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From the Publisher"Irresistibly ironic...a wonderfully enjoyable read."
— Daily Mail
"Brooke's characters are wonderfully observed and blisteringly glorious. Thoroughly recommended."
— London Independent
They're moving on up...
Charlie Barrett, male model, is ready for a career change. It's not that modeling for ten years hasn't been fun — the Paris shows, the VIP lists, the cool flat and even cooler model girlfriend. But he and Lauren are probably going to get married and have kids someday so it's time for him to find a job that offers more challenge than tilting his head left or right. Lovely Lauren seems poised to break into TV, so when a chance meeting results in Charlie's ...
They're moving on up...
Charlie Barrett, male model, is ready for a career change. It's not that modeling for ten years hasn't been fun — the Paris shows, the VIP lists, the cool flat and even cooler model girlfriend. But he and Lauren are probably going to get married and have kids someday so it's time for him to find a job that offers more challenge than tilting his head left or right. Lovely Lauren seems poised to break into TV, so when a chance meeting results in Charlie's being offered the job as the face of 2cool2btrue, he readily accepts. "Power couple" here they come!
But something's going down.
2cool is the web equivalent of Armani, Prada, and Gucci. It's the sexiest thing in cyberspace and everyone wants a piece of it. As its marketing guru, Charlie spends his days wading through a sea of luxury products and designer freebies and his nights in a whirl of parties and champagne. When Nora, an American journalist based in London, takes a particular interest in the site — and in Charlie — the buzz is definitely on. But suddenly 2cool's owners disappear with a large amount of money and Charlie finds himself investigated for fraud. With Lauren too preoccupied with TV producer Peter to help, the only person Charlie can turn to is Nora. And Nora — clumsy, eccentric, and increasingly mysterious — is fast proving herself to be 2hot2handle.
"Brooke's characters are wonderfully observed and blisteringly glorious. Thoroughly recommended."
— London Independent
My problem," says the girl sitting opposite me, "is that my celebrity status is overtaking my acting credentials."
She is talking to a red-haired girl sitting next to her who is nodding gently and absentmindedly running her hand up and down her leg.
"Mmmm," says the red-haired girl, obviously partly concerned about this dilemma and partly preoccupied with the fact that it will be her turn in a moment.
The girl with the problem has recently appeared in a commercial miniseries for shampoo. You know the one — she's just moved into a new flat and finds that she hasn't brought her shampoo, or it's got lost amongst all the boxes or something and so, with just a towel wrapped round her, she knocks on the door of the apartment opposite and the bloke who opens the door, a really smug bastard, looks her up and down and lets her borrow his.
I reflect on the girl's resumé-versus-fame problem for a moment then realise I'm staring. Still, perhaps when you're the Thick 'n' Glossy girl you're used to people staring.
I know this room so well: the groovy pink leather settees, slightly worn now and marked in a couple of places with Biro; MTV playing silently on a monitor in the corner; the bored, hip girls on reception; the empty water machine which invites everyone who doesn't have the obligatory bottle of Evian to go up to it, realise that in fact it's empty and then walk away, trying to look cool. Looking cool at all times is the most important thing about being in this room.
Another model walks in and gives his name to the girl at the desk. "Jake Cooper, Models UK, here for the Sunseeker ad."
She consults a list, ticks off his name and says, "Okay, Jake, darling, just take a seat and fill out the release form, will you?"
"Ta," he says, practising his 1,000-watt smile ready for the casting director. He turns to find a place to sit, the smile dimming to about 250 watts as he sees the number of other models waiting ahead of him. Then the power is turned up a bit more as he sees someone he knows.
"Hey, sweetie," he says to a girl who is combing her hair in a boredom-induced trance.
"Hi, honey," she says, looking up at him as he kisses her on both cheeks. "How's it going?"
"Great," he says, as if it would be anything else. "Yeah. You?"
"Yeah, pretty," she says. Diplomatic answer: no one is going to say, "No, dead, actually," are they? But you can't say "I'm working every day — it's just mad" because no one would believe you. "You?" she asks.
