Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Air Blading: Tale of a Dripping Tail

From Steve Hawthorne of St Albans

The narrative I am about to report is a new but not uncommon one. In the course of my adventures I have found to my great relief that I am no lone deviant existing within some erotic vacuum, but one of a rapidly growing subculture: in Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton; the whole world. The burgeoning community to which I have gravitated is one that perhaps you are not yet aware of: Allow me then to introduce myself. I am an Airblader.
Well I remember the first time I laid eyes on the Dyson Airblade. It was September, 2007 and I was returning from a conference in Zurich. The plane had been filled to capacity and, anticipating a long wait for my luggage, I popped into the gentlemen’s room to relieve myself. I washed my hands after the fact and turned with wry trepidation to the all-too-familiar gerbil’s guff of a hand dryer we have all, all of us, suffered to endure. Imagine, then, what delight and awe struck me as I gazed down upon Gatwick’s first Airblade. Recall, if you can, the first time you lowered your own dripping digits into the mouth of this benevolent creature, felt the cool, sudden gust as your fingers passed the invisible barrier of its windstream; marvelled as your skin spread mutinously from its penetrating force, as though some microscopic Moses had raised his arms to part the ocean of your damp flesh. Recall, if you dare, the jarring sense of disbelief as you lifted your hands again, dry as Tutankhamun’s bones. Remember? I don’t think I shall ever forget.
I’d admired Dyson’s products in the past. Who hadn’t? I’d gone so far as to pin an advert for their DC14 Vacuum Cleaner to my bedroom wall, but so far I’d stopped short of developing an actual loving relationship with a Dyson product, or inserting myself into one for my own pleasure. These, nonetheless, were precisely the notions that filled my mind as I paced, dazed and dry-handed, toward Baggage Reclaim that day. Modesty prevents me from detailing the exact destination of my suddenly pulsing bloodstream but from that day to this, I was changed.
Consummation of my new heart’s desire came not easily, nor swiftly. I became a man torn between two worlds, two lives with nary a notion of how to align them; I shunned close friends, socialised no more with the public house hopheads and urchins with whom I seemed to share nothing in common anymore. Instead my evenings were filled with self-revulsion, guilt and bitter recrimination as I pored over tradesmen’s catalogues the long night through. At last I convinced myself that it was mere curiosity that had struck me, that if I fulfilled my nascent desire but once I would be quenched and could return again to the land of men. How deeply I believed such fancies I cannot say; perhaps only enough to comfort myself into melancholic sleep. I took to booking cheap flights, late at night, when the airport toilets would be at their least frequented. I developed a name for myself with work colleagues as a globetrotter. People joked about me keeping a woman in every country. If they only knew.
I blush to think of those early, abortive adventures; long evenings sat in a cubicle, waiting for silence, and when silence came, waiting for some imagined signal to convince me that it would remain long enough for the Airblade and I to be as one, my resolve slowly hardening. I purchased a long coat the better to conceal the act should I be interrupted: I had become the proverbial Dirty Old Man. And yet, the longer I spent within those tiled walls the more I resented the notion. Why dirty? Why wrong? If love such as this was a crime then who was the victim? Surely only my own dignity and that, after all, was my own to dispense with as I saw fit.
I managed at last, of course. It was City Airport. I’d visited daily for weeks and had become familiar with the cleaners’ routine, the ebb and flow of public toilet traffic, and had observed a grace period between the last flight in from Aberdeen and the airbus to Milan Malpensa, around half one in the morning. I eyed the last of the toilet users over the brow of the cubicle wall, jealously cursing his lingering use of the airblade; my airblade. Finally he left and I scurried over, opened my trousers, dangled my potatoes, and wept. The Milan flight had one empty seat that day.
With what spiralling risk I embraced my new lifestyle from that point! I dispensed with the mack along with any sense of shame. For how could this be wrong, when it felt so right? I found my feet, took to experimentation, sometimes sitting atop the airblade and bobbing away like a seagull on the ocean, or else standing atop the contraption, legs apart and slowly lowering myself deliciously into the blade.
That there were others like me I did not consider for some time, consumed as I was with my own jolly. As the months passed however, it could not escape my notice that there were certain regular customers to my various favoured water closets. I would sometimes meet their eyes, and in them perceive a certain furtiveness, a nervous air coupled with a peculiar sense that I had somehow infringed on territory that was theirs. Well I recognised such feelings, for they had flowed through my own being on those occasions when I was interrupted in my sport.
It seems odd, now, that I did not ‘walk in’ on a fellow Airblader sooner than I did: A testament perhaps to the lengths our kind must go to in order to conceal our lifestyle. It was Leeds City Airport; off my usual beat. I was in the mood for a ‘bit of strange’ and bought the ticket on impulse. The man was a seasoned Airbladder, I could tell. He wore a long beige coat much like the one I’d purchased at the outset of my journey, but little good it did him. He had mounted the Dyson as though it were a pony, and was bobbing about in such frenzy that he didn’t notice my presence until I obliged him with a polite cough.  The man fell silent. He appraised me gravely. I said nothing, instead passing into a cubicle to allow the man to finish. When I heard the familiar creak of plastic I returned. He made to dash from the scene but I cut him off at the door.
“How’s the air pressure?”
He eyed me with furious fear, but nodded finally.
“She’s got a bite to her.” He told me at last, and was gone.
Perhaps it was merely that the incident opened my eyes to the wider picture, but it seemed that from that moment Airbladers of every description came out of the woodwork. The stiff walks across the terminal floor. Glances exchanged. Endless cubicle vigils. Some are more social than others. It takes all sorts. There are those that let you know that they prefer to ‘go it alone', other more affable types that will compare observations like car enthusiasts, even challenging one to a race. There are those who treat their Dyson with cold, functional detachment, others who develop favourites and scrawl besotted sonnets on cubicle doors. Monogamy is at least as common as faithlessness in our world. There are women among our kind too, though my relations with them are limited, divided as we are by public taste policy-makers. We are a people, a race, and every tint and hue of humanity is represented among us. And we are known, now: Tolerated by the airlines, for we fill their planes with paid empty seats; treated with contempt by airport security and cleaning staff though why, I know not. Many is the time I have been cast heartlessly onto the coach pick-up, my pleas to ‘just finish off’ cruelly ignored.
But I will no longer be made to feel shame. I will not kowtow to intolerance, ignorance, or hate. I’m a Dyson-hugger. An airport apple-bobber. You may call me a Gatwick Dip-wick, a member of the ground-zero club, whatsoever you choose. I am an Airblader, and I am proud.
If you, or anyone close to you has been affected by the issues discussed in this article, please contact me on 0800-0CT0-GRAM

