Leitmotifs from an English Pastorale 2
Yet, his inner turmoil proved an asset when it came to his acting career, and he provided some extraordinary performances in the second half of the '80s.
The first of these took place at the University of Cambridge, where he studied for a term in the winter of '86 as part of their teacher training unit, before typically taking off in the early part of the new year. While the second was at Notting Hill's famous Gate Theatre, where he received some fair reviews for his acting from various periodicals including the London Times.
But no sooner had he done so than our boy was on the drift again, taking a job as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language in one of several TEFL schools situated on London's teeming Oxford Street. But to be fair, he needed the work, for the acting profession provides little by way of remuneration for all but a small minority.
And by the time he did, his drinking was under control, but long-term tendencies had developed into full-blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so that his day was marked by an endless series of rituals:
At the height of their intensity, his rituals included parting his hair so that it went from his crown to a specific point above one of his eyebrows (he'd carry a tiny mirror on his person for the purpose of checking on it throughout the day)...ironing his shirts inside out with the seams inclining to the right, and touching every item of clothing including his belt with said iron...arranging the items in his jacket pockets so that they went from left to right in terms of importance...constantly wiping the insides of his boots before dousing them with water...and holding an intimate part of his anatomy for a set number of beats...
But if the physical rituals were tormenting, the mental ones were even more so. And every time he met someone, he became beset by a need to compare them to someone else, so that some kind of card index set to work in his mind, proffering faces until to his horror it stopped at one resembling the person in question. And he'd not rest until he'd calculated the significance of their names.
It was as if his mind had assumed a life all of its own and started producing thoughts independently of his will. But he came to view it with a certain morbid fascination; and if he drank enough at night, he was able to sedate it. It was a wonderful feeling.
And yet for all the turmoil of his existence, he remained almost manically elated by life, so that on Saturday mornings, he'd often be seized by a sense of joy so intense it verged on the ecstatic. For all that, though, he was at all times aware of a need to keep depression at bay, for on those rare occasions he succumbed to the blues, they were so violent he could be moved to minor acts of self-harm. But they were usually short-lived, and once they'd moved on, the elation returned. It was a wonderful feeling.
Yet, there may have come a time when the latter started being produced not so much endogenously, as through alcohol. For although he didn't drink on a daily basis, the effects of his nocturnal binges persisted throughout the day in the shape of a euphoria which he supplemented with endless cups of coffee.
But as might be expected, as a result of poor attendance and other issues, he lost his beloved job early in the 1990s.
And having found a degree of fulfillment in his post as an Oxford Street English teacher almost unmatched by any other means by which he'd attempted to make a living, he tried desperately to regain it. But his efforts were unavailing.
So by the summer he'd made a return to the stage, and despite the fact that his work was once more the object of justifiable acclaim, it was a short one. And by the end of the year, he'd embarked on another teacher training course, quitting this one before the end of the term. At which point, he set himself up once again as a peripatetic deliverer of novelty telegrams.
But the following winter saw him roving anew, ending up in Hastings, an English coastal town with a large London overspill population, a distinction it shares with several dozen towns throughout the UK, some new, some older towns like Hastings, expanded to accommodate the newcomers.
And once there, he set about taking a course intended to net himself a TEFL certificate, which would entitle him to teach English as a foreign language on an international basis. Because, he still hankered after his days as an English teacher of foreign nationals, having effectively fallen in love with this vocation.
But if he thought he was going to pass the course, he had another thing coming, because although he was well-liked at Hastings, there were few who knew him there who'd not be of the opinion that something was troubling Paul Runacles.
Precisely what, they'd be at loss to say...but one things was certain...his mind had become such a chaos he was losing his ability to communicate normally with his fellow man. But he still only drank at night, and to such an extent there were times he lapsed into incoherency. It was a wonderful feeling.
Soon after returning to London with nothing to show for a fortnight's hard graft and a fairly hefty sum of money, Runacles' drinking assumed a lethal quality from early '91, although in truth it had done so almost a decade earlier. But there was a new recklessness to it in that it became diurnal as well as nocturnal. And perforce, in later years, he'd have little recollection of the rest of '91, and much of '92 to boot, and so struggle hard to recall precisely how he spent his time.
Looking back from the vantage point of the early 2010s, he recalled quite regular work as a television walk-on. And among the parts he fulfilled as such was that of a crime scene photographer for a long-running British police series.
He also saw a lot of a close friend from East London, performing with him for a few years from about 1990 as half of a musical duo in various clubs, pubs and restaurants, and even busking on one memorable occasion, which saw the two musicians being showered with cigarettes from an appreciative member of Leicester Square's homeless community.
And at some point in what may have been '91...or '92, he resumed his career as a deliverer of novelty telegrams for a third time.
While all throughout this period, he wrote...constantly...in a bizarre style replete with archaisms culled from various sources, some being ancient dictionaries, while one was a cheap facsimile of an ancient edition of Roget's Thesaurus.
In the summer of '92, he made one final attempt at passing a TEFL course, but the strain proved too much for him, and he left before it had finished.
