A Perfectly Foolish Young Man I Wanted Part One Where the Halling Valley River Lies Book Four Seven Chapters from a Sad Sack Loser's Life Chapter Seven
David Cristiansen struggled on with the Post Graduate Certificate in Education throughout the earliest days of 1993.
And he did so while rehearsing for a couple of tiny parts for a play based on the life of James Joyce's troubled, fascinating daughter, the dancer Lucia Joyce. Under the direction of Ariana, it premiered at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith on the 4th of February 1993.
He also attended occasional drugs and alcohol counselling sessions at a church in Greenwich, South East London with Ellen, a lovely blonde woman of about 45 with a soft and soothing London accent and the gentlest pale blue eyes. The only time he ever knew her to lose her composure was when he announced over the phone that a matter of hours after deciding of his own volition to stop taking Diazepam, he'd reverted to Chlomethiazole:
"Why'd you do that?" she unceremoniously asked.
However, enough time had passed between his taking the capsule and calling Ellen for him to be out of danger; and she literally laughed with relief at the realisation.
Then, a matter of days after coming to Christ, he received a phone call from a counsellor for Contact for Christ based in Selsdon, South London by the name of Denver Cashe. Perhaps he'd half-heartedly filled in a form of theirs the previous summer while filled with alcoholic anticipation as he slowly approached Waterloo station by British Rail train with the sun setting over the foreboding South London cityscape. And before long, he was at the door of David's parents' house, a trim, dark, handsome man in late middle age with gently piercing coffee coloured eyes and a luxuriant white moustache. And at his suggestion they prayed together.
Some time later David visited him and his wife Rose at his large and elegant house where suburb meets country just beyond the Greater London border. And on that day, David and he made an extensive list of aspects of his pre-Christian life requiring deep repentance, and they prayed over each of these in turn.
In addition, they discussed which church he should be attending, and there was some talk of his joining Denver and Rose at their little family fellowship. But in the end, Denver gave his blessing to Cornerstone Bible Church, now Cornerstone the Church, a large fellowship affiliated to the Word of Faith Movement, and based in the prosperous London suburb of Esher in Surrey, where David would soon be baptised by its pastor.
David had attended his very first service there even before becoming a Christian in late 1992. Drunk at the time, he'd sat next to a beautiful blonde woman of about 55 whom he later discovered to be a successful actress. Apart from an elder from the Jesus Fellowship, who'd laid hands on him at a meeting of theirs in central London, she was his very first Christian mentor. However, he was never to see or speak to her again as he didn't return to the church for several months, and by the time he did as a new believer, she'd moved to another church. Then they kept on missing each other, and she died in 2001. But David never forgot her.
In the early part of '94, David set out on the final phase of his PGCE, although he was ultimately to fail the course as a whole.
To their credit, though, his tutors at did offer him the opportunity of retaking the Teaching Practice component alone, but he chose to turn them down. And if he was depressed, it can't have been for long because in September, he successfully auditioned for the lead role of Roote in Harold Pinter's little known The Hothouse. This for a newly formed fringe theatre group called Grip based at the Rose and Crown pub in Kingston, a large suburban area to the south of London.
Written in 1958, The Hothouse is eminently Pinteresque, with its almost high poetic verbal virtuosity and inventiveness and dark surreal humour laced with a constant sense of impending violence, although it wasn't performed until 1980, when it was directed by Pinter himself for London's Hampstead and Ambassador Theatres.
From the auditions onwards, David gelled with the American director Ben Evans. For most of the auditions he'd attended up to this point had hinged on the time-honoured method of the actor performing a piece from memory before a panel of interviewers. But Ben insisted his candidates read from the play in small groups, which enabled them to attain a basic feel for their characters; and so feel like they were actually acting rather than coldly reciting. For David, this was the only way to audition.
Once David had been told the lead was his, he devoted himself to Ben's vision of Roote, the pompous yet deranged director of an unnamed English psychiatric hospital: the Hothouse of the title. Ben demanded of him an interpretation of Roote which was deeply at odds with his usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally vehement approach to acting. But Ben's directorial instincts were spot-on, as his production went on to receive spectacular reviews not just in the local press, but the international listings magazine, Time Out, in which David's performance was described as "flawlessly accurate" and "lit by flashes of black humour." An amazing triumph for ahumblefringeshow.
A theatrical agent - and an apparently reputable one at that - went out of her way to express her interest in David; and then asked him to ensure his details reach her, which he duly did. But he didn't pursue the matter further, which speaks volumes about his attitude to the push that is essential to success within such a competitive profession as acting...more so perhaps even than talent itself.
