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…

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.’

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 myself: my adventure, my journey, my love.

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

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

Istanbul

We wander on for a bit, and I breathe it all in: the people, the tourists, the tram and vendors; the noise and the scent and the flavour.

George, I’m beginning to realise, is telling me everything I need to know. He’s hardly said more than a couple of dozen sentences since we met, improbably and unfathomably, a few hours ago, but I know now that seeing him, listening to him, looking at him, being with him—in his presence, in no other than that simple, literal sense—has triggered in me the abundance of memories, connexions and emotions, the thoughts and the synaptic excursions, the diversions, the captions, the mild insurrections of heart, mind and soul, that I need, to move on.

Move on from what? Had I got stuck? Most severely. Had I manoeuvred myself into a dead end? More than of sorts. Was I on the verge of becoming obsolete, not just to myself, but to the universe that has somehow produced me? I fear me I was. Is that now all at an end? Who knows…

I again put my arm around George, instinctively, without thinking, and he doesn’t shirk or pause or look at me, he just lets it be. My George: that’s how I know him. We wander, like father and son, like brothers, like friends, but not lovers—can one constellation embody all these in one, even, ever?—and I feel me an abundant sensation of love. Of loss too, and of forgiveness. Most of all of forgiveness: I forgive you, George, for everything, really. All your inadequacies. Your presumptions, your misunderstandings. Your aloofnesses and your hesitancies. Your delusions and your noble intentions. Your foibles, all of your weaknesses. Your constant quest to connect, your patent inability to do so in so many senses. There are too many things to mention.

Too many things too, for which I do not need to forgive you, for which I can quietly, humbly, respect you: even admire you. Your sense of justice and your faith in humans. Your optimism, your hope. Your openness, your curiosity. It may, ultimately, have killed the cat, but the cat had nine lives and so it continued. It lived. You’re not unlike a cat, George, I’ve known this for centuries, for all the millennia that I’ve known you. And I’m beginning to know you now, George, and I’m glad on’t.

We reach Taksim Square where we take a turn to the right and keep wandering. Not aimlessly so much as non-directionally. We both have no particular place to go, not at the moment. We end up by a steep small street that looks a little familiar and quite attractive, and decide to head up it, rather than down, and before long we recognise a wooden house and a half hidden entrance: we have inadvertently come back to right where we started: the Limonlu Bahçe.

There is, probably, in some way some significance to this: have we actually gone round in a circle? I like to think not, not least because we are not moving in three dimensions. We have, at any rate, walked a spiral, a triangular shaped one, as it turns out, but that is most likely quite by the by. Some things have meaning, others less so. Some things are profound though we but capture the surface, others are really surface. Or maybe I’m being lazy. At some level, most likely, everything has some other layer, some other meaning, some other significance that could or could not be, or become, at some point quite relevant. We can’t take it all in, all at the same time: we do need a filter. And that’s yet another insight I’m having, right there.

We’ve not walked very far, maybe less than an hour, perhaps a bit more; we’ve been ambling really, rather than striding. We’ve not been saying all that much more. Metaphorically, though, we have come a long way. In my mind I have travelled a little light year. Is there a big light year? Or even one of average length? Aren’t all light years the same? It is not, of course, and I realise, a year, and it’s not one of light. Some metaphors don’t stack up. I have percolated, I feel me, through my own conscience and come out enriched. If that makes sense. Does it have to? Make sense? To me, it doesn’t have to, even though somehow it does. I don’t think it matters to George if it does. Does it matter to you?

I realise I have a reader. I realise I need you as my reader, because without you I don’t exist. I realise I am not alone in this, nor only with George: I realise we are, in our own constellation, triangular. Hello, Reader: welcome to my world.

George and I are both creatures of habit, and having walked for an hour or so—maybe a little less, possibly just a bit more—we both fancy another drink, and we readily, easily, without thinking or negotiation, decide to go back to the Limonlu Bahçe: we liked it there, we were comfortable there, why would we not now go back there, seeing we are already here.

