ONCE THERE WERE MAGICAL ROSES climbing high and flaming in the summer sun. Green leaves whispered such sweet secrets in the breeze.
Excitement and promise forever lingered in the air and the deep blue skies softly echoed every innocent childhood dream – beckoning to far-off wonderful places that always lay waiting – somewhere . . .
Then – at some indeterminate point – something happened to change it all – but what? And was it only to me that it happened – or the world – or both?
Gordon shook his head.
“I just don’t know,” he murmured reflectively. Maybe it had all been illusion.
He lifted the offending implement by the handle from its nestling place in the container. Then, reversing it warily, stared at the springy, closely packed spines with dismay.
“Like a flamin’ hedgehog on a stick,” he noted, shaking his head.
“I should never have even considered, let alone accepted that temporary post with the corporation. What a dipstick! But then, how was I to know that nearly everything is such a con, nowadays? Well, I know now.”
But this is what happens when you sign on the dole these days. Six months without a job, struggling on a pittance and you get roped in for compulsory rehabilitation – mostly for dodgy jobs that no one really wants to do, for wages little better than dole money.
So, ex-air-pilots become road sweepers. Failed Rock Stars have to go back to the factory or the butcher’s shop. And the one-time owners of houses have to move in to pokey bed-sits. Cars? Well, forget them, who the hell can afford to drive on crap money? It takes more than a week’s dole just to own a car, let alone drive it. Petrol? Forget it. A year’s dole money might buy an old banger. But could you get it through the MOT? Difficult to exist on the dole, but it can be done; bit of begging, bit of busking, popping round to mummy for din dins.
But what other job choices lay open to Gordon in the Government retraining stakes? None that even remotely appealed to him.
“Here, have a look down the list, Mister Burke.”
If I really have to, he thought and finally, reluctantly, accepted what seemed to be the least unappealing job position. Big mistake.
Mister Burke, indeed! Huh! Little does this government flunkey know that Mister Gordon Burke used to be Gordon Flash, lead singer with Gordon Flash and the Mungo Men!
But that was back in the good old days, before this world started getting really fucked up and turning creepy and dodgy and nasty.
And I’m sure there were once magical roses – and excitement and promise in the air – and it wasn’t all in my mind – but it is now – coz it’s all – long gone.
Gordon Burke fell into a trance of reminiscence, a bad thing to do when you’re supposed to stay focussed. But for what – so you can see to clean the next toilet seat? Eh – for tuppence an hour? Huh?
Pride in your Work? Glad to be of service? Happy to be palmed off? What kind of guilt trip are they laying down here? Gordon never did take kindly to emotional blackmail – nor was he openly receptive to manipulative brainwashing either.
No way would he have knowingly or willingly accepted a job as a lavatory attendant. But it wasn’t so much a matter of misleading job descriptions, as a case of unscrupulous shuffling of available posts within departments. He thought he’d applied for an open-air post with the Council Parks Commission. He had – but – ultimately, it was to clean their loos.
Very devious – the sneaky bastards! Such duplicity on their part was almost too much for Gordon to bear; though of course, he had little choice in the matter
What made it all worse, was that he couldn’t just walk away from the situation without cutting himself off from all financial support.
‘Yaaarrrrggghhhh!” He couldn’t help screaming out briefly as he walked homeward across the local park. He was so welled up with frustration.
A couple of elderly gents sitting on park benches nearby, startled by the sudden piercing outburst, looked up from their newspapers and shook their heads, tut-tutting as they spotted Gordon striding down past a bed of red and yellow tulips, bashing the heads off a few along the way.
Gordon was oblivious to them as he strode away to the park’s southern exit, seething with restlessness as he wrestled with the problem of his current social status.
It seemed all so unfortunate for him, the way it had turned out.
‘Gordon Flash’ was now just a ‘flash in the pan’, having ‘flashbacks’. What a nightmarish blow out!
Nonetheless, Gordon made a particular point of calling into the Employment Office to tell the little government flunkey who’d given him the job, what a twisting little git he was. In fact, what a deceitful bunch of slimy gits he and all his cronies were.
“That’s why all these droves of foreigners are being let into this country, Mister Burke!”
“Uh? What are you talking about?”
“To do all the jobs, you and all your compatriots don’t want! If it were left to you lot, this country would be going to the dogs!”
“It is now – Mister Cleverdick!”
“Pardon me, Mister Burke?”
“There was nothing to stop all you government flunkies taking those jobs either! Was there? But no – you leave it all up to us poor unfortunate downtrodden underdogs, don’t you?”
A moment’s stunned hesitation from the interviewer before replying.
“Because – you’re the ones – that need jobs – Mister Burke!”
“Do you ever long to do something different – aside from just existing and making ends meet? Do you ever get the urge to be somebody, rather than just a number? To be your own man and feel fulfilled? Do you ever feel really frustrated – bogged down by the decisions made by others of who and what you ought to be?”
