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Big Time

Wayne Holloway-Smith



At Hair by Design, I prayed that I’d get the girl in the short skirt and bobble hat. She was perhaps the most mesmerising creature I’d ever seen. I watched as she took a step back from the head she was renovating to size up her handiwork. Every variation of her posture was art; I was gently falling in love.

‘Who’s next?’ The voice came from the opposite side of the room, not from the mouth of the bobble-hatted goddess.

I was next.

I lowered myself into the seat. The hairdresser introduced herself as Heidi. She wasn’t as attractive as the goddess but had the type of angular frame you might find on the cover of ID, and striking red hair against a befreckled milk-white face – still exceptional.

She danced a little to a raucous thumping type of music with which I was unfamiliar, singing its chorus as she placed a green cape round my throat.

‘What are we going to do?’ she asked.

In the richness of the moment, I deigned to hope she might be speaking about the rest of the afternoon. About how we might spend our time after she’d trimmed me into the sort of man with whom the likes of her would hold hands. She swept her fingers up through the back of my hair and I thought: she’s touching me!

In keeping with the vision I had of us tumbling down Primrose Hill in a heap of mutual affection, I told her to do whatever she liked. She wetted my hair with the sort of bottle that my mum uses to water her plants and began.

Conversation flowed freely between us, but as my superior, I let her take the lead. We covered how she moved to London, what pursuits she enjoyed, which led us to music. Her knowledge of what was what was insurmountable. I revelled in what the best thirty-five pounds I had ever spent had bought me.

Then she broached the subject of her favourite band: The Rasclotts.

‘Have you heard of them?’ she asked.

I felt so at home in her sporadic caress of my scalp that I didn’t need to lie. ‘No,’ I said. Then fearing there might be a break in conversation, added, ‘What do you like about them?’

This question acted like a gunshot, which set her off on a verbal sprint through the short history of the band’s mythology. An exuberant seminar that brought her almost spitting and panting to the name, ‘Tristan.’

‘He’s going to be big time,’ she exhaled.

Tristan, I noted the name.

She explained to me his penchant for fighting and for more than the occasional nostril of cocaine, and detailed the smashing of his microphone over the head of a stagehand that resulted in his face being plastered across photocopied pages of every magazine too ‘underground’ for me to have heard of.

She continued, ‘What a legend.’

Now, a hair salon is an unlikely place for a life-altering revelation, but… it suddenly came to me – the missing piece of the salvation pie I was to serve our land: Yes, I realised Heidi and these folk didn’t need saving, and placed religion somewhere amongst Werther’s Originals or penny-farthings. But if it was packaged differently, embellished, say, with a rebellious gait akin to that of Mr Rasclott and, possibly, with the odd scar or tattoo, then just maybe Camden hairdressers, groupies, boys who bought jeans from boutiques, would join me in the sinner’s prayer. I had emptied myself of so much time by thinking about feeding the homeless, cleaning old women’s false teeth or fundraising for the Developing World. Now there was work to be done.

All of a sudden I wanted so badly to be this Tristan guy, to be somewhere else, doing something cool, whilst girls of disproportionate attractiveness spoke about me to chaps who wanted something as dull as to start a religious revival. God, I was boring. I just hoped she didn’t change the subject to anything about me.

‘So what is it you do?’ She smiled.

Shite. I thought. Say something cool. But I couldn’t play an instrument; I wasn’t tall enough to be a model; symmetrical enough to be an actor. In my head, slow reels of the black and white footage of my life flickered past.

‘Can you keep a secret?’ I whispered.

‘Yeah,’ she said.

‘I’m a drug dealer.’



* * *


My debut on the rock and roll scene was imminent and I’d displayed a particular stroke of ingenuity: I’d enlisted the services of my semi-friend, Becks – the chubby indie girl from work. Repeating the hairdresser’s sermon, I struck Becks’s competitive vein, and in her keenness to prove she knew more than me, I was afforded tonnes of new info about The Rasclotts. This included their next gig, in Whitechapel, a gig which we would now attend together.

