‘I Guess You Had To Be There’
Al Cazu (Alan G Williamson)
Cazu Productions and Publishing
Copyright © Alan Williamson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright holder.
A comprehensive collection of the author’s artwork, along with digital versions of his books, short films, and music can be viewed and listened to at:
I take my hat off and bow to everybody that has played his or her own roll in this story of mine. Thank you so much to the ones who have loved me, and to the people who have allowed me to love them. To those who I may have possibly hurt or done wrong to, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize and this I do so from the bottom of my heart.
Also I pay tribute to all of those that I have never personally met with but their own lives, art, music, and words have influenced my life.
I thank my Angels and Gods for the challenges that they have set before me, and the help and support afforded to me that has enabled me to get this far.
My special appreciation goes to my dear friend Abby Miles, without whose constant support and encouragement this book would probably never have been started, least of all completed.
I also dedicate this book to all of those that have the nerve to even when against all odds, will still roll the dice.
An old skipper of a fishing
trawler once gave this riddle to me;
I now offer it to you.
‘A sailing ship one day left the Port of Southampton and steered a course of South-South-West. She crossed the Bay of Biscay, passed Lisbon, and continued down along the West Coast of Africa. She rounded the Cape of Storms, sailed past Madagascar, and then continued through the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific, and on to Hawaii. From there she sailed on until reaching the Panama Canal. Having passed through to the Caribbean Sea she headed across the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually returned back to Southampton. The vessel had successfully circumnavigated the globe’.
The question is: ‘What Part Of The Ship Travelled The Furthest?’
The previously mentioned riddle has little to do with the contents of this book. I have set it before you to merely get you thinking. It is however a relevant metaphor to which you will find the answer before turning the last pages.
For many years now people have been suggesting to me that I should seriously consider taking the time to record the events that have shaped my life. So therefore committed to words and paper here they are.
It has been a far more difficult and uncomfortable task than I anticipated. I think that it is by conveniently forgetting the bad things that happen in our lives, and remembering only the good, that we humans endure and are able to carry on living.
When revisiting one’s own past history in order to accurately document a record of it, there is a necessity to mentally relive in detail both the good and the bad times. That fact I have come to realize while compiling this book. It has at times proved to be a painful exercise. However, it has also often reminded me of things that very much make me smile.
This story is about my own life. It begins during the late years of the age of steam. It traverses the post-industrial age, and then moves along through the advent of the world of digital technology. Where it ends, fortunately I don’t as yet know.
I would like to think that this is a story that includes: Adventure, romance, successes and failures, creativity, experimentation, and humor, but most of all: the love of life and the willingness to live it.
On-board, I slept well that night and woke before daylight. For my breakfast I cooked two small fishes and some eggs. After eating I sat on deck drinking a large mug of coffee laced with a fine malt whisky while I watched the sun come up. The morning brought with it a gentle breeze and a clear sky. I removed the sail covers and checked once again that everything on deck was in order. Returning below deck I prepared some snacks for later in the day. My menu included a flask of soup, some sandwiches, and a second thermos flask full of hot coffee. I looked at the barometer and to my delight it hadn’t moved since the day before. Everything was looking good.
Within the hour I had let my moorings go, started the motor, and slipped out towards the mouth of the river. As I approached the Castle I hoisted the Headsail and set the Mizzen. Already there was enough wind that she would make-way without need of the engine. As my small ship left the river the seas were a little choppy and the wind was building so I put a couple of reefs in the Main before hoisting it. Soon I was clear of the headland and was able to take a port tack and set a course North-North-West towards Berry Head. The tide was on the bow and I wasn’t making much way so I shook out the reefs in the Mainsail. With the wind coming from the North-East She immediately heeled to Port and took the bone in her teeth. I was able to lash the helm and go below to check that all was well. When back on deck I poured a mug of coffee from the flask and settled to enjoy the sail. As I relaxed my mind began to wander and thoughts of my past life came to mind.
‘Post War London’
My first clear memories of my childhood I’m pretty sure date back to preschool age. I remember well my Granny North’s tiny house in Boleyn Road, Islington. The house had no electricity, or running hot water. In fact we had gaslight but no indoor toilet. London had suffered immensely from the bombing raids during the war and in the early nineteen fifties the Eastside of the city was still in ruin.
Money was very scarce back then and food was still being rationed. I remember well Gran’s small backyard where she kept chickens and rabbits. Hence we always had eggs, and often either a chicken or a rabbit would be sacrificed in order to be cooked on the small coal-fueled stove that sat in the back room. On bath day that coal stove also heated the water that filled the old tin bath that when it was not being used hung on a wall in the back garden. I found out many years later that my Gran had once spent time in the Workhouse. Oh what a hard life she must have endured, yet she always laughed.
Those early days still fill me with some of the fondest memories I have had throughout my entire life. On cold winter afternoons Granny North and I would huddle in front of the warm stove and I would collect up my coloured pencils, find some wallpaper offcuts and draw. We would listen to the Wilfred Pickles Show on Gran’s old wireless set (radio) that was powered by huge glass accumulators. These were a primitive type of battery that had to regularly be hauled to Reg’s electrical shop to be recharged. To this day I can still smell the rice puddings that Gran often miraculously produced from the oven. There still exists some snapshots of me standing outside of that little house dressed as a cowboy or a sailor, little wonder that I turned out as I did. I was happy in that little house and felt safe there. When that grand old lady died it broke my heart into pieces.
I remember being sent to a big old house in Bexhill, Hastings. They told me that it was a convalescence home for kids but I don’t remember being sick. It was horrible there. I slept in a huge cold dormitory with loads of other boys and girls. The food was disgusting and the staff were mean. I don’t know how long I was there but I do remember getting letters from my Mother that often contained treats such as chocolate. Although I couldn’t read very well, I looked forward to the letters but as for the chocolate, the bigger kids usually had that.
My next recollections are of living with my Mother and Father in Haggerston Road, Dalston. We lived on the top floor of a house that also had no electricity; even the streetlights outside were still fuelled by coal gas. My Mother’s maiden name was Rosina Ann North. She had grown up in a convent from the age of four, probably due to the fact that Granny North already had seven other children when mum was born. Mum worked as a seamstress by day and also would sing jazz at weekends. It was at Haggerston Road that I was first introduced to music and the music was that of Jazz and Blues. Mum had first heard that music during the war when she was a WRAF (Women’s Royal Air Force). I guess the American aircrews brought that music to these shores. Mum always said that the war years were the best time of her life and spoke fondly of the American servicemen. Maybe that’s why her and my Father always fought so much.
The Old Man, as we always referred to him when he wasn’t around (Father) (Claude Vincent Williamson) had been a paratrooper and served in Burma during the war. After he came out of the army he worked as an ashfelter on the roofs. He was a heavy drinker and a gambler who was often overwhelmed with violent rage. I can still hear my mother’s voice screaming the words “Run for your life”, and we often had to do so.
However, there were also good things about those days. My Grandfather on my Dad’s side was a Market Stall Holder he specialized in the buying and selling of secondhand clothing but he also dealt in fine china, bronze and wooden artifacts, plus old furniture. He had a weekday stall in Ridley Road Market, Hackney, and a pitch in the famous Petticoat Lane on Sundays.
Grandfather sold his wares from a heavy wooden barrow with spoked wheels. Before daybreak on Sunday mornings my Old Man would load the barrow, sit me on the top and by hand, haul the whole lot from Dalston Junction to Liverpool Street. This constitutes a round trip of about nine miles.
I loved the weekends back then, well at least I did so on the weeks that the Old Man didn’t get so drunk that he’d start using his fists. Saturday nights my parents would often take me to the Mildmay Club in Newington Green. The club was like an old time music hall that hosted variety acts of all kinds. Remembering that at that time in my life I had not yet seen a television set, the stage at the Mildmay Club was a wondrous place indeed. Comedians, Jugglers, Musicians, Singers, Fire Eaters, Knife Throwers, and Magicians, I’ve seen them all in that old club.
Then on the following morning it was off to Petticoat Lane. What a fabulous place that was for a small boy to explore. In those days the market traders would stock everything imaginable, from live animals, to gold and silver. Fish, meat, fruit, and vegtables. There used to be a fella there called Prince Monolulu who was a racing tipster. He was also a dark skinned Danish West Indian who wore brightly coloured robes and a headdress of long exotic feathers. He is widely remembered for his signature chant of “I got a horse”. These times were before the first wave of immigrants from the Indies and the Caribbean arrived in London, so to me Prince Monolulu with his dark skin and royal clothing was an extraordinary and awesome sight to behold.
One day my Old Man bought a gramophone in the market. It had to be wound up and the needle changed every time a record was played. It played the old 78-RPM records that were made of shellac. I remember that about that time being taken to the cinema to see the film Davy Crockett, it was being shown in what was the new full Technicolor. Mum bought for me the recording of the song from the film and I played it repeatedly while dreaming of being an explorer up in the mountains of the Wild West of America. Little did I know that in years to come that dream would come to be very true.
Late one night I awoke to hear the Old man singing at the top of his voice along to the Davy Crockett record. I went into the living room and with a near empty whisky bottle in his hand he told me that my Grandfather had died and that we must go immediately to his house. We went to see the corpse and the Old Man made a statement that I have never forgotten, he said, “See son, we come into this life with nothing, not even shirts for our backs, and we go out just the same way. What ever you do or have while you’re here you have to pay for. Sometimes you pay for it first. Other times you pay for it after, but pay you will”.
He also told
me that we would now be moving into Grandfather’s house and that our lives were
about to change, and change they did. Not only did we get to have electricity
but a whole new world opened up in front of me.
Ship’s Log: August 1st (entry 02).
By late morning I had rounded the Headland and Brixham Harbor was in sight off the Port-Bow. Unfortunately the wind had changed and was then coming from the West so to get into Brixham I had to tack back and forth several times. I became frustrated with beating into the wind, so I dropped sail and motored into the harbor. On arrival in port I tied up alongside one of the visitor’s berths at the yacht club. After securing the boat I went ashore where I found a place to eat. After dinner I downed a couple of beers in a local pub and then went back on-board.
That evening I picked up my guitar
and played a couple of tunes, after which I poured a stiff drink before
settling down for the night. A gentle rainfall was tapping on the coach-roof
and as the boat softly swayed my thoughts again turned to memories of my past.
‘Finally We Had Electricity’
Grandfather hadn’t owned the house but he had been a secure tenant who occupied two floors of the building and had the right to a very large back garden. The house was in Colvestone Crescent, Hackney. My Mother got her dream of having electricity but she also got my Father’s Mother along with it. Mum said that she was supposed to stay for a few months but it turned into being seven years.
From his dealings in the street markets Grandfather had become a real collector and a hoarder. In that old house that we moved into every passage and hallway was lined with deep cupboards that contained an array of tools, paints, varnishes, materials, and things that no one knew what they were or what they were for. Grandfather had left behind what to a seven-year-old boy was a treasure trove, and I was free to do with it what ever I liked. Well, at least that was what I thought but the Old Man didn’t always see it that way.
I was soon attending Junior School at Saint Jude’s in King Henry’s Walk, Just about a half mile from home. Although I had a couple of friends at school I didn’t like it there very much, keeping in mind that in those days beatings in school were common place and they were frequently administered by the teachers for any real or imagined mistake on the part of the pupils. It was at that school where I first acquired the nickname ‘Cazu’. I didn’t like it much but in later years it would be the name by which I would sign my drawings and paintings.
I was also learning how to swim at that time. Mum sometimes took me to the Lido to practice or down to Southend-On-Sea to try some sea swimming. Often early on Sunday mornings the Old Man would take me along to meet up with his brother Kenny and his two daughters Angie and Carol at Hackney Baths, there I mastered the skills of swimming and diving. How that acquirement came about was typical of how the Old Man passed on his skills. Next door to the swimming baths was a Pawn Shop, closed on Sundays the windows were barred but week after week I gazed through the bars at a Brownie 127 camera that was for sale for 10 shillings. I wanted that camera badly and the Old Man told me that if I could dive headfirst from the top diving board and swim to the steps without help, he would buy that camera for me. Much against my better judgment I accepted the challenge. I climbed the steep ladder to the top board and will never forget how far down the water seemed to be. I must have performed the biggest belly flop in history and then sunk to the bottom of the pool. Holding my breath for dear life I surfaced and could see the lifeguard running towards the edge of the pool. I sank again, and again made it to the surface. Then I saw the Old Man holding back the lifeguard from rescuing me. The third time I sank I remembered being told that after being submerged three times drowning was inevitable. Well somehow I fought and splashed my way to the side of the pool. After that cruel baptism I could both dive and swim. I got my first camera and was soon swimming London’s filthy rivers and canals. That day was yet another event that would shape my life. I would never be afraid of the water again.
I had very few friends near home but I relished in exploring Grandfather’s treasures. I also had a set of twelve leather bound encyclopedias, they to me contained all of the knowledge in the world and I studied them constantly. There were also books on making things and art. I studied them and made use of the many tools in those wonderful cupboards. I learned how to make things from wood and in metal, I made a potter’s wheel, I cast things in concrete, I experimented with electricity (that was when the Old Man put his foot down). I even from those old encyclopedias taught myself how to play chess. I came by an old book on gardening and growing things. Soon I had transformed the back yard that was once a pile of rubble with an old corrugated iron bomb shelter at the far end into being half lawn with flower boarders and roses on each side. At the bottom end of the garden I grew peas, runner beans, tomatoes, and many other things to eat. From books I also learnt about fishing and spent many summer days fishing on the river Lea out at Broxbourne and Cheshunt.
Other things also changed, since my Grandfather’s death my own Father was no longer obliged to spend weekends pulling that old wooden barrow around from market to market. With time on his hands sometimes the Old Man would take me up to the West End. I don’t know what he was off doing himself but often he would leave me in the picture house in Piccadilly Circus watching Cartoons all afternoon. The Old Man seemed to know everyone wherever we went. He took me to Soho and introduced me to buskers and pavement artists. I got pretty fed up waiting for the Old Man outside so many pubs that I soon started to get the tram up West and began to explore by myself.
The Old Man was a very good artist and as a boy had won an exclusive scholarship to study art at college, it was a prize that only three boys could win each year throughout the whole of London. Sadly his Father refused to let him accept the prize and insisted that he become a printer, I guess the war changed that. He was a good painter but an awful teacher. He once brought me home my first set of oil paints and some sheets of canvas paper. He attempted to show me how to use the medium but oils are not too easy to master. I made mistakes and he lost his temper.
However my Dad’s brother Uncle Kenny was also a good artist, so I was sent to him for lessons in drawing and painting. Kenny also knew about and appreciated Modern Art. He not only taught me formal techniques, he also took me to galleries and showed to me and explained what artists of the day where doing and why. I loved it, and much of what I experienced back then has made me who and what I am today. I have always been incredibly grateful to my Uncle Kenny for taking the time with me that he did.
During this time my Mother had become very serious about Ballroom Dancing. She did in fact win several awards and medals for her favorite dance style, which was Latin. The Old Man tolerated her dancing but certainly didn’t share her enthusiasm, least of all approve. This was to be a catalyst in their divorce some years later.
Along with electricity came some of the luxury appliances of the day. We not only now owned a television set (black and white of course), a refrigerator, and yes! We had an electric record player. It was the late fifties and the youth had taken ownership of many different types of music. Skiffle groups popped up everywhere. Elvis became king, and Rock and Roll became the order of the day.
I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. It seemed to me that when you were, you could do whatever you wanted. Mum shared my interest in music and she bought me my first guitar the day that Elvis Presley released ‘Jailhouse Rock’.
The day finally came, it was 1961 and the start of an era that would change the world forever had begun. I remember waking up to a bitterly cold day and my magazine called ‘Mad’ had arrived. It was a special day for me because the magazine that month had published a letter that I had written to them.
They even used some of my words on the front cover. It simply said “1961 It’s Going To Be An Upside Down Year”. And oh boy it was that.
I was already a member of the Boy Scouts and loved going away camping during the summer. We went to places that no other way would I have got to visit. My favorite was Dorset with its high cliff tops and wild waves that lap the beaches there. In the scouts I learned many survival skills that later in life would serve me well. Back in those days girls were not allowed in the scouts but our leader of the 42nd Ashford brought his daughter Barbara along on summer camp. I think that was when my interest in girls first began; it was also to be my undoing from then on.
Some of the campers including Barbra were also members of a local youth club. I went along to that club with them and all of a sudden all of those intolerable dance lessons that Mother dished out came in useful. I could jive and soon became a popular item on the dance floor.
I had failed my Eleven Plus Examinations. That meant being stuck in a secondary school, with no chance of going to college, or entering into a profession; I’d be just a laborer or a tradesman if I were lucky.
Then my Brother Andrew was born. Not only did the family no longer have much interest in me; Andrew was going to prove to be trouble for everyone until the day he died some thirty-six years later.
During that same time the Old Man stopped working on the tools, he had become a manager and an estimator in the roofing trade. This meant that he started to earn a lot more money, which in turn meant he drank much more, and that resulted in him hitting out more regularly.
Many families now occupied the top half of the house where we were living. They were among the first wave of immigrants from Jamaica and the West Indies, who were to be exploited and abused. What had been the home of a family of four had become the accommodations of more than thirty people. I remember being out on the front steps one winter’s morning and large flakes of snow falling and quickly covering the ground. My new neighbors were mesmerized at their first sight of snow. I showed them how to make snowballs and throw them. They sure didn’t take to the cold but thought the snow to be great fun. We laughed together and they liked me. Soon they were to introduce me to their cooking and music. I think it was then that I first witnessed real injustice, it made me sad and I carry that sadness to this day.
In spite of the beatings Mum stuck it out. She managed to save enough money to put down a deposit for buying a house and hence we moved away from the East End.
Ship’s Log: August 2nd (entry 01).
The following morning I again awoke very early, and after breakfast readied the boat for sea. The winds were very light so I bent on a much larger Foresail that day. My next port of call was to be Torquay which is not a long journey but in spite of the light winds I was hoping for a full days sailing. So having left the Harbor of Bixham I headed directly out towards the Shipping Lanes in the hope of finding some stronger winds.
A few miles out and the wind picked up. Soon I was enjoying the ride and sailing comfortably along. I kept to an Easterly course until I was several miles out to sea. An hour or so later a slight haze had come down that put landfall out of sight, so I plotted a course across Torbay and headed towards land but before long the wind died down yet again. The visibility was good enough that I was in no fear of being run down but although I was getting hungry, I thought not to go below so I sat above deck and opened the uneaten sandwiches that I had left over from the day before. As the vessel slowly moved through the mist and towards Torquay, again my past life came to mind.
‘The Move To Suburbia’
We moved out to what was then considered to be the suburbs and possibly quite posh. 33 Grange Road, Tottenham was our new home. It was a reasonably well-built modern semi-detached house with gardens back and front, and a cherry tree in the middle of the lawn. This was a very far cry from the old places with no indoor toilet or electric lighting. Not only did the place have running hot water, it had a fixed porcelain bath in a room of its own. There was a shed at the bottom of the garden that became my den. I built a bird loft next to the shed and kept racing pigeons there.
Things seemed to be very near to being perfect and I settled into my new life with high expectations. I met some chaps who lived near by and they got me into serious cycling, both road and track racing and I became very fit. I also settled into a new school and even retook my exams, passed and was accepted at Falkirk Street School of Art & Design in Shoreditch.
I started at the Art School and each day before embarking on the ten-mile bicycle ride to get there I would do my two paper rounds. I really liked it at Falkirk Street and was learning an awful lot about art and was developing a strong attraction to sculpture. After college each day I would go to a hardware store near to Shoreditch Church, where I worked for a couple of hours making, painting, and lettering display boards for the furniture trade. The money from the hardware shop and from my newspaper delivery rounds not only came in handy, it gave me freedom.
One of my art tutors named Miss Lister caught my attention with her long raven coloured unkempt hair, her all black clothing, including the very short skirts, stockings, and loose sweaters. She told me that she was a Beatnik and taught me about the Bohemian way of life. That lady made an impression on me that I have relished and carried with me ever since.
It was not halfway through the sixties and music had changed. Long hair was the order of the day. To the youth it represented the cultural rebellious cocktail that was soon to erupt worldwide.
The Old Man hated the long hair and often threatened to cut it off. One day when I was fourteen years old I told him that I was quitting college, leaving home and going to Paris to become an Artist and a Beatnik. He gave me a five-pound note and told me to “fuck off”. I gladly took his money and left for France with my friend Barry Taylor. By the time that we reached Calais our grubstake was gone, we spent days trying to hitch a lift to Paris but didn’t successfully leave the French North Coast. After some weeks we were quite literally starving. To my shame I admit to robbing a wishing well, but although we harvested a bucket full of coins, it was in old franks and yielded just about enough money for a couple of bottles of wine, a loaf of bread, and some bacon. Somehow we made it back to England and I returned home humbled by the experience but educated to how not to travel. I didn’t know it at the time but it would not be the last time that I would go hungry while on my travels.
Soon after our disastrous ventures in France, Barry and myself formed our first band. Barry was a natural on the guitar and with no music background or tuition he could listen to a tune just once and then play his own interpretation of it. Myself I chose the drums, I picked up a full Carlton Big Beat Drum Set for the princely sum of £25. We recruited a rhythm guitarist named Colin Townsend and a bass player named Dave Gardener. We called ourselves the ‘Wild Things’ and was soon playing a few paying gigs. For our inspiration we ventured up West to Wardor Street in Soho. Although we were very young we were able to gain entrance to such infamous clubs such as the Flamingo, the Marquee, and the Scene. Close to home were the Cooke’s Ferry Inn and the Fishmonger’s Arms at Woodgreen. In these music joints I listened to bands such as the Yardbirds (who Eric Clapton played with), the Steam Packet (Long John Baldry, Julie Discoll, and Rod Stewart), the Who, along with Soul bands like the Drifters and the Temptations. Also at that time a guy named Alan Lomax was bringing to the UK many long in the tooth blues artists, for example: Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Yes my introduction to the world of music was thorough indeed.
Be it good or
bad? Another introduction was taking place. The clubs didn’t really get going
until late at night and went on until daylight. It was therefore commonplace
for both bands and audience to indulge in the taking of stimulants. Purple
Hearts and French Blues (amphetamines) where the popular drug of the day,
Uppers as we called them then. We used a saying: “Five Alive Makes You Jive”.
Our own band expanded when a really good guitarist named John Morgan joined us,
along with a better drummer than me named John Chapman. I myself continued to
play percussion but mainly played the harmonica. We together next formed a band
called ‘Chapter Six’.
They were heady days but certainly not conducive to attending school or college. All of us soon dropped out of studying and attempted to hold down day jobs. My own first employment was as a Trainee Draftsman for an engineering company, my wages were a mere two pounds, seventeen shillings, and sixpence per week. The job didn’t last very long but I did learn how to produce technical drawings, another skill that would serve me well in later years.
My next job was as an Apprentice Sign Writer. I also worked as a Boat Builder and a Cabinet Maker. I always managed to hold down a job and after one incredibly violent episode on the part of my Father I left home and found digs in the home of our drummer’s family.
Back home things had reached unbearable levels. The Old Man was making big money. He was driving a pink coloured Vauxhall Cresta, had taken a mistress, and drank copious amounts of whisky night and day. He had become more violent than ever. I think that my mother knew only too well that she needed to escape or her life would be in danger.
Mum asked me to help her get away, so one day we loaded some furniture into a lorry and left for a village in Leicestershire named Lubenham, nr Market Harborough. This is a place where some of my aunts and cousins had been evacuated to during the war years. I had visited there many times as a child in the days of steam trains back when it took half a day to get there. It was very rural and a far cry from the music and bright lights of London but although I was still only sixteen years of age I had inherited the responsibility of taking care of my Mother and five year old Brother. The good part about the move was that I would be close to my dear cousin Ray Gerlach. We had been very close since childhood, in fact our ages were only six months apart and as infants we had endured a joint christening. Mother, Andrew, and I moved into a one-up-one-down cottage in School Lane, Lubenham, the days of near luxury had been left behind and I was in need of a well paid job. A new chapter in my life was about to unfold.
Ship’s Log: August 2nd (entry 02).
It took me the rest of the day to reach my destination, and by the time that I did so, the mist had thickened. I radioed the Marina in Torquay and booked a birth there for the night. After I had arrived on the Marina and secured the boat, I listened to the weather forecast, and found that very little change in the weather was predicted to occur for another couple of days.
I prepared an evening meal and opened a bottle of red wine. While I enjoyed my supper I pondered over my charts and made the decision that when the sailing conditions improved I would head back along the South-Coast. I would pass Dartmouth and set a course towards Plymouth. After eating I wrote a few words in my journal, again played some music on my guitar, and then climbed into my bunk. It must have been hours before I actually fell asleep. That may have been due to the fact that again old memories were going through my mind.
‘The Country Life’
My life outside of London had begun. It was late winter and most fortunately a firm called Clayford’s who were located at the top of School lane were recruiting workers for the laying of turf and grass seeding on the as yet unfinished M1 Motorway. I successfully got a job on one of the motorway gangs and in turn learnt what real hard work and harsh weather was.
We used to leave Clayford’s Yard before daybreak each day in a small Land Rover crowded with workers, drive for over an hour and then disembark onto a dismal stretch of scarred landscape, where we would spend all of the daylight collecting and removing rocks and stones from the to-be center reservation and side banks. I spent many an hour sheltering from the wind and rain up under the road bridges that crossed the would-be-motorway, it was a living hell but it sure toughened me up and the money was twice the price a grown man could earn elsewhere. The rent on our tiny cottage was only ten bob a week and living expenses were no more than a few quid so I could easily give Mum a tenner, have money in my pocket and although I didn’t realize at the time, I was accumulating what should have become a nest egg for the next dominant chapter in my life.
When the spring came that year the work on the turf became easier and far more tolerable. My cousin Ray also got a job at the same place as myself. One day a chap named Graham Field came out to where we were cutting turf to demonstrate one of his inventions. He was to demonstrate his new Turf-Cutting Machine. The contraption looked a bit like a petrol driven lawn mower but much larger. We watched as Mr. Field started up his invention, it blew out clouds of thick blue smoke and shot across the grass uncontrollably. It cut the turf OK but the problem was that the thicknesses varied from being one inch
to six. The
length of each turf was also inconsistent. Some lengths were as short as being
one foot and others might be as long as fifteen. Ray and I still to this day
cry with laughter when reminiscing about our days working as grass layers.
Soon high summer arrived and the young teenagers in Lubenham took to meeting down at the small bridge that crossed the Brook that ran close to the village. Or some of us would hike up the Foxton Road to take a swim in the cool waters of the Grand Union Canal. Of course there was always a chance that one of the village girls might agree to a detour, and we might even find a hay barn to explore.
Up on the Foxton Road there was an old wooden Nissen Hut that had been left over from the war. We used it for a dance hall and named it ‘The Sweat Box”. The place wasn’t very glamorous but on Saturday nights it would be buzzing.
My family on my Mother’s side lived just a stone’s throw from our small cottage on School Lane. My Aunt Ginny (Mum’s sister) and her Husband Frank lived in a house that was the closest. They had huge gardens where they grew fruit and vegetables. Uncle Frank worked for the Gas Board and by day he would dig the roads. After his working day ended, and on weekends he would spend hours digging his garden. I seem to remember everybody doing an awful lot of digging back in those days.
On Sunday nights I would visit my Cousin Joyce’s house to play chess with her husband, who was also named Frank. After I lost (yes indeed I always lost), I would go into the living room where Joyce would be doing her Family’s ironing for the coming week. While she meticulously flattened the piles of shirts and sheets, playing on the TV set would be her favorite music show featuring a fella called Tommy Jones. I very much liked being in that house. Those early days while living in Lubenham were good ones. They were happy and uncomplicated times.
As the long hot summer drew to an end, the horrible thought of another winter working on the turf filled me with dread. As well as enjoying the summer I had also been doing a lot of drawing and painting. I had heard of a design studio named J E Slaters that was located in the nearby village of Kibworth. I thought that there just might be a chance that I could get a job there. So I contacted them and was offered the opportunity to take along some of my artwork for them to take a look at. I did so and was fortunate enough to be offered a job in the sculpture department. The money would be much less than I had become accustomed to but I thought I’d give it a go, it might just be I thought a way that I could at long last try my hand at creating sculptures of my own.
Little did I know it at the time but the job at Slaters was going to change my life forever, nor was I aware of just how lucky I was. John Edward Slater (the companies founder and managing director), once in while took on a few young boys to train them up to become designers. My training began with spending my days just drawing. I drew the people working in the studios, I went out and sketched farm animals, and agricultural machinery, I drew people working in the factory, and walked the Union Canal over to Foxton Locks where I drew the locks themselves, narrowboats, and the mechanisms that opened and closed the huge wooden gates of the locks. On Fridays two other boys and myself were expected to present what we had drawn that week to Mr. Slater himself.
The drawings would be spread out upon the boardroom table and the old master would carefully and slowly examine the drawings in front of him. Often he would offer constructive criticism along with helpful recommendations. He was also prone to erupting with anger, or tearing up the odd drawing. It was a tough apprenticeship and sometimes quite soul destroying but it was not about human sensitivity, it was all about learning how to draw, and learn to draw I did.
graduated to the clay-modeling department. This was where the commercial
sculptures were created. There they produced work for architecture, display,
point-of-sale, and interiors. Anything that was three-dimensional could be
produced in that department. The job one week might be to model a huge Egyptian
mask. The next day it could be to create a full sized sheep. The subject matter
could be just about anything under the sun. We worked in clay, wood, metal,
plastic, or plaster. Again, just about anything. The 3D studio where I worked
created prototypes and the moulds for mass production. These moulds then went
to the factory where they were used to produce vacuum formed plastic copies. I
loved it in that department and became as good at clay modeling as I was at
drawing. In the evenings I went to night school to learn more about
manipulating the raw materials and the necessary crafts needed to create
sculpture. I truly think that some of the best three-dimensional artworks I
have ever produced were made in and around that studio.
The main studio was where the top designers worked. They worked at drawing boards and the senior designers always wore bowties. One of the top designers was a guy named John S Carter. He was quite a bit older than me but seemed to take to me as an artist. I think it was my sculptures that made him take an interest in me. My next move would have been to work with the senior designers in the main studio but my life was once again soon to make me spin on my heels. I was to meet again and work with John S Carter and we would later become lifelong friends. However, there is more to this story before that came to be.
Ship’s Log: August 5th (entry 01).
I stayed in Torquay for three days. While I was there I went ashore and stocked the boat with supplies. I had only intended for the trip that I was on to keep me away from my homeport in Dartmouth for a week or so. But now that I had decided to make it a prolonged voyage, more food and fresh drinking water on-board would be sensible. I also visited a local chandlers where I purchased some spare parts for the boat, extra foul weather gear, and some more charts.
Sure enough, just as the Met Office had forecast, the following few days were without sufficient wind to sail without the aid of the engine. So I whittled down the hours by writing in my journal, sketching a few pictures of nearby boats, and playing guitar. Also those thoughts of revisiting my past life kept nudging me.
‘Rockers To Hippies’
Eventually my parents became divorced and the family home in Tottenham was sold. I don’t think anybody made a great deal of money from the transaction but Mum managed to give me a hundred pounds in repayment for the money I had given her while working on the turf.
My plan then was to quit my job in the studio, buy a car, and make my way back to London. The car that I acquired was a blue and cream coloured Ford Zodiac. It made it to the city but unfortunately the car got smashed up and ended up in an old run down lock-up garage close to the Spurs Football Ground and a pub called the ‘White Hart’. Even worse, I had run out of money and was living in the car. The lock-up was at the end of a long sloping track and during heavy rainfall it would flood, so I acquired a canoe, which I used for getting in and out. The White Hart was a popular gathering place for the younger generation. The year was 1967 and the Hippie Movement had arrived in London. Although the pub hosted live bands and it’s marijuana smoking clientele with their long hair and bell-bottom jeans looked a lot like hippies, that was where the similarities ended. No ‘Peace and Love’ in that part of town. There were not many nights when there was not a fight inside or outside of the White Hart.