“You need to knuckle down and get off your high horse, Mister Burke!”
“I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Gordon Flash and the Mungo Men, have you?”
A look of baffled distaste crossed the official’s features.
“Don’t give me any of your dissident jargon, Mister Burke.”
“I rest my case!”
It was obvious to Gordon that he and the flunkey lived in two different worlds.
He left the office in disgust . . .
* * * * * * * * *
In his mind, Gordon went over and over the events that led to his becoming a lavatory attendant in a dazed state of disbelief.
Community Programme, indeed! Special Open Air Opportunities for the summer!
Utter bollocks! He’d visualised tending flowerbeds, the welfare of trees and suchlike. Not that he was a devout greenie, but mainly because it was more pleasant out in the open, away from stuffy offices and under the ever-watchful gaze of some dick-headed, inadequate, power-hungry philistine of a supervisor. Out in the open and unattended he could take it easy, skive off a bit and have his mind free to pursue more interesting things.
And so, naively – he’d made his enquiry.
The interviewers eyes had turned sly for an instant and seizing an opportunity plunged in with typical bureaucratic zeal, telling Gordon how increasingly valued and vital community services were becoming these days.
Yes – the usual bullshit, thought Gordon.
But most importantly, there were ever more necessary duties to perform and less people available to fill those posts.
Very true, that last part though – but the rest was all bullshit.
He was beginning to feel uneasy and was desperately searching other available positions in the booklet he held, when he noticed a line at the end of the ‘Special Open Air Opportunities’ that read: Ten Pounds a week extra for Travelling Expenses. This made him hesitate again: A further mistake!
“What is it that attracted you to the Special Open Air scheme, Mister Burke?”
“Ah. Well – I love trees and plants – and I like to be among them and help them flourish.”
The interviewer nodded and produced fancy leaflets and a full colour brochure, lush with the sort of leafy lanes, blossom-filled trees and lawn-covered scenery that would make any lover of nature swoon with delight.
And Gordon certainly was a lover of nature – but one who really preferred sitting or standing back to admire and enjoy it, rather than becoming an actively involved slave to its upkeep. Leave it alone and it’ll grow on its own. It’s what nature’s good at. Although Gordon didn’t actually begrudge treating cultivated plants, such as fruits and vegetables with a good watering and some special care and attention now and again. Helping them along, as it were – and of course, reaping the benefits of your efforts as you go along. That was the whole point.
“I think we may be able to help you get into the Parks Department, Mister Burke.
* * * * * * * * *
It wasn’t so much the grave-digging in the cemetery, supposedly attached to the Parks Department that got to him. It wasn’t even the ditch-digging for new boundary lines between the park’s playing fields and the allotments.
Though it was heavy work and Gordon wasn’t used to it.
Then things got even sweatier and dirtier – rubble clearance on derelict sites for things like, new tennis courts, covered park retreats and keepers’ huts.
Somehow, Gordon had managed to bear it all and muddle through, becoming stronger and fitter in the process. Still, this wasn’t forestry or horticultural territory.
But the summer had been good for a change and he’d even begun to enjoy it all, so Gordon let it all go by without complaint – until there had been talk of a spate of road-digging and resurfacing being next on the agenda.
“Hell! I really don’t fancy that, at all,” he groaned. All those underground pipes and electric cables and all that hot stinking asphalt and people watching.
“Bugger that for a game of soldiers, I wasn’t built for all that, I’m not a freaking beast of burden!”
What if they want me to use a road drill?
‘Of course we will,’ the reply echoed in his mind. ‘How else do you think we dig roads?’
No way! I couldn’t even lift the bugger. All that screaming racket, muted only by clammy headphones jammed over your ears – in this heat? And those great big stamping pads or hand rollers they use to smooth out the asphalt – Christ, you’d need the muscles of a silverback gorilla for that!
Then he heard – no – it wasn’t road-digging and resurfacing – it was road cleaning.
Big deal! Some sort of reprieve that – watering or sweeping the streets, instead of rebuilding them. With all that germ-filled, silicon-laden dust and those deadly car-fumes going right up your nostrils and in to your lungs. Breathing it in all day?
It was getting a bit much.
He’d have to put in for a transfer. Better still; apply for a grant for a full time course as a forty-odd-going-on-fifty year old mature student at the Art College – and get into something he was really interested in – and out of this tangled web altogether. How did it ever – Too late!
Suddenly – he’d received notification that he was to be designated as a lavatory attendant, because someone had walked out on the job.
It was for the Town Hall Gardens toilets attached to the local park, they pointed out in their memo to him. So what? A toilet’s a toilet wherever it is. excrement is excrement, whether from kings or commoners, humans or pigs! And wherever it may be deposited.
