Thursday, 4 January 2018

Remembering and Resolving



As I write this in Bouillon Chartier some thirty odd years after I first ate here, I am brought to mind of how that first dinner came to be.

I was twenty.

I’d met Michael on my first visit to Heaven in Charing Cross a couple of years before. It was Toga Night. Michael was beautiful. About ten years older than me, strikingly handsome, german, and very, very smart.

We saw each other on and off, mostly off, for a couple of years. An eternity when you are eighteen. I loved him, and he was fond of me.

Michael had a place in Paris and he’d said I could stay there. I booked my ticket, (a train to Dover and ferry to Calais in those days), and planned my stay. He’d told me about Chartier, and I couldn’t wait.

The day I was leaving I went round to collect the key to his Paris place. It was weird but he didn’t seem at home and didn’t answer the door. I put it down to forgetfulness, and once in Paris found a room in a hostel near the Opèra instead.

I remember well that first night. Eating at Chartier, exploring the Marais, and the sauna. Discovering a friendly, respectful and joyful gay nightlife that in London had eluded me.

When I got back home I called Michael. No mobiles or emails in those days. Just a landline, or 1st and 2nd class post. Unable to reach him at home I called his office. His secretary answered. We’d spoken before, she knew who I was and was shocked that I had called.

Michael was dead.  She was surprised I didn’t know.

Three days before I’d left for Paris the mother of one of Michael’s lovers (who was nineteen) had reported him to the police. He’d killed himself the night before I left.

When I knocked on the door to collect the key, he wasn’t out, he hadn’t forgotten. He was lying dead, perhaps twenty feet from where I stood.

Remembrance of Things Past says Proust, in whose footsteps I have been walking. Yes indeed rememberance, but not just that.

I’ve never had much time (literally or metaphorically) for the modern fashions of analysis and therapy, but if I found some I expect it would confirm that it is the burning sense of injustice at the circumstances of Michael’s death that has determined how I've spent much of my time since.

Tonight I am grateful to Paris, to Chartier, to Proust and to red wine, for helping me to remember, and to resolve.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

A Boxing Day walk


I have had many lovely Boxing Day walks in my time and today’s was no exception.

Perhaps not as pretty as the frozen water meadow at Wadenhoe or as wild as the river at Glenluce (two of the more memorable), but revelatory nevertheless.

On Wednesday last week I was selected as a candidate to contest Bunhill ward in May’s local election. I know the area well but I have never set off to walk the boundary before. And so today, I did.

What an extraordinary corner of the planet it is.

On the grand scale we are home to Moorfields, global player in ophthalmic medicine. We have LSO St Luke’s, familiar to listeners of Radio 3’s Lunchtime Concerts. To the south we have Bunhill Fields, where lie the mortal remains of some of our greatest voices of dissent, William Blake, John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe. And of course, to the west we have The Charterhouse, within whose walls the history of England has been made, on more than one occasion.

But of course, “the grand scale” tells only one story. Walking around a place with new purpose lends it new eyes. Here in the south of Islington where we abutt the City, Shoreditch, Brick Lane and the river, it really does feel as though much of human life is here.

Yes, we are mostly white, and yes we are mostly male. We are mostly in good health and in Islington, only Clerkenwell and Highbury East wards score lower than us in the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Most of us here are “ok”.

But that is by no means the whole story. Yes, we have obscene wealth, and yes we have the obscenity of poverty which is it’s consequence. A ward councillor, in a minority party is not going to be able to do much about that. But as I walked around with new purpose and new eyes I saw shabby, neglected social housing. I saw stupid and dangerous road layouts. Ridiculous, expensive and unnecessary “street furniture” which costs money and takes up space where trees could be.

Whatever the outcome in May, these next few months of campaigning, knocking on doors and talking to people in Bunhill and the wider borough will do me the power of good. Whether it will do anybody else any good..... well, that will be decided by secret ballot in May.

Not here, or in any other "blog", or "tweet", or "post".