Presently I sat, replete with newly cut hair, on a stool in the room of my strange housemate, Daddy Smalls, which held our gaff’s only computer. I was examining Google images of the main Rasclott. This was made difficult, however, by the sentimental din exuded by the speakers as Coldplay’s Chris Martin held forth: ‘I was scared, I was scared; tired and underprepared…’

The Daddy is a secret Coldplay fan. He says they make him feel clean again and usually listens to the album right through while he’s in the shower. So I was making the most of his current attempts at emotional as well as physical cleansing.

Looking at these pictures, old Rasclott’s fashion sense wasn’t much removed from my own Wesleyan outfit: always some kind of rimmed hat, a long flowing coat. It struck me that shirt frills might be a good addition, some lace perhaps, and some faded Levi’s Twisteds to undermine the dapperness. A nuance of ‘newness’ tucked into my brown leather boots.

It also became painstakingly apparent that I needed to smoke more; every Google image housed the up-and-coming star louchly holding a cigarette.

I extracted one of Smalls’s Marlboro Lights from a packet beside a tube of hand cream on his desk, and moved towards his full-length mirror. Pursing my lips, I firstly let the hand with the cigarette between its fingers dangle at my side. The other hand, I placed coquettishly on my hip. Throwing forlorn looks at my reflection, I arched my back, brought the fag to my face and tested its poise on the different sides of my mouth. I mimed drawing in the smoke, retracting the reverse-victory sign of my fingers to exhale imaginary purple ribbons. Two or three practices gave rise to an ecstatic joy. I’d found my technique: wonderfully furtive drags from the left corner of my lips.

I pictured the scene: a debate in a public square, chock-full of onlookers. An aggressive and unspeakably ugly man shouting about Darwinism and the stupidity of religious sentiment. Myself stood coolly – an icon; the idol of Christianity, one palm around a girl’s waist, the other slightly removed from my face where I’d just taken a pull on a Marlboro. The crowd quietening down as the atheist’s ineloquent rant came to a close.


I’d calmly take another draw, the sucking motion lending emphasis to my high cheekbones, and say:

‘Sir. It’s okay to have doubts.’ Then breaking into a smirk as I blew out a purple stream, ‘I myself have questioned how there can be an exciting, awe-inspiring creator of the universe, when someone as boring as Richard Dawkins exists.’

The place would rip up in laughter, the bearded man’s head drop, the hot piece of ass on my arm cling tighter …

There was a thump on the door…

‘Hey, champ.’ Smalls had cut short his time in the shower. The CD was only on track six, but there he was, complete with floral embossed bathrobe and glass of white wine in hand.

‘What you doing?’ he said softly.

‘Nothing.’ I flicked the cigarette into my cupped palm and made my way back to the computer stool.

‘So,’ he inserted a finger inside his robe and drew circles around his left nipple, ‘wanna hear my news?’


He inhaled sensuously and breathed out, ‘I’m going to LA tonight.’


‘Mmm-hmm.’ He stretched and his robe came dangerously close to flapping open. ‘My boss phoned this morning. I’m flying out at eight.’

‘No way. Till when?’

‘Till whenever.’

My initial thoughts were ones of relief. The scene in my head still lingered as if it was a real possibility. And the hazy thoughts of Smalls’s house, sans Smalls, made for a relaxing place to which I could retire afterwards, potentially to celebrate with an evangelist’s groupies.

‘Fruit of the vine?’ Smalls extended his glass towards me.

I waved away the offer. He moved through the room, circling past the mirror and back towards me at the computer desk. Placing his moist hands on my shoulders, he squinted at a picture of Tristan, cigarette in mouth, guitar swinging at his hip.

‘Who’s this?’

‘No one.’

‘Well, d’you mind if I use the computer to look up some inspiration then? I want to give breaking the wall another try before I go. I’m feeling good today.’

One of the things about Daddy Smalls was his obsession with ‘breaking the wall’. Masturbation was a big deal for him and he prided himself on his ability to five-finger shuffle more than the average bloke. In fact, he’d thought himself some type of champion, until a greater depth of research had revealed that most men, in the right circumstances, can muster seven times in a day, but no more. On learning this, he went for the record on a number of occasions. Alas, he had to this point found himself flagging with the rest of his gender. Recently, he’d taken a more scientific approach.

