• Register
  • Login
  • Forgot Password?
  • My Profile
  • Choose An Icon
  • Upload An Icon
  • Messenger
  • Member Search
  • Who's Online
    Members: 1601

    ONLINE:
    Members: 0
    Anonymous: 3
    Today: 8
    Newest Member:
    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.

    Fri, Nov 21st - 1:55PM

    1 The Gambolling Baby Boomer



    Birth of a Rock and Roll Child

    I was born Friday 7 October 1955 at the tail end 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. 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 - significantly perhaps - declined to the extent that bus conductors would shout out "Poverty Park!" when their vehicles stopped on the Bath Road. However, the foundation in 1963 of the Bedford Park Society led first to the government's listing of 356 houses, and then much of the estate becoming part of the Bedford Park Conservation Area. During my boyhood it was still demographically quite mixed, but well on the way to being completely gentrified.
     By '63, I'd been at South Kensington’s French Lycée for about four years and my brother (born on the 2cnd of May 1958) had since joined me there. The sixties' social and sexual revolution was already 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 who fitted in well in a still innocent Britain of Norman Wisdom pictures and well-spoken presenters on the BBC Home or Light Service, of coppers, tanners and ten bob notes, sweet shops and tuppeny chews. It wasn't until the Rolling Stones achieved national infamy that the new Pop they'd first called Beat started to present a serious challenge to the moral establishment of the UK, and so perhaps start to evolve into the far more threatening music of Rock.
     On the day I was born - 7 October 1955 - Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad reached the age of 58, and Scottish psychologist RD Laing, 28, while Beat poet Amira Baraka, revolutionary leader Ulriche Meinhof and Falklands hero Major Julian Thompson all hit 21. The future Colonel Oliver North celebrated his 12th birthday, Judee Sill her 13th, Paul Weyrich his 8th, Vladimir Putin his 3rd.
     It was a day marked by an event which had a colossal if largely unrecognised influence on the evolution of our culture, when at San Franciso's Six Gallery about 150 people gathered to witness readings of poems by Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Whalen, Phillip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder. All went on to be leading lights of the Beat Generation, as did Jack Kerouac, the shy Canuck from Lowell, Massachusetts, who attended but didn't read, preferring to cheerlead 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, with the Beatnik taking 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 assaulted the mainstream thanks to hits by Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and others, although it's "The Blackboard Jungle", which, released on the 20th of March, is widely credited with igniting the Rock' n' Roll revolution, indeed late 20th Century teenage rebellion as a whole. It did so by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock", over the film's opening credits. Originally a rather conventional blues-based song recorded by Sonny Dae and his Knights, Haley's version, which was remarkable for its earth-shaking sense of urgency, ensured the world would never be the same after it. In August Sun Records released a long playing record entitled "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", featuring the so-called King of the Western Bop who 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 my 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 Judaeo-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, especially since the First World War. Even Rock, a music which the celebrated American evangelist John MacArthur once described as having a bombastic atonality and dissonance was foreshadowed at its most experimental by the 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 was still more or less intact in Britain.

    Tales of Tasmania, Manitoba (and a Child's West London)

    By the time we moved to Bedford Park, My father had several successful years as a classical violinist under his belt, 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 one Carl Halling from Denmark, and an English mother, the formidable Mary. She came into the world as Phyllis Mary Pinnock possibly in the Dulwich area of south London and sometime around the turn of the 20th Century, but she was always known as Mary to my parents, brother and I.
     According to Mary's sister Joan, her 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 grandaughter of Edward the 1st of the House of Plantagenet - who was "The Hammer of the Scots", and the king who expelled the Jews from England - while her mother Eleanor de Bohun was descended from Charlemagne, the greatest of all the Carolingian Kings who may have been Merovingian through his great-grandmother, Bertrada of Prum, the Merovingians and the Carolingians being two dynasties of Frankish rulers who supposedly upheld the divine right of kings.

    Mary grew into a beautiful young woman, with dark hair, green eyes, high cheekbones and an exquisitely sculpted mouth. After losing her fiancé in the First World War, she married an army officer, one PW, and they had two children in quick succession, Peter Bevan, and Suzanne, known as Dinny.
     At some point between Peter’s birth and that of his younger brother Patrick, she travelled with her husband to Ceylon - now Sri Lanka – in order that they might both work as tea planters. There she met a Dane with a deep love and knowledge of the spiritual traditions of the East, the mysterious 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, Mary went to live with Carl on the island of Tasmania where my father was born in Rowella in the Tamar Valley near Launceston, Carl and Mary apparently now working as apple pickers. I should add at this point that everything I know about Mary’s early life I have learned from her younger son, and so I am counting on him for its accuracy.

     However, Pat was largely raised – as Carl’s son - in Sydney, New South Wales, where poor Carl contracted the terrible disease of multiple sclerosis…after which Mary made some kind of living as a journalist and teacher, writing for the Sydney Telegraph at some point, and running her own school. In the meantime, Carl underwent a desperate spiritual search for a miracle cure taking in Mary Baker Eddy's mystical Christian Science sect, but sadly it was all unavailing and he died just before the outbreak of World War II. According to his wishes, he was buried in his native Denmark, although by then he'd allegedly taken out dual citizenship, as had Mary.
     All three children had earlier displayed considerable musical talent, Patrick as a violinist, Peter as a cellist and Suzanne as a pianist. Pat has told me that he was only nine years old – or thereabouts - 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 Watt in the city of Brandon, Manitoba. 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 a builder by trade 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 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, namely Annie-Isabella, Robert, James, Elizabeth (who died in infancy), Catherine and herself, and the only one of her extended family to emigrate to the mother country. She could just as easily have ended up in the US, but a ticket came up for her to travel by boat to the UK and she couldn't resist it.
     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 at the former Goldhawk Road site of Queen Charlotte's Hospital, which has since been moved to nearby Du Cane Road, Shepherds Bush.

    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. Then, at some stage in the early to mid sixties 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.
     I divided my time between the Lycée and my West London stomping ground of Bedford Park, Chiswick, Hammersmith, and soon. From a very young age I took Judo classes at the Budokwai in South Kensington, where one of my teachers, a former British international, said he always knew it was Saturday when he heard Halling's voice. I was known as Alley Cat by the other kids at the Budokwai, after my surname of Halling, and it was a pretty apt name when you think of it. Later, I took classes at the Judokan in 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, later holding Judo classes in Stalag 383. He was a tough but fair man and I went on to study Karate with him, which I was still doing as late as 1973, when I got it into myself that I no longer wished to have anything to do with anything martial, precious budding aesthete that I was.
     I was never happier than on those Wednesday evenings I served as what would today be called a Cub Scout in the 20th Chiswick Wolf Cub pack, where I was less of a menace than pretty well anywhere else. I remember 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.
     Beatlemania came to London in 1963 and I first announced my own status as a Beatlemaniac at the Lycée in that landmark year, the very year I think I took a dislike to an American boy 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 The Rolling Stones started threatening the Beatles' position as my favourite in the world, although I was initially disappointed by what I saw as a rough and sullen performance of "Not Fade Away" on Top of the Pops, having heard so much about them. However, during a musical discussion I can still see in my mind's eye, possibly in '65 with some of the new breed of English roses - who may have been flaunting mod girl fringes, mini-skirts and kinky boots - I proudly announced that the Stones were my favourite group in the world. I loved the way a martyred Mick Jagger sang "Lady Jane" on black and white TV with surly, ever-defiant lips surrounded by frenzied girl slaves as if she was a pagan deity and he her prostrate votary.
     One of the girls was a loyal Beatles fan, another a lover of British Blues band the Animals, and she acted cooler than the rest as if the Animals were somehow superior to mere Pop acts like the Fabs and the Stones. But then Mick and co. had begun as a Blues band too...only to become side-tracked into the world of Pop.

    There was a point in the mid '60s when I was dubbed Le Général by a long-suffering form teacher at the Lycée in consequence of what she perceived as my dominance in the playground with regard to a tight circle of friends, and my tongue-in-cheek superciliousness in the classroom, which typically saw me at the back of the class leaning against the wall pretending to smoke a fat cigar like a Chicago tough guy.
     Certainly, I was not above organising elaborate playground deceptions. One 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 who duly rounded on me for my hard-heartedness; but I refused to budge. Bobby was out. Of course it was all a big joke, and we’d 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, just as he stayed the night at mine; and in '67, by which time my wardrobe included a paisley shirt and a pair of purple cords - to say nothing of the obligatory peaked cap - 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.
     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 boys who I now saw as my allies, but there must have still been some bad blood because before long a scrap was under way between myself and another kid and I was getting the worst of it. Finally I agreed to leave, and as I shamefully cycled off my bike squeaked all the way home in unison with great heaving sobs. 

     If Bedford Park’s number one tough guy had been with me on that afternoon in the clean alley  it’s likely I would never have had to suffer as I did. He lived virtually opposite us in Bedford Park, but he was from another dimension altogether. He was a skinny cockney kid with muscles like 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 - this being his pet name for me - and he'd always be welcome at our house even though this brought my family some disapproval in the neighbourhood, but he had a heart of gold as the piece below makes clear.

     It was based on an autobiographical story about my childhood written in about 1977, as was much of the material above as of the Wolf Cub section. I versified it in the winter of '06, publishing it at the Blogster website on February the 15th. It depicts my first meeting with this soft-centred rough in the dirty alley possibly in about 1965 or '66.

    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 Pangbourne, a naval college situated near the little Thameside village of Pangbourne 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 of the Nautical College Pangbourne, but by 1969 this had been abbreviated to Pangbourne College. However, the boys retained their officer status and spent much of their time in full naval officers' uniform. What's more, naval discipline continued to be enforced, with Pangbourne providing the hardships both of a military college and a traditional English boarding school. In 1996, she became fully co-educational.
     The Pangbourne I knew had strong links to the Church of England, and so was marked by regular if not daily classes in what was known as Divinity, morning parade ground prayers, evening prayers, and compulsory chapel on Sunday morning. If you missed any of these you would have been seriously punished, although not necessarily with the cane. I was heavily disciplined from my very first term, but I'm indebted to Pangbourne for the values it instilled in me if only unconsciously. They were after all the same values that once made Britain strong and great; and yet, by the time I joined Pangbourne, they were under siege as never before by the so-called counterculture. While failing to fully understand the implications of the cultural revolution of the late 1960s, I passionately celebrated its consequences, and took to my heart many of its icons both artistic and political, 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 relatively gentrified, and several of my parents' closest friends were from working class districts of West London such as Shepherd's Bush and Notting Hill who'd since "made good" and so had moved out to the suburbs like my dad.
     I finally left Pangbourne 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, I'd despised the rise of the new commercial chart Pop and its teenybopper 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, 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 Pop programme called “Lift off with Ayesha”, and with all the passion of a former enemy I fell in love with their new camp image, all eye-shadow and glittering outfits and massive stack-heeled boots. Several months later a certain Rock chameleon - David Bowie of course - appeared on the chat show Russell Harty Plus in January 1973 with his eyebrows shaved off and my devotion to the strange culture taking over the land making even former skinheads want to look like 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 at the Judokan in Hammersmith, west London…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 soft-spoken family man whose old-fashioned short back and sides and baggy trousers belied a deep love of the rebel music of Rock and Roll and I probably learned more about music Rock from him than anyone alive or dead, with the possible exception of a Pangbourne friend whose songs I stole with their simple chord progressions...C, A minor, F, G and back again to C and so on.
     In late '72, I joined the London Division of the Royal Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman, attending classes once a week on HMS President on the Embankment, and at some point thereafter, 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 nonetheless was capable of becoming entranced by notorious tear-jerkers such as "South Pacific", which I saw with my mother at the cinema. John Schlesinger's film version of the Thomas Hardy novel "Far from the Madding Crowd", which I saw at Pangbourne, 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, 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, many of my new idols were "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, and the same goes for all of those who worshipped at the altar of Glam.
     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 at all in my new home town, unlike my brother who was far more suited to the area than me with his strong cockney accent and laddish ways, and 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 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 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…

    Sad Loves of a Seafaring Man

    In late summer 1973 the minesweeper HMS Thames 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 fellow OD Dave, who called me only a few years ago from his East London home to talk about old memories, including the time we became trapped by a gang of mangy-looking stray dogs late at night in la Rochelle in 1975 while searching for our ship after a wild night spent with locals at a bar, then a night club.

     Even more recently another good RNR friend, Welshman Rhys, who’d  sailed with Dave and I to La Rochelle by way of the Île de Ré in the summer of 1975,  got in touch with me though the Blogster website. He could have knocked me over with a feather…because the last time I saw Rhys was when I was on my way to the Old Vic as an actor in the summer of 1980, just outside of Waterloo station, I think it was.
     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 good-hearted working class ladies' man of about 23 who was rumoured to be a permanent year long resident of HMS Thames. Mick took me under his wing with a certain intimidating affection, once telling me that 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 spoke with a super-posh accent and 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 below deck during some kind of conference when, after having been asked by an officer what I thought of minesweeping, I replied that it was a gas...another when the ship had been prepared for a major manoeuvre and everyone onboard had retreated to their respective allotted positions, when I was found wandering on deck in a daze only to casually announce that I was taking a stroll. Incidents like these made me an object of good-humoured banter onboard the Thames…where I served as a kind of latter-day Billy Budd but without the seamanship.
     The crew spent its final night together in a night club in the city-port of Portsmouth - known as Pompey - although it might just as easily have been Plymouth. The main attraction was a hyperactive drag artist who tried desperately to keep us entertained with cabaret style numbers sung in a comic falsetto, and bawdy jokes told in a deep rich baritone, but the poor man was hopelessly out of his depth.

     At one point he turned to me - at least I think it was me...I was wearing specs at the time and so trying to make myself scarce - and trilled something along the lines of: "Ooh...you look pretty, what's your name?"

      "Skin!" was what some of the sailors bellowed back...Skin being a nickname I had at the time, perhaps as in "a nice bit of skin" or something along those lines…which of course I was, in fact so much so that when I took it upon myself at a later date to enter a competition on the President which involved my drinking – or rather attempting to drink - a Yard of Ale out of a special slender container, I was barracked by the infamous foul-mouthed drinking song, “Why Was He born So Beautiful?” Good question, when you think about it.