"Yeah, not bad," he says, nodding thoughtfully. Then he launches his Exocet: "Yeah, got the Ford Cirrus campaign, so I'm off to Sicily next month to shoot it." He knows very well the effect this will have. Two or three other guys look up casually to see who picked up that job after all. It was a biggie — three days of casting, hundreds of guys and thousands of pounds. Why didn't I get it? Perhaps they were looking for someone dark, I reason. That's probably why they called in so many blond models. Other guys around me, dark and blond, are checking him out discreetly. He basks in their, well, all right, our envious loathing for a moment and then carries on. "Did you ever see the pictures from that job we did together?"
"Oh, don't," says the girl. "The agency sent me the brochure. Why do they always choose the worst shots? That one where you're picking me up? And carrying me across the grass? I look like I've got this huge nose."
"Yeah," he says. They both laugh. But now he is staring at her nose.
Her laughter dries up after a few seconds and she says, "And I haven't, have I?" As if it were absurd, obviously.
But he is still staring at her nose. Actually it is quite large. Yeah, that's a big conk for a model. Another girl looks up from the blockbuster novel she is reading and surreptitiously checks out the first girl's nose. As she looks down at her book again, she gratuitously wipes around her own nostrils with a long, slim finger. Just checking.
"It just looks like it, doesn't it?" says the girl, her voice betraying a degree of panic now. "In the picture. It's daft."
Jake Cooper is still mesmerised. "Yeah, it does," he says at last. "Yeah, I mean, it's just the picture. I mean not really in the picture, either. It's a lovely nose. That's a great picture. No, honestly. I'd put it in your book if I were you," he says, patting his own portfolio which he has already removed from his rucksack ready for when he goes in. "He goes in"? Makes it sound like a military assault on enemy-held territory. Ridiculous. What a daft comparison.
This is far more terrifying than that.
I turn back to my paper and sense once again the edgy atmosphere as other models read novels or magazines or consult street maps, locating their next casting. Some stare into space or smile at people they half know, while we all secretly wish everyone else would just beat it and die so that we could get this job.
Another guy comes in, gives his name and flashes a grin that he's obviously used a hundred times before to charm various casting directors and girls on reception.
"Here, you go, Ben, my darling," says the receptionist.
He takes his form and then makes a joke about the dying flowers on the desk.
"What?" she says, looking up from the list of names.
"You need someone to buy you some more flowers," he says again, nodding at the drooping white tulips in the vase.
"Eh? Oh, yeah. I think the office manager does it," she says vaguely, looking back to her list.
He gives a little embarrassed sniff of a laugh and then goes to sit down. The Schadenfreude is palpable as the rest of the models, oh, all right, us, again, enjoy his discomfort. Yeah, practise your charm somewhere else, mate.
Rather conveniently, by the time I've got to the crossword and discovered that I haven't got a pen, the casting room door opens and the girl on the desk says, "Charlie, babe, your turn." I practise my own 1,000-watt smile on her but she has turned back to answer the phone.
The guy coming out, a huge South African I've met before, holds the door open for me and I try it out on him instead. He looks vaguely alarmed.
I walk in and am immediately blinded by the lights. Just behind them I can see the shadows of people, including presumably the director and the client. The only person I know is the casting director, Angie.
"Hi, Charlie, darling," she says, taking her huge glasses off her head and shaking her greying, bobbed hair free. We double-kiss. This familiarity — after all, I'm an old hand at this game, aren't I? — makes me feel much better. My smile feels slightly more genuine, slightly less fixed, when I use it again. She introduces me to various other disembodied voices from the darkness behind the lights. I say "hi," hoping I'm looking in the right direction.
"Okay, ident just for the record, sweets. Name and agency," says Angie, who I can just see, looking down at a monitor. I make sure I'm standing on the little masking-tape cross on the carpet and look up.
"Charlie Barrett. Jet Models," I tell the glassy eye of the camera as if I'd just asked it to marry me.
"Beautiful," says Angie. "Can we see your profile, Charlie, love?"
"Sure," I say confidently, and turn to the left and then the right, taking my time, a slight, jocular wobble to the head, making it clear that I'm not only perfectly self-assured but I'm actually quite enjoying this whole daft, familiar business.
"Luv-leee," says Angie. My smile almost seems real now. "Okay, love, take your clothes off down to your undies." However genuine, that smile must have evaporated pretty quickly. With a very tight timetable to keep to, Angie obviously notices my slight hesitation. "This is for a beach scene. Didn't they tell you?"
