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West of the Fields Long Gone
by Carl Halling
07/09/12
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Chapter Nine West of the Fields Long Gone

"West of the Fields Long Gone" has been composed of pieces from formerly published writings, including "Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm" mark one, which was first published at Blogster on the 25th January 2007. "First Night of the Dream" and "The End of the Century Young" were taken from this piece. "Like Some New Romantic" was originally part of an early draft of "West of the Fields Long Gone" published at Blogster on August 20th 2006. All sections were subjected to considerable modification before being published in definitive form at FaithWriters in August/December '07.
 It takes up where the previous story, "Gilded Youth at the Silverhill School" left off, which is to say my arrival in Bristol in South West England to appear in Richard Cottrell's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the city's Old Vic theatre in the winter of 1980. Moving into '81, it goes into some details about my tenuous links with the New Romantic movement, and ends with my becoming an ageing student at the University of London.

First Night of the Dream

My time in the city of Bristol as an actor with the Bristol Old Vic theatre company in early 1980 was restless and unsettled. Initially, I stayed in an elegant little dwelling in the affluent Clifton area to the west of the city centre. Then, a friend from the Vic who also happened to be the wardrobe assistant, generously asked me if I’d like to stay with her for a while. I said yes, but it wasn't long before I'd relocated to a boarding house, also in leafy Clifton I think. There I stayed until it was time for me to return to London.
 Appearing alongside me in Richard Cottrell's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" among other members of an incredibly gifted generation of actors at the Vic were Daniel Day Lewis, future Oscar-winning character actor of legendary perfectionist genius; and the brilliant Nickolas Grace, perhaps best known for his screen portrayals of flamboyant dandies both real and fictional; such as Anthony Blanche in the 1981 television version of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", directed by Charles Sturridge and Michael Lynsey-Hogg. And prior to the first night, I'd been fortunate enough to witness a BOV production of one of my favourite ever musicals, Frank Loesser’s "Guys and Dolls", with Clive Wood as Sky Masterson, and another future screen legend Pete Postethwaite as Nathan Detroit, and which may have provided me with more pleasure than any other theatre production I'd seen up to that point.
 The “Dream” was greatly praised; and there was even some talk of its going on to become as renowned as the 1971 production by Peter Brook, whom I actually met ca. 1979. So much so that it relocated to the London Old Vic in the summer, where it was no less successful than at Bristol.

Like Some New Romantic

1981 was the year in which I was most active as an enthusiast of the New Romantic movement which had been originated in the late 1970s largely among discontented ex-punks who were reacting to Punk's increasingly drab uniformity. The New Romantics embraced a hyper-nostalgic devotion to diverse ages past which they interpreted as romantic, whether recent times such as the twenties or forties, after the fashion of such pioneers of the movement as Bryan Ferry, and Ron Mael of Sparks, a startlingly inventive avant-pop outfit of American origin, or more distant historical epochs, which inspired such accessories as ruffs, veils, frills, kilts and so on. Its soundtrack was not guitar rock, but an electronic dance music influenced by German art rock collectives such as Kraftwerk and Can, as well as electro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder. To some degree, it set the tone, musically speaking for the entire decade, after having been brought into the pop charts by acts as diverse as Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and Ultravox. By the end of '81, the movement was no longer cutting edge as I recall it, partly perhaps because of the scarcity of bands clearly identifiable as New Romantic. That said, it went on to exert an immense influence on the development of music and fashion throughout the eighties, not just in London but other cities throughout Britain, Europe, and beyond. I attended New Romantic club nights at Le Kilt and Le Beat Route among others, and was even snapped at one of these by the legendary London photographer David Bailey, but I was never a true New Romantic, so much as a fellow traveller keen to experience first hand the final truly provocative London music and fashion cult before it imploded as all others had done before it.
 As '81 progressed, my acting career faltered, and so a family decision was reached to the effect that I should become a mature student at the age of 25. Accordingly, I passed interviews for both the University of Exeter, and the University of London and specifically, Leftfield College, situated on the Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London.
 To cut a long story short, I opted for Leftfield; and so in the autumn of that year found myself embarking on a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Drama mainly at Leftfield, but also partly at the nearby Central School of Speech and Drama, while resident in a small room on campus.
 My dissatisfaction with my situation was initially so strong that at one point in an attempt to escape it I auditioned for work as an assistant stage manager, or acting ASM, for my one-time agent Harry Creasey. However, I was not successful. Soon after this fiasco, while ambling at night in what I think was the Swiss Cottage area close by to the Central School, I was ambushed by a group of my fellow drama students, who were clearly thrilled to see me. It felt wonderful to be accepted so unconditionally by them. Perhaps they appeared to my jaded 26 year old eyes to incarnate the sheer carefree rapturous vitality and joy of life of youth.
 Before long I settled down at Leftfield, in fact came to love my time there, coinciding as it did with the first half of the crazy eighties...last of a triad of decades in the West of unceasing artistic and societal change and experimentation. For me the very early '80s was a time of ceaseless exhilarated hedonism, the poisons fuelling me back then being not primarily, or even significantly, narcotic. Rather they constituted a furious desire for strong sensation within a diversity of fields, the intellectual, the social and the amatory among them, reinforced by industrial strength doses of self-obsession. Furthermore, from around the turn of the eighties or earlier, I began to be motivated by an adoration of early death, as well as those artists who, both gifted beyond measure and exquisite of face and form had gone in search of it. It was my desire to be ultimately numbered among such bedevilled individuals myself, to know such blissful delinquency...
 The piece below has its origins I believe in that time, and the "artistic torment" it conveys should be taken with a colossal pinch of salt. The truth is that I was a genuinely joyful and carefree spirit back then, in fact perhaps too much so, with the result being that I felt moved to seek out the kind of mysterious intensity I felt I sorely lacked and so coveted. It's a cliché I know...but we should all be careful for what we wish for, for when it comes to us as so very often does, it tends to do so at quite a price, oh such a price...

