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A Cambridge Lamentation
by Carl Halling
01/05/07
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Introduction

"A Cambridge Lamentation" centres largely on my brief stay at Homerton, a teaching training college contained within the University of Cambridge, with its campus at Hills Road just outside the city centre. It is a mosaic of works or parts of works all previously published at Blogster and yet subject, to the best of my knowledge, to considerable modification since, these being the original versions of "Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen", "Shreds of Nothingness" and "A Cantabrian Lament". "From Mr Denmark to the Audition" is an entirely new piece, written in May 2008, the month a final version of the story was prepared at FaithWriters.

Shreds of Nothingness

The first employment I undertook after leaving Westfield was as a wandering deliverer of novelty telegrams. It may be that I gave no serious thought to the future, because I didn’t intend having one, and that my life’s work was the pursuit of immortality through acting, music or literature, or ideally all three, while tasting as many earthly fruits, strong sensations, and limit-experiences as I was able to in the meantime.
I evidently had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of progeny, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to fame or infamy. That said, in keeping with my then passionately felt liberal-left convictions, I constantly entertained the thought of an alternative career in one or other of the so-called caring professions throughout the '80s. In the event however, I ended up succesfully passing an interview for a Post Graduate Certificate of Education or PGCE course at Homerton.
The pathological restlessness I suffered from at Cambridge, and feasibly evidenced by "A Cantabrian Lament", based on a letter or series of letters I wrote but never posted shortly before the end of the Michaelmas term, might go some way towards explaining why I left the college only weeks afterwards. However, quite why I was so determined to do a bunk remains a mystery to me more than two decades later. After all, I'd every reason to be happy there, as I'd been made to feel so welcome, and appreciated, and not just by the tutors and my fellow students. For example, a young undergraduate, well-known throughout the university for the high quality of his theatrical productions singled me out to feature in a play he intended putting on during the Lent Term. I think it was a Berkoff; or perhaps a Pinter; I can't remember. He did this after seeing me play the leading role of Tom in Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie" for another student's directorial project or something. Evidently, if he took an interest in you, you were pretty well made as an actor at Cambridge. What more did I want, for Spielberg himself to have been in the audience? Incredible as it might seem, I was actually rather disappointed that he wasn't a talent scout from outside the unversity. That's how unrealistic I was. Everyone was falling over themselves to give me a break and I still wasn't happy. Didn't I realise that I hadn't been born into a world of social privilege, and this was not my due, any more than anything else was?
As if all this weren't enough to fulfill my egoistic cravings if only for a while, Tim Scott, the then president of the world famous Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had talent-spotted me. This is not an exaggeration, given that since the the late 1950s, Footlights has played host to such brilliant figures as Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, John Cleese, David Frost, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Lawrie, Emma Thompson, and more recently, Sasha Baron Cohen. I could have been added to that list. Tim just happened to be a Homerton man, and so sticking with his own he asked myself and a close Cambridge friend Jonathan to be part of the production he was preparing for his presidency. And to cap it all, when I made my first appearance at the Manor Community College in the tough London overspill area of Arbury where I was due to begin my Teaching Practice, the pupils reacted to me as if I was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. My TP would have been a breeze.
As a Christian, my faith helps me to cope with the full furious ferocity of my past follies. God's offered me a second act in life, during which I might go some way towards atoning for the damage I caused during the first; so that one day those terrible words contained in “Maud Muller” by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) might not burn themselves too savagely into my mind: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘it might have been'". But it's not going to be easy like it was for me was back in the mid-1980s when I could afford to throw my golden youth and good fortune about like some kind of crazed Renaissance princeling. It's going to be nothing but struggle, but God willing it'll all work out for the best in the end not least for my poor soul: "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world and lose himself, or be cast away?" (Luke 9: 25).

A Cambridge Lamentation

1.

In such a state
As this
I could fall
In love
With anyone.
The night
Before last
I went
To the ball
Couples
Filing out
I wanted to be
One half
Of ev'ry one
But I didn't want
To lose "her".
I’ve done little today
Except mope
Dolefully around
I’ll get over
How
I feel now,
And very soon.
Gradually
I’ll freeze again,
Even assuming
An extra layer
Of snow.
I have
I have
I have
To get out of here...

2.

Homerton's always a little lonely
at the weekends...
no noise and life,
I like solitude,
but not in places
where's there's recently been
alot of people.
Reclusiveness protects you
from nostalgia,
and you can be as nostalgic
in relation
to what happened half an hour ago
as half a century ago,
in fact more so.
I have I have
I have to get out of here...

3.

