The Wisdom Tree oil on canvas 49 x 40 cm

Raincloud on Claypit Hill . oil on Canvas 60 x 100
Green-Field Sky-Lines . oil on canvas . 91 x 91

Rose-Plants on Dicky Hill, Winter

Incidental Odds & Bits

What do you do with the by-products? A frend of mine wrote a thesis based on her interviews with sculptors who emerged in the ‘fifties, when she originally started an interrupted career. Because she was now back as a mature student, I read her thesis in the role of supervisor, though sadly I don’t have a copy. In it she tells of a sculptor who made large heavy works and lived in the country. But then there were problems, the family split up, and he moved to the city. What to do with the works? He hired a JCB and buried them in a large hole in the ground. Whether they were ever retrieved I don’t know: I don’t think the thesis told us.

All of us makars (a Scots word, mainly used of poets, which I’ve purloined to mean anyone who makes things which are not utilitarian, for their own sake: less pretentious than the word ‘creatives’), produce incidental matter, sometimes in profusion. What on earth to do with it?

One solution is to destroy it, or to arrange for it to be destroyed on one’s death, as Vergil did with The Aeneid, or Kafka did with The Trial etc., though the literary executors, Rufus and Tucca in the first case, (forbidden to burn the manuscripts by the Emperor Augustus), Max Brod in the second, failed to carry out their authors’ wishes.

Some makars produce while ignoring the possibility that no-one may see their work. In Stalinist Russia, alongside samisdat, which meant publication by many individuals using the simplest means of reproduction, there was also production for the bottom drawer. There is a memorable moment in a TV documentary when the British composer Kaikhosru Sorabji waves his arms at copious cupboards and says something like “All stuffed with music. All.- Will never be played. Never.”

In my case I have loads of byproduct. Partly because I find it difficult to throw anything away, especially if it took quite a lot of effort to produce. Even if it is crap. Partly also because, as my peers attended proper Art School and did their time in the Life Room, I felt obliged to do a lot of Life Drawing afterwards to catch up. However that may be, I have drawings, of whatever sort, probably in thousands taking up the cupboards and plan-chests Sorabji-style. Sure, most life-drawings are five-finger exercises, but some have value. As for scribbles about ideas – most of us would prefer to preserve Leonardo’s notebooks if it was a choice between them and his mostly insipid paintings. Who knows what is worth which?

Which brings us to the question of value, which I have to say, is not the issue. Some of the sketches/trials are far better than the works they were preparing for. We all know the case of Constable. It’s not in the the makar’s gift definitively to sift the good from the bad. It would be nice to know the difference at the time, but mostly we don’t. We try to wise up to what we can bring off and what we can’t, but we don’t do that either.

No, the problem remains: what are we going to do with all this stuff in the mean-time? And how much effort are we going to leave to someone else to sort out? I have thought of giving everyone a drawing (perhaps rubber-stamped “This Is a Christmas Card” on the verso), instead of the usual offering –but the Post Office have made that a costly solution. Or maybe ”Five free drawings with every painting bought?” “Three egg-cups with every ceramic vase?” “A free bagatelle for every symphony commissioned?”

My friend of the thesis tried a possible solution to a related problem: “ I tore up all of X’s horrible letters” she wrote to me, “and made them into a papier-mache statue. I thought I’d got rid of him, but instead I’ve made him immortal.”

Cafe du Medoc, Avenue Camille Pelatan. Rochefort-Sur-Mer, oil on canvas

A revised version of an earlier blog

This story has to begin at school,. That is to say, Southend High School for Boys. A custom-built, well-designed school on a large patch of land, in an anonymous style, neither ancient nor modern. it was run on the premise that it was a ‘Grammar School’ (which of course it wasn’t), and Cyril Sheldrake, the senior English master, who looked remarkably like the official portrait of Shakespeare (a resemblance that he did not reject) said that it should have just concentrated on being a good school without flummery. The designation”Grammar School’ had been purloined by the 1944 Eduation Act for the top ‘academic’ layer of schools The residue were taught in schools called Secondary Modern: there was supposed to be a third tier of ‘Secondary Technical’ schools, but they hardly got off the gtound. However, there it was: our masters wore black gowns, and full University fig on public occasions, leaving the Wood-work teacher in a manual brown jacket, and the Gymn-Master in nothing specific to cover his muscles.The school, with about 600 boys was predominately staffed by men; broadly speaking half left over from the 14/18 war, and half from men who had seen action in ’39/45.