I lived in the car for about six months. It was OK but when winter arrived it was just too cold. I ran into my Old Man one night and he offered to let me stay at his house for a while, which I did but his temper had got worse than ever. It came to a head one night when I met up with him while I was out with a girlfriend. We were drinking in the Railway Tavern, White Hart Lane. The Old Man came into the pub already pretty drunk. He began by telling my girlfriend that she was a no-good slag and preceded to throw me through the double doors and out onto the street. I told myself that this time I was not going to allow him to win. I got in the first punch, much to my surprise it took
him down. He kept getting up and raising his fists but I had the better of him. When the fight was over there was a lot of blood and the Old man carried a scar on his top lip for the rest of his days. I ended up in the police station for the night but luckily the sergeant on the desk recognized the name and recalled a past incident when the Old Man had beaten a man up in a dance hall for dancing with my Mother and then dragged her outside knocked her around, and ripped off all of her clothes and then chased her up the street. Due to the policeman have previously encountered my Father’s behavior I was released without being charged.
The following day I visited our old base player’s house in Edmonton, his mother had a boarding house there overlooking Victoria Park. What a great house it was, and I was lucky enough to move in to a single room on the very top floor. From my window I could look across the treetops and see to the far side of the park. I painted up the room, hung a couple of my paintings, and displayed some of the sculptures that I had made while living in the lock-up. I created some cool lighting effects and managed to acquire a record player plus a few LPs. I had my own hippie pad, it would be home, and I loved it.
I can’t remember how I was getting by back then. The rent on the room was a couple of quid a week. I don’t recall doing a lot of cooking, and did very little work while living in Victoria Road. I did manage to swap some of my pictures for things like paraffin oil for the heater. I did some paintings while I was there, they were mostly in a psychedelic style.
By that time Hippie Culture had taken London by storm. Weekends I'd venture up West and frequent clubs such as the Middle Earth in Covent Garden and the famous Roundhouse out at near Chalk Farm. These places were the epicenter of Hippie activity in the UK. They would host bands such as Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart and his Magic band. Recreational narcotics were commonplace in those clubs. They could range from mere marijuana, to LSD, amphetamines, and even heroin. I have to admit that I became familiar with them all.
Covent Garden in the mid-sixties was still London's main fruit and vegtable market. It also hosted the Covent Garden Opera Company. Often after leaving the opera, party revelers would visit the Middle Earth (also known as the Electric Garden). While I was there one night I recognized passing visitors who had recently been widely written about in the newspapers. Two of the women in the group were Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies; these girls had been indicated in a sex scandal, which involved the government of the time, both were incredibly beautiful. I got up the courage, wandered over and asked Mandy Rice-Davies if she would like to dance, she smiled and then told me to ‘Fuck off’.
Just a couple of streets away from Covent Garden is Drury Lane. There used to be a venue there called the Arts-Lab. it was a weird and wonderful place where you could experience poetry readings, live performances, dance, listen to the strangest and most unusual music, and also meet an array of famous and interesting people. I once met with William Burroughs there who was talking about his recently published novel ‘The Naked Lunch’.
The Hippie salute was “Peace”. And to ‘Make Love Not War’ was the order of the day. Often when the clubs closed at daybreak I would leave with a girl and go on to a party somewhere, or even better still back to my pad. Yeah! Those hippy years were an endless stream of parties, drugs, and girls. I enjoyed every bit of it and don’t regret one thing from those days.
Ship’s Log: August 6th (entry 01).
Eventually the wind came and I set sail for Plymouth. The thing about the wind is that there is all too often not enough or there is too much. I had no intention of hugging the coastline all of the way to Plymouth, so with the Mainsail well reefed down and a small Storm Jib hoist I pushed out into deep water. Several miles out to sea I turned and set course towards South-West. I was running with the wind by then and was able to sail Wing and Wing with the Jib to Port and both the Main and Mizzen to Starboard. White horses topped the waves as far as the eye could see, and my boat groaned as she cut through the building seas. Throughout the day my mind once again filled with old memories.
The time came when life in my garret overlooking the park seemed to have run its course; it was time to move on.
I moved into a shared flat in St James's Road Muswell Hill. Although the flat was located on the other side of Alexandra Palace from my old haunts in Tottenham and Edmonton, I often used to return to one of my favorite pubs, the British Queen in Tottenham. One night I left the pub at closing time and was waiting for a bus in White Hart Lane; on the other side of the street I noticed a girl with bubbly blonde hair and a fur coat. She was walking towards the train station, and she more than caught my eye, I remember thinking at the time that she looked like a young Marilyn Monroe. It was just something about her that stuck in my mind.
A month or so later, again I was in the British Queen and whilst I was waiting to get a drink at the bar, next to me was standing that same girl that I'd seen at the bus stop. We started talking and I invited her to a party, and after a couple of drinks we caught the bus back to my place. Put that way it might seem a bit seedy but it was in fact the start of a romance. Lin as was her name soon moved into the flat with me. She got a job in Highgate Village working in a small bakery shop, the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin used to by his bread in that bakers back in those days.
As for myself I spent most of my time back in the flat painting. However, we ran short of money so it became necessary for me to also get a job. Natural gas had recently been discovered in the North Sea and was fast being pumped ashore. I managed to get a job working on the gas conversion out around the Thames Estuary. Apart from work our lives were pretty hectic. We had a wide circle of friends and we spent much of our time visiting their homes. Music was the driving force and Lin and I loved to dance to that crazy music of the time, and drugs had also become intertwined with our everyday lives.
That summer Lin and myself went to the first Isle of Wight music festival. It was the first really big festival in the UK. Bands playing there included: Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The event lasted three or four days, and hippies came from all over Europe to take LSD, listen to their favorite music, and actually see the bands whose albums they collected. It was fantastic.
They were heady days. The youth had begun to challenge every convention imaginable, politics were a big issue and there was a huge move towards a more spiritual lifestyle. People were investigating eastern religions and practicing meditation. Through visiting and with talking to friends my horizons began to widen. Literature was beginning to have a huge influence on me. I absorbed Herman Hesse’s ‘The Glass Bead Game’, Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, and of course Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’. All of these writers had a momentous influence on my thinking and on my artwork.
When winter returned the reality of life came with it. We were both out of work and had no money put by whatsoever. I'd had about enough of London anyway and felt that it was time for a move back to the countryside. Lin was also up for a move so we packed up our few belongings and took the train from St Pancras up to Market Harborough.
Ship’s Log: August 6th (entry 02).
Fortunately by the time that I reached Start Point the weather had abated. The Tidal Race around that peninsula can be precarious even in most calm weather, and when the winds and seas are high it is utterly evil. I reduced sail and stayed well out to sea while rounding the Point in order to avoid the worst of the bumpy seas, and crossed the Race with very little difficulty.
I checked my Marine Charts and Almanac and they confirmed what I had thought myself. It was a time of High Spring Tides and the tidal direction at High-Tide would allow me to easily cross the Sand Bar that crosses the entrance to Salcombe Harbor. I arrived in Salcombe without incident and dropped anchor close to Winter’s Boatyard. I went through my usual routine on-board of eating and playing guitar but before I hit my bunk I checked the anchorage and made sure that my anchor light at the top of the mast was glowing. Luckily I was only half asleep when I felt that the boat seemed to be moving. I rushed up on deck to find that my anchor had dragged and the boat was slowly drifting. I reset the CQR anchor and put out a Danforth one as a second anchor, just in case the same thing happened again. I did not sleep well that night after that near calamity, and as I tossed and turned in the bunk my mind filled again with memories.
‘Back to Harborough’
I was back in Leicestershire, and went to visit my friend the senior designer from Slaters, Mr. John Carter. He had recently acquired the old blacksmith's forge in the village of Foxton. The property consisted of three cottages, an orchard, and some land. He had converted two of the cottages into a home for himself and extended the third cottage into a studio. He had also designed and constructed a purpose-built studio that housed a woodworking shop and spray booth. John had founded his own company and called it the ‘Carter Design Group’. At that time John had only one assistant and was looking for more help. I had arrived at just the right time. He offered me a job; I gladly accepted and started work immediately.
Lin’s luck and mine was running high. We found a flat for rent near to the train station in Market Harborough. It was a huge barn of a place situated on the top floor of a detached building across the street from the Rubber Factory. Lin got a job working in a cocktail bar above the Three Swans Inn. Between us we were making some decent money and therefore could afford to do up the flat. We painted every wall and ceiling with a colour pallet that was contemporary at the time. I designed and made the furniture myself; everything was no more than eighteen inches from the ground. In the center of the main living room I constructed a huge wooden round table that was surrounded by low stalls that
supported very large blue and red velvet cushions. The walls in the hallways were covered with drapes that were printed with abstract patterns and shapes. We had no bed but instead we slept on a massive pile of brightly coloured cushions. The kitchen we made to be somewhat conventional but Lin was no way gifted in the skills of culinary delights, so a lot of fish and chips were eaten in that new gaff. I produced some large paintings and displayed them on the walls; these were accompanied by some of my already existing sculptures. What we didn’t have was a television set or a telephone line, and rejected the thought of having either one of these. In short we had transformed a traditional rural residence into a cross between a Bedouin’s tent and a Sultan’s palace. How I thought that the God’s were smiling on me. I had a beautiful live-in girlfriend, a fancy studio apartment, and I was being employed for my creative abilities. What more could a young man want? Well that’s the thing with young men; they always want more and something else.
In the studio at the Design Group I had attained the opportunity to explore my own creative horizons. The tasks that I was charged with employed all of what I had learned so far by way of imagination and craft. The ideology of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, and the socialist principles that my working class background had instilled in me went by the wayside. The goal of the reward for my creativity became fame and money. These ambitions came from John’s influence and there was plenty of both of these floating around the work we were producing but unfortunately John Carter’s intention was to keep these rewards all to himself, this I was oblivious to at that time.
John was a great persuader and salesman. He secured for the Design Group many prestigious contracts. Within a couple of years the studio was employing more than twenty staff who were undertaking creative projects for corporations and organizations such as: Selfridges of Oxford Street, C&A, Thomas Automatics, The British Shoe Corporation, Estee Lauder, ITV, the BBC, and many more.
As a commercial artist I grew and although the financial rewards were not what they would have been had I been working in London I was making a pretty good living. Lin and I bought an Austin Metropolitan sports car and I was wearing boots that were hand made to measure. Looking back now I can’t help but remember my Father’s words when at the age of fourteen I told him that I was a communist and a beatnik. In one of his rare moments of sober wisdom his reply was: “If a man is not a communist by the time he is eighteen years old he doesn’t have a heart, but if he is still a communist by the time he is twenty he has no head”.
It was the first time that I had sold out for money but it would not be the last. All of my interest in fine art had gone by the wayside and I had completely forgotten that I had someone by my side that really loved me. Being a hotshot designer was all that was on my mind.
Lin and I drifted apart and eventually she moved out. Some old friends of mine from London came to stay at the flat and everything turned a little crazy. The place became more like a commune rather than a home. There were many parties and much use of hallucinogenic drugs. I bought myself a white convertible Sunbeam Rapier car and spent most weekends in London living the high life. I had let much of importance to me slip through my hands and knew only too well that things had to change.
I made the decision to leave the party life behind for a while. To focus on my commercial work less, and to return to making pictures. To bring these changes about I left the flat and moved into my Mother’s house just a few miles away on the Foxton Road, Lubenham.
Ship’s Log: August 7th (entry 01).
When morning came it arrived bringing with it a heavy sea mist. From the compass I was sure of what way the boat was pointing, but because of the dragging of the anchor during the night, I had little certainty of how far I was from the shore. I decided to take to the dinghy and row ashore to see if my present anchorage was a safe place to be until the mist lifted. The visibility was of a very short distance, and I certainly didn’t want to be stranded and unable to find my way back to the boat, so I ran a line of thick string from the boat out to the dinghy. I also made sure that all lighting on-board, including the Navigation Lights were on.
Within seconds of leaving the boat the thick mist engulfed her. Rowing through mist is always an eerie pastime, and on this particular occasion it seemed even more accentuated. Through the mist I could see moving shadows, they seemed to be quite close and I estimated them to be standing about four feet tall from the surface of the water. I had no idea of what these shadows could possibly be and therefore my heart was beginning to race.
I must have been close enough to touch them when I realized just what were these strange shadows. To my utter astonishment they transpired to be a pair of Egrets. I laughed to myself but very quickly it crossed my mind that I was in very shallow water, and since I had not long rowed away from the boat, I quickly realized that she must have dragged her anchor further than I’d thought. I followed back along the string that I had streamed from the boat and climbed on-board. It would have been foolish to try to lift the anchors and move the boat further out. So I kept a close watch and waited until the time when the mist would lift. I had plenty of time to ponder on my past.
‘The Road To Foxton’
It became clear to me that I was not in good shape. What was needed was a plan and a change that would restore my physical, mental, and emotional balance. I needed to develop life skills that would allow me to enjoy the pleasures of life but also permit me to remain being creatively productive. I adopted a strategy that has been an ongoing methodology ever since. I learned how to stay focused and maintain a momentum with regard to creative endeavors for prolonged periods of time. In between completed projects I would reward myself by submitting to the pleasures and temptations of this life. From my childhood days I was very used to, and comfortable being alone. For the rest of my life the times that I were to be alone would be some of the periods that I would be most happy and productive.
Mum had moved from the small one-up-one-down cottage in School Lane to a house on the Foxton Road. She welcomed me coming home and allowed me my privacy. I threw myself into my work at Carter Design and when I wasn’t in the studio I was drawing and painting at home or out in the countryside.
One fateful day I was driving my white convertible Sunbeam Rapier through the City Of Leicester and was involved in an accident. When the police arrived at the scene and discovered that I had no driver’s license, they arrested me and impounded my car.
After having been escorted in a heavy handed way to Charles Street Police Station, I was charged with ‘Dangerous Driving’, ‘Driving Without Due Care And Attention’, and ‘Driving Without A Valid Driving License’.
I can’t remember how long they kept me in the cells for but I do remember feeling very angry. The accident really hadn’t been my fault. The other guy had driven into the side of my car, and not me into him.
When I was released I was forbidden from removing my car from the police compound but was allowed to collect some personal belongings from under the dashboard. I was given the keys and allowed to go to the car alone. That was a foolish move on the part of the police. The car was bashed up on one side but was clearly still drivable. Within seconds I had started the engine and escaped out of the compound at some speed. I took the backcountry roads back to Market Harborough and then hid the car on a nearby farm.
For some weeks I managed to avoid detection from the police. A short time after my escape from Charles Street Police Station my Mother announced that two of her sisters were coming to visit her, and asked if I would pick them up from the train station in Market Harborough and drive them to her cottage in Lubenham. The following Sunday afternoon I met Aunts Lizzy and Sarah at the train station. It was a fine sunny day so I had the hood down. I sat my old aunts in the back seat and set off towards the village where they would be staying. Unfortunately on the drive to Lubenham a police car coming in the opposite direction spotted my white convertible. I could see in the rear view mirror that he was making a U-turn. Momentarily I hesitated but then decided to make a run for it.
I successfully made it out of town and onto the back roads and narrow lanes that surround Harborough. The River Welland runs close to Lubenham and just outside of the village there is a farm track leading to a Ford where the river when running low can be crossed. It is good practice to drive across that Ford slowly and with caution. Neither of these did I have time for on that day and hit the water at some speed. The car didn’t falter nor stall but a huge sheet of muddy water came over the car and soaked both aunts who were sitting in the back. I think both those old ladies found their ride to be quite exciting. However Mum was not overly amused when I dropped them of at her place, soaking wet through.
It wasn’t much longer after that I was apprehended, taken to court, severely punished, and banned from driving a car.
From were I was living to the studio was only about three miles so it was within walking distance. This was a picturesque walk through farmland and across the Grand Union Canal. A pleasant and easy walk in summer but in winter the snowdrifts on the hill between Lubenham and Foxtom could amount to being four feet deep. I remember those occasions when my own footprints through the snow were the only ones to be found. I’d wander off from the path and venture across the fields. When the snow was deep and the moon full, during the night the whole landscape became illuminated and transformed into a wondrous place. I’d explore the snow-covered terrain for hours and in my mind I imagined being in the high Rocky Mountains, alone, and lost. Once again I note that such realms of fantasy should be entered into with caution and the knowledge that they may just become true, and later in my life this one did so.
At the Design Group my own role became more specialized. Most of the projects that I was involved with were three-dimensional. I would design and create large models and sculptures for exhibitions at Earl’s Court and the National Exhibition Centre, backdrops and window displays for the most prestigious department stores in London, and interiors of nightclubs. I’d also make the prototypes for display and point-of-sale for expensive cosmetics and jewelry. Much of what I was creating was being mass-produced with the use of plastic vacuum forming and was being distributed worldwide. It was my first sweet taste of success. Sadly, young men often confuse success in their career with success in the art of living.
Once a month I’d take the train down to London and spend a long weekend in the city. I had my own tailor in town and had begun to dress in a far more conventional way. Handmade suits and shirts, Italian shoes, and silk ties were my new style. I had hooked up with a social circle that were somewhat older than me. They were a smart set of people who had money. It seemed that most of them had no need to work for a living and to me they appeared to be happy and content, just drinking and partying their time away. John Carter spent a lot of time in London also, he had bought a Mercedes Sports Car that had previously belonged to the DJ Pete Murray, it was a fantastic car and he often used to give me a ride into the city in it. John used to stay at the Grovener Hotel and frequent clubs such as Anne Ross’s place and Ronnie Scotts in Soho. When the Design Group had an exhibition contract on in London John and I would hit the town together. Ronnie’s was the place to be at that time, it was a Jazz Club for the smart set back then. It was also to become the best Jazz Venue in London. There are not may Jazz greats that have not played a gig at Ronnie’s. In years to come I was to meet Ronnie Scott myself.
On the face of things I was enjoying the designer lifestyle but deep down I felt that something was missing. It wasn’t difficult to identify what was wrong. My sense of adventure had been suppressed and I wasn’t painting anything worthwhile. It was time to level things out.
I stopped the weekend trips into the city, discarded the fancy dress code, and distanced myself from the company that I had been keeping. I threw myself back into drawing and painting and embraced the coming of springtime in the countryside of Leicestershire. I continued with my work at the Design Group but something else was manifestoing itself in my heart and mind.
I started to hang out in a few bars in Market Harborough and began dating a few girls from the neighboring villages. On hot summer nights hay barns replaced my city romantic rendezvous. My heart had been reminded that by birthright I was a product of the beat generation and therefore had an obligation to pursue the beliefs of that culture and explore what ever was possible and available to my generation.
Although I adopted a fulfilling social life I spent many solitary days exploring the surrounding countryside. For the first time in my life I began to use the written word to record my thoughts and feelings. I also produced many drawings and paintings that reflected my sexual encounters and experiences while also observing and recording the changing seasons that dictate country life.
On occasion I would still experiment with hallucinogenic substances. I even once while tripping attended the re-enactment of the battle between the Royalists and the Roundheads at Naseby. Anyone who ever took LSD would tell you that such a venture is not a good idea.
I constantly experimented with painting and visual language but the results were always disappointing to me. So I began to learn about and adopted photography as my chosen medium. I started off by acquiring a Pentax 35mm SLR along with an array of differing lenses. I then moved on to using a two and a quarter square twin lens Mamiya camera and learned how to develop and print my photographic endeavors. I soon moved on to trying my hand at moving image. My first movie camera was a Bolex standard 8mm. There was no way of keeping home recordings of commercial films back in those days, so to study the filming and editing techniques of mainstream film makers and directors meant spending many hours in the cinema and repeatedly watching the same films over and over again. This I did so and studied the shots, wipes, effects, and edits. To me what was most important was the pacing and timing that film makers used to tell a story. It was my initiation into creating a moving visual narrative. My champion filmmakers of the late sixties and early seventies included the director Francois Truffaut, America’s Roland Polanski, and England’s Ken Russell. Within the next few years I would be fortunate enough to make my own film but such luck I dare not contemplate at that time.
From my interest in film and photography my painting and drawing changed. I began to pay attention to composition, depth-of-field, and suggestion of movement. I produced a series of paintings that I wish I still had record of. Over the years so many pictures have I lost track of.
My life at that time was comfortable and controlled. I was content and my creative projects were resulting in some very successful outcomes but inside of me something else was emerging with a vengeance. Maybe it was those old childhood dreams, or possibly the stories from books that I had read. Whatever brought it about matters very little but an undeniable wanderlust was beginning to flow though my veins and it was not going to be easily ignored.
The call to explore and experience became overwhelming. I made the decision to leave in a mere moment and left within an hour.
Ship’s Log: August 7th (entry 02).
When the mist eventually cleared it was Low-Tide and although the sailing conditions were favorable, waiting until the tide was high enough to safely clear the Bar would have meant arriving in Plymouth after dark. Knowing well that Plymouth is a busy port both night and day; with Channel Ferries and large vessels coming and leaving around the clock I was bent on entering the port during daylight. So I hauled anchor and moved the boat out to deeper water. Again I set two anchors and bedded down for a second night in Salcombe.
‘London, And Then Onto Canterbury’
Another trick that I’d been trained in since birth to perform: I’d practiced it a few times but now I would master something I would do many times in my life before me. Without any plan, money, or designated destination, I just went. At that time I didn’t even have the price of a train fare. I bunked onto the train at Market Harborough and managed to avoid the ticket inspector all of the way to London. All that I carried was my old rucksack from my camping days in the Boy Scouts. That bag on my back contained little more than a travel clock, a change of underwear and socks, a few clean shirts, a spare pair of jeans, a sharp knife, and a sleeping bag. I also included paints, paper, and pencils. After that time, every time I would travel these would be the only possessions that I would take with me; apart from a year later they would also always include a guitar.
I spent a month or so in London sleeping on friends’ floors and got a job doing the most horrendous of work. It was installing damp coursing on some of the oldest properties in London. The walls of these buildings were as much as three feet thick and we cut though them by hand, on knees, and inches from the ground. The work was hell, not many workers on that job lasted more than a few days. However, the money was good and I stuck it out for a few weeks. While I was in London there was an exhibition of contemporary art being shown at Alexandra Palace. I visited that exhibition and was astounded and reassured by what I experienced there. Much of the work was photographic and short films. Yoko Ono was exhibiting some of her work and Julie Driscoll sang during the showing. That art exhibition was not only far ahead of its time, for me it was reassuring and validated the work that I had been recently producing myself.
The last weekend that I was in London I ran into my old friend and Paraffin Man from the Victoria Road days; Colin Lazzerini. He had spent the years since being an Oilman going to night school and gaining the qualifications to attend University. Colin was then about to enter into his final year at the University of Canterbury. We two ended up at an all-night house party. I remember that Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Blue’ had just been released and it was played repeatedly at the party. Colin talked of Canterbury with great affection that night, and two weeks later I found myself buying a train ticket to Kent.
I had travelled down through the beautiful county of Kent (which is often referred to as The Garden of England), to Canterbury with Big Jim Waterman; he was an old friend of Colin’s and mine from back in the Tottenham days. Canterbury is no bigger than a small town and if it were not for the Cathedral that dates back to 1077 it is unlikely that it would be considered to be a city. After disembarking from the train at the wrong station Jim and I had to walk through the length of the City to find the University where Colin was studying. Canterbury is a walled city and within that bounding wall most of the architecture dates back many hundreds of years. That day for me was like the first sight of a beautiful woman, a woman that you just knew you were about to fall in love with. I had already made up my mind that this was somewhere I was going to stay for quite a while.
By contrast to the ancient buildings in town the University of Kent had only recently been constructed. It sits on the top of a hill that is located to the North-West-Side of the City. As we crossed the campus in search of our friend I could not help but be overwhelmed by the numerous stunning young females that inhabited that domain. It was the first time that I had visited a University Town, least of all an actual University. The architecture there had been designed in the modern style and was very tastefully thought-out. There were several independent buildings separated by footpaths that crossed large expanses of grass. Colin was staying in Halls, and we eventually found him. Somehow he managed to acquire for Jim and myself a double room and permission to eat in the main dining room. Again my luck was running high and something told me that this situation was somehow intended for me.
Colin introduced us to some girls, and that night we were escorted to a pub in the city. It was an old fashioned place called the ‘Seven Stars’. It is located opposite the main gates that form the entrance to the Cathedral. It was far more difficult back then than it has been for years now for young people to gain entrance into University and College, therefore most students then were from privileged backgrounds. The Seven Stars was a popular haunt for students from the University and local Art School. That night, I took the stage and had an audience fascinated by my stories of my working class escapades. Yep! This was without any doubt the right place for me.
The next day I returned to the pub where we had been drinking the night before and got talking to the bartender. I asked how difficult it would be to find accommodation in the city. By sheer luck he had a friend named Mr. Bormand who owned some property in town, he gave me his address that was out at Whitstable Bay. In the afternoon I caught the bus out to the coast and visited Mr. Bormand. He was a strange old man who harbored an intense dislike for students. Once he was convinced that I myself was not a student he offered me a flat just outside of the East-Gate of Canterbury. He said that the place was pretty rundown but Old Man Bormand and I struck a deal. If I would agree to doing the place up I could have it rent-free until it was finished. He would pay for the materials and after it was completed I would have to pay a nominal rent of six pounds per week. We shook hands and without even seeing the place the deal was done, I walked away with the keys to what was to be my new home.
When Jim and myself went to see the place we were stunned. It was at the end of a Georgian built terrace that faced an old Abby on the other side of the street. The place was really not in bad shape at all, All it was in need of was re-decorating. It was a two-story building and ours would be the ground floor. The front door opened onto a long hallway with high ceilings. Off the passageway were two huge bedrooms with open fireplaces, the rear room had opening glass French doors though which could be seen Canterbury Cathedral in all of its glory. At the far end of the hallway was a functional but very basic kitchen from which a door opened onto a medium sized walled garden. There was also a door in the hall that opened onto a set of stone steps leading down to an old cellar that also contained a cage where presumably wine had once been kept. Once again the Gods were looking upon me favorably.
While we spent the next few weeks lovingly doing up the flat by day, I spent many an evening sharing the company of girls from the University and Art School. As for the decorating we painted all of the woodwork white, covered every wall with a subtly embossed paper, and then began to paint. The hallway we left all white, and the backroom was blessed with a sky blue ceiling and deep maroon walls. The front room I painted with a chocolate brown ceiling, and walls of a warm bright yellow. My room was furnished with heavy brown velvet drapes and a brass four-poster bed. We installed a really good stereo system and made sure that the fireplaces were functional and ready for the soon to come winter months, this was not only imperative, it was a godsend because at the end of the garden, just over the wall was a small commercial coal yard. The heating bills were certainly not going to be an obstacle to staying warm that coming year.
Well eventually the flat was finished being done up and the time had come when we would have to start paying the rent. We had arrived in Canterbury with quite a lot of money between us but the weeks of partying and entertaining girls had drained it away completely. We had hooked up with a Gypsy guy named Jago who offered us some work laying tarmac on people’s driveways. We done it for one day and decided that such work was not what we had come to Kent to find. We spent some time looking around for other jobs but although there was work to be found the wages were insufficient. I had known Jim since the North-Sea-Gas days where he had been a radiographer on the pipelines, so we were both accustomed to earning big money and were very reluctant to scratch around for a living. Jim in his wisdom suggested that we let the Bank finance us. I wasn’t fool enough to think that he was suggesting a bank loan but what he did mean at first took me back. However me being still quite young and impetuous I went along with his idea.
Barclay Cards had just been introduced to the general public and they were relatively easy to obtain. With one of those cards you could walk into any bank and withdraw forty pounds in cash. There was of course a credit limit but in those days the banks had no comprehensive computer system so it took days if not weeks for the banks to exchange information about credit abuse. Well we had but one Barclay Card and we hit it hard. After the first day of making withdrawals from a dozen or so banks we had enough money to buy a car. Our choice of vehicle for this continuing escapade was a 1955 dark blue Rover 90. It was a lovely old car and although it probably wasn’t the best choice of vehicle if you wanted to go unnoticed, it felt just right for the job. We travelled from Canterbury to London always taking the back roads from town to town. We hit bank after bank and the cash piled up until we could fill a couple of shopping bags. We stayed in London long enough to score a weight of hash and then returned to Canterbury to enjoy life for a while. For a time things went well but Jim had started getting back into heroin big time and his activities were beginning to really worry me. One day he came back to the flat wearing a bright yellow sweater with a back and white crocodile printed on the front. He was a very big guy and in that sweater he looked absolutely ridiculous. I laughed and asked where on earth he had got it from and his answer floored me. He had bought it from a shop at the end of the street and paid for it with Barclay Card. For me the consequences for his foolishness were easily understood but for Jim it took some explaining. He decided that he would make a run for it, Jim took the car and escaped the country, and I heard later that he ended up in Holland. For me Jim’s mistake was good. I would have the flat to myself. The heat was off me, I had half of the hash and money, it was time for me to enjoy life in Canterbury, have some fun, and possibly start to do some painting again.
Close to Canterbury are the seaside towns of Whitstable and Herne Bay, I had a girlfriend who lived in a wooden chalet on the beach at Herne Bay, although the water there is not the best for sea swimming, we did a few times take a dip in those cold waters of the Kent Coast. During those months leading up to the end of the year I dated a stream of different girlfriends until I met with Maggie. She was a good-looking blond who was studying Philosophy at the University. We became besotted with each other and spent a wonderful Christmas together. She had gone home to visit her family for a few days prior to the Christmas holidays and than came up to meet me where I was visiting my family in Leicestershire. I was crazy about that girl and proud to introduce her to my friends and family. During the train journey back to Canterbury we both began to get sick, and by the time that we reached our destination both of us had been hit with a real bad fever. It transpired that we had contracted Glandular Fever and we were quite ill for three or four weeks. I remember being laid up in Maggie’s freezing cold house and not being able to get out for food for days on end. During those seemingly endless days of fever I produced many pencil drawings that one-day in the future would form the cornerstones of my artwork to come. By the time that we were both well again Maggie decided that our relationship was hampering her studies, by that what she really meant was that she wished to return to a love affair that she had with her tutor before we met. Our splitting up really broke my heart for the very first time.
I soon bounced back from my heartache and consoled myself with an endless stream of female company. I was painting a lot, big canvases and oils. Oh how to this day that smell of linseed oil and turpentine brings back memories from childhood and of my days in Canterbury. I had also discovered some new music. Fred Neil and his tunes such as ‘Searching For The Dolphins’ made me want to play the guitar again. I hadn’t become very good on that instrument during my teenage years but I thought that I would like to give it another go. I had also acquired a four track reel-to-reel tape recorder and was experimenting with recording and mixing sounds of many different kinds. I would record sounds from the streets in town and those that I would create artificially and then overdub them with noises recorded from nature. I didn’t realize it at the time but what I was doing was preparing myself to create sound tracks for film.
The flat seemed to have a never-ending supply of visitors. I remember once that the group of musicians called the ‘People’s Band’ came to play in Canterbury and that the entire cohort of twenty stayed at my place. An old acquaintance of Colin’s turned up, he was a shady character named Bobby Dryden. He stuck around for a while and what ever he did always turned out to be bad news. Another old friend of mine from those early hippie days in Tottenham named Vincent Bowker also found his way to Canterbury. The last time that I had seen Vini was when I was living in the flat in Market Harborough. He had been delivered to me because of the result of a jewel robbery that he had been involved in, he was on the run and needed somewhere to stay while he got new eyeglasses, owing to the fact that his had been smashed during a struggle with the police. Cocaine had by then began to become available but it was scarce and extremely expensive. As anyone who has ever dabbled with cocaine will tell you “One line makes you feel like a new man. The trouble is that the first thing the new man wants to do is another line”. Well Vini and I did dabble a little, and the other effect of that illustrious drug is it makes you feel invincible. My money was once again running low and needed to be replenished, so Vini and I embarked on a smuggling escapade. Things went reasonably well and we managed to successfully transport a huge block of hashish from Morocco to Canterbury. I remember using a handsaw to cut it up. We took half of it to the Isle-of-White but stupidly left Bobby Dryden to ferry the rest to London. Needless to say, Bobby disappeared and it took sometime to track him down. What had happened to Bobby and the money was almost beyond belief. Back in the mid-sixties there was a guy on the scene named Milky Coles. He was a dubious character and a player who was reputed to be working for Lionel Blair (the famous dancer), doing what who knows? Milky had been off the radar for years but when the Maharaj Guru Ji first arrived in England, bring his religion named ‘The Divine Light’ with him the television newscasts showed him stepping down from an airplane. By his side dressed in a white silk suit was Milky Coles. Somehow Bobby Dryden had got mixed up with the Divine Light and had made a generous donation. When I found this out I was furious. I immediately left for London and spent days hunting Bobby down. Eventually I found him hiding in someone’s pram shed in Edmonton. Maybe I should have kicked the shit out of him but the money was long gone and he was such a pathetic little character that I just walked away. So once again stone-broke, I returned to Canterbury.
