In Vino Veritas

Chapter 6

Meanwhile, still back at the theatre, painting scenery continued. By now I was familiar with the whole set-up . In a long narrow-ish studio, the huge back- cloths were attached to stout wooden stretchers. A gap between the floor and the wall, (together with the aid of an electric motor), meant they could be raised and lowered as and when. Painting the flats and other props was very straightforward.
If one imagines about 200 ice-cream cartons filled with every tint, tone and high colour imaginable, the whole approximating the range of a High street DIY paint retailer, then they were occupying a central table. They were maintained, in exemplary fashion by Steve, the splodger… hardly a flash job description. All water-based, of course. …the colours, not Steve.
Work proceeded well on the Viennese hell. Endless drop shadows, highlights, reflected lights, marbling, wood graining, cast shadows, all the usual old tricks of trompe l’oeil orthodoxy cascaded down. Rather similar to sucking boiled sweets.
BUT WAIT. I was admiring the job I had done on some alcove encased temptress and then became aware of a fellow admirer. A delicious exchange followed.

‘Look’, said our leader, ‘um…hmmmm…this is rather good….ummm ..’
He glanced at his watch…’could you do a few more?’ I glanced at his efforts. Rather me do them than him, I thought.
‘No problem , I said, you go and have a rinse or 3 with your mates and leave the alcoves and little darlings to me.’
Not a lot was said, but it was hugely significant.
Theatre mythology is also huge; Quasimodo, phantoms, ghosts, creaking woodwork, strange meanings, wobbly stairs, all of that.
I usually arrived first in the morning to get the studio opened up.
Up the creaking stairs. I grabbed the handle of the ancient door. Resistance. Push then came to shove.
The door opened a bit to reveal a pair of shoes stuck underneath.
Why the hell would somebody?….. A closer look. There were legs in those shoes.
According to the coroner, the death must have been agonising. Huddled in the foetal position, Steve had tried several exit stratagems, but lethal photographic chemicals had been most effective, at God knows what agony.
To complete the theatrical… because of rigor mortis and the narrowness of the stairwell, his body had to be put in a sling and lowered down on a rope.

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One reflected upon previous conversations with Steve, but there was no indication of what he was thinking. More entry into the world.

 

Formula Fun 4

Episode 4

Evening meal and so to bed…

Time for some food! In one of his epistles to the Ecclestones, St Paul outlined the cosmopolitan nature of the Silverstone cuisine. It seemed to mirror exactly the range of food available in Collins Street, Melbourne. Alas, Dodge City would cover it. Still, the food was hot and, deepest joy, the beer was cold. Mumbles would have settled for a couple of glasses of sandwiches. Back now for a good night’s sleep.

Mumbles air bed was perhaps a tad over-inflated. Any sudden movement would result in the occupant being catapulted on to the floor. This was compounded by contour problems. The air bed ridging was identical to that of a frozen deeply ploughed field in February – and about as hard. If you got stuck in the ridges, move v e r y s l o w l y .
After a while and a fair bit of bruising, the mantle of sleep started to weave a magic…then…O MY GOD!! Please say it’s not happening to me!
It was four to the floor Migraine Music, conveyed through a Nuremberg sound system. Mumbles needed a fix. AAAAAGGGHH! It was in Paul’s microwave, drying off.
Music died at about midnight, but with sublime synchronisation it blended into a raging storm. Rain hurtled down. Tent kept dry…but!
Mumbles off into a fitful sleep. CRAMP! At 3 in the morning. Involuntary spasm. Catapulted to the floor. Hits the side of the tent. That’s when a tent sheds water…on the inside. It runs down your neck and back. Jump to the other side to avoid it and it runs down your front. ‘Why did I skip RE classes’? mused Mumbles.
Grey morning arrived at last. Mumbles final labour presents itself. How to get fully dressed in a sitting position without touching the top or sides of the tent.
Seventy something bones and muscles have serious articulation problems. Back howls in protest. Eventually emerges from his cozy chrysalis. Grabs his rain soaked towel and sets off to THE FACILITIES!

