75
Self-portrait



Feb 82
Oils on board
46cm (18") x 38cm (15")

This painting is on the reverse of 'The sky at night'


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The image as shown here is reversed. Painted with the use of a mirror my face appears as I see it - my right ear is on the right, the left hand side of my face is on the left. When you look at another person from the front you see them the other way round - their right ear is on the left as you see it, their left side of the face is on the right as you see it.

At the foot of this page is a smaller image of the painting as it is.

I was asked why I had painted myself with a 'broken' nose when I don't have one, my questioner pointing to the dramatic change of direction at the top of the nose.

I remember scrutinising this part of the painting intensely during the work, and it is accurate (within the style used).

There are two reasons for the 'odd' appearance. One is obvious from clues within the painting; the dark background and shadows, the near white, shiny highlights on the skin, and most significantly the bright orange of the ear lobe. The room in which it was painted had only one light source, a small spotlight on a stand just out of sight to my right. This cast harsh shadows making mountains out of molehills.

The other reason, well here's the visual which although not showing the state of full concentration as typical of 1982 is at least indicative, and is all you need to know. The written stuff below is unnecessary, and frankly you've probably got better things to do than trawl through all the verbiage for the odd bit of substance.



I remember at junior school being alert enough, intelligent enough, level headed enough, and worldly wise enough to recognise that some of my classmates were spectacularly peculiar. Teachers - for the most part innately odd characters themselves.....
(1.0 What? You doubt what I'm saying! {1.1 Oh, by the way this is an aside I'm about too launch into, and I'll get back from it a little later on. Why not skip down, or go for a cup of tea, or just talk amongst yourselves? Whatever takes your fancy. End1.1} You doubt what I'm saying - {1.2 Just to explain, I'm not yet back from the aside, just back from the aside within the aside, or more correctly from the first aside within the first aside, this in turn being the second aside within the first aside. OK? End1.2} - about teachers being odd characters, then, do you? It is my contention that teachers are predominantly drawn from the most peculiar of peculiar ex-pupils, specifically those very odd pupils who enjoyed school for its own sake. Normal, healthy children see school as an opportunity to socialise with their pals, the lessons being the unwelcome interruptions to that activity imposed upon them by adults. Abnormal, unhealthy children ENJOY (good grief!) THE LESSONS. It is from this eccentric collection that the majority of teachers are drawn. Now, in fairness it has to be said in their defence {1.3 No, that's far too strong, try 'excuse' - end of first aside's third aside, by the way. End1.3} Now, in fairness they may be excused from condemnation on the grounds that they do not harbour a malignant peculiarity, but simply suffer from a failure to understand that socialising (that is to say talking to each other when the teacher is talking), and getting up to mischief {1.4 Particularly getting up to mischief - end of first aside's fourth aside. End1.4} are the absolute essence of childhood.

When I worked as a teacher I voiced this contention to a number of my colleagues over a period of time, typically eliciting no response beyond a puzzled look. It is my opinion that they probably assumed it was a feeble attempt at a joke. It was not. Finally, one senior teacher responded when I said that teachers were typically drawn from the well-behaved ex-pupils, and had no understanding of the mentality of the normal child who by definition doesn't like school. Not so she said, and she knew this because she herself had been 'a very naughty girl'. This intrigued me greatly, principally because she didn't seem to me to be the kind of individual who could ever be 'very naughty'. I pressed her for details of this naughtiness, not least because my imagination had rapidly stripped years off of her and transformed her
{1.5 Metaphorically speaking that is. Oh by the way, I'm just about to launch into a lengthy aside when I get to the end of the interrupted sentence. If you have been daft enough to read this far you might want to read on a bit further mainly because the lengthy aside will include the occasion of my first caning. NB not an aside but rather an advisory note; I attended a state school. Caning involved holding your hand out with palm up, and not flinching when the strokes, usually six of them, were made. End1.5} .....and transformed her metaphorically speaking that is (see, its in there - didn't need that aside at all) into a simulacrum of a classmate of mine who though also seemingly incapable of 'very naughtiness' or indeed of any naughtiness at all, on one memorable occasion gave every impression of being enthusiastically amenable to naughtiness!