It was clear to me that the recent passed events had knocked me off pivot and I could live without the excitement. I couldn’t even raise the money needed for the rent and had no intention of taking any risks so I began looking for what the Old Man or my Mother would have referred to as a ‘Proper Job’. There was an add in the local newspaper for a Gardener at the main hospital in Canterbury. I applied for that position and somehow got the job. The wages were crap, I’d take home about twelve pound per week and my rent was six. My lifestyle would have to change radically but at least I could keep the flat on and continue to paint, if I didn’t eat too much. I loved that job; it sure made me happy to be growing stuff again. What a bazaar place that hospital was. I worked with an old guy who was the head gardener named Fred. That fella could not pass any written sign without reading the words out loud. Can you imagine walking around hospital grounds with someone like that, but he was a great guy and was extremely good to me. We would together often during our tea breaks visit the department for the making of false limbs. What a workshop that was. It was filled with hundreds of walking sticks and artificial arms and legs, these were very crudely made and I suspect that they were left over from the war. I took some of these home, painted them in bright colours and put them in my garden. I spent a lot of time hanging out with the nurses and on many occasion clocked in for work on the old mahogany time-clock that sat in the entrance, and then went back to the nurse’s quarters until it was time to clock out for lunch. Fred gave me an old bicycle to get back and forth from work. Things were working out quite well.
One night I was invited to a party by an American friend, I went along and there I met a girl named Janice Buckner. She was also an American, she was Jewish and had come from Long Island, New York. I liked her a lot and we both danced with no other throughout the night. I soon started seeing Janice regularly and we became lovers. She was a fascinating and intelligent girl who I adored spending time with. Many an hour I spent in her bedsit listening to her tell me stories of America. She was studying literature and the Greek Classics. That girl turned me on to Greek Mythology and taught me the tales of Odysseus. Together we studied the written works of Homer. I fell in love with all of it. Janice also played the guitar and sang. She bought for me a steel acrostic six string and began teaching me how to play it properly. Not only was I in love again with a great girl but had also had found another love, and that love was that of the guitar.
The academic year was close to ending and Janice was due to return home to the USA very soon. I really didn’t want her to go, and she was also reluctant to just leave. Together we made a plan: we would go to Greece and follow the routes of the ancients, we would travel from the North, down to Mount Olympus, and then head down to Athens, We’d cross the Peloponnese Mountains and then make our way to the sandy shores of Pylos. Some plan! I grant that it did lack some detail.
We bought an old London Taxi Cab, and converted it into a sort of camper. I made a box in the back that housed a small calor gas cooker, cooking utensils, and water supplies. The back seats were converted so that they folded down into a bed, and the red curtains that were hung across the windows would protect our privacy. The roof was fitted with a large luggage rack that was big enough to accommodate our bicycles along with other necessary supplies. The rear boot was reserved for our guitars. We had maps of how to get there and were ready to go. Well not quite ready, we didn’t have any money.
Money or no money we left anyway. We travelled about twenty miles outside of Canterbury and parked up for the night on a farm out side of a village called Hawkhurst. In the morning the farmer was sitting on his tractor that was parked next to our taxi, he was waiting to ask what the hell we were doing on his land. Gordon Romilly was that man’s name, and what an imposing figure he was. On that early morning he was dressed as I would always see him, a crisp white shirt, his weatherworn brown corduroy jacket, accompanied by slicked down black hair, and his one eye. The other eye he had lost due to a pitchfork accident when he was a boy. Farmer Romilly chatted with us for a while and it came to light that our meeting could prove to be beneficial to all of us. Farmer Romilly’s wife was in need of help with the children, he himself needed a farmhand to help erect the frames on which that year’s hop vines would grow, and we sure needed some paid work.
We started work on the farm that same day. Janice helped with the children and I was introduced to how difficult my task was to be. Kent is famous for it’s growing of hops, they are the integral ingredients for the production of real ale. The hop vines can grow to a height of more than thirty feet but to do this they need supporting and something to climb up. The frames that enable the vines to reach such heights need to be very strong in order to support the weight. Kent although it is now within commuting distance from London and has become very much a residential county, was back in those days dominated by farmland. Hop farms could be seen everywhere and the frames on which they grew the vines covered thousands of acres. We began building our hop frames in the traditional way. The upright poles were cut from young conifer trees, as straight as possible and about twelve inches in diameter at the base. These were erected in pairs, and lined up to form rows. Then finally the whole structure would be then tied together with heavy wire. The task seems simple as I have described it but be assured that it is backbreaking work indeed.
We made camp next to the Taxi Cab, and each night we would build a fire on which we would cook our supper. Always, the ingredients had been grown on Gordon’s or neighboring farms. After eating we would play guitar or read about the land of Greece. We would turn in when the sun went down, and rise at first light. We needed very little money so were able to save most of our wages from the farm, and it quickly mounted up.
Eventually the need for us on the farm ended, we had saved a few hundred quid and it was time to cross the Channel. We bid our fond goodbyes to the Romilly family and set off towards Dover, where we would take the ferry across to France.
We only got about twenty miles and then the Taxi started to play up. I knew what the problem was; the clutch was about to give in. I managed to limp that ailing vehicle up a narrow lane and at the top of that lane was a pub called the ‘Kicking Donkey’. A man named Nelson then owned the pub. He was a real gentleman and couldn’t have helped more. Nelson arranged for us to have permission to make camp on a piece of grassland opposite the pub, and introduced me to a mechanic who agreed to acquire and fit a new clutch for me at a reasonable cost.
But depressingly we would be stuck there for a few weeks, and the cost of the repairs would just about clean us out moneywise.
On the following Saturday night I heard music coming from the pub, so Janice and I ventured over to see what was going on. Back then during the summer months Kent played host to many migrant workers, they came to harvest the crops and the fruits. Many of these transient workers were Gypsies. They would come from all over England, and some from as far away as France, and even Spain. Not only did they bring with them their labor, families, horses, and dogs, they also brought their music. That night in the Kicking Donkey was to be a rendezvous of fruit pickers and Gypsy musicians. What a night it turned out to be. The place was heaving with people, no room to dance, just sitting and standing foot stomping. The musicians played guitars, fiddles, and accordions. I had never heard music like it before, and to me it was intoxicating. All these years later I now realize that the legendary Gipsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt influenced that music. The experience of that evening was superb.
Many years later I tried to return to the Kicking Donkey but had great difficulty finding it again. If fact I had so much difficulty that I began to wonder if it had been in a dream. However, a few more years passed and once more I happened to be travelling through Kent, I looked again for that old pub where the Gypsies had played their wonderful music, To my absolute delight I found the place, and given that it had been twenty years since I had stood outside the Kicking Donkey it hadn’t changed at all. I entered the pub and bought a pint of beer. On the wall were still photographs of the old landlord Nelson and his dogs. There were a couple of weather-beaten looking old men sitting at a table so I politely introduced myself and commented on the pictures that covered the walls. As it turned out, these two characters had been local farmhands all of their long years and had known Nelson well. Sadly the old publican had died and the music nights happened no more. Modern farm machinery had surpassed the need for crops and fruit to be picked by hand, so the migrant workers never returned. Although visiting that old pub again and talking with the old men saddened me, I am still pleased that I managed to find the old place again.
Returning my thoughts to the night of the music extravaganza long ago at the Kicking Donkey, Janice and I had become friends with some of the other customers and they told us of a nearby farm that was about to start hiring labor for the coming fruit picking season. In about ten days later the new clutch for the Taxi arrived and was soon fitted. We were mobile again but pretty broke. So we made our way to the farm that we had been told was looking for workers. We were taken on but that farm was a far cry from that of Gordon Romilly’s, this farm offered no friendly welcoming, you were there to work, and work till you thought that you might drop. There were hundreds of temporary workers there, many of then slept in wooden huts or tents but Janice and myself made our camp close to that of the Gypsies. It should be noted that these were not pretend Gypsies as are so often seen nowadays; these people were of true Romani descent. They treated us very well indeed; I learned many of their customs and even some of their language. As the weeks went on and the fruit was less in abundance, and it became harder to make much money because you only got paid according to how much you picked. Eventually the annual fruit-picking season was over. We had replenished our financial reserve and headed for Dover where we embarked onto the Ferry that was bound for Calais, France.
Ship’s Log: August 8th (entry 01).
Having left Salcombe I set sail and steered a Westerly course towards the Eddystone Lighthouse that sits at 50° 10.843' N 004° 15’.936 W. The wind was coming from the South-West so there would be no need to come about until I would be close to my waypoint. I set the sails and lashed the helm. Poured a large whisky for myself and as the water passed under the boat with a melodic rhythm I thought again of times gone by.
‘Leaving The White Cliffs Behind’
As I watched the White Cliffs of Dover disappear behind the ship I could not help but think of Odysseus leaving Ithaca and being bound for Troy. Would my own journey deliver such high adventure, and would it also take many years for me to find my way home again. By nightfall we had arrived in France.
My plan was not to linger or spend precious time exploring France, it was to take the easiest and fastest route South. So we stayed off the motorways but still followed the straightest route to the South. It also seemed wise to avoid crossing the Alps so we took the roads as far to the West as possible. We travelled South making very few stops along the way. Again I was learning yet another skill that I would later employ many times. That is the ability to drive across vast distances without sleep or rest. Soon we reached the South Coast of France, and then headed east to cross the Italian border near to Monte Carlo. At the Italian boarder the customs authorities stripped down my old London Taxi but there was nothing to be found and we were allowed to enter Italy. Although we found the time to visit Venice, venturing South was out of the question, Greece was beginning to look to be within reach. Then came the difficult part of the journey to the land of the Gods. The country of Yugoslavia sits between the borders of Italy and Greece. This country was then a part of the Eastern Block of Communist Countries that did not welcome visitors from the West. Having endured some difficulties from the border control we entered into Communist Yugoslavia. The contrast to the wealthy coastline of the French and Italian Riviera was vast. The road to Belgrade was reasonably well constructed and maintained but the route from the East of the city was little better than a dirt track. There I experienced poverty like I have rarely seen since. I encountered beggars that were mere children who’s tendons to their limbs had been cut at birth so that they would become plausible and deserving beggars throughout their childhood and possibly in later life. I once stopped on the road and an army of small children instantly emerged from the undergrowth begging for money, food, or cigarettes. One woman carrying a small child and crying approached me and handed me the baby. With overwhelming despair she begged me to take the baby to America and then ran away. Maybe to my shame but I put down the child on the side of the road and left. I witnessed many hardships while crossing northern Yugoslavia. Due to the over-use of chemicals having been sprayed onto the crops, there had been a big reduction of birds of prey, this had resulted in there being a plague of poisonous snakes in that part of the world. Hence we always carried medical kits to confront snakebites, I often saw many vipers along the roads that we travelled. The day that we were within a few miles of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece huge storm clouds were gathering in the sky and the closer we got to the border the darker and more evil looking they became. The crossing between the two countries is a mountainous path and as we approached the top of that passage the storm broke. The rainfall was so violent that it became impossible to drive any further. I pulled over under a thunderous black sky and watched as the mountainside beneath me was being washed away. I could see through to the near skies above Greece, they were clear and blue, so I drove on and as we crossed the mountainous divide between those two countries the land of dreams presented itself before me in all of it’s splendor.
Ship’s Log: August 8th (entry 02).
Having reached my waypoint and being close to the Eddystone Lighthouse I altered course to Due-North and sailed into the waters that form the entrance to Plymouth. With the coming and going of the many Fishing Boats and Commercial Vessels I was pleased that I had made the decision to arrive In-Port during the hours of daylight.
The Tower of Fort Mount Batten came into view so I steered a course that would clear the seawall that defends Plymouth from the raging seas that often threaten the port. Having passed the hillside where stands Fort Bovisand and Staddon Point Battery, I dropped sail and motored East until I reached the village of Turnchaple, there I tied up alongside the small boatyard there, and having made the boat secure I made my way to the Boringdon Arms. I had once played guitar in that old waterfront pub and was very keen to revisit the place. After a few glasses of the fine ale that the Bori offers I returned to the boat and as I was falling asleep my wondering mind recalled my past.
‘The Land Of Greece’
The crossing from what was once the ancient world of Macedonia and heading South-Eastwards towards Thessaloniki the world around us changed. The warm dry air and the sweet scent of the surrounding terrain filled my nostrils. The road, if in the wildest of dreams you might call it that, was little more than a rock covered track. We entered a landscape that was covered by cactus and the long long grasses. The sound of an orchestra of crickets filled the air, and the temperature became warm and comforting. We after so long had arrived in the land of the ancients.
We soon realized that although the map indicated where roads should be, the map was most often wrong. Sometimes there was no road, other times the road had been obliterated by falling rocks, or simply washed away. Very quickly we learned that the trick was to head more or less in the direction of were you wanted to go but follow what tracks were navigable, and not the map. As we made our way South, on occasion we would have to wait while workmen used dynamite to remove rock falls that were blocking the way forward. The mountain tracks were treacherous, they weaved their way around the steep inclines like giant snakes, and where the hairpin bends occurred they were accompanied by near vertical slopes that dropped for miles. On our journey from the North of Greece it was not unusual to come across ancient ruins and temples that were also not indicated on maps. We regularly stopped off to visit small villages to buy food and wine. The cost of this was minimal, the food good, and the wine fantastic. Glass there at that time was extremely expensive so when buying wine it was wise to take along your own bottles to be filled directly from the barrel. I had a dozen or so large old Coca-Cola bottles in the rear boot of the Taxi, and it was possible to refill
all of them with really good organic wine for just a few drachmas (less then 50p). In those times there were very few tourists to be found in Greece, and the majority of the population spoke the Greek language only. It was out of necessity that I began to learn something of the language, and soon I was able to some degree to communicate with the locals. I adored the peasant peoples that we met with. Their connection with the land and their animals, their great sense of humor, and their never-ending generosity had already made the trip worthwhile.
It was our intention to visit the city of Athens but on our way there we would try to find that mythical home of the gods ‘Mount Olympus’. That mountain is the highest in Greece and is situated about fifty miles southwest from Thessaloniki. Nowadays good roads have been built that allow thousands of people each year to explore the Olympus Mountain Range but back in the early nineteen seventies things were very different. We pushed our poor old Taxi to its limits by pressing on up the steep dirt tracks that ascended the mountain range leading to Olympus. Some parts of the track were hardly wide enough for a single vehicle to pass, but pass we did, and as we climbed higher and higher we became engulfed in thick mountain mist. We made camp for the night, drank red wine, and played guitar. When the sun came up the mist had cleared and now visible was the majesty of the fifty-two peeks of Mount Olympus. We continued up those steep mountain paths until we reached the top of one of the lower peeks and could take the Taxi no further.
That day I laid on my back while gazing up at the sky and watched two eagles circling high above me. I had found the ghosts of those ancient gods and felt no need to climb any higher.
We stayed in that mountain range for sometime and met with an amazing array of the local people who were managing to survive on those inhospitable slopes. At one time we met with some small boys whose job it was to tend the goats. Those boys lived in caves during the summer months and treated their goats like they were domestic pets. The boys visited our camp each day and exchanged goat’s milk for cigarettes. Eventually we left the mountains and pushed onwards towards Athens.
The closer we got to the city the more the roads improved, but the traffic also increased proportionately. The roads were mostly being used by truck-drivers who’s driving practices I was utterly unprepared for. Those guys adopted the habit of completely obliterating the possibility of seeing out through the front windscreen, by covering it in beads and curtains. There seemed to be neither rules nor guidelines with regard to any sort of Highway Code, and their air horns were constantly being sounded, not as a warning but merely to say ‘Hello’. By the time that we reached the outskirts of Athens the driving had become manic, and I thought that I would not survive the ordeal. However, we did safely make it into the city and parked up. We explored Athens on foot, the air temperature was extremely high and even in those days the pollution in Athens was far from being healthy. We had no desire to stay in the city so returned to the car and headed out to meet the road that would lead us to Corinth. In the confusion of finding my way out of the city I became very lost, and somehow found myself driving along the waterfront beside the docks of Piraeus. The road came to an end and in front of us was a slipway leading down to a small ship with its stern door down. On board were trucks, livestock, and pedestrian passengers, and I myself was also being waved on. It seemed that it would be near impossible to turn around so I therefore drove aboard. Not having any idea of where we were heading for we left Athens behind.
Ship’s Log: August 9th (entry 01).
My drinking session in the Boringdon Arms left me without a hangover the following day but it had left me with an appetite for more. My favorite Public House in Plymouth has always been the ‘Dolphin’. I doubt if that old Inn has changed very much in the past hundred years. It is located in an area of Plymouth called the Barbican. The Dolphin Inn is a popular rendezvous for seafarers and fisherman, and can at times host some rough and ready clientele. Unfortunately I was on one side of the water and the Dolphin was on the other. So I mounted my small outboard engine on the transom of the dinghy and crossed over to the Barbican. I must have drunk far too much while in the Dolphin Inn because the next day I couldn’t remember the trip back across the water and back to the boat.
When I awoke I didn’t feel at all like eating, or for that matter; doing anything else. So I brewed some coffee and slid back into my sleeping bag. I spent that whole day nursing a sore head and in my mind, revisiting my past.
‘The Island Of Salamis’
It didn’t overly concern me at all that I was aboard a ship that I had no idea of where it was heading for, but as the coastline disappeared behind me I could not help but to notice what a rust bucket I was travelling on. At dusk we docked at a small port, and disembarked onto an island. I drove off the ship and was astounded by the surroundings. This was no Jewel of the Aegean Sea. The whole area seemed like a shantytown that was obviously not financially thriving. I drove across the Island and parked up on the top of a hill that overlooked a small group of tiny dwellings. The houses were distanced quite far apart and they appeared to be built as close as possible to be overlooking the ocean. The buildings were all designed with having flat roofs, and most were built only to one story high, however some buildings were constructed to have two floors and also sported roof gardens. There were no roads as such that connected different parts of the island, nor formed any sort of streets, the entire island was interconnected by a network of roughly made gravel tracks.
We had decided to make camp for the night on a clearing that looked down onto a small group of dwellings. I had ran out of cigarettes, and could see at the bottom of the hill was a place that seemed to be some sort of bar or restaurant, so I walked down the hill to check the place out.
Inadvertently I had arrived on the Island of Salamis, and was about to enter the restaurant of who was to become my dear friend ‘Apostoli’. It is probably over generous of me to refer to Apostoli’s place as a restaurant. It was in fact more of a near to falling down shack with an outside area that accommodated a charcoal fuelled barbecue and a dozen or so rickety tables and benches. The outside area was illuminated by oil lamps. On entering Apostoli’s place I bid the occupants a good evening in their own tongue, “Kala Spera”, and was immediately invited to receive a drink of Ouzo. I asked, “What would be the cost?” and the reply was that I had been invited to receive a drink, and not asked if I wanted to buy one. I had inadvertently but unintentionally delivered an insult. Now is probably a good time to make note of a Greek tradition that dates back to the days of Herodotus. That tradition dictated that if a stranger arrived at your door you would invite them inside, offer them food and drink, and give them a place to sleep for the night, and not until the following morning would you ask them who they were or where they were going. My own first experiences in Greece certainly were blessed by that ancient tradition. After what was probably too much time and several glasses of Ouzo later I went and got Janice to come down to meet my new friends. I remember very little else from that evening but do remember waking up on a white linen covered bed, in a white walled room, and looking out through a window with no glass at a clear blue sky, and a rich blue/green ocean. I had a hangover from hell. We had apparently become very drunk and had been carried to the home of Nicolle the Russian. He and his wife had slept on the roof in order for us to occupy their bed. The next day at Apostoli’s place I met with what was probably the entire population of the village. Nobody spoke English and my Greek was still in need of much improvement but it was obvious that we were invited to stay. I was totally ignorant of it at that time but inadvertently we had walked into a country that was in the midst of a sometimes-violent revolution with the intention of disposing of the dictator Papadopoulos. I couldn’t possibly have known, after all I hadn’t watched television or read the newspapers in years, and my command of the Greek language certainly came to an end when it came to politics. So it was not until years after I had left Greece did it come to my understanding as to what we were in the midst of. What I did become aware of was that many of the occupants on Salamis had been members of the resistance during World War Two, and that after the war they had built summer residencies on the island. During the winter months they would return to their occupations on the mainland. In fact those grand old gentleman were sons of the war and fathers of the revolution.
Well our old Taxi remained parked outside of Apostoli’s shack of a restaurant for months. It was a tight-knit community where by day the menfolk fished or dived to catch octopus, while the women prepared food, and took care of their homes and children. I swam in the warm waters of the Aegean Sea and dried stretched out octopus in the midday sunshine, in preparation to be grilled on Apostoli’s barbeque. We would eat copious amount of fish, and drank much of the local wine. Lunchtimes were always a prolonged affair, a time when the eating was done out would come the guitars and bouzoukis. Lunch or supper, mealtimes were always followed by music making and dancing. Those happy days drifted by and the days become weeks, the summer seemed endless. I was so happy on the Island of Salamis that I wished that my time there would never end but there was much more of Greece that we had come to see and explore so we decided to take a vacation and visit the South of the country. We bid our farewells to our dear friends on the island with promises of soon returning and took the ferry to the mainland.
Ship’s Log: August 10th (entry 01).
After a couple of days in Plymouth I decided to make the return trip to Dartmouth. This time I would not make any stop-offs along the way. As I sailed up the coast the weather conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. Even although there was a stiff breeze blowing, the air was quite warm. I sailed out of Plymouth Sound leaving the red and white stripes of Smeaton’s Tower behind me and cut a course close to Cawsand Bay. When I was comfortably out to sea I swung the helm and headed North-East. During the trip back I had plenty of time to think.
‘The Long Road To Pylos’
We caught the small ferry from Salamis to the Port of Piraeus, and after leaving the ship I followed the road closest to the waterfront and headed West. Soon we were out of Athens and on the road to Corinth. At first the road was in good condition but again those crazy horn tooting truck drivers surrounded me. The driving was nerve racking but within half a day we had reached The Bridge that crosses to Southern Greece. The Corinth Canal runs from the far Western Coast of the country to the East and divides the country in two, it comes to its narrowest point at Corinth, and there are no more bridges to the west. Little did I know at that time that this geographical crossing point would transpire to be where I would confront crossing points in my own life in later years. It would one day be the place where I would be delayed owing to yet another political revolution that in turn would prevent me from buying a house in Greece. It would also be a place where many years later I would fail to meet with a lover whom I would never see again.
Having crossed the bridge we immediately turned off from the main roads and again took to the dirt tracks and mountain paths. We leisurely spent weeks exploring the Southern Lands. The surrounding countryside in the South is very different from that of the North. It is far less rocky and the valleys are quite green and fertile. Grapes and olives grow in abundance and the hillsides are sculpted to out to facilitate maximum growing space. The carving out of and the planting on those slopes of the foothills also allows for effective irrigation systems in such an arid terrain.
We spent weeks exploring the South, and on our way we visited many ancient archaeological sites. I had learned the differences between Ionian and Corinthian columns and was fascinated by everything around me. One impromptu escapade led us to Ancient Olympia, the place where the original games were first held. We visited Delphi and many other sites of historical interest. I walked through the Lion Gate into Mycenae, the domain of King Agamemnon. What an introduction to the classics and history that wonderful trip was.
As we went through Sparta and crossed the Peloponnese the weather became hotter by the day. Often it was just too hot to travel at midday, so we would find a shady spot and whittle away the hours by playing guitar and drinking wine. There seemed no pressure to get anywhere too quickly.
Eventually we reached the Southern most point of our adventure. We had arrived at the Sandy Shores of Pylos. We made camp close to that deserted beach and as the sun went down I swam naked in a calm warm ocean. The thought came to me that we had made it to our planned destination but I had given no thought as how we might return or go on.
Our money was running very low by that time and in such a poor country it would have been impossible to find work. After a few days of lounging around on the beach we turned tail and headed back to Salamis.
On our return journey North we didn’t linger as much as we had done earlier but we didn’t rush either, and there were still adventures to be had. Driving along the coast road one day, in the distance I noticed a building shaped like a horse. As we became nearer it was evident that was exactly what it was. It was a three-story building that sat on the sand and was indeed designed and constructed in the shape of a horse, there were doors in the sides of the body and the two front legs reached out into the sea. There was also a sign on the gate that read ‘Poseidon’s Horse’. An old man came to the gate to greet us and invited us to enter. He had built the place himself, and inside was a vast collection of books, and the walls were covered with his own paintings. What we were privileged to be seeing was probably the man’s lifetime’s work.
On another occasion we stopped off at a small village in the mountains and were soon surrounded by children of all ages who were excited and fascinated by the site of foreign visitors and their strange mode of transport. They were particularly interested in our bicycles that sat on the roof rack. I got them down and let the kids ride around on them. It seemed to make those kids so happy that before leaving I gave them the bicycles to keep. Anyone would think that I’d given to them a pot of gold. After lunch and much celebration we went on our way. The problem of what we were going to do next was beginning to play on my mind and it was obvious to me that the bicycles were not going to be of any help anyway. We arrived back on the Island of Salamis to a huge welcome and a return celebration party. Our friends on the island had really taken us into not only their homes but also into their hearts. We felt the same way and knew that leaving was not going to be easy.
A plan began to be thought out. We would sell the Taxi and use the money to buy Janice a plane ticket back to her home in America, and as for myself, I had heard that it was possible to work for your passage on one of the cruise ships. At that time Aristotle Onassis owned the Olympic Shipping Line who’s head offices were in Athens. So it seemed possible that I could work my way back to England. Again maybe it wasn’t the best of plans but I could think of nothing better. Somehow things did workout, we managed to sell our beloved old Taxi in Athens. Keeping only our guitars, we gave all of out belongings to our dear friends on the island. Bid them a heart rendering goodbye and both boarded a 747 Jet bound for the United Sates.
Ship’s Log: August 11th (entry 01).
When I arrived in my homeport of Dartmouth I thought not to pick up my own moorings, instead I would cruise up river a ways and spend a few days exploring some of the Creeks that branch off from the River Dart. I sailed Up-River as far a Dittisham where I found a conveniently sheltered spot to anchor for the night.
‘The Big Apple’
The plane touched down at JFK airport and it suddenly dawned on me that I was about to embark upon a new adventure. Janice’s family met us at the airport and drove us out to their house on Long Island. I remember well my first impressions of New York. As we travelled across the city heading for the Island everything seemed to be so big. The cars were huge, and the noise itself was also ‘big’. As we left the bright lights of New York behind and followed the Long Island Expressway out to Roslyn Heights I was feeling a little uncomfortable. Janice’s Father was at the wheel of his dark blue Buick Riviera, and as I sat in the back seat I thought that car must have been the biggest car in the world. Before leaving the airport I had noticed that the wheels of the Buick sported blades that projected from the hubcaps. It made me think of Sy Buckner (Janice’s Father) like he was Charlton Heston in the chariot race in Ben-Hur. I had been living unmarried with this man’s daughter for sometime and I very much wondered what my reception was going to be. Having pulled off the expressway we drove through the suburb of Roslyn Heights, now I was beginning to feel really out-of-place. This was obviously an area where rich people lived. The car came to a halt outside of the family home. The gardens were so big on that street that if they had been in the UK there would probably be another thirty or so houses in-between those that had been built there. On entering the house I felt like I had walked into a movie, I had until then never seen such luxury. I was given the proud tour of the house, and what struck me most of all was the number of individual toilets and bathrooms there were. Everybody who lived there or stayed as a guest had his or her own bathroom, the one that was most impressive was that of Janice’s Mother. Her bathroom was bigger than my Granny North’s house. It was lined with black marble, and boasted many elaborate shiny fittings. After a brief session of somewhat formal introductions I was shown to my room. So although no disapproval had been voiced it was evident that Janice and I would be having separate rooms. As I lay in bed that night I could still hear the traffic noises in the distance, they were regularly punctuated by the shrill sound of a police siren. The room was luxuriously lined with wood, and as I was drifting off to sleep I thought to myself that it was so long a time since I had slept in any sort of a bed, maybe I should enjoy it and wait and see what would happen next.
It wasn’t until the following day that I realized how cold it was. I had awoken very early, got dressed, and gone out for a walk. The time of year was not yet autumn but the air temperature was a far cry from what I had become accustomed to. When I returned to the house breakfast was already being served, and being served quite literally. As the Buckner family sat around the table chatting, the maid was serving breakfast. Possibly naive of me at the time but having a servant, and a dark skinned one at that made me very uncomfortable. I forget that maid’s name but on later occasions when we were the only two people in the house we would smoke some grass together and exchange stories of where we both came from.
After breakfast it was time for the next tour. Americans I have found are often given to taking their guests on tour. It might be to introduce you to the area where they live, accompanied by a narrative that includes local history, or it could be a trip to visit their summer homes or yacht. On that day it was to be a visit to the family boat. We drove down to the Long Island Sound, which is a stretch of ocean that divides the Island from New Jersey. The boat was very different from the working riverboats that I had worked on as a boy. We didn’t take the boat out to sea that day, or any other day for that matter, but we did have a splendid lunch while on-board. That was the first of many tours that I would be taken on. These trips included visits to Washington DC and Amish country in Pennsylvania.
Soon Janice’s three sisters and her brother were also staying back at the family home. In their own way the family really did try to make me welcome but I think that to all of us it was obvious that with my very working class background and lack of any acceptable profession that I didn’t fit in.
My time staying at that house was pleasant and enjoyable. The entire family were very musically inclined and on many evenings everybody would gather around the grand piano that sat in the dining room and make music. Janice’s Mother (Moreen) would play the piano while the girls played flute, guitar, violin, or double bass. Janice’s Father always made sure that his home bar was fully stocked and that no one’s glass was ever empty. But always I couldn’t help but feel that the plan was to make me welcome but not allow me to get too close, and given time I would simply go away and leave their daughter free to make a wiser choice. Also playing on my mind was the fact that I hadn’t done any serious painting in too long a time. I needed somewhere where I could start to reflect upon my travels and commit oil to canvas.
Ship’s Log: August 12th (entry 01).
I awoke to a find the morning to be absolutely splendid. Although there was heavy dew on the deck, the day was already beginning to warm up. The first quarter of the moon had passed and we were on Neap Tides by then, so there was no risk of being caught out and the Keel touching the bottom. I decided to take to the dinghy and explore the Riverbank. I pulled out my fishing rod, made a packed lunch, took a bottle of white wine from my stores and set off to row ashore.
By lunchtime the day had become quite warm. I had pulled the dinghy up onto a small beach, found some shade under a huge oak tree and sat there eating my lunch and sipping the cold white wine that I had cooled by sinking the bottle in the river for a while. I used my knife to dig up some worms, baited the hook, and with a rod in one hand and a mug of wine in the other, I settled down to do some fishing. I spent the entire afternoon fishing and reflecting on past events that had happened in my life.
Glen Cove is a small town that sits on the South-Shore of Long Island, There used to be a school there that had been founded by the composer Ivan Fiedel and his wife Ross. It was a private school with an educational philosophy that advocated: Keeping the arts at the center of all learning is a preferable alternative to more conventional and traditional modes of teaching and learning. That notion was radical for it’s time but has long since proved to be very true. Janice and myself were fortunate enough to be employed at Fiedel School, and were also given accommodation in that fabulous old mansion. The stretch of coast that stretches from Glen Cove to Oyster Bay is where many of the East-Coast American millionaires of the nineteen twenties and thirties built their homes. It is the area where the author F. Scott Fitzgerald based his book ‘The Great Gatsby’. Janice became a teacher at the school; as for myself I was engaged as a handyman and allowed to run some art based teaching projects. To my liking I was only employed on a part-time basis, and this would allow me to focus on my own artwork three or four days a week.