Although, in his defence one might say that since his recent conversion his priorities had shifted so that he viewed worldly success with less relish than he'd done only a few years before. Also, he badly missed the relaxation alcohol once provided him with following his work on stage; as well as the revels extending deep into the night during which he'd throw his youth and affections about like some kind of maniacal gambler. So, while he still loved acting itself, the process of being an actor had become pure torture.
He'd boxed himself into the position of no longer being able to enjoy social situations as others do, nor to relax.
This may have had something to do with the state of his endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. For a theory exists to the effect that these can be permanently depleted by long-term abuse of alcohol and other narcotics.
To further complicate matters, he'd started suffering from deep tormenting spiritual problems for which he'd ultimately seek a solution in the shape of what is known as Deliverance Ministry.
Within a short time of The Hothouse reaching the end of its two week run, Grip's artistic director Richard asked David if he'd like to audition for an upcoming production of Jim Cartwright's two-handed play, Two. Naturally he said yes; and so after a successful audition, found himself playing all the male characters opposite gifted character actress Jean from Liverpool, who played all the female.
By the end of the run the houses were so packed that people were sitting on the side of the stage at the actors' feet, something David had never experienced before on the London fringe. Yet, he dreaded the end of each performance, which would see him make his excuses as soon as it was possible to do so without causing undue offence.
Release from a torturous dungeon of sobriety came while he was attending some unrelated function at the Rose and Crown a day or so following his final performance in Two, when a guy he'd only just met offered to buy him a drink and he asked for a glass of wine. Apart from the time at his parents' house a few weeks earlier when he took a swig of what he thought was water but which turned out to be vodka or gin, this was the first alcohol to pass his lips since January '93.
This single glass of wine made him feel amazing, doubly so given the purity of his system. He cycled home that night in a state of total rapture, feeling for the first time in months that he could do anything. Over the next few weeks his drinking incrementally increased, reaching a climax in a pub in Twickenham where he met an old university friend who'd just finished a course at St Mary's University College in nearby Strawberry Hill, and where he drank and smoked himself into a stupor.
Cycling home afterwards, he took a bend near Hampton Wick and came off his bike, striking his head against a bus shelter. He stayed flat on his back for a while, abject and stinking of drink. He could have sworn he saw a shadowy figure running towards him as he lay there in the dark, but before long he was shakily resuming his journey home.
However, weeks of controlled drinking and one massive binge, possibly combined with the ill effects of a violent blow to the head, resulted in his becoming ill and virtually incapacitated for what might have been as long as a fortnight. And there were times during this awful period he'd awake from a semi-sleep in a desperately agitated state...pale...faint...and terrified of imminent death; but each time a single further second of consciousness seemed beyond him, it was as if God breathed life back into him and the fear of dying subsided. All he could do was lie around, waiting, praying for a return to normality...and when this came, he determined never to drink again as long as he lived. But we swiftly forget our sojourns inHell...
A few months after appearing in Jim Cartwright's bitter-sweet two-hander, Two, David performed in one final play at the Rose and Crown theatre, the ensemble comedy, Lovelives.
Written entirely by the cast, it consisted of a series of sketches centring on the disastrous antics of a group of singletons who'd come together at a lonely hearts club in the suburbs. Perhaps then it chimed perfectly with the spirit of British post-war comedy and its characteristic celebration of banality and even failure.
Later in '95, he undertook two small roles in a production - at the Tristan Bates theatre near Leicester Square - of the great Greek tragic-comedy, Iphigenia in Tauris, allegedly written by Euripides, one of the three major tragedians of classical Athens, somewhere between 414 and 412 BC.
These being Pylades, cousin and constant companion of the main character Orestes, and the Messenger, whom he played as a maniacal fool with the kind of "refined" English accent once supposedly affected by policemen and non-commissioned officers. Directed by a close friend who'd also served as translator and musical superviser, the houses were sparse at first, picking up towards the end of the run.
In January '96, he joined a Christian theatre company based at the Elim Pentecostal church in West Croydon, Surrey. They were known as Street Level, and he went on to serve variously for them as MC, script writer, actor, singer and musician with two other members, married company leader Serena, and 19 year old Rebecca from nearby Sanderstead.
Together, they toured a series of shows around schools in various - usually tough - multicultural areas of South East London, and on the whole, were greeted by the kids with an almost uniform affection. And there was an incredible chemistry between Serena, Rebecca and himself...until things started to go wrong.
