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The Sweetness of Wrens
by Carl Halling
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Chapter Six The Sweetness of Wrens

A Surrey Idyll

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

In the Bleak Mid 1970s

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

In the Waters of the Kiel Canal

Within a few short weeks of our returning to London by train from Edinburgh, my brother and I were onboard ship again, this time a yacht taking us to the Baltic coast of Denmark via Germany's famous Kiel Canal as part of the Mariners' Club of Great Britain, and once more we were supervised by "mates", or the equivalent. We wasted little time in recruiting a pleasant young guy from Gloucestershire called Cy as our closest friend and crony. Soon after setting foot on Danish soil all three of us sought out the company of two classically Scandinavian blondes. This caused the Captain, who was a real character, to have a go at us with tongue firmly in cheek about selfishly keeping our dates to ourselves. Little could he have known how innocent our efforts at romance had in fact been.
 A rather less than sweet and innocent incident took place towards the end of the trip, which saw me in pursuit of a pretty German girl, Ulrike. I liked her so very much, and she clearly liked me, and yet I'd senselessly dumped her for the sake of a night of drunken idiocy with my brother and Cy. Suddenly, overtaken by the sickly pangs of remorse, I set out to find her, and at some point during my search, while walking along some kind of wooden pontoon I lost my footing and fell fully clothed into the waters of what must have been Kiel Canal. I wrote to Ulrike, but she never wrote back, and I can't say I blame her. To this day I can't understand what possessed me to ignore her so callously, just in order to tie one on with the boys which I could have done any night of the week. Self-sabotage was fast becoming a speciality of mine.

The Sweetness of Wrens

It was later in the year I think that I took my friend Norma, one of the London Division Wrens but originally from the north of England, to a dinner dance at London's Walford Hilton Hotel. At some point we were joined there by a couple of Norma's close friends, a fair, bearded man in a suit, and his dark, extrovert wife. The husband was one of those deeply gentle men I came across from time to time in the 1970s. They weren't all bearded; but I can think of two who were; and several who weren't. What united them was that they behaved with special protectiveness towards me. Early in the evening, Norma became furious when a group of older seamen started teasing me from their table. But it was all a big joke to me; and I didn't see it as in any way malicious or threatening.
 It was only a matter of weeks after returning from the Baltic that I sailed with the RNR to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France; and then shortly after that I was with the RNR again, this time in the Pool of London, subject of a famous British crime film directed by Basil Dearden in 1951 and referring to that stretch of the Thames lying between London Bridge and Rotherhithe.
Still in '75...yes, my life was actually pretty full back then...I attempted to pass what is known as the AIB or Admiralty Interview Board in the hope of becoming a Supply and Secretariat officer in the Royal Navy. This entailed me taking the train down to HMS Stirling, the Royal Navy's specialist training centre in Gosport, Hampshire, where I spent three days attending various examinations and interviews intended to assess my potentiality as a naval officer.
 On one occasion early on in the long weekend shortly before one assignment or another, I was looking in the mirror, putting the final touches to my dress, at which point one of the guys I was sharing a dorm with reminded me that I was at an AIB not a fashion parade. Something like that anyway. Not the sort of man I wanted coming with me to the disco that night to get to know some Gosport girls. In the event two of my fellow interviewees were up the task. I asked one of them what he was expecting out of the night, and he told me whatever he could get or something, but he really didn't seem to keen. I know now that he was uncomfortable being out so late and understandably anxious to return to base. As things turned out I was left alone at the club dancing with a soft-spoken local girl called Shirlee. A little later I accompanied her along a busy main leading back to Stirling, with several cars sounding their horns as I kissed her good night, only to discover that the main entrance had been locked and was now being manned by an armed guard.
 If the young man nervously trying to reach someone in authority within the training centre on a walkie talkie was wondering exactly what kind of person returns to base dressed to the nines after a night's disco dancing when he was supposed to be in the midst of three days of gruelling tests and interviews that were vital to his future career, then he gave no indication of it. He did however eventually make contact, and I can vaguely remember passing through an officer's mess soon afterwards and briefly engaging in some genial conversation with its occupants. Their actual opinion of me of course they kept to themselves. It may just be me, but I can't help thinking that had I returned to Stirling that night before being locked out, I might have been in with a better chance of passing the AIB, that is, as opposed to failing it, which I perhaps rather predictably did. But then again, not necessarily...

