13 June 2010

The Little Hut




When I was a callow youth of 17 summers,  my Father predicted I would never settle down. “You’ll always wander” he said, with an echo of regret in his voice.
I was their only child and the closeness we shared was warm  and loving.                
“Then you went away” said my Mother, in her own last days,  as she kissed each memory goodbye, before dissolving into the stars.

                                                               
                                                              I knew the sun would shine less brightly in their lives, when I became a ‘gypsy’ and embarked on a voyage that has taken me nearly 49 years away from my childhood home by the river banks, with the light dancing across the water.

but I went anyway.

I’ve just returned from Aberdeen, a town notorious for it’s hotel prices, thanks to the discovery some years ago of North Sea Oil. From the moment the oil was discovered, the price of accommodation soared. A look at Laterooms.com and other internet sites made sober reading: some hotel rooms in the ‘Granite City’ reached around £600 per night, with even a modest guest house touching £60 to £70.                                                                  
I know I could have found a threadbare room – the sort that has a plywood wardrobe and a stained sink, musty carpeting and…at the end of the corridor, a threatening lavatory that you must never actually sit on – but I wanted ‘more’ – and I don’t mean a lavatory brush.
Woe betide the unobservant guest who needs to enter one of those morbid little cubicles and fails to notice the absence of that symbol of care, together with the sad paperless tube hanging on the back of the door.                                                         
Misery and angst is guaranteed.

After a multitude of fruitless calls, the Scottish burr on the other end of my mobile told me that he indeed had vacant accommodation for the two weeks I needed - a small converted wash-house near the quay in “an exclusive area”…
….My impressions on arrival however, were rather mixed. Yes, it was a wash-house, but it  was very small and umm…’Spartan’ and I wondered if I really needed something ‘more’. After half an hour of pacing around the hut (three paces to one wall, three paces to the next ), I sat down outside the front door to think things over.
                    
‘Should I take it, or should I go?’

I was deep in thought when a small black and white cat gently padded up to me and plonked itself down,resting against my foot.I was pleased to receive the attention the little creature gave me, and regarded it as a welcoming omen…so I decided to stay in the little hut….



….After all, it was only for two weeks and ‘Wee Beastie’ did look very much like ‘Noone’, the cat who occasionally visits me at home and who always seems to turn up when needed…


I arrived home the other week, to find all the parking spaces taken. I stopped the car and considered my options. Should I park in the next street and face six trips, lugging a pile of archive boxes down the narrow ‘drug alley’ that linked the two roads - or leave them in the car until the next day and risk my windows being smashed in by the feral youths who patrol the area on Saturday nights? I was sitting in dismal thought, when Noone appeared in my car headlights and after staring at me with emerald eyes, turned and walked up the road. I put the car in first gear and slowly followed Noone, who stopped after around 50yds, by the rear wheels of a van that had obscured the only free space available. Noone stalked around the car as I manoeuvred it into the space and then watched as I unloaded the boxes. I was walking to the car to collect the last one, when Noone suddenly ran up the road at high speed. My reaction was instinctive – I grabbed the box from the rear seat, locked the car and made it to the front door, just as a yob approached with clenched fists and trouble in his eyes…


After a while, Wee Beastie got up, stretched and stalked off, sadly never to return during the two weeks of my stay – but the welcome had been good and I was starting to enjoy the hut. So I celebrated my arrival with a meal and a bottle of merlot at a local restaurant -weaving my way back to the quay, just in time to see a ship pass by, it’s lights glowing amber against the darkening sky….

 …Bergen is a beautiful old Norwegian port, with a fish-market on the quay. I would buy some fresh prawns – and sit and eat them for breakfast, as I watched the ships leaving the harbour, bound for the oil rigs that lay between Bergen and Aberdeen, or the open sea.
Each night I would lie awake in the darkness and listen to rough voices talking in a language I didn’t quite understand - laughing and shouting in the street below my window - and each day I would search for flowers, as the seven, snow-capped mountains of Bergen looked down on me, unsmiling. As the days and months passed, the lump in my throat grew larger, until even the delicious prawns were impossible to swallow - and I knew I had to go home.
But where is home?

