Camera Obscura

I can’t really say that the eyepatch worked. I’ll give Hansie the credit for the suggestion, and I did wear one a couple of times at social events, but it was sod all use when I was working. The motorbike is too dangerous to ride in an eyepatch, and it was my camera eye that was black, and if I hadn’t been reasonably sure that somebody else was doing it, I would have gone round to see those young men, and tanned both of them for the inconvenience. It was two months before I saw them again: Tim Creed left a grovelling message on my answer-phone, promising to do just about anything I thought of (I deduce that Jim had not been pleased with him), but I had been called to do a FeLine shoot in London and another in Cornwall (difficult – very cold. Blue models in all senses), and then an F L Milton wedding over a weekend in Essex, and then I actually fitted in a holiday, so everything had calmed down by the time I came home.

I was rather disappointed in the end: Tim came to see me and told me, apologetically, that Hansie, once sober, was very, very unhappy about the idea of taking his clothes off for me. Tim was prepared to pay his debts, and he assured me that if I insisted, he would get Hansie there, but. . . Then he hesitated. I laughed. I had sent him my dry-cleaning bill, and had received in return a cheque and a huge bunch of flowers, and my temper had subsided enough for me to be generous.

“Let it go, Tim. If he really doesn’t like the idea, I won’t press him. Will he pose for me with his clothes on?”

“Oh, yes, I don’t think that bothers him, although he wants to know what you intend doing with the pictures.”

“Put them in my front window, if he’s dressed. Same with yours. If he doesn’t want to strip, I won’t make you do it either. But you can serve as advertisements for me, both of you. And how do you feel about going in my brochure?”

“Let’s see it,” said Tim, suddenly professional, and spent ten minutes muttering to himself and looking at all my advertising material.

“Miss Milton – ”


“Fran, this is rubbish. Your photos are much better than they come over here. And your copy is just dreadful. Who did these for you?”

I told him.

“Well, what about this? I’ll get Hansie here. You can do some pictures of us singly, clothed, and I’ll rework your copy for you and draft up a new brochure. Will that make up for us not doing the. . . the other pictures?”

I thought it would. They both came down the next afternoon, looking scrubbed and polished, and I spent a happy afternoon in the company of two very decorative young men, ordering them about and generally enjoying myself. Hansie was embarrassed at having refused me, and inclined to grovel about it, but it was perfectly obvious that he absolutely didn’t want to do it. There’s no point in pressing an unwilling subject. Something odd happens to the skin tone, they blush (and Hansie’s a dreadful blusher anyway) and I can’t get the colour balance right, and they come over all nervous and can’t take instruction. It’s a pointless exercise.

Anyway, I had other things to think about. The Rugby Club had finally got its nerve up to have a calendar, and the committee (probably prompted by Jim, prompted in turn by Mary) had approached me and asked me to do it. I had every intention of taking those pictures, but it never answers to show too much enthusiasm, particularly not before agreeing terms. Before I negotiated a contract, I wanted to see what material I had to work with. Cartwright was decorative enough for anything – I could make a twelve month spread of him alone – and I really wanted some pictures of de Vries. He isn’t handsome, exactly, but there are supermodels who would pay a year’s money to have his cheekbones, and those pale eyes are very striking. He absolutely drips sex appeal, both to men and to women, although he doesn’t seem to know it, and to anyone who knows what they’re looking at, his Toppishness is unmistakeable. I called him ‘electrifying’ once, and certainly I think you could run the lights off him.

But I didn’t know much about the others, and the dinner dance (of less than blessed memory) was the only time I had been to the Club, so I wanted to see them and it in daylight.

Steve Barrett, the steward, was told off to show me round, and I maintain that the event which has now passed into Club legend was his fault, O.K.?

There was a training session going on when I arrived, and I stopped and watched for about twenty minutes, just getting a glimpse of all the players. They were the usual lot – some photogenic, some not, some sexy, some pretty, some interesting, some I really hoped weren’t going to want to be in the pictures. My intention was a big Hold-The-Front-Page with all the team members for the cover, and then twelve singles, or near singles to go month by month. There are always some who simply don’t want to do it, and they could be included in the group and excused the individuals, provided we had enough to cover all the months.