Chapter Seven My Future Positively Glittered

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

Summer's End

1976 was the year in which I came increasingly under the influence of the decade of Brando, Presley and Dean which at the time was less in tune with my tastes than the stylish 1920s but I was keen for change and was a massive James Dean fan. So by degrees throughout the year, I replaced my old foppish wardrobe with the classic "Rebel" uniform of red windcheater, white tee-shirt, straight leg jeans, and loafers.
On occasion, however, I reverted to my old image such as the time towards the end of the legendary long hot summer of '76 that I wore top hat and tails and reddened nails to a party hosted by a friend from Prestlands. This took place in September. I know this to be an absolute certainty because I should have been at sea at the time, on the minesweeper HMS Kettleton. I think it was only a couple of days afterwards that Kettleton capsized and sank to the bottom of the North Sea following a tragic accident involving another larger ship while engaged in a Replenishment at Sea exercise. It resulted in the loss of twelve men most of whom I knew personally, given that only weeks earlier I'd spent a few days on Kettleton with more or less exactly the same crew.
An impression I can recall having at the time at the time with regard to those who didn't survive was that they were all natural-born gentlemen. I knew three of them quite well, and they were men of marked generosity of spirit and sweetness of disposition. That is not to say that the survivors weren't, far from it...many of them were good friends of mine. My point is that there was a deep gentleness about those who didn't make it, according to how I saw them at the time. It broke my heart to think of what happened to them.

Global Village Soul Boys

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

Hardly a Wunderkind

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

An Evanescent Friendship

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

Chapter Eight Gilded Youth at the Silverhill School


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

The Woodville Hall escapists

In late 1977 I joined the former Merchant Navy School in Kent as a trainee Radio Officer. I formed several close friendships there; but closest of all was with Jayant, a lovable jack the lad of about 18 with a thick London accent who'd been born into nearby Gravesend's large Asian community. Jay certainly knew how to handle himself, but he was loyal and soft-hearted towards those he liked and trusted, and for a time we were inseparable.
 It was through Jay I think that I started going to discos at Gravesend's Woodville Hall, depicted in the piece below. There young (white and Asian) kids would meet every week or so in late '77 dressed in escapist fashions which stood out in such bizarre contrast with the drabness of their surroundings. English suburban life in those days didn't include such modern day distractions as mobile phones, DVD players and the world wide web, and was dismally uninspiring as a result. Little wonder therefore that it gave birth to Punk and other outlandish youth cults, most of which are still in existence to some degree to this day.

