Sunday, 31 January 2016

Viva Las Vegas

I knock on the door and wait. It is a thin wooden door that was once green but is now weather marked and dull. Large chunks of the paint have peeled off. The door belongs to a mid-terrace house sitting in a row of identical houses that have stood hear in Eversley since the turn of the last century.

I’m here to interview Elvis Lord. I mean me, interview Elvis Lord. I had absolutely no idea who Elvis Lord was until the editor of the Eversley Gazette rang me last night and asked me to do this interview. He had thought of me because as I came from Eversley and was the same age as Elvis so I must have gone to school with him. I can’t say I remember an Elvis at school.

The door was opened by a small aged woman. She was about seventy, couldn’t have been much more than four feet ten inches tall and was wearing a floral house coat. The kind that looks like a dressing gown but is worn to stop clothes getting dirty while you are cleaning the house.

‘Are you here to see Paul?’ she asked.

I looked at her blankly. ‘I’m Sharon Somersby from the Gazette. I’m here to interview Elvis.’

‘I’ll never get used to that silly name. Come in.’

She walked back inside and she opened the first door that we came to. The front room. Wow I was honoured. In these sort of houses the front room was only ever used for funerals and royal visits.

‘Take a seat,’ she nodded into the room. ‘Do you want tea?’

 ‘Yes please.’

‘Paul, I mean Elvis will be down in a minute.’

She headed towards the back of the house to where the kitchen must have been. The front parlour was exactly as I remembered my Gran’s house looking thirty years before. There was a dining table set up in the middle of the room with six chairs around it. Squeezed around the sides of the table were a sofa and two matching armchairs and under the window was an old oak sideboard. The whole room looked like it was filled with the best furniture but unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for any of it to be used. I sidled between the dining table and the sofa and managed to sit down with my legs sticking out to the side. I hoped Elvis would opt for the first armchair. If he didn’t I wasn’t sure how he was going to get passed me and if he did whether I would be able to see him to carry out the interview.

  The door opened and in walk the lady who had previously opened the door. She was carrying a tray with a tea pot, two cups, a milk jug and a sugar bowl. She placed them on the edge of the dining table.

‘I’ll leave those there for you,’ she said.

‘Thanks Mrs Lord.’

‘Oh no dear, I’m Mrs Burrows.’

‘I’m sorry I assumed you were Elvis’ mum.’

‘Uh hu!’ the noise from the door made us both stop and look up.

The small door in the small house was filled by Elvis. This was the Vegas Elvis. He just fitted in the door frame and from where I was sitting it looked like the top of his quiff might be touching the door frame. His black hair had a few touches of grey at the temples. I couldn’t see his eyes for the large gold rimmed sunglasses he wore. As my eyes moved down I could only stare at the white jump suit and I was fairly sure when he moved it would reveal he was wearing a cape. Finally my eyes were drawn to the white platform boots he was wearing. It seemed Elvis Lord wasn’t quiet as tall as the King and was wearing platform boots to give the impression that he was a bigger man than he was. However width wide he was right on the mark. This was the burger eating Elvis at his fullest. The American size portions had been used to full advantage to replicate The King’s final physique.

‘You run along now Mum,’ Elvis said in a deep American drawl.

‘Paul I wish you’d stop using that silly voice,’ she said as she tried to leave the room. With Elvis in the doorway there was nowhere she could go.

Elvis flatten himself against the side wall and Mrs Burrows squeezed passed, closing the door behind her.

‘Welcome Miss…’ Elvis said extending his hand for me to shake.

‘Somersby, Sharon Somerby.’ I replied awkwardly shaking the left hand he had offered me. It was only later I thought that the offer of the left hand might have been because he expected me to kiss the ring.

‘I was expecting someone else.’

‘Unfortunately the other reporter has a stomach bug so they asked me to step in at the last minute.’

‘Okay, shall I be mother?’ he nodded towards the tea tray.


I left my tea cup on the tray and got out my notepad, pen and Dictaphone. ‘You don’t mind if we record this do you?’

‘Well I’m not sure. I thought this was just a small piece for the local rag.’

‘It is but it just helps me to get everything straight. I don’t want to write down you didn’t do something when you did. The recording just helps me get everything straight.

‘Okay. You carry on.’

We started off talking about how Elvis had left school at sixteen and had a variety of nothing jobs. He’d been just plain old Paul then. He had been bored and when his dad had died he had gone off the rails.

‘Oh my god now I remember,’ I cried. ‘Of course you’re Paul Burrows.’

He looked at me obviously shocked by the outburst.

‘I was Sharon Bates when we were at school. You used to torment me all the time. Pulling my pigtails and taking the mick out of my braces.’

‘I’m sorry I don’t remember.’

‘No they say the bully often doesn’t but the person bullied never forgets,’ I said with a scathing tone. ‘You don’t know how glad I was when you didn’t come back to school after the summer holidays.’

He hung his head looking genuinely sorry that he’d hurt someone.

‘Anyway we’re not here to talk about bullying are we? Get on with your story.’ I lower my head and poised my pen over my pad to indicate I wanted him to continue.