There were three women-teachers as I remember it, Miss Bamford, Miss Gare and Mrs Alexander leading to  a song which started “Some talk of Alexander, and some of Mother Gare`’… but I don’t know how it went on. All I remember of Miss Bamford (who taught Geography) was that she once said to me “The trouble with you, Page, is that you think you know too much.’ I comsidered questioning the logic of this statement, ie ok in New Guinea Pidgin, but not in English) but didn’t. Mrs Alexander must have taught German: I only knew her as an RE teacher constantly talking about the Oberammergau passion play. Doris Gare, however, taught French in the lower classes, and was young enough that an occasional boy would pretend to have dropped a pen from his desk to look up her skirt while retieving it -vor trying to, anyhow. It must have been Doris who got the school involved in a French exchange scheme. 

My parents accepted that an exchange would be a good thing, so we signed up for it. I had of course experience of being put on a train to destination unknown, but that was in 1940, with the rest of Earls Hall Infants, carrying a large teddy-bear, and only for foreign parts as far away as Whaley Bridge in Lancashire, tho’ that felt foreign enough at five years old. This time foreign parts meant France. I don’t recall being apprehensive, or worrying about not being understood. In fact the effect of the experience was that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know French. I’m not saying my French is good, you understand – just that it is somehow ingrained, I was met at the Gare du Nord, by Monsieur Nash, a concierge who managed a warehouse in the Quatorzieme Arrondisment: I suppose he must have waved a placard with my name on it. I stayed the night at his place, and the next day he put me on the train to Rochefort-Sur-Mer. 

Oddly M. Nash was in fact English , but had lived in Paris since his youth. I don’t know how he managed through the German Occupation but in his blue cotton jacket  trousers and beret he looked like any other French working man. He had pretty well forgotten English: we spoke French and sign-language). I asked him what English words he remembered and he replied,with great relish. “PLUM-PUDDING?,”

When I arrived at Rochefort I would have been met at the station by Madame Masson and her son Paul, my exchange partner. A short walk up the road, and left into the Avenue Camille Pelaton took you to the Cafe du Medoc, a two storey building, red-tile-roofed, with small plane trees at intervals along the pavement. M. Masson would have been in the Cafe, in his role as Patron: it was open all week, early morning to late evening. and he hardly ever left it. I was given my own room upstairs in the house, so there I was in France.

Someone had matched our two families: I wonder who, and how they did it; I suppose you could say that we were at equivalent levels in society – and both walking distance from the Railway Station! However, my father travelled up to the City, every day, to work as a salaried Insurance Clerk whereas M. Masson rarely travelled anywhere, and ran his own business. Both families were aspirational for their son: perhaps that was the link.

At our sub-Arts & Crafts Revival semi detatched house in Prittlewell, we had bed-rooms, living-room, kitchen and bathroom, and a garden The Cafe ground-floor had a kitchen behind, with the public area also serving as a living-room. There was no bathroom, and the loo was outside the side entrance to the cafe, consisting of the usual continental hole in the ground with two foot positions, and a bar on the door to hold onto when squatting. It could be hard on the stomach muscles if someone outside was trying to pull the door open to take a pee, which, as this was a cafe, was often. The loo paper was quartered sheets from l’Equipe (the French cycle-racing paper) on a wire Baths were taken at the local Bath-house where you could luxuriate in an individual bath cubicle with unlimited, very hot, bright yellow water from the river Charente. silt and all. Otherwise washing was in the sink downstairs, or jug and bowl upstaires.

Cycle racing was important to the Cafe; as I was there in the summer holiday, it was the height of the Tour de France. M. Masson would stand on a stool each day to write the day’s final placings, with a stick dipped in white distember, on the large mirror behind the bar – cleaned off at the end of each dayready for the next set of results. He did leave the bar just twice that I can remember, and I was taken along to see the Tour pass – hours of commercial vehicles before and after, with a very brief flash of contenders. Those were the glory days of riders like Fausto Coppi. One rider who appealed to me was Robic, a fiery little man, who, when someone stepped in front of him, causing him to fall, picked up his bike and bashed the offender with it, before mounting and pedalling on. Paul and I had bicycles and rode around the town and country: later I often rode out of Rochefort by myself, sketching in the countryside. Something different was that the bikes, unlike English ones, had a police registration number. However, cycling was elevated by my experience in France: I rode (my longest expedition) from Southend to Coniston (where I learned that I had got into Oxford) and back again, and then regularly rode to work from Isllington to Walthamstow or Plaistow.

