The adventure began. I departed on the 7.30 am train to Newport, Gwent via Shrewsbury. It takes me half a day to mentally deposit the affairs of work and home in left luggage and relax into my ‘break away from it all’. En route, I listened to singles from the 1960s – songs that I associate with my early childhood in Abertillery. My earliest exposure to music of any kind was at home. The radio (which came through the TV, courtesy of Rediffusion) was on all morning and afternoon; it provided the backdrop to my playtime and Mam’s routine of Hoovering, washing, and cooking. I listened to love songs filled with a wisdom and an experience that were lost on me as a four year old. The time limit of the single’s format imposed a strict discipline on composition. The recordings got to it from the outset, proceeded economically, and then faded out (sometimes alarmingly abruptly).
Call me old fashioned, but I consider people who conduct their business loudly over their mobile phones on public transport to be improprietous, and discourteous to other passengers. And always: ‘Can you ask Mike to call me back?’
11.20 am: Arrived at Newport. The town is at its most resonant under a grey, sodden sky. ‘Take it in slowly; relish every perspective; no agenda – just respond; remember, remember; and watch your back (this isn’t Aberystwyth), John!’ My domicile for the next three nights; relatively inexpensive, fundamental, but sufficient for my needs:
Having deposited my suitcase, I headed for a refreshment emporium. A customer before me in the queue ordered, in clear tones of adequate volume, ‘one grande cappuccino, please’.. ‘A tall Americano, did you say?’, inquired the salesperson. (Concentrate! Concentrate!)
Vistas have opened and closed since I was a student here. I find myself looking not at what is, but at what is no longer. The kitsch quiche café (as I call it) at Newport Market is still in business though:
The market’s gallery area has been turned into something that resembles an open prison for a ragbag of artists and makers of dismally poor work. Well, at least the pet shops with sad, caged dogs and cats have disappeared. But so also has the stall that sold every conceivable washer, screw, and gauge of pipe for washing machine and vacuum cleaner, along with the Bible Depository, and faggots and peas café.
I made my way to the building which once housed my art school and, before that, a technical college. Today, it’s subdivided into bijou flats.
7.00 pm: Weatherspoonery at The Queen[‘][s] Hotel. One hotel; three names. The devil really got into the detail here:
I had dinner with an old friend and student colleague at the art school, whom I’ve not met since 1983. In intensity, integrity, honesty, and intellectual curiosity, he’s not changed one jot. And, he still paints. (To maintain one’s practice for so long takes courage, determination, and vision.) We took up a conversation, as though we’d had paused only yesterday. There are few people in my life that I can talk with about so much and with complete candour. The themes of art, art eduction, local history, religion, theology, folklore, and spiritual pilgrimage wove in and out one another, as we peppered our conversation with reminiscences about our shared experiences, friends, and their respective trajectories through life to death over the past three decades.
My friend recalled a statement by Mark Cheverton — the Travelling Secretary for Art for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, who was, with his wife, tragically killed in a car accident in the 1980s. He believed (and we concurred) that art education in the late 70s and 80s suffered from the perilous combination of tutors who didn’t wish to teach and students who didn’t wish to learn. Mark was instrumental in setting up the Leith School of Art in Scotland, where teaching and learning were clearly articulated, contentful committed, and respected. A rich and rare evening.