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Vortex in a Thimble: Perspectives on My Birth From a Haunted Wok


I first met Mad Headed Octogram at Farnborough Farmers Festival in sweet ’97. He was on his way out of the Poetry Tent as I went in and he gave me a wink as I took the stage.
Be gentle with ‘em.” He intoned, indicating the audience. “I’ve just dealt them a truth sandwich and the sauce was pretty spicy.” When I looked out upon the crowd I saw tears, heard hysterical wails. Couples were consoling one another while others simply vomited on the grass.
This guy had just laid down some serious verse.
I turned back, but the Octogram was already retreating: he’d thumbed a ride with a passing tractor and was speeding off into the dusk. And you know what? The son-of-a-gun was popping me the middle one as he rolled away.
Our paths crossed a few more times that summer. He was prevalent on the Cider Circuit, on the festival scene, in the Turkish Men’s Clubs. If a dance troupe or drama workshop was passing through my strip of town you could bet your arse he was at the middle of it all, casting dispersions, turning the world on its head with his intricate word-strudels, his gestures and sighs. As autumn drew in I’d see him on the streets of Coventry, busking outside Oxfam Books or straddling Lady Godiva’s horse and reading Karl Marx in a dandyish manner. I was doing some two-bit journalism course at the time and used it as a pretext to get close to this alarming young man who had already become known around town as ‘the Fascinator’.
Mind if I ask you a few questions?” I asked, biro and notepad in hand. I froze, realizing only then that the Octogram had a towel tucked into the back of his top, like a cloak.
 “Hai-yah!” he screamed, leaping and spinning toward me with a high kick. He sliced the air with his hand until it was within millimetres of my face, and he cackled, ruffling my hair as though I were nil but a barrow-boy.
You can relax now, you fuck.” He told me. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be maggot food already. Stay sharp!”
He threw a fist my way, again stopping just before my face.
Douch! Dust in the wind! You get me, Spider-dick?
Sort of.” I told him.
And so began my tenure in the Mad Headed Octogram Soul Collective. It was a time of wild, euphoric highs and crushing lows; a delirious dally with the higher truth and a terrifying journey into the dark recesses of a beautiful soul; a time of intolerable cruelty, petulance, daily psychological abuse, domination and habitual public humiliation. It was also a time of great art. Yes, I was putty in the master’s hand and I was happy to be, for a while.
The good ship Octogram spent much of the nineties on the periphery of London’s music and arts scenes: Too extreme in our avant garde tendencies, too uncompromising in our artistic vision to be embraced by mainstream society, yet too real, too honest and too damn catchy to be dismissed. His one-man stage show El Octogrammus – Notes From a Bohemian Body Bag caused a sensation in Dalston Kingsland Shopping Centre, and its follow up, Scrawlings of a Dunderhead Stooge, performed in Burger King Charring Cross, prompted raised eyebrows all the way up to Westminster. Meanwhile a slew of EPs, singles and albums on various indie labels (most notably the now-defunct Blumis King) and a run of consistently beguiling live performances ensured that the Mad Headed One was achieving cult-like status. Earnest fanatics, the Octogramarians, became a common sight on the streets of London, in the clubs and supermarkets. Society was changing.