Some Perverse Will

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

Chapter Ten Ice Spoke of the Spells of Calm

A Leftfield Narrative 1

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

A Night at Scorpio's

Thanks to the large quantity of notes I committed to paper while at Leftfield, this long vanished college can live again through writings I've painstakingly forged out of them, such as the poetic piece below. It was based on several conversations I had with Jez, a great Leftfield friend. He was a tough-talking kid with a rocker's quiff from Liverpool who I think had been around during the Punk days at Eric's, but whose heart was pure gold. I'm sure these talks took place late one night in late 1982 in Scorpio's, a Greek restaurant opposite the college on the Finchley Road following a performance at college of Lorca's "Blood Wedding" in which I'd played the part of the Novio, or bridegroom.
 The previous summer Jez had played Malvolio in a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the play's action having been transplanted to an Arcadian swinging sixties.
 And while Jez interpreted Malvolio as a brooding relic from the previous decade, I as Feste was perfectly of my time as a wandering minstrel in flowing hippie clothes. When we re-performed it at the college the following winter term we were like returning heroes, at least that's how it seemed to me. I was young then...that's my excuse anyway...

I think you should be
One of the greats,
Carl, but you've
Given up and that's sad...
You drink too much,
You think, ____ it
And you go out and get _____,
When I'm 27 I'd be happy
To be like you...
In your writing,
Make sure you've got
Something really
Unbeatable...
Then say...'Here, you _______!'
You've got the spark of genius
At sixteen, you knew
You were a genius,
At nineteen, you thought
You were a failure
& now you think...
What's genius anyway?

A Leftfield Narrative 2

The piece featured below begun as diary notes written on spare scraps of paper, only to be shelved for more than two decades. They refer to a single evening at Leftfield, almost certainly taking place in 1983, but perhaps '82. It gives some indication of my social hypersensitivity and unceasing need for attention, affection and approval within a social setting, and the way it affected those who cared for me.

Nice Guy on the Sidelines

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

A Leftfield Narrative 3

On and off throughout the 1980s, I catalogued my days through notebooks, cassette tapes, odd scraps of paper, and so on. Some of these rough diary entries produced "She Dear One Who Followed Me" which is featured below. It first existed as a series of scrawled notes based on conversations I'd had in 1982 or '83 with a very dear friend, Madeleine.
 One of these resulted from an incident in which I'd made a fool of myself by storming off during a gig featuring myself and fellow singer-guitarist Denny after I’d caused something of a scene by breaking a string.
 The first section begins with "It was she", and ends with "you could hurt me, you know". making use of extracts from several separate conversations, all of which were also edited; while the second, taken from a single edited conversation begins with "You are a Don Juan" and ends with "there's something so...so...your look". The final section, also taken from a single conversation, was reproduced word for word. Portions of the piece were translated from the original French, Madeleine’s native tongue. As a whole, it provides something of an insight into how my friend saw me in those days...as a far more complex individual than my good time guy image might have suggested. She was not alone in doing this.