     Some time later, the bearded sailor 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 for the benefit of the entire club, after which an indulgent MC quipped he’d next be appearing on Thames Television…the same bearded sailor who ended the night face down on the table in front of him after having collapsed with a thunderous crash. I don't think he was the last one to do so that night either...

    Back onshore, I resumed my growing passion for all that was louche, bizarre   and decadent in music, art and culture, and yet, more and more in the mid 1970s, 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, of style, luxury and dissolution, such as the London of the Yellow Decade,
    Belle Époque Paris, Jazz Age New York, and most of all Weimar Republic Berlin.
     At some point 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. This came to include a Gatsby style tab-collared shirt, often worn with striped collegiate tie, several cravats and neck scarves, a navy blue blazer from Meakers, and a pair of grey flannel trousers from Simpsons (of Piccadilly), a fair isle short-sleeved sweater as sported by Edward, the Prince of Wales, a belted fawn raincoat straight out of a forties film noir and a pair of caddish brown-and-white co-respondent shoes.
     There were those cutting edge Rock and Pop artists who appeared to share my nostalgic obsessions, such as Sparks and Manhattan Transfer, and Britain's own favourite lounge lizard Bryan Ferry. Much of the latter's work with his band Roxy Music was haunted by the languid cafe and cabaret music of the continent's immediate past. What's more, some of Roxy's followers sported the kind of nostalgic apparel favoured by Ferry himself, but they were rare creatures in mid-seventies London.
     As for me, I wore my bizarre outdated costumes in arrogant defiance of the continuing ubiquity of long hair and flared jeans. In 1975, I 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 greater love of darkness and loss of innocence.
     There was nothing remotely dark, however, about the time I fell in love with a Dutch girl 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 physical appearance, and even had the name to match: Marta.
     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. Over the course of the next few days, I fell ever deeper in love, but I didn't have the courage to make my feelings known to her. This was so typical of me, to assume an attitude of diffident indifference when confronted by something or someone I truly desired. So, once we'd completed our final paper, I allowed her to walk away from me forever with a casual "I might see you around", or some other clich
    é 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, but typically I was powerless to act, and simply stood there like a lovesick loon as the train drew away from the station.

     In time of course my infatuation faded, but even to this day certain songs will recall for me those few weeks in the summer of '74 that I spent in hopeless pursuit of a woman I didn't even know. They include Sweet Soul standards, "I Just Don't Want to be Lonely" by The Main Ingredient, and "Natural High" by Bloodstone, with its pathetic lines: "Why do I keep my mind on you all the time, and I don't even know you, why do I feel this way, thinking about you every day, and I don't even know you..."
     Later on in the summer, having recovered from an irrational adoration of a girl I barely knew, I found myself once again in Santiago de La Ribera by the Mar Menor, a large coastal lake of warm saltwater off Murcia's Costa Calida in southeastern Spain, and the summer of '74 was one of the most blissfully happy summers I spent there. Every afternoon, we used to meet on the balnario - or jetty - facing our apartment on the Mar Menor which was more or less deserted after lunch, that's myself and my brother, and Spanish friends both male and female, to listen to music and talk and laugh and swim and generally enjoy being young and carefree in a decade of endless possibilities.
     To some youthful Spanish eyes back in '74-'76, I appeared as an almost impossibly exotic figure from what must have seemed to them to be the most radical and daring city in Europe, which of course London was. I played up to my racy image to the hilt, where in truth I was barely less sheltered and innocent than they were. There was a change with Franco's passing, and the birth of the so-called Movida, which could be said to be the Spanish and specifically Madridian equivalent of London's Swinging Sixties revolution.
     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 English prince of Santiago de la Ribera had long passed. I was yesterday's man, and I was sad about it, but I couldn't expect to be chased forever. Some people have to actually grow up.

    I returned to London in late summer '74 with a deep tan and hair bleached bright yellow by the sun, and hanging long over my ears and down over my forehead.
     Only days afterwards I found myself on HMS President, moored then as today on the Embankment near Temple station. This involved my passing through Waterloo mainline station, which wasn't tourist-friendly as it is today, with its cafes and baguette bars, but a dingy intimidating place complete with pub and old-style barber. There I was 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 harmless...just a sweet lonely old Scotsman who wanted someone to talk to for a few minutes, which I was happy to do and then move on. It was all very innocent. I even went so far as to agree to a meeting with him the same time the following week, not that I had any intention of keeping it. Besides, it wasn't long before HMS Thames was on its way to Hamburg, second largest city of Germany and its principle port.

     Once we'd arrived, one of the Chiefs - as in Chief Petty Officer - warned me not to wander alone…I mean me personally, what with the way I looked and all. So I joined up with a group of about three or four, and on our first night ashore we set off on a voyage into parts of the city such as the red light district St. Pauli with its infamous Reeperbahn, the so-called "sinful mile" which is lined with restaurants, discos and dives, as well as strip clubs, sex shops, bordellos and so on.
     It was all so different to the quiet outer suburbs where an organised coach trip carried us 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; then a group of breathless giggling schoolgirls asked me to be in some photos with them. I of course said yes, ever happy to oblige, and it was a bit of an ego boost for me, as if I needed one.
     On the way back to the ship, one of the sailors declaimed to all and sundry that Carl been quite a hit with the Hamburg teenyboppers. Another explained that it was because I was blond and blue-eyed…just as Teutonic as them in other words. Whatever the truth, there was something touching about these sweet suburban girls and their simple unaffected joy of life, especially in the light of what girls barely older than they were subjecting themselves to a mere matter of miles away.

    The Triumph of Decadence

    In 1975, I became a student at Brooklands Technical College which lay then as now on the fringes of Weybridge, an affluent outer suburb of south west London. In semi-pastoral Brooklands as in my beloved Santiago de la Ribera, I learned to be a social being after years of near-seclusion, first at Pangbourne and then as a home student. So, attention went on to be a potent narcotic for me in the mid 1970s, but despite constant displays of flamboyant self-confidence, those who tried to get to know to know me on an intimate level found themselves confronted with a desperately diffident and inhibited individual.
     The regular Brooklands 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 one of my great favourites back then, 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 once the music had stopped, possibly intent on a touch of the old ultra-violence; but I stood my ground, insisting that despite what they may have thought I was just as straight as they. Apparently convinced of this, after a few threatening words they vanished into the crowd, my cherubic face intact.
     1975 again...and my music, swimming and Martial Arts sessions were no more, but the private lessons continued, mainly with Mark, a quiet slim young man with darkish curly hair called who lived alone but for several black cats in long time Rock star haven Richmond-on-Thames. He was a musician himself -  as well as an academic - who went on to play drums for a fairly successful Contemporary Folk outfit.
     Mark exerted a strong influence on me in terms of my growing passion for European literature and Modernist culture, having a special feel for French Symbolist poetry, but it was the less known literature of Spain that we studied together, from the anonymous picaresque novel "Lazarillo de Tormes" (1554) onwards, and embracing Quevedo, Galdos, 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 creatively. As a result of it, I was 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 through largely 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 "Norris" had inspired the 1972 movie – directed by former dancer Bob Fosse - of Kander and Ebb's musical "Cabaret". In fact, while a work of art in its own right written for the screen by Jay Allen, "Cabaret" had been largely informed by Isherwood's only other Berlin story, "Goodbye to Berlin", penned in 1939…but referring to incidents that took place between six to eight years earlier. Seeing "Cabaret" later on that year was a life-transforming experience for me, one of only a handful brought about by a film.
     Weimar Republic Berlin 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. Needless to say the Weimar era didn't spring out of nowhere. More than any other nation in the late 18th and early 19th Century Germany, birthplace of Luther and the Reformation, had played host to Higher Criticism, a school of Biblical criticism which flagrantly attacked the authenticity of the Scriptures. Moreover, late 19th century Europe had witnessed a significant occult revival in Britain, in France, but most especially perhaps in Germany. All this 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 extreme 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 which still has the power to shock as seen in pictorial and photographic depictions of the cabarets and night clubs in which license and intoxication flourished unabated. 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 northern France on the three-masted topsail schooner TS Sir Winston Churchill of the Sail Training Association, now known as the Tall Ships Trust. Based in Portsmouth and Liverpool, the TST was founded in 1956 for the character development of young people aged 16 to 25 through the crewing of traditional tall ships, originally Churchill and the SS Malcolm Miller.
     Among my shipmates were, apart from my 17 year old brother, 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 Pangbourne.
     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 a brief stay in France; St Malo, I think it was. He was a small baby-faced southerner with long dark hair worn shoulder length like the young Jack Wilde. I'd boldly put my arm around the one I most fancied, Michelle, and she got a little upset with me.

     Wandering around a little later in a mournful daze and desperate for Michelle's address, 'Jack' gave it to me after she'd scrawled it on a piece of paper either for him or one of the other lads. I was drunk with relief for a while, just walking on air, because there was the danger of me coming down with a serious case of lovesickness had she become lost to me forever. I got on OK with a few of the others, and some were merely indifferent, but 'Jack' was Churchill's true prince.
     Life on the Churchill was no luxury cruise. There were heavy winds…and on more than one occasion, we were ordered out of our hammocks in the middle of the night to help trim the sails...something I never took any part in, which can hardly have helped my reputation. I did climb the rigging though. It just on the one occasion, before we came into the port of Amsterdam, with dozens of us manning the yard arms attached only by safety belts. 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 license I'd witnessed only the year before in Hamburg, although it seemed to me to lack the German city’s sinister vibrancy. Then - 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. I completely ignored his advice of course, so, waltzing some time later into an inner city pub in broad daylight wearing said blazer and blue jeans tucked into long white socks, a grinning hard man with long reddish curly hair asked me if I was from Oxford. Perhaps he was aware of the Oxonian reputation for producing flaming aesthetes, but I doubt it. I think he just took one look at my jacket and thought: "Who's thus flash ponce askin' tae ge' hus heed kecked in?", or worse. It may have been touch and go for a while as to whether he was going to inflict some serious damage on my angelic English face, but in the end he left me be. He may even have liked me. The unlikeliest people did in those days.

    Within a few weeks of returning to London by train from Edinburgh, my brother and I were setting off again, this time towards the Baltic coast of Denmark by way of Germany's famous Kiel Canal as part of what is known as the Ocean Youth Club. While we were once more supervised by Mates under the command of a Ship's Captain, who 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", the OYC was more like a cruise than a trial by water, utilising modern yachts rather than traditional tall ships.
     My brother and I were quick to recruit a nice young guy from Gloucester in the south west as our best pal by the name of Cy, who as it turned out we'd actually first met while passing through Calpe, Spain, with our parents about ten years previously. Soon after setting foot on Danish soil we three 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 in the '60s and '70s.

     A less pleasant romantic episode took place towards the end of the trip, which saw me in pursuit of a pretty German girl, Ulriche. 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 Kiel Canal. I wrote to Ulriche, 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've done any night of the week. Self-sabotage was fast becoming a speciality of mine. (This was taken from the redux vsion of "Rescue" and posted March 2010.)



    Comment (0)

    Fri, Nov 21st - 1:00PM

    3 My Future Positively Glittered



    (cont. from "The Triumph of Decadence: probably a mixure of the original and redux vsns. of the "Rescue").

    A little later on in the summer I sailed with the RNR to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France. Then shortly after that I was with the RNR again, this time in the Pool of London, subject of a famous British crime film directed by Basil Dearden in 1951 and referring to that stretch of the Thames lying between London Bridge and Rotherhithe.
     In order to reach my ship, I had to board some kind of launch with a group of other seamen, one of whom, a strikingly handsome Leading Seaman of about 30 I knew only by sight, had taken unofficial charge. Once we were all safely aboard, it was the turn of our golden-headed leader to join us, but as he stepped off the launch, he somehow lost his footing and slipped into the Thames beneath him. Within a matter of minutes his heavy clothing and boots, helped by a vicious current, had dragged him beneath the river's surface and he was lost. Soon after returning to London, I told my mother what had happened, and she wept the tears of one who instinctively knew what those who loved this man must have been feeling at the time. It was only then that the true appalling tragedy of the incident hit home and I ran into the bathroom and sobbed my heart out myself. Thinking back on it, a line from that beautiful song "How Men Are" by Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame comes to mind: "Why should it take the tears of a woman to see how men are?"

    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 Sultan, the Royal Navy's specialist training centre in Gosport, Hampshire, where I spent three days attending various examinations and interviews intended to assess my potential as a future naval officer.

     On one occasion early on in the long weekend just before one assignment or another, I was 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 Sultan, but they didn't really seem all that keen. As things turned out they left me alone at a Gosport disco to return to Sultan for an early night. When I got back myself, I was shocked to discover that Sultan's main entrance had been locked and was now being manned by an armed guard.

     If the young man nervously trying to reach someone in authority within the training centre on a walkie talkie was wondering exactly what kind of person returns to base dressed to the nines after a night's disco dancing when he was supposed to be in the midst of three days of gruelling tests and interviews that were vital to his future career, then he gave no indication of it. He did however eventually make contact with someone in authority, 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 London 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 Brenda's close friends, a fair, bearded man in a suit, and his dark, extrovert wife. The husband was one of those deeply gentle men I came across from time to time in the 1970s. They weren't all bearded; but I can think of some who were, such as the madcap ship's captain described above. What united them was that they behaved with special protectiveness and affection towards me, and I've never forgotten them for it.

     Early on in the evening, Brenda became incensed when a group of older seamen started teasing me from their table, which didn't bother me at all because I knew these guys, and they meant no harm. Military life after all, is fuelled by this kind of 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, because with them, what you saw is what you got, and if it wasn't always pretty, at least it was honest. (Now: a vsion of original "My Future").