{1.6 First aside's sixth aside:- As it happens my favourite game at junior school was chasing the girls and kissing them when they were caught. So, on the day in question, Your Honour, as I entered the upper playground I observed that a game of the aforementioned nature had commenced and I joined in. Not wishing to boast, Your Honour, but I think it is fair to claim that I was particularly successful in this pursuit in so far as within a comparatively short space of time I had managed to kiss all of the girls who I wished to kiss, in many cases several times over. However as time passed I observed two seemingly unrelated and unusual things; specifically, the number of females available to be kissed had diminished significantly, and the number of females requiring use of the lavatory had increased significantly. At this point, Your Honour, I think it may be advisable to describe the layout of the said lavatory. The aforementioned edifice consisted of a row of cubicles, each with its own door giving on to a courtyard. The courtyard was surrounded by a high wall except for the gap which allowed entrance. This gap being parallel to the row of cubicles. It occurred to me, Your Honour, that as the number of females needing to use the lavatory was considerable, and as all the cubicles were open and clearly unoccupied there may well be more to this unusual state of affairs than initially was meeting the eye, so to speak, and so with caution and a degree of hesitation I leant forward in such a way as to allow my head to enter the gap in the courtyard wall sufficient for me to look along the inner side of said wall. Imagine my surprise, Your Honour, when the sight that met my eyes was a row of females with their backs pressed against said wall, and imagine my further surprise when said row of girls on observing my presence commenced to giggle. From this behaviour I adjudged that said females were not in need of said lavatory, but were engaged in some hitherto unknown form of cheating. In consequence of this, Your Honour, I decided to counter said cheating by pulling said girls out of the 'sanctuary' of the lavatory and back into play. A number of others followed my example, and the game continued as normal, Your Honour.

So, you've read this far, and now, indeed only now do we get to the point that started the whole digression
[1.6.1 No, they don't always have to be called asides, but you know..... End of first aside's sixth aside's first aside. End1.6.1]. The first time I heard the phrase 'how devious and whimsical women are' in Jake Thackray's version of Brother Gorilla this incident came to mind. I became aware that one of the girls in my class, one of the girls from the posher part of town, one of the girls who didn't mix with those of us from the working class part of town, one of the girls I'd caught and kissed several times, one of the girls who'd giggled behind the wall had taken to using the cubicles, and more than once. The possibility of an upset stomach was there, but she didn't appear to be in the state of someone suffering, so when I next saw her enter a cubicle I went for it. I'd already gone 'beyond the pale' by entering the courtyard, so this was just one step more. I pushed gently at the door, it wasn't locked. I gave it a firmer push and it swung smoothly but not rapidly open, and there she stood behind the door bright eyed and giggling. I stretched to grab her hand and pull her back into the game - bright shiny eyes, giggle, giggle, giggle..... and she did not back away. But then the shiny eyes and the giggling went and abject horror replaced them. This puzzled me - for perhaps half a second, that is until the heavy hand on the shoulder and the bawling adult voice "What are you doing in here, boy!"

Well, after the canings, and there were a few of us, it was back to our classrooms. Amongst those who had followed my lead were two of my pals in the same class. I was the last to enter the room, and as I did so the gaggle of girls who sat nearest the door greeted me with an admiring "He isn't crying!" Well of course I'm not crying! Don't tell me the other two are crying. They're not crying are they, are they, are they crying? Oh, oh, oh, foolish, foolish me! The caning hurt me just as much as it hurt them but unlike them I didn't show it, and I allowed the girls' admiration to cloud my judgement; that wasn't my last caning. I don't recall either of my pals getting further canings. End of first aside's sixth aside. End1.6}


