Jenna Tovey was a powerful woman. I’d never met her before that day, and I’ve never seen her since, but on that day, in the moment that I met her, she was holding her own destiny quite firmly by the balls, with her dainty little hands.
A woman of simple pleasures and average aspirations, Jenna worked for a small printing firm just a short bus ride away from her rented terraced house on the outskirts of Bradford, a house she shared with her husband Jamie and their yappy, hyperactive mongrel dog Einstein.
The couple had first become aware of each other’s existence whilst frequenting the same bars and nightclubs of West Yorkshire, and a drunken dance-off at the Bradford Rio’s soon became a snog in a burger van queue, which turned into a night of wine and sci-fi videos at Jamie’s bedsit, and then a wedding 13 months later at the Bradford and Keighley register office. Jenna wore a wonderful off-white wedding gown for the occasion, Jamie an oversized navy suit borrowed from his dad, with sleeves which completely engulfed his hands, and a brown leather belt which held the huge trousers in place around his skinny waist. They weren’t rich but they didn’t outwardly care, and by twenty three they were both settled into married life, for better or for worse.
Jamie, for all of his good ideas and intentions, was a frustrated young man. Some would call him a dreamer, others a waster, but beneath the greasy blonde hair and pale complexion was a brain that constantly ticked and whirred with new schemes and new ideas, his frustration stemming from his inability to grasp the concept that ideas are nothing without action. He’d written a million top-ten hits in his head, and already spent the advertising royalties on sprawling mansions with private cinema screens and pool bars, but somehow the dusty guitar in the bedroom corner had managed to stay put. The bit that was missing was that vital connection between having the idea, and doing the idea. Jenna believed in Jamie and his ideas though, and that belief is what kept her going out to work day after day, and putting food on their table and in Einstein’s bowl. Days spent managing print queues and fabric orders were fine – the work was easy, and besides, it would soon be over once Jamie sells his new musical idea to Andrew Lloyd Webber or one of his elite. They paid millions for this shit! Jamie had said so himself.
“We’re struggling,” Jenna had once told Jamie over a steaming bowl of tomato and courgette pasta. “Financially, I mean. We haven’t been on holiday for three years, we have no savings… I have no idea what we’ll do if Einstein gets poorly.”
Jamie’s response had been little more than a shrug and a grunt, and the subject was left to lie as they went back to their pasta and Coronation Street, but Jenna’s assertion had been more than enough to give Jamie a shove in the right direction. From that point onwards he would keep his ear to the ground for the sound of jingling coins. If a neighbour needed some shit clearing from their garden, twenty quid. Garage door painting, thirty quid. It wasn’t a lot of money, but the extra helped with the odd food shop here or some new bedding there. Jamie, for all his days and nights spent on his computer, had become a bit of a whizz when it came to IT. Just the simple stuff like installing antivirus software, getting the internet connected, setting printers up. Basic stuff, but stuff that the older generations sometimes struggled with.
Jenna’s mother, Teresa, had never been Jamie’s biggest advocate. She found him likeable, in the same way that she found the lad who mopped the floor in her gym likeable. Friendly yes, but did she approve of her daughter marrying him? Nope. Her concerns were only ever spoken about with Jenna though, never with Jamie. But he knew of course, and this led to a sometimes icy atmosphere at social events. As far as Teresa was concerned, her daughter was being taken for a ride by a lazy good-for-nothing.
“And what about that chuffing car!?” Teresa had once said. “He treats it better than he treats you, but he doesn’t even have the money to put petrol in the fucking thing! It just sits there on the road all polished up but never moves. Surely you could both benefit if he just got off his lazy backside and got a job at McDonald’s or something. It’s not that hard Jenna!”
It’s his passion, Jenna had explained. Yes, they were poor, but a passion in life was just as important as money, if not more so! Jenna struggled having these conversations with her mum. Widowed when Jenna was just twelve, Teresa had benefitted handsomely from the sale of her late husband’s textile business. As a result, she had quit her teaching job over ten years ago and now spent her life flitting between hair salon appointments, gym classes, dinner parties, and Spanish holidays. She saw money as something which was easy to come by. Something which could just fall into your lap with the tiniest of effort. Marry a rich man, get a well-paid job, it’s easy.
