{Bereavement}

This is not on The Tape, but I’m reminded of it here, and part of me thinks it doesn’t belong here, part of me thinks it doesn’t belong anywhere really, part of me wonders does everything somehow, ultimately, need to be told, and part of me knows: this is exactly where it belongs.

I hear myself overall so happy, so optimistic on The Tape. Improbably casual and emotionally understated: my delivery suggests I’m giving an account of a trip to Milton Keynes, but the words I choose—carefully, even cautiously, deliberately always—speak of a young person with everything going for himself, with abundance of confidence, and imbued with great hope. And I’m so glad to hear him thus, though in the tone of the voice and the distance to the heart I also hear the youth from which this young person had emerged, then relatively recently.

I’ve been blessed in that I have, to this day, had to suffer the loss of three people only. And of a cat. Of these three, one was someone I’d met once, very briefly, but really didn’t know: Diana, the Princess of Wales. There is no rhyme or reason to this, but her death shook me to the core and disorientated me for a week. I cried more over her than any of my grandparents, all of whom I loved dearly. All my grandparents died over the years, but that seemed the normal course of the world: people get old, then they die. Obviously, their passing was, in each case, a loss, and felt as one, too. But you can prepare for this, you know it’s going to happen, and when it does, you deal with it, and then you honour them in your thoughts and keep their memory alive in your soul. Princess Diana being torn out of our culture was a cataclysm. Of its own kind. It came out of nowhere, and it seemed to change everything, and, irrational though this was, it left a gaping hole in my life, in a way that I, myself, never expected. It was an extraordinary experience, unique, I am certain, to her.

One was a dear friend who decided to leave us. That was both shocking and unexpected, even if it had been, in a way, predictable, sadly. I mourned her, and I knew then, as I know now, that I had to let that be as it was. It was just so. More than anything I felt I was called upon to respect her, and her decision. And that’s what I did, and that’s what I do.

Losing our cat as a boy was dreadful: I loved that cat. I was unspeakably sad when we were told he’d been hit by the tram. I got over it.

And one is still around and still a good friend, and when we see each other now we have excellent conversations, but when I first lost him—I was fifteen, he fourteen—my world fell apart. We had been best friends at school, and we were in essence together. Not as lovers, not romantically, not anything other than as friends, but as friends we were as one. People didn’t even tease us, it was just the accepted thing, that where I was there was he, and where he was was I.

It had come about over several years, and it was my normality. Of course I loved him, but I didn’t know that. I had no conception of love (and none of sexuality, for that matter), I spent no time thinking about how much I needed him, or enjoyed being with him, or relied on him always being around. That was all just the way it was. It was solid, it was dependable, it was real.

And then something happened that I hadn’t seen coming, ever: he turned away from me. It was gradual, simple, undramatic, and also in its own way normal: he just started spending time with someone else, more than with me. At first I barely noticed, there was no cut-off point, no moment I could pinpoint where it began, it just gradually dawned on me: we are no longer one.

The other boy was a good person, still is: we’re still friends as well, he and I. He wasn’t cruel, he didn’t manoeuvre, or manipulate, he just took my place, without, probably, even knowing what was happening, either. I had been the one who was always by my friend’s side, and now he was there. At first he was there too, but soon he was there more than I, and then I realised I had lost my love. I still couldn’t name it that, because I still didn’t know that that’s what it was, but the incision was brutal. I was cut off. I bled.

I was lost. Abandoned. Bereaved. I couldn’t name the way I felt any of these things, because I didn’t know what they were, I only knew that I didn’t want to live. Really didn’t. Not melodramatically, attention seekingly didn’t, just didn’t. There was no point. I was distraught, yes, but more than that I was destroyed. There was no word for it, no expression, no therapy and no remedy, there was just emptiness, complete.

This lasted for eighteen months, maybe twenty. It was a crisis so profound, so categorical, so total, I felt that it would break me. I saw no way that it couldn’t. It was absolute, the despair. And all of this over the loss of a friend? Today, with perspective, I know it was obviously more than that: losing my friend was the trigger. What his extracting himself from my life did was tear open a wound which drew all manner of complications. The insecurity. The loneliness. The mind’s confusion over the heart. The heartbreak over the part of the soul that was missing. The pointlessness. The disorientation.

