Ian's Autobiography

From 'About the Author', published 1987

I was drawing a train coming out of a tunnel. I was· four. "That child has natural perspective!" exclaimed a family friend. "He'll be an artist."

But, lying on the floor with my crayons, I went on to draw sailing ships with flags blowing the wrong way, and never knew my destiny.

I was born in Anerley, a hilly suburb of south London, but lived most of my young life (if life is the word for such a stifled existence) in nearby Penge. I don't remember Anerley although I'm pretty sure it didn't by then resemble the romantic view of snow in Anerley, which hangs in our National Gallery. Pisarro painted that in the 1870s, when there were carriages and wide, empty roads and before the gloomy ten­ement fiats had been built.

The house in Penge, which we moved ·to when I was six, I remember chiefly for its garden. My years there were active years; I explored weight, gravity, ten­sile strength. I dug trenches through sour-smelling clay, and swung between protesting pear trees by ropes, pulleys, and car tyres, and shot arrows into the decayed boards of a tottering garden shed, the lawn looked like a churned-up polo field.

When school friends came for a party my mother had a system. They were first changed into old clothes of mine which she had heaped up in readiness, and only then let loose into the back jungle. At the end of a couple of hours, blissfully muddy we ate our chocolate biscuits in the kitchen with hands still black with dirt, while hot water was filling the bath upstairs.

"Come along, let's see who's quickest," my mother would call, and twelve five-year-olds went in one end of the bath and out at the other, were dried, and re­dressed in their own clean clothes, ready to be collected by astonished patents.

"But did you have a good time?" they would whisper doubtfully, looking at their spotlessly dean offspring.

"Oh yes, very good " they replied.

When I was alone, I sometimes used to daydream, but in a peculiar way. Neighbours could have seen a tall boy in shorts, skipping up and down the garden path, up and down, up and down, for an hour at a time. I said I was " thinking." Of perfection, I suppose: toy engines that wouldn’t come off the rails, bows that would shoot for half a mile . . . But mainly it was an active life. There were few. cars then; we kids could chase each other across: grav­elled side roads, trespass in allotments, scrump apples from the long gardens which lead down to the railway. Once we packed breathlessly on the footplate of a hiss­ing steamroller. On Mondays I lit the wood shavings under a boiler and when everything was bubbling away smashed the washing up and down with a wooden “podger” for my mother. Young boys can be pretty destructive. Catapults which propelled a stone right through a pane of glass were one thing, but the brass-nosed twenty-five pounder shell, from the First War, that stood as a door jamb in the sitting room was quite another. We'd had our eye on it for weeks.

One night four of us managed to carry it in an old suitcase to a derelict house we knew in. Anerley. With hearts pounding from both ,fright and the exertion, we struggled with it up countless spiral stairs, our feet echoing in the gloom, and somehow poised it over the top banisters. Below us, five flights down, we could barely make out the tiny square of a hall. We stared downwards for a long half-minute, then summoning our courage, let go. Straight as a die it arrowed down­wards, four pairs of eyes drinking in every thrilling de­tail, until it burst right through the one-inch-thick floorboards. The echoes of the crash were still with us as we tore down the stairs and out into the garden, scrambling over the fence into the main road. I don't remember whether or not we got the shell back.

There were some positive things. At some point my best friend (all friends were boys, since all schools were single sex and I had no sisters or girl cousins ex­cepting one in Africa) and I started a magazine. My father, an indulgent journalist, arrived home with a packet of roneo paper that seemed. like gold. Somehow we bought gelatine, borrowed a baking tin, and lo! we had a homemade hectograph.. Someone must have had a typewriter, unless we hand wrote the copy. I can't be sure, but I do recall the magic .of peeling page after page ,from the gelatine bed while the violet image gradually faded through the surface. We sold it to aid sick animals. I've no idea what we wrote about, but I know I did "cartoon drawings” to illustrate proverbs. It’s a pity no copy exists (we ran three or four issues) because it's. likely to remain my only venture into publishing.

I was also launched, briefly, into commerce. My Uncle Alfred, a tall, bony man with great charm 'and, rumour had it, any number of unchurched wives back in Ceylon, was a tea planter. Every year and a half or so the phone would vibrate to his booming voice; he would be at the Strand Palace Hotel in London; he had squandered all his salary on some orgy of pleasure or misplaced business deals; he would now be descend­ing on us.

Sometimes the call was from the police; they had a Mr. Ribbons locked up at Bow Street who needed bail. A little matter of a street disturbance. My mother answered once.

"Which Mr. Ribbons?"
"Mr. Alfred Ribbons," came tile reply.
"Has he had a cup of tea?" asked my mother,
"Why, yes,'~ the sergeant assured her,
"And has: he a blanket in the cell? And a bed?'''
Again the slightly surprised reassurance on these details...
"Then I suggest he stays there until the morning.”

But of course my father, who was the elder brother, had to set out again by taxi as soon as he got home and, poor as he was, pledge the money for bail.

Alfred would try anything. I can see him 'now, 'testing the strength of an eggshell. He balanced it carefully upright on the table, smashed it from on top with one huge fist, and sat indignantly with yolk all over his face. "That man was a liar," he said in an amazed voice.