While towards the end of the year, he was praised for his portrayal of Stefano in a production of The Tempest at Conway Hall in London's Red Lion Square. This despite the fact he was intoxicated from his very first rehearsal to the second he quit the stage after the final curtain call.
While a little later, he accepted a small part in a play based on the life of James Joyce's beautiful troubled daughter Lucia to be performed at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith. By which time, he'd embarked on yet another teaching training course; and resumed his career as a deliverer of novelty telegrams for the fourth and final time.
And while his life was hectic, he lived it as if in a dream, which is to say in a state of near-constant elation occasioned by vast quantities of alcohol.
It's difficult to explain the appeal of alcohol taken in the kind of quantities characteristic of Runacles' intake towards the end of 1992 to all who are not nor have ever been alcoholic. But there is a theory held by several authorities on alcoholism that in certain alcoholics, alcohol comes in time to exert a morphine-like effect. Although how true it is its impossible to say.
While another proposes that in common with other drugs, alcohol can ultimately tamper with the body's ability to produce the naturally occurring pleasure-inducing substances known as endorphins, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Certainly there came a time in Runacles' life when the thought of an existence without his beloved elixir filled him with the utmost horror, for what would he be without it, other than the most hopelessly dull and timorous individual? Which would not have been the case for the Runacles of about '82, who was the most incandescent individual even when sober...a natural extrovert whose warmth, while verging at times on the fulsome, was viewed with almost universal appreciation.
And while much of this warmth remained in late '92, it was being sustained by booze, in fact his entire existence was being held together by ethyl alcohol. So that when he finally did collapse under the strain of his responsibilities, it was a messy crash indeed, provoked first by alcohol alone, then by alcohol in cahoots with prescription medicine. And a few weeks after that, he suffered another crisis involving a potentially deadly combination of prescription medicines.
But by this time, he'd undergone a Damascus-style conversion to born again Christianity; so that his life from early '93 onwards was as tranquil as it had once been frantic. Not that it ground to a halt, but it certainly slowed down to a snail's pace.
Sometime in the early part of 1993, while still occasionally attending meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, he received a call from a man who told him he was from an organisation by the name of Contact for Christ based near Croydon in Surrey.
He'd got in touch with Runacles as a result of a card he'd filled in on a British Rail train some months previously. He tried to put him off, before he knew it, he was at his door, a neat, dapper man with a large salt and pepper moustache and gently penetrating deep brown eyes.
He wanted to pray with Runacles, who promptly ushered him into his bedroom, where they prayed together at length.
Later, he found himself a guest at his house deep in the south western suburbs where Runacles was asked to make a list of sins past requiring deep repentance. And once he'd done this, the two men spent a few hours praying over each and every one of these sins Runacles had made a note of.
The man was a Pentecostal of long standing, and therefore convinced that the more supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Tongues and Prophecy are still available to Believers.
In this capacity, he opened Runacles' eyes to many facts of the Pentecostal world, including the magazine Prophecy Today, then edited by the Reverend Clifford Hill, and the works of the late New Zealand Evangelist and writer Barry R Smith.
And to think there was a time Runacles viewed theories concerning the End Times, or Last Days prior to the Second Coming of Christ with rabid contempt. But he was changing on every level. In fact he was barely recognisable in the early nineties to the man of only a year or two previously, having become calm and sober, even sedate in manner.
But he'd not entirely lost his taste for underachievement, for in late '94, he failed his third and final attempt at qualifying as a teacher. Only to go on to secure a personal rave review from the London Time Out for his acting in a little-known play on the Fringe, which is the London equivalent of Off-Broadway.
And his acting triumphs persisted throughout the '90s, a decade throughout which it could be said Runacles survived on the minute amount of energy he had left over after his collapse. But it was hard for him; and in terms of impetus, he was running on empty.
And it may be his experiences with alcohol and prescription medicine, and the health crisis these produced, had left him at the mercy of some kind of depressive condition. But if this was indeed the case, it was one which while debilitating was yet relatively mild.
For he still had a great capacity for joy. But a joy born of the peace that comes from the promise of eternal life, which is infinitely purer and more profound form than any earthly joy born of a love affair with the fleeting pleasures of the world. But which doesn't necessarily preclude great suffering, for from the time of his conversion, he was engaged in a terrible struggle with what some Christians called The Old Man.
And there had always been a dark aspect to Paul Runacles, but not in a romantic, Byronic sense, although this appeal was something he'd always coveted. So much as one that was in terrible conflict with his warmer, more affectionate side, which was no less seismically intense than the other.
It had once made him a ferocious critic of what he saw as the follies of humankind, while threatening to turn his once tender heart to stone.
But as a Christian, he no longer sought to condemn people, so much as seek their eternal salvation. So this aspect was something to be confronted and tamed, rather than fuelled by corrosively cynical writings, and then partially controlled by lavish quantities of alcohol.