What sustained me was my brother, because I could talk to him—not about this, but about everything else that was going on in my teenage life—and my mother of course, because I could not then, and I would not now be able to, bring myself to do anything deliberately that would cause her grief.

And then something happened that I also didn’t expect: I found a way out. I hadn’t been looking, not consciously anyway, I wouldn’t have known where to start, but the subconscious knows and searches and finds, and without thinking much what I was doing, I wrote.

It was going to be and started out briefly as a novel, but then I remembered something our English teacher had said: that writing plays is way more efficient than writing novels: you need far fewer words to tell your story and to create your characters.

And so I wrote my first play. I was seventeen now, I called it 19. It dealt with a young man taking his life, and how that affects everyone around him. It had an original structure, because rather than going in a linear plot from beginning through middle to end, it started with events about a year or two (I can’t remember exactly) before and after the suicide and then circled in, closer and closer, to end with the moment of no return. That structure, too, was not something I really thought about, I just wrote it that way. Although the play has never been performed, nor ever even been read in public, it achieved several things for me.

Firstly, it was my catharsis. By abstracting the youth’s self-inflicted death and putting it on a character in a play, I was able to ‘deal with’ what I was going through, and absolved myself from actually having to do the same thing for real.

Secondly, it showed me I had a new friend. I gave this piece—which was really very revelatory, open and incredibly honest—to somebody I had started spending time with at school, and his reaction was perfect: he took it seriously, but he didn’t panic. He just talked about it as a piece of writing, and encouraged me to show it to other people, which I did. I knew now I had someone again I could trust.

Thirdly, it made me realise I was able to write. I gave the piece to my German teacher at school who, unbeknownst to me, gave it to a man who happened to be my favourite actor at the Stadttheater Basel, where we routinely saw maybe a dozen plays each season. Henning Köhler. He was invited to our school to give a talk about theatre and acting generally, and at the end of that talk he said: “and one of you has written a really good play.” I went up to him afterwards and said: “that may have been me.”

Nothing happened with or to the play, he was quite apologetic about that—‘I’m really sorry, I can’t do anything for you in terms of getting it on at the theatre’—but for Henning Köhler, to my mind the best actor in town, to have read my play and to have made a point of mentioning it, that was enough. That was something I could hold on to.

And it also paved the way for me to lose my virginity, at last. There was a man whom I knew well and liked and respected a lot, a writer, actor, performer, who lived in St Gallen, of all places, and I sent him the play. I knew he was gay, he was a few years older than me, in his early twenties. He was cool. And nice. And in an unspectacular way attractive.

He read the play and asked me if I wanted to come and talk about it, and I said yes. I went to visit him, and we talked about the play, and at the end of the evening, I went to sleep on the sofa, and he came over and said: “If you want to you can come to my bed?” And I said, “yes.”

The doors were finally flung open. It wasn’t quite the proverbial floodgates, though in a Hollywood rendering of the story there would probably have to be strings; but it was good. I was happy. I’d pulled through.

And I knew then, and I’ve known ever since, that having coped with that period of my life, and survived it, I’d be able to cope with anything. That was one great big case of something that could have killed me, but didn’t, and so made me stronger. A lot.

My enduring memory of this handsome man is on stage. He was singing a version of Es liegt was in der Luft—‘there’s something in the air’to which he had written new lyrics. He’d turned it into a satirical number, as part of an environmental cabaret revue. It was glorious. And a roaring success. He was so alive, so in it, so buoyed by the love from the audience, so overjoyed about doing this, and doing it well.

Many years later—not on this trip, another eight years or so after that—I was in Basel where I’d heard he had since taken on a job as Artistic Director of a small theatre.

It was a sunny afternoon, and I walked into the foyer, to see if he happened to be around, just to say hello, on a whim. I asked a young man who was doing something to the display. “Oh,” he said. And I can still see the look on his face, of surprise and regret: “No. I’m sorry. He died a few months ago.”

I salute you, my friend, and I thank you for the time, the patience, the generosity and the inspiration: you genuinely helped me find my way – your spirit lives.


< Helvetia       Les Grands Amours >


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The Ice King – 6: The Core

Into the core I dissolve.

I remember The Ice King, he lingers. In my body. In my senses. My mind. In my nature; my idiom. In my eyes. In my aptitudes. I was never like The Ice King at all, yet I am he, he is me, was that unavoidable, or was it my wish?

