself a whiskey, offered me one, which I refused, leaned back in his padded leather chair and asked, 'What's an educated, well-bred young man like you doing in a job like this?"

"Like what?"

"Taking your clothes off for cash. Don't you feel embarrassed?"

For once I answered honestly. "I need the money and no, it doesn't make me feel embarrassed – it makes me feel powerful."

That surprised him. "Powerful? How do you mean?"

"I dare - they don't. They're cowards, ashamed of their bodies; I'm proud."

It was several years before I realised that it was also a way of expressing contempt for a society that tolerated laws that made me a criminal for simply being myself. It was giving the finger to people with irrational prejudices and prissy puritanical double standards; and it helped defuse the scorn I felt for people who think nude equals rude. Feeney's smug smile provoked me to provide a list of things we ought to be embarrassed about such as greed, dishonesty, laziness, intolerance, and unhealthy bodies – the wrong thing to say to a man of his build.

With an irritated grunt, he asked if I'd be interested in half a day's work. I was, and on Thursday morning met two guys in a small office in Paddington. They were slim, witty, sharp, polite, and as different from the Boss, Pockmark, and Red as you could get, and the money they offered was nearly as good.

In the dead hour after the midday rush, two of us waited until the platform of Canon Street Underground Station was empty, then as we ascended the escalator towards the exit I stripped and handed my clothes to my companion. We then made our way nonchalantly towards the ticket collector. The other bloke was waiting with a movie camera and filmed me walking towards the booth and then caught the reaction of the unsuspecting ticket collector as I patted myself as if checking the contents of pockets while offering excuses for losing my ticket. The poor old bloke didn't know what to do; kept trying to tug me into his booth in case someone saw me.

I remained in view of the camera, smiling as if concerned for his sanity. When the ticket collector asked the fellow holding my clothes for assistance, he acted as though nothing was amiss and asked the ticket collector if he was feeling OK.

Promising to come back with the shilling I owed him, I slipped into an overcoat behind his booth, having been seen by no one else because it was 'Exit Only', and raced for their van, illegally parked nearby. We stopped on the street near their office, where they set up a camera that drew a crowd. I had to walk about twenty yards to a doorway and enter as if I'd been walking naked all the way from the station. The crowd cheered and someone raced in front of the camera so we had to do a second take. Then I went in and shut the door, walked up the stairs, knocked on a door, tried the handle, peered through the keyhole, registered excitement, and sat down and masturbated. It wasn't cold under the lights they'd set up. Later they would insert the scene I'd seen through the keyhole – something pretty bizarre I suppose; they hadn't decided yet.

When I asked if it was for Candid Camera they laughed. They were making an 'adult' erotic film in the style of the Running Jumping Standing Still Film. I'd loved the Goons and all the crazy things in that; the old woman scrubbing a paddock, the guy racing round and round a record on a tree stump holding a needle.... so was thrilled to have had a part in it, but disappointed not to see the final cut. That's the problem with acting in movies; you never see anything except your own scenes until the complete show is on screen – and then it's too late to say no. The only downside of the experience was the soles of my feet got so filthy it took hours to scrub them clean.

Friday lunchtime I presented myself at Melvyn's menswear department; an alcove in a large Bond Street emporium dedicated to discreet and elegant women's fashion. He sold discreet and elegant ties, handkerchiefs, belts etc… men's accessories for women who thought they ought to buy some little thing for their husbands after spending a fortune on themselves.

Melvyn shouted me to a pork pie and a glass of ginger ale - he drank real ale - in a charming little pub nearby. When I told him about Saturday's performances and what I'd be wearing, he promised to come and cheer me on at the evening show in Chelsea. Afterwards, he'd take me to a club that had recently opened in Victoria.

I had money in my pocket with more to come, and, although Melvyn was slightly older than I'd realised in the park and somewhat camp, the possibility of friendship. Moreover, I was sitting in a genuine old London pub… What more could a young man desire?

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