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Lone Birthday Boy Dancing
by Carl Halling
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Chapter Fifteen Lone Birthday Boy Dancing

The Petrified Fool

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

A Pair of PGCEs 1

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

A Letter Unsent


I haven't been in touch
for a long time.
The last time
I saw you
was in
St. Christopher's Place.
It was a lovely evening...
when I knocked
that chair over.
I am sorry.
Since then,
I've had not
a few accidents
of that kind.
Just three days ago,
I slipped out
in a garden
at a friend's house...
and keeled over,
not once,
not twice,
but three times,
like a log...
clonking my nut
so violently
that people heard me
in the sitting room.
What's more,
I can't remember
a single sentence
all evening.
The problem is...

A Pair of PGCEs 2

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

Lone Dance of the Birthday Boy

Yesterday for my birthday,
I started off
with a bottle of wine...
I took the train
into town...
I had half a bitter
at the Café de Piaf
in Waterloo...
I went to work
for a couple of hours or so;
I had a pint after work;
I went for an audition;
after the audition,
I had another pint
and a half;
I had another half,
before meeting my mates,
for my b'day celebrations;
we had a pint together;
we went into
the night club,
where we had champagne
(I had three glasses);
I had a further
glass of vino,
by which time,
I was so gone
that I drew an audience
of about thirty
by performing a solo
dancing spot
in the middle
of the disco floor...
We all piled off to the pub
after that,
where I had another drink
(I can't remember
what it was)...
I then made my way home,
took the bus from Surbiton,
but ended up
in the wilds of Surrey;
I took another bus home,
and watched some telly
and had something to eat
before crashing out...
I really, really enjoyed
the eve, but today,
I've been walking around
like a zomb;
I've had only one drink today,
an early morning
restorative effort;
I spent the day working,
then I went to a bookshop,
where, like a monk,
I go for a day's
drying out session...
Drying out is really awful;
you jump at every shadow;
you feel dizzy,
you notice everything;
very often,
I don't follow through...

Outro: The Reveller's Reckoning


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

The Reveller's Reckoning

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

Chapter Sixteen Oblivion in Recession


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

Collapse in an Indian Restaurant

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

Oblivion in Recession

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

Birth of the New Bohemians

Had my health crisis not occurred, I might have wholly immersed myself in the Bohemian, neo-Hippie culture of the 1990s, which could be said to have been invigorated by the Rave/Dance youth movement, although in truth it had never gone away, so much as kept a relatively low profile since the early ‘70s, before going on to form subcultures which exist to this day.
 The hip Counterculture which had risen to prominence in the UK in the late 1960s ran out of steam before the middle of the seventies, so that by '76 or '77, “Hippie” was a term of abuse among some Punks. By the early 1990s, however, it appeared to me to be back with a vengeance, and around ’92, I’d fallen for it with it with all the passion of one who had had a surfeit of the all too slick 1980s. I was ready to take my attitude of extreme revolt to a further stage of development, and the climate of the times as the century’s end approached seemed to me to be perfect for doing so, and yet had I succeeded, I may have lost not just my life but my eternal soul, leaving a trail of unholy mayhem behind me.  Thankfully, God had other plans for me, and I set about divesting myself of the elements of which my pre-Christian existence had been characterised. From the outset, I began dispensing of books I deemed to be of a negative spiritual influence, while others I salvaged, either to be jettisoned at a later date, or kept indefinitely. At times over the course of the years I took things too far, with the consequence that there were books, or music albums, presenting little if any spiritual threat to me as I see it today which I unceremoniously discarded nonetheless, even going so far as to subsequently repurchase some of these. It took me some years to get the balance right.
 In addition to books and albums, I set about pruning the writings I’d collected, mainly short stories and projected novels. Again in this, I went too far at times, dumping irreplaceable writings, when portions of them at least could have been preserved and recycled.
 I continued writing after becoming a Christian, but from about the middle of the nineties, found it increasingly arduous to do so, and so started destroying most of what I wrote, believing at the time that through my writing I was glorifying the darkness of my pre-Christian past rather than God. By about 1998, I had almost altogether ceased writing, and didn’t seriously take up the pen again, give or take the odd literary scrap that survived my regular Savonarolan purges, until the winter of 2006 when I started contributing articles to Blogster.
 I also destroyed hours and hours of diary-like recordings that I had committed to cassette tape since the early 1980s or earlier and which teemed with gross narcissism and decadent sensuality, as well as occasional bitter outbursts of a startling vehemence, so that I no longer recognised them as proceeding from the person of Carl Halling, as well as innumerous (that word again!) musings committed to paper which I deemed ungodly and more often than not with good reason. Were I to have died, I didn’t wish to leave anything behind that was of an overtly evil nature.
 My efforts were not in vain. By the mid 1990s, Christians of my acquaintance could not have been blamed for being of the belief that what I seemed to be was what I had always been, especially given that what I appeared to be, namely a quiet individual erring a little too enthusiastically on the side of earnest self-denial, was not too far from what I was in actuality, my former gift for deception having largely failed me, not that I wanted to be deceptive, far from it, nor to do anything liable to wound the Saviour to whom I owed so much. Of course, I feared God, but I also honoured Him, and so wanted to do good things for Him.