    Those Landmark Years

    For two years I'd slavishly followed those artists who'd either predated Modernism or been part of its banquet years and beyond but in '76 a new decade, that of Brando, Monroe, Presley, Dean, and the first stirrings of the Rock-youth revolution, started to influence me way I dressed and acted, so for much of the year I dressed down in a workmanlike uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt and cuffed jeans worn as worn by Dean in Nicholas Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause".
    Dean'd died a week to the day before I was born in late 1955 - seen by many as the Year Zero of the Rock'n' Roll era - and the 20th anniversary of his death influenced rising Pop stars such as John Miles and Slik's Midge Ure to adopt what could be called the '50s rebel look, in spite of the fact that Punk was poised to destroy the final vestiges of Glam escapism forever. Not that this actually happened of course, as Glam returned stronger than ever in the '80s, especially in America.
    But there were still times I reverted to the old romantic escapist image...the one I'd adopted in defiance of what I saw as the leaden drabness of the post-hippie age, while immersing myself in an alternative world fashioned entirely out of the past and specifically the golden age of Modernism of ca. 1830-1930, and effectively discovering Modernist giants as Baudelaire, Wilde, Gide, Cocteau (as well as many lesser poets, dandies and decadents from the same period) for the first time.
    One of these occasions came during the dying days of the long hot summer of '76, 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 Brooklands. 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 Fittleton. HMS Fittleton had been accepted into the RN in January 1955, although she wasn't actually named Fittleton (after the Wiltshire village) until almost exactly 21 years later.
    I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Fittleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship, the frigate HMS Mermaid. It resulted in the loss of twelve men most of whom I knew personally, given that only weeks earlier I'd spent a few dayson Fittleton with more or less exactly the same crew.
    She'd set sail from Shoreham in Sussex on the 11th of September 1976 with the intention of reaching the port of Hamburg on the 21st of that month for a three day Official Visit, but never arrived. On the 20th she took part in the NATO exercise "Teamwork" 80 miles off the Dutch coast in the North Sea, after which she was ordered to undergo a Replenishment at Sea with the 2500 ton frigate HMS Mermaid, and it was during this exercise that the bow waves of the frigate inter-reacted with those of the sweeper to cause the two to collide.
    For some reason I'd earlier decided to opt out of the trip by pleading sickness. It was a decision that came to haunt me...despite the fact that had I taken part in the RAS manoeuvre I'd almost certainly have been assigned what was known as Tiller Flat duty, as had been the case on many previous occasions during exercises of this kind. This would have put me below deck, making escape difficult although not impossible. In other words,I may or may not have survived the accident.
    Of the twelve who didn't survive I knew three quite well, and they were all men of remarkable generosity of spirit and sweetness of disposition, what I'd call natural gentlemen, and it broke my heart to think of what happened to them. I so wanted to comfort my shipmates for their loss, to bond with them and be part of what they were going through. I wanted to have survived like them. I went over it all again and again in my mind, until I drove myself almost insane with regret and grief. Once more I'd taken the easy way out, but this time it wouldn't be so easy for me to forget or explain away.

    Looking myopically back, the landmark year of 1977 was in many ways a far darker one than those coming just before it. It was after all marked by the violent irruption into the British musical and cultural mainstream of Punk Rock, which could be said to have fatally disabled Rock's uneven progress as an art form with its savage DIY ethic and brutally rudimentary three-chord music. Fused with an extreme and often horrifying sartorial eccentricity, these elements produced something utterly unique even by the outlandish standards of the time. From its London axis, and yet with roots in the US, it spread like a raging plague throughout the year even infecting the most genteel suburbs.
    For this not so genteel suburbanite '77 was a year of non-stop partying as one after the other of my old Pangbourne pals celebrated their 21st in houses and apartments in various corners of trendy west and central London. Of all of them I was perhaps closest with Craig, a future plutocrat of devastating style and charisma who yet still hardly more worldly-wise than me. One of his best friends was a blindingly cool young fashion designer from the north of England who forged cutting edge images for some of the most powerful trendsetters in Rock music and we went with him a couple of times to his favourite hang-out of Maunkberrys in Jermyn Street. Apart from the Sombrero in Kensington High Street, it was the classiest club I'd ever seen.
    Soon after the start of the year, Craig'd traded in his tired old velvet jacket and flares combo for tight drainpipe jeans and black cuban heeled winklepickers. I followed suit with a pair of cream-coloured brogues...black slip-ons with gold sidebuckles...sham crocodile skin shoes with squared off toes...and a pair of black Chelsea boots, all perilously pointed. By about the spring of '78 I'd junked the lot for the sake of white shoes with black laces, something I'd seen on a member of London Punk band 999.
    Being the naif I was, I thought the style that dominated London's clubland was somehow related to Punk, but I was way off the mark. Like Punk it was the antithesis of the hippie-student look that was still widespread throughout the UK, but deployed for posing and dancing to the sweetest Soul music rather than as an act of violent social dissent. It was the property of the Soul Boys...flash white working class kids with a love of black dance music much like the Mods and Skins before them, although I was not to discover this until later in the year when I was at Merchant Navy College in Kent. It was through one of the college guys in fact that I found out about the Global Village night club under the Arches near Charing Cross that was a magnet for Soul Boys throughout '77, as well as a handful of Punks. Its key elements were the wedge haircut, which could be worn with blond, red or even green streaks, brightly coloured peg-top trousers or straight leg jeans, and the obligatorywinklepickers...or for a time, beach sandals.
    The wedge was taken up at some point in the late 1970s by a faction of Liverpool football fans known as Casuals who'd developed a taste for European designer sportswear while travelling on the continent for away matches. A passion for designer sportswear exists to this day among British working class youth, being visible in every high street and shopping centre in the land, although the Casual subculture has long been extinct.
    For most of '77, I looked more like a Soul Boy than a Punk, not that I knew the difference, even though while strolling along the Kings Road in what I think may've been January, I was assaulted for the first time by the monstrous varieties of dress being adopted by Punks about that time, and it'd only be a matter of time before I too hoped to astound others the way they'd done me. Sure enough, by the end of the year, I'd become a full-time Punk and stayed that way until the Mod Revival started drawing me away around the summer of '79. But that's another story.

    The Restless and the Riotous

    By the summer I was working as a sailing instructor in Palamos on Spain's Costa Brava. For a time I was joined by my dad and my cousin Rod and his girl friend Lucy, and my brother stopped by for a few weeks, but mostly I was alone. Rod and his sister Kris, together with my uncle and aunt Peter and Marge, had lived more or less opposite us in Bedford Park in the sixties, and we'd holidayed together at my grandmothers' house near Montroig for many years. A spellbinding guitarist while still in his teens as part of '70s Prog collective Rococo, Rod now plays for Zero Point Force.
    After a few months I lost my job, but stayed on in Palamos for several months afterwards, parading around town by day, while spending most evenings at the Disco where my favourite was Donna Summer and where each lost or shattered affair left me feeling empty and disconsolate. One of these saw me trying to track a girl down all the way to the campsite I knew she was staying at, but having all but deliberately alienated her one horrible night at the disco, she was nowhere to be found.
    Perhaps this obsession with what lay just beyond my grasp bore some relation to the ferocious thirst for fame that'd afflicted me even since as far back as I can remember. I mean...I was hardly suited for it. 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 MySpace or endless TV talent showcases. I'd not yet appeared in a single play, except for a handful at Pangbourne.
    My roles there included two elderly women, and one of these cross-dressing bit parts had me standing onstage for a few brief minutes without uttering a single word and then spending the rest of the play - Max Frisch's "The Fire Raisers"- offstage. The other was as a maid in a one-act play by George Bernard Shaw called "Passion, Poison and Petrifaction". Clomping around in a dress with studded military boots 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 relationship with my mate Simon, but the name of the play escapes me. My only male role was in "The Rats", a little known Agatha Christie one-acter, and my perfomance as a camp psychopath called Alex showed real promise if the praise of the college nurse was anything to go by. But when all's said and done, 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 only knew a few chords. I wasn't a natural born genius like my cousin Rod. Although to be fair, I did go on to become a pretty good songwriter with my own playing style. My singing voice was good though, and already quite versatile. As a would-be writer, I'd filled countless pages with verbose scribblings, 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 voyage with the RNR came towards the end of the summer. My best RNR pal Colin was sadly not onboard, but I had other mates to raise Hell with such as Adam, a tall red-head of about 26 who looked a little like the actor Edward Fox with a trace perhaps of Damian Lewis, or at least that's how I see him in hindsight.
    Like me Adam loved music and fashion and clubbing - I think he was a regular at Pantiles in Bagshot - and we hit it off from our very first meeting back at President. He later confided in me about his early life which'd been marked by one tragedy after the other, and his quiet and courteous manner masked a troubled 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 a drunken sailor took a dislike to me and obviously wanted to smash my face in, and Adam stepped in to save me from what might've been a vicious beating. This was typical of him, and you overestimated his poshness at your peril.
    I can imagine though that there were those who wondered how he ended up serving as a rating, as they would've done me. 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 Belgium in that year of my final spell as a military man. There was one incident when some of these hard young seamen were gathering in an Ostend street for a scrap with some locals who'd offended them in some way. Adam and I made it clear we'd no intention of joining in, and one of their number, a waiflike young sailor of about 16 or 17, previously something of a pal of ours, turned to us with a look of utter confusion on his beardless face and said: "What's wrong with youse guys?", before joining his rampaging mates.
    Adam 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 of his would eventually see him being commissioned as an officer in the Royal Navy, which'd been his destiny all along. But not mine. My time with the London Division, RNR came to an end in late 1977 with a surprisingly positive character report, which I was very grateful for. The RNR did all right by me and I honour them for it, and if military life had never been for me, it's a part of who I am whether I like it or not. My life story would be all the poorer without it.

    Even later in the summer I joined the former Merchant Navy College in Greenhithe, Kent, which'd merged with the Thames Nautical Training College HMS Worcester nine years earlier, as a trainee Radio Officer.
    I formed several close friendships there; but closest of all was with Jasbir, or Jesse, a lovable hard nut of about 18 with a thick London accent who'd been born into nearby Gravesend's large Asian community. Tough as he was he was loyal and kind-hearted towards those he liked and trusted, and for a time we were pretty well inseparable. I used to endlessly nag about his attitude, not that there was anything wrong with it...he was one of the kindest guys I've ever known...but he had a habit of talking tough which intimidated some people, including me at times. As things turned out, I was the one who quit college first, even if he did follow me soon afterwards, which caused Jesse to wonder why I'd taken what seemed to him like the moral high ground in the first place. I couldn't answer.
    It was through Jesse 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. Mainly white and Asian, the kids of Woodville Hall would dress themselves up in outlandish outfits which stood out in 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 heydey of Punk, whose influence pervaded the Hall together with the Soul Boy look which was similar, although a lot less threatening. And these Soul Boys knew how to dance like you wouldn't believe...anybody'd think they were students of Jazz ballet or something, but they were just ordinary working class kids, who became stars once they took to the dance floor.

    Woodville Hall Soul Boys

    Soon after I'd paid
    My sixty
    0r 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
    0r bleach blonde,
    With flashes of
    Red, Purple
    0r 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
    0f short-haired youths...
    Smoother, more elegant,
    Less menacing
    Than the previous ones.
    These well-dressed
    Street boys
    Wore well-pressed pegs
    0f red or blue...
    They pirhouetted
    And posed...
    Pirhouetted and posed.

    Farewell Gilded Youth

    Soon after returning from the Merchant Navy College in December '77, I auditioned for a place on the three year drama course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the City of London, which was really what I'd wanted to do in the first place.
    Incredibly, as I'd already failed two earlier auditions for RADA, Guildhall accepted me for the course beginning in autumn 1978. I was exhilerated; but that didn't stop me sinking further into the nihilistic Punk lifestyle. Having been 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 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.
    This gig took place in a poky hall above a pub in the centre of a large bleak industrial estate, itself surrounded by drab housing estates and endless rows of council houses. I was often there on a Sunday in the late 70s, usually with my brother and friends, but sometimes alone.
    On one occasion that I remember, the Soul gave way to Punk which saw the tiny dance space being invaded by deranged pogo-dancers. On another, a Ted revivalist, a follower of classic Rock'n'Roll who favoured flashy fifties-style clothing, tried to start some trouble with me in the toilet. At this point, another Ted who'd befriended me about a year previously when I looked like an extra from "American Graffiti" or some similar '50s movie - I think his name was Steve - 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 thatwas 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, Jesse 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 Pangbourne reaching the landmark age of 21. It was also one of the last times I ever saw Jesse. We stayed in touch until about 1983, meeting only once, before eventually losing contact altogether. It was my fault; Jesse did all he could to keep the friendship alive.
    Before arriving, Jesse and I met up as arranged with budding oil magnate Craig, an especially close friend from my days as Cadet C.R. Halling 173. Introductions over, Jesse saw fit to impress Craig and I with a terrifying solo display of his lethal street fighting skills. "I'm suitably impressed", said Craig, and he looked it, and Craig was no wimp despite his upper class accent. An unlikely trio, we got on like a house on fire that insane night which at one point saw 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. Well, I've got plenty of time to myself to reflect on it all now..and the sheer waste of youth, of life, of love, life sometimes makes me weep.

    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 put me up in an apartment, which was decent of him, 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 an American friend I made in town in her own apartment.
    I became pretty well known locally as Coco, one of only two Punks in Fuengirola, and front man for a Hard Rock band playing nightly at the city's Tam Tam nightclub...with a Punk Rock frontman! How wierd that must've seemed. It was my first year as a full-time Punk in fact, and among the clothes I favoured 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. But I removed it once it'd started to cause my whole lug to throb.
    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 someone who's still one of my favourite people ever. We went clubbing a lot, and it was such a thrill to sit there with her when the evening was still young. We spent time at Lew Hoad's Campo de Tenis, at Mijas, Marbella, Torremolinos...one night the legend that was 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. It was that magical a summer. But I had to return to London to take my place at the Guildhall 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, although my close friends from the band had wanted me to return as front man, no...I'd chosen to go with my parents to La Ribera instead. But it'd been three years since I was there for any length of time, and everything had changed beyond all recognition. I felt a deep and overwhelming sense of exhaustion during my first few days in the town, but I don't recall being especially disappointed by the fact that only recently I'd been told by the Guildhall authorities that they thought it'd be best if I left...or rather strike out on my own in the acting world. I was resigned to it, even though my dream of being a gilded youth at the Guildhall had barely lasted a year. It must have been the Costa Calida sun 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 the Guildhall. Who knows where it might have led, but then it would have been a shame to have missed out on the Guildhall. So many incredible experiences came out of my year at that reverenced place of learning and culture that it'd take an entire separate volume to list them all. So I won't.

