In The Land Of Never Was
I started ‘writing’ when I was fifteen just before I left school and yes, fifteen was too young to be leaving school but as we say – ‘that’s the way you did it in those days. Like getting married at seventeen, having children early or having unprotected sex.’
I couldn’t wait to leave school and I landed a pretty ‘safe’ job with prospects, providing I worked at it for a number of years. I was a draughtsman in a switchgear firm that manufactured switchboards for offices and hospitals. I earned a £5 note per week before stoppages, had to fetch the teas for the whole drawing office and attend evening classes 3 nights per week at the local Technical College to earn a ‘day release’ in my 2nd year.
My writing was very personal and at that stage quite private and fuelled by my non-conformist tendencies. I had the idea even then that I was a kind of bohemian and I found myself drawn to a radicalism of thought as ‘impressionable’ teenagers often are. My unhappy home life since father broke my heart and our happy suburban family facade wide open, had given me a raw ‘edge’ which suggested I was worldly-wise way beyond my years and experience. I was fairly disdainful of the petite bourgeoise, middle-class values my father and mother had esteemed so highly and blindly. This contempt was no doubt bolstered by the notion I carried that my parents had somehow lied to me while trying to protect me from the truth of the unhappiness in their relationship.
I left my apprentice draughtsman’s post and found the perfect position working in Leicester Square for an Artists’ Agency where my avant-garde leanings developed by the day as I journeyed around the streets and landmarks of central London, ferrying art to and fro from artists to publishing houses and back, while amongst other things collecting and posting artists materials and photo-shoot reference from various, curious backstreet suppliers and agencies in Fleet Street, across to South Kensington and back to the Edgware Road. I consumed art and read literature ravenously while traveling on the Underground or on the Southern Rail from Cheam in Surrey to Victoria.
I loved both George Orwell’s lesser and better-known titles and began to read avidly Herman Hesse, John Steinbeck, John Wyndham, Ernest Hemmingway, Emile Zola, Voltaire, indeed anyone that tapped into my slightly subversive but nevertheless intensely creative mindset. I visited Art Galleries old and new, joined the famed St Martin’s Art School who boasted a Life Class with 8 naked models who posed delightfully in one large room and I became friendly with virtually all our bunch of 30 or so virtuoso artists, from the hermit-like Alex Oliphant, a sad and lonely widower and whisky drinking alcoholic, who illustrated tawdry tales of lust and intrigue for Parade, the men’s magazine, to the entirely petite and quaint Miss Jeanetta Vice who drew Noddy and Big Ears for ‘Robin’ Comic. Jeanetta lived in an exquisite luxury apartment in Portman Square, a few minutes walk from Mayfair and would offer me cups of English tea served in bone china whenever I called.
There was also the entirely charismatic Walter ‘Wally’ Wyles who walked on a club foot and would happily blow up to 20% of his substantial fees received for 12-part magazine illustrations on full day binges in a classy little French Restaurant in Longacre near Covent Garden which he would take over for the day. Wally would invite everyone and anyone who had been engaged in the projects:- editors, agents, secretaries, assistants, photographers, models, etc. etc., just to thank and reward them for their cooperation, even though they would have already been paid handsomely for their part.
The life and characters of so many of those artists and personalities I met during my time in the West End of London, truly expanded my literary landscape and when I produced 5 poems for publication a year after finally leaving the teeming and vivacious world of art and print, those poems were, I believe, some of the most creative writings I have ever written. Sadly at a time of personal revolution and subsequent confusion, the poems though accepted were never published and eventually were lost. I have tried to re-write a few of them but never felt they matched the originals for their tumbling verve, boldness and intensity.