Seeing my senior colleague as potentially a grown up version of my one time bright eyed and very giggly posh classmate game for who knows what I pursued the enquiry into the precise nature of her claimed 'naughtiness'. Eventually and with reluctance she revealed the awful - and from my point of view both disappointing and gratifying - 'naughtiness'. On not one, but - awful, awful crime, two separate occasions she had failed to do her homework. What? You're disappointed? I'm disappointed! I was hoping for 'hijacked a Parks Department mower and mowed out the word BLOOMERS on the school playing field', but leave that aside. Gratified, so, so gratified; point proven! The person who considers themselves to be a 'very naughty girl' as a result of ducking homework twice IS a very peculiar person. And it is just from such as these that the majority of teachers are drawn. End of first aside. End1.0)
to recap (for those with a short attention span); Teachers - for the most part innately odd characters themselves foster the tendencies of the spectacularly peculiar pupils by asking the apparently innocent question "What do you want to do when you grow up?", (2.0 Here, free of charge within this aside is the very best piece of advice you will ever get. In order to benefit from this advice you will need to be 'not yet grown up', {2.1 If you are grown up then this advice is of no earthly use to you, and unfortunately if you are reading this you must be grown up because no one 'not yet grown up' would be foolish enough to waste time reading it, and in the unlikely event that you are 'not yet grown up' and being forced to read it [2.1.1 As some arcane form of punishment? End2.1.1] you may be scanning the words but you will not be concerning yourself with their meaning, but rather planning modifications to one of those tanks made out of an old cotton reel with notches cut in the rims, an empty biro tube, a rubber band and a match, or alternatively pondering the best method of hardening conkers, or manufacturing pellets of chewed paper to be flicked across the room by ruler, or systematically reducing an eraser to a multitude of tiny particles by stabbing it repeatedly with the point of a compass. End2.1} if your parents are decent people {2.2 Here it is necessary to state that the vast majority of parents and other adults cannot be considered 'decent' because of a crime against humanity of enormous proportions - namely the propagandistic misrepresentation of the state of adulthood; "When you grow up you can go to bed at whatever time you like.", "When you grow up you you won't have to eat your greens.", "When you grow up you can stay up and watch programmes where they use 'language' [2.2.1 Presumably 'damn', 'blast', 'bottom' and 'brassiere' for example. End2.2.1].", "When you grow up you can eat ice cream for every meal, and double helpings on sunday.", that and much more all of which collectively amounts to nothing less than "When you're grown up you can do WHATEVER you want to." - oh! Liars, liars, pants on fireses - several, and several times over! End2.2} to resume, if its alright with you; If your parents are decent people in all other respects apart from their lamentable {2.3 Criminal! End2.3} tendency to exaggerate and/or invent the supposed benefits of adulthood (see, another unnecessary aside dealt with) (which is in truth just a shoddy way of them getting you off their hands at the earliest possible opportunity) then your best bet is to postpone the onset of that disintegration which hides beneath the name of adulthood. If your parents are decent and you are still a child, don't be in a rush to grow up - hang on to your childhood as long as you can; once its gone its gone for good, you wont get it back. End2.0) the answer to which, in absolute terms - if you possess anything approaching common sense, is "But I don't want to grow up.", and while the majority react to the question with blankness an unfortunate few demonstrate their peculiarity by offering up unlikely certainties. Who at the age of 8, 9 or 10 can hope to know what they will do when the tragedy of adulthood overtakes them.