Gordon shuddered. That they would actually send a guy round with a bog brush in its bucket and a typed note: For the Attention of Mr. G. O. Burke. He wished they wouldn’t use his full initials with his surname like that. He was well aware of the connotations of his personal acronym.
What on earth had his parents been thinking of, or didn’t they notice what his initials spelled? The surname itself was bad enough. It could all be a bit embarrassing at times.
One of those embarrassing occasions was at the entrance to an American airbase in East Anglia, years back in his gigging days.
“Excuse me, whereabouts are the band playing tonight?
“Er – over there, in the mess hall, feller. Hey, who are you?”
Gordon leaned out of the driver’s window and pointed to the billboard nearby.
Chewing gum in an insolent and irritating manner, the sentry glanced at it.
“Hmm. Appearing tonight: Gordon Flash and the Hawk Men. That’s right, they’s playin’ here tonight – so who’s you? ”
“I’m the singer.”
“What? Gordon – Flash?” The sentry gave a peculiar stare
“Yeah! That’s my stage name – my real name’s Gordon Burke.” Shoot, why did I tell him that?
“Where’s your ID, feller? Gee! What’s this? Says here ya name’s, Mister – GOB? Huh! Oh, sorry – snigger – G. O. BURKE!” Sound of gormless laughter follows.
“Yes, alright – thank you very much, Mister Yankee Doodle.” Gordon snatched the document back and glared coldly at the gum-chewing man in uniform.
“Hey – cool it, pal! No need tah git all ratty. You’se a guest here, remember!”
“Be more respectful to your guests, then – and we won’t have tah git all ratty, ya dig – bumface?”
Gordon reached out and rammed the sentry’s cap down over his eyes. Then he drove off in the direction of the mess hall singing, ‘Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony,’ at the top of his voice. When he got to the second line he changed it to: “Stuck a feather up his arse and a pork sword up his pony.” He repeated the first line, re-phrasing it as ‘Wanky Doodle went to town’.
Should have changed his name by deed poll years ago – or got that damned O for Oliver crossed off all his documents. He’d always made a point of never telling people who knew he was Gordon Burke, that his middle name was Oliver.
For the Attention of Mr. G. O. Burke, indeed!
Dear Mr. Burke – blah, blah, blah – and these are the tools for your next assignment. Please take care of them and return them at the end of your assignment – blah, blah –
Gordon looked up from the memo, eyes unfocussed, distant. His mind flickered back down the corridors of time. All gone – all long gone: The good, the bad, and the plain plug ugly. All those years of searing hopes and dreams twisting wildly round inside him.
That it should all boil down to this, after years and years.
Gordon Burke: former commercial artist.
General studio dogsbody in a big advertising agency, performing all manner of artistic tricks, lettering, logo and retouching in a sweatshop-style art studio for years; before he reckoned he’d taken a wrong turning.
He’d really wanted to be an illustrator and should have made sure he’d taken the necessary steps from the start, except his father made it quite clear that he was not in favour of subsidising Gordon while he wasted several years farting about at Art College with a load of drop-outs from posh backgrounds influencing him in the wrong direction, when he should be out busy earning his own keep. Talk about outdated Victorian attitudes and catch twenty-two. You can and you can’t.
After leaving the advertising agency, Gordon more or less drifted despondently from job to job, while his new interest; singing in a rock and roll band took him over completely, providing him with emotional release.
So for the first time, in the swinging sixties and in his early twenties, Gordon Burke, who had worked in advertising since he left school and sung in semi-pro rock ‘n’ roll bands since he was eighteen – became Gordon Flash of Gordon Flash and the Mungo Men.
For the next two years, the band played gigs as a semi-pro outfit, while Gordon zipped in and out of jobs and the dole. He also zipped in and out of exotic stage outfits.
His first stage outfit was a lamé jacket of bright screaming scarlet over leg strangling hose of shiny black stretch fabric.
* * * * * * * * *
In the crotch of these shiny black ‘bollock-stranglers’ as the band called them, Gordon installed an incredibly well endowed codpiece. Damn good thing they were made of stretch fabric, too! Such a huge bulge was created.
And in an amazingly well choreographed stage routine, Gordon would unzip his fly and unravel an eighteen-inch long, pink rubbery piece of hose, which he would swing and shake in time to the music.
So well made and lifelike was this phallic device, that it even sported bulging veins and a huge bulbous purple helmet. It was also proportionately the right sort of thickness and general shape for what it was supposed to represent. Though it hung slack it could be held from the base in a way that made it spring up stiffly to attention if desired. It earned him his name of Gordon Flash.
In those comparatively innocent days, long before political correctness ever reared its ugly great head, you could almost get away with murder on stage, till people woke up to the fact that you were stepping over the mark a bit. At least, you could do things that would be readily accepted as part of an entertaining act – but for which in public you could most definitely be arrested.
