My artistic mother

HELsculpt2

 

My late mother died at the age of 60 in 1980. Her mother, who was born late in the 19th century in South Africa, held an old-fashioned opinion that girls should not attend university however bright they were. My mother would certainly have been able to cope with a university course of study, but, instead, she enrolled in the prestigious Michaelis  School of Fine Art in Cape Town. Founded in 1925, it is now ironically a department of the University of Cape Town.

Mom studied commercial art. Her first employment was hand painting posters, advertising cinema films. When I began visiting India in the 1990s, many film posters were still being painted by hand. Often, we saw workers perched on rickety bamboo scaffolding, painting the details of huge posters. Two years ago while visiting Bhuj in Kutch (part of Gujarat), we found a workshop where two men produced hand painted posters. They told us that the demand for these was dying out rapidly. It is interesting to note that, like my mother, the great Indian artist MF Hussain began his creative life as a painter of cinema posters.

Returning to my mother, she designed and painted advertising material for the Red Cross in Cape Town during WW2. In 1947, she followed her fiancé, my father, to the UK. She married in 1948, and I arrived a few years later. According to my father, Mom took painting classes with the the famous Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959).  Sometime after that, she began creating sculptures.

When I was born, I had a torticollis (twisting of muscles of the neck beyond their normal position) that caused my head to be bent to one side. At that time in the early 1950s, the doctors told my mother that there was nothing to be done about this, and we would just have to live with it. My feisty mother refused to believe this. Every day, she manipulated my head and neck and gradually corrected the situation. Whether it was this manipulation that caused my mother to become a sculptor, I cannot say. However, one of her first sculpures was a terracotta mother and child, which she reproduced much later as an alabaster carving (see photo above).

When I was a young child, my mother used to attend the sculture studios at the St Martin School of Art in London’s Tottenham Court Road. She was not a student; she used the facilities and received advice from other sculptors including Philip King and Antony Caro. At that time, she became a close friend of the sculptor Dame Elizabeth Frink, who visited our home regularly. At St Martins, Mom learnt how to weld and work with metal. She created several quite attractive abstract metal artworks. Being a perfectionist, she destroyed much of what she made, but not before having it photographed by a competent photographer. Sadly, these photos have gone missing.

By the time I was a teenager, my mother had ceased working at St Martins, possibly not of her own volition. She rented a large garage in Golders Green and used it as a studio, where she created huge abstract sculptures in timber. She found working on her own to be lonely. However, without the benefit of proper lifting equipment, she produced quite a few sculptures.

Around about 1970, Mom began complaining of back pains, which she thought were the result of the heavy work she was doing in her garage. She abandoned the garage and more or less stopped creating any artworks except for a very few abstract pen and ink drawings, which she considered good enough to be framed.

The back pains continued. My mother became disillusioned with the contemporary art scene. She was familiar with the great renaissance  works of art which she visited every year in Florence (Italy), and comparing these with what she and her contemporaries were producing added to her disinclination to produce any more art of her own. For the last ten years of her life, Mom continued to search (unsuccessfully) for an interest to replace the creation of art. Tragically, she died young because of a cancer, which might well have been contributing to her long-lasting back pain.

Whatever the reason, if an artist loses the urge to create, it must produce a huge hole in his or her life, something like losing a loved one.

Hitler for children

hitler

 

In a previous blog (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2019/01/15/hitler-on-the-shelf/ ), I have written about the prevalence of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in bookshops all over India. Here is an article I wrote a few years ago about a book about Hitler aimed at Indian children.

I was browsing the shelves in Gangaram’s Bookshop in Bangalore (India) when I found a book about Hitler, which was published in 2007 (ISBN: 9788131002520). It is part of a series called “Biographies of Great Personalities”, aimed at younger Indian readers . The garishly covered book caught my eye in that large well-known bookshop in Bangalore. When I flicked through it, I noticed that it was illustrated with line drawings, many of which showed Adolf Hitler in Indian settings with palm trees. At 40 Rupees (less than half a Pound Sterling), I could not resist buying the 93 page book.

 The author, Igen B, is a prolific writer. He has published well over 70 short books including biographies of personalities as diverse as Jesus Christ, Bhagat Singh, Mother Teresa, Ashoka the Great, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Shakuntala, and Netaji Chandra Bose. As well as these he has written versions of great Indian classics such as the Vedas, the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and the Mahabharata. That these books are probably aimed at children is evident from the format and appearance of the books and also the fact that one of his titles is “Illustrated Model Book of School Essay etc.” Therefore, his potential audience is the innocent and impressionable younger mind. This should be remembered whilst paging through his children’s biography of Adolf Hitler.