‘OK,’ I said edging from his seat, ‘but have you carbed-up?’

‘I certainly have: four bowls of Frosties, two croissants with jam and last night I ate a whole bag of pasta shells.’

‘Alright then, good luck.’

I made sure I shut the door behind me.


* * *


The backroom of The Rhythm Factory was dark, noisy and crammed with unsavoury characters. It was as if the dodgiest one per cent of the underworld had decided to gather in the same cesspit for the evening. Most looked like petty thieves, or granny-bashers, there were potentially some racists, the rest were certainly drug users and pushers.

The walls were stone and painted a dark colour I couldn’t quite determine. The black floor was peppered with cigarette butts. Over at the side furthest from me was a platform on which the support act was playing.

I was relieved to see Becks finally walk through the doors.

‘Wow!’ She scanned my attire, ‘Look at you.’

‘Look at you,’ I said reciprocating her actions.

Her appearance definitely deserved remark. There was something different about her. For starters, jeans usually did a better job of covering her posterior than the short denim skirt she had on now – the line of which was indistinguishable from her curves. Her top was low-cut and made of a fabric not unlike lycra, but one I couldn’t name, her hair almost an upswept coiffure. When she hugged me her lovelies pressed hard into my chin. She smelled good: perfume and make-up.

Instinctively I assumed my recently acquired smoking poise. ‘So…’

Becks looked confused. ‘Dexter, why are you doing that weird thing with your cigarette?’

‘What thing?’

‘And you look really worried or like you’re about to cry or something. You OK?’

She rubbed my arm, her thumb pressing tenderly into the crook of my elbow. ‘I’ll get some drinks in, alright?’

I assented with a nod and threw my cigarette to the floor. Then stood with my back to the wall, hands in my coat pockets, trying desperately not to get robbed whilst Becks shouted at the barman.

I’ve quite honestly never felt more afraid. At least when you’re going to get mugged you know exactly what it involves: some intimidation, the basic pushing, a few well-known insults, dependant on luck there maybe some punches, some kicks. But in this situation, it was the unknown. The waiting.

‘What do you reckon to them?’ Becks said, nodding at the wailing support band and handing me a bottle. And a shot.

‘Well…’ I scratched my head and looked over at the stage, trying to buy enough time to gauge what she thought.

‘Shite, aren’t they?’ I hazarded.


We both took deep glugs of our drinks.

More people shovelled in, talking loud and examining us as they passed. I lit another cigarette and let it hang from the sticky brandy glaze on my bottom lip. Becks laughed.

I felt a shade of heat flourish on my cheeks and turned back to the stage. The band was now absent, replaced with some similar music from a DJ somewhere out of sight.

Tracing around the room’s perimeters I met the eye of a redhead who looked like she was made of porcelain. She was eyeing me. Without breaking her gaze, she spoke into the ear of the person next to her and began to make her way over.

As she approached, my chest throbbed. It was the hairdresser.

She mouthed ‘Hi’ whilst shimmying through a pair of crackheads.

I couldn’t imagine why, in a place decorated with such immoral characters, Heidi would bother talking to me. I steadied myself as she reached where we stood.

She shot Becky a ‘whatever’ stare and smiled at me, running her fingers through her fringe.

‘Hey Heidi,’ I said. ‘I should have guessed you’d be here. How are ya?’

She broke eye contact. ‘Yeah, good,’ then blew her fringe out of her eyes. ‘Look, have you got any charlie?’

This gained a bellied guffaw from Becks, to a point where it was too awkward for the girl to stay. I shrugged my shoulders. She exited our patch.

‘What was that about?’ Becks asked.

I replayed the shrugging of my shoulders.

A ripple of commotion broke out in front of us, sequelled by cheering and wolf-whistles as Becks linked her hand through the loop of my arm. She squeezed tight and ushered us forward: ‘It’s The Rasclotts.’

The air was taut. I smiled inwardly at what I was about to experience. A topless chap with drumsticks and two skeletal men walked on to the stage to the massive roar of a previously blasé crowd. A hush fell as the drums struck up a beat. A bass line was added, followed by a stinging guitar riff. Becks was the most excited I’d seen her.