Where Uncle Alfred intimately concerned me was with his tea. He'd got impatient with the steady but modest profits from selling to wholesalers; he would henceforth deal directly with the customer. Pencilled calculations showed, in a tea-drinking society like Eng­land, what enormous pickings lay for the asking in our area alone; beyond, they could be astronomical.

And so the business began. .soon our conservatory sprouted not plants but large tea chests of broken orange pekoe. All weekend I weighed out the measures of pounds and half-pounds while Alfred blended different types from the chests and I licked the specially printed gummed labels and sealed the packets. The next phase of the operation demanded diplomacy - and my old bicycle. After school, heavily laden basket tied across the handlebars, I worked my way down the surround­ing streets knocking on doors, "It's really excellent value. imported direct from the Ribbons' tea gardens," I was taught to say. And the good ladies were touched by my youth and usually bought a packet or two.

But Alfred was nothing if not impatient. My mother said afterwards that he'd started mixing in infe­rior stuff to increase the profits. Somehow, quite sud­denly, it all died away, leaving only a couple of half empty tea chests' to be shared among our friends while Alfred set sail again for Ceylon. A lesson in keeping faith With one's public, perhaps.

During my first year at grammar school three accidents shaped my life. I outgrew my strength and felt like a beanstalk.; I had to wear glasses;  and  I chipped a kneecap so that for two years I was off games.

I became more of a dreamer than  ever. " Dreamy Dick," my mother sighed, when I failed to find some­thing sitting right under my eyes, I'd always read a lot: canoeing up the Amazon, fighting grizzly bears - any tale from the stereotyped "boys' adventure books" of the period carried me out of Penge. Now at school I was introduced to shapely writing, of Lamb and Addi­son-and particularly Hazlitt. Although I still asked for The Wind in the Willows as first-form prize.

I tried writing myself once: I'd been deep in some tale of the Spanish Main, of which all I remember is the word "harbinger." (Earlier, at about eight, I heard, from Shakespeare, another word- "Syracuse." Pro­nounced the English way, "Sire-a-quuse,." its vowels dripping with sweetness, to this day it suggests, to me all the riches of fairyland.) Now the word harbinger set me off on a three-chapter beginning of some pirate nonsense of my own. Given shyly to an English teacher; it was returned without a word and finally, and suitably, burnt. A lesson, had I then known it, to write only what one knows.

Creativity, such as it was, at that time took a the­atrical twist. I became involved in puppets, I had al­ways loved tools and woodwork., not for the ludicrous objects We brought home from school-a twelve-inch high sock airer, a metal brazed and riveted shovel too small for even one decently sized coal - but now de­voted to making marionette controls and joints. Fret­work was still a hobby then, and grown men cut floral scrolls out of plywood to support bookshelves, but per­haps fortunately I never possessed a fretsaw although I studied hungrily all the catalogues. Instead I spent hours with chisels, carving a skull and skeleton hands for a “ghost” puppet out of pearwood.

In 1936 or 1937 we'd moved again, to a draughty flat in a high old house with a cat run of a garden. A disused treadle for a Singer sewing machine became, with a thick planked top, a work bench; in the dappled shade of a holly tree, fighting the gloom of the dismal chant of hymns which on Sundays floated from the open windows of the church next door, I chiselled away for hours. You couldn't see much over the high hedge into the next garden, but often I caught glimpses of a bobbing bowler hat. Below it, an elderly man with a goatee, very neat in black coat ·and white collar some­times emerged with some wood in his hand. He seemed to live in his garden, where he stockpiled timber of all kinds - fencing stakes, boards, even cut branches and twigs, all meticulously sorted. He'd been a cabinet ­maker once.

Now this  is a piece of native yew," he would tell me, turning it against the light. From him perhaps I grew to love the fed of wood. A sweet shop on the corner sold not only bullseyes but three-ply by the foot, so that the aromas of aniseed and resin. mingled In a most satisfying way.

You might ask why puppets? - Well, actually they were with strings, so marionettes, and were inspired by a touring theatre run by a friend of the woodwork mas­ter at school. Mr. White must be long dead by now; even then the veins above his sensitive nose swelled to inner tensions as he poured the frustration of a barren civil - service job into marionettes. In the miniature attic of his terrace house he would spend hours perfecting the choreography for, say, the "Teddy Bears' Picnic" or PonchieIli's "Dance of the Hours," while one boy rewound again and again the portable gramophone and the rest of us, wiling conscripts from the school's woodwork class, leaned over the backdrop and tried to 'copy his delicate use of the controls. It is surprisingly difficult even to get a marionette to walk without let­ting its feet slide. This necessitates one of the great joys of puppet making: drilling a hole in the back of the shoe or foot and filling it with molten lead, which singes and smokes the wood. After late rehearsals I was introduced by the other boys to another delight. A halfpenny packet of chips - french fries but thicker - ­liberally sprinkled with salt was heaven on a winter's night.

For Mr. White drove us hard. He ran a whole theatre, complete with lights, a stage with platform behind for us to stand on, curtains that ran on brass slides, backdrops of scenery, and whole trunks full of the various characters needed for a wide repertoire­ - all of it able to be unscrewed to travel by van. We gave shows for charity-boys' clubs, old people, even once, I swear, to the blind - but here I must surely be mis­taken.