Down at the core of the centre of the stem of the flow of the pulse there is no movement, no stillness, no anger, no pain. No cold and no ice and no view and no argument, no perspective. There is liquid lava only. The core is the place at which everything starts and everything comes together and everything ceases to be, and everything is alive, but the heat melts the molecules and causes nuclear fusions: it’s as close as we get to the sun. The energy. The source.

As I come up for air I realise to my joy I’m still breathing. In, breathing out. Im Atemholen sind zweierlei Gnaden. I remember things I never knew were instilled in me, but they, like The Ice King, remain; they are rooted, they grow.

I grow. I grow out of the core and through the pole, and I form into something almost human. I laugh inside. Not happy, relieved. The fact alone that there is a core. That there is a pole. That there is a word. That there is a thought. That there is a kiss. That there is a chamber. That there is ice, that there is a king. That the king rules me because I want him to only. He has my permission. I am his subject, he is my slave. We get on swimmingly.

Like happy spermatozoa we float in the semen of our need towards the egg of our imagination, flagella wagging, willing us on to imminent fertilisation. Often we fail. But we are not unique, we are two among millions, and the consciousness from which we have squirted is generous, patient. There is more. There is plenty. We are not alone. We are not lost. We are not meaningless. We are not wasted.

Up through the salty water I burst, slithery wet and elated. If this be living I’ll have me some more of it, yes. The Ice King, tranquil now, regal, mischievous, hot, smiles at me knowingly. He knows me better than I care to admit, but I care not. I have him in my mind and he has me in his gonads. Together we’re strong. Let this be our universe. The force that holds us together may yet tear us apart, but for now there is only the idea of what may be.

Strengthened, revived, I emerge. The Ice King walks with me now, as I go. I am The Ice King, I am the snowflake, I am The Snowflake Collector, the wonder and George. The innocence lost and found. The anguish, the great satisfaction. The invention. The story.

I walk on an empty plane that extends into all directions, without end. Absence of colour surrounds me. I have conquered my fear. Not lost it, not abandoned it, no: embraced it, loved it, wrestled it, made it my own. I am the master of that I create. I am god. I breathe in, I breathe out. I breathe in, I breathe out. The swirls of air from my mouth form a flurry of flowers whose pollen disperse and populate the void. It is a paradise. It is rich. It is the land of beauty, abundance. This is where I belong; this is home.


< 5: The Pole       7: The Beginning >


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The Ice King – 5: The Pole

At the pole the world finally stops. Respite at last. The world doesn’t end, it ceases to turn. At the core of the axis there is no motion, there is only the centre, and the centre is both still and alive. Everything spins around us, and we are the point that extends in no dimensions and all dimensions at once.

Here in this space that has no expansion and no description and no volume and no coordinates, we are at one with everywhere, and The Ice King rules: I am his. His court, his jester; his courtier. His counsel, his subject. His servant. His chosen. His man. Am I his Queen?

I do not want to be what The Ice King is, and nor can I. Here, the Ice is eternal for as long as Eternal exists, and here it is ever in motion, and here it is still absolutely; and here the snowflakes are effervescent sparkles in our mind, which now is conjoined as one, but not one alone, but one that has in it the snowflakes like gossamer dust and the depths and the infinities of the sky in which there are stars that do not make sense any more than the snowflakes which they outnumber by magnitudes of improbable potentialities.

I lie on the ice bed The Ice King has bid me rest on, as he stands on the edge of his universe, overlooking everything with the eye of his mind, which is my mind, which is the mind of the snowflakes and the mind of the stars, which is the mind of the glacier, the river, the sea; which is the mind of the water, the air and the ions, which is the mind of the magnetic force of his presence and the electricity of my spirit; which is the mind of the other side and this, and the mind of the shadow he casts not on the ice but into the core that has no expansion and no dimension and no rotation; and I know that soon I must leave him, but not now.

Now The Ice King turns around to me, and I see that he is made of ice as I thought. And the ice, as I thought, and as everyone knows before they are told, is like fire; and the fire is just the energy dying and the energy dying is the source of all life and life is preserved in the ice and the ice is nothing but water and water is living and living is knowing and knowing is forgiving and forgiving is patience and patience is growth and growth is taking the energy on and becoming the other and the other is just an extension and the extension is continuation and continuation is the reflection and the reflection is the same as what is and the same is the all and the all is the now.

