Paul had never had any confidence in his partner’s ability to kick the dreaded weed. Andrew had been an ardent fan of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ruin long before they had even met. By the time he and Paul had ‘shared digs’ whilst on an early theatrical tour, Andrew had developed a habit akin to the late Deirdre Barlow. Paul had dutifully pointed out the dangers of his lover’s addiction, as any caring, sharing partner should, but the ensuing conversation was often incendiary. Or the hot topic was deftly flicked aside, like a tired fag butt. Andrew certainly didn’t light up at the thought of not lighting up ! And so it was, with only a touch of skepticism, that Paul viewed Andrew’s latest decision to trash the ash as just that. His latest attempt. Of course, he kept this secret pessimism from his partner, he didn’t want the latter to become demoralised. But inwardly, he couldn’t shake the idea that Andrew’s nicotine abstinence would soon be going up in smoke! Just another weary flash in the ash-pan. But he definitely wouldn’t let Andrew get a whiff of any of this. It was obviously kinder to play along, and Paul had always been very good at putting up a smokescreen when need be.
Andrew could see right through his husband’s shambolic attempt at giving support . He knew Paul far too well. Behind the earnest ‘well done babe’ and the sincere, ‘you’ve done so well’, there lay a simmering, contemptuous knowing; a smouldering suspicion that this smoking suspension would only be temporary. A quick fag-break, so to speak. It irked him that his partner had such little faith in his latest scheme to cessate – yet he was also well aware that he shared the very same suspicion, which certainly did nothing to build his confidence. It also amused him that Paul thought himself so Machiavellian when it came to hiding his thoughts, when they invariably hung in the room heavier than any tobacco he had ever encountered. Like a disapproving fug.
Forty-eight hours into the latest foray into the world of non-smokerdom, and Andrew was climbing the walls like a cat on a hot tin roof. Tennessee Williams would have been proud. Sleep beckoned, and then ran away to the corner shop for a pack of ciggies. He was crawling with discomfort. Somewhere through the mental smog he could hear Paul suggesting that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to have given up smoking just before they had a show to do. He wanted to take his partner by the throat and squeeze his gullet of non-smokerness very tightly, but instead made do with a terse,
‘I’ve done it now haven’t I?’
Although this most certainly was not a question.
And definitely did not require an answer.
Show days were always a little tense in ‘The LolaBoy’ household. Andrew could become quite manic and producer-like, whilst Paul, more often than not, took a couple of extra diva pills at breakfast. This state of affairs usually resulted in a heady mix of artistry , redolent of Burton and Taylor at their most fervent.
The day of this particular show, however, promised to become positively incandescent, what with the continued absence of Mr Nicotine. Paul had suggested that the cheeky little blighter might just be invited back until after the performance, but had this idea firmly stubbed out by Andrew.
‘I’ve done it now haven’t I?’ he screamed, banshee-like, demonstrating his new non-smoker lung capacity.
Paul decided to stay off the subject, thinking it best to save the fireworks for their cabaret later.
On the evening of the show, and now fifty two hours into his new world of clean living, Andrew felt ready to kill. He was withdrawing heavily now. Not only from the drug to which he’d been addicted for over thirty years, but from society too. Instead of making his usual social rounds, pre-show, he secreted himself behind a sequinned piece of cloth The Lola Boys used as a makeshift dressing room. Ensconced behind the faux silk slash, he felt safe. In control.
‘What the fuck are you doing skulking behind here?’ screeched Paul, on finding his partner propping up the bar behind the arras.
‘And how many fucking drinks have you had?’ he continued, after noticing the empty pint glasses and the glassy look on Andrew’s face.
‘Don’t have a go at me’, Andrew was forlorn, ‘it’s my first show without nicotine!’
‘You’re not normal’ Paul hissed.
‘I know I’m not, it’s the tablets’ pleaded Andrew, alluding to the pills he had been taking to help stop smoking, ‘they’ve made me high!’
‘So stop them, you’re already fucking high enough. It’s like working with Amy bloody Crackhouse!’
‘I CAN’T !’
The show went surprisingly well considering. The crowd were fun and the boys in good voice, although Andrew’s physical balance was a little suspect during the second half. As Paul was singing his last verse of ‘I Will Survive’ he noticed his ‘co-star’ swaying precariously stage left, and hoped he too would continue to exist should he fall into the pile of electrical equipment, pint in hand! But fortune smiled on The Lola Boys, on stage at least, and Andrew stayed upright. Off-stage however, there began an altogether different performance.
As the last remains of the audience drifted merrily into the night, Andrew did the same perched on a barstool.