Life in France seemed easy-going, but depressed. The country, after all, had lost two major warson its own territory, whereas the Brits, who had not been invaded, could pretend that they had won. I was not particularly aware of politics at the time, except that my second exchange visit to France coincided with the Korean war. As the Americans pushed up the west coast, and were then pushed back again by the Chinese I discovered from the French Papers that National Service was to be extended from one and a half to two years: not a prospect I liked the look of. My brief time in the Sea-Scouts was enough of militarism. I can’t remember whether I dropped out or was expelled for not knowing my knots.

Madame Masson was a sweet-natured woman, totally committed to her son, her husband, and to the household. I owe her a lot. I often went along with her early to the morning market, where she would check the whole line, ech time asking “Ils sont a combien les oeufs, Madame?” and so on, finally returning to the best offer.

Fort Boyard from L’Isle d’Aix, oil on board

Mme. Masson took Paul and I to the sea-side – Fouras. Perhaps we all cycled there, and took the Teleferique across the Charente, or maybe we went by bus – like my family, the Massons did not have a car. The Teleferique was a platform which swished across the river suspended on long cables – now preserved as a not-quite ancient monument. On the coast one day we prized oysters off the rocks. Then we went to a casse-croute cafe with outside tables: you took your own food and just bought drink. Madame had brought a long French loaf and butter to eat with the oysters and we ordered a bottle of local white wine, drunk slightly wam in the sunlight: it was one of the great meals of my life. I must have gone many times to Fouras, sculling a dingy we were given access to, or swimming in warm water among vast jelly-fish. And of course I drew. and painted all the time, cycling out into the country. Madame Masson reproached me, in the nicest way, for not speaking enough French, but I made pictures relentlessly; nobody seemed to notice, or think that was odd.

Paul Masson was an only child, and in those days there didn’t seem to be any mixing of boys with girls in Rochefort: at any rate, though I would probably have been susceptible to their charms, I never actually got to know any young woman during my exchanges.

The only friendship I made outside the family was with a postman who frequented the cafe. He had a wooden leg, as so many did in those post-war days, but was a vigorous cyclist all the same, with one leg out before him like a prow. He suggested that I should join him fishing for eels -“S’il mouille, on y va pas,” he said. I think it did rain a bit, but we cycled off on a grey day and spent some hours looking at the water, occasionally lifting the cantilevered net, like Puvis de Chavannes’ Pauvre Pecheur, but catching nothing. The wags in the cafe were delighted, and a tall glass duly appeared on the bar, with a dead frog floating in it, and the legend “Specimen of Fishing at XXX.”

Paul was smaller than me, with a fine voice. He loved singing. Some of the time, during the holidays, he had to do written exercises for some coaching-by-mail organisation, apparently common in France at the time. In between times, when we weren’t doing anything else, we played ping-pong on a table in the yard, and chess. He was a bit highly strung and kicked me if I took his queen; being bigger, I bullied him (sorry. Paul). At any rate it didn’t become a long-term friendship, and I don’t know what happened to him thereafter.

haystacks, Charente Maritime. pastel on paper

However, I realised, sometime then, that I was at home in France: I could speak French; sometimes I could even think in French, and I could connect with the past and the present. Later on in my life I spent time in other parts of Europe, and lived in Germany and Greece: I am a European by education and conviction, both townsman and countryman, and a human being on this (for the time being) unique planet.

The wasps take slivers from the shed

to make a paper home to raise their grubs.

Our forebears managed much the same for us:

My study’s paper; floor to ceiling books 

and files: this black one here for instance

holds the illicit letters you wrote me

(I hope you hoarded mine away as well),

Brown envelopes like fallen leaves – inside,

your calm Italic clarity describes

day to day news, but always ends with love

So urgent, and so strong.

Now we’re together, always, we don’t say

the things you say in letters:

more a diminuendo than a pause

from holding breath to hear the postman call,

or catch the post in time. And after all

The paper age is over: all that’s done. The Finns 

don’t even teach their kids to write;

the paperless perform

their offices in transit on their phones.

The paper age is over: bring back trees!


What’s left to us are these

last letters of our loves, our generations

that maybe‘d make some sort of sense hereafter

at least to wasps, or bees.


		

My mother was an industrious person. My father was a marine insurance clerk in the City, and consequently spent most of his life away in London during the week. This was when a man’s income was enough for the mortgage, a wife, and two children. My mother never did paid work after my sister was born (in September 1939 – so she was pushing a pram when others were doing war-work). But she went to the Municipal College, Southend-on-Sea, where she did pottery and glove-making classes – these are the ones I remember, but she probably did others – and after my father died, (because he had been in charge of wood) she also did cabinet-making. The afternoon classes at the Municipal College were known as ‘The Mum’s Classes’: they were generally driven out of the Art Colleges thereafter on the grounds that they were low-level and therefore tending to decrease the perceived tone of the institutions. Oh the stupidity of prestige-inflation! Anyhow, that is where she met Norah Oldfield, who taught the vocational painting class, and so Norah’s husband Tony, who was Deputy Head of the Art School. 

