Tommy Poppers (Mr. E.) has appeared numerous times on LustSpiel, and here we have a retrospective of his work: this is Part V, which appeared first on our pages on August 13, 2015
I had descended with some trepidation. It felt like I was looking for justice, but here in Bangkok there is no justice, only karma. The motorbike taxi driver who had greeted me at the entrance to my condo was particularly feral, he had skin tight jeans and oil stained hands. He reeked of Thai Whiskey, cheap cigarettes and fingering. A heavy night weighed down on his eyelids, and I could see the morning sun was not his friend. He drove like a lunatic and decided to have an argument with a girl on his phone while we were speeding on the burning overpass. Now I am sitting in a soulless shopping mall, listening to a fat, old drunk who is dressed like a clown. He is talking and all I can hope is that this grotesque scene is merely a shadow dancing on the wall of my imagination.
|The motorbike taxi driver was particularly feral|
“...You see it was the seventies and it was a whole different time back then...”
I’m not exactly sure why I had arranged this meeting with James, it is the third time that I have met him. I suppose I had become fascinated by the twisted turns of our conversations, I don’t know, I have always been drawn to the macabre. As he pours Whiskey from his silver flask into his paper Starbucks cup, I am still trying to figure this all out.
He’s talking again but I’m not really listening. I acknowledge the clangs of the dropping names which animate his anecdotes, but these people are meaningless to me. Who are they? It’s a list of notorious drunks who were all celebrated at some point for being, “such fun.”
James Farnham is now both spiritually and physically redundant, he does little more than consume in order to maintain a veneer of usefulness. He looks like something that might have knocked up Ronald McDonald’s mother at a traveling fair back in the 1960’s. Beneath his rubber mask and bright orange wig, his thinning hair is dyed sandy brown. As he removes the mask and the wig to drink his coffee, I cannot help wondering where the wig ends and his hair begins. He likes people looking at him. He absorbs attention along with everything else.
|He's spiritually and physically redundant|
His Mother lingers. 60 years ago, James Farnham was born to a woman who had been raised by Indian servants in Calcutta. He has mentioned this fact many times. I can see with every gesture he makes that he never questioned her etiquettes. She must be the reason that he absorbs the world around him. Despite his bulky physique, every move betrays his mother’s insistence on efficiency and grace. I’m guessing that he has never challenged these assumptions. I think he has always seen himself as someone who matters. From what I can gather, his story is one of perceived revolution. In his mind the 60’s had changed the world, so now he gets to dress like a clown and hang out with Thai children, just for fun.
To sit in a Starbucks listening to James speak about the 1960’s is disturbing, there’s too much deja vu. Not just for me:
Once upon a time the world was black and white and grey. Men wore dark suits and blank expressions and glasses which denoted rank. Women were known as “girls,” wore light grey dresses and spoke with received pronunciation. Everyone was disinfected with impeccable morals and a sense of social order. One day, around 1963, young people discovered they could earn money selling sex, drugs and rock and roll. Then, as everyone knows, the world exploded into a colourful scene of sexually charged revolution and change; the whole world became young and free and beautiful.
I am sure he has mentioned the phrase, “...and it felt like anything was possible.” I find it hard that people still believe this story, yet it is clear James really does believe in his pilgrimage to a civilised Utopia. The world would be a better place if only everyone listened to him. Far from posing any real chance of accord, the old ideologies only exist in opposition to each other; they play out as circuses and we, in the audience, still hold our breaths for the flying man on the trapeze. James believes he changed the world, and presumably the world owes him a debt of gratitude. His unlimited credit fuels this sense of entitlement and at times, if he drinks enough, you can see the real matter of his wealth - the potential for violence and intimidation.
|I'm drifting in and out of these conversations|
I am drifting in and out of the conversation, but it doesn’t really matter, I’ve heard it all before. Posh boys still sing the blues and romanticise about the struggles of the working man. Young girls still drink gin in order to forget that they have a say. The very notion of class war has been assimilated into the accepted norm... It’s something we do when we’re young. James talks of his formative struggles, his absent father and relative financial hardship, and uses these facts to underscore the empathy he presumes to have with everyone else. Maybe this is the key to his success; I mean, how else do men get to travel the world and think nothing of dressing as clowns just for fun?
This is all an act.
This is all a pantomime, and I can see right through it. He’s pretending to be a poor man made good, even the ludicrous pretensions of his mannerisms are carefully concocted. He’s a fraud and this eccentric facade is merely for the benefit of an audience. It is played out for my entertainment, and it is nothing more than a desperate attempt to appear controversial. Behind the smoke and mirrors, the big shoes and the striped pants, the struggles and the temptations - there is nothing. At the university he had been a vocal advocate of Marx and the other Utopians. In Bristol he had been relatively poor and he viewed his fellow students with envious eyes. On rainy days he would sit in Clifton, nursing a pint of tepid cider, and talk about the corruption of the ruling class. Then he graduated and went to work in slough. For James Farnham the sixties were over. University had taught him that it wasn’t the subject you studied, but the narratives you weave that truly matter, he has fashioned a story that has come to define him.
