Living by the Sea

 

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

Ice Cream on Scarborough Beach, September 1963

The photo above shows (from left to right) my mother, me and my brother enjoying ice cream cones on the beach in September 1963.

I generally don’t give much thought to the fact that I’ve spent most of my life living in coastal areas, in homes which, even if some did not have a direct view of the sea, were only a few miles from it.

This wasn’t entirely a deliberate policy on my part, and things just seem to have worked out that way. Nonetheless, I’m very glad that things did work out that way!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my parents and my grandparents all came from Leeds, and they used to look forward to annual vacations in Scarborough and other coastal Yorkshire towns. (They usually seemed to choose Yorkshire destinations, although my grandparents did occasionally venture further afield, to such exotic locations as Grange-over-Sands!)

In those days, the air in coastal towns was much cleaner than in inland industrial cities, so there was a clear health benefit to living by the sea. The photo below of Scarborough Harbour, which was also taken by my father in 1963, shows smoke rising from buildings, a nuisance that was much worse in inland locations. The image also includes various other nostalgic features, such as a fleet of fishing boats and a commercial cargo ship in the Harbour!

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

In 1972, while still living in Scarborough, I bought my first copy of Railway Magazine. Given that the magazine has been published continuously since 1897, there was nothing momentous about that event, except for the cover of that edition, which didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Railway Magazine, September 1972

Railway Magazine, September 1972

As shown, the cover featured the famous locomotive Flying Scotsman, which I recognized, but I was completely oblivious as to the location. I knew that the locomotive was touring the USA, but that was all. In fact, it shows Flying Scotsman at a far-away seaside location, near Fisherman’s Wharf, in San Francisco. How prophetic for me!

(The astonishing subsequent story of how Flying Scotsman’s owner went bankrupt during its US tour, leaving the locomotive impounded at Fort Mason, can be read about here.)

The sea often featured in my childhood paintings, as in the image below, which I produced at school, at the age of 14. It purports to show a British flying boat over New York, although at that time I’d never seen New York except in pictures. (The cheap paint used in the picture has decomposed over the years. Originally, there was a calm moon shining over the sea, but now it seems to be exploding!)

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

Flying Boat over New York, as imagined when I was 14

A Very Significant Sea Change

In November 1987, I arrived for my new job in San Mateo, California, and found myself once again in a seaside location, albeit on the opposite coast of a different continent. I was initially quite confused, because I hadn’t been aware of the existence of San Francisco Bay, so, living on the Peninsula, I wasn’t sure whether I was looking west at the Pacific Ocean, or east at the Bay!

Nonetheless, I soon figured out the local geography, and settled down to live the remainder of my life by the sea! The 1996 photo below shows a view over San Francisco Bay from the kitchen of our house in San Mateo.

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

San Francisco Bay from San Mateo, 1996

A Tribute to Graham Roberts

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

Graham Roberts and Co-conspirators, 1975

“I’m not a Yorkshireman, but I play one on the radio.” For several decades, that could have been the motto of actor Graham Roberts, shown on the left in the 1975 photo above. Continuing the Yorkshire theme of my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to pay a small tribute to one of the most amiable men I ever met. My friendship with Graham also had a significant, if perhaps unanticipated, influence on the direction of my own life.

The photo was taken by my father during a visit to Graham’s home in Leeds. Yes, that’s me to the right of Graham, with full 1970s “mop” haircut! To the far right is Graham’s wife, singer Yvonne Robert.

For an astonishing 31 years (1973-2004), Graham played the character of George Barford on the BBC radio soap opera The Archers. That show was first broadcast on radio in 1950—initially as a way for the Ministry of Agriculture to educate farmers, it seems!—and is still running today.

Graham was born in Chester, and studied in Manchester, but he had an excellent ear for accents and dialects, so he probably had little difficulty picking up the Yorkshire accent he needed for his role in the Archers. Living in Leeds, he heard it all around him every day.

During the 1970s, vocal impersonations were a popular form of comedy (bringing fame to Mike Yarwood and featuring on TV shows such as “The Impressionists”), so Graham and I spent much of our time inventing silly names and speaking to each other in a variety of outlandish voices!