I like that about George and about me: we can stay in one place for hours and never get bored. We both never get bored, George and I. That is a realisation I had and passed on to him long before I knew I would be him: if you watch paint dry close enough, it’s entirely riveting. At molecular level, let alone subatomic: there’s a riot of things happening, a mesmerising display of spectacular wonder. How could you ever get bored?

We head down the hidden staircase back into the garden which is now not full and not empty, but at that agreeable mid-to-late afternoon state when luncheon has petered out and dinner hasn’t yet started. The table we had been sitting at has been taken, but we find one as pleasant in the mid-to-late afternoon speckled shade two or three tables removed and sit down, and our angular waitress returns and recognises us and smiles, and we order another couple of mojitos and some chips, just to nibble.

Now, for the first time in maybe a million years, I am here. George, because of the configuration of the table, the bench and the chairs, has naturally sat down next to me, not opposite, so he can survey the garden with me, this paradise of our own making. This Eden. “Look at me now, and here I am,” she had said, and I had understood her, immediately. Joyce, Shakespeare, Stein. Then Shakespeare again, then no particular order.

I can be at home with myself in a paradise of my making that doesn’t know what it is, in a city I’ve never been before, within an instant and find me not tempted by knowledge, in no need of a companion, at ease. Not forever, of course, just for now. The curiosity and the fascination, the alertness and also the need will soon get the better of me, that I know, it has ever been thus.

But now. And here. We are.


< {Memories of the Past}



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EDEN miniatures

 

{Memories of the Past}

a surreptitious glance in a doorway: you

had been waiting for me

but how long?

i can’t remember, i remember

seeing you at the cinema and us

exchanging glances

(those were the days, mostly, of

glances)

and us not speaking, i was too shy, you shy too

so i started walking

across the river, there: a cafe, old style; what

was i doing in there, could it be, really, that you

waited

outside while i was having coffee inside?

or did i pop in to see if i liked it, but didn’t, or whether you would follow (but why would you? it was an old style cafe; and you didn’t), so i

popped out again, straight away? that seems more likely, certainly it seems more

reasonable…

*

you were in the entrance as i came out and i saw you again and you me and it was clear

you’d been waiting for me, there

in the doorway

but we still didn’t speak

how was that even possible: it was obvious

you had been waiting for me, yet

we didn’t speak, i not to you, you not to me

i was incredibly young, you a bit younger,

there by the rhine, in basel, at that time

of glances, mostly, and quietly aching

silences

*

you were there too maybe two, three years later

now on the southbank

in london

you looked different, a bit, though not much

you had those same eyes, longing

uncertain, a

querying glance, that

glance

that i must have had too

it was the era of glances, of not saying what any of us wanted, ever, of

uncertainty, being afraid

but of what?

of being found out

of revealing too much

too much to the wrong kind of person, of being

vulnerable

literally, viscerally, in danger of injury, death

or afraid merely of actually having, enjoying, living a moment, such one 

brief encounter?

who knows

*

those were days of unspoken desires

at night time

near rivers

only this time i actually asked you

for a light

or you me?

i you or you me, one of us asked the other for a cigarette or a light or for both and

another glance was exchanged and a flame lit up and in that flame we did not look at each other again, we just looked at the hands touching, cupping the cigarette, and that

once again

just was that

how curious

how timid, how cautious, how wary i was

of you

always

and yet how much i wanted to be with you

still

*

and then there you were in st james’s park: another you, another glance 

i on my way home

you on your way where? i didn’t ask and you didn’t say

it was nice

there

to finally meet you

at night, late

by the pond, not the river

to feel your hands on me, taste your lips

such a long time ago now

such a situation between two and three, thereabouts, in the morning

when that park is not closed and not open but we both were

closed and open and there: those were the days

of such stolen moments, so

rare

i miss them no more than i miss you

and i don’t miss you, i’m just maybe sorry

a bit

that it took me so long to pluck up the courage to finally meet you

albeit briefly

we wasted, it seems, a few opportunities, you and i, but

*

you live and you learn, and nothing

but nothing

can be rewound, reconfigured, restored, it can not even be really

relived, it can

of course be

in one way or another

remembered, redeemed?