I welcome The Ice King onto me with my eyes, and as he melts into my open-arm, open-rib, open-mind being, I feel we are no longer one, we now simply are; and having him having me makes the ice disappear and the fire burn out and the water rise up and the energy surge and the stillness the stillness prevail.

I look down on the pole, spinning on my own axis as I lift up above; I see myself writhing and being consumed, I see The Ice King drowning me out and myself burn up in blue and greenpurple flames that dance on the water, and I know now I know now I am.


< 4: The Word       6: The Core >


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7 The Space Boy

He is a quietly spoken wonder, a boy who has never grown up; a spacealien of the loveliest nature, a Zebedee who has bounced off his Magic Roundabout and somehow found himself in a world full of people: I adore him.

Where Laniakea’s fibrous filaments’ ends disentangle from her neighbour’s, to float, as jellyfish through water, amid dark matter in slow, rhythmic pulses, the Space Boy has sought out a moment of respite for comfort and warmth and sat down with me in a Camden pub with a pint each of ale, autumn time.

I love him, Space Boy, in a way I love few. He’s about to get married. He doesn’t mean to marry; every signal his subconscious mind emits says he doesn’t want to, and every action that his conscious mind commands says he must.

He doesn’t send out his invitations, he forgets arrangements, postpones, prevaricates. He talks, on the verge of getting drunk with me, about the revelation his sister-in-law-to-be gave him when she told him it was a continuum, not an either thing or an or, a this thing or that. Clearly he senses himself on that spectrum, somewhere towards the brighter colours, but, that light notwithstanding, he’s lost. Will no-one hie to his rescue?

I can’t. I once nearly did. We’d stood facing each other, our hands on each other’s arms; and our lips almost touched. Then his brother walked in and the moment had gone: the night was spent in separate corners of the universe; I in mine, he in his. With that moment gone, all moments like it were gone, but my affection for him hasn’t waxed or waned like the moon, nor shall it: steady as a star it remains even now that he doesn’t want to and knows he doesn’t want to but knows he is about to tie himself in a knot.

Laniakea drawing away from Perseus-Pisces. I have a feeling this isn’t slow. The more I look at the Space Boy and listen to him expound on the vibrations, on the music of the spheres, on how tuned we are into each other, the more I know that what to us seems imperceptibly slow and unfathomably deep and incomprehensibly vast and impenetrably dark is bursting with energy, is replete with substance, is contained in a thought, and is teeming, teeming with life; and with life comes death and with death comes disintegration and with disintegration comes decomposition and with decomposition come component particles and with component particles come clusters of mass that attract each other and with clusters of mass that attract each other come new constellations and with new constellations come configurations and with configurations come potentialities and with potentialities come energy fields and with energy fields comes communication and with communication comes connection and with connection comes communion and communion is love and love is energy and the Space Boy and I are that energy and our minds are a dance and dancing is joy and joy is the present and the present is now and now is forever and forever is what we want it to be…

The Space Boy and I are lying on our backs on the ground looking up at the sky. The sky is plastered with empty silvery foil sleeves into which he will pour his spirited being. ‘I never want to not hold you dear,’ I whisper and rest my head on his chest looking down into the endlessness that ends where another begins. We are at a synapse in god’s brain and god is our own idea of our meaning: no wonder we sense god’s grace when we feel the pulse of a heart and bathe in the brainwaves of our fellows, our friends.

The Space Boy leaves me to think myself humble and rich. Has not he travelled lightyears to be here, to share one thought with me only? I treasure this thought and keep it inside my head where I know it won’t be contained: once thought, a thought is already encompassed in our common conscious, and he knows and I know and they know and you; we all know:

We all are one.


< 6 Domesticity     8 JoJo >


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2 Memories of the Present: Hangover

There is a connection; the connection may well be the pattern. I did this back then, I do this right now; I will be doing this in two years’ time, most likely in ten, maybe even in twenty. I understand it, I can put reason to it, but I can’t make any sense of it, because reason doesn’t really come into it.