More than half of the text is dedicated to Hitler’s childhood about which not much is known in detail, his career as an artist, and his rise to power. The author of this book, Igen B, blames a disturbed childhood in a dysfunctional family for much of what Hitler was to become.  The future dictator’s disillusionment with the lack of German national pride and his disappointment with the country’s leadership during WW1 were, according to this book, also important formative factors. As, are also the Jews: unquestioningly, Igen B repeats the kind of dangerous nonsense about the Jews that Hitler and many Germans believed.

Having gained power, we learn of Hitler’s campaign to relieve the Jews of any role in public life, and his hatred of the communists. We also learn of his desire to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, and how he went about doing so. So far, the reader is presented with something that faintly resembles what is now common knowledge about the history of Germany just before and during the brief, but long enough, era of Nazi rule. The penultimate 4 pages of the book describe some aspects of WW2. The last page of text is dedicated the last days of Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun.

Nowhere in the book are the mass murders perpetrated by the Nazis even hinted at, let alone mentioned. This worries me greatly considering that the book is sold in bookshops in India, and most of these also sell Hitler’s pernicious ‘autobiography’ “Mein Kampf”.

Igen B’s book is aimed at an Indian audience. It is appropriate in a way that the illustrations are drawn with an Indian ‘flavour’, as many readers are unlikely to have visited Europe or are ever likely to do so. The spelling of many German words and names is peculiar. For example we read of ‘Hebzburg’ (Habsburg), ‘Strum Abtiling’ (Sturmabteilung), ‘fonn’ (von), ‘Versai’ (Versailles), and ‘Hoffbraha’ (Hofbrauhaus). Whilst these original spellings are used more than once and are thus unlikely to be typographic errors, they may also be purposeful. It is possible that the author, realising that most of his readers are likely to be unfamiliar with German pronunciation, has transliterated them so as to make them pronounceable by readers of English.

I picked up this book as a curio, and read it. The author appears to have done some research, but his or her interpretation and presentation of the facts is somewhat unusual. His lack of emphasis of Hitler’s evil influences and deeds in a book aimed at impressionable youngsters is worrying to say the least.  The impression I had after reading it was that Hitler was portrayed as an unfortunate child, who grew up with the aim of making Germany a great nation. I was not given the impression that he was even a fraction of the monster that he was in reality. I had rather the same impression after watching the end of the film Downfall made in 2004. Hitler’s final moments during that film were almost heart-rending; the power of film and literature cannot be underrated. This is why Igen B’s book on Hitler might well be considered malevolent, even if the author’s intention was otherwise, to be purely informative.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

A suitcase of memories

Memories of childhood. Here is the introduction to a travel book, “CHARLIE CHAPLIN WAVED TO ME”, which I published several years ago:

charlie

The attic of my parents’ house in north London contained a number of old Revelation suitcases. These were plastered with ageing colourful paper stickers bearing the names of shipping lines and also of places such as: Cape Town, Southampton, Harwich, New York, Montreal, and Rotterdam. Had they been animate and able to speak, what tales they would have been able to tell!

If, as a child, I had become a suitcase, I too would have been covered with an exotic assortment of stickers including some of those mentioned above. But, I did not become a piece of baggage, and the stickers that I carry are not made of paper. Instead, they are memories stuck in various compartments of my brain. Unlike the inanimate objects in the attic in the eaves of our house, I am able to speak: to divulge my impressions of the places that I visited in my childhood; to describe the remarkable people I met in those places; and to reveal the unusual experiences that resulted from travelling with my learned father and my talented mother.

This book contains my memories of the holidays and trips that I took with my parents, mostly during the first eighteen years of my life. They are worth relating because they differed markedly from the kinds of holidays that most people took during the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than exposing their children to the sun on the beach, my parents preferred to expose my sister and me to cultural experiences that, they hoped, would benefit us in the future. This was due to my father’s great interest in the history of art, which resulted from my mother being an artist. Whereas now I appreciate what they did for me then, I did not always do so at the time.

Please join me now as I examine the stickers in my memory – the souvenirs of many years gone past. Let them reveal to you how interesting school holidays can be even if they only include the rarest of glimpses of the sea and an almost total absence of ‘child-friendly’ activities.

These memories of my childhood travels are illustrated with photographs, all of which were taken by me or with one of my own cameras unless otherwise stated. I was given my first simple camera when I was about 6 or 7 years old. It was not given to me by my parents, who never took photographs, but by my uncle Sven who was a keen photographer. His grandfather had been a pioneer of professional photography, as I will describe below. I will begin my narrative by choosing a label that could have been pasted on to my suitcase of reminiscences during the late 1950s or any time in the 1960s. It bears the name “Soho”. I have chosen it amongst all of the others because it provides a good introduction to my mother, who affected so much of what we did as a family and what will be related in this book.