(to what end? none other than to know that there was such a thing as a path, a trajectory,

or an arc:

a semblance of something resembling a story

a sequence of inconsequential instances, now implanted, the shapes

along which the currents of time have mostly been channelled, each curve, each bend

not just leaving traces but forming them too

until

at last

there’s a torrent

and the river, the brook or the stream

floods its banks and

ignores

these patterns, these half

designs, half

instinctive behaviours half

needed half wanted half detested half worn and half

overthrown memories

only half

ever

because the half that sits underground under consciousness under skin under mind

remains there forever somehow, and

so be it

*

albeit not always appreciated not always valued not always wanted or loved

you are always

a part of me still, and

welcome

to stay

 

whatever became of you, i do wonder

and then i forget that i ever did

because life goes on and

there are many more rivers to cross and bridges to burn and transgressions that must be traversed and

comings together

to fathom, just

*

know that i never not wanted

to know you

*


< World       Istanbul >


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{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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Revival [2]

I grow interested in the myth. More than interested, intrigued. Why is it a myth? Clearly there must be some foundation to it. But nobody knows. Does nobody want to know? Everybody wants to know everything, always; but do they really? Is it kinder on the mind, and warmer on the heart, not to be certain, about certain things?

Who, I wonder, were these ‘two guys in their twenties’? Shouldn’t there be a plaque to them? Should they not be celebrated as local legends in their own, quite literally, lunchtime? (It was around then, after all, that they stepped, in the nude, into leisurely ‘action’.) Do they still take part now, many years later, perhaps in their thirties, or even forties? They could be dads, by now; in fact, if—as in any respect other than their initiation of this curious custom they appear to be—they are fairly average males then all likelihood suggests that they are, by now, also dads.

Do they live in Bournemouth, still, or Boscombe? Did they ever? That may be a clue: perhaps they weren’t actually from here. Maybe they were just visiting, this is a distinct possibility. Because if they were native to the Bournemouth and Boscombe community then surely, but surely, somebody would know who they are. Then again, if, as has been suggested, some ‘mates’ joined them on their first stroll, then there must have been mates to do so. Maybe they were visiting too? Perhaps they were part of a group, of an Australian sports team? Maybe a language school? They could have been hearty Scandinavians, here to learn English! Or maybe they actually didn’t have any mates here at all, maybe they were just talking to strangers at first, but became readily friendly with them, and these erstwhile strangers who were now effectively friends had mates and they joined them, impromptu, and that’s how it all happened. Who knows. Well, exactly: who actually knows?

My early investigation into this matter of waxing importance—waxing, in importance, at any rate, to me—yields nothing. Yes, the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll happens each year on the last Sunday in June; yes, it attracts a fair bit of attention nowadays: people come here from all over the region, even the country, maybe the world, but there is no website and no guide. No official history, and no reference to its founders. No club and no charitable foundation. More than intrigued now, I’m fascinated: how do these things come about?

My mind latches onto something, but it doesn’t know what. Maybe it’s my subconscious mind: it knows, it wants, it needs there to be more to this than meets the eye (though what meets the eye would, on occasion, seem to be quite enough…) and it thinks it knows that there usually is: so likelihood would suggest. And in the absence of certainty, likelihood is our friend. I want to go with that, that notion, that thought.

My mind senses, below reasoning, above intuition, that there is a connection and that this connection can be found. But not by ‘traditional’ means. (What, in any case, are ‘traditional’ means?) It realises, my mind, now, that it has to let go and take an approach that is not a route, that is not direct, that is not determinate or determined, that is neither logical nor pure, neither chaotic nor abstract, neither instinctive nor wise. So what is it? Perhaps I am overthinking it all, but that doesn’t matter: I stand on the beach looking out to the sea and I notice the air coming in from vaguely the right. Over there. By the headland. Is it a headland? Is it a beach? I like the waves, they are steady and impermanent at the same time. They are waves and particles too. They are full of tiny molecules, but that is not what I mean. They are wet but their power is implacable. If nobody knows, then maybe they need to be told.

I decide to delve deeper and take a detour, via the sea. There is something somewhere that somebody would rather were not the case. I shall find it and let it be so…


< Revival [1]       Revival [3] >