Comedian Simon Lipson shares an excerpt from his novel about a man thrown on the career scrapheap.
Michael Kenton is a middle-aged man living in middle-class comfort with wife Lisa and daughters Millie and Katia. Drifting complacently towards retirement, Mike’s world is turned upside-down when he is thrown unexpectedly onto the career scrapheap. While Lisa’s career sky-rockets, Mike slobs around in his track suit playing guitar, rekindling his teenage love affair with pop music. Knowing Lisa wouldn’t approve, he plots a secret ‘comeback’ at a grimy Crouch End bistro where music executive Ben, desperate and out of time, asks if he can enter one of Mike’s songs into the Eurovision Song Contest. With nothing to lose, Mike focuses on Eurovision but quickly finds himself staring down the barrel of low level fame. His crumbling marriage now page five news, he must choose between his musical dream and mending his broken family, a task complicated by the re-appearance of ex-love of his life Faye. Song in the Wrong Key is a laugh-out-loud comedy about love, family, friendship and Euro-tack by acclaimed stand-up and comedy writer Simon Lipson.
I love Facebook. There, I’ve said it. I’m only a recent convert, but I’d recommend it to anyone. There’s nothing like finding out that the class genius ended up as a probation officer in Slough, or that the little kid you suspected of being gay is married with seven children and works in air/sea rescue. I can’t get enough of the appalling grammar, the big-upping, the profiles that hint at something mysterious like a job in Bangkok with an unnamed employer. And I particularly admire those middle-aged folk foolish enough to upload current head shots. A few betray wry self-awareness with an accompanying ‘what-can-you-do-we-all-get-old?’ caption, but most of these pictorial treats are offered up by the nerds and no-marks, the ones who were always going to be gargoyles. They look exactly the same, only older and gargoylier, but secretly hope someone will comment on how much they’ve changed for the better. But – and this is where it really takes flight – it’s the ones who think they look pretty darn good now, who imagine their photos are eliciting envious coos, who really make a trawl so rewarding. Like the guy who’s hung onto his hair and now wears it swept back in a greased-up fuck-you-Jack quiff just to make you feel inadequate. Never mind that beneath the splendid pompadour resides a ruddy face bloated by the years, the once sharp features now pudgy and ill-defined. Personally, I’d like to see more girls (women?) offering up some present day photographic evidence, but they’re usually a little too coy and clever for that. So perhaps that’s why finding an obviously current photo of Faye Lester on her profile was so surprising. I remembered Faye as down to earth, humble, someone who was virtually unaware of the mesmerising effect she had on everyone who entered her orbit, so I knew she hadn’t put it there to show off her still radiant beauty. Quite the opposite; she probably thought she needed to jog a few memories in case no-one could quite remember who she was. But I never forgot her, and not just because of her looks. Thoughtful, funny, bright and generous, she never fudged, never said anything that wasn’t true, never left anything hanging in the air. Maybe that’s why she made sure her profile was complete, photo and all. Faye knew that she was considered attractive – even if she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about – without ever abusing her gifts; she had no side, no conceit. And that was the Faye I chose to believe I was looking at now, the Faye I last saw at Brunel University twenty-one years earlier.
I know I’ve mentioned this before – old people repeat themselves – but I always liked Faye. No, I mean I really liked Faye. What I actually mean is…ok, what the hell? I loved her. I wrote a song for her, didn’t I? And it wasn’t just hopeless adolescent infatuation but proper, right where it hurts in the pit of the stomach-type love. The sort of love you never quite get over, not least because it was unrequited.
Even at eighteen, she was completely together, the antithesis of the dissolute drunkards who posed as young adults on a quest for knowledge. She seemed older and more sensible than the rest of us, without forgoing her girlishness when the occasion demanded. You could have a proper chat with Faye, and a proper laugh. Of course, I mainly wanted a proper fuck with Faye – as a precursor to a serious relationship, you understand – but I wasn’t alone in that ambition. To the massive disappointment of every straight (and, I daresay, half the gay) guys at college, she settled into a relationship with an unremarkable engineering student called Ray for a couple of years, which effectively stymied every attempt I made to make her see the light. She probably knew how I felt from the start although, if she didn’t, I’m pretty sure the night when, through an alcoholic haze I said, ‘I really love you, Faye. And I want to stroke your breasts,’ she got the message. I continued to flirt clumsily with her for all I was worth, but she batted me away with affectionate, sisterly charm. We were close, but not nearly close enough for my liking. We lost touch in the third year as our respective courses diverged and I found myself in a non-exclusive, predominantly sexual relationship with a rake-thin posh girl called Rula (which, for me, remained resolutely exclusive, albeit not for the want of trying). But at a final party to celebrate our graduation, a party at which Ray was not present and Rula was non-exclusively surgically exploring some bloke’s windpipe with her tongue, I had one last go at making something happen. Uncharacteristically, Faye was drunk as opposed to her usual in-command-tipsy and, bolstered by Blue Nun courage, I extended an arm in a mock-gallant gesture and swept her onto the sticky carpet as Kool and The Gang’s Too Hot blared from an overworked ghetto-blaster. I swirled her around in something I imagined to be ballroom fashion, then reeled her in, pressing myself into her luscious body. I was immediately betrayed by an erection which took the edge off my ham-fisted little show and forced me to move off to the side, left thigh against left thigh, so she wouldn’t notice. ‘Have you got a stiffy, Mikey?’ she slurred. She’d rumbled me, but I took it as a one time only invitation to kiss her, so I did. And she kissed me back, her sweet alcohol breath and busy, moist tongue sending me to the very limits of consciousness. Pushing my luck and misreading the signals, I suggested we go somewhere quiet. Turned out it was a surrogate fuck, a pity-kiss. She stroked my hair, smiled and said, ‘Have a great life, Mike.’
And that was the last time I saw her.
So that photo of Faye on Facebook was oft-visited during my fallow period at home and even now – especially now – as I whiled away the hours holed up in the Crouch End shitter between call-outs, I frequently clicked to her page to study her pert nose, limpid green eyes and wistful smile. My own profile bespoke my happy marriage to the wonderful Lisa, my successful career in high-end IT systems maintenance/sales and my continuing interest in music. Run that through Google Translate and you get ‘tedious fucking bore’. Perhaps I should have added my hobbies and interests – cinema, sport – to highlight the sorry blandness of my existence as I waited to die. I felt uncomfortable about sending a friend request; we weren’t friends any more. It would be pushy, presumptuous, voyeuristic. Maybe I should just send her a message. But what if she didn’t reply or, worse, didn’t remember me?
Simon Lipson was born in London and took a law degree at the LSE. After a spell as a lawyer, he co-founded legal recruitment company Lipson Lloyd-Jones in 1987. In 1993, Simon took his first tentative steps onto the comedy circuit and has since become an in-demand stand-up and impressionist across the UK, as well as a regular TV and radio performer/writer. His broadcasting credits include Week Ending, Dead Ringers, Loose Ends and Fordham & Lipson (co-wrote and performed own 4 part sketch series) on Radio 4; Interesting…Very Interesting and Simon Lipson’s Xmas Box on Radio 5 and And This Is Them on Radio 2. He is also an experienced voice artiste who has voiced hundreds of advertisements as well as cartoons and documentaries. His first novel, Losing It, a thriller, was published by Matador in 2008. His next novel, Standing Up, will be published by Lane & Hart in Autumn 2012.