“She’s just highly strung,” Jenna had once explained to Jamie. “She’s probably lonely. I’m sure she’ll relax when she meets someone. She’ll realise that life is about more than fancy holidays and botox. She’ll learn to love you like I do, you’ll see…”
And it was true, Teresa was lonely. Her life hadn’t been completely devoid of male attention since Barry died, but her love life had seemingly amounted to no more than an endless string of brief encounters. Internet dating had come along and for a few months seemed like a godsend to Teresa, but bad experiences had quickly put paid to that avenue for her. The attention she got online was at first flattering, but quickly devolved into an internet leer-fest. Teresa had amassed quite the collection of dick pictures, from a worryingly large cross-section of society. Everyone from teenage boys to old retired priests was sending them. Her pièce de résistance was a picture that had been sent by ‘Milfrimmer6969,’ a thirty-something Canadian musician with whom she’d shared saucy stories and photographs. After Teresa chose to quit internet dating and went silent, Milfrimmer had bombarded her with emails about how much he needed her, and how he had planned to visit her next year in the UK so that they could ‘be together as God intended’. Along with the many pictures he’d sent of himself crying and looking overly distraught (the poor lamb), Milfrimmer had sent one last dick pic, this time with ‘I LOVE U TEREESA’ tattooed in huge black letters down the right hand side of his rock-solid member, fresh ink and blood still seeping from the red raw lettering. Nope, this was no place for a self-respecting widower. Close account.
Jamie wasn’t a fan of conflict, and the best he could do about Teresa’s disapproval was to ride it out. Keep looking for odd jobs and working on his latest musical ideas until the big one landed. If money really was the only important thing to Teresa, then that was all the more reason for him to focus on the big money. A regular income wouldn’t satisfy this bitch, he told himself, and threw himself hard into his world-beating project. This one would set the world alight. It would have audiences dancing in the aisles and weeping into their silk handkerchiefs. A five year West End residency, then a five year Broadway residency, then a never ending world tour. Every show would be another two hundred thousand pounds in Jamie’s bank account, enough to secure his step-mother’s approval a million times over. He’d even invite her along to the award ceremonies, if only so she could bear witness to the success of the creativity she’d tried to stifle. No grudges would be held though. Life is too short to hold grudges when there are planes to catch and celebrity parties to attend. Free caviar and cocaine and champagne waiting in every major city.
On a quiet Tuesday morning, with Jenna at work and Einstein fitfully sleeping in his basket, Jamie had fired up his old computer and continued his work on Act Five Scene Two of Jimi Hendrix’s Magical Time Travelling Guitar. A steaming mug of sugary tea to his right, a bag of cheese and onion crisps to his left. The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.
The premise for Jamie’s musical was as follows:
Brody is our hero. A twenty-one year old singer and songwriter, and the guitar toting front man of pub circuit soft-rockers Brody & The Blasteroids – a working name for the purpose of this draft.
Brody’s most treasured song is called Love Was Always The Answer. The show opens with Brody sitting on his bed writing this song, and it’s a song which recurs throughout the first few acts of the show as we watch Brody & The Blasteroids go from empty gig to empty gig, a struggling young band failing to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse for Brody as his girlfriend leaves him for a local rapper, his drummer quits the band to train as a solicitor, and his favourite guitar is ruined following an angry guitar-smashing session. Skint but unwavering in his self-belief, Brody heads to a local car boot sale to find a cheap replacement guitar.
