‘But we were travellers, folk that had come far in quest of the adventurous; on the first sign of an adventure it would have been a singular inconsistency to have withdrawn;’
Robert Louis Stevenson In the South Seas Chapter IV
The Obsessive Observationist
A Bit About an Ageing Wastrel with an Elastic Nose
Looking back, I think I must be Grew up in working-class London. Working class? Aren’t all people who work working class? Yes and no. There are nuances. I was raised as one of the less well-washed varieties.
My working-class parents, along with many of their friends and relatives and neighbours, lived under the influence of authority. Those with power and influence told them what to do, and sometimes they did it and sometimes they found ways of avoiding it. What they did not have though, really, was self-determination. Their lives were not seen to be under their own control.
There are reminiscences of my life in the 50s and 60s, written with my friend Roj, on Newington Green 50s and 60s:
Our time as yoofs in them times there then
Our time as yoofs in them times there then
I passed the 11-plus exam (I remember finding it pretty easy) and got a place at the grammar school. My mother was pleased, not because it was the grammar school, but because it was the nearest school, she did not believe in going far to school. Grammar schools took the so-called brightest 25 per cent of the population at eleven years old.
In my year-group at the grammar school very few went on to university. I know of only one boy who did, his name was Vic. If there was anyone else would they please let me know so I can adjust this analysis. That’s pretty damning of the school isn’t it? Just a single one of the intake among the country’s 25 per cent brightest in the area going to a university? No it isn’t really. This was a working-class area and there was quite strong parental and family pressure not to follow-up further education. Not everyone, but certainly many, including my parents believed that.
Why would you not want your children to do well? You did. It’s just the definition of well. Many working-class people thought that education beyond what you had to do at school, beyond what the authorities required you to do by statute, was presumptuous and useless.
Nonetheless, I was one who did proceed to further education. At grammar school I was especially good at art and maths, it being one or the other and under the encouragement of a teacher I went off to art school. But in the evaluation at the end of the first year the work I submitted was such a mess that I was not accepted to carry on with the course. I had absolutely no idea how to submit work.
But I still consider myself an artist. It was disappointing at the time to be rejected, especially when other students were so complimentary about my output, but in many ways the disappointment at art school was a blessing in disguise, for I therefore never had to get involved in the business of Art, summed up so well by Grayson Perry as shown in the box to the right.
William Shakespeare has Jaques say that all the world is a stage and the men and women in it merely players, but I think that’s wrong, I think that all the world is a world, and the men and women in it are people, to compare a street to a stage is to devalue the wonders of the street. (I don’t much care for the theatre at the best of times.)
When I travel about I am not much interested in seeing the sights. Or rather I am, but they are different sights from what are generally regarded as such. In so much co-called travel writing there is an implied expectation that when you visit a place you will want to see ‘the sights’ and experience the events, the eating places and leisure activities that are set before you, which is a pity as so many travellers are missing so much, simply by looking at different things from those that I see. People in a setting, they are the sights. And they are what I write about.
There are all sorts of people in the world. Some like to lead, some follow, and some, like me, to stand on the edge and see them at it, without very much prejudice about what the outcome will be. That sounds more like a scientist than an artist. Perhaps it is.
Anyway, having failed with the art degree I had to get some work, which I did, and at a party in 1967, Stan, the friend of my friend, Douglas, offered me the chance to come for interview as a ‘computer operator’. Stan was a bit doubtful about me as I did not fit the normal application criteria, but he wanted to be accommodating to Douglas. Hence I became a computer operator.
And then at the earliest chance possible, switched to programming. I am unusual in following that road, none of my contemporaries so far as I am aware switched from operating computers to programming them.
I’ve worked all my life – no, not worked, been an installation in places. The actors in the workplace have not had audience participation from me, I just feel them with interest, and leave during the interval.
But I always had this cultural need to make some money and it is by great good fortune that I discovered how worthwhile it feels to write computer programs. That’s what I’ve done, and still do, though I have occasionally got sidetracked and been a systems analyst, business systems manager, company director of a plc and from 1993 to 2005 an an accidental hotelier. I also co-ran a specialist educational publishing company.
Area of academic study was at one time the interaction between people and computer screen displays, and I got a masters degree in that subject, after studying for some time in the psychology department of London Guildhall University, as it was then called.
I live most of the year in Sedbergh in North West England, and part of the year in Santa Vittoria in Matenano, in the Marche region of Italy.
Growing up in London I had lots of opportunity to wander the streets (ie there were more streets to wander than there would have been in, say, a village) and I’ve never tired of it. I would recommend it as a pastime, diversion and hobby – any of those – to anyone.
The Proudly Long Boring Manifesto of Dave Collier