New friends

In my first year at Art School I studied all the subjects that I have mentioned and for the most part kept on top of them. Although there seemed to be only a few students when I started this was to change when there was a sudden intake of new male students who were about seven years older than me, they had all been in the services, mainly the Army, and as they had had their education disrupted by the war, they were given financial grants to resume that education, at the same time a lot of new girls joined and yet again much older than me.

All the girls were very much middle class, the daughters of Doctors, naval and army captains or officers, commanders and company directors. Some of the girls were merely using the school like a ‘Finishing School’ as something to do up to the time they would get married. One thing that was all of these girls were very attractive with one later becoming the countries leading model, [clothes horse] she was Fiona Campbell Walters and later married a German named Baron Von Thysand [don’t know how its spelt] not only was Fiona beautiful but always well dressed, in fact she would have looked good in a sack, had a lovely voice and above all, had no sides to her.

As you might glean from that description I was really hooked on Fiona. She twice appeared in the Allan Wicker Interviews who was back in the 50’s and 60’s a renowned BBC Reporter. The first time was at her spacious home in either the south of France or Switzerland or somewhere there about. She had every luxury available but her husband having collared one on the nicest person I have known didn’t take long before chasing a new piece of ‘totty’. I don’t remember how long the marriage lasted but a number of years later, Wicker interview her again when she was in her sixties, she remained single after her divorce and apparently Wicker told her back at the time of her first interview that she had made a big mistake in marrying Von Thysan., nevertheless she seemed happy enough as a single divorcee.

The problem I had with the new, older students, was that they were seven years ahead in knowledge and had experienced in the Services, one had been a tank captain for example. Their conversations had little meaning to me but it did not take long for me to begin to catch up, this was mainly because one of them was Jack Parker, the son of Tom Parker the Footballer and committee member of the Boys Club. Jack, who lived next to the junction of Merdon Avenue and Kingsway, in Chandlers Ford and I became friends but not in a social way, for one thing the age gap was too wide.

Jack although the son of a footballer, hated the sport, instead he was a very good Tennis player and he and his younger brother, Peter had their own Grass Court. A great many of the houses in the north end of Chandlers Ford were large and either a grass or hard court, most hidden from public view behind tall, wide and dense Rhododendron bushes, although one could not see the courts one could hear the thwack of the ball and the voices saying things like ‘good shot’. Apart from the private courts there was also two hard court Tennis Clubs one in Park Road and the other in Kingsway.

Jack's immediate neighbour, Ambrose Chalk, who was the conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, had a very good Hard Court which was visible from the road and sported loads of Tennis Parties, where Jack and Pete rained supreme. I spent quite a bit of time at his house and got on well with his parents but Jack as far I remember only came to our house once, mainly because I never invited him, perhaps because I regarded our house as not ‘being up to it’ in comparison to the one he lived in. Jack was quite a handsome guy with wavy hair and about the same height as myself, at that time I was about six feet tall, now about five foot ten inches, He was quietly spoken and seemed to say everything with a sort of smile to it even serious things. He was much more serious about art than myself and with seven more years of wisdom was equally more serious about the world and life, some of which rubbed off on me.

I was a better painter than Jack and possibly because of my background was to be able make and repair things which was important in a working class environment and I also had a father who was excellent at crafts, although, as I have written before, he actually taught me nothing and I had learned by simply watching him. My ability to make things was useful not just for myself but the other students as they were pretty much useless when it came to being practical as they had never had to do such things and always employed other people to do that kind of work, as a result, it was I that they asked to, say, stretch a canvas or prepare a board for painting. I have said that I was better than Jack but this was also true, one might say, with the other older students, where despite our age differences, I was as good as, if not better than most of them when it came to Art but so hot when it came to appreciating what ART was all about.

There was another two students who came from Chandlers Ford, one being ‘Carol’ the daughter of a Hospital Surgeon at a Southampton Hospital, She lived in a largish Edwardian house at the top end of Park Road between Common Road and Pine Road with good sized garden backing on to what had been the brickfield, which I have already mentioned. Going back to just after War the Surgeon [I can’t remember his surname] had a grand private fire and Firework party in the back garden, but lots of local kids sneaked into the garden though a weakness in the fence, including myself, I kept myself in the background knowing I should not really be there and wished to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Although the Surgeon was aware of these intruders and seemed to tolerate them, until they started to ‘muck about’ get in the way and generally become a ‘pain in the ass’, which resulted in them being thrown out, which should have included me but he said I could stay, however I left with the other so as not to regarded by them as a ‘goody goody’.

At that time there was a big gap between the working and middle classes, the two having very little in common leading very different sort of lives, and certainly the upper crust would never ‘invite a working class boy’ to tea which is what happened. At Art School, I although getting on with my fellow students, including the girls’ never dreamed of asking any of them to go out me as I was pretty certain that they would decline for no other reason that I didn’t have the right sort of background, would not know how to behave, or so I though, so I avoided asking for a date even though there were plenty that attracted me, mainly because I could not bear the idea of being rejected, however, ‘Carol’ seemed to like me at a different level to the point that I was invited to tea and meet her parents. Although I accepted the offer I would rather have not. I had no idea how I should behave, what to talk to her parents about and I thought they were bound to ask what my father did for a living etc,. I don’t properly remember much about the actual visit nor whether it was a success or not, for although I liked ‘Carol’ well enough I did not wish to get to involved and was the only time I went out with her. My father, instead of feeling proud that, not only myself but also Pat and Rod were moving up in the world, which we thought he wanted thought that we starting to ‘live above our station ‘in life and somehow did not approve. I could not believe his attitude as he was always urging we children to ‘punch up ‘to improve our lot’ but that was an example of how this country was changing with the possibility of the working class moving away from labouring and trades into the professions.

The course I was on was the National Design Diploma [NDD] and it would take five years to complete. Almost all the students on the course would become Art Teachers which was the last thing that I wanted to do. After two years there was an Intermediate Certificate Exam which had to be passed before you could proceed, I took and passed the mock exam but then was told I was to young to take the actual exam and would have to stay back and do the second year again, I was not happy about that as I would lose all my fellow class mates even if they were much older than myself.