Coales' Notes: Compliments of the season: Gordon Coales comes clean with his staff about his true feelings for the arts

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY Packing my stuff up, and taking it home. Alan arrived, now with his head completely shaven, and unpleasantly friendly. Bob has booked something called 'Peasants All' for the Event tomorrow - 'the new hard sound of the underclass,' he informed me. I suspect another of his duds, but what matter? I have asked people for dinner on Thursday.

I really do not feel anything. Rowena has got me reading a book called Stop Dying and Start Living: Re-orienting Terminal Illness - which I think is putting it a bit strongly, but she feels there are analogies. 'Cheer up, it's already happened' is the basic idea.

TUESDAY The Crisis Support Event. Not a bad turn-out of people from the Poly, some local authors and our hard core of 'friends'. Fiona presided. I kept a back seat. Peasants All appeared - a 20-strong a cappella 'medieval' consort of singers, with wimples, caps- and-bells and bladders. First number: Ding Dong Merrily. Bob simply shrugged. Alan did a performance of which I could only see the bits where he hit himself over the head - but undeterred the Peasants accompanied him with The Little Drummer Boy. There were various speeches, a rap poem of Bob's own devising, and Fiona concluded: 'Contrary to certain rumours you may have heard, the Centre is not closing. It is actually expanding operations. We hope to give you more news in the New Year. Meanwhile there are buckets placed around the room, so please give generously to our fighting fund. With your help - the Wormwood Centre continues]' Applause. I stood up here to say a few words of thanks, but the Peasants came in with a vocalised version of The Dambusters march, and I decided to sit down again. I came home early.

WEDNESDAY A last look round. Then I locked up, and handed the keys to the Secretary of Leisure Committee.

CHRISTMAS EVE Fiona, Bob, Juliet and - a real nerve - Alan for dinner. Rowena did a turkey wrapped in loam and birch twigs (fairly edible). I insisted there should be no shop. But after the meal Bob announced: 'I have a small revelation to make, which I think I can afford to make now. I, as Performance Officer, happen to be tone deaf. So there.' Juliet said: 'OK, if we're going to play embarrassing confessions, I can say that I, as Exhibitions Officer, am colour blind, and that is perfectly true, but nobody has ever noticed.'

Then Fiona said: 'Well, I suppose in the circumstances, I would like to share with you, as Deputy Director of the Centre, that I don't really have a background in the arts at all. I trained as an Estate Agent and it's all picked up from magazines. Also, I was born in Belgium, and English is not my first language, and I still have difficulty with it.' Bob and Juliet started to giggle, though it seemed no laughing matter to me. Then Rowena offered to make her confession, which alarmed me a little. But there was a general cry of 'Gordon, Gordon', and I said all right, I would admit something. I was not a bit surprised by what I had just heard, because while I was enormously fond of everyone personally, I had lived for years in daily astonishment at what I found myself supervising. I myself did have a background in the arts and I felt that most of the art my colleagues seemed to favour was the biggest load of utter balls I had ever seen in my life - though now of course it all made sense - and thinking about it, this whole thing hadn't come a moment too soon.

There was a pause, and Fiona said: 'Thank you Gordon, really honest. We've always wanted to hear you say that.' Then all three of them began to roar with laughter and bang the table, and Juliet cried 'Gotcha, Gordon, gotcha]' I sat there open- mouthed. Rowena shrieked. And Bob produced a guitar - 'to prove that I am not remotely tone- deaf' - and struck up No Woman, No Cry. Actually he is. But everyone joined in, in unison. They followed this with The Sultans of Swing, Imagine and Red, Red Wine. An unbelievably horrible noise.

Finally, after a marathon performance of Forever Young, I offered a turn myself, with a recitation of Tennyson's Tithonus - which I can in fact do, and anyway it was extremely late, and it seemed the only way to make people go. I began. But I had only got through the first five lines - to 'Me only cruel immortality / Consumes' - when I stopped. I found myself weeping loudly and uncontrollably. I asked to be excused. But Rowena got us all holding hands in a ring and making a kind of moaning chant, which only managed to extend the weeping around the whole company. Eventually I broke loose, and ordered some taxis.

As he was going, Alan took me to one side and said: 'I've become aware of something about you, Gordon Coales. You're a nifty little artist, aren't you?' I don't think anyone has ever said that to me before.

CHRISTMAS DAY Quietly with Rowena - very quietly, since she declared this morning that 'true Christmas' had actually fallen in June. Feeling extremely restless. But Fiona rang in the afternoon, saying there would be a 'The Wormwood Continues: An Arts Centre in Exile' meeting at her flat next week if I was remotely interested. And I said I thought I probably would go along.

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