Boring

Hey, not to be too self-pitying about it, but the lead letter in the new Word magazine came from a disgruntled reader of the previous Word magazine, who went to the trouble of getting in touch with the magazine to declare that the piece I’d written for that issue about my experiences, aged 14-17, as a member of the Northampton College of Further Education Film Society, was “the most boring piece I’ve ever read in a magazine.” Quite why this rude man went to the trouble of letting Word know is beyond me – as beyond me as why he continued reading when the first page, and the second, had bored him so much. Anyway, because Word do not republish online, I sought permission to reprint the piece, in full, here. It’s very long. And it’s very boring. Hope you like it! (If you don’t, please stop reading at the exact point that you get bored. That’s my advice.)

FIRST PERSON

In the early 80s, post-punk music and the cinema battled for my very soul

On Valentine’s Day, 1980, a couple of weeks shy of my 15th birthday, I saw my first “X” film. The visceral Philip Kaufman remake of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers, I didn’t have to sneak in through a held-open fire door, wear a false moustache or lower my voice an octave, as per underage tradition. I paid £1 to see it, legally, projected onto a modest screen before an auditorium of arranged plastic chairs at Northampton College of Further Education’s Arts Centre, courtesy of their members-only Film Society.

I loved it and wrote the following haiku-like review in my 1980 diary above a rough cartoon approximation of Donald Sutherland in his “footballer’s perm” phase, emerging from an alien cocoon: “Really good’n’gory. Nice pod scenes, rather horrific, creepy and ace.”

To contextualise this pivotal event in my junior filmgoer’s life, in the same week in February 1980, my friend Pete and I had settled on the name D.D.T. for our first bedroom band (he on electric guitar; me on ice cream tub and tyre levers); and I’d optimistically posted off my entry for a Smash Hits competition asking readers to draw the 2 Tone label mascot Walt Jabsco as he might appear on the sleeve of another record (I had chosen The Damned’s Smash It Up and neatly depicted him smashing up vinyl records) – the prize was a copy of The Specials LP.

Like any 14-year-old, I was wracked with a confusing hormonal need to fit in and rebel at the same time. My musical tendencies reflected this: I saw myself nominally as a “punk”, although beyond a product-free sticking-up haircut that worried my Nan despite usually falling into a tame centre parting, I was just a provincial boy who wore sweatshirts and baseball boots from the Kay’s catalogue and nothing more outwardly seditionary than the regulation Harrington jacket, which we all wore.

But a glance at the customised cover of my 1980 diary reveals a serious schism. Between the cut-out Photostats of my favourite bands the Undertones and 999 are pics of Gene Hackman, The Elephant Man and Marilyn Monroe, plus the logo of the aforementioned NCFE Film Society. At that difficult and easily distracted age, I was a little bit films and a little bit rock and roll.

I was not yet a member of the Film Society when I saw Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers – part of a special, leafleted Spring ’80 Horror Films Season along with Piranha and The Return Of Count Yorga – but a guest of my friends Neil and Dave, a pair of what would these days be called nerds from the Trinity School side of town whom I’d fallen in with at Saturday morning art classes at “the Tech”, and whose trendy English and Communications teacher Mr Tilley had been their link to the Film Society. Without perhaps fully appreciating it at the time, Neil (feather-cut, rainbow braces) and Dave (Phil Oakey fringe, green v-neck) were to be my passport into a new world and, ultimately, a fast-track to adulthood. That Film Club, as we knew it, would one day help qualify me for a career in film criticism would have been purely abstract at the time.

Northampton was, in the year of London Calling, one of the “faraway towns.” Punk rock had only arrived there the year before, but I did my damnedest to catch up. My first official punk single had been Something Else by the Sex Pistols. (Rat Trap didn’t count as it didn’t have a picture sleeve.) Pocket money was thereafter invested in seven-inch vinyl futures; my broker was John Peel, whose late-nite Radio 1 show I was literally listening to under the covers through a single waxy earpiece. I remember in January 1980 going on an expedition to the still-new shopping mall in Weston Favell – colloquially known as the “Supacentre” – with my music-nut buddy Craig; after much deliberation, I bought the London Calling single, while he bought The Special AKA Live! EP. That evening the Undertones were featured on Nationwide, which felt like a moral victory for “us”.