To illustrate with just three examples (I can only remember three in that class having such peculiarities, hence three examples). Let's take A for example who at the age of eight was determined to become the captain of a ship. Frankly absurd. By chance (perhaps he won a lottery or some such) he became a ship's captain - now, I remember him as a very serious studious boy who would rather conduct scientific experiments than come out raiding other people's apple trees as normal children do, and as a consequence I would never have predicted a life of piracy on the high seas for him, but there you go; such is life! And what about A (another A, nothing funny going on here - neither of them was quite that peculiar) who from an early age (in her case possibly pre-birth) had a loud and desperate desire to become an actress. Oh, em, apparently she succeeded - well to the extent that she worked in sales I suppose that entails putting on an act. Sad that. I always doubted she would become an actress, but thinking back years later I elaborated the idea that having failed in her desired career she would in a suppressed fury embark on the process of becoming immensely rich by running a chain of brothels. I have no idea where this came from. It may have been that I had read John Steinbeck's East of Eden not long before. Also sad is that I can't recall whether A was one of the girls I kissed on the day of my first caning. She may have been absent that day - she always had the actresses' and would-be actresses' tendency to suffer the vapours on a fairly frequent basis. If only it had been the posh but earthy H who had the adult years mapped in advance - she most certainly got kissed on the day in question. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can remember not from that day but another the feel of my hands on her soft upper thighs (first time I'd got my hands on a girl's thighs), her legs wrapped around my back moving rhythmically against me as we went at it hammer and tongs in the playground, she gurgling and giggling all the way! She said she'd never done it before.....
(3.0 What? What on earth are you talking about? I was giving her a piggy-back ride round the playground, for goodness sake! {3.1 Good grief! Where do these people come from? End3.1} End3.0) And then there was J, I was going to say the school bully, but as the years didn't mix he was more accurately the year group bully. He wanted to become a policeman. Of course the very idea that an individual with profound tendencies which are intrinsically anti-social and indeed criminal could ever hope to work as a policeman is beyond absurd, possibly meriting that much overused word surreal. So what became of J? Ah, apparently he became a policeman, in apartheid era South Africa - which says it all, really.

And all of that proves something or other. As for me I never for one moment had any idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up except that which is blindingly obvious, namely that I remain exactly the same, but get to go to bed whenever I choose, get to eat nothing but Ice cream, get to kiss the girls and give them piggy back rides, get to leave my shoes unpolished, scuffed and covered in mud, and so on.
(4.0 That is not entirely true; around the age of seven or eight I developed an interest in astronomy and borrowed and digested every book our small local library had on the subject. Virtually all that knowledge has long since fled, but it is my opinion that if an O-Level in Astronomy existed I could have passed it at that time. The intense interest in astronomy came to an end on the way home with my father one twilight after watching a spectacularly beautiful sunset over the Bristol Channel from the park at Penarth Head. I wanted to know what caused the colours of a sunset, then what caused the changes of colour. "So," said I "if we were standing some miles towards the sun, or some miles further back what we would see would be different?" my father confirmed this, "And if we were miles off to the left or right it would be different again?" further confirmation. I then conceived a desire to see every moment of every sunset on every planet in the universe from every angle. Before we arrived home I demonstrated a remarkable degree of insight and maturity by realising that in collecting the cards from packs of bubble-gum or tea I was always profoundly disappointed if I couldn't assemble a full set, and that it might prove a touch difficult to collect a full set of every moment of every sunset on every planet in the universe from every angle, and therefore to avoid likely disappointment giving up the ambition of becoming an astronomer might be the best option.

After a lengthy lacuna I decided I would become a chemist. Not the kind who sells medicines in a shop on the high street, but the kind who mixes chemicals to produce loud explosions, novel and exotically noisome vapours, unusual colour changes to everyday objects, and to change lead into pocket-money. This ambition endured through the entirety of the experiments which came with the chemistry set as well as the additional collection of experiments. I don't recall exactly when this ambition died, but I think it was with the dawning realisation that although the smells were there (and were everything and more that could be hoped for) the explosions simply weren't. The colour changes were few, except for the blue-red of litmus, and no lead or extra pocket-money. False promises; there you are expecting monstrously loud explosions, instead you get the thrill of seeing litmus change colour. This dawning realisation may have coincided with the excitement of the arrival of the 'passing the 11-plus' push-bike, in any event it was the last time I had any idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. End4.0)


Meanwhile the impressionable (but not peculiar) members of the class were worn down by repeated pesterings of "What do you want to do when you grow up?" until this abnormality assumed the mask of normality. Fortunately their responses were few in number and ambitiously unimaginative - we spawned a number of would be astronauts,
(5.0 Please note, in my case astronomer not astronaut. End 5.0), a few football players, and some Beatles. As the years dithered on I paid less attention to the responses of other pupils, although once in a while a response did vary from pop star, film star, circus star, artificial inseminator of wooly mammoths, sports star, tv star, etc. such as to set me pondering on the strange mental processes of the lad who at fourteen or so says "I want to be a farmer." (6.0 My opinion is that he did become a farmer, and later a major contributor to the Conservative Party, an advocate of 1) the forced sterilisation of the unemployed and 2) the nuking of Vietnam, Argentina, Baghdad, and Brussels (the city, not the sprouts), and later still a prominent and steadfast member of the local amateur dramatic association, a collector of toy poodles fashioned in bone china, and the father of twenty-two illegitimate children by fifteen different East European immigrants employed at slave wages in his twelve acre chicken farm, and a tax fraudster of epic proportions. End6.0), or of the lass of the same age who says "I want to be the personal secretary to a Conservative Member of Parliament.". By the way I hope you're not laughing at that last one - I didn't invent it!