 

CHARLIE CHAPLIN WAVED TO ME

(ISBN: 9781291845051)

is available at:

Amazon, bookdepository.com, lulu.com , and on Kindle

In the post

white and blue cardboard box

 

As a young boy in the early 1960s, I loved receiving mail. My parents were sent far more letters and packages than me and I was envious of them. With the experience of age, I guess I should not have been jealous of them because many of their mail items must have contained undesirable material such as bills, tax demands, and official notices.  As I received only a very few things from the post man, I took action to increase the amount of mail I received.

I used to scour newspapers and magazines for forms that when filled in and sent off, led to holiday brochures being sent to me free of charge. I received booklets extolling the virtues of holiday resorts like the Norfolk Broads and seaside towns all over the UK. Also, I wrote to the town halls of every London Borough to ask them to send me their official handbooks, which they did.

Once, my parents received a colourful package from the Readers Digest. They gave it to me to enjoy. It contained beautiful pictures extracted from a world atlas they were trying to sell. There was also a piece of paper with two stickers on it. One said ‘no thanks’ and the other ‘yes please’. I stuck the latter onto a pre-paid reply form and posted it. Some weeks later, a beautiful world atlas was delivered to our home. My parents were not too thrilled by its arrival, but saw its value and sent a cheque to pay for it.

Some months later, more publicity material arrived from the Readers Digest. This time it advertised a three volume encyclopaedia of gardening. It looked irresistibly wonderful, even to a non-gardening youngster like me. Without consulting my parents, I sent off the ‘yes please’ sticker. After some delay, a huge parcel was delivered to our home. I unwrapped it. It contained the three beautifully illustrated hardback volumes of the gardening encyclopaedia and a fine wooden case to contain it. My parents were not at all pleased. They re-wrapped the lovely encyclopaedia and at great expense posted it back to the Readers Digest. From then on, they made certain that no more post from the Readers Digest reached me before first having been torn up.

The best coupon I ever filled in was to a Roman Catholic organisation. The coupon promised to send me twenty one booklets about Roman Catholicism. They arrived at weekly intervals, providing me with at least one package a week for 21 weeks. I never read any of them because for me it was the thrill of receiving post that I enjoyed rather than what was in the post.

Even though a lot of the mail I receive from the post man/woman is unexciting, I still get a thrilling sense of expectation when letters and packages addressed to me arrive in our letter box.

 

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

If you think you have seen the light, think again…

Hoop

 

My earliest memories of Hoop Lane (in Golders Green, northwest London) date back to when I was three or four years old, and therefore are rather vague. At that age, I attended a kindergarten in Hoop Lane. This was in the hall attached to Golders Green’s Unitarian Church (see photograph above), which was designed in the ‘Byzantine revival’ style by the architect Reginald Farrow (opened in 1925). It contains interesting artworks including a mural by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), which I have not yet seen.

The kindergarten was under the direction of Miss Schreuer, who lived a few doors away in Hoop Lane. My only lasting memory from my time there was when my father appeared at the school with a white beard and a red outfit, dressed as Father Christmas. A few years later, my sister and my cousins attended Miss Schreuer’s. One day while my sister was attending, I was allowed to return to the school to act as an older helper. One of my fellow pupils was the late Micaela Comberti (1952-2003), who was later to become an accomplished violinist. Her German mother and Italian father were friends of my parents.

I am not sure what became of Miss Schreuer, but I heard rumours that the end of her life was unhappy. Today, the hall, where her school flourished, is now a Montessori kindergarten. When I lived in the area (I left finally when I was aged thirty), I often walked past the school and the Unitarian Church. The latter had a panel facing the road, upon which posters with pious messages were posted. One that I will always remember said:

If you think you have seen the light, think again”.

 

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. If you wish to read the whole article, please visit:

https://londonadam.travellerspoint.com/48/

Learning to read

The Anglican cleric Reverend Wilbert Awdry (1911-97) is best known for his series of children’s books based around the now well-known Thomas the Tank Engine. He published his series of books about railways, The Railway Series, in 42 volumes between 1945 and 2011 (two were published posthumously). Each volume was a small colourfully illustrated story about railway engines with faces and personalities. Being a lover of trains from an early age, I devoured and enjoyed these stories from the earliest day that I was able to read to myself.

