Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Close Encounter With Christopher

Neither heroes nor regrets have figured much in my life but this story features both. My memory was jogged by an excellent post about Christopher Isherwood on Honeytom.

As a teenager I read and re-read every Isherwood novel. This wasn't because he was a 'gay writer'. I don't think I even knew he was gay when I started. It was because he was the kind of writer I wanted to be. He had a distinctive voice as a writer, characterised I think by simplicity of style, humour and, above all, honesty. I had forgotten until now how much I identified with him. I felt we shared a common identity and being gay was only a small part of this. So when I also read in Honeytom's blog (and he's a generation younger than me) of his similar identification with Isherwood I was strangely moved and for a moment the world seemed a better place than I had thought it to be.

These reflections may help you understand my emotions when, in the 1970s, having left my office in London on a summer evening and walking down Jermyn Street, I came face to face with Christopher Isherwood. He was with his partner Don Bachardy and they were about ten paces in front of me. I recognised him immediately because Isherwood changed very little and in old age he still looked like a young boy, albeit a boy with a lined face. If only I could have pressed a Pause button long enough to collect my thoughts. But adrenalin was pumping and my mind went blank. Christopher and I (never thought I'd write that glorious phrase) briefly made eye contact as we passed. I think he sensed I had recognised him. There wasn't much that escaped the eye of the man who was a camera. I doubt that he saw me as an object of desire since I was 25, going on 50, whereas today I'm 50, going on 25 and altogether more deserving of a second look. But now one of the few people in the world I unreservedly admired was walking away in the opposite direction and I had said nothing. I went to my usual Italian cafe for tea, almost shaking with emotion and anger with myself. Of course, if I had spoken I would probably have said something that would be horribly embarrassing in retrospect. At least I looked into the eyes of that deeply flawed but beautiful and honest man who will continue to inspire for as long as people aspire to be writers and today I've decided to re-read all those wonderful novels in 2005.


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