Ordinary People

A blokey type of bloke comes round to our house on a pretty regular basis.  He’s into retro Hi-Fi; as is my husband (who collects old things – I’m now part of that faded collection.)  They sit in the back room, drinking tea and gossiping about turntables, electrical leads and speakers, while I stay determinedly out of the way.  Neither would use the terms ‘gossiping’ or even a ‘good natter’ of course; no, these are involved discussions of a highly technical nature.

Occasionally my husband can be heard guffawing loudly.   Guffaws happen in the real world and not just in the pages of the hallowed Beano (and the now sainted Beano, who don’t mind at all that Pixar recently ripped off re-imagined the Numskulls.)  More Beano laughter often ensues because the bloke who comes around our house is funny.  He’s part of an ongoing series of lists that I store at the back of my mind.  One of which being, ‘The Best Stand Up Comics you will never see on TV’ –   currently featuring J (the blokey bloke) and my sister.

J does a bit of this and that, here and there, but nobody seems to know just exactly what J does; least of all my husband.

Not only is J funny, as in funny Ha-ha; he’s also a bit funny looking;  more accurately a bit scary looking, a bit like your average old school skinhead, or Doc Martin’d (as in the boot, not the telly series) thug.  Uh oh, a scary person is approaching the house, I used to think, because I’m the type of person who scares easily, but turns out old J isn’t scary, not in the least.  J also looks a bit like Richard O’Brien (being very very bald and very very thin), the renowned creator of The Rocky Horror Show and the 90’s show The Crystal Maze (which is coming back in a live and interactive form this autumn, featuring a virtual R O’B.)

I mentioned this scary likeness one day, when J and the husband were hanging in the hallway, staring in reverential silence at a couple of cobwebbed speakers.  I was in the process of writing a post re: The Rocky Horror Show and Richard O’Brien’s strangely elfin features were grimacing at me from the laptop screen.   J popped his head in at the lounge door and came straight out with the following (like he does, in his dead pan, slightly Londoner’s way):

“Funny you say that, I went for a drink with him (Mr O’Brien) down the pub many years ago, good bloke he is, no airs or graces at all.  Told me he made hardly any money from that show.  I think Ray Winstone may have been there too.”

Then he stopped, whilst I nearly choked on a malteaser.   The casual reference to Richard O’Brien was striking enough but Ray Winstone!!  He of Noah and Indiana Jones and God knows what else.  What kind of alternate universe features those two down the pub?

The whole thing sounded highly unlikely, but I simply nodded in silent amazement.  We then perused the image of Richard O’Brien I’d pulled up on my laptop screen.  “Yeah, that’s him, does look a bit like me doesn’t he, never noticed it before.”

After J left I asked my husband if he’d heard this very short tale before, which he hadn’t.  Wondering if J could possibly be a victim of Walter Mitty syndrome, I became determined to find out more.  What’s J’s surname I asked the next day.  No idea, was the reply.  But you’ve known him for over a year now, I cried, how could you not know his surname.  Don’t know, just never came up, was the typical manly reply.  Well ask him then, so I can do a bit of internet stalking (which I’m renowned for) and perhaps I’ll find out how on earth he meets famous people down the pub.

My husband and J text each other like your average loved up couple re: Hi-Fi and various other bits and bobs, so texting seemed to be the way to go.  Ask him his surname I badgered hubby one evening. So he did – after he’d stopped splitting his sides over a politically incorrect Alzheimer’s related joke, arising from a situation J had found himself in that day.   The provision of a surname got me nowhere.

My husband had once mentioned months ago, in passing, that J had had a heart attack at the incredibly youthful age of 28.  Like most people would, I had felt sympathy for the little known J, who was then barely a blip on my J-less world radar, but I now felt a renewed and morbid interest to know the gory details.  Tell me what happened I asked, so he did:

The Tale of the Longest Heart Attack in History

J was a young man, presumably with hair, back in the early 90’s, working in New York as a theatre manager, and courier on the side, to make ends meet.  J rushed about a lot doing managerial things and delivering packages.  After all this rushing about he would then, not very sensibly, party the nights away in a presumably drunken state; when he should have been getting some kip.  This hectic lifestyle led to a bout of chest pain one day, so he went to the doctor who told him he was in the middle of having a heart attack and should go to the nearest hospital right away.  J had no medical insurance, which is a requirement in the States and, instead of going into a full blown panic attack, like a normal person, J thought that absolutely the best thing to do would be to go to an airport, catch the next plane home and then run into the welcoming arms of the NHS– which he did, arriving roughly 24 hours later, presumably clutching his chest and swearing a lot.

Needless to say he survived.

This story seemed slightly more farfetched and Walter Mitty-like than the hobnobbing with the stars down the pub episode.  But J was becoming more fascinating by the second – New York?  The theatre?  Super human ability to survive impending heart attack?

There must be more to this wide boy chappie than meets the eye, I continually whinged to my other half.  For instance, how on earth did he ever get to manage a theatre in New York?  Oh, apparently his brother’s an actor or something, was the nonchalant reply one evening after tea; I forgot to tell you.  Might have been something to do with that.  Next time he comes round I’ll get him to go in the lounge (where I hide away) and tell you all about it.

And J came round, dragging his speakers behind him, and my long suffering husband pushed him into the lounge.  Tell her about your brother he demanded.  So J said, ‘type Robin of Sherwood into your laptop’ (the one I’m almost permanently attached to) and I’ll show you.’

"Robin of Sherwood" TV Series - 1983

Instantly I was transported back to the early 80’s.  Robin of Sherwood was one of my favourite shows back in the day (then, and now, achieving cult status).  It starred Michael Praed (the chiseled featured hero above) who was quite the heart-throb – surely Michael Praed wasn’t J’s brother, I wondered hopefully, in silence.

Sadly, Mr Praed isn’t the brother but was an almighty dick, according to J (whose opinions are his own and nothing to do with yours truly), swanning around like he owned the place and was God’s gift to women.  ‘Not anymore though is he?  Dynasty was the last thing he did.’  Was J’s triumphant last word on the subject of Mr P  – this isn’t true, I’ve since discovered that Mr Praed has a successful career in the theatre.

J’s brother, it turns out, played one of Robin’s band of merry men, and you can look him up under the name Peter Llewellyn Williams.  Ray Winstone was also in the band of merry men, which explained why he was down the pub that day, and so was Jason Connery (Sean Connery’s son) who, according to J, was a very nice chap indeed.

Unlike J, I remember Michael Praed rather fondly from the 1981 live production of The Pirates of Penzance in London.  During his performance as the swashbuckling hero, he suddenly jumped off the stage and ran into the audience, sword in hand.  My friend and I were sitting pretty close to the stage and my coat had fallen from my chair in a heap on the floor.  Mr Praed picked the coat up with his sword and transferred it to my lap, with the words ‘your coat my lady’, before making a gallant bow.  Made my evening I can tell you.

I await further developments in the gradual unravelling of the life and times of J.

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