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    FALSE TEACHING
  • You are here: Blogs Directory / Personal / CARL HALLING SELECTED WRITINGS @ Christiansunite.com Welcome Guest
    CARL HALLING SELECTED WRITINGS @ Christiansunite.com
          You've come to the right place for the writings, including stories and essays of Carl Halling, born London, currently residing in suburbia, keen to develop as a writer. Please feel free to stay awhile, read, comment, but above all...enjoy.

    Sun, Jun 24th - 6:09AM

    Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen



     

    Chapter Twelve  Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen

    "Of All Sad Words" made its debut at Blogster on the 25th January 2007. It consisted of an introduction, the main body of the work, formerly untitled but now "Some Sad Dark Secret", and an epilogue. Before a definitive version was published at FaithWriters in September 2007, it was quite heavily edited, while not having been significantly altered in spirit. Further minor alterations took place in early December.

    Galvanising Mentors

    "Some Sad and Dark Secret" was forged using creative methods scrupulously described elesewhere. It was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I recently unearthed, and probably dating from 1982 or '83, during which I was a French and Drama student at Leftfield College. The first three sections contain words of advice imparted to me by Dr Elizabeth Lang, who was my principle tutor during my final year at Westfield, and under whose galvanising direction I studied as my main subject the controversial and often disturbing writings of André Gide. Throughout the year, she tirelessly encouraged my intellectual and literary inclinations, determined that I should go on to become a professional academic. She also believed that I had the makings of a successful writer, informing me at one point that if creative writing is of a sufficiently sensational nature, it is guaranteed to be read by a ravenously curious public, and so to be financially successful, or something similar. The fourth and fifth sections have as their basis words once spoken to me by another of my Leftfield 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 Lang said:
    “Temper
    Your enthusiasm,
    The extremes
    Of your
    reactions,
    You should have
    A more
    Conventional
    Frame
    On which to
    Hang your
    unconventionality.”
    The tone of some
    Of my work
    Is often
    A little dubious,
    She said.
    She thought
    That there
    Was something
    Wrong,
    That I’m hiding
    Some sad and dark
    Secret
    From the world.
    She told me
    Not to rhapsodise,
    That it would be
    Difficult,
    Impossible, perhaps,
    For me to
    Harness
    My dynamism.
    “Don’t push People”,
    She said.
    “You make
    Yourself
    Vulnerable”.
    Dr H. said:
    “By the third page,
    I felt I’d been
    Bulldozed.
    I can almost see
    Your soapbox.
    Like Rousseau,
    You’re telling us
    What to do.
    You seem to
    Work yourself
    Into such an
    Emotional pitch…
    And this
    Extraordinary
    Capacity for lists.

    A Spider Across the Skies

    The first employment I undertook after leaving Leftfield was as a wandering deliverer of novelty telegrams. It may be that I gave no serious thought to the future, because I didn’t seriously intend having one. My life’s work was apparently 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 interim. I had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of progeny, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to international fame. That said, in keeping with my then passionately felt liberal-left convictions, I did vaguely entertain the thought of an alternative career in one or other of the caring professions.
     I struggle to adequately explain why I was quite so reckless with the many gifts heredity and good fortune had bestowed upon me, as I'm such a different person today, and one who honours and cherishes everything that contributes to the well-being of the individual in society, from the family onwards. It may be that I was in the grip of a condition of which sudden inexplicable recklessness was a primary symptom, because it would be inaccurate to state that I was unvaryingly reckless. In fact, I was capable of great diligence, especially when it came to my acting career, only for the recklessness to return. What is certain is that whatever I was in thrall to has been significantly tamed by my faith, offering me the chance to revisit my younger days with an eye rendered mournful and wise by bitter regret, as well as the gift of hope for the future, which my folly almost deprived me of permanently. God's offered me a second act, during which I might go some way towards repairing some of 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 soul:
    “For of all sad words of tongue or pen
    The saddest are these: ‘it might have been!’”



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    Sun, Jun 24th - 5:58AM

    A Cambridge Lamentation



    Birdhead2.jpg

    Chapter Thirteen  A Cambridge Lamentation

    Introduction

    "A Cambridge Lamentation" centres on my brief stay at Coverton College, a teaching training college contained within the University of Cambridge, with its campus at Hills Road just outside the city centre. First published at FaithWriters in August 2007 in "definitive" form, it is a fusion of two previously published works. These are "Shreds of Nothingness" as published at Blogster, but now consisting of "In Such a State as This" and "A Cambridge Narrative" 1 & 2; and "Final Flight from Hills Road", formerly "A Cantabrian Lament", this first published in rudimentary form at the latter on the 10th of June 2006. In December 2007, a final definitive version of "A Cambridge Lamentation" was published at FaithWriters.

    A Cambridge Narrative 1

    "In Such a State as This" was adapted either from a page of diary notes, or an unfinished and unsent letter, written just before Christmas 1986 at Coverton. I created it by extracting selected sentences from the original script, and then joining them together, before subjecting the result to thorough editing and versification. It conveys the pathological restlessness, romantic and otherwise, to which I was subject in the mid 1980s, and which resulted in my quitting Coverton after a single term. However, quite why I was so determined to put a final flight from Hills Road into practice remains a quandary to me more than two decades later. After all, I had every reason to relish my time there, given that I’d been made to feel most welcome and appreciated, not just by my tutors and fellow students, but others, including a student director, renowned throughout the university for the high quality of his theatrical productions, who singled me out to feature in a play he intended putting on during the Lent Term. He did so after seeing me interpret the leading role of Tom in Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie" soon after the end of the Michaelmas Term. Furthermore, the then president of the world famous Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had gone out of his way to ask myself and a friend to appear in a Footlights production he was preparing as part of his year-long presidency. I threw it all away, as if life's precious opportunities constituted an inexhaustible supply, which of course they don't, as I know all too well today.

    In Such a State as This

    In such
    a state as this
    I could fall
    In love
    With anyone.
    The night
    before last
    I went
    to the ball
    Couples
    filing out
    I wanted to be
    one half
    of ev'ry one
    But I didn't want
    to lose her.
    I’ve done
    little today
    Except mope
    Dolefully around
    I’ll get over
    how
    I feel now,
    And very soon.
    Gradually
    I’ll freeze again,
    Even assuming
    An extra layer
    of snow.
    I have
    I have
    I have
    To get out of here...

    A Cambridge Narrative 2

    It will be obvious to any half-way sensible reader of the following piece that had I remained at Cambridge for the brief three terms required of me by the dictates of my course, which included teaching practise at the Manor Community College in Arbury, a London overspill area north of the River Cam, I would have been primed for success in an area in which I excelled, namely comedic character acting with a satirical edge. Not only that, but I would have passed my Post Graduate Certificate in Education through Cambridge University, as part of a course intended to produce something of a pedagogic elite. As if all this weren't enough to keep me at Coverton, when I made my first appearance at the Manor, the pupils reacted to me as if I was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. Why in the name of precious reason itself was I so determined to put such a blatant act of self-sabotage into practise? As a Christian, my faith helps me to withstand the pain of not knowing why, and yet knowing all too well what I lost. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that without it I would find my memories almost too painful to bear. My faith protects me from the full furious ferocity of my follies past, and without it, I would be at their mercy, and they would rend me to shreds of utter nothingness.
     Unless I'm mistaken, "Final Flight from Hills Road" was forged from the same source material as "In Such a State as This" before being subjected to a similar editing process, and then published at Blogster on the 10th of June 2006.

    Final Flight from Hills Road

    Coverton'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
    a lot of people.
    Reclusiveness protects you
    from nostalgia,
    and you can be as nostalgic
    in relation
    to what happened half an hour ago
    as half a century ago,
    in fact more so.
    I met Tessa and Pete at 11.30 am,
    and they took me out to lunch.
    We went to Evensong
    at Kings,
    and it was beautiful;
    the choral music, haunting.
    I went to the PGCE
    Xmas party. I danced,
    and generally lived it up.
    I went to bed sad though.
    Discos exacerbate
    my sense of solitude.
    My capacity
    for social warmth,
    excessive social dependance
    and romantic zeal
    can be practically
    deranging;
    it's no wonder
    I feel the need
    to escape.
    I feel trapped here,
    there's no outlet for my talents.



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 11:42PM



    Wellesstreet.jpg

    Chapter Fifteen  Lone Birthday Boy Dancing

    The Petrified Fool

    In early 1990, I lost my position as a teacher of English as a foreign language at the Tellegen School, where I'd spent almost two years...the concluding two of a decade somewhat redolent of the '20s and '60s in terms of its glamour and profligacy. It was a job I loved, for the social life it handed me on a plate, as well as sufficient money to finance the many hours I spent each evening in the Champion public house in Wells Street where teacher and student alike would congregate some time after 7.30pm, and to spend on alcohol, tobacco, clothes, books, music and so on, as well as the occasional ill-fated attempt at reviving my career as actor and entertainer.
     I pleaded for my job with some of the senior teachers, in person, through a friend, even by letter, but they refused to be swayed by my entreaties and given that I'd taken repeated advantage of their extraordinarily long-suffering attitude to my cavalier attitude to punctuality, they were more than justified in doing so.
     Freed from the shackles of a teaching job which I loved, I briefly revived my acting career by playing Feste the Jester in a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" at the Jacksons Lane theatre in Highgate, North London. I also wrote most of the music for Feste's songs, and received praise for this, as well as for my acting. In keeping with the spirit of the play its run was followed and to a lesser extent accompanied by ferocious bouts of revelry on the part of a very close cast.
     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. This may have been due to an imminent health crisis. However, such was my abiding need to be noticed that I stubbornly refused to moderate my image although to be fair it was tame in comparison to what it had once been, and the recently departed 1980s had been a decade notorious for male sartorial vanity, in London of course, but also in other major Western cities. Instead, I began to anaesthetize myself as never before against what I saw as London's foreboding aura, which may or may not have been more intense than a decade previously. For after all, I'd been attracting a degree of hostile attention for my flamboyant image since the early 1970s. What's more, years of dissolute living, and the diverse intoxicants I'd been ingesting since my early twenties or earlier including vast quantities of caffeine in both liquid and solid form, were starting to take their toll on my nervous system. There was also my addiction to the dark side of life and especially the arts to take into account. All these served to create a terribly fractured personality in the grip not just of growing alcoholism but chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

    A Pair of PGCEs 1

    In early autumn 1990, I began a course known as the PGCE or Post Graduate Certificate in Education at the West London College of Further Education in the pleasant outer suburb of Twickenham, becoming resident in nearby Isleworth. I began quite promisingly as I saw it even though my heart was not really in the course but I genuinely saw the benefits of successfully completing it, and as might be expected, excelled in drama and physical education.
     I rarely drank during the day, but at night I was sometimes so drunk I was incoherent. The following piece of verse testifies to this sad truth. It was adapted (edited, reassembled) in 2006 from a letter typed to a friend in about 1990, concerning a series of accidents I'd recently suffered. However, it was never finished, nor sent. When it was recovered it was as a piece of scrap paper, a remnant from a long lost past.

    A Letter Unsent

    Dear...

    I haven't been in touch
    for a long time.
    Sorry.
    The last time
    I saw you
    was in
    St. Christopher's Place.
    It was a lovely evening...
    when I knocked
    that chair over.
    I am sorry.
    Since then,
    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,
    not once,
    not twice,
    but three times,
    like a log...
    clonking my nut
    so violently
    that people heard me
    in the sitting room.
    What's more,
    I can't remember
    a single sentence
    spoken
    all evening.
    The problem is...

    A Pair of PGCEs 2

    Towards the end of my first term in Twickenham, I found myself in the situation of being far less prepared by far than my fellow students for the forthcoming Teaching Practice period, and so removed myself from the course on a temporary basis in order to set about deciding whether I wanted to carry on or not. In the event I decided not to, but remained 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 my very dear friend Maxie Coburg from Manchester, whom I'd met through the Stage newspaper when he was looking for acts for a movable club he was getting together at the time. We remain close to this day.
     By the middle of January 1993, I was attending yet another PGCE course, my third in fact, this one bearing the suffix fe, meaning further education, and based in Eltham, south east London. Additionally, I was still working as a sporadic deliverer of novelty telegrams, as well as rehearsing for the play "Simples of the Moon" by Rosalind Scanlon, based on the life of James Joyce's daughter Lucia, in which I had two small parts thanks to the director Ariana, a close friend of mine since university days. As if all this weren't enough, I continuing working with Maxie on our musical act which so far had yielded the occasional gig in a pub or restaurant, some home recording, some busking, and countless hours of socialising and partying that typically extended far into the small hours.
     The following piece serves to evoke this exciting but dangerous period of my existence. It was compiled in the spring of 2006, using, as raw material, a few hastily scrawled notes commemorating a birthday recently celebrated in the early '90s and possibly dating from the 8th of October 1992 or '91 or even earlier, I cannot be certain. What is certain is that it has been reproduced word for word, although slightly edited, and of course subject to free versification. It is no tale of a carefree man about town, far from it, for there is a twilight mood to the piece, with the birthday boy performing his fatuous solo dance in spite of the disaster he's so obviously courting.

    Lone Dance of the Birthday Boy

    Yesterday for my birthday,
    I started off
    with a bottle of wine...
    I took the train
    into town...
    I had half a bitter
    at the Café de Piaf
    in Waterloo...
    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
    dancing spot
    in the middle
    of the disco floor...
    We all piled off to the pub
    after that,
    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
    restorative effort;
    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...

    Outro: The Reveller's Reckoning

    Introduction

    In 2006, "The Reveller's Reckoning", based on events that took place on Sunday the 16th of January 1993 was adapted from an autobiographical work or rather works with various titles dating from the mid 1990s, edited, reassembled, versified. The original work, which has now vanished, was written and destroyed, re-written and re-destroyed innumerous times (well, not literally of course), before being finally salvaged for Blogster, where it was published as "Remnants from Writings Destroyed 1" on the 10th of March 2006. In July 2007, it was subject to further alterations before being retitled.

    The Reveller's Reckoning

    It was late in the afternoon
    Of The 16th of January 1993
    That my whole
    Intoxicated universe
    Finally exploded.
    With etiolated face...
    Tremulous hands, Broken at last
    After so many years
    Of semi-Icaran hubris.
    And yet it had all been
    So unexpected;
    Because although
    I'd felt dreamy and disconnected
    Earlier in the day,
    As if I was no longer
    Quite of this earth,
    I was in good spirits, even euphoric,
    So there was no reason at all
    For me to start fearing
    that I wasn't entirely indestructible,
    let alone suspect
    That I was destined
    For an out and out "crack up"...
    And the most fearful ordeal so far
    Of my stormy, chaotic,
    Almost inchoate existence...



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 11:37PM

    Oblivion in Recession



    Nineteen92fade.jpg

    Chapter Sixteen  Oblivion in Recession

    Introduction

    The following piece has its origins in rambling notes I made towards the end of January 1993, and which referred to incidents which began on the 16th of that month and lasted for several days, coming in the wake of a peripatetic week of near-constant intoxication, during which I nonetheless managed to work and socialise in some measure. I believe with all my heart that it is a faithful account of the incidents in question, already touched on in the coda of the preceding piece, accidental inaccuracies notwithstanding.
     When I set about preparing it for the eyes of the world through a process of aestheticization and versification, the punctuation was significantly altered, with commas inserted in the place of semi-colons and so on. It was also heavily edited, with words, indeed whole passages ommitted from the original draft, and other sections removed and then reinserted in areas of the script where I felt they better belonged. The piece was published in rudimentary form at Blogster on the 31st August 2006, while its "first" definitive version was prepared in August 2007. A final one was published in December.

    Collapse in an Indian Restaurant

    "The peripatetic week of near-constant intoxication" referred to in the introduction had itself been ushered in by a late-night collapse in an Indian restaurant in an outer suburb of south west London, the consequence of many days of nonstop drinking. I'd been contentedly dining with two female companions when I suddenly felt like pure death. I'd then asked one of my friends whether I looked as bad as I felt. Once she'd replied in the affirmative, I got up from the table, walked a few paces headed for who knows where before collapsing as if stone dead onto the restaurant floor. I was taken outside into the fresh Surrey air by two or three Indian waiters. One of them then set about attempting to shock some life back into my prone body by repeatedly flicking ice cold water in my face, while urging me not to give up or something of that sort. This presumably because in the first instance I'd been relatively unresponsive to his efforts. Finally I made a miraculous recovery and was driven home by one of my dining companions.
     Within a couple of days, my drinking had resumed its inexorable course towards disaster, ultimately leading to the events depicted in "Oblivion in Recession". They marked the end of a period in my life marked by a furious thirst for intoxicating liquor, which could have despatched me to oblivion at any time. The Bible makes it manifestly clear that a confirmed drunkard can go to sleep on any night of any day of any week, and never awake again in this world. But thanks to God, these same incidents were sufficiently terrifying to me that I felt compelled to reach out to Him to help me through them. At some stage as I recall I made a promise to the Lord that if He allowed me to survive them I would belong to Him forever. There have, however, been several relapses of drinking since 93, in the shape of short-lived binges, and a single period of several weeks during which I unsuccessfully attempted a full-blooded return to my old ways. Ultimately, I became unable to drink even a single glass of wine without feeling extremely ill. Thence, as things stand, I am a hundred per cent sober.
     Coming to a state of teetotalism has not been easy for me, any more than has my walk with God in general, and I have had to pay for the way I behaved prior to becoming a Christian, and in a variety of ways I intend to write about but not during this piece. God saved my soul, and the sufferings I have undergone since coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are as nothing compared to what would have awaited me had I perished on one or other of the days during which the action of "Oblivion in Recession" takes place...and of which I had a distinct intimation if I'm not mistaken. It is a fate that I would not wish on anyone, no, not a single soul.

    Oblivion in Recession

    The legs started going,
    Howlings
    In my head.
    Thought I'd go
    Kept awake with water,
    Breathing,
    Arrogantly telling myself
    I'd stay straight.
    Drank gin and wine,
    Went out,
    Tried to buy more,
    Unshaven,
    Filthy white shorts,
    Lost, rolling on lawn,
    Somehow got home.
    Monday, waiting for offie,
    Looked like death,
    Fear in eyes
    Of passers-by,
    Waiting for drink,
    Drink relieved me.
    Drank all day,
    Collapsed, wept
    "Don't Die on Me..."
    Next day,
    Double brandy
    Just about settled me,
    Drank some more,
    Thought constantly
    I'd collapse
    Then what?
    Fit? Coronary?
    Insanity? Worse?
    Took an H.
    Paced the house
    All night,
    Pain in chest,
    Weak legs,
    Lack of feeling
    In extremities,
    Visions of darkness.
    Drank water
    To keep the
    Life functions going
    Played devotional music,
    Dedicated my life
    To God,
    Prayed constantly,
    Renounced evil.
    Next day,
    Two Valiums
    Helped me sleep.
    By eve,
    I started to feel better.
    Suddenly,
    All is clearer,
    Taste, sounds,
    I feel human again.
    I made my choice,
    And oblivion has receded,
    And shall disappear...

    Birth of the New Bohemians

    Had my health crisis not occurred, I might have wholly immersed myself in the Bohemian, neo-Hippie culture of the 1990s, which could be said to have been invigorated by the Rave/Dance youth movement, although in truth it had never gone away, so much as kept a relatively low profile since the early ‘70s, before going on to form subcultures which exist to this day.
     The hip counterculture which had risen to prominence in the UK in the late 1960s ran out of steam before the middle of the seventies, so that by '76 or '77, “Hippie” was a term of abuse among some Punks. By the early 1990s, however, it appeared to me to be back with a vengeance, and around ’92, I’d fallen for it with it with all the passion of one who had had a surfeit of the all too slick 1980s. I was ready to take my attitude of extreme revolt to a further stage of development, and the climate of the times as the century’s end approached seemed to me to be perfect for doing so, and yet had I succeeded, I may have lost not just my life but my eternal soul, leaving a trail of unholy mayhem behind me.  Thankfully, God had other plans for me, and I set about divesting myself of the elements of which my pre-Christian existence had been characterised. From the outset, I began dispensing of books I deemed to be of a negative spiritual influence, while others I salvaged, either to be jettisoned at a later date, or kept indefinitely. At times over the course of the years I took things too far, with the consequence that there were books, or music albums, presenting little if any spiritual threat to me as I see it today which I unceremoniously discarded nonetheless, even going so far as to subsequently repurchase some of these. It took me some years to get the balance right.
     In addition to books and albums, I set about pruning the writings I’d collected, mainly short stories and projected novels. Again in this, I went too far at times, dumping irreplaceable writings, when portions of them at least could have been preserved and recycled.
     I continued writing after becoming a Christian, but from about the middle of the nineties, found it increasingly arduous to do so, and so started destroying most of what I wrote, believing at the time that through my writing I was glorifying the darkness of my pre-Christian past rather than God. By about 1998, I had almost altogether ceased writing, and didn’t seriously take up the pen again, give or take the odd literary scrap that survived my regular Savonarolan purges, until the winter of 2006 when I started contributing articles to Blogster.
     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 (that word again!) 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 an overtly evil nature.
     My efforts were not in vain. By the mid 1990s, Christians of my acquaintance could not have been blamed for being of the belief that what I seemed to be was what I had always been, especially given that what I appeared to be, namely a quiet individual erring a little too enthusiastically on the side of earnest self-denial, was not too far from what I was in actuality, my former gift for deception having largely failed me, not that I wanted to be deceptive, far from it, nor to do anything liable to wound the Saviour to whom I owed so much. Of course, I feared God, but I also honoured Him, and so wanted to do good things for Him.



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 11:33PM

    Beyond the Borderlands



     

    Chapter Seventeen  Beyond the Borderlands

    Introduction

    A first version of "Beyond the Borderlands" was published at Blogster on the 5th of September 2006. A year and two months later, the definitive version was published at FaithWriters.

    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 in Eltham and partly 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 Ellen 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 Ellen 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 Ellen I owe a great debt to the friends I briefly made through Alcoholics Anonymous, and particularly my sponsor Dan. 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 Denver Cashe working for Contact for Christ, based in Croydon, Surrey.
     I think Denver 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 Rose at their 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. Denver'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.



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 11:26PM

    The Trials of a Teetotaller



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    Chapter Eighteen  The Trials of a Teetotaller

    Introduction

    "The Trials of a Teetotaller" was originally published as "Release, Relapse and Restoration" at Blogster on the 9th of November 2006. In December 2007, a definitive version was published at FaithWriters.

    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 Coverton College, Cambridge, the second at the former West London College of Further Education (1990), and the last at the University of New Eltham (1992-1994). I quit both Coverton and the West London College immediately prior to TP. With regard to Coverton, 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 the West London College itself. This was based on two campuses in the suburbs of Isleworth, where I briefly shared a house, and East Twickenham.
     I finally completed a full TP early in 1994 at 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 New Eltham 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, Ben Evans. Ben 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 off-puttingly impassive panel of observers, which was why I felt so grateful to Ben. 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.
     Ben 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 Richard 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 Richard, and produced by his fiancée Michelle. "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 successfully, with the result that I found myself playing opposite virtuoso character actress Jean from Liverpool 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 Richard, Jean and Michelle 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.



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 11:19PM

    The Twilight of an Actor



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    Chapter Nineteen  The Twilight of an Actor

    Introduction

    In the first place "The Twilight of an Actor" existed as nothing more than the poem "Such a Short Space of Time". 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. This was the original "Short Space", and 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 on the 19th of February 2006. 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 definitive version of the piece as a whole was published at FaithWriters, and then again with further very minor variations at Blog.co.uk.

    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".
     Written by the cast, "Lovelives" 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 a longtime friend 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 Serena, 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, Serena 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 Serena, 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 a lot 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,
    But those...
    Who were young
    Back then,
    But who've since
    Come to grief, who...
    Having soared so high,
    Found the
    Consequent descent
    Too dreadful to bear,
    With my past itself,
    Which was only
    Yesterday,
    No...even less time...
    A moment ago,
    And when I play
    Records from 1975,
    Soul records,
    Glam records,
    Progressive records,
    Twenty years melt away
    Into nothingness...
    What is a twenty-year period?
    Little more than
    A blink of an eye...
    How could
    Such a short space
    Of time
    Cause such devastation?



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    Sat, Jun 23rd - 8:18PM

    A Final Distant Clarion Cry



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    Chapter Twenty  A Final Distant Clarion Cry

    Introduction

    “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 a friend. 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  Blogster 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 on the 13th of November 2007, and then again in December.

    Part One

    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 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. Liberty’s Pastor Phil 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 home 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. While after much prompting from 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, the band 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.

    The Perils of Church-Hopping

    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, 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.

    Part Two

    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.

    Waves of Bohemia

    The tenets of the Rock and 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 Théophile 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 March of the Modern

    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 Germany 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.

    Part Three

    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 friend of my father's from South Africa.
     In the wake of this project, my father Pat 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.
     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.

    The Summing-Up

    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 célèbre", as I was described in a 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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    Fri, Jun 22nd - 2:14PM

    Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm



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    Chapter Ten - Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm

    A Leftfield Narrative 1

    "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm" is the second in a four-part series of writings inspired by my time at Leftfield College. It was created out of modified versions of three previously published pieces: "Ice Spoke" itself, "West of the Fields Long Gone", and "She Dear One who Followed Me", which first saw the light of day at Blogster.com on the 10th of August 2006. From "Ice Spoke" I lifted "A Leftfield Narrative 2" and "Nice Guy on the Sidelines", while "A Night in Scorpio's" and "One of the Greats" were taken from "West of the Fields", having first served as its introduction and main body respectively. "She Dear One who Followed Me" and its intro, now known as "A Leftfield Narrative 3", have been reproduced in their entirety. The definitive "Ice Spoke" was published at Faithwriters.com in August/December 2007.

    A Night at Scorpio's

    Thanks to the large quantity of notes I committed to paper while at Leftfield, this long vanished college can live again through writings I've painstakingly forged out of them, such as the poetic piece below. It was based on several conversations I had with Jez, a great Westfield friend. He was a 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 Jez had played Malvolio in a production of Shakespeare's "Twelth Night" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the play's action having been transplanted to an Arcadian swinging sixties.
     And while Jez interpreted Malvolio as a brooding relic from the previous decade, 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. I was young then...that's my excuse anyway...

    I think you should be
    One 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
    Something really
    Unbeatable...
    Then say...'Here, you _______!'
    You've got the spark of genius
    At sixteen, you knew
    You were a genius,
    At nineteen, you thought
    You were a failure
    & now you think...
    What's genius anyway?

    A Leftfield Narrative 2

    The piece featured below begun as diary notes written on spare scraps of paper, only to be shelved for more than two decades. They refer to a single evening at Leftfield, 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 those who cared for me.

    Nice Guy on the Sidelines

    Those sad faces
    My soul was
    in knots
    I couldn’t speak!
    I felt like the nice guy
    On the sidelines,
    Gentle
    but strong…
    I spoke
    Of the spells of calm
    And the hysterical
    Reactions
    Psychic
    Exhaustion
    Then anxious
    Elation
    I’d only approached
    The latter
    By my third
    And Gill said
    Your eyes are
    Sparkling
    You must be
    Happy…
    Sally said: “I’m afraid…
    You’re inscrutable
    You’re not just
    Blasé,
    Are you?”
    I spoke
    Of the spells of calm
    And the hysterical
    Reactions
    Psychic
    Exhaustion
    Then anxious
    Elation.

    A Leftfield Narrative 3

    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 very dear friend, Madeleine.
     One of these resulted from an incident in which I'd made a fool of myself by storming off during a gig featuring myself and fellow singer-guitarist Denny after I’d caused something of a scene by breaking a string.
     The first section begins with "It was she", and ends with "you could hurt me, you know". making use of extracts from several separate conversations, all of which were also edited; while the second, taken from a single edited conversation begins with "You are a Don Juan" and ends with "there's something so...so...your look". The final section, also taken from a single conversation, was reproduced word for word. Portions of the piece were translated from the original French, Madeleine’s native tongue. As a whole, it provides something of an insight into how my friend saw me in those days...as a far more complex individual than my good time guy image might have suggested. 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...
    "Your friends
    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,
    ticking over.
    You could hurt me,
    you know...
    You are a Don Juan,
    so much.
    Like him, you have
    no desires...
    I think you have
    deep fears...
    There's something so...so...
    your look.
    It's not that
    you're empty...
    but that there is
    an omnipresent sadness



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    Fri, Jun 22nd - 2:08PM

    West of the Fields Long Gone



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    Chapter Nine - West of the Fields Long Gone

    "West of the Fields Long Gone" has been composed of pieces from formerly published writings, including "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm" mark one, which was first published at the Blogster.com website on the 25th January 2007. "First Night of the Dream" and "The End of the Century Young" were taken from this piece. "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 the Faithwriters.com website in August/December '07.
     It takes up where the previous story, "Gilded Youth at the Silverhill School" left off, which is to say my arrival in Bristol in south west England to appear in Richard Cottrell production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the city's Old Vic theatre in the winter of 1980. 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 Bristol 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. Then, 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 leafy Clifton I think. There I stayed until it was time for me to return to London.
     Appearing alongside me in Richard Cottrell's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" among other members of an incredibly gifted generation of actors at the Vic were Daniel Day Lewis, future Oscar-winning character actor of legendary perfectionist genius; and the brilliant Nickolas Grace, perhaps best known for his screen portrayals of flamboyant dandies both real and fictional; such as Anthony Blanche in the 1981 television version of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", directed by Charles Sturridge and Michael Lynsey-Hogg. And prior to the 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, and which may have provided me with more pleasure than any other theatre production I'd seen up to that point.
     The “Dream” was greatly 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.

    Like Some New Romantic

    1981 was the year in which I was most active as an enthusiast of the New Romantic movement which had been originated in the late 1970s largely among discontented ex-punks who were reacting to Punk's increasingly drab uniformity. The New Romantics embraced a hyper-nostalgic devotion to diverse ages past which they interpreted as romantic, whether recent times such as the twenties or forties, after the fashion of such pioneers of the movement as Bryan Ferry, and Ron Mael of Sparks, a startlingly inventive avant-pop outfit of American origin, or more distant historical epochs, which inspired such accessories as ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on. Its soundtrack was not guitar rock, but an electronic dance music influenced by German art rock collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as electro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder. To some degree, it set the tone, musically speaking for the entire decade, after having been brought into the pop charts by acts as diverse as Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Ultravox. By the end of '81, the movement was no longer cutting edge as I recall it, partly perhaps because of the scarcity of bands clearly identifiable as New Romantic. That said, it went on to exert an immense influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties, not just in London but other cities throughout Britain, Europe, and beyond. 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 fellow traveller keen to experience first hand the final truly provocative London music and fashion cult before it imploded as all others had done before it.
     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, Leftfield College, situated on the Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London.
     To cut a long story short, I opted for Leftfield; and so in the autumn of that year found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama mainly at Leftfield, 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 one-time agent Harry Creasey. However, I was not successful. 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 Leftfield, 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 exhilarated 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 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 cliché I know...but we should all be careful for what we wish for, for when it comes to us as so very often does, it tends to do so at quite a price, oh such a price...