Chapter Seventeen Beyond the Borderlands


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

Another Close Call

While delivered from the worst effects of alcohol abuse, I still briefly continued to pay for it beyond my coming to faith in the shape of panic attacks which could strike at any time after leaving the sanctuary of my home. Thankfully, these only lasted a short period of time at their most debilitating, although I suffered on and off from them from several months, and they have recurred at rare occasions since. I controlled my panic syndrome with the help of the anxiolytic drug Diazepam whose most famous brand name is Valium, and which induced relaxation of body and mind, but to nowhere near the same degree as alcohol had done.
 In the early days of my sobriety, I continued with my Post Graduate Certificate in Education partly in Eltham and partly in the leafy west London suburb of Richmond, Surrey. I did so while rehearsing for the play “Simples of the Moon” by Rosalind Scanlon, based on the life of James Joyce’s troubled daughter Lucia. It premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993.
 At the same time, I regularly attended drugs and alcohol counselling sessions in Greenwich, my counsellor Ellen being a warm, down to earth woman with a London accent and gentle pale blue eyes. She was also detached and unflappable, as befitted her calling. In fact, the only time she lost her cool was when I announced to her over the phone that a matter of hours after deciding of my own volition to stop taking Diazepam, I'd defected to the powerful sedative Chlormethiazole. I'd used Chlormethiazole, or Heminevrin to use its trade name, on prescription for a week or so in the early 1990s as a means of controlling my drinking. What I was not aware of at the time was that when used in conjunction with Valium, or indeed alcohol, it can be fatal. However, a sufficient number of hours had lapsed between my ingesting a single capsule of the drug and calling Ellen for my imminent death not to be an issue. I can recall her literally laughing with relief at this realisation.

Prayers of Repentance

As well as Ellen I owe a great debt to the friends I briefly made through Alcoholics Anonymous, and particularly my sponsor Dan. During my worst days, he faithfully monitored my painful progress towards health and sobriety on the phone, which was a great comfort to me. Still, I chose to attend only a handful of meetings before stopping altogether. The reason I did this was a matter of days after coming to faith, I received a phone call from a man called Denver Cashe working for Contact for Christ, based in Croydon, Surrey.
 I think Denver had got in touch as a result of my having half-heartedly filled in a form that I'd picked up on a train...perhaps the previous summer, while approaching Waterloo station with the sun setting over the foreboding south London cityscape, filled with alcoholic anticipation. I'm sure I tried to put him off, but he turned up at my parents' house nonetheless...a trim, dark, handsome man in late middle age with gently penetrating eyes and a luxuriant moustache. At his insistence, we prayed together, and he effectively became my spiritual mentor for the next two years.
 Shortly after our initial meeting I visited him and his wife Rose at their large and elegant house in that part of Surrey where suburb meets country, some distance beyond the Greater London border. Surrey is the wealthiest county in the UK, which is not to say that there is no deprivation, because there certainly is, in Surrey-in-London of course, but also in parts of Surrey proper. This is especially true of urban areas such as Staines, Woking, Redhill, Addlestone and Camberley. The latter for example has a large London overspill estate on its outskirts known as the Old Dean. Denver's large and elegant house, however, was in a safe and affluent part of the county, and we prayed together there over areas of my pre-Christian existence that he felt required deep repentance, after having made an extensive list of these. My continuing use of Diazepam and my longstanding addiction to cigarettes were two of the areas addressed, and while it may have been coincidental, soon after gradually cutting my Diazepam intake down to zero, I altogether lost a taste for tobacco. Admittedly, I continued smoking on and off for some four years after quitting Valium, but I never really enjoyed a cigarette again. In fact, even as early as 1994, a single draw of a cigarette was enough to inhibit my breathing for the rest of the day, and rob me of a good night’s sleep.
 By September 1994, I'd been happily established within Cornerstone Bible Church, a Charismatic Evangelical church affiliated to the Word Faith movement for over a year. My panic attacks had ceased, and I was celibate, non-smoking, teetotal, and wholly committed to being worthy of the name Christian, to the walk to which I had been called by God. If in late 1992 I was growing impatient with what remained of my conscience, and how the latter inhibited my demented hedonistic lifestyle, within less than two years I had been transformed not just beyond all recognition but all belief, that is, without taking into account the miraculous changes that God can bring to bear on the life of one such as I, because God alone can bring about such miracles.

If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW

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