Friday, September 21, 2012

I Walk The Line

Happy Saturday m'hearties!
Yes, that day is upon us again when all kind o'folk throw caution to the wind and sally forth on some bold new adventure.
Oh yus, many's the Saturday when I have decided to throw caution to the wind as well and chance a plate of hough from the Galley. It's a funny dish, all flavour and stringy meat, but when it is properly made it does one a power o'good.
When I was a nipper we used to dream of food like this, and now as man of my own helm I can indulge meself whenever I like, but it wouldn't do to overdo it, so we only has it every now and then.
Such is the sea of plenty we swim in these days, every sensory enrichment can be easily overloaded. Sometimes ye need a break from the world of epicurian delights, and just get back to some basic old honest cookin'.
Even our erstwhile gentlemen photographer Mr.Sheephouse has been seen relaxin' with his feet up on a chair this week, camera nowhere to be seen.
When I asked him about he said:

"It's no use having all the jewels of the world but no crown to set them in."

Cryptic, I know.
A prophet is ne'er praised in his own country. 
I worry about him.
Anyway, he also said:

"Pleasure is a great thing, but best in smaller bites."

To which I thought the best thing to do was counter with a quote from the famous Mr.van Beethoven:

For sunshine in Autumn
Tho' passing too soon
Is sweeter and dearer
Than sunshine in June.

That made him smile.
In fact we both smiled.
One day I'll sing it to ye.
Mog does a very good job of it on the old pianner.
We likes a bit of Beethoven 'round here of an evenin'.


It's (well to me it is) interesting and unusual what a key thing can have on your development if it catches you at an early enough age. I'm not going to go all now tell me about your childhood on you - I'll leave that to the professionals, though I do often wonder about them as well - who polices the police as it were. There's an awful amount of importance placed upon these people where maybe, before a small thing became a problem, a chance for a sit down with a cup of tea and a sympathetic ear might have been just the thing. But then, not everyone is fortunate enough to know a pair of sympathetic ears. It must be hard.
Anyway, as usual I digress.
I've long known that my sense of humour has been heavily influenced by heavy exposure to Ramblin;' Syd Rumpo from the age of about 8 onwards. Yeah you thought I was going to write about very early childhood stuff didn't you. No, of course not, but I can recall the funniest joke I ever heard when I was small (probably first year in Junior School, and which, I realised very quickly, if I repeated it verbatim, and with the correct pauses, I could render people of my age in fits of laughter.
Now that is a very big build-up for a very small joke.
I hope you are sitting down for this one:

What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?

Time to get a new one.

Oh yes, as basic as they come, but it made me realise quite quickly that I could use such collections of words and timing to make people laugh, and if you can make people laugh, generally they'll like you.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't in need of people liking me, I could make friends easily when I was young, but laughter was a good defence mechanism, and attack (in this case a soft attack) was always the best form of defence.
Unfortunately for me, little was my developing humour prepared for the full-on attack of a certain Mr.*** and a certain Mrs.*** who at that time taught at *** Junior School in Northolt. We're talking mid to late 60's here.
I will not speak ill of the dead as no doubt they are now, but suffice to say that their approach to educating very small bods was nothing short of animalistic.
I was once forced to stand on a table by Mr.*** as he exhorted the class to " . . . look at fatty. Isn't he fat!" which of course resulted in extreme embarassment for me and howls of laughter from the rest of the class. OK, I was a miniature porker, but all the same . . . . 
Not the sort of laughs I was looking for.
Mrs.*** was the loudest, most violent person I had ever met in my early life and she could easily render a class in a state of terror. She was an imposing woman and very fond of the 'Cork In A Storm'.