Towards the end of the summer, Serena asked David to write a large scale project for the group, suggesting a contemporary version of John Bunyan's classic Christian allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress:
"I'll put your name in lights," she might have told him.
This he set about doing, and after some weeks of labouring over what turned out to be a black comedy epic, punctuated by scenes of menace, violence, decadence, and which while genuinely witty, would verge in parts on the frankly tasteless, thereby reflecting David's spiritual immaturity at the time, he started to have second thoughts about carrying on with Street Level.
The play, Paul Grim's Progress, had left him in poor shape spiritually, and he didn't fancy too many more of the long and costly train journeys that were necessary to get him to Croydon and back. And so he began to withdraw.
And by the time of his final exit from Street Level, he'd already moved from his first spiritual home of Cornerstone to the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship, part of the Association of Vineyard Churches founded by John Wimber in the 1970s. This as a result of being told by a phone friend that the Vineyard movement contained members whose spiritual gifts were in the realm of the truly exceptional.
His curiosity aroused, he went along one Sunday evening and had a powerful experience which made me want to stay; and so he did.
As with Cornerstone he joined a Home Fellowship Group where he completed part of the Alpha course, which had been pioneered by Nicky Gumbel of West London's famous Holy Trinity Brompton.
He visited HTB at some point in the mid '90s, when it was at the height of the revival movement known as the Toronto Blessing. This being so called because it had been ignited in January 1994 at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church by St. Louis Vineyard pastor Randy Clark.
Clark had himself received it from South African evangelist Rodney Howard Brown during a service at Rhema Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then pastored by Kenneth Hagin Jr., father of the Word-Faith movement, one of the major strains of Charismatic Christianity, with a controversial emphasis on what is known as Positive Confession.
The Anointing spread to the UK in the summer of 1994 where it was eventually dubbed The Toronto Blessing by The Daily Telegraph. Its main centres included HTB, Terry Virgo's New Frontiers family of churches and Gerald Coates' Pioneer People.
Pioneer's centre at the time was a cinema in the Surrey suburb of Esher, which David visited a couple of times, when it was so packed he was forced to stand all throughout the service, a situation which was duplicated when he dropped in at the London HQ of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God one afternoon around about the same time.
Like many Charismatic churches, UCKG upholds the Fivefold ministry, and so believes that the five gifts referred to in Ephesians 4:11, namely Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, are still in operation.
But to return to David's acting career...in the spring of '98, he started rehearsing for a production of Shakespeare's infamous Scottish Play, to be staged at Fulham's Lost Theatre in the summer. And despite the fact that his three cameos - as Lennox, the Doctor, and an Old Man - were praised by cast and audience members alike, to date, it remains his last hurrah as an actor. Quite simply, the passion to perform in front of a live audience that raged within him like a forest fire for more than two decades had long been extinguished, or rather turned to dread.
A few months later and the troubled, turbulent 20th Century gave way to the 21st to the sound of fireworks frantically exploding all throughout David's neighbourhood of West Molesey. Phoning his father that night to wish him a happy new year he discovered that his mother was desperately ill with flu:
"Some start to the millennium," he grimly told his dad.
It went on to occur to him that she'd become susceptible to the flu virus partly as a result of stress caused by his recent departure from yet another course, which also happened to be one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. In time though, her incredible Scots-Irish constitution saw her through to a complete recovery. But his decision to withdraw would come to haunt him.
Subsequent to making it, he started playing guitar for Liberty Christian Centre, a satellite church of London's Kensington Temple, a large Elim Pentecostal church pastored by Colin Dye based in Notting Hill, West London. Then, shortly after agreeing to be Liberty's lone musician, he quit his position as a telephone canvasser for an e-commerce company based in Surbiton, Surrey, thus bringing a fairly lengthy period spent as an office worker to an end.
A real change in his professional fortunes came around Christmastime when he was made lead singer for a Jazz band formed by an old friend of his father's. And which was complemented at various times by his dad, a double bass player, a brace of drummers, and David. They went on to cut several beautifully arranged demos, with David crooning Fly Me to the Moon, Moonlight in Vermont, The Days of Wine and Roses, and other standards of the Traditional Pop canon.
In early '01, Liberty's Pastor Phil decided to dissolve the church, so David made yet another return to Cornerstone. While the following summer, the band folded in the wake of the 2002 Shelton Arts Festival, which was a real shame because it had finally found its optimal audience, if the enthusiasm with which their performance was greeted was anything to go by.