    What I will say is that at the Guildhall I was involved with a string of Rock and Pop bands, and that with one after the other of these I performed at the occasional Folk Night as it was called whereby a crowd of students gathered after classes to perform songs or whatever they chose at the nearby Lauderdale Tower.
    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 the Guildhall, 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 done for nearly twenty years now.
    At one point he'd briefly joined a Guildhall-based Jazz-Funk band with another friend of mine Mike, which was destined to become one of the most successful 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. Mike'd even invited me to an early rehearsal, and my mother made a note of this in green ink after speaking to him about it on the phone. Perhaps they could've done with a singer at that point.
    Through another of my groups, Narcissus, I found only disgrace. It was the second version of the band, and I'd formed it with Mike, the drummer from Rockets, and another close friend Robin, but our one and only gig was a disaster. I slapped on the make-up, and Robin and Mike had followed suit, but being relatively untainted by personal vanity, the results were unsettling. Sweet-natured Robin painted his Botticellian features like an ancient pagan warrior, while gentle giant Mike saw fit to smother his with military-style camouflage paint. Understandably, our set was accompanied by a riot of good-natured heckling. But I finally lost my rag and ended up throwing a plectrum into the audience with a sarcastic "Here's to all my loving fans!", or something equally pathetic.
    I can't help thinking that this childish 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 unceasing 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 his life.
    My final band was the '50s revivalist act Z Cars, which even won a tiny fanbase for itself. I was Carl Cool, lead singer and songwriter with a tattoo painted onto my shoulder. My close friend Rob was Robert Fitzroy-Square, the boy next door with the Buddy Holly glasses, who provided most of the comedy. Punky Dave was Dave Dean the hard man of the band. Richard was Little Ricky Ticky, the baby at only 18 who could've been a heart throb had things worked out for us. But they didn't. First Dave left, and after we'd replaced him with Ian, we tried to deviate from our usual three-chord doo-wop or Rock with a tightly arranged version of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right Mama" but we weren't up to it musically and the band collapsed soon afterwards.
    Ian, Rob and I were also involved in the production of a musical comedy based on the Scottish play, "Mac and Beth", which survived my time at Guildhall, if only for a single performance. It was rewritten several times. I wrote a long version myself about ten years ago, only to come to the conclusion that it was too dark and violent before trashing all but a few pages of it. Somewhere, however, there's a VHS copy of one of a handful of Guildhall performances of the play.
    There were emotional scenes at my farewell party held in the depths of the Barbican Estate's Lauderdale Tower and some cried openly because I was leaving. During the evening, my dear friend Gill - who'd played Beth to my Mack in the previously mentioned "Mac and Beth" - told me to contact a near-legendary London-based impresario and agent well-known for offering young actors their very first positions within the entertainment industry. Her own brother, who'd recently starred in a TV comedy series had received his first break through this flamboyant and warm-hearted man. 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, theatre director Richard Cottrell offered me the part of Mustardseed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bristol Old Vic. Maybe leaving the Guildhall when I did had been the right thing to do after all. But oh the indescribable bliss of passing that summer's audition...

     London, 1978?/'79?1978? London, 1978?/'79?1978  Minor edits: 7/3/13



    Comment (0)

    Fri, Nov 21st - 12:25PM

    4 West of the Fields Long Gone



    Like Some New Romantic

    Some months after the final curtain triumphantly fell on Richard Cottrell's production of "The Dream" at the London Old Vic, I applied for and was offered the position of sales assistant in Bentall's china department in Kingston-on-Thames, staying there until just after Christmas. A short while later, thanks to the kindness of an old friend and colleague of my father's, Haydn, I found work as part of the cast and crew of a version of Petronius' “Satyricon” directed by Peter Benedict for the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road. Initially I was just an Assistant Stage Manager and percussionist, but in time I was offered a very small non-speaking role.
    1981 was also the year in which I became a kind of hanger-on of a youth movement originally dubbed "The Cult with no Name", and whose origins lay in the late 1970s, largely among discontented ex-Punks reacting to the increasingly drab uniformity of Punk Johnny Come Latelys. Eventually known as New Romantics, they embraced a hyper-nostalgic devotion to various ages which they interpreted as romantic, whether recent times such as the Roaring Twenties, or more distant historical eras, the latter inspiring such stock New Romantic accessories as ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on. Several of the cult's pioneers went on to become famous names within the worlds of art, fashion and popular music. They tended be among the most foppish or flamboyant of the earliest adherents, and so stood in stark contrast to those council estate dandies for whom it could be said that New Romanticism was simply a passing fashion in much the same way as Punk was before it. Its soundtrack was a largely synthesized dance music influenced by German Art Rock collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as Glam, Funk and Disco. While it was arguably no longer cutting edge by the end of '81, it went on to exert a colossal influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties, and partly inspired what became known as the Second British Invasion thanks to a desperate need for striking videos on the part of the newly arrived MTV (Music Television). I attended New Romantic club nights at Le Kilt and Le Beat Route among others, and was even snapped at one of these by the legendary London photographer David Bailey, but I was never a true New Romantic so much as a lone fellow traveller keen to experience first hand the last truly original London music and fashion cult before it imploded as all others had done before it. Yet, despite its florid decadence, New Romanticism was far more mainstream than other musical trends which came in the wake of Punk such as Post-Punk and Goth. For this reason, it eventually evolved in Britain into what has become known as New Pop, and which combined often complex if accessible tunes with a telegenic Glam image. I myself gravitated more far towards New Pop than various more esoteric musical styles that were doing the rounds, whether Goth or Indie or Grebo or whatever, and this was reflected by a gaudy image so typical of an infamously flamboyant decade, while my true musical passion remained Art Rock, but often of the darkest kind. Indeed while I rejected Goth as a fashion craze, I was passionate about many of its primary influences such as dark romanticism in all its forms and there was a duality about me which was true of the eighties as a whole.
    As '81 went on, my acting career may have lost a little momentum, with the result that some kind of family decision was reached to the effect that I should return to my studies at the age of 25. So I went on to pass interviews for both the University of Exeter, and Westfield College, then situated on Kidderpore Avenue near the Finchley Road in Hampstead NW3, and part of the vast University of London. Founded in 1882 and going on to serve as the model for the University for Women parodied in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic "Princess Ida", Westfield was an all-woman college for more than 80 years, finally becoming co-educational in 1968. She officially merged with east London's Queen Mary College in 1989 to become Queen Mary and Westfield College, until the turn of the century when she was renamed Queen Mary, University of London, while legally retaining the original title of QMWC. I preferred to go to Westfield, although it was a bit of a Hobson's Choice for me, and my father was in agreement, so in the autumn I found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama mainly at Westfield, but also partly at the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama, while staying in a small room on campus. My dissatisfaction with my situation was initially so strong that at one point in an attempt to escape it I auditioned for work as an assistant stage manager, or acting ASM, for my old friend and agent Barrie Stacey, but it didn't work out, and I became resigned to my fate. Soon after having done so, 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 visibly pleased to see me and who might have appeared to my 26 year old eyes to incarnate the sheer carefree rapturous vitality and joy of life of youth. Whatever the truth, I came to love my time at Westfield, 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 constant exhilerated hedonism, the narcotic fuelling me back then not being alcohol so much as a furious desire for strong sensation within a variety of fields, the intellectual, the social, the amative among them, and reinforced by industrial strength doses of self-obsession. Furthermore, from around the turn of the eighties or earlier, I'd developed 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 Playboy Philosophy which exploded in the 1960s could be said to have reached its full flowering in the crazy eighties. That's not to say, however, that the vast majority of people who came to maturity in this hyper-hedonistic decade didn't ultimately forge respectable family lives and careers following a brief season spent as flamboyant outsiders because of course they did. Few embraced these neo-libertine values with a the same kind of blind fervour as me...and yet of course there were a good many who took them far further than I ever did. Still, I can't deny that I now suffer from a cruel nostalgia for the trappings of status, security, respectability, things I once scorned, preferring instead to push to the limit as if under some enchantment my notion of myself as a poète maudit like my heroes, a notion somewhat at odds it has to be said with a certain lingering suburban ordinariness. I believed in the role of the artist as a dissolute provoker existent at all times on the verge of ecstasy or despair, of illumination or madness or death and worshipped those who had pursued this wretched anti-existence to the limit. This made me the worst kind of sinner in my eyes, a true prodigal in defiance of everything that makes society tolerable, such as personal restraint and respect for parents and authority. Such violent narcissism as I once displayed has been worshipped by the West for close on to half a decade especially as expressed through such popular arts as Rock 'n' Roll and the cinema. A universal obsession with rebellion and sensual abandon is a sign as I see it of a West increasingly given over to neo-pagan values. These are surely the same God-rejecting values that corrupted the antedeluvian world, and which survived the Flood to be disseminated throughout the nations. They spelled the end of one empire after the other, including the Egyptian, the Greek, the Roman. They are epidemic today through the West and beyond, where once they were marginalised as aberrant. I'd been blessed at birth by every good gift but the most desired qualities such as talent and beauty are among the most dangerous unless submitted in their entirety to God, not least to those who possess them. They are eminently visible and therefore vulnerable, and with more more temptations than most all too often fall prey to Luciferian pride and vanity like David's favourite son Absalom who was physically flawless but morally bereft. Little wonder therefore that so many of them are drawn to the power offered by art, and especially music, the writer of the first song Lamech having been in the line of Cain. Indeed, there are those Christians who believe that the Cainites were the first pagan people, and that they corrupted the Godly line of Seth through a sensual and wicked music not unlike much contemporary Rock. Of course not all Rock music is flagrantly wicked, far from it. Much of it is melodically lovely. While in terms of its lyrics, its finest songs display the most delicate poetic sensibility. The fact remains, however, that no art form has been quite so associated as Rock with rebellion, transgression, licentiousness, intoxication and thanatophilia (an undue fascination with death) nor been so influential as such. To think I once desperately sought fame as a Rock artist myself, and if not as Rock'n'Roll superstar then as actor, or writer, and it was surely a blessing I never gained this pagan form of immortality because had I done so I'd almost certainly have been used for the furtherance of the kingdom of darkness. Once I'd served my purpose I may well have died a solitary premature death as an addict, as has been the fate of so many men and women briefly briefly animated by the charismatic superstar spirit before being cruelly discarded by the Enemy of Souls.

    Ferocity of an Enfant Terrible

    Thanks to the generosity of my interviewers both at Westfield and Central, I'd effectively scraped in with two mediocre "A" levels at B and C. Ultimately though Dr M., my principle tutor during my final year advised me to seriously consider a career as a professional academic. Not bad for a secondary school write-off. From the very first essay I produced for assessment at Westfield, I exhibited a frenzied and insolent cerebrality in my writing at least partly influenced by my favourite avant garde artists but also reflecting my own tendency to mental causticity. While some of my tutors may have viewed these submissions with a dubious eye, my Dr M. thrilled to them and awaited them with the sort of impatience normally accorded a favourite TV or radio series. 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 a person can no longer 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. Or perhaps 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.
    I aspired to be an enfant terrible on a small scale, ever seeking the centre of attention, baulking at every restraint, talking, smoking, drinking to excess, driven by a desire to be loved by everyone almost as if my sanity depended on it, while alienating those who'd gladly have devoted themselves to me and me alone. But that was never enough for me. And then there was the shadow that endlessly warred against this constant need to give and receive affection, a hidden, terrible rage significantly directed towards what I perceived as social injustice. The chief targets of my rage were dictators on the right wing of the political spectrum, indeed the political right as a whole. Throughout a decade of riot and protest in the UK, I affiliated myself with one radical lobby after the other...CND, Greenpeace, Animal Aid, Amnesty International etc., and I marched against the nuclear threat in London and Paris, lectured for Amnesty while blind drunk to a roomful of middle-aged Rotarians, and had a letter published in the newspaper of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Mine was the fury that fails to recognise that oppression stems from the sin we all share, and that is based on a fallacious notion of the perfectibility of Man, 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. And my darkness was enhanced by alcohol and dissolute living, and an addiction to astrology and other occult topics, and scandalous art and philosophy. What a contrast to the noble and uplifting purposes of Christianity. My soul didn't stand a chance, and although I was eventually delivered by God from this damnable existence, I genuinely believe that despite my hard work, my mind has never truly recovered from it.
    This first remnant from my Westfield diaries, "Some Sad Dark Secret" testifies to some degree to my former mental over-excitability, or erethism. It was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I recently unearthed and probably dating from 1982 or '83. The first three sections contain words of advice offered me by Dr M. The fourth and fifth sections have as their basis words once spoken to me by another of my Westfield tutors. They refer to my former desire to shock by the affectation of an almost hysterical vehemence of tone in my writings, as well as an "extraordinary capacity for lists".

