(cont’d from ‘Unsheathed, Perkin Lovely was a Ronnie Corbett Sausage’)
‘More likely they are his-and-hers avalanches of mouldering dumpling
mix, with dentures from Minsk, matching unisex carrier-bag breasts
and stained, swampy genitals. They’ll greet you at the front door of a
tract house in Teaneck wearing each other’s underwear, their rabbi in
the background humping an aging golden retriever.’
Perkin Lovely, meditating skeptically upon the gaping maw that customarily squats between dream and reality. Having singularly failed to eke any photography-related insight out of him in our phone interview (unless Shanks up the Keister are items one orders from Adorama) we girded our loins and greyhounded over to the Federal Sneezer in Terre Haute, having secured special permission for a rare same-sex conjugal visit. Warden Parsons is reportedly an avid fan and camping buddy of Sian Kennedy (Perkin’s collaborator and sex-addiction sponsor), having shared a caravan in the Poconos with him on several occasions.
Unfortunately much of the interview was conducted at close-quarters on low thread-count polyester, a couple of feet above a 350 pound gentleman called Tyrone having teardrops inked onto his trout-like beef-whistle with a darning needle. Our narrative was punctuated by the kind of tear-drenched exclamations that would ordinarily have drowned out conversation had we not snuggled up like puppies and pressed my dictaphone ever closer to Perkin’s mouth. And whilst we were unable to touch on a wide range of topics, we managed to cover a very narrow-range of Proustian ones quite exhaustively.
H: You’ve been quoted as stating that every photograph you have ever taken was inspired by the urge to impress girls.
PL: As well as every word spoken, deed done, breakfast eaten. It may not always be as direct as that statement suggests, sometimes the route is eccentric and round-the-houses in a way that even I don’t understand. But ultimately, yes, that’s the core impulse.
H: Never boys?
PL: It’s difficult enough to know what to do with one penis.
H: Is your approach ever counter-productive?
PL: Nearly always. But from the very start I think I understood that love and loathe overlap. Given my meager assembly of talents, I really had no choice.
H: From the very start?
PL: A collective blind date with the girl’s of St Mary’s Convent in Folkestone. We walked on different sides of the street throughout: little heifers of St Mary’s over there, Earl of Salisbury’s spotty bullocks over here. Not sure I even knew who was supposed to be mine, but I’m fairly certain she was mortified by the idea of being paired with a leering, shrunken Ronnie Corbett in full Angus Young attire. Actually, now I’m scraping the scale from my memory, I recall her name was Brenda. I like to think she was the elfin one with the pageboy bob: but she could equally have been the myopic walrus sprung from the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. The climax of the event (running against the clock of a potential gating) was when the two columns crossed, sniffing and snorting in the Old Spice mist. This was where I first experienced the heady aroma of teenage girl and life took a left turn. Until then it has been roughly okay to be Ronnie Corbett. Suddenly it was a grotesque handicap, akin to having a drooling arse in the middle of one’s forehead. The genesis of my Richard the Third complex. There were no further dates with Brenda.
H: Who conceived the idea of group cross-pollination?
PL: Oh, my dear, there was no pollination going on. My stamen was little more than a damp straw mushroom and I didn’t get my fingers on a pistil until almost a decade later. I think there was a letter-writing campaign undertaken between the girls in the Convent and the boys on the Hill. Burmese political prisoners exchanging pleasantries with hostages in Iraq. About The Rollers. ‘I (heart) Stuart, who do you (heart)?’. I was issued a letter from the stack. She wrote in plump, loopy cursive on lavender paper spritzed with Anais Anais. I think I replied in Hochdeutsch Gothic painstakingly counterfeited from the Deep Purple ‘Stormbringer’ cover, embalmed in Hai Karate. Probably looked like a declaration of war from the Kaiser. A date was subsequently set for the first massed skirmish.
H: Did you bring a gift?
PL: The gift of a camel-toothed, bespectacled Ronnie Corbett visage plastered upon a medicine-ball cranium. What more could she want?
H: What did you do?
PL: Ambled aimlessly with my friends on the opposite side of the road to the girls. Pointed at them and laughed conspiratorially. Kicked stuff. Smoked fags. It was pretty great.
H: Have you ever fallen in love on a first date?
PL: No, always before.
H: What did this first encounter teach you?
PL: It distilled my technique, the one I’ve been using ever since. Identify the target of your love. Move directly to the furthest point away from her in the room. Scowl. Malinger. Make occasional forays to check if she is still there, looking as poisonous as possible at all times; but be prepared to scuttle away at speed if spotted. If by some chance she happens to engage you in conversation, insult her.