Everyone was waiting.

But sixteen bars passed, no Mr Rasclott.

Perhaps he hasn’t showed up, I thought. Maybe he’s busying himself with uncomely violence or just so over the fame to which I aspire, that he can’t even be bothered to receive it anymore.

Sixteen more bars followed before an L-shape of light appeared from the back stage door and a leering frame announced itself. He stepped onto his platform, wearing a bowler hat and a long fur coat. His aura was the exact replica of how I envisaged mine could be in my early preaching days. Becks was now practically hanging off my arm.

Tipping his hat to the fans, he grabbed the mic and sang what must’ve been a favourite lyric of the crowd: ‘OW’S IT WORKING OUT FOR YA?’

The devotees shouting back, ‘NOT GOOD!’

He smirked and snarled at us in equal measure, gyrating and twisting his way through the song, which he concluded by falling backwards, mic in fist, into a web of palms. And vanishing.

There was a substantial amount of feedback and eight security guards came rushing from nowhere to drag him back up to his platform. He rematerialised divested of bowler and fur coat, but with a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Becks was enthralled. She pressed me to her, exclaiming loudly, ‘Oh my God,’ planting a pair of lips (which I think were intended for my cheek) square to the corner of my mouth. As attention was directed back to T Rasclott, one absent-minded arm lingered around my shoulders for several moments, treating me to additional side-boob.

The rest of the gig, which lasted less than twenty minutes, saw Tristan swinging on pipes above the stage, smoking approximately fifteen cigarettes, and dancing around like Fagin. And we were his little gang of guttersnipes and loved it.

The set ended prematurely when a besotted fan jumped up next to Tristan. The idol allowed him to duet one chorus, before clubbing him into unconsciousness with the microphone. The result of this was tumult. Practically the whole crowd tried to fit on to the stage and Tristan was pulled to safety by his bodyguards. But not before halting long enough to take in the mayhem he’d caused; the room glanced off of his smile as they dragged him away.

The gathering hung around for half an hour in hope that their messiah would resurface, then filed out and along the road to their various bus stops, carrying whatever memorabilia they had stolen.

Desperate to keep the excitement going, we decided to walk from there to London Bridge then catch our respective buses. I spotted Heidi carrying a cymbal from the drum kit. She caught sight of me and pumped a closed OK sign with her free hand; I do not think she was offering a sexual favour.

Becks walked a little in front of me, while I lit my last cig. ‘Oh my God, that was the best Clotts’ gig I’ve seen yet.’ She threw up her arms, exultant to the dark sky and pirouetted:


‘NOT GOOD!’ I yelled back.

The smoky awe-filled atmosphere drifted after us down Whitechapel High Street. I performed a Fagin-esque jig forward, mimicking part of Tristan’s act to catch her up and we linked arms.

That,’ she threw a thumb over her shoulder, ‘That was rock and roll.’

We strode on and I arched away just enough to punt a discarded Pepsi can lying on the pavement, which rattled off noisily down the street. She became more animated. Scrunching an excited fist to her mouth, and biting, ‘Fuck! It just felt like we were all part of something tonight, the beginning of something, happening right in front of us.’

This talk induced in me the picture of myself as the main Rasclott. We didn’t seem too many worlds apart. I broke from Becks’s arm, gripped the lamp post we were passing and swung round it. I wanted to sing, but couldn’t remember any of the lyrics I’d just heard.

‘Let’s get some beer for the journey,’ I said, rejoining her.

‘Umm… yeah. But, it’s past eleven.’

‘You let me worry about that,’ I said and took her by the hand, pulling her toward a shop with luminous boards and stalls of rotting fruit still outside its door.

I declared our entrance with confidence, winking at the two bruisers near the refrigerated goods and bellowing to the man at the till: ‘Good evening, sir. I should very much like to be charged considerably over a reasonable asking price for one packet of twenty Marlboro Lights and four cans of your finest lager.’

Triumph trumpeted the air about me. I raised my nose at the little man blinking behind the desk and touched the rim of my hat.

He replied with a question: ‘ID?’

‘Youwaat?’ was the only comeback I could muster.

