All Hands on Dick as Dave `Chippolata' Harper of RCA goes canoeing with Pop Will Eat Itself done up in rubber in downtown Staines, home of vicars, tarts and rare marine life...
"'Ere Dave, what's with al this canoeing shit anyway?"
Things are not looking good.
"When you said, 'Do you fancy a day out being a bit sporty and getting pissed afterwards?' I thought you had in mind a
leisurely scuba-dive in the Seychelles, not paddling in a bloody pond near Staines."
In fact, things are rapidly looking worse.
Outside the RCA building in London clouds are furrowing their black brows. The barometer says: stay inside. And Clint and Richard from Pop Will Eat Itself are cheering it on. To no avail.
The Dave in question - Harper, head of press at RCA- pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose, smiles absently, and cuddles the massive blow-up photograph of himself with the Italian porn-star MP, La Ciccolina. "Ciccolina was in love with me when we met. Look at the way she's looking adoringly into my eyes," sighs Harper squeezing the picture tighter. "The only pity is that we had all our clothes on."
"F-off, you nerd," spits Clint, who, along with the rest of the Poppies and Harper, met the most bare-cheeked MP in the world when the band did an unofficial World Cup, theme dedicated to her. "Ciccy was coy. She's good at pretending she's in love with everybody, Dave. It's her job," reckons Clint.
"I don't want to shatter your illusions Dave but it's a well known fact that Ciccy isn't into animals and you definitely come into the latter category. Anyway, to get back to the point, we are not going to go canoeing. We can't. I might lose my glasses and Richard's arm is dislocated."
"That's right. It happened last week at a club in Birmingham," pipes up Richard. "I was sitting on the floor minding my own business when this bouncer comes up to me and tells me to stand up. I said to him, 'Do us a favour, mate.' And he replied, 'Sure, I'll do you a favour, I'll break your ugly neck for you.' Then he dragged me by my arm all the way out of the club. It still hurts like hell.
"C'mon Harper, let's do the right thing. Let's have a drinking competition instead. F-this canoeing business. What are you, some kind of deviant anyway?"
Harper-who will later in the day be christened La Chippolata- hugs the picture of La Ciccolina and himself to his chest. "I'll have you know that I've got a badge in canoeing," he explains, the hairs on his cropped head standing up in outrage all of one centimetre. "And that's why you are going canoeing! Anyway, what has happened to the great British backbone?"
"It's like everything else in this country," burbles Clint. "It went out the window and up people's noses." "Out! OUT! OUT!" screams Harper. His face turning green with fury. He stamps his jackboots to emphasis the point, loudly.
"Nice boots, Dave," I mutter. "In fact you're in a very Germanic get-up today aren't you?" "The big boss of RCA from Germany is visiting us," continues Harper. "I thought it might make him feel more at home."
"Yeah, I don't believe that for one minute Harper," snorts Clint.
"You're like all heads of press, you were Hitler in another reincarnation." "Raus! RAUS! RAUS!Get them my children!" replies Harper.
Brandishing staplers and smiling sweetly through sharpened expense account teeth, Dave's charming staff-aka The Harper Youth - bustle us out of the RCA building and into his car.
A BMW. Of course.
"We must do lunch sometime," chorus The Youth as we start our journey through the driving rain to that place just outside London - outside because London didn't want it, and understandably so- known as Staines.
"WAKE UP 29! Your time is up. We're here in the centre of aviation and canoeing, Staines. A very romantic place, I'll be bound," chirps Harper getting out an organic brown loaf to feed the ducks with.
"F- feeding the ducks, Harper, what about us? We're hungry," we whinge, stumbling out of the car to look at the Prince's Club, home to water-skiers, wind- surfers, lovers of vicars and tarts parties and... c-a-n-o-e-i-s-t-s. A clubhouse, a jetty, a gym, a shop. A helicopter on the front lawn and acres of freezing water, yep the Prince's Club looks very sporty indeed. Luckily, so do we. Clint's got a green and red Duffer of St George football shirt bearing the number 29 on. And Richard's athleticism positively seeps from his trainers.
A romantic jumbo jet lurches off the runway from adjacent Heathrow with all the grace of an elephant pumped full of helium. "I hate flying," explains Clint "Last time I went up I had a cigarette beforehand. It was good therapy. You see, I don't smoke so I spent all my time throwing up in the bog so I missed most of the flight anyway."
"Australia though, that was the best. I found these knockout pills there which helped with the flying business. Also, when we were touring there we had our own small private jet. We're very big down Under you see. Don't know if Harper is though."
As the jumbo heads away into the distance, and our instructors - Sean, who runs the canoeing and wind-surfing school, and his assistant Jonathan - head towards us waving greetings, the phrase 'big down-under' is about to take on a new lease of life. Wet-suits, it turns out, can be very revealing.
While Sean and Jonathan busy themselves getting the necessary gear for the expedition together, the pair of Poppies are treated to a last supper by the ever-generous RCA in the clubhouse. This last supper makes you wish you hadn't missed the first. It consists of a burger in a bun on a small side-plate.