And from the mid '90s onwards, he went to war against it, little knowing he had the most colossal fight of his life on his hands. For having been sidelined, it's as if it had assumed a terrifying new force, and was determined to win. And it manifested itself not just as depression, but intrusive thoughts that seemed to have a life and power all of their own, in so far as they had an ability to alter his mood and countenance for extended periods of time, which made him petrified of them, and so at all times inclined to permanent social seclusion.
The first phase came in '95 when Runacles made contact with a former pastor who ran his own ministry from a tiny little village in the south of England after reading an article he'd contributed to Prophecy Today. And some time later, he travelled down to meet him where he laid hands on him in his capacity of what is known as Deliverance Minister. But this was just the first of several experiences of this kind, one of which saw Runacles being ministered to by a vicar in his ancient village church.
But nothing could cure Runacles of his restlessness, and, unable to settle in a single fellowship for any great length of time, he encountered a vast variety of churches throughout the '90s...affiliated to the Word of Faith; Vineyard, Baptist and Elim Pentecostal movements among others.
And in each one, he hoped to find a lasting solution to his shadow side, the darker Runacles who tormented him. And which he saw as a throwback to his pre-Christian self, incubated over the years through immersion in a decadent culture he now uncompromisingly rejected.
And as he did, he acted more or less consistently, notwithstanding a fairly lengthy period of office work, which stretched from about 1997 to 2000, by which time he'd performed in his final play for a long time.
He then made an attempt at launching a modest career as a session singer. And as such recorded a vocal in the style of chanson master Charles Trenet, which received some praise for its closeness to the original. In fact, so much so he was asked to record a second one in imitation of one of his favourite song stylists, Nat King Cole, which was rejected.
But while his session career floundered, his singing career was still in full swing, and he served as front man for a Jazz band for two years between 2000 and 2002. And yet when the latter folded, it was as if Runacles himself himself in a social sense.
But there was still some fight left in him. And in '03, he started taking himself seriously as a songwriter for the first time, before attempting to place some recently demoed songs with a music publishing company. But none were interested.
He turned to creative writing in early 2006. While the following year, a CD of popular standards featuring himself and one of the world's leading harmonica players finally saw the light of day in 2007 after much rehearsal. And while it received a rave review in the official magazine of the British Musician's Union the following year, it only went on to sell a handful of copies.
But he'd achieved a degree of artistic stability nonetheless; and this was reflected in his church life, for towards the end of the 2010s, he tired of church hopping, and permanently settled in a Church of England fellowship in the south western suburbs of London.
Both Evangelical and Charismatic, it was highly sought after, with up to four services taking place each Sunday...which meant Runacles could conceal himself within the congregation if he so chose.
And so it seemed he was definitively quieted; a bizarre state of affairs for one who'd once been among the most frenetically extrovert of souls. But if he found himself all run out, as had been the case all those years ago, when he collapsed by that muddy field in the Arcadian heart of England...well, it was only a temporary situation in his mind, and one day he'd be in a position to quit the wilderness after so many years of languishment.
And yet there'd be times when, looking back on his youth he'd often weep silently to himself in the dead of night at the end of yet another day spent doing really very little when he thought about it.
But he was being typically harsh with himself. For hermitic as he was, he was far from worthless. For instance, in his eyes, he'd seen many results from a powerful prayer ministry. And he continued to grow as a musician, planning a future for himself as a singer-songwriter despite being in the midst of late middle age. While he was able to make a modest living as a writer after more than five years of trying to set the world wide web on fire with his pen...and failing.
And there'd be times when certain pieces of quintessentially English pastoral music still had the power to evoke his strange and sudden flight, or rush of blood to the head, of over four decades ago. Such as Gerald Finzi's A Severn Rhapsody, which seemed to him to bespeak a passion for the Arcadian soul of England that verges on the ecstatic. And the same could be said for Elgar's Elegy which tended to convey to him a deep mournfulness silently existent beneath the picture perfect image of English privilege.
When he ran away from his college...like some kind of hysterical gymslip schoolgirl...just the once it was...to avoid being punished for something stupid he did. And it had been an utterly pointless exercise as it was the last day of term, but he just panicked and bolted, and kept on running...
And then there was a point he stopped, because he realised to his horror that he'd arrived back at his college. And he saw his mother's car. And it pained him to think what she'd been going through while he ran around the English countryside like some kind of demented faun, only to finish up collapsed by the side of a muddy field in the Arcadian heart of England.
And having become newly mired, he despaired of ever being fully free again. But he searched for solutions on a constant basis. And he comforted himself with the thought that even if he failed to effect an escape, God was beside him, while four decades previously he had no faith to speak of, other than in the pre-eminence of might. For after all, is Gods Grace not sufficient?
And he took courage from that fact, while continuing to plan for the time he'd find the strength to make good on the faith that had been placed in him by so many for so long. So when he looked back at memories of his youth, such as the time he ran away from his college on the last day of term without purpose or aim, it would be in peace not pain. And he might even return to the scene of his flight as if in atonement, and commune with the soul of his beloved England with a passion verging on the ecstatic, and then along with so many others, put the memory to rest for all time.
Part 1 of this story is here
Photo by Peter Kingsford. Taken from "When Compared to the Fathomless Joy Awaiting".