Though Are the Wonders of This Brief Life 26 The Spawn of the Swinging Sixties Chapter Nineteen The Trials (of a Teetotaller)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
From Though Are the Wonders of This Brief Life Book Two.

Submitted: December 02, 2014

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Submitted: December 02, 2014




The Trials of a Teetotaller was originally published as Release, Relapse and Restoration at Blogster on the 9th of November 2006. In December 2007, a “definitive” version was published at FaithWriters.

A Teacher's Release

In the early part of 1994, I embarked upon the final stages of the Post Graduate Certificate of Education, FE, or Further Education, that I'd been working on since the autumn of '92, and whose passing would have permitted me to teach French in further education establishments throughout the UK. As extensively detailed elsewhere, its progress had been significantly hampered by my alcohol and prescription drug problems, which resulted in my postponing my TP, or teaching practise, scheduled to have been completed in 1993, until the following year.

My own history includes three unsuccessful attempts at the PGCE. The first, mentioned in A Cambridge Lamentation, took place at Coverton College, Cambridge, the second at the former West London College of Further Education (1990), and the last at the University of New Eltham (1992-1994). I quit both Coverton and the West London College immediately prior to TP. With regard to Coverton, TP had been due to begin in a secondary school in an inner city area of Cambridge where I had received a near-hysterical reception from the kids; and there was a time when I would have gladly attempted to live up to this incredibly positive first impression.

My second attempt would have taken place in Hounslow, West London, close by to the West London College itself, which was based on two campuses in nearby Isleworth, where I briefly resided, and East Twickenham.

I finally completed a full TP early in 1994 at a higher education school in the little village suburb of Thames Ditton, but had neglected to demonstrate sufficient authority in the classroom or something of the sort, according to the report I was given at my request. This understandably went on to jeopardise my final mark. As a result, despite my having passed every one of the requisite exams except the TP component, I failed the course as a whole. To be fair, my New Eltham tutors offered me the opportunity of retaking the section of the course I'd not passed, but I chose to turn them down.

Flashes of Black Humour

The exact duration of the mood of disappointment to which I was undoubtedly subject, if only fleetingly, as a result of bungling a course which had cost me so much not just in financial terms but by way of time and effort I cannot say for certain. What is sure, however, is that within a short period of time of being informed of my fail, I successfully auditioned for a newly formed fringe theatre group known as Grip, based at the Rose and Crown public house in Kingston, Surrey. I did so for the main part of Roote in a relatively obscure play by Harold Pinter, the monumentally successful London-born dramatist, screenwriter, director, actor and poet. The Hothouse is perhaps not among Pinter's greatest plays, but it is a superb piece nonetheless, and supremely Pinteresque, with its almost high poetic verbal virtuosity and inventiveness and dark surreal humour laced with a constant sense of impending violence. Penned in 1958, it was not performed until 1980, when it was directed by Pinter himself for London's Hampstead and Ambassador Theatres.

From the auditions onwards, I established a strong connection with the easy-going American director, Ben Evans. Ben was very much an actor's director, which I would define as one who delights in establishing close relationships with actors, out of a deep respect and affection for their art. As soon he informed me that the part was mine, I was genuinely excited about the prospect of working with him in interpreting Roote, the director of an unnamed government psychiatric hospital, the Hothouse of the title. My success rate when it came to auditions for the London fringe theatre had always been low, perhaps because so many of those I'd attended had involved me reciting pieces I'd memorised before a panel of observers, which was why I felt so grateful to Ben. As an auditioner, he differed from the common run insofar as he had us reading in small groups from the play while inter-reacting with fellow auditionees. This system enables the actors involved to attain a basic feel for whichever character they might be interpreting at any given time, in other words to actually act for an audition.

Ben demanded from me an interpretation of Roote which was distinctly at variance with my usual highly Method-oriented, subtle, intense, introspective and yet somehow also emotionally hyper-vehement approach to acting, but his directorial instincts were immaculate. The pompous and eccentric windbag with the potential for sudden arbitrary brutality which he coaxed out of me was arguably the most successful role of my uneven career. It received glowing reviews not just in the local press, but also the London version of the celebrated international listings magazine Time Out, in which Kate Stratton described my performance as “flawlessly accurate” and “lit by flashes of black humour”, adding that the production faltered whenever I left the stage. This review created a real aura of excitement about the production, and especially its lead actor who for all the world looked set to capitalize on this unexpected success and become something of a West End star or something of that sort, while a casting agent went out of her way to ask me to ensure my details reach her.