Suitably fortified, the Poppies and Harper scuttle to the changing rooms exchanging stories about how earlier in the day while travelling from Euston to the RCA building in London their 60-year-old cabbie had been smacked in the face by an irate driver and swallowed a tooth in the process.
And then they scuttle back, two trim figures swathed in designer wet suits and one wannabee executive paunch with legs attached-Harper.
"Oooooooh! That was a very erotic experience. Rubber gear, you can't beat it," grins Harper. The head of RCA press looks down over his paunch between his legs. His face goes white with shock. "Good grief, I didn't realise it was that small," he gasps.
"Don't worry La Chippolata, I'm sure La Ciccolina would be very impressed if she saw you now, " encourages NMEs lensman, Tim Jarvis.
What happens next defies being awake. It's one thing to actually go canoeing, it's another to watch it, rapid jumping and people drowning aside. How many famous canoeists can you name? I rest my case. As a spectator sport it's right up there with snail racing. . . such are the thoughts I scribble in my notepad while aboard the luxury of a speedboat as Harper capsizes and turns turtle within the first two minutes. And again a little while later.
So much for people with canoeing badges.
Jonathan, the funky - dreadlocked instructor, comes to La Chippolata's rescue as the latter surfaces from the murky water with his red beret, bearing the suitable legend Bad To The Bone, still intact. Clint, after a shaky start, and Richard-who apparently used to canoe in his mis-spent youth - skim through the lake like yellow dolphins.
"What a nice way to unwind," announces Clint pulling up alongside the speedboat. "All that staying in bed all week and drinking really takes it out of you, whereas canoeing is cool. Put on your JAMS 'Chill Out' album, grab a paddle, and you're well away."
Another romantic jumbo lurches off from Heathrow. A second later Richard and Clint lurch in their canoes from atop a bank into the water. Canoes do not fly as well as jumbo jets. Clint turns turtle. We worry. Will he lose his orange tinted specs? A second later he surfaces, specs still on. Then he stands up in the middle of the lake. The water reaches his knees. We break out The Bible and say prayers. The man who can walk on water is among us and it has been revealed to us his chosen ones.
"Clint! Clint!" we cry. "Do you sit on the right hand of God? Can you perform miracles apart from walking on water? Can you turn Jonathan King into something other than a toad?"
"Piss off you tossers," comes the whining Brummie reply. "I'm stuck on a sandbank and it's bloody cold. Sod this for a lark."
La Chippolata, meanwhile, is paddling furiously towards the club's water-ski jump in search of his canoeing badge. We pick up Clint and Richard in the speedboat and follow Harper, coming to the conclusion that doing the press for Sinitta has left La Chippolata one sausage short of a full pack. He is not to be deterred, however.
At full height it's a six foot drop from the blunt lip of the water-ski jump at the Prince's Club. it doesn't sound much but when you're in a yellow canoe teetering on the edge of it with the invitation of certain drowning ahead I'm sure it can be quite daunting. One push and over you go like a rocket in the wrong direction. . . to end up being tangled in the weeds with lungs full of water like the couple in DH Lawrence's Women In Love.
Surely this is La Chippolata's fate?
Another romantic jumbo lurches airbound.
But where is La Ciccolina when we need her? .
"Who cares where she is, me bloody arms are aching," screams Harper holding himself canoe-clad onto the lip of the water-ski jump as it's winched ever higher, Bad To The Bone beret perched like a soggy red turd on his head.
The Poppies and NMEbods break open another can of Fosters aboard the speedboat and look at La Chippolata with sympathy. "I quite enjoy meself after a few beers," grins Clint. "Shows how average and dull my lifestyle is."
"You know I dream about the day that somebody says to us, 'You've broken big in America, you'll never have to work again,'" says Richard.
"What do you mean again? When did you start?" asks Clint playing with the blister on his big toe. "Tell you what, I'd really like one of these speedboats. It'd be brilliant to moor it somewhere like St Tropez and hang out with girls with names like Plenty O'Toole."
La Chippolata is still being erected on the water-ski jump, by the inch. "Plenty O'Toole," he gabbles. "Clint you must be warming up. I can see through your wet-suit that your nuts are getting bigger."
"I know, it's all the excitement of watching you," replies the singer, taking a swig from his can.
By mid-gulp La Chippolata is plunging downwards into the sub- aqua world of DH Lawrence and another jumbo is going upwards.
La Chippotata plunges like a cormorant. He doesn't capsize, though if you ever needed a street-map of a town called Fear you could base it on the expression on his face.
He emerges from the canoe-dive Bad To the Bone beret still super-glued to his head. "It didn't look too good but it was effective, a bit like you La Chippolata, old chap," concludes Clint.
"Did I ever tell you I once got a badge in canoeing?" asks La Chippolata with a smirk. "I think we should go off to the clubhouse. Apparently they have vicars and tarts parties here. F- yer Acid House. I've always fancied being a vicar. I like the white collars, you see."