Within days, David started working from home making appointments for a genial travelling salesman. And he was briefly very successful, until things started tailing off in the autumn; and he was let go. By this time he'd effectively left Cornerstone for good, although he was to make many subsequent sporadic returns.
This sudden exit came in consequence of a desire born of intensive internet research to seek out churches existing beyond the Pentecostal/Charismatic fold. These being Cessationist, which is to say they don't accept that the more spectacular Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Tongues and Prophecy are still in operation.
For up until this time, any church that didn't encourage the speaking in other tongues David had refused to accept as being truly Christian. In fact, before 2003, which was his year of relentless internet research, he'd known next to nothing about the finer points of his faith.
Although he was fairly well versed in the subject of prophecy thanks to having been introduced to the same early in his Christian life by Denver and Rose. And specifically through various magazines and books, such as Prophecy Today; and the works of Barry R Smith.
He had no clue as to the meaning of Calvinism or Arminianism, Predestination or Foreknowledge, Cessationism or Continuationism and so on...but he didn't believe that made an iota of difference to the condition of his soul, as people - as he saw it - are saved by faith alone, with true saving faith producing the fruits of repentance.
In a general sense the year 2000 turned out to be something of a turning point for David, not just spiritually, but in terms of his entire personality, which became more inward looking, even by the standards of the previous seven years.
Significantly perhaps, the previous year had been the first since he was about 17 that he faced the world on a permanent basis with his hair its natural medium brown after having sporadically 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 he favoured were causing him to have breathing difficulties.
At first, he missed being blond, but in time he came to prefer his natural colour after years of youthful blond androgyny. The fact is that throughout his twenties and for much of his thirties, he had effectively remained in a state of extended adolescence, blond being after all the natural colour of eternal youth.
It's perhaps fair to say that in his time, David had elicited a fair amount of admiration for a perceived maverick tendency...a cool avoidance of the conventional life, which certainly characterised his pre-Christian years. But the price for such an attitude turned out to be high, cruelly high, in terms of social and financial humiliation, leading him to become a veritable Jeremiah in his mid-50s, in terms of his opposition to the rebel lifestyle he'd once adored...but which he now saw as a destroyer of happiness.
Yet, young people in the 2000s worshipped at the altar of romantic rebellion as they'd always done. But perhaps not to quite the same degree as those of David's poor generation, who came to maturity to a frenetic Rock soundtrack. And who can say what effect it had on them, this music...tailor-made to inspire a generation scornful of deferred gratification, a generation of hipsters.
To the David of the Christian years, Rock - far from being just another music form - was a total art, involving poetry, theatre, fashion, but even more than that...a way of life with a strong spiritual foundation.
He fell under the influence of various Fundamentalist Christian critics of Rock music for a brief period in 2003, which made him feel inclined to destroy all traces of Rock music in his possession, even though he'd long lost any real taste for Hard Rock by then. However, by the summer, his attitude had mellowed to the extent that he was prepared to write about an hour's worth of Rock songs in response to a request from his dad for songs for a possible collaboration with the son of a close friend. But these were as far from Hard Rock as its possible to be, being influenced by such relatively benign and melodic genres as Folk, Pop and Soul.
Some new, some upgrades of old tunes, they were recorded on a Sony CFS-B21L cassette-corder, and were generally well-received despite their humble origins. And so two of David's songs were recorded on a friend's computer using what may have been state of the art technology for 2004, with the resultant demo being sent to a music publishing company for assessment. But when their response was far from encouraging, it was back to the drawing board for David Cristiansen.
As if disillusioned by constant failure, David decided he wanted to write creatively as of January 2006, although the real motive for his doing so was altogether different. In fact, it was a period of sickness that spurred him towards a serious literary career.
This began with a panic attack in central London, which grew into a flu-like illness, but it wasn't until he developed a painful condition affecting a singularly delicate section of his integument that he decided that he'd no further interest in maintaining optimal physical attractiveness, and so felt he had little to lose by writing.
The truth is that soon after becoming a Christian, David had destroyed most of what he'd written up to that point, and then wrote quite happily for a time as a Christian, until it seemed to him as if God was calling a halt to his writing. So, once again, he started destroying any writings he managed to finish...sometimes dumping whole manuscripts into handy dustbins, or dispensing with them one sheet at a time down murky London drains.
Then in about 1998, he more or less gave up altogether...that is, until he felt compelled to break his literary silence as a result of the aforesaid extended bout of sickness. Thence, he started posting articles to the Blogster web site, which went on to form the basis of his memoir, Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child.