That winter at Fiedel School was a good time for us. We bought a blue metallic Buick Wildcat for transport and often took trips into New York City for pleasure. I bought my first Martin guitar and we spent almost every evening playing music, I was beginning to get the hang of guitar playing. We lived in a room above the school and shared a kitchen with an old guy named Norman who like myself was also an Englishman, he had arrived in America many years earlier when he was employed as a butler. He was a well-spoken chap who had become very much a Hippy. Norman had long dyed black hair and drove an early Volkswagen Camper; in that old van he spent his vacations exploring America. Compared to what I had always been used to, the lifestyle in America was far more affluent. What I could seldom afford to eat and drink back in the UK became my everyday diet. Norman and I regularly commented on such benefits as we drank whisky and ate huge beefsteaks in our shared kitchen. As the months passed I painted feverishly. I could afford to paint with oil-colours, and produce large canvases. During those winter months I created six artworks. Weekly we would visit Janice’s family for dinner and they were always pleasant enough evenings but my resentment at not being treated as though I was good-enough began to surface. As I think was intended: Janice and I drifted emotionally apart, and eventually she left me and moved back to her Family home.
Ivan Feidel had offered me a full time job at the school and the salary was exceptional so I stayed on. About that time some other people came to be at the school, and into the room next to mine moved in a man named Bernie Kaplan. Bernie and I instantly became good friends. He was an intelligent guy who loved literature, art, and music. His six-string guitar was a fabulous Martin D45; it was highly polished and adorned with copious amounts of abalone inlay. When Bernie played that guitar it could sound like a rail train thundering down the track, or be gentle and sweet as is the sound of a stream running over rocks. His second guitar was a Guild 12 string. That guitar Bernie used to accompany his powerful voice. He also owned and played an Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer that was made of Cheery wood. Bernie was a talented musician and a skillful songwriter. We spent endless hours playing guitar together and he taught me many of his songs, we even wrote a few numbers together. Meeting with Bernie Kaplan helped me to put my guitar playing up a few notches.
A few more people started to be employed at the school. This was in preparation for the Feidel Summer School. Those people showing up were an endless array of artists, actors, writers, photographers, filmmakers, and musicians. During the forthcoming summer the school would become a hive of creativity but first the whole building needed to be painted, the estate grounds had to be immaculate, the huge open air swimming pool was to be emptied, cleaned and painted, there was always many repairs needed to be done. The people who would carryout that work were those who would be teaching there during the summer. The work was hard but it was always a lot of fun. There were about twelve people in residence at the school, some of the team moved into houses in the surrounding area, others were even lucky enough to become house sitters looking after mansion like properties along the South-Shore. Every night and especially on weekends there was one if not several parties going on. I remember once when Bernie and myself arrived at a house party that was being held at a majestic residence that overlooked the bay. We had arrived after midnight and there were so few people in the house that I thought that we must have missed the party. There were also no girls there, hence I wanted to leave immediately but Bernie, to kill some time had got talking to an old friend. I went for a walk through the gardens and to my astonishment found myself beside a huge swimming pool. Illuminated from beneath the water there were about fifty girls who were laughing as they dived, splashed, and swam. I had walked in on an all girl skinny-dipping party. By the time that I had picked my jaw up from the ground I had been noticed. Some of the girls invited me to join them, they chanted that I should strip off and take a swim. I did as they bid and used the springboard in attempt to make an impressive entrance. What a night that was, I thought to myself that I must have died and gone to heaven.
At the School the estate began to take shape. We had laid the new clay tennis courts, filled the swimming pool, and reinstated the diving boards. Many wonderful memories that I have were born in those days, and around that pool. It was a carefree time where creativity seemed to fill the air, all you had to do was drink it in and then regurgitate it, the outcome was always good.
Ship’s Log: August 12th (entry 02).
I didn’t catch any fish on that sunny afternoon, and if any did bite on my line I would probably have been asleep anyway. I rowed back out to the boat, tied the dinghy off, and climbed back on-board. As I sat watching the evening sun go down; my mind once again remembered some of the events that had sculpted my life and who I had become.
From my days of experimenting with film and sound I had managed to hang on to my 8mm standard eight Bolex film camera. I had shot lots of footage while travelling throughout Eastern Europe and Greece, and since I had arrived in the USA had once again been experimenting with moving image and sound. My choice of recording device was an Akai 4 track reel-to-reel tape recorder. The visual effects that I imagined in my mind and was attempting to produce in those days were very difficult to create. Nowadays computers allow for such visual effects to be created with ease, but back then everything had to be created in camera.
I had long since, hoped to one-day produce a movie of some kind. On one occasion while Bernie and I were ridding a golf cart around the estate of the Feidel School I was describing to my dear friend what I would like to attempt to do with regard to creating a visual language and sound for film, I turned to him and said “How do you fancy making a film with me?” Bernie was up for it so I unveiled to him my idea.
My idea was to adopt a classical Greek play that had been originally written in 404 BC by the ancient playwright Euripides. The play had been named: ‘The Bacchae’. The central character of the play is Dionysus, more commonly known by the name of Bacchus (the Greek God of Wine). The storyline of the original play is simple. Dionysus was the illegitimate son of the ruling Greek God ‘Zeus’, and his mortal mother ‘Semele’. After the birth of Dionysus Hermes reportedly hid the baby in the thigh of Zeus and fed the child on grapes. When Dionysus matured he visited the city of Thebes with the ambition of being acknowledged as a God, but the citizens declared that because he was half mortal he fell short of the necessary criteria. Dionysus was beside himself and in his fury he cast a spell on all of the women of Thebes, whereupon every female of Thebes left the city and went up into the mountains, where they would indulge themselves by participating in lesbian orgies. Dionysus would not allow the women of Thebes to return to their homes and menfolk until he was recognized and acknowledged as being a true god. A simple plot that I just knew would be perfect for a movie.
We put together a production schedule and a game plan of how such an ambitious project might become possible. Bernie would write the words for a contemporary interpretation of the original play. We would make the music backing first, and that would dictate the pacing and timing of the movie. As for myself I would direct all visual components of the film, and together we would assume creative control.
It was obvious to us that we needed money and a lot more people to become involved in the project. My own creative notion was that the performance should also become a dance piece, so what would be needed was a dance troop of females that would be prepared to perform in the nude, apart from the elaborate designs that I would paint onto their naked bodies. Bernie began his rewrite of the original story of Euripides and transformed it into a script and screenplay. We then recruited an excellent musician and pianist named Mark Beaty to help compose and record the musical backing tracks. I had recently met up with an incredibly beautiful raven-haired young dancer named Elly Stillwater and it was decided that she would choreograph the production. We also appointed a cinematographer and some cameramen, plus other key people that would make the movie possible. In order to finance the project everyone chipped in what they could afford and Bernie and I pledged what we already had saved plus our salaries from the school towards the cost. What had been spawned in my mind while walking along the Seashores of Southern Greece was about to become a reality.
By the time that the script and screenplay were finished we had also successfully recorded the backing music. Bernie had embarked on what was to be a love affair full of turmoil with Elly, and I was dating a beautiful daughter of the American Revolution named Sue Muddy. Elly had recruited a dance company from Upstate New York, and it was time to begin rehearsing. I had by then every shot, wipe, cut, and edit clearly planned in my mind. We planned our shooting schedule down to the finest detail and were eventually ready to start filming.
The exact locations and precise weeks to shoot were carefully chosen. At the beginning of autumn we left Long Island and headed Upstate New York to the Catskill Mountains. The Catskills are not unlike some of the mountain ranges in Greece, so they would provide a very suitable backdrop for the filming, and the area is famed for it’s colours of gold, red, yellow, and bronze when the leaves began to fall. Our film crew met with the dance company who Elly had already been working with, and on the night of our arrival in the mountains everybody involved in the project dinned together. After dinner I made a presentation that detailed our collective creative aspirations. The next day Bernie began his dance training, which he didn’t know was coming. I walked in on one of those torturous sessions that the girls put Bernie through and was very glad that I was the director and not the star.
While the rehearsals were taking place, the cameramen and myself explored the mountains for suitable places to film our movie. We would be shooting on 16mm film, taking a lot of still photography, and playing our recorded music tracks during the dance scenes. So there was going to be a lot of equipment to be hauled around, therefore finding natural settings that would be accessible had to be a consideration.
Eventually the time came when we were ready to start filming. It should be remembered that without the help of computer-generated effects everything that we hoped to produce had to be created in-camera and on location. The editing would be done back in New York at a later date, so there would be no chance of re-shooting any of the scenes for a second time. Dionysus himself was to wear a costume that was a tight fitting white body suit that had all of his internal body organs and veins painted on the outside. His head was shaved and his skin whitened to blend in with his costume. The dance troop would all perform naked with their bodies painted with shapes and colours that contrasted with the autumn landscape. I remember being at a dance rehearsal a few days after we had arrived. Bernie and I were sitting watching our dance troop gyrating around the dance floor like those spellbound women of Thebes, when the choreographer announced that the time had come when the routine should now be practiced in the nude. As those beautiful girls stripped off and began to feverishly circumnavigate the dance floor, Bernie looked at me and said, “What the fuck have you done? And don’t forget that you are going to have to paint these women’s bodies everyday.”
During the weeks of filming everybody worked very hard. Before first light I would decorate the dancers bodies while Bernie was being transformed into Dionysus. The air temperature in the mountains that time of year was dropping, so keeping the girls warm on our way to the chosen location of the day was always a problem. I recall another incident when I was driving several of the girls over the mountains and stopped at a small petrol station to fill the tank. The half-asleep petrol attendant didn’t notice the naked painted women until he was already pumping petrol into the car. He was so shocked that he just stood there frozen while the petrol overflowed. It would be nice to remember those days while filming as being one long party, but in reality by the end of each day’s filming everybody was so exhausted that our only desire was to eat and sleep.
We filmed Dionysus standing on the very edge of the spectacular waterfall at High Falls. We filmed wonderful sunrises, and chased red and golden sunsets to the horizon. I had been right with my choice of colour pallet, the autumn leaves of the Catskill Mountains gave us that perfect backdrop that I had dreamed of. There was one scene that will always stick in my mind. My plan had been to find a very small island with just one tree in the middle, the tree would have no leaves, but be decorated with many brightly coloured rags hanging from it’s branches. The dancers would be dancing around the tree, while the camera would revolve around the island. By sheer luck I found just the place for that scene. It was an out of season summer camp. There I found a lake with an island of about 75ft diameter, in the middle was a single tree that was perfect for the job, and stored on the banks of the lake were a number of canoes. I returned to the lake a few days later with the production crew. We ferried the girls out to the island in the canoes, and installed a cameraman and his camera in another small boat. The shot needed to be really smooth, so as the girls danced I swam behind the boat and pushed it around the island. The water was so cold that I was very glad that we got that shot in one take.
All too soon winter arrived and the filming was done. For a while Bernie and I lived with a couple of the dancers from the film. We were staying in a small wooden cabin that done little to keep out the harsh winter weather of the Catskills. We had spent every penny we had on the film, and had no jobs to fall back on. We did manage to find work with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were working on a demolition gang, with the task of tearing down a holiday complex. We were given the use of a tiny log cabin while we were there. I will never get out of my mind the picture one night when the snow was driving so hard that it was coming through the cracks between the logs. Bernie was sitting on his bunk dressed in his woolen underwear and shivering. He turned to me and reminded me that he had once been the head of the music department back at Feidel School, was soon to be married, and planned to buy a house with a white picket fence. He added that it was the meeting with me that had got him into his present situation. It seemed to me to be the right time to tell him of my plans. The editing of the film would have to wait. I would somehow get to New York and then sell my Martin guitar. With the money I would buy an airplane ticket back to England, there I would do some design work and return when I had myself together. I invited Bernie to come with me but he said he would stay and try to start up a new band. In New York I did sell my guitar but the price of the plane ticket was more than I had available to me. So in my wisdom I bought a ticket to Boulder Colorado instead.
Ship’s Log: August 13th (entry 01).
The day after my unfruitful fishing excursion the morning brought rain. Not heavy rain, but light warm showers. My anchorage hadn’t budged one bit through the night so I thought to leave the boat where she was for another day.
During my round trip voyage to Plymouth and back the boat had taken a good pounding and a lot of things below-deck had been thrown around. So I thought to spend the day tidying up and possibly polish the brass. As I casually made her ship-shape again I had time to let my mind wander.
‘The Rocky Mountains’
To head out West was an impromptu move. I had given no thought to the time of year. The picture in my mind of cowboy country was a place where it was always warm, I couldn’t have been more wrong. After buying my ticket I had just a few dollars left over, they got spent drinking with a girl that I met on the plane. As my flight approached Denver Airport below me was a vast white expanse. Reality again hit me, I was arriving in mid-winter and if I had thought that the Catskills were too cold for me then maybe this wasn’t the place for me. Denver is known as the ‘Mile High City’, this is because it sits more than one mile above sea level. The much higher peaks of the Rocky Mountains surround it. After the first snow storms of early winter the ground is not seen again until springtime comes. I thought of that old Davy Crockett song from my childhood and the Old Man’s advice about being born without a shirt on your back.
The girl that I had met on the plane gave me a lift to the city of Boulder, she bid me farewell and went on her way. Boulder is a relatively small city that sits at the foot of the Rockies. From wherever you are in town those high mountains can be seen, and the view is spectacular. As I wandered through the city center I noticed that everybody was wearing appropriate clothing for Artic-like weather conditions, along with heavy non-slip footwear. Myself, I didn’t even own a sweater, all I had was a thin shirt, my old RAF flying jacket, and a near worn out pair of cowboy boots. I still had with me the same old rucksack that dated back to my camping days in the Boy Scouts, but that only contained a spare pair of jeans, some clean socks, and some drawing materials. I got talking to some people and asked where would be the best place to look for work. Their answers were not encouraging. Evidently during the winter not much work happens there, due to the deep snow. People work and save their money during the spring and summer so that they can stay warm and inside during the long winter months. It was clear to me that I now had a huge problem on my hands.
I walked around the streets of Boulder that day in the attempt of finding a job of any kind. I could find nothing, there would be no construction work until springtime, and even to get a job tending bar you needed a certified qualification. Things were looking pretty hopeless, and then from behind me I heard a voice calling my name. To my astonishment it was a girl who I had known from Feidel School. She informed me that an old girlfriend of mine was also living in Boulder and gave me that girl’s address. The girl’s name was Andrea Barken and she was living on Sixth Street. So I made my way across town, found the house and knocked on the door. Andrea and I had been very close friends back East and she was pleased to see me. Next door to where Andrea was living was a house owned by a woman named Bobby Stuart. I was invited to visit Bobby’s house and there I was made very welcome. Bobby fixed me up with a room in the back of her house and that evening I was taken out to dinner with a party of Andrea’s and Bobby’s friends. That night Andrea and I made love, and the next day she drove me in her old Ford Pickup Truck up to her log cabin in the mountains. The drive up through the foothills was amazing. As the truck climbed higher and higher, the road became more treacherous, and eventually the road ended, I was informed that beneath the thick snow was just a dirt track. The cabin was small but very well fitted out. It had a large potbellied stove, water storage, and a large soft bed up in the eves of the roof. The view from the cabin window looked out across the mountain range. Andrea had lived in her cabin throughout the summer but now that winter was setting in she was soon to return back East for the coldest months of the year in the mountains. We stayed in that isolated cabin for a while and took some trips around the surrounding area. On one memorable night we took some hallucinogenic mushrooms and set out in the moonlight on an expedition. The moon was full and it interacted with the snow to form an illuminated winter wonderland. We found the boarded up entrance to an old disused mine. We managed to find our way in and ventured to investigate that pitch-black cavernous place. It was really spooky. During my visit to Andrea’s desolate world I wrote some poetry and produced some pencil sketches of my surroundings.
One day we were driving around the mountains of Colorado and were waved down by a guy who was parked on the side of the track. He turned out to be a good friend of Andrea’s, so we stayed for a while to talk. The fella’s truck was a four-wheel-drive with snow chains on each wheel; this was a must because he lived far higher up in the mountains than where Andrea’s cabin was located. In the back of his truck were two huge dogs that became full of excitement as the falling snowflakes landed on their noses. As I listened to the conversation between Andrea and her friend it came out that this guy owned a Sled-Team of Dogs and was in a predicament because he was due to be on the East-Coast for the winter and had been let down by someone who had agreed to take care of the dogs for the coming months. The deal was that in return for looking after the dogs he would supply accommodation, and transport, along with supplies and fuel for the winter. Without a single thought to the consequences of entering into such an agreement, I volunteered myself for the role of dog sitter. I was soon to find out that the term ‘Dog Sitter’ was a gross understatement.
That same day I was taken up to meet the dogs. The accommodation was an old Railway Caboose, that is the end carriage that housed the crew on early American Steam Trains, those end cars were usually painted red. As for the dogs, the two that I had already seen turned out to be puppies. The full team were more like lions than dogs, and they were just about as friendly. They lived in a compound adjacent to the Caboose, and although there was indoor shelter for them they mostly chose to sleep in the snow. There were eight fully-grown Malamutes and the lead dog was named Zeus, (how ironic I thought to myself). Adjacent to the compound there was a pile of trees that had been felled and a chainsaw to cut them up to a size that would fit into the cast iron stove that heated the Caboose. A petrol driven generator (that rarely worked) supplied light and energy but there was fortunately also kerosene lamps for backup. There was not one but two trucks, the second being for emergencies. We shook hands and the deal was done. I drove my benefactor to the airport in Denver and returned to what was going to be my new home and canine family.
Ship’s Log: August 13th (entry 02).
By the evening I had the boat back in shape again. It was a starless night and a melancholy came over me. I had long since learned how to be comfortable with being alone but on occasion solitude can turn to loneliness.
I had little appetite for writing in my journal or playing the guitar on that dark night. A sadness had come over me so in an attempt to shake it off I thought of the very first time in my life that I had been completely and utterly alone.
‘Learning To Be Alone’
What nobody had told me was that what I had thought to be the winter snowfall was just the first flurry. The serious snow was still yet to come. On my way back from Denver to Boulder that day the snow began to come down heavily. I stopped off in Boulder to get a few extra supplies. Maybe it would have been wise to acquire some warm clothing but I settled for a cheap nylon string guitar, paper, pens and pencils, some marijuana, and a case of Tennessee Whisky. By the time that I had arrived back up at the Caboose the snow was reaching blizzard proportions and quickly becoming thick on the ground. Before even reaching the Caboose I could hear the dogs howling with delight. If there is one thing that sled dogs understand it is snow, and they love it. On arrival I immediately got the wood fuelled stove going in order to warm the place up. I went out to see if the dogs were OK, they seemed just fine but the pups were shivering so I took them into the Caboose to let them get warm. It would not be the last time that the pups would be allowed to sleep inside, that was not just to keep them warm, but more importantly to help me stay warm. That first night in the Caboose I cooked a meal for myself, wrote a few words in my journal, poured a very large drink (chilled with snow), rolled a joint, and settled back to pick a couple of tunes on that old beaten up guitar.
The following morning I awoke to a very different world. Inside the Caboose was so cold that a bowl of water that I had left to one side had frozen solid. The stove had gone out and the windows could not be seen out of. I quickly dressed and as I did so resolved to not sleep without being fully dressed for the foreseeable future. It was time to give the dogs their daily meal. Their diet was mostly cereal and canned meat. I mixed their food and filled the large metal bowls that they ate from. Outside the snowfall had abated but through the night it had amounted to being a few feet deep. Although it was bitterly cold it was a spectacular day. The sun was shining brightly in a clear blue sky. When the sky is blue in the mountains of Colorado it is a blue that is different from anywhere else I have ever seen. It is a unique blue that nudges towards being turquoise. Malamutes are not inherently a vicious breed of dog but sled dogs are very far from being domestic pets, and they do fight. To prevent the dominant male dogs from possibly killing each other the compound was divided into pens. I fed the dogs in pairs and everything was going well until I opened the gate to Zeus’s pen. He was the alpha male and stood to a height that almost reached my waist. He also probably outweighed me by 50lb or more. I closed the gate to the pen without taking my eyes off of that huge parcel of fur and teeth, and he also didn’t let his gaze wonder from mine. He showed no interest in the food that I had brought him, it seemed that his main interest was to show his dominance. With bared teeth he snarled and circled me, even the steam from his breath was menacing. Yes, I admit to being really scared but I knew only too well that if Zeus was to become aware of my fear that he would consider me to be subordinate to him, and that would sooner or later result in a disaster. I did not speak at all, I just stood my ground and held out the bowl of food, and as he sniffed it I caressed his ear. As he ate, Zeus growled at me but it was the first step towards us becoming friends.
As the days turned into weeks I began to become aware of a change in me that was beginning to come about. The longer that I went without speaking to or seeing other people, my inner feelings and thoughts were altering in ways that I at that time did not understand. I now advocate that everybody should spend some time in his or her life completely and utterly alone. It is the time of opportunity when you can really address who you are. It affords you clarity of mind, and allows you to truly know yourself. Many people think that they are alone but by that they mean that they merely live alone. Even if you don’t speak, if you see another human being it is a form of silent communication and therefore you are not alone. To be truly alone once in a while can be a wonderful experience but be mindful that it is far from being an easy exercise and not all people can cope with it.
Over the following weeks I took the dogs on short expeditions around the immediate landscape. I had torn up some old blankets and made warm linings for my clothes, and found a way of attaching snowshoes to my boots. I was becoming a mountain man.
My birthday came and I celebrated it by bringing all of the dogs inside. As a special treat I gave them fresh meat to eat and I drank my last remaining bottle of whisky while I sang and played the guitar to my furry companions. Andrea’s empty cabin was about a few hours hike down the mountains so I thought that I might take just two of the dogs along with me for company and go on an expedition to see if I could find the place. I decided to carry very little. I knew that there would be ample canned supplies stored at the cabin so all that I would need to take with me was food for the dogs, and fresh water. It is easy to think that with so much snow around that drinking water is abundant but it takes a lot of snow to produce a glass of water and the process is very time consuming, so carrying drinking water is a must. We set off on our excursion before daylight on Christmas Eve. I had an accurate map of the surrounding area and a reliable compass, and from my days in the Boy Scouts I knew how to navigate my way across country. As I left the Caboose behind me I once again sang the old Davy Crockett song. The going was harder than I had anticipated, the deep snowdrifts made it impossible to follow a straight route, so a much longer path had to be taken. What I thought would take only a few hours transpired to be much longer. I arrived at Andre’s cabin just before nightfall. I fired up the stove and it soon warmed the place up. To my great disappointment someone else had visited the cabin before I did. They had not left any of the supplies what so ever. So on Christmas day the dogs and I shared their canned meat. It tasted awful; I even tried heating it up to see if it would taste better cooked. No! It doesn’t. I am often asked nowadays why I don’t eat meat, and I reply with differing answers. Those answers often refer to hunting but deep down I think that it was that canned dog food that first put me off of red meat.
After returning to the Caboose I decided not to push my luck too far again, well; not for a while at least. As the days rolled by I seemed to slip into a frame of mind where time became irrelevant, I had adopted a loose routine that ensured the dogs survival and mine but the rest of my time was spent mostly just thinking. The mountains had been teaching me many things and what I learned during those days has often enabled me to endure and put things into a sensible perspective. Even the bitter cold seemed to bother me less. I would often split logs outside while stripped to the waist.
As the winter passed the snow stopped falling quite as often, it didn’t disappear but there was less of it underfoot. The day came when I decided to venture down through the mountains and go into Boulder to replenish my supplies. I drove the truck down into town and filled it with both necessities and luxury items. Before I could return to the Caboose a heavy snowstorm struck. As I approached the foothills the snowfall was so heavy that it was near impossible to see the road in front of me. All of a sudden right in front of the truck was a figure walking. I could have so easily have not seen them and possibly ran them down. I managed to stop the truck by dropping down to first gear and gently breaking. I could see in the headlights a figure dressed in a fur anorak, the hood was up and that person was carrying a couple of large bags. I pushed open the passenger door, invited them in, and asked where they were going. As the hood of the anorak was pushed back it revealed a beautiful female face. She got into the truck, closed the door, and smiled as she shook loose her long blond hair. I would have willingly taken her to any place she might want to go. The girl told me that she lived in an area called Lyons, I knew where that was and I was very aware that it was far higher up in the mountains than was the Caboose. She said that she lived in the ‘House of Doors’. The snow had began to thicken and showed no signs of letting up, so it would have been impossible to get any further than the Caboose. Around my stove later that night that girl poured out her feelings while we drank red wine. She also had spent the winter alone up in the Rockies and together we laughed as we exchanged stories about our experiences. I did not bring the pups in that night so that I may stay warm. The following day the snowstorm had ended and again the sky was blue and the sun shining. I drove the girl up to Lyons and she directed me to where we had to leave the truck before walking quite some way to her place. I remember thinking that I would soon be entering some warm and comfortable dwelling with a hanging sign that said ‘The House of Doors’. I couldn’t have been more wrong! After trudging through deep snow for nearly an hour we reached our destination. To my utter astonishment the house was really made from old doors. It was tiny inside and the gaps between the doors allowed the snow to be blown in. There was a small wood-burning stove on the floor and a bed that hung from the roof. We fired up the stove and she cooked a splendid meal. The journey had taken most of the day and the sun was going down so I decided to stay for the night. We climbed up to the bed and got under the covers still wearing all of our clothes. We had built up the fuel in the stove in an attempt to stay warm though the night but the escaping smoke began to fill that tiny shelter and we were quite literally choking. There was a small opening window next to the bed. I opened the window and the air was so cold that my beard froze solid. That night was not the romantic encounter that the previous one had been.
The next day I kissed that beautiful girl a fond goodbye. She smiled but didn’t say a word, I kissed her one last time and then left. During the night the wind had blown the snow enough to cover our tracks from my truck to the House of Doors, and there was a heavy low cloud that obliterated the sun. I hadn’t brought with me my map or compass, and to my shame I became quite lost. I must have circled around for a few hours before I found the truck, when I did I quickly turned over the engine and headed back to the comparative luxury of the Caboose.
Towards the end of winter the dog’s owner returned and I left the mountains and moved into the back room of Bobby’s house in Boulder. I found a job working as a doorman at a bar called the Cabaret. The place was a bit rough and the role of doorman involved not letting some people in, throwing people out, and breaking up fights. The joint also hosted some really great bands. It was there that I first met my dear friend Freddie King (the Texas Cannonball). In contrast to my solitary life in the mountains, life quickly became hectic. The bar got taken over by a guy named Bobby Lekind, who transformed the Cabaret into being a full-blown club. I moved from fighting on the door to joint running the place with Bobby. Boulder was full of good-looking girls, all of whom seemed to have blond hair, and a great many of them frequented the many clubs and bars around town. I ended up dating lots of them during that time in my life; they were beautiful encounters but nothing too serious. And then I met with Stefany and that was very different. I have been dreading reaching this point in my story because I still find it near impossible to find any words that would describe the romance that we had found and how devastating the following events that occurred were to be. Our happiness came to an abrupt end on the day that Stefany was driving with the baby in the car and another car being driven by a woman overshot a stop sign and ploughed into the passenger side of our car. The accident resulted in the child’s death and Stafany in turn becoming a broken woman. We stayed together and I tried to do what I should but I was helpless. As time went on Stefany became more like her old self but I was very aware that beneath the surface something was brewing inside of her that I could get nowhere near. She made it clear that she needed some time alone so I took a job on that entailed the building of a house in the Medicine Bowl Forest of Wyoming. I didn’t want to leave her alone but it was obvious to me that it was the only thing to do. Before leaving for Wyoming I drove Stafany across half the country in our Mercedes-Benz and left her with her parents who lived in Massachusetts. I took an airplane back to Colorado and prepared to leave for my new job.
Ship’s Log: August 14th (entry 01).
The following morning found me to be in a better frame of mind. I didn’t want to spend more than two full days on the same anchorage so after breakfast I moved the boat to another spot further up-river, towards Totnes. I found a perfect spot that I thought would be a good place to paint a watercolour of.
Anchored from the Stern and tied from the Bow to a tree on the riverbank the boat floated calmly as I sketched and painted my immediate surroundings.
The thick woodland that covers the banks either side of the River Dart brought to mind my days back in the forests of Wyoming.
‘The Vast Forestland Of Wyoming’
No! It couldn’t be just an ordinary construction contract, it was to be yet another adventure. I had been commissioned by a chap named Rory McFarlane who was the grandson of the assassinated American Senator Huey Long. Rory’s grandfather had left him a valuable coin collection in his will, and through his dealings of rare and expensive coins Rory had become very wealthy. He had bought a large piece of land that was adjacent to the National Park in Wyoming and intended to build for himself a house in the woods. I had shown Rory some designs that I was suggesting for his house and he in turn showed me maps and Arial photography of the land where he wanted to build. The plot was many miles from the nearest town and the road ended quite a few miles from Rory’s land. This was going to be a difficult and demanding task.
To add to our difficulties there was a lot of equipment that would need to be shipped to Wyoming from Colorado and that would necessitate the best part of a day’s drive. On the day that we left Boulder and headed for the Medicine Bowl Forest, Rory and myself travelled in a large flatbed truck with an industrial mechanical digger loaded on to the back, along with a small vehicle that was designed to cross very rough terrain. Accompanying us was a covered in pickup truck being driven be a Texan named John. The second vehicle carried hand tools, chainsaws, camping equipment, and food supplies. It was a long and arduous journey but eventually we made it to the Stateline. Wyoming is as mountainous as Colorado but the landscape is very different. The vast rolling hills are thickly covered by conifer trees, and the fertile planes stretch over immense distances. When I was there much of the land was still open range country and was without fences so therefore cattle and horses could be seen grazing at will and running wild. There was also an interesting array of wildlife; in Wyoming I was to see bears and elk. As we became closer to our destination small towns that we passed through became further and further apart, until eventually we passed no dwellings or settlements what so ever. “This is really wild country,” I thought to myself. By nightfall we had arrived at a property that Rory had arranged for us to use as a base-camp, we spent our last comfortable night sleeping on the floor of a cabin next to where the road ended. The next day we unloaded the rough country vehicle from the truck, it was a strange contraption that was intended for use in mining operations, hence the name ‘Mining Coot’. It looked a lot like a low jeep with an open top. The heavy wheels looked too big, and the front and back axels moved vertically independently. The idea for the design is that it could cross over ground that other vehicles could not, it could also climb over large rocks and tree trunks, and it also was fitted with a strong winch. The Coot was what I would drive for the rest of our journey. We loaded the contents of the small pickup onto the Flatbed and the Coot and left the empty truck where we had made base. After a good breakfast we set off into the forest.
Driving that most uncomfortable Coot I led the way. The route started on a well-laid gravel track that was flat and wide. From the map we had found the correct path to take. All too soon the track became full of potholes and was in many parts overgrown. Many times we had to stop, remove rocks, and use the chainsaws to clear away fallen trees. By midday we came to a halt. We had reached a shallow river and were unsure if we could cross it. The water was less than a foot deep but it was being fed by the melting snow from the mountaintops, so it was running incredibly fast. Our first plan was for one of us to wade across carrying one end of a rope, and then pull across the wire from the winch and secure the hook of the winch to a tree. After doing this we thought that we would be able to safely drive across by using the power of the winch if and when the motor engines got flooded by the rushing water. It fell to me to be the first to cross. Big surprise there! The water was as shallow as we had thought but by the time that I waded out to the middle the power of the furiously flowing water knocked me down and I was washed downriver a way. No, it was not going to be possible to cross on foot. It was time to see what the Coot could really do. With some apprehension I drove into the water, it was a bumpy ride and water cascaded over the low sides but the engine kept right on running. On reaching the far bank I secured a pulley to a tree and sent the hook end of the cable back across the river on a rope that I had towed across with me. Under it’s own power but also assisted by the power of the winch the Flatbed also successfully crossed the river. We were pleased with ourselves and had gained more confidence in our transport and equipment. We pushed on.