Craig lived in Weston Favell and so did my parallel pal Paul, who’d accompanied me to Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. When I was round Craig’s, we’d listen to music. When I was round Paul’s, we’d draw cartoons together and pore over the movie spoofs in back issues of Mad magazine. Craig was into football, Paul couldn’t even throw a ball straight when cast as a fielder in a school game of rounders; I was somewhere between the two.

It’s clear to me now: between the years of 1979 and 1983 I was half-punk, half-nerd.

To neatly illustrate: in 1979 I’d begun to regularly buy two grown-up publications – the New Musical Express and Film Review. The former provided a vital weekly bulletin from the frontlines of the war on mediocrity, the latter a monthly fix of movie news albeit rather more vanilla in tone. An uncritical industry cheerleader for new releases, Film Review sold monthly through the ABC cinema chain. I expressed my devotion to it and to cinema in general by sending off for back issues, to study and keep, an early nod to voluntary history. I was now fully abreast of what was out, coming soon, and – less so in those days – in production. I had also become a devout disciple of Barry Norman and BBC1’s Film ’80, which morphed into Film ’81, Film ’82 and so on.

Paul and I expressed our groupie love of Barry one bored afternoon in 1981 – between drawing Mad-inspired caricatures of Charlton Heston and learning Monty Python LPs by rote – by improvising a silly, imagined clash of the titans, Barry Norman Vs Chris Kelly (ie. the presenter of ITV kids’ movie magazine show Clapperboard). The cassette of this Pythonesque routine has been lost in time, fortunately, but it was definitely the Film Review me in ascendance, not the NME me.

When the two worlds collided, such as the week in December ’79 when the NME devoted its cover story to a learned appreciation by Angus Mackinnon of Apocalypse Now, I felt whole. The rest of the time, I was torn. Was I about 999 and the Undertones, or Gene Hackman and The Elephant Man? Did I hang out with Neil and Dave and Paul, or Craig and Pete? The solution was: I hung out with both, separately.

Hey, I haven’t even mentioned girls, whose sinister, preoccupying scent further complicated the hormonal tug-of-love in 1980: during the April and May of that year I started writing the name of my first actual girlfriend in every typeface I could passably render in a diary far more usefully employed as a logbook for films seen at the ABC and tunes heard on Peel.

In the final dark days before the VHS revolution, access to movies was controlled: you either saw a film at the cinema when  the chains decreed it, or you saw it on TV after the usual five-or-six year gestation, and even then often cut for taste by the philistine broadcaster … unless you joined Film Club and transformed Tuesday nights for the best part of the academic year.

My 14-year-old desire to see Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers was salacious rather than academic: it was an “X” therefore I wanted to see what might be in it that qualified it to be one. (The “X” certificate seemed far more illicit than its prosaic replacement the “18”.) My stunted height, choirboy’s squawk and smooth features guaranteed I was among those fourth-formers who failed to get into The Exorcist and, a year later, Kentucky Fried Movie, even though on that occasion I was accompanied by my Dad, which cut no ice with the woman at the box office. But the NCFE Film Society, which I eagerly joined in September 1980, existed outside of such arbitrary, draconian restrictions.

First rule of Film Club: there were no rules. Actually, there was one: “All films start at 7.30pm – please try to be punctual.” Once you’d paid your flat membership fee (£7.50, or £6 for students, OAPs and “claimants”, which went up by a pound the following year), you were entitled to see all 36 films showing in the 1980-81 season and to sign in your own guests. A flash of your blue membership card also secured entry to and “unrestricted use” of the “Real Ale Bar” on film nights, where those of us at O-Level would comically nurse half-pints of shandy while making up nicknames for the more grown-up regulars. (“Stacy Keach,” we called one of them, for self-evident reasons, keeping up the cineaste theme.) Film Club was run by a tireless man called Frank Quigg, who we must assume worked at the college. I have a picture in my mind of a slightly less racy History Man type with elbow patches but I may be post-rationalising.