She Dear One Who Followed Me

It was she, bless her,
who followed me...
she'd been crying...
she's too good for me,
that's for sure...
"Your friends
are too good to you...
it makes me sick
to see them...
you don't really give...
you indulge in conversation,
but your mind
is always elsewhere,
ticking over.
You could hurt me,
you know...
You are a Don Juan,
so much.
Like him, you have
no desires...
I think you have
deep fears...
There's something so...so...
your look.
It's not that
you're empty...
but that there is
an omnipresent sadness.

Chapter Eleven The Wanderer of Golders Green

Introduction

A definitive version of "The Wanderer of Golders Green", formerly "Tales from a College that Disappeared" as earlier published in rudimentary form at FaithWriters on the 22cnd of April 2007, was re-published there in December 2007.

An Eighties Narrative 1

The two “tales” that follow have been compiled using my usual creative methods exhaustively described elsewhere. They are intended to provide a stark contrast between my state of being during the first half of my time at Leftfield College, London, where I studied for a BA degree in French and Drama between 1981 and ’85, and that during my final year. The first tale, “Gallant Festivities” was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-’83. Itself consisting of two sections, the first refers to revels enjoyed in the wake of a performance at the college of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in which I’d played Feste the Fool, while the second was collaged out of an assortment of diary entries from ‘83. Some of these were made in response to another night of revelry following the showing of a play, this time of Lorca's “Blood Wedding”, already mentioned in the previous chapter. Both I hope successfully evoke the feverish merrymaking that marked my golden years at Leftfield.
 I like to see my first two Leftfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to frenzied excess, with disaster looming just beyond the horizon. In a general sense this came in the shape of Black Monday, the stock market crash of Monday the 19th of October 1987. This could be said to have put paid to the spirit of the eighties just as effectively as the Great Crash of 1929 had spelled the end of the "greatest, gaudiest spree in history". As to myself in particular, it took form as the collapse of my health and the end of my ability to drink alcohol with impunity. This however would not occur until well into the decade to come.

Gallant Festivities (1982/3)

It was my evening,
That’s for sure -
At last I’m good
At something -
27 years old
I may be, but…
“I’ve heard all
about you…”
“I have to meet
That guy…”
“Spot the
Equity card…”
“It’s your aura, Carl…”
I even signed
One of Fred’s friends’
Programmes -
“When are you going
To be a superstar?”
Said Sara
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…
I danced first with P.,
"...Don't go away..."
Zoe called me...
I listened…
…To her problems…
References
To my “innocent face”…
Linda said:
“Sally seems Elusive
But is in fact,
Accessible;
You’re the opposite -
You give to everyone
But are incapable
Of giving in particular.”
Madeleine was comparing me
To June Miller...
Descriptions by Nin:
“She does not dare
To be herself…”
Everything I’d always
Wanted to be,
I now am…
“…She lives
On the reflections
Of herself…”
Partly of truth,
“…In the eyes
Of others…"
"...So long, Carl..."
“There is no June
To grasp and know…”
…Partly of myth.
I get kept getting up to dance…

An Eighties Narrative 2

For the duration of my second year at Leftfield I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Steve and Sebastian, French students both; and from the East Riding of Yorkshire and County Durham respectively.
 Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge (which doubled as Steve’s bedroom) with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We all three went on to organise a “salon” which while well attended only ran to a single meeting, a desperate attempt at aping Oxford-style decadence in the upstairs apartment of a tiny little dwelling in suburban north London. With the best will in the world, we were not part of the Brideshead Generation.
 In common with most of my friends, I drank and smoked pretty heavily at night night, but never during the day. Looking back, self-doubt was not a serious problem for me any more than was depression. In fact, my first two Leftfield years were a neverending round of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set against the background of one of the most beautiful and bucolic suburbs of north London. Sadly, however, the summer term of 1983 was an anticlimax. The reason for this was that I had decided to work for a full academic year as an English language assistant in a French secondary school following the vacation. Therefore I would not be seeing my friends at Leftfield again, that is in the capacity of fellow student, nor joining them in their final year celebrations. There was an alternative, in the shape of a few weeks abroad, but accepting this would have deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I’d long pined for. So, in the autumn of ’83, I took lodgings on the grounds of a Lycée Technique in Brétigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs situated some sixteen miles south of the city centre, and remained there until the following May.

