{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 café, 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 café, 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, of 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

sill

 

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

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 always

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

London

The Tape ends in London, where I tell my future self that I had “never been on a holiday after which I found it so difficult to return home.” It was my longest trip since leaving high school in Switzerland, after which eleven of us went island hopping in Greece for nearly a month. I don’t feel like coming “back to my own cooking” – which at the time, and for many, many years to come, consists mainly of pasta, fried eggs and the occasional oven-baked fish – “and my own washing up.” The only thing I do feel like is to “bring to fruition all the plans I’ve formulated about Edinburgh.” It feels good to have “talked to so many people in so many different places;” in fact, “it feels like there’s a theatre, and friends and family are already assembled in the front rows, but the curtain hasn’t quite risen yet.” But that’s good, I emphasise: “it’s a kind of pressure – good pressure – a supportive expectation, which spurs me on to follow through on what I said I wanted to do.” Of course, I am aware, “I don’t know if it will succeed, but it’s worth a try.” And for that sentiment alone I still, today, salute my very young and very optimistic self of 1988.

A few changes are imminent: “I feel I have to leave 14 St Alban’s Street soon, just because of the temperatures in winter.” These I remember with less pain now than I know I used to experience at the time. The place had no central heating, and while the kitchen (which was also the hall) and my bedroom were so small that you could just about get them warm with an electric blow heater or by putting the oven on and leaving its door open, that was an expensive and hardly ecological way to heat your home, and we all had no money. So in winter, we took all the food out of the fridge, put it on the grand piano in the living room, switched off the fridge and closed the door to the living room, and that was it till the spring: our own ridiculously eccentric walk-in larder.

That building no longer stands. A little while ago, I walked past where it used to be, and to my surprise and momentary disorientation I found that the whole block, which had housed some shops, possibly a bank, certainly a pub, and our flat as well as several others, was simply gone. I imagine a new office block, or mixed residential commercial development is going up on the site. This used to be owned by the Crown Estate, I imagine it still is. Our landlady though was an Italian poet who had been living in London for about twenty years by then, who had six grown up children, and who was not only subletting individual rooms to us flat sharers, but also ran the small music rehearsal studios downstairs, called St Alban’s Street Studios; and when these were overbooked, musicians would sometimes come up to our flat and use the grand piano in the living room to practice. I loved living there; it felt in an almost old-fashioned sense ‘bohemian’, I was still new to town, and this was a place with an unbeatable location, directly behind Piccadilly Circus, in a tiny street wedged in between Lower Regent Street and Haymarket, used mostly by taxis to change direction in the one way system, or as a shortcut. (But not every London cab driver knew of it, even though it was so central and therefore undoubtedly part of ‘The Knowledge’. On one occasion, I had one who was so surprised that there was a street in the West End he’d never heard of that he switched off the meter and offered to take me to my doorstep, just to find out…)

The terms of the lease on the flat stipulated that our landlady was not actually allowed to sublet any part of it, but was meant to use it solely for herself and her family. It can’t have been long after this, my final audio diary entry, that we were told she was going to lose the flat, unless she could convince a court that we were not really renting our rooms from her, but living there on a friendly basis, in a quasi artistic arrangement. This was utter nonsense, of course, even though two of our flatmates had, at times, been staffing the reception of the studios downstairs, for one pound an hour… No wonder, therefore, our feeble attempts at making our tenancies sound like anything other than what they were, without perjuring ourselves as witnesses in front of a judge, got absolutely nowhere, and soon the decision was made for me: I had to move out, as the Crown Estate took back the property. Ironically, a full quarter century later, the same landlady got into trouble again with her neighbours, over the flat where she had actually been living all this time. Also over subletting rooms, now on AirBnB. Again there was a court case. Again she lost…

On The Tape, apart from sensing a move come on, I also “feel I have to change jobs just for the sake of diversity” – by which I probably mean variety – “and getting to know something new,” by which I probably mean learning it. I record, and relate, that there’s “no hurry about that, although first initiatives will start now towards the end of the year.” Other than that, I now have “lots to do regarding Edinburgh next year,” and apparently I had been doing some workshops on Tuesdays prior to the trip, because I now tell myself that these are starting up again. Perhaps I’ll even “enrol for the City Lit course.”  The City Lit course was a then well known – almost in a small way legendary – part time acting course; legendary not so much necessarily for the content or the teaching (though it was led by two magnificent and much loved Canadians), but for the fact that admission was granted on a purely first come, first served basis, rather than through auditions, which meant that people quite literally queued up overnight to get in. I obviously followed through on this, because I certainly did queue up all through the night, two years running, and I met in that queue people I’m still friends with today, one of whom built from scratch first the Southwark Playhouse and then Arcola Theatre, two of the best known and most respected London Off West End Theatres today, at both of which I’ve had plays of mine staged.

The final note of this holiday, I hear myself say, “is summarised perhaps in the word ‘fantastic,’” by which I mean not so much that it had been exciting, but that I met really nice people, among them many friends of friends; that I had been able to stay with people all the way through except in Edinburgh and Paris; and enjoyed being with people I knew and knew very well.

I end The Tape by telling my future self that I had just had a walk through St James’s Park, after coffee at the ICA, and that it feels “a bit like decision time.” It’s a time of looking back and of looking forward, and if this was a break in-between, then the part that starts now is going to be a busy one: “I feel quite determined to finish my studies; I feel determined to do Edinburgh next year. I won’t apply for Drama School, I’d rather finish the evening studies first.” This is a degree I was taking, at what was then known as the Polytechnic of Central London and has since been renamed University of Westminster. In Social Sciences. I’ve always held this to be the most useless degree imaginable, but it was a valuable experience all in its own right, and it turned out to be far from useless, but for reasons I could not really have foreseen. Clearly, though, it was simply an extension of my general education, rather than in any way a vocation, since my heart was then already firmly on theatre, from whence it has rarely ever really strayed. But the earliest possible moment therefore for me to go for a full time Drama School would be “next year,” while in the meantime “I’ll try to do a City Lit course;” and everything else, I declare, is up for grabs. It was, I say in the most languid voice that I’ve ever heard anyone, including myself, use to say anything, and that now brings an indulgent smile at myself of back then to my lips, “a totally invigorating and satisfying experience. I feel very grateful for having been able to do this, and for having been received with such hospitality and friendship.”

Finally, I reckon that there’s “a lot of travelling to do” (which I do, over time), and “a lot of living in different places,” too, naming Paris and Italy as likely contenders, which is something I haven’t done: after St Alban’s Street I crashed with friends in Hackney for a short while, then I lived near Marble Arch for a few years, then in Ashley Gardens near Victoria in precisely the flat that our former landlady has since also lost (though that block is unlikely to be torn down any time soon, as it is a gorgeous residential two-tone brick building, in keeping entirely with the Westminster Cathedral, which stands directly next to it). After that I moved into The Anthony in Earl’s Court, where I’ve been living ever since. Always London: maybe my first, and certainly the longest love of my life…