“I think you should go to Art School”

(Got to speed up time not in my HANDS)

Towards the end of Secondary Modern School I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. Whilst I found time to live in my fantasy world I simply drifted with it. To get away from the rest of the family I’d go to our outdoor loo which was not very comfortable. It was about a square yard in size with a cold concrete floor. A thin strap hinged, latched, matchwood door with a bolt with ‘v’ cut outs along its top edge for venting purposes. It was equally vented at the bottom with about a half inch unintended gap which made even deeper through the foot wear of the edge of concrete, resulting in petty cold place to dream ones dreams away.

Despite all the disadvantages, this was my dream house, where I’d sit on the edge of the seat and stare at the back of the door which dissolved to become my viewing screen,

The wooden toilet seat was like a boxed bench running the full width of the toilet with central hole over the ceramic bowl which was more of a funnel, connected to a brown glazed waste pipe with, I suppose, a trap a long way down. The caste iron Cistern was placed centrally above the toilet on another full with wooden board and painted a ‘vomit’ green, a lead flushing pipe ran from the underside of the cistern to the toilet bowl. The toilet was flushed by a lever action with the all important pull chain with a hand ring at its end . There was always a candle or remains or candles next to the cistern as there was neither light or heat in the loo. The candle was the only way to keep the pipes from freezing on cold days and nights but on many occasions that heat was insufficient and the whole system would freeze up causing the cistern to overflow forming a thick sheet of ice down the wall and across the seat which one had little choice but sit on it.

There was a small window, high up. It had a concrete frame which dad had made, unfortunately the glass was broken through the expansion of the concrete in hot weather, which also did not help in freezing weather. Despite all the disadvantages, this was my dream house, where I’d sit on the edge of the seat and stare at the back of the door which dissolved to become my viewing screen, I did this no mater how hot or cold the weather. It was near impossible to get hold of toilet paper, either that or mum did not by any therefore News Papers were torn into strips, a hole was made at one corner of a wade using a meat skewer and a piece of string threaded through and tied in a loop so that the wade could be hung on a nail by the toilet seat. If there is one thing that I would have changed back then it would have been this item, I hated using it and it never made a good job of wiping your ass, sometimes, but rarely, tissue paper would be used, which was shear joy to use. The problem with my sanctuary was other people needed to use the facility. A sharp rap on the door would bring me back to earth. The family did not take kindly to my take over and I was forced to look for another ‘hidey-hole’. They called my day dreaming ‘moping’ if it’s spelt that way?

The new ‘hidey-hole’ was in the wooden ‘lean to’ weather boarded shed with a corrugated roof and no door, the shed which abutted the back of the house was used to store the old fashioned, ornate caste iron mangle with wooden rollers which required a great deal of strength to turn [ later replaced with a more modern machine] although mum was not that big a n quite slim she was made of tough stuff, never-the- less she poured buckets of sweat when using that old mangle. Galvanised iron washing tubs of different sizes and the a larger bath which was taken into the kitchen on Friday nights for our weekly bath were hung along one wall, this shed was also the coal house and kindling store with a large wooden block and chopper for chopping sticks to light fires. The coal was retained behind two foot high and two inch thick wooden boards and on which I would seat myself and dream my dreams with the creosoted weatherboard wall of the shed became the new screen. Whether this was healthy is questionable for as the toilet I would spend a great deal of time dreaming no matter what the weather and unlike the toilet there was no door, I was told that this bad habit would give me ‘piles’ whatever they were.

I have had a vivid imagination right from the start of life which really is important if you our going to be creative particularly if you couple it with practical skills but at the age of thirteen or thereabouts as I have already written I don’t seem to have any ambition. It was about that time and after the War that schools widened their horizons with trips to London and things like camping [educational of course] thus I went camping under canvas to Freshwater at the western end of the Isle of Wight, I can’t remember how we got there probably via Lymington and Yarmouth. The Camp was in a small meadow, almost opposite the single track railway which terminated at Freshwater.

This was the second time in my life that I had ever slept away from home, the first time being when I stayed at grandmas when I was about three of four, whilst mum was in hospital, actually, whilst there I found myself a ‘hidey- hole’, sat on an old upturned bucket between a rickety shed [granddad was no good at ‘do-your-self] and some quite dense shrubbery with the trunk of a large plum immediately in front of me, so that I was completely hid. Grandma would come looking and calling me, going up and down the garden path, I kept quiet not wanting to reveal this special place, only emerging when she gave up and went back in doors, thus I managed to keep my secret.

Back to my second trip away from home, camping. I don’t know how many boys and girls were in the camp or how many teachers were there but I think there was about eight of us in each bell tent and although having spent most my young life out in the woods and fields, I had never spent a night under the stars nor ever slept in a room away from home, other than with Rod. I’m unsure whether this novelty applied to the others on this trip but I don’t seemed to had a problem with it although I thought I would. There is only one memorable instance that I recall, in the tent, was when one of the boys ground sheet started to jump up and down, caused as we discovered, by a large frog trying hop its way out.

The days of that weeks camping were spent mostly in areas surrounding Freshwater in the three bays of Freshwater, Totland and Alum Bay which over looks ‘The Needles’ and their lighthouse. Alum Bay was and is renowned for its cliffs of multi-coloured sands which were collected in class tubs and corked as souvenirs. I think the only trip away from that end of the Island was on to Carrisbroke Castle situated more or less central to the Island.

I can only remember the name of one teacher and his wife and baby boy and that was Mr. Craig our P.T teacher’ who often reminded me that I was not anywhere up to my brothers ability where sport was involved, which I knew anyway, for all that I liked him and admired his supper fit look. As it happened, Mr.Craig would turn out to be an important figure in the direction my life was going take. As I have mentioned, the camp site was almost opposite Freshwater station, amazingly this small station had a W.H.Smiths Bookshop and on its shelves was a series of quite cheap, small, thin books on ‘ How to Draw’. I think I bought a couple, one of which was called ‘How to Draw Children, I still have it. I copied one of the illustrations of a small baby boy about the age of Mr. Craig’s son, what I did not know was one of the kids had taken it and shown the teacher who was impressed and thought it was of his son, when he approached me, he asked what I was going to do when I left school, I said I did not know, he said “I think you should go to Art School” although flattered by his praise I did not give the subject further thought.