Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:13PM
1 Tales from the Halling Valley
From Tasmania's Tamar Valley
My ancestry is mixed English, Scottish and Scots-Irish. I'm English through my father, the well-known violinist Patrick Halling, born in Rowella in Tasmania's Tamar Valley to an English mother. While his paternity remains uncertain, he was raised the son of a Dane, my namesake Carl Halling, more of whom later. His mother my grandmother was always known to my brother and I as Mary, but she'd been born Phyllis Mary Pinnock possibly in the Dulwich area of south London where her family had been based for many years sometime around the turn of the 20th Century. I'll discuss the Scottish and Ulster-Scots side of the family later on in the story, but for now I'd like to concentrate on my dad's ancestry.
Around 1984, I surreptitiously taped the nostalgic ramblings of my great aunt and Mary's younger sister Joan Parrish who together with her Yorkshire-born husband Eric had come to my parents' house for lunch. Eric and Joan had only recently become friends of the family, together with her son Chris Parrish, Chris's wife Janet, and their three children. Many years later, Mary's niece through a brother who'd emigrated to the US dropped by the house for dinner. A resident of upstate New York, to my eyes she bore a striking resemblance not just to Mary and Joan, but to my my uncle and aunt, Peter and Suzanne. She also looked a little like Peter's daughter my cousin, Kristina Vals-Halling, known as Kris. I'll be referring to them all in due course of time.
According to Joan's testimony recorded that day, her maternal grandmother’s maiden name had been Butler, name which allegedly links the family to the Butlers of Ormonde, a dynasty of Old English nobles of Norman origin which had dominated the south east of Ireland since the Middle Ages, and so making it a lost or discarded branch. The Norman French were of mixed Viking, Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock, and their territorial conquests included England, and so Scotland, Ireland and Wales and southern Italy and the island of Sicily. The Norman conquest of England began in 1066 AD with the success at the Battle of Hastings of William the Conqueror which resulted in Norman control of England, and the introduction into the country of the Norman aristocracy. In other words, the Normans replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England and became part of a single French-speaking culture with lands on both sides of the channel. The Norman conquest created one of the most formidable monarchies in Europe as well as a highly sophisticated governmental system. It also changed the English language and culture forever while producing a sporadic but fierce rivalry with France, who became her bitterest enemy, remaining so for centuries. In his 1842 poem "Lady Clara Vere de Vere", Alfred, Lord Tennyson makes the valid point that "Kind hearts are more than coronets, And simple faith than Norman blood." This of course inspired the classic 1949 black comedy "Kind Hearts and Coronets", produced by Michael Balcon, directed by Robert Hamer, and with photography directed by Douglas Slocombe, all legendary stalwarts of the Ealing Studios of the post-war years.
The Butler saga had begun in 1177 when one Theobold FitzWalter, who'd accompanied Henry II into Ireland, was created Chief Butler of Ireland, although the earldom of Ormonde was not created in the Peerage of Ireland until over two hundred years later in 1328. This for the benefit of James Butler, son of Sir Edmund de Botillier and Lady Joan Fitzgerald, who went on to marry Alionore de Bohun, granddaughter of Edward the 1st of the Norman House of Plantagenet, and the so-called “Hammer of the Scots”.
The fifth earl of this creation, James Butler, born in London in October 1610 became the Marquess of Ormonde in 1642, then the Duke in the Peerage of Ireland in 1660, finally becoming Duke of Ormonde in the Peerage of England 22 years after that. He was the first of the Butlers to assume the Protestant faith, which set him at odds with the remainder of Ireland's Old English ruling class which was resolutely Catholic. If the Old English families such as the Butlers, the Burkes and the Fitzgerlads had been more Irish than the Irish themselves, the New English who'd replaced them as Ireland’s ruling class by about 1700, were markedly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.
Again according to Joan’s testimony, her paternal great-grandfather had been a humble coachman. He was however left a large sum of money by a grateful employer, an extraordinarily philanthropic act which introduced some wealth into the family. Joan's own father lived as a gentleman, which means he didn't need to work. His eldest daughter Phyllis Mary Pinnock was born, probably on the 12th of March, sometime towards the end, or following the turn of the 20th Century. She grew into an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, with dark hair, green eyes, high cheekbones and an exquisitely sculpted mouth. According to my father’s account, her first true love had been a beautiful young man by the name of David Wilson. David, who looked a little like the young F Scott Fitzgerald, was allegedly a scion of the Wilson Line of Hull which had developed into the largest privately owned shipping firm in the world in the early part of the century. Tragically, like so many of the country's finest young men, he was killed during the First World War. She subsequently married an army officer by the name of Peter Robinson, and they had two children in quick succession, Peter Bevan and Suzanne, known as Dinny. At some point between Peter’s birth and that of his younger brother Patrick, Phyllis went with husband to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, with the purpose of working as a tea planter. There she met the aforesaid Carl Halling. What followed next I can't say for certain but through family sources, I've been led to believe that at some point after becoming pregnant with her third child, Mary fled with Carl to the island of Tasmania, Australia, where my dad was born, although he was raised, as Carl’s son, in Sydney, new South Wales. It was in Sydney that Carl contracted multiple sclerosis, after which according to family accounts, Mary made a living variously as a journalist, and teacher. In the meantime, according to what Pat has told me Carl embarked on a desperate spiritual search in the hope no doubt that this would yield a miraculous cure. This search took in Christian Science, although prior to his illness I think, Carl had been a student of Eastern spirituality, which had resulted in his becoming fluent in Sanscrit. Presumably this is how he ended up working as a tea planter. Carl died immediately immediately before the second world war, at which point the family moved to Denmark, where Carl was buried. All three children had earlier displayed considerable musical talent, Patrick as a violinist, Peter as a cellist and Suzanne as a pianist. By the time Pat was nine years old he was already the soloist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, with all his wages according to Pat being duly conveyed by Mary into the family account. Soon after Carl’s death, Mary and family set off for London in order that Pat and his siblings might develop their musical careers. Pat studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He joined the London Philharmonic 0rchestra while still a teenager during the Blitz on London, serving in the Sea Cadets as a signaller, and seeing action as such on the hospital ships of the Thames River Emergency Service, which had been formed in 1938 and lasted for three years, using converted Thames pleasure steamers as floating ambulances or first aid stations.
All Equal in the Eyes of God
Through my father Patrick, known as Pat Halling, I'm largely English, and proud to be so, although the Pinnock name itself is common in Cornwall and may therefore be of Celtic rather than Anglo-Saxon origin. And yet, according to recent research, the inhabitants of the British Isles, whether English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh, have more Celtic, or Celt-Iberian blood, than anything else. Being of mixed English, Scottish and Ulter-Scots blood I am what could be called quintessentially British, although I self-identify as English. England was where I was born, and I feel a strong bond with people of Anglo-Saxon extraction, not just from England itself, but other nations where they are to be found, such as Scotland, Northern Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and so on; but not in an agressively nationalistic sense. After all, in the end, there is only one race, created by God, the human race, and we are all born equal in the sight of God whatever our race, colour or nationality.
The Watts of Vancouver
Through my mother Ann Halling, nee Angela Jean Elisabeth Watt, I am mainly lowland Scottish and Ulster-Scots. My mother was born in the city of Brandon, Manitoba, but while still an infant she moved with her parents and four siblings to the Grandview area of east Vancouver, Canada. Grandview's earliest settlers were usually tradesmen or shopkeepers, in shipping or construction work, and largely of British origin. My own grandfather James Watt was a a carpenter by trade who'd been born in the little town of Castlederg in County Tyrone, Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Grandview underwent massive change following the First World War when Italian, Chinese, and East European immigrants moved in, and still more after World War II with a second wave of Italian immigrants. It is still home to Vancouver's Little Italy centred on Commercial Drive.
Her mother was from Glasgow, Scotland, having been born there to an English father hailing either from Liverpool or Manchester, and a Scottish mother. My mother therefore was born with mixed lowland Scottish, Ulster-Scots and English blood. She was the only one of her family born in Canada, her elder sister Annie-Isabella, elder brother Robert, brother James Jr., sister Elizabeth, who died in infancy, all having been born in Scotland, while another sister Catherine had been born in Ireland.
Our Scots-Irish Roots
My paternal grandfather was probably a descendant of the planters sent according to the historical account by the English to Ulster, many of them originally inhabitants of the Anglo-Scottish border country, as well as the Scottish lowlands. Lowlanders are traditionally distinct from the highlanders, in so far as they are widely considered to be of Anglo-Saxon rather than Celtic extraction, although how true this is it is impossible to say. Sense dictates that they'd be a mixture in terms of blood, which is to say Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Scandinavian and so on, not that I'm qualified to speak definitively on the subject.
Many of these Ulster Scots emigrated to the United States in the 1600s, and their descendants are to be found all throughout the US, but most famously perhaps in those regions of which the South is composed in a cultural sense. Indeed most of the original settlers of the Deep and Upland South were of British and especially English and Scots-Irish origin. Among those whites identifying as ethnically American today in the South, the vast majority are believed to be of English and Scots-Irish extraction. Additionally a sizable porportion of white southerners claim actual English, and to a lesser extent, Scots-Irish ancestry. The people of the mountainous regions of the South such as the Appalachian mountains are widely believed to be intensively Scots-Irish, with some insisting that that makes them Anglo-Saxon rather than Celtic. This is due to the fact that their first home was the region of Britain straddling the Scottish Lowlands and Anglo-Scottish Borderlands, one traditionally perceived as Sassenach. Sassenach or Sasenaig in Ireland being the Gaelic term for Saxon, or person of Anglo-Saxon origin.
From the Delta to the British Blues Boom
While the Southern gene pool has been reinforced over the centuries by successive waves of immigrants, including Germans, Scottish Highlanders, French Huguenots, French Canadian Acadians, and Irish Catholics, it remains significantly Scots-Irish and English. But it's also a deeply African-American area, despite the 7 million black people who emigrated from the South to the North, Midwest and West during the period 1910 to 1970 known as the Great Migration. In terms of their music, their most famous port of call was arguably the great Midwestern city of Chicago. The Chicago Blues, which was an electrified version of the original Country Blues created through new developments in amplification, flourished in that city in the 1940s. It went on to inform the development of Rock'n'Roll, which was equally influenced by Country music and most especially the variant known as Rockabilly.
The most influential Rock phenomenon of all time the Beatles were not overly influenced by the Chicago Blues, unlike their closest rivals the Rolling Stones. The Beatles looked to more recent and commercial trends in Popular music as Rock'n'Roll for inspiration, as well as the music which eventually became known as Soul and which was to some degree a fusion of Rythym and Blues and traditional Pop, with elements of Gospel. As such they were the chief architects of Pop Music which went on to form the basis of Pop culture and the entire Swinging Sixties scene. In this respect they differed from the prime movers of the British Blues Boom, who largely ignored Rock'n'Roll in favour of the Blues, and specifically the Delta and Chicago Blues. Out of this British Blues Boom, Rock was born although it would not be called this until well into the sixties. Many of these Blues groups jumped onto the Pop bandwagon created by the Beatles to form part of the British Invasion of the US Pop charts. They included the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Who. In time, they all became known as Rock groups, whether British or American, although Pop survived as an alternative generic description. Today, however, Pop is viewed rather as a strain within Rock or a sub-genre, or as a different form of music altogether. From the grafting of anti-establishment values onto a music that seemed like little more than noise to many members of the older generation, a massively successful commercial phenomenon with millions of followers worldwide came into being. Its cataclysmic effect on the moral fabric of the Christian West cannot be underestimated. Minor edits: 7/3/13
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:11PM
2 Born on the Goldhawk Road
These two pieces set the scene for the entire work to follow, a kind of experiment in memoir writing with a spiritual core. Both deal with my childhood in London in the 1960s. The first was adapted from a Christian testimony dating from 2002, and published at the Blogster.com website on the 1st of February 2006, the second from an unfinished short story penned in the mid to late 1970s about a close friend from Bedford Park where I lived for some thirteen years between ca. 1957 and 1970. Once known as "Poverty Park" despite having been London's first Garden Suburb, Bedford Park is now a famous conservation area of the Southfields ward of Acton, west London. It was initially published at the Blogster.com website as "Wicked Cahoots" on the 15th of February 2006. Definitive versions of both works were created with further minor variations in July 2007, and then again in December.
Born on the Goldhawk Road
I was born in the autumn of 1955 close to the undistinguished source of west London's Goldhawk Road and my first home was in Bulmer Place near Notting Hill Gate. My brother was born two and a half years later, by which time my parents had bought their own house in Bedford Park in what was then the London Borough of Acton, and suburban west London was marked by a homespun simplicity back then that we can only dream of today. By '63, with my brother and I safe in South Kensington’s French Lycee, social change was in the air, though in truth it had been for some time, especially in Britain and the USA, at least since the rise of rock'n'roll, and youth culture, whose watershed years were '55 to '56, but for all that England in '63 was still apparently in black and white, and the first shaggy-haired beat groups fitted quite snugly into this innocent time of Norman Wisdom pictures, of the well-spoken presenters of the BBC Home Service, Light Service and World Service, of coppers, tanners and ten bob notes, tuck shops and tuppeny chews. I was an articulate child, cheerful and sociable in an idyllic world, although I went on to become a tearaway, both at school and at home, what you might call hyperactive today. Still, I managed to pass my common entrance exam, necessary for entrance into British public, which is to say private, schools, and so become Cadet RNR no. 173, at Pangbourne Nautical College in the September of 1968, officially a serving officer in the Royal Navy aged only 12 years old. In early 1970, we left Chiswick for good and took up residence even deeper in suburbia, where I remain to this day...a suburban dreamer if ever there was one...
When he made
his first personal appearance
in the dirty alley
on someone else's rusty bike,
in a cloud of dust
it rendered us all
speechless and motionless.
But I was amazed
that despite his grey-faced surliness,
he was very affable with us...
the bully with a naive
and sentimental heart.
He was so happy
to hear that I liked his dad
or that my mum liked him
and he was welcome
to come to tea
with us at five twenty five...
Our "adventures" were spectacular:
chasing after other bikesters,
screaming at the top
of our lungs
into blocks of flats
and then running
as our echoed waves of terror
blended with incoherent threats...
"I'll call the Police, I'll..."
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:10PM
3 A Child's West London
"A Child's West London", the second and last of two pieces based on my childhood in the west London of the 1960s, is not so much a story, as fragments taken from spidery writings with which I filled four and a half pages of a school style notebook in what is likely to have been the year of 1977. However, before being published at Blogster.com on the 10th of March 2006, it was comprehensively edited, before being given a new title, and subjected to alterations in punctuation. Certain sentences were composed by linking two or more sentences from the original piece together. Mild grammatical corrections also took place, mild because I didn't want to alter the original work to the degree of making major ones. So, the first draft was carefully doctored, while retaining the spirit in which it was penned in '77. Finally, the name of the protagonist was changed from "Kris" to "Carl". In July 2007, I prepared a first "definitive" version of the piece which involved my making a few additional very minor alterations. Further corrections were made in December.
With regard to the content of the story, I see it as essentially moral in keeping with my Christian faith. The "Carl" character is a likable scalliwag, gaining with enviable ease the affection and trust of the older Wolf Cub boys as well as the Cub leaders, of Margaret Jankel and Mrs O'Brien, of Nevine and many other school friends. And yet, he makes a conscious choice to abuse the trust of others, including Robert Graham, and his Bedford Park friend/rival, also called Robert. By doing so, he creates a feud between his family and Robert's, where they had previously been close, and were thankfully to become so again. He aggressively asserts the superiority of certain Pop groups, and takes part in street fights which result in injury and suffering. Pretentious as it may seem, I like to view him as a symbol for the changing times in mid-sixties Britain, as the old post-war Albion with its sweet shops and bomb shelters, short trousers and ovalteenies yielded by degrees to a new, less innocent world with a Beat music soundtrack.
All the incidents depicted in the tale definitely took place, although certain mild inaccuracies that my '77 self may or may not have included have to be taken into account. What's more, a certain amount of exaggeration crept into my writing in the the very last section. For example, "hoodlum" is far too strong a word to use when referring to a few small boys causing mayhem in a quiet west London suburb. At least, I think it is...
I remember the 20th Chiswick Wolf Cub pack, how I loved those Wednesday evenings, the games, the pomp and seriousness of the camps, the different coloured scarves, sweaters and hair during the mass meetings, the solemnity of my enrolment, being helped up a tree by an older boy, Baloo, or Kim, or someone, to win my Athletics badge, winning my first star, my two year badge, and my swimming badge with its frog symbol, the kindness of the older boys.
One Saturday afternoon, after a football match during which I dirtied my boots by standing around as a sub in the mud, and my elbow by tripping over a loose shoelace, an older boy offered to take me home. We walked along streets, through subways crammed with rowdies, white or West Indian, in black gym shoes. "Shud up!" my friend would cheerfully yell, and they did.
"We go' a ge' yer 'oame, ain' we mite, ay?"
"Yes. Where exactly are you taking me?" I asked.
"The bus stop at Chiswick 'Oigh Stree' is the best plice, oi reck'n."
"Yes, but not on Chiswick High Street," I said, starting to sniff.
"You be oroight theah, me lil' mite."
I was not convinced. The uncertainty of my ever getting home caused me to start to bawl,
and I was still hollering as we mounted the bus. I remember the sudden turning of heads. It must have been quite astonishing, for a peaceful busload of passengers to have their everyday lives suddenly intruded upon by a group of distressed looking wolf cubs, one of whom, the smallest was howling red-faced with anguish for some undetermined reason. After some moments, my friend, his brow furrowed with regret, as if he had done me some terrible wrong, said:
"I'm gonna drop you off where your dad put you on."
Within seconds, the clouds dispersed, and my damp cheeks beamed. Then, I spied a street I recognised from the bus window, and got up, grinning with all my might:
"This'll do," I said.
"Wai', Carl," cried my friend, "are you shoa vis is 'oroigh'?"
"Yup!" I said, walking off the bus. I was still grinning as I spied my friend's anxious face in the glinting window of the bus as it moved down the street.
One Wednesday evening, when Top of the Pops was being broadcast instead of on Thursday, I was rather reluctant to go to Cubs, and was more than unusually uncooperative with my father as he tried to help me find my cap, which had disappeared.
Frustrated, he put on his coat and quietly opened the door. I stepped outside into the icy atmosphere wearing only a pair of underpants, and to my horror, he got into his black citroen and drove off. I darted down Esmond Road crying and shouting. My tearful howling was heard by Elisabeth, the 19 year old daughter of Mrs Jankel, the philanthropic Jewish lady whom my mother used to help with the care and entertainment of Thalidomide children. Helen Jankel expended so much energy on feeling for others that when my mother tried to get in touch with her in the mid 70s, she seemed too exhausted to be enthusiastic and quite understandably for Mrs O'Brien her cleaning lady and friend for the main part of her married life had recently been killed in a road accident. I remember that kind and beautiful Irish lady, her charm, happiness and sweetness, she was the salt of the earth. She threatened to "ca-rrown" (crown) me...when I went away to school...if I wrote her not...
Elisabeth picked me up and carried me back to my house. I immediately put on my uniform as soon as Margaret had gone home, left a note for my Pa, and went myself to Cubs. When Pa arrived to pick me up, the whole ridiculous story was told to Akela, Baloo and Kim, much to my shame.
The year was 1963, the year of the Beatles, of singing yeah, yeah in the car, of twisting in the playground, of "I'm a Beatlemaniac, are you?"
That year, I was very prejudiced against an American boy Robert Graham who later became my friend. I used to attack him for no reason at all, like a dog does, just to assert my superiority. One day, he gave me a rabbit punch in the stomach and I made such a fuss that my little girlfriend Nevine wanted to escort me to the safety of our teacher Mademoiselle Brachet, hugging me, and kissing me intermittently on my forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks. She forced me to see her:
"Carl didn't do a thing," said Nevine, "and Robert came up an gave him four rabbit punches in the stomach".
Robert Graham, pronounced in French like Gramme the unit of weight, and that's how I used to refer to this new boy, was not penalised, for Mademoiselle Brachet knew what a little demon I was, no matter how hurt and innocent I looked, tearful, with my tail between my legs.
By the end of '63, I was frequently involving myself in arguments with people who tried to say that some secondary Beat combo or another was destined to swamp the Beatles. No, I disagreed. Only one new group truly roused my interest, though not immediately for I was disappointed by a rough and sullen performance of "Not Fade Away" on Top of the Pops, having heard so much about the Rolling Stones. Public opinion, however, swayed me, and discussing Pop music at the end of '64 with some of the new breed of English roses with their mini-skirts, kinky boots and Marianne Faithfull tresses or Twiggy crops, the Rolling Stones were my new favourites. I loved the martyr Mick, bathed in light with surly, ever-defiant lips, surrounded by his frenzied slaves.
Bedford Park was a semi-Bohemian, artistic quarter of London on the outskirts of a rough district of the western suburbs, Acton. Therefore, my boyhood surroundings were half Boheme and half hoodlum. The hoodlum influence was stronger than the artistic, which could account for the frequent street feuds, stone and stick and dirt fights that took place, and the day I stole magazines out of my neighbours' letterboxes, and mutilated them, before putting them back, and the day I informed my best friend's mother, from one end of the street to the other that "Robert was a _______ _______". Those words caused a long and furious confrontation to take place between Robert's mother and mine on the doorstep of our house...
Frightful day, which I regret...even to this one...
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:09PM
4 Gambolling Baby Boomers
"Gambolling Baby Boomers", the first of a series of seventies-themed pieces, tells how I came to be conditioned by my environment in the early 1970s after leaving Pangbourne College, a traditional British public school of military kind situated near the little Thameside village of Pangbourne in Berkshire. I'd been a boarder there between about the 9th of September 1968 and the last day of the summer term, 1972. It was first published as "Genesis of a Gentleman" at Blogster.com on the 10th of March 2006. In July 2007, it was subject to further minor variations, which persisted until the April of the following year.
The Nautical College, Pangbourne
Pangbourne was founded in 1917 as Pangbourne Nautical College, originally preparing boys aged ca. 13 to 18 to be officers in the Merchant Navy, and then the Royal Navy.
I joined in September 1968 as Cadet Carl Halling RNR. I was only 12 years old, making me probably the youngest serving officer in the entire Royal Navy at the time. The college was still known by its original title of the Nautical College Pangbourne, but by 1969 this had been abbreviated to Pangbourne College. However, the boys retained their officer status and spent much of their time in full naval officers' uniform. What's more, naval discipline continued to be enforced, with Pangbourne providing the hardships both of a military college and a traditional English boarding school. In 1996, she became fully co-educational.