    Some Perverse Will

    I’m a restless man
    I am never
    Still
    I’m always spurred on
    By some perverse
    Will
    The grass is never
    Green
    No peace here
    To find
    Some demon
    Of motion’s
    At work within my
    Mind
    No bed is too soft
    That I won’t
    Abandon
    It’s sweet calm
    And comfort
    For a softer
    One
    I’m a restless man
    I am never
    Still
    I’m always spurred on
    By some perverse
    Will.



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    Fri, Jun 22nd - 9:54AM

    Gilded Youth at the Silverhill School



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    Chapter Eight - Gilded Youth at the Silverhill School

    Introduction

    An initial draft of "Gilded Youth” was published at the Blogster.com website on the 1st of July 2006, since which time it's undergone considerable modification. The inclusion of the second versified section of "Woodville Hall" first published separately and in longer form at Blogster on the 18th of February '06, is a fairly recent development. It had been based on the bare essentials of an autobiographical short story written in 1978 or '79.
     A definitive version of "Gilded Youth" was published at the FaithWriters.com website in December 2007.

    The Woodville Hall escapists

    In late 1977 I joined the former Merchant Navy School in Kent as a trainee Radio Officer. I formed several close friendships there; but closest of all was with Jayant, a lovable tough nut of about 18 with a thick London accent who'd been born into nearby Gravesend's large Asian community. Jay 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 Jay 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 dismally uninspiring as a result. Little wonder therefore that it gave birth to Punk and other outlandish youth cults, most of which are still in existence to some degree to this day.

    Soon after I'd paid
    My sixty
    or seventy pence,
    I found myself
    In what I thought
    Was a minitiure London.
    I saw girls
    In chandelier earrings,
    In stilleto heels,
    Wearing evening
    dresses,
    Which contrasted with
    The bizarre
    hair colours
    They favoured:
    Jet black
    or bleach blonde,
    With flashes of
    red, Purple
    or green.
    Some wore large
    bow ties,
    Others unceremoniously
    hanged
    Their school ties
    Round their
    necks.
    Eye make-up
    Was exaggerated.
    The boys all had
    short hair,
    Wore mohair sweaters,
    Thin ties,
    Baggy,
    peg-top trousers
    And winklepicker shoes.
    A band playing
    Raw-street rock
    At a frantic speed
    Came to a sudden,
    Violent climax...
    Melodic, rythmic,
    highly danceable
    Soul music
    Was now beginning
    To fill the hall,
    With another group
    of short-haired youths...
    Smoother, more elegant,
    less menacing
    than the previous ones.
    These well-dressed
    street boys
    Wore well-pressed pegs
    of red or blue...
    they pirouetted and posed...

    West Suburban Story

    Soon after returning from the Merchant Navy school in December '77, I auditioned for a place on the three year drama course at the Silverhill 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,  Silverhill accepted me for the course beginning in autumn 1978. I was exhilarated; 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 reaches 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.
     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. On another, a Ted revivalist, a follower of classic Rock and 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" stepped in with the magical words: "He's a mate!". His 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 Jay 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 Welbourne buddies, so many of whom were now based in and around the capital.
     Before arriving at the host's house or apartment, Jay and I met up as agreed with budding oil magnate Chris, an especially close friend from my days as Cadet C.R. Halling 173. Introductions over, Jay saw fit to impress Chris with a terrifying solo display of his lethal street fighting skills. "I'm suitably impressed", said Chris, and he was; and Chris was no sissy. 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.

    The Costa del Punk

    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 famous Campo del Tenis, or nearby Mijas...and even on one occasion each as I remember it, in Marbella, Torremolinos, Puerto 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 Silverhill, but by the 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 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 balneario overlooking the Mar Menor, but I don't recall being especially disappointed by the knowledge that I wouldn't be returning to the Silverhill for the autumn term of 1979. It may have been just the Costa Calida sun that made me feel so burned out.

    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 the Silverhill through which so many incredible experiences came. It would take an entire separate volume to list them all.
     What I will say is 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 Simon and John, I found only disgrace when our bizarre image resulted in a cacophony 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 as 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 fan base for itself. I was Carl Cool, lead singer and songwriter with a tattoo painted onto my shoulder; while Robert Fitzroy-Square was the boy next door with the Buddy Holly glasses, who provided most of the comedy, Dave Dean, the punk kid with the don't mess with me stare, and Little Ricky Ticky, the baby of the band at only 18.
     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 Tasmin told me to contact the impresario Harry Creasey, well-known for offering young actors their very first positions within the entertainment industry.
     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, I played Mustardseed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bristol Old Vic.
     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
    slithers
    of rain,
    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.
    I remember
    the little pub
    on King Street,
    With its quiet
    Maritime atmosphere
    And the first readthrough.
    I remember tramping
    Along Park Street,
    Whiteladies Road
    And Blackboy Hill,
    My arms and hands
    Aching from my bags
    To the little cottage
    Where I had decided to stay
    And relax
    In beween rehearsals,
    Reading, writing,
    Listening to music.
    I remember my landlady,
    Tall, timid and beautiful...



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 10:20PM

    My Future Positively Glittered



     
    Chapter Seven - My Future Positively Glittered

    "My Future Positively Glittered" consists of two previously published pieces in slightly modified form, these being "My Future Positively Glittered", now divided into two sections ("Global Village Soul Boys" and "Hardly a Wunderkind"), and "Summer's End", whose first drafts were published at Blogster.com on, respectively, May 26 and May 29, 2006. In September of the same year, a further piece, "An Evanescent Friendship", which had been first published at Blogster on the 10th of June 2006, was added. Final corrections were made in December.

    Summer's End

    1976 was the year in which I came increasingly under the influence of the decade of Brando, Presley and Dean which at the time was less in tune with my tastes than the stylish 1920s but I was keen for change and was a massive James Dean fan. So by degrees throughout the year, I replaced my old foppish wardrobe with the classic "Rebel" uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt, straight leg jeans, and loafers.
     On occasion, however, I reverted to my old image such as the time towards the end of the legendary long hot summer of '76 that I wore top hat and tails and reddened nails to a party hosted by a friend from Prestlands. This took place in September. I know this to be an absolute certainty because I should have been at sea at the time, on the minesweeper HMS Kettleton. I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Kettleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship while engaged in a replenishment at Sea exercise. 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 Kettleton with more or less exactly the same crew.
     For some reason I decided I didn't want to be onboard for this particular trip and so pleaded sickness. It was a decision I was ultimately to regret rather than celebrate despite the fact that had I taken part in the RAS manoeuvre, I'd almost certainly have been assigned Tiller Flat duty, as had been the case on several previous occasions during exercises of this kind. This would have put me below deck, rendering escape difficult although not impossible. In other words, I may or may not have survived the accident.
     An impression I can recall having at the time at the time with regard to those who didn't survive was that they were all natural-born gentlemen. I knew three of them quite well, and they were men of marked generosity of spirit and sweetness of disposition. That is not to say that the survivors weren't, far from it...many of them were good friends of mine. My point is that there was a deep gentleness about those who didn't make it, according to how I saw them at the time. It broke my heart to think of what happened to them.

    Global Village Soul Boys

    It may just be my imagination but 1977 was a far darker year than those that came before it. It was after all marked by the rise of Punk, a musical and cultural movement which could be said to have fatally disabled Rock's uneven progress as an art form by virtue of its DIY ethic, underpinned by a mood of raw rebellious fury. These elements combined with an extreme and often grotesque sartorial eccentricity to produce something utterly unique, and it spread like a raging inferno, deep into suburbia from its London axis, and so to other major British and international cities.
     If by the end of the year I'd been caught up in Punk like thousands of others in the grip of the sense of inferiority being a suburbanite brings, at first I was relatively unmoved by it all. I preferred the trendy London Soul look, whose key elements were floppy college boy wedge, straight leg jeans or slacks, winklepicker shoes or boots, and baggy shirt worn with small collar archly upturned often over a plain white tee-shirt.
     Having recently renewed friendly relations with my old Welbourne buddies, I began attending a lengthy series of parties in various part of fashionable west and central London as one after the other of them hit 21. Of them all, I was perhaps closest with Chris who shared my passion for the London party life and clubs filled to the brim with the fashionable and the beautiful.
     Together we set about attuning our tired old images to what we saw as the coolest look of the day. Shortly after the start of the year, I'd purchased my first pair of winklepickers which was an essential acquisition for any self-respecting trendy. They were cream-coloured lace-ups if I'm not mistaken. I went on to acquire something of a collection of them for myself, including black shoes with sidebuckle, imitation crocodile skin shoes with squared off toes, and black Chelsea-style boots, all painfully pointed. By the spring of '78 or thereabouts I think I'd junked the lot as a means of sparing my poor feet.
     This trendy London look might have been confused by some with Punk. For certainly like Punk it was adopted in reaction to the once ubiquitous hippie look, but it was married to a love of Soul music rather than primitive three-chord Rock. It was common among working class Soul Boys, although I was not to discover this until later in the year when I started hanging out at the Woodville Hall in Gravesend, Kent, 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. The Global in '77 was something of a magnet for working class kids from various London suburbs who favoured the Soul Boy look which then consisted of such elements as the wedge haircut, often streaked with a variety of tints, brightly coloured peg-top trousers, and winklepickers, or beach sandals.
     When the Soul Boy wedge was married to a passion for European designer sports clothing, it mutated into the so-called Casual style which exploded in the late '70s and early '80s on the football terraces, first allegedly in Liverpool, and then nationally, going on to influence a passion for casual sporting attire on the part of the youth of Britain and beyond that persists to this day. For the greater part of '77, it was the Soul Boy look I aspired to rather than that of Punk, although I started to flirt with Punk once I'd become aware of the monstrous vagaries of attire that were regularly on display on Chelsea's Kings Road and elsewhere in the early part of the year.
     By the summer, I was starting to as much resemble a Punk as a Soul Boy, squandering my youth like a profligate in night clubs and bars in Palamos on Spain's Costa Brava, while working by day as a sailing instructor. After a few months I lost my job, but stayed on in Palamos for a time on a caravan site to engage in a constant almost Sisyphian round of alcohol-fuelled festivities.
     As much as I loved the party life, what I wanted most of all was to enjoy it as a successful working actor like golden boys Peter Firth and Gerry Sundquist, both of whom found fame on the stage before branching out into movies and TV; although Firth had began his acting life as a child star.

    Hardly a Wunderkind

    In '77 I was still ill-equipped for my ambitions, given that few if any actors become truly successful on the strength of their looks alone, which is surely why there are so many more pulchritudinous male models than actors. I had not yet appeared in a single play, except a handful at Welbourne which had provoked more hilarity than praise. My roles there consisted of two elderly women, a beauty with Mia Farrow hair conducting some kind of illicit liaison as I recall, and a posturing psychopath called Alec, this in "The Rats", a little known Agatha Christie one act play. In short, I was hardly a National Youth Theatre wonder kid. I had written a few songs, but my guitar playing was yet threadbare and weak, even though I already had a good baritone singing voice. Still there was precious little proof to date of any real ability or success of any kind. My future positively glittered before me.

    An Evanescent Friendship

    I underwent my final RNR voyage, destination Ostend in Belgium, towards the end of the summer of 1977. My best RNR pal Lofty was sadly not onboard, but other friends were, among them, Damon, a tall and elegant red-haired man a little in appearance as I recall like the charismatic British actor Edward Fox, with a trace perhaps of Damian Lewis. If Lofty was of the type of the warm, bluff working class Londoner, then Damon, who was probably about 26, was every inch the gentleman cavalier, and entirely aristocratic in manner, although far from cold or reserved.
     His family background was almost inconceivably tragic, and his soft and courtly manners masked a troubled inner life which he kept almost entirely to himself, as well as considerable physical courage: I remember a time when for some reason a drunken sailor started threatening me in a bar, and Damon placed himself between me and my would-be attacker, with the result that he saved me from a possible battering.
     I can imagine that back in '77 there must have been those who wondered why two such apparently educated sorts as Damon and I chose to serve as Ordinary Seamen. 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 I can recall quite clearly now when some of these feisty kids were grouping in an Ostend street intent on defending their honour for some wrong committed against them by some local youths. Damon and I made it clear that we had no intention of taking part, with the result that one of their number, a waiflike young salt of about 16 or 17, previously a pal of ours, turned to look at us with a look of sheer uncomprehending contempt on his beardless face and uttered: "What's wrong with youse guys?", before dashing headlong into the melee.  He was of course, implying that we were deficient in courage and manliness, but as I've already stated, Damon was the least cowardly of men. Moreover, according to what I observed and what he himself told me, he was more than averagely successful with the opposite sex. Yet, for his own reasons he chose conceal his extreme personal toughness beneath a display of aristocratic refinement and reserve. While I was no less robustly heterosexual than he, I did not share the inner fortitude which would eventually see him assuming the uniform and calling of a naval officer. It had of course been his destiny all along. But not mine. My tenure with the Thames Division, RNR came to an end in late 1977 with an incredibly positive character report. However, I would never wear a military uniform again.



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 9:15PM

    The Sweetness of Wrens



    Applesshouldbecold.jpg Apples...

    Chapter Six - The Sweetness of Wrens

    A Surrey Idyll

    1975 was the year I resumed my studies at an official place of learning, namely Prestlands Technical College as it was known then. Some time later, it was renamed Prestlands College. Then as now it's to be found on the semi-rural fringes of Weybridge, a beautiful outer suburb of south west London. I enjoyed a full and perfectly idyllic social life there for nearly two years. Like Spain, it was an Edenic playground for me, in which I learned to be a social being after four years of boarding school followed by a further two years or so of leading a semi-reclusive existence.
     At Prestlands, I was able to perfect the persona of a wildly eccentric good time guy, a ceaseless and absurdly successful attention-seeker. Come disco night and there were friends of both sexes who would actually wait for my arrival in order that the festivities might truly begin, and once they did, anything could happen. However, those who tried to get to know to know me on a truly intimate level were confronted with a desperately timid and diffident individual. I hated being so shy, even if discretion and reserve ultimately became part of my formidable array of social skills. Then there was the other me, the anarchist, who seemed to resent the simpering courtier his airs and graces, and to delight in sabotaging his efforts at self-improvement with a strident: "Don't get above yourself, 'burb boy!"

    In the Bleak Mid 1970s

    1975, and my self-defence, guitar and swimming classes had long dried up, but I persisted with the private tuition, notably with a taciturn but charismatic guy called Mark from Richmond in Surrey. A successful musician as well as a teacher, he exerted a strong influence on me in terms of my already passionate interest in European literature. Mark had a special love for French Symbolist poetry, but it was Spanish literature we studied together...Quevedo, Machado, Lorca, and others. He was also an early encourager of my writing, a passion of mine in the mid bleak mid 1970s that was ultimately to career out of control so that I was unable to finish project after project. I clearly suffered from a chronic case of cacoethes scribendi. That means the irresistible urge to write.
     '75 was also a predictably maritime year for me, and no sooner had one ocean voyage finished than it seemed that I was setting sail again. The first of these was destination Amsterdam via Edinburgh and northern France on the square rigger TS Sir Francis Drake of the Society for the Training of Young Seafarers. Among my shipmates were my 17 year old brother; several young men from Scotland and the north of England; a couple of youthful naval ratings, perhaps more; a handful of "mates" who'd been given authority over the rank and file of deck hands; and the ship's captain, who also happened to be an Old Welbournian like myself. It was an all-male crew, and I was initially quite well-liked, but little by little my popularity died. However, there was a southern lad with dark shoulder length hair a little like the young Jack Wild...he liked me after we'd bonded over an attempt at romancing two girls during a brief stay in France and stayed loyal, bless him. I'd come on a bit strong and spoiled everything with Solange, the one I liked. I was desperate for her address, and I think he eventually got it for me. I was elated...walking on air.
     The Drake was a tough experience...which saw us being roused out of our hammocks in the middle of the night on more than one occasion to help trim the sails (or something), but character-shaping. However, I only climbed the rigging on a single occasion, and that was just before we entered the port of Amsterdam...
     As for Edinburgh, I remember being warned by one of the more easy-going lads not to go strutting about the city in a striped college-style blazer with jeans tucked into long white socks. Unfortunately, these were the only clothes I had with me. This was before our first or second stay in the city, I can't remember. The kid was right to warn me, because while Edinburgh may be one of the most beautiful and cultured capitals in Europe, it can still be a pretty tough town. I refused to listen of course, and was duly rewarded with a pretty hairy situation which took place in an inner city pub. It wasn't the sort of place to go lording about with a English accent in a flash boating blazer. Soon after setting foot in the place in broad daylight, a hard young Scotsman with long reddish curly hair wearing what I remember to have been a menacing grin asked me if I was from Oxford. It was probably touch and go for a while, but somehow he ended up leaving me alone. He may even have liked me, or admired my nerve.

    In the Waters of the Kiel Canal

    Within a few short weeks of our returning to London by train from Edinburgh, my brother and I were onboard ship again, this time a yacht taking us to the Baltic coast of Denmark via Germany's famous Kiel Canal as part of the Mariners' Club of Great Britain, and once more we were supervised by "mates", or the equivalent. We wasted little time in recruiting a pleasant young guy from Gloucestershire called Cy as our closest friend and crony. Soon after setting foot on Danish soil all three of us sought out the company of two classically Scandinavian blondes. This caused the Captain, who was a real character, to have a go at us with tongue firmly in cheek about selfishly keeping our dates to ourselves. Little could he have known how innocent our efforts at romance had in fact been.
     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, Ulrike. I liked her so very much, and she clearly liked me, and yet I'd senselessly dumped her for the sake of a night of drunken idiocy with my brother and Cy. Suddenly, overtaken by the 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 Ulrike, 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.

    The Sweetness of Wrens

    It was later in the year I think that I took my friend Norma, 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 Norma'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 two who were; and several who weren't. What united them was that they behaved with special protectiveness towards me. Early in the evening, Norma became furious when a group of older seamen started teasing me from their table. But it was all a big joke to me; and I didn't see it as in any way malicious or threatening.
     It was only a matter of weeks after returning from 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.
     Still in '75...yes, my life was actually pretty full back then...I attempted to pass what is known as the AIB or Admiralty Interview Board in the hope of becoming a Supply and Secretariat officer in the Royal Navy. This entailed me taking the train down to HMS Stirling, the Royal Navy's specialist training centre in Gosport, Hampshire, where I spent three days attending various examinations and interviews intended to assess my potentiality as a naval officer.
     On one occasion early on in the long weekend shortly before one assignment or another, I was looking in the mirror, putting the final touches to my dress, at which point one of the guys I was sharing a dorm with reminded me that I was at an AIB not a fashion parade. Something like that anyway. Not the sort of man I wanted coming with me to the disco that night to get to know some Gosport girls. In the event two of my fellow interviewees were up the task. I asked one of them what he was expecting out of the night, and he told me whatever he could get or something, but he really didn't seem to keen. I know now that he was uncomfortable being out so late and understandably anxious to return to base. As things turned out I was left alone at the club dancing with a soft-spoken local girl called Shirlee. A little later I accompanied her along a busy main leading back to Stirling, with several cars sounding their horns as I kissed her good night, only to discover that the 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, and I can vaguely remember passing through an officer's mess soon afterwards and briefly engaging in some genial conversation with its occupants. Their actual opinion of me of course they kept to themselves. It may just be me, but I can't help thinking that had I returned to Stirling 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. But then again, not necessarily...



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 3:09PM

    Once in an English Seaside Town



    Collected2.jpg

    Chapter Five - Once in an English Seaside Town

    Introduction

    This third story in a series of seventies-themed pieces was forged 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 regarding certain passages, I selected crossed out words or series of words rather than those I'd chosen in the late 1970s and certain sentences were formed by fusing portions of the original sentences together. Moreover, the structure of the story has been altered, and the punctuation changed and greatly improved on; and I edited out words, sentences, whole passages.
     To the best of my knowledge, all the events depicted actually occurred; however, given that I was writing in '78 or '79 about events that took place some half a decade previously, the original conversations would necessarily have been somewhat different to how they turned out on paper. Furthermore, it may be that a certain amount of exaggeration crept in to my writing in the late 1970s, particularly with respect to the quantities of alcohol I consumed, but then again, these may have been reproduced with some degree of accuracy. I have no recollection whatsoever of the events depicted in the final nineteen lines of the story, and these may have been tacked on for dramatic effect.
     The events in the story as a whole take place in "a certain English coastal town", but I have a strong feeling that it was in Lymington, a port on the Solent in the New Forest district of Hampshire that they actually occurred. Why I changed Lymington to Bosham I cannot say for certain, but it may have been a genuine mistake on my part. Final changes were made in July 2007. I think it's fair to say that we are dealing with a story in the truest sense, which is to say one based on real events, rather than a genuine fragment from a memoir.
     Being the person that I am, it is my desire that this resurrected story of mine possess a strong moral centre. And morally sensitive readers will discern intimations of ultimate disaster in the heavy drinking of the protagonist Carl which given that he is only 18, is necessarily only at its inception. My story however is as much a little slice of history from a simpler age than today's as anything more serious and one which I hope will prove an entertainment as well as a morality tale. It finishes on an upbeat note, at the beginning of another night of purported pleasure, and yet as I recall I actually ended the night jumping into the filthy oily waters of the town harbour.

    Once 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 Welbournian, 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 Gilles, a Belgian boy of about twenty years, Mr Watts and his teenage son Dylan. None of these four were on the same course, but they nevertheless became very close. Dylan 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 Corin, aged 28, who was cool, tall, dark and moustachio'd, wearing large and dark-framed spectacles, viewing Carl's whimsicality with considerable suspicion; but sociable; Roger, a genial old boy of about sixty; Bob and Pat, a thoroughly agreeable married couple; and the Captain. That evening, Carl and Corin, who had struggled from alleged want to the position of an urban executive, had dinner together. Mr Watson and Alan were dining in the same restaurant:
     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 Corin, 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, Corin, Gilles, Dylan, and four or five other sailing men, including Daryl, the course whizz-kid.
     "He comes alive in the evening this boy," said Corin, "summoned by an alcoholic deity."
     "I'm not an alcoholic, Corin..." Carl replied.
     "You drink three pints to to my one," Corin countered, "so you've certainly got potential."
     "Nonsense, as I was saying, Daryl, 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."
     "How safe!"
     "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.
     Daryl, fighting to contain gleeful hysteria and thus conserve respectability, had gone a redder shade of tomato, and Corin 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?" Corin queried.
     "Easily, Carl boasted, exhibiting his arms, I have very slender, graceful wrists."
     "Let me see..." Corin 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, Gilles 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 Gilles, 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," Gilles suddenly chuckled, "I was eeting ze floor wiz my shoe, not your brezlet."
     Carl looked at Gilles, 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!"
     "He's insane...in-sane!"
     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 Daryl, "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," Corin 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, Gilles, isn't she?"
    "Oh yes," said Gilles, "eef only 'er farzer weren't wiz 'er all ze time."
     "Hey, who's going for a walk 'round Bosham town?"
     Corin and Gilles volunteered, and the trio turned a corner. The girls were blonde, standing in a sea of darkness. Female company was exactly what Carl and Gilles needed. The Dutch courage of numbers gave vent to a number of groundless verbal coquetteries, 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.
     "Yeah..."
     As the trio moved down the street, the two girls followed.
     "Why don't you turn around?" Corin suddenly said.
     "Why?" said Carl.
     "They like you"
     "Really?"
     "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.
     "Yer wha'?"
     "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 indignation.
     "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 Gilles.
     "My nem is Gilles..."
     "Where are you from?" Sue asked Carl.
     "London. Why?"
     "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 Corin were not 'ere," Gilles whispered into Carl's ear.
     "Why?"
     "His presence is disconcerting them."
      As soon as Gilles had finished talking, the two girls turned a corner:
      "See ya, then!" they shouted.
      "Bye, girls!"
      "Bye, Carl darling!"
      "I wonder where zey went?" said Jules
      "I shouldn't worry about it, you've got your Belgian girl"
      "Ave I?"
     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 Dylan what he thought about some of the female monitors:
     "How about Janet, 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."
     "Oh. Well..."
     "See you tonight then."
     "Yes, bye...hey wait! Do you know my name?"
     "Yes, of course I do, Carl, bye!"
     "Bye, Sally!"
     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 and attractive woman.
     Carl, Gilles and Corin set out together for the dance. On the way, they stopped in a pub.
     "Half of bitter!" Corin ordered.
     "Half a shandy!" Gilles ordered ordered.
     "Double scotch!" Carl ordered and then ten minutes later, "double scotch!"
     "Nothing for me!" Said Corin.
     "Alf o' shandy!" Gilles ordered.
     "Pint of bitter!" Carl ordered ten minutes later.
     "Come on Carl, let's go," Corin said.
     "We mus' go," Gilles said.
     "Drink up," Corin 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!"
     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 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 Daryl, he was taken, across the room and seated next to the Captain 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 Daryl, who was sitting opposite him, Carl filled the room with his manic laugh, which was greeted by looks of intimidated derision.
     "No, Carl, said Daryl, 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 sea town 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.
     "Dylan, it's you."
     "Where ya going, Carl?"
     "Dylan, it's not where am I going, it's where are we going."
     "Sorry."
     "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!"



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 9:22AM

    An Innocent on the Reeperbahn



     

    Chapter Four - An Innocent on the Reeperbahn

    Introduction

    "An Innocent on the Reeperbahn", 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". A final version was published at FaithWriters in December 2007.

    Toilers of the Thames

    1973 was the year of my first voyage as an Ordinary Seaman with the RNR onboard the minesweeper HMS Thamesis. 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 Kevin “Lofty” O’Shea. 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 Mickey, a rough, wild but essentially kind-hearted working class loner of about 23 who was rumoured to be a permanent year-long resident of HMS Thamesis. The other was a far older man, possibly in his mid thirties, but just as riotously extrovert as Mickey. And yet this guy was as posh as they came, with the patrician manner of a City stockbroker or merchant banker. Mickey took me under his wing with a certain intimidating affection: "We'll make a ruffy tuffy sailor of 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 civilized 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 nonchalantly announce that I was taking a stroll. Incidents like these made me an object of affectionate banter on the part of Mickey and others.
     The crew spent its final night together in a night club in the port of Portsmouth, or perhaps it was Plymouth I really can't remember. The chief attraction was a limp-wristed drag artiste who tried to keep us entertained by singing cabaret style numbers in a comic falsetto, and bawdy jokes told in a deep rich baritone, but she was ruthlessly heckled for her pains. At one point she turned her attention to me, or rather I think she did. I was trying to hide at the time, it being one of those rare occasions when I was wearing unsightly horn-rimmed spectacles. "Ooh...you look pretty, what's your name?", she 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 while earlier, he'd performed the theme from "William Tell" on his 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 "correspondent", 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 Époque
    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 café 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...

    Take to the Sky with a Natural High

    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 Marianna. She didn't look Dutch, in fact, with her tanned complexion and long dark brown hair, she was Mediterranean in physical appearance. And it was probably she who came up to 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 feel deeper and 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 cliché 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 indifferently back at me from an underground train, possibly at South Kensington or Notting Hill Gate, as the doors closed; but typically I was powerless to act, and simply stood there like a lovesick fool as the train drew away. In time of course, my infatuation faded, but even to this day I will listen to certain songs and it'll all come flooding back to me. They include "I Just Don't Want to be Lonely" by Philly Soul band the Main Ingredient that lingered in my mind as I sauntered up Kensington High Street in the sun; and "Natural High" by Bloodstone. I'd been a lover of Sweet Soul since the early part of the decade when I first heard "La La La Means I Love You" by the Delphonics and "Betcha by Golly Wow" by the Stylistics, and this type of music went on to soundtrack some of my most romantic experiences of the seventies.
     Later on in the summer I found myself once more in Santiago de La Ribera, a little village on what is known as the Mar Menor or little sea, 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 in La Ribera. Every afternoon, we used to congregate on the jetty facing our apartment on the Mar Menor which was largely deserted it being the time of the siesta, that's myself and my brother, and Spanish friends both male and female, to listen to music and talk and laugh and flirt.
     To some youthful Spanish eyes I was an impossibly exotic figure in the mid 1970s, full as I was of stories and songs from what was then as it is now the most culturally vital city in Europe, while the young of Spain were still so endearingly sheltered in those years leading up to the death of Franco. All this was to change with Franco's passing, at which point the nation 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, so intimidatingly cool had many of them become, dancing their strange jerky dance to the latest coolest tunes, many from my own homeland, such as “Won't You Hold My hand Now” by King, featuring Galway-born singer Paul King.

    An Innocent on the Reeperbahn

    I returned to London in late summer '74 with a deep brown tan and hair bleached gold by the sun, and hanging long over my ears and forehead. While on my way one Tuesday evening to HMS Ministry, moored then as today on the Embankment near Temple station, I created a bit of a stir at Waterloo mainline, which wasn't the bright tourist-friendly station it is today but a far rougher place with its own barber and pub, attracting not a few souls down on their luck for one reason or another. For a start, I was accosted by a genial Scotsman in late middle age, a former seaman as I recall him telling me, when he wasn't going on about how good looking I was. He was harmless enough though, a sweet old guy in fact who behaved impeccably and was as far as I could tell just being friendly, so I was more than happy to chat with him for a while. I even went so far as to agree to a meeting with him the same time the following week, which of course I had no intention of keeping.
     Within a few days, HMS Thamesis 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 bars, as well as strip clubs, sex shops, bordellos and so on.
     A day or so later, a coach trip to the suburbs was organised. We ended up in a park where I had my picture taken on a bridge by a reporter for the Surrey Comet. At some point, a group of schoolgirls breathlessly asked me to be in some photographs with them. On the way back to the ship, one of the sailors remarked that I'd been a hit with the Hamburg teenyboppers or something along those lines, while another retorted that it was only because I was so blond and Teutonic...or something of that sort. Whatever the truth, there was something so touching about the young suburban girls' simple unaffected joy of life, and the way it stood in such stark contrast to what existed only a few miles away.



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 8:43AM

    Those Gambolling Baby Boomers



    _37_0005.jpg Photo by Peter Kingsford

    Chapter Three - Those Gambolling Baby Boomers

    Introduction

    "Those 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 Welbourne College, a public school situated near a little Thameside village 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, and then again in November and December of that year, it was subject to further minor variations.

    The Nautical College, Welbourne

    Welbourne College was founded in 1917 as Welbourne 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, but by 1969 this had been abbreviated. 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 Welbourne providing the rigours both of a military college and a traditional English boarding school. In 1996, she became fully co-educational.
     The Welbourne I knew was powerfully allied to the Church of England, and so 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. And I'd like to go on record as saying that I'm indebted to Welbourne 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, 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 my personal hero for several years.