During that first, mouth-watering season I saw any number of films that would have been off-menu if I’d continued to live the life of casual grazer: Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (another “X”, excitingly), Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (a landmark Cuban film set between the 1959 Revolution and the 1962 missile crisis with a prescient fractured narrative), Revenge Of The Creature in old-school red/green 3D, and the “lost” 1974 kitchen-sink drama Pressure, whose raw depiction of everyday life and separatist politics within the Trinidadian community in West London was quite a socio-political eye-opener. This was, I guess, the cinematic equivalent of roughage. Were it not for Frank Quigg, I might never have broadened my palate in this way.

It would be nigh-on impossible to explain the thrill of physical admission offered by Film Club to today’s generation, spoiled as they are by push-button, palm-of-the-hand media access and the instantaneous sharing of opinion. You can download selected arthouse movies from the Curzon website the same day they are premiered on its cinema screens. If you favour less legal means, I expect the whole century of film is at your fingertips. In 1980, it was like we’d discovered a magic portal to another world.

By the time 1981 and phase two of Film Club’s season had rolled around, a glance at my diary in February reveals a typically teenage list of “likes”:

  • Digestives and butter and cheese
  • The B-side of Teardrop Explodes’ Reward
  • Clint
  • Film Club
  • Playing snooker at Craig’s
  • Lemon mousse
  • And a girl I’m not going to name

See how effortlessly films now slot into my 15-year-old spreadsheet? Focussing my teenage filmgoing devotion on Clint Eastwood was predictable; Paul and I had just seen a double bill, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – “very ace indeed” – and The Outlaw Josey Wales – “Guns, guts and gob” – at Film Club so he was fresh and weatherbeaten-cool in our minds. But the tug of drumming along to Teardrop Explodes B-sides remained in place, not to mention the girl I wasn’t going to name. (This meant she wouldn’t go out with me.)

However, having paid my £6 I was still committed to squeezing my money’s worth out of Film Club, and dutifully ticked off Summer Of ’42 (“ace Durex-purchasing scene,” according to my diary), Robert Altman curio Brewster McCloud (“a wonderful epic of weird and wit”) and the first part of a Bill Douglas double, My Childhood (“black and white poverty-o plot”) as the season built to its climax in April with Andrei Tarkovsky’s meditative 1972 Russian sci-fi landmark Solaris (“bloody subtitles”).

It would be easy to back-romanticise and rewrite my own underdevelopment so that Film Club’s steady diet of foreign movies had a profound effect and opened my mind to world cinema on the spot. It didn’t. Bloody subtitles indeed. I even fell asleep during the 165-minute Solaris, awoke and snuck out before the end. (Neil and Dave assured me that it got better after I’d gone.) But the fact remains, I was exposed to some choice nuggets of exotic cinema at an impressionable age, from Japan (Nagisa Oshima’s Empire Of Passion) , France/Italy (Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe), Germany (Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu), and Argentina (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s The House of the Angel) … I’d grown up with Abbot & Costello and British comedies like What A Whopper on TV, and James Bond and Disney at the pictures, so this forced march of maturity was significant.

But never mind the quality, feel the width. In 1981, I saw a total of 121 films. I have this precise figure at my fingertips because, world-class anal-retentive that I undoubtedly was, I had started keeping a running tally. This was the year that the Collins family took delivery of its first VCR – a Philips V2000 with the double-sided cassettes, very much the cleansed ethnic group in the VHS-Beta war – which eased the hunting of films around the TV schedules and empowered Paul and I to pause and replay the best bits of Chinatown, Death Wish, Deliverance and other choice, late-nite items from the ragged pages of the Radio and TV Times.