And with songs specially written to accompany this exotic act, sporting titles like: Shaking My Snake – One-Eyed Trouser Snake – Let Me Swing My Ding – and – Please Squeeze My Python – it was all set to take off. After all, it was bawdy music-hall style comedy, and they used to get away with that in Victorian times and in the twenties.
The first line-up had Gordon on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and a bass player called Bert who relied solely on watching Gordon’s chord changes in order to play, and was lost without his glasses.
This was a real pain in the arse for Gordon and it pissed him off no end. He could never remember the feller’s real surname and, because his jowly permanently stubbled face reminded him of a pair of drooping bristly pubes, Gordon always referred to him as Bert Bollockchops, when discussing him with the others. Although the other band members would refer to him as Bumscrew Bert for some mysterious reason. But Gordon really didn’t want to know what that reason was.
“Anyone seen me goggles?” Bert would say. “Gorn an’ lost the buggers again!”
He always swore he’d get contact lenses, but never did and would only have lost them, anyway. He was such a plonker, he’d lose his head if it were detachable.
The drummer had difficulties, too – breaking sticks or accidentally throwing one away when playing, which was a great hazard for anyone around him at the time, considering he always played like some psycho. But he was always ready to chat up birds for everyone in the band. Didn’t always work, though. His name was Dick Head, believe it or not.
“Christ! If I’d been christened Richard,” Gordon vowed in an aside. “I’d call myself Rick, not Dick, especially with a surname like Head. Never in a million years!” Did his parents hate him that much, or were they just dim? But he didn’t seem to give a toss that everyone called him Dick. It was the only time Gordon didn’t feel so ill at ease with his own real name.
The lead guitarist was Alex something-or-other, Gordon couldn’t remember which, even in those days. Alex had definite talent and was pretty good on harmonising vocals. The only problem was, he couldn’t go on stage unless he was half-smashed out of his mind.
When Gordon came to the part of his act where he unleashed his phallic monster to the audience, he downed his guitar for freedom of movement.
This would have befuddled Bert the bass player, who no longer had Gordon’s chords to follow, but as the whole swinging phallus act was performed over a simple three-chord twelve-bar song medley, it presented no real difficulty.
Rather, it was the highlight of the evening and the only thing that really kept the band rebooked and in business.
But Gordon had had enough of his lame ducks. He was relieved when the band acquired an enterprising manager who decided the band needed a complete overhaul and changed the line-up.
Gordon was the only original member remaining. Wait a minute, though! What did that say for Gordon’s musical abilities? What musical abilities? Yes, he did sing and play rhythm guitar. But in truth, the whole show really revolved around – indeed – depended upon Gordon’s sensationally risqué stage act. His manager said so! And Gordon knew it! Did he hear echoes of hollow laughter from afar?
* * * * * * * * *
The second line-up was renamed: Gordon Flash and the Hawk Men.
It featured a bass player who learned all the songs and didn’t need to constantly watch what chord Gordon was playing next and who didn’t need glasses, either. The drummer kept his sticks to himself and the lead guitarist wasn’t an alcoholic. He was a secret heroin addict instead.
In the mid nineteen sixties, they turned professional, touring up and down the length of Great Britain before invading the continent.
And they did so in Vikings helmets, with great curving eagles wings sprouting from the sides. Gordon now wore a crimson jumpsuit with a dazzling gold streak zigzagging diagonally across the chest, just like Captain Marvel’s. He alternated this with an electric blue jumpsuit sporting a silver streak of lightning.
In both jumpsuits he wore the inevitable notorious codpiece; his rolled up super-phallus; the most essential part of his act. And this time he was no longer hampered with a guitar strapped across his shoulders. The band had been augmented by the addition of a keyboard player and a saxophonist, thus eliminating the need for a rhythm guitarist. Though Gordon did at first feel a little naked and slightly vulnerable without his guitar. It had also doubled as a prop and comforter, he realised.
What’s more, come the grand finale when Gordon was busily swishing his phallus to and fro, the whole band – one-by-one, so they could still keep the backing theme going – would unravel huge freak phalluses and wave them in time to Gordon’s.
Flashing in the Gordon style had become an institution within the band – a way of life for the Hawk Men. Soon a new song was written to accompany the augmented act: ‘Flashing the Gordon Way’ with the tune emulating a variation of ‘The Lambeth Walk’: “Anytime you’re Gordon’s way – Anytime on any day – You’ll find them all – flashing the Gordon way!”
On mainland Europe, Gordon was becoming quite well known for his astounding act – always finding himself in demand, wherever he blazed a trail: from Stockholm to Budapest; from the Ardennes to the Carpathians.
“Yez! Les be avin eet vor Gorton Flesh ond ze Aukmin, plees – zankew.”