I met my idol George Chakiris in 1992, when he came over to the UK, to play Rene Gallimard in “M. Butterfly”. George is ten years older than me and at that time was a mere 59yrs old – whilst I was still a stage-struck youth of 49. (everything is relative).
I first saw George in the film ‘West Side Story’ when it opened over here in 1962 and right from the opening sequence, when I saw him in a red shirt at the centre of a trio of male dancers……I knew he was very special…


‘First the confrontation – then the humiliation, then friends……then down the alleyway like panthers…so slowly at first…step ball-change, step,step ball-change, now faster step ball-change, step ball-change…then turn,,step ball-change turn, step ball-change turn……along the street, up to the dusty building-site plateau and then Wow!…a flying kick, high to the left – crouch right-left,turn-stop…double pirouette’
From that moment on, I knew exactly how I wanted to dance. (that’s the sequence above)

It had been a last-minute booking, with no time to arrange George’s work-permit – so he was released into my care (I had my passport with me) until the necessary paperwork was completed. I stood excitedly at one end of the barren hanger at Heathrow airport, waiting for his arrival and feeling a bit like Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. . What would he look like now? I imagined an expensive-suited version of the Oscar-winning dancer and actor, striding across the ‘no-man’s land’ between myself and the small security door at the far end. After a lifetime of five minutes or so, the door opened and a slight figure in denim and baseball boots approached. I was knocked out – he looked just the same as he did when he played ‘Bernardo’, all those years before
We talked as I drove him to his small hotel in Leicester Square, and after I had blurted out my adoration, I calmed down enough to ask him who were the nicest and most sincere people, amongst all the stars he had ever worked with….
(It was always important to me that my idols were also nice people in real-life)
George surprised me by immediately answering “Marilyn Monroe”. He had been one of the main dancers in the ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ sequence in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and he recalled that she had worked so hard to get the sequence exactly right, and was consequently so nervous and exhausted by the final take, that he could feel her back and arm muscles trembling during each lift.
When the last take was done, and knowing that Howard Hawks the director was rushing to the airport to try to make a flight to New York, Marilyn ran across the set, to catch him up and ask him if it was really good - and had she been good enough? No status grabbing, no starry ego. Just a vulnerable woman who wanted to get it right. George said she ‘knew’ the last take was really good, but she still needed to make sure the director was happy with it.

When we eventually arrived at the hotel, I was irritated that the receptionist didn’t recognise George, or even know his name. My irritation changed to shock when I saw the tiny room allocated to my hero – all he had was a bed and a wash-basin and a shower. As far as I was concerned, the ‘Oscar-Winning George Chakiris’ deserved ‘more’ than a room where a careful entry was required, to avoid falling over the bed.
Later that night I phoned my long-suffering producer and we moved George into the best room the Hilton could provide. We arrived at the top hotel, to find George wandering around an enormous apartment that could have housed an entire cast and crew, rather than the quiet and slightly forlorn man who stood before us. I explained that I had arranged the move because I thought he deserved ‘more’…                                                    
“I rather liked my little room” he replied softly, but not ungraciously,

“It was like a womb I could curl up in."

My father’s prediction was accurate, I have always wandered and never settled. But like wise George, I now know that my real home lies within me and that it must be protected from the noise and confusion of ambition and status.                                                    

From always looking for ‘more’ and so often finding ‘less’.


The landlord provided the key, and wished me a pleasant stay. Each morning I unlocked the door and emerged into sunlight or showers and each night I watched the ships leaving the harbour, bound for the oil rigs that lie between Aberdeen and Bergen, or for the open sea – before heading for home and drifting off to sleep in the little hut…


There was no television, just a bed, a cooker, a metal table and chairs, a sink, a shower, a toilet,



…and a lavatory brush.


27 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post, as always. I like to know that the people I admire from afar are nice in real life.

    Mick Jagger went up in my estimation during the Cannes festival. He was being interviewed for French TV and was wearing sunglasses. At the end the interviewer asked if he'd take the glasses off so that we could see him properly, which he happily did. It's the little things...

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  2. Wow, well written! I'll have to read here more!