The Pangbourne I knew had strong links to the Church of England, and so was marked by regular if not daily classes in what was known as Divinity, morning parade ground prayers, evening prayers, and compulsory chapel on Sunday morning. If you missed any of these you would have been seriously punished, although not necessarily with the cane. I was however beaten on numerous occasions although with never more than four cuts, or swishes of the cane. I was heavily disciplined from my very first term in fact; but I'd like to go on record as saying that I'm indebted to Pangbourne for the values it instilled in me if only unconsciously. They were after all the same values that once made Britain strong and great; and yet, by the time I joined Pangbourne, they were under siege as never before by the so-called counterculture. While failing to fully understand the implications of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s, I passionately celebrated its consequences, and took to my heart many of its icons both artistic and political, Che Guevara being a special idol of mine for a good amount of time.
This Glam Rock Nation
In the summer of 1972, it was mutually decided between my poor dad and those directly responsible for me at Pangbourne that I leave after a year in the fifth form and four years in the college itself.
My parents, brother and I had moved to a largely working class suburb some dozen miles from the centre of London at the turn of the decade, which made me something of a fish out of water once I was finally freed from Pangbourne. After all, I was no longer either in west London where I grew up, nor at the boarding school that had been my whole world for four long years and where I'd formed some of the deepest friendships of my life.
1972 could be said to be the year in which the seventies really began as the excitement surrounding the alternative society and its happenings and be-ins and love-ins and free festivals and so on started to fade into recent history. As for me, I couldn't wait to get to grips with the dismal new decade even if for the first two years, I'd despised the rise of the new commercial chart Pop and its teenybop idols. I was of the school of Hard and Progressive Rock...Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and so on. But I was changing. For better or worse, this was going to be my decade. In late '72, I saw former Bubblegum band the Sweet on a long-forgotten teenage programme called "Lift off with Ayesha", and with all the passion of a recent enemy I fell in love with their new tacky camp image, all eye-shadow and silver stack-heeled boots. Several months later a certain Rock chameleon appeared on the chat show Russell Harty Plus in January 1973 with his eyebrows shaved off and my devotion to the strange culture taking over the land making even former skinheads want to look like Charlie George or some other flash dressing hard man became total. So many popular songs of the era were like football chants set to a stomping Glam Rock beat. It was was the golden age of the long-haired boot boy and every street seemed to me to be pregnant with menace in this Glam Rock nation, as if the spirit of Weimar Berlin with its unholy mix of violence and decadence had been resurrected in stuffy old England. It was a terrible time to be young; but I of course loved it, lapped it up.
In late '72 I was launched by my dad on an intensive hothouse programme of self-improvement. I studied various martial arts at the Judokan in Hammersmith, west London. Among my fellow students were shaggy-haired hard cases who may have been influenced by the prevailing fashion for all things eastern, what with the cult of Bruce Lee and so on. Some of them had feather cuts. I also went to swimming classes at a local baths. I had a fierce crush on one of my fellow swimmers, she looked a bit like a Skin girl with her cute short haircut, but my heart wasn't in the swimming, and one of the teachers told me so, wondering why I was wasting my time even turning up. She had a point. I learned how to play basic Rock guitar from Gary Verth, a kindly soft-spoken man who taught Rock guitar from his little house near the Thames in suburban Surrey, and who looked so square with his short back and sides and baggy dad-style trousers; but he loved his Rock'n'Roll. He taught me the basis of the Rock solo, which involved going up and down the Blues scale in whatever key you chose. I was as lazy as they came, but I probably learned more from that man about the guitar than anyone, with the possible exception of a Pangbourne friend called Steve, whose songs I stole with their simple chord progressions...C, A minor, F, G and back again to C and so on. And then there was Deep Purple's "Black Night", whose simple bluesy riff I'd once played to a pal at Pangbourne, at which point the kid turned to whoever else was present and announced something: "Hey guys, we've got a natural here!". Also through home study and with the help oflocal private tutors I set about making up for the fact that I'd left school early at 16 with only two GCE (General Certificate of Education) exams to my name; at ordinary level, of course, which is why they were called "O" levels. Then in late '72 I joined the London Division of the Royal Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, attending classes once a week on HMS President on the Embankment. At some point soon after this, some of the older ratings, Able Seamen perhaps, or Killicks (Leading Seamen) made some remarks about my looks, implying that I was the new shipboard pretty boy or something. I think this came as a surprise to me, but I was flattered rather than offended, as if a seed of narcissism had somehow become implanted within me in late adolescence. The effect this had on my healthy development as a normal male human being must surely have been disastrous.
The Innocence of pre-Movida Spain
The dreamy, introspective aspect of my nature became increasingly marked in 1972-73, and I fantasised about fame and adulation as Rock or movie star as never before, and so throughout '73 built an image based on one of my greatest Glam Rock idols, spiking my hair like him, and then even peroxiding it at some point. Given this over-refinement, I didn't really fit in in my new home town at first, unlike my brother who was far more suited to the area with his strong London acccent and laddish ways, and he wasted little time in becoming part of a local youth scene. However, I came into my own in Spain, or rather Santiago de la Ribera on the Mar Menor near Murcia, where the family had been vacationing since about 1968. I think it was towards the end of my summer '73 holiday that I finally started to be noticed in a big way by the local youth, most from either Murcia or Madrid, and so la Ribera became vital to me in terms of my becoming a social being among members of both sexes. A group of us became very close and remained so for four summers running. Spain was such a sweet and friendly nation back then in the relatively innocent early seventies, and the youth of La Ribera as happy and carefree as I imagine southern Californians would have been in the pre-Beatles sixties. It was really a great time, and probably signalled the start for me of a lifelong love affair with the Spain and the Spanish people, indeed with Latin and continental Europe as a whole.
In the early 1970s, everything seemed to be mine for the knowing, for the tasting, for the taking. It was a time of constant, frenetic change and I greedily eyed the fruits of a revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged on my behalf in the sixties. I was soon to feast on them...never once considering the welfare of those fated to follow in my wake, to come to maturity in a world in which baby-boomers like me had lately gambolled like so many senseless, sensuous fauns. Pity their poor souls.
Pangbourne, 1972. Photo: Peter Kingsford.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:08PM
5 Innocence in Hamburg
"Innocence in Hamburg", the second piece in a series of seventies-themed writings takes place in 1973 and 1974 in a variety of locations. Among these are London and its suburbs, the French city of Bordeaux, Murcia's Costa Calida, and the port of Hamburg, current capital of the German province of Schleswig-Holstein. It was first published (at Blogster) on the 26th of March 2006 as "A Dandy in the Land of Blue Denim 1". Allowing for further minor corrections, a final version was published at the blog.co.uk website in January 2008.
Toilers of the Thames
1973 was the year of my first voyage as an Ordinary Seaman with the RNR onboard the minesweeper HMS Thames. Late in the summer it set out for Bordeaux in Gironde in the south west of France. I was just seventeen years old. During the trip I made my best-ever RNR friend in the shape of a fellow OD Colin who called me only a few years ago from his east London home to talk about old memories, including the time we became trapped by a gang of mangy-looking stray dogs late at night in la Rochelle in 1975 while searching for our ship after a wild night spent with locals at a bar, then a night club. Although Colin and I already knew each other quite well by the beginning of the trip. Even more recently, another good RNR friend Taffy, who sailed with us to La Rochelle via the Ile de Re got in touch with me though Blogster. He could have knocked me over with a feather; after all the last time I'd seen him was close by to Waterloo Station when I was on my way to the Old Vic as an actor in the summer of 1980. Colin and his fiancee came to see the show, Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", shortly afterwards, but I can't say how long. However, he did mention having spoken to Taff, who was his best friend. But I digress. On with the story.
I also became quite friendly with one of the most unlikely pair of cronies I ever came across in the RNR or anywhere else. One half of the partnership was Jimmy, a tough-talking but essentially kind-hearted working class loner and ladies' man of about 23 who was rumoured to be a permanent year-long resident of HMS Thames. The other was a far older man, possibly in his mid thirties, but just as wildly convivial as Jim even though he boasted the super-posh accent and patrician manner of a City stockbroker or merchant banker.
Jimmy took me under his wing with a certain intimidating affection: "We'll make a ruffy tuffy sailor of you you yet!" he once told me, even though we both knew that that I'd never be anything other than the most pathetically effete sailor in the civilised world. There was one occasion below deck during some kind of conference when, after having been asked by an officer what I thought of minesweeping, I replied that it was a gas...another when the ship had been prepared for a major manoeuvre and everyone onboard had retreated to their respective allotted positions, when I was found wandering on deck in a daze only to casually announce that I was taking a stroll. Incidents like these made me an object of good-humoured banter on the part of Jimmy and others.
The crew spent its final night together in a night club in the port of Portsmouth, although it might just as easily have been Plymouth. The main attraction was a limp-wristed drag queen who tried desperately to keep us entertained by singing cabaret style numbers in a comic falsetto, and telling bawdy jokes in a deep rich baritone, only to be savagely heckled. At one point she turned her attention to me, or rather I think it was me. I was trying to hide at the time, it being one of those rare occasions when I was wearing glasses and I hated the look of myself in the cheap horn-rimmed specs that were the only pair I had in those days. Myopia always made me feel somehow defective, incomplete; so I refused to wear glasses except for when I really needed them until I was well into my thirties. "Ooh...you look pretty, what's your name?", the cross-dresser might have trilled. "Skin!" was what some of the sailors bellowed back, this being a nickname of mine, perhaps as in "a bit of skin" or something. It's all a bit of a blur to me now.
Before too long, the bearded sailor seated next to me had collapsed face down onto the table with a thunderous crash. Only a short time earlier, he'd performed the theme from "William Tell" on his facial cheeks while I held the mike for him. I'm not certain whether he ever appeared as a musician in public again, but he was certainly a star that night.
A Dandy in the Land of Blue Denim
Back onshore, I resumed my growing passion for louche and shady music, art and culture. Some time in 1974, however, I turned away from what I now saw as the old hat tackiness of Glam Rock, convinced that Modernist outrage had nowhere left to go. Instead, I turned my devotion to the more stylish glamour of previous eras and particularly the twenties and thirties. At some point in '74, I started using hair cream to slick my hair back in the style of F Scott Fitzgerald, sometimes parting it in the centre just as Fitz had done. I also built up a new retro wardrobe, which came to include a Gatsby style tab-collared shirt, often worn with black and white college-style tie; several cravats and neck scarves; a navy blue blazer from Meakers; a fair isle short-sleeved sweater; a pair of grey flannel trousers from Simpsons of Piccadilly, a pair of two-tone brown and white, or "correspondant", shoes; and a belted fawn raincoat straight out of a forties film noir.
As the seventies progressed I became more and more entranced by the continental Europe of recent times, and specifically its leading cities, as beacons of revolutionary art; and of style, luxury and dissolution. Certain key eras became very special to me, such as the 1890s, known as the Yellow Decade in England, and the Mauve in the US, Belle Epoque Paris, Jazz Age New York, and Weimar Republic Berlin.
There were those cutting edge Rock and Pop artists who appeared to share my European love affair, such as Sparks and Manhattan Transfer, and Britain's own favourite lounge lizard Bryan Ferry. Much of the latter's work with his band Roxy Music was haunted by the languid cafe and cabaret music of the continent's immediate past. What's more, some of Roxy's followers sported the kind of nostalgic apparel favoured by Ferry himself, but they were rare creatures in mid-seventies London. As for me, I wore my bizarre outdated costumes in arrogant defiance of the continuing ubiquity of long hair and flared jeans. In 1975, I attended a concert at west London's Queen's Park football stadium in striped boating blazer and white trousers, while surrounded by hirsute relics from the Hippie era. The headliners were my one-time favourites Yes, whose "Relayer" album I'd bought the year before; but my passion for Prog Rock was a thing of the past. I'd moved on since '71, that is, towards far greater love of darkness and loss of innocence.
Take to the Sky
It was while I was sitting Spanish "O" level in June 1974 in central London that I became deeply infatuated with a pretty slim Dutch girl called Maria. She didn't look Dutch, in fact, with her tanned complexion and long dark brown hair, she was Meditteranean in physical appearance, and even had the name to match. It was probably Maria who first approached me, because I was so unconfident around girls in those days that I would never have made the first move. Over the course of the next few days, I fell ever deeper in love, but I didn't have the courage to make my feelings known to her. This was so typical of me, to assume an attitude of diffident indifference when confronted by something or someone I truly desired. So, once we'd completed our final paper, I allowed her to walk away from me forever with a casual "I might see you around", or some other cliche of that kind.
For a week or thereabouts, I took the train into London and spent the days wandering around the city centre in the truly desperate hope of bumping into her. One time I could have sworn I saw her staring coolly back at me from an underground train, possibly at South Kensington or Notting Hill Gate, just as the doors were closing, but typically I was powerless to act, and simply stood there like a lovesick loon as the train drew away from the station. In time of course, my infatuation faded, but even to this day certain songs will recall for me those few weeks in the summer of '74 that I spent in hopeless pursuit of a woman I didn't even know. They include Sweet Soul standards, "I Just Don't Want to be Lonely" by The Main Ingredient, and "Natural High" by Bloodstone, with its pathetic lines: "Why do I keep my mind on you all the time, and I don't even know you, why do I feel this way, thinking about you every day, and I don't even know you..."
Later on in the summer I found myself once again in Santiago de La Ribera by the Mar Menor or little sea, this being a large coastal lake of warm saltwater off Murcia's Costa Calida in southeastern Spain, and the summer of '74 was one of the most blissfully happy summers I spent there. Every afternoon, we used to meet on the balnario or jetty facing our apartment on the Mar Menor which was more or less deserted after lunch, that's myself and my brother, and Spanish friends both male and female, to listen to music and talk and laugh and swim and generally enjoy being young and carefree in a decade of endless possibilities. To some youthful Spanish eyes back in '74-'76, I appeared as an almost impossibly exotic figure from what seemed to them to be the most radical and daring city in Europe, which of course London was. I played up to my racy image to the hilt, where in truth I was barely less sheltered and innocent than they were. All this was to change with Franco's passing, and the birth of the so-called Movida, which could be said to be the Spanish and specifically Madridian equivalent of London's Swinging Sixties revolution. During the Movida, Spain set about sophisticating itself to the extent that on my last vacation in La Ribera in the summer of '84, it was I who was in awe of the local youth rather than the other way around. They'd become so intimidatingly cool, dancing their strange jerky chicken wing dance to the latest New Pop hits from Britain. By then of course most of my old friends had vanished into their young adult lives, and my time as the dashing English prince of Santiago de la Ribera had long passed. I was yesterday's man, and I was sad about it, but I couldn't expect to be chased forever. Some people have to actually grow up.
An Innocent in Hamburg
I returned to London in late summer '74 with a deep tan and hair bleached bright yellow by the sun, and hanging long over my ears and down over my forehead. Within days I found myself on HMS President, moored then as today on the Embankment near Temple station. This entailed my passing through Waterloo mainline station, which wasn't tourist-friendly as it is today, with its cafes and baguette bars, but a dingy intimidating place complete with pub and old-style barber. There I was I was accosted by a hoary old Scotsman, a former sailor who kept going on about how good looking I was. He even told me that he loved me; but he was harmless...just a sweet lonely old guy who wanted someone to talk to for a few minutes, which I was happy to do and then move on. It was all very innocent. I even went so far as to agree to a meeting with him the same time the following week, not that I had any intention of keeping it.
Only days afterwards, HMS Thames was on its way to Hamburg, second largest city of Germany and its principle port. Once we'd arrived, one of the NCOs, a Chief Petty Officer I think advised me not to wander alone in the city. I duly fell in with a group of about three or four, and on our first night ashore we set off on a voyage into parts of the city such as the red light district St Pauli with its infamous Reeperbahn, the so-called "sinful mile" which is lined with restaurants, discos and dives, as well as strip clubs, sex shops, bordellos and so on. On St Pauli streets and in St Paul bars I saw things I'd never even suspected could exist. It was all in such stark contrast to the pleasant outer suburbs to which a coach trip was organised at some point during our run ashore. We ended up in a park where I had my picture taken on a bridge by a reporter for the Surrey Comet; then a group of breathless giggling schoolgirls asked me to be in some photos with them. I of course said yes, ever happy to oblige, and it was a bit of an ego boost for me, as if I needed one. On the way back to the ship, one of the sailors remarked that I'd been a hit with the Hamburg teenyboppers, while another snapped back that it was only because I was blond and blue-eyed, Teutonic-looking in other words. Whatever the truth, there was something deeply moving about these sweet suburban girls and their simple unaffected joy of life, especially in the light of what girls barely older than they were subjecting themselves to in the sad lost northern Babylon of only a matter of miles away.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:06PM
6 An English Seaside Town
This third story in a series of seventies-themed pieces was built in February-March 2006 from scribblings committed to a notebook in 1978-'79, and concerning events that took place in the summer of 1974. I adapted it word for word, although when it came to some passages, I selected crossed out words or series of words rather than those I'd chosen in the late 1970s. What's more, certain sentences were formed by fusing portions of the original sentences together. The structure of the story has been altered, and the punctuation changed and greatly improved on; and I edited out words, sentences, whole passages.
The principle character was called Kris, not Carl, in the first version. However, all the other characters have kept the names I originally chose for them then, which is not say that they were the names of the real people on which they were based. These have completely vacated my memory.
As far as I know everything depicted in "Seaside Town" actually occured; although, given that I was writing in '78 or '79 about things that took place some five years previously, the original conversations would of course been quite different to how they turned out on paper. What's more, some exaggeration may have crept into my writings, particularly concerning the quantities of alcohol consumed by my character, although I doubt it. I have no recollection whatsoever of the events of the last nineteen lines of the story, which leads me to believe that they were tacked on for dramatic effect in the late '70s.
The story as a whole takes place in "a certain English coastal town" which I'm pretty convinced was Lymington, a port on the Solent in the New Forest district of Hampshire. However, it was initially published as "An Old Pangbournian in Old Bosham" on March 3rd 2006, Bosham being a small village situated three miles west of Chichester, West Sussex, on an inlet of Chichester Harbour. Why I changed Lymington to Bosham I can't say for sure, but it may have been a genuine mistake on my part. What is certain is that "Seaside Town" was based on real events, rather than being a genuine fragment from a memoir.
Morally sensitive readers will discern intimations of eventual disaster in the borderline dipsomania of the protagonist Carl which given his tender age, is necessarily in its earliest stages. My story however is as much a little slice of history from a simpler age as anything more serious, and one which I hope will serve as an entertainment as well as a morality tale. It finishes on an upbeat note, at the beginning of yet another spell of pleasure-seeking for Carl, and yet as I recall I actually ended the night jumping into the filthy oily waters of the town harbour.
The definitive version was published at Blog.co.uk on the 6th of January 2008.
In an English Seaside Town
The remainder of 1974 was a bizarre and frantic segment of Carl's life. In July, his father made yet another effort to tame him, by sending him on a yachting course in a certain English coastal town. The owner of the yacht was an old Pangbournian, who also ran a sailing school. Carl stayed at a guest house owned by Mrs C-C, one of those wonderful elderly widows that inhabit our so English sailing towns all along the south coast, always charming but slightly aloof, immaculately spoken, calm, kind and considerate. There he met Jules, a Belgian boy of about twenty years, Mr Watson and his son Alan. None of these four were on the same course, but they nevertheless became very close. Alan liked to listen to the older boy's theories on music, fashion and life:
"Hey Carl, do you think if I put brilliantine in my hair, I'd look like Ferry. Now Ferry is totally smooth."
First day Carl discovered who was on his course: there was Colin, aged 28, who was cool, tall, dark and moustachio'd, wearing large and dark-framed specatcles, viewing Carl's whimsicality with considerable suspicion; but vaguely sociable, Reg a genial old boy of about sixty, Bill and Peg, a thoroughly agreeable married couple, and the Captain. That evening, Carl and Colin, a man who had struggled from alleged want to the positon of an urban executive, had dinner together. Mr Watson and Alan were dining in the same restaurant:
"Look at that boy," Colin said, nodding as discreetly as he could in Alan's direction, "such a smooth complexion".
Carl made them laugh, dressed in blazer, flannels and white shoes with hair elegantly brilliantined, stuffing pieces of bread into his pockets like an impoverished student. He also made the Captain laugh the next day:
"Take the helm, Carl," the skipper ordered, "steer 350."
"Mmm...this is nice," Carl cooed, "what a lovely day, I like this."
"Oooh, you thing," the Skipper joked, for which Carl booted him up the backside, which made the Skipper titter with delighted disbelief.
Next day, Carl lost his temper with Colin, who had goaded him for wrongly plotting a course. The Captain's pupils, after an initial briefing, were expected to discover how to navigate for themselves:
"Oh shut up," Carl bitched, "let's see you do better!"
"Ooh, you thing!" the Captain interjected, with even more glee than before.
That evening, Carl organised an informal get-together between the sailing and the yachting people. Present were Carl, Colin, Jules, Alan, and four or five other sailing men, including Gareth, the course whizz-kid.
"He comes alive in the evening this boy," said Colin, "summoned by an alcoholic deity."
"I'm not an alcoholic, Colin..." Carl replied.
"You drink three pints to to my one," Colin countered, "so you've certainly got potential."
"Nonsense, as I was saying, Gareth, how long have you had long hair?"
"What...long hair? What's that got to do with anything...is my hair long...I don't know anything about that."
"Do you realise twenty years ago with your hair as it is, although it's only just surpassing the ears, you would have been hounded, persecuted, beaten, for being a deviant, a freak, are you trying to ignore that?
"And you would have been accepted?"
"Oh yes," said Carl, "knife edge pressed flannels, blue blazer, white V neck pullover, open neck shirt and cravat, a bit sporty, I suppose, but utterly acceptable."
"Safe? That's something I never am, safe."
"Well, quite frankly, I think you look ridiculous"
At this statement, Carl burst into laughter. His laughter was like no other, shrill, unearthly, it violently assaulted the quiet clientele of the soft-carpeted yacht club, a laugh that seemed to emit from the hideous depths themselves.
Gareth, fighting to contain gleeful hysteria and thus conserve respectability, had gone a redder shade of tomato, and Colin quivering with laughter hid his face in mock-shame:
"I disown him," he gibbered, "he's insane, insane."
Gradually the hilarity subsided:
"How do you get those bracelets on your wrist?" Colin queried.
"Easily," Carl boasted, exhibiting his arms, "I have very slender, graceful wrists."
"Let me see..." Colin whispered, and Carl gave him a bracelet. Soon that bracelet was being passed around the entire group, each member attempting, often with great difficulty to put the bracelet on their own wrist. Presently, the bracelet was back in Carl's possession, and with horror, he observed that it had been mutilated.
"My bracelet," he cried, "how could you all! I entrusted it to you and you've twisted and bent it."
The group stared at Carl, not knowing whether to look sincerely sorry or merely laugh at his distress, and settled for a nervous cross between the two. After a moment spent in this atmosphere, Jules dispersed it by requesting to see the injured bracelet.