I have to sometimes save myself from myself, but more often than not the universe protects me from what I want. If the universe and my subconscious were in tune with each other, then that would explain a lot, even if my conscious still struggles. And it still struggles. I think. And I think sometimes I am my own worst enemy, because I think matters through; I most likely overthink them.

My sitting here now may well be a case in point: I should probably just get drunk with myself on cocktails and not care one jot why I am here now reminding myself of my incapacity to fruitfully fall in love.

Even the idea of fruitfully falling in love sounds like a great misunderstanding. Of myself, by myself. Of other people. Namely the people I somehow find myself falling ‘in love’ with. I wouldn’t know the first thing about what that would actually entail. But I know more or less what it wouldn’t.

I’m reminded of something that is happening simultaneously, even as I’m talking to George, right now; although of course it isn’t, it will have happened either just before or just after, or a little earlier or a little later, but at this moment it might as well be happening right now for the presence it has, the way it imposes itself: I wake up surrounded by paint pots – pots of paint small and large, some tin, some plastic, plus white spirit. 

My head aches like Alaska, I open my eyes and close them again and open them once more and then close them again. I hear the voice of my friend who is staying with me talk to his girlfriend on Skype. His side of the conversation goes, ‘uhm… yah… – … – …yoah… – … – …hmmmyoh.’ He’s German, more specifically, Bavarian. He may be the first Bavarian I have ever fancied. I used to go much more for lean, lanky tall men, and while I still have a residual primal propensity towards tall people quite generally, I was here for the first time smitten with somebody of a more stoically solid build.   

I listen with my eyes closed, though I try not to hear. I used to think that his girlfriend was the most boring person alive, but that may well have been just the tint of jealousy. I don’t like the idea of being jealous any more than I like the idea of being angry or ungenerous, but since he’s been staying with me, I’ve realised that my friend—whom I used to have a very soft spot for and whom I continue to hold in a great deal of affection and high professional admiration—when he feels like it (my in this moment murky mind wants to say: when he’s under her spell), can be almost as boring as her, even though his name doesn’t suggest it; his name suggests mischief and a boyish irreverence and a sense of adventure and a laugh and a roll in the hey and an ice cream too many and a drink on top, and calling on Freddie at two in the morning quite tipsy, and an eagerness to discover. None of which is currently much on display, but we did once call on Freddie at two in the morning after a party, as Freddie happened to live on the way home, in Berlin. That was fun. (The girlfriend wasn’t amused…)

Maxl. He sleeps a hell of a lot. Maybe he’s depressed. Or maybe his girlfriend tires him out. She is very hard work, I realise. He sleeps more than I think he’s awake, and sometimes he’s asleep when awake, and even when he’s awake he often might as well be asleep. He’s been here for five months now and he still doesn’t speak English. That puzzles me. I must be hungry and hungover. Hence, surely, my state of mind which, to my own baffled unease, seems to signal malfunction: I’ve never known myself so discomfited by a person I love.  

My brain hurts.

One of the paint pots has leaked pinkish paint onto my pillow, it looks oddly svelte. There is no better cure for an infatuation with someone than to have them stay at your flat for a while. I used to think he was the one, and I came close to telling him so. I certainly told him his girlfriend was boring. I don’t regret that, it was true. Right now I wish myself buried under twelve thousand pebbles. Not dead, just buried. The pebbles would soothe me and ward off the ‘yahem… – … – och – … – nyah’ litany of… what exactly? I keep my eyes closed and try to drift off. It’s not easy…


< 1 Juice     {Petals} >


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11 Death (Imagined)

I noticed I was dead when I saw myself lying dead in my bed, looking down on myself from a great height: there I was. Gone. A lifelong flirtation with significance, over. And nothing dreadful in consequence. No pain, no loss, no uncertainty. Just the remorseless ease of an expired existence. Of almost failure. Of having nearly been. Something or other. Someone? Then I woke up and realised that it had been a dream. I don’t like to say ‘only’, but it had been ‘only’ a dream. I had dreamt my self dead. What new joys. Wait on me.

It’s hard now to say what perplexed me more. Being dead (in my dream), or being alive (after all). But finding myself thus among the quick in a hitherto slow existence, I believed I had heard, and was minded to heed, a call for action: I got out of bed and made coffee.