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  3. Thanks Angie and Don ~ I've installed JS-kit for comments, in the hope that this site will not break frames when a comment is submitted. Let's see ~ it's fun to play with a new toy in any case

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  4. Cats are quite uncanny, aren't they? I'm glad that your little friend was there to help you get your bearings. And apart from it being my turn to be star struck (I mean, look at who you get to work with - WOW) - how beautifully written and thought out this post is, I love how it arcs back, like a boomerang... like you?

    George Chakiris is so charismatic and intense, I saw West Side Story for the first time a couple of years ago and I just love that feline quality of his. I've always particularly loved watching male dancers, that sense of coiled energy set free. I'm sure that women get to dance like that sometimes too but I never seem to see it. I guess it's a quality of the choreography just as much as the individual dancer?

    When it comes to living quarters there is a world of difference between humble and sordid, and I love how you nail that difference. A good clean bathroom is always the clue for me!

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  5. Hi Pat...(!)....yes, cats are uncanny. I really think for friendship I prefer dogs and their lovely way of trying to be human (their modified barks and little groaning howls as they try to emulate speech....they are most likely more intelligent than cats (and probably want to be human, if they knew what that was) But cats are back to the wild and to the uncompromising....and they seem to be attracted to me and to help me.

    George was/is wonderful. Quiet and thoughtful. I hope to meet him again outside of heaven.

    Jerome Robbins was the gift to male dancers. Like Gene Kelly (although more upmarket)...though I hasten...Gene Kelly is another hero, one that I didn't meet...he (Jerome) was a 'real' male in the energy sense. And that's the secret I think. Many choreographers enjoy the lissom qualities of the female dance-form...but only a few can capture the male-testosterone excitement of the male dancer....apart from Russian and Chech folk dance...Russian men kicking from low down...energy and vitality.

    Yes...Most times my house is in a clutter, but the Loo is always clean (and the kitchen)

    xhenry

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  6. Hi Angie thanks for he test....so?

    xh

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  7. Hi Henry, how are ya, you seem wonderful. What an amazing story once again, you bring me where you are. I love the part about the cat helping you to park. There is a bond between humans and animals. I will be getting caught up with you last broadcast, sorry I have gotten behind.
    Love ya,
    Janet :)

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  8. Hi Janet ~ good to hear from you. Don't worry...you've had a lot to contend with...take your time and all will be well.

    xhenry

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  9. Nick Grimshawe13 June 2010 at 23:08

    Hi Henry,

    Loved following you arround and the pictures just added to the story. I am amazed by the Parking Car. I'll have to ask her to be in the car next time I go downtown.

    Looks like you where quite comfortable in the Hut.

    Nick

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  10. Hi Nick - I was really comfortable in the little hut....I miss it. Noone the cat (I don't know if it is a he or a she and I don't fancy undercarriage inspection) has appeared over the last three years, whenever I really need help. It's quite remarkable

    Thanks for the visit

    xhenry

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  11. You seem to be showing up at EYB now. You know who to contact if you have more problems!

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  12. thanks Anji that's really great and helpful

    xh

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  13. Dearest Henry, This moved me SO deeply, and on many many levels. What an astounding life you have lived and live. I loved the layers of stories in this. I think the one that brought tears to my eyes was the story of simplicity and home. I adore the "hut". It is exactly the kind of place that I would feel comforted and contained in, and in a very safe, warming, woothing way.

    I love simplicity, I can grasp it, understand it in a very visceral body way. I love "cozy" as well and this place in all it's supposed spartanness si VERY cozy to me. I really let down and feel at home in places like this. When I lived in Australia and was traveling from one end of the continent to the other (back in the early 80s I often stayed in a lot of little places like this. Sadly, many of them are being wiped out by "chains" and progess.

    Dear henry, there is always sooo much soul in your writing. But it's even more than that. There is an intimacy and awareness of detail, very beautiful. You remind us of al the things that are truly important in life. I am grateful. Love, Robin xo

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  14. Hi Robin ~ This is indeed an honour...to have you comment on Facebook and again on my blog.