    Some Sad Dark Secret

    Dr M. 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 Westfield Players

    I didn't want to be at Westfield at first. I resented it, because my acting career had only just begun, and now here I was stuck at university at 26. In time, however, I came to love being there, to view my time at Westfield as an extension of my youth. Also, I was provided with almost unlimited opportunities for acting and performance. Westfield in the early '80s was a hotbed of talent and creativity and I wasted little time in immersing myself in it. Within days I'd made a close friend of Andrew, a fellow French and Drama student from Darlington in the north east. Before long, we were both being directed by a dynamic and flamboyant guy called Lee in Brecht and Weill's's "The Threepenny Opera". I'd two small roles, the most interesting being that of a petty street thief Filch, who'd been played by the French writer and actor Antonin Artaud in "L' Opéra de quat'sous", one of two versions of the play directed by G.W. Pabst. Being the benighted fool I was back then I was proud of this fact because Artaud who'd died in an asylum at just 50 years old, an appalling example of the avant garde persuasion taken to its logical conclusion was one of my most beloved cursed poets. Through this production I went on to play jive-talking disc jockey Galactic Jack in the musical play "The Tooth of Crime" by Sam Shepard, who has allegedly spoken of being influenced by Artaud. A coincidence perhaps, although Artaud's concept of the Theatre of Cruelty was tragically prophetic of so much post-war theatre, indeed art as a whole. The director, Neil, had been impressed by myself and Andrew in "The Threepenny Opera" and so cast us as Jack and the lead, Hoss, respectively. Before long I'd all but forgotten about acting in the outside world and was channelling every inch of my creative energy into acting and performing at Westfield, the now vanished college which became my whole world for two glorious years. In the summer, a group of us went on to play in "Twelfth Night" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Directed by Dawn Austwick with hippie style costumes designed by Gail Greengross, the original Illyria became an Arcadian late 1960s with me playing Feste as a Dylanesque minstrel strumming dirge-like folk songs with a voice like sand and glue.
    The Westfield contingent's key players couldn't have deviated more from the politely liberal norm we seemed to encounter nightly at the Fringe Club on Chambers Street if we'd tried. That was particularly true of Ged, who played Malvolio. At the time he was a hard looking but colossally kind-hearted guy from Liverpool with slicked back rockabilly hair, usually dressed down in denims as per the fashion at the time, with post-Punk at the height of its popularity as an underground movement. It all but passed me by I have to say, as I favoured the more mainstream acts of New Pop, who tended to combine a neo-Glam image with cutting edge electronic instrumentation. This was in many cases a legacy of the underground roots of many New Pop bands. Ged I think had been around during the Punk days at Eric's in Liverpool, and was a fascinating, charismatic guy with a hilariously dark sense of humour. In fact we were both corrosively sardonic discontents, but never in a grimly miserabilist way, being soft and sensitive at heart, and essentially trusting of human goodness. He and his girlfriend Gail, who'd designed the show as I mentioned earlier, and who was also a very dear friend of mine back then, never stopped encouraging me nor believing in me. We were all very close that summer despite sharing a single large house on Prince's Street I think it was and there wasn't a single argument that I can remember.
    During my second year I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Andrew and David, from Darlington and Hull respectively. They were both French students, although as I've said before Andrew also studied Drama. Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge, which doubled as David’s bedroom, with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We then went on to organise what we optimistically called a salon, which although well-attended didn't survive beyond a single meeting, although this was well-attended. One thing is certain, we weren't part of any revived Brideshead generation or anything like that. 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. But my first two Westfield years were wonderful...an almost nonstop cycle of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set in one of the most beautiful and bucolic areas of London. What possible reason was there to have been discontented?
    My second year drama project was centred on the one-act play "Playing with Fire" written in by the Swedish poete maudit August Strindberg. I was allotted the task of supplying the music for the production; as well as the leading role of Knut, a rebellious painter still living at home with his upper middle class parents who is forced to endure the adulterous behaviour of his "friend" Alex, who is conducting a torrid affair with his wife Kerstin under his very roof after having been invited to stay for days. Alex was played by budding playwright Vince, while Ondrej played Knut's hated bourgeois father. Both were as wifully madcap as me, and while Vince and Ondrej didn't get on all that well, I adored them both. In fact I went on to play the lead in one of Vince's plays at college. Like the Lost Generation poet Harry Crosby Vince was electric with rebellion, in fact we both were and there was a tremendous bond between us for that reason, but then rebellion was omnipresent throughout the nation in the '80s, fuelled by various musical and cultural movements, Post-Punk, Futurism, Goth, Indie and so on. A degree of noncomformity is of course natural to the young, but since around 1955, rebellion has grown at such a furious rate in Britain so that language and behaviour that would've have been outrageous only a few decades ago now leaves most people indifferent. Recent statistics from the NationMaster website point to the tragic nature of contemporary Britain, which has the sixth highest per capita crime rate in the world, and is therefore a more crime-ridden society than the United States, South Africa and Germany. For me this is directly associated with
    It saddens me to think that so many of the friends I once loved so dearly would not be able to understand why I'm the person I am today, a Christian, a Bible believer, and a person therefore for whom rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. I'd love to think that everyone I've ever known could come to saving faith but sadly the Bible makes it clear that at any given time in history, few know Christ as their Saviour. Furthermore, those that do are urged to consistently test themselves to prove they are in Christ and to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the Saints. There's never a time for a Christian to settle back in their faith and live as they please, lest they become cast off. Whether this implies loss of salvation or loss of an effective walk or whatever depends on where an individual believer stands on the subject of salvation, and whether it can ever be lost or not.
    We performed "Playing with Fire" around three times in the Michaelmas term of 1982. I also think that the production of "Twelfth Night" we'd staged at Edinburgh was re-performed this term with most of the original cast intact, to be followed by "Blood Wedding". The piece below, adapted from notes I made during this period, with the first verse actually containing references to "Twelfth Night" captures the spirit of those heady first two years at Westfield, a college then in its twilight time prior to being incorporated into Queen Mary on east London’s grim Mile End Road, far, far from the semi-pastoral beauty of Hampstead. It also provides some indication of the unquenchable desire for attention, affection and approval that characterised me back then, 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…”
    I even signed
    One of Phil’s friends’
    Programmes -
    “When are you going
    To be a superstar?”
    Said Luce
    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…Chloe
    called me...I listened…
    …To her problems…
    References
    To my “innocent face”…
    Livvy said:
    “Susy seems Elusive
    But is in fact,
    Accessible;
    You’re the opposite -
    You give to everyone
    But are incapable
    Of giving in particular.”
    M. 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…
    Susy 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....

    Comment (0)

    Fri, Nov 21st - 12:12PM

    5 From Paris to Cambridge Town



    Darkness in Bretigny

    I'd say things started to go a little wrong for me once I left Westfield in the summer of '83 with a few months to spare before travelling to Paris to work as an English language assistant in a French secondary school, the Lycee Jean-Paul Timbaud. 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 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've opted for an alternative few weeks in France as Andrew did, but doing so would've deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I’d long worshipped as the only true home of an artist. Even before the end of the summer term of 1983, I remember there was a twilight atmosphere to things, as if a golden era was winding down.
    Earlier in the year, my companion Monique had told me something to the effect that while many were drawn to me they sensed la mort in me, but she was in thrall to the intellectual worldview, and familiar with Freudian analysis. Precisely what she meant by la mort I'm unable to say, but she may have been referring to a certain inner disintegration. If so, I believe she was onto something, and I'd attribute this death to a cocktail of poisons potentially fatal to the human spirit, including alcohol, astrology, and the kind of intellectualism I described earlier, a worship of the intellect for the sake of it. Intellectuality is not in itself wrong, but it is my contention that intellectuals are more tempted than most by various dark lures including pride, rebellion and sensuality. The same could be said of those who've been lavishly gifted by God with beauty, or great talent and so on. Intellectuals have been among the most powerful and often also dangerous men and women in history, and the Modern World has been significantly shaped by the ideas of intellectuals including Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Evangelical Christianity has always been suspicious of intellectualism, but that doesn't mean that Christian intellectuals don't exist, because they most certainly do. There are many Christian writers of wide learning and immense intellectual power. What's more, most truly great preachers possess an intellectual aspect, while being wholly surrendered to Christ. Certain Christian intellectuals have a vital but unenviable responsibility, which is to reprove the works of darkness that once held them captive by way of sheer force of intellect in the face of counter-arguments on the part of their secular equivalents. But if they lack any real insight into these works, they'll not make any impression on hardened sinners. It may be that one of the few advantages of coming to saving faith late is a deep knowledge of the things of the world. In my case I struggle to see how this compensates for the damage wrought on me both physically and psychologically by 37 years in the world, but I can hardly say that my writing hasn't benefited from it.
    The piece below first existed as a series of scrawled notes based on several conversations I enjoyed in 1982 or '83 with Monique in 1982 or '83 when I myself was a slave to pagan intellectuality and other deadly fruits of the earth. 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. As the guitar belonged to my flatmate David who was in the audience, he quite reasonably expressed his displeasure out loud, while my musical partner Aidan told me to keep playing. Instead, I threw an atypical temper tantrum before making my way back to Golders Green. In the piece, Monique likens me to Don Juan adding that like him I had no desires. She was being a little hard perhaps, but she wasn't so far off the mark. I didn't believe in anything. Oh sure, I had my political and humanitarian ideals, but in the final analysis, I was more or less indifferent to the fate of humankind apart from those closest to me. I just didn't like people getting away with injustice that's all. The person I am today, he really cares...he cares for the souls of the unsaved. Believing in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell, he doesn't want to see them finish up in the Lake of Fire. What greater purpose can be on earth than the welfare of souls.

    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
    about you, a fatality..."

    My Paris Begins and Ends

    1.

    So, in the autumn of that year, I took lodgings on the grounds of the Lycee JP Timbaud in Bretigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs some sixteen miles south of the city centre, remaining there until the following May. I feel sure that not too long after arriving in Bretigny I became afflicted by a certain sense of self-disillusion, although perhaps not yet, at least not consciously, but I was aware of a new darkness spreading itself over my mind, and I didn't like what was happening to me. It was the start of my drinking. At the same time I affected an attitude of strutting self-confidence, not that this was new. Some of the Lycee kids said I was like Aldo la Classe a comic character created by the actor Maccione. I got on fantastically well with the kids, but their unbridled affection made me feel humble; I didn't feel up to it. It was not like me to be so mortified by myself. There seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience was starting to become seared by '83 and so scream out in protest and pain
    I recently attempted to encapsulate the totality of my Parisian experience with the piece featured below, and its cast of characters includes a slim pretty white girl who wasn't what she seemed, her smouldering black beau, a madman or derelict who took exception to my appearance, the sinister skinhead who called me a tapette, and my close friends Marie, Jane, Judy, Igor, Andrea, David, Dom, Astrid, Sandra, Rory...and Anna-Justine. I imagine its companion piece "A Paris Flâneur" was based on notes made during my months at Bretigny when I was in the habit of filling page after page with impressions of my Parisian wanderings, usually at night with an opened bottle of wine by my side. Some of these made their way into an unfinished novel written sometime in the mid to late 1980s and which I recently destroyed but for a few remnants. Two of these ended up being versified and glued together before being published at Blogster. The first was based on a character I came across in a Montparnasse brasserie, an old drunk in a naval officer's cap being referred to as Mon Capitaine by his airily affable waiter, Phillippe, the second on further notes from a flâneur, or urban wanderer, in the city that most favours such a solitary individual.

    2. My Paris Begins

    ...my paris begins with those early days as a conscious flâneur i recall the couple seated opposite me on the metro when i was still innocent of its labyrinthine complexity slim pretty white girl clad head to toe in denim smiling wistfully while her muscular black beau stared through me with fathomless orbs and one of them spoke almost in a whisper "qu'est-ce-que t'en pense" and it dawned on me yes the slender young parisienne with the distant desirous eyes was no less male than me dismal movies in the forum des halles and beyond being screamed at in pigalle and then howled at again by some kind of madman or derelict who told me to go to the bois de boulogne to meet what he saw as my destiny menaced by a sinister skinhead for trying on marie's wide-brimmed hat and then making my way alone to my room in the insanely driving rain getting soused in les halles with jane who'd just seen dillon in rusty james and was walking in a daze jane again with judy at the cave de la huchette jazz cellar the cafe de flore with igor who asked for a menu for me and then disappeared back to bretigny cash squandered on a gold tootbrush two tone shoes from close by to the place d'italie portrait sketched at the place de tertre paperback books by symbolist poets such as villiers de l'isle adam but second hand volumes by trakl and ernest deleve and a leather jacket from the marche de puces of the porte de clignancourt wandering the city alone or with andrea or igor or david or dom or astrid and sandra i still miss losing rory's address scrawled on a page of musset's confessions d'un enfant du siecle walking the length and breadth of the rue st denis what a city as anna-justine once breathlessly wrote me...

    3. A Paris Flaneur

    I took the Metro
    To Montparnasse-Bienvenue,
    Where I slowly sipped
    A demi-blonde
    In one of those brasseries
    Immortalised by Brassai.
    Bewhiskered old toper
    In a naval officer's cap,
    His table bestrewn
    With empty wine bottles
    And cigarette butts,
    Repeatedly screeched the name
    "Phillippe" until such a time
    As a pallid, impassive bartender
    With patent leather hair,
    Filled the old man's glass to the brim,
    With a mock-obsequious
    "Voila, mon Capitaine!"
    I cut into the Rue de Bac,
    Traversed the Pont Royal,
    Briefly beheld
    Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois,
    With its gothic tower,
    Constructed only latterly,
    In order that
    The 6th Century church
    Might complement
    The style of the remainder
    Of the 1er arrondissement
    Before steering for the
    Place de Chatelet,
    And onwards...les Halles!