Mug in hand I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, naked. I do that a lot these days, I examine my body. I marvel at it, not admiringly: bemused. I don’t look for blemishes or signs of decay, I look for signs of familiarity; for something that says: this is you. I don’t find it. The person standing naked in the mirror in front of me could be anybody. It’s not that I’m alien to myself or strange, just: unfamiliar. I’m roughly fifty and not beautiful. What I marvel at is not beauty. What I marvel at is the fact that I don’t recognise myself in the shape I’ve become. I’m not even unattractive. In fact, I may be more attractive now than I’ve ever been. And I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure it’s a thing. Any more. ‘Attractive’. To what and to whom and to what end. Nevertheless, I’m a little alarmed because it seems late in the day to suddenly start feeling attractive. Alarmed but a little reassured too, because perhaps it just means I’m not over the hill. What is the hill? Going down is supposed to be easier than going up. What ride am I in for? Now?

Mug in hand I stand in front of the mirror naked, looking for signs of familiarity. The eyes maybe. Or the nose. Maybe the lips. I’m stubbly, and I like it. There. That’s something to hold on to: seeing as it is that I’m alive, there’s one thing that I’m happy with and that’s worth holding on to: my stubble.

I remind myself I am sitting opposite my young self and I had promised my young self—not so much promised, perhaps, as enticed him over by means of the prospect of—a question. My mind goes blank. The memory of imagining my own death, even just as a dream, and the image of my standing in front of the mirror naked, mug in hand and content that I have inexplicably become ‘attractive’, possibly owing to stubble (which has since grown somewhat into a near-mature beard), sends a shudder down my spine, and I put down my mojito too firmly.

‘George,’ I say, sensing that something—anything—is required from me at this point, ‘what are you doing in Istanbul?’

This is not, obviously, the question I’d had in mind for him, but then I can’t begin to conceive of what question I might have had in mind for him, and since it’s a question that is playing on my mind about myself (what am I doing in Istanbul?) I feel it is pertinent, or if not pertinent then perhaps justified, or if not justified then at least maybe useful, useful in as much at least as it might open the conversation; and at this point in the proceedings (are these ‘proceedings’, and if so what are they?) I yearn for a touch of conversation.

I startle myself at realising I also yearn for a touch, his touch, any touch, some contact beyond verbal, visual, aural, and I want to place my hand over his in a fatherly gesture. I don’t. But there are now two versions of us sitting at this table in the garden of the Limonlu Bahçe: one, the ‘real’ one, in which he still holds his glass in both his hands and has his eyes not exactly fixed but nevertheless on it, whereas I look at him in my ongoing state of bewilderment, and one, the ‘imagined’ one in my mind, where he has put down his glass and I have cupped my left hand over both his hands and I look him in the eyes and he looks back into mine.

‘Not exactly sure,’ he says—in one version examining the glass in his hands and twisting it slightly, in the other holding my gaze with a blend of confidence and the uncertainty his words imply—’I was doing Interrail with a friend, I had no intention of coming here really, but maybe circumstances conspired…’

I know at once that they did, even though I still don’t remember this scene from my past, and I am immeasurably relieved; he is, although he doesn’t know it, similarly displaced from his own reality: we are on the same page, more or less.

I imagine squeezing his hand and cupping my right hand around his neck and pulling him close so he can rest his head for a while on my shoulder, but instead I pick up my glass and lift it up to him and say, as if I had any authority to do so: ‘welcome to Istanbul,’ to which, in both versions, he too raises his glass and clinks it with mine and, once again gamely, says: ‘welcome to Istanbul.’


< 10 Choices       12 The Sultaness (Revisited) >


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Euphoria

I look at myself. Not in the mirror, not as a person with a yen for profundity and meaning, but in a picture. I find the picture among my belongings as I clear out my flat because it’s being renovated: for the first time in decades I go through every object I own and therefore am owned by and decide whether to keep it, or whether to part. Keep it or part. Keep? Or part: divest, my mind mostly suggests, and my heart, in most cases, though not quite all, affirms, yes divest!

I am unambitious but consistent in the pursuit of my task, as I progress through each item one by one. I look at every photograph, and every photograph looks at me. I don’t notice me at first, not in an ‘oh, here I am, look at me!’ kind of way. I just know I’m there. In the picture. As anyone ever photographed by necessity is. In this particular stack, I am part of a collection of early black and white ten by eights that I must have had done when I first decided to be an actor. This dates them in the mid to late nineteen-eighties and me at about twenty-two, twenty-three. I don’t notice me, not this time round. I’m simply there.

