Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter ten

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chapter ten

It rained. Water poured off the shop awnings, gurgled out of the drainpipes. Water ran in rivers in the gutters, debouching into sewers until they gagged and coughed it up again, forming pools that spread out over the crossroads. People hurried, buttoned-up in macintoshes, bending under brollies, wading ankle-deep across the rippling ponds, splashed hip-high by the traffic surging by. In the lee of a telephone kiosk a huddled queue of people sought shelter one behind the other. At the front of the queue Jake was able to use the kiosk as a windbreak, but he had no umbrella and he wore no hat. His hair was dripping, rivulets ran down his face and his woollen duffel coat was sodden. Only his feet were dry. He wondered once again why no one in this rain-plagued land, not a single soul apart from himself, wore rubbers over their shoes.

Finally he was admitted into the sanctuary of the booth. The rain drummed on the roof and the windows steamed. He shook a spray of water from his head and lined up a heavy stack of twopenny pieces on the ledge before confronting the enigma of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons. He dialed the number, pushed the ‘A’ button, and waited. Nothing happened. He pushed the ‘B’ button. Nothing. He hung up and fished in the slot for his coin. Nothing.

It was a ritual that seemed to work for everyone else, but from which he, as an intruder from an alien culture where payphones worked simply by dialling, was excluded. He tried again. And once again, each time introducing various permutations into the button-pressing procedure. Someone hammered on the outside of the phone box. A wrathful old woman stood outside in a transparent plastic mac and hood, water streaming off her in rivulets because she had rolled her umbrella to assault the door with the handle.

Jake turned his back. Only two tuppences remained on the ledge. Finally, magically, he got through. “Stephen Gurney Productions.”

Outside the phone box, the remainder of the queue had despaired and dispersed. Claudia, hurrying through the downpour beneath a huge umbrella bearing the blue and red and white stripes of a union jack, booty from a fashion shoot, paused and took her place behind the elderly woman in the transparent mac and hood who stood in the cascade, muttering to herself, a furled umbrella in her hand. Claudia included the woman beneath the shelter of her own umbrella.

Instead of a thank-you, the old lady muttered, “Arrogant bastard.”

“Who?” asked Claudia.

“That cocksucker.” The old dear shifted her head towards the phone box, but the rim of the brolly blocked Claudia’s view. She turned her eyes down the street to make out the numbers on the red buses lumbering forward in elephantine procession.

Inside the phone box Jake’s world collapsed. Not only had he not got the part, Stephen Gurney Productions had never heard of Jake O’Sullivan. All agents had been notified of the casting results. Well, of course, if he had no agent . . .

Jake thrust open the door of the kiosk, eyes already wet before the rain hit his face, and almost lost one of them to a spike from the rim of a huge umbrella with a union jack design that rushed across his path. He shouted with rage and started after it, only to be rapped on the head by the handle of another umbrella. The old lady scuttled into the phone box and wedged her backside against the door. She fished in the coin slot and extracted three twopenny pieces.

The union jack umbrella was about to board a bus. Jake’s bus. He charged after it. Stepping off the kerb he fetched up against the arm of a policeman extending from a yellow poncho, palm forward. A whistle, the policemen beckoned, and a sodden mass of demonstrators wheeled into Oxford Street, splashing through the small lake at the intersection, their painted signs smeared and drooping. Beyond, the union jack furled as the owner of the umbrella stepped on to Jake’s bus and it pulled away. ‘Yank Go Home’ read one of the signs moving past. As Jake contemplated that advice, a great lump arose in his throat and tears threatened to join the deluge streaming down his face.

In the stuffy flat Jake hung up his dripping coat in the hall and, on auto-pilot, headed for the telephone table. Once, after a message had been mixed up, Simon had instructed him to create a register of calls. Jake had obliged with a notepad divided into two columns headed ‘Simon’ and ‘Jake’. On the top page Simon’s column was full of the recent messages Jake had written there. Jake’s column was blank, which meant that either there had been no calls or Simon had not troubled himself to record them. Jake flicked back a page with the same result, then recalled that he was desperate to take a pee, and opened the bathroom door. He rushed in, tugging at his flies, and was greeted by giggles arising to his left. Simon was in the bath, enveloped in clouds of bath foam and sipping from a goblet of champagne. The giggles came from the man who was shampooing Simon’s hair. Jake recognised him. He was the golden-haired cherub in the white garage hand’s overalls. But now he was naked. Jake retreated, shutting the bathroom door behind him.

Simon called through the door. “Come on in, Jakes, if you want to have a slash.”

Another voice chimed in. “It’s all right, Marlon, I’ve got soap in my eyes.”

“I can wait,” Jake shouted back. The pain in his groin could no longer be denied. In the kitchen, the sink was full of dirty dishes. The overflowing wastebin in the hall seemed a bad idea. The elegant vase in the sitting room had an aperture that looked too small. In desperation he marched back into the bathroom, looking straight ahead, flipped up the seat of the toilet and stood over it. Giggles rose from the bath with the sweet scent of bath foam and from the corner of his eye Jake became aware that the cherub’s face was on eye-level with his penis.

Simon introduced them with a smirk in his voice. “Roy, Jake. Jake, Roy.”

Jake couldn’t pee. The pain of the need remained, but no water would issue forth.

“I know you,” said Roy.

Simon laughed. “Recognise something?”

“Didn’t you try out for A Bird in the Bush?“, inquired Roy.

“Roy is very close to Stephen Gurney,” Simon intoned.

Jake could not pee. “Is that why he’s in your bath?”, he blurted.

“Not quite so close anymore,” chirped Roy. “That’s why I’m in the bath.”

“I thought you had to take a pee”, said Simon. “I don’t hear anything.”

Jake stowed his recalcitrant equipment into his trousers. There was no need to flush the toilet. He retreated once again. Laughter followed him through the closed door.

The third floor sash window in the Mayfair mansion block opened as the chauffeur-driven robin’s-egg-blue Rolls Royce convertible swung out of Berkeley Square and pulled up at the restaurant marquee. The rain had not persisted into the evening, and so the liveried doorman left his umbrella in its stand as he ushered forward to open the passengers’ door. A glittering couple emerged. The statuesque figure in the white fur wrap was almost too tall for a woman, even discounting the teetering high heels and the bouffant hairdo of a violent hue unknown in nature except in the deep hydrothermal chambers of the earth’s crust, and reflected in the sparkle of her amethyst earrings. Though the crest of his bald head barely approached the level from which her eyebrows began their arched ascent, the urbane, middle-aged man swathed in the long, blond camel’s hair overcoat took her confidently by the arm. As his companion stepped beneath the shelter of the marquee he paused outside, touched his bald pate, and looked up to see if it had begun to rain again.


The telephone rang. Jake had been supporting the faulty window sash with one hand. When he removed it, the window slammed down. He flinched and pulled back and the drape cord twisted violently around his apparatus. Jake howled but a quick check confirmed that he was still a man. He hobbled to the telephone.

Simon called through the bathroom door. “If it’s for me, I’m hors de combat. I’ll call back after the weekend.”

Jake hoisted the phone. “Mayfair 9496.” He began to jot a note on the pad. Giggles and splashing carried through the bathroom door. Jake paused and cast a glance at the door. Then, because the throbbing pain in his penis had rendered him temporarily unbalanced, or because, as The Telegraph leaders were saying, the permissive society had rotted the moral fibre of his generation, or because even a disciple of Horatio Alger can take only so much rejection, he crossed out the notation he had begun in Simon’s column and scribbled a note in the column beneath his own name.

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