It appeared his mother had been at her whit’s end and hadn’t known what to do. Luckily there was a cousin in America, his great aunt had been a GI bride, and this cousin needed help on his farm.

Paul had gone to help out on the farm and after a couple of years had started to get his head on straight. The hard work and long hours hadn’t left much time for fooling around and the cousin was only too happy to use his cattle whip if Paul did get out of hand. Then Paul met Gilda. She had been passing through the small town and Paul had fallen hook, line and sinker for her charms. She had been running from a boyfriend who later turned out to be her pimp and Paul had hidden her away on the farm telling the boyfriend she had headed north.

Together they had then set off south and eventually ended up in Vegas. Gilda found work as a showgirl and Paul sat around doing nothing. He became friendly with a few locals and they often headed off to a local bar where after the requisite number of beers Paul would get up on stage and do his Elvis impersonation. One afternoon a man had gone up to him and asked him where he worked.

‘What do you mean, where do I work?’ Paul was confused as a large number of beers had already been consumed even though it was only 3pm.

‘Your Elvis show. Which of the hotels do you work for?’ The man had said.

‘Oh no I don’t do this for a living,’ Paul laughed.

‘Well you’re good. In fact you’re very good.’

‘I think you’ve been drinking too much,’ Paul said.

‘If you change your mind give me a call,’ the man handed Paul a card and left.

Paul squinted at the card, shook his head and popped it into his back pocket.

The following afternoon Gilda had been emptying Paul’s pockets ready to do the washing when she had come across the card. Paul was sat watching the TV when she threw the card at him. It hit him in the face, the sharp corner narrowly missing his eye.

‘What the hell,’ Paul jumped up. ‘You could have had my eye out.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me about the job offer?’ Gilda glared at him, still holding his trousers.

‘What job offer?’

‘I’ve just seen the card. You’ve been offered a job by Danny Robbins. He runs the best Elvis shows in town.’

‘I haven’t been offered a job. Some guy came up to me last night and said he thought my Elvis was good and to give him a call. He didn’t offer me a job.’

‘If Danny Robbins says your Elvis is good then he’s as good as offered you a job. Now get off your arse and give him a call.’

Paul looked at her and suddenly realised that since they had made it to Vegas he had been living off her money. He was no better than the pimp he had helped her escape from. If he wanted to keep her he needed to buck his ideas up. He picked the card up from where it had fallen and made the call.

The following day Paul had a meeting with Danny Robbins. Paul arrived at a night club on the edge of the strip. The door was open and Paul walked in. He could here singing coming from down below and headed down a huge set of stairs. The music got louder as Paul approached a set of fire resistant double door. As he struggled to pull one of the heavy doors open he was nearly knocked over as an Elvis pushed the door from the other side and stormed out.

‘Don’t bother mate. They wouldn’t know an Elvis act if the real thing was in front of them,’ the Elvis called back over his shoulder as he stormed up the stairs.

Paul walked into a room that was the size of an aircraft hangar. There were tables facing towards a stage at one end and a large bar the length of the opposite wall. Between the bar and the tables was a large dance floor. Paul walked over towards the tables and noticed that there were about fifteen Elvis’ all sat watching a sixteenth on the stage perform.

A small woman with a clip board rushed over to him. ‘Are you here for the audition?’

‘I guess so. Danny told me to come over.’

‘Fine, take a seat and while you’re waiting fill out this form.’ She handed him the clip board and a pen. ‘And what’s your name?’


‘Thank god you didn’t say Elvis. I’ll give you a call when we’re ready.’

Paul sat down and started filling out his form. Once he had finished he started chatting to a young Elvis and a Chinese Elvis. Apparently there was a lot of demand for Chinese Elvis’ but most of the big hotels already had one. Each of the Elvis’ got up to sing and then were told to either leave of stay. By the time it was Paul’s turn there were four who had sung and stayed and three more to sing.

Paul got up on the stage and took the mike. He had only ever done this after a few beers before and on this occasion he was stone cold sober. The music started and he missed the cue. He wasn’t used to not seeing the words changing colour on the screen to help him get started.

‘Sorry. Can I start again?’ Paul spoke to the bright lights, he couldn’t see anyone.

‘One more chance, but then that’s it. There’s lots to get through today,’ said a voice from somewhere behind the lights

The music started again and this time Paul hit his cue. The first couple of lines were a little shaky but he soon got into it and was ready for an encore by the time the music stopped.

‘Thanks,’ said the voice ‘take a seat over there.’

Paul couldn’t believe it. He had made it.

After the final three singers had sung there were a total six Elvis’ who’d made it through. They all signed contracts with Danny’s agency and were then told to go home and that they would be called whenever there was a slot for them. As Paul understood it the hotels and casinos all had an Elvis tribute but Danny had a list of performers who could be used if one of the regulars fell ill or decided to retire. Most Elvis’ didn’t retire, a few had even died on the stage.

The following evening Gilda return home with a large bag. She hung it on the back of the kitchen door and the placed a bottle of hair dye on the kitchen table.

‘What’s going on?’ Paul asked.

‘I’ve spoken to some people and they’ve said that getting on Danny’s books is just half of the battle. Apparently there are so many Elvis acts out there unless you stand out there is no way you’re going to get any work.’