Sunseeker Holidays. Makes sense, I suppose. You might take your clothes off. The only problem is that I'm wearing an age-old pair of white (oh, go on then, slightly grey) M&S undies because they were the only ones that were clean. It's not even as if I'm going to get a trip out of this — no need to go to a beach with today's new technology. All the glamour and expense of a studio in the East End for a half day. My image (if I get the job and somehow I don't think I'm going to now) will be superimposed onto powdery yellow sand thanks to a special computer image-enhancement program.
Modern technology, eh? Damn it to hell.
Suddenly I can make out four girls squashed onto the settee to whom I haven't been introduced but who are now staring sullenly at me, and I remember the South African hunk whose turn it was just before mine.
God, I'm too old for this.
I really am, though.
I take the stairs three at a time. I don't care if I break my neck, I've just got to get out of here. I step out into the street and make for the tube.
It's been on my mind for a while. At thirty, I reckon I'm ready for a job that not only has better long-term prospects but also provides a greater mental challenge than the ability to remember a name and address and to respond to a request to move your head to the right a bit. But I'm also spurred on by the morbid fear of spending my twilight years doing chunky pullover ads for Reader's Digest. It'll be easy-to-get-out-of baths and Stannah stairlifts before you know it.
It's been fun, I must admit. I've earned quite a lot of money for doing very little. I've travelled, often business class. Stayed in nice hotels. I've met some fun people and often thought to myself, What a ridiculous way to make a living, which is probably the best attitude you can have towards any job. I've stopped crowds in the City modelling suits — secretaries shouting risqué comments, men looking on, contemptuous but intrigued, wondering what I've got that they haven't — and I've entertained picnickers in Battersea Park while doing a fashion shoot.
I've travelled across Kenyan game reserves (aftershave) and I've curled up on settees with girls in soft sweaters holding mugs of coffee (empty, of course) in loft apartments to sell life insurance. I've cruised the Caribbean and got paid for it — the only drawback being that we were weren't allowed in the pool or the top deck or some of the lounges because technically we were suppliers to the cruise company or something.
I've been married countless times and sometimes at some really beautiful churches. Should it ever happen for real, I'll be well prepared and able to discuss with my intended all the best venues in which to get hitched in central London. I think my favourite would be Farm Street, Mayfair. That was a lovely wedding. A sunny afternoon in May. The groom wore a Jasper Conran suit and the bride, a tall Irish lesbian called Fennoula or something, looked stunning in an ivory satin dress with a train. Two of the bridesmaids were lovely but the third, whose mother was having a row with her agency about travel expenses, was not such a sweetie.
I get home to my apartment in Chiswick and let myself in to find my gorgeous girlfriend on the phone. Sitting on the kitchen unit she is saying, "Uh, huh," and stretching out a smooth, tanned, never-ending leg, letting her shoe hang off her toes. I throw my keys down on the counter, get down on one knee and look up at her. She smiles down at me, half anxious, half thrilled.
Lauren's legs have been photographed protruding elegantly from the door of a quarter-million-pound sports car, slightly soaped in a shower cubicle and with a scarf sliding down them to prove that a certain hair removal cream lasts longer than shaving or waxing. If any commercial or any press advertisement requires a classy blonde girl with long, beautiful legs, Lauren's the one they go for. She was in that ad for aftershave with the swarthy bloke sniffing the underside of her knee, and the hair mousse commercial where the girl walks into the restaurant in a shimmering red dress and causes havoc with waiters dropping their trays and male customers being rebuked by their girlfriends as they ogle her.
I touch her skin with my lips, enjoying the unperfumed, unself-conscious, natural smell of her for a moment. Then I slip off her shoe and kiss around her foot. I hear her gasp and tell the person at the other end, "Nothing." I run my hand round the gentle curve of her calf and then move my lips up her shin, hovering over the skin, stopping occasionally to kiss her. She gasps again. "Yep. Look, I'll have to go." I bite her knee gently and then move my mouth round behind it. "No, of course. Don't worry. Ah, listen, gotta go." I kiss around to the front of her thigh and squeeze it a little more aggressively as I push her skirt up. "Oh, erm. Yes, I'm fine. I think Charlie's coming, that's all." I look up again and give her a wide-eyed goofy look of "You bet." I begin to bite her inner thigh gently. "He's down here, I mean, he's here. Okay, okay, bye, Mum." She clicks off and puts down the portable.