Bear in mind that this will all be performed onstage so there’ll be lots of backdrop changes and props getting wheeled around as we take the audience from bedroom to pub to car boot sale, and it’s a musical so it’ll all be interwoven with original songs reflecting the scene; She Left Me On A Wednesday, It’s An Office Worker’s Life For Me, Love Was Always The Answer, New Memories Of An Old Life, etc…
At the car boot Brody is inspecting a dusty old Telecaster copy with missing nobs and old rusty strings, when he is approached by a mysterious old man with a long grey beard (of course). ‘I have something for you Brody,’ says the old man. ‘But… how do you know my name?’ asks Brody. ‘That’s not important,’ says the old man. ‘Follow me.’
The old man takes Brody to his rusting VW camper van, where he presents him with a black Stratocaster.
‘This was once owned by the world’s greatest guitarist,’ he tells him. ‘Take it. It’s yours.’
Brody looks the guitar up and down. It needs some work, but it’s free. He straps the guitar on and attempts to strum out a tune.
‘Oh,’ says Brody, turning to look at the audience for comedy effect. ‘The strings are on upside down.’
The audience fall over laughing as the scene fades into darkness. Except maybe this joke is too subtle. Jamie has toyed with this one over and over. Should we expect a modern audience to know that Hendrix was left-handed? For now anyway, the joke stays.
When the lights come back up we are back in Brody’s bedroom, where he’s sat on his bed cleaning the old Stratocaster up. He’s removed the strings, and is in the process of unscrewing the plastic pick guard – the flat plate that sits behind the strings and prevents the guitar’s paintwork from being damaged. The pick guard is lifted away to reveal wording carved into the unpainted wood. He holds it up for the audience to see. It says JIMI HENDRIX.
‘I know that name,’ Brody says out loud. ‘My father has some of his records!’
Brody runs out of his bedroom – well, runs offstage – and returns with a couple of old Hendrix records which he plays out to the audience on his old record player whilst he sets to work replacing the guitar’s pick guard and strings. One song in particular catches his attention, Voodoo Chile, and Brody begins to play along with it on his new guitar. After a few failed attempts he nails it, and BLAM! Strobe lights and pyrotechnics are accompanied by an electric whirring noise which gets faster and faster, louder and louder. The stage is completely obscured by smoke and lasers, the audience sit shocked and agog as this chaotic, loud sequence reaches its deafening crescendo and then…
…darkness. And silence.
The lights slowly brighten as the smoke clears, revealing Brody who is sat on the floor of a car park, clutching his guitar. Behind him we see old fifties style cars parked up, and a gentleman in a brown suit and hat runs onstage. ‘Are you alright son?’ he asks. ‘W.. where am I?’ asks Brody, turning to look at the audience. The curtain descends. End of Act 1.
Act 2 is where the show really comes into its own. Brody, now understanding that the guitar has transported him back in time to the fifties, has made a plan. He’s slotted into life in the fifties quite easily, finding a job in a local grocers and a place to live, and has been using Hendrix’s Strat not for time travelling, but rather for practicing and learning the hits from some of the most famous acts since the fifties; The Beatles, Elton John, Prince, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Bob Marley, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Oasis, Abba, Bob Dylan, Robbie Williams, Queen. The plan is simple: to perform these songs here in the fifties and claim them as his own.
Jamie is still working on Act 2, but he has a good idea where it will go. We’ll follow Brody from his first small solo gigs in the local bars, wowing the small audiences with his innovative song writing skills as he performs Life On Mars, followed by Hey Jude, and then Karma Police, right up to his huge stadium shows as he quickly becomes one the world’s biggest stars. His name is on the cover of every magazine as the fifties becomes the decade of Brody Mitchell – song writing extraordinaire.
The great thing about this musical, Jamie ponders, is that the audience, I mean the actual audience watching Jamie’s musical, will know every song. They’ll be up in the aisles dancing and clapping along to their rip-off hero. A hilarious scene, which Jamie is convinced the audience will lap up, sees Brody being approached backstage at one of his gigs by two of his biggest fans, a couple of dockworkers called John Lennon and Paul McCartney. ‘Your music just connects with us, man!’ they’ll tell him. ‘It’s like you know what we’re thinking! Please can we have your autograph?’