A Day that Shaped the Rest of my Life

I met Graham during the 1970s, when, in addition to his Archers role, he had a regular job as a Continuity Announcer for Yorkshire Television. In those days, it was deemed necessary for each TV channel to have a live announcer, who would welcome viewers and announce programs. The announcer was also expected to handle occasional technical emergencies that could occur during broadcasting. I’m sure that Graham found that job quite mundane, but it was regular and reliable employment, which is a relatively unusual benefit for those in the acting profession. Graham is listed as one of the station’s “Former Announcers” on the Wikipedia page.

One day, Graham took me with him to his announcer job at Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds. For me, this was an introduction to a whole new world, which had seemed completely inaccessible until then.

Some years later, that one day’s experience would lead (via a contorted path that I’ll describe in other posts) to my decision to try to become a video engineer. To that end, I obtained an electronics degree, and eventually secured a broadcast engineering job at the BBC. I doubt that I would ever have embarked on that career path, had it not been for Graham’s perhaps unintended prompt.

The Unrecognized Celebrity

Strangely, although Graham’s voice was heard on the airwaves of Britain for many decades, both on TV and on radio, he rarely appeared in vision, so he usually went unrecognized in public. This gave him the advantage of being able to go about his life without being pestered by the autograph-seekers and celebrity-followers who would otherwise no doubt have hounded him.

Outstanding Empathy

For me, Graham’s most remarkable quality was his outstanding empathy for others. It seemed that, whatever you were interested in, Graham could take an interest in it too.

It was all quite genuine and I don’t think Graham could have faked that ability. I’m sure we all know that, if you’re not interested in something, it’s very difficult to give the consistent impression that you are.

Were it not for Graham’s influence, I almost certainly would not be doing what I do today, nor probably living where I live today. I feel very fortunate to have met him and been able to spend some enjoyable times with him.

Sadly, Graham passed away in 2004, and there were many fascinating obituaries, of which two can be read here and here.

Yorkshire Day

Mulberry Hall, Stonegate, York, 2010

Mulberry Hall, Stonegate, York, 2010

Tomorrow (August 1st) is Yorkshire Day. The photo above shows Mulberry Hall, which is a medieval building on Stonegate in the center of York.

In the background of the photo you can just see part of York Minster, covered in scaffolding at the time of my 2010 visit.

Mulberry Hall was built in 1434, as attested by the date above its front door, although the building has been extended and refurbished several times since then.

For many decades, the building contained a china and glassware shop (which was also called Mulberry Hall). My wife and I always made of point of visiting that shop when we visited York, and we also had gifts sent from there to friends and family in Britain. Sadly, the business closed in 2016, but the building remains, and hopefully will one day again house a prestigious merchant.

York: Two Thousand Years of Adaptation

I was born in Yorkshire, and, during the period 1979-81, I lived in Scarborough but visited York (by train) nearly every Saturday. I can’t think of any other city where there’s so much to do and see, packed into such a compact space. (There are larger cities with many attractions, but they’re more difficult to walk around.) That’s partly because York is a relatively small city that has fulfilled so many roles for the past 2000 years. The earliest recorded settlement was a Roman fort, which eventually became a town. In medieval times the city became a wool trading center and the northern archbishopric of the Church of England. During the nineteenth century, the coming of railways transformed York into a major rail hub and manufacturing center. While still retaining remnants of all those former roles, the city is now a world-class tourist attraction.

If you’re in the area, York is definitely worth visiting, but you’d probably have to spend many months there to see and do everything that is available!

Ye Olde Misspelling

In my photo above, further down Stonegate, you can see a sign over the street advertising Ye Olde Starre Inne. The Starre Inne is almost as old as Mulberry Hall, dating back to 1644, but what’s interesting about the sign is that includes a corrupted Old English letter. The word “Ye” in this context actually means “the”, and is pronounced “the” (although even many Britons are unaware of that).

As I mentioned in a post on my professional blog, prior to the Norman Invasion in 1066, English used two special letters to represent the language’s “th” sound. One of the letters was called thorn (þ), and that letter was sometimes misinterpreted (and mispronounced) as a “y”. Hence, “þe” is often misspelled as “ye”, as in the sign over Stonegate. I doubt that the Inn’s owners will want to change it, however, because you can imagine the difficulties associated with telling customers that they must type “Þe Olde Starre Inne” in their Google searches!