Paris What a City

I was hardly innocent by the time I first set foot in Brétigny. I'm almost certain, however, that at some point not too long after my arrival I felt a sense of self-disillusion, I can't say why for certain. Perhaps I felt I’d let people down, people who’d loved and trusted me because of the way I looked, with such an "innocent face". At the same time, paradoxially perhaps, I'd barely been vainer than in '84, to such a degree that some of the Lycée kids affectionately dubbed me Aldo Maccione for my absurd affected swagger. Aldo was a comic actor who habitually referred to "la classe", a kind of caricature of Latin machismo. Yet there seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience had long started to scream out in protest and pain...

...my paris begins with those early days as as a conscious flâneur i recall the couple seated opposite me on the métro 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 tessa's wide-brimmed hat and then making my way alone to my room in in the insanely driving rain getting soused in les halles with sara who'd just seen dillon as rusty james and was walking in a daze sara again with jade at the caveau de la huchette jazz cellar the café de flore with milan who asked for a menu for me and then disappeared back to brétigny 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 delève and a leather jacket from the marché aux puces of the porte de clignancourt wandering the city alone or with adrienne or milan or steve or simon or ariana or amanda (i still miss her) losing rory's address scrawled on a page of musset's confessions d'un enfant du siècle walking the length and breadth of the rue st denis what a city as Juliette once wrote me...so thrillingly lovely...so thrillingly lovely...

An Eighties Narrative 3

It may be true to say that much of the wistfulness displayed by the final piece, "The Wanderer of Golders Green" formed from notes committed to paper in 1985, and largely centring on an evening I spent sauntering in a mournful daze through the titular north London suburb, was born of a long-established infatuation with Bohemian melancholy, and that my characteristic joy of life was still very firmly in place in ’85. Yet, as I remember it, this same natural exaltation was being compromised as never before by a tendency to unbelievably intense depressive attacks. Furthermore, it is unquestionable that I was seeking more and more comfort through a far deadlier Bohemian favourite than mere affected discontent, alcohol.
 I don’t think it’s too fanciful to suggest that I’d lost something between bidding farewell to the Leftfield I’d known in ’81 to ’83, and returning to my Land of Lost Content in the autumn of ‘84, something hard to define perhaps, but something precious nonetheless.

The Wanderer of Golders Green (1985)

I awake each morning
With fresh hope
And tranquility
I might go for a saunter
Down quiet London backstreets
Soon my aimlessness
Depresses me,
And I realise
I’d been deceiving myself
As to my ability
To relax as others do.
After my Special B.,
I bought a lager
At the Bar
And chatted to Gaye.
Then Ray
Bought me another.
I appreciated the fact
That he remembered
The time he,
His gal Chris,
And Rory Downed
An entire Bottle
Of Jack Daniels
In a Paris-bound train.
I awoke around one.
I slowly got dressed.
Chatty as ever
Before the exam:
French/English translation.
Periodically I put
My face in my hands
Or groaned or sighed.
I finished my paper
In 1 hour and a half.
As I walked out
I caught various eyes
Amanda’s, Jade’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.
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.

Outro: A Paris Flaneur

"A Paris Flâneur" was extracted just a little over a year ago from a passage from a projected novel, perhaps written sometime in the mid to late 1980s, but then largely destroyed. This passage, based on my actual experiences as an urban wanderer in Paris in the years 1983-'84, was edited and versified before being published at blogster.com website on the 14th of February 2006 as "A Paris Flâneur". Further very minor alterations took place in July/December 2007.

I took the Métro
To Montparnasse-Bienvenue,
Where I slowly sipped
A demi-blonde
In one of those brasseries
Immortalised by Brassai.
Bewhiskered old loup de mer
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
"Voilà, 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!

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