Formula Fun 3

Episode 3

The Journey to Silvers

Day dawns bright and clear. Car packed and ready. Sat nav set to Siverstone.
Paul and mumbles set off. Mumbles a bit weary and drifts off into a dreamy vision of their destination. Sort of gospel according to Saint Paul.
Images jostle for position …A bucolic scene of soft greens, a few tents under the spreading chestnut trees, Miss Marple chatting to Dixon of Dock Green outside Mrs Miggins tea rooms. A leafy Twitten winds around past the vicarage and leads to a wonderful vantage point affording a splendid view of the racetrack. Birdsong abounds. Sheep safely grazing.

Somewhere north of the M40/A279/ B something , Mumbles wakes up and glances out the window. ‘HOLY ****!!! Were their refugee camps in England? The sight that met his gaze would rival anything in Lebanon or Syria. Tents as far as the eye could see.
‘Glad we got here early’, said Paul, ‘the real influx will be tomorrow. ‘I think I can see a space a kilometre or so on the right.’ Mumbles blinking with incomprehension.
It started to rain. Mumbles needed a jab. Paul brisk, efficient.
‘Right, let’s get these tents up’, he commanded. In so doing, he produced his tent which was a combined ranch- style/ Winnebago hybrid. It was graced with Greek columns (Doric capitals) and Baroque acanthus leaves. Ample furnishings were installed inside.
Mumbles accommodation was the bog standard bottom end of the Halfords Glastonbury range. There was not a flicker of interest from a passing rabbit. In went the air bed and other sad, soggy possessions. Paul struggled with the standard lamp and the cinema sized TV. Rain hosed down.

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‘What about the facilities’? Asked Mumbles. Paul rummaged in his wardrobe and produced a set of Jack Hawkins binoculars.
‘You will just be able to see them if you use these’, he said. Mumbles started to panic. ‘What happens if you have rebellious Indian curry for supper which has a 5 hour fuse?’
Paul’s answer was drowned in a ear spitting thunderclap. Torrential rain.

Episode 4 : evening meal and so to bed……

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 4

Primary school jogged along quite merrily. Caning was commonplace, pastoral care thinnish. But we did learn. The star of the show was the ‘times table’ lessons (up to 12) whereby the head teacher had a primitive but effective closed circuit classroom audio system so that the whole school had tables drill straight after breakfast.
This rote learning, to me at least, has lasted 70 years. Sticking to the brief and general orthodoxy was encouraged. Any deviation (such as when I found copying a prescribed pedestrian rendering of a ship could not compare with my Johnny Depp piratical galleon), was not tolerated.
The correction cane was produced. I saw the error of my ways, and resolved to change the error, not my ways.

Secondary school could have been done locally, but it was commonplace in those days, and probably still is, for country kids to be shunted off to boarding school in the bigger cities. Thus it was. There are some kids , particularly the introspective ones , who should never be made to do this. Communal living was abhorrent, the hand me down English public school hierarchy, complete with prefects and duxes and house masters and matrons, head boys and girls and vast mahogany panels crammed with acres of gilt lettering naming the great and the good, was hugely destabilising. One suddenly realises that there are hoards of people you really don’t want to know about. Ever. How I hated it.

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Love appeared in a strange guise at about this time. Her name was Adelaide, or more precisely, Queen Adelaide claret. She had more tannins than an Indian tea plantation, and feeble fruit, but notwithstanding that, the door she unlocked is still wide open.
The joys of a solitary life were made manifest during the 1956 Olympics. Those parents who could raise the wind sent their little darlings off to Melbourne for a week, slightly lesser mortals had a range of outings offered, and I was the only child left in the whole school for the duration. The school must have loved this, I know I did.
My school report linked ones attainments by a simple graph joining up the ‘score’ dots on one axis against the range of subjects on the other. Result: smart kids got a profile rather like that of the Himalayan peaks. I flat lined down in the foothills, littered with C’s D’s and E’s…. Highly amusing reading for my grandson.
Only one comment was in any way prescient ‘Has a deep interest in art and music’.
At least I persevered in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and something else to get my A levels. Yet, there was one sign of enlightenment. In my final year when I was given the nod to attend evening art classes at the local ‘Tech’. Thank God.
At last another door had opened. Praise be the Lord.