"Let me see eet," he said, "I weel try to feex eet."
Carl handed him the bracelet. Everyone was hushed as the Belgian contemplated it, touched it, turned it round, rattled it, and finally, with considerable calm, placed it on the floor. He scratched his head, as if trying to settle on a decision, which resulted in his extracting his shoe. Carl, trying to preserve his cool, took a cigarette from his case, a cigarette which, once lit, fell from his slim white hand as a crack like a tree struck by lightning echoed throughout the thunderstruck clubhouse. Carl's eyes were suddenly attracted from the fallen fag to Jules, who was raising his right arm, at the end of which was one shoe, profuse with studs, and bringing it to the ground with all his strength at regular intervals. It took Carl some time before he knew what the reason was for all the secretive sniggering that went on around him: his bracelet was the victim of these vicious shoe attacks which were supposed to be rather brutally persuading it to revert to its original shape.
"Oh come on, it's not funny," he moaned, reaching out to take the bracelet which a grinning Jules held out for him. He stared woefully at the shattered remains but oddly enough, the bracelet had not disintegrated, in fact, had not altered from its original, slightly misshapen state.
"Eet ees all right, Carle," Jules suddenly chuckled, "I was eeting ze floor wiz my shoe, not your brezlet."
Carl looked at Jules, looked at his bracelet, looked at the other lads, then his eyes started to sparkle, his throat to gurgle, and then it all escaped:
"Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi..."
"I'm not with him!"
"We'll get thrown out!"
As the stunned salts recovered from Carl's falsetto assault of high-pitched shrieks, he told them:
"Come on, drink up, lads, let's go where the action is, let's go and find a party or something!"
"No, it's not worth it," said Gareth, "we're having a good time here. You're a real laugh Carl, just as long as you don't go too far. We might as well stay"
"Not me. I'm getting outa here. Need a change of atmosphere. Who's coming?"
"Yeah...might as well." Colin volunteered
"Me too..." the boy from Belgium followed suit.
As the ink-black of night seeped through the crystal-like clarity of day and dyed it a dark colour, another day died away...
"Lonely, isn't it?" Carl suggested.
The others agreed. They headed along the main road. Carl did his manic laugh to each car that roared by often standing right in its path of travel.
"That Belgian girl in your group is nice, Jules isn't she?"
"Oh yes," said Jules, "eef only 'er farzer weren't wiz 'er all ze time."
"Hey, who's going for a walk 'round Bosham town?"
Colin and Jules volunteered, and the trio turned a corner.
The girls were blonde, standing in a sea of darkness. Female company was exactly what Carl and Jules needed.The Dutch courage of numbers gave vent to a number of groundless verbal coquettries, mainly coming from Carl. The two girls followed this trail of littered pleasantries to the water's edge and then persevered onto a pier. Carl followed them, an unlit cigarette in his left hand.
"Can I have a light, please?" he said, looking intently at one then the other of the two young ladies; one was slim and petite, the other was tall and thin, wearing shoulder-length blonde hair. "Well, shall I stay here or go and join my friends?"
"Stay here," mumbled the smaller of the two sweet Cockney sparrows almost inaudibly.
"Pardon?" said Carl and both girls answered by smiling coyly. There was a minute's pause.
"Well, I'll see ya then," Carl finally said.
As the trio moved down the street, the two girls followed.
"Why don't you turn around?" Colin suddenly said.
"Why?" said Carl.
"They like you"
"Course they do. If you can't see that, you're more short-sighted than I thought you were."
At this, Carl turned around.
"There's a predatory look in your eyes, girls," he said.
"Oh, not to worry. Wha's yer names?"
"My name's Julie," said the waiflike one, "and this is Sue...what's yours, baby?"
"Why do you call me baby?"
"'Cos you look like one," they both answered.
"I happen to be all of eighteen years old!" Carl said with mock indignance.
"Are you eighteen?" Sue asked.
"Tha's right, why, don' I look it?"
"We fought you was abaht twen'y..."
"Really? Well I'm eighteen and my name's Carl"
"Wha's your name?" Sue asked Jules.
"My nem is Jules..."
"Where are you from?" Sue asked Carl.
"You sahnd Ameri'an or somefing."
"Well, I am half-Canadian."
"Oh, that would explain it," Julie resolved.
"Why," Carl went on, "where do you girls come from?"
"We come from London as well, south."
"What are you doing down 'ere?"
"We're spendin' a few days on 'er dad's boat," Sue said, pointing at Julie.
"Has your dad got a boat?" Carl said, with vague suprise.
"A yacht! Not just any old boat. Don' come from any old family, I don'."
"She's a cute one, she is..." said Carl.
The three males once again continued on their path and the two females once again followed, this time, more clamorously, in fact took to kicking a can at them to make their point.
"I weesh Colin were not 'ere," Jules whispered into Carl's ear.
"Colin's presence is disconcerting them."
As soon as Jules had finished talking, the two girls turned a corner:
"See ya, then!" they shouted.
"Bye, Carl darling!"
"I wonder where zey went?" said Jules
"I shouldn't worry about it, you've got your Belgian girl"
Came the second to last day and a trip for both the yacht and the dinghy party to the Isle of Wight. Carl was determined to get to know some of the girls on the course a little better. He asked Alan what he thought about some of the female monitors:
"How about Jane, for example?"
"She's too old for me. Why she was ten years in the WRNS."
"She's always nice to me."
"Sally's a pretty girl."
Yes, Carl liked Sally and determined to talk to her on this little excursion. Lunch was in a Yarmouth public house where slender men in double-breasted reefer jackets, flannels and sailing shoes would go between sails. Some wore white trousers, some wore R.A.F moustaches and some even wore bow ties; their ladies dressed in slacks, large navy-blue pull-overs and silk scarves. In the evening, they would all be in full evening wear.
Back in port again, cutting across a nearby lawn, he met the natural and rosy-cheeked Sally:
"Hello." She said with a smile that brought beauty to a face which was free of glamourising paint.
"Hello," Carl answered, where are you going?"
"Back to my room."
"Oh...hey, apparently there's a get-together tonight, you know, a few drinks, a bit of dancing, a lot of laughs, are you going?"
"I don't know, I..."
"Oh, go on. I'm going..."
Sally looked at Carl, dressed in sweater and brown cords and sneakers, his yellow-brown hair ruffled, and thought: what a sweet chap.
"Well...okay," she said, "I suppose I'll go...uh...this is where I turn off."
"See you tonight then."
"Yes, bye...hey wait! Do you know my name?"
"Yes, of course I do, Carl, bye!"
Back at the guest house, the clock struck five and Carl was all-a-spruce, taking tea with Mrs C-C, who would have been deeply outraged if anyone suggested that Carl was anything but a kind, courteous and thoroughly likable young man, who had but one fault, forgetfulness. She was supposed to charge for each packed lunch forgotten, but never did in Carl's case, even if he was the only one who ever forgot his lunch. It must be said, however, that it was difficult not to be thoroughly likable in the presence of this distinguished, well-preserved and attractive middle-aged woman.
Carl and Jules and Colin set out together for the dance. On the way, they stopped in a pub.
"Half of bitter!" Colin ordered.
"Half a shandy!" Jules ordered.
"Double scotch!" Carl ordered and then ten minutes later, "double scotch!"
"Nothing for me!" Said Colin.
"'Alf o' shandy!" Jules ordered.
"Pint of bitter!" Carl ordered ten minutes later.
"Come on Carl, let's go." Colin said.
"We mus' go," Jules said.
"Drink up!" Colin ordered. "We don't want you in a disordered state before the dance, do we?"
Carl swallowed his pint and the three departed. Arriving at the lieu reserved for the evening's festivities, they sat down at a communal table. Carl's blue spotted eyeballs slid from side to side in an effort to register Sally's exact position. They found her, sitting next to a slim, smart but casually dressed young man with light blonde collar length hair and beard. He got up and approached the pair.
"Hello, Sally," he said, with a slightly reproachful look in his eyes.
"Hello," she said, slightly taken aback, especially as he was no longer the sweet, tousle headed gamin of that afternoon but a world-weary and rakish looking youth.
"Do you want a drink?" he asked.
"Er, no thanks," she said, "but I will have one later on."
"Okay then," the disappointed youth said, and he turned around and made his way to the bar.
"Double scotch!" He ordered, and then ten minutes later, "double scotch!"
Sally appeared to be less and less able to back away from her admirer's nose, leading the way below two amorously lit little eyes and above two fatuously cooing lips. Carl took a large slug of the weighty liquid that lay in his glass thereby emptying it. Then, he decided to step in and putting the glass down made straight for the couple.
"Oh hello, Carl," Sally said, suddenly looking up with a grateful smile whose sun-like radiance quickly darkened as soon as the youth's apparent drunkenness dawned on her.
Tapped on the shoulder and led away by Gareth, he was taken, across the room and seated next to Captain Aubyn-H at a long table populated entirely by the latter's set.
"Hello, Carl," the Captain said, "you look a bit excited...fancy a drink?"
"Yes. Pint of bitter, please."
"Pint of water? Right."
Mainly for the benefit of Gareth, who was sitting opposite him, Carl filled the room with his manic laugh, which was greeted by looks of intimidated derision.
"No, Carl," said Gareth, "you're just not funny this evening."
"Not funny? If I ain't even funny, then what am I?"
Carl got up, rather slowly, and walked, just as slowly and wordlessly to the door, opened it, then stepped into the warm summer's night...where there were no dreams of romance just around the corner of one lonely seatown street. Tonight everyone had abandoned him. Tonight there was nothing.
"Carl!" A boyish voice was heard. "Carl, it's me."
Carl's sad eyes looked behind him to be faced by a soul-cheering sight. He suddenly felt warm all over.
"Alan, it's you."
"Where ya going, Carl?"
"Alan, it's not where am I going, it's where are we going."
"Listen, brother, you and me is gonna find a party even if it takes all night!"
"Well, I...I...I better ask my old man first. I think he's expecting me back at around eleven."
"Tha's fine, jus' fine. Le's go'n find daddy!"
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:05PM
7 The Sweetness of Wrens
An early draft of "The Sweetness of Wrens" was published as "A Dandy in the Land of Blue Denim 2" at Blogster.com on the 21st of April 2006, since which time it's undergone much modification, a final version being published in April 2008.
The Superstar Spirit
In 1975 aged nineteen I became a student at the technical college, Brooklands which lay then as now on the fringes of Weybridge, an affluent outer suburb of south west London. In semi-pastoral Brooklands as in my beloved Santiago de la Ribera, I learned to be a social being after years of semi-seclusion, first at Pangbourne and then in deepest suburbia as a home student. The Brooklands Disco was a special sphere of play for me and they were regular, perhaps even weekly events. On one occasion early on in Disco night I got up in front of what seemed like the whole college and delivered a solo dance performance to Bebop Deluxe's fiery decadent "Fair Exchange" possibly with white silk scarf flailing in the air to frenzied cheers and applause. On another, a triad of thugs who I suspect may have gatecrashed the Disco only to see in me the worst possible example of the feckless wastrel student strutting and posturing in unmanly white took me aside once the music had stopped clearly intent on some form of ultra-violence; but I stood my ground, insisting that despite what they may have thought I was just as straight as they were. Apparently convinced of this, after a few threatening words they promtly disappeared into the crowd. I was becoming as addicted to attention as if it were an actual drug, and it may be may that the only thing that saved me in the long run from completely destroying myself was the fact that despite my deepest wishes, I never became an actual superstar. But despite constant displays of flamboyant self-confidence, those who tried to get to know to know me on an intimate level found themselves confronted with a desperately diffident and inhibited individual. I remained a shy suburban boy at heart
1975 again...and my music, swimming and Martial Arts sessions were no more, but the private classes continued mainly with Michael, a quiet slim young man with darkish curly hair who lived alone but for a family of black cats in longtime Rock star haven Richmond-on-Thames. A musician as well as an academic, he went on to play drums for a fairly successful Contemporary Folk outfit. Michael exerted a strong influence on me in terms of my growing love of European literature and Modernist culture. He had a special feel for French Symbolist poetry, but it was the less known literature of Spain that we studied together, from the anonymous picaresque novel "Lazarillo de Tormes" (1554) onwards, and embracing Quevedo, Galdos, A. Machado, Lorca, and others. He was also an early encourager of my writing, a lifelong passion that was ultimately to degenerate into a clear case of cacoethes scribendi, or the irresistible compulsion to write creatively. In consequence, I was not able to finish a single cohesive piece of writing until well into the eighties, when I managed to complete a short story and a novel. Both have since been destroyed but for a few stray fragments.
All I ask is a Tall Ship
I made no less than three sea voyages in 1975, two as a civilian and one with the RNR, as well as spending a week with them docked at the Pool of London. The first of these was Destination Amsterdam via Edinburgh and northern France on the three-masted topsail schooner TS Sir Winston Churchill of the Sail Training Association, now known as the Tall Ships Trust. Based in Portsmouth and Liverpool, the TST was founded in 1956 for the character development of young people aged 16 to 25 through the crewing of traditional tall ships, originally Churchill and the SS Malcolm Miller. Among my shipmates were, apart from my 17 year old brother, press-ganged like myself by a dad determined that we wouldn't become spoiled rotten by an increasingly degenerate Western lifestyle, several young men from Scotland and the north, some recent recruits to the RN, and a handful of older "Mates" who'd been given authority over the rank and file of we deck hands. In overall authority was the elegant, distinguished Ship's Captain, who also happened to be an alumnus of my own alma mater, Pangbourne. It was an all-male crew, and I was quite well-liked, if only at first before my popularity cooled. I kept a few buddies though. One guy in particular stayed a good friend after we'd tried to impress a couple of girls together during a brief stay in France; St Malo, I think it was. He was a little baby-faced southerner with long dark hair worn shoulder length like the young Jack Wilde. I'd boldly put my arm around the one I fancied, Martine, and she'd got upset. Then, wandering around a little later in a mournful daze and desperate for Martine's address, 'Jack' gave it to me after she'd scrawled it on a piece of paper either for him or one of the other lads. I was drunk with relief for a while, just walking on air, because there was the danger of me coming down with a serious case of lovesickness had she become lost to me forever. I got on OK with a few of the others, and some were merely indifferent, but 'Jack' was Churchill's true prince.
Serving on the Churchill was hardly a luxury cruise. There were storms which saw seamen sprawled all over the deck being violently sick attached to the ship only by safety belts. On more than one occasion, we were turfed out of our hammocks in the middle of the night to help trim the sails...something I never too part in, which can hardly have helped my reputation. I did climb the rigging once though, and that was just before we came into the port of Amsterdam, with dozens of us manning the yard arms, again attached only by safety belts. The Dutch metropolis was marked by the kind of open sexual license I'd witnessed only the year before in Hamburg, although without the same sinister vibrancy. I can remember a kind of perfunctory weariness about the decadence of Amsterdam. Today as then I'm sure the sad De Wallen red-light district is filled to the brim with hundreds of little illuminated one-room apartments, each with a single woman sitting in clear view of onlookers playing her lonely trade. As for Edinburgh, just before setting foot in the city for the first time, one of the lads, dressed to the nines himself in the trendiest seventies gear, all flared slacks and stack-heeled shoes no doubt, warned me not to go strutting about Edinburgh town centre in a flashy boating blazer. I completely ignored his advice of course, so, waltzing some time later into an inner city pub in broad daylight wearing said blazer and blue jeans tucked into long white socks, a grinning hard man with long reddish curly hair asked me if I was from Oxford. Perhaps he was aware of the Oxonian reputation for producing flaming aesthetes, but I doubt it. I think he just took one look at my jacket and thought: "Who's thus flash ponce askin' tae ge' hus heed kecked in?", or worse. It may have been touch and go for a while as to whether he was going to inflict some serious damage on my angelic English face, but in the end he left me be. He may even have liked me. The unlikeliest people did in those days.
The Tears of a Woman
Within a few short weeks of our returning to London by train from Edinburgh, my brother and I were setting sail again, this time towards the Baltic coast of Denmark via Germany's famous Kiel Canal as part of what is known as the Ocean Youth Club. While we were once more supervised by "Mates" under the command of a Ship's Captain, the OYC was more like a cruise than a trial by water as in the case of the STA, utilising modern yachts rather than traditional tall ships. We wasted little time in recruiting Simon, a nice young guy from Wotton-under-the Edge in Gloucerstershire we'd actually first met on holiday in Calpe in Spain some decade previously, as our closest friend and crony. Soon after setting foot on Danish soil we got talking to two girls who, as might be expected, had natural light golden blonde hair. Our efforts at romance were wholly innoxious, despite the reputation Scandinavia had for progressive sexual attitudes in the '60s and '70s. Later, the Captain, a lovable bearded larger than life true character who had a weakness for the music of John Kongos good-naturedly reproved us for keeping our dates to ourselves. He was one of those older guys who took to me, sensing the warm heart beneath the cool foppish exterior, but I think he may have misunderstood the situation, which had something of the innocence of the fifties about it. A rather less than sweet and innocent incident took place towards the end of the trip, which saw me in pursuit of a pretty German girl, Bettina. I was crazy for her, and she clearly liked me too, and yet I'd senselessly dumped her for the sake of a night of drunken idiocy with my brother and Simon, perhaps expecting her to run after me or something. Suddenly, overtaken by sickly pangs of remorse, I set out to find her, and at some point during my search, while walking along some kind of wooden pontoon I lost my footing and fell fully clothed into the waters of what must have been Kiel Canal. I wrote to Bettina, but she never wrote back, and I can't say I blame her. To this day I can't understand what possessed me to ignore her so callously, just in order to tie one on with the boys which I could have done any night of the week. Self-sabotage was fast becoming a speciality of mine.
It was later in the year I think that I took my friend Brenda, one of the London Division Wrens but originally from the north of England, to a dinner dance at London's Walford Hilton Hotel. At some point we were joined there by a couple of Brenda's close friends, a fair, bearded man in a suit, and his dark, extrovert wife. The husband was one of those deeply gentle men I came across from time to time in the 1970s. They weren't all bearded; but I can think of some who were, such as the madcap ship's captain described above. What united them was that they behaved with special protectiveness and affection towards me, and I've never forgotten them for it.
Early in the evening, Brenda became incensed when a group of older seamen started teasing me from their table, which didn't bother me at all because I knew these guys, and they meant no harm. Military life after all, is fuelled by this kind of humour. But Brenda insisted that their attitude stemmed from the fact that I was "better than what they are", as she put it, possibly in imitation of their London accents. She'd been taken in by my appearance, which made me more dangerous by far than they, not just to others, but to myself. With them, what you saw is what you got, and if it wasn't always pretty, then at least it was honest. I didn't see much of Brenda after that night, in fact on only one occasion I can clearly remember, and she seemed a little sad and distant. I had long sideburns at the time and I can remember her expressing some distaste for my Teddy Boy image as she saw it, perhaps sensing a certain new coarseness, Teds being the British equivalent of 1950s juvenile delinquents. How horrified she would have been to see me two years from then as a full-blown Punk with cropped hair and a safety pin through my ear.
It was only a matter of weeks after returning from the OYC trip to the Baltic that I sailed with the RNR to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France,and then shortly after that I was with the RNR again, this time in the Pool of London, subject of a famous British crime film directed by Basil Dearden in 1951 and referring to that stretch of the Thames lying between London Bridge and Rotherhithe. In order to reach my ship, I had to board some kind of launch with a group of other seamen, one of whom, a strikingly good-looking blond seaman of about 30 I knew only by sight, had taken unofficial charge. Once we were all safely aboard, it was the turn of our self-appointed leader to join us, but as he stepped off the launch, he somehow lost his footing and slipped into the Thames beneath him. Within a matter of minutes his heavy clothing and boots, helped by a vicious current, had dragged him beneath the river's surface and he was lost. Soon after returning to London, I told my mother what happened, and as she wept the tears of one who instinctively knew what those who loved this poor man must have been feeling at the time, the true appalling tragedy of the incident hit home and I ran into the bathroom and sobbed my heart out myself. Thinking back on it, a line from that beautiful song "How Men Are" by Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame comes to mind: "Why should it take the tears of a woman to see how men are?"
A Gosport Discomaniac
Still in '75 I attempted to pass what is known as the AIB or Admiralty Interview Board with a view to qualifying as a Supply and Secretariat officer in the Royal Navy. This involved my taking the train down to HMS Sultan, the Royal Navy's specialist training centre in Gosport, Hampshire, where I spent three days attending various examinations and interviews intended to assess my potential as a future naval officer.
On one occasion early on in the long weekend just before one assignment or another, I was primping in the mirror putting the final touches to my toilette when one of the guys I was sharing a dormitory reminded me that I was at a naval base not a fashion parade. Something like that anyway. Whatever it was he said, he wasn't going to be coming along with me that night to the disco, or any night for that matter. He could stew back at Sultan for all I cared. Two guys eventually did agree to accompany me on one of the nights we spent at Sultan, but they didn't really seem all that keen. As things turned out I was left alone at a Gosport disco dancing with a pretty young woman with shortish blond curly hair and the unusual name of Shiralee (Indigenous Australian for "burden" or "duty"). A little later I accompanied her along a busy main leading back to Sultan, with several cars sounding their horns as I kissed her good night, only to discover that Sultan's main entrance had been locked and was now being manned by an armed guard.
If the young man nervously trying to reach someone in authority within the training centre on a walkie talkie was wondering exactly what kind of person returns to base dressed to the nines after a night's disco dancing when he was supposed to be in the midst of three days of gruelling tests and interviews that were vital to his future career, then he gave no indication of it. He did however eventually make contact with someone in authority within the base, and I can remember passing through an officer's mess soon afterwards and briefly exchanging pleasantries with its airily affable occupants. Being English gentlemen of the old school, they kept their actual opinions of me to themselves. It may just be me, but I can't help thinking that had I returned to Sultan that night before being locked out, I might have been in with a better chance of passing the AIB, that is, as opposed to failing it, which I perhaps rather predictably did. Ay, every inch the superstar.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 10:02PM
8 My Future Positively Glittered
"My Future Positively Glittered" consists of two previously published pieces in slightly modified form, these being "My Future Postively Glittered", now divided into two sections ("Global Village Soul Boys" and "Hardly a Wunderkind"), and "Summer's End" (now "Summer of Fittleton"), whose first drafts were published at Blogster on, respectively, May 26 and May 29, 2006. In September a further piece, "An Evanescent Friendship", first published at Blogster on the 10th of June 2006, was added to the whole. Tentative final corrections were made in January 2008.
