Not surprisingly, my earliest attempts to keep a diary were illustrated, although not usually as elaborately as this account of the school cross country run. Cross country was a brilliant excuse for me and my friend John to get out of football, run off down towards the gasworks, then saunter along the canal towpath enjoying the Calder Valley countryside that still provides the subject matter for my sketchbooks. Obviously, in that annual race, we had to put a bit more effort in. Thirty-sixth isn’t bad!
The reference to the ‘Hostile Alien’ (top right) was to a home movie that my brother and I had made starring my sister in the title role – disguised in a papier-mâché bug-eyed monster head – zapping the soldiers of the World Security Force with a ray gun fashioned from my dad’s chromium-plated torch. Difficult to operate with the boxing gloves that she had to wear.
I’d evidently doctored a Christmas card that we’d sent to Mrs Ruby Jefferies, who had been my Latin teacher at the school – Ossett Grammar School – for a couple of years and who, along with her husband, had rented the upstairs flat in my mum and dad’s large Victorian house.
I was approaching my fifteenth birthday at the time and my ‘O’-levels were already looming, so it’s amazing, reading the diary, how much time I was able to spend movie-making, writing, drawing, printing magazines, making models and staging plays and exhibitions. This might account for my rather moderate success in the following year’s exams but my indulgently creative adolescence was a perfect grounding for my years at art college and for my subsequent career which has included elements of all those activities.
In the evening of the day of the cross country my brother and I staged our Silent Spring exhibition, a series of scenes from Rachael Carson’s book, mainly homemade dioramas, illuminated in succession, with a soundtrack that we’d recorded on tape. No role for my sister in that, but she had been referee at the school v. staff hockey match in the afternoon.
Living in the Past
I came across the diaries during a pre-Christmas clear up in the studio. Taking a box of slides back up into the attic, I found a cardboard carton which contained five fire-damaged diaries from my school and college days, dating from 1963 to 1969. I’m so glad that despite their charred edges, I kept them. Because of their condition, I haven’t taken a proper look at them for fifty years.
As I like to keep pointing out to my brother, it was his homemade amplifier, our first-ever experience of stereo, that caused the blaze on the metal shelf-unit in our shared bedroom. In return, Bill likes to remind me that when I showed the insurance assessor his partially-melted Jethro Tull albums, I should have questioned his professional opinion that they were still all perfectly playable!
Four of the diaries are National Coal Board staff issue, which my father brought home from work, and the fifth was evidently a promotional item from an engineering firm.