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

West Suburban Story

Soon after returning from the Merchant Navy school in December '77, I auditioned for a place on the three year drama course at the Silverhill School of Music and Drama in the City of London, which was really what I'd wanted to do in the first place. Incredibly, as I'd already failed two earlier auditions for RADA, Silverhill accepted me for the course beginning in autumn 1978. I was exhilarated; but that didn't stop me sinking further into the nihilistic Punk lifestyle. Having been bewitched by the hairstyle of one of a small gang of Punks I knew by sight from nights out in Dartford in late '77, I decided to imitate it a few weeks later. It was predictably spiked, with a kind of a halo of bright blond taking in the front of the head, both sides, and a strip at the nape of the neck. I have part of a photograph of myself wearing this style with a long Soul Boy fringe at the front, before I eventually had it cut into spikes. By the spring of 1978, I'd shorn it all off into a skinhead.
 It was genuinely dangerous being a Punk in 77-78 and you lived in constant fear of attack or abuse if you chose to dress like one. After all, Punk's culture of insolence and outrage was extreme even by the standards of previous British youth cults such as the Teds, the Rockers, the Mods, the Greasers, the Skins, the Suedeheads and the Smoothies. Britain in those days was a country still dominated to some degree by pre-war moral values, which were Victorian in essence, and a cultural war was being fought for the soul of the nation. It could be said therefore that Punks were the avant garde of the new Britain in a way that would be impossible today. This explains the extraordinary hostility Punks attracted.
Close by to where I shared a house with my parents in the furthermost reaches of South West London where suburbia meets countryside I saw Hersham Punk band Sham 69 shortly before they became nationally famous. I already knew their lead singer Jimmy Pursey by sight; at least I think it was him I saw miming to Chris Spedding's "Motorbiking" at the disco one night. This gig took place in a poky hall above a pub in the centre of a large bleak industrial estate, itself surrounded by drab housing estates and rows of council houses.
On one occasion that I remember, the Soul gave way to Punk which saw the tiny dance space being invaded by deranged pogo-dancers. I just stood back and watched. On another, a Ted revivalist, a follower of classic Rock and Roll who favoured flashy fifties-style clothing, tried to start some trouble with me in the toilet. At this point, another Ted who I think had befriended me about a year before when I was still dressing in '50s style, stepped in with the magical words: "He's a mate!". His intervention may have saved me from a hiding that night because Teds had a loathing of Punks informed by their essential conservatism. To them, Punks probably seemed to have no respect for anything. Later, or it may have been before I can't remember, he asked me whether I was really into "this Punk lark" or whatever he called it, and I assured him I wasn't. I may even have added that I still loved the fifties, which was actually the truth to an extent, not that that was the point. The fact is that I lied to him to look good in his eyes, which was a pretty low thing to do to a friend.
 On New Years Eve, I took Jay to a party in swanky West or Central London. It was one of the last, perhaps even the very last, in a long series of parties I'd gone to throughout '77 thanks to my old Welbourne buddies, so many of whom were now based in and around the capital.
 Before arriving at the host's house or apartment, Jay and I met up as agreed with budding oil magnate Chris, an especially close friend from my days as Cadet C.R. Halling 173. Introductions over, Jay saw fit to impress Chris with a terrifying solo display of his lethal street fighting skills. "I'm suitably impressed", said Chris, and he was; and he was no wimp himself (to say the least). We all got on well that insane night which saw me pouring a full glass of beer over my head at one point in circumstances I'd rather keep to myself. What the beautiful student of dance I'd spent most of the evening with thought of a nice guy like me doing a thing like that she didn't say.

The Costa del Punk

In the spring of 1978, I arrived in the famous Costa del Sol town of Fuengirola near Marbella, with the intention of helping to set up a sailing school with a young English guy of about 30 I knew only very slightly. He kindly put me up in an apartment, but as things turned out the project came to nothing. However, I stayed on in Fuengirola, living first in a hotel, and then rent-free thanks to a friend I made in town in her own apartment.
 Shortly after that, I was offered the position of front man in a Hard Rock band playing nightly at the Tam Tam night club. I became something of a town character, Coco the Punk as I was known, one of only two Punks in Fuengirola, most of the kids who became my close friends being still in thrall to the Hippie sixties. '78 was my first year as a full-time Punk in fact, and among the objects of my excess were a black wet-look tee-shirt with cropped sleeves, drainpipe jeans of black or green, worn with black studded belt festooned with silver chain kept in place by safety pins, fluorescent teddy boy socks, and white shoes with black laces etc. I even had a safety pin, anaesthetized by being dipped into an alcoholic drink, forced through my left ear lobe by a friend. I removed it once it had started to cause my whole ear to throb.
 For the most part, it was a summer of love and leisure, of endless lotus eating mostly spent in the town itself, but also at the famous Campo del Tenis, or nearby Mijas...and even on one occasion each as I remember it, in Marbella, Torremolinos, Puerto Banus. I was always short of money, but I could order what I wanted at the Tam Tam, and when I was flat broke I was bought toasted cheese sandwiches and bottles of cold Spanish beer or whatever else I wished for by a very dear friend. One night the charismatic British racing driver James Hunt called to her from out of the darkness of a balmy Andalusian night, before vanishing as suddenly as he'd arrived. Yes, it was that incredible a summer.
 I returned to London in September 1978 to take my place at the Silverhill, but by the following summer, I was back in Spain...not Fuengirola though, despite the fact that my friends from the band had wanted me to carry on with them as lead singer throughout '79. I feel bad to this day at having let them down so badly; we were so close as a band. There was something about the Spanish character that resonated with me; I can't say exactly what, but I always got on so well with the Spanish.
 In my wisdom I'd chosen instead to go to La Ribera, the little former fishing village in the south eastern province of Murcia.
 I felt a deep and overwhelming sense of exhaustion as I stretched out on the wooden balneario overlooking the Mar Menor, but I don't recall being especially disappointed by the knowledge that I wouldn't be returning to the Silverhill for the autumn term of 1979. It may have been just the Costa Calida sun that made me feel so burned out.

