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.

Our Hostile Aliens, Flying Machines and a secret agent were transferred to video in the 1980s and we’ve since gone back to the original Standard 8 films and had them professionally transferred to DVD and memory stick.

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.

With my friends Derek (‘Chic’) and John watching the hockey, with my sister blowing the whistle. Mr ‘Perry’ Mason was our form teacher.
‘Silent Spring – Bill got into fix with plugs. Mum said better than Shakespeare’ (our previous production, Richard III)

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

old diaries

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.

My after-school job: On that day I got paid for delivering 1500 leaflets for the Lion Stores supermarket around Ossett. Glad there weren’t more to deliver!

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  1. I cannot remember that year. I was a budding sprinter in those days and 4 plus miles was way too far for me. 200 m was a long race for me!

    1. If you remember the 1960s you weren’t there. John and I could usually amble about on our own but on one of the rare occasions everyone had to run around, John and I were surreptitiously sneaking off along the towpath at the Figure of Three Locks when Mr Stratton hoved into view: “Bell! Blackburn! Where are you going?” We pretended we hadn’t heard him; there was no way were going to run up to Thornhill and down the whole length of Hostingley Lane.
      Will you be organising a re-run of the cross country for the reunion?

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