‘We are going to make sure you stand out,’ she smiled and nodded towards the bathroom.

They both spent the evening turning Paul into Elvis. Gilda dyed his blonde hair black and then Paul tried on the outfit she had brought him in the large bag. It was a white jump suit and cape but as Paul was quite thin it also contained a fat suit. Gilda told him that they would start working on bulking him up but for the time being he could wear the fat suit. It had been lent to her by one of the guys who sorted out the wardrobe for the showgirls.

The following week Paul spent his afternoons in the bar, practising his karaoke and evenings eating fried chicken. Paul thought he had died and gone to heaven although at that rate it probably wouldn’t take him long to get there.

‘All we need now is a name,’ Gilda said as they marvelled over Paul’s transformation on evening.

‘What do you mean? I’m Paul Burrows.’

‘No. All Elvis impersonators are Elvis something or something Elvis. There’s Chinese Elvis, Young Elvis etc. There’s even a Welsh Elvis called Elvis Jones.’

‘Can’t I be Elvis Burrows?’

‘No. You need something that tells people who you are. Something English.’

‘How about Earl Elvis?’

‘Doesn’t flow right,’

‘Prince Elvis?’

‘Come on Elvis was the King.’

‘Lord Elvis?’

‘Maybe,’ she thought for a few minutes. ‘How about Elvis Lord?’

‘Sounds good. Let’s go with it,’ Paul smiled and pulled her in close for a hug.

Two weeks after Danny Robbins had first hired him Paul headed back to Danny’s office. Paul walked in wearing his full Elvis gear. A disinterested secretary looked up from filing her nails at a small desk with a laptop and a phone sitting on it.

‘Danny’s on the phone, Take a seat,’ she said nodding towards a sofa pushed against the wall opposite her desk.

Paul had only been sat down a few minutes when Danny burst out of his office.

‘Bloody Elvis Jones has been poached. Some Saudi Prince has offered him a million to go and play at his private residence each week. He’s gone already and he’s got a gig tonight. Get me the files quick,’ he shouted at the secretary.

As he turned to go back into his office he saw Paul. He stopped and walked back towards the sofa.

‘Stand up,’ he said to Paul.

‘Turn around.

‘Can you sing?’

‘I can. I’m already on your books.’ Paul rushed to say before even more orders could be barked at him.

‘I don’t think you are sonny. I know all my Elvis’’

‘Yes I am. Paul Burrows you hired me two weeks ago. Although I’m now called Elvis Lord’

‘I don’t think so. Paul Burrows sounded great but looked nothing like Elvis. He was a skinny blonde kid.’

‘My girlfriend convinced me I needed to look more like Elvis if I was going to get work.’

‘Well you girlfriend is a very clever lady. Elvis Lord step into my office.’

By the time Paul left Danny’s office he had a two week try-out gig and if that worked out Elvis Jones’ spot at the Palace would be his.

Needless to say it did and the rest is history.


Sitting in the small front parlour in Eversley I finished my cup of tea and stared at Elvis. ‘Sounds like a great story but what went wrong?’

‘What makes you think anything went wrong?’

‘Well you’re back aren’t you?’

‘Not for good. It’s Mum you see. She’s dying and I didn’t want her to die alone. We’ve invited her to come and stay with us loads of time but she won’t leave this house. And now she hasn’t got long left I couldn’t leave her to die alone.’

I couldn’t believe that the man in front of me was the Paul Burrows I had known at school. It just goes to show the boy and the man can be very removed from one another given the right or wrong circumstances.

I got up shook his hand and wished him well. I hoped his mum would live to see the story and realise he really had made something of himself.

Friday, 1 January 2016

New Year - why not to change now

Today is the first day of the new year. A time for resolutions, a time to reflect on last year's failures and a time to promise to be a better person.

But why?

Many studies (I don't know if this is true, but most statistics are made up) have shown you are far more likely to break a resolution made on 1st January than one made in the middle of May. Why? Because those made at random times in the year are made because you want to make a change and not because you think you should. How many of us make a resolution on the 1st January just to have something to say when someone asks us, 'Made any resolutions this year?'.

I for one am looking back over 2015 and thinking "wow that was a year". There were problems but those problems were overcome. The true support and love shown to me during the year made me appreciate what I have and how lucky I am to be where I am. There are people who had far more to deal with than I had and they approached it with better grace than I did. The year has also highlighted the number of people out there who really don't appreciate what they have. Maybe you have to go through shit to appreciate that things aren't as shit as they could be.
I have lost 'friends' and I have made new ones. I hope the ones I have lost through my choice never were true friends. I am sure I have burnt bridges that in the years to come I will wish I hadn't but we live and learn. And that is the point. While we live we should always strive to learn and develop. There are people who didn't make it through the year and for that I am sorry and my thoughts go out to their families.

And so to 2016, if I learn as much as I did in 2015 I will be a wealthy woman. I just hope the lessons are a little less painful in their learning.

Remember 2015 with fondness. Think of the things you will take from in and the things you have left behind and build upon that for the year ahead.

And have any of you made any resolutions?  :)

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