Mr.Searle and Mr.Willans have got the proportions just about right. I couldn't believe it the first time I saw that in 'Down With Skool' - it was so real.
But again, I digress, suffice to say that I have no doubt now that their actions managed to render a small (well big) lad who liked laughter and fun and entertaining, into someone who was (for a huge amount of time) a tad reticent about getting up in front of people; and (strange to think of it) at times painfully shy.
Little do these people entrusted with the education of small but quickly-developing minds, realise the power their influence has.
Sad to say they cast a long shadow over a large proportion of my friends too, with fear and incontinence rearing their ugly heads. Just horrendous. These days they would be prosecuted, but they weren't, and indeed finding the tiny amounts of quotes about *** out there, these two have attained semi-legendary status, so it isn't just me putting arms and legs on things.
Fortunately for me though my time at *** was saved by two superb teachers:
Miss Gledhill, who was American and introduced us to the power of 'Charlotte's Web' and Dr.Seuss, and Mr.Walsh, from Raratonga in the Cook islands - he was a man raised on fable and deeply powerful folklore and could tell a tale like no one I have ever met.
I would love to meet both of them again. They held the flags high for inspired and inspiring teaching.
Digression being the order of the day, I have moved away (again) so it's back to me being shy. Time is a wonderful thing - those early bad experiences eventually got mashed to a pulp and nowadays I'll talk to anyone which maybe belies the whole Nature/Nurture argument. My Mother was a very gregarious person. My Brother and Sister are. The genes will out . . ergo . . . me too!
So eventually I get around to my original point (or maybe I have still been talking about it, but in an off-road way): early influences.
When I was very young, my brother and I used to share a room - he was 16 years older than me so it made for an interesting time: many's the night I was lulled to sleep by his Hacker radio playing endless symphonies being broadcast on Radio 3. He also had a modicum of the detritus from his early years and I don't know where he got them from, but he had a small collection of very strange and fascinating books. He had an incredible magic book, which I absolutely loved. It fascinated me, because it contained a superb illustration of a rabbit pulling a man out of a hat! Oh how I wish I knew what it was called now, however it went to the St.Richards bring-and-buy when my parents were having clear-out.
I tried to buy it back at the bring-and-buy . . . but too late.
He had all sorts of things - loads of train identification books and EPs too as well as a train ticket to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which as you can imagine is the longest train ticket ever printed!
However my absolute favourite of his strange books was by Roger Price and it was called 'Droodles'.
The book was from the mid-1950's and had been heavily read by my brother, but in my hands it became a companion. I remember taking it to Barantyne and showing it to the other kids, and I don't think they really got it. (I also took volumes of a 1950's Encyclopedia in my duffel bag too . . I was always interested in the interesting!)
Droodles were simple drawings, syndicated to papers across the United States during the early 1950's, and in the book 'Droodles' collected under one lovely paper roof.
They were always a square and made up of a few simple lines or shapes or squiggles with a snappy caption which made you go: Oh YEAH!
Now you'll have to excuse me as there are precious little in the way of good images of the originals online for me to use, so I have had to knock up the following with Irfanview . . it's a tad jaggy and misshapen, but you'll get the idea:

Man Playing Trombone In A Lift

Midget Playing Trombone In A Lift

Deceased Trombone Player

Do you not think it is incredible that such a simple collection of lines can resonate so clearly and make you laugh out loud.
You see that was the beauty of Droodles. They set things in motion in your mind. You made connections based on very little information at all and you had fun doing it. They were (in my opinion) the perfect embodiment of visual education.
If you've ever browsed a record shop, you may well have encountered probably the most famous Droodle:

Yep, it's an album from the man with the impossibly plastic looking moustache, Mr. Frank Zappa. I never liked his music, however I did  admire his taste in choosing one of Mr.Price's simple epics. It's just a shame they had to put his name above it. It would have better suited his ethos if it had been un-named.

See what I mean. There's a bit of a Z there, there's a bit of an A there. 
It didn't need the frippery of the super-dated Zappa logo. 
Frank, people would just have known.
But fortunately for you and me, here it is in its original context, which top trumps everything:

Anyway, there's that digression again.
I think what I am trying to say from this is that, you shouldn't really accept an image on its face value.  
Now that sounds a bit Pseud's Corner, where observers of images will stand and muse on the obscurity contained therein, however it does have its footing in some fertile earth. 
A Quick Word About Pseud's Corner:
Aside from it being a column in Private Eye, the whole concept of Pseud's Corner is alive and kicking on Planet Earth.
If you have ever gone through the mill of a visual education establishment (read Art College) you will have encountered it in various forms.
It is everywhere, or at least it was in my experience.
The whole art world is riddled with it:
Talk the talk. Come up with some inane concept about why you have assembled a painting mixing oil paint, jesso and some polo mints, and you have a pass! Be articulate about just why you wrapped a bandage laced with lighter fluid around your head, set fire to it and ran around until a janitor put you out, and you are onto a winner.
Loose assemblies of random shapes? 
Empty woven material? 
A room? 
An empty room?
A room crammed with detritus? 
A coat? 
A reel of electricians cable? 
A chicken's carcass in doll's clothing? 
Last night's carry-out spat back into its polystyrene box?
It's easy.
If you can explain just what your feelings were and where the concept was heading when you assembled the piece, in words which are articulate enough to out-articulate your peers, then you have a Solid Gold, Grade 1 Passport to the meadows where your fellow masculine horned-ones drop big piles of it everyday. In other words Bullshit Heaven.
A lot of artists are poor Artists; a lot of them couldn't make the grade as Craftsmen. It is a very sad state of affairs.
And that is why I think Droodles are superior works of Art
Yes they are just an assembly of line, shape and thought, but they are clever and make you think. They educate your eye to look beyond their simplicity and find things that are other.
Think about the impact on an eight-year old's brain. 
Quite wonderful, and inspiring. 
The deeper I dig, the more I realise what an inspiration they have been to me. I even make square photographs for goodness sakes! **
So why aren't these books part of the Art Curriculum for school children? 
Why aren't they required reading on a Foundation Course at Art Colleges?
Well, they might be in the good ol' US of A where they had their origins, however over here in Old Blighty I can tell you why they aren't used in Colleges:
Aside from the fact that maybe people are unaware of them, it is because they are Too Simple, and because they are Too Everyman.
Anyone can make them.
The Pseud's can't hide.
Droodles are direct and to the point, yet can have different meanings without getting all bull-shitty.
The Pseud's ponderings have been rendered inert by Mildewed Spaghetti or a Tall Cow or a Flying Saucer Traffic Jam.
If it sounds like I am railing against Art College, you're right. 
I've been there, bought the book, read the postcard and (ahem) exited through the gift shop.
They can be (and sometimes are) incredible and inspiring places, where craft skills are taught, raw talent is nurtured and a rounded education in the visual arts is encouraged. Often however they seem to be places where very little is taught and students are encouraged to articulate what they are doing rather than viscerally striving to make it. Forget learning your craft, just come up with pages of roughs and sketches, assemble a mish-mash and talk freely about it. You'll do nicely. 
"All mouth and trousers" was the old London saying.
I say:
Bullshit Baffles Brains
Sad . . . but true.
And unfortunately all too prevelant.
Which rounds things back nicely to Droodles. Mr.Price said a wonderful little thing about his inventions:

"When I invented Droodles I used to refer to them as (ha ha) a "sub art form" but now I think they have earned the right to be called a legitimate Art Form - with capitals. They have outlasted Conceptualism, Abstract Expressionism, Ingmar Bergman movies, and with a little luck they will outlast the Gong Show, Frozen Yoghurt and Water Beds."

Whilst they may not have the same following in these days of instantaneous now-ness, there is just something about them. I can't talk objectively about them without getting all gushy . . they're too familiar (even though I haven't owned that book in about 35 years!)
So for your edification and enjoyment, here's a quick culling from the net of some very poorly scanned material with captions (and bear in mind they often had two or three captions . . I've picked the better known ones):

Two Bugs Who Made Love In Spring

Four Elephants Inspecting A Grapefruit

Bubblegum Champ

 And a couple of colour covers to round things off:

I'll leave my last word on this subject to the following Droodle.
There are no subtexts with this one, no pretentious musings, and definitely no art-speak.

Personally I would rank that as comedy genius.
So thank you Mr.Price. 
You might not be so well-known these days and you might never have been that well-known over here, but you've left a legacy, and perhaps a strangely twisted take on the world in the shaping of the mind of a young lad who you made laugh and think.
God bless and thanks for reading - hope you enjoyed it.

** Regular FB readers please note, I will be heading off into the photographic fields again soon - please be patient - I am just recharging my batteries

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