I look up again quickly. "That was your mum! Oh, shit, why didn't you say?"
"What could I say?" she laughs. " 'Gotta go Mum, Charlie's slowly bringing me to orgasm?'"
I smile, then stand up and pull her against me roughly. "She'd know what a good prospective son-in-law she's got."
"Easy tiger," says Lauren. "You're still just the boyfriend. Don't go getting ideas above your station." Then she smiles and begins to kiss me. Our lips still touching, I lift her up and carry her to the bedroom.
"Do think you got it then?" she says, curled up, nestling her back into me in bed after we've made love.
"What?" I say sleepily to the back of her head.
"The Sunseeker thing."
"No, I mean, I don't know. They didn't say anything, obviously. Actually I think I probably buggered it up. The agency didn't tell me they wanted to do body shots so I was wearing some horrible old undies."
"Oh, Charlie, you must check these things, I told you," says Lauren, turning round. "Always ask if there are any special clothing requirements and always wear good underwear in any case. You've got tons of pants."
"But you haven't washed them," I explain sweetly.
She gives me an admonishing tap on the nose. "It was pretty obvious that they wanted to see bodies if it was for a holiday brochure."
"I suppose so, I just wasn't thinking. Anyway, why do you ask whether I've got it or not? Can't a man come home and make love to his woman, just because he feels like it, whether he's had a successful day or a crap one?"
"I'm not your woman. I just wondered if that's why you're in such a good mood, that's all."
"I just am, I suppose. I shouldn't be — the casting was pretty bloody embarrassing."
She looks at me and then says, "Why do you always go into these things with a such a negative frame of mind?"
"You do. It's always 'Why have they put me up for this one? It's not me,' or 'God, I made such a fool of myself.' You should walk into every casting thinking to yourself, 'I'm the one they're looking for,' 'I'm the perfect person for this job.' Then you'll get it. It's all about positive thinking."
"Is that what you do?"
"Yeah, of course I do."
"Why don't you always get it then?"
"Because...oh, shut up." She squeezes my cheek hard and kisses me, then gets up to have a shower.
I look at my watch. Nearly five o'clock. Time for a drink? Or a cup of tea? Big decisions. Drink? Tea? Drink? Tea? I find a cool place for my feet across Lauren's side of the bed and lie back with my hands behind my head. I can still smell her on me. Drink? Tea? Tea? Drink?
"What?" she calls from the shower.
"Shall I have a drink or a cuppa tea?"
"Whaaaat?" The water stops for a moment.
"I said shall I have a drink or a cup of tea?"
"Have a cup of tea — it's too early to start drinking. And make me one too, will you?" The water starts again.
Well, that's that decided. Now all I have to do is get up and do it. I turn over and see myself in the mirrors on the wardrobe. Do I look too old to call myself a model? 'Course not. One of the few advantages of being a bloke in this business is that you can go on for years. More character. The downside is that people think you're either gay or stupid, or both, but at least you can go on working and getting decent-paying jobs for longer than women can.
Except that they're probably adverts for incontinence pants.
The mirrors along our built-in wardrobe doors were there when we first moved in, and we immediately decided to remove them because they're so tacky, but somehow we never got round to it. My mates had a good laugh when they first saw them.
"Bit more subtle than putting them on the ceiling, I suppose," said Mike, giving me a leering smile.
"You can tell he's a bloody model," said Becky. "Vain or what, Charles?"
Laughing, I explained that we really were going to get rid of them.
What would Mike and Becky and others say if they saw we still had them? They haven't been round here for ages.
When we first moved in, sometimes as we were making love, I would catch Lauren looking across at these mirrors, at the images of the two of us entwined. Her long legs around me, or her perfect breasts cupped in my hands as she straddled me. At first I wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed or annoyed. Was she looking at me or at herself? Was it because the sex was so good? Or was it because it was so boring that she needed some sort of extra stimulation? Was she enjoying it or being subtly critical — making a note to work her thighs a bit more at the gym or advise me to keep off the beer and chips for a while.
