Friday, 30 March 2012

School Trips

Yesterday morning, my daughter's bag was put on the coach that would take her to Heathrow for a flight to Colorado. She is now further away from us than she's been since she was ten months old.

School trips are not the same as they were in my day. She gets a week skiing in America. At her age, my school trip was a tour around Northern France.

The coach was hot and smoky. The teachers chain smoking at the front of the bus and the boys chain smoking at the back. We stayed at Rouen, Tours and Paris, visiting Cathedrals, the Normandy beaches and Bayeux Tapestry. We were so excited to find Harold trying to pull the arrow from his eye.

On a small country road we got held up in a queue of traffic. We slowly edged our way past a traffic gendarme and a wrecked, pre-seat-belt, white car, with no sign of bodies but lots of fresh red blood running down the sides of its doors.

Our Headmaster stood up and addressed us. 'May that be a lesson to you all. Think about this when you start to drive.'

After a misdemeanor, I was separated from my friends and had to share a dinner table with the Headmaster, his deputy and the Head-boy. He told us how he regretted that he had become addicted to cigarettes as a pilot in the war, lighting up as soon as his plane landed. He would have preferred to have remained a pipe smoker.

He was a complex character. We would probably consider him ultra-right wing these days. At a school assembly on Commonwealth Day, he had lectured to us about the Great British Empire he had fought for. He had his soft side though, and I was sent to be caned by him on several occasions during my school life, but I always managed to talk my way out of it. On the other hand, knowing I was from a family of musicians, he actively discouraged me from taking part in concerts, over-ruling the music teacher. 'Music will make him soft,' he had told my Father when he complained.

He retired about the same time as I left school, and died of a smoking related illness shortly after.

Monday, 26 March 2012

I was a Gruesome Kid

Why is it that I can recall inconsequential events from early childhood, but fail to remember to take my wallet with me when I shop?  I often have difficulty in recalling my mobile phone number, passwords and pin-numbers or even the names of people introduced to me five minutes before, but an image of a simple bourbon biscuit helps me delve deep into my trivia packed brain, to pre-school days of tears, tantrums and bedroom confinement.

I’m not sure when the tantrums started, but before my first sibling came along, I had my parent’s complete attention. There is less than three years between my brother and myself, but I can remember the evening he was first brought back from the maternity hospital with clarity. I had been given a tricycle earlier in the day, and spent the day riding around the kitchen and dinning room. My first sight of my brother, framed in the doorway, staring with black button eyes has lived with me ever since.

I got on well with my brother from the start, but if I couldn’t get my own way I would let my parents know about it. High volume shrieking and head banging were my weapons of choice. The usual punishment was incarceration in my bedroom, where I would be left to cool off.

It was during one of these cooling off sessions that, having failed to attract my parent by banging the door with my fists, I started exploring the bedroom. I remember the old trunk next to the wall. Behind it, next to the damp skirting board was a bourbon biscuit. It wasn’t brown like the ones I’d eaten before; it was green. I remember biting into it. It wasn’t hard; it was soft. Once the sugar had been tasted, the rest of the biscuit soon disappeared.

Immune system kick started, I’ve retained an affection for the humble bourbon ever since.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Napoleon: 1984 - 2012


For the first time in twenty two years, we are horseless; the ritual of mucking out stables before breakfast has now past.

My wife had always wanted a pony as a child, and, once we had settled into country life in Devon, a succession of ponies and horses soon started to move in with us.

Reckless gallops and canters across the Blackdown Hills turned to cautious hacking on quiet lanes, once we had children to look after as well.

Four years ago we retired our long standing companions, Tyrian and Napoleon.

Tyrian died two years ago, and today my wife's horse, Napoleon, had to be put to sleep after a long standing condition worsened. At 28, he was a good age and had been with us since 1996.

We'll have a drink to our old friend tonight. He'll be missed.

Napoleon 1984-2012.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Corner of the Bookshelf

The bookshelf is a good place to start to retrieve old memories. You might remember where you bought a book and what else was happening in your life at the time. Maybe you read the book on a long journey or an exotic beach. A book can bring back so much more than the author intended.

In the sixties, my parents rented half an Edwardian house in Aberystwyth, another couple lived on the top floor. They had a daughter called Susan, who was my age.  

Inspired by Princess Margaret’s televised royal wedding, and at the tender ages of four, Susan and I got married, while siblings and friends threw privet-leaf confetti over us. It was a brief union lasting no more than half an hour.

Susan’s greatest influence on my life wasn’t as my short-lived spouse, but was because she had a large collection of Eagle comics. She would to meet me on the turn of the stairs with her pile of comics and introduce me to the colourful world of Dan Dare. 

Thunderbirds and TV21soon replaced Dan Dare, but I rediscovered the 50's space hero as an art student. I started collecting crumbling Eagle annuals, picked up from charity shops, and later glossy reprints of those original strips, read before I'd even started school.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Memory from Drawings

My bookshelf also contains sketchbooks from different periods of my life. Looking through them brings back strong memories of people I've observed and places I've visited. Information about a landscape's colour, smell and weather conditions come back, even from the simplest of sketches. They serve as thumbnails to a much more detailed picture stored in my head.

My sketch of, Farnham tutor, Bob Godfrey, enjoying the sun outside a cafĂ© in Annecy.  June 1977. 

One of the highlights of my time at Farham was the trip to the Annecy Animation Festival. It was towards the end of my first year at the college and I had little money left to cover the cost towards the visit. I managed to sell my camera and complete Roxy Music collection to raise funds.

With practically no money between us, our motley group of Farnham students was directed to a youth hostel on a wooded hill above the town, where we slept on hard mattress-less beds with stinking sacking for blankets. 

With a few francs to live of each day, we drank cheap vinegar wine from plastic bottles, ate French bread and tomatoes, and watched every free programme of animation available to us from 10 in the morning to 11 at night. Our eyes were opened to the possibilities ahead of us, as films from all over the world, in every pre-digital animation style conceivable, filtered into our young minds, influencing our futures, changing us forever.

I recently used my sketchbook from August 1977 to help me write a short story set on the day Elvis died. It was the day my partner and I pitched a tent in a field near St Davids. We had hitched lifts, over a two-day period, from Surrey to Wales getting stuck for six hours just outside High Wickham. A place I've never wanted to return to since.

A related article by Simon Bor can be found in Creative Update,, in the current issue dated November 2011.

Out of my head

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