Summer of Fittleton
Throughout '76 I gradually sidelined the previous year's olde worlde elegance in favour of a far more casual look inspired by the decade of Brando, Presley and Dean. Occasionally I'd relapse, but for the most part I affected the classic uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt and straight-leg jeans as worn by Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause". His death had come a week to the day before I came into this world in late 1955, seen by many as Year Zero of the Rock'n'Roll era. I can remember one time in particular that I dusted down the old dressy image. It was in the dying days of the famed long hot summer of '76, and I wore top hat and tails and my fingernails tinted bright red like a ghost from old Berlin to a party hosted by a friend from Brooklands. It was mid-September, and I know this to be an absolute fact because I was supposed to have been at sea at the time, on the minesweeper HMS Fittleton. I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Fittleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship, the frigate HMS Mermaid. It resulted in the loss of twelve men most of whom I knew personally, given that only weeks earlier I'd spent a few days on Fittleton with more or less exactly the same crew.
HMS Fittleton had been accepted into the RN in January 1955, although she wasn't actually named Fittleton (after the Wiltshire village) until almost exactly 21 years later. She set sail from Shoreham in Sussex on the 11th of September 1976 with the intention of reaching the port of Hamburg on the 21st of that month for a three day Official Visit, but never arrived. On the 20th she took part in the NATO exercise "Teamwork" 80 miles off the Dutch coast in the North Sea, after which she was ordered to undergo a Replenishment at Sea with the 2500 ton frigate HMS Mermaid, and it was during this exercise that the bow waves of the frigate inter-reacted with those of the sweeper to cause the two to collide.
For some reason I'd earlier decided to opt out of the trip by pleading sickness. It was a decision that came to haunt me...despite the fact that had I taken part in the RAS manoeuvre I'd almost certainly have been assigned what was known as Tiller Flat duty, as had been the case on many previous occasions during exercises of this kind. This would have put me below deck, making escape difficult although not impossible. In other words, I may or may not have survived the accident. Of the twelve who didn't survive I knew three quite well, and they were all men of remarkable generosity of spirit and sweetness of disposition, what I'd call natural gentlemen, and it broke my heart to think of what happened to them. I so wanted to comfort my shipmates for their loss, to bond with them and be part of what they were going through. I wanted to have survived like them. I went over it all again and again in my mind, until I drove myself almost insane with regret and grief. Once more I'd taken the easy way out, but this time it wouldn't be so easy for me to forget or explain away.
Global Village Soul Boys
The totemic year of 1977 was a far darker one than those coming before it. It was after all marked by the Punk uprising, a musical and cultural movement which could be said to have fatally disabled Rock's uneven progress as an art form with its savage DIY ethic, which, fused with an extreme and often horrifying sartorial eccentricity produced something utterly unique for the time. From its London axis, and yet with roots in the US, it spread like a raging plague throghout the year even infecting the most genteel suburbs. At first I remained unaffected, although I'd long incorporated elements of the Punk sartorial revolution into my own image, such as short hair, small-collared shirts and straight-leg trousers, but this indifference had entirely evaporated by the end of the year.
Dressed in an anti-hippie style of my own devising, I started attending a long series of parties in various parts of trendy west London throughout '77 as one after the other of my old Pangbourne pals hit 21. Of all of them I was perhaps closest with Craig, by then a budding oil tycoon, but they were all very dear to me, and still are. After all, we went through alot together. Craig shared my passion for the London party life and clubs filled to the brim with the fashionable and the beautiful. One of his closest friends was a fashion designer from the north of England who forged cutting edge images for some of the most powerful trendsetters in Rock music. Soon after the start of the year, Craig had ditched his tired old velvet jacket and flares combo in favour of supercool drainpipe jeans and winklepickers. Within a short time I too was sporting winklepickers, in fact, a pair of cream-coloured lace-ups which became my pride and joy. I went on to supplement these with black slip-on shoes with large gold sidebuckles, imitation crocodile skin shoes with squared off toes, and a pair of black Chelsea boots with cuban heels, all excruciatingly pointed. By the spring of '78 I think I'd junked the lot as a means of sparing my feet which had already started to be disfigured by this evil footwear, or so I imagined.
For a man such as I haunted by a sense of inadequacy born of the obscure suburban roots I loathed, the trendy London look was interchangeable with Punk. Certainly like Punk it was adopted in defiance of the still ubiquitous Hippie, but it was married to a love of Soul rather than primal Garage Rock. It was common among the so-called Soul Boys, although I was not to discover this until later in the year when I started hanging out at Gravesend's Woodville Hall while at Merchant Navy college in nearby Greenhithe. Through one of the guys at college I found out about the Global Village night club under the Arches near Charing Cross. As well as a smattering of Punks and Punkettes, the Global was something of a magnet in '77 for working class kids who favoured the Soul Boy look, and who came from as far afield as Dartford and Kingston. It consisted of such elements as the wedge haircut, often streaked with a variety of tints including red and green, brightly coloured peg-top trousers or straight leg jeans, and winklepickers or beach sandals. The Soul Boy wedge was allegedly also favoured by certain followers of Liverpool Football Club who'd discovered a taste in '77 or thereabouts for European casual sports clothing while travelling on the continent for away matches. So, the Casual subculture was born, together with a passion for designer sportswear on the part of the working class youth of Great Britain and beyond which exists to this day. It is visible in every high street and shopping centre across the land.
For the greater part of '77, it was the Soul Boy look I aspired to rather than Punk. However, Punk began to seduce me from about January onwards, once I'd realised just how fantastical its sartorial vagaries actually were, and by the end of the year I was a devotee, remaining so until well into '79, when I defected to Mod Revivalism. But that's another story.
My Future Positively Glittered
By the summer I was working as a sailing instructor in Palamos on Spain's Costa Brava, while living alone on a caravan site. After a few months I lost my job, but stayed on in Palamos for several months, idling by day, while engaging by night in a constant almost Sisyphian round of alcohol-fuelled festivities in the city's bars and discos. It was as if I was driven by an unquenchable thirst for whatever lay just beyond my reach, a thirst possibly related to the desperate longing for fame as actor, writer, or Rock idol, that began to characterise my life from about the mid-70s onwards.
In '77 I was still ill-equipped for my ambition, given that few if any actors become truly succesful on the strength of their looks alone, which is surely why there are so many more truly beautiful male models than actors. I certainly had the looks, but little else. I'd not yet appeared in a single play, except for a handful at Pangbourne which had provoked some praise, and not a little hilarity. My roles there consisted of two elderly women, one of whom had to remain completely mute for the few minutes she was required onstage. This was in Max Frisch's black comedy "The Fire Raisers". The other was as a maid in a one-act play by the so-called Chelsea Shakespeare George Bernard Shaw called "Passion, Poison and Petrifaction". I also played a society beauty with short hair like Mia Farrow conducting some kind of illicit relationship with one of my best friends, Simon Miles, who went on to found his own cabaret club in the nineties called the Cupboard. My only male role was as an effeminate psychopath called Alec, in "The Rats", a little known Agatha Christie one-acter. In short, I was hardly a National Youth Theatre wonder kid. I'd written a few songs, but my guitar playing was still lamentably weak. My voice was good though, and incredibly versatile. In general though there was little proof up to this point in my existence of any real ability of any kind on my part. My future positively glittered before me.
Incident in Ostend
My final voyage with the RNR, destination Ostend in Belgium, came towards the end of the summer. My best RNR pal Colin was sadly not onboard, but other friends were, such as Adam, a tall red-headed man of about 26 a little in appearance like the charismatic British actor Edward Fox, with a trace perhaps of Damian Lewis. That's how I remember him anyway. His early life had been marked by one tragedy after the other, and his warm and courtly manners masked a troubled inner life which he kept almost entirely to himself, together with the fearlessness of one who had little to lose. I remember a time when for some reason a drunken sailor started threatening me in a bar, and Adam placed his slim yet powerful body between me and my would-be attacker saving me from what might have been a vicious beating.
I can imagine that back in '77 there must have been those who wondered how two such refined and mannerly men such as Adam and myself were apparently content to serve as humble naval ratings. I'm thinking in particular of some of the young guys of a certain RNR Division liaising with us to and from the port of Ostend in Flanders, Belgium. There was one incident when some of these hard young seafarers were grouping in an Ostend street intent on fighting some locals who'd offended them in some way. Adam and I stood back from it all making it clear we had no intention of joining in, and one of their number, a waiflike young sailor of about 16 or 17, previously something of a pal of ours, turned to us with a look of utter confusion on his beardless face and said: "What's wrong with youse guys?", before joining his pals for the gathering riot. Adam just didn't see the point in fighting unless it was absolutely necessary, but he was anything but cowardly as I've already stated. What's more, according to what I observed and what he himself told me, he was more than averagely successful with the opposite sex, unconsciously imbued like me with the poisonous playboy values of the times. Yet, for his own reasons he chose conceal such toughness and virility as were so clearly his beneath a mask of gentlemanly reserve, and even languour. This secret fortitude would eventually see him being commissioned as an officer in the Royal Navy, which had been his destiny all along. But not mine. My time with the London Division, RNR came to an end in late 1977 with an incredibly positive character report, for which I remain grateful to this day. The RNR did all right by me and I honour them for it, and if military life had never been for me, it's a part of who I am whether I like it or not. My life story would be all the poorer without it. Minor edit: 7/3/13.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:52PM
9 Gilded Youth at the Guildhall
A first draft of "Gilded Youth" was published as "Gilded Youth at the Guildhall School" at Blogster on the 1st of July 2006, since which time it's been subject to a good deal of modification. The inclusion of the second versified section of "The Woodville Hall Escapists" is a fairly recent development. This was first published separately and in longer form again at Blogster as "Woodville Hall, Gravesend, 1977". It had been based on the bare essentials of an autobiographical short story written in 1978 or '79 while I was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A definitive version of this story was prepared in May 2008.
The Woodville Hall Escapists 1
In late 1977 I joined the former Merchant Navy College in Greenhithe, Kent, (which had merged with the Thames Nautical Training College HMS Worcester nine years earlier) as a trainee Radio Officer. I formed several close friendships there; but closest of all was with Jasbir, a lovable hard nut of about 18 with a thick London accent who'd been born into nearby Gravesend's large Asian community. Jesse as he was known certainly knew how to handle himself, but he was loyal and soft-hearted towards those he liked and trusted, and for a time we were inseparable. It was through Jesse I think that I started going to discos at Gravesend's Woodville Hall, depicted in the piece below. There young Punk and Soul Kids would meet every week or so in late '77 dressed in escapist fashions which stood out in such bizarre contrast with the drabness of their surroundings. English suburban life in those days didn't include such modern day distractions as mobile phones, DVD players and the world wide web, and was a fertile breeding ground therefore for outlandish youth cults such as Punk, which is not to excuse them.
I used to nag Jesse to be nicer, not that he wasn't...he was one of the kindest guys I've ever known...but he had a habit of talking tough which intimidated some people. As things turned out, I was the one who quit college first, even if he did follow me soon afterwards, which caused Jesse to wonder why I'd taken what seemed to him like the moral high ground in the first place. I was at pains to answer him.
The Woodville Hall Escapists 2
Soon after I'd paid
0r seventy pence,
I found myself
In what I thought
Was a minitiure London.
I saw girls
In chandelier earrings,
In stilleto heels,
Which contrasted with
0r bleach blonde,
With flashes of
Some wore large
Their school ties
The boys all had
Wore mohair sweaters,
And winklepicker shoes.
A band playing
Raw street rock
At a frantic speed
Came to a sudden,
Was now beginning
To fill the hall,
With another group
0f short-haired youths...
Smoother, more elegant,
Than the previous ones.
Wore well-pressed pegs
0f red or blue...
Pirhouetted and posed.
West Suburban Story
Soon after returning from the Merchant Navy College in December '77, I auditioned for a place on the three year drama course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the City of London, which was really what I'd wanted to do in the first place. Incredibly, as I'd already failed two earlier auditions for RADA, Guildhall accepted me for the course beginning in autumn 1978. I was exhilerated; but that didn't stop me sinking further into the nihilistic Punk lifestyle. Having been bewitched by the hairstyle of one of a small gang of Punks I knew by sight from nights out in Dartford in late '77, I decided to imitate it a few weeks later. It was predictably spiked, with a kind of a halo of bright blond taking in the front of the head, both sides, and a strip at the nape of the neck. I have part of a photograph of myself wearing this style with a long Soul Boy fringe at the front, before I eventually had it cut into spikes. By the spring of 1978, I'd shorn it all off into a skinhead.
It was genuinely dangerous being a Punk in 77-78 and you lived in constant fear of attack or abuse if you chose to dress like one. After all, Punk's culture of insolence and outrage was extreme even by the standards of previous British youth cults such as the Teds, the Rockers, the Mods, the Greasers, the Skins, the Suedeheads and the Smoothies. Britain in those days was a country still dominated to some degree by pre-war moral values, which were Victorian in essence, and a cultural war was being fought for the soul of the nation. It could be said therefore that Punks were the avant garde of the new Britain in a way that would be impossible today. This explains the extraordinary hostility Punks attracted.
Close by to where I shared a house with my parents in the furthermost reachers of south west London where suburbia meets countryside I saw Hersham Punk band Sham '69 shortly before they became nationally famous. I already knew their lead singer Jimmy Pursey by sight; at least I think it was him I saw miming to Chris Spedding's "Motorbiking" at the disco one night. This gig took place in a poky hall above a pub in the centre of a large bleak industrial estate, itself surrounded by drab housing estates and endless rows of council houses. I was often there on a Sunday in the late 70s, usually with friends, looking for romance, or just dancing to my beloved Soul. On one occasion that I remember, the Soul gave way to Punk which saw the tiny dance space being invaded by deranged pogo-dancers. I just stood back and watched. I was still a Soul Boy at heart. On another, a Ted revivalist, a follower of classic Rock'n'Roll who favoured flashy fifties-style clothing, tried to start some trouble with me in the toilet. At this point, another Ted who'd befriended me about a year before when I dressed like an extra from "The Blackboard Jungle"...I think his name was Steve... stepped in with the magical words: "He's a mate!". Steve's intervention may have saved me from a hiding that night because Teds had a loathing of Punks informed by their essential conservatism. To them, Punks probably seemed to have no respect for anything. Later, or it may have been before I can't remember, he asked me whether I was really into "this Punk lark" or whatever he called it, and I assured him I wasn't. I may even have added that I still loved the fifties, which was actually the truth to an extent, not that that was the point. The fact is that I lied to him to look good in his eyes, which was a pretty low thing to do to a friend.
On New Years Eve, I took Jesse to a party in swanky west central London. It was one of the last, perhaps even the very last, in a long series of parties I'd gone to throughout '77 thanks to my old Pangbourne buddies, so many of whom were now based in and around the capital. Before arriving at the host's house or apartment, Jesse and I met up as agreed with budding oil magnate Craig, an especially close friend from my days as Cadet C.R. Halling 173. Introductions over, Jesse saw fit to impress Craig with a terrifying solo display of his lethal street fighting skills. "I'm suitably impressed", said Craig, and he was, and Craig was no cissy. We all got on well that insane night which saw me pouring a full glass of beer over my head at one point in circumstances I'd rather keep to myself. What the beautiful student of dance I'd spent most of the evening with thought of a nice guy like me doing a thing like that she didn't say. In the late '70s, I met so many people who might have done anything for me, and yet my overwhelming passion appeared to be the creation of drunken scenes, and a party wasn't a party for me in those days unless I'd caused one...after which, I simply moved on, to the next party, the next scandal. It makes me weep to think of the waste of it all.
Jesse and I stayed in touch until about 1983, and it was because of me that we eventually lost contact. I had a bad habit of doing that in those days. I hope I'm making that point clear.
A Punk Rocker in Fuengirola
In the spring of 1978, I arrived in the famous Costa del Sol town of Fuengirola near Marbella, with the intention of helping to set up a sailing school with a young English guy of about 30 I knew only very slightly. He kindly put me up in an apartment, but as things turned out the project came to nothing. However, I stayed on in Fuengirola, living first in a hotel, and then rent-free thanks to a friend I made in town in her own apartment.
Shortly after that, I was offered the position of front man in a Hard Rock band playing nightly at the Tam Tam night club. I became something of a town character, Coco the Punk as I was known, one of only two Punks in Fuengirola, most of the kids who became my close friends being still in thrall to the Hippie sixties. '78 was my first year as a full-time Punk in fact, and among the objects of my excess were a black wet-look tee-shirt with cropped sleeves, drainpipe jeans of black or green, worn with black studded belt festooned with silver chain kept in place by safety pins, flourescent teddy boy socks, and white shoes with black laces etc. I even had a safety pin, anaesthetized by being dipped into an alcoholic drink, forced through my left ear lobe by a friend. I removed it once it had started to cause my whole ear to throb.
For the most part, it was a summer of love and leisure, of endless lotus eating mostly spent in the town itself, but also at the legendary Campo del Tenis, or nearby Mijas...and even on one occasion each as I remember it, in Marbella, Torremolinos, Puert Banus. I was always short of money, but I could order what I wanted at the Tam Tam, and when I was flat broke I was bought toasted cheese sandwiches and bottles of cold Spanish beer or whatever else I wished for by a very dear friend. One night the charismatic British racing driver James Hunt called to her from out of the darkness of a balmy Andalusian night, before vanishing as suddenly as he'd arrived. Yes, it was that incredible a summer.
I returned to London in September 1978 to take my place at the Guildhall, but by following summer, I was back in Spain; not to Fuengirola though, despite the fact that my friends from the band had wanted me to carry on with them as lead singer throughout '79. I feel bad to this day at having let them down so badly; we were so close as a band. There was something about the Spanish character that resonated with me; I can't say exactly what, but I always got on so well with the Spanish. In my wisdom I'd chosen instead to to go to La Ribera, the little former fishing village in the south eastern province of Murcia. I felt a deep and overwhelming sense of exhaustion as I stretched out on the wooden balnario overlooking the Mar Menor, but I don't recall being especially disappointed by the knowledge that I wouldn't be returning to the Guildhall for the autumn term of 1979. It may have been just the Costa Calida sun that made me feel so burned out. I must have felt pretty let down though, even if only unconsciously. After all, my dream of being a gilded youth at the Guildhall School had only lasted a year before I was asked to leave with no possibility of return.
Farewell Lauderdale Tower
Just before quitting Fuengirola the previous summer of '78 I'd been approached with an offer of singing in the Canary Islands, but I'd turned it down. Who knows where it might have led; but then had I travelled to the Canaries with the band, I wouldn't have gone to Guildhall through which so many incredible experiences came. It would take an entire separate volume to list them all. What I will say is that at Guildhall I was involved with an almost unbroken succession of Rock and Pop bands. Through one of them, Rockets, I was offered the position of lead singer for a guitar player of genius who's played with one of the world's leading Rock superstars since 1990. Through another, Narcissus, which I formed with my mates Robin and Mike, I found only disgrace when our bizarre image resulted in a cacaphony of heckling. For the most part, I was the sweetest and most mannerly of guys of guys, but I had a nasty habit of shooting myself in the foot at the worst possible moments, or shooting my mouth off, one of the two. It was almost as if I was returning to type, the suburban loser, waster, clown, position after all from which it's impossible to fall.
My final band was the '50s revivalist act Z Cars, which even won a tiny fanbase for itself. I was Carl Cool, lead singer and songwriter with a tattoo painted onto my shoulder, Rob was Robert Fitzroy-Square the boy next door with the Buddy Holly glasses, who provided most of the comedy, Dave was Dave Dean, the punk kid with the don't mess with me stare, and Richard was Little Ricky Ticky, the baby of the band at only 18. I think it was Dave who left first, and for a time, the charismatic actor-writer Ian Puleston-Davies came onboard. Ian, Rob and I were also involved in the production of a musical comedy based on the Scottish play, "Mac and Beth", which survived my time at Guildhall, if only for a single performance. It was rewritten several times. There was a version by Michael Praed of "Robin of Sherwood" fame; and another which I wrote only a few years ago, only to come to the conclusion that it was too dark and violent. Most of it ended up in the trash. Somewhere, however, there's a VHS copy of one of a handful of Guildhall performances of the play.
There were emotional scenes at my farewell party held in the depths of the Barbican Estate's Lauderdale Tower and many cried openly because I was leaving. During the evening, a close friend Gill told me to contact the impresario Barrie Stacey, owner of the legendary As You Like It club on Monmouth Street at the start of the sixties. Barrie was well-known for offering young actors their very first positions within the entertainment industry. Her own brother, who'd recently starred in a TV comedy series had received his first break through Barrie. True to form, he gave me my very first paid job in the business a matter of months afterwards. So just before Christmas, I was doubling as Christian the Chorus Boy and Joey the Teddy Bear complete with furry costume in the pantomime "Sleeping Beauty" that began its run in Ealing in west London, culminating at the Buxton Opera House in Derbyshire. Then early on in the new year moreover, the famed theatre director Richard Cottrell offered me the part of Mustardseed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bristol Old Vic. Maybe leaving the Guildhall had been the right thing to do after all.
From the Vic era, I offer the following relic from an unfinished tale which I went on to edit and versify. I rescued it last year from a battered notebook I was in the habit of scribbling in during spare moments offstage while dressed in my costume and covered in blue body make-up and silver glitter. While doing so, some of this glitter was transferred from the pages with which they were stained more than twenty six years ago onto my hands. It was an eerie experience.
Along Whiteladies Road
I remember the grey
The jocular driver
As I boarded the bus
At Temple Meads,
And the friendly lady
Who told me
When we had arrived
At the city centre.
the little pub
on King Street,
With its quiet
And the first readthrough.
I remember tramping
Along Park Street,
And Blackboy Hill,
My arms and hands
Aching from my bags
To the little cottage
Where I had decided to stay
In beween rehearsals,
Listening to music.
I remember my landlady,
Tall, timid and beautiful...
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:50PM
10 Gone the Way of Cain
"Gone the Way of Cain" consists of pieces from formerly published writings:
"First Night of the Dream" and "The End of the Century Young" were taken from "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm" MK. 1, first published at the Blogster.com website on the 25th January 2007, while "Like Some New Romantic" was originally part of an early draft of "West of the Fields Long Gone" published at Blogster on August 20th 2006. All sections were subjected to considerable modification before being published in definitive form at Blog.co.uk in March 2008, with an entirely new final piece, which is the title piece. It takes up where the previous story, "Gilded Youth" left off, which is to say my arrival in Bristol in the winter of 1980 to appear in Richard Cottrell's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the city's Old Vic Theatre. Moving into '81, it goes into some details about my tenuous links with the New Romantic movement, and ends with my becoming an aging student at the University of London.
First Night of the Dream
My time in the city of Bristol as an actor with the Britol Old Vic theatre company in early 1980 was restless and unsettled. Initially, I stayed in an elegant little dwelling in the affluent Clifton area to the west of the city centre, much of which was built from profits from tobacco and the slave trade, that is until I was asked to leave by my landlady due to my room being urgently required by a relative or something. At this point, a friend from the Vic who also happened to be the wardrobe assistant generously asked me if I’d like to stay with her for a while. I said yes, but it wasn't long before I'd relocated to a boarding house, also in Clifton I think. There I stayed until it was time for me to return to London.