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I could perhaps embark on an activity which might be considered a career, but which would not, in my eyes at least, really imply being grown up if it consisted of doing what I was already doing. More or less filling the bill was a combination of three things I took pleasure in - geometry, geography and maps; having played Canute down the years I decided to accept the inevitable by becoming a nautical navigator.

(7.0 This is more or less the end of the verbiage, the gist {7.1 Gist - that's a strange word isn't? What exactly is a gist? [7.1.1 Its a bit like a stoitch, isn't it? What's a stoitch, you say, well its... no I think I'll save that for another day, and oh, if you knew what a stoitch was you'd understand that in a roundabout sideways dog-legged knight's move sort of way 'I'll save that for another day' would work as a rough and ready definition for a stoitch, but I'll save that for another day. End7.1.1] "I usually have a small gist for lunch.", "Was that a gist I heard up in the loft?", "She's got one of the prettiest gists I've seen in a long stoitchnight.", "Do you have a gist in purple?", "What's that awful smell, you haven't been playing with the gist again, have you?", "Yes, I like the style but its a little tight in the gist.", "They tell me they're launching a new gist in time for Stiotchmas.", "All gists lead to confusion." [7.1.2 this confused gits cot 7, 4 (anag) End7.1.2], "A gist in time saves many a mickle.", "Take that you fillthy, rotten gist!", and what about 'gisting' and the possibilities it opens up, the sheer stoitchinity of it! But we'll ergle thotns artli phynxell threim." End7.1} of it all is coming up soon. End7.0)

(8.0 Yes I know I could have saved you time by doing a direct link to the gisty bit, but nobody asked you to read the verbiage in the first place, and anyway there's no motivation for me to help you out now is there. If, for the sake of argument, you were in a state of rancid stoitchliness {8.1 I'm not, by the way; I'm just 'supposing it' to make the point. What's your problem anyway pal? are you a member of the Gist Police or something? End8.1} could you be bothered to shift your stoitchly gist? No. thought not! End8.0)

To be a nautical navigator your eyesight must be perfect, so off to Liverpool for the various tests, including the eye test, and the discovery that I was slightly short-sighted - slightly, but sufficiently to preclude navigator as an option. And so off to the optician, and a pair of glasses to be worn for example when watching TV, out cycling, or at the cinema. Some time after painting the picture I went for another eye test, this time with a much better equipped, and possibly better trained optician.

The reason for this was that in reading a lengthy entry in an encyclopedia which used a small typeface I found it difficult to fully make out the text and was developing a headache in the process, and consequently assumed my eyesight was worsening. At the end of the test the optician said that the glasses I already had were fine for correcting the slight short-sightedness, but they didn't address the more important defect which was astigmatism.
(9.0 Astigmatism:- the lenses of the eyes, which should be circular, are slightly misshapen, in my case this manifests itself most obviously in vertical and horizontal lines.



Horizontal lines are clear (very light blurring from the short-sightedness), whilst the vertical lines blur out, sometimes to the point where they can appear doubled. End9.0)
Astigmatism is congenital so it was vision as I had always experienced it. For reading small size text and other small detail I had always (unknowingly) used various facial muscles to try to rectify the problem by reshaping the lenses of the eyes, this resulted in deep furrows at the top of the nose. After years with the correct type of glasses I am so out of practice of the old method that I have lost the ability to do it.

Once I had glasses to correct for astigmatism I discovered a somewhat different world.....





(.....and I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up!)