    4. Return to the Fields Long Gone

    My final departure from Paris was a chaotic affair. Frenetic socialising left me exhausted, and I left without saying a proper goodbye to so many people it's painful for me to think about it. First stop was Santiago de la Ribera where things had changed beyond all recogintion. The youth were consciously cool, in fact so much so that I felt inferior in their presence asd they danced their bizarre chiclken wing dance to the latest hits from England. In a night club in Murcia with a close friend of mine from La Ribera days, Bruno, his girl friend Ana, and a few other friends, I found myself in the bizarre position of being visually menaced by a Murcian Punk who clearly objected to the fact that I was wearing a bootlace tie which immediately identified me as a Rockabilly, those who affected the Rockabilly style being sworn enemies of Punks in those days.
    Spain's innocence was long gone eight years after Franco's death and decadence had penetrated even into the provinces.
    I can't remember exactly when it was that my recent past started to haunt me in the mid 1980s, or even if it ever did, but I can't help thinking it was soon after my final return to Westfield in the autumn of '84. But I'm probably completely wrong; I doubt that it even occurred to me that only a few years before I'd known legends of sport, the cinema, the theatre, blue bloods and aristocrats, and they'd been kind, generous of spirit to this nonentity from the outer suburbs. Now here I was at nearly 30, with so many opportunities behind me, and with a growing drink problem. At first I lived off-campus, thinking that it might be fun to coast during my final year, but it wasn't long before I desperately missed being part of the social life of the college. Subsequently, I moved into a little room in the Berridge hall of residence in nearby West Hampstead NW9. In an effort to re-engage with the social life of the college, I accepted a small role in Cole Porter's "Kiss me Kate" based on Shakespears' "The Taming of the Shrew" under the direction of my close friend Mark , but it was too little, too late. My time was long gone, and new gilded young prodigys had taken my place. Such as Bill who my long-time close friend and champion Astrid described as being something like a new version of me, being blond, baby-faced and versatile, a musician, a linguist, an actor, and so on. He was destined for great things. I read voraciously throughout the year, not just what I had to for my exams, but for pleasure. I remember that as part of the final year of our drama course we had to study Eugene O'Neill, the great Irish-American playwright, or rather "The Iceman Cometh" as I recall, but that didn't stop me delving into his life via the massive biography. I was reading him at a time when my own drinking had become problematic. On at least one occasion I was often to be found before studies in the morning with an opened can of fortified lager, and at lunch I'd get blind drunk while socialising with various friends, such as Vince who'd somehow managed to stretch his allotted three year stay at college to four. Vince was still trying to persuade me to come in with him so we could take on the world, he with his writing and me with my acting. He sensed something really special in me, as had so many at Westfield, an electrifying energy and intensity and so on. But I was going through one of my perverse phases, affecting some kind of world weariness which I simply didn't have at only 30 years old. In time he grew disillusioned and left college for good this time, leaving me to stew in my pseudo-cynicism.
    With Dr M. I studied Gide as part of the final year of my French course, thrilling to the perverseness of such Gidian characters as Menalque in "The Immoralist" who awakens the Nietzschian immoralist in the protagonist Michel and Menalque again in "The Fruits of the Earth", a pseudo-mystical paen to the pleasures of the earth from 1896 written by the scion of a devout Norman Protestant family. How close I must have come to crossing a line beyond which God can no longer reach one I cannot say. It's one thing to study Gide, quite another to sympathise with the views he expressed through his darkest characters. On a lighter note, a special favourite of mine by Gide 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 lives 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 family daughter only to become disillusioned upon finally meeting her. By the same token my favourite ever play by O'Neill was "A Moon for the Misbegotten", another tale of hopeless love, although "A Long Day's Journey into Night" 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. 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. But his true legacy is Jamie Tyrone, the brilliant yet tortured charmer who haunts two of his brother's masterpieces with the infinite sorrow of promise unfulfilled.
    Another book that consumed me in my final somewhat bleak year at Westfield was "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus, one of the most exhaustive anatomisations of existential despair in literary history. I identified with it more strongly than I did with any other work of its kind, including any featured in Colin Wilson's "The Outsider", another work which exerted an immense influence over my life in the '80s. How wonderful it is to be free of the kind of spiritual emptiness that draws a person to such desolating texts. "Sisyphus" was the work that the great English singer-songwriter Nick Drake was reading at the time of his death. It'll be a cold day in hell before I'm ever drawn back to it, and so run the risk of having my faith in absolute truth and especially the absolute truth of the Bible compromised.
    "The Wanderer of Golders Green" was formed from notes made in my final Westfield year of 1985 during the time I was taking my degree examinations. It reflects what was a long-entrenched love affair on my part with Bohemian nihilism, and is therefore not to be taken too seriously as any kind of testament of nihilismus. Yet, my natural high spirits had undoubtedly started to be compromised by ferocious depressive attacks by '85. Furthermore, the possibility of fame was receding fast for me, and I may have used booze partly as a means of deadening myself to this 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 Joy.
    Then Paul
    Bought me another.
    I appreciated the fact
    That he remembered
    The time he,
    His gal Carol,
    And Rory Downed
    An entire Bottle
    Of Jack Daniels
    In a Paris-bound train.
    A tanned cat
    Bought me a (large) half,
    Then another half.
    My fatal eyes
    Are my downfall.
    I drank yet another half...

    My head was spinning
    When it hit the pillow
    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
    Sandra’s, Judy’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 Westfield in the summer of 1985 was as a deliverer of personal telegrams of a novelty kind. The work 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. Besides which, I rarely if ever had any trouble. But it was an unusual way of life for a man of thirty, indeed for a man of any age. What I really wanted was the earthly immortality provided by fame, and whether this came through acting, music or literature, it didn't matter to me. In the meantime, until my big break came, I was content to feed my addiction to attention by any means necessary, and they didn't come neater nor more hardcore than 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. So how did I end up as a PGCE student at Homerton College, Cambridge? The truth is that I'd yielded to family pressure to provide myself with the back-up career that I imagine is dear to the hearts of parents of budding artists everywhere and at any time. The singer-songwriter Nick Drake once told his father it was the last thing he needed. I was a little like poor Nick myself. From a safe and comfortable background thanks entirely to my parents who'd never known such privilege themselves, I think I felt that at 32, I wanted to make my own choices and become my own person, even if it meant taking risks that might result in my losing all social advantage. When you are blessed with it, it's easy to play ducks and drakes with privilege. It's only when you lose it that you realise how precious it is. But I was so unhappy about having to go to Cambridge that just days before I due to start there, I arranged for an audition for a Jazz Funk group, for which I learned a song or two, "The Chinese Way" by Level 42 being one of them, but I never made it. I almost did, but I was late and drunk, so decided to throw in the towel without informing the band of my decision. For all I know they may still be waiting for me.
    In time, my discontent festered into an active desire to quit college, which I did, shortly after the beginning of the Lent Term 1987. Yet, I'd every reason to relish my time at Homerton, given that I’d been made to feel welcome and wanted from the outset by tutors and fellow students alike. What's more, when I made my first appearance at the Manor Community College in the tough London overspill area of Arbury where I was due to begin my 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. Then there were the chances to shine as an actor that were offered me. Towards the end of the term, Tim Scott, reigning president of Footlights had gone out of his way to ask myself and a close friend Jonathan to appear in the sole production he was preparing to mark his year-long tenure. He was a Homerton man, and wanted to give a couple of his fellow students a break. Being asked to be part of Footlights was a privilege almost without measure, given that since the the late 1950s, this internationally famous dramatic club had played host to gifted figures as diverse as Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, John Cleese, David Frost, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Lawrie, Emma Thompson, and Sasha Baron Cohen. I could've been added to that list. As if the chance of appearing in a Footlights production weren't enough to persuade me to stay put, a young undergraduate, well-known throughout the university for the high quality of the plays he produced personally asked me to feature in a play he intended putting on during the Lent Term after seeing me play 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 recall being faintly 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 shot at it, I turned my nose up at it. I stood a far greater chance of achieving it by remaining at Cambridge than by leaving. 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 following completion of the basic PGCE. That meant it'd 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 begun there.
    But then had I become as famous as I so desperately wanted to be, would salvation have ultimately floated far away beyond my reach? Salvation of course can come to anyone, irrespective of gender, creed, race or social status, but it favours the humble. It's not that fame in itself has the power to destroy the soul, but there are many temptations for those in its grip, and that's especially true in an age such as ours in which traditional Judaeo-Christian morality is in decline. It does comfort me to know that had I become famous I might have glided slowly into a state of reprobation, whereas I was eventually brought so low that I cried out to the Lord. And not a second too soon I might add. But when all's said and done I left Homerton for no reason, and my decision still pains me to this day, although my faith helps me to cope with my heartache. 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'.

    From Mr Denmark to The Audition

    And so, 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, implying...just get stuck in. As soon as I was free, I started auditioning, usually commuting from near the south coast to various parts of London. I auditioned for several bands, but none of them took to me, and I can't say I blamed them. There was a Jazz-Funk band, a Soul band, a Portsmouth Rock'n'Roll revivalist band...and I was hopelessly ill-suited for all of them, being usually drunk which was bad enough, but a bleach-blond fop to boot, with two little ear studs in my left lobe, and a predilection for brightly-coloured skin tight trousers...desperately uncool for the eighties. I also auditioned for a pub-theatre in Ladbroke Grove called the Kensington Park Theatre, which was how I came to meet my friend Adrian, who was its then artistic director. I ended up acting in a film for Adrian soon after returning to London. What's more, a comedy character of the type of the self-deluded egomaniac was created for me by my old Westfield friend and champion Astrid. The character Mr Denmark 1979 was a one-time winner of a Scandinavian male beauty contest, split like Miss World into three sections, formal wear, day wear and swim wear, who'd been lunching out on his paltry success ever since. Such was his condition that he'd even come to believe 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. In September, Mr Denmark served as one of the MCs for a marathon benefit for the Gate featuring future luminaries of television and the cinema including Rory Bremner, Jo Brand and Patrick Marber. He went down so well that I wrote a show around him which premiered at a new variety venue called Club Shout in what I think was 1988, again to great success. I kept him going until about the mid 1990s when I finally tired of his narcissistic antics.
    1987 was also the year I first got seriously involved in walk-on work for television and the cinema. I'd done some previously. For example, I briefly feature as a side drummer at a typically English village fete in "A Mirror Crack'd", based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel and directed by Guy Hamilton. The film's producer Richard Goodwin went on to do a good deal of work with my dad. And in the 1986 telemovie "Poor Little Rich Girl" directed by Charles Jarrott and based on the life of the Woolworth heiress Betty Hutton, I can be seen in a white suit gesticulating in front of a primitive microphone as seminal twenties crooner Rudy Vallee. But these were just isolated episodes. From 1987 or 1988, I took this form of work more seriously, initially in multiple episodes of the sitcom "Life Without George" which I received through Bill Richards Associates, and then in "The Bill", a long-running TV police series through the Screenlite agency, with its HQ at Shepperton Film Studios. Soon after I'd finished my work for "Life Without George", I started rehearsals for Astrid for "The Audition" by the Catalonian playwright Rudolf Sirera, with English translation by John London, due to have its London premiere at the Gate in early '88. Set somewhere towards the end of the 19th Century, "The Audition" involves the kidnapping of an actor Gabriel De Beaumont played by myself by a certain decadent Marquis, who goes on to sadistically toy with the actor before finally murdering him. "The Audition" received mixed reviews in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Stage and other British periodicals, with myself and Steve who played the Marquis receiving some modest praise for our performances. I should have capitalised on my minor triumph at The Gate, but encouraged by Rob a close friend from the Guildhall who was himself already working as a teacher in a famous Oxford Street school of English known as the Callan School, I decided to join him. I stayed there for two years between about March 1988 and January 1990. It was a blissfully social period of my life but my theatrical career suffered because of it. Not that I was entirely inactive in this respect, in that I continued to perform as Mr Denmark, and at one point entered a singing competition at a South Kensington cocktail bar called Pip's in the hope of gaining a residency there, but it didn't work out.
    I could write a whole book on my time at Callan's alone, indeed on pretty much any of the major episodes of my life, "Rescue of a Rock 'n' Roll Child" being merely one version of it, to which multiple layers could be added to create something approaching an accurate self- portrait, although it's doubtful whether this will ever come to be realised in the time I have left, however much or little this might be.

    Comment (0)