Among those who appeared in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Vic in early '80 were future Hollywood superstar Daniel Day Lewis, son of the former poet laureate Sir Cecil and actress Jill Balcon, and one of the world's most gifted actors, legendary for the assiduity of his preparation for the roles he's undertaken. Also appearing (as Puck) was Nickolas Grace, perhaps best known for his portrayals of flamboyant British eccentrics both real and fictional, and most especially that of of Anthony Blanche in the 1981 television production of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". But the cast as a whole was incredibly gifted and charismatic. Prior to the Dream's first night, I'd been fortunate enough to witness a BOV production of one of my favourite ever musicals, Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls”, with Clive Wood as Sky Masterson, and another future screen legend Pete Postethwaite as Nathan Detroit. I can honestly say that this single show provided me with more pleasure than any other theatre production I've seen before or since. It left me breathless.
The Cottrell "Dream" was lavishly praised, and there was even some talk of its going on to become as renowned as the 1971 production by Peter Brook, whom I actually met in 1979. So much so that it relocated to the London Old Vic in the summer, where it was no less successful than at Bristol. Towards the end of its Bristol run, I undertook a small role in an obscure play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder called “The Freedom of Bremen” together with several other actors who didn’t have overly demanding parts. It was directed in the Studio theatre by Michael Batz, currently the artistic director of Hamburg’s Theater in der Speicherstadt in the city’s historic Warehouse district.
Following my modest triumph in "The Dream", I applied for and was offered the position of sales assistant in Bentall's china department in Kingston-on-Thames, remaining there until just after Christmas. Then, early in the new year I found work as part of the cast and crew of “Satyricon”, based on the original by Petronius, and directed by Peter Benedict. This was thanks to the kindness of an actor friend of my father's, Haydn Davies. Initially an Assistant Stage Manager and percussionist, I was eventually offered a non-speaking role. Soon after this, I contributed to an audio project of Haydn's known as “The Poetry People” with, in addition to Haydn, John Pine, Kay Clayton, and Maria Perry, who went on to become a successful historical writer and broadcaster.
Like Some New Romantic
1981 was also the year in which I became a kind of hanger-on of a youth movement originally dubbed "The Cult with no Name", and whose origins lay in the late 1970s largely among discontented ex-Punks reacting to the increasingly drab uniformity of Punk Johnny Come Latelys. The New Romantics embraced a hyper-nostalgic devotion to various ages which they interpreted as romantic, whether recent times such as the Roaring Twenties, or more distant historical eras, the latter inspiring such stock New Romantic accessories as ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on. Several of the cult's pioneers went on to become famous names within the worlds of art, fashion and popular music. They tended be among the most foppish or flamboyant of the earliest adherents, and so stood in stark contrast to the those council estate dandies for whom it could be said that New Romanticism was simply a passing fashion in much the same way as Punk was before it. Its soundtrack was a largely synthesized dance music influenced by German Art Rock collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as Glam, Funk and Disco. While it was arguably no longer cutting edge by the end of '81, it went on to exert a colossal influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties, and partly inspired what became known as the Second British Invasion thanks to a desperate need for striking videos on the part of the newly arrived MTV (Music Television).
I attended New Romantic club nights at Le Kilt and Le Beat Route among others, and was even snapped at one of these by the legendary London photographer David Bailey, but I was never a true New Romantic so much as a lone fellow traveller keen to experience first hand the last truly original London music and fashion cult before it imploded as all others had done before it. Yet, despite its florid decadence, New Romanticism was far more mainstream than other musical trends which came in the wake of Punk such as Post-Punk and Goth, which plunged Rock Music into unprecedented darkness. For this reason, it eventually evolved in Britain into what has become known as New Pop, and which combined often complex if accessible tunes with a telegenic Glam image. During the '80s I myself inclined to New Pop rather than more esoteric styles ranging from Goth to Indie, and this was reflected by a colourful image so redolent of the decade's infamous frivolity. But this was not the whole story. While I eschewed Goth Rock, I was passionate about many of its primary influences such as the dark side of Romanticism and there was a duality about me which was true of the eighties as a whole.
As '81 progressed, my acting career faltered, and so a family decision was reached to the effect that I should become a mature student at the age of 25. Accordingly, I passed interviews for both the University of Exeter, and the University of London and specifically, Westfield College, situated on the Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London. Founded in 1882 and going on to serve as the model for the University for Women parodied in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic "Princess Ida", Westfield was an all-woman college for more than 80 years, finally becoming co-educational in 1968. She officially merged with east London's Queen Mary College in 1989 to become Queen Mary and Westfield College, until the turn of the century when she was renamed Queen Mary, University of London, while legally retaining the original title of QMWC.
To cut a long story short, I opted for Westfield, and so in the autumn of that year found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama mainly at Westfield, but also partly at the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama, while resident in a small room on campus. My dissatisfaction with my situation was initially so strong that at one point in an attempt to escape it I auditioned for work as an assistant stage manager, or acting ASM, for my old friend and agent Barrie Stacey. However, I was not succesful. Soon after this fiasco, while ambling at night in what I think was the Swiss Cottage area close by to the Central School, I was ambushed by a group of my fellow drama students, who were clearly thrilled to see me. It felt wonderful to be accepted so unconditionally by them. Perhaps they appeared to my jaded 26 year old eyes to incarnate the sheer carefree rapturous vitality and joy of life of youth.
Before long I settled down at Westfield, in fact came to love my time there, coinciding as it did with the first half of the crazy eighties...last of a triad of decades in the West of unceasing artistic and societal change and experimentation. For me the very early '80s was a time of ceaseless exhilerated hedonism, the poisons fuelling me back then being not primarily, or even significantly, narcotic. Rather they constituted a furious desire for strong sensation within a diversity of fields, the intellectual, the social and the amatory among them, reinforced by industrial strength doses of self-obsession. Furthermore, from around the turn of the eighties or earlier, I began to be motivated by an adoration of early death, as well as those artists who, both gifted beyond measure and exquisite of face and form had gone in search of it. It was my desire to be ultimately numbered among such bedevilled individuals myself, to know such blissful delinquency...
The piece below has its origins I believe in that time, and the "artistic torment" it conveys should be taken with a colossal pinch of salt. The truth is that I was a genuinely joyful and carefree spirit back then, in fact perhaps too much so, with the the result being that I felt moved to seek out the kind of mysterious intensity I felt I sorely lacked and so coveted. It's a cliche I know...but we should all be careful for what we wish for, for when it comes to us as it so very often does, it tends to do so at a terrible price...
Some Perverse Will
I’m a restless man
I am never
I’m always spurred on
By some perverse
The grass is never
No peace here
At work within my
No bed is too soft
That I won’t
It’s sweet calm
For a softer
I’m a restless man
I am never
I’m always spurred on
By some perverse
Gone The Way of Cain
The Playboy Philosophy which exploded in the 1960s could be said to have reached its full flowering in the crazy eighties. That's not to say, however, that the vast majority of people who came to maturity in this hyper-hedonistic decade didn't ultimately forge respectable family lives and careers following a brief season spent as flamboyant outsiders because of course they did. Few embraced these neo-libertine values with a the same kind of blind fervour as me...and yet of course there were a good many who took them far further than I ever did. Still, I can't deny that I now suffer from a cruel nostalgia for the trappings of status, security, respectability, things I once scorned, preferring instead to push to the limit as if under some enchantment my notion of myself as a poète maudit like my heroes, a notion somewhat at odds it has to be said with a certain lingering suburban ordinariness. I believed in the role of the artist as a dissolute provoker existent at all times on the verge of ecstasy or despair, of illumination or madness or death and worshipped those who had pursued this wretched anti-existence to the limit. This made me the worst kind of sinner in my eyes, a true prodigal in defiance of everything that makes society tolerable, such as personal restraint and respect for parents and authority. Such violent narcissism as I once displayed has been worshipped by the West for close on to half a decade especially as expressed through such popular arts as Rock'n'Roll and the cinema. A universal obsession with rebellion and sensual abandon is a sign as I see it of a West increasingly given over to neo-pagan values. These are surely the same God-rejecting values that corrupted the antedeluvian world, and which survived the Flood to be disseminated throughout the nations. They spelled the end of one empire after the other, including the Egyptian, the Greek, the Roman. They are epidemic today through the West and beyond, where once they were marginalised as aberrant.
I'd been blessed at birth by every good gift but the most desired qualities such as talent and beauty are among the most dangerous unless submitted in their entirety to God, not least to those who possess them. They are eminently visible and therefore vulnerable, and with more more temptations than most all too often fall prey to Luciferian pride and vanity like David's favourite son Absalom who was physically flawless but morally bereft. Little wonder therefore that so many of them are drawn to the power offered by art, and especially music, the writer of the first song Lamech having been in the line of Cain. Indeed, there are those Christians who believe that the Cainites were the first pagan people, and that they corrupted the Godly line of Seth through a sensual and wicked music not unlike much contemporary Rock. Of course not all Rock music is flagrantly wicked, far from it. Much of it is melodically lovely. While in terms of its lyrics, its finest songs display the most delicate poetic sensibility. The fact remains, however, that no art form has been quite so associated as Rock with rebellion, transgression, licentiousness, intoxication and thanatophilia (an undue fascination with death) nor been so influential as such. To think I once desperately sought fame as a Rock artist myself, and if not as Rock'n'Roll superstar then as actor, or writer, and it was surely a blessing I never gained this pagan form of immortality because had I done so I'd almost certainly have been used for the furtherance of the kingdom of darkness. Once I'd served my purpose I may well have died a solitary premature death as an addict, as has been the fate of so many men and women briefly briefly animated by the charismatic superstar spirit before being cruelly discarded by the Enemy of Souls...
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:48PM
11 Ice Spoke of the Spells
Introduction: A Westfield Narrative 1
"Ice Spoke of the Spells" was created out of modified versions of four previously published pieces, namely, the original "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm", together with "West of the Fields Long Gone", "She Dear One who Followed Me" and "Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen", all of which first saw the light of day at Blogster. A definitive version was published at Blogster in May 2008.
Thanks to the large quantity of notes I committed to paper while at Westfield, this long vanished college can live again through writings I've painstakingly forged out of them, such as the first paragraph of the poetic piece below, "The Nice Guy on the Sidelines". It was based on several conversations I had with Ged, a great Westfield friend. He was a moody, tough-talking kid with a rocker's quiff from Liverpool who I think had been around during the Punk days at Eric's, but whose heart was pure gold. I'm sure these talks took place late one night in late 1982 in Scorpio's, a Greek restaurant opposite the college on the Finchley Road following a performance at college of Lorca's "Blood Wedding" in which I'd played the part of the Novio, or bridegroom. The previous summer Ged had played Malvolio in a production of Shakespeare's "Twelth Night" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Directed by Dawn Austwick, the play's action had been transplanted to an Arcadian swinging sixties, with Ged interpreting Malvolio as a brooding relic from the previous decade, while I as Feste was perfectly of my time as a wandering minstrel in flowing hippie clothes. When we re-performed it at the college the following winter term we were like returning heroes, at least that's how it seemed to me.
The second paragraph constitutes the main poetic body of the first "Ice Spoke". It started life like much of the Westfield material as diary notes written on spare scraps of paper only to be shelved for more than two decades, and refers to a single evening at Westfield, almost certainly taking place in 1983, but perhaps '82. It gives some indication of my social hypersensitivity and unceasing need for attention, affection and approval within a social setting, and the way it affected close Westfield friends.
Ice Spoke of the Spells
I think you should be
0ne of the greats,
Carl, but you've
Given up and that's sad...
You drink too much,
You think, ____ it
And you go out and get _____,
When I'm 27 I'd be happy
To be like you...
In your writing,
Make sure you've got
'Here, you _______!'
You were a genius,
You were a failure
& Now you think...
What's genius anyway?
Those sad faces
My soul was
I couldn’t speak!
I felt like the nice guy
On the sidelines,
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical
I’d only approached
By my third
And Gail said
Your eyes are
You must be
S. said: “I’m afraid…
You’re not just
Of the spells of calm
And the hysterical
Then anxious elation.
A Westfield Narrative 2
On and off throughout the 1980s, I catalogued my days through notebooks, cassette tapes, odd scraps of paper, and so on. Some of these rough diary entries produced "She Dear One Who Followed Me" which is featured below. It first existed as a series of scrawled notes based on conversations I'd had in 1982 or '83 with a young Frenchwoman who was once a very dear friend. One of these resulted from an incident in which I'd made a fool of myself by storming off during a gig after having broken broken a guitar string. As the guitar belonged to my flatmate David who was in the audience, he quite reasonably expressed his displeasure out loud, while my musical partner Aidan told me to keep playing. Instead of doing this, I threw a fit of pique before making my way back to Golders Green.
The first section ending with "you could hurt me, you know", makes use of extracts from several separate conversations, which were also edited; while the second, ending with "your look" was taken from a single heavily edited conversation. The final section, also taken from a single conversation, was reproduced word for word. As a whole, it provides something of an insight into how my friend saw me in those days...as a far darker and more complex individual than my good time guy persona might have suggested; but she was not alone in doing this.
She Dear One Who Followed Me
It was she, bless her,
who followed me...
she'd been crying...
she's too good for me,
that's for sure...
are too good to you...
it makes me sick
to see them...
you don't really give...
you indulge in conversation,
but your mind
is always elsewhere,
You could hurt me,
You are a Don Juan,
Like him, you have
I think you have
There's something so...so...
It's not that
but that there is
an omnipresent sadness
about you, a fatality..."
A Westfied Narrative 3
The final section of this story, "Some Sad Dark Secret", once part of an older Blogster piece was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I unearthed about a year and a half ago, and probably dating from 1982 or '83. The first three sections contain words of advice offered me by Dr Margaret Mein, who was my principle tutor during my final year at Westfield. Under her galvanising mentorship I studied the controversial and often disturbing writings of Andre Gide as my main subject, and throughout '85, she tirelessly encouraged my intellectual and literary inclinations, in the firm belief that I had the makings of a professional academic or writer. The fourth and fifth sections have as their basis words once spoken to me by another of my Westfield tutors. They refer to my former desire to shock by the affectation of an almost hysterical vehemence of tone in my writings, as well as the endless inclusion of ranting lists.
Some Sad Dark Secret
Dr M. said:
You should have
On which to
The tone of some
Of my work
A little dubious,
That I’m hiding
Some sad and dark
From the world.
She told me
Not to rhapsodise,
That it would be
For me to
“Don’t push People”,
Dr H. said:
“By the third page,
I felt I’d been
I can almost see
You’re telling us
What to do.
You seem to
Into such an
Capacity for lists.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:44PM
12 From Paris to Golders Green
Introduction: From Paris to Golders Green
The various sections of "From Paris to Golders Green" provide a stark contrast between my psychological state during the first half of my time at Westfield College, London, where I studied for a BA degree in French and Drama between 1981 and ’85, and that during my final year. An exception being "Paris Will Always be Paris", which treats on the intervening sojourn to the city of my Bohemian dreams.
“Gallant Festivities” was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-’83. Consisting of two parts, the first refers to revels enjoyed in the wake of a performance at college of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in which I’d played Feste the Fool, a role very close to my heart in its combination of tenderness and causticity. The second was formed out of an assortment of diary entries from ‘83, some made in response to another night of merryment following the performance of a play, this time of Lorca's “Blood Wedding". Both evoke the carefree hedonism that marked my golden years at Westfield, a college then in its twilight time prior to being incorporated into Queen Mary on east London’s grim Mile End Road, far, far from the semi-pastoral beauty of Hampstead.
I like to see my first two Westfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to giddy excess, with disaster approaching just beyond the horizon. In a general sense this came in the shape of Black Monday the stock market crash of Monday the 19th of October 1987, which could be said to have put paid to the spirit of the eighties just as effectively as the Great Crash of 1929 had spelled the end of the “greatest, gaudiest spree in history”. As to myself in particular it manifested as slow psychic disintegration, process whose onset I tend to date from my arrival in Paris just days before my 28th birthday in autumn 1983.
"The Children of the Sun" is a highly modified version of a prose section from the former "Tales from a College that Disappeared", while "My Paris Begins" is an entirely new work, written in 2007. The second Paris piece, "A Paris Flaneur" was extracted from an uncompleted novel written sometime in the mid to late 1980s, and edited and versified before being published at Blogster in early '06. Further very minor alterations were made to it late last year.
"The Happy Highways Where I Went" is an entirely new piece serving partly as a bridge between the Paris section and the story's finale, "The Wanderer of Golders Green" (1985). This versified piece, formed from notes made in that same mid-decadal year, was to some extent the result of a long-established love affair on my part with Bohemian nihilism. Yet, as I remember it, my natural exaltation was being compromised as never before by terrible depressive attacks. I think I used booze and nicotine partly as a means of deadening myself to the fact that the possibility of fame was starting to furiously recede by '85, with the result that my passion for attention started assuming desperate proportions, and leading me more and more into dangerous situations in which alcohol served to quash my natural fears and inhibitions.
"From Paris to Golders Green" was first published in definitive form at Blogster in May 2008.
It was my evening,
That’s for sure -
At last I’m good
At something -
27 years old
I may be, but…
“I’ve heard all
“I have to meet
“It’s your aura, Carl…”
I even signed
One of Phil’s friends’
“When are you going
To be a superstar?”
A few days ago -
That seemed to be
On everyone’s lips.
“You got Feste perfectly,
Just how I
“…Not only when
but off too!”
At last, at last, at last
I’m good at something…
And so the party…
I danced first with P.,
"...Don't go away..."
Chloe called me...
…To her problems…
To my “innocent face”…
“S. seems Elusive
But is in fact,
You’re the opposite -
You give to everyone
But are incapable
Of giving in particular.”
M. was comparing me
To June M….
Descriptions by AN:
“She does not dare
To be herself…”
Everything I’d always
Wanted to be,
I now am…
On the reflections
Partly of truth,
“…In the eyes
"...So long, Carl..."
“There is no June
To grasp and know…”
…Partly of myth.
I kept getting up to dance…
The Children of the Sun
During my second year at Westfield I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Andrew and David, from Darlington in the north east, and the Yorkshire city of Hull respectively. They were both French students, although like me Andrew also studied Drama.
Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge (which doubled as David’s bedroom) with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We then went on to organise what we optimistically called a “salon” after the fashion of French. While well attended, it only ran to a single meeting, being a desperate attempt by three pretenders at aping Oxford-style decadence in the upstairs apartment of a tiny little dwelling in suburban north London. One thing is certain, we were not part of any revived Brideshead Generation or anything of that sort.
We drove our ebullient landlady half-crazy at times through heavy-footedness and other crimes of upper floor thoughtlessness, although she rarely complained, even though we were in the habit of holding noisy discussions well into the night. In common with most of my friends I drank heavily most evenings, but almost never during the day. In fact, self-doubt was not a serious problem for me in the early eighties any more than was depression. My first two Westfield years were a neverending round of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set against the background of one of the most beautiful and bucolic suburbs of north London. I'd go so far as to say that I was a genuinely happy person back then, with clouds only starting to appear in my life once I'd left Westfield in the summer of '83 with a view to travelling to Paris the following autumn to work as an English language assistant in a French secondary school. This meant that I'd not be seeing my friends at Westfield again, that is as a fellow student, nor joining them in their final year celebrations. An alternative existed in the shape of a few weeks abroad, one which Andrew perhaps wisely opted for; but accepting this would have deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I’d long worshipped from afar as the only true home of an artist. So, in the autumn of that year, I took lodgings on the grounds of the Lycee JP Timbaud in Bretigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs situated some sixteen miles south of the city centre, and remained there until the following May.
I'm almost certain that at some point not too long after my arrival I became afflicted by a sense of self-disillusion, having up until this point considered myself a genuinely good person. Perhaps I felt I’d let people down, people who’d loved and trusted me because of the way I looked, with such an "innocent face", as described by an admirer in "Gallant Festivities". At the same time, paradoxially perhaps, I'd never been vainer, to such a degree that some of the Lycee kids affectionately likened me to Aldo Maccione, a comic actor of Italian extraction whose absurd affected swagger he referred to as "La Classe".
Yet there seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience was starting to scream out in protest and pain. It may also have been the case I was aware if only unconsciously that by severing myself from a vast network of highly gifted friends, many of whom looked to me as a colossal and charismatic talent and who cared for me deeply as I did them, I'd squandered yet another opportunity for social advancement. Whatever the truth, during his residence on the edge of my beloved City of Light, the Golden Boy started to unravel fast.
Paris Will Always be Paris
1) My Paris Begins
...my paris begins with those early days as a conscious flaneur i recall the couple seated opposite me on the metro when i was still innocent of its labyrinthine complexity slim pretty white girl clad head to toe in denim smiling wistfully while her muscular black beau stared through me with fathomless orbs and one of them spoke almost in a whisper "qu'est-ce-que t'en pense" and it dawned on me yes the slender young parisienne with the distant desirous eyes was no less male than me dismal movies in the forum des halles and beyond being screamed at in pigalle and then howled at again by some kind of madman or derelict who told me to go to the bois de boulogne to meet what he saw as my destiny menaced by a sinister skinhead for trying on marie's wide-brimmed hat and then making my way alone to my room in the insanely driving rain getting soused in les halles with jane who'd just seen dillon as rusty james and was walking in a daze jane again with judy at the cave de la huchette jazz cellar the cafe de flore with igor who asked for a menu for me and then disappeared back to bretigny cash squandered on a gold tootbrush two tone shoes from close by to the place d'italie portrait sketched at the place de tertre paperback books by symbolist poets such as villiers de l'isle adam but second hand volumes by trakl and ernest deleve and a leather jacket from the marche de puces of the porte de clignancourt wandering the city alone or with andrea or igor or david or dom or astrid and sandra i still miss her losing rory's address scrawled on a page of musset's confessions d'un enfant du siecle walking the length and breadth of the rue st denis what a city as anna-justine once wrote me so thrillingly lovely and yet so desespere my beloved paris may your hope return one day...
2) A Paris Flaneur
I took the Metro
Where I slowly sipped
In one of those brasseries
Immortalised by Brassai.
Bewhiskered old toper
In a naval officer's cap,
His table bestrewn
With empty wine bottles
And cigarette butts,
Repeatedly screeched the name
"Phillippe" until such a time
As a pallid, impassive bartender
With patent leather hair,
Filled the old man's glass to the brim,
With a mock-obsequious
"Voila, mon Capitaine!"