 

engines

 

One of my favourite of Awdry’s books was called Eight Famous Engines. I cannot remember why I liked it, but I do remember that I mis-read the word ‘famous’. For several years, I thought that ‘famous’ was pronounced ‘farm house’. It puzzled me that the book seemed to have little or nothing to do with agriculture, but that did not stop me from liking the book and re-reading it many times from cover to cover. It was only when I had outgrown these railway books that it dawned to me that  the letters f.a.m.o.u.s spelled ‘famous’ and not ‘farm house’.

In addition to the Awdry railway books, I enjoyed leafing through a particular  well-illustrated geography book, which I used to borrow often from the local public library. One of the many photographs in this book that caught my attention was captioned “A POLISH FIELD”. You can probably guess what I will write next. Yes, for years I thought that it was a picture of a field containing plants that when harvested became shoe polish. It was a long time before it dawned on me that it was a Polish field rather than a field of polish.

Now, many decades later, you might be pleased to know that I do not make mistakes like the above when I am reading.

 

 

 

Flying rats

pigeons

 

My late mother was awfully concerned about avoiding germs. For example, every can of food had to be washed before opening it just in case rats or mice had scampered across it in a warehouse.  Also, when we visited toilets in public places in the 1960s, we were told to put toilet paper on the seats so that we would not pick up germs that other users had left behind. Interestingly, in many public toilets nowadays, notably on aeroplanes, disposable toilet seat covers are provided. Mum would have approved of this development.

Recently while rummaging through some old photographs, I came across one of me, aged about 10, in Siena, Italy. I was kneeling on the floor feeding pigeons that had flown on to my hand. As a child, I loved doing this. My parents would buy me a paper cone filled with corn seeds. I would fill my palm with some of these, and then pigeons used to perch on my finger tips and pick up bits of corn with their beaks. I remember that the pigeon’s ‘feet’ felt quite soft. Feeding these creatures was a real treat.

Well, I was not unusual. Many people enjoy feeding birds from their hands. Today, in London’s Kensington Gardens there are flocks of green parakeets that happily feed from visitors’ hands.

The surprising thing was that my germ conscious mother permitted my sister and me to feed pigeons as described already. In New York, pigeons are known as ‘flying rats’. Pigeons are are actually less hygienic than rats and they carry mites, which irritate human skin. I cannot believe that pigeons in Italian cities in the 1960s were any cleaner than those flying about today. Had my mother been aware of the pigeons’ unsavoury lack of hygiene, feeding these creatures would have been totally forbidden to my sister and I. I am pleased that she did not realise that the dear flying rats are so filthy!

A puff of smoke

Three students

 

My father gave up smoking when I was about eight years old. As far as I know, my mother never smoked. I had an aunt who smoked, and entertained us by creating smoke rings with exhaled cigarette smoke. Visitors to our home smoked, so I was not completely isolated from cigarettes and so on during my earliest years. 

I was about 13 or 14 when I went on a field trip with other boys from my class. On that outing, I was shocked to see many of my fellow pupils lighting up cigarettes when we were out of sight of our teachers. I did not realise until that moment thay young children smoked.

In those early years, and possibly still today, I was a contrarian. Being that sort of person and seeing my peers smoking made me decide never to even try smoking, and  this situation remains unchanged tosay, so many decades later. It was not for health reasons nor because of economic problems that I have never taken up smoking. I simply did not want to be one of the crowd.

I often wonder if the situation had been reversed whether I would have become a smoker. If no one else had been smoking, would I have lit up just to be different? I doubt it because as a child I was far from adventurous.

A young explorer

Green signal_500

 

When I was a child, our local Underground station was Golders Green on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. It was the first station on the stretch of the line, which remains open air, above ground, between Golders Green and Edgware. As a small child, I yearned to know what lay beyond Golders Green, where we always disembarked, but my parents did not share my yearning.

Long ago in the 1960s,  the trains bound for Edgware stopped at Golders Green on a stretch of line that ran between two platforms. The doors would open on both sides of the train. The platform on the left side of the train gave easy access to the centre of Golders Green and its large bus terminus. The right side, which we always used, led to an entrance that was on the way to Hampstead Garden Suburb, where our family home was located. 

One day, my father and I arrived at Golders Green after having spent some time in central London. As usual, we waited alongside a door on the right side of the train when we stopped in the station. Unusually, the doors on the right side of the train did not open, but those on the left did. By the time we realised that the right side doors were not going to open, the doors on the left side had closed, and we were beginning to travel beyond Golders Green above ground to Brent, the next station. My father was not happy, but I was delighted to be travelling along a stretch of the line that I had always wanted to see.

Since that time, I have always been excited at the prospect of travelling to the ends of the London Underground lines. Yesterday, I travelled to Watford, the terminus of one branch of the Metropolitan Line, and enjoyed it as much as I would have done when aged about ten!