The Oldfields opened a different world for me, in which Art was not a secondary activity, and Art could be Life. Probably prompted by them I signed up for a Life Drawing Class. I was 18, about to go to Oxford. I had drawn and painted seriously since my mid-teens, but never in a formal environment.

I suppose, given the enormous expansion of our visual world, that most people now know what a Life Class is like: a circle of people with easels, desks or note-books, and a naked person, or occasionally two, in the middle, holding a pose for so many minutes (quick pose, long-pose), sitting, standing or lying down, while the onlookers try to draw what they see.

Initially,  when drawing Quentin Crisp, (and being unused to the Life Drawing event) I was slightly fazed by the blue-tinted hair, blue toe and finger-nails, and the somewhat grey (powdered?) skin.  But that disappeared when we were faced with the five-minute poses, which are standard in life drawing classes, and are meant to liberate the drawing (and/or those drawing), from a cramped concentration on accuracy, getting them instead to use fast expressive lines and smudges. At this point Quentin prided himself on extraordinary feats. For instance, holding the stretchers of an ordinary wooden chair he would pose, upside-down, his bum on the edge of the chair seat and his legs stiffly extended resting on the chair-back and up into the air. This was an athletic feat in itself, let alone holding the pose for five minutes; a sort of model’s Olympic Medal performance, the pole vault in, not slow, but no- motion. Magnificent.

I’m not sure on how many occasions I drew him. At any rate, for a long while I kept one of those drawings, but it seems to have disappeared, as these flimsy items do. Because so many of us drew him them, it seems to me that there should be a site stuffed with life drawings of him as model somewhere on the web, as a tribute to him and, by extension to all who have posed.

As I can’t do this homage, here is another drawing instead.  Robin Hughes and I used to go to the John Cass College for an evening’s relaxed drawing after a day of teaching. On this particular occasion, for some reason, there was a real dead swan suspended behind the model. Sometimes the surround, and the other people drawing, became more important than the model.

The joy was when a drawing you were doing took off, like a large bird.

Like spiders that you had not seen

The kids come out from in-between

Splashing the road with khaki green –

And how their pallid faces gleam

like blossoms on a Chinese stream

The drill hall hunches on the hill. 

the little soldiers gather still: 

The school, where they all learned to play

is only fifty yards away

And still they come, and still they come –

we do not  fight our wars at home, 

Gloucestershire versus Worcestershire,

armies cascading down the hills

to valleys full of boney loam.

The wicked men of Worcestershire

pursue their wickedness, and thrive: 

we don’t mind leaving them alive.

We don’t do War here any more; 

we send our children far and wide 

and visit all that shock and awe 

on lesser breeds without the Law.

And still they come, and still they come   

to take a shilling from the Queen-

They don’t read Hardy or Li Po:

they need to feel before they know

We live on history and fear, 

but they live in the now and here.  

They don’t use tabors when they drill

or scarlet when they dress to kill

but war’s a fashion driven thing:

so dappled coveralls provide

a uniform to wear with pride. 

A  skewbald rag will do as well 

to blow about  that foreign field    

where some poor squaddy leaves behind

a life, a limb, or just his mind.

The corner seat is always there

reserved for mutilés de guerre

The ones who bled, who we ignore.

As Byron  wrote to Wellington: 

who cares, then, when the war is done?

And will they come, and will they come

’till the extinction of mankind?

Will the last human toddler found

pick up a stick from off the ground

to point and say “Bang Bang, you’re dead? 

is it encripted in each mind?

is it engendered in our blood

by genes that cannot be denied?

And if they come, and if they come

The shining ones of space and time, 

will they accept us or decline?

Will our indomitable mind 

condemn us to be left behind

while sunlight falters and grows red

and every living creature’s dead

and all the oceans have run dry

and no-one’s left to see or cry

and all the stars have fled?