    Fri, Nov 21st - 12:04PM

    6 Reborn in the Nick of Time



    Collapse in an Indian Restaurant

    The period straddling late 1992 and early '93 may well have been the most debauched of my entire existence. My memories of it are hazy but they do tell me that during that time, or at least thereabouts, I'd typically rise at about six in the morning soon after which I'd prepare myself for the day by way of a bottle of fortified wine or something along those lines. Then I'd periodically keep my units topped up throghout the day by sipping from a small bottle of spirits. Some evenings I'd spend in central London, others with my fellow students from Greenwich, who were irresistibly drawn to an anarchic subversive self-destructive personality who sang Jerry Lee Lewis' "Real Wild Child" as if he really meant it. Although once I'd quit drinking and become a Christian, the socialising stopped outright, and I was at one point dubbed Mr Invisible by one of the students. There were times in town when I couldn't keep the booze down, so I'd order a king-sized cola from MacDonalds which I'd then lace with gin or vodka. I'd stroll around alone, or meet with a friend, male or female. Perhaps they'd be alarmed by my increasingly bizarre behaviour, but most remained resolutely loyal to me. I was never aggressive or threatening, being an ecstatic drunk, a true Dionysian. One day'd find me crying out on a British Rail train, another performing a wild disjointed Karate kick into thin air, or being actually helped onto a train by a vagrant who was in far better shape than me, or tearing my shirt and trousers to shreds after having arrived too late for an audition.
    But things really came to a head in the first fortnight of 1992, when I collapsed in an Indian restaurant in suburban Surrey. I'd been quietly dining with two female companions when, suddenly feeling like pure death, I asked one of my friends whether I looked as bad as I felt. As soon as she'd confirmed I did I rose from the table, walked a few paces and promptly collapsed into a heap in the middle of the restaurant before being carried bodily out into the fresh night air by two or three Indian waiters. One of them then set about attempting to shock some life back into me by flicking ice cold water in my face, while desperately urging me not to give up. For him to have spoken this way I must have looked pretty close to packing it all in. But I made a lightning-quick recovery, and within two days was drinking as heavily as ever, continuing to drink virtually around the clock until the weekend.
    I spent Saturday evening with a close friend, and early in the morning of the 16th after having drunk solidly all night, I asked her to fill a long glass with neat gin and each sip took me further and further into the desired ectstatic state. I awoke in a state of exhileration, which was typical for me following a night of heavy boozing. It was my one drying out day of the week, and I probably spent it writing and doing some general clearing up. One thing I specifically remember doing was listening to a radio documentary on the legendary LA 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 on my 12th birthday, 7 October 1967, in the wake of the Summer of Love, which seemed to me about living in the shadow of death, beckoning death, mocking death, defying death. I powerfully identified with their gifted front man Jim Morrison, who'd been drawn during his all too brief career as a Rock revolutionist to poets of darkly prophetic intensity, such as Rimbaud who advocated the systematic derangement of the senses, as well as Nietzsche and Artaud who both died insane, and was openly obsessed by sex, rebellion and death. I was irresistibly drawn to artists of this type myself, but I've been since been delivered and now feel only pity for them as victims of the arch-seducer who seeks only to wreck their souls following a brief season of pleasure.
    Alcohol and other narcotics lull the addict into a false state of security, and indestructibility. This makes them ill-prepared for their first serious health crisis which could also be their last. This was certainly the case for me, although I survived where others have not been so fortunate. Suddenly, faced with my own possible early death, self-destruction didn't seem so glamorous any more, and I didn't want the music to be over after all. When it comes down to it, how many addicts seriously want their habit to lead to a lonely, squalid, awful early death? Once death has become a certainty, there is nothing an addict can do other than wait to die. From what I can recall, there is nothing welcoming on the other side for an unrepentant addict who takes things too far, in fact unless I imagined it I sensed something awaiting me that was indescribably awful. At some point as Sunday evening wore on, I felt my legs go numb, as if I was about to collapse as I'd done a week earlier. Scared half to death, I opened a spare bottle of sparkling wine I had about the house even though I'd earmarked Sunday as a booze-free day. Once I'd drained it, I felt a good deal better for a while. I even felt sufficiently recovered to take a few photographs which I still have in my possession. Soon after doing so I set off in search of more alcohol. Arriving at a local convenience store, the Asian shop-keeper, despite being visibly alarmed by my wild-eyed appearance gently informed me that it being Sunday he wasn't able to sell me any liquor for some time yet. There was nothing for me to do but take refuge on a nearby green, where I lay for a while, still dressed I imagine in the shabby white cut-off shorts I'd been wearing earlier. I was also unshaven, with freshly cropped hair which I hadn't got round to highlighting yet. It's safe to say I didn't look my best. Finally, I was able to buy more booze. I can't remember what I bought, but I think it may have been a litre of gin, because that's what I was swigging from the following day. One of the last things I can recall doing on Sunday evening was singing hymns possibly those of Charles Wesley in a nearby Methodist church, while being unable to prevent myself from weeping, such was their beauty and purity in contrast to my own wretched condition. Finally I made my way home, but my troubles had only just begun, because for several days I was unable to rest until finally a couple of valiums put me out and I slept at last.
    I knew several hellish nights in those late January days at least one of which saw me endlessly pacing up and down corridors and stairs in a desperate attempt to stay conscious and not die and each time I shut my eyes I could have sworn I saw demonic entities beckoning me into a bottomless abyss. I set about destroying artefacts I knew to be unacceptable to God from what I believe was the night of the 16th/17th onwards. Many books were destroyed...books on astrology and numerology and other mystical and occultic subjects, and books centring on war and crime, as well as darkly seditious artists in love with despair and death. But I believe it was at some point during that first night, of the 16th/17th, that I came to truly believe for the first time in my heart that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God; and the Saviour of Man, and that he died physically on the Cross at Calvary for the sins of Man, and rose again on the Third Day to join His Father in Heaven, and that doing so involved repentance of my sins, and submission to Christ as my Lord and Saviour. That point marked the beginning of my relationship with God the Father, through whom no one can come to without Christ Jesus.
    While it's true that no one comes to the Father unless drawn by the Spirit of God, prior to become a Christian I was very probably on the point of wholly immersing myself in the new Bohemianism of the 1990s, and so possibly being lost forever as the move gathered momentum. It all depends of course on where a believer stands on the issue of Predestination and Free Will. With regard to this new Bohemianism, the adversary values of the counterculture which had risen to prominence in the West in the late 1960s had all but fizzled out by about 1973, that is on the surface. In truth, they'd merely gone back underground where in the UK they set about fertilising a variety of kindred anti-establishment tribes including the Anarcho-Punks and the New Age Travellers, both of whom were largely eighties and nineties phenomena. Then some kind of amalgam between these tribes and the growing Rave-Dance movement produced yet another Bohemian permutation. I lapped it all up as I've stated earlier with all the fanaticism of one who was sick to death of eighties artifice, but thank God I was delivered from it all in the nick of time. I wasn't saved in any church, nor through being evangelised, so mine was what might be termed a violent "Road to Damascus" conversion. But being reborn against all the odds didn't immediately protect me from the calamity I'd brought upon myself through years of hard living; in other words, I had to suffer in the physical, if only briefly. Although that's not strictly true, because my pre-Christian existence together with its ultimate conclusion probably took a serious toll on my nervous system, and one I'm paying for to this day. 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 am among them. I also believe that those blood-bought believers who do 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 is 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 to attend classes at the University, but by the time I'd got home in the evening, I once more felt as if I was on the point of dying. Desperately I started swigging from the litre bottle of gin I mentioned earlier before phoning Alcoholics Anonymous. Next day I attended classes at Richmond College in Twickenham. On the way I repeatedly had the feeling that my chest was about to explode...the most unnatural things appeared to be happening to me internally. I really did feel I was on the point of dying....not just once but over and over again. After classes, one of the first thing I did was to order a double brandy from a pub situated next door to the Police Station. I was shaking so much the landlord assumed I was fresh from interrogation. I drank so many double brandies and other intoxicating drinks that afternoon that I ended up losing my mind and raving. I was thrown out of a pub for preaching. Walking through Twickenham town centre I started making the sign of the cross to passers-by. I advised one unfortunate young man never to drink and he nodded wordlessly. I can't say I blame him wanting to get away from me as fast as his legs could carry him without actually appearing to be terrified.
    Later that day in an effort to stabilize myself, I dug out an old capsule of heminevrin, brand name of the powerful hypnotic and sedative chlomethiazole, commonly used in treating and controlling the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal, but allegedly dangerous, in fact potentially fatal, when used in conjunction with alcohol. I still had some capsules left over after having undergone treatment at home for a week or two in about 1990 at the auggestion of 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 that day at an AA meeting, I kept leaving the hall in order to stick my head beneath the cold water tap, anything to shock some life back into me, while my compassionate and caring sponsor Don kept urging me to remain seated, as if doing so bestowed some spiritual benefits.
    I suffered another night of deathly terror as I told Don on the phone the following morning; and the day which saw me pacing the office of the first available doctor at my local clinic like some wounded wild animal was scarcely less hellish. He wasn't the gentle bearded physician I'd been registered with since I was a teenager, but very sympathetic towards me nonetheless. He seemed at a loss as to what to do with me, but then it may have been touch and go as to whether I was going to stay on my feet or collapse in a heap at his feet. It was he who prescribed me the valium which finally allowed me a long, deep sleep which may have saved my life. Once I'd awoken from this, I finally felt as if a frontier had been crossed and that I was safe in the arms of God for the first time in my life. My new life began at this point.

    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

    There is a belief within Christianity that the sooner a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Saviour, the better it is for them when it comes to their immortal soul. The same could be said for their subsequent relationship with God. There may for example be serious physical or psychological health problems resulting from a lethally debauched lifestyle leading ultimately to repentance and faith which could seriously affect their efficacy as Christian witnesses. One possible advantage on the other hand of being a late convert is the possession of a testimony which has the power to cause those who normally have little time for Christians to sit up and take notice. One such testimony is that of Canadian former drug addict Peter Orasuk, who came to Christ at the relatively late age of 28. His story commands respect and attention. Sadly Orasuk went to be with the Lord aged only 55 in 2005.
    In the hard but exciting early days of my own Walk with God, I suffered from panic attacks that could be triggered simply by my leaving the sanctuary of my home. Thankfully, these only lasted a relatively short period of time, but later during a period of withdrawal from the valium that'd become a crutch they returned to some degree. At the same time, I carried on with the PGCE, partly at the University of Greenwich, and partly at Richmond College in leafy Richmond-on-Thames, Surrey. I did so while rehearsing for the play “Simples of the Moon” by Rosalind Scanlon, based on the life of James Joyce's daughter Lucia, which premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993, and attending sporadic drugs and alcohol counselling sessions at a church in Greenwich, south east London. My counsellor Elaine was a warm soft-spoken Londoner with the gentlest pale blue eyes. The only time I ever knew her to lose her composure 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 switched to the anxiolytic sedative chlormethiazole. Chlormethiazole or heminevrin had been prescribed to me for my drinking some years earlier and taken a capsule despite its having passed its expiry date. What I was not aware of at the time was that when used in conjunction with valium it can be fatal. However, a sufficient number of hours had lapsed between my taking the capsule and calling Elaine for me to be out of danger, and I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.
    I owe a lot to those who were there for me during my darkest days of coping with alcohol and prescription drugs problems, such as Elaine, and my Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Don, who kept regular tabs on me by phone during my very worst time which was a great comfort to me. Still, I chose to attend only a handful of meetings before stopping altogether. One of the reasons I did so was that a matter of days after repenting and coming to Christ, I received a phone call from a man clled Spencer working for 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. 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 white-grey moustache, and at his insistence we prayed together. Some time later I visited him and his wife Grace at his large and elegant house where suburb meets country some distance beyond the Greater London border. On that day, Spencer 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 issues addressed, and while it may have been coincidental, soon after I'd taken my last valium, I stopped enjoying cigarettes. Admittedly, I continued smoking on and off for about four years afterwards, but I never really enjoyed a cigarette again. In fact, even as early as 1994, a single draw was enough to inhibit my breathing for the rest of the day, and so rob me of a good night’s sleep. Additionally, we discussed which church I should be attending, and there was some talk of my joining Spencer and Grace at their little family fellowship in the suburbs, but in the end, Spencer gave his blessing to Cornerstone, where I'd been baptised by Pastor Chris. I stayed there until 1995 when I got word that the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship based in Whitton near Twickenham contained members whose spiritual gifts were exceptional. My curiosity aroused, I went along one Sunday evening and liked what I saw so decided to stay. A pattern of restlessness had been established.
    In the early part of 1994, I set out on the final stages of the PGCE FE 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. My own history includes three unsuccessful attempts at passing this exam. The first took place in 1986-'87 at Homerton College, Cambridge, but I quit immediately prior to beginning teaching practice at the Manor Community College in the deprived Arbury area of the city, the second, in 1990, at the former West London Institute of Higher Education, based on two campuses in the suburbs of Isleworth and east Twickenham, the third, which was the only one I actually completed, in 1992-'94 at the University of Greenwich in New Eltham, south east London. I failed in my last attempt mainly I think because I didn't demonstrate enough authority in the classroom at Esher College where I did my teaching. To their credit, my tutors at Greenwich offered me the opportunity of retaking TP, but I chose to turn them down. Perhaps I was a little disappointed. After all, the course had cost me quite a lot in terms of time and effort.
    If I was put out by failing a course that'd cost me a great deal in terms of time and effort, it wasn't for long because in September I successfully auditioned for a newly formed fringe theatre group based at the Rose and Crown pub in Kingston called Grip for the main part of Roote in a relatively obscure play by Harold Pinter called "The Hothouse". Perhaps not among Pinter's greatest plays, it's a superb piece nonetheless, and deeply 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 Tim the American director, and once he'd told me the part was mine, I was genuinely excited by 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 had always been low, mainly most auditions involve the actor performing pieces from memory, which always left me feeling intensely self-conscious. Tim on the other hand got us to read from the play in small groups while inter-reacting with fellow auditionees, which enabled us to attain a basic feel for our respective characters, and so come close to acting for an audience. I'm one of those actors for whom the audience is the life-blood of my acting, and I become galvanised by them.
    Tim demanded from me an interpretation of Roote which was deeply at variance with my usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally vehement approach to acting, but his directorial instincts were immaculate. The eccentric windbag with a tendency to sudden arbitrary brutality which he coaxed out of me was one of the most successful of my uneven career as an actor. It received exceptionally positive reviews not just in the local press, but also the London version of the international listings magazine Time Out, in which my performance was described as “flawlessly accurate” and “lit by flashes of black humour”. The Time Out 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 go on to become a West End superstar. One agent went out of her way to ask me to ensure my details reached her, but my CV at the time was in a poor state, and this may have hampered my chances with her.
    That said, since coming to faith my priorities had drastically shifted, and I viewed worldly acclaim with a far more dubious eye than I'd done only a few years before. Perhaps that's why I failed to take fuller advantage of the opportunities offered to me by my performance in "The Hothouse". But I was also suffering within, badly 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 thrown 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.
    The hard truth of the matter is that by the mid-nineties I no longer enjoyed acting as I'd once done, and while being onstage and relating to other actors was still immensely satisfying to me on an artistic level, in general I found the process of being an actor pure torture. This was especially true of the socialising it entailed. 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, although I'm not sure that these had been permanently affected by my late excesses. There is a belief among some experts on drug and alcohol addiction that the endorphins are depleted by long-term indulgence in various narcotics including alcohol, but I'm not in a position to either endorse or dismiss it. To further complicate matters, I started being subject during the run of “The Hothouse” to heavy spiritual problems related to my thoughts which are evidently not at all uncommon among born again Christians. After all, they are at variance with the World, the Flesh and the Devil. Within a matter of months I'd actively seek a solution to these in the shape of what is known as Deliverance Ministry, and so place myself in the hands of Frank, a great preacher and evangelist whose Trumpet Sounds Ministries lay in a beautiful little Devonshire village called Bow.
    Within a short time of “The Hothouse” reaching the end of its two week run, Grip’s artistic director Martin asked me if I’d like to audition for his upcoming production of Jim Cartwright'a “Two”, a two-handed play in which all the male characters are played by one actor, and all the female by another. Naturally I said yes and after a successful audition, I found myself playing opposite Jane, a superb character actress from Liverpool, 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 Martin and Jane, I dreaded the end of each performance, and I'd make my excuses as soon as it was possible to do so without causing anyone any great offence. Release from what I saw as a prison of sobriety came while I was attending some unrelated function at the Rose and Crown a day or so following my final performance, when a guy I'd only just met offered to buy me a drink and I opted 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. It made me feel amazing, doubly so given the purity of my system. I cycled home that night in a state of total exhileration, feeling for the first time in months that I could so anything. Over the next few week my drinking increased, despite the times it brought on minor panic attacks. Still I refused to heed the warning signs. This first relapse came to a climax in a pub in Twickenham where I met Henry an old university friend, who'd just finished a course nearby at St Mary's University College in 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 lay flat on my back for a while abject and stinking of drink and might have died there but for the mercy of God, and soon I was shakily resumed my journey home. However, weeks of controlled drinking, culminating in one massive binge, possibly combined with the adverse effects of violently smashing my head, resulted in my becoming ill and virtually incapacitated for what might have been as long as a fortnight. As I remember, there were times during this awful period when I'd awake from a feverish sleep in a frantic state, my face a sickly pale, close to backing out, terrified of dying, but each time I felt God came to my rescue just when my I felt I could stay conscious for not a second longer, breathing life back into me. All I could do was lie around, waiting, praying for a return to full health, which seemed to take an eternity, but eventually I did return to normal life determined never to put myself through such a soul-racking experience again.