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Formula Fun 2

Episode 2

Good old mojo mumbles has left London Bridge and after a couple of belts of Jack Daniels sets off for Padders. Echoes of distant applause rings in his ears.
Tube train glides into Padders and keeps gliding. Helpful announcement says Padders is closed on this line so you can go to the next stop and walk back. Make that run in the sun,in this case. O joy! Loosely wrapped rucksack sheds bits. Dubious personal items litter the footpath.Dogs growl.
Arrive at platform 300 to just get on the Totnes train in the nick of. Thrown out of first class. At last ,dump sack in the right carriage. This triggers an astonishing train (!) of events. At the precise moment the bag hits the floor there is a piercing alarm siren, somewhere between an air raid warning and a car alarm. Fellow passengers nervous. Even more nervous when they notice that the front of mumbles jacket was rather lumpy AND his infrequent visits to the shower or bathroom gave him a middle eastern appearance. Fellow travellers eyes were almost as white as their knuckles.
What to do? Mumbles blocks the doorway. Worse , he starts rummaging in the sack to find the offending alarm clock.Garments were produced that hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine since Woodstock. Underwear the worst culprit. 50 999 calls were made simultaneously. Mumbles shuts off the noisy alarm clock, takes his spare socks from inside his jacket, produces a copy of Good Housekeeping ,tunes his IPod into Woman’s Hour and settles down to read as a fully armed riot squad whacked the carriage next door. Nobody had seen him do a discreet re- direct as they approached.

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Wonderful piece in Good Housekeeping on how to train (!) men to see the error of their ways, WITHOUT making lists!!! Great reading all the way to Totnes.Time for another rinse or three and a spliff. He needed that. His buddy Paul a teensy bit prim….never mind..

Episode 3. To come….Journey to Silvers….wait for it…

Formula Fun 1

Episode 1

A day at the races… or two… or three…

Not long ago…..Picture the scene: A local female tennis player plus family arrive at the Uckers station…earlyish..

But, they are greeted by a geriatric hippie (his face seems familiar) carrying a rucksack the size of a bingo hall!

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He mojo mumbles. They are confused. Has this poor wind- blown dude mistaken the date for the recently concluded Glastonbury? He hauls on a spliff that nearly ignites his pants. ‘Hell no’, he says in a fair imitation of Dolly Parton,’ My bag is Silverrstftoone, ye’all. (Family comprehension of all this proving  difficult.)  ‘Formulah Warne, you dig?’.
Family were going to town to celebrate daughter’s 22nd. Birthday. They walked briskly to the back of the train. Sighed and settled comfortably… UNTIL. The gentle strumming of an ill- tuned geetah and mouth organ wafted in on a breeze that would strip wallpaper. Ancient hippie rummages in rucksack. ‘Now, lookee here, we is goin’ all de way to Lundun Bridge… bet yo wanna see what I got here’ Desperate daughter says she wants to listen to the Blue Grass band who are getting off next stop to head the bill at the Helluvah Hever Festival. Family follow …….and wait for the next train.
Hippie train trundles into London Bridge. Transport Police summoned. Problems!!
The last three carriages enchanted by the ditty, D I V O R C E which has been  transposed down a third and is now R O S B E R G. sung by our F1Boy….. Huge Hit!!!! They loved it!! Great start. Off to Paddington.

Episode 2 to come….arrival at Silverstone…wait for it….

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 3

The big game of the day was marbles. About a 2 metre ring, inscribed in the grass or gravel was surrounded by players who simply  had to knock the opponents marbles out of the circle with a well aimed shot. Every now and then bigger kids would appear with soft clay on their boots and proceed to walk through a well stocked ring. Bastards.
Never mind that. The joy of these things were the rainbow hued cats eyes red, green blue, and all the rest… Colour again.  I would hold them up to the light and watch the colours refract and glow, sometimes one to each eye. I would miss my turn doing this.
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At school I had a two-tier swivel pencil case, a ruler which doubled as a spirit level and a range of soft to hard pencils. They all had a wonderful smell, even the eraser.
All art paraphernalia had a  heavenly scent (like that!) which remains with me to this day.
The walls of our house were bedecked, or spotted with the usual range of ‘furniture pictures’ a phenomenon which has remained largely unchanged in contemporary dwellings. It was mostly agreeable or anodyne stuff that contributed to domestic serenity but was wholly unconnected with the visceral power of painting. Pictures again. Bits of French confectionery (street scenes) rubbed shoulders with exotic scarf/earring portraits which exhibited a certain leaden charm. A blast of the chilly wind of C17 Dutch Protestantism made an appearance,  so at least we had, in these cathedral prints, moved off the picturesque.
But, I wondered, as I gazed across the unique splendour of the Tasmanian landscape, why hasn’t somebody not done something with this? By that I meant not knocking out cosy European models, but establishing the spirit of the place in a new language.
The answer to that came many years later when I was a student in Melbourne.
His name was Fred Williams , an uncharismatic moniker, but boy, did he do what I wished for.  Stunning. Met him in the print studios at the college. Lovely man, an inspiration. Still.OA6.1965##S.jpg.505x375_q85