By mid afternoon the track had become very difficult to follow. There were many fallen rocks and large trees blocking the way in front. We got down the digger from the Flatbed and Rory led the way by driving the huge iron bucket into anything in his way. The Texan and myself followed up with chainsaws at the ready. We reached Rory’s land just before nightfall, pitched three tents, quickly ate, and then fell to the ground utterly exhausted.
The history of the area where we had arrived is interesting in itself. During the eighteen hundreds copper had been discovered to be in abundance in that part of the Rocky Mountains. The first miners that came to harvest that copper travelled from the far off East Coast of America. Many of them were Dutch and they travelled in horse and oxen drawn wagons. That arduous journey stretched halfway across the continent, and when the would-be prospectors
eventually reached the Rockies, the roads that would enable them to cross the mountains had to be cut by hand, and make the roads they did. What incredible determination those early explorers must have had just to reach where they would dig in an attempt to find copper. After their arrival and the staking out of a claim the miners would dig a vertical shaft of more than twelve feet square, line it with logs, and keep going down until they reached hard rock and hopefully copper.
Rory had somehow acquired eighty-eight acres of old mining claims and this was where he was intending to build his house. The first job in front of us was to clear the land. With chainsaws we felled many high spruce trees and stripped them of their bark, these huge logs were pilled up to dry-out and would later be used for the building of the house.
The work was backbreaking and we worked from first light until dusk. We cooked our food on an open fire and washed ourselves in a nearby stream, the water there was shallow but very fast running. It was also freezing cold due to the fact that it was formed by snow melting from the tops of the mountains not far above us. It was summer, so by day the air temperature was often very hot but at night and being at such a high altitude it became extremely cold.
The weeks passed by and gradually the land on which we were to build was cleared. It became possible to take some time away from work and I would go off to explore my surroundings. One day when I was fishing for mountain trout I saw several brown bears that seemed to be playing. They were on the opposite side of the river so they may well have also been fishing but whatever they were doing they sure seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was not afraid but thought it wise to return to camp with the two trout that I had caught, and cook them for supper.
On another occasion I was charged with the task of returning to the last general store that we had passed on our way to the base camp. I took the old mining vehicle across the mountain, then drove the truck that we had left where the original road ended and made my way to the store that was about forty miles back in the direction we had come from. After acquiring the supplies that we needed it was late in the day so I decided to sleep in the pickup truck. Next to the store was a small bar, outside of which was a sign offering Fresh Elk Soup. So I entered the bar with the intention of drinking my first beer in weeks and possibly trying out the soup.
My first impression of that bar was that it probably hadn’t changed much in the past hundred years or so. I took a seat at the corner of the bar, and was advised by the bartender that it was an unlucky seat. He also pointed out the bullet holes above my head, telling me that it was the exact spot where a charge-hand from the local lumber mill had been shot to death by a disgruntled employee just a couple of days before. I changed seats!
I ordered the elk soup and sank a few cold beers. The soup was certainly fresh, the elk had been hunted and shot only one day earlier and the hide was stretched out in the yard waiting to be tanned. As I was eating that delicious and much needed and nourishing soup I noticed a carved sign on the wall, in gold were the letters ‘KKK’. At first I thought little of it.
As the evening drew on, more and more people came into the bar, no women, just men. Some wore cowboy hats and riding gear, others were dressed in typical lumberjack attire. I got talking with some of the men in the bar and found them to be mostly quite friendly, although a few were somewhat hostile towards me. Probably what was too many beers later the atmosphere and the conversation became ugly. It became apparent that those guys hated Negros, Jews, the Spanish and Italians. It seemed that they just disliked everybody, including the English. What I had inadvertently walked into was the meeting point for the local ‘Ku Klux Klan’. If ever there was a time to shit myself it was at that moment of realization. A fight started at the other end of the bar. That took the attention away from me, so I quietly slipped out of the side door, ran to the truck, quickly started the engine, and made for the hills.
After arriving back at the clearing where Rory’s house was to be erected I settled back into the work at hand. The long days passed by with little to comment on until one humid afternoon when I was in the woods, I heard the scream of a man’s voice that sent a cold chill up my spine. I ran back to where Rory and John (the Texan) were clearing trees. On arrival the sight before me was hard to at first take in.
Somehow the extra-lengthened chainsaw that the Texan had been wielding had kicked back. It had spun over backwards and bounced down the upper part of the man’s right arm several times.
John himself was obviously in shock and Rory who was supposedly a medical student of some kind was of no practical help what so ever. Fortunately from my rudimental first aid training from those early days when I was a Boy Scout I knew how to cut off the main artery above the wounds, and for how long to safely do so. I managed to keep the Texan alive and get him to a doctor that was many miles away from where the accident occurred. The man endured much pain and received hundreds of stiches in order to close the wounds.
Work at our camp came to a close and the three of us travelled back to Boulder City for a while. There I designed the plans for Rory’s house and spent some time with the Texan while he was recovering from his horrendous accident, it has to be said, that man was one of the toughest guys I have ever met. He didn’t complain once about his injury, he persuaded me to take out his stiches sooner than was prescribed, and moaned only about how long I was taking to make my designs for the house and how soon we could resume work.
To John’s liking or not, we did have a few weeks before returning to Wyoming.
It was time for me to pick up Stefany from the East Coast.
I boarded an airplane in Denver and flew out to Boston, We met at he airport and together we drove the old Mercedes Benz through the grasslands of the Eastern States and across the Great Plains until we eventually reached the Rocky Mountains.
With Stefany accompanying me I returned to Rory’s land in Wyoming. We resumed our work but the winter months were fast approaching. Soon the clearing that we had carved out would be several feet under snow, so our endeavors would have to wait until the following springtime. At that time it was my intention to return to Wyoming six months later but as the Gods would have it, my own plans were to be of little consequence.
I had received news that my Mother had been seriously unwell, so I returned to England with the promise from Stefany that she would join me as soon it would be possible for her to do so.
Ship’s Log: August 15th (entry 01).
The following day I again moved the boat a little further up river. There I found yet another splendid section of the river that I thought to be most worthy of imitating with watercolours.
I again devoted the day to producing paintings of the lush riverbanks of the River Dart. As always, while I was capturing what was in front of my eyes, and reproducing it on paper, I slipped into a world of my own. My thoughts went back to the first time that I returned to England after many years of travelling.
‘Back In The UK Again. 1973’
I arrived home back in the UK and made my way up to the village of Lubenham in Leicestershire to find that my Mother and Brother although still living in the same village had moved to a small cottage at 42 Main Street. It sat in-between a country pub called the ‘Coach and Horses’ and a dwelling named ‘The House That Jack Built’.
Mum was suffering from a stomach ulcer and had lost much of her body weight. During the time that I was home at that time her ulcer was surgically removed and she became reasonably healthy again but she had developed a vicious form of arthritis that would in later years worsen and cause me once again to return to England.
The first thing that I did on my return was to buy another English Taxi Cab, just like the one that I had travelled throughout Europe in some years earlier. The only difference between the two vehicles being that my new one was painted cream and chocolate brown instead of the colour of traditional London Cabs, that was black.
My old friend and mentor John Sidney Carter offered me work in his studio back in Foxton. This I gratefully but somewhat reluctantly accepted. I was apprehensive only because while I had been travelling it was always my intention that on my return to England, I would again live in Canterbury. However, being in Leicestershire would allow me to be with family, so I soon once again was working with the Carter Design Group.
The old studio had expanded somewhat and there were a few new faces around but I soon settled into the work at hand. I produced a series of large-scale drawings that were to provide a backdrop for an exhibition. Unfortunately, in less than a month I became very unwell. My skin and even my eyes turned to being the colour of yellow, and I could hardly stand up. A local doctor came to visit me and diagnosed that I had contracted some form of Hepatitis. The illness lasted several weeks.
By the time that I was feeling well enough to go back to work the studio was in no need of an extra hand so I was at a loose end. It had been more than a couple of months since I had seen Stefany and my heart was heavy. One day while I was cruising around looking for work, my old Taxi that I was driving sprang an oil leak and the engine seized up. I managed to get a tow back to Mum’s cottage in Lubenham where I stripped the Taxi down and spent some weeks rebuilding the engine.
Eventually Stafany arrived, I was fully recovered from my ill-fated illness, and the falling autumn leaves provided an appropriate backdrop to the rekindling of our love.
We lived in Mother’s cottage for a while and were made extremely welcome. Given that Stafany’s background was that of being extremely wealthy and my own family home was modest to say the least, she settled in reasonably well, apart from the occasional comment regarding the cold, damp, cold bath water, English food, the weather, lack of shops, country life, and even me. I had the old Taxi running again so to appease Stefany I took her on a road trip around England, first to London, and on to Canterbury, returning via a drive up the East-Coast. It did little to spark a desire in her to remain in England and in my heart I knew it.
By the time that the trees had lost all of their leaves I was penniless yet again and therefore in great need of a job. I managed to find work as a Delivery Milkman. I took the job because I knew that although that a Milkman’s day starts very early in the morning, he would be done work by midday. For myself this was not to be the case. I was designated to be a Relief Milkman. This meant covering for any other Milkman that was off from work ill or on holyday. Everyday for me was like a treasure hunt, a different map and instructions for each individual delivery, and an unfamiliar route around the countryside of Leicestershire. I was constantly getting lost and was always late. I would leave for work and to load my Milk-Cart at 5am each day and not return home until the late evening. I saw Stefany very little during the daylight hours and this pissed her off even more than she already was. I understood of course that this was a very different lifestyle from what we had become accustomed to back in Colorado but I had to stay until my Mother had the operation that she was waiting for. A couple of times I was so late with my deliveries the School Milk that I was due to deliver at mid-morning didn’t arrive until the children were about to go home. This was just one of many similar incidences, not to mention racing my milk float against a driver from a rival Milk Delivery Company and crashing my cart into a ditch. I was fired from my job as a Milkman but can’t to this day help but smile about the experience.
It was getting close to Christmas and as it did in those days, the winter in Leicestershire had arrived with a vengeance. One evening after dinner Stefany announced that her sister would be visiting Paris and she intended to meet her there and stay for a few weeks before returning to Lubenham to be with me. In my heart I knew that she had no intention of returning and I begged her to stay but her mind was made up.
When the fateful day came that Stefany was due to leave for France I accompanied her on the train from Market Harborough to St Pancras station in London where she would change trains and continue South alone. In those days although the train engines had become diesel driven, the carriages on that line were still the same as when as a boy I had rode in them when they were pulled by coal fuelled steam engines. These carriages from a bygone age were lined with wood and the sent of smoke was still apparent. On that melancholy journey we spoke very little, I think both of our hearts were breaking at the hand of the inevitable. The train arrived at St Pancras and we made our way to the platform where the train that Stefany was due to take was waiting. She boarded the train and stood by the window crying. I stood on the platform and begged her not to go but the train was already beginning to move out. I ran alongside the leaving train until the platform ended, there I stopped, watched the train until it disappeared from sight and cried my heart out.
After returning to the cottage on Main Street I fell into a dark place. I sat around doing some drawings and tried to get into some guitar playing but nothing seemed to lift my spirits. Neither a letter or a phone call did I receive from Stefany during the following weeks. Christmas came and went with very little celebration. On Boxing Day I drove North to Saint Anne’s near Blackpool and visited my first love Lin who I had lived with when we were teenagers. It was good to see her again and it was clear that we still had feelings for each other. As we sat in my Taxi Cab on the seafront a wicked storm was raging and it was freezing cold. As we huddled together to stay warm I gave her a silver and turquoise bracelet that I had brought back from Colorado. Lin made it obvious that she would have me stay and had it not been for Stefany I probably would have done so.
Again I returned to Lubenham. Mum had her operation and was recovering quite well. The long awaited for letter from Stefany arrived and to my joy she said that she didn’t want to live without me. With difficulty, I put together enough money to get back to Colorado, bid my family farewell and left the green countryside of the English Midlands to again cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Ship’s Log: August 16th (entry 01).
The next day I again upped anchor and slipped further up-river. Soon I was within sight of the bridge that crosses the River Dart at Totnes.
I tied up alongside the wall at Steamer Quay. Although the rise and fall of the tide would be minimal, I carefully set Spring-Lines that would accommodate any change in the level of water under the keel.
The thing about owning a boat is that so much of your time is taken up attempting to avoid accidents or disaster but it is inevitable that one or the other will sooner or later definitely occur. This is mostly due to human error but the secret is to acknowledge your mistakes and try to turn them into opportunities.
‘Texas By Mistake’
It took me a few weeks to get to Colorado; I arrived in Denver and took the bus out to Bolder. Stefany had bought a small house on 12th Street and was again driving the old 1959 Mercedes-Benz. I was nervous as to what sort of a reception I would get but was unprepared for what she had to say. When we met, Stefany said that although she had written asking me to join her, Her feelings had changed. I was deeply hurt but decided that this woman had messed me around for far too long and it was time to move on.
That next day I ran into my friend Bobby Stuart, the woman whose house I had stayed in back when I first came to Colorado. We went out on a drinking spree that lasted a couple of days. My old friend Freddie King and his band were playing in town and Bobby and I went along to where they were playing. I met up with Freddie in the dressing room and he invited me to join him on tour in Australia, where the band were leaving for the next day. I agreed to join them and made arrangement as to where and when to meet.
Well I’m not sure how it came about but I remember waking up in the back of a Volvo Estate Car that was travelling across very arid land. Bobby was in the front passenger seat while a guy who I had met before was driving. Both were drinking cans of beer, Bobby turned, smiled, and offered me a can. ‘Where are the Kangaroos?’ I asked. ‘Your in Texas’ was the reply that I got. Sure enough we were in Texas and heading for Austin City.
We spent a few nights hitting the many bars and music joints around Austin. When my kidnappers were ready to return to Colorado I decided to stay on in Texas, as there was no longer anything for me back in Bolder and if there was it was something that I’d rather forget. I had met up with a couple of musicians and was playing guitar with them, so I thought I’d stay in Austin for a while.
I had some fun in Texas and went travelling over to Arizona and crossed the Rio Grande over to Mexico a couple of times. I drifted around and my life became trouble free. Those beautiful Mexican and Texan girls seemed to love my English accent and often were very willing to help heal my broken heart but their opposite sex didn’t share their appreciation, so a couple of ugly fights along the way were inevitable. Although I liked Texas I was for the most part pretty broke. I had heard that my old friend Bernie who I had made the Bacchus film with had formed a new band and was playing around the Catskill Mountains. So not for the first time, I raised some money by selling my guitar and bought a plane ticket bound for New York and left Texas and Mexico behind me.
It was winter by the time that I found the house where Bernie and his band were staying. It was a barn of a place that was situated way out in the woods, and about thirty miles from the town of Monticello. I spent the winter there in that desolate house and devoted much of my time to drawing and for the first time started playing a twelve-string guitar. I had no money for paints and canvas, so I concentrated on producing sketches that I would produce large oil paintings from at a later date. It was in that old wooden house that I encountered a rat that I made drawings of and wrote the first words of what would decades later become my book ‘Harry The Laughing Rat’.
In the springtime the band started playing regularly at a joint called The Pine Grove that was situated just outside of the small town of Kerhonkson. We moved to a different house in order to be closer to town. The place was much more comfortable and had one of those generous wooden porches that many colonial American houses have. I spent many hours sitting on that porch just dreaming or drawing. It was there that I produced a series of cartoons that would soon form the bedrock of a number of large-scale paintings. I think that what I created back then is still some of my best work.
I started spending some time in New York City trying to sell some drawings so that I could get hold of some canvas and paints. I was pretty broke while in the city but did have some good adventures. When in New York I stayed in a basement apartment up on the Upper East-Side, the place was just awful. It was tiny, damp, and infested with cockroaches. I used to go down to Greenwich Village in attempt to make contacts that might be interested in my artwork but little enthusiasm did I find from New York’s art-world. I somehow met up with a group of Black Muslims who ran a small printing works. In return for me producing some sketches for them, they in turn printed three sets of lithographs of my artwork. The exchange didn’t workout and I ended up owing them money. I was in a difficult spot and fortunately a girl that I knew lent me the money to square my debt. I didn’t manage to sell any one of those prints until years later. Copies of those prints done so long ago are still around today, they are titled: ‘Dance of the Mooncons’, ‘Lady Grey’, and ‘Hide and Seek’.
New York wasn’t kind to me at that time so I again returned to the Catskill Mountains. I desperately needed to make some money so I took a job working as a wrangler on a ranch. The work entailed working alongside several cowboy types who were charged with taking care of about fifty horses. I had learnt to ride back when I was a young boy but that was on an English saddle. As a wrangler I had to adjust to riding a horse that was neck reined and become accustomed to a Western saddle. I truly loved that job and met with some real old fashioned but contemporary cowboys. The stable foreman’s name was Blair and we became good friends. Blair had worked on many ranches and he and some of the other guys had rode in rodeo events across the country. For a while I forgot about painting and started to gravitate towards cowboy life. Unfortunately my skill as a rider didn’t develop as quickly as did my enthusiasm. Blair owned a black stallion named Hendrix, I’d seen many a person try to ride that horse and the only one that ever stayed on his back for more than a few minutes was Blair himself. Foolishly I decided to try ridding Hendrix myself. I’m proud to say that I did stay on his back for more than half an hour but when I was expecting it he reared up on me with a vengeance. I must have inadvertently snatched the reins as I went backwards, the horse followed over with me and his head hit me in the face. Then both Hendrix and myself toppled over backwards. Luckily he didn’t land with his full weight on top of me but my nose was broken and I was very bashed up. I was rushed to hospital in Kingston where I spent sometime unable to move; while I was laid up I came to the conclusion that my talents were closer to painting than they were to wrangling. After my recovery from the riding accident, I somehow managed to rent a small cabin in the woods and acquire a roll of canvas, stretchers, and paints. I was about to spend a solitary time creating a series of oil paintings from the sketches that I had painstakingly produced the previous winter.
My cabin stood on a steep slope that overlooked a shallow stream that ran down from the mountain. At night I could hear the sweet sound of fast running water as it danced over the rocks, so I built a bed that was high enough that I could see the stream from my window as soon as I awoke. Daily I made use of the skills that I had learned back when I was a Boy Scout, especially those that qualified a Scout to be a Backwoodsman.
I had with me a few basic tools including a splendid hand axe, along with some lengths of rope, and some nails. I built some rudimentary furniture and a balcony outside of the cabin, along with a large painting easel made from some lengths of straight spruce wood. There was a small stove on which to cook and the walls I covered with some blankets made by Native American Indians. I got that cabin as cosy as any of the early mountain men could have dreamed of.
At the time I was also taking care of some animals. Living with me was Morgan, a huge red Doberman dog who was prone to biting and running off. The closest cabin to me was about a mile away and the people who owned it spent most of their time in the city, they had two horses that I was charged with taking care of and exercising them while their owners were away.
I absolutely adored the time I spent in that cabin. Each day I’d saddle up one of the mounts and take Morgan along with me to explore the surrounding woodland. Throughout the afternoons and long into the night I would paint feverishly. Winter set in and the hunting season arrived. Soon the cabin hosted a few deerskins that I was experimenting with on how to preserve them. After the first disappointing failures, I eventually, successfully tanned one that kept it’s fur, and then another, and another. Those boyhood dreams of Robinson Crusoe, Hiawatha, and Davy Crocket had not only returned to me but had become a part of my everyday life.
During that year in my dear cabin in the Catskill Mountains I created some of the most imaginative and detailed paintings I have ever done before or since. I absolutely loved that time of my life but like all times, they come to an end and the end of those solitary days ended abruptly.
Yet once again I became completely out of cash. As luck would have it, I had been introduced to a fella from Monticello who supposedly bought and collected artwork. He never actually paid me for any of my pictures but did hire me for the purpose of designing and the building of a fashion store. I designed the to-be store to look like the inside of a rustic Western barn with stained glass windows. For the construction of the store I purchased an old derelict barn, disassembled it with the help of a bunch of musician friends, and rebuilt a barn inside of a modern shopping complex. I made good money from the project but all too easily dropped back into a life that was full of partying, women, and drugs. Foolishly I had a fling with the wife of the guy that I had been taking care of the horses for. He was a mean character who reportedly always carried a gun and was famous for his bursts of violence. In short, my hunting lodge became an exposed hideaway and I became the hunted, so with little alternative, I gathered all that I could carry and fled from my dear cabin in the woods.
I had a year or so before met a woman who owned an art gallery called the ‘Dream Merchant’ that was in Rockport, Massachusetts. She had seen my artwork and suggested that if ever I chose to do so, she would be willing to exhibit my paintings in her gallery. So to avoid the prospect of being shot to death for my indiscretion I left behind me the mountainous region that I had come to love and made my way to yet another unknown life.
Ship’s Log: August 17th (entry 01).
I spent a comfortable night on-board while moored up alongside the wall at Steamer Quay and after I had eaten breakfast I thought it time to return Down-River.
There was still enough time at my disposal for me get in some more sailing and sea fishing before my trip would have to come to an end. So I readied the boat, let go of the lines that had safely held me alongside the quay, and then headed back towards Dartmouth.
‘A love Of Ships And The Ocean’
From my home Up-State New York I caught a bus to the Port Authority in New York and boarded a train bound for Boston and travelled North to Rockport, where was the ‘Dream Merchant Gallery’.
As the train pulled out from the station, I sat looking out from the window at the cold misty evening and wondered what the Gods had planned for me this time. While I was pondering on what my future might be, a most attractive blond lady asked if the seat opposite me was occupied. Fortunately it was not, so I bid her to join me. After the train was moving I thought to go to the buffet car in order to get a drink. As I was leaving my seat my accidental travelling companion smiled in a most seductive manner, so I told her that I was going to the bar and invited her to join me for a drink. She replied by telling me that she had just returned from Moscow and was in the possession of a bottle of excellent Russian vodka. She asked if I liked vodka and said that if I did then maybe I should just get orange juice from the bar. I fetched the OJ and we sipped that extraordinary beverage mixed with orange juice as we exchanged life-stories. Throughout that long train journey going North we had a wonderful time. She poured out her feelings while I poured out the Vodka. It was unlike we were strangers and we even discussed us both discarding our given destinations and embarking on an alternative adventure together. Although I was unaware of it at the time, my choice to leave the train at Rockport or not was to be a pivotal decision that would have huge impact on the rest of my life. Our verbal conversation came to an end and we made love with each other as the train cut through the foggy dark of the night. I often wonder what would have happened if when the train came to a halt and the guard called the stop to be Rockport I had not have disembarked from that train.
The train left the station leaving me standing on a platform that was engulfed in thick fog. I found a public telephone and phoned the Gallery. A woman answered the telephone and told me that the owner was away on business. I explained my situation and she in turn offered to pick me up from the station. When she arrived to pick me up I was quite astounded by her beauty. She drove me back to her own house, fed me, got me even more drunk, and got me very stoned. Eventually I was shown to what was to be my bedroom for the night. I undressed and fell into bed. For some reason I couldn’t sleep and lay looking up at a light fitting above me that was made from an old wagon wheel. It seemed to be slowly rotating back and forth. I began to think over the events of the day and thought to myself that I had not seen any signage at the train station where I had arrived that gave any evidence of where I was. Now I was in bed at the house of someone that I didn’t know, and she did seem a little strange. I remembered once reading about the witches of Salem and them being driven into the woods at a place called Dog’s Town near Rockport. I became convinced that my hostess was probably a witch and I might be in grave danger. So I dressed again, put on my cowboy boots, hid under the bedcovers, and resolved not to sleep. Sometime later the woman who’s house I was staying in came to my room, she was naked and attempted to climb into bed with me. I jumped from the bed and announced that I was fully aware of what her intentions were and that she was of an evil persuasion. I ejected her from the room, barred the door, and spent a sleepless night in the chair. That was probably not one of my most sane reactions to the offer of sex but it had been a very strange and unpredictable day.
The following day ‘Sandy’ who owned the gallery returned and we met. She was pleased that I had taken her up on her invite and allowed me to move into a small room behind her studio and gallery. Sandy specialized in an art form that was new to western culture back then. It is now commonly known as Batik and is produced by dipping cottons and silk into coloured inks, while blocking areas of the cloth from the ink with hot wax. I soon learnt this technique and embarked on producing a series of pictures. I had visited a library in Boston and was fascinated by a book that I found that illustrated many examples of Pre-Columbian Artifacts. From those ancient pictures I reproduced my own modern interpretations that contained my own personal messages and iconography. These were exhibited in Sandy’s gallery and at an exhibition at the ‘Winds Of Change Gallery’ in the nearby town of Gloucester. My stay in Rockport was productive and relaxed but I wasn’t selling much of my work so I put the word out that I was looking for work as a carpenter.
One day while I was sitting on the porch outside of the Dream Merchant Gallery a man approached me and asked if I was the guy who was looking for work. He told me of the boat that he was renovating and afterwards we drove to the port of Gloucester to inspect his nautical project. His ship was a fifty-foot Jack Schooner named the ‘Constantine’. She was on hard ground and in need of some re-planking, caulking, and painting. I accepted the job and began work the following day. I had earlier in my life worked on canal and river barges and was a competent boat builder but the world of sailboats was new to me. Stan D’Coast was the name of the boats owner and skipper, he seemed to be impressed with the carpentry work that I done for him during my first few days of working on his ship but the vessel was also to be re-rigged and for that I would be in need of knowledge and skills that were then alien to me.
Captain D’Coast introduced me to another boat owner named Robbie Harkin who owned a splendid wooden sailboat that was anchored not far up the coast. Although I had at that time never been aboard a sailing ship I was invited to join those two experienced seafarers in sailing the boat back to Gloucester. From the very moment that we set the sails and harnessed the wind I knew that my life had changed forever. As the boat heeled and the spray washed the decks I was falling in love with something that I never had imagined possible. I was told of how such a vessel could be handled single-handed, and how a vessel of less than forty foot could be seaworthy enough to circumnavigate the globe. This mode of transport was definitely for me.
During the following months while I was renovating the Constantine I also worked with some old shipwrights who taught me an awful lot about wooden shipbuilding. The ship that I had worked on eventually was launched and Stan and I parted company. Following my introduction to becoming a shipwright I worked on a variety of sailing boats and fishing vessels, and began to learn to sail and navigate. Since that initial introduction to wind and sail I have built and owned several boats of my own and sailed many sea miles. I have visited tropical shores and learned to live with the loneliness and fears of sailing alone upon deep water.
During my time in Gloucester when ashore I first lived in a small house in the woods where what had once been called ‘Dog’s Town’. The house was cheep to rent, probably because it had no running water, or electricity. This was of no problem to me as I had grown up without such luxuries. What did bother me was the factual knowledge that those woods were where the witches of Salam had hidden out in order to avoid being tortured and burnt. I had a girlfriend at the time named Suzie who had an old blue pickup truck and nine dogs. She often stayed over at my house in the woods along with her dogs and that made me feel more comfortable, in light of the fact that witches only like cats.
Later I took an apartment down by the Dockside. It was an old wooden apartment building situated in what had once been the red light district. It also sat above what was my favorite bar in Gloucester called the Schooner Race. In that wonderful old fisherman’s bar I ended up in more than a few scraps with the local seamen, along with more enjoyable encounters with saloon girls that I entertained back in my rooms.
During my time off the North East Coat of America I had many memorable experiences. I also acquired a lovable companion. One day when I was working on the dockside I met a fellow who had some puppies that he said he was going to drown if he could not find homes for them. I agreed that I would take on one of them. He was nothing but a small ball of fur that I could fit into the palm of my hand. He was said to be half Dutch Barge Dog and half German Sheppard. From the curl of his tail I’m sure the Barge Dog bit was true but as for the other half, from his looks I always thought it to be more likely that it was Fox.
I didn’t immediately name the dog but a few weeks after my furry shipmate had joined me I was invited to the annual Gloucester Fiesta. The seaport of Gloucester has always been the second home of many Portuguese sailors and the Fiesta is influenced by their native traditions and religious beliefs.
Above the Catholic Church stands a Madonna that cradles in her arms not a child but the model of a Schooner Fishing Vessel. To celebrate the beginning of the Fiesta she is taken down and paraded through the town. A huge Clambake is also prepared for the festivities. This entails the digging of a pit in the ground, filling it with logs and stones, lighting a fire, and when the stones are hot enough, covering them in layers of fresh clams that are wrapped in clay. The hot stones and clams are then covered with sand and allowed to cook slowly. When they are fully cooked and eaten no shellfish tastes anyway near as delicious as do those from the Gloucester Fiesta.
Also during the Fiesta then was the annual Greasy Pole Contest. This involved a ships mast being erected in a horizontal position twenty feet above the surface of the water and about a few hundred yards offshore. The plank like structure was then covered in thick grease and a small flag was placed at the seaward end, and a ladder down to the water at the other. The objective of the contest was for young men to swim out to the structure, climb the ladder, and attempt to walk from one end of the pole to the other in order to retrieve the flag.
Crowds of onlookers lined the beach and cheered as dozens of contestants swam out to the pole and attempted to walk its treacherous length but none succeeded. The crowd began to chant “Salvador”, “Salvador”. I was told that a man by the name of Salvador Benson was the undisputed champion of the Greasy Pole Contest and that when he was a small boy his father had rigged an old ships mast flat in his garden, covered it in thick grease and trained his son to walk it blindfolded. When Salvador became a man he won the public contest so many times that he eventually retired from competitive pole walking. The chants grew louder “Salvador”, “Salvador”, “Salvador”, until eventually Salvador Benson appeared. The old man swam out to the pole like the champion he was. He climbed the ladder up to the pole and walked its length with casual ease. He took the flag from the end of the pole and held it high for the crowd to see. To the joyous roar of his audience Salvador with flag in teeth dived into the sea and I named my new dog ‘Salvador’.
I sailed on several different ships during my time along the Eastern Seaboard of the Americas, including one fine vessel called the ‘Black Jack’. She was a Topsail Schooner that carried a Square Sail above the Mainsail. Oh how those days at sea were filling my very veins with salty dreams and ambitions. I read Joshua Slocum’s book ‘Sailing Alone Around The World’ and that done it, I had to have my own sailing vessel no matter what.
I also sailed on a vessel named the ‘God’s Bread’. She was forty-five-foot from stem to stern, of a Colin Archer design, and rigged as a Ketch. Oh how that small sailing ship handled and took the bone in her teeth when sailing in heavy seas. I decided that the double-ended design of these Norwegian boats with their superior ability to be handled short-handed was what I needed for myself. It was while sailing on the ‘God’s Bread’ that I spotted my first whale. It was North of Boston and beyond sight of land when I was at the helm and off my Port-Bow appeared a dark shape that I at first thought to be rocks. As I sat motionless and speechless, it rose from the water. It soon became evident to me that it was in fact a whale. As it dived the fluke of it’s tail smashed the surface of the water making a loud thud that sent sea spray high into the air. What an incredible experience that was and one that I have painted many times.
Although I very much adored what I was experiencing in the Port of Gloucester it did not fit with what had become my long-term ambitions. I was driven by the idea of owning my own sailing vessel and dreamed of oceangoing adventures but I needed more money than I could possibly make as a deckhand or shipwright. So I attained the price of an airfare from Boston to London from the sale of my old GMC pickup truck, and arranged for my boatbuilding tools to be shipped by sea to England. I found a good home for my dog ‘Salvador’ on the farm of a friend.
I left the shores of America and headed for my homeland. It would be another two decades before I would again step onto American soil.
Ship’s Log: August 17th (entry 02).
As I approached Dartmouth, to my Starboard-Side I came alongside the entrance to ‘Old Mill Creek’. At the mouth of the Creek I picked up a vacant mooring. I then took the dinghy on an exploration of the shallow waters of the far reaches of that offshoot of the River Dart.
It was Slack-Tide as I slid through the water and along that lazy Creek. My mind began to wander, and I remembered days gone by.
‘An Englishman Back In England’
My airplane touched down at Heathrow in the early hours of Christmas Eve. I caught a coach to the train station and on that clear frosty morning I travelled from London to Market Harborough. As the train made it’s way North across the English landscape I looked out of the carriage window at the white fields and contemplated my future.