    Comment (0)

    Fri, Nov 21st - 12:01PM

    7 A Final Distant Clarion Cry



    Twilight of an Actor

    Following on from Jim Cartwright's bitter-sweet two-hander "Two", which I touched on in some detail in "The Trials of a Teetotaller", I performed in one last play at the Rose and Crown theatre, the character-driven comedy "Lovelives". Written entirely by the cast, this ensemble piece 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, it could in my opinion 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. Then later in the year at the Tristan Bates theatre near Leicester Square, I played two small roles in a production of Euripides' "Iphigeneia in Taurois", directed and translated by my longtime friend Adrian. These were Pylades, right hand man  of one of the main characters, Orestes, and the Messenger, a maniacal buffoon of a character which I interpreted with the kind of refined cockney accent once supposedly favoured by policemen and regimental sergeant majors.
     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 consisting of myself, and two locals girls, 19 year old Esther, and married company leader Sally, we toured several shows around schools in various tough multicultural south London areas including Croydon itself, as well as Thornton Heath, Norwood, Crystal Palace and so on. One of these, "Choices", was almost entirely written by me, although it'd been based on an idea by Sally who also heavily edited it for performance purposes. On the whole the kids, most from relatively deprived backgrounds, were incredibly receptive to our productions, and we were greeted by them with almost uniform enthusiasm and affection, which was a surprise and a delight to me at least, although Esther had told me before our very first show that they tended to be very easy to relate to. Whether she meant towards visitors I'm not sure, but I imagine she did. Towards the end of the summer, Sally asked me to write a large scale project for the group. She suggested a contemporary version of John Bunyan's classic Christian allegory "The Pilgim's Progress". Once I'd completed it my enthusiasm for Street Level had begun to wane. This had nothing to do with the company itself which for a few brief months in 1996 was marked by frantic creativity leading to shows with a radical Christian message performed to great success for the benefit of some of the capital's least privileged young people. The fact is that the long and costly early morning train journeys to Croydon via Wimbledon or Clapham Junction were starting to exhaust me. In consequence I suddenly quit, which wasn't a very kind thing to do to Sally because I think she'd started to see me as her rock, and she'd a lot of responsibility on her plate with regard to forthcoming performances and the training of a fresh crew of young Christian actors. My decision was especially mean given that Esther had herself left some weeks earlier, but I had to consider my finances. What's more my spiritual health was poor at the time after weeks of labouring over what turned out to be an unwieldy and often violent epic marked by scenes of the blackest humour. As things turned it was never produced, and I'm not surprised, because although artistically it had its merits, spiritually it was grossly immature. In Christian terms 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 early 1997 I'd vanished into the sanctuary of office life. This included a happy and socially lively period as a panel recruiter for Surrey's Topflight Research which came to a close when I  started rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare's infamous Scottish Play at Fulham's Lost Theatre in the spring of 1998. Despite my cameos as Lennox, the Doctor, and an Old Man being praised by cast and audience members alike, I've not acted since other than a handful of auditions. As things stand, while I'm still open to the possibility of film or television work, the likelihood of my ever appearing onstage in a play again is virtually nonexistent. Quite simply put, the passion to perform in front of a live audience that raged within me for more than two decades has long been quieted.
     Some months after my final performance at the Lost Theatre I wrote the prose piece that eventually mutated into "Such a Short Space of Time". My parents were on vacation for a few weeks during the period of its creation, a glorious summer as I recall that was the last of the millenium. Therefore I was often at the house in which 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 sneaky 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 fiteen 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 then not just in my own life but those of my entire generation. And so I was confonted at once with the devastating transience of human life, and the devastating effect the passage of time exerts 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?

    Dispersals and Beginnings

    A few months later and the troubled, turbulent 20th Century ceded 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 from University College, London, which was one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. But once again the Lord blessed my family, and she made a full recovery. I found the course magnetically compelling on an intellectual level, although I knew that as it went on, there was a strong chance that writing about contemporary Literary Theory would come increasingly to disturb me, and perhaps even compromise my integrity as a Christian. As things turned out, I did leave the course although only on a provisional basis. 
     This was a time in my life marked by what appear to me now as an extraordinary succession of sudden starts and endings, and subsequent to my quitting UCL I was appointed chief musician of a worship group for the church I was attending at the time, Liberty Christian Centre. Liberty was a satellite of London's famous Kensington Temple, and I'd been recommended for the post by my friend Marina, Russian wife of Pastor Louis, late of New York City. She went on to become worship leader, alternating as such with Martha, another close friend, originally from Peru. It was Louis who'd got in touch with me the previous summer through KT about joining a cell group at his home in the Surrey suburbs. This eventually mutated into Liberty, with which I forged very close ties from the outset.
     Soon afterwards I also quit my position as a telecanvasser for an e-commerce company based in Surbiton, Surrey, thereby bringing a fairly lengthy period as an office worker to an end. Since then I’ve worked only casually in various fields of employment including telemarketing, leafleting and as a television extra.
     Another beginning came towards the end of 2000 when I was made lead singer for a Swing-flavoured band which became known as "Nuages" after the famous instrumental by French Jazz guitarist Django Reinhard, but soon afterwards this was counterbalanced by the heartbreaking dissolution of Liberty. And so, in early 2001 I returned to my first spiritual home of the Cornerstone Bible Church, a large fellowship affiliated to the Word of Faith Movement and specifically Rhema Ministries of Johannesburg, South Africa, pastored by Ray McCauley. 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 Christian encourager, if only very briefly. 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.
     I left Cornerstone yet again in late summer 2002 in consequence of a desire born of internet research to seek out places of worship existing beyond the Pentecostal/Charismatic family of churches. Spiritually speaking, this'd been my whole world for nearly a decade, to the degree that I barely acknowledged any other church as worthy of the name Christian, although I had engaged on a similar search of short duration some years previously. My quest led me to churches known as Cessationist which is to say they don't believe in the continuance of the supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Tongues and Prophecy. It also took me to the Sermon Audio website, and I downloaded so many online sermons there that my computer may have crashed as a result. And then there were the discernment ministries, some cessationist, others not, which I visited, pouring over church history ancient and recent for hours on end. I learned alot from them, but I've not returned much to them since. When all's said and done, there's nothing that can lure me from the pure Word of God which has ensured the survival of the Church of Christ for over two millenia.
    Some Fundamentals and Non-Essentials
    Among the churches I visited during the wandering year of 2003 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 what is known as an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church, and therefore KJV only, in other words using the King James Version of the Bible alone. I attended three services at Bethel and fully intended to return for a fourth and so witness the preaching there of David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries, something I was looking forward to doing given that I was familiar with his sermons from the Sermon Audio website, but never did. I was held up at Wimbledon British Rail station for over an hour on my last Sunday at Bethel, and this experience may have put me off travelling by train to church. But the truth is I'd left too many churches in my time and was tiring of the position of new boy brought about by perpetual church-hopping. I now believe church-hopping indeed luke-warm fellowshiping in general to have the potential to be a serious danger to any professing Christian.
     Christ Church is a Free Church of England fellowship, The Free Church of England having 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 resolutely 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, these being 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 Free Grace, or rather, Grace Baptist church, while Bethel is free-willist. In consequence, many Calvinists would describe it as Arminian after the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. This isn't an entirely accurate description in my view given that true Arminians maintain that salvation can be lost, while most Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are upholders of what is known as the eternal security of the Saints. 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 commandements. Also, while I believe that Christ will return prior to establishing his reign on earth for a literal thousand year period, which makes me a pre-millenialist, a person can maintain that Christ won't return until after the millenium, or that the millenium lies in the past, and still be a saved Christian. These are justifiable differences in scriptural interpretation. Previous to my year of nonstop study, 2003, I knew next to nothing about the foundations of the faith, and yet still possessed a degree of discernment. What's more I had no clue as to the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, Cessationism and Continuationism and so on. But I was still saved by the Grace of God; and I don't believe anyone is either saved or damned by believing one or the other of these distinctions. That said, true saving faith must produce fruits, such as repentance, and adherence to sound doctrine. At the same time, I was fairly well versed in the subject of the prophetic interpretation of the Bible  thanks to having been introduced to this early in my Christian life by Spencer and Grace Nash, through various magazines and books, including "Prophecy Today". I emerged from that year of nonstop study at peace again with the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, and yet conscious as never before of the importance of adhering to the fundamentals of the faith once delivered unto the saints. But this didn't last. I recently had to make yet another return to the world of discernment through online research. 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 unity can never be at the expense of the uncompromised purity of the Word of God.

    The Wilderness Decade
    I haven't been settled within a church since 2001, which points to a restlessness which 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. For close on a decade I've been effectively addicted to designer sportswear including identity-concealing baseball caps, sweat shirts with giant logos, gaudily striped track suit bottoms and elaborately wrought training shoes. What's more I've continued to sport a stud in my left earlobe since coming to Christ, earrings themselves being widely believed to be associated with ancient pagan idolatry by some Christians. If my image fails to reflect a changed life, then I may be cheating others of the opportunity of coming to Christ through me, and that is a wicked thing to do. I think it's high 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 Christian.
     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 mild breathing difficulties. At first I missed being blond, but in time I came to enjoy being my natural dark-haired self after years of androgynous affectation...for throughout my twenties and for much of my thirties I effectively remained in a state of extended adolescence. As a result I took no real responsibility as a man in the purest sense of the word, which is to say as leader, provider, protector, etc. Instead, I opted for a variety of marginalised male personas, including man about town and dandy, Punk agitator, hellraising libertine, self-destructive genius, shadowy man of learning and so on ad nauseum...I've ditched them all as so much pretentious nonsense. And I thank God for being offered the chance to repent of them and the unholy chaos I caused by attempting to take the romantic bohemian rebel existence to its logical conclusion.
     Young people still worship at the altar of romantic rebellion, but perhaps not to the same degree as my own poor generation, who came to maturity to a frenetic Rock soundtrack in the tail-spinning nineteen sixties. Who can say effect it had on us, this music tailor-made to inspire a generation scornful of deferred gratification and for whom the nowness of the hipster was everything. But a music that was far more than mere music...a total art involving poetry, theatre, fashion, but even more than that...a way of life with a strong spiritual foundation. And yet, the rites of the Rock religion such as the embracing of excess of every kind while more widespread than ever before in modern history in the 1960s were far from new. Indeed, they can be traced back to Man's initial attempts at attaining spiritual ecstasy beyond the will of God. However, with regard to 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. The notion of the artist as tormented genius at the vanguard of social revolution and eternally defiant of middle class restraint and respectability is widely believed to have originated among the Romantics. Although how true this is, it's impossible to say.
    The March of the Modern
    It was the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who may have 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 Theophile Gautier decades before he became an establishment darling, cultivated dandified and eccentric personas intended to shock the bourgeoisie, while inclining to political radicalism. Needless to say perhaps, they owed a 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 'n' 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. However, the spirit of the avant garde arguably triumphed 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 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 Culture.
     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 movement of cataclysmic power and influence. When it comes to Modernism 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 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 high culture could only dream of. Much of this influence was rightly perceived by many who continued to value the Christian fabric of Western society to be wholly detrimental. From its inception in fact Rock became one of the supreme bete noirs of traditional Evangelicals, and it remains so today, although many of these would sooner be seen as Fundamentalists. I myself fell under the influence of various Fundamentalist Christian critics of Rock music for a brief period in 2003, which made me feel 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 father Pat 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 reworkings of old tunes of mine, were recorded on a Sony CFS-B21L cassette-corder, which I think has been discontined, 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 pretty tune.  
     Then 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 as they became known. In the summer of 2007, the master was finally created with arrangements by John Smith, and the title "A Taste of Summer Wine" given it in honour of the much loved long-running situation comedy "Last of the Summer Wine". This was due to the fact that Jim's playing had long been featured on the programme, which'd been orchestrated by Ronnie Hazelhurst, who sadly died late last year, and Pat had served as leader for the show for some time. In Spring 2008, the CD finally came to fruition after three and a quarter years of gestation. A few months later, the writing project "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child" followed suit.
     This experimental memoir "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child" is the first literary project of mine I'm pretty well 100% certain won't end up being dumped in some dustbin, or deleted. The truth is that soon after becoming a Christian I destroyed most of what I'd written up until that point. For a time I wrote quite contentedly in a new Christian spirit until it seems that the Lord put an end to my ability to do so without experiencing extreme spiritual difficulties, as if I was being suffused through with a terrible leaden sense of darkness which had a special effect on my eyes. In consequence I consistently ended up shredding or dumping anything I put to paper until finally in about 1998 I more or less abandoned creative writing altogether. Although there were periodic attempts to return to it. As I mentioned earlier, my writing throughout the '90s reflected a continuing preoccupation with subjects that'd held me spellbound prior to my conversion, and that's especially true of the occult. It's my belief that my early Christian writings glorified these phenomena despite a false warning tone which served as a cloak for my true motives. Furthermore, some of these mixed truth and fiction to produce a deceptive hybrid. God requires that all those who take the name of Christian adhere to absolute truth to the very best of their ability. Finally, in January 2006, I believe God made it clear to me that I was sufficiently mature to be able to write again, and I tentatively started publishing pieces at the Blogster website with the first autobiographical one being written sometime around the spring of 2006. With his 53rd birthday now behind him, this Rock'n' Roll child as old as the music itself born on the day of the infamous Six Gallery reading in San Franciso and rescued in 1993, is putting the last touches to a labour of love which has taken him nearly three years to achieve. For anyone still reading...thank you for your patience with my work and its poor fool of a creator dear devoted friend, I salute you, you are a treasure indeed.


    Comment (0)

    Back to Blog Main Page


    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.

    Nov. 2008
                1
    2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    9 10 11 12 13 14 15
    16 17 18 19 20 21 22
    23 24 25 26 27 28 29
    30            
    prev   next
    Blog Roll


    More From ChristiansUnite...    About Us | Privacy Policy | | ChristiansUnite.com Site Map | Statement of Beliefs



    Copyright © 1999-2019 ChristiansUnite.com. All rights reserved.
    Please send your questions, comments, or bug reports to the