Kirkham Priory Postscript

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory, 1974-75

My Pencil Drawing of Kirkham Priory Gatehouse, 1974-75

The image above is a pencil drawing that I executed at school in 1974-75, when I was about fourteen. It shows the gatehouse of Kirkham Priory, which was the topic of my previous post.

The gatehouse of the Priory is probably the most famous and recognizable portion of the remains, and has been drawn, painted and photographed many times over the centuries. My own effort wasn’t entirely original, being heavily based on a lithograph produced by William Richardson in 1848.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Kirkham was and is a major tourist attraction, and the same portion of the ruins even featured in railway posters during the twentieth century.

Edit 7/23/17: I obtained the press photograph below via eBay some time ago. The print is dated October 24th, 1927.  It shows the remains of Kirkham Priory just before the Office of Works began excavations.

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927

Kirkham Priory before Excavation, 1927 (Copyright the Times)

The caption on the back of the photo says:

A view of part of the ruins of Kirkham Abbey, in the valley of the Derwent, Yorkshire, which have recently been handed over to the Office of Works by Sir Edward Allen Brotherton. The Abbey was founded by Walter L’Espee [sic], the founder of another Yorkshire abbey, that of Rievaulx, in the North Riding. The work of preservation, which the Office of Works is carrying out, will probably take two years to complete.

Picnic at Kirkham Priory

Picnic at Kirkham Priory, August 1964

Picnic at Kirkham Priory, August 1964

The photo above, from August 1964, shows our family picnic at Kirkham Priory, Yorkshire, during one pleasant weekend afternoon. I’m on the far right, with my mother behind me.

I mentioned in a previous post that the area in which I grew up is scattered with the ruins of many huge medieval (or older) buildings. Some are castles and other fortifications, but there are also a large number of ruined abbeys and other religious buildings. These were all forcibly closed down and partially demolished during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538-40. The lands seized by the King during that process were then given or sold to personal favorites, so these sites were in private hands for many centuries thereafter.

In the early years of the twentieth century, concerns increased regarding the continuing collapse of the remains of these buildings, which were coming to be regarded as national heritage sites. The Office of Works was pressured to take the properties into public ownership, and it induced the owners to sell, primarily by demanding that they maintain the ruins, and threatening them with huge repair bills if further deterioration occurred!

The Setting of Kirkham Priory

Although Kirkham Priory is by no means the largest or most impressive of the ruins, it enjoys a particularly pretty setting, by the banks of the River Derwent, which was navigable until about 1940. On the opposite bank of the river is the York-Scarborough railway line, and, during the 1920s, the enterprising Station Master of Kirkham Abbey started running a tea room and renting out boats to tourists, further popularizing the spot.

Family Outings

The man on the far left in the photo above is my grandfather, Allen E Martin, and my grandmother is to his right. I described in a previous post how my grandfather spent most of his career working for Leeds City Corporation, then in the 1950s he retired and moved to Scarborough to live with my parents. At that time, my father was the only member of the family who could drive, so he would often take all of us out for a “run”.

We picnicked at Kirkham Priory quite frequently, but the occasion shown in the photo was memorable because of the thoughtfulness of the attendant at the ruins that day. We were going to sit down on a blanket on the ground, but the grass was wet (not unusually in Britain). The attendant saw what we were trying to do, and brought out from a shed the table and chairs shown, especially for our use.

St. Martins School of Art: A Life-Changing Experience

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

Life Drawing Sketch, St Martins School of Art, 1982

The illustration above shows one of my very earliest “from life” pencil sketches. It was done during an Illustration class at St. Martins School of Art, London, during 1982. Strangely, prior to that, I had never participated in a formal “life drawing” art class anywhere.

My tutor at that class was an artist called Ian Ribbons. I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing about Mr. Ribbons at the time, and it was only many years later that I discovered that he was in fact a successful and famous illustrator in his own right.