H: Do you think you paid a price for these formative encounters?
PL: Yes. The price of ten Embassy Regal and a box of matches, requiring the surrender of that particular week’s Curlywurly and/or Lord Toffingham. It left me bereft in front of Saturday’s episode of Cannon but with a firm grip on the concept of sacrifice.
H: Photographic sessions with strangers are in some ways redolent of first dates, don’t you think?
PL: Unquestionably. Almost identical.
H: Which, given the visceral aspect of your work, begs the question … would you sleep with someone on a first date?
PL: A somewhat ironic inquiry given the current whereabouts of your genitals. No, it really wasn’t happening. Firstly it would have required crossing the street. And my Government Orphanage issue Tom & Jerry pyjamas were unlikely to arouse anything much more than muffled giggles, especially with Ronnie Corbett floundering in the creases. No, better to limit oneself to not knowing which of the cackling coven across Churchill Crescent is supposed to be yours.
H: Is chivalry important at all?
PL: Chivalrous sneering from afar definitely has its place. Along with the bravura demonstration of how far one can gob a loogie.
H: Is anything else important?
PL: Possession of a febrile imagination.
H: Is there anything you unfailingly do on a first encounter?
PL: Spontaneously contract an extraordinary flora of pustular acne.
H: And anything you never do?
H: What about preparation?
PL: I think the process benefits from an exacting regimen: triple-wash and blow-dry my gossamer bangs into a frogmarched centre-parting with ancillary whitecaps of feathering racing across the rooftops of the ears. Ronnie Corbett with gullwing Barry Gibb accents. This gravity-defying cavalcade would collapse into a lank mediæval skullcap within ten minutes. Spend half-an-hour transforming honest pimples into throbbing, boiling carbuncles with a finger-nail and the arm of my glasses, douche the entire battleground with a fiery, blistering three-quarter pint of Blue Stratos, rendering everything the shade of a freshly-painted telephone box. Clamber into illegal charcoal Oxford Bags (24″ diameter bellbottoms) indistinguishable from my mother’s Palazzo Pants, sneakily undo the button beneath my fist-fat double-Windsor: Schoolboy Corbett with Blackadder do, face like a cobbled wound and a bouquet that could strip paint at fifty paces. Primed for conquest.
H: What would be the measure of a successful encounter?
PL: Somebody laughing at a funny face I pulled on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Short of that, being ignored.
H: And an unsuccessful one?
PL: Anything to the left of being ignored. Examples might include: watching my prospective partner’s face curl into a tragedy mask of disgust upon my arrival; having somebody punch me and break my glasses while my partner looks on, giggling; overhearing the words ‘but he looks like Ronnie fucking Corbett!’ from the knot of girls by the toilets; being ganged up on and bogwashed for the entertainment of the crowd and/or having my trousers and underpants pulled down, inspected for skid-marks and tossed from hand to hand whilst I scuttle around at a crouch attempting to shield my barely pubescent penis from view, all the while repeating the mantra ‘C’mon you lot, this isn’t funny’.
H: What’s the most extreme measure you have ever taken to secure an encounter with someone?
PL: Killing them and propping them up every night at the table in a ball-gown and several strings of pearls in front of a candlelit champagne dinner, before carrying them off to bed in my arms and fornicating with their dead body. Melting my penis with a bunsen-burner and remoulding it into a statuette of a Robertson’s Marmalade Golliwog. Placing myself in the expensive front row of an awful Victorian drama they were appearing in for three nights in a row in fucking Greenwich, London, which is several lightyears from anywhere, going completely unnoticed on all three occasions before skulking off anonymously to discover the Cortina’s alternator had failed, necessitating me rolling the car around the parking lot late into the night attempting a fruitless one-man bump-start. Giving up and sleeping in the trunk. Flying a thousand miles to another city, checking into a hotel, driving up and down outside the coffee shop they worked at only to drive away in panicked horror when they came out. Flying home. Renting a car in a state of bankruptcy, allowing them to drive uninsured, unlicensed and inebriated to the coast, springing for an exorbitant dinner and hotel (separate beds). Next day being dragged around endless suburban childhood haunts, grimacing though an encyclopedia of family anecdote before finally collapsing onto the beach, where it took me four hours to summon courage enough to hold their hand, a gesture they misinterpreted as me reaching for the water which they handed to me before suggesting that maybe we should call it a day and head back now. Plying the dog with Percocet then staring at its inert body wondering whether or not to go through with it.
H: Any particular ice-breakers you’ve found to be effective?
PL: “Actually I fucking hated that film” always garners a response. Also:
“I haven’t changed my underpants in a fortnight”
“Do you drink your own piss ever?”