‘Where are the car keys? Paul asked ‘I’ll start packing.’
‘Haven’t got them? Andrew slurred.
‘You have Andrew’
‘I haven’t – I told you not to give me any responsibility tonight. I can’t remember anything. I’m nicotine free’
‘You’ll be fucking oxygen free if you carry on you git – where are they? It’s the door keys too you know.’
‘Haven’t got them’
It turned out Andrew was correct. He didn’t have them. What he had done with them remained an absolute mystery. At three in the morning, after two hours of searching, huddled around their speakers, the boys came to the conclusion they were not going to find their keys. They were carless, homeless, and in the case of Andrew, legless!
They were alone, under the stars. It could have been romantic.
But it wasn’t.
As the wind got up Paul decided he was going to make for home. He was concerned for their little pooch, Lola, who was now ‘home alone’! He left Andrew spooning the speaker and began the long march back, in a crystal choker and full slap. He really hoped he didn’t bump into anyone he knew. At four in the morning along the deserted carriageway it was highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Fatigued, after a night in stilettos and an unexpected hill hike, Paul lay on a sun-bed, starlit and starving. He couldn’t get into the house to satisfy his hunger, he was spending the night in the garden. He’d arrived back, with diamonds intact, to find Lola quite uninterested. She gazed nonchalantly in his direction beyond the glass door and then made her way upstairs to bed. He needn’t have bothered. He lay back down and attempted to get some sleep as the bedbugs began to bite.
Andrew woke on the beach in a very compromising position with a mic stand. Half a feather boa was stuck to his face and his mouth was as dry a Disney cruise! Luckily there was no-one around to spot him. Still stressed from the night before, he manically retraced his steps, like a hungover Poirot, only to find nothing. No keys! He was saved from deeper depression by an angel of the morning called Jacqui, bearing coffee. The sun was up. He’d think of something.
Paul awoke with a slight sizzle as the sun began to dissolve his mascara. He forced his lids apart and shivered. It was surprisingly chilly for Andalucia in July, but then, he wasn’t used to spending the night outside. His sleep had been broken, and his body felt equally so after a night spent on apparatus the Nazis’ would have killed for. He called his friend Stella for help.
As Stella mounted the pavement and parked, Paul laughed and mocked her technique,
‘I’m afraid you’ve failed your test Ms Hallet’ he joked.
‘Oi you’ she giggled, in ‘Windsor-esque’ fashion.
They laughed. Paul had been relieved to find their good friend at home, on the damp morning after Andrew had mislaid the keys. He had called her shortly after sunrise, once he’d restored blood flow to his fingers, and asked her, as the keeper of the spare keys, to come and give him entry. She’d duly assisted.
Once inside, he grabbed the spare car key and he and Stella headed for the beach to rescue Andrew.
Paul looked across the sands, then back to The Lola Boys equipment, which was stacked carefully in the corner of the open chiringuito, then back along the sands. Andrew was nowhere to be seen.
Paul then went to the car to try the spare key. He and Andrew both had sneaking suspicions the thing didn’t work. After turning the ignition, Paul knew they’d been right. The key didn’t work. They were officially without automobile!
Thank God for Stella!
It was now late morning and Andrew stood waiting outside the boys’ house on the hill. He’d been lucky enough to meet their friend Wendy at the bottom who offered him a lift, so he was spared the mountainous climb in the heat. He’d been grateful for that, as he was still in his wet-look leatherette show pants, and weary after his night in the sand. He saw Paul and Stella as they climbed the pavement and parked.
‘What are you doing here? Paul asked, ‘we’ve just been to the beach to get you.’
‘I didn’t know what to do’ Andrew replied, ‘I feel so stupid.’
‘Come here’ said Paul, and gave his husband a big man hug to show that it didn’t matter, he’d only lost the keys to their life after all.
‘We’ll sort it’ Paul re-assured Andrew, giving him a friendly squeeze, although he had no idea how. As he did so he caught a faint familiar smell in his nostrils. The wonderfully pungent, unmistakably acrid aroma of used tobacco. He needed no smoke signals to understand it’s meaning.
‘Oi you’, he goaded Andrew,’I know what you’ve been up to’.
‘I couldn’t help it’ Andrew explained forlornly,’I just had to buy a pack’.
Paul looked at Stella and sighed.
He really was worried about his lover’s terrible habit. But there was very little he could do, and was more concerned about getting the car started again. Besides, he secretly found it quite sexy when Andrew smoked. Even when Andrew was smoking, in Paul’s eyes, he was still ‘smokin’!
Of course, he would never tell him that, and Andrew would never guess ……