© Estate of Fred Williams

The Tale of Hamish

The T-bone steak seemed about the size of a dustbin lid , well seasoned and nicely cooked by the look of it. It nestled behind the near- side front wheel of my car, just outside the kitchen window. My puzzlement increased when I heard our neighbour’s wife, in a rather perplexed and shrill voice enquire ‘Brian, have you eaten your steak?’
The steak was then obscured by a bundle of orange fur.
Oh God,! NOT AGAIN! Two hours previously a group of people walked past our front gate. One of them pointed at Hamish and with thinly disguised fury screamed ‘That’s the one, BLOODY CAT’!
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Some 10 years earlier, in 1977, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch was published.
One of the main protagonists in the story (and subsequent stories) was and is Hamish the ginger cat. A complete invention of course. We had no pets and were awaiting copies of the said book when, one morning, our children, aged about 5 and 3 called for Ronda and I to come to the kitchen AT ONCE!
On the doorstep sat a perfect example of life imitating art. He might as well have jumped out of the pages of the book. Even his whiskers matched. He was dubbed Hamish and lived with us for about 12 years.It seems he had been unceremoniously dumped  by a distant neighbour. Why? He had demolished her young child’s birthday cake by the simple expedient of eating all the cream and fancy trimmings which adorned this exquisite creation. After a string of such incidents, her patience ran out.
Essentially Hamish was a fearless thug and as cunning as a dunny rat with a gold tooth. This had it’s advantages. One day I discovered an Alsatian bitch in our garden merrily trampling over the seedlings. I rushed out intervene but just as quickly in- rushed. Yellow fangs snarled, hackles rose and laser- like eyes fixed on my throat.
With what dignity I could muster I retreated inside. My ginger friend was sleeping off a heavy lunch. By now he had lost one eye, half an ear and had more dents and tears in the bodywork than an ancient stock-car. What remained of him was a bundle of teeth and claws held together by whipcord sinews. I took him outside and pointed his good eye at the Alsatian. What followed was the concept of an orange Exocet missile. He flew in a splendid glowing arc aiming squarely for the carotid artery. The Alsatian was terrified. It reared, stumbled and yowled as it got caught in some fencing wire which she dragged down the road.
Back inside, I glanced in the fridge and saw the ample remains of some very tender beef which was going to be re- cycled. As Hamish tucked into a goodly chunk of this, I am absolutely certain he knew it was for a job well done.
He was no mug.
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His stay with us was a kind of symmetry, he came out of the blue and left to go ‘who knows where?’ The children looked everywhere for him, as did we all, but no joy. I think he knew his time was up and found some secluded  spot. He wouldn’t want any of his umpteen vanquished rivals dancing on his grave.
Forty years later, he is about to entertain a third generation of readers. He lives on.

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In Vino Veritas 2

Chapter 2

More from the early years…

Apart from the paper mill, the local economy depended on the production of hops, berry fruits and mixed farming. The river supported a rich crop of willow trees, whose elegant branches were just made for fashioning longbows. The arrows were bamboo (sometimes weighted a bit) and the tough bowstring came from the mill. Hardly the stuff of Welsh archers, but pretty good. Later, being fed on a diet of American Westerns at the local Odeon, we simply had to have Winchester repeaters in our saddle bags. One quickly learnt the perils of having exposed metal parts on your home-made rifle. How often had one seen a lantern jawed sheriff nearly blown off his horse because the baddies saw the sunlight glinting off his shotgun. BEWARE!