Developing a Technique

In earlier posts, I’ve exhibited a few later examples of my figure drawings from live models. Those examples were drawn when I’d already gained some experience of life drawing, and some confidence with my preferred technique. However, that knowledge was hard-won, and, as I’ve previously indicated, I seriously lacked confidence in my figure drawing skills until I reached my early twenties.

My lack of competence wasn’t entirely due to my own shortcomings. The inadequacy of what was offered to me as “Art education” at school did nothing to reinforce my confidence or help me to improve. We were not given any classes in drawing the human figure, ever, even as part of the so-called “Advanced Level” course, which seems appalling in retrospect. Occasionally we were given a homework assignment to “do a self-portrait” or “draw some people”, but with no accompanying guidance or help, so inevitably the results were disappointing and demotivating.

(I’m aware that I wasn’t the only one to suffer from this “teachers shouldn’t try to teach” approach to education. There seemed to be a weird but common attitude that trying to inculcate drawing or aesthetic expertise was somehow tyrannizing innocent students, who should instead be left to wallow in ignorance. The result was that we now encounter many “artists” who seem unable to summon much actual artistic skill, which must surely be frustrating for those who are aware of it.)

It was only when I got to Imperial College, and volunteered to be the Publicity Officer of the H G Wells Society, that it dawned on me that I might have “bitten off more than I could chew”. I realized that I was probably going to have to draw people, for public display, and make it look good! It somehow occurred to me that some professional instruction might help, so I sought out the course at St Martins.

Ian Ribbons

As I mentioned above, my tutor at St. Martins was Ian Ribbons. Years after taking the Illustration class there, I stumbled across a copy of a 1963 book called Illustrators at Work, at a secondhand book shop. The book’s dustcover is shown below.

Illustrators at Work, 1963

Illustrators at Work, 1963

As the cover shows, the book was compiled by the famous British illustrator Robin Jacques (who was the brother of the actress Hattie Jacques), but it includes biographies and samples of the work of many other British artists. There, on page 45, was a section about Ian Ribbons, complete with the following biography:

Ian Ribbons Biography from "Illustrators at Work"

Ian Ribbons Biography from “Illustrators at Work”

Incidentally, the same book also includes a section on Ronald Searle, another well-known British artist, who happened to be a bunkmate of my mother’s first husband in the Japanese POW camp at Changi, Singapore, during World War II. I’ll have more to say about him in a future post!

Benefits of the St Martins Class

There’s no doubt that Ian Ribbons’ guidance was excellent, and it helped me gain some vital artistic confidence, in a way that I had not remotely anticipated. Without that inspiration, I probably would not have produced much of the publicized artwork that I subsequently created while I was a student in London.

For the first time ever, I felt that I had the ability to produce work that could credibly be displayed in a public setting without inducing (unintended) laughter. In retrospect, not all of what I produced in those days was good, but at least I wasn’t paralyzed by perfectionist concerns.

I must add that another major benefit of the Illustration class at St. Martins was simply the opportunity to work alongside other not-so-famous, but very competent, professional artists. There wasn’t really any program of formal instruction, but each of us was working on our own drawings and developing our own techniques.

If I saw another artist using a technique that interested me, I could simply lean across and ask, “How did you do that?”

That was, in fact, how I learned the ballpoint pen technique that I used for the portrait of Pallab Ghosh. Another artist at the class had already used that technique (for a portrait of actor Roger Moore, as I recall), so I simply asked him about it, then tried it myself. I doubt that I would ever have thought of such a technique without his example to look at!

Pallab Ghosh as "Super-Ed" (Superman)

Pallab Ghosh as “Super-Ed” (Superman)

I don’t think that I have ever before or since found myself working among such a concentrated group of talented artists. Presumably that was due to the location: we were in Central London.

Jeopardizing My Degree?

When my tutor at Imperial College learned that I was taking a part-time class at St. Martins, he expressed concern that it could detract from my engineering studies, and possibly even jeopardize my prospects of obtaining a degree! (I was working at Selfridges on Saturdays too, which was also deemed inadvisable.) Fortunately, all those concerns turned out to be nonsense, and I’m really glad now that I took that opportunity to “broaden my horizons”.