    This Glam Rock Nation

    In the summer of 1972, it was mutually decided between my poor dad and the authorities of Welbourne 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 tiny little working class village 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. For 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 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 or so, I'd looked askance at 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 outfit the Sweet on a long-forgotten teenage programme called "Lift off with Ayesha" and was instantly smitten with their high camp image. In January of the following year, I saw a certain rising Glam superstar on the chat show Russell Harty Plus in January 1973 and my devotion to the strange culture taking over the land became total. So many popular songs of the era were like football chants set to a stomping Glam Rock beat. It 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.
     In late '72 I was launched by my dad on an intensive hothouse programme of self-improvement. I studied Karate in Hammersmith, West London,  and among my fellow students were what I remember as shaggy-haired jack the lads 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 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 and 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 Welbourne friend 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 Welbourne, 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 of local 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 Thames Division of the Royal Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, attending classes once a week on HMS Ministry 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 pretty or something along those lines. I think this may have come as something of a surprise to me as at Welbourne I'd been no lover of effeminacy to say the least, but I was intrigued rather than offended. The mood of the times was changing at any rate, and it was cool for guys to be androgynous. I had the right look at the right time, and it came to serve me well when it came to attracting female attention.

    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 never before. I was growing into a narcissist. Throughout '73, I built an image based on the distinctive look of one of my Rock and Roll idols, spiking my hair, and even at some point peroxiding it. At some point I think I even started daubing concealer on a face which had become latterly troubled by acne.
     I didn't fit in in the outer suburbs, unlike my brother. He became part of a local youth scene until about the middle of the decade, wearing the latest youth fashions, getting into Soul music, going to discos and football matches and so on, where I only really had one local mate, Joë, son of a BAFTA-nominated British cinematographer. 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.

    Those Gambolling Baby Boomers

    In the early 1970s, everything seemed to be mine for the knowing, for the experiencing, for the taking. It was a time of constant, frenetic change and to be young back then was exciting beyond belief. As I gorged on the fruits of a revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged on my behalf I never once considered what would be the fate of succeedent generations of youth. They would have to come to maturity in a world in which a generation of baby-boomers had lately gambolled like so many sensuous fauns. Pity their poor souls.

    Photo by Peter Kingsford.



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 8:09AM

    Snaposhots from a Child's West London



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    Chapter Two - Snapshots from a Child's West London

    Introduction

    "Snapshots", 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 scallywag, gaining with enviable ease the affection and trust of the older Wolf Cub boys as well as the Cub leaders, of Margaret Jacobs and Mrs O'Keefe, of Niña and many other school friends. And yet, he makes a conscious choice to abuse the trust of others, including a friend from Bedford Park; 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 Ovaltineys 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 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...

    Snapshot 1

    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.

    Snapshot 2

    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 usually 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 Citroën and drove off. I darted down Esmond Road crying and shouting. My tearful howling was heard by Margaret, the 19 year old daughter of Mrs Helena Jacobs, the philanthropic Jewish lady whom my mother used to help with the care and entertainment of Thalidomide children. Helena 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'Keefe 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...
     Margaret picked me up and carried me back to my house. I immediately put on my uniform as soon as she 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.

    Snapshot 3

    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, 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 Niña wanted to escort me to the safety of our teacher, 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 Niña, "and Robert came up and gave him four rabbit punches in the stomach."
     But Robert was not penalized, for Mademoiselle knew what a little demon I was, no matter how hurt and innocent I looked, tearful, with my tail between my legs.

    Snapshot 4

    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.

    Snapshot 5

    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 Bohemian 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 he was a “_______ _______”. Those words caused a long and furious confrontation to take place on the doorstep of our house...frightful day, which I regret...even to this one...



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 8:00AM

    Born on the Goldhawk Road



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    Book Three 

    The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties

    Introduction

    "The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties" is an early version of the memoir "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child", from which so many of my subsequent writings have arisen. And while it’s been largely untouched since its initial "definitive" publication in 2007, some minor modifications were made in October-December 2011, including the alteration of many personal and place names in the sacred name of privacy, and further ones in June 2012.

    Chapter One – Born on the Goldhawk Road

    Introduction:

    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 now forms part of a conservation area within the London borough of Ealing, with a small part within that of Hounslow. 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 London’s Lycée Français du Sud Kensington, 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 and 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 Welbourne 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...

    Wicked Cahoots

    When he made
    his first personal appearance
    in the dirty alley
    on someone else's rusty bike,
    screaming along
    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..."
    Wicked cahoots.

    This piece is, as in the cases of other pieces for June 2012, and until further notice, from the projected book, "The Boy from the Tail End of the Goldhwak Road".



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 2:41AM

    Pinteresque (A Controversial Artistic Legacy)



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    3. Pinteresque (A Controversial Artistic Legacy)

    Harold Pinter is a serious candidate for the greatest British playwright of the last two centuries. And that he was also a proficient poet, composer of short stories, screen writer director and actor can only serve to enhance his already magnificent reputation.
     He even lent his name to an adjective, Pinter-esque...implying typical of his style, which while heavily indebted to several traditions existent within the Modernist avant-garde prior to his initial success, yet remains impossible to successfully explain.
     And among those traditions one might include the Dadaist, Surrealist and Absurdist schools.  But these were preceded by a kind of snickering nihilistic humour that thrived in Parisian avant garde circles towards the end of the 19th Century, and which has been termed "l'esprit fumiste".
     Although even this spirit was not without precedents...having been evident, for example, in the bourgeois-baiting attitudes of the young Gautier when he was the leader of a band of extreme Romantics in 1830s Paris. Just as Gautier passed the baton to Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Jarry, Artaud and so on.
     So, what does Pinter-esque - a term Pinter himself found altogether “meaningless” - actually signify?
     In providing a response to this question, mention could be made of the almost high poetic inventiveness and verbal virtuosity lurking beneath a veneer of banality. As well as the rich dark surreal wit laced with a constant sense of impending violence characteristic of his earliest plays of the so-called “Comedy of Menace”. But doing so does little in elucidating precisely what it is that makes his work so unique. So perhaps a return to his early years might be in order.
     He was born - in October 1930 - in Hackney, East London, to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, and first attempted to make his way in life on the stage, learning his trade both at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and the Central School of Speech and Drama...and as a jobbing actor in the early to mid 1950s.
     But an early step towards success as a dramatist came in 1957 when his first play, “The Room” was performed at Bristol University in the south west of England under the directorship of his close childhood friend Henry Woolf.
     By this time he’d been married for a year to the young Yorkshire-born actress Vivien Merchant (1929-1982), who would go on to illumine some of his most famous productions for television with a uniquely attractive screen presence.
     The following year, their son Daniel was born. While his second play “The Birthday Party” was produced at the Lyric Studio in the West London district of Hammersmith, and was both a critical and financial failure, closing after only a handful of performances.
     And yet, once it had done so, it received a review in the Sunday Times by drama critic Harold Hobson, who described Pinter as possessing “the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London,” which all but salvaged his career.
     He followed “The Birthday Party” with “The Hothouse”, which would not be seen on the London stage until 1980, and “The Dumb Waiter” which was produced as part of a double bill with “The Room”. But it would take “The Caretaker” to make Pinter’s name in Britain on the eve of the most feted decade since the twenties, during which he became increasingly involved with television and the cinema. While “The Collection” followed a year later.
     And the first of his works to be broadcast on TV was the one-act play “A Night Out”, featuring himself and his wife Vivien, to be followed by “Night School”, while  “A Slight Ache” and “The Dwarfs” also date from this period, although neither were televised. Unlike “The Lover”, which was broadcast in March 1963, the totemic year the Beatles ascended to fame in the UK, and in which the ‘60s could truly be said to have begun in a cultural sense.
     It featured Alan Badel and Vivien Merchant as a suburban couple seeking to spice up a stale marriage with role-playing games.  And although it was tame by contemporary standards, it chimed perfectly with the times, and thence could be said to be part of the camel’s nose of the coming social revolution together with the first stirrings of Rock spearheaded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And the same could be said of the first Bond movies, and such trendily sophisticated TV series’ as “The Avengers”.
     In that same year, Pinter wrote the screenplay for the film version of Robin Maugham’s “The Servant”, which kick-started a lasting artistic relationship with director Joseph Losey.
     Starring matinee idol Dirk Bogarde in the titular role, its themes of darkness and decadence, which were becoming increasingly prevalent in the cinema at the time, still have the power to astound and disturb today.
     Also in this year of Beatlemania and the onset of London as the world’s cultural epicentre, a celluloid version of “The Caretaker” was produced under the direction of Clive Donner, and starring Alan Bates, Donald Pleasance and Robert Shaw.
     A year later, in ’64, the year of the Beatles’ invasion of America, Pinter provided a screenplay for another seminal sixties movie, the last of these being “The Quiller Memorandum”, directed by Michael Anderson in 1965, with George Segal in the title role. While “The Pumpkin Eater”, directed by Jack Clayton from the novel by Penelope Mortimer, starred Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft.
     At the same time, Pop was starting to mutate piecemeal into the far darker and harder music of Rock, and so it could be said that the more innocent phase of the ‘60s came to a close…an event reflected not just by its music, but its cinema.
     And it was in the totemic year of ’65 that “Tea Party”, based on one of Pinter’s short stories, was broadcast on TV under the direction of Charles Jarrott, and again featuring his wife Vivien in the lead female role.
     While Vivien also featured in “Accident”, whose screenplay was the second Pinter wrote for Joseph Losey, this time from the novel by Nicholas Mosley, and again starring Dirk Bogarde. And in that same year of ’67, Peter Hall’s production of “The Collection” reached Broadway, winning four Tony awards in the process, and turning Pinter into an international celebrity.
     Also in ’67, “The Basement” had its première on BBC TV, again directed by Jarrott; and the following year, American director William Friedkin made a film version of “The Birthday Party” featuring Robert Shaw in the lead role of the beleaguered Stanley.
     While Pinter himself moved beyond the Comedy of Menace to the so-called Memory Plays of 1968-1982, which went on to include “Landscape” (1968), “Silence” (1969), “Night” (1969), “Old Times” (1971), “No Man's Land” (1975), “The Proust Screenplay” (1977), “Betrayal” (1977), “Family Voices” (1981), “Victoria Station” (1982) and “A Kind of Alaska” (1982).
     1970 saw Pinter produce a screenplay for yet another classic British movie in the shape of “The Go-Between”. Based on the novel by L.P Hartley, and starring sixties beautiful people Julie Christie and Alan Bates, as well as a youthful Dominic Guard in the title role, it was the last of his fruitful three-picture collaboration with Joseph Losey.
     And further into the decade, Peter Hall directed a film version of “The Homecoming”, again featuring his wife Vivien, as well as Ian Holm, Paul Rogers and Cyril Cusack.
     While in ’76, a second Scott Fitzgerald novel was made into a movie, this time with a screenplay by Pinter. Yet while “The Great Gatsby” was a box office success despite receiving merely average reviews, Elia Kazan’s “Tycoon” was a commercial failure, despite being considered an artistic triumph by some critics.
     A year later, with Punk Rock raging through Britain, another television version of “The Lover” appeared as a visitor from an earlier more innocent age with Patrick Allen replacing Alan Badel as the Lover; while Vivien Merchant reprised her original role as the Mistress.
     While in ’78, a television version of the original Old Vic production of “No Man’s Land”, directed by Sir Peter Hall and featuring theatrical giants Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson was broadcast by the BBC.
     In 1980, Pinter married his second wife, the historian and novelist Lady Antonia Fraser, with whom he’d remain for the rest of his life.
     And a year later, he produced what was perhaps his most famous ever screenplay for “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, directed by Karel Reisz from the novel by John Fowles, and featuring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep in star-making performances.
     In 1983, another Pinter screenplay was made into a major motion picture, which was the critically acclaimed “Betrayal”, based on his own play under the directorship of David Hugh Jones, and starring Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and Patricia Hodge.
     By this time, Pinter was moving into the final phase of his writing career, during which his plays would become more flagrantly critical of injustice and repression. While this period would be preceded by the revival of “The Hothouse” in 1980, once allegedly shelved for being too political, its first full fruit was “One for the Road”, which premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith in 1984 under the directorship of Pinter himself.
     It would be succeeded by “Mountain Language” (1988), “Party Time” (1991), “Moonlight” (1993), “Ashes to Ashes” (1993), and his final play, “Celebration” from the first year of the new millennium.
     At the same time, his screenwriting life proceeded apace, and he’d continue producing notable work for the cinema, such as his 1990 screenplays for “The Handmaid’s Tale”, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and “The Comfort of Strangers”, directed by Paul Schrader, both dark and disturbing pieces based on highly acclaimed contemporary novels, by Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan respectively.
     While his final contribution to the cinema came in 2007, when the celebrated British actor Jude Law commissioned him to write a screenplay for a second movie version of Anthony Scaeffer’s “Sleuth” to be directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Law and Michael Caine. By which time Pinter had been increasingly involved in political issues for almost two decades, having been opposed to the Gulf War of 1991, the Kosovo Conflict of 1998-‘99, the 2001 War in Afghanistan, and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
     By the time he died in December 2008, Harold Pinter had left a quite phenomenal - if controversial - artistic legacy, which saw him being garlanded with multiple awards, including the CBE in 1966, and the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1995, although he refused a knighthood in 1996.
     And enthusiasm for his work show no signs of abating, despite the fact that it could be seen as very much of its time by virtue of its admirable lack of shock tactics, in comparison, that is, to so much of the theatre that came in its wake. And it’ll be a long time before Britain produces a playwright of the stature of Harold Pinter…a very long time.

    Afterword: Descent into the Hothouse

    In September 1994, I successfully auditioned for a newly formed fringe theatre group called Grip based at the Rose and Crown pub in Kingston for the role of Roote in Harold Pinter's then relatively unknown play, "The Hothouse".
     Written in 1958, it wasn't performed until 1980, when it was directed by Pinter himself for London’s Hampstead and Ambassador Theatres.
     From the auditions onwards, I gelled with the director because while most of the auditions I'd attended up to this point had hinged on the time-honoured method of the actor performing a piece from memory before a panel of interviewers, he had us reading from the play in small groups, which enabled us to attain a basic feel for the character and so feel like we were actually acting rather than coldly reciting. For me, this is the only way to audition.
     Once he'd told me the part of Roote was mine, I devoted myself to his vision of Roote, the pompous yet deranged director of an unnamed English psychiatric hospital: the Hothouse of the title. He demanded of me an interpretation of Roote which was deeply at odds with my usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally vehement approach to acting, but his directorial instincts were spot-on, as his production went on to receive spectacular reviews not just in the local press, but in the international listings magazine Time Out. An amazing triumph for a humble fringe show.
     I'd become a Christian the previous January, so struggled a little with the play's darker aspects, despite the fact that by contemporary standards, it’s mild indeed.
     Yet in later years there was nothing even remotely mild about Pinter in terms of his political beliefs, which were marked by an intensity of conviction which stood in marked contrast to the restraint he manifested through most of his art.
     And I’ve no desire to discuss the source of this intensity, nor whether I believe it to have been justified or otherwise. But what I will say is that as a Christian, I believe the only true lasting solution to the evils of the world lies not in art or philosophy, science or politics, or whatever other field of human endeavour one might care to consider, but a change of heart, or repentance, born of faith in Christ, and faith in Christ alone.
     And until such a change occurs, the world may seem a place a total absurdity to those whose extreme intellectual brilliance draws them inexorably towards examining it with a laser-like eye, an eye which can produce such magnificent works of art as Camus’ “L’Etranger”, Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, and the earliest plays of Harold Pinter...all unassailable masterpieces of Absurdism...and yet all ultimately so tragic as such. At least how I see it.



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 1:38AM

    Lament for a Paisley Troubadour



    2. Lament (for a Paisley Troubadour)

    The deeply talented Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011) remains best known for his signature tune "Baker Street" (1978), as well as a series of hits he enjoyed as one half, along with Joe Egan, of the duo Stealer's Wheel, the most famous of which was "Stuck in the Middle" from 1972.
     He was born the son of a coal miner and truck driver of Irish extraction, and a Scottish mother, in Paisley on the Lowlands of Scotland on the 16th of April 1947. In 1963, he left school whereupon he is believed to have worked first in a butcher's shop, and then as a clerical worker, while in the midst of the most mythologized decade of recent times he'd play in a Rock band called the Mavericks with former schoolfriend Joe Egan.
     At some point, evidently inspired by both the Irish and Scottish folk songs he heard as a boy, and the iconic music of sixties legends the Beatles and Bob Dylan, he began writing his own songs.
     In '66, at a time Pop was mutating into Rock, Rafferty was a member of the band The Fifth Column, again with Egan, releasing a single which failed to set the Pop charts on fire. Three years later, he hooked up with future comedy legend and actor Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey in a folk band called the Humblebums, recording two well received albums with Connolly alone for Transatlantic Records, but they split in 1970.
     Rafferty then went on to the first phase of his solo career. While enjoying critical acclaim with the first album released under his own name, "Can I Have My Money back" in 1971, commercial success continued to elude him. That is until 1972, when he joined up with his old friend Joe Egan in Stealer's Wheel, who had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic - number 8 in the UK and 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 - with "Stuck in the Middle" featuring a lead vocal by Egan that seemed to fuse the talents of both Bob Dylan and John Lennon; while Rafferty supplied the harmony.
      "Stuck in the Middle" was followed by two further hits in the shape of "Everyone Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine" (1973), and the gorgeously melodic "Star" (1974), featuring stunning harmony work by Rafferty and Egan. But for all their success, they disbanded in 1975, after having only recorded three albums, "Stealer's Wheel" from 1972, "Ferguslie Park" from '74 and "Right or Wrong" from '75. They reformed without Rafferty or Egan in 2008.
     Three years later, Rafferty enjoyed his biggest ever hit with the autobiographical "Baker Street", widely considered to be a masterpiece and for good reasons, not least the memorable sax solo - written by Rafferty himself  - by Raphael Ravenscroft, and Rafferty's own sweetly mournful vocal, to say nothing of touching lyrics evoking both restlessness and hope. It was a massive worldwide success, reaching number 3 on the UK charts, and number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
     The album from which it was taken, "City to City" sold over 5.5 million copies, ousting the soundtrack to "Saturday Night Fever" from the American top spot on the 8th of July 1978, and turning Rafferty into a major in the process.
      Further hits from the album followed in the shape of "Home and Dry" and "Right Down the Line", which reached no. 28 and 12 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1979.
     Despite his purported discomfort with his new found star status, Rafferty enjoyed further success with the album "Night Owl" (1979) from which yielded several hit singles in both the UK and US, although subsequent albums were less successful, a situation which may have been exacerbated by Rafferty's alleged dislike of performing live. His final album "Life Goes On" was released in 2009.
     He was married to Carla Ventilla between 1970 and 1990, while his later years were marked by a fierce struggle with depression and alcoholism. In late 2008, he checked himself into St Thomas' Hospital, London, suffering from a chronic liver condition; and some two years later, was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, passing away at home on the 4th of January 2011 of liver failure. He is survived by his brother Jim, daughter Martha and granddaughter Celia. A tragic end; but as in the cases of all gifted artists of renown, his work lives on.
     Speaking as a former problem drinker myself who has nonetheless barely touched a drop of alcohol since 1993, the year I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, I feel a very special compassion towards those, such as Gerry Rafferty, who have not so fortunate as I in terms of conquering a dependence on a drug which is still widely seen as the most dangerous of all.



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    Thu, Jun 21st - 1:34AM

    Born in a Cabin in Cuyahago County



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    James Abram Garfield may be less spoken of today in comparison to many of those who have held the office of President of the United States, but the 20th man to do so led an extraordinary and brilliant life despite the most humble beginnings.
    Indeed, he was born in a log cabin in Cuyahago County, Ohio on the 19th of November 1831 into a family affiliated to the Disciples of Christ denomination, also known as the Christian Church. His father, Abram Garfield, died when he was less than two years old and he was subsequently raised by his French-American mother Eliza Ballou. As well as French, he was of Welsh ancestry, and English by dint of being a descendant of Mayflower passenger and convicted murderer John Billington.
    Aged 16, he worked for six weeks as a canal driver near the big city of Cleveland, before illness forced him home where, at the Geauga Academy, he discovered a taste for academia, which led to his being offered a teaching post in 1849, which he accepted. A year later, he returned to churchgoing, which he had neglected for some years, and he was subsequently baptised.
    From 1851 to '54, he was a student at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute - now known as Hiram College - founded by the Disciples of Christ in Hiram, Ohio, where he developed a special interest in Greek and Latin, and ended up teaching there, while serving as a preacher in local churches, then at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1856. But he decided against preaching as a vocation, returning instead to the Eclectic Institute, where he taught Classical languages. Then, while still only in his mid-twenties, he was elected principal in 1857, a position he held until 1860.
    By this time, he'd been married for a short time to Lucretia Rudolph, one of his more brilliant Greek pupils, who went on to bear him seven children, and had begun the study of Law, being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1860. This took place soon after he'd entered politics for the first time, becoming elected an Ohio state senator in 1859, and serving as such for two years.
    When the Civil War began in April 1861, he was still under thirty years old, despite an already incredibly full professional life. He subsequently joined the Union Army, and was given command of the 42cnd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. On January 11th 1862, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier, and in that same year was elected by the Republicans to the United States House of Representatives. By the time he resigned his commission to take his seat in congress, he'd been promoted to major general.
    He was elected the 20th president of the United States in March 1881, an office he held for only a matter of months before being shot by a one-time lawyer and political office seeker by the name of Chales J. Guiteau.
    Garfield survived the attempt on his life, and was bedridden for several weeks in the White House, before being moved to the Atlantic Coast of New jersey in September in the hope that the fresh air might provoke a recovery, but this was not to be and he died on the 19th of that month from what may have been a heart attack exacerbated by blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia.
    It could be said that James A. Garfield lacks the legendary status of a Lincoln or a Kennedy, but by any standards known to man, he was remarkable in achievement and courage. Born in a log cabin, he rose to the highest political office in the world, becoming the only serving church minister to do so. As well as a preacher, he was a fighter for justice, and vocal opponent of slavery. And he was still only 49 when he died, with so much potential yet unfulfilled.


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    Wed, Jun 20th - 2:03PM

    A Final Distant Clarion Cry



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    Chapter Eight – A Final Distant Clarion Cry

    The Twilight of an Actor

    A few months after appearing in Jim Cartwright’s bitter-sweet two-hander “Two”, I performed in one final play at the Rose and Crown theatre, the character-driven comedy “Lovelives”. Written entirely by the cast, it consisted of a series of sketches centring on the disastrous antics of a group of singletons who'd come together at a lonely hearts club in the suburbs. 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, it could in my view 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.
     Later in '95, I played two small roles in a production at the Tristan Bates theatre near Leicester Square of the famous Greek tragedy "Iphigeneia in Taurois" (sic), written by Euripides somewhere between 414 and 412 BC, these being Pylades, constant companion of the main character Orestes, and the Messenger, who I played as a maniacal fool with the kind of "refined" English accent once supposedly affected by policemen and non-commissioned officers. Directed by a close friend, the houses were sparse at first, picking up towards the end of the run.
     A few months later in January '96, I joined a Christian theatre company based at the Elim Pentecostal church in West Croydon, Surrey called Street Level, going on to serve variously as MC, script writer, actor, singer and musician with two other members, married company leader Serena, and 19 year old Rebecca from nearby Sanderstead.
     Together, we toured a series of shows around schools in various - usually tough - multicultural areas of South East London. One of these, “Choices”, was almost entirely written by me, although it had been based on an idea by Serena who also heavily edited it for performance purposes. On the whole, the kids were incredibly receptive to our productions, and we were greeted by them with an almost uniform affection, and there was an incredible chemistry between Serena, Rebecca and myself...and then things started to go wrong.
     Towards the end of the summer, Serena asked me to write a large scale project for the group, suggesting a contemporary version of John Bunyan’s classic Christian allegory "The Pilgrim’s Progress". This I set about doing, and after some weeks of labouring over what turned out to be an unwieldy and often violent epic punctuated by scenes of dark humour that occasionally verged on the coarse, I started to have second thoughts about carrying on with Street Level. The play, "Paul Grim's Progress", had left me poor shape spiritually, and I didn't fancy too many more of the long and costly train journeys that were necessary to get me to Croydon and back. Consequently I began to withdraw, which wasn't a very kind thing to do because Serena had started to depend on me, especially since Rebecca’s departure at the end of the “Choices” tour. What's more, she’d taken on the responsibility of new productions, and the training of a fresh crew of young Christian actors.
     As things turned out, "Paul Grim's Progress" was never produced, which is not surprising because although artistically it was a good piece, it was overly dark for a Christian play, with some scenes like something out of a horror movie. In terms of my Christian life, I was still only a little over three years old, and it showed. In time I destroyed all but a few pages of it.
     By the time I made my final exit from Street Level, I'd long defected from Cornerstone to the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship, part of the Association of Vineyard Churches founded by John Wimber in the 1970s. This was as a result of being told by a phone friend that the Vineyard movement contained members whose spiritual gifts were in the realm of the truly exceptional. My curiosity aroused, I went along one Sunday evening and had a powerful experience which made me want to stay; and so I did.
     As with Cornerstone I joined a Home Fellowship group where I completed part of the Alpha course, which had been pioneered by Nicky Gumbel of West London's famous Holy Trinity Brompton. I'd visited HTB at some point in the mid '90s, when it was at the height of the revival movement known as the Toronto Blessing. This was so called because it'd been ignited in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church by St. Louis Vineyard pastor Randy Clark, who'd himself received it from South African evangelist Rodney Howard Brown during a service at Rhema Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then pastored by Kenneth Hagin Jr., father of the Word of Faith movement. Word Faith being now one of the major strains of Charismatic Christianity, with its emphasis on "Positive Confession".
     The Anointing spread to the UK in the summer of 1994 where it was eventually dubbed The Toronto Blessing by The Daily Telegraph. Its main centres included HTB, Terry Virgo's New Frontiers family of churches and Gerald Coates' Pioneer People. Pioneer's centre at the time was a cinema in the Surrey suburb of Esher, which I visited a couple of times, and which was so packed that I was forced to stand all throughout the service, a situation which was duplicated when I dropped in at the London HQ of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God one afternoon around about the same time. Like many Charismatic churches, UCKG upholds the Fivefold ministry, and so believes that the five gifts referred to in Ephesians 4:11, namely Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, are still in operation.
     My last hurrah as an actor came in the spring of '98, when I started rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare’s infamous Scottish Play, to be staged at Fulham’s Lost Theatre in the summer...and despite the fact that my three cameos - as Lennox, the Doctor, and an Old Man - were praised by cast and audience members alike, I’ve not acted since beyond a handful of ill-fated auditions. What's more, while I’m still open to the possibility of film or TV work, the likelihood of my ever appearing onstage in a play again is virtually nonexistent. Quite simply, the passion to perform in front of a live audience that raged within me like a forest fire for more than two decades has long been extinguished, or rather turned to dread.
     Some months after my final performance at the Lost Theatre I wrote the prose piece that eventually turned into “Such a Short Space of Time”. Its creation took place in what I recall as the glorious summer of 1999 which was of course the last of the millennium, and my parents were on vacation at the time, so I was often at the house where I’d spent my adolescence and young manhood, performing a variety of tasks such as watering my mother’s flowers, or just simply soaking up the atmosphere of a place I loved.
     Taking cunning advantage of my parents’ absence I transferred some of my old vinyl records onto cassette, something that my own ancient hi-fi was incapable of doing. It was an unsettling experience...to listen to songs that, perhaps in the cases of some of them, I’d not heard for ten or fifteen years, or more, and which evoked with a heartrending intensity a time in my life 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 first heard them, despite the colossal changes that’d taken place since, not just in my own life but those of my entire generation. And so I was confronted at once with the devastating transience of human life, and the effect the passage of time exerts on us all.

    Such a Short Space of Time

    I love…not just those…
    I knew back then,
    But those…
    Who were young
    Back then,
    But who’ve since
    Come to grief, who…
    Having soared so high,
    Found the
    Consequent descent
    Too dreadful to bear,
    With my past itself,
    Which was only
    Yesterday,
    No…even less time…
    A moment ago,
    And when I play
    Records from 1975,
    Soul records,
    Glam records,
    Progressive records,
    Twenty years melt away
    Into nothingness…
    What is a twenty-year period?
    Little more than
    A blink of an eye…
    How could
    Such a short space
    Of time
    Cause such devastation?

