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Monday 2 June 2008

Nearly! - True story 2

This is the true story I promised when I posted my poem "A Family Occasion". You may recall that a couple of posts on Ken Armstrong's blog had given me cause to stop and think: a true story in which Ken was himself involved, and a tale about the tale and how he came to write it, leading to a moral, almost a moral imperative, you might say, that this story of mine which I have had for some while asking to be written down, should get its wish. I hesitated long, partly because it reveals the slightly unpalatable truth that I have not always been the exceedingly likeable chap that I have become. So I worried about the details, how it would come out, the spin, if you like. But Ken made the issue clear enough: not to worry about getting it right; get it written. So with a thank-you nod to Ken, here it is:-

It is drawn from my days as an art student. I have mentioned before that sculpture was an ex-curricular activity engaged in at evening classes in a small, rather deep cellar which doubled as a pottery studio. We shared the sessions with further education students and inherited a long tradition of mild hostility between "them" and "us" - a bit like "town" and "gown" at university, I used to think. From our point of view they were not serious about the work, spending much of the time gossipping and fooling around. They also took too much of the lecturer's time. (Though in truth, two minutes would have been too much.) From their point of view we were Bohemian (just because we dressed that way), dismissive of them (can't argue with that!) and pretentious. (Pretentious, nous?)

Well, once upon that far-off time, I had arrived early for the session and was alone in the studio when a newcomer descended the stairs. It was obvious that he was another of "them". Who but an amateur would turn up for modelling or pottery in a lounge suit? Some of the sculptures, including my own, were on turntables or pottery wheels. He walked up to one, removed its cover, the purpose of which was to keep the clay damp and workable, and set it turning very slowly, leaning back to examine it as he did so, and making low, reflective mmmmmmm sounds. I found this very presumptuous of him and was beginning to get a bit hot under the collar when he turned to me and asked "Did you do this?" No," I replied., "not bloody likely!" The model was in point of fact the work of a friend of mine, and I thought very highly of it. It was a huge construction, based upon a motif of seashells, and had been painstakingly built up over a period of many weeks by the patient application of small pieces of clay. "Do you know the person who did it?" came next. "Sure, he's a friend of mine!" "Does he work like this a lot?" "Does he? He'll knock off five or six of an evening!"

There was no response to this last titbit of information, but instead he moved off to the next model, which happened to be mine, a plaster model, built on armatures, also over many weeks, an abstract, but loosely based on various skeletons I had sketched at the Victoria and Albert Museum. "Is this one of his?" "Nope. Mine." "Do you do a lot of this?" "When I can tear myself away from my first love." Which is?" "China dogs and long-legged dolls. Good market for them." At this point there came another figure darkening the stairway, and with it the voice of Mr Henke (not sure about the spelling) the lecturer, bellowing down the stairwell: "Are you down there, Mr Epstein?"

End of story? Nearly. Actually it wasn't the Mr Epstein, but his brother (Harold, I think), a highly respected sculptor in his own right. Later, Mr Henke caught up with me and asked "What the hell have you been saying to Mr Epstein? He asked me who the lunatic was down there!" So passed ingloriously my one (illusory? We'll - I'll - never know) chance of fame.


Ken Armstrong said...

Ha! That's Great. You see? We simply can't let these stories go.

I think the best stories we have to tell are almost always against ourselves.

This is no accident.

We may have good stories which favour ourselves but we just come across like braggarts if we try to record those.

The best we can do is take our mouldy old skeletons out of the cupboard and let them dance around for a while. The footprints they leave in the dust may even provide a valuable clue to our inner-selves.

By the way, thanks for the mention (again) it's like Ferrero Rocher at the Ambassador's Residence - you are spoiling me!

Dave King said...

Hi Ken,
You're very welcome. What happens when there are no more skeletons capable of dancing, I wonder - mind you, I have along way to go yet.