“...You see it was the seventies and it was a whole different time back then...”
And what about the 70’s Mr Farnham? Surely that was a halcyon time for grown men to dress like clowns and pedal paedophilia dragged-up as popular youth culture?
|It was a wholly different time back then|
It would appear that during the seventies, James Farnham had lived a double life. By day he was a boring suburban suit, by night he was something of a local celebrity, apparently they were swingers, and Elsie, his then-wife, was a notoriously outrageous hostess. His work was far from exciting, but he took to it very well. It was the first time that he had actually encountered the opinions of the working man, and he didn’t like it at all. He was working as a middle manager in a factory that made underwear that he never bought. The factory was located in the Slough trading estate, him and Elsie settled in a beautiful new house nearby. James had welcomed village life in a would-be conurbation. Though he is still incredibly shaken by his former workers; like his mother, they linger and he mentions them often. He frequently talks about his negotiations with the unions, he says he respected them, yet he couldn’t understand them. Perhaps it was the accents? A lot of them were Polish, a fact that he recounts again and again presumably to highlight how cosmopolitan he is, but I think that he had never spoken to men like this before. They had talked of their rights and they hadn’t just asked for more pay and better conditions - they had demanded it. He began to think of them as ungrateful dependents, and he learned to loathe them. Thinking about it, whenever I have met James, he has spoken of the unions with a kind of vitriol that most people save for the Nazis. These rants are impassioned with the language that is employed to start revolutions or wars, and I suppose for James, this was his war. During our conversations it is clear that he has yet to reconcile this conflict in his mind, He sees it as a personal affront and he cannot understand the betrayal. After all, he had written many articles and attended many demonstrations to defend the rights of these working people - why were they so intent on holding civilisation to ransom? I have noticed that when he speaks of his employees, he uses the pronouns, “they,” and “them.” In doing so, it is clear to me that he drew the lines years ago and has been at war ever since. So, as a result, I always try and steer him away from talking about the seventies when he’s been drinking; which means that I am always trying to steer him away from talking about the seventies.
It’s lunchtime in a shopping mall and he is already starting to slur his words. He has been performing on stage with some children in a local beauty pageant. He has another show to do later this afternoon and I have to admit I really want to see it with my own eyes.
|It's lunchtime at the shopping mall|
Tell me more about the seventies Mr Farnham. He has previously informed me that he had employed the language of socialism in order to trick the unions into signing away their jobs. He had spoken of, “fairness,” and “equality,” while secretly, he was preparing to import cheaper labour; people from overseas, people who would be less concerned about pay and conditions. The plan had been successful, and for his ingenuity, he was awarded with a promotion. If anyone objected to his tactic he labelled them a racist - thereby silencing any tangible opposition. In doing this, he had successfully subverted the term racism and eroded the concept beyond recognition; indeed, talking to him he is very conscious of this. He is not at all embarrassed about exploiting any divisions in order to maintain productivity and further his career. James climbed the career ladder and led the company towards an ever elusive concept of efficiency.
Eventually this required him to move production to Thailand, where people worked all day for less than the price of a Starbucks latte. The company has now moved to Amata, an industrial park to the east of Bangkok that seems desperate to manufacture a community. It’s a lot quieter than Slough, less noise and more space. James likes it because he has 3 female personal staff who are beautiful and do everything he asks without question. He says they know their place. I have become conscious that he has repeated himself several times, I can see the warning signs.
“...Huhurgh Hurgh, Mmmwell, you see-of course-sit was the seventies you see, n’it was a wHOOOOOOOOle different time back then...”
His life in the seventies was one of deception. He lived in a newly built house near Wexham with Elsie, and to many he was the embodiment of a happily married man. Behind the scenes, he tells me that he was incredibly promiscuous; he has spoken fondly of erotic encounters in public places. How much of this is actually true is unclear. However, the relish with which he describes frantic wanks while wedged against old porcelain soaked in piss certainly rings true. It’s clear that in his booze addled mind he loved these encounters more than his wife. I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing one of the reasons that he married Elsie was that she was one of the few women with whom he felt comfortable lying. And I’m guessing that they were drunk a lot.
True, I am playing the omniscient narrator, I can only speculate on their marriage. I piece together the information given to me and embellish what lies in between. In my defense, I have spent many hours piecing through the fragments of memories and notes from my talks with James; because, frankly, she’s a mystery. He’s mentioned her many times, however she remains anonymous. I know the sketch of her character but nothing else. He also evades all of my attempts to elaborate on his son and his daughter by Elsie...
|He tells me about the young looking boy who's fucking him now|
He tells me about the young looking boy who is fucking him now. He looks mischievous when he talks about this, occasionally he assumes a distanced glaze in his eyes that refuses to make contact with mine. He shifts his baulk in the low chair and ridiculously colourful suit, and I become aware that he is aroused just thinking about his lover.
I’m not sure if anyone has ever experienced talking to a semi aroused, drunken clown in a busy shopping mall before; as moments go, it’s pretty awkward.