From all this I learned about team work, that others often had better ideas and skills than myself, that I was a bit clumsy.

I've said nothing yet of my family. My mother's fa­ther was a ship's engineer; her mother travelled with him. A stern Edinburgh specimen, she would, I'm told, enter any shop in Hamburg or Bremen, sit with umbrella upright, and demand, "Fetch me someone who speaks English” - and wait. My father had begun life as a spruce young journalist on a provincial paper; but some disappointment had ·soured his life, and at this period he was the underpaid, temporary editor of a trade paper to do with brewing. Maybe his mother was at fault; all the Ribbons women seem to have been the cold, goddess type.

His sister had been the family favourite, Very handsome, she towered six feet in stockinged feet and was called by her diminutive husband, my Uncle Charlie, "Mummy." Standing erect, she would stare scornfully into the distance while he scurried round the car to open the door for her. Uncle Charlie’s true shape was always hidden by huge plus-fours - he was a fanatic at golf. "If I died on a Monday," my aunt would say calmly, "I wouldn't be buried until the following Mon­day so that Charles needn't miss his golf."

On Thursdays, paydays, my father would tele­phone from his office. "Just got to see one more man, be on the next train." The voice was confident, reassuring; my mother would set the oven. The next train (we could see it across a field) came and went. An hour or more's silence. Another phone call - a bit con­fused, slightly slurred: “Been held up... leaving now." My mother would compress her lips and turn down the oven.

After this, nothing for hours. Finally, about three in the morning, I would be awakened by long rustling in the hallway, sudden blundering crashes, a creaking up the stairs; and my father, hat askew, would stagger into the kitchen supported by a helpful sailor, or po­liceman, or someone else equally drunk.

"Couldn’t help it...," he would mutter sorrow­fully. His stained hands inched forward a best Finnan haddock still wrapped in brown paper. My mother, refusing both conversation and the peace offering of the haddock, grimly served up his-dried-up meal; while my father sat collapsed in a kitchen chair, clamping his jaws (false teeth now in his handkerchief), blinking bloodshot eyes, and looking exactly like a con­trite Winston Churchill.

The sense of my father's despair about life (al­though he could be amazingly good company at times) and my mother's struggle to make ends meet money wise, made home simply depressing for me. And, by association, the whole of south London.

At school, English was my great pleasure. Harry Rae, later an important figure in the war-time French Resistance, was then a dynamic graduate fresh from university who lay full-length along his desk and waved into us a love of Keats and Browning, To an essay of mine savaging the pretensions and shallowness of Walter Scott he gave full marks, Jane Austen was my favourite. Not only was I in love with Emma Woodhouse (how would I have behaved as, Mr. Knightley?), but her ironic and balanced language conveyed hidden depths, a sense of real people who had lived in historic times. Jane Austen knew Trafalgar and Waterloo, yet her world of country village and Bath Pumproom ran on regardless.

l took Higher Schools Exam (now called A levels) in Latin, English, History, and Art. I coped with Latin, Art I could do on my head; that left History. I had loved leafing through illustrated stories of old England, but now history was medicine~ resolutely swallowed. Arid statistics, political motives, the colonisation of Africa - God, what a bore they made it! Yet for some reason I assumed that I would go to Oxford to take a degree in it, which was what everyone else seemed to be doing. A career in the civil service loomed bleakly in the grey future.

Around this time I was a tiny part of history, and half knew. it. The war was on; the British expeditionary force had been outflanked by the Germans in Belgium, the radio news was full of one word, Dunkirk. All one day, long trains packed with soldiers who had escaped from the beaches, British, French, Canadian, crawled past the foot of our sports field on their way from the coast. First one classroom emptied, then another, then the word spread and with masters making little protest the whole school straggled on to the field. Someone remembered the tuck shop; we raided it bare and climbing the wire fence and the steep embankment, raced to offer up chocolate to the grimy men, in filthy uniforms who leaned, too exhausted to speak, from the carriage windows. I never realised until then the sheer physical strain of war.

For some years I'd worked on farms in the holi­days to get a little extra pocket money. In 1940 I picked hops through the Battle of Britain. Four pence a bushel we were paid; now and again we paused, a half stripped vine across our knees, to watch a smoke trail end in a dull explosion as "one of ours' or "one of theirs" fell to earth.

It was during the London air raids that for the first time I encountered obsession. Mr. Cheetham, the hoary old cabinet maker who kept bees and wore heavy flannel vests in summer, had married a second time. My mother thought she had been his house­keeper. For Mrs. Cheetham lived for polish. She dusted and washed and polished from morning to night, paus­ing only to wander through the open hall moaning softly, "Oh! Whatever shall I do?" Doubtless that was why Mr. Cheetham lived in his garden. Magnificent Empire furniture hid its lustre under dust sheets in one closed room while they sat in a kitchen without heat, by gaslight. (In another room, many years later, I found stacked newspapers, tools handmade when he'd been an apprentice, packets of screws tied end to end - ­the preserved junk of a lifetime.) Mrs. Cheetham had never been to London, or to the cinema; she went out for just one half-hour a week to shop at the Co-opera­tive stores next door.