    Dispersals and Beginnings

    A few months later and the troubled, turbulent 20th Century gave way to the 21st to the sound of fireworks frantically exploding all throughout my neighbourhood.
     Phoning my father that night to wish him a happy new year I discovered that my mother was desperately ill with flu. 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, which was one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. In time though, her incredible Scots-Irish constitution - shared by so many of the early pioneers of the American South and West - saw her through to a complete recovery.
     I'd found the course magnetically compelling on an intellectual level, despite an awareness that writing extensively about Literary Theory might come increasingly to disturb me, and perhaps even challenge my faith, given its emphasis on what is known as Deconstruction, a term coined by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. I withdrew on the advice of one or two members of the church I was attending at the time, Liberty Christian Centre, a satellite of the Kensington Temple, another London church which had been receptive to the Anointing as well as the subsequent Brownsville Revival, and part of the Elim Pentecostal movement. It's a decision that's haunted me ever since...although its rightness was recently corroborated by an American pastor whose sermons are among the most brilliant I've ever heard.
     Subsequent to making it I started playing guitar for Liberty at the urging of my friend Martina, Russian wife of Pastor Phil of New York City. She went on to become worship leader, alternating as such with Maria, another close friend, originally from Peru. It was Phil 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. Then, shortly after agreeing to be Liberty's lone musician, I quit my position as a telephone canvasser for an e-commerce company based in Surbiton, Surrey, thus bringing a fairly lengthy period spent as an office worker to an end.
     A real change in my professional fortunes came around Christmastime when I was made lead singer for a Jazz band which had earlier been formed by Barrie Guard, an old friend of my father's, going on to be complemented at various times by my dad, double bass player Stu, and myself. We went on to cut several very fine demos arranged by Barrie, but they didn't result in the interest they deserved, given the talent involved.
     In early '01, Pastor Phil decided to dissolve Liberty, which was a sad event for all of us, so I made yet another return to Cornerstone, to be joined there by Maria and a couple of other friends from the LCC. What's more, I stayed in close touch with gifted guitarist Rowan. We cut a few demos together of some Christian songs I'd written at the inspiration of a visitor from KT, and may work together again yet. Around about the same time, while working as a door-to-door leafleter, I took a short computer course at my local adult education centre, but nothing came of it in terms of employment.
     The following summer, in the wake of the 2002 Shelton Arts Festival, the Jazz band disbanded, which was a real shame because we'd finally found the audience we’d been searching for all along at the festival, evidenced by the passion with which our first performance there was greeted. The day after our final show, I started working from home making appointments for a travelling salesman, and was briefly very successful at it, until things started tailing off in the autumn and I was let go. By this time I'd effectively left Cornerstone for good, although I have returned a few times since. This sudden exit came in consequence of a desire born of intensive internet research to seek out churches existing beyond the Pentecostal/Charismatic fold, these being Cessationist, which is to say they don't accept that the more spectacular Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Tongues and Prophecy are still in operation. Up until then, any church that didn't encourage the speaking in other tongues I'd not recognised as being truly Christian. That is not the case today.
     One of my main inspirations during this period of wandering was the Cessationist Sermon Audio website, and I downloaded so many of their sermons that my computer may've crashed as a result. I was also inspired by the many online Discernment Ministries, although not all of these were - or are - Cessationist, and among the churches I visited were Bethel Baptist Church (Wimbledon), Christ Church (Teddington) and Duke Street Church, (Richmond), all located in the pleasant and affluent outer suburbs of south west London.
     Bethel is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church based on the US model and therefore using the King James Version of the Bible only. I went to three - possibly successive - services at Bethel, and fully intended to return for a fourth and so witness the preaching of Sermon Audio favourite David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries, but never did. What happened was that I was held up at Wimbledon British Rail station for over an hour on my final Sunday at Bethel and this may have put me off travelling by train to church, although I was also tiring of the constant new boy status of the inveterate church-hopper.
     Christ Church is part of the Free Church of England which 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’s Evangelical, as well as liturgical and Episcopal, and its member churches adhere to the Doctrines of Grace, also known as the five points of Calvinism, namely Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. According to Calvinism, those who form part of the Elect have been predestined to final salvation by God, and that no one can come to saving faith through their own free will due to total depravity.
     Duke Street is also a Grace (Baptist) church, while Bethel is Free Will. As a result, many Calvinists would describe it as Arminian, after the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius who emphasized free will and individual responsibility when it comes to responding to the Gospel. They would not, however,  be entirely accurate in doing so because true Arminians maintain that salvation can be lost, while most IFB fellowships believe in the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved. In short, they are neither Calvinist nor Arminian, which is an oxymoronic statement to some believers.
     For me, all true believers are united by a clear adherence to certain key doctrines forming the basis of the one true faith without which there can be no salvation, even when they may be divided by non-saving inessentials, or secondary truths. For example, while I’m an upholder of baptism by full immersion, I certainly don’t believe adherents of infant baptism to be heretics, at least not automatically. On the other hand, I have a real problem with those who maintain that a person must be baptised in order to be saved, because the Bible makes it clear that we are saved by faith alone. That said, every Christian should be baptised by full immersion because God commands it, and God urges us to keep his commandments. Also, while I believe that Christ's return will be followed by his establishing a literal thousand year reign on earth, which makes me a pre-millennialist, a person can insist that Christ won’t return until after the millennium, or that the millennium lies in the past, and still be a saved Christian. What are at issue here are justifiable differences in scriptural interpretation.
     Before 2003, which was my year of relentless internet research, I'd known next to nothing about the finer points of my faith, although I was fairly well versed in the subject of prophecy thanks to having been introduced to this early in my Christian life by Spencer and Grace, through various magazines and books such as “Prophecy Today” and the works of Barry R Smith. I had no clue as to the meaning of Calvinism or Arminianism, Predestination or Foreknowledge, Cessationism or Continuationism and so on, but that didn't affect the state of my soul, in fact, no one is either saved or damned by believing one or the other of these distinctions, but by faith alone, with true saving faith producing the fruits of repentance. No Christian has a perfect knowledge of the truth, but I believe there is unity to be found between Evangelicals adhering to the fundamentals of the faith irrespective of what church they choose to worship in, but this can never be achieved at the expense of compromising the pure Word of God.

    Until recently when I became a member of Duke Street, I hadn't been settled within a church since 2001, which points to a deep inner turbulence that I still haven't managed to understand...although it may be at least partly attributable to the fact that I accepted Christ relatively late. After all, the Bible makes it clear that each person who rejects the sovereignty of the fleshly realm for Christ’s sake will know incessant tribulation and persecution. Perhaps this is especially true of repentant Christians who come to faith 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 have a true and infinitely worthwhile purpose in life. This was something that constantly escaped me in my youth, for all the fierce, flaming fanaticism of my beliefs and ideals.
     In many ways though I’ve been my own worst enemy. One by one I’ve had to slay evil habits left over from my pre-Christian existence. In my early days as a Christian for instance I still entertained a fixation on the occult, albeit from a Christian perspective. Now I can barely stand to look at pages filled with occult information and symbols. Most recently I’ve had to address the matter of my dress, which may not seem very important to some - God looks at the heart after all - but I disagree. For close on a decade I was more or less addicted to designer sportswear, and among the objects of my love affair were shady baseball caps, sweat tops with massive logos, flashy striped trakkie Bs, and chunky branded trainers...and I wore an earring too, having had my ear pierced in 1979. Some Christians associate earrings on men with ancient pagan idolatry, and specifically the notion of being enslaved, and that makes good sense to me. I've recently come to realise that if a Christian's outer appearance fails to reflect a changed life, he may be cheating others of the chance of coming to Christ through him. He will also be cheating himself of respect, and God of potential converts. In short, I think it’s time I started looking like the Christian I profess to be. Perhaps then I might actually start acting like a person worthy of the name.
     In a general sense the year 2000 turned out to be something of a turning point for me, not just spiritually, but in terms of my entire personality, which has become more inward looking, even by the standards of the previous seven years. Significantly perhaps, the previous year had been the first since I was about 17 that I faced the world with my hair its natural medium brown after having dyed it for nearly three decades. What prompted this was not a sudden loathing for the vanity of the bottle blond, but the fact that the peroxide-based streaking kits I favoured were causing me to have breathing difficulties. At first I missed being blond, but in time I came to prefer my natural colour after years of youthful blond androgyny. The fact is that throughout my twenties and for much of my thirties I remained in a state of extended adolescence, blond being after all the natural colour of eternal youth.
     I've elicited a lot of admiration in my time for attempting to take the romantic bohemian rebel existence to its logical conclusion when all around me were conforming at a furious rate, and perhaps still do. But the price for doing so has been high, in terms of social and financial humiliation, for which I've no one to blame but myself. If I thought they'd listen I'd tell the young...listen to your parents, not the voices of fashionable rebellion...because they're trying to protect you from social failure out of knowledge of how painful this is beyond a certain age.
     Young people still worship at the altar of romantic rebellion as they've done since time immemorial, but perhaps not to the same degree as my own poor generation. We came to maturity to a frenetic Rock soundtrack in the tail-spinning nineteen sixties, and who can say what effect it had on us, this music...tailor-made to inspire a generation scornful of deferred gratification, a generation of hipsters.
     However, Rock was far more than another mere music form…being a total art involving poetry, theatre, fashion, but even more than that…a way of life with a strong spiritual foundation. It could be said that its first true ancestor was the great 19th Century artistic and cultural movement known as Romanticism, which reached a climax with Nietzsche who by declaring God's death, cleared the way for the eventual rule of a Do Your Own Thing philosophy so dear to the heart of Rock and Roll culture. Of course, nothing is new under the sun, but a strong case can be made for Romanticism as having birthed the notion of the artist as tormented genius at the vanguard of social revolution and eternally defiant of middle class restraint and respectability.

    The March of the Modern

    Tracing the history of the artist as rebel...it was the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who may've been the first to give expression to the notion of an artistic avant-garde by asserting that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”.
     Then, in the post-Napoleonic Paris of the early 1830s, a seminal avant garde emerged. They were the Jeunes-France, a band of young 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 Théophile 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 great debt to the earlier English and German Romantics, as well as previous generations of dandies, such as the Muscadins and Incroyables of the dying days of the Revolution. They were the Rock and Roll bad boys of their day.
     The first Bohemian wave eventually produced the Decadents, and the great Symbolist movement in the arts, both of which came into being around 1880, notably in Paris, where the so-called Decadent Spirit was born, whose most infamous fruit could be said to have been the novel “Against the Grain”, an account of the sensation-seeking existence of a reclusive aristocrat Jean des Esseintes by Joris Karl Huysmans.
     In general though the 19th Century was assailed by a succession of inspired works from the pens of Romantic rebels, each more ferociously avant-garde than the one coming before, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Jarry and especially Nietzsche, among them. Falling under the latter's spell since his death in 1900 have been politicians, writers, psychologists, Rock stars, anarchists, and many of the philosophers whose works have formed the basis of the literary Theory that currently dominates Western academia. In short his influence over the development of the modern Western soul has been incalculable, perhaps greater than any other philosopher or artist.
     However, the avant-garde spirit truly exploded on an international scale with the Modernist movement in the arts, which was at its level of maximum intensity from about 1890 to 1930. This extraordinary period birthed such masterpieces of innovation as Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” (1913), T.S Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922), James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (1922), as well as dozens of revolutionary art movements including Expressionism, Futurism, Dada and Surrealism, as well as Serialism in music, and the ascent of Jazz which together with the moving picture industry formed the bedrock of popular Modernism, or pop culture. Although Jazz was ultimately supplanted by its wayward spawn, Rock and Roll, also a son of the Blues.
     One possible definition of Modernism in an artistic sense is the avant-garde removed from its spiritual home of Paris and then transformed into an international movement of cataclysmic power and influence. In terms of the Modern as a cultural phenomenon, on the other hand, some critics trace its roots 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. Others go even further back into the depths of Western history for its origins, to the Renaissance and its revival of Classical Antiquity. What is certain though is that the contemporary West has reached the very limits of the Modern Revolution, and one of the results of its having done so as I see it is the mass acceptance of revolutionary 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 to breakneck speed 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 frenetic 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 coincided with the growth of the Hippie counterculture.
     The eclectic art of Rock went on to run the gamut from the most infantile pop ditties to complex compositions influenced variously by Classical music, Jazz, Folk, and other pre-Rock 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 the bounds of high culture could only dream of.

    A Final Distant Clarion Cry

    I fell under the influence of various Fundamentalist Christian critics of Rock music for a brief period in 2003, which made me feel inclined to destroy all traces of Rock music in my possession, even though I’d long lost any real taste for Hard Rock by then, whether in the shape of Metal, Punk, Goth, Grunge or whatever. However, by the summer of 2003 my attitude had mellowed to the extent that I felt able to write about an hour’s worth of Rock songs in response to a request from my dad for songs for a possible collaboration with the son of a close friend, but these were as far from Hard Rock as it’s possible to be, being influenced by such relatively benign and melodic genres as Folk, Pop and Soul.
     The songs, some new, some upgrades of old tunes, were recorded on a Sony CFS-B21L cassette-corder, which I think has been discontinued, and were generally well-received despite having been crudely recorded. Pat even went so far as to suggest that I record them properly in a studio, which was a high compliment indeed, given that unlike me, he’s a trained musician who’s been a professional since the age of 9, where I’m just a primitive with an ear for a catchy tune.
     A year or so later a project was mooted by Pat which involved the recording of a popular standards album featuring myself and harmonica genius James Hughes as well as his own London Swingtette.  In spring 2008, the CD was finally released with the title “A Taste of Summer Wine”, due to the fact that Jim’s playing had long been featured on the much loved situation comedy “Last of the Summer Wine”, including the theme by Ronnie Hazelhurst, and Pat had served as leader for the show for some time. A year on, and the writing project “Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child” looks set to follow suit after more than three years of labour. It's the first one I’m pretty well 100% sure won’t end up being shredded or deleted.
     As I've stated elsewhere, soon after becoming a Christian I destroyed most of what I’d written up until that point, and then wrote quite happily for a time as a Christian, until it seems that God called a halt to my literary activities. It was as if I was being saturated with an almost tangible leaden darkness which took me over to the extent of altering the expression in my eyes.
     Once again I started destroying any writings I managed to finish, sometimes dumping whole manuscripts in handy dustbins or one sheet after the other down murky London drains. This went on until about 1998 when I more or less gave up creative writing altogether, which is a good job given that these early Christian writings reflected a continuing preoccupation with subjects that’d held me spellbound prior to my conversion such as mysticism and the occult, which were being glorified through me despite a false warning tone. This I strongly believe. What's more, some of my writings mixed truth and fiction to produce a pointless and deceptive hybrid.
     Finally, in January 2006, I believe God made it clear that I was mature enough to be able to write again, and so I started tentatively publishing pieces at the Blogster website with the first autobiographical one being written sometime around the spring of 2006. As things stand, I'm desperately trying to put the finishing touches to the memoir that evolved out of them, in fact, since 2006, I've done very little except write, so there's really not much to say by way of wrapping things up.
     What I will say is that shortly before last Christmas I was accepted as a member at Duke Street Church. Around about the same time, I was informed that Elizabeth, my one-time mentor at Westfield College had died aged 84 in her adopted village of Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The executor of her will, Catherine - also the publisher of her final book -asked me to read one of the lessons at her funeral and deliver a eulogy in the capacity of a former student. This took place in the parish church of St Martin's in the beautiful village of Bladon, where Winston Churchill is buried, which is significant given that Dr M. was one of the founding members of the Churchill Centre and had written on the great man's relationship with the Christian faith. His parents and children and other members of his family are also buried in St Martin's Church, Bladon.
     On that day, I discovered that Elizabeth had been born in 1924 as an only child of working class parents in Lancashire, but had gone on to gain a place at Oxford University, before becoming a lecturer there and then at Westfield. What an ascent...from humble northern roots to a lectureship at the most hallowed place of learning in history...little wonder she was so fragile, almost febrile as a person, but so kind, so single-minded in her devotion to those who shared her passionate view of art and life.
     It was such a sad experience for me to be reunited with Dr M. after nearly a quarter of a century while being unable to communicate. It made me realise how important it is to stay close to friends and family, because there comes a time when it is no longer possible to reconcile with them. It's too late; they've gone; and the world is always so much the poorer for their sudden absence and silence.
     What else have I done since 2006? How have I spent my time? As I mentioned earlier, much of it has been devoted to writing, but I also sporadically seek out work, both artistic and otherwise. I recently acquired a good many friends at the enormously popular Face Book social networking site, most from my Guildhall and Westfield days, which was a source of great joy to me. My reclusive body may have become sluggish through the melancholy brought by age and vicissitude, but I've a heart that teems with affection for the friends of my past.
     In terms of my online life, every so often I find myself immersed in a labyrinthine search for information related to a subject that has me briefly in its thrall. As a result it requires mental processing through a punishing bout of research and the fervid taking of notes. The most recent topics to beset me were the nature of the giants of Genesis 6:4, and the spread of pagan religion following the destruction of the Tower of Babel when God confused the languages, and I couldn't wait to be free of them. As a general rule I'm most content when at peace with my faith, and least while lost in an endless quest for cyber-knowledge with one page linking incessantly to the other until information overload becomes a serious threat. From time to time, however, I'm tempted to venture beyond my comfort zone into the mysteries of the Bible and history. It's hard for the intellectually curious to resist doing this, and according to the Bible, knowledge shall increase (Daniel 12:4) in the time before the Second Coming of Christ, and this may well be via the miraculous medium of the World Wide Web.
     There's really not a whole lot left to add to this particular piece of writing. Some months ago, I started work on a second volume of memoirs, this one being woefully inadequate as a full account of my existence, although quite successful as an undercoat. That said, whether future layers will ever actually be applied to it remains to be seen. It may just be that writing will be sidelined in the same way that music has since 2006, but then that's highly unlikely. Writing is something I've wanted to do since I was about 17, and now that I'm finally able to bare my soul to the world thanks to the miraculous magnificence of the internet, the chances of my lapsing into cyber-obscurity are pretty slim.
     In conclusion, for anyone still interested, I'll be resuming work on my second autobiographical volume as soon as I'm done with the "Rescue"...and I do hope there is...someone who's persevered this far I mean. After all, it's not just about me; this is a testimony more than anything else. And one that's now at an end.



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 1:00PM

    Reborn in the Nick of Time



    Robred3.jpg

    Chapter Seven – Reborn in the Nick of Time

    Reborn in the Nick of Time

    The period embracing the autumn of 1992 and the first few weeks of winter may well have been the most debauched of my entire existence.
     I'd get up early, possibly about six, and then prepare myself for a day ahead with a bottle of wine, usually fortified, then I'd keep my units topped up throughout the day with vodka or gin, taking regular swigs from the miniatures I liked to have with me at all times. Some evenings I'd spend in central London, others with my new friends from the college, and we were a close and pretty wild crowd for a while. There were times in town when I couldn't keep the booze down, so I'd order a king-sized cola from MacDonalds, which I'd then lace with spirits before cautiously sipping from it through a straw. I was a euphoric drunk and so almost never unpleasant...but I was unpredictable...a true Dionysian who'd cry out on a British Rail train in the middle of the afternoon, causing passengers to flinch with alarm...or perform a wild disjointed Karate kick into thin air on a crowded London street. One afternoon I tore my clothes to shreds after having arrived too late for an audition and a barman who served me later on in the day asked me if I'd been involved in a fight...and then there was the shameful night at Waterloo station - or was it Liverpool Street? - that I had to be escorted across the concourse to my train by one of the drunks who used to sleep rough at mainline stations back then.
     However, all these insane incidents came to a head one night in early 1993 in an Indian restaurant in Hampton Court close to the Surrey-London border. I'd been dining there with two female friends when, suddenly feeling like pure death, I asked the one closest to me whether I looked as bad as I felt. She told me I did, so I got up from the table, walked a few paces and then collapsed as if stone dead in the middle of the restaurant. I was then carried bodily out into the fresh night air by two or three Indian waiters, one of whom set about shocking some life back into me by flicking ice cold water in my face. "Don't give up", he pleaded, his voice betraying true concern...and in time thanks to him some semblance of life returned, and I was well enough to be driven home.
     Yet, within two days I was drinking as heavily as before, continuing to do so virtually around the clock until the weekend. I then spent Saturday evening with my close friend from the restaurant, and at some point 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 state of blissful forgetfulness.
     I awoke exhilarated, which was normal for me following a lengthy binge. It was my one drying out day of the week, and so I probably spent it writing as well as cleaning up the accumulated chaos of the past week. One thing I definitely did was listen to a radio documentary on the legendary L.A. Rock band the Doors which I'd taped some weeks or perhaps months earlier. I especially savoured "When the Music's Over" from what was then one of my favourite albums, "Strange Days" released in the wake of the Summer of Love on my 12th birthday, 7 October 1967. This apocalyptic epic with its unearthly screams and ecstatically discordant guitar solo seemed to me about living in the shadow of death, beckoning death, mocking death, defying death.
     I powerfully identified with the Doors' gifted singer Jim Morrison...who'd been drawn as a very young man to poets of darkly prophetic intensity, such as Blake, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Artaud, as well as the poets of the Beat Generation, who were themselves children of the - largely French - Romantic so-called poètes maudits, whose works have the power to change lives, as they surely did Morrison's. His philosophy of life was clearly informed by Blake, who wrote of "the road of excess" leading to "the palace of wisdom", while his hell raising persona came to a degree from Rimbaud, who extolled the virtues of "a long, immense and systematic derangement of all the senses" as an angel-faced hooligan in the Paris of the early 1870s. What a price he paid...dead at just 27...like Jones, Hendrix, Joplin before him, and so the '60s dream was revealed as the beguiling chimera it'd been all along.
     After having spent the day revelling in my own inane notion of myself as a poet on the edge like my heroes, at some point in the early evening I got what I'd been courting for so long...an intimation of early death, when for pretty well the first time in my life alcohol stopped being my beloved elixir and became a mortal enemy, causing my legs to lose sensation and my life force to recede at a furious and terrifying rate. In a blind panic, I opened a spare bottle of sparkling wine I had about the house even though I'd hoped not to have to drink that day. Once I'd drained it, I felt better for a while, in fact so much so that I took a few snaps of myself lounging around looking haggard and unshaven, with freshly cropped hair.
     Soon after this macabre photo session I set off in search of more alcohol. Arriving at a local delicatessen, the Asian shop keeper nervously told me that the off-license wasn't open 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-offs I'd been wearing earlier. Finally, the offie opened and I was able to buy more booze. I can't remember what I bought, but I think it may have been a litre of gin, because that's what I was guzzling from the next day. One of the last things I remember doing on Sunday evening was singing hymns in a nearby Methodist church as the tears flowed...tears of remorse, tears of fear, tears of desperation.
     I've no further memory of what happened that hellish night, but there were many such nights ahead. At least one of these saw me endlessly pacing up and down corridors and stairs in an attempt to stay conscious and so - as I saw it - not die...and each time I shut my eyes I could have sworn I saw demonic entities beckoning me into a bottomless black abyss. I set about ridding my house of artefacts I somehow knew to be offensive to God from what I think was the night of the 16th and 17th onwards. Many books were destroyed...books on astrology and numerology and other mystical and occult subjects, books on war and crime and atrocity, and books about artists some call accursed for their kinship with drunkenness and madness and death.
     I genuinely believe though that for all the horrors I underwent, it was during that first night that I came to accept Christ as my Saviour. Had my violent conversion not come about when it did, I might have been lost forever, depending of course on where a person stands on the issue of Predestination and Free Will, but I'd have surely immersed myself in the new Bohemianism of the 1990s. The adversary values of the sixties had apparently vanished by about 1973, when in fact they'd simply gone back underground, where they set about fertilising new anti-establishment clans such as the Anarcho-Punks and the New Age Travellers who quietly flourished throughout the '80s. Around '92, some kind of amalgam between these tribes and the growing Rave-Dance movement produced yet another great counterculture, and I was ready…ready as I’d never been to take my place as a zealot of the New Edge, only to be delivered from its seductive grasp by a violent "Road to Damascus" conversion to Christianity. However, if I'd been reborn against all the odds, I still had to suffer in the physical, if only briefly.
     Many Christians are of the opinion that the longer a person puts off coming to Christ the less likely it becomes of their ever doing so and I'm among them. I also believe that Christians who convert relatively late in life may be required to pay a far higher price for the follies of their pre-Christian existence than more youthful converts, especially if these include alcohol, drugs, fornication, and involvement in the occult. God can and does heal Christians damaged by their pre-conversion sins but He's not obliged to do so as his Grace is sufficient, so while I was almost certainly already a Christian by the morning of the 17th of January, my ordeal was far from over. I somehow made it into New Eltham that Monday morning for classes at the University, but by evening I felt so ill I started swigging from my litre bottle of gin. I also phoned Alcoholics Anonymous at my mother's request, and agreed to give a meeting a shot.
     Next day, on the way to classes in Twickenham, I got the feeling my heart was about to explode, not just once but over and over again. Afterwards, I tried walking through the town centre, but I couldn't feel my legs and was struggling to stay conscious, so I ended up ordering a double brandy from the pub next door to the Police Station. I was shaking so much the landlord thought I was fresh from an interrogation session. Later, I was thrown out of another pub for preaching at the top of my voice, then, walking through Twickenham town centre I started making the sign of the cross to passers-by, telling one poor young guy never to take to drink like some kind of walking advert for temperance and he nodded without saying a word before scurrying away.
     Back home, in an effort to calm myself down, I dug out an old capsule of Chlomethiazole, a sedative commonly used in treating and controlling the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal, but dangerous, in fact potentially fatal, when used in conjunction with alcohol. I still had some capsules left over from about 1990 when I'd been prescribed them by my then doctor, which meant they'd long gone beyond their expiry date. For a time I felt better and was able to sleep, but soon after waking I felt worse than ever. Later, at an AA meeting, I kept leaving the room to douse my head in cold water, anything to shock some life back into me, to the dismay of my sponsor Dan who wanted me to stay put, as if doing so would exert a healing effect.
     Wednesday morning saw me pacing the office of the first available doctor, and it may have been touch and go as to whether I was going to stay on my feet or overdose on the spot and die on him. It was he who prescribed me the Valium which caused me to fall into a deep, deep sleep which may have saved my life, and from which I awoke to sense that a frontier had been passed and that I was out of danger at long last.
     The piece below first existed as a series of rough notes scrawled on a piece of scrap paper in the dying days of 1993 and are a pretty accurate account of the incidents I've just described.

    Oblivion in Recession

    The legs started going,
    Howlings
    In my head.
    Thought I'd go
    Kept awake with water,
    Breathing,
    Arrogantly telling myself
    I'd stay straight.
    Drank gin and wine,
    Went out,
    Tried to buy more,
    Unshaven,
    Filthy white shorts,
    Lost, rolling on lawn,
    Somehow got home.
    Monday, waiting for offie,
    Looked like death,
    Fear in eyes
    Of passers-by,
    Waiting for drink,
    Drink relieved me.
    Drank all day,
    Collapsed wept
    "Don't Die on Me".
    Next day,
    Double brandy
    Just about settled me,
    Drank some more,
    Thought constantly
    I'd collapse
    Then what?
    Fit? Coronary?
    Insanity? Worse?
    Took a Heminevrin
    Paced the house
    All night,
    Pain in chest,
    Weak legs,
    Lack of feeling
    In extremities,
    Visions of darkness.
    Drank water
    To keep the
    Life functions going
    Played devotional music,
    Dedicated my life
    To God,
    Prayed constantly,
    Renounced evil.
    Next day,
    Two Valiums
    Helped me sleep.
    By eve,
    I started to feel better.
    Suddenly,
    All is clearer,
    Taste, sounds,
    I feel human again.
    I made my choice,
    And oblivion has receded,
    And shall disappear...

    Called by Contact for Christ

    To reiterate an earlier assertion...there is a widely held belief within Christianity that the sooner a person comes to Christ the better when it comes to their immortal soul. The same could be said for their subsequent relationship with God. There may for example be serious health problems resulting from a former self-destructive lifestyle which could damage their effectiveness as Christian witnesses.
     On the other hand, one possible advantage of being a late convert is a testimony with the power to cause those normally sceptical of the transforming power of the born again experience to sit up and take notice. Such as that of this rescued Rock and Roll child...raised in an age in which messages of revolt...and defiance of all forms of authority, society, the family, God himself were being spread by an adversary culture led by Rock music. We drank deeply we children of the sixties from the spiritual darkness that was all around from about '65 onwards, and it affected us in ways I believe to be unique to us. That darkness has been a thorn in my flesh ever since my first days as a Christian, when I suffered from panic attacks that at one stage could be triggered simply by venturing beyond my front door, and I've never been able to fully throw it off.
     I struggled on with the PGCE, partly in South East London, and partly in Twickenham, while rehearsing for a couple of tiny parts for the play “Simples of the Moon” by Rosalind Scanlon, under the direction of Ariana. Based on the life of James Joyce's troubled, fascinating daughter the dancer Lucia Joyce, it premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993. I also attended occasional drugs and alcohol counselling sessions at a church in Greenwich, south east London with dear Ellen, a lovely blonde woman of about 45 with a soft and soothing London accent and the gentlest pale blue eyes imaginable.
     The only time I ever knew her to lose her composure was when I announced over the phone that a matter of hours after deciding of my own volition to stop taking Diazepam, I'd switched to Chlomethiazole...unaware at the time that when it interacts with Valium, it can be fatal. However, enough time had passed between my taking the capsule and calling Ellen for me to be out of acute danger, and I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.
     I owe so much to people like Ellen, and my AA sponsor Dan - who kept tabs on me during my very worst time - and other AA friends like Brian, who had such a soft spot for me because it had only been a short time before we met that he’d been in an even worse state than me. As far as I’m concerned, they're the salt of the earth. Still, I chose to attend only a handful of meetings before stopping altogether.
     One of the reasons for this was that a matter of days after coming to Christ, I received a phone call from Denver Cashe, a counsellor for an organisation called Contact for Christ based in Selsdon, South London. I think he'd 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 filled with alcoholic anticipation as I slowly approached Waterloo station by British Rail train with the sun setting over the foreboding south London cityscape. Knowing me I tried to put him off, but he was persistent and before I knew it he was at the door of my parents' house, a trim, dark, handsome man in late middle age with gently piercing coffee coloured eyes and a luxuriant white moustache, and at his insistence we prayed together.
     Some time later I visited him and his wife Rose at his large and elegant house where suburb meets country just beyond the Greater London border. On that day, he and I made an extensive list of aspects of my pre-Christian life he felt required deep repentance, and we prayed over each of these in turn. My continuing use of tobacco was one of the lesser issues addressed, and while it may have been coincidental, soon after I'd taken my last Valium, I stopped enjoying cigarettes, so that a single draw was enough to interfere with my breathing for the rest of the day, and so rob me of a good night’s sleep.
     In addition, we discussed which church I should be attending, and there was some talk of my joining he and Rose at their little family fellowship in the suburbs, but in the end, he gave his blessing to Cornerstone Bible Church, where I went on to be baptised by the pastor.
     Cornerstone, known today as Cornerstone the Church, is a large fellowship affiliated to the Word of Faith Movement and specifically Rhema Ministries of Johannesburg, South Africa, pastored by Ray McCauley. I'd attended my very first service there even before becoming a Christian in late 1992. 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 Christian mentor, if only for a very brief period of time. 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 new believer, I think she’d moved to another church. We kept on missing each other, and she died in June 2001. I’ve never forgotten her.