I cut into the Rue de Bac,
Traversed the Pont Royal,
With its gothic tower,
Constructed only latterly,
In order that
The 6th Century church
The style of the remainder
Of the 1er arrondissement
Before steering for the
Place de Chatelet,
And onwards...les Halles!
The Happy Highways Where I Went
I can't remember exactly when it was that my recent past started taunting me in the mid 1980s, or even if it ever did, such was the Polyanna irrepressibility of my good humour in those days. Still, I can't help thinking it was soon after my final return to Westfield in the autumn of '84, although I may be completely wrong.
I doubt that it even occurred to me that only a few years before I'd known legends of sport, the cinema, the theatre, blue bloods and aristocrats, and they'd been kind, generous of spirit to this cypher from the outer suburbs. I doubt that it remotely troubled me that had I not disgraced myself in '79 during a pointless little gig I staged for fun during a Guildhall folk night with a couple of friends by displaying superstar temperament in the face of justifiable heckling, I might have gone on to be the front man for a boy prodigy from Buenos Aires who went on to play guitar and even write for the Summoner himself. After all, he'd asked me to while we were both gilded youth at the Guildhall School. At some point he'd briefly allied himself with one of the most successful Jazz-Funk acts of the eighties together with another Guildhall friend of mine Mike. Mike'd even invited me to an early rehearsal...my mother made a note of this in green ink after speaking to him about it on the phone. Perhaps they could have done with a singer at that point.
Surely all this must have started to eat away at me as I approached my fourth decade of life without anything much to show for it all, and that the piece to follow is therefore more than just another expression of a pampered misfit's infatuation with poetic discontent. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
The Wanderer of Golders Green (1985)
I decided on a Special B
Before the eve.
I bought a lager
At the Bar
And chatted to Joy.
Bought me another.
I appreciated the fact
That he remembered
The time he,
His gal Carol,
And Rory Downed
An entire Bottle
Of Jack Daniels
In a Paris-bound train.
A tanned cat
Bought me a (large) half,
Then another half.
My fatal eyes
Are my downfall.
I drank yet another half...
My head was spinning
When it hit the pillow
With a terrible headache
Around one o'clock.
I prayed it would depart.
I slowly got dressed.
I was as chatty as ever
Before the exam...
Periodically I put my face
In my hands or groaned
Or sighed -
was burning me inside.
I finished my paper
In 1 hour and a half.
As I walked out
I caught various eyes
Sandra’s, Judy’s (quizzical) etc…
I went to bed…
Slept ‘till five…
Read O’Neill until 7ish...
And strolled down
To Golders Green,
In order to relive
A few memories.
I sang to myself -
A few memories
Flashed into my mind,
But not as many
as I'd have liked -
It wasn't the same.
It wasn't the same.
Singing songs brought
I snuck into McDonalds
Where I felt At home,
I bought a few things,
Toothpaste and pick,
And fruit juice.
Took a sentimental journey
Back to Powis Gardens,
Sad, suspicious and strange.
I sat up until 3am,
Or writing (inept) poetry.
Awoke at 10,
But didn’t leave
My room till 12,
Lost my way
To Swiss Cottage,
Lost my happiness.
Oh so conscious
Of my failure
And after a fashion,
Enjoying this knowledge.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:42PM
13 A Cambridge Lamentation
"A Cambridge Lamentation" centres largely on my brief stay at Homerton, a teaching training college contained within the University of Cambridge, with its campus at Hills Road just outside the city centre. It is a mosaic of works or parts of works all previously published at Blogster and yet subject, to the best of my knowledge, to considerable modification since, these being the original versions of "Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen", "Shreds of Nothingness" and "A Cantabrian Lament". "From Mr Denmark to the Audition" is an entirely new piece, written in May 2008, the month a final version of the story was prepared at FaithWriters.
Shreds of Nothingness
The first employment I undertook after leaving Westfield was as a wandering deliverer of novelty telegrams. It may be that I gave no serious thought to the future, because I didn’t intend having one, and that my life’s work was the pursuit of immortality through acting, music or literature, or ideally all three, while tasting as many earthly fruits, strong sensations, and limit-experiences as I was able to in the meantime.
I evidently had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of progeny, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to fame or infamy. That said, in keeping with my then passionately felt liberal-left convictions, I constantly entertained the thought of an alternative career in one or other of the so-called caring professions throughout the '80s. In the event however, I ended up succesfully passing an interview for a Post Graduate Certificate of Education or PGCE course at Homerton.
The pathological restlessness I suffered from at Cambridge, and feasibly evidenced by "A Cantabrian Lament", based on a letter or series of letters I wrote but never posted shortly before the end of the Michaelmas term, might go some way towards explaining why I left the college only weeks afterwards. However, quite why I was so determined to do a bunk remains a mystery to me more than two decades later. After all, I'd every reason to be happy there, as I'd been made to feel so welcome, and appreciated, and not just by the tutors and my fellow students. For example, a young undergraduate, well-known throughout the university for the high quality of his theatrical productions singled me out to feature in a play he intended putting on during the Lent Term. I think it was a Berkoff; or perhaps a Pinter; I can't remember. He did this after seeing me play the leading role of Tom in Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie" for another student's directorial project or something. Evidently, if he took an interest in you, you were pretty well made as an actor at Cambridge. What more did I want, for Spielberg himself to have been in the audience? Incredible as it might seem, I was actually rather disappointed that he wasn't a talent scout from outside the unversity. That's how unrealistic I was. Everyone was falling over themselves to give me a break and I still wasn't happy. Didn't I realise that I hadn't been born into a world of social privilege, and this was not my due, any more than anything else was?
As if all this weren't enough to fulfill my egoistic cravings if only for a while, Tim Scott, the then president of the world famous Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had talent-spotted me. This is not an exaggeration, given that since the the late 1950s, Footlights has played host to such brilliant figures as Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, John Cleese, David Frost, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Lawrie, Emma Thompson, and more recently, Sasha Baron Cohen. I could have been added to that list. Tim just happened to be a Homerton man, and so sticking with his own he asked myself and a close Cambridge friend Jonathan to be part of the production he was preparing for his presidency. And to cap it all, when I made my first appearance at the Manor Community College in the tough London overspill area of Arbury where I was due to begin my Teaching Practice, the pupils reacted to me as if I was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. My TP would have been a breeze.
As a Christian, my faith helps me to cope with the full furious ferocity of my past follies. God's offered me a second act in life, during which I might go some way towards atoning for the damage I caused during the first; so that one day those terrible words contained in “Maud Muller” by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) might not burn themselves too savagely into my mind: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘it might have been'". But it's not going to be easy like it was for me was back in the mid-1980s when I could afford to throw my golden youth and good fortune about like some kind of crazed Renaissance princeling. It's going to be nothing but struggle, but God willing it'll all work out for the best in the end not least for my poor soul: "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world and lose himself, or be cast away?" (Luke 9: 25).
A Cambridge Lamentation
In such a state
I could fall
To the ball
I wanted to be
Of ev'ry one
But I didn't want
To lose "her".
I’ve done little today
I’ll get over
I feel now,
And very soon.
I’ll freeze again,
An extra layer
To get out of here...
Homerton's always a little lonely
at the weekends...
no noise and life,
I like solitude,
but not in places
where's there's recently been
alot of people.
Reclusiveness protects you
and you can be as nostalgic
to what happened half an hour ago
as half a century ago,
in fact more so.
I have I have
I have to get out of here...
My capacity for social warmth,
excessive social dependance
and romantic zeal
can be practically
it's no wonder
I feel the need
I feel trapped here,
there's no outlet for my talents.
I have I have I have to get out of here...
From Mr Denmark to The Audition
And get out there I certainly did, within days in fact of the start of the Lent term of 1987. I can remember watching the classic Fred Zimmerman movie "From Here to Eternity" on TV with Dean, a talented musician and songwriter who went on to be a close friend for more than ten years, and another couple of guys I think, before simply vanishing into the night. Lying doggo for several months, I didn't get involved with anything to do with acting or performing until the end of the year when my old Westfield friend, Astrid Hilne asked me to take part in a rehearsed reading of a play called "Gayuka -The Dressing Room", or something of that sort.
Then a comedy character was created for me by Astrid called "Mr Denmark 1979". Of the kind of the deluded egomaniacal loser, Mr Denmark was a one-time winner of a Scandinavian male beauty contest, split like Miss World into three sections, formal wear, day wear and swim wear, who'd been lunching out on his paltry success ever since. What's more, he'd come to believe in his key role in the development of pretty well every major cultural event since the dawn of Pop, only to be cravenly ripped off by Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Punks, Rappers and so on.
In September or thereabouts, Mr Denmark served as one of the MCs for a marathon benefit for the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, featuring future superstars of television, film and beyond. They included the stand-up comedian Jo Brand, the satirical impressionist Rory Bremner, and the character actor and playwright, Patrick Marber. Ole Danish went down so well that I wrote a show around him which premiered at a new variety venue called Club Shout in what I think was 1988, again to great success. I kept him going until about the mid 1990s before finally tiring of his narcissistic antics.
1987 was also the year I first got seriously involved in walk-on work for television and the cinema. I'd done some previously. For example, I briefly feature as a side drummer at a typically English village fete in the 1980 movie "The Mirror Crack'd", based on the Agatha Christie novel and directed by Guy Hamilton. The film's co-producer with Lord Brabourne, Richard Goodwin, went on to do a good deal of work with my father. And in the 1986 telemovie "Poor Little Rich Girl" directed by Charles Jarrott and based on the life of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, I can be seen in a white suit gesticulating like a loon as seminal twenties crooner Rudy Vallee. But these were just isolated episodes. From 1987 or 1988, I took this form of work more seriously, initially in multiple episodes of the sitcom "Life Without George" (1987-'89) which I received through the agent Bill Richards. But it was through the Screenlite agency, with its HQ at Twickenham's Lee International Studios that most of my walk-on work arrived for what I think was a three-year period from about 1990, and largely as a crime scene photographer in "The Bill", a long-running television series centred on a south London police station.
Soon after I'd finished my work for "Life Without George", I started rehearsals for John London's translation of "The Audition" ("El Veri del Teatre") by the Catalonian playwright Rodolf Sirera, which was due to have its London premiere towards the beginning of '88 at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill. Directed by Astrid Hilne, it featured Steven Dykes as a shadowy amoral character known simply as The Marquis who lures an actor called Gabriel de Beaumont played by myself to his house on the false promise of an audition. He goes on to sadistically manipulate de Beaumont into acting a scene from Xenophon's "The Death of Socrates" as if he were actually dying by use of a supposed poisoned drink. It received some fairly positive reviews, as well as more lukewarm ones in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Stage and other British periodicals, and Steve and I both received praise for our acting. I should have taken advantage of this minor triumph, but I'd already committed myself to work as an English teacher at the Callan School on Oxford Street. I stayed there for two years between about March 1988 and January 1990. It was a blissfully social period of my life, as the piece that follows, "Strange Coldness Perplexing" makes perfectly clear, but my theatrical career suffered because of it. Not that I was entirely inactive in this respect, in that I continued to perform as Mr Denmark while working as a Callan teacher, and entered a singing competition at Pips Wine Bar on South Kensington's Cromwell Road, and even hoped to gain a residency there, but it didn't work out.
I could write a whole book on my time at Callan's alone, indeed on pretty much any of the major episodes of my existence, "Spawn of the Swinging Sixties" being merely one version of it, to which layer upon layer might be added to create a complete portrait, although it is doubtful whether this will ever come to be realised in the time I have left, however much or little this might be. Minor edit: 7/3/13
Wed, Jul 2nd - 9:37PM
14 Lone Birthday Boy Dancing
"Lone Birthday Boy Dancing" was prepared for definitive publication in June 2008 with its centrepiece a modified version of "Birthday Boozer, Solo Dancer". Originally published at Blogster on the 21st of May 2006, "Birthday Boozer" used a few hastily scrawled notes dating from the early nineties and commemorating a recently celebrated birthday as its raw material. It was reproduced word for word, although slightly edited, and of course subject to free versification.
Onto "Lone Birthday Boy Dancing", various other previously published works or parts of works have been grafted. "The Petrified Fool" and "A Pair of PGCEs" for example were both based on "Final Stand of the Advance Guard", which had been published at Blogster on the 1st of August 2006; while "From A Letter Unsent, ca. 1990" was first adapted earlier in that year from a letter typed to an old Westfield friend Georgina, now a successful photographer. When it was recovered, having never been finished, nor sent, it was as scrap paper, lost in a sea of miscellaneous mementos. "Ravers of the New Dance Generation" was an entirely new section written in June 2008.
The Petrified Fool
In early 1990, I lost my position as a teacher of English as a foreign language in an Oxford Street language school where I'd spent almost two years, the last two of a decade somewhat redolent of the '20s and '60s in terms of its glamour and profligacy. It was a job I adored, for the social life it handed me on a plate, as well as sufficient money to finance the innumerous hours I spent each evening in the Champion public house in Wells Street. There, teacher and student alike would congregate some time after 7.30pm when the final class ended. At any given time it was almost impossible to extricate me from my circle of favourites who tended to come from, among other countries, Italy, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Poland, France etc.
Additionally I spent my spare cash on clothes, cassettes, books, as well as rent during the months I spent as a tenant in Ealing, west London. This was at a friend's house, or rather a friend of my father's, namely Robin Williams, a small, bearded Welsh violinist especially gifted at folk and Jazz. Robin was an existentially glamorous figure with a distinct wild side, and yet enormously warm and charming. Always immaculately yet casually dressed, he exuded a gentle, melancholy charisma that was irresistible, not least apparently to the fair sex with which he never ceased to be successful. Sadly he died in 2003, aged only 54. It was a pleasure knowing him; he was a one-off.
And then there were the hundreds I spent on hypnotherapy sessions in Harley Street, where I hoped I might find a cure not just for my increasingly out of control drinking but the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which was a partial cause of it.
I begged for the return of my job...in person, through a friend, even by letter, but Callan's senior teachers refused to be swayed, and given my cavalier approach to punctuality, their firmness was more than justified. They'd been more than fair with me, and long-suffering.
So, reluctantly delivered after almost two years from the shackles of a job I genuinely loved, I briefly revived my acting career again thanks to the influence of my friend Astrid Hilne. She recommended me for the part of the Fool to the director Lesley Wake, who was staging a production of "Twelth Night" at the Jackson Lane theatre in north London. I wrote most of the music for the songs, which received alot of praise. My acting did too, one woman even going so far as to tell me that I was the greatest Feste she'd ever witnessed. And she looked as if she knew what she was talking about. Once again, Feste had served me well.
In keeping with the spirit of the play, rehearsals and performances were followed and to a lesser extent accompanied by some pretty hard partying by myself and various members of the cast, and we were close for a time. In time, however, we dispersed, which was sad if inevitable.
As the final decade of the 20th Century dawned, I was finding my public image as much a source of terror as exhileration, and possibly to a greater extent than had ever been the case. However, such was my abiding need to be noticed that I stubbornly refused to moderate my image. To be fair though it was tame in comparison to what it had once been, and the recently departed 1980s had been a decade known for its sartorial flamboyance and lapses of good taste in the shape not just of the infamous mullet hairstyle, but frizzy perms, shoulder pads, leg warmers, ra-ra skirts, pixie boots and so on. Not that I wore any of these. But I did on occasion sport a bleached wedge of the type favoured by Princess Diana, George Michael and Green. As well as at various times, blue shoes, gold jeans, and turquoise earstuds.
Instead, I began to anaesthetize myself as never before against what I saw as nocturnal London's ever-humming aura of menace, which may or may not have been more intense than a decade previously. For after all, I'd been attracting hostile attention for the way I looked since the early 1970s. What's more, years of hard living were almost certainly starting to take their toll on my nervous system. In addition to alcohol and nicotine, I'd been ingesting vast quantities of caffeine for years, although I may have stopped taking this in solid form by the onset of the nineties.
In early autumn 1990, I embarked on another PGCE course at the West London Institute of Education, now part of the University of Brunel, becoming resident in Worple Road in nearby Isleworth. I began quite promisingly, and fitted in well, making good friends, and as might be expected, excelled in drama and physical education. I didn't drink during the day and on those rare occasions I did, it was just a question of a pint or so with lunch, and had mentally determined to complete the course. But the following piece, taken from a letter written but never sent in about 1990, makes it clear that at night my gargantuan intake of alcohol was putting my physical safety in jeopardy.
From A Letter Unsent, ca. 1990
I haven't been in touch
for a long time.
The last time
I saw you
St. Christopher's Place.
It was a lovely evening...
when I knocked
that chair over.
I am sorry.
I've had not
a few accidents
of that kind.
Just three days ago,
I slipped out
in a garden
at a friend's house...
and keeled over,
but three times,
like a log...
clonking my nut
that people heard me
in the sitting room.
I can't remember
a single sentence
The problem is...
Ravers of the New Dance Generation
My Teaching Practice was due to take place the following term but I was desperately behind in my work, so provisionally removed myself from the course in order to decide whether it was worth my carrying on or not. The authorities were in agreement with my decision. In the event I decided to quit, and met with the head of my course to discuss this, and she was very agreeable, making no effort to dissuade me. However, rather than immediately return to my parents' home I stayed on in Isleworth in order to rekindle my five-year old career as a deliverer of novelty telegrams. I also continued to work as a walk-on artist for the TV series "The Bill", based in the London suburb of Merton, Surrey.
Still in Isleworth, I became half of a musical partnership formed with Mark a wild young singer-songwriter from Manchester. I met him through an ad in the Stage newspaper for acts for a movable variety club he was MCing at the time. A true Renaissance man, actor, comedian, songwriter, performer, writer, film maker and thinker, Mark and I remain close friends to this day. I wanted to call the band Venus Xtravaganza, but we settled for Mark's choice of The Unknowns...if we were ever called anything. Some three years together yielded some busking in Leicester Sqare, the occasional pub or restaurant gig, a rough demo recorded on a hired Portastudio, and countless hours of socialising that typically lasted well into the small hours. At this point I'd often crash at the small lower floor flat Mark shared with his girlfriend Babs in suburban east London. Additionally I worked for a while with one novelty telegram firm from late 1990, and then for another a year or so later, and then still another towards the end of '92.
Winter 1991 was subarctic in a way I haven't known an English winter to be since. Not literally of course, but I can remember wearing several coats just in order to be able to bear a cold that apparently doesn't exist any more in this country. I spent a sizable part of it of it in the seaside town of Hastings attempting to pass a course in TEFL, or Teaching English as Foreign Language.
How vividly I recall the thrill of seeing seagulls hovering over Hastings town centre as it must have been soon after arriving at the station for my interview. I passed, but I couldn't say it went well, because I constantly avoided my interviewer's eyes until she virtually ordered me to look at her, then saying something like: "I said look at me, not stare". This as if to emphasize her belief that I didn't stand a snowball's chance in Hell of passing. I worked like a trojan but I was struggling terribly, tormented by OCD and its endless demands on my time and energies in the shape of rituals both physical and mental. I didn't drink at all during the day, but at night I was sometimes so stoned I was incoherent.
Predictably perhaps I failed, which was a terrible blow. I asked the authorities if they might reconsider, but they made it clear to me that their decision was final. And yet I'd loved my time in Hastings, a beautiful old town that could be threatening at night even then. This was my darkest, strangest time, and I loved every second of it, even while continuing to search for some kind of spiritual solution to my problems. I even visited a "church" in Claremont Road which was far from the kind of I was ultimately to seek out.
The following summer of 1992, I made another attempt at passing the TEFL course, this time at Regent's College in the beautiful north London park. But by this time I was drinking all day every day, and so of course it was a disaster, even though I worked as hard as I'd done in Hastings, and even gave some good classes. I still have some video footage of myself teaching at Regent's and not for a second would anyone watching it believe that I was out of my head on booze. It was a fabulous summer, and much of it I spent in a state of ecstatic hyperactivity. Looking back I wonder if I was in the grip of actual pathological mania. It's difficult to describe the bliss that consumed me all throughout that final intoxicated summer. But it was a false sense of security, a seductive vortex intent on sucking me down by degrees into a black hole of ruin, death and damnation.
My memory tells me that the mood in the country had changed, now that the decadent cavalier eighties of the New Romantics was over and widely discredited. In its place in my view was a new puritan spirit, but it was as far as could be from the Christian spirit of the Roundheads or the Pilgrims of the Great Migration, being purely pagan and bohemian. The classic travelling Hippies of the old underground had somehow merged with the Ravers of the new Dance generation. Again, in my view, but what is certain is that I was thrilled by it all, and so keen to visit as many clubs and venues as I could where the new mood was being celebrated. As things turned out I only ever went to one, CyberSeed in Covent Garden, although the following year I visited Megatripolis at the Marquee on Charing Cross Road, but it was as a hawk-eyed visitor that I came, not a devotee.
The following January found me attending yet another PGCE course, this time at the University of Greenwich in Eltham, south east London and bearing the suffix fe, signifying Further Education. In other words, I was training to teach pupils in sixth form colleges and kindred establishments. As if all this weren't enough to satisfy my sed non satiata, rehearsals for the play "Simples of the Moon" by Rosalind Scanlon had only recently begun. Again this was thanks to the kindness of my dear friend Astrid Hilne who was directing the play for the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, and through whom I had two small parts. Such a thrilling, lethal existence...the following piece serves to evoke it, and there's a twilight mood to it, with the birthday boy performing his demented solo dance in defiance of the total ruin he's so flagrantly courting.
Lone Birthday Boy Dancing
Yesterday for my birthday,
I started off
with a bottle of wine...
I took the train
I had half a bitter
at the Cafe de Piaf
I went to work
for a couple of hours or so;
I had a pint after work;
I went for an audition;
after the audition,
I had another pint
and a half;
I had another half,
before meeting my mates,
for my b'day celebrations.
We had a pint together;
we went into
the night club,
where we had champagne
(I had three glasses);
I had a further
glass of vino,
by which time,
I was so gone
that I drew an audience
of about thirty
by performing a solo
in the middle of the disco floor...
We all piled off to the pub
where I had another drink
(I can't remember
what it was)...
I then made my way home,
took the bus from Surbiton,
but ended up
in the wilds of Surrey;
I took another bus home,
and watched some telly
and had something to eat
before crashing out...
I really, really enjoyed
the eve, but today,
I've been walking around
like a zomb.
I've had only one drink today,
an early morning
I spent the day working,
then I went to a bookshop,
where, like a monk,
I go for a day's
drying out session...
Drying out is really awful;
you jump at every shadow;
you feel dizzy,
you notice everything;
very often, I don't follow through...
Wed, Jul 2nd - 8:04PM
15 Reborn in the Nick of Time
As of 3rd July 2008, this is still a work in progress and far from complete.