I left the train when it arrived at Harborough and caught a taxi out to the village of Lubenham where my family lived. The driver had taken the road that would pass by Gartree Prison and follow the route on through Foxton and onto my destination. Although by mid-afternoon the fields were still covered by a thick white frost, the sky was clear and blue. When the taxi reached the junction that divides the roads that lead to the villages of Gumley and Lubenham we had to wait while the County Hunt crossed in front of us. Although I had adopted a firm philosophy that man should only hunt for what he would eat, I could not help but feel a lift in my spirits at the sight of the huntsman’s red jackets, fine horses, and their hounds. Silly as those English saddles now seemed to me, and the idea of such an army hunting for one single fox just for their amusement, the scene did reminded me that I was an Englishman back in England, and that brought a smile to my face.
I had told no one that I would be arriving, so it was a huge surprise to my family, and we together had a wonderful and happy Christmas.
The previous time that I had arrived back in the UK I had five thousand dollars in my pocket but this time was quite different. I was utterly penniless. So as soon as the festivities were over I set about finding work. I visited the Carter Design Studio where I had so many times worked before. They had expanded greatly and built many new workshops while also employing a far larger workforce. They were in no need of my creative abilities but did give me a job in the metal work department. It was horrid work that was dirty and incredibly boring but it did pay a reasonable wage, so I knuckled down and worked my hands with steel while I saved a few pounds.
In a short while I was mobile again, owing to the fact that for some years my Father had given Andrew my brother an allowance that was intended for him to save until he was old enough to visit me in America. He had saved a few hundred pounds that was no longer needed in order to come to America so I persuaded him that we should use the money to buy a car, and I would teach him how to drive. Not that at that time I was in the possession of an English driving license myself but it seemed like a good idea at that time.
The little yellow Renault car that we bought gave us freedom again. Where I was living at my Mother’s house in the country was in a small village with one pub called ‘The Coach And Horses’ the next nearest place to get a beer was six miles away in the town of Market Harborogh. Given that owing to a fistfight with some local farmhands, Andrew and myself had been banned from drinking in the village pub that was only two doors away from our cottage, the twelve-mile round trip into town was an ordeal. That little car meant not only could I get into town, but I could also visit the neighboring villages.
For a while my dreams of sailboats were put to one side. I had one girlfriend who worked in the factory of the Carter Design Group, and was also dating a Girl named Sue Giles, who’s father owned a Motel in town. I was also having an affair with my Brother’s Schoolteacher who lived next door to us. I guess I pretty much went off the rails for a while. My only excuse for my behavior back then is maybe because it had been so many years since I had regularly slept in a proper bed, then I should sleep in as many as possible while the opportunity was there.
The year was 1977 and my time as a metal worker had come to an end. It was the year of our Queen’s Royal Silver Jubilee that would celebrate the 25th year of her reign on the throne. On the day of her coronation twenty five years earlier I had as a small boy attended a street party and was so disappointed that she failed to show up in her golden carriage but I could at long last forgive her for her non attendance because I had been commissioned to build a forty foot high aluminum sculpture that would depict a contemporary version of her household crest, and be erected high above the newspaper offices of the Leicester Mercury. I was again flying high and making good money once more.
I came to be commissioned to undertake a number of creative projects and had begun to drink far too much alcohol. One night when I was cruising around the surrounding country pubs and on my way home I missed a turn in the road and as I thought at the time, landed the little yellow car in a ditch. I was entirely unhurt and able to walk home. The following morning my Brother awoke and asked where was the car? I casually replied that there had been a small problem. We recruited the help of a local mechanic who drove us to where I thought the car had slid off the road. As we approached the site of my mishap, on the first bend in the road we passed a bright yellow left wing, on the second bend was the rear boot of the car, and on the third bend we found the sad remains of a smashed car that had been rolled three times. How on earth I had escaped without injury must have been a near miracle.
The car crash was for me a wakeup call. So I slowed down on the drinking and once again threw myself wholeheartedly into my artwork. I put together a small studio close to the Grand Union Canal where I renovated two old printing presses, one being an old Albion Press and the other a Columbian. I spent month upon month hand carving boxwood and lino from which I would produce multi-coloured prints. Above the print workshop I also made picture frames and had a small art gallery where I would sell my work. The venture was reasonably successful but it was no way near to achieving my ambition of building a boat. However, I did at that time attend night classes in New Parks, Leicester and studied the art of ocean navigation for the purpose of qualifying for a Master’s Ticket.
On one hot summer’s day I was taking a casual drive around the countryside with Andrew, a guy called Norman, and another fella who’s name I forget. Norman was suffering from a severely broken leg; consequently he was in a plaster cast that went from foot to hip. Norm hadn’t been able to get out of his house for some time, hence the reason for taking him for a drive.
I was driving a car that I had only owned for a short time. It was a splendid bronze coloured Simca Estate that was fitted with a fantastic stereo system. Throughout the afternoon we aimlessly cruised around listening to music and smoking grass.
Somehow we came to be on the road that leads to that old Ford that crosses the River Welland. Remembering the incident when I virtually drowned my two old aunts, I should have already have learnt my lesson about crossing that river without great care.
When the Ford came into view the water didn’t appear to be particularly deep.
I remember that we were listening to ‘Ship Of Fools’ by Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band (looking back, how appropriate that tune was for what was about to happen). I turned the music up to full volume, hit the throttle, and to the delight of my travelling companions I raced towards the Ford. When we hit the water we were going fast enough that we made it out to the middle of the river. All of the car windows were wound down, so the huge splash that we had made came cascading in. Then suddenly we were sinking. We only went down to a depth of a few feet but the car was well and truly stuck. We managed to get Norman ashore with his cast still in tact, and later that day a neighboring farmer came to our aid with his tractor.
I resolved not to go near that wretched river ever again.
Once again I successfully got my life back on track, and I was commissioned to create a stream of design projects but yet again a woman was to turn my head and alter my overall direction.
Her name was Di Cheer; she was of Chinese Malaysian origin, beautiful and wealthy. Di lived in a luxury apartment with it’s own swimming pool. It was located in Highgate, London, and she regularly shopped at Harrods’s Apartment Store in Knightsbridge for her daily luxuries. For the best part of a year Di and I indulged ourselves in a torrid love affair. We spent much of our time in London and often went on holiday. One of the road trips that we once embarked upon led us to explore much of the South West Coast of England. It was the first time in my life that I had visited Devon and Cornwall. It was also the first time in some years since that I had set my eyes on the open ocean. With the taste of salt on my lips and the sight of oceangoing boats I instantly put to one side any further thoughts of romance by way of a woman. Soon after that vacation ended Di returned to her native Kuala Lumpur and for myself I got back to work and making some money towards the building of a boat.
For a while I got the job of working in a cabinetmaker’s shop that was situated in Great Glen, Nr Leicester City. I met with a girl named Annette Warburton and we became very close and in turn became romantically involved. Annette had a three-year-old daughter named Danielle who was adorable. We lived together in a small house that we had bought in a village called Kibworth. Our home was close to the Grand Union Canal and boasted huge gardens both at the front and back of the house. After so many years I returned to my passion for growing things, especially those that can be eaten. I wasn’t any longer working but we always seemed to be OK for money. I grew potatoes, peas, beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and many varieties of fruit. We burned wood upon our open fire while listening to music. Life became very much idyllic. I renovated an old Morris Minor Traveller and got a dog that I named ‘Opal’. I also spent a year or so creating a series of large-scale oil paintings. This collection of pictures are titled ‘Rusko’s World’, which is also the name of a story I wrote at that same time. Things seemed to be working out just fine then one day we decided to go on holiday in Devon. We drove South and after some exploration of the Devon Coastline we arrived at Kingswear and was in line waiting for the ferry that crosses the River Dart. I looked out over the river and in front of my eyes was a Colin Archer Sailboat making it’s way up river. That old feeling of having something that I was bound to do, returned again. Our holyday went extremely well and I suggested to Annette that we sell up in Kibworth and move house to Dartmouth. She seemed to also find the idea attractive, so I began to put a game plan together.
After returning to our home in Leicestershire I began to work on the house so that it would fetch the best possible selling price. I applied to enroll on a course in Southampton where I could study marine architecture and become a qualified boat builder. I was accepted on the course but would have to wait a considerable time before I could attend. So I travelled to Bristol and took work as a scenic artist in the employment of BBC Television. While there I worked on film productions and television dramas such as the ‘Onedin Line’, Old Man At The Zoo’ and ‘Beau Geste’. I also worked on the TV show ‘Animal Magic’.
Eventually the time came when
I would be studying in Southampton. Annett said that she fully understood why I
was going to be away from home for yet another long period of time and was
supportive of my plans. In Southampton I learnt many new skills and greatly
improved on my existing ones. After successfully completing my course I
returned to Leicestershire and prepared to once again travel to the waterways
of Devon in search of work and a new home for us.
Ship’s Log: August 17th (entry 03).
Having reached where the Creek comes to an end I pulled the dinghy up onto the beach, tied it off to a rock, and stepped ashore.
I walked through the thick woodland that lines the banks on both sides of the inlet, and climbed to the top of the steep hillside that overlooks Old Mill Creek.
I loaded my Morris Minor Traveller with all of my boatbuilding tools, warm clothes for the winter, and my dog ‘Opal’. As I drove South on that crisp day in January I took the old Fosse Way which is the Ancient Roman Road that runs from Lincoln, through Leicestershire and on down to the City of Bath. It was a long and arduous journey that took many hours. From Bath I headed towards Exeter and then Due-South towards Devon. By nightfall I had reached my destination in the Port of Dartmouth. I booked into a small Bed and Breakfast House, and then I was out to find some food and explore some of the local alehouses.
After eating a hearty portion of Fish and Chips I walked along the waterfront where I found myself to be outside of a small pub called The Dartmouth Arms. It was situated at the top of the Slipway of the Lower Ferry, which transported foot passengers and cars across the River Dart to Kingswear. Where that Ferry landed on the other side of the river was where Annett and myself had first made sight of the River Dart some years earlier.
Inside the Dartmouth Arms I found an array of local fisherman and assorted boat people. Knowing only too well that working people from the South West do not often readily welcome outsiders, I bought a pint of beer and sat myself quietly beside the open fire that was burning in a brick fireplace by the corner of the bar.
I at first kept myself to myself and listened to the conversations that were going on in the bar. Some of the other customers looked at me with suspicion but others were more interested in my dog. Dogs are always a good icebreaker in such situations, and that evening was to be no exception.
One man who had been stroking my dog asked what was her name? “Opel” I replied. The man introduced himself to be ‘Colin Beer’. Later we were to become very good friends but on that night I was not going to be accepted so easily. More of the locals gathered around and inquired what I was doing there? Where I had come from? And what I wanted? I announced that I was a shipwright and a sailor. I also explained my intentions, including the fact that I was in need of work. Although the conversation then became icy, I was advised where I might find an inroad for my quest. That advice may just have been to get rid of me because I was given the name of a man who was in another town that was some miles further up the coast. However, after a good nights sleep I went in search of the man whose name I had been given.
The next day I travelled along the coastline and then inland until I reached the town of Kingsbridge. There I found the man who I was looking for. His name was ‘Peter Gregson’. Peter was also one day to become a good friend of mine and would be of immense help to me on many occasions. He had at that time a small office in Kingsbridge from where he would arrange the sale and repair of wooden boats; the name of his company was and still is simply ‘Wooden Ships’. Peter told me about a local boatyard that were located in Salcombe. The name of the yard was ‘Winters Boatyard’ and apparently they were looking for more hands to work there. So I made my way to the town of Salcombe, found Winters Boatyard and applied for the job. I was successful and invited to start work there the following day. That same afternoon I found a small apartment for rent during the winter. It was at a reasonable price and situated in a nearby village called ‘Chilington’. It was a smashing little place and very comfortable indeed, so I moved in immediately.
The following morning it was very cold and I had to scrape ice from the car windscreen before I could make my way to Winters Boatyard. When I arrived I was introduced to the Yard Foreman, it was more than evident that he immediately took a huge dislike to me. That man was to make my life hell during the forthcoming months.
The winter in Devon that year was bitterly cold and the boatyard where I was working was a bleak place at the best of times. Although the yard had a couple of sheds that were large enough to get big boats into, they were open ended and exposed to the sea. The cold wind would howl through those sheds, leaving nowhere for a man to take shelter or warm himself. If ever there was a job to be done in the yard that was backbreaking and horrible it would be given to me. I was entirely ostracized by my fellow workers and ridiculed by the yard foreman. However, after work I would return to my accommodations, take a hot shower, and cook a hearty hot meal. After I had eaten and was warm I would pull out my sea charts and practice my skills in the art of navigation. Because the long journey to Leicestershire and back would take too much time and I could ill afford to lose my job there was no chance of seeing Annett and Danielle until the winter ended. So at weekends I would visit Dartmouth and stay at the Bed and Breakfast House that I had done so when I first arrived. I often drank in the Dartmouth Arms and as time went on I became to be accepted by the local peoples who drank there.
As the winter wore on and the weather began to improve I was itching to get on the water. Although at work I often had to go out to boats in order to check their moorings, it was sails that I yearned for. So in my spare time I started to renovate an old sailing dinghy called ‘Skip Jack’. I was by then beginning to prove myself as a competent shipwright and in turn was becoming acquainted with many people who were of the boating community around Devon.
The Easter holidays arrived and my cousin Ray came to visit me. He brought with him my Mother, Annett, and Danielle. They came to stay at my temporary home in Chillington, where we had a happy and pleasant reunion. While my family were staying with me they visited a place nearby called ‘Beesands’. Mum found an old static caravan there that was in need of refurbishing and was for sale for a very reasonable price. It sat right on the beach not many yards from the waters edge. After the family had returned to their homes Mum and I acquired the caravan and I moved out from my place at Chillington and onto Beesands Beach. I soon had the caravan very comfortable and looking good. It was springtime and oh how I loved living on that beach. I’d swim in the ocean regularly, and in the evenings I’d watch the occasional sailboat pass under the moonlight. I could put up with working in that horrid boatyard no longer so I quit and put the word out that I was looking for alternative work. Mum came down to the caravan on occasion and it was good to see her happy there. I was at long last able to take the odd trip back to Leicester and that made me happy. I got some sailing in and life in Devon was beginning to look not only possible but also good. But I did need to find paying work, and soon at that.
I didn’t have to wait long at all. Word reached me that a small boatyard in Totnes was looking for a shipwright. Totnes is a small town situated up-river from Dartmouth, it is as far along the river as any vessel with a tall mast can navigate. I visited the yard and met with the owners, they explained that they had been commissioned by a man from New Zealand to fit out and rig a brand new sailboat. The vessel was already standing in the yard amongst a wide variety of other boats. It was just the bare hull but she had extremely pretty lines. The hull was made from steel and was of an Alan Pape design. This was just what I was looking for by way of work. The yard owners explained to me that the man who had commissioned them to build the boat worked on an Oil-Rig in the North Sea and could only pay in installments for the work to be done. However, they said that they felt sure that they could find other work for me that would fill the gaps of time between the intermittent payments for the work on the steel boat. We agreed on an hourly rate and that I would work for the yard on a self-employed basis, but first I would have to prove myself as a boat builder.
The very first job that I was asked to do for the yard in Totnes was on a fishing boat. It was a newly built vessel that was tied up alongside the wharf at Steamer Quay. I was to drill holes beneath the waterline and to install the skin fittings, and then connect them to a huge tank where live crab would be kept until they would be landed ashore. It was a difficult job to do because it had to be done between high and low tide, and some of the work necessitated me being outside of the boat and therefore wading in the mud. I cut the holes and put in the skin fittings but the owner who had been watching from the shore said the work was taking too long a time and that he would finish the piping-in himself. It was obvious to me that this had been his intention from the start but he simply wanted some other fool to do the bit from the mud. He refused to pay me for what work I had already done and we argued. I was hotter headed in those days and without thinking I threatened to sink his boat if what he owed me was not forthcoming. I knew this was not a good start for me, and that night I drowned my sorrows back in Dartmouth, at the Dartmouth Arms. The next day as I passed Steamer Quay, to my utter horror the fishing vessel was underwater. The cause of her sinking had been that the boat’s skipper had not done his part of the work properly but remembering well the threat that I had made, I worried what would happen next. Fortunately very little came of the event and before too long people even laughed about it.
One of the owners of the yard in Totnes was a man named Jim Bizley. He had recently bought an old fishing boat that he was intending to renovate. The name of the vessel was the ‘Eileen’. Jim took me to see the Eileen where she was sitting on the slipway at Galmpton Creek. She was an ageing wooden ship that had originally been fished under sail. In later years her twin masts had been removed and a diesel engine fitted. Although she was in need of some serious work to be done before she would again go to sea, her lines were sweet and business like. With her vertical stem and wineglass shaped stern she was a true Looe Lugger.
I surveyed the Eileen and found her to be reasonably sound but her decks had rotted away, a number of her frames had split and were in need of being replaced. She was nail-sick and would need to be refastened. Some of the planking above and below the waterline also needed to be replaced. All of the work that needed to be done I had done on other boats but the Eileen was a heavily constructed vessel of more than forty foot long, she boasted five inch sawn oak frames, and was planked edge to edge with one and a half inch thick pitch pine. This was not a job for one man alone. Jim was an excellent diesel mechanic but woodwork was not his forte. He told me that he had very little money to spend on the venture at that time but would pay me what he could ‘as-and-when’. I knew that if I accepted this challenge then my job in the boatyard would be secure, and possibly for enough time for me to acquire my own ship. So I accepted Jim Bizley’s offer and began working on the Eileen in the evenings and on weekends.
For the following months I worked on the steel boat for a few days a week and also on a variety of other boats. A lot of the work was repairing boats that were made of fiberglass, or treating them with epoxy resin to cure osmosis. That work was filthy dirty and toxic, I hated it but I was saving money towards acquiring a boat of my own.
For the Eileen I marked out and laminated the replacement frames with well-seasoned oak. It was impossible to get hold of any pitch pine so I also used oak for the new planking. I laid a new deck on her that was of thick marine plywood covered with iroko planking. Eventually she was refastened, put back in the water and floated up-river to Totnes to be fitted out.
Back in Leicestershire we had eventually found a buyer for our house in Kibworth. I had found a suitable house for Annett, Danielle, and myself just outside of Dartmouth and returned home to celebrate before the move South. A week later I was back in Devon and Annett as she had done so a few times before came down to visit me on the beach at Beesands. At that time she made no mention of her change of heart. On the day that she was due to arrive in Devon to live she telephoned me at the boatyard and announced that she had met another man and that our relationship was over. I was hurt but in some ways relieved.
As winter approached I moved out from the caravan at Beesands and rented a small house in Dartmouth. I also found a comfortable place in town for my Mother to live. She was happy to leave the village of Lubenham and very quickly settled into her new home, for her it was a dream come true. But my own dreams were getting no closer.
Ship’s Log: August 17th (entry 04).
It was not my first expedition in the woodlands that surround Old Mill Creek. I some years earlier found by accident the old boatyard that is at the shallow end of that lazy inlet.
Looking down through the trees so long ago was when I first caught sight of the half sunken vessel that would change my life.
Dartmouth is the home of The Royal Navel College, where Midshipman are trained to become Naval Officers. The college is an impressive piece of architecture that overlooks the River Dart and sits at the mouth of Old Mill Creek. One day when I was exploring that Creek I discovered just what I had been so long looking for. On the North-Side of the Creek a few derelict vessels were beached along the shoreline. As I was wandering through the woods I was able to look down at the sad looking boats that sat there with the water running through their damaged hulls as the tide went out, and there she was. A thirty eight foot original Colin Archer Pilot Cutter. I slid down the bank to take a closer look.
The tide was not fully out so I waited watching the water spill out from her planking. She obviously had water running in and out of her on every tide. Eventually I was able to get close enough to inspect that sad looking, but once fine wooden boat. Her lines were of a typical Colin Archer design, pointed both at the bow and the stern, a wide beam, and robustly built in order to withstand very heavy seas. I climbed aboard and found the decks and deck beams to be completely rotted away due the constant exposure to rain water. Although the topside planking was also in very poor condition, below the waterline, the mud and saltwater had preserved much of the original structure. An inspection of the inside revealed that most of her frames were either split or rotten. The thick oak planking had been originally fixed to her heavy oak frames with treenails; these are wooden dowels that stay in place with the use of wedges. She must have once been used as a fishing boat as there were very large holes cut in the hull below the waterline, I took these to be the feed to a water tank holding live fish. The paint on a board at the bow, although faded, proudly displayed her name ‘Nordfiord’. My suspicion at that time later proved to be correct. Yes, she was really an original Colin Archer Pilot Cutter that had been built in Norway during the late eighteenth century.
Some weeks later I managed to track down the owner of Nordfiord, and in my wisdom I paid him one thousand pounds for her to be mine. It never crossed my mind that she wasn’t salvageable nor did I doubt my own ability to bring her back to life again.
The first job was to get her floating again, get her up-river to the yard in Totnes where I would have her craned out of the water and begin the mammoth task of rebuilding her. I began by stooping the water coming in below the waterline. To do this I would watch as the tide receded and note where the water was coming out from. Then at low tide I would re-caulk the leaking seams with hemp. Gradually I managed to make her mostly watertight, mostly but certainly not completely. The trip up-river was not going to be an easy one.
The day came when on a High Spring Tide I was able to get Norfiord off of the beach. A local waterman towed my vessel with me onboard up to Dittisham where I would have to sit it out due to the changing tide. I had three big water pumps on-board and needed all three because the moving of the boat had caused her to flex and begin to take in a lot of water. While I waited for the tide to turn I really thought that I might lose her. With a lot of scurrying around, bailing, and paying attention to the leaking seems I managed to keep her afloat until my tow returned on the rising tide. Eventually I docked at Totnes and Nordfiord was lifted out of the water and shored up on the hard.
I knew that I was going to need much time and money to fix up my long awaited for wooden ship. So I moved out of my house in Dartmouth, bought a small caravan to live in and put it along side my boat. With a chainsaw I began to cut away the rotten wood. I found the fresh water damage to be far worse than I had originally anticipated. It is rainwater that destroys wood not saltwater, and Nordfiord had been open to the rain for many years. I cut away what remained of the coach-roof and all of her deck beams. I welded a temporary steel frame inside of her to stop her from going completely out of shape when I removed the entire carlin. I had to take away most of the topside planking, and some that was below the waterline. Now that she was empty it became evident that not many of the original oak frames were without some need of attention and an awful lot of them would need to be replaced.
I needed money for materials so I had to also work on other people’s boats while I worked on my own but I also occasionally took time off from work and visited my Mother in Dartmouth. I’d often stay for a couple of days, and while I was there I’d always find the time for a drink in the Dartmouth Arms Pub. My brother Andrew had by then also moved to down to Dartmouth and sometimes I would find work for him but he was not of much use. Andrew as always was lazy and unreliable. He was better suited to getting drunk and fighting than he was to hard work.
I carried on working through a long hard winter that was cold and wet and my spirits dropped somewhat. Then one day I met a girl named Maxine, she was a divorced woman who lived in Totnes. We became lovers and I’d often stay at her house. I liked Maxine and if it had not been for her fatal accident I think that our relationship may have flourished. Sadly, one night when she was walking across a busy road a car struck her and she died on the spot. After that I began to work on the boat like there was no tomorrow.
I made the new frames for Nordfiord from five inches thick grown oak. I cut them first on an old band saw and then shaped them with a shipwright’s adze. For the one and three quarter thick planks I used iroko wood. The new carlin I made by laminating two strips of seven inch by three-inch lengths of iroko, and the deck beams were also seven by seven. My wooden ship was coming along very nicely.
Around about that time I was drinking in the Dartmouth Arms one night and overheard two men talking about a barge that was moored at the mouth of Old Mill Creek. I heard them say that if they could find anyone fool enough, that they would sell them that barge for a meager price of one pound. I’m not sure how it came about but by the end of the evening I had become the new owner of a hundred and twenty foot iron barge.
I was not as stupid as that makes me sound to be. That barge I knew to be a munitions vessel that dated back to the war years. The floors of those boats had been lined with Pitch Pine planks that were as much as thirty foot in length, fourteen inches wide, and five inches thick. Those planks would also be free of nails or any other metal fixings so as not to create sparks. Of course this was just my guess but it was a gamble that to me seemed to be a reasonable one.
The following day I took a dinghy out to the barge so as to inspect my new acquisition. That giant hunk of iron was tied on deep-water moorings at the mouth of Old Mill Creek. As I came alongside, to my horror I could see that she was peppered with holes that had rusted through, and many of these were located just above the waterline. She could easily have sunk at any moment. Having climbed on-board I discovered her to be full of rubbish and worthless old boat supplies. However, after having cleared enough rubbish that I could see the floors, my hopes were fulfilled. Yes, they were of fine old Pitch Pine.
It came to light that the vessel had accumulated huge financial bills by way of Harbor Dues but I negotiated with the Harbor Authorities and they fortunately for me agreed that if the vessel was moved out from the river and her precarious location then they would see fit to waver all moneys owed. They agreed to this because if she had have sank where she was at that time it would have partly blocked the entrance to the Royal Naval College and that would have cost a fortune to rectify.
A few days later I hired a small crew of men to help me move the barge from her moorings and remove her bounty of precious timber. With the help of a local working boat we slowly moved the barge to the upper reaches of the creek and with nothing but mussel power hauled her up onto the beach. Over a period of time her priceless Pitch Pine floors were lifted and deposited onto the shore, where they were made into rafts and then floated up-river to Totnes. As for the barge, it eventfully was moved to the end of the creek, filled with rubble, and became an extension to the boatyard quay. In Totnes the timber was milled and became the Bulkheads and internal structures of both the vessels: Eileen and Nordfiord.
At that time I had also put a deposit down towards buying the bottom half of a house in Dartmouth. I had no intention of living there myself. The idea was to
rent it out during the summer months as a holiday home, and for the rest of the year as a winter let. I put the place in the hands of a letting agent and things went well. I was able to pay the monthly mortgage and make a small profit for myself.
The summer came and went, and Nordfiord was near to being ready to go back into the water but I became ill. It seemed that I had been intoxicated from all of the chemicals in the epoxy resin that I had been using on the fiberglass boats. My eyes suffered due to my condition, my whole immune system was in turmoil, and all of my hair fell out within days (It has never grown back since). I was in no shape to spend another winter in that cold caravan on the quayside and was lucky enough to stay at a woman’s house in Totnes. The woman’s name was Lesley and she had a six-year-old daughter named Leila.
Gradually I recovered and regained my strength but I had lost my job in the boatyard and there seemed to be very little boat work around. Fortunately the economy in England at that time was very healthy and there was a property boom occurring. Suddenly there was far more money to be earned building and renovating houses than there was in boatbuilding. So I began turning my skills towards house carpentry. I very soon made reasonably large amounts of cash. I bought a second property where I intended to live myself. The house stood alone in Kingswear on the Northern side of the River Dart. The view across the river was fantastic. The name of the house was ‘Contour House’, it was in need of modernization but I knew it to be a really good investment. Lesley and Leila also moved into that house with me and for a while we lived a privileged lifestyle. I bought a small wooden motor cruiser on which we spent many weekends pottering up and down the River Dart. Real Estate began to increase in value faster than ever before and the banks were all too keen on lending money against assets. My place in Dartmouth was now fetching in good money so we bought yet another property in Dartmouth to let out as a holiday let. I had so much work on that I moved into a small workshop and began to employ several other tradesmen to work alongside me. For the first time in my life the money seemed to keep rolling in. I bought and sold some property and even acquired a cottage in the middle of Totnes. I redesigned the place and obtained permission to change it into a shop, which I did. Lesley ran the shop and we sold fine furniture and artifacts from around the world. All in all, life was good.
During my days while living with Lesley we once visited Greece for a holyday. We had no fixed plans of where to say. Instead we picked up a hire-car at the airport in Athens and travelled West. Some hours later we crossed the bridge that crosses the Corinth Canal. From there we drove South until we found a suitable place to stay. By chance we had arrived in the beautiful town of Epidavros.
We stayed in a small hotel that overlooked the sea and daily we would explore the town and it’s surrounding area. It was a wonderful place and the local people made us most welcome. We enjoyed our stay there so much that we looked at a few houses that were for sale. One house was just perfect and was within what I could afford. The decision was made to buy that house and we were soon on our return to England to secure the funds and finalize the details of the purchase.
While on route back to Athens the busy traffic began to slow down. I thought it to be nothing more than a traffic jam but when the road came to a complete stand still, a line of tractors were forcing their way along the center of the road. Riding the tractors were men wearing black hoods and masks. They also carried crossed black flags and shotguns. The experience was frightening, and I had no idea of what was happening.
I managed to weave my way off of the main road and found my way onto a smaller road that the map said would lead to a small swing bridge that crossed the Canal West of Corinth.
On arrival at the bridge we found the scene to be unbelievably chaotic. The swing bridge had been forcibly opened and a tractor driven into the water in order to prevent the bridge from being functional. Along both banks of the canal there were crowds of people shouting and chanting. Many men were carrying big sticks and the atmosphere was violent and volatile. Somehow I managed to turn the car around but before leaving that horrendous episode, I witnessed a man being killed.
Corinth then was the only place to cross the canal that divides the North and South of Greece. The only alternative was to cross the entire country from East to West and then take a ferryboat across to the North-Shore.
Our trip to the West took hours and the ferry crossing was rough. I drove the long journey back to Athens, and we flew back to the UK. It transpired that the events that had occurred were due to the farmers from the South of Greece who were revolting against unfair financial practices on the part of the Greek Government. In the light of things that had happened I declined from buying the house in Epidavros.
Ship’s Log: August 17th (entry 05).
After my investigation of the surrounding steep tree-lined banks of Old Mill Creek I rowed the dinghy back to where my vessel was temporarily but comfortably at rest.
By the time that I had finished eating, the sun had gone down. It was a warm and humid evening and while sitting in the Cockpit and sipping malt whisky, I could clearly see the lights of Dartmouth.
As I contemplated what I would do the following day my thoughts were again interrupted by memories.
Along with my new lifestyle I managed to get in a lot of sailing but had developed a desire for a ship with a wheelhouse, and one that was newer and in need of less maintenance. I looked around and found what I thought to be the perfect vessel for me. She was afloat in Pool Harbor, in the county of Dorset. The vessel was a Miller Fifer named ‘Molar’ She was built on the lines of a Scottish Fishing Vessel. Molar was fitted with a huge Perkins diesel engine. She was entirely made of splendid woods. Her large wheelhouse would give good cover in bad weather, and the accommodation was luxurious. Molar carried a Ketch rig and although she may have been a little under canvasd, she could sail close to the wind without the aid of the engine. She was a very seaworthy vessel indeed. So I sold both ‘Nordfiord’ and the ‘Osprey’ (my dear little motor cruiser), and bought what I then thought to be the best of all worlds.
To sail from Pool to Dartmouth should be about a two-day trip that might entail an overnight stop in Weymouth. The most difficult and sometime dangerous part of the passage is the rounding of Portland Bill. The Bill is a jagged piece of land that protrudes out from the Dorset coast. The tides there are always running fast and they create a lively race where white horses form and stretch far out to sea.
I was not afraid to bring back the vessel alone but I invited a good friend and excellent sailor and navigator named Bill Borman along for the trip. Together we made our way to where Molar was alongside the pontoons at a yacht club in Pool. We checked the boat over and decided that she was every bit ready to go to sea. The weather forecast was looking good for the next few days. Our intention was to sleep on-board and set to sea early the following morning.
We ate dinner on-board, after which we visited the yacht club’s bar for a couple of beers. I had just picked up a full pint when the club’s steward handed me a telephone saying that he thought the call might be for me. It was my Mother on the other end of the phone-line. I felt the full glass slip from my fingers and smash to the ground. The shock at what she told me left me numb. She said that she had been to the hospital for tests and they had diagnosed her as having cancer. They had also told her that there was nothing that could be done and that she would probably only live for another two weeks. I said that I would hire a car and return to Dartmouth immediately but she insisted that I bring the boat back as she just might get to go sailing with me for a last time. I agreed not to leave my ship in Pool and prepared to set sail the next morning. Little did I know what a horrendous trip it would be, or how long a time it would take.