Bits of My Life: “Too Good for Working People”

When I was at Corpus Christi College Oxford, studying for a degree in English Literature, the MP for Southend West, where my parents lived & I grew up, was Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, who memorably said in his diaries that it was difficult to go out without spending £100. At that time my father, a Marine Insurance clerk in the City of London, to and from which he commuted every weekday by train, was earning less than £20 a week. It was in my second year at Corpus Christi College, Oxford that Henry’s son Paul came to Christ Church College, dubbed ‘The House,’ next door. He had been in the Army before that. Well, before he had time to finish his degree his father Henry died. Lord and Lady Iveagh, of the Guiness family were patrons of Southend West Conservative Association, Henry having married Lady Honor, their daughter. So it was decided that Paul should succeed his father, the seat being a safe Conservative one. Apparently there were 129 applicants for the candidature, and a campaign was run against the nomination, by the Daily Express, on the grounds that it looked liked nepotism. But Paul was the chosen candidate. His grandmother, the former MP but one, congratulated voters for: “backing a colt when you know the stable he was trained in.”

In due course I was living in Islington and teaching at South Grove, Tottenham, an outpost, one of many, of Hornsey College of Art. I used each weekday to cycle past a plot of land in Tottenham which was due to be developed. At some point a sign went up on the site, bearing a message which went something like this: “ Your Council wishes to build homes on this site, but the Ministry thinks they are too good for working people, signed, David Page”. It was intriguing to have a namesake on Haringey Council: it gave me some satisfaction to ride past it every day, and I could see possibilities in this conjuncture. I wrote to my namesake and told him that if he wanted to be more explicit I would be happy to oblige, for instance with a letter to the press which would have the advantage of deniability – “Not my words” he could have said, “But those of another fellow of the same name.” Quite properly he didn’t reply.

Later I got to know an architect who had worked on the design for the site. To make the best of it they had come up with an innovative ziggurat design, with mono-pitch roofs. It might have looked very impressive, but the Minister, Paul Channon, turned the plans down because the houses were just over the Ministry cost-yard-stick for local authority housing. So the Architect’s Department had to start design, planning, etc, all over again, to come up with properly working-class-looking housing, not exceeding the yard-stick. But of course, if you counted expenditure already made, well above it. The on-costs were presumably not an issue for the Ministry, nor was the delay in providing the accommodation. But then, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

The thing is that I’ve always known

These February days when sky

Loses its lustre like a fish’s eye.


These days! I can still see

My mother white-faced in a chair

Carried through white snow to the doctor’s car…


What I first saw was grey

Or mezzotint, perhaps, but you

Set off with colours, green and red and blue


Out in the garden under trees

Loose clothes aflutter in the breeze:  

An August baby greets the world at ease


And that is why the sun shines through

Your optimistic take on who,

and what on earth the world is coming to –


And sometimes why you need to use

A smudge of February haze

To mitigate the keenness of your gaze.

Some of the paintings in my current show at the Fisher Theatre Gallery Upstairs.  There is also a video interview under my name at YouTube – do have a look  The show is on until the 16th April

92. The Beck Riverine through Low Meadow 07 18 40x60 copy

The Beck Riverine through Low Meadow . oil on canvas

90 Lovers knot Fieldmark copy

Lovers Knot Fieldmark . oil on canvas

91 V Marks on a Mauve Field lite copy

Fieldmarks on Mauve Field oil on canvas

95. Autumn Wedge copy

Autumn Wedge oil on canvas

96 Perfrming Tree, Redenhall 12 78 copy

Little Performing Tree at Redenhall . oil on canvas

97 Frosty Field Corner

Frosty Field Corner . oil on canvas

Shadows on Rapefield88 copy 2

House Shadow on Rapefield . oil on canvas

Embrowned Rapefield 87

Embrowned Rapefield . oil on canvas

Leaving the town I see.

absurd, a singing tree

in Rorshach symmetry –

brow, bray, and tray,

and a bird on every spur

coos and clucks in a shower of sound

like leaves that fall on the ground

Fifty birds as I near

fly to the paddock beyond,

and back before I’m gone,

and their chuckling, soothing song,

slides all the way to the bridge,

where the melody’s finally drowned.

So I climb Dicky Hill again

as I’ve so often done before

past each Violet Plantation fir

that strains to catch the sky

and solitary satisfied oaks

stretch into the space they occupy

and I wonder how long it will be

before all my friends have died

or how they will feel to remain

if I’m first to leave them behind

but there isn’t any tree

that will remember me.

I walk home with that in my mind,

Like a flint caught in my shoe

back to our gnarl-branched sloe

where the finches and tits that speed to and fro

cross-hatch incessantly

as long as the seeds and the nuts remain

their flight-paths fade in the blink of an eye –

constant, immediate, gone.

It’s quiet now I’m home

and the window’s inbetween

I leave them there to thrive

out in the freezing air

like the ending of a prayer:

world without end,

amen.

Blog Stats

  • 16,798 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16 other followers

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 16 other followers