Collapse in an Indian Restaurant
January 1993 may well have been the single most debauched month of my entire existence. It was also my very last month as an unsaved person, whoich is to say someone who has not been born again by the Spirit of God. During that time as I recall, I'd
typically rise at about six in the morning soon after which I'd prepare myself for the day by way of a bottle of fortified wine or something similar. Then I'd periodically keep my units topped up by sipping from a small bottle of vodka or gin. Some evenings I'd spend in central London, others with my fellow students from Greenwich, who were irresistibly drawn to an anarchic subversive self-destructive personality who sang "Real Wild Child" as if he really meant it. Although once I'd quit drinking and become a Christian, the socialising stopped outright, and I was dubbed "Mr Invisible" by one of the students.
There were times in town when I couldn't keep the booze down, so I'd order a king-sized coke from MacDonalds which I'd then lace with gin or vodka whose smell was thereby disguised. I'd meet with Mark or another close friend, Rob perhaps, or Adrian, or Dean. One thing they had in common is that they were all becoming alarmed by my increasingly dishevelled appearance and bizarre behaviour. There seemed to be no end to the limits I was willing to take the latter, although I was never aggressive or threatening. I was an ecstatic drunk, a true Dionysian. One day'd find me crying out on a British Rail train, another performing a wild disjointed Karate kick into thin air causing passers-by to flinch in terror, or being actually helped onto a train by a vagrant in better shape than me, or tearing my shirt and trousers to shreds after having arrived too late for an audition. But things really came to a head in the first fortnight of 1992, when I collapsed in an Indian restaurant in suburban Surrey. I'd been quietly dining with two female companions when, suddenly feeling like pure death, I asked one of my friends whether I looked as bad as I felt. As soon as she'd confirmed that indeed I did I got up from the table, walked a few paces and then collapsed into a heap in the middle of the restaurant, only to be carried out into the fresh night air by two or three Indian waiters. One of them then set about attempting to shock some life back into me by flicking ice cold water in my face, while desperately urging me not to give up. For him to have spoken this way I must have looked pretty close to packing it all in. But I made a lightning-quick recovery, and within two days was drinking as heavily as ever, continuing to drink virtually around the clock until the weekend. I spent Saturday evening with a close friend, and early in the morning of the 16th after having drunk solidly all night, I asked her to fill a long glass with neat gin and each sip took me further and further into the desired ectstatic state.
I awoke in a state of exhileration, which was typical for me following a night of heavy boozing. It was my one drying out day of the week, and I probably spent it writing and doing some general clearing up. One thing I specifically remember doing was listening to a radio documentary on the Doors which I'd taped some weeks or perhaps months earlier. I especially savoured "When the Music's Over" from one of my favourite albums, "Strange Days", which seemed to me about living in the shadow of death, beckoning death, mocking death, defying death. I saw myself in Jim Morrison, a great idol of mine in those days, straddling transcendent bliss and total annihilation. But for Morrison the Blakean road of excess led not to the palace of wisdom but to Paris, the city of his dream of being a great poet like his idol Rimbaud, and where he died an unnatural and probably terrifying early death at only 27 years old.
The Death of an Addict
Alcohol and other narcotics lull the addict into a false state of security, and indestructibility. This makes them ill-prepared for their first serious health crisis which could also be their last. This was certainly the case for me, although I survived where others have not been so fortunate. Suddenly, faced with my own possible early death, self-destruction didn't seem so glamorous any longer, and I didn't want the music to be over after all. When it comes down to it, how many addicts seriously want their habit to lead to a lonely, squalid, awful early death? Once death has become a certainty, there is nothing an addict can do other than wait to die. From what I can recall, there is nothing welcoming on the other side for an unrepentant addict who takes things too far, quite the contrary in fact. Unless I imagined it I sensed something awaiting me that frightened me to the very core of my being.
At some point as Sunday evening wore on, I felt my legs go numb, as if I was about to collapse as I'd done a week earlier. Scared half to death, I opened a spare bottle of sparkling wine I had about the house even though I'd earmarked Sunday as a booze-free day. Once I'd drained it, I felt a good deal better for a while. I even felt sufficiently recovered to take a few photographs which I still have in my possession. Soon after doing so I set off in search of more alcohol. Arriving at a local convenience store, the Asian shop-keeper, highly alarmed by my wild-eyed appearance gently informed me that it being Sunday he wasn't able to sell me any liquor for some time yet.
There was nothing for me to do but take refuge on a nearby green, where I lay for a while, still dressed I imagine in the shabby white cut-off shorts I'd been wearing earlier. I was also unshaven, with freshly cropped hair which I hadn't got round to highlighting yet. It's safe to say I didn't look my best. Finally, I was able to buy more booze. I can't remember exactly what I bought, but I think it may have been a litre of gin, because that's what I was swigging from the following day.
I made my way to a nearby Methodist church, and singing hymns, I broke down and wept, their beauty and purity being in such stark contrast to my awful condition. That night I was unable to sleep. Every time I shut my eyes, I could have sworn there were shadowy entities beckoning me, waiting for me to die and join them. I must have felt convicted by God, because I set about destroying my collection of books...books on astrology and numerology, New Age and the occult, seditious artists in love with death, war, crime, rebellion. I was playing devotional music as I did so as I recall. I also destroyed hours and hours of diary-like recordings that I had committed to cassette tape since the early 1980s or earlier and which teemed with gross narcissism and decadent sensuality, as well as occasional bitter outbursts of a startling vehemence, so that I no longer recognised them as proceeding from the person of Carl Halling, as well as innumerous musings committed to paper which I deemed ungodly and more often than not with good reason. Were I to have died, I didn’t wish to leave anything behind that was of a flagrantly evil nature. These dozens of tapes testified to a secret vengeful self. That self is barely existent today, or rather, I refuse to tolerate him, even for an instant. I've spent fifteen years at war with him, and I'm still not through. Today, what you see is what you get and while it's far from pretty, at least it's real. I can be blunt and outspoken, and beyond a surface pleasantness, I have little of the social ease that was once mine, but by the Grace of God there's a genuine decency in me today, which can only grow.
The Eyes of Passers-By
The legs started going,
In my head.
Thought I'd go
Kept awake with water,
Arrogantly telling myself
I'd stay straight.
Drank gin and wine,
Tried to buy more,
Filthy white shorts,
Lost, rolling on lawn,
Somehow got home.
Monday, waiting for offie,
Looked like death,
Fear in eyes
Waiting for drink,
Drink relieved me.
Drank all day,
"Don't Die on Me".
Just about settled me,
Drank some more,
Took a Heminevrin
Paced the house
Pain in chest,
Lack of feeling
Visions of darkness.
To keep the
Life functions going
Played devotional music,
Dedicated my life
Helped me sleep.
I started to feel better.
All is clearer,
I feel human again.
I made my choice,
And oblivion has receded,
And shall disappear...
Reborn in the Nick of Time
It's difficult for me to say precisely when it was that I became born again. It may have been that first night as I destroyed remnants from a wicked past. Wicked past? Was I really so bad? Well, I was a nice guy and all that, but nobody knew my thoughts, which is just as well. My thoughts may not be perfect today, but I genuinely believe that my mind has been renewed by the Holy Spirit. Yes, it may have been at some point in the night of the 16th-17th January 1993 that I came to believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God; and the Saviour of Man, who died physically on the Cross at Calvary for the sins of Man, and then who rose again on the Third Day to join His Father in Heaven. Believing in this way involved repentance of my sins, and submission to Christ as my Lord and Saviour. While it's true that no one comes to the Father unless drawn by the Holy Spirit, what is also true that prior to become a Christian, I was probably on the point of wholly immersing myself in the new Bohemianism of the 1990s, marked by the onset of the so-called Zippie. Zippie culture being an amalgam of the longstanding travelling Hippie Underground, and the relatively new Rave or Dance scene which birthed sometime in the late 1980s. The Counterculture which had risen to prominence in the UK in the late 1960s had run out of steam by the mid-1970s, to the extent that Hippie was a term of abuse for many Punks. However, it'd merely gone underground and by the late '80s had appeared to have made some kind of truce with Punk to produce several kindred bohemian tribes. I lapped it all up as I've stated earlier with all the fanaticism of one who was sick to the back teeth of the eighties, but thank God I was delivered from it in the nick of time. At some point during the night of January 16th-17th my memory informs me that I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I was not saved in any church, or in consequence of being evangelised, but through what might be termed a violent "Road to Damascus" conversion. This means I was in the extraordinarily fortunate position of already being a Christian before I joined any church on a full-time basis, or even met with other Christians for fellowship. But being a Christian didn't protect me from terrible onslaughts over the next few days. The following day the 17th I somehow made it into New Eltham to attend classes. On the way home, however, the sickness returned, and I started swigging from my litre bottle of gin. Eventually in desperation I phoned Alcoholics Anonymous. Next day I attended classes at Richmond College in Twickenham, after which the sickness returned again worse than ever. With trembling hands, I ordered a double brandy which stabilised me. I drank so much that afternoon that I started raving. I was thrown out of a pub for preaching. Walking through Twickenham town centre I started making the sign of the cross to passers-by. Later that day I took an old heminevrin capsule I had lying about the house and felt better for a while. But during the AA meeting I attended at night I was in such a terrible condition that I felt my chest would burst. It wasn't until the day afterwards that I genuinely started to recover after having taken a long sleep with the help of Valium. I wasn't certain whether I'd awake, but once I did I knew that I was better and that furthermore, I had God on my side. It was a good feeling.
Wed, Jul 2nd - 7:42PM
16 Beyond the Borderlands
A first version of "Beyond the Borderlands" was published at the Blogster.com website on the 5th of September 2006. It is still a work in progress.
Another Close Call
While delivered from the worst effects of alcohol abuse, I still briefly continued to pay for it beyond my coming to faith in the shape of panic attacks which could strike at any time after leaving the sanctuary of my home. Thankfully, these only lasted a short period of time at their most debilitating, although I suffered on and off from them from several months, and they have recurred at rare occasions since. I controlled my panic syndrome with the help of the anxiolytic drug Diazepam whose most famous brand name is Valium, and which induced relaxation of body and mind, but to nowhere near the same degree as alcohol had done.
In the early days of my sobriety, I continued with my Post Graduate Certificate in Education partly at the University of Greenwich, and partly at Richmond College in the leafy west London suburb of Richmond, Surrey. I did so while rehearsing for the play “Simples of the Moon” by Rosalind Scanlon, based on the life of James Joyce’s troubled daughter Lucia. It premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993.
At the same time, I regularly attended drugs and alcohol counselling sessions in Greenwich, my counsellor Elaine being a warm, down to earth woman with a London accent and gentle pale blue eyes. She was also detached and unflappable, as befitted her calling. In fact, the only time she lost her cool was when I announced to her over the phone that a matter of hours after deciding of my own volition to stop taking diazepam, I'd defected to the powerful sedative Chlormethiazole. I'd used Chlormethiazole, or Heminevrin to use its trade name, on prescription for a week or so in the early 1990s as a means of controlling my drinking. What I was not aware of at the time was that when used in conjunction with Valium, or indeed alcohol, it can be fatal. However, a sufficient number of hours had lapsed between my ingesting a single capsule of the drug and calling Elaine for my imminent death not to be an issue. I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.
Prayers of Repentance
As well as Elaine I owe a great debt to the friends I briefly made through Alcoholics Anonymous, and particularly my sponsor Don. During my worst days, he faithfully monitored my painful progress towards health and sobriety on the phone, which was a great comfort to me. Still, I chose to attend only a handful of meetings before stopping altogether. The reason I did this was a matter of days after coming to faith, I received a phone call from a man called Spencer working for Contact for Christ, based in Croydon, Surrey.
I think Spencer had got in touch as a result of my having half-heartedly filled in a form that I'd picked up on a train...perhaps the previous summer, while approaching Waterloo station with the sun setting over the foreboding south London cityscape, filled with alcoholic anticipation. I'm sure I tried to put him off, but he turned up at my parents' house nonetheless...a trim, dark, handsome man in late middle age with gently penetrating coffee coloured eyes and a luxuriant moustache. At his insistence, we prayed together, and he effectively became my spiritual mentor for the next two years.
Some time after our initial meeting I visited him and his wife Grace at his large and elegant house in that part of Surrey where suburb meets country, some distance beyond the Greater London border. Surrey is the wealthiest county in the UK, which is not to say that there is no depravation, because there certainly is, in Surrey-in-London of course, but also in parts of Surrey proper. This is especially true of urban areas such as Staines, Woking, Redhill, Addlestone and Camberley. The latter for example has a large London overspill estate on its outskirts known as the Old Dean. Spencer's large and elegant house, however, was in a safe and affluent part of the county, and we prayed together there over areas of my pre-Christian existence that he felt required deep repentance, after having made an extensive list of these. My continuing use of diazepam and my longstanding addiction to cigarettes were two of the areas addressed, and while it may have been coincidental, soon after gradually cutting my diazepam intake down to zero, I altogether lost a taste for tobacco. Admittedly, I continued smoking on and off for some four years after quitting valium, but I never really enjoyed a cigarette again. In fact, even as early as 1994, a single draw of a cigarette was enough to inhibit my breathing for the rest of the day, and rob me of a good night’s sleep.
By September 1994, I'd been happily established within Cornerstone Bible Church, a Charismatic Evangelical church affiliated to the Word Faith movement for over a year. My panic attacks had ceased, and I was celibate, non-smoking, teetotal, and wholly committed to being worthy of the name Christian, to the walk to which I had been called by God. If in late 1992 I was growing impatient with what remained of my conscience, and how the latter inhibited my demented hedonistic lifestyle, within less than two years I had been transformed not just beyond all recognition but all belief, that is, without taking into account the miraculous changes that God can bring to bear on the life of one such as I, because God alone can bring about such miracles. Minor edit: 7/3/13.
Tue, Jul 1st - 9:53PM
17 The Trials of a Teetotaller
"The Trials of a Teetotaller" was originally published as "Release, Relapse and Restoration" at the Blogster.com on the 9th of November 2006. Still a work in progress.
A Teacher's Release
In the early part of 1994, I embarked upon the final stages of the Post Graduate Certificate of Education, FE, or Further Education, that I’d been working on since the autumn of ’92, and whose passing would have permitted me to teach French in further education establishments throughout the UK. As extensively detailed elsewhere, its progress however had been significantly hampered by my alcohol and prescription drug problems, which resulted in my postponing Teaching Practise, scheduled to have been completed in 1993, until the following year.
My own history includes three unsuccessful attempts at the PGCE. The first, mentioned in "A Cambridge Lament", took place at Homerton College, Cambridge, the second at the former West London Institute of Higher Education (1990), and the last at the University of Greenwich (1992-1994). I quit both Homerton and the West London Institute immediately prior to TP. With regard to Homerton, TP had been due to begin in a secondary school in a deprived inner city area of Cambridge where I had received a near-hysterical reception from the kids. There was a time when I would have gladly attempted to live up to this incredibly positive first impression, but at 30, I was already in thrall to the deep jadedness and self-suspicion of a man calloused by knowledge and experience despite an eerily youthful countenance.
My second attempt would have taken place in Hounslow, west London, close by to WLIE itself. This was based on two campuses in the suburbs of Isleworth, where I briefly shared a house, and east Twickenham. Both formed part of the University of London prior to the Institute’s merging with Brunel University. The Twickenham campus where I did most of my studying was recently sold off to property developers.
I finally completed a full TP early in 1994 at Esher College, a higher education school in the little village suburb of Thames Ditton, but had neglected to demonstrate sufficient authority in the classroom or something of the sort, according to the report I was given at my request. This understandably went on to jeopardise my final mark. As a result, despite my having passed every one of the requisite exams except the TP component, I failed the course as a whole. To be fair, my Greenwich tutors offered me the opportunity of retaking the section of the course I botched, but I chose to turn them down.
Flashes of Black Humour
The exact duration of the mood of disappointment to which I was undoubtedly subject, if only fleetingly, as a result of bungling a course which had cost me so much not just in financial terms but by way of time and effort I cannot say for certain. What is sure, however, is that within a short period of time of being informed of my fail, I successfully auditioned for a newly formed fringe theatre group known as Grip, based at the Rose and Crown public house in Kingston, Surrey. I did so for the main part of Roote in a relatively obscure play by Harold Pinter, the monumentally successful London-born dramatist, screenwriter, director, actor and poet. “The Hothouse” is perhaps not among Pinter’s greatest plays, but it is a superb piece nonetheless, and supremely Pinteresque, with its almost high poetic verbal virtuosity and inventiveness and dark surreal humour laced with a constant sense of impending violence. Penned in 1958, it was not performed until 1980, when it was directed by Pinter himself for London’s Hampstead and Ambassador Theatres.
From the auditions onwards, I established a strong connection with the easy-going American director, Tim Williams. Tim was very much an actor’s director, which I would define as one who delights in establishing close relationships with actors, out of a deep respect and affection for their art. As soon he informed me that the part was mine, I was genuinely excited about the prospect of working with him in interpreting Roote, the director of an unnamed government psychiatric hospital, the “Hothouse” of the title. My success rate when it came to auditions for the London fringe theatre had always been low, perhaps because so many of those I’d attended had involved me reciting pieces I'd memorised before what seemed to me to be an offputtingly impassive panel of observers, which was why I felt so grateful to Tim. As an auditioner, he differed from the common run insofar as he had us reading in small groups from the play while inter-reacting with fellow auditionees. This system enables the actors involved to attain a basic feel for whichever character they might be interpreting at any given time, in other words to actually act for an audition.
Tim demanded from me an interpretation of Roote which was distinctly at variance with my usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally hyper-vehement approach to acting, but his directorial instincts were immaculate. The pompous and eccentric windbag with the potential for sudden arbitrary brutality which he coaxed out of me was arguably the most successful role of my uneven career. It received glowing reviews not just in the local press, but also the London version of the celebrated international listings magazine “Time Out”, in which Kate Stratton described my performance as “flawlessly accurate” and “lit by flashes of black humour”, adding that the production faltered whenever I left the stage. This review created a real aura of excitement about the production, and especially its lead actor who for all the world looked set to capitalize on this unexpected success and become something of a West End star or something of that sort. One agent went out of her way to ask me to ensure my details reached her, And yet, having attempted to do just that, I never heard from her again. To this day I am uncertain precisely why, but it may have been something to do with my CV, which had been pretty shoddily produced if the truth be known.
Trials of a Teetotaller, Qualms of an Actor
Although I was nearly 40 years old at the time of "The Hothouse", I feel safe in saying that I barely looked more than 25, 30 at the very most, and so possibly struck others as an ingenous young man at the start of a brilliant career, rather than one with some decade and a half of experience under his tightly knotted belt. Still, despite the aura of carefree youthfulness I projected, I was suffering within, sorely missing the escape alcohol once offered me, and the revels extending deep into the night that once used to follow my acting perfomances, and during which I’d throw my youth and affections about like some kind of maniacal delinquent gambler squandering his life’s savings at the poker table in the face of imminent insolvency. Years later, on the other hand, I had to make do with a sickly sweet soft drink to facilitate the socialising process in the vain hope that it would serve as a mild euphoriant. To further complicate matters, I started being subject during the run of “The Hothouse” to heavy spiritual problems related to my thought life, possibly connected to my pre-Christian existence which after all had only recently ceased to be. Within a year I would actively seek refuge in what is known in Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian circles as Healing Ministry, in consequence of these and other torments.
My faith didn’t violently clash with the contents of “The Hothouse”, although its unremitting sombreness of tone certainly caused me some qualms. Still, I had a high regard for the work’s artistic merits, and its unsavoury elements didn’t provoke revulsion in me, unlike certain plays I considered in the mid 1990s. I mention this to make it clear that fame as an actor, indeed as an artist or entertainer in general, was no longer the obsession it had once been for me. With regard to this, a person very close to me told me back in the late '80s or early '90s that it is possible to want something too much, perhaps implying that my thirst for renown or notoriety prior to my becoming a Christian was of such a pathological degree of intensity that it ultimately set about devouring me. Whether such a theory has any real basis in truth I cannot say. What is certain is that since coming to faith, my priorities had drastically shifted, and I viewed worldly acclaim with a far more dubious eye than before. Perhaps that's why I failed to take fuller advantage of a late-flowering opportunity for success within my chosen craft than I should have done. Although I was pretty calm about this at the time, I now realise that if an opportunity carries within it the potential for future professional and social status, it should be unhesitatingly seized upon. To do otherwise is to risk a legacy of shame and remorse.
My First Relapse
Within a short time of “The Hothouse” reaching the end of its two week run, Grip’s easy-going artistic director Martin Richards asked me if I’d like to audition for his forthcoming production of “Two” by the playwright Jim Cartwright, best known for the play and film “Little Voice”, to be directed by Martin, and produced by his fiancée Chantal. "Two", as the name suggests, is a two-handed play in which all the male characters are played by one actor, and all the female by another.
I of course answered in the affirmative and auditioned succesfully, with the result that I found myself playing opposite the virtuoso character actress Jane Gelardi for a fortnight...and by the end of the run the houses were so packed that people were sitting on the side of the stage at my feet. In other words, the production was an unqualified success, gaining uniformly enthusiastic reviews, although sadly only in the local press. Still, while working alongside Martin, Jane and Chantal on "Two" was an unalloyed pleasure, I dreaded the end of each performance, seeking only to distance myself from the audiences who came nightly to see me do what I did best as soon as it was possible to do so without giving any great offence.
Sweet release from a prison of sobriety presented itself while I was attending some unrelated function at the Rose and Crown some days following “Two"’s final performance. What happened was a guy I was casually chatting to offered to buy me a drink, at which point rather than the soft drink I normally opted for, I hazarded a single glass of wine. It was the first alcohol to pass my lips since January 1993, that is, without taking into account an incident at my parents’ house when I took a large gulp of what I thought was water but which turned out to be vodka, or gin. Far from having an adverse effect, however, the wine made me feel wonderful, its intoxicating properties doubtless enhanced by the purity of my system . Cycling home that night I felt perfectly blissful, emancipated at long last, or so I thought, from the torturous shackles of sobriety.
From this single glass of red wine, my drinking escalated by degrees over the next few weeks, only to culminate in an evening in a Twickenham pub with an old university friend during which I boozed and smoked with all my old ardour. Cycling home afterwards, I came off my bike as I passed a bus shelter near Hampton Wick in Kingston, and dashed my head against it before falling flat on my back. I deserved to die there where I lay, and might have done had it not been for the mercy of God. He picked me up from the ground where I lay, abject and stinking of drink, and soon I was shakily resumed my journey home. However, weeks of controlled drinking, as well as one massive binge, possibly combined with the adverse effects of violently smashing my head against a bus shelter, resulted in my becoming ill and incapacitated for what might have been as long as as a fortnight. As I remember, there were times during this awful period When I'd awake in a frantic state, sickly pale and in a deathly faint, close to blacking out, fearful of death, but each time I felt God came to my rescue just when my situation seemed hopeless. All I could do was lie around, waiting, praying to get better, until I eventually made a return to full health, but it took a long, long time.
