Friday, 21 October 2016

My life as a tapestry - 7 (summer of lavatories)

This panel, which depicts events from my 20th year, seems busier than the others. It may be that the pace of life speeds up as one approaches adulthood, but I think the clutter is quite a good metaphor for my summer of 1967.

It was the first time I’d lived away from home for a significant period, staying in Mick’s student flat in Leytonstone with a shifting population of his university mates, foreign visitors, old school friends etc. I worked in a series of casual jobs around Newham – although luckily not in the Tate & Lyle factory in Silvertown shown here, a dark satanic mill if ever I saw one.

Dark and satanic were my own feelings too, in that summer of love. I had failed to get into several Art Colleges to do a degree – blew the interview every time. And my relationships with friends and girlfriends were all going wrong. As the Greek junta goose-stepped into Athens and BP’s chartered tanker Torrey Canyon dumped millions of barrels of crude into the sea off Cornwall, I hit the rocks with Wendy, my lover of the past two years, two very attractive Swedish friends in London for the summer, and my good friends Paul and Bev whose holiday I nearly wrecked by pulling out of the arrangement at the last moment.

Throughout the emotional turmoil I still got an odd sense of satisfaction from learning how to carry stacks of 12ft 6-by-2 deal planks around a timber yard, paint railings and nail down bitumen roof-coverings for the Council, and unblock school toilets without gagging. 

(I notice this is the 2nd time a toilet has figured in this tapestry – clearly a theme is developing here. I guess the toilet is also quite a good metaphor for a set of emotional problems that took root around this time and continued to unsettle me for most of my adult life).

The cod Latin rendering of ‘All you need is love’ is therefore more than a little ironic. As, for different reasons, is the image of Charles De Gaulle, whose firm ‘non’ scuppered the Wilson government’s efforts to take Britain into the then Common Market, for the second time in four years.

But ‘swinging London’ and the hippy revolution went on anyway, without me. My only consolation for a pretty miserable summer was the Beatles singing their sixties anthem with all their celebrity friends on television – the first global, live, TV broadcast ever, and a cracking pop song.