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Tales from a College that Disappeared

By: Carl Halling

Page 1, Image: 1988?/'89?/'90?

An Eighties Narrative 1

The two “tales” that follow have been compiled using my usual creative methods exhaustively described elsewhere. They serve to provide a stark contrast between my state of being during the first half of my tenure at Westfield College, London, where I studied for a BA degree in French and Drama between 1981 and ’85, and that during my final, crepuscular year.

My first two years at Westfield, a former London university college situated close to the Hampstead side of the busy Finchley Road, were among the most perfectly blissful periods of my entire young manhood. Throughout my final year, on the other hand, I was something of a drifter in Arcadia, many of my former much treasured friends from the drama department having departed the college the previous summer.

The first tale, “Gallant Festivities” was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-’83:
Section one pertains to revels enjoyed in the wake of a performance at the college of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night or what you will” in which I’d interpreted Feste, Illyria’s allowed jester, while Section two was collaged out of an assortment of diary entries from ‘83. Some of these were made in response to another night of revelry following the showing of a play, this time of “Blood Wedding” by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca in which I’d played the Novio, a young Andalusian driven to violence after his bride absconds with a love rival, Leonardo.
Both sections are intended to evoke the feverish merrymaking that marked my golden years at Westfield, a college then in its twilight time prior to its quiet passing into Queen Mary on east London’s grim Mile End Road, far, far from the semi-pastoral beauty of Hampstead.

It is my fancy to see my first two Westfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to frenzied excess, with something infinitely more sombre looming just beyond the horizon.
In a general sense this came perhaps 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”.
With respect to myself in particular, it took form as the collapse of my health and the cessation of my ability to drink alcohol with impunity, although this would not occur until well into the succeedent decade.

Gallant Festivities (1982/3)

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 get kept getting up to dance…

An Eighties Narrative 2:

For the duration of my second year at Westfield I was resident in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Andrew and David, French students both and from County Durham and East Riding respectively.
Soon after taking residence, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge (which doubled as David’s bedroom) with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. Andrew, David and I subsequently organised a “salon” which while well attended only ran to a single meeting.
Our ebullient landlady, Mrs R., demonstrated an almost superhuman patience towards us, given that she was resident poor soul beneath our frenetic feet in her own house, and we were hardly quiescent tenants. As a long-term lower floor flat inhabitant myself I can only hope she didn’t suffer too much torment in consequence of our collective fervour for life, and it was quite a fervour!
In common with many of my friends, I made extensive use of alcohol and tobacco by night. However, I rarely drank diurnally as I was ultimately to do. Looking back, self-doubt was not a serious problem for me any more than was depression. In fact unless my memory serves me ill, I was naturally high-spirited, and my first two Westfield years as I recall them an unceasing round of plays, shows, concerts, dances, jests, high jinks and gallant festivities set against the background of one of the most beautiful and bucolic suburbs of north London.

Sadly the summer term of 1983 ended somewhat anticlimactically for for me. The reason for this was that I had elected to work for a full academic year as an English language assistant in a French secondary school following the vacation. Therefore I would not be seeing many of my friends at Westfield again, that is in the capacity of fellow student, nor joining them in their final year celebrations. There was an alternative (in the shape of a few weeks abroad), but accepting it would have deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I’d long pined for with all the irrational desideration of a would-be doomed poet. Thence in the autumn of ’83, I took lodgings on the grounds of the Lycee JP Timbaud in Bretigny-sur-Orge, a commune in the southern suburbs situated some sixteen miles south of the city centre, and remained there until the following May.

I was scarcely unspotted by the time I first set foot in Bretigny, a suburb in the department of Essonne in the Ile de France. That said, I can distinctly recall feeling at some point not too long after my arrival that I wasn’t quite as angelic as I may have once imagined myself to be. Precisely why I cannot say for certain, but there are theories I can provide, not that I’ll be doing so in the course of this piece. On the other hand in the piece that follows, which is entirely devoted to my sojourn in the City of Light, some of these theories will be proferred for consideration. Was I starting to become subject to some kind of self-disillusion by the fall of 1983, and to love and respect myself less than I’d done, say, at the onset of my university career, and if so, why? Perhaps I felt that deep in my spirit I’d let people down, people who’d loved and trusted me because of the way I looked, with such an "innocent face". One thing is certain is that despite any possible deep-seated self-disillusion, I had barely been more narcistic than in the year of ‘84, sashaying around Paris and its suburbs with heavily streaked hair, diamante or turquoise studs in my left earlobe, dressed in jeans of white, perhaps, or gold, gorging on the attention I elicited with such facility with an almost sociopathic greed. Some of this came not in the form of starry-eyed admiration, but the intense animosity of those such as the city’s voyoux who took exception to my peacock appearance.
Yet there seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience had long started to scream out in protest and pain by the time of my Parisian odyssey and would continue to do so until I attained my personal ne plu ultra some ten years thereafter.

It may be true to say that much of the wistfulness displayed by the ensuing and final piece, formed from notes committed to paper in 1985, and largely pertaining to an evening I spent sauntering in a mournful daze through the affluent north London suburb of Golders Green, was born of a long-established infatuation with Bohemian melancholy, and that my characteristic exhileration was still very firmly in place in ’85. Yet, as I remember it, this same natural exaltation was being compromised as never before by a tendency to intense depressive attacks. Furthermore, it is unquestionable that I was seeking more and more comfort through a far deadlier Bohemian favourite than mere affected discontent, ethyl alcohol.
I don’t think it’s too fanciful to suggest that I’d lost something between bidding farewell to the Westfield I’d known in ’81 to ’83, and returning to my Land of Lost Content in the autumn of ‘84, something hard to define perhaps, but something precious nonetheless.

The Wanderer of Golders Green (1985)

I awake each morning
With fresh hope
And tranquility
I might go for a saunter
Down quiet London backstreets
Soon my aimlessness
Depresses me,
And I realise
I’d been deceiving myself
As to my ability
To relax as others do.

After my Special B.,
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.

I awoke around one.
I slowly got dressed.
Chatty as ever
Before the exam:
French/English translation.
Periodically I put
My face in my hands
Or groaned or sighed.
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.

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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