    Descent into the Hothouse

    In the early part of '94, I set out on the final phase of my latest PGCE course. I say latest because there'd been two previous attempts at passing it, the first taking place in 1986-'87 at Coverton College, Cambridge, and the second, in 1990, at an institute of higher education – now part of a greater university - based on two campuses in the West London suburbs of Isleworth and East Twickenham.
     The third was the only one I actually managed to complete, although not successfully...mainly I think because I didn't show enough authority in the classroom at the sixth form college where I did my Teaching Practice. To their eternal credit, my tutors did offer me the opportunity of retaking just the TP component, but I chose to turn them down. Perhaps I was a little put out about being failed after so much time and effort…but if I was, it wasn't for long because in September I successfully auditioned for a newly formed fringe theatre group called Grip based at the Rose and Crown pub in Kingston for the role of Roote in Harold Pinter's little known "The Hothouse".
     While perhaps not among Pinter's greatest plays, "The Hothouse" is a superbly written 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. Written in 1958, it wasn't performed until 1980, when it was directed by Pinter himself for London’s Hampstead and Ambassador Theatres.
     From the auditions onwards, I gelled with the American director Ben Evans because while most of the auditions I'd attended up to this point had hinged on the time-honoured method of the actor performing a piece from memory before a panel of interviewers, Ben had us reading from the play in small groups, which enabled us to attain a basic feel for the character and so feel like we were actually acting rather than coldly reciting. For me, this is the only way to audition.
     Once he'd told me the part of Roote was mine, I devoted myself to his vision of Roote, the pompous yet deranged director of an unnamed English psychiatric hospital: the Hothouse of the title. He demanded of me an interpretation of Roote which was deeply at odds with my usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally vehement approach to acting, but his directorial instincts were spot-on, as his production went on to receive spectacular reviews not just in the local press, but in the international listings magazine “Time Out” in which my performance was described as “flawlessly accurate” and “lit by flashes of black humour”. An amazing triumph for a humble fringe show.
     A major agent went out of her way to express her interest in me, and asked me to ensure my details reach her which I did...but I never heard from her again, possibly due to the shabby condition of my CV at the time; and I didn't pursue the matter further. Why I didn't more fully exploit the opportunities offered me by the unexpected success of "The Hothouse" and so go on to the West End superstardom some may have seen as mine for the taking remains something of a mystery.
     In my defence I can only say that since my recent conversion my priorities had shifted so that I viewed worldly success with less relish than I'd done only a few years before. Also, I badly missed the relaxation alcohol once provided me with following my work onstage, and the revels extending deep into the night during which I’d throw my youth and affections about me like some kind of maniacal gambler. So, while I still loved acting itself, the process of being an actor had become pure torture. I'd boxed myself into the position of no longer being able to enjoy social situations as others do, nor to relax. This may have been something to do with what the state of my endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals, there being a theory doing the rounds today that these can be permanently depleted by long-term abuse of alcohol and other narcotics...but I'm in no position to either endorse nor dismiss it myself.
     To further complicate matters, towards the end of '94 I started suffering from deep tormenting spiritual problems for which I'd ultimately seek a solution in the shape of what is known as Deliverance Ministry. This came first through a venerable evangelist called Frank, who laid hands on me after lunch at his home deep in the heart of the Devonshire countryside…but there were further sessions...one of these taking place at night in a beautiful old Anglican church with just myself, the vicar, and the vicar's wife in attendance.
     Within a short time of “The Hothouse” reaching the end of its two week run, Grip’s artistic director, Richard, asked me if I’d like to audition for his upcoming production of Jim Cartwright's two-handed play “Two”. Naturally I said yes and so after a successful audition, found myself playing all the male characters opposite a brilliant Liverpudlian actress, Jean, who played all the female, and by the end of the run the houses were so packed that people were sitting on the side of the stage at our feet, something I'd never experienced before on the London fringe. Yet, as much as I loved working with Richard and Jean, I dreaded the end of each performance, which would see me make my excuses as soon as it was possible to do so without causing undue offence.
     Release from what had become a torturous dungeon of sobriety came while I was attending some unrelated function at the Rose and Crown a day or so following my final performance in "Two", when a guy I'd only just met offered to buy me a drink and I asked for a glass of wine. Apart from the time at my parents’ house a few weeks earlier when I took a swig of what I thought was water but which turned out to be vodka or gin, this was the first alcohol to pass my lips since January '93.
     This single glass of wine made me feel amazing, doubly so given the purity of my system. I cycled home that night in a state of total rapture, feeling for the first time in months that I could do anything. Over the next few week my drinking increased, reaching a climax in a pub in Twickenham where I met an old university friend who'd just completed a course at a college in nearby Strawberry Hill, and where I drank and smoked myself into a stupor.
     Cycling home afterwards, I took a bend near Hampton Wick and came off my bike, striking my head against a bus shelter. I stayed flat on my back for a while abject and stinking of drink -I could've sworn I saw a shadowy figure running towards me as I lay there in the dark - but before long I was shakily resuming my journey home. However, weeks of controlled drinking and one massive binge, possibly combined with the ill effects of a violent blow to the head, resulted in my becoming ill and virtually incapacitated for what might have been as long as a fortnight. Time and again during this awful period I'd awake from a feverish semi-sleep, dizzy, faint and nauseous, with my face a deathly yellowy pale, but each time a single further second of consciousness seemed beyond me I felt the Lord breathing life back into me and the terror of dying subsided. All I could do was lie around, waiting, praying for a return to normality...and when this came, I determined never to drink again as long as I lived. But we swiftly forget our sojourns in Hell...



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 11:25AM

    Lone Birthday Boy Dancing



    Photo by Rafael 

    Chapter Six – Lone Birthday Boy Dancing

    Strange Coldness Perplexing

    the catholic nurse
    all sensitive
    caring noticing
    everything
    what can she think
    of my hot/cold torment

    always near blowing it
    living in the fast lane
    so friendly kind
    the girls
    dewy eyed
    wanda abandoned me
    bolton is in my hands

    and yet my coldness
    hurts
    the more emotional
    they stay
    trying to find a reason
    for my ice-like suspicion
    fish eyes
    coldly indifferent eyes
    suspect everything that moves

    socialising just to be loud
    compensate for cold
    lack of essential trust
    warmth
    i love them
    despite myself
    my desire to love
    is unconscious and gigantesque

    i never know
    when i'm going to miss someone
    strange coldness perplexing
    i've got to work to get devotion
    but once i get it
    i really get people on my side
    there are carl people
    who can survive
    my shark-like coldness
    and there are those
    who want something
    more personal
    i can be very devoted to those
    who can stay the course

    my soul is aching
    for an impartial love of people
    i'm at war with myself…

    The Joy of a Fool

    Being a teacher at the Tellegen School of English was a dream job for me. It provided me with a social life on a plate, as well as enough money to finance the hours I spent each evening in the Champion public house in Wells Street, where some time after 7.30pm, after the final class had ended, student and teacher alike would meet to drink and talk and laugh and do as they wished until closing time. I'd usually leave at about 10.30 to catch the last train home from Waterloo, although, sometimes I'd miss it and have to catch a later train… in fact, I can swear I spent one night wrapped in newspaper on a station bench deep in the Surrey hinterland, Clandon perhaps, or Guildford. At other times, there'd be a party to go to, or the Tellegen Disco, held on an occasional basis in Jacqueline’s Night Club in nearby Soho.
     Most of the teachers socialised with their own kind, while I preferred the company of the students, although this situation was to become modified by 1990, when my friends were being chosen from among both the teaching and student bodies.
     At night, it would be almost impossible to extricate me from my circle of favourites from Italy, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Poland, France…fact which proved irksome to my good friends, Stan and Noddy, at a certain stage in my short-lived Tellegen career.
     Stan, a Tellegen teacher and resting actor, and Noddy, a young student from the great city of São Paolo in Brazil, were trying to organise rehearsals for a band we were supposed to be getting together, but thanks to me, this never happened despite some early promise, as Noddy was a gifted guitarist, and Stan a potentially good front man, fact which speaks volumes about my shallow attitude to endeavour.
     As well as the perpetual party lifestyle, I spent my spare cash on clothes, cassettes, books, and of course, rent, that is, during those brief few months I spent as a tenant in Hanwell, West London at the house of a friend of my fathers’ from the London session world, Dai Thomas.
     Dai was a small, dark, bearded, always nattily dressed Welsh fiddler, whose life, lived close to the edge, but with the absolute minimum of effort, incarnated a kind of preternatural Celtic cool that was deeply charismatic, yet ultimately tragic. I never knew a man to live so fast, and yet so elegantly, as my dear friend Dai.
     I also spent several hundreds of pounds towards the end of my time at Tellegen’s being initiated into the art of self-hypnosis by a Harley Street doctor who specialised in hypnotherapy and nutritional medicine…this, in the hope of finding a solution not just to my excessive use of alcohol, but the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to which I was falling more and more prey in the late 1980s.
     Yet, despite the drinking and the OCD, I was a genuinely happy person in those days, and any melancholy I affected - in my writings and elsewhere - should be taken with a pinch of salt in the light of the fact that for me, sadness was the ultimate mark of artistic and emotional profundity, and I coveted it with all the passion of one who was by nature essentially high-spirited.
     Indeed, it may be that it was this very carefree frivolity of mine, this absence of angst, that prevented me really getting anywhere as an actor.
     Looking back, the overwhelming impression I have is of a man whose primary emotional condition was one of utter exaltation and enraptured joy of life, although it included a tendency to veer wildly between the effusive affection I aspired to, and the lapses of affect I dreaded.
     This complex state of being, reflected by the piece featured at the start of this chapter, which was recently forged from notes scrawled onto seven sides of an ancient now coverless notebook, possibly late at night circa 1988, following an evening's carousal and in a state of serene intoxication, was at least partly responsible for my losing my position at Tellegen’s in the early part of 1990. It was a devastating blow, but I'd asked for it, because I'd quit without warning, and then decided I wanted to return in my own sweet time, despite having earlier refused an offer to do so from the school itself.
     I begged for the return of my beloved job...not just in person, but by letter and through poor Huw, but this time, they refused to be swayed and I don't blame them in the slightest, because up to this point, they'd shown incredible tolerance towards my insultingly slack approach to punctuality and other abuses of what was a very fair system, until finally their patience just snapped. 
     So...two years spent in the greatest job I ever had ended with the last of a triad of decades marked by persistent frenzied social upheaval and artistic innovation.
     Reluctantly delivered from a job I genuinely loved, I briefly revived my acting career thanks once again to the influence of my dear friend Ariana. She suggested I might like to play Feste for a production of "Twelfth Night", to be staged in the summer at the Jacksons Lane theatre in North London. Somehow she knew the director, Sandy. So, after a successful audition for her, I set about re-learning Feste's lines, and arranging the songs according to the original primitive melodies. My hyperkinetic performance was well-received, and one well-spoken Englishwoman even went so far as to tell me that I was the finest Feste she'd ever seen. It’s a pity she wasn’t a passing casting director.
     Once again, the Fool of Illyria had served me well…and in keeping with the festive spirit of the play, rehearsals and performances were accompanied by some pretty heavy partying by myself and most of the members of the cast, until the inevitable sad dispersal. Yet, if the play itself was pure joy to be involved in, the same can’t be said for travelling to and from Highgate for rehearsals and performances, for it was during these lengthy trips across the capital that I started feeling the need to inure myself as never before against what I saw as nocturnal London's ever-present aura of menace.
     It’s likely that years of hard living were finally starting to take their toll on my nervous system, for in addition to alcohol and nicotine, I'd been taking industrial strength doses of caffeine for years, initially in tablet form, and then in the shape of the coffee cocktails I liked to swill one after the other before afternoon classes at Tellegen’s. This may go some way towards explaining the sheer paranoia which ultimately caused me to start drinking on the way to rehearsals, and then for the first time in my life as a professional actor, during rehearsals. However, I’d promised Sandy I’d not touch a drop for the actual performances, and was as good as my word.
     Later in the year, I began another PGCE course, this time at the West London Institute of Higher Education based in Twickenham, taking up residence in nearby Isleworth.
     I began quite promisingly, fitting in well, and making good friends, and as might be expected, I 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. I’d mentally determined to complete the course, but as the following piece testifies, I was a hardly abstinent at night.
     It was adapted in 2006 from a letter typed during my West London Institute days to an old Westfield friend Lucinda, now a professional photographer. When it was recovered, having never been finished, nor sent, it was as scrap paper, lost in a sea of miscellaneous mementos.

    A Letter Unsent

    Dear Lucinda
    I haven't been in touch
    for a long time.
    Sorry.
    The last time
    I saw you
    was in
    St. Christopher's Place.
    It was a lovely evening...
    when I knocked
    that chair over.
    I am sorry.
    Since then,
    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,
    not once,
    not twice,
    but three times,
    like a log...
    clonking my nut
    so violently
    that people heard me
    in the sitting room.
    What's more,
    I can't remember
    a single sentence
    spoken
    all evening.
    The problem is...

    A Thrilling but Lethal Lifestyle

    My Teaching Practice was due to take place towards the end of the first 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 staying  on or not. In the event I chose 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 return to my parents' home, I stayed on in Isleworth to rekindle my five-year old career as a deliverer of novelty telegrams, while continuing to work as a walk-on artist for the TV series "The Bill", based in the south London suburb of Merton, Surrey. I also became half of a musical duo formed with a slim young man from the north of the land with short reddish blond hair and brilliant light green eyes who rejoiced in the name of Maxie Coburg, although his true surname was a sight more Mancunian. I’d met him through an ad he’d put in the Stage newspaper for acts for a variety show he was putting together at the time, before going on to perform as Mr Denmark for him a few times.
     We began as buskers in Leicester Square, before settling down for rehearsals in the hope of getting some gigs, our repertoire consisting of early Rock and Roll and Motown classics, as well as a host of originals, most written by Maxie, with one or two contributions by yours truly. I wanted to call the band Venus Xtravaganza, but we settled for Maxie’s choice of The Unknowns, if we were ever called anything at all.
     Although he was specialising as a singer-songwriter at the time, Maxie has since developed into a true Renaissance man…actor, comedian, songwriter, performer, writer, film maker and esoteric thinker. We remain close friends to this day.
     Then, early in 1991, I took off to the seaside town of Hastings for a month or so to attempt to pass a TEFL course in that beautiful old town that's since become a major London overspill area. How vividly I recall the thrill of seeing seagulls hovering over central Hastings soon after arriving at the station for my interview, which I passed, but I couldn't say it went well. 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.
     Winter 1991 was arctic 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 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 was failed. I asked the authorities if they might reconsider, but they made it clear to me that their decision was final.
     It was a bit of a let-down for sure, but I'd loved my time in Hastings, even while continuing the search for some kind of spiritual solution to my mental troubles…this leading me to a "church" in Claremont Road which was far from the kind of I’d ultimately to seek out. At least part of the reason for my torment may be provided by the following extracts from a letter my mother wrote me during a fascinating but fruitless sojourn: 
     "...I had a chance to look at your library...I could not believe what I saw. These very strange books, beyond my comprehension, most of them, and I thought what a dissipation of a good mind that thought it right to read such matters...I feel very deeply that you have up to your present state, almost ruined your mind. Your happy, smiling face has left you, your humorous nature, ditto, your spirited state of mind, your cheerful, sunny, exuberant well-being, all gone. Too much thought given to the unhappiness and sad state of others (often those you can not help, in any way)...I've said recently that I am convinced that anyone can get oneself into a state of agitation or distress or anxiety by thinking or reading about, or witnessing unpleasant things, and the only thing to do is to, as much as possible, avoid such matters, to not let them get hold in the mind. Your fertile mind has led you astray. Why, and how?"
     How many millions of mothers over the course of the centuries have asked this of offspring who've been inexplicably drawn to the shadowlands of life only to lose their way back to sanity? Only God knows. Most of course, successfully make the journey back before settling into a normal mode of life, but the danger of becoming lost is always there, especially for those who remain in the shadows far beyond adolescence. Eternal adolescence is arguably one of the prime features of our era, facilitated by its exaltation of youth. And while there are those who'd insist that far fewer young people today are in thrall to the dark glamour of self-destructive genius than in previous Rock eras, the worldview still very much exists.
     Rock, as I see it, has never been just a simple popular music derived from various Folk genres, so much as an enormously influential international subculture of varying artistic and intellectual substance.  Some critics have even gone so far as to describe it as a religion, and they have a point, as Rock has possessed a spiritual dimension since its inception, and an intellectual one since about '65. 
     Possibly more than any other artist of the sixties, it’s Bob Dylan who helped invest mere Beat music with genuine artistic credibility.
     Since Dylan's glory days as Pop's first true poet, there have been many Rock stars who've looked to earlier strains of Modernism for lyrical inspiration.  In fact, it could be said that Rock has been the main engine of the avant-garde impulse in the West since the late 1960s, with all the nihilism this entails.
      Those who - like me - grew to maturity in the said swinging sixties, were unavoidably affected on a deep and perhaps largely subconscious level by the cultural revolution of which Rock was such an essential part. For my part, I contend that from quitting formal education aged 16 to coming to faith some two decades later, I was in thrall to a cult of instant gratification that's been growing progressively more powerful throughout the West since about 1955.
     If what I'm saying is false, then why didn't I build a future for myself during those years, in terms of a profession, a family, financial security, and so on? The truth is that before quitting the booze for good, I viewed all these with an indifference verging on contempt and it hurts me deeply to realise the extent to which I sabotaged my life with such a negative identity.
      The following summer of 1992, I made another – unsuccessful - attempt at passing the TEFL course, this time at a college situated within one of London's most famous and beautiful parks. However, by this time I was drinking all day every day, although I worked hard and even gave some good classes. In fact, I still have some video footage of myself teaching, and not for single 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 manic hyperactivity. Bliss it was to stride in the warm suburban evening sun to my local station with the Orb's eerie "Blue Room" throbbing over and over in my head on my way to yet another long night of drinking and socialising to the point of ecstatic insensibility. I could have passed out on any one of these wild nights and awoken again in Hell, but that didn't concern me.
     The romantic decadence associated with the eighties was no longer even remotely current, and there was a new spirit as I saw it, a mystic techno-bohemianism which appeared to me to be everywhere in the early nineties. I wanted to visit as many clubs and venues as I could where it was being celebrated, but as things turned out I only ever went to one, Cyber Seed in Covent Garden, which was poorly attended and only lasted a short time. However, had I not become a Christian, wild horses couldn't have prevented me from further exploration.
     Later on in this final beautiful lethal summer of intoxication, soon after appearing as Stefano in "The Tempest" at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, I  set out on yet another PGCE course, this time at a former polytechnic in South East London. Bearing the suffix fe for Further Education, its purpose was to train myself and my fellow students to teach pupils in sixth form colleges and other further education establishments.
     On top of this, there were the gigs with Maxie, the novelty telegrams, and who knows what else, and I loved every second of a frenetic lifestyle which the following piece  - almost certainly drafted on 8 October 1992, or perhaps a year earlier - serves to evoke it at its apex...and there's a twilight mood to it, with the birthday boy performing his Dionysian solo dance in defiance of the wholesale ruin of mind, body and soul he's so obviously invoking.

    Lone Birthday Boy Dancing

    Yesterday for my birthday,
    I started off
    with a bottle of wine...
    I took the train
    into town...
    I had half a bitter
    at the Café de Piaf
    in Waterloo...
    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
    dancing spot
    in the middle
    of the disco floor...
    We all piled off to the pub
    after that,
    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
    restorative effort;
    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…



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 7:47AM

    From Paris to Cambridge Town



     

    Chapter Five – From Paris to Cambridge Town

    From Paris to Golders Green

    In the autumn of 1983 I took residence in a room on the grounds of a Lycée Technique in Brétigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris some sixteen miles south of the city centre.
     It was during those early days in Paris that I became infected for what I believe to be the first time in my life by a serious sense of self-disillusion, as a new darkness spread over my mind.
     This sea-change marked the onset of a real drink problem that went way beyond the usual student booze-ups into the murky realm of drinking alone by day, and there seems little doubt to me today that at its heart lay a conscience that was starting to become calloused through repeated defilement. My well-being, however, remained relatively unaffected, in fact, for those first few months, I was happy, blissfully happy to be a flâneur in the city which had inspired so many great poets to write classics of the art of urban idling. I wrote of my own experiences, usually late at night, in my room with the help of wine and cigarettes, and while few of these notes have survived, some incidents that may have once been committed to paper are still fresh in my mind.
     There was the time I sat opposite a same-sex couple on the Métro when I was still innocent of its labyrinthine complexities. “She” was a slim white girl, dressed from head to toe in denim, who gazed blissfully, with lips coyly pursed, into some wistful middle distance, while her muscular black boyfriend stared straight through me with eyes in which desire and menace seemed to be mixed, until one of them spoke, almost in a whisper, “Qu'est-ce-que t'en pense?”
     I recall the night I took the Métro to Montparnasse-Bienvenue, where I slowly sipped a demi-blonde in a brasserie, perhaps of the type immortalised by Brassai in his photographs of the secret life of '30s Paris. At the same time, a bewhiskered old loup de mer in a naval officer's cap, his table strewn with empty wine bottles and cigarette butts, repeatedly screeched the name, "Phillippe!" until a pallid impassive bartender with patent leather hair filled the old man's glass to the brim with a mock-obsequious “Voilà, mon Capitaine!!”
     I can also remember the afternoon when, enacting the role of the social discontent, I joined an anti CND march through Paris which ended with a bizarre street cabaret performed by a troupe of neo-hippies whose sheer demented defiance may have filled me with longing for a time when I treated my well-thumbed copy of the Fontana Modern Masters bio of Che Guevara by Andrew Sinclair as some kind of sacred text...
     A day spent as a flâneur would often end with a few hours spent in a movie theatre, perhaps in the vast Forum des Halles shopping precinct, and there was a point I started to hate the movies I chose, as I struggled more and more with fits of deep and uncontrollable depression. For the first time in my life, I was starting to feel worse after having seen a film than before, the result perhaps of creeping anhedonia, which is a reduced capacity for pleasure, with respect to activities enjoyed by the majority. I grew bored of watching others perform. What joy I reasoned was there in watching some dismal movie when there was so much to do in the greatest city in the civilised world?
     I'd never really been any kind melancholic up until this point but this situation may have started to change in my first few months in Paris. If my travels failed to produce the desired uplifting effect, I'd fall prey to a despair that was wholly out of proportion to the cause.
     As a means of protecting myself, I started squandering my hard-earned cash on endless baubles and fripperies. These wholly pointless trinkets included a gaudy short-sleeved shirt by Yves St Laurent, a retro-style alarm clock with the loudest tick in Christendom, a gold-plated toothbrush with I never actually used, a black and gold cigarette holder and matching slim fit lighter, a portrait drawn of me at the Place de Tertre which made me look like a cherubic little boy, and a black vinyl box jacket procured from the Porte de Clignancourt flea market.
     Mention must also be made of the many books I bought, such as the three Folio works by Symbolist pioneers, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Villiers de L'Isle Adam and Joséphin Péladan; as well as the second-hand books of poetry by such relatively obscure figures as Trakl and Delève…part of Seguer’s Contemporary Poets collection.
     Could the kids who loved to wave and coo at me from all corners of the Lycée have guessed that their precious Carl, the smiling blond Londoner who looked like a lost member of Duran Duran was a secret dark depressive...and a collector of the literary works of late 19th Century decadents...and a social discontent given to recording snarling rants against the callousness of Western society on a cheap cassette tape recorder?
     The simple answer is never in a thousand years; for I was leading a double life, perhaps even a multiple one. Little wonder, therefore, that I was starting to drink to try and make sense of what was happening to me, which may have been something akin to the fracturing of the personality.
     It wasn't long before I tired of the solitary existence of the flâneur, but then becoming more sociable may have simply been the result of being in one place for a significant length of time and nothing more meaningful than that. In fact, I'd befriended twenty year old Theresa, English assistant in the neighbouring town of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, while we were both attending classes at the Sorbonne intended to prepare us for the year ahead; and we went on to see more and more of each other as our Parisian sojourn proceeded apace.
     She’d been a close girlhood chum at convent school of my own great Leftfield friend, Ariana…in fact, one of the first times we met up was with Astrid, when we saw "Gimme Shelter" at some dinky little art house theatre; this being, of course, the documentary of the Rolling Stones 1969 American tour which, culminating in the Free Concert at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, infamously marked the end of the Hippie dream of peace and love.
     Another close friend was Maths teacher Jules, who was the rebellious son of an army officer, and a furious hedonist who worshipped the Rock and Roll lifestyle of Keith Richards and other British bad boy musicians. I can see him now, tall, thin, dark, charismatic, with his head of wiry black hair, dressed in drainpipes and Cuban heeled boots, playing the bass guitar - but brilliantly- at some unearthly hour with friends following a night's heavy partying before rushing to be with a girl friend as the dawn broke.
     My best male friend though was Metal Work teacher Milan, the son of Yugoslavian parents from the suburb of Bagneux whose impassive manner belied the exorbitantly loving and unstable soul of a true poet.
     So many of the people of Brétigny went out of their way to make me feel welcome and content from the headmaster all the way down to the kids some of whom staged near-riots in the classroom whenever I appeared. I felt so unworthy of their kindness, of the incredible hospitality that is characteristic of ordinary French people.
     However, if I was much loved in the warm-hearted faubourgs, in Paris itself I was at times as much a magnet for menace and hostility as approval. In fact, I was hysterically threatened in Pigalle only days after arriving in the city. I was verbally assaulted again later in the year on a RER train by some kind of madman or derelict who told me to go to the Bois de Boulogne to meet with what he saw as my inevitable violent destiny.
     I spent an entire train journey from Paris-Austerlitz to Brétigny with a self-professed “voyou” with chilling shark-like eyes, who nonetheless seemed quite fond of me, as he made no attempt to threaten me. He even gave me his number, telling me that unless I phoned him as promised I was merely what he termed un “anglais c**”.
     Mention must also be made of the sinister skinhead who called me “une tapette anglaise” for trying on Theresa's wide-brimmed hat while travelling home by train after a night out with her and Ariana.
     I left Brétigny without saying goodbye to so many people that it's painful for me to think about it, but frenetic last hour socialising had left me exhausted and demoralised. However, there was one final get-together, organised by Theresa and a few other friends. Milan was there of course, as well as several other mutual friends of myself and Theresa. Sadly though, Jules wasn't. I bumped into one of his girl friends in the course of the evening, and she was incredulous I hadn't invited him. Seized by guilt, I phoned him at his home to ask him to make a last minute appearance, but in a muted voice, he told me it was too late for that. It was the last I ever heard of him. I never saw Milan again either, although he did phone me once from Paris. On the other hand, Theresa and I stayed in touch until the early '90s, by which time she'd got married to fellow church-goer and former Cambridge University alumnus Peter, who also became a friend. Then in the early 2010s, we resumed our friendship, sporadically meeting more often than not with with Ariana, at various rendez-vous in leafy south west London.
     My parents stopped by that night to pick me up on their way to La Ribera where we were due to stay for a few weeks before returning to the UK, and after a day or so spent sightseeing we set off. Soon after arriving it became clear to me that my beloved pueblo had changed beyond all recognition. Eight years after the passing of the Generalissimo Franco and Spain's innocence was long gone; and this beautiful nation was no longer as “retrasado” as she'd once been.
     In Murcia, while quietly drinking in a night club with Marc, a very dear friend of mine from La Ribera's golden age, his future wife Maria, and other friends, I found myself in the surreal position of being visually threatened by a local Punk who clearly objected to the bootlace tie I was wearing which immediately identified me as a hated Rockabilly. This would never have happened ten years before, or perhaps even five. 
     As for the youth of La Ribera itself, where once they'd been so endearingly naive, now they seemed so worldly and cool, in fact more so than me, dancing like chickens with their elbows thrust out to the latest hits, such as King's "Won't You Hold My Hand Now”, which I endlessly translated for them. They even put the club kids of La Piscine to shame. 
     I returned to Leftfield in the autumn of 1984, and I can't help thinking it was soon afterwards that my recent past started haunting me for the first time, but I may be wrong. Perhaps it never occurred to me that only a few years previously I'd known legends of sport and the cinema, mythical figures of the theatre, blue bloods and patricians, and they'd been kind, generous of spirit to this nonentity from the outer suburbs. Now I was nearly 30, with a raft of opportunities behind me, and a future which looked less likely than ever to provide me with the fame I still ached for with all my soul.
     At first I lived off-campus, thinking it might be fun to coast during my final year as some kind of enigma freshly returned from Paris; but before long I desperately missed being part of the social hub of the college, even though this was a virtual impossibility for a forgotten student in his fourth year. However, I did eventually move back onto campus to occupy a tiny little room in a hall of residence in nearby West Hampstead NW9, which meant the world to me.
     Thinking that being in a play might help raise my faded profile, I accepted a small role in Cole Porter's "Kiss me Kate", which was being directed by a close friend of mine, but it was all too little too late. My time as one of Leftfield's leading prodigies had long passed, and other, younger golden children had come to the fore since my departure for Paris, such as the kid named Bill whom my long-time friend and champion Ariana described as being some kind of new edition of me, due perhaps to his versatility as musician, actor, comedian and so on. The first I saw of him, he was playing Gorgibus in the original French in a production, directed by Ariana, of Moliere's "Les Précieuses Ridicules", a part she'd originally earmarked for me, but I turned it down. To say he went on to greater things would be an understatement.
      I read incessantly throughout the year for the sheer pleasure of doing so. For example, while Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" was a compulsory part of the drama course, there was no need for me to wade through "O'Neill", the massive two-part biography of the playwright - published in 1962 and 1972 - by Arthur and Barbara Gelb, but that didn't stop me. In fact it was a joy to do so.
     I made this descent into the depths of O'Neill's tortured psyche at a time when I was starting to drink during the day at Leftfield, often getting hammered around lunchtime in the bar in the company of various friends, such as Paul, my friend from "Playing with Fire", or even earlier thanks to a can or two of extra strong lager. Paul was still trying to persuade me to join forces with him against an indifferent world, he with his writing and me with my acting, but for reasons best known to myself I wasn't playing ball. He'd always sensed something really special in me, which was variously described as energy, intensity, charisma, but for all the praise I received from Paul and others, I didn't seem to have a very high opinion of myself. I'm not quite sure why.
     I recently watched the testimony of a former violent offender through a website called Transformed Lives, and he described himself as having a big ego and low self esteem before he became a Christian, and this may have been my problem. It's possible that while I had the vast ego of a narcissist that requires constant attention and approval, I somehow also suffered from low self-esteem...which would indicate actual Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Whatever the truth, I was going through one of my perverse phases, affecting a world weariness which I simply didn't have at 30, but which upset and alienated a really good friend, something for which I feel utterly ashamed.
     It wasn't long before Paul had left college, and for good this time - he'd already somehow spun out his allotted three years to four - and without taking his degree...leaving me to stew in my stupid pseudo-cynicism.
     My principal final year tutor was Dr Elizabeth Lang, and subject of study, the works of literary genius André Gide. And so I came to closely examine such Gidian characters as the urbane Ménalque from "The Immoralist" (1902), who encourages the protagonist Michel to embrace Nietzschian individualism, the feral Lafcadio from "The Vatican Cellars" (1914), who commits a crime of terrible cruelty simply for the sake of doing so, and the mysterious Comte de Passavent from "The Counterfeiters" (1926), his only novel according to his own definition of the term. Needless to say, it's with a different pair of eyes to those of yesteryear that I view such figures today, for I can recall actually mentioning a particular instance of Michel's amorality to Dr Lang with what was little short of jubilation.
     On a lighter note, a special favourite of mine by Gide, who was always a magnificent storyteller, was the novella "Isabelle", which appealed to my softer, more romantic side. Written in 1911, it's the tale of a young student Gérard Lacase who stays for a time at a Manor house in Normandy inhabited by two ancient aristocratic families in order to look over their library for research purposes, and while there becomes bewitched by the portrait of the mysterious "Isabelle" only to become disillusioned upon finally meeting her.
     By the same token my favourite ever play by O'Neill was another story of hopeless love, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (1947), although "A Long Day's Journey into Night" (1956) came a very close second. Both feature Eugene's tragic yet infinitely romantic elder brother Jamie. I became fascinated by him; and read all about him in the massive O'Neill biography by the Gelbs. Poor Jamie. How richly blessed he'd been at birth with beauty, charm, and intellect. While part of the Minim Department of Notre Dame University, Indiana, he was one of founder Father Edward Sorin's most favoured princes, destined for a glittering future as a Catholic gentleman of exquisite breeding and learning; and then a prize-winning scholar at Fordham, the exclusive Jesuit university from which he was ultimately expelled for a foolish indiscretion.
     He was also potentially a very fine writer, although he only left a handful of poems and essays behind, and the owner of a beautiful speaking voice which ensured him work as an actor for a time alongside his father James. His one true legacy, however, is Jamie Tyrone, the brilliant yet tortured charmer who haunts two of his brother's masterpieces with the infinite sorrow of promise unfulfilled.
     "The Wanderer of Golders Green" was formed from notes made while I was taking my finals in the summer of '85. It reflects what was a long-standing obsession on my part with romantic weltschmerz - literally world pain - and should not be taken too seriously as such. That said, mention must be made of the intense saturnine melancholy that was making more and more inroads into my naturally sanguine temperament, and at nearly 30 I still wasn't famous, and may have been drinking as heavily as I was partly as a means of coping with this painful fact. What is certain is that from the age of 27, alcohol became more indispensable to me than ever before.

