Archive for September, 2010

tales of my childhood: the pottery & the mayor

September 13, 2010

Caveat lector! It has been, most definitely, a long, lengthy, winding while since we last set foot on my polyphemeral, myopic shores. And reader, oh lector, oh reader beware, we are blown now beyond epi oinopa ponton, the blind bard’s cliché, after months of coeval existence, against the path of progress by those bitter winds of retrospect. As all great series’ succumb limply to the fangs of best-ofs and clip shows (see January), and then rework their unseen past with episode-consuming flashbacks, so too shall I.

Everything will begin within the bored decor of the primary school pottery room.

It was one of many classroom projects, one supposes aimed principally at occupying a group of sixty-odd tomato-faced children for a brief glimpse of time so that Miss may recover some jigsawing piece of mind. We were shuttled in groups of four or five into a room clearly designed for groups of up to and including three; it was furnished mostly with Atlantean shelving, bearing the weight of generations of clay, glazed and decorated and forgotten, and, most astonishingly, a substantial blue kiln with a child-sized door affixed to the front. We had been tasked with the unenviable prospect of creating some gigantic anonymous frieze, the purpose of which was to remain a mysterious mystery for the time being.

Of course, the creation of this dirt-brown masterpiece was not to be undertaken by all sixty children at once, and not on one enormous lump of clay, occupying the room like The Blob’s older, greyer, hairier ancestor, with us perhaps losing a few classmates to its stodgy embrace. No. Instead, we were each gifted a tea-tray sized rectangle of earth, perhaps 6″ by 10″ (I don’t know, I don’t know the measurements to an average sized tea-tray, and this, dear reader, was certainly of average size – ask Nigel Tufnel if you prefer), with which shape we were expected to sculpt our own miniature David. The overall effect would not be dissimilar to those pictures created by hundreds of tiny photographs, except in this case the image, when viewed from a distance, would not be one of Darth Vader or Jim Morrison, but rather a horrible primordial sneeze of colour and contortion – like a particularly pained Francis Bacon portrait. Our tools were arranged surgically around our worktop. The sides of our piece of clay were given a waved effect, in a desperate attempt at creating some cohesion to the final piece, as each segment would appear to blend (or bleed) into its neighbours. And we were off, little Hephaestian mites.

The exact theme of the erratic mosaic I don’t recall; but there is something mythological, something historical, something equine lingering in my mind. Nor do I recall the particulars of the story contained within the four corners of my clayed world; but again, something green and ungainly springs to mind – a pastoral vision, perhaps? a genuine Song of Innocence. Whatever it was, I accomplished the job with that giddy insanity only apparent in a child removed from the drudgery of their regular school timetable.

Within days the evidence of our frantic God-like period of creation was entirely wiped from the chalkboards of both our minds and the school’s. I find it hard to believe we were in any way bothered by this peculiar disappearance; our attention would have been too much attuned to any potential future disruptions to the timetable, than any disruptions-past. And so we returned amiably to the world of Pogs, or Gogos, or whatever was cool that week. But whilst the adventure had ended for the fifty-six or so lesser pupils, for four of us, it was to become a journey from which we could not conceivably escape, until at least first break-time.

A week or two passed – enough time to allow our teachers to ferry the now-kilned clay to its final destination without our knowing it, like nervous drug-runners carrying burnt bricks of crack. Then, one day, myself and three others were summoned from the blissful mists of a now-forgotten lesson, and taken to a big black car outside the school gates. In a mafia scene that can only be described as pathetic, we walked to the car, flanked by two teachers-cum-bodyguards, and were driven by a reassuringly mute driver into the underground parking lot of the Mayor of Reading. Any prior briefing to this is lost amongst the miscellanea of time. I am sorry, but the Cosa Nostra parallel must run for a few sentences more, if only to help you, dear reader, ground this scene in something resembling reality. From the Hummer (probably not a Hummer), we were escorted up several red-carpeted (probably not red-carpeted) floors, all anticipation in our ignorance. Rounding the final corner, the purpose of our extracurricular visit became all too apparent: to gaze awfully at our Frankenstein’s jigsaw of pottery on the wall of the main floor of the offices of the Don of Reading.

And there it hung, a terrible monument to some apocalyptic vision: horses fleeing their fields, men and women convulsing in uncontrollable fits, rivers running wild courses through a Biblical nightmare. All of which was held clumsily together by the crazy-paving waved sides of the segments, as if the aftershock of an earthquake were rippling across the entire scene.

Quite why it was ever commissioned, I don’t know. And why children, whose adeptness to the art of ceramics is not without its inconsistencies, were to be exploited as its primary architects, I don’t know. I do, however, know the intricacies of the dealings that went on within those appallingly-decorated walls. Or at least, I would if we hadn’t spent the entirety of our visit gorging on the complementary crisps, nuts and assorted twig-things laid out on trays for us by the cronies of the Mayor. The Mayor, meanwhile, who recollection condenses to no more than an absurd golden medallion, spent his time engaged with the teachers – discussing, no doubt, his latest plans for cultural prostitution via youthful profiteering. Not that our efforts were to go utterly unnoticed…

We were each given an embossed bookmark, presumably as a subtle way of telling us ‘stick to a passive appreciation of the arts, kids’, a nuance my infantile ignorance dutifully failed to detect. Nonetheless, it is a treasure that still sits diligently in place in some unread children’s book on my shelf. An eternal reminder of those pointless activities of youth that punctured, at surprisingly regular intervals, the traditional system of education.


post-script; did you actually think that eight months of silence, graduation, summertime and employment would offer up some fresh, exciting new tale to tell? fools!