Is it Art?


At grammar school, I was good at art. More precisely, I was good at drawing my right hand with my left hand, which was the golden mean of talent in those days and given the amount, the sheer scale, of masturbation which was going on, an apt artistic metaphor, or perhaps, analogy for the times. To put the tin lid on it, my art master was called Mr. Johnson. My right hand was for bowling cricket balls and throwing punches. My left contained all the artistic impulses: drawing and wanking.

Sadly, after two years of sketching my aggressive hand with my sneakily passive hand, art had to be abandoned in favour of Latin, the sine qua non of entrance into the better universities. The fields of academe were not so much beckoning, as having the grim inevitability of a long-term Soviet plan for agriculture. The lonely furrow was to be ploughed, and the left hand relegated to the task of conjugation, instead of making the right hand look, on paper, like an E-Type Jaguar, which was then – and now – my favourite car.

At some point in these proceedings, Mr. Johnson reared his head once more. I had passed the Latin, the French, the English and whatever and had some free periods (as they were called) in between brushing up my history, which was lacking. It was suggested that some life drawing classes might be in order, so that I might brush up my technique: at that time in the 20th century, few historians were making money, while artists were coining it, so better to have a second brush to my palette. Prescient.

Mr. Johnson sorted out a model called Linda. Like me, she came from South London, not far from where my parents lived. Linda turned up for the first session at my school. We were introduced and at once it became apparent that there was a problem. Mr. Johnson, who was all ruffled tweed, extraneous facial hair and veined jowls was at loggerheads with the headmaster, whose name I cannot remember but who was known to all and sundry (especially sundry) as Top Cat.

The problem was the venue: where should this life class take place? The chemistry and physics masters had both closed their laboratory doors to the experiment. It could not take place in any ordinary classroom. The woodwork shop was out of bounds because the woodwork teacher was a Mormon, the gym was out of the question because the gym teacher was a psychopath, and the religious quarters were quarantined because the chaplain was assisting the police in their enquiries into other forms of life drawing.

Which left only the little doctor’s room, where sickly kids would if they had a little bit of a cough and not enough of a mummy’s note. This poky little room contained a bed around which a plastic curtain could be drawn on a rail. Linda went in and I followed when she gave the word. The curtain was closed. She suddenly pulled it back, and said something like “ta-ra”. You will, of course, have realised that she was in the nude. This was not a big deal for me, having already made my way around the neighbourhood. More importantly, this school bed was where you did the “cough and drop”. Not sexy.

Linda came up trumps with the help of Mr. Johnson. I suspect that these two were not entirely unknown to each other. Anyway, it was established that, as nothing could be accomplished within the gates of the grammar school, the life drawing should take place in Linda’s council flat. This establishment happened to be near where I lived. So instead of going to school one morning, I rang on the bell of her flat on the third floor of an unlovely block.

She, I should already have mentioned, was a pretty blonde, this time wearing tight Levi jeans and a Ben Sherman shirt that had evidently been fitted with no buttons. I busied myself with my artistic materials, which consisted of an A4 pad and an HB pencil. She went into what she laughingly called the kitchenette and came back with two mugs of coffee and three buttons open on the flies of her jeans. I drank my coffee and dealt expertly with the fourth button.

The drawing session went well, even if the portrait of Linda did look a little like my right hand pretending to be an E-Type Jaguar. There was no chaise longue, only a kitchen chair of Scandinavian porno design: The Full View. After a period of civilised pencil strokes, Linda closed her legs and suggested lunch. This involved chipped potatoes being submerged in a cage into a pan of boiling oil. The results were sumptuous. And then Linda said, “would like something to mop them up?” Receiving an affirmative response, she dolloped Salad Cream on her pussy.

“If you dip the chips in there, I think you’ll get a finer flavour,” she announced with just a twinkle of pride. Linda was right. As a very young man, I was introduced to the best aioli there has ever been in this world.

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