During the first big raid Mr, Cheetham came to our church shelter distraught; nothing could persuade Mrs. Cheetham to leave her home. You could already hear the droning of the planes when my mother went to argue. It was useless. "Suppose a bomb dropped on the house when I wasn't here," the poor woman moaned, her white hair undone, wringing her hands and staring at the polished antler hat-stand. And there my mother had to leave them, while the ack-ack guns barked down the road.

Although the war rumbled on, it must have been at this period that I had a love affair with a second-hand sports bicycle. At seven o’clock on any fine Sun­day morning, I strapped on water bottle, put tyre le­vers, puncture outfit, sandwiches, and a book in the saddle bag and took the empty road to Westerham, in Kent. There seemed to be no cars at all. By midday, invigorated yet pleasantly tired I was, lying face up in the grass near a river bank. With only the sound of insects and the faint rustling of trees to distract me, I opened Walton's Complete Angler, and tried to feel my way back into the seventeenth century.

"How marvellous to be reading of the countryside while lying in such lovely country," I thought. Then; "How clever of me to think of coming out to such an ideal spot for reading." Suddenly I realised I was thinking of myself and not of the book at all. And I gave up and simply gazed up at the sky.

Except when I am forced to in libraries, I can never read "in comfort" I always devour my books at the kitchen table, or on trains…

Then sometime before the exam I opened a book in the art room. It was a large volume of reproduc­tions of paintings by the French Impressionists. I was spellbound. Here at last, in page after page, was the wonderful yet realistic and homely world I hungered for: family scenes, by Renoir and Bonnard and Sisley, of houses and gardens and girls in white, set in sun­shine, radiating happiness. All was in movement, flags fluttering, boats floating, clouds… The very names of Argenteuil and Neuilly suggested romance - Parisian suburbs that seemed so different in spirit from the Anerley I knew and which they otherwise somewhat resembled. Ignorant as I was of history, I wished with all my heart that I had lived in 1880. I didn't realise just how much the artist had made the romance.

It was not until I was over forty and saw a docu­mentary film made from actual silent shots of Paris in 1900, including the pathetic "bird man" who flapped to his death from the Eiffel Tower, and showing the miserable poverty of ill-fed, dirty artisans following a funeral in the snow, that I fully accepted the other face of that bygone age.

It was probably the Phaidon book of the Impres­sionists that finally started me on the art road. I was given a private corner of the art room where I ground my own powder colours with linseed oil and painted large and cheerful images of Brighton and Hyde Park from memory, on cardboard. One day they showed me the life room, with blazing stove, at the local art school, and half-terrified by the smell of turps and the sight of actual girls (I had met none until I was seventeen), I Was enrolled at Beckenham School of Art. This must have been in 1941, when a wandering Messerschmitt could loose off a few random shots at the back win­dows. We boys took turns fire watching, for three shil­lings a night, in coal scuttle-helmets and knew our days were numbered before the inevitable call-up.

Instead of a grammar school built like a brick ba­ronial castle,. my work place was now a low corru­gated-iron hut with a balcony, looking like a rather battered and extended cricket pavilion. Art school was a totally new way of life. We lined up in the mornings outside the caretaker's cubbyhole to buy a halfpenny sheet of cartridge paper for the day  -or two sheets if we felt productive. At that time art schools tried to give you a broad smattering of all sorts: perspective, anat­omy with the names of muscles, learning the classical orders of architecture, costume, etching, weekly "com­positions" to subjects like "wash day" or "shopping”' and last but most important of all, life drawing. In summer the heat from the coke stove in the life room sent the smell of turps and oil right to one's lungs - one was probably high on it. Rubens was our God; I cross hatched and modelled up muscular thighs with an HB pencil until my figures looked like twisted horses.

The first shock of confronting a nude model very soon gave way to the lasting strain of sitting in the same room as girls. I'd never felt so gangling and clumsy; in all my two' years there I never really got used to that.

Beckenham had some highly coloured characters. Not least John Cole, the Principal. He was a man of intense enthusiasm equalled only by his chronic dys­pepsia. Every sentence was punctuated by a smothered belch. There was always some emergency needing instant attention, "Two' of you (belch) bring a ladder and follow me!" he would scream while rushing ahead to dam the flood from a leaking tank, or spilt acid. Or to corner a rat in the girls' cloakroom. He conducted re­search - "Write down the six most-famous artists in the world (belch)," he would bark, and be off somewhere before one could get a pencil out. "Rembrandt, Van Gogh," we would dutifully write - but I don't recall the lists ever being collected.

I was going to specialise in illustration, and tiny Wolf Kassimoff got us books on Rowlandson and Dau­mier and Constantin Guys to pore over. It was then that I realised my aim was to master for myself some­thing of human gesture, the telling action of a figure. I did some memory sketches' from the Home Guard, but as I was also fascinated by tight and shade, I developed a style of hesitant touches - so hesitant that almost nothing was there. I found that builders' lining paper was both cheap and made a good base for pen and wash; on it I drew street scenes of Penge, of roof tops by moonlight. One I still have shows at least the sadness of that district.