Trials of a Teetotaller, Qualms of an Actor

Although I was nearly 40 years old at the time of The Hothouse, I feel safe in saying that I barely looked more than 25, 30 at the very most, and so possibly struck others as an ingenuous young man at the start of a brilliant career, rather than one with some decade and a half of experience under his tightly knotted belt. Still, despite the aura of carefree youthfulness I projected, I was suffering within, sorely missing the escape alcohol once offered me, and the revels extending deep into the night that once used to follow my acting performances, and during which I'd thrown my youth about like some kind of maniacal delinquent gambler squandering his life's savings at the poker table in the face of imminent insolvency. Years later, on the other hand, I had to make do with a sickly sweet soft drink to facilitate the socialising process in the vain hope that it would serve as a mild euphoriant. To further complicate matters, I started being subject during the run of The Hothouse to heavy spiritual problems related to my thought life, possibly connected to my pre-Christian existence which after all had only recently ceased to be. Within a year I would actively seek refuge in what is known in Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian circles as Healing Ministry, in consequence of these and other torments.

My faith didn't violently clash with the contents of The Hothouse, although its sombreness of tone certainly caused me some qualms. Still, I had a high regard for the work's artistic merits, and its unsavoury elements didn’t provoke revulsion in me, as certain plays have the power of doing. I mention this to make it clear that fame as an actor, indeed as an artist or entertainer in general, was no longer the obsession it had once been for me. With regard to this, a person very close to me told me back in the late '80s or early '90s that it is possible to want something too much, perhaps implying that my thirst for renown or notoriety prior to my becoming a Christian was of such a pathological degree of intensity that it ultimately set about devouring me. Whether such a theory has any real basis in truth I cannot say. What is certain is that since coming to faith, my priorities had shifted, and I viewed worldly acclaim with a far more dubious eye than before. Perhaps that's why I failed to take fuller advantage of a late-flowering opportunity for success within my chosen craft than I should have done. Although I was pretty calm about this at the time, I now realise that if an opportunity carries within it the potential for future professional and social status, it should be unhesitatingly seized upon. To do otherwise is to risk a legacy of shame and remorse.

My First Relapse

Within a short time of The Hothouse reaching the end of its two week run, Grip's easy-going artistic director Richard asked me if I'd like to audition for his forthcoming production of Two by the playwright Jim Cartwright, best known for the play and film Little Voice, to be directed by Richard, and produced by his fiancee Michelle. Two, as the name suggests, is a two-handed play in which all the male characters are played by one actor, and all the female by another.

I of course answered in the affirmative and auditioned successfully, with the result that I found myself playing opposite virtuoso character actress Jean from Liverpool for a fortnight...and by the end of the run the houses were so packed that people were sitting on the side of the stage at my feet. In other words, the production was an unqualified success, gaining uniformly enthusiastic reviews, although sadly only in the local press. Still, while working alongside Richard, Jean and Michelle on Two was an unalloyed pleasure, I dreaded the end of each performance, seeking only to distance myself from the audiences who came nightly to see me do what I did best as soon as it was possible to do so without giving any great offence.

Sweet release from a prison of sobriety presented itself while I was attending some unrelated function at the Rose and Crown some days following Two's final performance. What happened was a guy I was casually chatting to offered to buy me a drink, at which point rather than the soft drink I normally opted for, I hazarded a single glass of wine. It was the first alcohol to pass my lips since January 1993, that is, without taking into account an incident at my parents' house when I took a large gulp of what I thought was water but which turned out to be vodka, or gin. Far from having an adverse effect, however, the wine made me feel wonderful, its intoxicating properties doubtless enhanced by the purity of my system.

From this single glass of red wine, my drinking escalated by degrees over the next few weeks, only to culminate in an evening in a Twickenham pub with an old university friend during which I boozed and smoked with all my old ardour. Cycling home afterwards, I came off my bike as I passed a bus shelter near Hampton Wick in Kingston, and dashed my head against it before falling flat on my back. I deserved to die there where I lay, and might have done had it not been for the mercy of God, and soon I was shakily resumed my journey home. However, weeks of controlled drinking, as well as one massive binge, possibly combined with the adverse effects of violently smashing my head against a bus shelter, resulted in my becoming ill and incapacitated for what might have been as long as as a fortnight. As I remember, there were times during this awful period When I'd awake in a frantic state, sickly pale and in a deathly faint, close in my eyes to blacking out, and fearful of death, but each time as I saw it God came to my rescue just when my situation seemed hopeless.

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