    The Wanderer of Golders Green

    I decided on a Special B
    Before the eve.
    I bought a lager
    At the Bar
    And chatted to Gaye.
    Then Ray
    Bought me another.
    I appreciated the fact
    That he remembered
    The time he,
    His gal Chris,
    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
    I awoke
    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...
    French/English translation.
    Periodically I put my face
    In my hands or groaned
    Or sighed -
    My stomach
    was burning me inside.

    I finished my paper
    In 1 hour and a half.
    As I walked out
    I caught various eyes
    Amanda’s, Trudy’s (quizzical) etc…
    I went to bed…
    Slept ‘till five…
    Read O’Neill until 7ish...
    Got dressed
    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
    Voluptuous tears.
    I snuck into McDonalds
    Where I felt At home,
    Anonymous, alone.
    I bought a few things,
    Toothpaste and pick,
    Chocolate, yoghurts,
    Sweets, cigarettes
    And fruit juice.
    Took a sentimental journey
    Back to Powis Gardens,
    Richness
    And intensity,
    Romantic
    And attractive…
    Sad, suspicious and strange.
    I sat up until 3am,
    Reading O’Neill
    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.

    Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen

    My first employment after leaving Leftfield in the summer of 1985 was as a deliverer of novelty telegrams. This often brought me into potentially hazardous situations, but for me the risk was worth it, because I was getting well paid to show off and party, two of my favourite occupations at the time...but it was an unusual way of life for a man of thirty.
     What I really wanted was the immortality provided by fame, and I didn't care whether this came through acting, music or literature, or any other means for that matter, but until my big break came, I was content to feed my addiction to attention through the novelty telegrams industry. I evidently had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of children, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to international renown. How then did I end up as a PGCE student at Coverton College, Cambridge in the autumn?
     The truth is that once again I'd yielded to family pressure to provide myself with the safety net that's been dear to the hearts of parents of would-be wunderkinds since time immemorial, and despised by the artists themselves: the great English singer-songwriter Nick Drake once told his father it was the one thing he didn't want. For my part, I was so unhappy about having to go to Cambridge that just days before I was due to start there, I arranged to audition for a Jazz Funk band. I was all set to sing "The Chinese Way" by Level 42 and another song of its kind, but I never made it. Late, and desperately drunk on the afternoon of my audition, I simply threw in the towel and resigned myself to Cambridge. For all I know they may still be waiting for me to this day, relics from an age of tasselled loafers and white socks.
     From the time I arrived in the beautiful medieval university city of Cambridge, I was made to feel most welcome and wanted by everyone, and I made some wonderful friends at Coverton itself. They included Donovan, a poet and actor from the little town of Downham Market in Norfolk, Dale, a singer-songwriter of dark genius from Yeovil in Somerset who eventually went on to become part of London's psychedelic underground, and Clarissa, a stunning red-head whose beauty and charm belied the fact that she hailed from Slough, a vast sprawling suburb to the west of London most famous for having inspired an infamous poem by John Betjeman.
     When I made my first appearance at a Community College in the tough London overspill area of Arbury where I was due to begin my period of Teaching Practice the following January, the pupils reacted to me as if I was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. My TP would've been a breeze. Everything was falling into place for me at Cambridge, and I was offered several golden chances to succeed as an actor within its hallowed confines.
    Towards the end of the first term, the then president of the  Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had gone out of his way to ask myself and Donovan to appear in the sole production he was preparing to mark his year-long tenure.
     He was a Coverton man, and so clearly wanted to give a couple of his fellow students a break after having seen us perform a couple of Donovan's satirical songs for the club. This was a privilege almost without measure, given that since its inception Footlights has nurtured the talents of Cecil Beaton, Jonathan Miller, Germaine Greer, David Frost, John Cleese, Peter Cook, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Hugh Lawrie and Sacha Baron Cohen among many others. I could have been added to that list.
     As if this opportunity weren't enough to persuade me to stay put, a young undergraduate, renowned for the high quality of the plays he produced personally asked me to feature in one of his productions during the Lent Term after seeing me interpret the part of Tom in Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie" some time before Christmas. Someone told me that 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 be in the audience and discover me? I can actually remember being quite disappointed that he wasn't a talent scout from outside of the university. That's how self-deluded I was. I was so obsessed by fame that I could barely wait to get my clammy hands on it, and yet it seems that whenever I was offered a serious chance at achieving it, I bungled it.
     In my defence though, I did feel trapped by the course, and was finding it heavy going. In order to pass, you had to spend a full year as a teacher after completion of the basic PGCE. That meant it would be two years before I was free again to call myself an actor and work as such. It just seemed an awfully long time, when in fact it wasn't at all, and two years after quitting Cambridge I was even further away from my dream than when I'd started off. The truth is I left Coverton for no good reason, and my decision still pains me to this day, although my faith helps me to cope with the anguish the idiocies of my youth have left me with. Without it these words from Whittier's “Maud Muller” might tear me to shreds of utter nothingness:
    For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: ‘it might have been'.
     Within a matter of hours of the start of the Lent Term of 1987, I was gone, vanished into the night in the company of a close friend I'd wheedled into helping me out. It wasn't her fault; she'd originally told me to go to Cambridge, and just get stuck in, but I hadn't listened.
     Once I was free I started to furiously audition, commuting to London from a little village in rural Hampshire  just a stone’s throw the coast near Portsmouth, where I was resident at the time.
     It was music rather than acting I was interested in at the time, not that it ever really mattered to me how I became famous, just so long as I did. I auditioned for a series of desperately unsuitable bands, including the Jazz-Funk outfit from what may have been Croydon…and the Rock 'n' Roll revival band from Pompey itself...but none of them took to me, and I can't say I blame them. I was usually tanked up to start with, and then there was the question of my image. I think it's fair to say that highlighted hair, dinky gold ear studs and skin tight jeans didn't go down all that well in the places I chose to audition.
     I returned to London in the summer of 1987 to a minor flurry of creative activity.
     First, I took part in a rehearsed reading at Notting Hill’s justly reputable Gate Theatre of a play whose name eludes me, but it was directed by Ariana. Then,  at her behest, I served as MC for a week-long benefit for the Gate called "Captain Kirk's Midsummer Log". I did so in the persona of one Mr Denmark 1979, a comic monstrosity created for me by Ariana. Among those appearing on the bill were comedienne, Jo Brand, in her then incarnation of The Sea Monster, comedy satirist, Rory Bremner, whom I'd known in both Edinburgh and Paris, and Renaissance Man, Patrick Marber, initially a stand-up comic, but best known today as an award-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter.
     The Denmark character went down so well at the benefit that I wrote an entire show around him on the premiss that winning a Scandinavian male beauty contest in 1979 had so altered the balance of his mind that he’d since convinced himself he’d been at the forefront of pretty well every major cultural development since the dawn of Pop, only to be cravenly ripped off by Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Punks, Rappers and so on. It premiered a few months after the benefit at a new variety venue called Club Shout, again to great success.
     1987 was also the year I got seriously involved in walk-on work for television and the cinema, although I wasn’t entirely new to the game. For example, I briefly feature as a side drummer in a Salvation Army band in"A Mirror Crack'd" (1981), based on the Agatha Christie novel. This was at a typical English village fete set in the 1950s, and the scene is graced first by Geraldine Chaplin, and then Elisabeth Taylor. Also, in Charles Jarrott’s "Poor Little Rich Girl" (1987), I can be seen gesticulating in a white suit as twenties crooner Rudy Vallee in a party scene featuring Farrah Fawcett as Betty Hutton and Burl Ives as FW Woolworth. But these were just isolated episodes. From around 1987, I took the work more seriously, first in the sitcom "Life Without George", and then in long-running police series "The Bill" in which I played a scene of crime photographer for about five years.
     Soon after I'd finished my work for "Life Without George" I started rehearsals for Ariana for a play called "The Audition" written by the Catalonian dramatist Rudolf Sirera. with English translation by John London. It was due to have its world premiere at the Gate early in the winter of '88.
     Apparently set by Sirera in pre-revolutionary France, Ariana updated it to the late 19th Century, with a setting reminiscent of  Wilde’s "Dorian Gray" or a Parisian equivalent, perhaps by Lorrain. It involves the kidnapping of an actor Gabriel De Beaumont by an unnamed Marquis, who goes on to sadistically toy with his victim before finally murdering him. It received some good reviews, and I was singled out for some praise by The London Times.
     I should have capitalised on this modest success, but Huw, a close friend from the Guildhall now working as a teacher at the Tellegen School of English in Oxford Street, had earlier urged me to join him there. As I'd already trained with them and been offered a job by the time "The Audition" had got under way, I started work as a teacher soon after it had wrapped. Thus, I entered into one of the most purely blissful period of my entire life, even while my theatrical career suffered.
     I could write a whole book on my time at Tellegen's alone, indeed on pretty much any of the major episodes of my life, this being merely one version of it, to which multiple layers like so many onion skins could be added to create something approaching an accurate self- portrait guaranteed to make even the most hard-hearted reader weep.



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 5:51AM

    West of the Fields Long Gone



    SweetBird2.jpg

    Chapter Four – West of the Fields Long Gone

    Children of the Brightest Sun

    Among those who appeared in the Richard Cottrell production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bristol Old Vic in early 1980 were legendary method genius and future Hollywood superstar Daniel Day Lewis, and superb character actor, Nickolas Grace, still perhaps best known for playing Anthony Blanche - allegedly based in part on the poet and aesthete Brian Howard - in the 1981 TV production of “Brideshead Revisited”.
     However, the cast as a whole was incredibly gifted and charismatic, and on what I think was the eve of the first night, I was lucky enough to see a BOV production of one of my favourite ever musicals, Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” featuring Clive Wood as Sky Masterson and Pete Postlethwaite as Nathan Detroit. And it may have provided me with more unalloyed pleasure than any other show I've seen, before or since.
    After resuming my role as Mustardeed in the summer at the London Old Vic, my next acting job came early the following year courtesy of an old family friend, Howell Jones.
     Howell had been at both RADA and the Royal Academy of Music with my dad, and he just happened to be the Company Stage Manager at the famous Phoenix Theatre in Charing X Road at the time.  As I recall, a production of "Satyricon" was already under way and they wanted me as a last minute Assistant Stage Manager, in charge of preparing the cast’s costumes. I’d also be the show’s percussionist, and my primal thrumming rhythms would open the show, and punctuate the action throughout, although in time the director kindly offered me a small non-speaking role.
     “Satyricon”, one of only two surviving examples of a novel from the early part of the Roman Empire, is believed to have been written during the reign of the emperor Nero by one Petronius, an imperial courtier specialising in fashion, known as an arbiter elegantarium.
     According to its testimony, as well as Petronius’ own accounts of Nero’s depravity written shortly before his death in 66AD, imperial Rome's infamous decadence was already firmly in place long before her final fall in the third century. Not that she ever died in a spiritual sense according to many Christians holding to the pre-millennial view of prophecy. They believe she’ll be fully revived in the last days before the Second Coming, with the Antichrist at her head.
     Also in '81, I became a kind of part-time member of an initially nameless youth movement whose origins lay in the late 1970s, largely among discontented ex-Punks, but who were eventually dubbed Futurists; and then New Romantics. Their music of preference included the kind of synthesized Art Rock pioneered by German collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as the highbrow Glam of David Bowie and Roxy Music. All of these elements went on to inform the music of Spandau Ballet and Visage, who emerged from the original scene at the Blitz Club in Covent Garden, and Ultravox, a former Punk band of some renown whose fortunes revived with the coming of the New Romantics.
     The name arose as a result of their impassioned devotion to past eras perceived to be romantic, whether relatively recent ones such as the ‘20s or ‘40s, or more distant historical ones such as the Medieval or Elizabethan. Ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on were common among them, but then so were demob suits.
     Several of the cult's more outlandish trendsetters went on to become famous names within the worlds of art and fashion. They stood in some contrast to more harder-edged young dandies such as the Kemp Brothers from working class Islington. Their Spandau Ballet began life as the hippest band in London, famously introduced as such at the Scala cinema by writer and broadcaster Robert Elms in May 1980. In time, though, they mutated into a chart-friendly band with a penchant for soulful Pop songs such as the international smash hit, “True”.
     I attended New Romantic nights at Le Kilt and Le Beat Route among other swishy night spots, 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, it was always far more mainstream than several other musical movements which arose at the same time in the wake of Punk, such as Post-Punk and Goth. For this reason, several of its keys acts went on to become part of the New Wave, whose mixture of complex tunes and telegenic Glam image partly inspired the Second British Invasion of the American charts. This occurred thanks largely to a desperate need on the part of the newly arrived Music Television for striking videos, and went on to exert a colossal influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties.
     As '81 wore on, my acting career lost momentum, with the result that some kind of family decision was reached to the effect that I should return to my studies with a view to eventually qualifying as a teacher. Thence, I went on to pass interviews for both the University of Exeter, and Leftfield College, London, scraping in with two very average "A" level passes at B and C, thanks to the infinite generosity of one of my soon to be tutors, the brilliant and enchanting Dr Mia Pastor.
     I wanted to stay in London, so as to keep the possibility of picking up some acting work in my spare time open, so in the autumn I started a four-year BA degree course in French and Drama mainly at Leftfield - but also partly at the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama - while staying in a small room on campus. 
     At first, I was so discontented at finding myself a student again at 25 that in an attempt to escape my situation, I auditioned for work as an acting Assistant Stage Manager, but I wasn’t taken on…so I simply resigned myself to my fate.
     A short time later, though, while sauntering around at night close by to the Central School, I was ambushed by a group of my fellow drama students who may have seemed to me to incarnate the sheer carefree rapturous vitality and joy of life of youth, and because of them and those like them, I came to love my time at Leftfield, which just happened to coincide with the first half of the last of a triad of decades in the West of unceasing artistic and social change and experimentation…
     Indeed, the Playboy philosophy which exploded in the 1960s could be said to have reached its full flowering in the crazy eighties, even if the vast majority of people whose salad days fell within its boundaries ultimately forged respectable lives following a brief season as outsiders.
     For my part, though, I profoundly regret the shallow narcissism that once caused me to scorn the trappings of status, security and respectability I now pine for with all the fathomless anguish of a long abandoned lover.
     It’s the very selfsame kind of short-sighted sensation-seeking that's been tirelessly promoted in the West for over half a century now, not least through the medium of Rock culture; and when I think of the society it’s created, I’m reminded of the workings of the flesh that corrupted the antediluvian world, and which survived the Flood to be disseminated throughout the nations to spell the end of one empire after the other, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Greek, the Roman…
     I had no excuse to embrace it myself, having been blessed by every great gift a young man could possibly hope for, but did so anyway, which points to an appalling want of character on my part.
      Our most treasured qualities…such as wealth, intelligence, beauty, charm, talent, are uniquely lethal unless submitted in toto to Christ; for the gifted are phenomenally visible…and therefore susceptible to more temptations than most. Thence, they all too likely to fall prey to Luciferian pride and Luciferian rebellion, like David's favourite son Absalom, who was physically flawless yet morally bankrupt.  Little wonder, then, 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 death-worship, nor been so influential as such.
     To think I once desperately sought fame as a Rock and Roll star myself, and if not as Rock artist, then actor, or writer, and it was surely a good thing 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 animated by the charismatic superstar spirit before being cruelly discarded by the Enemy of Souls.

    Ferocity of an Enfant Terrible

    As I mentioned earlier, at first I fiercely resented being at Leftfield, perhaps because I viewed being back in full-time education at 26 as a giant step backwards in terms of my acting career, but before long I'd embarked on one of the happiest periods of my entire life.
     Leftfield in the early '80s was a hotbed of talent and creativity which provided me with almost unlimited opportunities for acting and performance.
     Within days I'd made a close friend of a fellow French and Drama student by the name of Seb. He was a slim, good-looking, dark-haired charmer from the north east of England who, despite a solid private school background and rugby player's powerful wiry frame, dressed like a Rock star with his left ear pierced like one of his idols electric bass genius  Mick Karn, and favouring skin-tight trousers typically worn with black pointed boots, and together we went on to feature in Brecht and Weill's's "The Threepenny Opera". I had two small roles, the most challenging being that of petty street thief Filch, who'd been played by the actor and writer Antonin Artaud in one of two film versions of the play directed by G.W. Pabst in 1931. I came to be so very proud of this fact because Artaud was an example of the avant garde faith in extremis, which made beloved in my deluded eyes.
     Through this production I went on to play jive-talking disc jockey Galactic Jack in the musical play "The Tooth of Crime", its director having been impressed by myself and Seb in "The Threepenny Opera", and so cast us as Jack and the lead role of Hoss respectively. Writer Sam Shepard has spoken of being influenced by the aforesaid Artaud in his own work, which is no coincidence, as Artaud's concept of a Theatre of Cruelty has proved prophetic of much of the theatre of the post-war years, indeed art as a whole, with its emphasis on assailing the senses, and in some cases also the sensibilities, of the public through every available means.
     Before long, I was channelling every inch of my will to perform into one play after the other at Leftfield, a long vanished college which became my whole world for two glorious years, while any real ambition to succeed as an actor receded far into the background.
     When it came to my French studies, in my essay writing I often flaunted an insolent outspokenness perhaps partly influenced by my favourite accursed artists but also reflecting my own exhibitionistic need to shock, and while some of my tutors may have viewed these efforts with a jaundiced eye, one came to thrill to them and await them with the sort of impatience normally accorded a favourite TV or radio series. This was the wonderful Dr Elizabeth Lang, more of whom later.
     How close this love of scandalising by way of the written word brought me to a seared conscience I can't say; but one thing is certain, my compassion started to recede. This didn't happen right away of course. Yet, even during those first two golden years, some of those who were drawn to me on a deep emotional level betrayed a certain unease with their words, and I was variously described as intense, inscrutable, mysterious, disabused and sad.
     So, why didn't I cross the line beyond which it becomes impossible for a person to respond to the Holy Spirit? After all, from about 1983, I started to decline as a human being. Perhaps it was something to do with the prayers of believing friends and relatives, so that something precious was kept alive within me during those dark years. Certainly, I never fully stopped being a caring person, and I can recall being outraged by those avant gardists who advocated actual cruelty or the harming of innocents. How then did I square this with my adoration of certain favoured artists who thrived on verbal violence and scenes of madness and destruction? The fact is I couldn't, hypocrite that I was. This love affair with destruction kept company with a savage fury towards what I perceived as social injustice, the chief targets of this high and mighty dudgeon being dictators on the right wing of the political spectrum, indeed the political right as a whole, but when it came to left-wing oppression, I was no less indignant.
     The 1980s was a decade of protest and riot in the UK, and all through its years of raging discontent, I allied myself with one radical lobby after the other, including Amnesty International, Animal Aid, Greenpeace, CND and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I marched against the nuclear threat in London and Paris, lectured for Amnesty while blind drunk to a roomful of middle-aged Rotarians, had a letter published in the newspaper of the AAM, and was a remorseless disseminator of radical rants, tracts, pamphlets and so on.
     Mine was the righteous fury that is rooted in a false notion of the perfectibility of Man, and that fails to recognise that oppression stems from the sin we all share, that has no real satisfying motive other than its own existence. In time, it started to turn inwards, and to eat away at the reserves of tenderness that meant so much to me, its malignity enhanced by alcohol and dissolute living, and an addiction to astrology and other occult topics, and scandalous art and philosophy. My soul effectively started to cave in, and while it was ultimately saved from terminal ruin, I don't think it's ever fully recovered from the damage I inflicted on it. Such is my own "thorn in the flesh"...
     This first remnant from my Leftfield diaries, "Some Sad Dark Secret" testifies to some extent to a former tendency to mental vehemence. It was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I unearthed some years ago, and probably dating from 1982 or '83. The first three sections contain words of advice offered me by my sometime mentor Dr Elizabeth Lang, the fourth and fifth, further words offered me by another of my tutors, and which served to upbraid me for what he saw as a didacticism reminiscent of Rousseau. He was of course referring not to the painter Henri, but the Swiss-born author, philosopher and composer, who was not just one of the chief inspirers of the French Revolution, but through the emphasis he placed on subjectivity in his writings, the great Romantic movement in the arts.
     His assertion that Man is born free while being everywhere in chains, which stemmed from his belief in the essential goodness of Man, has assured him a place of honour in the history of the Left, of which I was definitely part in the mid 1980s and beyond
     And were I to have survived into old age still convinced of the perfectibility of Man under certain social conditions, the outcome may have been bitter disillusion, because it’s only through the regeneration of the heart that a person can be changed. I learned this truth the hard way.

    Some Sad Dark Secret

    Dr Lang said:
    “Temper
    Your enthusiasm,
    The extremes
    Of your
    reactions,
    You should have
    A more
    Conventional
    Frame
    On which to
    Hang your
    unconventionality.”

    The tone of some
    Of my work
    Is often
    A little dubious,
    She said.
    She thought
    That there
    Was something
    Wrong,
    That I’m hiding
    Some sad and dark
    Secret
    From the world.

    She told me
    Not to rhapsodise,
    That it would be
    Difficult,
    Impossible, perhaps,
    For me to
    Harness
    My dynamism.
    “Don’t push People”,
    She said.
    “You make
    Yourself
    Vulnerable”.

    Dr H. said:
    “By the third page,
    I felt I’d been
    Bulldozed.
    I can almost see
    Your soapbox.
    Like Rousseau,
    You’re telling us
    What to do.
    You seem to
    Work yourself
    Into such an
    Emotional pitch…

    And this
    Extraordinary
    Capacity for lists.

    The Leftfield Players

    In the summer, a faction of us – mostly culled from the Drama department – took Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”  to the internationally famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and in our production, Shakespeare's Illyria was transformed into a Hippie paradise, with myself playing Feste as a Dylanesque minstrel strumming dirge-like folk songs with a voice like sand and glue.
     Most of the Leftfield players’ male contingent couldn't have deviated more from the politely liberal norm found nightly at the Fringe Club on Chambers Street if they’d tried. Among the wildest were Vinny, a dashing Britalian of passionately held humanitarian convictions who played Sir Toby Belch, myself, the anarchic product of multiple social and educational influences and Jez, a tough but tender Scouser with slicked back rockabilly hair, who played Malvolio in a mesmerisingly understated manner. He was a fascinating, charismatic guy with a hilariously dark sense of humour who I think had been in a band in the early '80s at the legendary Liverpool Post-Punk club, Eric’s. He and his girlfriend Gill, who'd designed the flowing Hippie costumes, and was also a very dear friend, never stopped encouraging me nor believing in me.
     We were all so close despite sharing a single house, albeit a large one, on what I think was Princes Street, and there was barely a cross word spoken for the entire fortnight we were its occupants.
     During my second year I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my close friends from the French department, Seb, a former Sedbergh School alumnus, and fellow northerner Stephen, whose alma mater was Sedbergh’s age-old rivals, Ampleforth, a Catholic college largely run by Benedictine monks. 
     Steve was an incredibly gifted pianist and guitarist who despite a misleadingly serious demeanour was a warm, affectionate, witty, eccentric character who endlessly buzzed with the nervous energy of near-genius. He might not have wanted to ape the way his flatmates dressed and behaved, but he was fiercely protective of us despite our social butterfly ways.
     Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant-garde. I was determined to live like an aesthete, even if it meant doing so on a shoestring in a cramped little flat in suburban north London, and to this end I organised a salon, which although well-attended didn't survive beyond a single meeting. We were a pretty shoddy imitation of the new Brideshead generation that was thriving in Oxford in the wake of the TV series.
     We drove our effusive landlady half-crazy at times through heavy-footedness and other crimes of upper floor thoughtlessness, although I don't remember her complaining all that much despite the fact that we weren't averse to drink-fuelled discussions extending well into the night. In common with most of my friends I tended to drink heavily at night, but almost never during the day. The truth is that self-doubt wasn't an issue for me in the early eighties and I was a truly happy person, in fact so much so that I may have exaggerated my capacity for depth and melancholia as a means of making myself more interesting to others. In the final analysis though, what possible reason was there for me to be discontented, given that my first two Leftfield years were fabulous...an unceasing cycle of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set in one of the most beautiful and bucolic areas of London?
     My second year drama project was centred on the one-act play "Playing with Fire" written by Swedish poète maudit, August Strindberg. I was allotted the task of supplying the music for the production as well as the leading role. This was Knut, a sardonic Bohemian painter forced to endure the adulterous behaviour of a friend Alex who following an invitation to stay with him at the house of his upper middle class parents for a few days, embarks on a torrid affair with his wife Kerstin. Alex was played by budding playwright Paul, while lovable Czech madcap Karel played Knut's hated bourgeois father. We performed the play a total of three times over the course of a couple of days.
      Later in the year, I was asked by Paul to appear in a short play of his, “Wild Life”, in which I played a violent young psychopath. It was just one of a succession of plays or shows I appeared in during that heady second year at Leftfield, the others including “Twelfth Night”, with the Edinburgh cast more or less intact, Lorca’s “Blood Wedding”, with me miscast as the fiancé, and a Rice-Lloyd Webber showcase in which I played my former idol Che.
     The piece below was adapted from notes I made during this timeframe, with the first verse actually containing references to "Twelfth Night". It captures the blissful spirit of my first two years at Leftfield, a college then in its twilight time for it was incorporated into another in 1989, as well as the unquenchable desire for attention, affection and approval that was typical of me, and the way it affected some of those who cared for me most.

    Gallant Festivities

    It was my evening, that’s
    For sure -
    At last I’m good
    At something -
    27 years old
    I may be, but…
    “Spot the
    Equity card…”
    “It’s your aura, Carl…”
    “When are you going
    To be a superstar?”
    Said Sarah
    A few days ago -
    That seemed to be
    The question
    On everyone’s lips.
    “You got Feste perfectly,
    Just how I envisaged it”
    “…Not only when
    You’re onstage
    but off too!”
    At last, at last, at last
    I’m good at something…

    And so the party…Zoe
    called me...I listened…
    …To her problems…
    References
    To my “innocent face”…
    Linda said:
    “Sally seems Elusive
    But is in fact,
    Accessible;
    You’re the opposite -
    You give to everyone
    But are incapable
    Of giving in particular.”
    Madeleine was comparing me
    To June Miller…
    Descriptions by Nin:
    “She does not dare
    To be herself…”
    Everything I’d always
    Wanted to be, I now am…
    “…She lives
    On the reflections
    Of herself in the eyes
    Of others...
    There is no June
    To grasp and know…”
    I kept getting up to dance…
    Sally said: “I’m afraid…
    You’re inscrutable
    You’re not just
    Blasé,
    Are you?”
    I spoke
    Of the spells of calm
    And the hysterical
    Reactions
    Psychic Exhaustion
    Then anxious elation...

    A Hateful Work Ethic

    After the second year ended in the summer of 1983, I had a few months to spare before travelling to Paris to work as an English language assistant in the department of Essonne.
     This spelled my exile from the old drama clique, and I'd not be joining them in their final year celebrations, and the knowledge of this must surely have affected me. I was, after all, severing myself from a vast network of gifted friends of whom I was deeply fond, and so losing an opportunity of growing as an artist in tandem with like-minded spirits. I could have opted for just a few weeks in France, but did I really want to be deprived of the chance of spending more than six months in the city I’d long worshipped as the only true home of an artist?
     Earlier in the year, my close friend Madeleine, a brilliant dynamic woman of North African Jewish ancestry had told me something to the effect that while many were drawn to me, they sensed “la mort” in me. The fact that she was in thrall to the intellectual worldview, and familiar with the works of the great psychologist Freud, who identified a death drive subsequently dubbed thanatos, may have had something to do with this observation.
     Precisely what she meant by death I can’t say, but she may have identified some kind of will to destruction - and specifically self-destruction - in me. As things turned out she was right, although this was barely embryonic in the early '80s if it existed at all. I’d attribute its existence to a cocktail of intoxicants, each one potentially fatal to the human spirit, these being alcohol, astrology and the occult, and intellectualism. All of these exerted a terribly negative effect on my development as a human being in my view.
     While intellectualism is not evil in itself, of course, it's my contention that intellectuals are more tempted than most by pride, rebellion and sensuality. The same could be said of those blessed with great wealth, great beauty, and great talent.
     Intellectuals have been among the most powerful men and women in history, and the Modern World has been significantly shaped by the wildly inspired views of geniuses such as Rousseau, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Their theories - and especially those of Marx and Freud and their apostles both orthodox and schismatic - fanned the flames of a largely bloodless revolution in the 1960s. While this had been largely quenched by 1972, the philosophies that inspired it, far from fading themselves, set about infiltrating the cultural mainstream where they became more extreme than ever. Thence, they entered the realm of the Post-Modern, while remaining the ultimate consequence of centuries of Modernist influence on the Judeo-Christian fabric of Western civilisation.
     However, I was never a true scholar like Madeleine, so much as someone who was both troubled and fascinated by the idea of hyper-intellectuality. Reading Colin Wilson's "The Outsider" in the early '80s, I especially identified with those intellectuals who were tortured by their own excesses of consciousness such as T.E. Lawrence, who wrote of his nature as being “thought-riddled”.
     As a child I was extrovert to the point of hyperactivity but by the time of my late adolescence, I found myself becoming subject to rival drives of equal intensity. One of these was towards seclusion and introspection, the other, attention and approbation. It seems this duality is common among sensitive artists and intellectuals, and may help to explain why so many of them have sought some form of escape from the complexities of their inner nature, even to the point of madness.
     In my own quest for renown, I subjected my body, the creation I tendered so lovingly at times, to a ruthless almost derisive work ethic. It couldn't have differed more from the noble impulse first identified by the German social philosopher Max Weber, and which he dubbed the Protestant Work Ethic. For Weber, the latter didn't so much give birth to Capitalism, which of course it didn't, as facilitate its growth in those nations in which the Reformation had been most successful. If the work ethic beloved of the Calvinist Pilgrims who forged the first American colonies was intended for the glorification of God, mine was a decadent late variant entirely given over to the promotion of the self.
     To this end, I consumed a variety of intoxicants, not just because I enjoyed doing so but because they enabled the constant socialising that brought me the attention, affirmation and approval I so craved…a narcissistic supply perhaps. How else to explain the sheer demented fervour of my endless self-exaltation?
     That’s not to say that I wasn't a loving person, because I was; but precisely what kind of love was it that I spread so generously about me? One thing it wasn’t was agape, the perfect, selfless love described in 1 Corinthians 13. In fact, it was a form so unacceptable to God that it would have seen me damned and in Hell had I actually managed to drink myself to death.
     I was hardly less heartless towards my mind than my body, treating it as an object of research and experimentation. Little wonder then that I turned to drink as a means of pacifying it, although alcohol still wasn't a serious problem for me in the early '80s, when my exhausting daily regimen tended to be fuelled instead by massive quantities of caffeine tablets. That said, Madeleine didn't like it when I drank to excess as if she'd already singled me out as someone who'd go on to develop a drink problem. In this as in other things she showed remarkable insight.
     The piece below first existed as a series of scrawled notes based on several conversations I enjoyed with Madeleine in 1982 or '83. 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 a guitar string. After a period spent apparently wandering aimlessly around Golders Green, I bumped into Madeleine, who'd come looking for me...

