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From Paris to Golders Green
by Carl Halling
04/22/07
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Introduction:

"From Paris to Golders Green" provides a stark contrast between my psychological state during the first half of my time at Westfield College, London, where I studied for a BA degree in French and Drama between 1981 and ’85, and that during my final year. It was completed in October 2008.

West of the Fields Long Gone 1

The piece below, “Gallant Festivities” was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-’83. Verse one depicts revels enjoyed in the wake of a performance at college of “Twelfth Night” touched on in the previous story, verse two, another wild party following the performance of a play, this time of Lorca's “Blood Wedding". Both evoke the carefree hedonism that marked my golden years at Westfield, a college then in its twilight time some years before being incorporated into Queen Mary on east London’s grim Mile End Road, far, far from the semi-pastoral beauty of Hampstead.
Pretentiously, I see my first two Westfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to giddy excess, with disaster brewing 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, which 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”. And then there is the matter of my own personal crisis, whose onset I tend to date from my arrival in Paris just days before my 28th birthday in autumn 1983.

Gallant Festivities

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 Phil’s friends’
Programmes -
“When are you going
To be a superstar?”
Said Luce
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..."
Chloe called me...
I listened…
…To her problems…
References
To my “innocent face”…
Livvy said:
“S. seems Elusive
But is in fact,
Accessible;
You’re the opposite -
You give to everyone
But are incapable
Of giving in particular.”
M. was comparing me
To June M….
Descriptions by AN:
“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 kept getting up to dance…

West of the Fields Long Gone 2

"The Children of the Sun" is an updated version of the former "Tales from a College that Disappeared", and deals largely with my transition from being a Westfield wastrel to beginning work in Paris as an English language assistant at the Lycee Jean-Paul Timbaud in Bretigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs some sixteen miles south of the city centre.

The Children of the Sun

During my second year at Westfield I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Andrew and David, from Darlington in the north east, and the Yorkshire city of Hull respectively. They were both French students, although like me Andrew also studied Drama.
Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge, which doubled as David’s bedroom, with sundry provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We then went on to organise what we optimistically called a “salon” after the fashion of French. A desperate attempt by three pretenders at aping Oxford-style decadence in suburban north London, it didn't survive beyond a single meeting, although this was well-attended. One thing is certain though, we weren't part of any revived Brideshead generation or anything like that.
We drove our ebullient landlady half-crazy at times through heavy-footedness and other crimes of upper floor thoughtlessness, although I don't remember her complaining all that much despite the fact that we weren't averse to drink-fuelled discussions extending well into the night. In common with most of my friends I tended to drink heavily at night, but almost never during the day. The fact is that self-doubt wasn't an issue for me in the early eighties any more than depression was. In fact, my first two Westfield 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. In short I was a happy person.

I'd say things started to go a little wrong for me once I left Westfield in the summer of '83 with a few months to spare before travelling to Paris to work as an English language assistant in a French secondary school. This spelled my exile from the old drama clique, and I'd not be joining them in their final year celebrations, and the knowledge of this must have affected. I could've opted for an alternative few weeks in France as Andrew did, but doing so would've deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I’d long worshipped as the only true home of an artist. So, in the autumn of that year, I took lodgings on the grounds of the Lycee JP Timbaud in Bretigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs some sixteen miles south of the city centre, remaining there until the following May.
I'm almost certain that at some point not too long after my arrival I became afflicted by a certain sense of self-disillusion, having up until this point considered myself a genuinely good person. 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", as described by an admirer in "Gallant Festivities". At the same time, paradoxially perhaps, I'd never been vainer, to such a degree that some of the Lycee kids affectionately likened me to Aldo Maccione, a Franco-Italian actor popular at the time whose absurd affected swagger he referred to as "La Classe". Yet there seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience was starting to scream out in protest and pain. It may also have been the case that I was aware if only unconsciously that by severing myself from a vast network of gifted devoted friends, I'd squandered yet another opportunity for social advancement. Whatever the truth, during his residence on the edge of his beloved City of Light which he saw as his true spiritual homeland, the golden boy started unravelling fast.

