bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

The Knackers Of Ordinary Men

Dear Rachel

I have never knowingly been naked. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to recently find myself posing nude for a charity calendar, with nothing to preserve my modesty but a mug of tea and a strategically-placed copy of Little Dorrit. Physically, I am a patchwork of parts that are either pasty or hairy or both, and the whole mouth-watering ensemble was not enhanced by cycling 26 miles through a freezing downpour immediately prior to the photo shoot. The resulting study is being mercilessly prepared for the contemplation of a horrified public even as I write, and nothing can stop it.

It was Danny who had alerted me to the existence of the calendar, some weeks before, and he had done so with the look of delight that falls across his face just before he says something horribly inappropriate in front of paying customers. Often, this will be details of erotically bleak text messages from Lewisham grandmothers, the replies to which I am often called upon to edit, ghost-write, or referee. However, on this occasion, he appeared at the side of my stall and said ‘Do you fancy getting your Alberts* out for charity?’ in front of a small group of German tourists. Danny and I are nothing if not a couple of slags, and as he was doing it, I had to as well. Satisfied, he departed, only to propel himself back four seconds later, with:

‘Paul – you like history, don’t you?’

I replied that I was. After all, earlier that morning I had discussed Seneca’s treatise on Imperial power during the rule of Emperor Hadrian with him, and was in no position to deny it.

‘Come and look at this, then’ he continued excitedly, ‘it’s a dog that looks like Hitler.’

The calendar project promised to be interesting. Also, I felt it would provide an opportunity to show the world my outward physical masculinity, my inner childlike vulnerability, and my knackers. It’s not every day that you see a dog that looks like a despot though, so all this was forgotten as we stalked it from a respectable distance. Well, I stalked it from a respectable distance; Danny went up to the owner and said ‘Excuse me – has your dog always looked like Hitler, or did he grow into it?’

‘What type of dog is it?’ asked Tom the Buses, who sells London transport memorabilia.

‘It’s a Nazi dog, Tom’ I said, although it turned out to be a terrier called Boyce. Boyce lives over Deptford Bridge and resembled Hitler sufficiently for us to scour the rest of the market for a bulldog that looked like Churchill, in case it needed taking down a peg or two. There were protracted discussions about a Nazi dog taking ages to retrieve a tennis ball because it would goosestep when it ran, and having its name on an armband rather than a collar, and so forth. Even my group of German tourists, who Danny had invited along to give a second opinion, chipped in with the observation that it ‘might start barking orders’.

With the remarkably tolerant Boyce and his equally tolerant owner gone, conversation turned to the choice of Keith as the official calendar photographer. This was always going to be controversial. For a start, he refused to photograph me on the grounds that I was not appealing enough. It is a known rule that Keith’s wife – as innocent as a dog who happens to look like Hitler – must be dragged into any debate, so I suggested that if he didn’t fancy taking pictures of me, he could use some of the ones she keeps on her phone instead. Amid sundry remarks with which I will not trouble you, Danny told Keith to make himself look pretty on photograph day, because if he got all frisky he wasn’t wasting it. There was considerable to-ing and fro-ing about locations and such, during which there was a suggestion that Keith was looking to make a few quid on the side by using the photographs in a range of non-charitable Christmas cards. Imagine that. A bunch of naked market traders on the mantlepiece at the happiest time of the year, with kiddies and the elderly running around. Anyway, at length he resigned and a well-liked trader from Acton called Sam, who sells photography at Greenwich and has a bike shop on Leather Lane, was enlisted instead.

This, then, is how with a cry of ‘Look out mutton! There’s lamb on the menu!’ I disappeared behind screens arranged around my stall and changed out of clothes sodden with sweat and rainwater into nothing whatsoever. Later, I mentioned the bizarreness of the situation to my old dear as she made soup for the Friends Of Langley Park, some kind of walking group to which she belongs.

‘Well Paul, there used to be a taboo against male nudity, like there was with making your own soup,’ she explained, perhaps getting both mixed up with euthanasia, ‘but it’s quite common these days.’

Strangely enough, it did seem remarkably ordinary, once we got underway. Sam and I discussed the best way to circumnavigate the West End on the way to south east London (turn right at Shepherd’s Bush, follow Warwick Road down to the Embankment and cross at any bridge you like, although Vauxhall or London would be my choice) as I draped myself around the stall. The whole process took perhaps ten minutes, and that was that. I’m not sure what month I’m going to feature in. Hopefully it’s one of the good ones – I’d like April, because the 14th is my birthday, or Christmas. On the other hand, February is only twenty eight days long, which will get it out of the way quicker. We can only hope.

*NB The calendar is on behalf of Orchid, a charity dealing with male-specific cancers. Presumably, this means cancer of the ability to get through a day without having a little cry, or something equally dreadful. While it will not be available until later in the year, I suggest everyone invests in a copy. Keith’s wife has pre-ordered fifty to wallpaper the living room with.

*Albert Halls: [Cockney rhyming slang] – balls.

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Photards: This week’s considerations are:

Top: the dog that looked like Hitler. More so from the front, actually, as the ear resembles a parting and it has a patch of colouring that strongly suggests a little moustache.

Middle: Items accepted for barter on my stall. I accepted these in lieu of £2. Nice pen actually, I’m still using it.

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