I worked hard - we all did. In the final weeks before sending up testimonies of study to try for entrance to the Royal College of Art, I slaved late into the nights to finish and mount sheet after sheet of delicate water­colours to Hans Andersen, costume studies, decorations for "Three Men in a Boat," copies of Persian textiles, and, of course, my own Home Guard sketches. When the letter came saying that I’d gained a Royal Scholar­ship my mother was ecstatic, and I couldn't believe it.

The most important thing to happen to me at art school was the sudden release of my feelings, bottled-up for too long. Beethoven was responsible. I should ex­plain that when I was no age at all I used to get taken to Grant's Department Store in Croyden, where women in black played "light music" in the tea room. Their sugary scraping made me almost physically ill. Later I’d become the proud possessor of the lowest known exam results in school music, two out of fifty. And my mother's Scottish highland songs played on the piano seemed mournful beyond words.

But at art school i heard people discuss music se­riously. I began to listen myself: Then some more; then every evening: Njcolai, Delibes, the Rosamonde over­ture - all tuneful stuff even on our steam radio. One Sunday morning Beethoven's Seventh was on. I was in the Home Guard, and I stood transfixed by the radio, my rifle and steel helmet ready to go with me on parade, while the Scherzo wreaked the full havoc of its power. I staggered out of our sitting room with, quite truly, a changed view of man and the world.

Beethoven became my God (Mozart was then no­where) and within one year I had thrilled to most of his orchestral works. Other composers too, of course, but when I could, Beethoven. And since Beethoven is the supreme unlocker of stifled emotions in adolescents (ac­tually I do consider him the most universal artist who ever lived) he lead on, literally, to first love. A gramo­phone concert at the library, his Eighth Symphony, the tonal modulations in the finale churning my stomach, a wild exit into a thick November fog and therefore an excuse to take the arm of a blonde siren I'd drooled over for weeks, in order to escort her home, while we felt our way inch by inch along the kerb - I was in heaven, unable later to do more than gaze on her firelit legs as the whirling drones of the music resounded through my skull. I was hopelessly infatuated, with her, with love, with life. There followed other girls, all of them no doubt wondering why this gangling youth did nothing to them but talk.

It may seem strange that I got more from music at this period than from art. But it should be remembered that in war time one could see few real exhibitions. The National Gallery showed just one picture for a month… the rest in store, safe from air raids; whereas one could hear Myra Hess or the Griller Quartet playing below the bare gallery walls any lunch time for a shilling.

What of books? Well, for me they were French: Flaubert, Anatole France, Maupassant - varied writers but all taking me out of Penge just as the now-out­grown "boys' adventure" books had done, and who somehow seemed, in my ignorance, to picture a gentler and sweeter age.

Through music I met my first poet. He put on record recitals at the library, Norman Harvey was frail and hunchbacked, with a biting tongue; most people were afraid of him. By day he was a railway mileage clerk at Camden Town, but his real life was split between Beethoven, Brahms, and Elgar (in that order) on the one hand, and poetry and English Jacobean prose on the other. He showed me some of his poems; he seemed to like me. Twice in my life I've had a close relationship with someone tiny - I am six feet four. He later met me on my last free night in England before embarking with the army for overseas. We stood in the promenade area of the Albert Hall and were swept up by· the Choral Symphony and I understood something of the richness of London life that I was leaving behind.

For, some months before that, I had received my call-up papers. "Just keep away from everything that goes bang!" And with a last belch John Cole waved me a cheerful goodbye.

I don't know if it's the same system now, but in war time, recruits, or rather conscripts, for the army first did primary training for six weeks, then corps training - to prepare you for being a cook or an engi­neer or a gunner or, most usually, an infantryman. Finally you were sent to a unit. For my primary train­ing I was sent, can you believe it, from London to Fort George on the Moray Firth near Inverness, a mere five hundred miles or so.

We were given a straw mattress and a bunk in a Nissan hut, and then taken, a straggling line of youths in "civvies" to the· quartermaster's stores.

"Size?" the sergeant barked.
"Thirteen," I admitted.
“No thirteens, try these." And a pair of boots, size twelve, came sailing through the air at me. Denims, grey socks, awful underwear followed.

We were by the sea; the wind came in all the way from Norway and could blow over a milk bottle. After hard work all morning we queued up, ravenous, past pails of rancid washing-up water to take turns at the tables in a vast hangar-like dining hall. ' One man each table, E Company!" someone shouted from the end and two score men would race to collect their tables' tray of mince and mash.

One day, after a week, I noticed the sergeants winking, leaving their plates untouched. They said they weren't hungry. That night I awoke with strange rumblings, urgent demands deep in my insides. As I clambered down I saw other figures groping towards the door; for the rest of the night whole hut-fulls of conscripts were running, stumbling to the latrines, holding their stomachs and groaning.

The army, liking efficiency, had laced the food, to clean everyone out thoroughly so as to be ready for a fresh start.

I spent six weeks at Fort George, never out of the smell of the sea. On route marches the gnawing dis­comfort of being too tall - socks riding down under my heel, gaiters popping out of the trousers, keeping in step with midgets - could be offset by the glamour of bagpipes played by Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders, the music stirring me to ideas of what I’d look like in a kilt. But in fact I was sent to the artillery.