West of The Fields Long Gone 3

"Paris Will Always be Paris" has both new and ancient components in so far as while "My Paris Begins" was written in its entirety in 2007, "A Paris Flaneur" was first published at Blogster on the 14th of February 2006, having been adapted from an unfinished novel written sometime in the mid to late 1980s.

Paris Will Always be Paris

1) My Paris Begins

...my paris begins with those early days as a conscious flaneur i recall the couple seated opposite me on the metro 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 marie's wide-brimmed hat and then making my way alone to my room in the insanely driving rain getting soused in les halles with jane who'd just seen dillon as rusty james and was walking in a daze jane again with judy at the cave de la huchette jazz cellar the cafe de flore with igor who asked for a menu for me and then disappeared back to bretigny 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 deleve and a leather jacket from the marche de puces of the porte de clignancourt wandering the city alone or with andrea or igor or david or dom or astrid and sandra i still miss losing rory's address scrawled on a page of musset's confessions d'un enfant du siecle walking the length and breadth of the rue st denis what a city as anna-justine once breathlessly wrote me...

2) A Paris Flaneur

I took the Metro
To Montparnasse-Bienvenue,
Where I slowly sipped
A demi-blonde
In one of those brasseries
Immortalised by Brassai.
Bewhiskered old toper
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
"Voila, 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!

The Happy Highways Where I Went

I can't remember exactly when it was that my recent past started to haunt me in the mid 1980s, or even if it ever did, but I can't help thinking it was soon after my final return to Westfield in the autumn of '84. But I'm probably completely wrong; I doubt that it even occurred to me that only a few years before I'd known legends of sport, the cinema, the theatre, blue bloods and aristocrats, and they'd been kind, generous of spirit to this cypher from the outer suburbs. I doubt that it remotely troubled me that had I not disgraced myself in '79 during a pointless little gig I staged for fun during a Guildhall folk night with a couple of friends by displaying superstar temperament in the face of justifiable heckling, I might have gone on to be the front man for a boy prodigy from Buenos Aires who went on to play guitar and even write for the Summoner himself. After all, he'd asked me to while we were both gilded youth at the Guildhall School. At some point he'd briefly allied himself with one of the most successful Jazz-Funk acts of the eighties together with another Guildhall friend of mine Mike. Mike'd even invited me to an early rehearsal...my mother made a note of this in green ink after speaking to him about it on the phone. Perhaps they could've done with a singer at that point. Surely all this must have started to eat away at me as I approached my fourth decade of life without anything much to show for it all, and that the piece to follow is therefore more than just another expression of a pampered misfit's infatuation with poetic discontent...mustn't it?

West of the Fields Long Gone

"The Wanderer of Golders Green" (1985), which, formed from notes made in that same mid-decadal year, reflects what was a long-entrenched love affair on my part with Bohemian nihilism, and is therefore not to be taken too seriously. Yet, my natural high spirits had undoubtedly started to be compromised by ferocious depressive attacks by '85. Furthermore, the possibility of fame was receding fast for me, and I may have used booze partly as a means of deadening myself to this fact. What is certain is that from the age of 27, alcohol became more indispensable to me than ever before.

The Wanderer of Golders Green (1985)

I decided on a Special B
Before the eve.
I bought a lager
At the Bar
And chatted to Joy.
Then Paul
Bought me another.
I appreciated the fact
That he remembered
The time he,
His gal Carol,
And Rory Downed
An entire Bottle
Of Jack Daniels
In a Paris-bound train.
A tanned cat
Bought me a (large) half,
Then another half.
My fatal eyes
Are my downfall.
I drank yet another half...

My head was spinning
When it hit the pillow
I awoke
With a terrible headache
Around one o'clock.
I prayed it would depart.

I slowly got dressed.
I was as chatty as ever
Before the exam...
French/English translation.
Periodically I put my face
In my hands or groaned
Or sighed -
My stomach
was burning me inside.

I finished my paper
In 1 hour and a half.
As I walked out
I caught various eyes
Sandra’s, Judy’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.
I sang to myself -
A few memories
Flashed into my mind,
But not as many
as I'd have liked -
It wasn't the same.
It wasn't the same.

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.


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