I was born a designer, certainly an artist, somehow it was seeded in me. Being a creative person has been both a blessing and a curse, but most of all on reflection, a blessing.
The world, our species needs creative souls, there is only stagnation without ideas and new vision. If you live by the intuitions of your creative soul you can, as I have, live a charmed life, full of treasures.
This is both my life story, and my career story; they are the same thing. It’s also the story of a freelance life on the creative roller-coaster; a personal account of a great adventure, told in little snippets. The installments (not quite chapters) follow my life as it has wobbled an uncertain way, which has seemed governed by a Creative Captain hidden inside me who unknown to the conscious me, chartered my course.
This year I will be sixty. Every day I have now, every new fresh page, is more treasured than ever.
This is a story told in two books. The first from 1960 to 1984, the second from 1984
It is dedicated to Freelance Creators everywhere.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN FORM 3G
Mr. English was the most feared master at my school in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. He wasn’t a large man large or loud and seldom raised his voice. He didn’t need to; even the toughest, biggest and oldest boys on the school playground fell to silence when he walked past.
He was a short man, squat and square and looked like he was made of concrete steel and grit. Something left over from the last war- a characteristic shared with many other men in our town of his age and generation.
Everyday he wore the same clothes; the signature item being a green tweed plaid pattern tie, tied too short. His hair was also short, crewcut in military style clipped close at the sides. He looked like he’d just been de-mobbed.
When I looked at him across the bowed heads in the silent classroom, I thought his skull was shaped just like a helmet, covered in steel bristles. It looked as though he could probably scratch rust off iron railings with his head. His skull was balanced by a square-jawed face and progressive five o’ clock shadow, which darkened as the double maths lesson crawled on.
I looked at him, studying him instead of my exercise book, and got the sense there was something depressed deep inside his tough looking outer shell. I felt although he was scary, inside he was also very sad, like he was lost and empty.
I was 11 years old and it was sixteen years from the end of World War II- I hadn’t even been born when in 1945 my dad and Mr. English returned to England to re-start their lives.
Yet the shadow of the war still seemed to hang over men like him and my dad. I wondered if dad like Mr.English was sad too? Maybe something about what happened to them in the war changed them.
There was something else about them, something which had made them angry all the time as though they’d been robbed of something special.
Or maybe it was simpler than that; perhaps Mr. English was just tired of teaching. What if he’d planned to do something else with his life, something more exciting, then the war came and took him away from his dreams and changed him.
Perhaps teaching was the graveyard of his ambitions. Maybe, I thought grown-ups became sad as the chances to live their dreams passed away along with the years.
Whatever it was, the man marking books, above all the other masters in the school, held the fearful respect of all the boys who’d ever passed through his class in their first year of senior school.
Which is exactly what I was doing in 1961.
The school year had just begun and the days outside were still warm with long hazy sunny afternoons. I glanced sideways out of the window at twists of blue smoke slowly floating upwards from a pile of smoldering leaves and hung over the playing fields like a lazy ghost. The first autumn leaves had been scraped into neat piles by the groundskeeper. I could see him leaning on his rake as he watched the fire whilst he smoked a cigarette.
I sighed, must be great to be outside. I so wanted to be that smoke slowly making its’ way out of school.
Instead I felt like a minnow in a tank, dodging the attention of a piranha. I was through some accident of universal design totally and irredeemably useless at mathematics. I had just managed, by the skin of my teeth to survive two introductory senior school lessons under Mr.Englishs’ fearful gaze. Well actually he didn’t “gaze”, but you knew he was aware of every twitch and every thought of all the boys in class, all the time, like he had a special radar in that helmet skull.
But now, the evidence of my useless performance was writ large and undeniable in my new exercise book sandwiched in the pile that stood before him on his desk, waiting to be marked.
I’d realized with a heavy heart in the first few minutes of his very first lesson, that I simply couldn’t endure the pain and confusion of mathematics; let alone its’ fearful master, and do it over and over again each week for a whole year!
This was no longer doing sums at junior school, that was fun all that drawing diagrams and colouring in, and building wooden block towers, a patterns. Those had been the days, if only I’d appreciated them when I was eight. This was a very different. Scary Senior School had suddenly loomed dark and large into my scrawny little life. And under its’ dark wing it brought Algebra, like a disease- and if that wasn’t bad enough it brought with it its’ wicked sister, Trigonometry! What the hell was that? The name was bad enough. And worse still, ‘Logarithms’, whatever these were I didn’t want to find out. A maths double lesson, was already a living nightmare.
I tried not to let on just how bad I was, but inside I felt stupid and useless. To the other boys it all seemed so easy, some of the perverts even enjoyed it. I looked at them all scratching away with their pencils.
I looked at the shortening pile of books to be marked. It was just a matter of time, minutes, before I’d be found out and crucified by helmet-skull on the black-board for all the class to gloat at. The truth would be out; that I was the “bloody idiot” my dad had said I was.
But inside I knew I wasn’t, not really, I just had to prove I was good at something that’s all.
(Copyright John Sunderland 2009)
My Yorkshire Moorland to New York story told in easy to digest installments.
My life has been (and still is) one long creative adventure from (in the UK) Dusty Bin, to the Jorvik Viking Centre, to Kenny Everett and on to Pirate Gold and many other treasures, including my four wonderful lives (along the way) and as many talented children.