Coales' Notes: Dreams in exile: Gordon Coales revisits old stamping-grounds

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY. A week off.

And I have finally got some inkling of the Wormwood situation. I have been trying to investigate this on and off for weeks. But nobody connected with the place seems to be around any more (and I couldn't face tackling the Council direct).

There seems to be no question of it imminently re-opening. I finally got through to Fiona today, and asked her this straight out, and that's what she said. Though of course it may not be the whole story - certainly, at the time of my departure, I was pretty sure she was in cahoots with the Council, and intending to step straight into my job. We arranged to meet tomorrow and have a chat about things.

I mean, I just think it would be a shame if the place had no future at all. And I think if it is going to have one, I ought to be told what. And I think that is really all I feel about it.

TUESDAY. A difficult meeting with Fiona. (Goodness - how many times must I have written those words in the past.) She was very subdued.

I ask her what she was up to now. I gathered not too much. She said she was 'applying round'. I told her, if it would help, she was welcome to give my name as a referee. She said: 'Oh, I always do.'

She asked how I was finding Ars Longa. I tried not to sound too contented. I said generally I was being pretty busy. She said: 'Amazing. I mean, great.'

I asked, was she in touch with Bob and Juliet? She said Bob's theatre job in Gibraltar had fallen through, and he'd had 'a sort of spiritual crisis' and gone into a monastic retreat - possibly thinking of going the whole hog, and becoming a monk. Juliet, she understood, was now pregnant and living with a solicitor in Bristol. I asked, surely, hadn't one always rather had the impression that Juliet was gay? She replied: 'Well, yes, she still is technically.'

It all seemed rather sad.

I then broached the sensitive question of the future of the Centre: what were the plans? She said all she'd heard was that the long- term plan was at some point to re- open, still as an arts centre - but the Council were hoping to put it on a more commercial footing. I doubted whether they would have a clue how to do that. She said the idea was to 'get in some consultants or something'.

I tried to be consoling and said that I was sure we could have made a go of it, if only we'd been allowed to.

But she said to me rather bluntly: 'Gordon, do face up to it, there is no Centre. The Centre that you knew, and I knew, will never exist again. I'm sorry too - but you simply have to stop dwelling.'

I was astonished. I thought I was trying to spare her feelings. But she may be right. At some level, all along, I have not faced up to it. And I must. There is nothing I can do. It's all up to the 'consultants' now.

WEDNESDAY Brooded. I informed Rowena this evening that, after three months, I had finally faced up to the non-existence of the Wormwood Centre. She was pleased. She hoped I would now feel more at ease up here again, without the constant need to escape to London.

THURSDAY. Well, I believe I have now faced up to it. And I do feel more at ease. But on the other hand, there's not really too much going on up here. I might just pop down to London tomorrow, and look in at the office.

FRIDAY. I got to the office at about midday. I immediately sensed something was up. Di seemed to be the only person around. She said, very surprised: 'Oh, hi Gordon. You're away, aren't you?' I went to my desk and found it covered in bits and pieces. Di apologised, and cleared them away briskly. She told me she was 'just working out a little presentation'. I gathered I was not meant to enquire further.

But then Rory strode in, barking: 'So what I think we say to the people from the Wherever-it-is Council, is: (1) The premises are basically OK. (2) You're lumbered with a bloody ridiculous name which will have to be changed. (3) The arts are a commodity, like any other commodity, only slightly different, etc. (4) Blah, blah, blah, always good to have a fourth point, sounds like you've really thought about the problem in depth. How's that for an opening shot?'

Di eyed me uneasily.

I think I realised then. I said I had just one very simple word of advice: don't even think of it.

Rory said: 'But, Gordon, can you imagine what it would be like to actually run an arts centre?'

Di said sharply: 'Of course he can, Rory', and Rory said: 'All right. Well, second time lucky, then]'

I told them, at all events, I didn't think that my name would go down too well with the Council. But Di said: 'Oh no, they've got rather a soft spot for you.'

I'm really going to have to think this one through.