“Do you ever come when you’re doing this to people?”
“I thought you said I get three songs.”
H: Ever been stood up?
PL: Up no. On yes. The road is usually fairly featureless until people clap eyes on me. I have returned from the lavatory to find my date had upped and made a run for it. I have seen a girl wince involuntarily, as if stabbed, when I was pointed out across a room. The first breast I was ever permitted to gingerly brush with my fingers was already being kneaded like bialy-dough by someone else. I have had a rendezvous which consisted of little more than holding a girl’s head above a pool of her own vomit whilst reassuring passers-by that “she’s okay, she just had a bit too much to drink”
H: Were you ever rejected for someone else?
PL: Frequently. In fact, unfailingly. Karys Adams, Dirty Doyenne of the Lower Sixth, having viscerally experienced the palms and digits of the entire Class of ’81, was left with the choice of me, an acne ravaged Chinese kid even shorter than me, a kid in polio calipers, a kid with chronic glandular obesity and a cleft-palate kid with Thalidomide flippers. She chose me for a fortnight, but after repeatedly bashing her teeth into my equine pearlies and snagging her hair in the joint of my glasses, she left me for Flipperboy. I wrote her epic poems in tripping dactyls and a song fashioned in the style of Nights in White Satin, all of which she spurned like cat diarrhoea, compounding the humiliation by broadcasting my manifold shortcomings the length and breadth of South East Kent. I made up a joke with the punchline ‘it’s the Last Mango in Karys’ but nobody laughed as loud as they were laughing at me.
H: Have you ever rejected anyone?
PL: Amazingly, there was a girl named Kat; a music student who my friend Barry had dallied with briefly (while I was in the same room, actually, with the lights out, trying to wrestle a manatee from Cleethorpes into an unclean half-nelson). She was about twenty, all flopsy-bright and Beatrix Pottery, from Garstang in Lancashire, so she gonged her all her g’s. Song(uh), bong(uh), tong(uh), dong(uh). Music students are all confirmed retards, having been strapped to an oboe by Korean parents when they should have been building forts or exposing their vaginas to me after PE. She would spontaneously erupt into operatic arias in full warbling vibrato, chin down, eyes bulging, trembling arm thrust out like a panhandler with Parkinson’s. Her passably ordinary appearance would balloon in my imagination into a hornéd-hatted Brünnhilde in frame-tent kaftan, gargling pebbles deafeningly. She was also gifted with a kind of rampaging psoriasis which required her to lather mittenfuls of some metallic-smelling petroleum extract onto her entire body twice a day. Like she’d gone down in a Spitfire over the South Downs. Not great. She would trowel on the Swarfega, then hop bunnily into bed and tiptoe her fingers up the leg of my boxer-shorts; a saintlike act of charity I would ordinarily have received as blesséd unction … but from an oily, radioactive green Jessye Norman smelling like a dismantled gearbox? She liked dried flower arrangements, gingham and wanted to meet my family. I don’t believe we ever touched significantly. I suspected it would feel like I was calibrating her.
H: Any blind dates?
PL: I have often wished my dates were blind, as have they.
H: Have you ever used any kind of agency or service to set up encounters?
PL: I’ve fantasized in that direction, having watched the likes of Katy Grannan post ads in the Poughkeepsie Sentinel or whatever and be swept out of her tikki hut by a tsunami of lonelyhearts eager to be free of all their togs. And the internet seems to suggest there are itinerant flocks of people out there interested in peeling off their dungarees and rubbing, scratching and oozing on a not-for-profit basis. They will pull up at your doorstep with a winnebago of vegetables and their boyfriend Helmut. They’ll fuck you, your wife, your vacuum-cleaner and your parakeet, then sashay cheerfully out of your life. They’ll greet you and your muculent other half at the door of a crowded SoHo loft wearing only a glittery cat mask on a stick and a moist Hitler moustache of pubes. Maybe. More likely they are his-and-hers avalanches of mouldering dumpling mix, with dentures from Minsk, matching unisex carrier-bag breasts and stained, swampy genitals. They’ll greet you at the front door of a tract house in Teaneck wearing each other’s underwear, their rabbi in the background humping an aging golden retriever.
H: Have you ever been proposed to?
PL: Once, by a Thai girl, Minh, who was unusually blessed with two breasts and a penis.
H: How much time would have to pass before you’d consider yourself to be in a relationship?
PL: Once the Rohypnol has kicked in and she’s bound with gaffer tape in the basement, we’re officially a unit.
(Bell rings loudly)
H: Ah, I think our time is up. Perkin Lovely, thankyou.
PL: Most welcome. If you could pop that film canister back up before you leave I’d be most grateful.