From local knowledge we found out what would be the best time and tide to leave the marina pontoon, and how best to navigate the narrow channel that led to the outer harbor. We left our safe moorings early the following morning and made our way towards the small lifting bridge that leads out from the marina. Unfortunately the local knowledge was not entirely accurate and we went aground. I put the ship astern and somehow managed to get her off of the mud bank but as I was later that day to find out, she had sucked a lot of mud into her cooling system. We motored out into the middle of the harbor and dropped anchor. A stiff breeze was blowing and the sea was choppy. We cooked a hearty breakfast which after eating we set-sail for Dartmouth. Although we had the mainsail and mizzen raised and set we left the engine running. Our reason for motor sailing was that our first task was to round the Bill. There are two preferred routes around Portland Bill, one is to go far out to sea to avoid the tidal race altogether, the other is to take it on the inside and close to the high cliffs and jagged rocks. The second option is by far the quickest.
As we approached the Bill the weather, in spite of it’s favorable forecast began to deteriorate very quickly indeed. The stiff breeze turned to a howling wind and mountainous heaps of white spray engulfed us. The conditions although uncomfortable, still enabled us to make-way. Molar was proving her worth and took the heavy seas effortlessly. Then just as we reached the point of the Bill, our engine stopped and refused to restart. She had overheated due to the mud that had been sucked up earlier, and that was now blocking the engine’s cooling system. We had no alternative but to push on. Being under canvasd it took us hours and hours just to gain a few sea miles. By nightfall we were insight of Weymouth and the seas had become calmer. I succeeded in starting the engine again and we eventually motored into port and tied up alongside the wall of the dock. We were exhausted from the day’s events, so after we had eaten supper we fell into our bunks and slept.
The following morning the wind was beginning to blow hard again and the skies were looking daunting. Regardless of the weather I needed to get back to Dartmouth no matter what, so we slipped our lines and made our way out to sea. The waves began to build and Molar’s decks were constantly awash. I was so glad of that wheelhouse on that day. It was not long before again the engine spluttered to a halt. The head-gasket was now leaking so we would have to complete the journey under sail only.
The weather worsened and the sailing became hard work. Although my shipmate Bill was a competent and experienced sailor, he had recently undergone heart surgery. I could see from his face that the ordeal we were encountering was having an adverse effect on him and I became worried. The wind was constantly on the Bow, so we had to consistently tack back and forth. Even in such a seaworthy vessel it is more than possible to become afraid, but unlike any other type of fear; the fear at sea can last so long a time that you seem to come out the other side of it. Although I was in a most melancholy frame of mind due to the news about my Mother, when the fear of my situation at sea that day passed I began to be thrilled by the experience. The wind had swung around and was then on my Port-Bow. As I kept Molar on course to the point of the compass she heeled to Starboard and took on green water across her decks. It was only one day that we had been beating against the wind but it had seemed like an eternity. By nightfall the wind had dropped somewhat. Bill took the watch and I fell into my bunk and slept for a few hours. When I awoke I took over while Bill slept through the night, by then he was done for, and really needed to rest.
While I was at the wheel the ship was more at ease and making her way through sea under a clear sky and a full moon. The moonlight illuminated the white crests of the waves and the sails. I poured a large whisky for myself and settled at the wheel. As I passed along the coast; off my Starboard-Side I could see on the other side of the bay the lights of Torquay. When the dawn came the wind disappeared completely and soon the seas were quite flat. Bill awoke feeling much better and was able to prepare breakfast for us both. Only very light gusts of air would occasionally fill the sails and we were mostly relying on the tide to move us along. We lashed an oar to a long pole and tried sculling the boat forward but we were hardly moving at all.
For another twenty-four hours we floundered in the windless waters that blocked our passage to Dartmouth, and my own spirits also sank. Eventually we reached the mouth of the River Dart. Molar limped up the river under-sail until we passed the lower ferry and found a suitable place to anchor. I rowed ashore in the dinghy and arrived at the small hospital that overlooked the river, it was where my Mother had been taken in. Mum was in no condition to go out on a boat, so I stayed with her until the day that she died two weeks later. Her death truly broke my heart.
During the period of time that Mum’s life was slowly slipping away I stayed with her night and day. Just as the doctors had predicted she lasted only two weeks after having been diagnosed as having fatal cancer. Her last requests were that her funeral service would be held in the small Church that overlooks the River Dart from the Kingswear side, the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling was to be read aloud (she often read that poem to me when I was a small boy), and her coffin was to be covered by an RAF flag. It was not without difficulty that these requests were fulfilled.
I forget why but the Old Man (Father) and myself hadn’t spoken for more than five years. It was probably due to some minor disagreement, or one of his imagined occurrences. However after Mum died I felt duty bound make contact and tell him the sad news. We spoke on the telephone and he remarked that although they had been divorced for more than twenty years, he had always continued to love my Mother. He asked if I would visit him before he to was gone forever.
I travelled to London and found my way to where the Old Man was living. Across the street from his residence was a Public House, next to which was one of the old red telephone boxes. The time was five-to-five and since in those days the pubs didn’t open until five o’clock in the afternoon, it would only be a few minutes before they would be serving beer.
I telephoned the Old Man and he seemed to be really pleased to hear from me. I invited him to meet with me for a drink. He said that he thought that to be a splendid idea, and that he would meet me at nine o’clock. He added that his reason for the delay was that he only went out from nine o’clock until eleven. Since he failed to invite me into his home. I suggested that rather than me wait around for four hours, maybe just for once he could make it ‘five-till-seven’. He evidently thought that suggestion to be totally unreasonable of me. He promptly told me to ‘Fuck Off’ and put the phone down on me.
That was the Old Man for you; he never changed even in his last years. That was the last time we ever spoke and I never saw him again.
Just after my Mother died I was invited to go on tour with a twenty-two-piece jazz band called Loose Tubes. The contract was to tour first Turkey and then Greece, and the tour was to last for two months.
I thought the music tour would help me straighten my head out, so I jumped at the opportunity to get away for a while. While in Turkey I made many new friends and also met up with some old acquaintances like ‘Colin Lazzerini’ and ‘Tebi’ who I had known when he was playing percussion for Louis Moholo’s Viva La Black.
The tour was going well but I still held a heavy heart that I was finding difficult to shake off. When the band completed the Turkish gigs and there was to be a two-week break before the Greek tour would begin. Most of the band returned to England during the break but I chose not to do the same. I found my way to the island of ‘Aegina’ where I spent my days there under the shade of an Olive Tree, and browsed a few books.
All too quickly the time came for the tour to resume. I took the small ferryboat the goes from Aegina the Athens and arrived at the port of ‘Piraeus’. I met up again with Loose Tubes and the tour continued.
It was only two days before the tour would come to an end and we would be returning to the UK. We were somewhere in the South of Greece and were booking into a hotel. In the lobby a Greek girl who was also checking in for the night caught my eye. We happened to take the elevator at the same time. I introduced myself and invited her to join me in the bar for a drink. She said her name to be ‘Anastasia’ and accepted my offer. We agreed to drop our luggage off in our rooms and meet in the bar half an hour later.
With her raven black hair and dark eyes Anastasia was stunningly beautiful. She was also exceptionally well dressed. Having disembarked from the elevator I found my way to my room. As quickly as possible I dumped my luggage on the bed, showered, and put on some clean clothes. I was soon on my way to meet that most attractive woman in the bar as arranged but thought to myself that it was unlikely that she would really show up. However, on entering the hotel bar I found her to be waiting for me. The mere sight of her sent a shiver up my back and I felt very nervous. Having also paid attention to herself after a long day of travelling, she was now even more attractive and well turned out than I had first realized. We sat drinking cocktails and seemed to hit it off immediately.
We left the hotel and found a small restaurant where we dined on traditional Greek seafood dishes. After dinner we went on to a nightclub and danced. Anastasia’s company I found to be not only amenable, it was intoxicating. It was as though we had known each other for years. Later that night we made love, and then spent the whole night talking about our lives and hopes for the future.
Love is a strange thing, it sometimes evolves and develops over a period of time, and it can also disappear in an instant. This elusive and unpredictable emotion between two people can also occur in a moment. Anastasia and myself agreed that in less than twenty-four hours, we had fallen desperately in love with each other.
The following morning we ate breakfast together in the hotel. Anastasia was scheduled to soon leave for Corinth where she was committed to fulfilling a business obligation. For myself, I also was obliged to attend the last and final gig of the tour. We made no plan other than to meet in Corinth as soon as possible. After breakfast I escorted her to the bus station and set her on her way North. It was hard to see her leave but I was feeling like I was walking on air.
That night during the concert I went down to where the mixing desk was situated in order to check the sound. It had been set up in the middle of the audience and sat beneath the upper balcony. The guy on the mixers offered me a can of beer and I reached over to accept it. All my life I’ve heard it said that “Drink can kill you” but I tell you “It can also save your life”. Just as I leaned forward to reach for the beer that I had been offered, a huge spotlight that had been mounted on the rail of the balcony above came swinging down. It hit me in the left leg, and it hurt like hell. Had I not been leaning forwards it would have hit me full in my face. I was in shock and all I could hear was someone on the microphone saying “Alan’s been hit”. I was rushed to the local hospital to be patched up.
The accident prevented me from meeting with Anastasia, and in the midst of our previous intimate conversations we had foolishly not exchanged contact details. I didn’t even know where she lived. I returned to England and once again my heart was utterly broken.
Ship’s Log: August 18th (entry 01).
Very early next day I awoke abruptly due to the boat’s rocking from side to side violently, and I quickly rushed On-Deck to determine the cause of the vessel’s unexpected motion. It transpired that the cause was the passing alongside of a huge ship laden with timber and bound for Totnes.
I returned to my bunk with the intention of grabbing another hour or so of well needed sleep but again more of my own memories replaced random dreaming.
Opal had been with me for over ten years. That dog had escorted me through both the hard times and the good. We had developed an inseparable relationship and if a man could ever truly love an animal, my love for her was insurmountable. When she sadly died my heart was ripped out just like I’d lost a member of my own family. I have always found that dogs ask for so little but give so very much back in return. Every child should own a dog, and every man should be able to die with one by his side.
My Mother’s death had hit me hard and my enthusiasm for anything whatsoever waned. I sailed Molar around the coast for a while and that lifted my spirits but one night in a really bad storm she was damaged badly enough that I never sailed her again.
The overall economy changed overnight and the bank’s interest rates sored. England was in an economical recession. Property prices plummeted and my own assets dropped in value like snowballs rolling down hill that were heading for hell. I could find little paying work and therefore could not meet the payments that I owed to the bank. Under the financial pressure that I was being subjected to I sold all of the property that was in my name, and eventually was also forced to sell my ship.
It is said that ‘the only way that a man can lose all of his money is if he is ‘foolish or greedy’, unfortunately I had been both of these at the same time. Lose everything I did but my saving grace was that Lesley being oblivious to financial restrictions had accumulated a vast stock of valuable gold jewelry and precious stones. We abandoned our past and luxurious lifestyle in Kingswear and bought a humble house on Hooe Lake, Plymouth. It is a fact that when near poverty comes through the door; love goes out of the window. Lesley blamed me for our predicament and we drifted apart. We began buying and selling antique jewelry and opened a shop on the Barbican in Plymouth. For myself I got a job as a caretaker, come gardener/handyman on the estate of ‘Rutt House, Ivybridge’. I also used to travel to London each Friday to run a market stall selling gold and jewels in Bermondsey Market.
For a while we dodged the worsening economic recession and accumulated a large amount of jewelry and precious stones. I fitted out a campervan and hitched to it a ‘Safari’ caravan that we used to attend antique fairs throughout England and Wales. While on the road and selling our wares we were carrying a lot of cash and very valuable stock so I began carrying a pistol. We were again making money and living quite well but we had run away from our legal and financial obligations and therefore had become fugitives. At one time we even smuggled a horde of gold to France, Leila who was at the time still a child, accompanied us and she was carrying in her teddy bear enough gold to purchase a house in the South of France. I continued to run the market stall in Bermondsey but things were getting to be dangerous. Each week there were violent robberies and it was only a matter of time before I would become the victim. Then the Iraqi War broke out and the bottom fell out of the gold market, abruptly our lush income again came to an end.
For the couple of following years I retreated to painting and writing. During that period of my life I illustrated ‘Harry The Laughing Rat’ and wrote the story of ‘Runi’s Idea’. I also experimented with video and sound. We were by then pretty broke but I was being creative again.
When I had first met Lesley she had a black and white dog who’s name was ‘Alf’, he was of the breed of ‘Afghan Hound’. Alf was prone to running away or getting into all sorts of mischief, He was a lovable creature but never swayed from his delinquent behavior in all of the years that he was in my company.
Alf was always a constant source of amusement but his behavior could often be extremely frustrating. He and my other dog ‘Opal’ got along very well and both of them often accompanied me on sailing trips upon my boats.
That dog was in later years to be the hero of my kid’s book titled ‘Alf’.
I tired of being blamed for everything and anything and eventually Lesley and myself went our own separate ways. She found it difficult to accept the inevitability of the situation. The house in Plymouth was mortgaged to the bank but so were most people’s houses during the big recession. Lesley kept the house and I left with all that I could carry in my car.
I found work as a handyman on the estate out near Ivybridge. The place was owned by Dr. Ted Hamlyn and his wife Dr. Dorothy West. ‘Rutt House’ as the place was named was a rambling estate situated on the edge of Dartmoor. The main house was an impressive granite building, fronted with a wonderful oak porch.
At first I was just doing the gardening and some odd jobs around the estate but Dr. Ted Hamlyn soon realized that I was a skilled carpenter and builder. Within the grounds of Rutt House there were many large trees that had come down due to high winds. ‘Ted’ as I came to know him had the fallen trees milled into planks and charged me with the task of erecting a number of wooden constructions around his land.
Although the old doctor must have been in his late seventies by then he often worked alongside me. He was a hard and demanding taskmaster who often joked that I was his horse. He wasn’t far wrong; we were once digging out a hillside in order to produce a flat piece of land on which to create a vegetable garden, and Ted repeatedly had me pull a small cart full of earth with the use of ropes tied across my shoulders.
Ted Hamlyn was a grand old gentleman who was not only a medical practitioner but also a radical and outspoken critic of the politicians and bankers who he believed to be utterly corrupt. In his pamphlet, ‘The Money Textbook’, he writes: "Thin air becomes credit, becomes money the instant it is borrowed. It is a fraud that has worked so well for financiers, that they now own the whole world." Doctor Hamlyn was not the first person to question the right of commercial banks to issue new money. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both took a dim view of the practice, and Lord Stamp, a director of the Bank of England, spoke out against it in the 1940s.
Doctor Dorothy West and Doctor Ted Hamlyn were also devoted Scientologists. They had talked much about that persuasion and had invited me to attend a gathering of peoples with the same beliefs. I had previously heard about Scientology and had my reservations, so I had declined their offers. It came to be that a job opportunity came up that I found to be very appealing. A close friend of Dorothy’s was renovating an old Tudor built house in East Grinstead, Sussex. I contacted the man who owned the house and we agreed on a deal. At that time I was driving a van in which I transported a mobile workshop, and also owned a caravan that could be towed behind the van. So I hooked up my rig, loaded my tools and headed South to Sussex.
It turned out to be a great contract. Over the following months I replaced many of the old oak timbers that had hundreds of yeas ago formed the framing of the main house and it’s surrounding properties. It was a well-paid job that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Dorothy and Ted had gently suggested to me that while I was in East Grinstead and financially benefiting from one of their fellow Scientologists, that it would be polite for me to visit ‘Saint Hill’. That place was and is the global epicenter of Scientology.
I felt somewhat obliged to visit Saint Hill, and not without doubt and reservation I introduced myself at the Saint Hill Manor. The place seemed to be full of attractive females so I agreed to undertake being interviewed. I was persuaded to attend an introduction to Scientology and following that I enrolled on a couple of formal courses. Many years before during my days in the Rocky Mountains I believed to have experienced some spiritual moments. That may have been due to the fact that I was at that time reading the books of Carlos Castaneda and his tales of physical and spiritual excursions. So I was open to what I might find at Saint Hill. Many people view Scientology as being a questionably acclaimed religion or nothing more than a dubious cult. I won’t comment on my own opinions with regard to Scientology in this book, but what I will say is that I have met many committed Scientologists over the years and all of them have proved to be the most honest and caring people one could wish to come into contact with.
I spent a few months in Sussex and then returned to Devon.
I worked for Ted and Dorothy for a few years and during that time they treated me very well indeed. I regret never telling him so but as time went on I came to love Ted like he was my own Father. As well as constructing a number of wood-stores, barns, and stables from the estate’s own timber, I also built a small summerhouse alongside a pond. It was in that small cabin that I lived myself for a while. My other responsibilities included: tending Dr. Dorothy West’s horses, growing food for the table, keeping the grounds and gardens up to scratch, and the constant job of maintaining the old house. Years later and not long before he sadly died I saw Ted for the last time, As always he had that cheeky twinkle in his eye, smiled, and said to me “Alan there is not one part of this estate your hands have not touched, you should be proud.” As I write these words about that wise old man and dear friend my eyes fill with tears. I learnt so much from him, and will always remember him with immense affection.
Ship’s Log: August 18th (entry 02).
I stayed in my bunk for far longer than I had intended. My memories had turned towards some of the more pleasant and productive ones. So I revisited my past and pondered on how differently things could so easily have been so very different.
It seems to me that in spite of the
plans that we make throughout our lives, it is often the accidental occurrences
that make the most difference.
Towards the end of my time at Rutt House I happened to be in Plymouth one day and came across an add in the newspaper that mentioned a new course being launched, it seemed interesting so I visited Plymouth University to find out more. The course was to attain a ‘BSc Honors Degree’ and was titled MediaLab Arts. That course had been devised by an academic and visionary named Mike Philips. It was a brand new course with Brian Eno as it’s external advisor, and Rot Ascott as external examiner. It seemed just what I needed, so I applied to enroll on that course and fortunately I was accepted.
It was a time when the Internet was in it infancy and the World Wide Web had not yet been invented. Only recently had the Desktop Computer become available, and film, photography, and music had not yet gone fully digital. My reasons for enrolling on that course were due to my long-standing interest in mixing together images, film, and sound. I had become aware that with the new technology becoming available I could possibly fulfill my artistic ambitions that I had nursed since my days back in Canterbury. Mike Phillips had the idea of putting together a group of thirty individuals from varying backgrounds such as artists, musicians, actors, writers, dancers, and photographers. Then train them to also become computer scientists. What the creative outcome would be was to be seen. We were pioneers of the new digital arena and we called it ‘Multi Media’.
The idea was to find a metaphorical space where Art and Science would meet. So although all of the students that first formed the MediaLab were artists in their own right, few had any previous experience with computers. I myself had experimented with the early Spectrum computer that was programmed with the use of a computer language called BASIC and stored it’s data on magnetic tape, but I had no idea what so ever of what the new computers of the day could do, and even less of how to drive one. The MediaLab was fitted out with the latest Apple Mac computers. They were the LC with its newly developed GUI (Graphic User Interface) and a full colour screen monitor. These latest computers were not only fitted with a keyboard, they were also driven by the user making use of a device called a ‘Mouse’. I like many of my fellow students at first mistook the mouse to be a microphone. Yes, I had much to learn.
Our schedule for learning at the MediaLab was intense and demanding. We were expected to very quickly master a library of newly developed software that included: Pagemaker, Photoshop, Freehand, Magic, and Macromedia’s Director. Along with an interactive package that could be scripted, it was called Hypercard. We also studied hard-core computer programming in languages such as Pascal, Turbo Modular Two, and C; we also worked with truly object-orientated languages like C++ and Smalltalk. We learned how to Desktop Publish and produced our own magazine. We studied contemporary filmmaking and made video movies. Sound was also a big part of our learning and for this we adopted software called Q-Base.
For myself the MediaLab was a dream come true. I had left Rutt House and had rented a bedsit room in the middle of Plymouth. Although the social life at University was full of partying and drug taking I rarely participated. I was working diligently and was soon applying my newly acquired skills to creative endeavors of my own. I saved enough money to buy an Apple Mac LC2. I bought a second hand video camera along with an array of audio recording equipment. I began to make movies with computer generated effects and animations that were accompanied with sound. I loved every bit of what I was discovering.
I was soon undertaking freelance work for a number of design agencies and began to make some money. By the time that I graduated from MediaLab Arts the World Wide Web had arrived and email had become the preferred means of communication for business and commerce. Very few people were familiar with the software and new technology, and those who were became in great demand and would be paid very well for their talents. By sheer accident I had for once got things right.
I began producing Multi-Media and Interactive Packages for a graphic design studio in Truro, Cornwall. Many of the traditional publishing houses had begun to produce interactive CD-ROMs for entertainment and educational purposes. These were mostly produced with the use of Macromedia’s Director. This software I had mastered and got it down to a fine art. Even in London at that time there were only a few people who knew how to design and program these CDs, and in Cornwall there were none. So I based myself in Cornwall.
At first I rented a house in Kingsands. It was situated on the Cornish side of the River Tamar and just around the headland from the mouth of the river. My house in Kingsands sat on a jetty that protruded out into the ocean. During the winter storms the waves often broke on the roof of the house, and water would come tumbling through the ceilings and down the chimney. I sat at my computer for months while experimenting with my digital creations and doing freelance work.
By the following year I was working for three different design companies in Cornwall, they were Chris Neal Design, Timothy Guy, and Creative Edge. All three were situated further towards the South, so I moved into a small fisherman’s cottage in St Ives.
It seemed that I was never short of work and the money was flowing in quite nicely. I had also been invited to give some demonstrations and teach Multi-Media at what was then the Falmouth School of Art.
I had sunk low during the recession and worked hard in order to survive it but the economy had at long last turned a corner and I was not only back on my feet I was doing things that I really enjoyed, and making a living at it at the same time.
Ship’s Log: August 19th (entry 01).
By midmorning I had readied the boat for a fishing trip and was making way towards the mouth of the river. There was a light breeze blowing and the surface of the river was flat calm. As I gently glided out between the Twin Castles that majestically stand on the headlands each side of the river I set the sails and turned off the motor.
The sea-state that day was also calm indeed, there was however enough wind to slowly drive the boat forward. I strung out two lines from the stern, each of which carried several hooks baited with feathers.
‘Time To Go It Alone’
I spent a lonely winter in St Ives. Although during the summer months the town is a very busy holiday destination, the winter months leave it very empty. I used to drink in a bar called the ‘Sloop’ and that was quite lively but during winter many of the houses remain empty and the streets are very quiet. There was then some new software on the Multi-Media scene. It was then called ‘Future Splash’, and would later be known as ‘Flash’. I knew that this software was ideal for the creation of animation, so during my winter in St Ives I spent many days familiarizing myself with it.
I hadn’t spoken with my brother Andrew in years. We had met only once since our Mother had died, and on that occasion he had behaved appallingly. He had come back to Devon under the guise of putting flowers on Mum’s grave, but had arrived being very drunk and picked a fight with me. After he left I made the decision to have nothing more to do with him. Several years later I received a telephone call telling me that there had been an add published in the Harborough Mail Newspaper asking for any living relatives of Andrew Mark Williamson to contact the Southampton Police Force.
Although Andrew and myself had never been very close, the phone conversation that I made on that day knocked me for six. Andrew had apparently been murdered, and the police wanted to interview me. I was told that two detectives would travel from Southampton to Cornwall in order to talk with me. It crossed my mind that maybe I was a suspect. However, it turned out that the reason for their visit was to explain the circumstances of Andrews’s death to me.
It turned out that Andrew had been attacked in his own home. He had been hit on the head with a heavy piece of wood and left for dead. Apparently it had taken three days for him to slowly bleed to death. It was reported that when his body was eventually found, the walls where covered in his blood. He had certainly suffered a horrible and very painful death.
The detectives informed me that I had been ordered by the Clerk Of The Court in Southampton to identify Andrew’s body, and that I must immediately
make my way to the morgue where his body was awaiting identification.
My dear cousin Ray came along with me to Southampton. We were taken to the mortuary where Andrew’s body was on ice. When the porter produced the body and pulled back the sheet, I was horrified. He sure looked unwell. There was a hole in his head that was big enough that I could have lost my fist in it. His skin was the colour of pearl. Yes, it was Andrew, and he was most certainly very dead.
On that day I also learned that my Father had recently died in the Hackney Hospital. Apparently he had died from stomach cancer. He had refused all treatment, and disappeared from everybody who knew him. I guess that was so typical of the Old Man. He always had far too much pride to show any kind of weakness.
I was so glad that Mum had not lived to see that day; it would have broken her heart into pieces. My duty done I shed a tear and then returned to Cornwall.
I reached a point where I had enough of my solitary life in St Ives and therefore I moved closer to Falmouth. I moved to a cottage just a couple of miles outside of town, in a village called ‘Treverva’. I had met a beautiful Italian girl named ‘Rosetta Biondi’ who was a divorced woman and lived in Falmouth with her three sons named ‘Dominic’ aged 7, ‘Marco’ 5, and ‘JoJo’ 3. I got on very well with Rose but at first was mindful about embarking upon any sort of what might be a long term relationship with her. But love came into play and my better judgment abandoned me. It was not long before I moved into Rose’s house in town. Suddenly I was confronted with the demands of supporting a family of five and my freelance work did not bring in that kind of money. So rather than continue making money for other people’s businesses I made the decision to start my own company.
I spent a lot of time just making contacts and was soon invited to tender for a few quite prestigious projects. Enough contracts came in to justify taking business premises and opening up my own studio. Several interactive designers, animators, web developers, filmmakers, and programmers joined my new company and we named it ‘Emedia Europe Ltd’.
I had to borrow money from the bank in order to finance the venture but it seemed to be a safe gamble. We leased the middle floor of the Carrick Business Centre, located in Penryn. The offices we decorated to a high standard and equipped the studios with the very latest state of the art computers and video editing kit. Very quickly we were designing and developing creative projects for clients that included ‘PriceWaterHouse’ and the ‘Gaia Energy Centre’. Our financial turnover was not just good, it was huge.
While I was running Emedia we designed and developed a number of prestigious media projects. Probably the most rewarding was the movie titled ‘All About Energy’. The film focuses on humankind’s history with regard to our lust for more and more energy, and the dire consequences that appetite has brought about.
My old friend from the Tottenham days and manager of Loose Tubes, Mr. Colin Lazzerini came over from Vancouver to work on the project, and together we wrote the script.
Much of the historical footage came from the archives of the Science Museum, Green Peace, and Friends Of The Earth. Animation was laced into the movie and this was created by Mike Fosker and Mark Dearman. Patrick Bishop edited the final footage. For myself I acted as producer and director.
The first showing of ‘All About Energy’ was on a huge wrap-around screen at the Gaia Energy Centre, where it ran for more than two years. The final movie has since been shown in many different countries including China and Malaysia. Fifteen years later it is still available for viewing on the Internet.
Rose, myself, and the three boys moved to a splendid house in Penryn that overlooked the entire harbor of Falmouth. We also went on quite a few fabulous vacations. We visited Rose’s family in Italy, and also in Zurich, Switzerland. Life for more than six years was sweet but I have learnt over the years that just when everything in life seems to be good and under control, it usually means that something is about to happen that throws all the pieces of the entire jigsaw into the air.
We had rented out Rose’s house in Falmouth for a few years but the place was becoming very run down, so having money to spare I had the place gutted and completely renovated. I also bought another property in Penryn that was in need of extreme refurbishment. I was making good money but with Rose’s help it was going out as fast as it came in.
Both houses that had been undergoing renovation were eventually completed and the combined budgets had escalated drastically. We rented out the house in Falmouth and moved into the Penryn house. Rose and myself often used to frequent a place called the ‘Millennium Club’ that was owned and run by a guy named ‘Sammy Wicks’, he had a brother named ‘Ronnie’. We both became to be good friends with the Wicks brothers and saw them at the club on a regular basis. Ronnie had even been employed working on the renovation of my new home. Just two weeks after we had moved into the new house, we were at a New Years Eve Party at the Millennium Club. The clock struck midnight and as is the custom there was much drunken celebratory kissing at the bar and on the dance floor. It caught my eye that a kiss between Rose and Ronnie seemed to be more intimate than that of a casual wish for a happy new year. A few days later I quizzed Rose about her kissing Ronnie but she dismissed my suspicions.
Back at Emeida’s studios we had pitched for a contract that if we won it, over time the budget would possibly amount to millions of pounds. The project in question was to be commissioned by the international financial giants ‘PriceWaterHouse Coopers’. We had previously successfully completed several smaller projects for that corporation, and I felt confident that we could win that latest tender.
I became increasingly suspicious about my domestic situation and again challenged Rose about her possible relationship with another man. She assured me that my suspicions were unfounded but in my heart of hearts I knew only too well that my instinct was correct.
Then the unexpected happened, overnight the consultancy of PriceWaterHouse was bought out by IBM. As a result of the takeover all current contract proposals were instantly scrapped. I had been so close to pulling off a business deal that would set me up financially for the rest of my life. I had invested not only incredible effort but also every penny I could lay my hands on in order to get to that point and it had all slipped down the drain overnight.
At home I once again accused Rose of being unfaithful. She again lied but announced that she was intending to leave me and move back into her newly renovated house in Falmouth. She also listed what she intended to take with her from my house in Penryn. The next day I visited my solicitors in Truro and was advised that although I would probably lose the money that I had invested in Rose’s own house, she was entitled to nothing from mine. On returning home that evening I told Rose what the solicitor had said. She laughed and then telephoned the police saying that I had threatened to kill her. The police soon arrived and insisted that I leave the house not to return. The following happenings are not even worthy of mention but it did transpire that my suspicions of Rose’s infidelity were correct.
That chain of events left me heartbroken and penniless. My company was forced into bankruptcy and I became homeless.
Ship’s Log: August 19th (entry 02).
Within half an hour I had hooked four mackerel. On-deck I prepared them for cooking and then lashed the helm while Below-Deck I pan-fried my catch.
I let the sails luff while eating my lunch and enjoying what was the last of the wine.
Having arrived back at the mouth of the river it came to mind that I only had one more day left to enjoy that particular jaunt. So I decided to anchor under the lee of the headland. As I half slept that night many old memories went through my mind.
‘Beaches To Bombs’
My recent loses had left me with little will or energy to begin my life all over again but by that stage of my life I had become well acquainted with the cycle of being knocked down and getting up again. I had been around too long to be caught out by being entirely broke and had stashed some money overseas. I moved into a small but very comfortable apartment adjacent to the Falmouth Hotel. Although there was no view of the sea from the windows it was only a few steps from Castle Beach. During my first week of living at the Falmouth Hotel I swam in the ocean and bought a new guitar. I was going to find a way back no matter what.
I was invited to take on more teaching work at the Falmouth School of Art, which I accepted and also decided to undertake a Master’s Degree on their new Interactive Design Course.
The hallway from my apartment led to the main hotel and downstairs to the restaurant, bar, and swimming pool. The Falmouth is an historic building and was in fact the very first hotel to be built along the beach that stretches from Pendennis Castle to Gyllyngvase. To this day the interior décor of the Falmouth is like taking a step back in time. It’s lush wooden paneled walls and marble floors are a monument to the decadence of eighteenth century architecture. I easily settled into my new accommodations and gradually my heart once again healed.
I remember well sitting on a bench that overlooked Castle Beach and experiencing an inner feeling that something in my life was in front of me that had long been intended by the Gods, and that things would be perfectly OK.
I began lecturing at the Art School a couple of days a week, and for three days I concentrated on my MA. Also enrolled on that course was a Chinese girl named Xan, we became very close and spent a lot of time together, I even began to learn to speak some of the Mandarin language. I began to really enjoy living in Falmouth. I came to realize that in all the years of living with Rose I had not once myself decided where to eat, drink, watch on TV, or take a holiday. Now I was free to do as I wished. Rose had been an extremely jealous partner and I now thought to do everything that she had in the past, without justification accused me of doing. I started to date many different women. I drank where and when I wanted, and ate and slept when ‘I’ felt like it.