Then Steve started to take me round the buildings. It was too late in the season to take anything outdoors, without reducing the players to shivering blue wrecks, but there were enough places available that I thought I could do something. I was making vague notes about the main hall, the kitchen, the reception area, the stands, the tunnel, and not actually paying attention to what Steve was saying, and certainly not paying attention to where we were going and what we were doing. He led me back into the main block, and said helpfully, “dressing rooms – this is the visitors’ end” and opened a door. It was a bit uninspired by way of décor – well, I suppose it needs to be easily cleaned rather than a centre of delicate colouring - but the high windows let in a decent amount of light, and the mirrors had potential, I thought.

“Bath,” added Steve, and opened another door. Bath indeed. Huge communal bath. Perfect for the group shot, if I brought in some secondary lighting. I dodged back into the dressing room to look for power points. Steve was sorting keys, with his head tipped on one side.

“I can’t hear anything, can you?”

I listened. “No, what should I hear?”

“If the guys had come up, we would be able to hear them in the other dressing room. They’ll still be on the pitch. We can go through this way and it will bring us out. . .”

As he spoke, he unlocked the communicating door, threw it open, and politely ushered me ahead of him into the other bathroom, and the. . . steamy presence of about twenty silent and naked rugby players. And a fully dressed Pieter de Vries, who had a clipboard and a set of notes and who had apparently been addressing his troops on the subject of their recent training session. Hence the silence on their part, apparently. He doesn’t raise his voice, and people don’t interrupt him. Well, not more than once.

I don’t know which of us was the most surprised. Still, in a crisis, ones early training comes to the fore, doesn’t it? The politenesses that were drummed into us by our respective mothers. Steve gulped, and said weakly, “This is Miss Milton who’s going to do the calendar photographs. Um. . . these are the guys. Rob’s the captain.”

Yes, and Rob had an old-fashioned public school education. And what does a gentleman do in the presence of a lady? He rose from the water, held out his hand, and said faintly, “How do you do, Miss Milton?”

I defy anybody not to look. Well, I didn’t try very hard. I looked him up and down, and said, inadvertently, “How do I do what?”

I’ve a friend who is a sociobiologist, and who tells me that when you blush, it’s only the exposed bits that go red. So if you’re fully dressed, it will be face, neck and hands, but if you have no shirt on, you’ll blush to the waist. It appeared to be true. Rob gave a squeak of dismay, blushed from up here to down there, and hastily sat down in the water again. And my mouth ran slightly ahead of my brain (for some reason, the Club seems to have that effect on me), and I said brightly to de Vries, “I’ll take two; don’t wrap them”.

Steve made a strange whining sound, grabbed me by the wrist and ran me the length of the room and out into the corridor, with absolute mayhem breaking out to our rear. A moment later, de Vries crashed through the door behind us, and we stared at each other for a split second, before I saw something that had apparently never been recorded before.

I saw Pieter de Vries laugh.

The photographs were a week’s work, and not actually that difficult. They gave me fourteen players from a main squad of twenty who were prepared to strip for the camera, and the rest all agreed to a decent group shot. I did get them all back into the bath, once I promised Rob that he could go at the back, with his face turned away if he wanted. Cartwright was happy to strip; de Vries refused point blank. I couldn’t really blame him: he said, with some justification, that it would damage his authority over his squad. His position as coach or manager or whatever it was had been renewed – apparently he had been on a one year contract with the intention of acquiring the cup for Hamilton’s, and once this had been done with distressing (for the other teams) ease, Jim Hamilton had funded him for another three years. We negotiated as far as him agreeing to appear in a picture, fully dressed, and in fact that proved more difficult than anything else. Naturally, I put him with Cartwright; equally naturally, my suspicion that their relationship would scream through the camera was confirmed. I took a whole batch of digital pictures before I even attempted anything real, and I have them still. They’ve got names, rather than reference numbers: names like ‘Take Me, I’m Yours’, or ‘Later, I Promise’. In the end, I had to put my subjects next to the mirrors, and include only de Vries’s reflection, to break up the intensity of his gaze. When he looks at you, he gives you his full attention; that’s why it’s so scary for most people, I think. Even reflected, though, he’s got something; I’ve noticed that when people look at the calendar, that’s the picture they come back to a second time, and several people have asked me what it is that makes that one shot so sexy.