Farewell Lauderdale Tower

Just before quitting Fuengirola the previous summer of '78 I'd been approached with an offer of singing in the Canary Islands, but I'd turned it down. Who knows where it might have led; but then had I travelled to the Canaries with the band, I wouldn't have gone to the Silverhill through which so many incredible experiences came. It would take an entire separate volume to list them all.
 What I will say is I was involved with an almost unbroken succession of Rock and Pop bands. Through one of them, Rockets, I was offered the position of lead singer for a guitar player of genius who's played with one of the world's leading Rock superstars since 1990. Through another, Narcissus, which I formed with my mates Simon and John, I found only disgrace when our bizarre image resulted in a cacophony of heckling. For the most part, I was the sweetest and most mannerly of guys of guys, but I had a nasty habit of shooting myself in the foot at the worst possible moments, or shooting my mouth off, one of the two. It was as almost as if I was returning to type, the suburban loser, waster, clown...position, after all, from which it's impossible to fall.
 My final band was the '50s revivalist act Z Cars, which even won a tiny fan base for itself. I was Carl Cool, lead singer and songwriter with a tattoo painted onto my shoulder; while Robert Fitzroy-Square was the boy next door with the Buddy Holly glasses, who provided most of the comedy, Dave Dean, the Punk kid, and Little Ricky Ticky, the baby of the band at only 18.
 There were emotional scenes at my farewell party held in the depths of the Barbican Estate's Lauderdale Tower and many cried openly because I was leaving. During the evening, a close friend Tasmin told me to contact the impresario Harry Creasey, well-known for offering young actors their very first positions within the entertainment industry.
 True to form, he gave me my very first paid job in the business a matter of months afterwards. So just before Christmas, I was doubling as Christian the Chorus Boy and Joey the Teddy Bear complete with furry costume in the pantomime "Sleeping Beauty" that began its run in Ealing in west London, culminating at the Buxton Opera House in Derbyshire. Then early on in the new year, I played Mustardseed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Bristol Old Vic.
 From the Vic era, I offer the following relic from an unfinished tale which I went on to edit and versify. I rescued it last year from a battered notebook I was in the habit of scribbling in during spare moments offstage while dressed in my costume and covered in blue body make-up and silver glitter. While doing so, some of this glitter was transferred from the pages with which they were stained more than twenty six years ago onto my hands. It was an eerie experience.

Along Whiteladies Road

I remember the grey
of rain,
The jocular driver
As I boarded the bus
At Temple Meads,
And the friendly lady
Who told me
When we had arrived
At the city centre.
I remember
the little pub
on King Street,
With its quiet
Maritime atmosphere
And the first readthrough.
I remember tramping
Along Park Street,
Whiteladies Road
And Blackboy Hill,
My arms and hands
Aching from my bags
To the little cottage
Where I had decided to stay
And relax
In beween rehearsals,
Reading, writing,
Listening to music.
I remember my landlady,
Tall, timid and beautiful...

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