    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...
    "Your friends
    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,
    ticking over.
    You could hurt me,
    you know...
    You are a Don Juan,
    so much.
    Like him, you have
    no desires...
    I think you have
    deep fears...
    There's something so...so...
    in your look.
    It's not that
    you're empty...
    but that there is
    an omnipresent sadness
    about you, a fatality..."



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 5:39AM

    My Future Positively Glittered



     

    Chapter Three – My Future Positively Glittered

    Those Landmark Years

    For two years, I'd worshipped at the altar of those artists who had either immediately predated the age of Modernism of ca. 1880-1920, or been part of its Banquet Years, and beyond into the Golden Twenties, the Années folles and so on. However, in 1976, a gaudy new era started to influence the way I dressed and acted, and for much of that year, I dressed down in a workmanlike uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt and cuffed jeans as worn by Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”.
     Dean had died a week to the day before I was born in late 1955, and the 20th anniversary of his death appeared to exert a strong influence on rising Pop stars such as John Miles and Slik's Midge Ure. Slik were one of the biggest bands in Britain in 1976, with an image straight out of “Rebel” or a dozen lesser fifties delinquent movies. Sadly for them, though, and for many other bands who'd surfed the Glam Rock wave or emerged in its wake, they would be unjustly sidelined by the Punk uprising.
     As entranced as I was the fifties, there were still times when I reverted to the old escapist dandy image I'd adopted in defiance of what I saw as the leaden drabness of post-Hippie Britain, while discovering Modernist giants such as Baudelaire, Wilde, Gide, and Cocteau for the first time.
     One of these occasions came during the dying days of a famous long hot summer, when I wore top hat and tails and my fingernails painted bright red like some kind of hellish vision from Weimar Berlin to a party hosted by a friend from Prestlands. It was mid-September, and I know that to be a fact because I was supposed to have been at sea at the time on the minesweeper HMS Kettleton.
     I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Kettleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship. 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 Kettleton with more or less exactly the same crew. Yet, I'd decided to opt out of the trip by pleading sickness.
     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.
     Looking back, I can’t help thinking that 1977 was a far darker year than those that came before it, mainly perhaps because it was marked by the violent irruption into the British cultural mainstream of Punk. From its London axis, it spread like a raging plague throughout that landmark year, even infecting the most genteel suburbs with an extreme and often horrifying sartorial eccentricity, which, fused with a defiant DIY ethic and brutal back-to-basics Rock produced something utterly unique even by the standards of the time.
     I was assaulted for the first time by the monstrous varieties of dress adopted by the early Punks while strolling along the Kings Road in what I think may have been January, and it would only be a matter of time before I too hoped to astound others the way they'd done me. However, for most of ’77, I dressed in a muted form which first took shape as a pair of cream brogue winklepickers, which I went on to supplement with black slip-ons with gold side buckles, mock- crocodile skin shoes with squared off toes, and a pair of black Chelsea boots, all perilously pointed.
     My new look evolved by degrees at the endless series of parties I attended as one after the other of my old Welbourne pals celebrated their 21st in houses and apartments in various corners of trendy West and Central London. Of all of these, I was perhaps closest with future oil magnate Chris, who was still finding his feet in London’s most exalted social circles. These included a friend of Chris’ from the north of England who forged cutting edge images for some of the most powerful trendsetters in Rock music. I joined them a couple of times at Maunkberrys in Jermyn Street; and apart from the Sombrero in High Street Ken, it was the classiest club my eyes had ever seen.
     Being the suburban rube I was, I thought the style that dominated London's club land was somehow Punk-related, but I was way off the mark. It was the antithesis of the hippie look that was still widespread throughout the UK, but deployed for posing, and dancing to the sweetest Soul music, not as a gesture of violent social dissent.  It was partly the realm of the Soul Boys, whose love of black dance music was a legacy of the Mods and Skins that preceded them. While the Soul Boys were largely working class hard nuts from various dismal London suburbs, some Soul lovers were in fact not Soul Boys at all, so much as elegant trendies with a penchant for floppy college boy fringes, plaid shirts worn over white tee-shirts, straight leg jeans, and winklepickers.
     The Soul Boys also favoured the wedge haircut, which could be worn with streaks of blond or red or even green, brightly-coloured peg-top trousers and winklepickers or plastic beach sandals. Speaking of the wedge, it was taken up at some point in the late 1970s by a faction of Liverpool football fans who'd developed a taste for European designer sportswear while travelling on the continent for away matches. Thence, the Casual subculture was spawned, and its passion for designer labels persists to this day among British working class youth in every small town and shopping mall throughout the land, although the Casuals themselves have long disappeared.

    The Restless and the Riotous

    By the summer, I was working as a sailing instructor in Palamos on Spain's Costa Brava, but I was idle and incompetent, and after a few months I got the sack. Yet, I chose to stay on in Palamos, parading around town by day, while spending most of my evenings at the Disco where I discovered Donna Summer’s “Love Trilogy”.
      As much as I loved the party life of a Disco kid, what I wanted most of all was fame. I wanted the endless hedonism too, but enjoyed as a successful working actor like golden boys Peter Firth or Gerry Sundquist. The problem was, I wasn’t really cut out for the task. Granted, I had the pretty boy looks, but very few actors, or even musicians, become truly successful on the strength of looks alone, and this was especially true of the seventies, an age without MP3s or My Space or endless TV talent showcases.
     I'd not yet appeared in a single play, except for a handful at Welbourne, which included no less than three in drag. One of these had me standing onstage for a few brief minutes without uttering a single word. Another was as a maid in a one-act play by Shaw called "Passion, Poison and Petrifaction", which saw me clomping around in drag in studded military boots, while speaking in a hysterical high-pitched voice. I can remember bringing the house down with that one. I also played a society beauty engaged in some kind of illicit liaison with my close friend Roman, but the name of the play escapes me. My only male role was as an effeminate psychopath in a little known Agatha Christie one-acter called “The Rats”, and if the praise of the college nurse was anything to go by, it showed real promise. When all's said and done, though, I was hardly a National Youth Theatre wunderkind.
     In terms of my other "talents", I'd written a few simple songs on the guitar, but I still couldn’t play bar chords. I wasn't a natural born genius like my cousin Rod. My singing voice was good, though, and already quite versatile. As a would-be writer, I'd filled countless pages with endlessly corrected notes, but there was nothing tangible to show for it all. It could hardly be said then that my future positively glittered before me.
     My final trip with the RNR came towards the end of the summer. Lofty O’Shea wasn’t sailing with us, but I had other mates to raise Cain with, such as the aristocratic Damon Cates.
     He was a tall redheaded young man of about 26 who looked a little like the youthful Edward Fox, with a trace perhaps of Old Etonian actor, Damian Lewis.  Like me, he loved music and fashion and the Soul Boy and Punk Rock scenes - I think he was a regular at the Pantiles night club in Bagshot - and we hit it off from our very first meeting back at the President.  He later confided in me about his early life which had been marked by one tragedy after the other, and his quiet and courteous manner masked an intense inner life which he didn't like to flaunt any more than he did an ability to look after himself in any situation no matter how violent.
     I can remember one night in a south coast bar when for some reason an inebriate sailor took a serious dislike to me and was clearly keen to do some serious damage to my pretty face, when Damon stood in and caused the sailor to back off. You overestimated his refinement at your peril.  I can imagine though that there were those who wondered how he ended up serving as a rating, as they would have done me. I'm thinking especially of some of the young guys from the division that sailed in tandem with us that summer to the port of Ostend in Belgium. 
     There was a time when, as some of these hard young seamen were gathering in an Ostend street for a scrap with some locals who had offended them, Damon and I made it clear we had no intention of joining in. This prompted one of their number, a waiflike little sailor of about 16 or 17 to turn to us with a look of utter bewilderment on his beardless face and ask, "What's wrong with youse guys?", before joining his mates for the impending riot.
     Damon just didn't see the point of fighting for the sake of it but he was no coward as I've already made quite clear. This secret inner strength 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 Thames Division, RNR came to an end in late 1977 with a surprisingly positive character report, which I was very grateful for. If military life had never been for me, it's a part of who I am, and my story would be all the poorer without it.
     Even later in the summer I joined the former Merchant Navy School in Greenhithe, Kent, as a trainee Radio Officer.
     I formed several close friendships there; but closest of all was with Jayant, a lovable Indian guy with a thick London accent who'd been born in nearby Gravesend, which had a large Asian community, and for a time we were pretty well inseparable.
     It was through Jay I think that I started going to discos at Gravesend's Woodville Hall, subject of the versified piece below, which was based on an unfinished short story written in '78 or '79. Pretty well every week for a while, a gang of us from the college would head out to the Woodville Hall, where we were treated like visiting royalty by the - mainly white and Asian - kids, whose outlandish outfits stood out in such striking contrast to the industrial bleakness of their surroundings.
     English suburban life in those days didn't include mobile phones or DVD players, personal computers or the world wide web, so was a fertile breeding ground for wild and eccentric youth cults such as Punk, New Romanticism, Goth et al. These last two were still in the future, but their seeds had been sown during the heyday of Punk, whose influence pervaded the Hall together with the Soul Boy look. The Woodville Hall Soul Boys knew how to dance like you wouldn't believe...anybody would think they were students of Jazz ballet or something, but they were just ordinary working class kids, who became superstars once they took to the dance floor.

    The Woodville Hall Soul Boys

    Soon after I'd paid
    My sixty
    Or seventy pence,
    I found myself
    In what I thought
    Was a miniature London.
    I saw girls
    In chandelier earrings,
    In stiletto heels,
    Wearing evening
    Dresses,
    Which contrasted with
    The bizarre
    Hair colours
    They favoured:
    Jet black
    Or bleach blonde,
    With flashes of
    Red, Purple
    Or green.
    Some wore large
    Bow ties,
    Others unceremoniously
    Hanged
    Their school ties
    Round their
    Necks.
    Eye make-up
    Was exaggerated.
    The boys all had
    Short hair,
    Wore mohair sweaters,
    Thin ties,
    Baggy,
    Peg-top trousers
    And winklepicker shoes.
    A band playing
    Raw street rock
    At a frantic speed
    Came to a sudden,
    Violent climax...
    Melodic, rhythmic,
    Highly danceable
    Soul music
    Was now beginning
    To fill the hall,
    With another group
    Of short-haired youths...
    Smoother, more elegant,
    Less menacing
    Than the previous ones.
    These well-dressed
    Street boys
    Wore well-pressed pegs
    Of red or blue...
    They pirouetted
    And posed...
    Pirouetted and posed.

    Farewell Gilded Youth

    Soon after returning from the Merchant Navy School in December '77, I auditioned for a place on the three year drama course at the Silverhill 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, Silverhill accepted me for the course beginning in autumn 1978. I was exhilarated; but that didn't stop me sinking further into the nihilistic Punk lifestyle. Having been blown away 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 spiked in classic Punk style, 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've 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 the spikes. By the spring of 1978, I'd shorn it all off, and I looked like a skinhead.
     It was genuinely dangerous being a Punk in the late '70s, 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 incredible hostility Punks attracted from some members of the general public.
     Close by to where I shared a house with my parents in the furthermost reaches of south west London where suburbia meets country 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 a Walton disco one night.
     The gig took place in a poky hall above a pub in the centre of a large bleak industrial estate, itself surrounded by small drab council estates and endless rows of council houses. I was often there on a Sunday in the late 70s, usually with my brother and friends, but sometimes alone.
     On one occasion I can recall, the usual Disco or Pop gave way to a violent Punk Rock anthem which saw the tiny dance space being invaded by deranged pogo-dancers as if they’d been summoned by some malignant deity. On another, a Ted revivalist, a follower of classic Rock and Roll who favoured flashy fifties-style clothing, tried to start some trouble with me in the toilet. At this point, Frankie, another Ted who'd befriended me about a year previously when I looked like an extra from a ‘50s High School flick stepped in with the magical words: "He's a mate!"  His 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. There was a time Frankie almost imploringly me 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; but that wasn’t 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, Jay and I went to a party in London's swanky West End. It was one of the last - perhaps even the very last - in a long series of celebrations I'd gone to throughout '77 mainly as a result of friends from Welbourne reaching the landmark age of 21. It was also one of the last times I ever saw Jay.
     Before arriving, Jay and I met up as arranged with Chris, my close friend from Welbourne, and as soon as the introductions were over, Jay saw fit to impress us with a truly terrifying solo display of his lethal street fighting skills. "I'm suitably impressed", said Chris, and he looked it too, and he was hardly a wimp himself, but Jay was something else again.
     We got on like a house on fire that insane night which at one point saw me pouring a full glass of beer over my head. What the beautiful dancer 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 one true passion appeared to be the creation of endless 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. I've got plenty of time to myself to reflect on it all now...and the sheer waste of youth, of life, of love makes me weep.
     In the spring of 1978, I arrived in the city of Fuengirola on Spain’s Costa del Sol, with the intention of helping set up a sailing school with a young Englishman whom my father had recently befriended.
     It had all been prearranged between them, but as things turned out, the project came to nothing. However, I stayed on, living first in an apartment Adam had kindly set me up in, then in a little hotel in town, and finally, rent-free, with an American friend, Scarlett. She was one of a handful of US ex-pats living in Fuengirola alongside young people from Australia, Britain, Ireland, Germany, South America and other parts of the world.
     It was a hedonistic atmosphere, and I wasted little time in becoming part of it. I spent my nights at the Tam Tam night club, where I set about establishing myself as Fuengirola’s very own Tony Manero…in Punk Rock attire.
     It was my first year as a Punk, in point of fact, and among the clothes I favoured were a black cap-sleeved wet-look tee-shirt, drainpipe jeans of black or green, worn with black studded belt, festooned with silver chain filched from a Spanish restroom, and kept in place by multiple safety pins, fluorescent pink teddy boy socks, and white shoes with black laces like the ones I’d seen on the cover of a 999 album. At one stage, I even wore a safety pin – disinfected by being dipped into a drink – in my left earlobe, but I removed this once my lug had started to pulsate.
     After a few weeks, I became lead singer for the Tam Tam house band, and would typically wear so much make-up onstage that one occasion, the microphone became smeared in lipstick. I was always short of money, but I could order anything I wanted from the bar at the Tam Tam, and when I was flat broke, my close friend Laura bought me toasted cheese sandwiches to keep me going.
     We spent very little time on the beach, but were occasionally to be found at Lew Hoad’s famous Campo de Tenis, or - in the evening - at Laura’s parents’ house, where I'd be putting on the slap, and perhaps even painting my nails a gaudy shade of red, before heading along to the Tam Tam to do my gig. 
     However, some nights we preferred to get away from it all to another part of town, and I can still recall the thrill of being alone with her in the demi-light of the Disco, while the evening was still young, hopelessly unaware that such moments are rare even in youth, and get steadily rarer as life forges on. On one occasion as we were strolling through town by night, the legend that was racing champion James Hunt called out her name before emerging from the darkness. They exchanged a few words before Hunt vanished back into the night as suddenly as he’d arrived. I could scarcely believe my eyes, but it was that magical a summer
     However, I had to return to London to take my place at Silverhill once it was over. After all, I was going to be a star, wasn't I…
     A year later, I was back, but not in Fuengirola,  even though the guys from the band had so wanted me to reclaim my place as front man…Coco es el unico, as the sticks man once said about me. No, I’d  chosen to go with my parents to La Ribera instead, and I felt a deep and overwhelming sense of exhaustion as I stretched out in the Costa Calida sun, but I don't recall being especially disappointed by the fact that only days earlier I'd been asked to leave Silverhill. I was resigned to it, even though my dream of being a gilded youth at drama school had barely lasted a year. It must have been the searing heat that made me feel so burned out.
     Just before quitting Fuengirola the previous summer of '78, I'd been approached with an offer of singing in the Canary Islands, which I turned down for the sake of going to Silverhill. Who knows where it might have led had I said yes instead, but then it would have been a crying shame to have missed out on my time at Silverhill. It would take an entire separate volume to list the incredible experiences that arose out of my time at that much lauded place of learning, of which my own dear dad Pat had been an alumnus before me…but I’ll be brief in recounting my own.
     What I will say is that I was involved with a string of Rock and Pop bands, and that with one after the other of these I performed at the Folk Nights that were staged on a sporadic basis in the basement of the nearby Lauderdale Tower in the Barbican area of central London.
     Through one of them, Rockets, I was talent-scouted as lead singer for a guitarist of genius who was hoping to form a band at Silverhill, and clearly thought I'd cut it as a front man, but for some reason, the band was never formed. He went on to play and write for one of the world's leading Rock superstars, something he's been doing now since 1990.
     At one point he briefly joined a Silverhill-based Jazz-Funk outfit with another then friend of mine. That band would go on to become one of the most successful Pop acts of the eighties, chalking up one hit after the other in a Britain in which Jazzy Dance music was favoured by flash boys in white socks and tasselled loafers. I was even invited to an early rehearsal, at a time when they might have done with a front man like me…but of course, I didn’t go.
     Through another of my groups, Narcissus, I found only disgrace and humiliation, not once but twice.
     The first time we played together was just prior to the forming of the Rockets, and although it had been a disaster, due to my drunken upstaging of the other band members, at least I got a good gig out of it, thanks to the kindness of Crispian, our piano player. Furthermore, it was through the Rockets that I was offered the gig with Don. However, rather than wait for the call from him, I went on ahead and re-formed the Rockets with original members John on drums, and Simon on guitar, and it was a total fiasco.
     I slapped on the make-up, and Simon and John followed suit, but being relatively untainted by personal vanity, the results were unsettling.  Sweet-natured Simon painted his Botticellian features like an ancient pagan warrior, while gentle giant John saw fit to smother his with military-style camouflage. Not surprisingly, our set was accompanied by a riot of heckling which although far from malicious, ultimately provoked me to irritation, and I ended up tossing my plectrum into the audience with a sarcastic, "Here's to all my loving fans!", or something equally pathetic.
     I can't help thinking that a petulant outburst did no end of harm to my reputation, because the chutzpah of the natural leader who demands and gets attention and respect through the sheer force of his personality was never among my gifts. Rather I was blessed with the seductive charm of the social climber for whom alpha status comes through the subtle exercise of exquisite manners. In this respect I was perhaps a little like Julien Sorel, anti-hero of Stendhal's "The Scarlet and the Black" who despite humble origins, succeeds in ascending to the very top of the social ladder, only to allow a single act of madness to destroy all his good work.
      My final band was the '50s revivalist act Z Cars, which even won a small fan base for itself. We were Carl Cool, front man and chief songwriter with a tattoo painted onto his shoulder, Robert Fitzroy-Square, the geek with the Buddy Holly horn rims, Dave Dean the Punk Rocker of the band, and Little Ricky Ticky, the baby at only 18 who could have been a heart throb had things worked out for us, which they didn’t.
     Things went wrong for us when  one of the key members quit, and we replaced him with a close friend, Rhys, who was a far better musician than any of us. With his help, we tried to deviate from our usual three-chord doo-wop or Rock with more complex songs, starting with a tightly arranged version of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama", complete with harmony backing vocals. Sadly though, we weren’t up to the task, and disillusion swiftly set in. By this time, I’d left Silverhill anyway, and it just wasn’t the same.
     There had been emotional scenes at my farewell party held in the depths of the Barbican Estate's Lauderdale Tower, and some had cried openly at the thought of my leaving.  During the course of the night, a very dear friend, Tamsin, told me to contact a London-based impresario and agent well-known for offering young actors their very first positions within the entertainment industry. Her own brother had received his first break through this flamboyant and warm-hearted man, and he’d recently caused a stir in a major starring role on TV . I took her advice and sure enough, he offered me my very first paid acting job  as Christian the Chorus Boy - doubling as Joey the Teddy Bear -complete with furry ursine costume - in a pantomime tour of “Sleeping Beauty”.
     A few weeks after this had culminated at the Buxton Opera House, I was tendered the small part of Mustardseed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", to be directed by Richard Cottrell at the Bristol Old Vic, at which point, I could have been forgiven for believing that quitting Silverhill had been the best thing I ever did…but oh…the indescribable bliss of having passed that audition…



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 5:36AM

    The Triumph of Decadence



    Bosie2-1.jpg The aesthete

    Chapter Two – The Triumph of Decadence

    Sad Loves of a Seafaring Man

    In late summer 1973, the minesweeper HMS Thamesis set out for Bordeaux in Gironde in the south west of France. It was my first voyage as an Ordinary Deckhand with the RNR, and I was just seventeen years old.
     During the trip I made my best ever RNR friend in the shape of a fellow OD called Kevin “Lofty” O’Shea…who called me only a few years ago from his East London home in point of fact. We talked about the time we became trapped by a gang of mangy-looking stray dogs late one night in the French city of la Rochelle in 1975, after having gotten lost on the way back from a wild night spent with locals. That tale is yet to be written.
     I also became quite friendly with the most unlikely pair of bosom buddies I ever came across in the RNR or anywhere else. One half was Micky, a tough-talking working class ladies' man of about 23, who was rumoured to be a permanent year long resident of HMS Thamesis. He took me under his wing with a certain intimidating affection, once telling me me he'd  "make a ruffy tuffy sailor of me yet ", even though we both knew that that I'd never be anything other than the most useless mariner in the civilised world. The other was an older man, possibly in his mid thirties, but just as much of a lad as Mick, even though he boasted the patrician manner of a City of London stockbroker or merchant banker.
     To make it clear just how much of a lubber I was, there was one occasion when, during some kind of conference being held below deck, I was asked by an officer what I thought of minesweeping, and I replied it was a gas. On another, after the ship had been prepared for a major manoeuvre, and every hand was in their respective allotted position, I was found wandering about on deck in a daze, only to casually announce I was taking a stroll. Incidents like these made me the object of good-humoured banter onboard the Thamesis, where I served as a kind of latter-day Billy Budd, but without the seamanship.
     Its crew spent its final night in a club in the southern port of Portsmouth, though it might just as easily have been Plymouth. The main event was a hyperactive drag artiste who tried desperately to keep us entertained with cabaret style numbers sung in a high woman’s voice, and bawdy jokes told in a deep manly baritone, but the poor man was way out of his depth, and he was fiercely heckled for his pains. At one point - perhaps in the hope of seeing a friendly face – he turned towards me, and trilled something along the lines of "Ooh...you look pretty, what's your name?", at which point some of the sailors bellowed back, “Skin!”, as in "a nice bit of skin", which was possibly some kind of slang term for an attractive youth. A little while later, the tar with the beard I'd been sitting next to all night asked me to hold the mike for him while he performed Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” on his facial cheeks. He ended up passed out on the table in front of him after having collapsed face down with an almighty crash; by no means the only one to suffer such a fate that night.
     Back onshore, I resumed my growing passion for all that was louche, bizarre and decadent in music, art and culture.
     However, increasingly from 1974 onwards, 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 refined corruption of the golden age of Modernism of ca. 1890-1930, and especially to its leading cities, in terms of their being beacons of revolutionary art, as well as luxury and dissolution. They included the London of the Yellow Decade, Belle Époque Paris, Jazz Age New York, and most of all Weimar Republic Berlin.
     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 my idol had done, and to build up a new retro wardrobe.
    These went on to include a Gatsby style tab collar, which I wore either with striped collegiate tie, or cravat or neck scarf. Over this, I might wear a short-sleeved Fair Isle sweater, a navy blue blazer from Meakers, and a belted fawn raincoat straight out of a forties film noir. My grey flannel trousers from Simpsons of Piccadilly typically flopped over a pair of two-tone correspondent shoes.
     There were those cutting edge artists who appeared to share my love affair with the languid café and cabaret culture of the continent's immediate past. Among these were established acts, such as David Bowie and Roxy Music, and newer stars such as Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel; and Ron and Russell Mael of strikingly original L.A. Band, Sparks. Some of Roxy’s followers even went so far as to sport the kind of nostalgic apparel favoured by Ferry himself, but they were rare creatures indeed in mid-seventies London.
     As for me, I wore my bizarre outdated costumes in arrogant defiance of the continuing ubiquity of shoulder-length hair and flared denim jeans. In 1975, I even had the gall to go to a concert at West London's Queen's Park football stadium dressed in striped boating blazer and white trousers, only to find myself surrounded by hirsute Rock fans. The headliners were my one-time favourites Yes, whose "Relayer" album I'd bought the year before; but my passion for Progressive Rock was a thing of the past. I'd moved on since '71, towards a far deeper love of darkness and loss of innocence.
     There was nothing even remotely dark, however, about the time I fell in love with Dutch beauty Marianna while sitting Spanish "O" level in June 1974 in Gower Street, Central London. She didn't look Dutch; in fact, with her tanned complexion and long dark brown hair, she was Mediterranean in appearance. It was probably she who approached me, because I was so unconfident around girls in those days that I'd have never made the first move, and in all the time I knew her, I didn't have the guts to tell her how I felt. 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 cliché of that kind.
     For about a week, 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. Typically though, I was powerless to act, and simply stood there like a lovesick fool as the train drew away from the station. In time, my infatuation faded, but even to this day certain songs - such as "I Just Don't Want to be Lonely" by The Main Ingredient, and "Natural High" by Bloodstone - 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.
     Later on in the year, and fully recovered from this absurd unspoken passion, I found myself once again in La Ribera in south eastern Spain.
     The summer of '74 was one of the most blissful I ever spent there, and there were a good few of those. Each afternoon, a gang of us would meet up on the jetty facing our apartment on the Mar Menor, which was more or less deserted after lunch. There, we’d listen to Bowie on cassette, or on a portable phonograph, Donny singing “Puppy Love”, and talk and swim and laugh and generally enjoy being young and carefree in a decade of endless possibilities. To some youthful Spanish eyes back in '74-'76, I must have seemed an almost impossibly exotic figure from what was then the most radical and daring city in Europe, and I played my image up to the hilt. In truth, though, I was barely less sheltered and innocent than they, and how wonderful it was to bask in their soft Mediterranean loveliness for a few brief seasons.
     However, there was a change that came over Spain with Franco's passing, and the birth of the so-called “Movida”, which could be said to be the Spanish equivalent of London's Swinging Sixties revolution. Perhaps it didn’t happen right away, but by 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 seemed so cool to me, 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 Charly, the undisputed English prince of La Ribera, had long passed.
     I returned to London in late summer '74 with a deep tan and my long hair bleached bright yellow by the sun.
     Only days afterwards I found myself on HMS Ministry, moored then as today on the Thames Embankment near Temple. This involved my passing through Waterloo mainline station, which wasn't tourist-friendly as it is today, with its cafés and baguette bars, but a dingy intimidating place complete with pub and old-style barber. There I was approached by a former sailor who kept going on about how good looking I was. He even told me that he loved me; but he was no predator, just a sweet lonely old Scotsman who wanted someone to talk to for a few minutes, and I was happy to do that. 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. Besides, it wasn't long before HMS Thamesis was on its way to Hamburg, second largest city of Germany and its principle port.
     Once we'd arrived, one of the CPOs warned me not to wander around Hamburg alone, and I duly joined up with a group of about three or four other ratings on my first night ashore, and of course we headed straight for the Reeperbahn of Beatle renown. There, in the red light district of St Pauli, sights awaited me I don’t think I’d even suspected existed up until that point. It was all so different from the quiet outer suburbs, where an organised coach trip took us to us to, possibly a day later.
     We ended up in a park where I had my picture taken on a bridge by a reporter for the Surrey Comet, before a group of breathless giggling schoolgirls asked me to be in some photos with them, and I of course obliged, flattered by their attentions. On the way back to the ship, one of the sailors announced I’d been quite a hit with the Hamburg teenyboppers. Another wryly opined it was due to my appearance, the blond hair and blue eyes of the classic Teuton. Whatever the truth, there was something so touching about those 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 a mere matter of miles away.

