I’ve lived in so many places; I’m amazed anything important has survived. Drawings, oil paintings, sketch books - lost, stolen, destroyed (by me) or just gone…
A few oil paintings were recently discovered in the form of two and a quarter inch square negatives. I hope to have these digitally rescued soon.
The earliest surviving example of my artistic output is this scribble, from my skooldaze. I was about 12 years old.
The picture (scanned and edited in Photoshop) shows the back and front of the wrapping band of a packet of envelopes, which I expect was bought from the school tuck-shop (because the local shops were out of bounds.)
Fellow post-war baby-boomers may recognise the MainLine branding. Look at the price: 3d three old pence. Today’s 5p is the equivalent of twelve pre-decimalisation pence.
The doodle was done in red, black and green biro, probably one of those fat things that had three or four colours in one. Great, but why did they always break before the ink ran out?
Despite its lack of monetary value, the object sheds light on a number of factors that resonate and still have meaning.
For example, I was unsure about the spelling of ‘boring’. It still doesn’t look right to me. If not for my word processor’s spell checker, I would still be doubtful.
To whom was the message shown? A friend, of course, but who?
The bearded chap was my class and art teacher, Mr Pinner. He looks a lot like Jesus.
The drawing on the right shows his talent for raising one eyebrow. The upwards turn of one side of his mouth suggests he’s annoyed. He used to call out: ‘Gas bags - deflate!’
Apparently I was always talking and giggling in class. My school reports testify to my annoying (for adults) habit of being more interested in having fun than knuckling down to hard work. My parents were furious; double trouble.
Mr Pinner often referred to me as ‘Cackling Witch’ because of my laugh. Was this funny or cruel?
Drawing caricatures was possibly a way of coping with feelings of powerlessness. Mostly it was an escape from soul destroying tedium and a relief from the mind numbing boredom.
The critics loved Reasons To Be Cheerful first time around. The Guardian said: 'The stage gives off a million volts.' Time Out opined: 'Rough, ready and bl**dy brilliant.' Even The Daily Mail managed a compliment: 'It's got a heart of gold.'
Aah, ain't that nice?
So, the Chailey kid came good. Well, nothing unusual in that. I won't mention any names (they might not thank me) but there are quite few of us Chailey kids in and about the (disability) movement.
Ian Dury wasn't an activist. He was an artist, hedonist, hard nut and a rock star. Talented too, but a nightmare to live and work with, if the film Sex & Drugs & Rock &Roll is to be believed. And why shouldn't we believe it?
There's a scene in the film where he goes back to Chailey, around the time he wrote Spasticus Autisticus for the International Year of Disabled People, 1981. I'd left years before, but I'm reliably informed that this visit never actually happened.
Hello to you out there in Normal Land/You may not comprehend my tale or understand.
I don't remember much violence in the film, whereas crip (and crip-on-crip) bashing did happen at Chailey in those days. Dury talked about it and we can assume it affected him, probably not in a pleasant way.
Oi! Cunt face! Who are you looking at?/I'll kick your fucking head off with shit on me boots!
Put that boy in detention!
When I went to see the film, in 2010, I think I secretly hoped I would recognise Chailey Heritage. Of course, it wasn't actually filmed there. The dormitory scenes couldn't possibly have been shot at St Georges because the place was turned into luxury flats more than a decade ago.
I always thought the Blockheads had a great sound, especially Chaz Jankel's piano, but some of Dury's lyrics are pure sexist rubbish:
I offer thee this band of gold/Now do exactly what you are told.
I guess he hated women. Or maybe he was just unconfident.
If I was with a woman I'd make believe I loved her/All the time I would not like her much.
So I prefer the instrumental version of Duff 'em up and Do 'em Over. Not that he didn't manage the occasional insightful social comment:
There ain't half been some clever bastards/lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders.
One thing you can say about Dury is that he was ace at alliteration:
Plaistow Patricia, Plaistow Patricia/Plaistow Patricia, Plaistow Patricia/Go on girl.
Chailey was a grim yet brief chapter in Dury's life; he spent a mere three years there in the early fifties. I was there for eleven years, 1955 - 1966, a big chunk of my childhood. He wrote and talked about it in less than glowing terms. I have yet to find words to adequately describe my loathing for the place.
An Instinct for Kindness. A play about assisted suicide.
A Bigger Picture. David Hockney at The Royal Academy.
Resistance; Which Way the Future. Liz Crow's important installation.
Cheltenham Science Festival 2011. Exploring the Autistic Mind & 3D Thinkers in a 2D World.
Access All Areas 2011. Live Art Extravanganza
Longcare Survivors; Biography of a Care Scandal. Review of John Pring's outstanding book.