Mainstream success, though, was never on the Octogram’s agenda, and when his version of ‘Insane in the Membrane’ became an MTV favourite (it had featured in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Camp Octogram entered one of its periodic phases of reinvention. We disappeared from sight, convalescing in the studio to hammer out another vision of majesty and madness, of prophecy and profit margins; a colour-by-numbers holocaust pie chart for the masses to gorge upon. They were heady times. Mad Headed Octogram has always had a revolving door policy, few people able to exist in his light and petulance for more than a month at a time, but now the Righteous Educator was firing saplings every which way: All change. No excuses. No compromises. This was Octogeddon.
What really happened during those months of torment? Readers, I cannot say. I know only that the album we were working on at that time was our finest. All the Octogram’s major themes came into focus. The man was spitting out melodies like olive pits. We all felt it in the studio. This was the one. This was the record that would bring his vision to the masses. That slab of vinyl damn near killed us. I remember only shards of that time, so altered was my perception of reality; so deeply had the Octogram’s demands crushed my ability to reason. But it was completed. That LP? Wild Eyes of the Octogram. The critics adored it, but amid the chaos of regime change, the bitter tears and lawsuits, the record sank without a trace. The album that was set to propel us to stardom, the Octogram’s Opus Magnifica was, it transpired, the swansong for the classic line-up. Baron Greenback and myself, Octogram veterans both, were given our marching orders by fax the morning after the launch party.
I busked around on the scene for a while, without direction or identity before scoring a gig with anti-noise band The Pheromoans. This was a pretty sweet job; the newly formed Pheromoans were already ruffling feathers in the Gatwick slumming community. They were the talk of the festivals that year, whispers flying from tent to tent about these new sonic assault troubadours. Sure enough, like planets orbiting the same star, Mad Headed Octogram was drafted in on percussion within the month. I kept my distance, rarely daring to inquire about his creative pursuits and I am proud to say that to this day we are able to tolerate one another’s company for short periods. The Mad Headed One continues to dazzle with his poetry readings, rock concerts and situationist happenings. Last year’s Sass Appeal EP, and the tape-only release The Unmistakable Fire are among his finest work. The rejection of his Olympics single Mavis (an impersonation of the beloved Coronation Street character reciting her famous catchphrase ‘I don’t really know!’ to the tune of Chariots of Fire) remains a travesty and a blight upon the cursed international games franchise. Does it bother him? Does it bollocks! He’s still out there, Mad Headed Octogram. Always converting, always spreading his message: Be real! Be true! Be me! Be gone! Tonight performing in a boho fleapit with an Apache flautist and a wailing flower child: Tomorrow, perhaps in an old people’s home with a string quartet of dissonant yummy mummies. The next week he’ll be rocking up a storm in the Mean Fiddler with a bunch of teenage stoners.
Me? I’m just grateful to have hung onto his coattails as long as I did. Go check him out.
Mad Headed Octogram appears intermittently at guerilla art happenings around the south east of England, and plays regularly with The Pheromoans. His extensive discography is largely out of print, though releases are sometimes made available by his friends at Savoury Days Records.