I looked at the prints before I sent them off, and thought about it for twenty-four hours, and went back to the Club and renegotiated my contract from a flat fee to a percentage of the profits. And that’s my pension contribution for this year paid. We were into a third print run within a fortnight, the thing was discussed on local radio and written up in the local papers, and the publicity hasn’t done me any harm at all, particularly since Phil Cartwright’s potential had attracted the attention of big names and he was named for the national squad. de Vries was apparently to act as his agent, and the club generally was being spoken of in all sorts of places. And in some cases, the relationship between Cartwright and de Vries was being discussed.

I was very careful to hold my tongue; I had dropped a fearful clanger at the dinner dance, and I wasn’t to be had the same way twice. It wasn’t my business who shared Cartwright’s bed, and I didn’t really think it was anybody else’s either, but there are always people who feel that they have to know. Nobody had said outright that things were. . . the way they were, but remarks were being made about the closeness of the pair. So far, it was only about role models, and the desirability of a strong leader for a young man, but sooner or later somebody was going to make the leap and run for the scandal, I thought.

Pieter de Vries thought so too, and being Pieter de Vries, he was giving his mind to what could be done to prevent it. I met him one day, in a shoe shop, of all places, where I was buying a phenomenally expensive pair of silver shoes, with high heels and suede soles, and he was buying laces. He greeted me politely, and then his glance fell on the shoes in my hand, and his eyebrows went up.

“Your sport of choice, Miss Milton?”

I rather assumed that he was taking the piss. Rugby players as a whole don’t tend to think of dance sport as real sport.

“I find it a pleasant aerobic exercise, Mr de Vries, yes. It helps keep my weight down. And I do weight training in the gym three times a week, too.”

He nodded. “And very good for your flexibility and balance, and for lower back strength, too. I learned in my youth, of course – we in South Africa had what you would think of as an old-fashioned upbringing – and my coach made us keep up the practice. I rather enjoyed it.” He hesitated, looking at me with his head tipped on one side. “Miss Milton, may I buy you a cup of coffee? I have. . . I have a problem, and I think you might just be the person to help me with it.”

Weird. de Vries admitting a weakness. Coffee, by all means. He found us a secluded table in a coffee shop, and leaned confidingly over it.

“Miss Milton, I do not need to prevaricate with you, I think. You know the basis of the relationship between Phil Cartwright and me.”

“You’re his Top,” I said bluntly.

He smiled slightly. “Indeed. And I have promised him that he will have a great career in rugby. Which he will, but a scandal at the start of it about a relationship with an older man will not help him.”

“I can see that. In another sport, perhaps, he might get away with it but not in rugby.”

“I do not intend to give him up.” Flatly. Ooooh, I thought, lucky Phil. “I think it would be a good idea if I were to provide a. . . Miss Milton, do you follow the rugby? No? Then the phrase ‘selling the dummy’ will not convey anything to you.”

“I know the phrase. I deal with images, Mr de Vries. Lights and mirrors. Visual conjuring. The camera actually lies quite a lot. You want a distraction from your relationship with Phil.”

A slow nod. “I want to sell a dummy to the press. I think that I need to display a different relationship. And I wonder if you might like to play. You seem to me to be sufficiently. . . shall we say ‘subversive’. . . to enjoy the game for its own sake. You are a Top yourself, I think.”

Takes one to know one, Viper. “Go on. The phrase that comes to mind so far is ‘fag-hag’.”

He winced. “I don’t care for the term. It devalues us both. What I am asking is that you should be seen with me in some public place, at some public event. The gutter press will ask questions which we can answer perfectly truthfully: we are not in a relationship. We are friends. And if you will come with me to the event I have in mind, and behave in the way I suggest, they will simply not believe us.”

“Where? And how?”

He told me, and I laughed so much that I spilled my coffee. “I’ll do it. Oh, yes, Mr de Vries, I’ll do it.”

“Then you will start by calling me Pieter. And I will offer you something in return.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I will offer you Phil Cartwright.”

“Ummm. . . I don’t play with other Tops’ toys.”

