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.
One reflected upon previous conversations with Steve, but there was no indication of what he was thinking. More entry into the world.
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!
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.
‘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……
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
© Estate of Fred Williams