John was one of those people who seemed to lead a charmed life. Always the centre and light of the room at any party, he received a first from Oxford University,
spoke Italian like a native and went on to become one of the leading lights of his year at the prestigious LAMDA drama school. It was on a holiday in Canada that John began to get headaches and went to see a doctor. Instead of an aspirin, they gave him a CAT scan and found a massive brain tumour.
It was incredibly lucky that they caught it (my cousin was not so lucky and died from a brain tumour a short while ago) but, unsurprisingly, the act of scooping out a chunk of John’s brain had a major effect upon him. Whole chunks of his memory were gone (except strangely for the lyrics of eighties music for which he has a now encyclopaedic memory), he had problems with his short-term memory and his short-circuited brain chemistry gave him severe depression.
I shared a flat with some close friends of John and he came to live with us in Kentish Town. Things seemed to be going well, though at times I would come down the stairs to hear John crying in his room. Shortly afterwards I went off on an expedition to Greenland, and when I returned John had gone. He had taken himself down to Beachy Head and prepared to jump off and kill himself. Luckily the police found him and John was strong enough to tell them that he needed help.
John was taken away and placed in a mental health institute, sharing his ward with people whose mental difficulties at time dwarfed his own. We would get the occasional phone call from John, and it was on one of these that he told us he would shortly be on day release and able to come and see us.
Sitting in our conservatory, John talked about his depression and in some ways it seemed very much linked to not being able to see a future. Acting did not seem to be a viable option anymore and John could not visualise anything else. What was the point in living if you had nothing to live for? Now, Ben and I talk a lot about the importance of goal-setting in life and attempting to do that which you are not sure you can do. I wondered if this might help John, so sitting there I said “John we have six months, next April you are going to run the London marathon”. John pointed out that I was the crazy one, he had never run before and got out of breath walking down the street. At which point I lent him some running trainers and told him we were heading out in ten minutes. Continue reading “John”
Living with the bassist of London’s hottest new band, Mr Hudson & the Library, has its advantages. It means you get to hear when there will be an impromptu rooftop gig for the denizens of Kentish Town road. It means you get to stand with three hundred people completely disrupting the traffic for a few short minutes as the band kicked off, waitresses from the local speakeasy served free cocktails, people danced in the street and we all felt like a true community, which is a rare feeling in London these days.
It also means that when they mention casually that they are supporting Erykah Badu at Somerset House, you point out that someone who in part makes his living from moving heavy things would be a useful backstage presence. So thus it was that last Friday and Saturday night were spent lugging amps, speakers, bass guitars and pianos around the stage of the most beautiful venue in all England before listening to my friends play the biggest gig of their life so far and then watch Ms Badu get her groove on.
Mr Hudson and his band lit up the stage and got a fantastic reception from the assembled throng, Ace reporter and photographer Carl Wilkinson took some great shots and has kindly put them up on Flickr for everyone’s delight and delectation. Erykah was late the first night (apparently she was jetlagged and fell asleep) and phoned it in a little, but Saturday night was fantastic as she ripped the night apart. The only possible problem was when I accidentally barged into her pre-gig prayer group on my way to the bathroom. Luckily all eyes were contemplating the lord and few were contemplating me so I made my escape. The only thing that would have made the night more fun would have been not knowing that I was due to leave early the next morning for a 90-mile training ride with Ben.
This week I went back to Gaza. I sat watching a young American woman on a barely-lit stage exploding old memories with each name she uttered against a background of bullet-ridden concrete. My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play based on the writing of a young American observer killed by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, is a hugely powerful piece of work, even more so for me because so much of it seemed so familiar.
In 1997, I ignored the advice of my tutors and arranged to study at Birzeit University in the West Bank for a semester. I went looking for a real understanding of what was going on in that fractured land and came away possibly more knowledgeable, but also more confused. The Palestinians are without doubt the most friendly, generous people I have ever met. Their kindness to me, even though I was an Englishman who had ‘stolen their country’ was overwhelming. At the same time, I would visit the old Jewish market in Jerusalem after a suicide bombing and watch the blood drain from the soiled bandages as they burnt.
I met Palestinians who wanted to push the Israelis back to the sea and others who more than anything just wanted their children to see their 18th birthday. I met Israelis who thought that the only good Arab was a dead one and others who risked their safety and reputation to reach out to Palestinians in the name of reconciliation. I learned how to talk my way past military checkpoints, I learned what it is to live where politics is not just a matter of which collection of suits decides your tax level, but life itself. I fear I did not learn as much as Rachel Corrie, nor did I pay such a heavy price for my knowledge.
Corrie writes with coruscating force and it seems amazing that the only intended audience for her words were her parents and friends. Whether you agree with her politics or not, she is someone to be admired because she cared enough to stand up and do something about what she believed to be an injustice in this world and that is all too rare in our generation. See this play.
I am lucky enough to rent a beautiful Victorian house in vibrant/violent Kentish Town. I’ve been there a few years now and have had (with my flatmates) the bottom two floors, while the top floor was taken by a man in his sixties called Michael.
Michael had been a librarian at the University of London and was something of an artist. I only know this from second parties however, because Michael was the image of a hermit. He would be perfectly pleasant if spoken to directly, but would go to great lengths to avoid your eye in the street and often the only sign we had of his comings and goings was the faint scent of pipe smoke in the hallway. He had lived in the house for 33 years and nobody had ever been allowed up to his floor.
Late last year, I started to notice that he hadn’t picked up his post. Not thinking too much of this I assumed he had gone on holiday. Then one morning I smelled a faint aroma of raw chicken coming down the stairs. After shouting his name a few times I climbed the stairs for the first time, all the while the aroma turning into a stench. Before I turned the handle on the door I knew what I would find. Continue reading “Purple plus”
Today is my father’s birthday. 59 years ago today in a mudhut on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), he came squealing into this world and became the scion of the Haile family. I have always been fascinated by his childhood, spent in an alien country during the sunset of the British Empire and for many years have pestered him to take me back to where he was born. Maybe, when I have the ice out of my system, we will finally go.
Though I would find it hard to admit to his face (I am English), I do seem to have inherited more than just the gene for height and blonde hair from the chap. He was an Oxford Blue in Fencing and apparently was pretty handy at the Butterfly and that combined with my mother (who would be upset if I didn’t mention she was an Oxford Blue in Rowing), seems to have given me a little natural ability in the physical stakes, which is helpful considering my current profession.
Moreover, as I get older I do find myself drawn to interests that once were his alone. I now read less fiction and more history, I have started to devour books on philosophy, religion and science. One of his many admirable qualities is that he can talk fluently about a wide range of subjects and this is certainly something I aspire to. His support for some of my more crazy career decisions has always been unstinting (and at times financial) and I don’t thank him enough. Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you.