The second time round I notice myself. I have been away for seven weeks, nearly eight, and I’ve come back into my flat, which is all new and fresh and still so familiar and more home now than ever, and as I unpack the boxes I once again go through almost every thing I own and am therefore owned by, only this time I do so not one by one but in batches, just to make sure. And this time round I jump out at myself: I am beautiful. I wish I’d known that. I wish I’d known then that I was beautiful, but I didn’t. I still don’t. But I was. And I am. Only I can’t feel it now, I can’t even see it. I couldn’t then. But I can now see it then. I can now see that then I am beautiful. I have a gentle face and searching eyes, and an almost translucent skin; I have my life in front of me; not my childhood, not my youth, but my whole adult existence.

I am overcome with compassion. How brave I was, and needed to be. How unencumbered I was. How I looked forward, unafraid. How strong. How fragile. How soft, how resilient; how steadfast. How honest. How vulnerable. How resolute not to hurt, not to fail, or if to hurt then not to cry, not to grumble, and not to succumb; yet to prevail…

I sense the time has come. I trust it now, much more, the sense. All the things I know and all the things I don’t know are the same: they all abide by and reside in me. No words of wisdom, no advice. Let me make my own mistakes. Let sorrow, loss and lingering despair crush me to tears. I won’t protect me from myself: that would be crueller still.

Across from me, at the Limonlu Bahçe, Istanbul: George. I lean forward a little, my chair creaks, he looks up at me, curious, askance. Unimpressed. Unruffled. Unspoilt. Unused. Undamaged. Unfathomable, even to me. I know how you feel, I’ve been there, believe me, I’ve been you, but no, I don’t know you at all. I know you no more than I know any boy your age. Man! You never liked being a boy much, a youth, maybe, yes; do you like being a man? I hear myself think the question, and in a flicker of recognition—probably imagined, only by me—he says: ‘Do you relish being a man?’ (‘Relish.’ That’s better. ‘Like’ is so lightweight, it’s neither here nor there. He could have said ‘enjoy’ but that, too, has long since been eroded, diminished to some middling marketed meaninglessness.)

‘I do.’ I say: ‘I will. If I haven’t till now, then henceforth I shall.’

‘Henceforth?’ He gives me that smile, that bemused, too knowing, wry play on his lips, a light in his eye.

I don’t want to burden myself with the responsibility of having interfered with my own life. Not here, not now. I used to be troubled. Then charming. Then enigmatic. I’m still working on wise.

‘Be generous, be kind.’ (I thought I was not going to give me advice. Is it that hard to refrain?) ‘Forgive. Live and let live, and trust the universe is on your side.’ He looks at me, unsmiling, unconcerned, frank. He knows all this already, everyone does. ‘Felicity, fortune and favour all balance out, over time. Take your time. Let not there ever be any hurry. Go you about with a heart that beats warm and a mind that keeps open and a soul that is free, and your path will lead you where you need to be.’ (That’s done it: I’ve lost him.) His eyes linger long and soft, not hard; then, inscrutable now, he nods. ‘Just remember…’ (Stop it! Stop it now! No counsel, no words, no well-intentioned guidance from yonder!) ‘…if you want a squirt of milk in your pail you have to squeeze the odd teat now and then.’

I get up; the temptation to ruffle his hair proves almost too much, but I know I used to hate this, and so I desist.

‘Fare well.’ I say, in two words. He looks up at me and, unsmiling still, but gamely returns: ‘Fare thee well.’

And then I remember and I turn around to him before I leave and I stand at the bottom of the steps that lead up through the house, from the garden, onto the street, and the garden is busy again now, and buzzing, and I see myself sitting there, alone but not lonely, quiet, composed, a little aloof, just the way I was in that photograph, just the way I now feel, and I spread my arms to this Garden of Eden afore me and I demand, at the top of my voice, of it all: ‘BE MAGNIFICENT!’

And, having said what I needed to say now, I leave myself to my self: my adventure, my journey, my love.

And here I was and I will be, but mostly now, here I am.

(The good thing about fiction? I unimagine it, and it’s gone…)