There’s a lot more writing for Jamie to do, it’s still a half-baked script, but he already knows how the show will end…
Brody has been invited to play three songs live on the Ed Sullivan show, a gig which will be broadcast into the homes of over one hundred million Americans. In the run up to the show we’ll witness Brody become increasingly lonely and withdrawn, unhappy with a life built on stealing other people’s work. ‘Awwwwww’ the theatre audience will say sympathetically. ‘Brody is a hero with a conscience – we must get this show when it comes out on video,’ they’ll say.
The Ed Sullivan performance will begin with a frustrated rendition of Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, an emotional performance designed to show the audience Brody’s fragile state of mind, and this will be followed by a short soliloquy in which Brody talks about how bad he feels living his life as a fraud, and how lonely he feels living in the fifties, away from his friends and parents. For his second song he performs a heart-wrenching version of the song he wrote himself, Love Was Always The Answer. This rendition will go on and on, and is designed to act as the centrepiece of the show. The crowd will go wild, the fictional crowd and the theatre crowd. Brody Mitchell has won the hearts of America with a song that he wrote. He’s finally been recognised for something that he created. As the applause subsides, Brody will step up to the mic for his final song on the Ed Sullivan show, Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile. As the song ends, and Brody plays the songs notes in perfect succession on his magical guitar, we’ll witness the same chaotic noises and strobes as we did at the end of Act 1 – as Brody is transported back home to his family and his friends in a storm of smoke and noise. Curtain down. Curtain up. Bow. Curtain down. Curtain up. Bow. Flowers. Flowers. Bow. Flowers. Curtain down. Rapturous applause throughout. Exit stage left.
As Jamie continued his Tuesday morning, hammering away at his computer as he added more flesh to the bones of Act 2, expanding the world of Brody Mitchell from an idea conceived on the bog into a critically-acclaimed modern masterpiece, there was a similar hammering of keys taking place ten miles away in Teresa’s wood-panelled mansion of a home. Her laptop was fucked, it would appear, and no amount of tapping and banging was helping.
New fangled technology is bollacks, she thought to herself. When I was a young girl everything was mechanical. Everything had moving parts and could be fixed with a thwack. Microchips and processors, it’s all bollacks.
“Bella!” she shouted down from her study to the laundry annexe. “Bella! Do you know anything about computers Bella? My laptop won’t start and I need to get the telephone number of Wendy’s new colon hydrotherapy clinic. She says they’re wonderful but it’s brand new so it’s not in the Yellow Pages yet Bella. Bella?”
Bella was Teresa’s cleaner, a short plump Italian woman who took nobody’s shit, but could charm her way into anyone’s heart with her fantastic Mediterranean cooking and her romantic tales of how her parents, God rest their souls, had landed illegally in the UK in the nineteen-forties and quickly risen to local prominence after settling in Manchester and opening a string of successful Italian restaurants.
“Try George!” was the response, Bella eager to get back to folding towels and hanging Teresa’s lacy black underwear out in the breeze.
George was the gardener, and Teresa wasn’t even sure if George knew what a computer was. She picked up the phone and dialled the number for DG Printing.
“Be quiet Einstein! It’s just the phone!” yelled Jamie as he lunged across the sofa and grabbed the telephone from its cradle.
“Hi love it’s me. My mum’s having laptop problems and I said you’d have a look. Jamie – this could really help your relationship with my mum. This is a really good opportunity to show her what a lovely and caring person you are. There’s a fiver in my draw, get some petrol and go over to pick it up. I said you’d be there at lunchtime. Oops! My other phone is ringing. Got to go! Love you!”
Jamie looked at Einstein and let out a sigh. “Looks Like Brody Mitchell will have to wait till tomorrer ay boy? You be good while I’m out”.
There was an upside to this chore. It meant he could fire up the Calibra. In fact, he’d been given direct orders to fire up the Calibra. It was a rare opportunity these days, and each time felt like he was preparing a rocket for a mission into space.
POWER UP THE MAIN THRUSTERS!