    I thought of you when I was living in the little hut - I thought it would suit you - I do miss it...but if I didn't, it would have been wrong for me. It was the most enriching two weeks for a long while and it allowed memories to surface...and I love remembering

    love

    henry

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  15. Hi Robin ~ I'm still getting to grips with this new Echo comment thingy...so forgive this second reply. I will say that it seems to have cured a spamming problem I was having with the ordinary comment form

    xhenry

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  16. Shucks...I still pressed the wrong reply thingy and replied to myself...still, it boosts my comment total for this post :)

    xh

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  17. Beautifully written, and a wonderful read this morning! You always seem to bring us along on your journeys....Like we were right there! Thank you.

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  18. Hi Henry

    What a treat to reminisce with you, and go back on this journey together. The key line and lesson for me was when you stated "<span>I now know that my real home lies within me and that it must be protected from the noise and confusion of ambition and status. "</span>

    Yes, is it not incredible that something so many of us search for so often, and so far and wide, was with us all along. There is such a gift in life I feel, that comes when we realize that part.

    And today in my life, I so agree, that less, is the best more. When we are still, when we observe and hear our hearts and souls, the noise disappears. And then, there is just the true essence of who we are...

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  19. <p><span>Hi Evita ~ I agree, it is a affirmation of being on the right track. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of my Mother's passing this year. 11:11 started appearing all around me. It felt like all the elements that were here were gathering around me. It was a good feeling. It was like all the elements that had been my mother were gathering together...making a harmony</span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span>Thanks for delving and finding this post</span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span>xhenry</span>
    </p>

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  20. Thanks Tami ~ I always value your opinion, especially as you were the first who ever commented on a post I made. I really loved Bergen, but I was not a home to me...the lump in my throat was because I was lost...I would have been quite at home there now.

    We live and we learn

    xhenry

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  21. Henry, in truth, everyone wanders perpetually and never truly settles, for everything is impermanent in this world.  Anyone who gets wrapped up in permanence lives inside illusion.

    This post triggers nostalgia. Appreciate sharing a glimpse of your journey.  I recall a train trip I made from Oxford up to Glasgow to visit a university student friend.  I did make it to Aberdeen as well, but did not stay there long.  I was unaware of the skyrocketing prices for rooms you mention. 

    Sounds like you found a cozy place to create a sense of home for the duration of your stay.  Intriguing to reflect on how you realize fear imagined in the mind made efforts to control your perception and also how you ultimately chose to rise above that to savor the local experiences.

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  22. I was just reading up about George Chakaris and I see that he filmed with Gene Kelly quite near to here - a bit before we came though.

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  23. And you eat out in the sun - that's really healthy (vitamin D production)!    I admire your simple life.  Small homes are easier to clean leaving you more time for other things.  With the internet, it's now possible to live without TV even!

    I would start a backyard garden somehow if I am living where you are.

    I'll check out your other posts!  Thanks for sharing your life!

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  24. Hi Henry,

    I'll see you later on but I just had to say how much I love reading your stuff, it's so calming!

    Andrew (the littler pit monster)

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  25. I guess you are still wandering out there somewhere. I wax and wane about blogging but today I decided to come and find all my favourite bloggers from the good old days. This was such a beautiful post Henry. I hope you are well and happy.

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  26. Theresa111 Henry, I was on borderlines and read the Feb post from 2009. I tried to leave this message but unsure if it took.

    This was a touching and on-time post for me. I have always felt the presence of those beyond the earthly physical world. It will be (July 28th) eight years since my friend and sweet Mother passed over to the great beyond. Whenever I think of her, other relatives, friends, pets, I say aloud their names and tell them I love and miss them. I am certain beyond the scientific facts, they are nearby (popping in) and are guiding. [Private Message]
    9 days ago · Delete · Flag

    Theresa111
    Theresa111 continued) We will be reunited in spirit one day. If only we would use half of our brains, we would understand the dimensions of space an time and even death would not stand in the way of our transcendence. I recently got to kern of my ancestors (veins and veins of them) through Ancestry dot com, dating back to about 990 A.D. I found myself dwelling on some of them and where they lived, their occupations, how many children they had, and so forth. I now have some of them dropping by sometimes.

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