Now, sometimes I glance across too. There I am with my girlfriend, almost like a stranger, kissing her stomach, moving down her long, honey-tanned body, holding myself above her on my elbows as I push my way into her, slowly, conscientiously kissing her breasts. My own, private version of those articles you find in men's health and fitness magazines called things like "How to achieve the ultimate climax" or "How to give your woman the best time ever in bed." Or just a homemade porn movie with me starring and directing. Sometimes I look over at the same time Lauren does and our eyes meet. We exchange a glance of love, lust, intimacy through the glass.
Our whole home is beautiful, I must say. It's Lauren's work, of course. A ground-floor flat in a large nineteenth-century house off Chiswick High Road, it has scrubbed pine floors, whitewashed walls, big Roy Lichtenstein-style prints, plus little things she has picked up from antique shops and from a visit a few years ago to Morocco. She did all the research about freighting the things home. Spoke to couriers, checked up on the paperwork, got a good deal. Bullied, begged, bribed her way through it. People love our flat as soon as they walk in. I tell them "It's all down to Lauren," and they say "Yeah, I can believe that."
The sound of my mobile ringing shakes me out of my reverie.
"Ye-e-e-llow," I say.
"Speaking. Karyn. How are you?"
"Good, darling. How did the Sunseekers casting go?"
"Oh, pretty crap, actually."
"I was wearing these really disgusting old undies..."
"How lovely — I'm just visualising them. Anyway, you knew it was for a body shot, didn't you?"
"Oh, Charlie, you did."
"Penny gave me the details."
"Oh, I see."
Penny might be Karyn's boss at the agency and a frighteningly tough businesswoman who can screw every penny out of a client for a model — and every penny out of a model for her agency — but her ability to pass on the simplest bits of information for any casting or job is negligible.
"I think she was probably too shitfaced again," I explain.
Karyn giggles. "Very possibly. Anyway, this is me giving you a casting so you know it will be totally correct in every detail."
"If you say so."
"I do say so. Now, got a pen?"
"Hang on, let me get out of bed."
"Tough job being a model, isn't it?" snaps Karyn. "Come on, I've got other people to talk to before six."
"Ooh, 'scuse me. Right. Here we go. Shoot."
"It's to go to 11a Kenworth Mews, W11, to see a guy called Dave Howland. It's advertising for a new dotcom company — "
"I thought they'd all gone under."
"Fortunately for you, matey, they haven't. This one is just launching and they need some advertising and some images for their home page, which is where we come in."
"So it's any time between ten and twelve tomorrow. Go smart casual, you know, like a young entrepreneur."
"I'm going to get this job," I tell her, remembering Lauren's sensible words.
"'Course you are dear," says Karyn with exaggerated condescension. "Just make sure you're wearing clean underwear."
Copyright © 2003 by Simon Brooke
Posted December 9, 2008
After an eternity as a male model, thirty years old Charlie Barrett, listening to his younger peers¿ patter, concludes he is too old for this line of work anymore though the globetrotting, Paris, and money are great. Following a shoot, Piers and Guy offer Charlie a job in marketing their new Internet web site 2cool2btrue.com. He consults with his girlfriend Lauren, who tells him to accept the opportunity so Charlie does. --- Charlie¿s new job enables him to apply his long forgotten college degree while searching for luxurious items for the firm to sell over the net to their Armani-like customers, but the long hours and his time spent schmoozing reporter Nora Benthill devastate his relationship with Lauren. Work abruptly collapses when Piers and Guy vanish along with a lot of investor money. The Metropolitan Police investigate ¿Pretty Boy¿ Charlie, the face of 2cool2btrue, who turns to his modeling pals to help him prove his innocence, but no one, even Lauren, wants to be linked to him because that could devastate their career. Only the ¿fickle finger of fate¿ has Nora there for him. --- 2cool2btrue is a well written engaging contemporary tale that starts off as a coming of age character study although the hero is thirty, but about half way in turns into an amateur sleuth investigative thriller as a beleaguered Charlie seeks to prove his innocence. In some ways, the story line will remind the audience of the movie the Happening as Charlie at first cannot believe his plight is real, but soon finds his family and friends desert him in his hour of need. The eccentric Nora adds a degree of wacko to what is happening to Charlie. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.