Within the year we would be supplementing our running cinematic buffet with those first trophies from video rental shops. At this nascent stage we’d bring home anything, frankly. And BBC2 were still lashing together Saturday night horror double bills, so you’d get 1943’s The Seventh Victim followed by 1975’s Race With The Devil. (Even on holiday in North Wales or the Channel Islands, we’d talk Mum and Dad into taking us to a local fleapit to catch the new Bond film: Live and Let Die in Nefyn, For Your Eyes Only in St Helier.)

If all this counting and collating suggests a quasi-autistic relationship with films, I can assure you that love coursed vividly through it. The badge of honour was in seeing every film I could possibly see. You can sense by the way each one is logged in my diary – title, year of release, certificate, followed by still frankly juvenile assessment (“Chariots Of Fire, 1981, ‘A’, starring Ian Charleston, Ben Cross … that’s all the big stars out of the way!”) – that I am now under the factfinding spell of the big film encyclopaedias I’d started buying or borrowing from the library.

I was taking a pocket-academic interest at last; starting to memorise years and directors’ names like other boys reeled off the previous clubs and goal averages of First Division footballers. Key Christmas/birthday presents of the time included David Quinlan’s Illustrated Directory of Film Stars and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of The World’s Greatest Movie Stars and Their Films by Ken Wlaschin, which I pored over as if handling sacred scrolls. In particular, I fixated on filmographies of favourites like Gene Hackman, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and Charlton Heston, transported into reverie as I wondered what obscurities like Zandy’s Bride, Psych-Out or I Never Sang For My Father might be about, or if I would ever see them.

Putting all such film studies aside, I still gleaned enormous, mathematical, savant-like satisfaction from the simple act of seeing multiple films in ad hoc double, triple or quadruple bills. During the Christmas holidays in 1981, for instance, I marked up six in one day, thanks to bingeing at the video with Bridge On The River Kwai, Carry On Doctor, Savage Bees, Superman, Superman II and Magic. At such a greedy rate, you can see how, the following year, my film total went up to 144.

In 1983, the year I turned 18 and cast aside the maroon blazer of the sixth form, I saw 175 films, which is I suspect a lifetime per annum record. Film Club, whose 1982-83 season was my last before heading off to London and to art college, helped plump up those impressive numbers. I never went to film school. But I didn’t need to. Here, on tap, were the likes of Tony Garnett’s directorial debut Prostitute, Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, further unsweetened black experience in Britain courtesy Babylon, Spielberg’s 1941, the seminal Richard Pryor In Concert … but it is sad in retrospect to see Tuesday nights at Film Club gradually displaced by rented videos, band practices and nights at the Bold Dragoon pub.

I let my subscription to Film Club lapse without ceremony or fuss. Too many distractions. I carried on meticulously logging films in my 1983 diary, whose cover collage continues to convey my cultural duality by ranging Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now against Echo & The Bunnymen under sticky-back cellophane. I had carved up my soul and sold it piecemeal to post-punk raincoat music and Athena movie icons. My tastes in cinema had been converted to small-“c” catholicism by Film Club, and during the Christmas recess in 1983, I willingly sat down in front of the telly for my first Busby Berkeley musical, 1943’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game and 1969’s stunt parachutist drama The Gypsy Moths, mainly because I was on a mission to see the whole of Gene Hackman’s CV.

I won my copy of the Specials LP in the Smash Hits competition in March 1980, by the way, and my drawing of Walt Jabsco was printed in the magazine. I was thrilled: an early taste of the media.

Before the decade was out, I saw my first ever professional film review – of the ho-hum yachting thriller Masquerade starring Rob Lowe – published in the NME, where I had found employment as a humble layout boy. From this en suite vantage point I had taken to pestering the paper’s section editors for writing work, and they were starting to cave. Writing about music, and commissioning other people to write about music, dominated my nine-year employment history from 1988 to 1997 – NME to Vox to Select to Q –  during which, videogames and live comedy made further supplementary claims on my time. But my devotion to films never waned.