There was a possible sideways variation to the army system. Boys like me, with some exams under their belt and who could shout loudly, could be sent for officer training. During which, after a particularly dreary day of riding a motorcycle in convoy through a winter mist at Wrotham in Kent; the sergeant-major sent for me.

"Well, Ribbons," he said, "You're lucky. Or unlucky, if you prefer it. You're going to India."

I was a last-minute substitute for someone who'd fallen sick and was off the draft. So I said goodbye again to Penge and parents, and joined the truck loads of other cadets being taken to Liverpool.

There we embarked on something ~ed the S.S. Strathaird, a Peninsular and Oriental liner pressed into aged service. Conditions on a troopship for four hun­dred cadets below the waterline on E deck you can imagine. Not enough hammocks, or sinks or lavatories… it got so bad some of us slept on the open deck through the Indian Ocean. Each morning we awoke to the cry of “Washee deck!" and scurried to roll up our blankets before the flood of water from the seamen's hoses caught us.

We landed at Bombay. From there the railway, after climbing the Western Ghats wound it's way through a dead landscape with vultures lining the tele­graph wires, to Mhow. Late at night a few hundred cadets, tired, grubby, ridiculous topis stuck on our heads, limped up to the officers' mess. I shall never forget that moment. Two major-domos in turbans and red sashes stood on each side of the entrance. As if by signal, they ceremoniously threw open the high panelled doors, to reveal a vista of polished tables, holding glasses of grapefruit and white napkins. After weeks on trains and troopship it looked like fairyland - we just couldn't believe it.

We had bedrooms for two, lines of them with a common verandah, and each four or so cadets shared a bearer, or servant.

At dawn we were awoken by a brown hand setting a miniature tray, with miniature biscuits carrying ini­tial letters in coloured icing and a tiny pot of tea, out­side our mosquito nets. PT followed (physical training), before breakfast proper; by nine the temperature was around a hundred. We redid all the training we’d done in Scotland; we went once to the Indore races and heard bagpipes as played by an Indian regiment wearing turbans; we learned Urdu.

Since I was going to the artillery I then spent some twenty-four concentrated weeks at Deolali. Deo­lali is so boring a station that the old army had a phrase, "Doolali tap,' meaning insanity. But it was busy. We pulled guns around and did sums about the time of flight of projectiles and had a mess in a straw hut where, after returning from a morning's exercise with the guns out on the surrounding scrubland, we gulped down the most delicious  drink  I’ve ever had, before or since. Nimbu Pani is made from fresh limes. Served from huge clay chatties which kept it cool by evaporation, it burst blissfully right to the back of one's throat.

As the months passed, the landscape became one uniform charred-brown under a relentless sun, until I saw my first monsoon. The old hands had been talking about its coming for days. We were on the gun park; the sky within half an hour grew black; a wind appeared, increased rapidly, then with tremendous force bent inwards the whole straw wall of a gunshed until it broke in holes; and suddenly a downpour came so intense that the rebounding water made a white wall of foam twelve inches thick above the mud.

The next day, a Sunday, it was damp but fine, and I remember the swimming pool was no longer an inert brown pond; it was streaked with green, alive with darting insects; from the steps croaked a toad.

Finally we had one gleaming pip sewn on our la­pels and, complete with tin trunk bought in the bazaar (guaranteed 'insect-proof, ,although they weren't) went en leave to Bombay.

From there I was sent to the first Indian Field Regiment in Ranchi. More guns, more training, tents instead of huts, then with me in hospital from a dam­aged leg, the whole unit upped sticks and departed for' the unknown. After many weeks in bed I set out to rejoin it - without much hope of finding it now.

The main transit base was Calcutta. And its main rail station was like some hell of humanity. Stoves and cooking pots, clothes and bedding rolls, beggars and crippled children with legs like matchsticks - thousands of people seemingly waiting forever; you could hardly step on the platform. If a train came in they surged like locusts. “Bakshish, Sahib! Sahib, Bakshish!" rose on all sides in frenzied wailing; arms stretched to carriage windows, those trying to leave climbing on the train roofs, on the carriage couplings, clinging to the outside footboards....

From Calcutta I took more trains, was halted at rest camps, ·and then took one for several days, by sin­gle track to Manipur, with Jane Austen's Emma in my hand and terrifying chasms underfoot as the engine chomped and puffed its way across swaying wooden viaducts. We carried dry rations. and made tea with a jet of superheated steam from the loco during the many stops.

At Manipur they said the road was closed, and sent us back to. Comilla. Weeks followed; I thought I would end my days in a tent. Then all of a sudden we were trying to haul our kit into a Dakota .that was already dangerously overloaded.

"Don’t mind. that, has anyone got a pencil?' asked the American pilot. He held a crumpled map in his hand. "I reckon. we'll follow the river," I heard him mutter to the co-pilot. Through the open doors I could see mountains, and then I was standing with my bedding roll on an airstrip with noise going on.