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The unadulterated tosh of the Westerns was at least entertaining and as predictable as gravity. These were replaced by the saccharine kitsch of the musical. A huge turn-off for kids. No sex, endless antiseptic dance routines couldn’t stand a chance against the goings on in Dodge City. John Wayne was a piss-poor actor, so was the script and the direction. Any 5 year old could spot that, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. I fell in love with Nancy at the cake shop but she didn’t want to know, even when I wore my Lone Ranger cozzie. Never mind.

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After the trip to Melbourne it was time to get down to work. This involved sitting on my bedroom floor surrounded by pens, paper, crayons et. al. and trying to draw.

The gap between expectation and achievement could be measured in light years. One thing never in doubt was the magic of making marks, the overwhelming power of colour and how all this could fashion another world, as real as the one in which we exist. (As with any beginner, child or adult, the aim is to represent the physical world. Once one can do this, it is time to move on. Whether you take anybody else with you on this endeavor is problematic, to say the least.)

My reading matter, or being read to, kicked off with the Little Golden books, which consisted of pretty ordinary versions of Grimm of Perrault. Yet the imagery lives on. I can still see the witch holding Hansel’s hand to see if he was fattening up nicely for the hotting-up  pot behind him. Crossing cattle grids or bush bridges was nerve wracking… I bet that ogre was down there somewhere. I was sure I could hear him.

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A bit further on, the English childrens classics were widely available. Although American and sometimes Australian stuff was around, I had a bit of difficulty responding to the European muted settings and fauna. Squaring the sylvan vegetation of the Ashdown Forest with what I saw walking to school was difficult. This ranged from a kaleidoscope of crimson Rosellas to a drunken bunch of sulphur crested cockatoos. Once the latter had crashed their way into a tree, their clatter would cease, as if by some celestial intervention. The reason was partly celestial, a ‘wedgie’ so called, was on the look out for a spot of lunch.

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What was really a great sadness for my mother was my developing addiction to a form of literature of a much lesser God… COMICS! Worse, American and all about Superman. Tosh of course, but what was the attraction? COLOUR. Trowelled on primaries had all the subtlety of an outside dunny in a cyclone. They also had a powerful smell and contained other niceties like speech and thought balloons. These features were to re-appear in a different form decades later.

Another life-long passion was, oddly enough, established at the age of 3 or 4. This was an unbroken link between our Sunday lunch and so called ‘classical music’. The music mostly took the form of C19 warhorses but as I tucked into my roast lamb I absorbed the sound as well, and the hooks were in, never to slacken. My debt to my parents for this gift is immense.

A Musical Revelation

30 or so years later… Our cottage in a Sussex village.

It is late, wife and children have gone to bed. I am in a small galley kitchen clearing up after a splendid meal with some friends. Radio 3 is employed to keep me company. My toil with the dishcloth stopped abruptly as I was plunged into a manic scherzo, gloriously anarchic stuff. It stops, starts again, stops, repeats, does it all again. Mad but terrific music. Who on earth was this? The bell-like scherzo gave way to a sublime adagio, deeply felt, almost Schubertian in its profound sense of yearning. By now, dishes done, I was sitting on the floor, keeping company with the remains of a splendid 20 year old port.

As is often the way of the classical tradition, the fourth and final movement involves a triumphant resolution of many musical arguments. ‘Right, sweetie’, I thought, if you can extend, equal, or beat what came before, I have stumbled across a musical voice that is of the highest order. Why had I got to thirty something and never heard it? He delivered, my God, did he ever. By the time we got to the closing pages I resembled a quivering bundle that could have been the result of the contents of a boiled-over pot that had oozed to the floor. An emotional wreck, contemplating an experience that will live with me for the rest of my days, and , with any luck, beyond.

Same music, Radio 3, about 10 years later, this time on the car radio as I made my way to somewhere about 2 hours from home. After roughly about one and a half hours had elapsed, I was coming again on the closing pages of this sublime musical argument. At this point I became dimly aware of a flashing blue light in my rear view mirror. Oh God! What to do? I pulled over and indicated by a series of gestures that… ‘could the officer wait two minutes until my musical journeys end?’ I desperately hoped my finger gestures and facial expressions would not be misconstrued. Tricky. I guess the noise issuing from the car confirmed my request. Shortly after, I emerged from the car, red-eyed with tears and looking visibly shaken. The young officer, bless him, assumed my demeanour and apparent distress was caused by a traffic violation. He politely told me to get my brake light fixed ASAP.