I scowl with frustration as the phone rings and a voice rasps into my ear; “Do you feel dirty, SevenStreets?”
I swallow nervously. My cheeks heat up with globes of angry little sweatballs. And my face does too.
Furtively, I glance at myself in the mirror. Not bad for 37, I wink to myself, a moist effluent issuing gracefully from my decolletage in the prickly heat of the afternoon.
“Oh, it’s you, Mr Grey,” I spill out, hesitantly.
“Get your coat, I’m going to show you something filthy,” he purrs down his Argos Binatone. “I’m a self made-man and I have a massive penis.”
My mouth drops open. I’ve never driven in a Range Rover Penis, but I’ve heard so much about how totally-not-compensating-for-anything-else they are, and of how Victoria Beckham’s left her telltale marks on the gearstick. A crazy resolve sweeps over my body like a Dyson multifloor with the crevice attachment cruelly rammed home.
Twenty minutes later, Mr Grey sweeps me into the sticky bucket seat of his luxury crossover. I’m trembling like a panna cotta on the backseat of the 52A to Netherton.
“I’m going to show you the filthiest dirtboxes in town,” he growls.
I lunge into his glovebox, searching desperately for a sucky sweet.
“Your glovebox looks like it’s been licked clean,” I proffer demurely, like Rebecca Fergusson signing away her rights in a hasty contract.
“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Streets,” he says. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes like Dalglish cornered in a press conference.
We arrive at Sainsbury’s superstore in Prenton.
“Will you let me take you round the back?” he probes, urgently, like Pete Price desperately wondering whether mums should be allowed to get their sweater puppies out in public.
He grabs my hand and guides me carefully into position. He’s done this before, I murmur inwardly.
What faces me is a cliff of soiled, filth-drenched panelling. Encrusted detritus of spent fumes and lost hopes. A mosaic, fifty shades of, oh, graphite I suppose you’d call it.
His smile is rueful, but he looks vaguely disappointed. “There are filthier things,” he says. He cocks his head to one side and smiles, but the smile doesn’t touch his eyes. Like Amanda Harrington saying she’s made up that Desperate Scousewives has been cancelled.
Before long, we’re diving headlong into the willing shaft of the Kingsway. “The Queen prised her father’s tunnel open over 40 years ago with a bottle of Moet,” he whispers as he tosses his coins manfully into the gaping basket. “Since then, it’s been scrubbed out just once.” It’s a sordid, foetid little opening. A grimy little aperture, spilling its cargo out into the motherland.
“Let me take you to the edge of desire,” he shrugs nonchalantly, “or possibly the edge of the Mersey.”
We arrive at a cluster of buildings: two bright and shiny, one a little grubby and unkempt, like the original Atomic Kitten.
“This building used to be owned by a Liverpool company,” Grey sighs, his long index finger tracing the seductive curves of the Liver Building, “but its owners have fled the city, and have cruelly turned their back on their former love.”
We rub up against its pitted and grimy sides and agree: she is, by some thrilling distance, the dirtiest of the graces.
“She was last scrubbed up when ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest,” Gray reveals.
“My, my,” I say.
Grey’s mouth quirks up, and he stares appraisingly at me. “You want to see a really sick building?” he inquires, feverishly.
“No, please, I beg you. Don’t take me to Old Hall Street,” I implore, my eyes seeking his for understanding. “I’ve been in the basement, and all their hot metal contraptions have been removed. No-one gets the lubricants out there any more.”
“No. I’m going all the way up,” he laughs, maniacally, “right to the top.”
Looming over the city like a deep, dark tumour, the Royal Hospital’s days are numbered. But we grab one last, longing stare and inhale its stale contours hungrily. Dank, seeping wounds blister from its skin like a whip-lashed slave.
“Oh, you brute, this is magnificent,” I squeal
“Technically, it’s a magnificent brute,” he says, trying to humour me with a flaccid joke about brutalism. But, like a night at the Royal Court, I’m impervious to his attempt at mildly parochial humour.
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” he snorts as I complain when he tells me that the bright new hospital will be so vanilla.
“No NHS playroom?” I beg, “No steel-bar beds and enema plugs?”
“No, but there’s a harness to drop you into a scalding bath,” he says, yanking me towards him while a security guard clamps his alloys roughly.
“It’s taking all my self control not to flip you right here,” he says, adding, “I’d use the proper F word. But, goddamn it, your spam filters are so tight.”
We arrive in the centre of the city, at the Town Hall, and gaze at its mottled, crumbling, exotic skin. Like Herbert after a microdermabrasion too far.
He tells me that, over the years, so many men have sprayed their caustic juices over its columns that this once proud beauty is beyond hope.
He points to the lady who straddles the columns – some blonde called Minerva. She’s been sprayed on so many times, he says, her nose has fallen off. “She refused to wear a gimp mask, and this is the price she’s paying,” he says, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets.
He says that, within its bowels, there is a deep dark chamber where men and women act out the most hideous of acts – and where a master from the red room of pain oversees proceedings, with his big chain.
“We’ve gone from the top to the bottom,” Grey says, “but that’s only the beginning.”
He talks of decaying old pubs, splashed by rich young men pretending to be street artists. Of a city which likes nothing better than to watch a giant uncle with a huge helmet bounce his niece and a hairless dog on his knee.
A delicious shudder envelops me. “I love this dirty old town,” I moan.
…continued until you want to gouge your own eyes out…
Main pic: Formidable Photography