My capacity for social warmth,
excessive social dependance
and romantic zeal
can be practically
deranging;
it's no wonder
I feel the need
to escape.
I feel trapped here,
there's no outlet for my talents.
I have I have I have to get out of here...

From Mr Denmark to The Audition

And get out there I certainly did, within days in fact of the start of the Lent term of 1987. I can remember watching the classic Fred Zimmerman movie "From Here to Eternity" on TV with Dean, a talented musician and songwriter who went on to be a close friend for more than ten years, and another couple of guys I think, before simply vanishing into the night. Lying doggo for several months, I didn't get involved with anything to do with acting or performing until the end of the year when my old Westfield friend, Astrid Hilne asked me to take part in a rehearsed reading of a play called "Gayuka -The Dressing Room", or something of that sort.
Then a comedy character was created for me by Astrid called "Mr Denmark 1979". Of the kind of the deluded egomaniacal loser, Mr Denmark was a one-time winner of a Scandinavian male beauty contest, split like Miss World into three sections, formal wear, day wear and swim wear, who'd been lunching out on his paltry success ever since. What's more, he'd come to believe in his key role in the development of pretty well every major cultural event since the dawn of Pop, only to be cravenly ripped off by Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Punks, Rappers and so on.
In September or thereabouts, Mr Denmark served as one of the MCs for a marathon benefit for the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, featuring future superstars of television, film and beyond. They included the stand-up comedian Jo Brand, the satirical impressionist Rory Bremner, and the character actor and playwright, Patrick Marber. Ole Danish went down so well that I wrote a show around him which premiered at a new variety venue called Club Shout in what I think was 1988, again to great success. I kept him going until about the mid 1990s before finally tiring of his narcissistic antics.

1987 was also the year I first got seriously involved in walk-on work for television and the cinema. I'd done some previously. For example, I briefly feature as a side drummer at a typically English village fete in the 1980 movie "The Mirror Crack'd", based on the Agatha Christie novel and directed by Guy Hamilton. The film's co-producer with Lord Brabourne, Richard Goodwin, went on to do a good deal of work with my father. And in the 1986 telemovie "Poor Little Rich Girl" directed by Charles Jarrott and based on the life of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, I can be seen in a white suit gesticulating like a loon as seminal twenties crooner Rudy Vallee. But these were just isolated episodes. From 1987 or 1988, I took this form of work more seriously, initially in multiple episodes of the sitcom "Life Without George" (1987-'89) which I received through the agent Bill Richards. But it was through the Screenlite agency, with its HQ at Twickenham's Lee International Studios that most of my walk-on work arrived for what I think was a three-year period from about 1990, and largely as a crime scene photographer in "The Bill", a long-running television series centred on a south London police station.

Soon after I'd finished my work for "Life Without George", I started rehearsals for John London's translation of "The Audition" ("El Veri del Teatre") by the Catalonian playwright Rodolf Sirera, which was due to have its London premiere towards the beginning of '88 at the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill. Directed by Astrid Hilne, it featured Steven Dykes as a shadowy amoral character known simply as The Marquis who lures an actor called Gabriel de Beaumont played by myself to his house on the false promise of an audition. He goes on to sadistically manipulate de Beaumont into acting a scene from Xenophon's "The Death of Socrates" as if he were actually dying by use of a supposed poisoned drink. It received some fairly positive reviews, as well as more lukewarm ones in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Stage and other British periodicals, and Steve and I both received praise for our acting. I should have taken advantage of this minor triumph, but I'd already committed myself to work as an English teacher at the Callan School on Oxford Street. I stayed there for two years between about March 1988 and January 1990. It was a blissfully social period of my life, as the piece that follows, "Strange Coldness Perplexing" makes perfectly clear, but my theatrical career suffered because of it. Not that I was entirely inactive in this respect, in that I continued to perform as Mr Denmark while working as a Callan teacher, and entered a singing competition at Pips Wine Bar on South Kensington's Cromwell Road, and even hoped to gain a residency there, but it didn't work out.
I could write a whole book on my time at Callan's alone, indeed on pretty much any of the major episodes of my existence, "Spawn of the Swinging Sixties" being merely one version of it, to which layer upon layer might be added to create a complete portrait, although it is doubtful whether this will ever come to be realised in the time I have left, however much or little this might be.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Carl Halling 13 Jan 2007
To Chrissy: Yes, I pretty well used my usual technique in writing this; although it is unusual in having an epilogue. I guess they turn out differently depending on the nature of the source in question. But I'm glad it fascinated, and blessed you. Thanks...:o)




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