In 1995, I briefly became the Editor of Empire magazine; in 2000, I landed the job of hosting Radio 4’s weekly film programme Back Row; and, a year later, began writing about films for Radio Times, where I am still retained as Film Editor and – unbelievably – share reviewing duties with the source of my early film inspiration Barry Norman. I couldn’t have achieved any of this without my self-enforced early-80s cinematic education, enhanced and nourished for those three key years by the imaginative and varied programmes of Frank Quigg, the geeky company of Neil, Dave and Paul, and the NCFE Film Society, where unrestricted use of the “Real Ale Bar” had made me a man, even without ever sampling any Real Ale.

And all this from a 16-year-old whose considered assessment of Buñuel’s radical exposure of bourgeois sado-masochism Belle de Jour ran, in the 1982 diary: “This epic about horse carriages and bras was shit bum wank.” And why not?

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Alan Moore knows the score

Northampton, Northampton, Northampton, middle of England! Can I just pay tribute to my home town? Saturday saw what was, for the inexperienced me, the culmination of a week of Edinburgh previews for my show Secret Dancing. In other words, I’d done one in London on Wednesday, and one in Brighton the next time, and this was my third. (I know, it’s small fry compared to, say, Richard’s Christ On A Bike previews, which seem to be happening pretty much every night. But his is a far more sophisticated, written show, conceptual, precise, and technically demanding; mine is a “genial ramble”, and I suspect it will evolve a little over 16 performances in Edinburgh. Oh, and it’s free, whereas Richard is charging money, and that is precisely why I’m doing it under the Free Fringe umbrella. It will, I hope, be the perfect setting for my solo debut, even though Richard says I have still priced myself out of the market.)

Anyway, having now done the show three times, in full, with three dry runs at the Hen & Chickens before these, I think I can confidently say that I can remember where it all goes, and that the additions and cuts I’ve made along the way are helping improve the overall shape and rhythm. In a way, it should feel like I am just chatting and telling stories, jumping from one subject to another. If you’ve seen it and agree with that assessment, I’ll be happy to hear from you. London, at the Phoenix, was odd, in that I had a lot of family and friends in – something Michael Legge had a lot of fun with in his stand-up set, and which I think they enjoyed in the correct spirit of the occasion, which was a bit like Boxing Day or something. Naturally, it was my family and friends who heckled! For all I know, it might have made other audience members uncomfortable. Either way, I enjoyed doing the show from one end to the other, and trying out an elaborate opening gambit which I have, since Brighton, scrapped, for the sake of geniality and simplicity.

Off to Brighton the next night, on my own, I experienced what must be the default emotion of the actual, professional stand-up comedian: a weird sense of isolation. It was a lovely day, blue skies, and the sound of seagulls and smell of the sea – and the sight of already drunk people at 5pm, everywhere – made me feel at home. I love Brighton. And when I arrived at the Three & Ten pub, to meet Nicky who runs the venue there, with my bags and expectant face, I was cheered to learn that we had sold 29 tickets! Despite a faulty microphone (hey, I wonder if any other comedian has ever experienced this?), I think I managed to connect with the audience, seated in rows, and I managed to entice two volunteers for the Secret Dance-off at the end, one of whom actually wanted to be onstage (thank you, Viks). I know I sounded nervous. I was nervous. But nerves are to be defeated. I am a lucky man, in that through the podcasts with Richard, and now the radio show, I have kind of landed in the middle of an available audience, a handful of whom are prepared to come and see me without Richard, which I know is a risk! I wonder if I end up soaked in sweat because it is hot outside and hot in the small venues, or because I am in actual peril up there? Either way, after an enjoyable time at the Three & Ten, but forced to catch the train because I was due on 6 Music breakfast the next morning, I was embarrassed to be lined with tidemarks on my black t-shirt. Must start travelling with a spare. You live and learn.