‘No ID: no cigarette, no beer,’ he said.

I slammed my hand (gripping a bank note large enough for an after-hours bribe) assertively on the counter and, accentuating each syllable, leered, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

He gave no answer, instead nodded at the two bruisers next to the milk and cheese. They began slow movement toward me.

He repeated, ‘No ID: no cigarette, no beer.’

‘Listen mate,’ I shone a glance at the looming thugs and whispered, ‘I don’t know if you know, but I’m perr-o-bab-ly gonna be a pretty big deal.’

Becks stepped forward with her driving licence, while I busied myself by getting collared by the louts and shoved out the door.

She followed me on to the street, holding out a can of Carlsberg Special Brew.

‘Whoa, Dexter,’ she smiled ironically, ‘you’re perrretty out there.’

I snapped open the can. ‘Damn right!’

She rested a camaraderic elbow on my shoulder ‘Crazy. Like a rock star.’

‘Pretty much.’

Extending the arm around me, her eyes glistened in mock-condescension. ‘Now all we’ve gotta do is find a talent to complement this unruly character of yours and—’

‘No need. I’m already doing the biz,’ I said, half-joking.

‘What? Like a really talented rock and roll sales assistant?’


‘What then?’

I changed my tone to a slightly more serious one, as a drunkard is wont to do, ‘You’d never believe me.’

She signalled her impatience.

I straightened, ‘A rock and roll preacher.’

This gave Becks a direct blow in the laughter box. She doubled over.

‘You don’t believe me? I’ll show ya.’ I said and buoyantly hopped a’top the low brick wall surrounding an industrial building.

I cut a sterling figure like those of times past, my coat like a black flame licking the breeze, hat at a roguish jaunt. I held aloft my can of Special Brew and proclaimed, ‘Behold the new thing that is happening, the unleashing of God’s message to a new generation.’

A passing yellow car honked its horn and the passenger yelled, ‘Wwwwaannk-aahh!’ Becks hadn’t stopped laughing when she rested herself against the wall.

‘Dexter Hammond, the Tristan Rasclott of Christianity is nigh, the kingdom is at hand,’ I continued, ‘and reaching out for you to take. Becky, will you take it?’

Both giggling, we caught hold of each other’s wrists and I attempted to heave her up. An attempt which proved unsuccessful.

Chivalrous, I put my beer down and fixed a second hand on hers. This time I managed to wrench her stumbling into the wall. She put one foot, then two on the brickwork for greater purchase and succeeded, by weight and brute force, in toppling me arse over elbow. Her shoulder broke my fall, and we both tumbled to the concrete, pursued by Special Brew.

Dappled by Carlsberg, retina-full of mammary, I lay on the floor thinking bloody hell, this is fun.

‘Bloody hell,’ I said to the winded but cackling Becky, ‘This is a near-exact illustration of Proverbs 16.’

There was a clamour in the distance from a group of lads.

‘Oh yeah,’ she said playfully, ‘what’s that?’

‘“Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.”’

It sounded like she was smiling, ‘Ha. That’s funny. What are you doing knowing that?’

‘Heard it in a sermon once,’ I strained.

The voices of that bunch of lads were almost upon us and one shouted to me, ‘Go on, my son.’

Becks hoisted herself up, her hair dangling across my cheek as she extended her arms. We were mush, to mush.

‘You do realise what this looks like to them,’ I said, referring to the baying crowd of lads now whistling and making barking sounds.

‘Yeah, right. Can’t hurt the rebellious preacher image, that, can it?’ she joked. ‘So, you’re just always like drinking, preaching, shagging girls, that sort of thing?’


She mimed astonishment, which propelled me on to half-jest that, in keeping with the Lord’s teachings, I was actually still a virgin. I was curious to how she’d react.

She laughed more and I swerved a worried look at the lads and back to her. She thought I was still mucking around.

‘Hit that. Hit that.’… ‘Get in there, boy.’…‘Yeeaaahh!’ came the consecutive cries.

‘They think were about to do it,’ I clarified.

She leaned in to my ear playfully, ‘I s’pose that’s the sort of thing a famous rock ‘n’ roll preacher should be doing?’

She had a point.