Last Train to British Museum

British Museum Station, London, 1982

British Museum Station, London, 1982

The photograph above, of what seems to be a fairly unremarkable structure, shows the surface building of the London Underground tube station called British Museum. When I took the photo in 1982, I’d already missed the last train to that station… by about 50 years.

At that time, there were threats to close various London tube stations, either because they were little used, or because they were thought to require substantial maintenance work that could not be justified economically. I’d missed British Museum’s closure, though, by virtue of not having being born at the time.

As it turned out, some of the stations that were still open in the 1980s were indeed closed later, but others remain open to this day.

In my photo above, you can see the glazed terracotta faience covering the ground floor exterior walls of the building, which was a characteristic of Central London Railway stations. Originally, the station building consisted only of that one storey, but later an office building was added above it.

British Museum Station was on the Central London Railway (later the Central Line), and was opened along with the line in 1902. The line crossed the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (later the Piccadilly Line) near Holborn, but there was no underground connection between the two stations, which was very inconvenient for passengers.

It soon became obvious that a common station was desirable, and authorization to build a new station, on the Central Line, was granted before the First World War, but work was delayed by the war. Eventually the new station was completed, and connected to the existing Piccadilly Line station. British Museum station was then permanently closed in 1933.

While riding the Piccadilly Line during the 1980s, I remember being able to see the remains of British Museum station through the gloom, as my train approached Holborn. The station’s platforms had been removed, but the white glazed tiles of the station walls were still barely visible, underneath decades of grime.

I’m glad that I took that photo of the surface building in 1982, because, in 1989, everything that remained on the surface was demolished, and there’s now no evidence whatsoever that there was a station there, as is apparent in the current Google Streetview of this location.

Department S

Department S Logo

Department S Logo

Strangely, I had a hint of the existence of the long-closed station long before I had even visited London, because it was mentioned (albeit not shown) in a 1968 episode of the ITC thriller series Department S.

In the episode titled “Last Train to Redbridge”, agent Stewart Sullivan is quizzing Jason King about a mysterious location, to which King was abducted and taken in a drugged state. Piecing together his incomplete memories, King makes sense of the details.

Jason King: An Underground Railway Station…

Stewart Sullivan: Old, disused. That would tie in with the murders. Are there any stations like that?

Jason King: Let’s see. On the Central London Line: two. British Museum, which was closed when they opened Holborn, and when they opened St. Pauls, they closed … Post Office

The dialog is partially factual. The description of British Museum and Holborn is accurate, but there is no closed station called Post Office, because the original Post Office station still exists, having been renamed St. Pauls in 1937.

There is also a station called Redbridge on the Central Line, although it’s not a terminus, so trains don’t generally show it as their final destination. Presumably the title image of the Department S episode shows the actual Redbridge Station nameboard.

Department S: Episode Title

Department S: Episode Title

The Department S scenes showing the fictitious Post Office station seem to have been filmed in a real Underground station, as in the scene below. The surroundings just seem too detailed to be a studio set.

Department S: "Post Office" Station

Department S: “Post Office” Station

The station used seems to have been Aldwych, which was still open at that time (albeit only during “peak” hours), but closed later on. I also visited Aldwych in 1982.

Aldwych Station

I mentioned above the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, which eventually became the Piccadilly Line. This line was formed from the merger of two earlier schemes, one of which was the Great Northern and Strand Railway.

The southern terminus of the GN&SR was a station called “Strand”, which, due to the merger of the two schemes, was eventually built on a branch from the “main line”.

Aldwych Station, 1982

Aldwych Station, 1982

This tatty-looking area is the end of the track at Aldwych Station, as it looked in 1982. The tiling of the walls here was never completed, during the entire life of the station. Given that all trains terminated here, then reversed direction, only the westerly platform was in use, and the track to the other platform had been lifted as long ago as 1917.

During my 1982 visit, I noticed that, on one of the glazed tile walls of the station, the original name was still partially visible, as shown in the rather blurry photo below.

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych was closed to the public in 1994, when the sole lift (elevator) at the station required renewal. The site is now used only for private filming purposes. London Transport even keeps a complete tube train on the branch, for use in filming.