He smiled. “Phil will be hot property in a few months. He is young, good-looking, talented. The press will want a slice of him. They will want pictures. I am his agent, and I say which pictures they may have. And I will give you the contract to provide the pictures.”

“Pieter, I’ll do it without that. I’ll do it, as you said, for the game itself. I admit, the idea of being his photographer makes me weak at the knees, but that’s too big a payment for the deal.”

“No, you will have the contract, because we like your photographs, and because I think I can trust you not to do him harm. And you and I will play the game. . . for the sake of the game.”

“When is this event? It will take some work on our part.”

“We have a month.”

Extract from ‘Want It!’ magazine, issue number 59:

‘. . . the recent Sports Awards ceremony (pictures, page 17), at which the rugby awards were presented by ex-international rugby player Pieter de Vries, who was in his playing days called ‘The Viper’. He’s in his forties now, but the opinion of the girls in the office is that the Viper is one fit bloke, and they’ll scrum down with him any time. He was accompanied by Frances Milton, better known as F L Milton (Photography). The classy Fran is the photographer of choice for A list weddings in her neck of the woods, and with good reason. Recently, she has been experimenting with sports shots: her latest line is the pictures for club calendars. Local gossip tells us that her version of the cricket club calendar gives a whole new meaning to ‘short extra cover’ and certainly we’ll let Fran take aim at our middle stump any time she likes. The connection with the Viper is via the rugby club, which has also gone down the calendar route. Good choice, guys! Cast-iron money spinner, and the chance to ruck with Fran. . . She gives the lie to all those who say that Babe-hood passes aged twenty-three; Fran has been known to attend photo-shoots on her motorbike, a Honda CBR 1100 Super Blackbird. That’s a big bike for a lady, but Fran is no Biker Momma; she’s an Easy Rider in her own right.

After the presentations, the various parties retired to the dance floor. There was the usual amount of B and C list shifting from foot to foot, but this particular event opened everybody’s eyes: the Viper spoke to somebody in the band, and then he stepped to the centre of the floor and held out his hand. Nothing more, but Fran Milton walked to join him. They’re a hot couple, and apparently Viper de Vries wanted to dance with the camera lady. And he wanted to dance the tango.The Argentine tango was introduced to this country about 1920, to a great furore about whether or not it was decent, and the view of this magazine at least, based on what we saw last night, is that it is decidedly indecent. The gorgeous Fran was wearing silver ‘f*** me’ shoes and some sort of red and silver trouser suit in a silky material which clung in all the right places, and boy, has she got a lot of right places. And not an ounce of silicone among them: this is most definitely the real thing.

Certainly the Viper seemed to think so – he had her pressed against him and was gazing into her eyes in a manner that gave away more than he normally would: he is known as a very reserved man, but Fran seems to have got him all hot and bothered.

Ignore all you think you know about the tango, based on old comedy shows and jokey seaside postcards. Ignore the old ideas about roses clenched in the teeth. This is a dance about sex. The tango has been described as the vertical expression of a horizontal desire, and we can confirm that to be true. On the basis of one dance, we can say without fear of contradiction that those who fear that nobody aged forty has sex are wrong. This couple plainly does, and lots of it.

She melted against him, hooked her leg behind his, and allowed him to draw her across the room. He ran his hand from her hip to the small of her back as she arched her head down to the floor, lying in his hold and never taking her eyes off him. If they had stripped each other on the dance floor, they couldn’t have said more about the basis of their relationship.

And yet it was peculiarly innocent, hot but not vulgar. Unbelievably sexy to watch, with romantic undertones. When he raised her to her feet and lifted her hand to his lips, every woman in the room sighed; when she turned her hand and allowed him to kiss the inside of her wrist, every man in the room envied him. These are the manners of an earlier generation, and it seems they still have serious pulling power.

They didn’t stay after that: one hesitates to use the phrase anti-climax, because anyone could have guessed that the rest of this scene was to be played out elsewhere. We asked as they left how long they had been an item.

“Miss Milton and I are working associates only,” said de Vries. He is managing agent to Phil Cartwright the rugby player (see our sports section, page 44), and Fran has taken the preliminary publicity photos for that young man. “Our relationship is purely one of business.”

We believe you, Viper, although millions wouldn’t. And Fran Milton can do the business for us any time. . .’

Idris the Dragon

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