Though Are the Wonders of This Brief Life 19 The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties Chapter Twelve The Wanderer of Golders Green

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

From Though Are the Wonders of This Brief Life Book Two.


A “definitive” version of The Wanderer of Golders Green, formerly Tales from a College that Disappeared as earlier published in rudimentary form at FaithWriters on the 22cnd of April 2007, was re-published there in December 2007.

An Eighties Narrative 1

The two “tales” that follow have been compiled using my usual creative methods exhaustively described elsewhere. They are intended to provide a stark contrast between my state of being during the first half of my time at Leftfield College, London, where I studied for a BA degree in French and Drama between 1981 and '85, and that during my final year. The first tale, Gallant Festivities, was based on two pages of informal journal notes dating from 1982-'83. Itself consisting of two sections, the first refers to revels enjoyed in the wake of a performance at the college of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in which I'd played Feste the Fool, while the second 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 Lorca's Blood Wedding, already mentioned in the previous chapter. Both I hope successfully evoke the feverish merrymaking that marked my golden years at Leftfield.

I like to see my first two Leftfield years as symbolic of an entire decade given over to frenzied excess, with disaster looming just beyond the horizon. In a general sense this came in the shape of Black Monday, the stock market crash of Monday the 19th of October 1987. This 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”. As to myself in particular, it took form as the collapse of my health and the end of my ability to drink alcohol with impunity. This however would not occur until well into the decade to come.

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 Fred’s friends’

Programmes -

“When are you going

To be a superstar?”

Said Sara

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...”

Zoe called me...

I listened…

…To her problems…


To my “innocent face”…

Linda said:

“Sally seems Elusive

But is in fact,


You’re the opposite -

You give to everyone

But are incapable

Of giving in particular.”

Madeleine was comparing me

To June Miller...

Descriptions by Nin:

“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 Leftfield I lived in an upper floor apartment in Powis Gardens, Golders Green, with my two close friends, Steve and Sebastian, French students both; and from the East Riding of Yorkshire and County Durham respectively.

Soon after moving in, I decorated the walls of my room and the lounge (which doubled as Steve's bedroom) with various provocative images including reproductions of Symbolist and Decadent paintings, and icons of popular culture and the avant garde. We all three went on to organise a “salon” which while well attended only ran to a single meeting, a desperate attempt at aping Oxford-style decadence in the upstairs apartment of a tiny little dwelling in suburban north London. With the best will in the world, we were not part of the Brideshead Generation.

In common with most of my friends, I drank and smoked pretty heavily at night night, but never during the day. Looking back, self-doubt was not a serious problem for me any more than was depression. In fact, my first two Leftfield years were a never-ending round of plays, shows, concerts, discos, parties set against the background of one of the most beautiful and bucolic suburbs of north London.

My second year drama project was centred on the one-act play, Playing with Fire, by the Swedish so-called poete maudit August Strindberg. I was allotted the task of supplying the music for the production; as well as the leading role of Knut, a rebellious painter still living at home with his upper middle class parents. His friend and rival Alex was played by budding playwright Paul, while lovable Czech Karel interpreted Knut's long-suffering father. I liked them both enormously; in fact I went on to play the lead in one of Paul's plays at college. There was a tremendous bond between us.

Sadly, however, the summer term of 1983 was an anticlimax. The reason for this was that I had decided 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 my friends at Leftfield 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 this would have deprived me of the chance of spending more than six months in Paris, a city I'd long pined for. So, in the autumn of '83, I took lodgings on the grounds of a Lycee Technique 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.

Paris What a City

I was hardly innocent by the time I first set foot in Bretigny. I'm almost certain, however, that at some point not too long after my arrival I felt a sense of self-disillusion, I can't say why for certain. Perhaps I felt I'd let people down, people who'd loved and trusted me because of the way I looked, with such an “innocent face”. At the same time, paradoxically perhaps, I'd barely been vainer than in '84, to such a degree that some of the Lycee kids affectionately dubbed me Aldo Maccione for my absurd affected swagger. Aldo was a comic actor who habitually referred to “la classe”, a kind of caricature of Latin machismo. Yet there seems little doubt to me today that that my conscience had long started to scream out in protest and pain... paris begins with those early days as a conscious flaneur i recall the couple seated opposite me on the metro when i was still innocent of its labyrinthine complexity slim pretty white girl clad head to toe in denim smiling wistfully while her muscular black beau stared through me with fathomless orbs and one of them spoke almost in a whisper qu’est-ce-que t’en pense and it dawned on me yes the slender young parisienne with the distant desirous eyes was no less male than me dismal movies in the forum des halles and beyond being screamed at in pigalle and then howled at again by some kind of madman or derelict who told me to go to the bois de boulogne to meet what he saw as my destiny menaced by a sinister skinhead for trying on tessa’s wide-brimmed hat and then making my way alone to my room in the insanely driving rain getting soused in les halles with sara who’d just seen dillon as rusty james and was walking in a daze sara again with jade at the caveau de la huchette jazz cellar the cafe de flore with milan who asked for a menu for me and then disappeared back to bretigny cash squandered on a gold tootbrush two tone shoes from close by to the place d’italie portrait sketched at the place de tertre paperback books by symbolist poets such as villiers de l’isle adam but second hand volumes by trakl and ernest deleve and a leather jacket from the marche aux puces of the porte de clignancourt wandering the city alone or with adrienne or milan or steve or simon or ariana or amanda (i still miss her) losing cary’s address scrawled on a page of musset’s confessions d’un enfant du siecle walking the length and breadth of the rue st denis what a city...

It may be true to say that much of the wistfulness displayed by the final piece, The Wanderer of Golders Green, formed from notes committed to paper in 1985, and largely centring on an evening I spent sauntering in a mournful daze through the titular north London suburb, was born of a long-established infatuation with Bohemian melancholy, and that my characteristic joy of life 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 unbelievably intense depressive attacks. Furthermore, it is unquestionable that I was seeking more and more comfort through a far deadlier Bohemian favourite than mere romantic discontent, alcohol.

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 Gaye.

Then Ray

Bought me another.

I appreciated the fact

That he remembered

The time he,

His gal Chris,

And Cary 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

Amanda’s, Jade’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 McDonald’s

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,


And intensity,


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.

Outro: A Paris Flaneur

A Paris Flaneur was extracted just a little over a year ago from a passage from a projected novel, perhaps written sometime in the mid to late 1980s, but then largely destroyed. This passage, based on my actual experiences as an urban wanderer in Paris in the years 1983-'84, was edited and versified before being published at Blogster on the 14th of February 2006 as A Paris Flaneur. Further very minor alterations took place in July/December 2007.

I took the Metro

To Montparnasse-Bienvenue,

Where I slowly sipped

A demi-blonde

In one of those brasseries

Immortalised by Brassai.

Bewhiskered old loup de mer

In a naval officer’s cap,

His table bestrewn

With empty wine bottles

And cigarette butts,

Repeatedly screeched the name

“Phillippe!” until such a time

As a pallid, impassive bartender

With patent leather hair,

Filled the old man’s glass to the brim,

With a mock-obsequious

“Voila, mon Capitaine!”

I cut into the Rue de Bac,

Traversed the Pont Royal,

Briefly beheld


With its gothic tower,

Constructed only latterly,

In order that

The 6th Century church

Might complement

The style of the remainder

Of the 1er arrondissement

Before steering for the

Place de Chatelet,

And onwards...les Halles!

Edited 20/2/18

Submitted: November 26, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Carl Halling. All rights reserved.

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