In 2007, a CD of popular standards featuring himself and one of the world's leading harmonica players finally saw the light of day in 2007 after much rehearsal. And while it received a rave review in the official magazine of the British Musician's Union the following year, it only went on to sell a handful of copies.
The following year, he completed a first draft of his memoir in its definitive format after more than two years of labour.
Around about the same time, his former mentor Dr Elizabeth Lang died in her adopted village of Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The executor of her will, who was also the publisher of her final book, asked him to read one of the lessons at her funeral and deliver a eulogy in the capacity of a former student. This took place in the parish church of St Martin's in the beautiful village of Bladon, where Winston Churchill is buried, along with fellow members of the Malborough family.
It was a sad experience for him to be reunited with Elizabeth in such a way after nearly a quarter of a century, while being unable to communicate with her as he'd have been able to had he thought to make contact...even a handful of years earlier when she was still a published writer. It made him realise how important it is to stay close to friends and family before a time comes when its no longer possible to reconcile with them, and the world is so much the poorer for their sudden absence and silence.
By the beginning of 2011, there were so many versions of his story that David no longer knew which, if any, was the definitive one, and he occasionally teetered on the verge of dejection, as if his image of himself as a writer had been terminally shot to pieces.
And anyone carefully contemplating his life would be forgiven for thinking of him as a loser. In fact not just a loser but a king-size loser, a loser among losers, a loser supreme. And being told he was the best at what he did may have afforded him some consolation at those times his status in life meant the most to him; and he felt most helpless to change the conditions of his existence.
They might see him as someone who'd failed in pretty well every conceivable area of life. And so ended up living alone in an apartment adjacent to his parents' suburban home on the wrong side of 55, unmarried and childless, and without fortune, profession or vehicle.
Yet, is it not so that among those who ultimately come to faith to Him though Jesus Christ are men and women who would be judged failures in the eyes of the world, and yet having lost in life, have yet found a purpose that eludes life's victors...among whom they may once have been counted?
The answer is of course yes, and the ultimate example of a high achiever who became the ultimate loser once he'd given his life to Christ was the Apostle Paul, the former Saul of Tarsus born into the Tribe of Benjamin who as an impeccably pious high-ranking Pharisee was yet a ferocious persecutor and murderer of Christians.
Yet, as a Christian, he suffered losses that most contemporary Western believers have no experience or even conception of. For while he was mocked and despised for his beliefs, he was also flogged, beaten, stoned, starved and repeatedly imprisoned, before being ultimately put down as if he were a sick and ageing dog.
But that is not to say that all Christians come to faith in Christ through a violent Road to Damascus conversion after having undergone some unspeakable loss, far from it, for many - perhaps even most - come gently to faith without having suffered in any dramatic way whatsoever.
Yet the Damascus converts are deeply valuable to the Body of Christ, for they serve as living proof of the fact that anyone can be saved, regardless of their background. And their testimonies are as precious as they are for their very relative rarity.
It could be said then that David was foolish to lament all he had lost in terms of opportunities for great wealth and success, for fame, status and glory and all the wondrous things that accompany these, for after all, these are things that one cannot take with us when we quit this earth, and life is short, so terribly short that it is described in the Word of God as a "vapour."
And while for the most part his still handsome eyes failed to see this truth as if they'd become clouded o'er by the tears he often shed at night for his wasted past, and for the pain he felt when he thought of all he had lost, at other times, it became gloriously, brilliantly clear to him, and he rejoiced as the most fortunate of men. Yes, he was a loser, and yet yes, he'd gained so much more than he'd lost.
Then in November 2011, a semi-definitive version of Seven Chapters from a Sad Sack Loser's Life saw the light of day. Narrated in the third person, with the character of David Cristiansen doubling as himself, which is to say the author Carl Halling, the names of most of the other characters included were also changed. As were the vast majority of the names of institutions. While dialogue was as David remembered it, as opposed to being reproduced with 100% accuracy. Either that, or based on ancient informal diary notes, and then edited for inclusion in his writings.
And by the time it did, he'd finally gained some real confidence within himself as a writer...
"I'm not done yet," he'd boast to himself, or to anyone else who might listen, and to look at him, you might think he had a point. Yes, he was a loser, and yet yes, he'd gained so much more than he'd lost.
Yet, it could have all been so different...
Taken from As a Perfectly Foolish Young Man I Wanted, that is as featured here. Edited 12/8/14
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