Years ago, when I was living in Bromley, a small market town on the outskirts of London, England, I used to perform at the local amateur theatre – and even once at the professional theatre. I was so keen to get going with my acting career that my parents had difficulties to keep me concentrated on my school studies. Part of my spare time was spent earning money for drama lessons in London. I had tracked down – I cannot remember how – the voice coach to Laurence Olivier and she agreed to take me on as a private pupil. I was fifteen. The lessons she offered me as a way of preparing me for my entrance auditions to drama school were one hour long and were held on a Saturday afternoon at a rehearsal studio in the centre of London. In order to pay for the private tuition and the train fares, I used to work typing up letters and contracts for my father as well as cleaning houses. With my purse full of the money I required, I set off for the local train station Sunridge Park. From there to London.
Last night as I lay weeping, desolate at the news of the death of David Bowie, a memory crawled back.
It was Saturday and I was off to London. Upbeat and looking towards my future, I crossed the railway bridge and down the stairs to the far platform. There was one other figure walking up and down. He could have been any age. Tall, lanky, bent forward in thought, almost round-shouldered. He paused from his ambling and watched me descend to the platform and then without saying a word he continued prowling, turning in circles on his feet as though dancing to a music only he could hear, waiting for the train. We were the only two there. We did not speak. It was a warm day. The train pulled in. It was almost empty. I tugged open a door to one of the carriages and stepped up into the train. The young man followed, and instead of choosing any one of the other carriages, all empty, he strode towards where I was, grabbed at the still open door, followed me into the carriage and sat directly opposite me. We both had window seats. His legs were long and stretched out towards me. I stared out as the train pulled away, and David began to speak to me. I do not remember his opening words but very soon we were talking, sharing our dreams, of the world of entertainment, the stage, the silver screen. He was two or three years older than me and more sure of himself. He gesticulated a fair amount and I was rather in awe of him. He talked of writing rock operas… I, more shyly, spoke of dreams of classical theatre.
We lived close to one another. He performed or was involved in another local theatre. People in the town began to be aware of him. David Jones, later Bowie. We seemed to take the same train to London regularly although not always. I was so shy about articulating my dreams but David wasn’t. I have always been in awe of all that he has achieved, his brilliance and his unique vision. He was a skinny Mod painting the landscape of his upcoming future with big ambitions, broad strokes. It encouraged me. I was desperately unhappy at home, unhappy at school. Still I had my drama classes and goals. I did not feel alone in that suburban town. Dreaming big was not something to be ridiculed. To want to be an artist, a conqueror was just fine.
Yesterday when I read the news, I felt as though someone had just snatched up my adolescence and crushed it in the palm of a great big hand. A flame went out. A light of youth, vision and possibility was extinguished. And yet it wasn’t. David has moved on, but his oeuvres remain. And in small towns, unlikely corners of the world, others are dreaming, others will ring their light to the world.
RIP David Bowie, you made Bromley glitter.