    The Triumph of Decadence

    Sometime in 1975, I became a student at Prestlands Technical College which lay then as now on the fringes of Weybridge, an affluent outer suburb of south west London. In semi-pastoral Prestlands, as in my beloved La Ribera, I learned to be a social being after years of near-seclusion, first at Welbourne and then as a home student. So, attention came to be a potent narcotic for me in the mid 1970s. However, 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.
     The regular Prestlands Disco was a special event for me. On one occasion early on in a Disco night I got up in front of what seemed like the whole college and delivered a solo dance performance to a fiery Glam tune by Bebop Deluxe, possibly with white silk scarf flailing in the air to frenzied cheers and applause. I just blew everyone away.
     On another, a trio of roughs who I suspect may have gate crashed 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 at the end of the night. Doubtless, they were intent on a touch of the old ultra-violence; but I stood my ground, insisting that despite what they may have thought about me, I was just as straight as they. Apparently convinced of this, they vanished into the departing crowds after muttering a few dark threats, leaving my cherubic face intact.
     ‘75 again, and my music, swimming and Martial Arts sessions were no more, but the private lessons continued, mainly with a young academic called Mark who lived alone but for several black cats in long time Rock star haven Richmond-on-Thames. He was a quiet slim young man with long darkish curly hair who, as well as being a private tutor, was a successful session musician who went on to play drums for a prestigious British Folk Rock band.
     Mark, who specialised in the French Symbolist poets, exerted a strong influence on me in terms of my growing passion for European literature and Modernist culture. However, 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, Machado, Lorca, and others.
     He was also an early encourager of my writing, a lifelong passion that was ultimately to degenerate into a chronic case of cacoethes scribendi, or the irresistible compulsion to write. As a result of this, I became incapable of finishing a single cohesive piece of writing until well into the eighties when I managed to complete a short story and a novel both of which have since been destroyed but for a few fragments.
     It was largely through Mark that I came under the spell of the Berlin of the Weimar Republic of 1919 to 1933:
     After I'd expressed interest in a copy of one of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin novels, "Mr Norris Changes Trains", conspicuously placed in front of me on his desk, he told me in animated tones that it had inspired the 1972 movie version of the Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret”. In fact, while a work of art in its own right written for the screen by Jay Allen, and directed by former dancer Bob Fosse, "Cabaret" had been largely informed by Isherwood's only other Berlin story, "Goodbye to Berlin".
      Seeing "Cabaret" later on that year was a life-transforming experience for me, one of only a handful brought about by a film, and the beginning of a near-obsessive preoccupation with the Berlin of the Weimar era, which has been likened by some cultural critics to the contemporary West; and it could be said that much of what's happened to the West since the end of the second world war was to some degree foreshadowed by the still horrifying decadence of post-war Berlin, which begs the question, why?
    Part of the reason may lie in the fact that more than any other nation of the late 18th and early 19th Century, the blessed cradle of the Reformation had played host to a school of Biblical exegesis known as Higher Criticism, which flagrantly, not to say blasphemously, attacked the authenticity of the Scriptures. What's more, late 19th century Europe had witnessed a major occult revival which significantly impacted several of its great nations including Britain, France...and Germany.
     These two vital factors surely contributed to the terribly debilitated condition of Christianity in Germany in the years leading up to, and including the implementation of, the Third Reich in 1933.
     By the onset of the '20s, crushed by war debt and blighted by urban violence between mutually hostile right and left wing factions, Germany stood on the precipice of disaster. However, some kind of reprieve came with an increase of affluence in 1923, at which point Berlin's Golden Age began, and she became the undisputed world epicentre of artistic and intellectual foment. Under her auspices, great artistic freedom thrived in the shape of, among other phenomena, the painters of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement such as Beckmann, Dix and Grosz, Berg's ground-breaking opera "Wozzek", as well as the staccato cabaret-style music of Kurt Weill, Fritz Lang's dystopian "Metropolis", the provocative dancing of Cabaret Queen Anita Berber and so on.
     However, Weimar Berlin remains best known for its notorious sexual liberalism, as seen in pictorial and photographic depictions of the cabarets and night clubs in which license and intoxication flourished unabated which still have the power to shock. Given that several other Western cities in the twenties were hardly less hysterically dissolute than Berlin, it's little wonder that this key Modernist decade has been described by some critics as the beginning of the end of Western civilisation. In its wake came the Second World War, the collapse of the greatest empire in history, and the rise of the Rock and Roll youth and drug culture, which could be said to be the very triumph of Western decadence.

    The Tears of a Woman

    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 to Amsterdam, via Edinburgh and St. Malo, on a three-masted topsail schooner TS Sir Francis Drake of the Society for the Training of Young Seafarers, founded in 1956 for the character development of young people aged 16 to 25 through the crewing of traditional tall ships.
     Among my shipmates were my 17 year old brother, several young men from Scotland and the north of England, 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 of Welbourne.
     It was an all-male crew, and I was quite well-liked at first although my popularity cooled in time. I kept a few pals though. One guy in particular stayed a good friend after we'd tried to impress a couple of girls together during our brief stay in St Malo. He was a small cherubic southerner with long dark hair worn shoulder length like the young Jack Wilde. I got on OK with a few of the others, and some were merely indifferent, but 'Jack' was Drake's true prince.
     He helped me out on one occasion when I desperately needed him to, bless his baby-faced soul. I'd fallen hard for one of the girls, and was wandering around in a mournful daze after having failed to pluck up the courage to ask her for her address, when Jack handed me a piece of paper with it on. It transpired she’d scrawled it down just before leaving us, and I was drunk with relief at the news, 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. Jack saved my hide.
     Life on the Sir Francis Drake was no luxury cruise. There were heavy storms, and on more than one occasion, we were ordered out of our hammocks in the middle of the night to help trim the sails. I never took any part in this, although I did climb the rigging, just once, before we came into the port of Amsterdam. Dozens of us manned the yard arms, attached to these by our safety belts alone. I was determined to do it, even though the experience terrified me so much my legs shook throughout.
     The Dutch capital was marked by the same kind of open sexual licence I'd witnessed only the year before in Hamburg, although it seemed to me to lack the German city’s sinister vibrancy. Then - doubtless just as today - the sad De Wallen red-light district was filled to the brim with hundreds of little illuminated one-room apartments, each with a single woman sitting in clear view of onlookers plying 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. Of course, I completely ignored his advice, and, 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.
     Within a few weeks of returning to London by train from Edinburgh, my brother and I were setting off again, this time as part of what is known as the Mariners' Club of Great Britain.
     We set sail towards the Baltic coast of Denmark by way of Germany's famous Kiel Canal, and 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, utilising modern yachts rather than traditional tall ships. The captain himself was a lovable bearded larger than life true character with a weakness for freaking out to John Kongos' "He's Gonna Step on You Again", which we both did on at least once occasion as I recall.
     My brother and I were quick to recruit a nice young guy called Cy as our best pal and confidante for the trip. It turned out we’d actually met him some ten years previously while passing through Calpe, Spain, either on our way to or from my grandmother’s home on the Costa Brava.  Soon after setting foot on Danish soil we got talking to a couple of girls who, as might be expected, had natural golden blonde hair. Our efforts at romance were wholly innocuous, despite the reputation Scandinavia had for progressive sexual attitudes.
     A less pleasant romantic episode took place towards the end of the trip, which saw me in pursuit of a pretty German girl called Ulrike. I was crazy for her, and she made it pretty clear she liked me too, and yet I'd senselessly dumped her for the sake of a night of drunken idiocy with my brother and Cy, 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 the Kiel Canal.
      I wrote to Ulrike, but she never replied, 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 in this same year of '75 that 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 Stirling, 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 putting the final touches to my toilette in front of a handy mirror when one of the guys I was sharing a dorm with felt it necessary to remind me that I wasn't at a fashion show. He wasn't going to be coming along with me that night to the disco, or any night for that matter, but you couldn’t fault his dedication.
     Two guys eventually did agree to keep me company on one of the nights we spent at Stirling, but they didn't really seem all that keen. As things turned out, they left me alone at a Gosport disco to return to the Sultan for an early night. When I got back myself, I was shocked to discover that Stirling'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, and I can remember passing through an officer's mess soon afterwards and briefly exchanging pleasantries with its airily affable occupants. English gentlemen of the old school, they of course 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.
     One of the last notable incidents of the year took place in December, when dressed in all-white with a fawn raincoat I took my friend Norma, one of the Thames Division Wrens, but originally from the north of England, to a dinner dance at London's Walford Hilton Hotel. We were joined there by a couple of Norma'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 earlier. What united them was that they behaved with special protectiveness and affection towards me, and I've never forgotten them for it.
     Early on in the evening, Norma 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 raillery, but she 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 pronounced London accents. It was kind of her to say so, but I think her judgement was way off the mark, bless her soul, because with them, what you saw is what you got, and if it wasn't always pretty, at least it was honest.



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    Wed, Jun 20th - 5:31AM

    The Gambolling Baby Boomers



    Radiguet.jpg Child on beach, England

    Introduction (to The Boy from the Tail End of the Goldhawk Road)

    “The Boy from the Tail End of the Goldhawk Road” is, unlike Carl Halling's previous work, “When Compared to the Fathomless Joy Awaiting”, very much not a Best Of of his  writing.
     In fact, it's little more than a collection of leftovers or secondary pieces, beginning with the already much documented memoir, “Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child”, which was written, approximately, between early 2006 and late 2008. But which has been subject to some revision since, such as recently, for inclusion in this collection. While “The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties” is an earlier version of the “Rescue”, which like the “Rescue” was recently been part of a collection called “At the Tail End of the Goldhawk Road”.


    Book One

    Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child

    Introduction

    "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child" is a memoir which I've elected to call an experiment in memoir composition in the form of a novella from which so many of my subsequent writings have arisen. And while it’s been largely untouched since its initial "definitive" publication, modifications have been made, including the alteration of many personal and place names in the sacred name of privacy. I’ve tended to avoid the use of personal names, with the exception of deceased persons, as well as family members, and those I consider to be public figures.

    Chapter One – The Gambolling Baby Boomer

    Birth of a Rock and Roll Child

    I was born a Londoner at the tail end of a street to the west of the city, a street called Goldhawk Road, and my first home was a little Victorian cottage in the long-demolished Bulmer Place in Notting Hill. You'll search in vain for this poky little street in any London map, although you’ll still be able to locate a Bulmer Mews tucked away some yards away from the main road of Notting Hill Gate.
     On the day I was born, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, radical psychologist RD Laing, controversial war hero Colonel Oliver North, Laurel Canyon songstress Judee Sill, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, and Russian politician Vladimir Putin celebrated their 58th, 28th, 13th, 11th and 3rd birthdays respectively, while Beat poet Amiri Baraka, left-wing revolutionary Ulrike Meinhof, and Falklands War commander Major Julian Thompson all hit 21.
     What’s more, it was marked by an event which had a colossal if largely unrecognised influence on the evolution of our culture, one known as the Six Gallery reading, or Six Angels in the same Performance.
     On the evening of the 7th of October 1955, about 150 people gathered at San Francisco's Six Gallery to witness readings of poems by Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Whalen, Phillip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder, all of whom went on to be leading lights of the Beat Generation. As to the future King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac, he attended but didn't read, preferring to cheerlead instead in a state of ecstatic inebriation. His "On the Road" published two years later, and dealing with his wanderings across America with his muse and friend Neal Cassady, remains Beat's most famous ever work.
     After the Six Gallery reading, the Beat movement, which had existed in embryonic form since about 1944, left the underground to become an international craze. Thence, the Beatnik took his place as a universally recognised icon with his beret, goatee beard, turtle-neck sweater and sandals.
     1955 was also the year in which Rock and Roll made its first major impact on the mainstream as a result of record successes by R&B artists such as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. However, it's "The Blackboard Jungle", which, released on the 20th of March, is widely with igniting the Rock and Roll revolution, indeed late 20th Century teenage rebellion as a whole. It did so by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' cover of Sonny Dae and his Knights'"Rock Around the Clock" over the film's opening credits. Haley's version, which was remarkable for its earth-shaking sense of urgency, ensured the world would never be the same after it. Then in August, Sun Records released a long playing record entitled "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", featuring a young truck driver from the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi.  He went on to become Rock's single most influential figure apart from the Beatles.
     On the 30th of September, James Dean died in hospital following a motor accident aged 23 after having made only three films, the greatest of which, Nicholas Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause" emerged about a month afterwards. It could be said to be the motion picture industry's defining elegy to the sensitivity and rebelliousness of youth, with Dean its most beautiful and tortured icon ever. As such, his image has never dated, nor been surpassed. The modern cult of youth was born in the mid 1950s.
     Many theories exist as to how the staid conformist fifties could have yielded as if by magic to the wild Dionysian sixties, some convincing, others less so. For me, if a little leaven is present in a theory for me it leavens, or spoils, the entire lump, even when much of it may be sound. Far from being a sudden, unexpected event, the post-war cultural revolution has historical roots reaching at least as far back as the so-called Enlightenment, since which time the West has been consistently assailed by tendencies hostile to its Judeo-Christian moral fabric. That said, its true source was the Serpent's false promise to Eve that through defiance of the Creator she and Adam could be as gods, knowing good and evil, which is at the heart of all vain, humanistic philosophy.
     What happened in the 1960s was simply the culmination of many decades of activity on the part of revolutionaries and avant-gardists, which had been especially intensive since the First World War. Even Rock, a music which the American evangelist John MacArthur once described as having a bombastic atonality and dissonance was foreshadowed at its most experimental by the so-called "emancipation of the dissonant" brought about by Classical composers of various Modernist schools.
     Still, for all the change that raged around me in the sixties, my own little world of the leafy suburbs of outer west London was an idyllic one which had hardly changed from the day that I was born when the spirit of Victorian morality could be said to have been yet more or less intact in Britain.
     My brother was born two and a half years later, by which time my parents had been able to afford their own house in Bedford Park in what was then the London Borough of Acton. Built by Norman Richard Shaw, Bedford Park was the world's first Garden Suburb. By the 1880s, it was a Bohemian centre for intellectuals and artistic free-thinkers its residents going on to include most famously the great Anglo-Irish poet WB Yeats. The painter Arthur Pinero was another resident; as was the actress Florence Farr, who like Yeats was deeply involved in mysticism and the occult.
     Some time after the dawn of the next century, the area had declined to the extent that bus conductors would allegedly shout out "Poverty Park!" when their vehicles came to a halt at the local stop. However, the foundation, in 1963, of the Bedford Park Society led to the listing of 356 houses by the government, and so, much of the estate becoming part of the Bedford Park Conservation Area. During my boyhood it was still demographically mixed, yet well on the way to becoming completely gentrified.
     Future Who front man Roger Daltry had relocated there from inner West London when he was 11 years old in 1955 or '56. A few years later, he formed a group in the Skiffle - or Jug Band - style called The Detours. Once it had shape-shifted into The Who, its furiously hedonistic music and philosophy would go on to make a permanent impression on the Western psyche and help fuel the British Invasion of America.
     
    Tales of Tasmania and Manitoba

    By the time we moved to Bedford Park, My father had been working steadily as a Classical violinist for some years, and so was in a position to ensure that my brother and I enjoy a far more stable childhood than his had ever been.
     He'd been born Patrick Clancy Halling in Rowella, Tasmania, and raised in Sydney as the son of a Danish father, Carl Christian Halling, and an English mother, whom we always knew as Mary, although she’d come into the world as Phyllis Mary Pinnock possibly in the Dulwich area of south London sometime around the turn of the 20th Century.
     She grew into a lovely young woman, with dark almost black hair, green eyes, high cheekbones and a most delicately sculpted mouth; but with great beauty come great expectations, and also sometimes great sorrows too. They certainly did in the case of Phyllis, who lost the first love of her life in the First World War, who – evidently serving as an airman in what may have been the Royal Flying Corps – was shot down, possibly over France like so many others of his generation. However, she wasn’t fated to remain single for long, for soon after losing her fiancé, she wed one Peter Robinson, an officer in the British Army, and they had two children in quick succession, Peter Bevan, and Suzanne, known as Dinny.
     According to Mary's sister Joan, their maternal grandmother's maiden name had been Butler, 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. If Joan was right then I'm related by blood to many of the most prominent royal and aristocratic figures in history, perhaps even all of them. These would include her namesake Lady Joan FitzGerald, daughter of James Butler the first Earl of Ormonde, and alleged ancestress of Diana, Princess of Wales. Lady Joan herself was the granddaughter of Edward the 1st of the House of Plantagenet, who was not only the infamous “Hammer of the Scots", but the king who expelled all the Jews from England. Her mother, Eleanor de Bohun, was descended from Charlemagne, the greatest of all the Carolingian Kings, the Merovingians and Carolingians being two dynasties of Frankish rulers who supposedly upheld the divine right of kings. He may also have been Merovingian through his great-grandmother, Bertrada of Prum.
     At some point between Peter’s birth and that of his younger brother Patrick, she travelled with her husband to Ceylon - now Sri Lanka - in order that they might both work as planters on the famous Ceylonese plantations. There she met the aforesaid Carl Halling. What followed next I can't say for sure but I've been led to believe that at some point after becoming pregnant with her third child, Phyllis went to live with Carl on the island of Tasmania. There my father was born in the beautiful Tamar Valley near the capital city of Launceston. By this time, his parents were working as apple farmers; or so I can recall his telling me.
     However, Pat was raised not in Tasmania but the great city of Sydney, New South Wales, which is where poor Carl contracted the terrible wasting disease of multiple sclerosis. After this, Phyllis made some kind of living as a journalist and teacher, variously writing for the Sydney Telegraph, and running her own elementary school. In the meantime, Carl underwent a desperate search for a miracle cure, which at one point led him to an involvement with the Christian Science sect. Sadly, his quest was futile, and he died just before the outbreak of World War II. According to his wishes, he was buried in his native Denmark.
     All three children had earlier displayed considerable musical talent, Patrick as violinist, Peter as cellist and Suzanne as pianist. Pat has told me that he was only around nine years old, and a student at the Sydney Conservatorium, when he served on one occasion as soloist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a pretty impressive feat for one so young.
     Soon after Carl’s burial, Mary set off for London with her three children in order that they might further develop their musical careers. Pat studied at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and 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.
     By this time, my mother, the former Miss Ann Watt, was already a highly accomplished and successful singer of both classical and light music, notably with Vancouver's legendary Theatre Under the Stars.
     She'd been born Angela Jean Elisabeth Watt in the city of Brandon, Manitoba on the 13th of November 1915. However, while still an infant she'd moved with her parents and four siblings to the Grandview area of east Vancouver. Grandview's earliest settlers were usually tradesmen or shopkeepers, in shipping or construction work, and largely of British origin. My own grandfather James Watt, who worked variously as a builder and electrician, had been born in the little town of Castlederg in County Tyrone, Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
     Her mother, Elizabeth Hazeldine, was from Glasgow, Scotland, having been born there to an English father from either Liverpool or Manchester, and a Scottish mother. She was the youngest of six siblings, and while she was alone among her immediate family not to have been born in Britain, she was also the only one to seek permanent residency in the mother country.
     Within a short time of arriving, she met my father through their shared profession, and they married in the summer of 1948. Seven years later, they decided to have their first child, and so I was born a Londoner, Carl Robert Halling at 3.50 in the afternoon of Friday the 7th of October.

    A Child’s West London

    I was an articulate and sociable kid from the word go, walking, talking early just like my dad before me, but agitated, unable to rest, what they might call hyperactive today.
     My first school was a kind of nursery school held locally on a daily basis at the private residence of a lady named Miss Pearson, and then aged 4 years old, I joined the exclusive Lycée Francais du Sud Kensington, situated in the fabulously opulent West London area of South Kensington, where I was to become bilingual by the age of four or thereabouts. 
     Almost every race and nationality under the sun was to be found in the Lycée in those days... and among those who went on to be good pals of mine were kids of English, French, Jewish, American, Yugoslavian and Middle Eastern origin.     
     My father was far from wealthy, but he was determined that my brother and I enjoy the best and richest education imaginable, and we were dressed in lederhosen with our heads shorn like convicts, so that we be distinguished from the common run of British boys with their short back and sides, and to this end, he worked, toiled incessantly to ensure that we did.
     At some stage in the early 1960s, I became a problem both at school and home, a disruptive influence in the class, and a trouble-maker in the streets, an eccentric loon full of madcap fun and half-deranged imaginativeness whose unusual physical appearance was enhanced by a striking thinness and enormous long-lashed blue eyes. Less charmingly, I was also the kind of deliberately malicious little hooligan who'd remove a paper from a neighbour's letter-box, and then mutilate it before re-posting it.
     The era’s famous social and sexual revolution was well under way, and yet for all that, seminal Pop groups such as the Searchers and the Dave Clark Five - even the Beatles themselves – were quaint and wholesome figures in a still innocent England.  They fitted in well in a nation of Norman Wisdom pictures and the well-spoken presenters of the BBC Home or Light Service, of coppers, tanners and ten bob notes, sweet shops and tuppeny chews.
     Beatlemania invaded my world in 1963, and I first announced my own status as a Beatlemaniac at the Lycée in that landmark year. It was the very year, I think, that I took an intense dislike to an American kid called Rick, who later became my friend. I used to attack him for no reason at all other than to assert my superiority over him. One day, he finally flipped and gave me a rabbit punch in the stomach, but he wasn't punished, perhaps because the teacher had a strong idea I'd started the trouble in the first place.
     By the end of the year, a single new group had started threatening the Beatles' position as my favourite in the world. They were the Rolling Stones; although my initial reaction to what I saw as a rough and sullen performance of Buddy Holly’s "Not Fade Away" on TV, was one of bitter disappointment. But before long, I'd become utterly entranced by these martyrs to the youth movement, and during a musical discussion I can remember having in about 1965 with some of the new breed of English roses, who may or may not have been flaunting mod girl fringes and kinky boots, I proudly announced my undying fealty. One of the girls was a Fab Four loyalist and had the requisite seraphic smile, while another preferred the Animals, and acted cooler than the rest of us, as if those Geordie bluesmen were somehow superior to mere Pop acts like the Beatles and the Stones.
     During this golden era, I divided my time between the Lycée and my West London stomping ground, and from a very young age, took Judo classes in South Kensington. It was there that one of my teachers, a former British international who’d fought in the first ever World Judo championships in Japan, once despairingly said that he always knew it was Saturday once he’d heard my voice. Some of the other kids knew me as Alley Cat, and it was a pretty apt name for such a feral child.
     Later, I took classes at a club in the somewhat rougher district of Hammersmith, but if I thought I was going to raise Cain there I had another thing coming, given that its owner was a one-time captain of the British international team who'd served as an air gunner with 83 squadron during World War II. He later held Judo classes in Stalag 383.
     I went on to study Karate there in the early 1970s, and was still doing so as late as 1973, when I got it into my head that I no longer wished to have anything to do with anything martial, precious blooming aesthete that I was.
     For all that, I was rarely happier than on those Wednesday evenings, when I attended the 20th Chiswick Wolf Cub pack and I was less of a menace there than pretty well anywhere else I can think of.
     Memories such as the solemnity of my enrolment, and being helped up a tree by an older cub to secure my Athletics badge, stayed with me for many years afterwards, as did the times I won my first star, and my swimming badge, with its peculiar frog symbol, as well as the pomp and the seriousness of a mass meeting I attended, with its different coloured scarves, sweaters and hair, and the tears I shed afterwards, despite the kindness of the older cockney kids who were so eager to help me find my way back home to Chiswick High Road.
     There was a point in the mid 1960s when I was dubbed  "le Général " by a long-suffering form teacher at the Lycée in consequence of what she presumably perceived as my dominance in the playground with regard to a tight circle of friends, and my tongue-in-cheek superciliousness in the classroom. This typically saw me at the back of the class leaning against the wall pretending to smoke a fat cigar like a Chicago tough guy. One thing is certain is that I was not above organising elaborate playground deceptions.
     One of these involved me pretending to banish one of my best friends, Bobby, from whatever activity we had going on at the time. He played along by putting on a superb display of water works, which had the desired effect of arousing the tender mercies of some of the girls. They duly rounded on me for my hard-heartedness, but I refused to budge. Of course it was all a big joke, and Bobby and I had never been closer.
     I can remember going around to his house to lounge on his bed, watching "The Baron" or "Adam Adamant", before staying the night at the central London home he shared with his American father, a gentle melancholy widower who’d been very much in love with his English wife. In '67, he spent a week with me in the wilds of Wales as part of a course known as the Able Boys. This was a combination of a simple sailing school and what could be termed outward bound activities which involved us living in tents and cooking our own food under the supervision of "mates". I spent one week there with Bobby, and another with my cousin Rod.
     If I was Le Général at the Lycée, back home I saw myself as the leader of the kids whose houses backed onto the dirty alley that ran parallel to our side of the Esmond Road in those days but has almost certainly vanished by now.
     One fateful day, I crossed the road to announce a feud with the kids of the clean alley, so-called because unlike ours it was concreted over rather than being just a dirt track. It was to cost me dear. Soon after the feud had thawed I went over to pal around with some of the clean alley kids who I now saw as my allies, but there must have still been some bad blood because before long a scrap was under way and I was getting the worst of it. Finally I agreed to leave, and as I shamefully cycled off, one of the clean alley kids kicked my bike, which squeaked all the way home in unison with great heaving sobs. 
     If my good mate, local tough Paulie, had been with me on that afternoon in the clean alley, it’s likely I would never have had to suffer as I did. Paulie lived virtually opposite us in Bedford Park, but he was from another dimension altogether. He was a skinny cockney kid with muscles like pure steel who seems to me today to have been born to wage war on the bomb sites of post-war London. For some reason, he became devoted to me; "Carly", he'd always cry when he wanted my attention, and he'd always be welcome at our house even though this brought my family some opprobrium within the neighbourhood. One of my mother's closest friends warned her of my association with Paulie as if genuinely concerned I might end up going to the bad, but he was a good kid at heart, and one of my dearest memories from my long gone days as a London alley cat.
     
    Wicked Cahoots
     
    When he made
    his first personal appearance
    in the dirty alley
    on someone else's rusty bike,
    screaming along
    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..."
    Wicked cahoots.

    This Glam Rock Nation

    In September 1968, while still only 12 years old, I became the youngest cadet at the Nautical College, Welbourne, a naval college situated near a little Thameside village in the county of Berkshire. This probably made me the youngest serving officer in the entire Royal Navy at the time.
     Founded in 1919, she was still known by her original title, but by 1969 this had been abbreviated to Welbourne 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 Welbourne providing the hardships both of a military college and a traditional English boarding school. In 1996, she became fully co-educational.
     The Welbourne 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 punished.
     I'm indebted to Welbourne 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 Welbourne, 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, and that’s especially true of the Marxist revolutionary leader, Che Guevara.
     In 1970, we moved from Bedford Park to a little industrial suburb close to the Surrey-London border. Our own street was quite gentrified, and several of my parents' closest friends were people from working class districts such as Shepherd's Bush and Notting Hill who'd made a success of their lives and so moved further out into the western suburban sprawl.
     I finally left Welbourne in the summer of '72, after a decision had been made involving my poor dad and those directly responsible for me at the college.
     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. For my part, I couldn't wait to get to grips with the dismal new decade even if for the first two years or so, I'd despised commercial chart Pop, being of the Hard and Progressive school, and so a recent devotee of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, ELP, and Yes, et al. But I was changing, and for better or worse, this was going to be my era.
     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 former enemy, I became entranced by their hysterical brand of epicene heterosexuality; and especially bassist Steve Priest, who flirted with out and out cross-dressing...evidently as a means of taunting the audience.
     Several months later, David Bowie appeared on the chat show Russell Harty Plus in January 1973 with his eyebrows shaved off and sporting a glittering chandelier earring, and my devotion to the strange culture taking over the land making even former skinheads want to grow their hair like the idol of Arsenal Charlie George became total.
     So many of the popular songs of the era were like football chants set to a stomping Glam Rock beat. It 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.
     At the same time, I was launched by my dad on an intensive programme of self-improvement. 
     Through home study and with the help of local private tutors, I set about making up for the fact that I'd left school 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.
     I took Karate classes in Hammersmith, and among my fellow students were hard-looking young men - some of them flaunting classic ‘70s feather cuts - who may have been led to the dojo by the prevailing fashion for all things Eastern, such as the films of Bruce Lee, and the  "Kung Fu" television series.
     There were swimming lessons at the Walton Swimming Pool, where I fell hard for a beautiful elfin girl with a close crop hairstyle which made her look a little like a skinhead girl. I think she beckoned to me once to come and be with her but I just stood there as if frozen to the spot. My heart wasn't in the swimming though, and this soon became clear to one of the teachers who asked me why I was even bothering to turn up.
     I was taught the basics of the Rock guitar solo by a shy middle-aged man whose old-fashioned short back and sides and baggy trousers belied a deep love of the rebel music of Rock and Roll. I probably learned more about music Rock from him than anyone alive or dead, with the possible exception of a Welbourne friend, whose songs I stole with their simple chord progressions, which went from C to A minor, and then to F and on to G and then back again to C and so on.
     In late '72, I joined the Thames Division of the Royal Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, attending classes once a week on HMS Ministry on the Embankment, and not long afterwards, it became clear to me that I'd been singled out for my budding pretty boy looks. I think this came as a bit of a surprise, but I was flattered rather than offended, as if a seed of narcissism had somehow become implanted within me in late adolescence. I can only wonder what effect this had on my healthy development as a normal male human being.
     It's not that I wasn't aware of being good-looking before '72, because there had been the occasional comment about my looks on the part of female friends of the family for some years, and I'd even been made aware of being handsome as a very young boy by some of the Lycée girls. However, none of this had ever really registered with me, because I'd always been a typical feisty ruffian of a boy in a lot of ways. Having said that though, I was dreamy and imaginative to an extreme degree, which points to what would today be termed a feminine side, and I’d never gone through a phase of finding girls drippy or whatever.  In fact, from as far back as I can remember I'd been prone to falling hopelessly in love with them, especially if they were somehow unattainable to me.
     What's more, I was a born romantic, cherishing a grossly sentimental streak all throughout my teens that placed me somewhat at odds with my peers. While still only about fifteen and pretty thuggish for the most part, I was yet susceptible to notorious tear-jerkers such as "South Pacific"…whose movie version I saw at the flicks at the tender age of 15.
     British director John Schlesinger's screen adaptation of the uber-romantic Thomas Hardy novel, "Far from the Madding Crowd", was another film that affected me very deeply indeed…too deeply perhaps for an adolescent boy, and it may have been partly responsible for an obsession with lost love and high romantic tragedy that remains with me to this day.
     I’d an almost mawkish side to my character even as an adolescent, and this must surely have exerted some kind of influence on the course of my life, but in no way was I a typical delicate sheltered milquetoast, far from it. For this reason, to realise that I was perceived by certain other men as a pretty boy genuinely took me back, and I hadn’t seen it coming, although – and I can't emphasise this enough - it was a source of fascination to me, not shame.
     The cult of androgyny was a powerful force in Britain in the early ‘70s, having been incubated first by Mod and then Flower Child culture, as well as Rock acts such as the Stones, the Kinks, Alice Cooper, T. Rex and David Bowie. Furthermore, it was reinforced in the cinema by several movies featuring angelically beautiful men. And yet, I think it's fair to say you still took your life into your own hands if you chose to parade around like a Glam Rock star in the mean streets of London or any other major British city – to say nothing of the countryside - and therefore few did.
     One of my big heroes as a boy had been all-American actor Steve McQueen, who incarnated an uncompromising tough guy cool. And yet in '73, several of my new idols could be said to have been "prettier than most chicks", as T. Rex kingpin Marc Bolan once described himself. I can only wonder what effect this had on my healthy development as a normal male human being.
     I fantasised about fame and adulation as a Rock and Roll or movie star as never before throughout the Glam era, and built an image based on David Bowie, spiking my hair like him, and even peroxiding it at some point. Not surprisingly then, I didn't fit in in new home town as well as my brother, who was far more suited to the area than me with his strong cockney accent and laddish ways. He wasted little time in becoming part of a local youth scene centred mainly around football, traditional sport of the British working classes.
      For my part, I came into my own in Spain, or rather the Mar Menor, a large coastal lake of warm saltwater off Murcia's Costa Calida in southeastern Spain, 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 large ever-evolving 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.
     What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change when everything seemed to be mine for the knowing and the tasting in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged on my behalf only a few years before; but there was a high price to be paid for all that gambolling.



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    About Me

    Name: Carl Halling
    ChristiansUnite ID: carlhalling
    Member Since: 2008-07-01
    Location: London, United Kingdom
    Denomination: Born Again Christian
    About Me: Born Again Bible Believing Christian Writer, Actor, Singer, Songwriter. Born London. Born Again 1993.

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