"That's the war, laddie," they told me. It was Meiktila. The airstrip had been captured from the

Japanese only two days before. That first touchdown in Burma gave me a picture of the confusion of battle. Hundreds of people, on jeeps or motor cycles or on foot, seemed to be milling round and racing off in all directions. I was completely lost in the middle, desperately looking for a friendly face. "Excuse me…," I would timidly approach a group.

"Are you Headquarters?" they would interrupt.
"No? Then go to hell…” and they would rush away leaving me with my bedding roll. Eventually I spied the black cat sign of my division on the back of a truck, and I climbed thankfully aboard.

War is messy, inhuman, with only intermittent flashes of heroism. Interminable waiting, constant dis­comfort, lack of sleep and often food, and for me the racking strain of trying to do a job for which I was temperamentally unfitted. That first day our jeep had to swerve past some corpses on the road, lying face down. They had been Ghurkha soldiers. I was shocked to realise I too felt nothing for these scorched lumps of flesh which everyone ignored. Repeat them a million times, for each of those millions think of grieving wives, parents, friends whose only contact is a telegram, "With the deepest regret…," and you have something of the appalling waste of war.

And yet the English are always English. The bat­tery was firing a barrage when my truck arrived. "Good to see you," cried the gun-position officer. “We've just made some tea." We drank it, hot and sweet, while the guns pounded away in rhythm.

If you want to know anything of the Burma cam­paign it is all in books. My division, the seventeenth Indian, was motorised and when I rejoined it, was leapfrogging with the British Fifth in a race to Ran­goon. I remember smoking ruins of buildings, a road uphill leading to a village in flames, the golden spires of a pagoda glittering through the dust above one gun position, its bells tinkling; and everywhere the smell of petrol and burnt brick, and the sickly sweet odour of putrefaction. Other people’s campaigns were in snow or mud; my memories of war are for ever linked with fierce sun and cloudless skies.

The picture changes. Malaria, dysentery, hospitals, another troopship, England, and a training regi­ment at a barracks In Dover, with me now one of the instructors. We again played with guns but on the green cliff-tops near Sandown. The rifle range was next to a Kentish coal mine near Canterbury, and of an evening some of us would put on service dress with clean shoes to dance "slow, slow, quick quick, slow" to Victor Sylvester's music at the Leas Cliff Pavilion at Folkestone. This was in 1946, my third year in the army. I was to do one more, the last months dragging towards the magic day when one's number for demob would come up.

But all good things come in time, including my number (84 was it?). I was measured at Burton's for my demob suit) in a virulent brown so awful I never remember wearing it, and I was a civilian again.

If in London you ever visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (the largest art museum there is, I be­lieve) you may pass a dim-lit staircase tucked away behind Florentine pottery which leads to a locked door. Behind the door lay the etching rooms of the Royal College of Art. Promptly at 9:30 it would be unlocked to let in students before the general public, and on and off for three years I wandered alone through the high echoing galleries, past treasures gathered from all the world, Moorish bowls with dragons, tapestries, minia­ture paintings of princesses on an Indian roof - Italian battle scenes chased in silver, a life-sized Bengal tiger carved in wood with a clockwork organ hidden inside which when wound up (never alas in the museum) would let out chilling moans from the wooden soldier trapped under its jaws, paintings, bronzes; I wandered past the products of skill and imagination from every country, from ancient times to this - and wondered how on earth was I to begin.

In the end I did masses of tiny pen drawings to illustrate Bronte and Flaubert and H. G. Wells. Al­though the area I worked within now seems to me in­credibly limited, it did at least develop in me a love of black and white. The feel of a pen between my fingers, the tense thrill of slashing a harsh line across a white sheet, is something I keep to this day. Gradually I left the hesitancy of Beckenham behind. I even tried to draw "straight out" without any preliminary drawing or tracing, although I nowadays find that such a guide (rubbed out afterwards) leads to a greater assurance.

I suppose I concentrated on illustration because I needed to earn a living, and painting seemed too chancy. For, some months before I went to college, during my final time in the army, I had married. I signed the register in service dress with the first girl I'd really fallen in love with. While I was studying, a piece of luck landed us in a nine-roomed flat on three floors at St. Margaret's at Cliffe. The rent was thirty shil­lings - two dollars-a week! This was near my oId training ground at Dover. From the attic window you could just make out the cliffs of Cap Gris Nez across the English Channel; at the back a sweep of cornfields. rustled to hidden lines as our mongrel whippet raced through the understalks.

In the summer holidays I earned money harvest­ing. Six o'clock on a misty morning, when the "cur­rump" of the foghorn off the Goodwins signalled heat to come, saw me trudging uphill to the farm. Now­adays all corn is cut and threshed in one operation by combines, but then, especially on small farms, the reaper and binder still dropped its bundles of corn, ears and all, tightly tied in sheaves which had to be hand stooked into lean-tos, of six or eight sheaves, to dry out. Hour after hour the machine clacked remorselessly over the field.

The regular farm hands, brown wizened men in heavy waistcoats, never even sweated as they forged ahead, leaving me gasping, trying vainly to catch up.

"Nice 'n steady, nice ' n steady," they called. I felt I could murder them, as hidden thorns pricked my bands, and the sharp stalks tore my legs,. and the blue sea mocked me through a cloud of dust.