This photo, taken by Verity Knight, is from the Nook Cafe, at the Fishmarket, in Northampton on Saturday night. I think that might be the back of my sister’s head on the left! Thanks to amazing pre-show publicity in the Chronicle & Echo (thanks, Ruth!) and on Radio Northampton (thanks, Sarah and Pete!), plus the novelty factor of me coming home to Northampton having moved away 26 years ago, we sold all the seats in this bijou but splendid venue. By day it serves vegetarian sausages to Alan Moore – really! – and by night it becomes a venue, and later a disco. All praise to Tamsyn [pictured above with a perspiring me, post-gig, and in the Secret Dancing pic] who runs the place, and whose reputation precedes her in the town. She, and Joe, and the rest of the team – many of whom can also be seen Secret Dancing in the pic – run an amazing space.

I reorganised the show after Brighton, and Northampton saw hopefully the most evenly paced version thus far. I could see their faces at the Nook, as the lights weren’t as theatre-bright as they were in Brighton, and that’s always offputting, as you can see non-laughter. It was a lovely, mixed crowd, and I hope there was something in my ramble for everyone. During my serial killer identification test, nobody had their hand up after I’d asked if they had “feelings of inadequacy,” so either the comedy fans of Northampton do not have feelings of inadequacy, or they are lying.

So, as I leafed through some copies of Alan Moore’s Northampton fanzine Dodgem Logic on the train back to London on Sunday (Joe from the venue works on it as an editor), I felt a real connection to my old Northampton haunts. I do actually remember the Fishmarket when it was, yes, a fish market. There are even some original marble slabs in there, as a reminder of its former role. But I like the fact that it’s now an arts-collective-run gallery and venue and cafe and market, and hangout for Alan Moore. It’s not how I remember Northampton. (There’s a nice review, which gives a good flavour of the town and venue, by Wishus, the Bard of Northampton, here.)

I hope to return to the town after Edinburgh, unless, of course, the experience kills me. In which case I will be dead.

Oh, and here are some more pics from the Secret Dancing dance-off at the Fishmarket:

Any questions?

Nene

This is me at Nene College, Avenue Campus, Northampton, at the end of summer term, 1984. Yesterday, I was back, wandering the same corridors, this time not as a student, but as … a visiting lecturer. The “journey” from pupil to tutor has taken 24 years. It’s now the University Of Northampton, having been upgraded in 2005, and those who’ve been following the story, will know that I was proud to be made a Fellow of the university in August 2006 (an honour I share with Jo Whiley and Bob Harris). Since then, I have been back to cut the ribbon on the new Heyford building, where the Foundation art course is housed. When I attended Nene, you could only do a foundation; nowadays, you can do your degree there too. (Perhaps if this had been the case in 1984, I’d have stayed in Northampton. As it was, I left for London, and never looked back.)

My day as a lecturer was split into two parts. I was met at the entrance by John Harper, a legendary tutor who’s been there at least since 1983 when I first walked, wide-eyed, through its doors. It was he who invited me, and he who oversaw my first project as a proper art student, which was to build a tent in the main hall of the college, along with my 50 or so fellow foundationeers. The only specification was that we weren’t to make any holes in the floor. Come the end of the day, the hall looked like a pretentious refugee camp. I made mine by lashing together some of Mum’s old sheets and an Oxfam raincoat with brown tape and string. I then stuck a plastic shark above the door and strung a red light bulb from the inside, with some photos of Marlon Brando around the flaps. John then made us spend the day sitting in our tents, drawing the space. This is how I recorded that head-spinning event in my diary of the time:

DiaryNene2

It was strange to be back in that very hall – now kitted out with tiered seating and a big projection screen – lecturing about 100 students, some of them fine art, others graphics and illustration, mostly the same sort of age I was in the mid-80s, a few of them mature students, and with a sprinkling of tutors, many of them called John, and again, quite a few from my day. As a visiting lecturer, and first-timer, I was called upon to talk about myself, or what Strictly Come Dancing contestants would call my “journey” from Nene to whatever the fuck I am now. I made up a fat portfolio of work, which ranged from a cartoon of Top Cat and his gang that I drew when I was about five, via a still life of some wellies and a carrot I drew for my Art A-level and the very picture I made from inside my Oxfam tent, to the crowd-pleasing smears I created whilst at Chelsea School of Art, where my natural inclination towards doing cartoons was looked down upon and discouraged, meanwhile paving the way to actual employment on leaving college. The theme of my talk, which lasted over an hour and a half, was Art versus Commerce, something that I hoped would pique the interest of both fine artists, who make art for art’s sake, and the commercial artists, who do it to order (as I did). Because I began my higher education in that very hall, I hoped I would connect with the students from the off, and I kind of think I did. They certainly seemed attentive and responsive (ie. they laughed at my self-effacing jokes and carefully placed swears), and nobody slept.

However, once I’d got to the end of my “journey”, and soaked up the applause, I threw open the usual Q&A opportunity to the students. After all, I’d covered an awful lot of ground, from foundation to the NME, and I felt it was time to respond to individual questions. Not a single hand went up. Not a single student, in the prime of their life, currently engaged in mind-expanding creative education with a view to entering the world via the door marked “Art and Design”, wished to know anything further. I must admit, I was shocked.

For the afternoon session, I was to hold a more intimate seminar in a smaller room, and John asked for a show of hands from anybody interested in discussing the issues further. Four hands went up.

Not an auspicious showing, I mused, as I ate lunch with the Product Design faculty and listened to their stories over bread and salad and pork pie and red wine (a Thursday lunchtime tradition, so I discovered). I really like the staff at Nene – as I shall continue to call it, Opal Fruits/Hammersmith Odeon style – although even though I’m 42 I still felt a bit like a student when sat among them! Having seen a lot of the students’ work last summer, I know that they’re producing some fine stuff in design and fashion and fine art, and that the still-young degree courses are punching their weight in an unfashionable town. But when did students get so shy and unquestioning? I’m not flattering myself that I’m the most interesting person in the world, but I’m an ex-student and I’ve been in the real world for 20 years and I was only there for a day, and I still can’t believe that nobody had a question. I don’t take it personally – I think it says something far more general about the next generation: perhaps they really have been beaten into submission by SATs and New Labour’s literacy/numeracy hours, too worried about passing tests to ask supplementary questions. When Rob O’Connor, the record sleeve designer, came to Chelsea to talk to us, my friend Rob and I were all over him, asking him everything we could about working in record sleeve design. (It’s actually his handwriting on the cover of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope album for God’s sake!) We had a visiting photography tutor called Ronnie Randall, who’d also had a couple of reviews printed in Sounds – again, we wouldn’t let him go! Tell us everything!

Anyway, about 15 students came along to the afternoon seminar, and it really raised my spirits. They were a mixed bunch, and after doing some more talking about the problems of being creative to order, and the way autobiography can inform your work (it certainly did mine!), I asked them all to reveal an aspect of their life or personality that feeds into the work they do. Not one of them let me down, although some were more shy than others. There was a fantastic mature student in there called Dave, who’s 65, and had an incredible story to tell. I hope he inspired the others. I hope just by being there and getting them to talk, I inspired them just a little bit. I’ve spoken to lots of students over the past ten years, mainly through the NUS, and it can be extremely rewarding. I can see why teachers do it. (Not that I would compare doing a day here and a session there with actual lecturing or teaching – I know my limits. I have friends who are teachers and I take my mortar board off to them.)

Universityentrance

Anyway, I really loved going back to Nene for the day. It’s a terrific School of the Arts and I’d happily do it again. As a postscript, one of the students in the afternoon seminar emailed me and told me he’d been inspired by the day, so all was not lost.

Now, any questions?

No?

Nothing?