Jamie turned the key and the V6 engine whined and hesitated then spluttered into life, emitting a strong, invisible cloud of petrol vapour. It felt like he was steering a barge as he guided her around the corner and through the busy residential roads of their sprawling estate. Upon reaching the A6177 Jamie spotted his chance to open it up, and preceded to screw the knackers off his pride and joy, a guttural growl left in his wake. Less than thirty minutes later he was heading back down the same stretch of road but in the opposite direction, Teresa’s laptop bouncing around on the worn black leather of the passenger seat.
At around three o’clock that afternoon Jamie found himself stumbling around the house, tripping over his trousers whilst trying to pull them back up around his waist as Einstein growled and barked from downstairs.
“Shush Einie – it’s just the phone!” Jamie yelled as he tore down the stairs, grasping the creaky old staircase banister with one hand, fastening up his button flies with the other.
“Hi love it’s only me. Did you manage to look at my mum’s laptop”
“Yep – all sorted!” said Jamie between deep breaths.
“Are you okay? Sound a bit out of breath!”
“I’m fine – just been playing with Einstein. See you when you get back yeah?”
“Okay love. Don’t worry about taking my mum’s laptop back – I’ll be seeing her later anyway so I’ll take it. She’s gunna be over the moon that you fixed it Jamie! Anyway gotta go – love you!”
“Love you too”
Jamie started to undo his trousers again as he made his way back upstairs, plonking himself down on the marital bed next to a small pile of toilet paper, and Teresa’s laptop which displayed a full-screen photograph of Teresa in her bedroom. Jamie began masturbating, not for the first (or indeed second) time today, as he cycled through more and more pictures of his mother-in-law; Teresa rubbing her huge, fake, naked breasts as she dribbled and pouted for the camera. Teresa sucking the end of a veiny black dildo. Teresa on all-fours pushing an impressively wide deodorant can deep into herself, as she looks back over her shoulder and pouts her lips at the camera. Teresa in a black lacy baby doll nightie, legs held wide apart as she pushes her lubricated fingers into her arsehole. Teresa, Jamie’s highly-strung, demanding, waitress-demeaning, egomaniacal mother-in-law being muckier and more desirable than he could have ever imagined.
One thing that struck Jamie, aside from the level of unbridled filth, was the sheer amount of sex toys Teresa appeared to own. People would be weirded-out if you kept a draw next to your bed full of plastic moulded freakishly-large human arms, or legs, or heads. Apparently it’s fine though as long as it’s penises.
By six o’clock Jamie was laying spent on the sofa, completely wanked-out, whilst Einstein sat staring him in the face – blocking the telly from Jamie’s view and replacing it with a cute little confused furry face which conveyed just one simple question: “What the HELL were you doing to that sausage all afternoon? Woof!”
The sound of the key in the front door was the catalyst for a final lightning-speed run through of Jamie’s mental list: Laptop fixed and shut down? CHECK. Used toilet paper flushed away? CHECK. Toilet roll back on its holder in the bathroom? CHECK. Duvet cover straightened and inspected for wet stains and stray pubes? CHECK. Trousers stain-free and fastened up?
Jamie looked down at his crotch area and brushed away any evidential ball-dandruff, then checked his trousers were secure.
“Hiya love!” Jenna said as she dropped her handbag down by the front door. “Nice day?”
“Aye. Laptop’s all sorted,” said Jamie nonchalantly, nodding towards Teresa’s treasure chest of filth which was leaned against the side of the black Ikea telly stand.
“Aww thanks love! Still got petrol in t’car? You wouldn’t mind dropping me over at my mum’s would you? She’s invited me over for tea. Sez she’ll drop me back later in the Landy.”
“Aye no problem,” said Jamie. “You ready to go straight away?”
“Yep. I’ll just have a quick wee.”
As they left the house together and headed for the car, Jenna carried her mum’s laptop under her right arm. Everything on the laptop had stayed exactly as it had been, nothing was moved or deleted, but there was one new file now sitting in the bottom right of the desktop: TERESA_READ_ME_URGENTLY.txt