Tue, Jul 1st - 9:41PM
18 The Twilight of an Actor
"The Twilight of an Actor" existed at first as nothing more than "Such a Short Space of Time". To explain, in the winter of '06, I took out certain key portions of an unfinished autobiographical story penned almost certainly in early summer 1999 with the intention of transforming it into a workable piece of writing and this became the original "Short Space". It was intended to evoke the sense of longing and melancholia with which I was afflicted as the decade, century and millenium were all three coming to an unquiet close. It was published at Blogster.com on the 19th of February 2006.
Ultimately I decided to flesh it out with some background information in the summer, and so the additional prose section of "From Lovelives to the Lost Theatre" came into being. In December 2007, a first version of the piece as a whole was published at Faithwriters.com. A further more definitive version was published at http://blog.com in April 2008. But it is still being worked on.
From Lovelives to the Lost Theatre
Following my performance as the landlord, as well as all the other male characters, in Jim Cartwright's bitter-sweet two-handed play "Two", which I touched on in some detail in "The Trials of a Teetotaller", I performed in one final production at the Rose and Crown theatre, the character-driven comedy "Lovelives".
Directed by Ian McGlynn, "Lovelives" was written by the cast, namely David French, Stirling Gallacher, Jane Gelardi, Andrea Searle, Deborah Wilding, and myself, and consisted of a series of sketches centring on the desperate antics of a group of singletons attending a suburban lonely hearts club. Perhaps then it chimed perfectly with the spirit of British post-war comedy and its characteristic celebration of banality and even failure. A great success at the R&C, "Lovelives" could have been developed into a television play or even series, but sadly, as is all too often the case, a brilliant cast dispersed after the final show.
In late September '95, at the Tristan Bates theatre in central London, I played two parts in a production of Euripides' "Iphigeneia in Taurois", directed by my longtime friend Adrian Thurston-Gordon, who also translated it. These were Pylades, boon companion of one of the main characters, Orestes, and the Messenger.
From January 1996 until the following summer, I served variously as actor, MC, script writer, singer and musician for Street Level, a Christian theatre company based at the Elim Pentecostal church in West Croydon, Surrey. A group of three, we toured several shows around schools in the Croydon/Norwood/Crystal Palace area of south London. One of these, "Choices", was almost entirely written by me, although it had been based on an idea by the company leader Sally Ovendon, who also heavily edited it for performance purposes. The kids were astonishingly receptive to our productions, and we were greeted by them with almost uniform enthusiasm and affection.
Towards the end of the summer, Sally asked me to write a large scale project for Street Level. She suggested a contemporary version of John Bunyan's classic allegorical Christian novel "The Pilgim's Progress". I duly spent several weeks labouring over the project until it had evolved into an unwieldy epic voyage to the end of the night punctuated by scenes of the blackest humour. Soon after handing it to Sally, weary of the long early morning train journeys to West Croydon station via Wimbledon, I left Street Level. Quite understandably, my version of "The Pilgrim's Progress" was never produced. I came ultimately to destroy all but a few pages of it, because although artistically it had its merits, spiritually speaking it was grossly immature. I don't have any regrets about my decision.
By early 1997 I'd vanished into the anonymity of office life, remaining there on and off for over three years. However, there was one final acting hurrah from me in the shape of the series of cameos I contributed to a production of the so-called "Scottish Play" at the Lost Theatre in Fulham in 1998. Despite these being praised by cast and audience members alike, I've barely acted since for a variety of reasons. While I'm still very much open to the possibility of film or television work, the likelihood of my appearing on stage in a play again is remote indeed because simply, the passion to perform in front of a live audience that once raged inside me to the degree that renown became a serious possibility more than once in my career has long been quieted.
Some months after appearing as Lennox, as well as other minor characters, in the "Scottish Play" at the Lost Theatre in the onetime working class west London suburb of Fulham, I wrote the piece featured below, "Such a Short Space of Time". As I stated in the introduction, in the first instance it was not a poem but part of an unfinished short story. My parents were on vacation during the period which inspired the piece, which is to say early in the summer of 1999. Hence, I spent alot of time at their house performing various tasks such as watering my mother's flowers. As well as this, I took sneaky advantage of their absence to transfer some of my old LPs onto cassette, something that my own music system is incapable of doing, unlike theirs. It was an unsettling experience...to listen to songs that, perhaps in the cases of some of them, I had not heard for ten years, or even fifteen, or more, and which evoked with a heartrending intensity a time when I was filled to the brim with sheer youthful joy of life and undiluted hope for the future. Yet as I did so, it seemed to me that it was only very recently that I'd heard them for the first time, despite the colossal changes brought about not just in my own life, but the lives of all those of my generation since I'd actually done so. Hence, I was confonted at once with the devastating transience of human life, and the devastating effect the passage of time has on all human life...
Such a Short Space of Time
I love...not just those...
I knew back then,
Who were young
But who've since
Come to grief, who...
Having soared so high,
Too dreadful to bear,
With my past itself,
Which was only
No...even less time...
A moment ago,
And when I play
Records from 1975,
Twenty years melt away
What is a twenty-year period?
Little more than
A blink of an eye...
Such a short space
Cause such devastation?
Kingston, Surrey, 1999?
Tue, Jul 1st - 9:28PM
19 A Final Distant Clarion Cry
“A Final Distant Clarion Cry” consists of diverse unrelated writings which I painstakingly knitted together to make a suitably grand finale to my as yet untitled experiment in spiritual memoir composition. The kernel of the work was “Apologia for a Cyber Church”, a piece written specifically for my friend Lane Nickerson. Substantial portions of the apologia are still to be found within “The Perils of Church Hopping”. To the apologia I added a prose section from the former “Some Perverse Will”, originally published at the Blogster.com website on Christmas Day 2006, while the poetic soul of the piece was incorporated into another story. Also grafted onto “Final Cry”, and specifically “Waves of Bohemia” and “The March of the Modern”, were extracts from “The Redemption of a Rebel Artist”, initially published at Blogster on the 14th of September 2006. “Fireworks Frantically Exploding”, “The Dispersal of Clouds”, “The Wilderness Decade”, “The Summing Up”, and “Not by a Long Chalk” were all written specifically for “Final Cry”, which was first published as a whole at FaithWriters.com on the 13th of November 2007, and then again in December. But there is still alot of work to be done on it yet.
Fireworks Frantically Exploding
The troubled, turbulent 20th Century having ceded to the 21st to the sound of fireworks frantically exploding all throughout my neighbourhood, I discovered through a phone call to my father that my mother was desperately ill with flu. It was a harrowing start to the new century, but once again God poured blessings on my family, and she made a complete recovery. It’s crossed my mind since that she may have become susceptible to the flu virus partly as a result of stress caused by the fact that I'd latterly quit yet another course; this time an MA in French and Theory of Literature from University College, London, which was one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world.
I found the course fascinating, despite aspects of it that disturbed me, and which were likely to become increasingly so had I persisted with it. However, leaving the course on spiritual grounds as was indeed the case was a painful experience for me as I felt certain I was headed for a first class degree.
As if in consolation, I was appointed chief musician of the worship band of the Liberty Christian Centre, suburban satellite church of London’s Kensington Temple which I'd sporadically attended for a few months during the previous summer. I'd been recommended for the post by my friend Marina, Russian wife of the pastor, Louis M. originally from New York City. She went on to become worship leader, alternating as such with another close friend and mentor, Martha J. from Peru. It was Louis who'd got in touch with me the previous summer through KT about joining a cell group at his home in the Surrey suburbs. This eventually mutated into Liberty, with which I forged very close ties from the outset, going on to serve in the Worship Group until well into 2001.
Once Liberty had come to a close in early ‘01, I returned to my first spiritual port of Cornerstone Bible Church, a fellowship affiliated to the Word of Faith Movement and specifically to Rhema Ministries of Johannesburg, South Africa. Before defecting to the Riverside Vineyard Christian Fellowship, I’d gone to Cornerstone for about two years from early 1993, in fact, had attended my very first service there even before becoming a Christian in ‘92. Drunk at the time as I recall, I'd sat next to a beautiful blonde woman of about 55 whom I later discovered to be a successful actress who at the height of her career in the sixties had appeared in television cult classics "The Avengers" and "The Prisoner". Apart from an elder from the Jesus Fellowship, who'd laid hands on me at a meeting of theirs in central London, she was my very first spiritual mentor. However, I was never to see or speak to her again as I didn't return to the church for several months, and by the time I did as a newly born again believer, she'd moved to another church. She subsequently came back to Cornerstone, but we kept on missing each other. Tragically, she went to be with the Lord in 2001.
The Dispersal of Clouds
Within a few months of having made the decision to abandon the MA at UCL I’d also quit my position as telecanvasser for an e-commerce company based in Surbiton, Surrey, thereby bringing a fairly lengthy period as an on/off office worker to an end. Since then I’ve worked only casually, rarely remaining in one menial employment or another for any length of time. However, if my job life has been in slow decline since the onset of the 2000s, my musical life has flourished.
By the end of ‘00, I was the lead singer for a band formed in that year by composer-musician Barrie Guard, who most recently worked with Indie Rock artist Lupen Crook. The band became known as "Nuages" after the famous instrumental by French Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, this despite the fact that a band with that name and operating within a similar musical field as us already existed. With respect to the creative aspect of my career, after much prompting from Marina and other members of Liberty and KT, I finally wrote a series of Christian songs in 2001 which I hoped would be played by Liberty's worship group, but sadly, the church folded in that year, much to the sorrow of all concerned, as we’d become very close as a fellowship.
I subsequently made a brief return to Cornerstone, before quitting once again in late ’02. I did so in consequence of a renewed desire to seek out churches lying beyond the Pentecostal/Charismatic family, this time born of internet research. By this time, disillusioned by nearly two years of sporadic gigging, Nuages too had called it a day. We disbanded in the wake of the 2002 Shelton Arts Festival held in St Mary's Church near the village of Shelton, Norfolk, which was a real shame in my view, because those who attended the festival were the audience we’d been searching for all along, evidenced by the passion with which they greeted our final performance.
To return to my Walk with God, among the churches I visited after leaving Cornerstone for a second time in the autumn of 2002 were Wimbledon's Bethel Baptist Church, pastored by Bible teacher and writer Jack Moorman. Bethel is what is known as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, based on the US model, and therefore KJV only, which is to say using the King James Version of the Bible alone. I was quite happy there, that is, until one Sunday evening when my train home was severely delayed, and I found myself stranded at Wimbledon station for over an hour in consequence. Despite this, I fully intended to return the following Sunday to see a friend of Bethel's gracious pastor David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries, preach at the church, but for some reason never did.
I also attended Christ Church, Teddington, a Free Church of England fellowship whose rector Dominic Stopford, with whom I’ve had several long and interesting conversations is a tall striking man with the magnetizing voice and presence of a classical stage actor. The Free Church of England separated from the established C of E in 1844 in response to the High Church Anglicanism of the then Bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts. It is resolutely Evangelical, as well as liturgical and Episcopal.
By the end of the year, my quest having reached a satisfactory conclusion, I'd begun to make a tentative return to the Pentecostal-Charismatic nation.
Given the restlessness I've just described, many might be forgiven for suggesting that my walk with God has not been an easy one, particularly since about 2000, and I'd be forced to agree with them. This may be at least partly attributable to the fact that I came to faith relatively late. The Bible warns that each person who rejects the sovereignty of the fleshly realm for Jesus's sake will undergo much tribulation and persecution. Perhaps this is especially true of repentant Christians who accept Christ following a relatively long period of time within the decadent heart of the world as avid flunkies of the Flesh. However, as comfort these late converts possess a true and infinitely worthwhile purpose in life. This was something that ever eluded me in my youth, for all the fierce, flaming fanaticism I lent my ideals, whether artistic, intellectual, political or whatever and yet which amounted in the end to precisely nothing.
The Wilderness Decade
As I might have already made clear, the new decade turned out to be something of a turning point for me, not just on the spiritual, artistic and vocational levels, but in terms of my entire personality, which has become more inward looking, even by the standards of the previous seven years, more of which later.
My entire presentation of self has changed since 2000. Sartorially it has become less soft, and reassuring, and closer to self-protective armour than the peacock feathers of a dandy. Significantly, the previous year had been the first since about '73 that I faced the world with my hair its natural medium brown, after having used bleach for close on to three decades. What prompted this was not a sudden loathing for the vanity of the bottle blond, but the increasingly violent effects the peroxide-based highlighting kits I favoured were having on my breathing. While I hated being a brunet at first, in time I came to relish the dignity darker hair lent my appearance, rendering it far more masculin.
The truth is that throughout my twenties and for most of my thirties, I saw the soul of the true artist as one wholly unbound by conventional notions of sexuality. In consequence, for most of my pre-Christian life, I took no real responsibility as a man in the purest sense of the word, which is to say as leader, provider, protector, and so on. Instead, I opted for a variety of marginalised male personas, punk agitator, insurrectionary artist, doomed poet, hellraising libertine, man of learning and so on and so on and so on ad nauseum. I’ve jettisoned them all.
Images such as these have great appeal in the eyes of the young and disempowered, as do those veterans of outlaw lifestyles who’ve been burned out by taking them to their limit with only their cool to console them, but cool is a poor substitute for peace of mind. More often than not they prove ruinous to a person's healthy social and professional development, which is so vital to their well-being in the long run, to say nothing of their physical and psychological health. Still, they continue to be promoted as desirable through the media and that is especially true of Rock music, although needless to say perhaps not to the same degree as when I was a boy growing up to a frenetic Rock soundtrack in the earthshaking sixties. Out of the music and attitude of the first proselytizers of sixties Hard and Heavy Rock the entire Rock religion was constructed.
The March of the Modern
The tenets of the Rock'n'Roll belief system, with its exaltation of rebellion and excess of every kind, were hardly new in the '60s. Indeed, they can be traced back to Man's initial attempts at attaining spiritual ecstasy beyond the will of God. However, in terms of the Modern World, it could be said that the true ancestor of Rock culture was the great 19th Century artistic and cultural movement known as Romanticism. From the latter, the very notion of the Artist as tormented genius on the cutting edge of social revolution and eternally pitted against middle class respectability is widely believed to have emerged. If Rock culture is not the ultimate outcome of this persisting myth then what is?
It was the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who might have first given expression to the notion of an avant garde by asserting that “Poets are the unaknowledged legislators of the world”. Then, in the post-Napoleonic Paris of the early 1830s, a seminal artistic avant garde if ever there was one was born. They were the Jeunes-France, a band of turbulent young late Romantic writers allegedly dubbed the Bousingos by the press following a night of riotous boozing on the part of some of their number. Their leading lights, among them a fiery Theophile Gautier decades before he became an establishment darling, cultivated dandified and eccentric personas intended to shock the bourgeoisie, while inclining to political radicalism. Needless to say perhaps, they owed a colossal debt to the earlier English and German Romantics, as well as previous generations of dandies such as the Muscadins and Incroyables of the late revolutionary years.
The first wave of Bohemian avant gardism ultimately produced the Decadents, and the great Symbolist movement in the arts, both of which came into being ca. 1880. However, the spirit of the avant garde could be said to have trumphed as never before through the Modernist movement which was at its level of maximum intensity from about 1890 to 1930. This extraordinary period birthed such hyper-innovative masterpieces as Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (1913), T.S Eliot's "The Waste Land" (1922) and James Joyce's "Ulysses" (1922), as well as dozens of revolutionary art movements including Expressionism, Futurism, Dada and Surrealism.
One possible definition of Modernism in an artistic sense is the avant garde removed from its true spiritual home of Paris, (via German and England) and then transformed into an international artistic and cultural movement of immense power and influence. Some thinkers trace the roots of the Modern to the so-called Enlightenment of the 18th Century, which produced great defiance of God on the part of lofty Reason, and so for them, Modernism is a precursor of the avant garde, rather than a spirit that arose out of it, while others go even further back into the depths of Western history, to the Renaissance and its revival of Classical Antiquity.
What is certain is that the Western world of today is one that stands at the very climax of the Modern Revolution; and one of its keynotes as I see it is the mass acceptance of iconoclastic beliefs once seen as the preserve of the avant garde, especially with regard to traditional Christian morality. This process could be said to have accelerated around 1955-‘56, when both the Beat Movement and the new Pop music of Rock ’n’ Roll were starting to make strong inroads into the mainstream. Some ten years after this, there was a further increase in momentum as Pop began to lose its initial sheen of innocence, and so perhaps evolve into the more diverse music of Rock. This eclectic art went on to run the gamut from the most infantile pop ditties to complex compositions owing a considerable debt to Classical, Jazz and other non-popular music forms, and so become an international language disseminating values traditionally seen as morally unconventional as no other artistic movement before it. As a result, certain Rock artists attained through popular consumer culture a degree of influence that previous generations of innovative artists operating within high culture could only dream of.
A Taste of Summer Wine
Given the facts outlined above, it's hardly surprising that Rock Music is a time-honoured bete noir of old-school evangelicals, and the internet duly teems with fulminations against it of varying degrees of insight. In 2003, a totemic year for me marked by a passion for doctrinal purity, I briefly declared myself its fiercest enemy, and set about destroying my massive collection of cassette albums. However, by the summer my attitude had softened to the degree that I was able to complete about an hour's worth of adult oriented Rock songs. Inspired by various melodic genres including Soul and Soft Rock, they ultimately defied classification. They were generally well-received, with a small minority declaring themselves to be devoted fans, even though they had been only very roughly recorded on an old-fashioned Sony CFS-B21L cassette-corder. Two of the songs went on to be more professionally recorded at the home of a close friend of my father's from South Africa.
In the wake of this project, my father the violin virtuoso Pat Halling began to plan the recording of an album of popular standards featuring myself and the harmonica virtuoso Jim Hughes. In the summer of 2007, the master was finally created, and the title of "A Taste of Summer Wine" awarded it in honour of the situation comedy "Last of the Summer Wine". This was due to the fact that Jim's playing had long been featured on "Summer Wine", as scored by Ronnie Hazelhurst, who sadly died in late '07. In Spring 2008, the CD finally came to fruition after three and a quarter years of gestation.
This final section of this experiment in memoir composition sees me anticipating the eventual commercial release of "A Taste of Summer Wine", as well as the final editing of the first large-scale literary project with which I can say that I'm perfectly content. The fact is that within a short time of giving my life to Christ, I began to experience extreme difficulties when it came to writing creatively, as if the Lord was preventing me from expressing myself on a literary level. The outcome was that I eventually gave up writing altogether, although I kept on periodically attempting to do so, only to end up destroying the results. Precisely why it was that I became so burdened by a kind of forbidding leaden heaviness each time I tried to write for about ten years from the mid 1990s I can’t say for certain, but I have my theories. To begin with, my work back then reflected a continuing preoccupation with subjects that had held me spellbound prior to become a born again Christian. I glorified these despite a false admonitory tone which served as a cover for my true motives. Furthermore, some of my writings mixed truth and fiction to produce an unsatisfactory hybrid. God requires that all those who take the name of Christian adhere to absolute truth to the very best of their ability. Others contained passages manifesting a dangerous degree of disrespect for the holy things of God; and I thank the Lord he allowed me the opportunity of decimating these. Finally, in January 2006, God made it clear to me that I was sufficiently mature on a spiritual level to be able to write again.
There are those who might look at me and see an individual who treated some of the most precious gifts a person can be blessed with during the prime of their young life with a nonchalance so utterly cavalier as amount to blatant contempt. In terms of natural endowment, these would include the kind of intelligence that produced an articulate speaker at just two years old, as well as health so robust that all serious childhood sicknesses were kept at bay until I was 13, when I caught meningitis following a spell as a foreign exchange student in St Malo off the Brittany coast. As if these weren't sufficient, my father procured for me one the most sumptuous educations hard-earned money can buy. By my early twenties anyone who knew me then would be forgiven for believing that if anyone was destined for ultimate celebrity it was me, "le futur celebre", as I was described in a reproachful letter in late ‘77 by a former friend from France…or something similar.
These theoretical critics of mine might make mention of the fact that for all my lavish good fortune, I’ve finished up in a small lower floor flat in a housing estate on the edge of Greater London, a lost soul haunted by the past, and tormented in the present by unfathomable regret. That is far, far from the way I view my situation. Some people in this city don't even have a roof over their head. As for my being a lost soul, nothing could be further from the truth. While I won’t deny that I'm inclined to the occasional remorseful mood, the fact remains that my soul has been salvaged not lost which means that one day all my tears will be wiped away for all eternity. At least, that is my hope.
I’m not the most social of beings I’ll admit, and yet paradoxically perhaps, I love to wander among crowds of people, gaining great comfort from doing so. The truth is that for one reason or another, I’m relatively incapable of pretending to be anyone other than myself in a social setting. This in marked contrast to the myself of thirty years ago who was a dangerously gifted social enchanter. That said, I consider myself to be a person of far greater integrity today by the Grace of God. At the same time, I've never been more aware of the necessity of my reliance on God, nor of the truth that He'll never leave me nor forsake me. When all’s said and done, therefore, I’m a deeply blessed man for all my superficial so-called woes. I have my faith, I have my family, and together they mean more, infinitely more to me than fame, wealth, and social status ever could. I'm not saying these latter wouldn't enhance my life because of course they would, but they'd serve as a bonus, nothing more, because my heart's desire has already been fulfilled. As for my supposed melancholia, this particular thorn in the flesh has been afflicting Christians for centuries. To cite some examples for the sceptical…Martin Luther suffered for much of his life from a tendency towards dejection of spirits which he attributed to a variety of causes including spiritual oppression in the realm of the mind, founder of the Quaker movement George Fox was a "man of sorrows" by his own admission in the early days of his walk with God, poet and hymnodist William Cowper was a lifelong depressive who endlessly doubted his own eternal salvation, Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon was prone to inexplicable anguish accompanied by lengthy bouts of solitary weeping and so on and so on. What though are the tears and trials of this brief life when compared to the fathomless joy that awaits the true Believer in Heaven?
Dear Friend I Salute You
Now that I’ve put the finishing touches to the very first large scale writing project of mine of which I'm pretty well 100% certain I'll not end up destroying, is it time for me to abandon creative writing altogether, in favour of music, an art I'm far more suited to than writing, or even acting, which is the one art I've never really had to work at, with the possible exception of singing? In reply, may I say that I've already started working out a second, more detailed autobiographical volume in my head. However, whether it ever gets written or not remains to be seen. So, for all intents and purposes, my literary career is at a close...for the time being anyway. If these writings have touched a single living soul, and there is some evidence they may have done, then my work has been worthwhile. For anyone still reading...thank you for your patience, dear friend, I salute you.
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