For the first time in years I began to take my playing of the guitar seriously and also began painting and drawing again. The ocean was literally on my doorstep and I began to swim in the sea frequently. Once again my life had taken a turn that at first seemed devastating but actually turned out to be good.
I successfully attained my Masters Degree and was in turn offered a position as a Senior Lecturer at the Art School on a three-day a week contract. This I accepted and embarked on a period in my life that would transform me into being what could loosely be called an academic.
Xan had returned to China and I was romantically at a loose end but at the beginning of the next academic year I met with a woman who had come to Falmouth from Canada to undertake a Masters Degree in Contemporary Visual Arts. Her name was ‘Tory Cattell’, the daughter of the famous watercolour artist ‘Ray Cattell’. Tory and I became lovers and our relationship soon reached alarming heights. From the very start our affair was full of turmoil. Tory was an extremely intelligent and talented lady. She was also a very attractive and sensual woman but she was also full of personal traits that I would come to find were toxic to me.
During the following months I was busy developing teaching material for my students. I was swimming regularly in the ocean, and had begun making pictures seriously. My affaire with Tory continued but was never predictable or relaxed. In fact looking back now, it was nothing less than a roller coaster ride that often left me feeling despondent and unhappy. I now don’t think that our relationship was that of love, it is more likely that it was nothing more than trouble with the fire down below. After Tory had completed her course she returned to Canada and I resolved that never again would I wear my heart on my sleeve.
It was a great relief to have a regular salary coming in without having to find commercial work, this was a first for me and it gave me great freedom. I loved my role as a lecturer and also began teaching at evening classes on the Photography Course. It was while teaching there that I met Camilla Peterson. She was a Norwegian student who was an extremely talented photographer. Camilla was also a keen surfer and adored swimming in the ocean. We often visited the beach together, and on occasion we would make the trip to the North-Shore to find white water. Camilla and myself became very close and began to spend a lot of time together. We collaboratively worked on making some short movies and animations. In the evenings back in my apartment Camilla would sit at the computer editing what we had shot during the day, while I produced backing tracks with my guitar. Camilla was so easy to be around and we enjoyed each other’s company immensely but as I think we both knew only too well that our age differences were too far apart and that when that wonderful summer ended she would have to return to Norway.
It was during the summer of 2005 that I was in London with a group of students attending an exhibition and the unimaginable happened. I had travelled from Truro to London by train with two fellow lecturers named Mark Woodhams and Jon Unwin, and we booked into a hotel in London’s Russell Square. The student’s exhibition was on the other side of the city, so each day my two colleagues and myself travelled across town on the underground train. The exhibition had been going on for a few days and when I had some time off I would take a trip to ‘Tin Pan Alley’ (Denmark Street). There I would browse the many music shops and play some of the fine guitars that can be found there. I did in fact buy one of the guitars that I found in a shop in Denmark Street. It was such a pretty instrument. With it’s cedar face that was surrounded with abalone, and rosewood body and neck, it was not only an exquisite looking instrument, it’s punchy sound and subtle tones made it a sheer pleasure to play.
The hotel where we were staying had no swimming pool, so after we first arrived I had paid for a temporary membership at a health club close by. Before breakfast each day I would go for a run around the nearby busy streets, go for a swim at the health club, and then return to the hotel.
On the morning of July 7th I woke with an awful hangover from an end of exhibition party the night before. I thought I might go for my daily run and swim but the guitar that I had bought a couple of days earlier was sitting on a chair beside my bed. So I thought to give the health excursion a miss and play some guitar before going down for breakfast. I had just picked up the guitar when there was a horrendous bang and everything in the room shook. I went to the ground floor to see what was happening. People seemed to be in shock and knew nothing of where the bang came from, so I went out into the street. A London bus had been blown up and it became immediately obvious that the area was under attack. I returned my room and quickly gathered my belongings and went to find my colleagues. Jon had left the hotel by taxi very early that morning but Mark Woodhams was still there. I told him what was happening and together we left the hotel behind us. At that time we had no idea that more bombs were going off around London. The streets were filled with people who were desperate to leave the area as quickly as possible. All public transport had come to a halt, and it was impossible to stop a taxi. As we walked the streets were chaotic, people were afraid and unsure of what they should do or where they should go. It was all really quite horrible.
The news began to reach the streets that many people had died in the attack and that spread a feeling of panic. People were rushing in all directions. Mark and myself were trying to make our way to the West End of the city when on the side of the street we came across a young girl who was crying. I stopped to see if she was hurt but she wasn’t, she was just very afraid. I picked up her bags and told her to come with us. Her name was Ashley Jay; she was an American visiting London, and unfortunately had become unwell. She had just left hospital and was heading for the airport where she was to catch a plane home where there would be further medical treatment awaiting her. The poor girl was not only clearly unwell, she was lost and terrified. I kept the girl with us that day and eventually persuaded a cab driver to take her to Heathrow. The girl wrote to me at a later date thanking me and referring to me as her ‘Angel of the day’.
What a day that was, and how fortunate I had been. Picking up and playing my new guitar early that morning had probably saved my life.
I could not write this book without mentioning more about my good friend and mentor Mark Woodhams. I first met Mark when I was first teaching at the ‘Falmouth School Of Art’. During the years that I ran my studio ‘Emedia’ I had been teaching at the art school one day a week. After the demise of my company and the financial crippling that Rosetta brought about I was at a loss as to what to do next.
I had managed to stash some money away and had moved into a small cabin on a farm near to ‘Meanporth Beach’. My plan was to see out the winter months there and then to fulfill an old dream of making my way to Alaska.
Mark was no stranger to danger and adventure; he was a keen sailor and a very experienced flyer. Together we discussed my plans and he made me realize the reasons for my planned trip were born out of frustration and could well become final. He persuaded me to undertake a more permanent teaching position at Falmouth, for at least until my head and heart were more in tune. I accepted the role, and that is how I became a Lecturer.
Having returned to Falmouth
after the London Bombings I received this letter from the girl who I had rescued
during that fateful day:
I do not think that I could ever express how much your guidance and help last Thursday meant to me. The Lord definitely sent his angels to watch out for me because I made it home safely and I am recovering well. I was reading this message the morning after I returned home:
"Let's be thankful for angels-those unseen and seen who work overtime, who never slumber or sleep. Think of all the accidents they have prevented, all the little kids they have protected, all the enemy results they have resisted. The scriptures speak very clearly of the angels. They are frequently dispatched to earth in human form to bring encouragement and assistance."
Thank you for being my angel.
Ashley N Jay.
Tongue-in-Cheek, I presented this letter to my teaching colleagues at our weekly team meeting, and suggested that from then on they should refer to me as ‘Angel’. The unanimous response was that she must have been a very good-looking female. I asked how low a man they thought me to be, that I would only help someone who was pleasing to the eye. A while later I received this following letter:
Well I finally made it back to the west coast, California. I attend Pepperdine University which is on the coast. I am feeling so much better and I am regaining my strength. Your pictures were beautiful!
And the picture of where you and your girlfriend live is amazing. I am glad you made it home safely, along with all your students.
It's nice being able to relax, I am enjoying it. I recently won Miss
Malibu and I am preparing myself for Miss California USA which is in September. If all goes well I will be heading off to the Miss USA pageant.
Hope all is well and I would like to see some more of your paintings.
I had to show my colleagues the second letter and hold up my hand to their accusations.
After my terrorist experiences in London I was pleased to be back in Cornwall. On my return Camilla’s father had arrived for a visit. I was dubious about meeting with him due to mine and Camilla’s age differences and what he might think. We arranged to meet in a pub called ‘The Sea View’. What a great guy he turned out to be, he had travelled over from Norway in an old Buick American car that he had renovated and was accompanied by his beautiful girlfriend who was much younger than himself. We got along very well and we all enjoyed the time while they were in Cornwall. Sadly the time had come when Camilla was to return to her homeland. I remember us both crying as we said our goodbyes.
During the time that Camilla was here and we were spending most of our time hanging out on the beach. I met up with a fella named Glen Fowler, who later became known to me as ‘Birdman’. Glen had once been an intrepid surfer but that was followed by a lust for flying. At the time when I met him he usually flew a single-winged paraglider. He was renowned for making fearless flights above the cliff tops along the coast, and was held in high esteem among top professional flyers.
Camilla had asked him to teach her how to fly, and Birdman agreed that he would take her up in tandem so as she could get a feel for the sport. On the day they were due to fly, for some reason Camilla was not around. So against my better judgment I agreed to take her place.
We met at a prearranged spot on the high hilltop that sits between the beaches of Gyllynvase and Swanpool. When I arrived the glider with its many cords was already spread out on the grass. It was a clear day with a blue sky and moderate winds. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement. My brief instructions were simple enough. Birdman would be positioned behind me and trailing the glider behind us we were to run to the edge of the cliff. On his command of ‘Get into the harness’ I was to lean backwards and position myself in the seat of the harness. We would then fly around for a while, before landing on the soft sandy beach of Gylly. When the command came to ‘Get out of the harness’ all I would have to do was straighten my legs. After that the glider would come to a halt and we both would take a few steps forward and the flight would be over. All sounds simple and straightforward but things don’t always go as planned.
It was time to take to the air. We were both strapped to the harness, Birdman to my rear and the glider trailing behind. As we ran forwards the kite filled with air. Soon we were running through high thistles and brambles, and my sandaled feet were becoming quite painful. When we reached the edge of the cliff I heard Birdman call out “We are committed”. I thought to myself “Yes I probably should be”. The command came “Get into the harness”. I tried to lean back but instead went forwards. I was upside-down and we were plummeting towards the rocks below. I’m sure that I was screaming as I reached up and grabbed hold of anything by which I could pull myself upright. Somehow Birdman straightened the glider and we were flying at speed just a few feet above the rocks. I could see the beach in the distance and prayed that we would land on sand instead of jagged rock. After what seemed to be an eternity we cleared the rocks and below us was the welcome sight of sand. The command came “Get out of the harness”. As instructed I straightened my legs but instead of standing up I fell forwards. Birdman and the kite went over the top of me and I was dragged some distance through the sharp sand.
The beach was quite crowded so our landing was observed by all who were there, and it caused some excitement. Birdman and myself folded up the glider and made our way to the Gylly Café for a beer. A couple of girls who worked in the café had watched us land and seemed impressed when they remarked “Oh Al you flew in today”. I composed myself, hid my shaking and simply replied, “I’m tired of walking”.
After my introduction to flying I concluded that I could swim much like a fish but couldn’t fly an inch. I have never taken to the air in such a contraption since that day.
After that I began to become something of a recluse. I started to spend every spare moment alone on the nearby beach. I swam almost everyday and a change in me began to occur. Between Castle Beach where I live and Gyllyngvase Beach is another spot named by the locals as ‘Tunnel Beach’. Access to that wonderful place is via a spiral stone staircase that descends to an underground tunnel that leads to a seat overlooking the sea. From there a fight of stone steps run down into the water. It is a very private spot that I came to claim as though it was my very own.
As the following months passed by I began to not only spend more and more time on the beach I started to always carry a sketchbook and pencils with me. I produced hundreds of drawings of the rocks and waves. Soon I began to paint again. Watercolour was my choice of medium, for painting scenes in the open air that change by the second, watercolours I find to be the best to work with. They are easy to carry with you, and they dry very quickly.
During that same time I embarked on what would turn out to be the most intensive period of making pictures I had ever undertaken before in my life, I also began playing the guitar with the same commitment. Often when on my visits to my secluded and near secret spot along the beach, along with my paints and drawing pads I would also carry with me one of my guitars. I’d sit listening to the sounds of the sea and attempt to make music that was in synch with them. From swimming so often, and doing so on all of the differing and changing tides I came to know each and every rock intimately and even gave them names, but that was only after I had suffered a few broken toes. I became intoxicated with sea and all of her moods. Sometimes I’d even go down to the water during the hours of darkness and swim out under the Moonlight and star filled sky. I had become more content than ever before in my life.
On Gyllynvase Beach there was a small café and bar. One day while sitting there drinking coffee I noticed a man swimming quite far out to sea. He was obviously a strong and accomplished swimmer and was moving fast though the water. When that swimmer came ashore I recognized him to be someone that I had once known. He had been the Headmaster at St Mary’s, where Rose’s boys had gone to school. I called him over and we sat for a while talking. The man’s name was Harry D’Silva. As we chatted it became apparent that we had many interests in common. Harry also played the guitar, and was a skillful painter. We became good friends and would after that day meet together on the beach many times.
The day’s passed by and the weeks turned into months. The seasons changed and the years began to pass. Little was changing in my life, and nor did I want it to.
Some years later the Falmouth School Of Art became a University College and I took on the role of a senior lecturer there. It was at first a comfortable and rewarding position. It was reasonably good money, and also afforded me plenty of time to continue with everything else in my life that had become so important to me.
For the following years I continued to paint and play the guitar. Although in many ways I kept myself to myself, I also used to frequent some of the bars and clubs in town. My two favorite haunts were the ‘Blue South’ that was a cocktail bar in the center of Falmouth, and the Gully Café. ‘Open Mike Nights’ had become popular around town and I often used to attend those music events. Over a period of time I made some very good friends in Falmouth and although I had no desire to have a permanent female partner, I did date some wonderful women.
I had begun to sell a few of my paintings and put some money to one side. Not having driven a car for a few years I decided to buy myself something quite luxurious. So I purchased a burgundy coloured Jaguar Sovereign. The car enabled me to travel to other parts of the Cornish Coast. Over a period of time I circumnavigated Cornwall’s Peninsula. While exploring that wonderful and most beautiful of coastlines I found endless places where to swim and paint.
Although I rarely left Cornwall, I did venture abroad a few times. On one occasion I returned to America but found that either the USA or more likely myself; had changed. I was far too settled in my beloved Cornwall and elsewhere seemed to interfere with my rhythms. I did however go on a couple of painting trips off the coast of West Africa. On the island of Lanzarote I found the pace of life and the climate far more conducive to my appetite. I produced a series of watercolour paintings while on that volcanic island that I am quite proud of.
Back in Cornwall I continued to paint and the number of completed artworks were beginning to mount up. The Falmouth Hotel where I lived often hosted weddings, parties, and functions. On many occasion I would somehow be present during such events. This made for some most enjoyable encounters for me.
Little changed regarding my life living adjacent to Castle Beach and close to Penndenis Castle for the next few years.
During my years of teaching I found huge personal rewards. It was not only the extremely talented students that achieved both academic and professional success that was where I felt that I had maybe played a hand, but it was those students who struggled to express their creativity was where I thought to be of most use.
In time the ‘Falmouth School of Art’ became ‘Falmouth University’. It was then that things began to change. Lecturing, teaching, and student’s results suddenly needed to be quantified and measurable. I became surrounded by young newly- qualified and would-be-teachers who attributed no value to, or offered reward for practical skills. Their only criteria was the value of ideas. Maybe that was due to their lack of ability to implement their own somewhat limited ideas. Of course ‘Ideas’ are a most precious commodity but without the know-how of how to make them become real they are as worthless as a speck of dust being blown along by the wind.
Gradually I became extremely
disillusioned with teaching. It had seemed to become something that went
against all of my own philosophies towards creativity. It is my conviction that
it is not the teacher’s job to instruct the student how to work as they themselves
do, but to find ways that will help the student work how they best do so. It
seemed to have become more important that our graduates were able to make a
meager living than it was to enable them to attain creative freedom and that
very much saddened me.
The following years in Falmouth were full of unexpected and often pleasant surprises. The Internet and the advent of ‘Social Media’ made it possible for old friends to easily reconnect with possibly near forgotten acquaintances.
My old friend ‘Edd Tall Bear’ made and sent to me the most amazing hand made and beaded guitar strap I’ve ever seen. Edd is of the ‘Navaho’ tribe of Native American Indians. He and his descendants live high above the high plains of Arizona. He and his wife ‘Animal Dancer’ also sent to me many potions and magical minerals that supposedly aid the recovery of ill health. Some of these included crystals obtained from disused mines; these are believed help problems with the hands. In return I sent back to their village on ‘Turtle Island’ many of my pictures. My prize gift from those people is an exquisite hand carved necklace. It is apparently my ‘Death-Necklace’; it consists of many carved brightly coloured stones, and at the lower part of the loop it boasts an icon detailing the tail of a whale. I am told that this necklace is for when we eventually reach the Spirit Land, and mine simply spells out “This is Al”. I am wearing this identification in the picture of me on the back cover of this book.
The exposure of my artwork on-line hadn’t made me famous but it had made me to be a popular artist and therefore available to easily make contact with. I began to sell my paintings and books via the Internet, and many old dear acquaintances reappeared in my life.
A woman named Jodi Kahn contacted me to say that she was a close friend of my old companion Bernie Kaplan, who many years before had played Bacchus in my first film. Through that divine lady I again made contact with a dear and much cherished friend.
On yet another unexpected occasion I was contacted by my first true love. It was Lin from way back in the sixties. She came to visit and we have since once again become close friends.
But as the years pass I become very much of a recluse. As much as I appreciate the company of others, my attention to them is short. It seems that wherever I am, what I’m doing, or whom I am with, something is always calling me away.
For some years now my favorite drinking hole has been the ‘Cutty Sark Public House’. The ‘Nutty Tart’ as I refer to it has been my escape from the hypocrisy of academia for quite some time. Over the past decade I have seen the ‘Landlords’ and ‘Landladies’ of the Cutty come and go. In that old dockside saloon I have met with a variety of Cornish Peoples, Seafarers, Smug Drugglers, Saloon Girls, General Wrong’ns, and Outlaws but I find these people to be down to earth and a far cry from the pompous pricks that I worked with at the University. At the time of writing this book the current landlady is a black lesbian named Jess. To my bitter disappointment she has now cleaned the old place up somewhat and it no longer offers the same female company as it once did. However, Jess has become a real good friend
to me and has treated me well. I regularly visit her bar at lunchtimes and she often offers me a free lunch. She seems to ignore my sexist and racist
suggestions, maybe that is because she realizes that there is never any malicious comment behind the words that come out of my mouth. I guess that’s the difference between the communications between real people and that of those who are obsessed with being entirely politically correct. Dear of her, Jess has had to suffer the results of my many frustrations during the writing of this book.
Ship’s Log: August 20th (entry 01).
The following morning afforded me the best sailing of the trip. I made out to sea and aimlessly tacked back and forth. I thought a lot that day on the subject of life and what it is all about.
The time had come when I had other things that I had to do. So I returned down-river and with some sadness picked up my moorings in Dartmouth.
It had been a splendid adventure that I would commit to memory and store it alongside the many others that had been going through my mind during the trip.
From the times of hard work when I was building boats and houses my hands had suffered and in later years old accidents and general wear and tear began to take it’s toll. Eventually both of my hands were in need of surgery. Being left-handed I opted to have the right hand operated on first. The operation wasn’t entirely successful but it did allow me to continue painting and playing the guitar. However, I decided to prolong having the second operation for as long as possible
I began painting more intensively than ever. Dozens and dozens of
paintings I produced and framed each one immediately after it was completed.
Over the following few years I was to not only create hundreds of paintings, I
also produced and published five books. One is an illustrated Kid’s book titled
‘Harry The Laughing Rat’. This is a
fun book suitable for children and adults alike. There is an e-Book version
available that is accompanied by a voiceover that tells Harry's story plus an
accompaniment of music produced by myself. Another book is a collection of
my paintings that I have produced over many years; it is titled ‘Something On
My Mind’. That book also contains extracts from my written journals. The
remaining three books are of images and written comments from my excursions
around Cornwall. The first is titled ‘Moorland Magic’. My own first visit to that rocky terrain was many years
ago. I have always known that there exists a magical beauty there. I have made
many visits to those lands but I never really did fully connect with or
understand that elusive magic, so I therefor embarked on a study and
investigation. It resulted by way of a collection of drawings, paintings, and a
book. Fortunately I also found something of what I was searching for. ‘Falmouth
Sketches’, the second book; is a
book that contains a series of images that began as a casual couple of pencil
drawings created while walking around the town where I had lived for more than
ten years. I soon became very aware that not until I stopped and really looked
did I realize how very many things I had walked right past without noticing
them at all, or if I did so, not consciously registering any detail. Therefore
I created a collection of pictures of Falmouth and included some of the town’s
history. ‘Cornwall Coast To Coast’
is a series of paintings and drawings derived from one of my prolonged trips
around the Cornish Peninsula.
‘Looking And Seeing’
I feel that I should not end this book without it including something of what I have myself learned during the passage of time, and all of the years that I have been painting and drawing.
I started making pictures at a very early age. It seemed a very natural thing to do. Before very long painting and drawing became a huge part of who I was and what I would become. The pictures have long been my way of seeing and understanding; they have enabled me to make some sort of sense out of this bazaar and sometimes bewildering world where we exist. What an extraordinary thing picture making is, it is capable of communicating opinions or objections, celebrating beauty, underlining injustice, documenting history, even of making a political statement. The list is almost endless. On a personal level the mere act of drawing and painting can help patch broken hearts, overcome disaster, or simply record wonderful experiences. It might even possibly occasionally save a life.
The pictures may be influenced by ideals, beliefs, hopes and ambitions, objections, even desires. They often explain things that can’t be articulated with words alone. Regardless of where they may come from, what they mean, or why they have been brought into existence, they are music to the eyes.
I guess at this time in my life I’ve drawn or painted just about everything I have seen so far. Skies, landscapes, seascapes, sunrises and sunsets, mountains, rivers and oceans, the stars, storms, trees, and flowers. Boats, trains, cars, buildings, people, and much more.
I am often asked if I can offer advice on how to draw and paint? The answer is “No”! We must all of us figure it out for ourselves. However there are some tips:
It is all about looking, seeing, feeling, experiencing, and thinking. Do all of these things before beginning to sketch and constantly continue to do so while creating the picture. Then do the same again on completion so that you can accurately reflect upon and evaluate your creation. The secret to being successful within your artistic endeavors is to draw, and draw, draw some more, and keep doing so. Keep in mind that drawing is not just about mark making; we draw mostly with our hearts and minds.
When drawing from life there are practical considerations to be conscious of. A picture is not an inanimate snap shot that freezes a moment in time. It is a reflection of life itself. It should capture the essence of that which it reflects upon. If the picture is to include such ingredients as breaking waves, the ocean, or a flowing river. These must always give the illusion of constant movement.
With regard to buildings, mountains, rocks and the like. These never move, so unless there is good reason for doing otherwise, render them as being totally inanimate. Trees and vegetation should be drawn as though they are capable of movement. When it comes to people, faces, or animals, even when they are absolutely still, these should appear as they are just about to
move, and possibly leap right out from the frame.
Probably the most important consideration to be addressed by the would-be life artist is the light. Be it natural or artificial light, it is not just the direction, strength, and the shadows it creates that determine what the artist should do with it. Light is the picture maker’s magic wand. Don’t just capture the light. Trap it and play with it. It is what we wield in order to create the mood that we desire the picture to radiate.
Sometimes making a picture goes very well indeed and everything is quite easy. At other times the picture itself can fight you all of the way. Often the picture reaches a point where things are just fine and it should be left as it is, this is the time to remember that by just that little bit of unneeded tinkering you can easily mess the whole thing up. At other times you can rescue a not so good a picture by adding just a few clever touches. The real trick is ‘knowing when to stop’.
Of course there are huge differences between high-art and craftwork but that doesn’t mean that one is more important than the other. The old lady who swaps one of her homemade cakes for a poorly rendered seascape to hang in her kitchen is as much as an art dealer as is the proprietor of a most lucrative and renowned gallery. A picture that makes someone happy is of more real value than one that increases vastly in financial terms.
It is indisputable that the art of all cultures and societies has throughout the ages enriched human existence. Those great artworks that have survived the passage of time give us an insight into our past history and remain to be of great inspiration.
Personally I have always found it quite amusing to hear so-called art experts claim to have knowledge about the thoughts and emotions of artists who are long dead. They speak with confidence about why a certain artist painted something and strangely enough people believe them. The truth is that most of us ourselves fail to remember why we did something or what we were thinking and feeling at the time, even a couple of days past. So therefore to claim the same for someone else many decades gone is utterly absurd.
For me there is far too much talking about painting. Not that there is anything wrong whatsoever with talking about anything at all. From my own experience though, I have found that those who talk so much are themselves often not overly good at that what they speak of, or are merely intent on profiting from it. Also talking without thinking is futile and too much thinking can stifle the creative flow, so there is the dilemma.
Of course it is a good thing to investigate artwork from the past and it is often most interesting to learn about the lives of past painters. This can also sometimes help with learning how to paint but it has little to do with becoming a real artist. It has far more to do with becoming a historian or an academic.
Then there are those contemporary creations that are made by other picture makers. It is not absolutely necessary to do so but being aware of and familiar with them can be extremely advantageous. Be it the content or the practical techniques that interest or even inspire you, study them. If you choose to do so, don’t be afraid of replicating them. Don’t copy the work of others for there is little reward in doing so but if you feel that what you see in the work of others is near to that what you aspire to doing yourself then figure out why and how that artifact was created.
Allow the work of others to influence you. If musicians throughout the ages had never mimicked the music of others we would certainly not have the rich and diverse world of music we have today.
If you are sure that something is superior in creative terms. Figure out why, take it to pieces and examine it. Reassemble it and repeat the process again and again until something of yourself becomes a part of it. Do this enough times and what emerges will be your own.
It’s all so very simple really. Painting, the same as music, dance, and many other things, we need to learn the necessary skills in order to obtain and develop a voice. Not that learning the craft guaranties us having something to say, only life and living it gives us that. When I talk of voice it does not mean that all art must be a form of outward communication. The artist is allowed the luxury of being entirely selfish. Creative activity is a wonderful personal therapy. It has saved my own life and sanity on so many occasions.
Every picture you do should be an experiment.
If things don’t work out so well, destroy it (of course you could give it away).
Don’t be too precious about your work. Having said that, don’t be afraid to value it accordingly.
It can be handy to know about the many hues and colours and how they interact but when it comes to applying them instinct holds the high ground for the painter.
The pictures that I myself make have always been a reflection of what I have seen, experienced, imagined, objected to, or loved.
Painting is a bit like swimming really. Starts with a lot of splashing around but when the time is right, just a few creative strokes, backed with some skill and experience will get you to where you want to be.
It’s all about looking and seeing really. Of course everybody looks all of the time but it’s doubtful how many of them see very much at all. The true picture maker learns how to look and see in a personal and unique way.
Always remember that there is no such
thing as a bad picture, but there is as sure as hell such a thing as a GOOD
‘Explorer Of Possibilities’
I guess the most important facet of any creative endeavor is the idea that spawned its passage into becoming a reality.
Sometimes special things happen around us entirely unsolicited and we are fortunate enough to be there when they occur.
Then again there are the times when nothing much seems to be happening, or is likely to happen on the ideas front. These are the times when we ourselves are required to intervene.
If it is our desire to instigate change then what we need is the ability to make things happen.
To make something happen is a grandiose ambition for sure.
We might choose to change the landscape around us, build an architectural monument, even redirect the natural course of a river or stream, or merely transform a blank sheet of paper into a splendid picture. Each of these ambitions demands not just effort, skills, but also an abundance of creativity.
Without clear vision and a full understanding of the desired outcome the results of creative efforts can prove to be disastrous or even dangerous.
It is not being suggested that there are not wondrous things and those of great beauty that are the result of a happy accident.
However! When creativity is planned and controlled while still leaving ample space for the experimentation and exploration far more happier accidents are likely to happen.
The day comes when be it by desire or necessity that we are charged or compelled to make something happen, but where do we begin?
It is very likely that the task will require tools and skills. Not all of these useful assets and attributes are physical or craft like. The most essential ones come from our heads and hearts.
So what is needed to begin to make a plan? It is called an idea.
Throughout our lives we are surrounded by the results of ideas. It is not humankind’s ability to conceive ideas that puts us apart from the rest of the animal world. It is the rapid speed that we can implement and apply those ideas.
Ideas can be small or big. They are sometimes quite simple and at other times they are capable of being extremely complicated.
Not every idea is a good one. Be they the brainchild of others or of our own
creation, we are often the victims of bad ideas. It is essential to be able to
differentiate between good and bad ideas.
So if we conclude that we are in need of plan and the starting point of that plan has to be an idea then let us consider what exactly is an idea, where do they originate from, and how can they be harnessed?
To begin, what do we know about ideas, and where might we find them?
We do know that sometimes they come to us unsolicited, fast, and plentiful. So fast that at times we can hardly make note of or remember them. By contrast, on those occasions when we are in great need of them or even quite desperate, ideas can become incredibly elusive.
There are times when ideas become so impossible to unearth that we begin to doubt our ability to originate them.
The hunt for ideas is full of trapdoors and tripwires. The idea hunter may well be considered to be something of an adventurer, or an explorer of possibilities.
Ideas favor those of us who refuse to give up in our search for them. They are strongly attracted to those who are willing and brave enough to commit to that dimension of imagination where anything is possible.
Maybe it is that all ideas, good, bad, big, or small are limited in number within our entire universe. Is it possible that all of the ideas available to us have existed somewhere since the beginning of time and that we ourselves have little to do with discovering them. It could be that they in fact find us.
If you are struggling to find an idea it is you and only you that is inhibiting the possibility of a truly magnificent encounter.
If you are sitting looking at a blank sheet of paper with the intention of coming up with an idea that no one has ever considered before DON’T! You could just be stuck there for an eternity. Think of something or do something that you yourself have never thought of or done before. Do this and it is guaranteed that your life will become instantly more interesting and as a bonus, that unique idea being searched for may just come closer to you.
When you are fortunate enough to encounter a good, great, or even magnificent idea don’t copy it but do take it apart, dissect it and figure out why it is unique and special. Replicate the parts again and again until the idea is reborn and you yourself become a part of it. If the gods of ideas a favorable towards you, a new idea will come into existence and it will be yours.
When one idea agrees to take up company with you it will most likely bring with it more ideas. Ideas are not solitary champions; they often arrive to us in flocks.
Investigate the value of and explore the potential of every idea that you are fortunate enough to encounter.
Keep your eye, mind, and heart open. Not everything that you desire and search for will come to you in the form that you might expect.
‘Where This Story Ends’
‘Where This Story Ends’
In 2014 the Tall Ships Race was hosted in Falmouth Bay and at that same time my artwork was exhibited at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic. The exhibition titled ‘Making Pictures’ consisted of more than three hundred drawings and paintings that filled the entire building. The exhibition was a success and many of the pictures were sold. ‘Making Pictures’ was followed the next year by another exhibition that was held in the Terrace Rooms at the Falmouth Hotel. That exhibition focused entirely on images of Falmouth’s Historical Architecture and it’s surrounding coastal gardens and woodland.
The winter following my work being exhibited was not a joyous one for me. I fell ill on two separate occasions with Pneumonia, which took a long time to recover from. My left hand had deteriorated drastically and I had no alternative but to undergo the second operation. That surgery left me very much unable to paint or play the guitar without difficulty. For the first time in my life I became very depressed.
Throughout the following winter months I was very unproductive but in the early spring I was with my dear friend Abby eating breakfast at a small café on Feock Beach. It came to my attention that on one of the swinging moorings was a boat for sale. Even from the shore I thought her to be a fine looking vessel. It took very little encouragement from Abby for me to contact the owner of the boat. Within the hour we were on-board and on the spur of the moment I bought the ‘Caledonia’. She is a splendid Bermudan Sloop with ample accommodation below decks for four people. With her twin keels the Caledonia is a most seaworthy vessel that is capable of extensive deep-water sailing but with her shallow draft she is also very suitable for exploring rivers and creeks.
And that is where this story ends and then begins again.
The answer to the riddle that was put to you at the start of this book is:
‘The Truck Of The Mast’.
(This is due to the curvature of the Earth)
Riddle by Captain David Perkin (Perko).
Should you wonder why the remaining pages of this book are left blank, it is because I am sure that there is still more of this story to come. Or at least I very much hope so.
Al Cazu (Alan G Williamson).