When I left college I went to a mad house. Which is to say, I began teaching at Guildford School of Art. The new Head, Dudley Holland, with a new staff (in­cluding me) had a vision of a revolutionary dynamo, a great seedbed of ideas, a land of Bauhaas set in leafy Surrey.

“Just look at these,” he snarled, showing us sheets of decorative glass, sandblasted with curlicues. "That's what we're up against." He smashed one or two dis­dainfully against the wall. The first day of term he had a meeting with all students. "What I want here is chaos” he told them. The chaos came alright, more than he bargained for, but as he killed himself on a motorbike he never lived to see it.

Everyone seemed extraordinary to me. They camped out in rotting garages, or leaky attics, or in huge, half-derelict farms in remote country near Dork­ing. Len lived in a damp stone blockhouse on Tele­graph Hill, from which an Admiralty signal station had once watched the Portsmouth coast for Napoleon's ships.

Len's face was cut in two by a perpetual, thin-­lipped smile. "Had a good holiday?" someone asked him.

"Bloody awful, how about you," he answered without a trace of expression. Len kept animals -real animals like goats and a sheep in his garden field. The sheep got stuck in the car door once, trying to get in. He said he'd thumped its head with a starting handle but it just shook itself and came back for more. Actu­ally his wife kept the animals. He hated them.

John put up in a room with newspaper lifting to the wind coming through the floorboards; he found his hot-water bottle stiff, frozen solid, under his blankets one morning. And others, all a bit mad… The staff of the Technical College next door looked on us as an­ other species.

Besides watching; acids do their work-acetic for litho stones, nitric for zinc plates-I had to take stu­dents out drawing. And, for preference, to the cattle market which every Tuesday sent up its .lowing and bleating in the centre of town.

Pigs fascinated me. When they .had to be marked a lively youngster would placidly allow its ear to be held, squeal once indignantly as the punch pierced a pattern of holes stained with dye, shake its head an­grily, and go off in a huff, while its mate stood watch­ing, never dreaming it was next in line. To get pigs to move the men carried a shocker with two knobs' which released a small electric current. Grunting in protest, a huge sow would gradually be forced aside from crush­ing its own litter of piglets to collapse blissfully again, straw hiding its eyes.

"Oh, Ribby!' wailed ii red-haired girl student in tears, "they're being beastly to the pigs.” The cattleman waved his shocker grinning. " Aarh... I dunnow about thaat but it'd do a power of good up the back­side of some people I know." And another pig would be, literally, galvanised into action,

At the foot of the steep High Street stood some stables dating from the days of the old horse-drawn canal barge traffic. They were still partly in use, al­though the old lifting crane for merchantise was crum­bling. With students perched behind the massive forms of the biggest horses I'd ever seen diligently pencilling away in silence among the thick smell of hay and. leather and the acrid tang of horse flesh, with flies buzzing and the sun burning one blinding square on the whitewashed wall, the rest deep shadow - art teaching could be quite idyllic then.

I taught at Guildford more years than I care to think, staying the night between my two teaching days (for I had switched to part-time) in a tiny bedroom with a wire bed that creaked dangerously with every move. It was in a squashed terrace house whose stairs were so narrow that I nightly expected Mrs. Wright, the landlady, to jam halfway up. But for all her bulk - and she was hugely fat - she moved as if on oiled wheels, gently propelling herself, only slightly breathless, from kitchen with breakfast tray to front room, or from kitchen with cocoa to the bedroom. I only saw Mr. Wright's side-view since he never took his eyes off the television.

“Wouldn’t mind the third one from the left," he would announce, solemnly regarding a line of chorus girls.
"Oo; you do go on ... " Mrs. Wright would giggle proudly at her man's: virility.

After an amicable divorce I was living in London again, in that strange no~man's-land of Notting Hill Gate. A series of rooms started with one so filthy that an upset dustpan on the carpet made absolutely no difference. The gas cooker had a strange top with soft edges like fur , but close to I saw the fur was green grease spilled from years of frying pans. One of the two old men who lived at the back would shuffle past in slippers, holding a saucepan.

"The Tharter is not what it was, dear boy. Now when I was with Larry Olivier..."

I had once room in a converted pub, where the high trees of Elgin Crescent meet the smaller ones of Clarendon Road you can still see the Quest. It was then a social club, with some rooms let out. Past a headless mermaid holding a broken lamp at the foot of the stairs, each Thursday the blind groped their way to a room next to mine, On Wednesdays an Old Folks' Club stamped their feet to "Knees up Mother Brown"; played on a wind-up gramophone. The noise drove one nearly insane. One afternoon I crept into the empty room and stuffed a sock down the gramophone horn, but either it made no difference, or they found the sock.

While I was there I was, given a 1927 Austin 7 tourer. I kept it, open and half-gutted, in the street outside. I bought a book, Motor Engineering Explained, and I ground the Austin's valves and rewired it and lay under it, leaves from the gutter blowing down my neck, while I tried to get a spanner where no spanner could possibly go.

It had a leaky battery, but it could run off a mag­neto. To start it each day I had to push hard down a side hill, wait until a precise speed had been reached, leap instantly through the open top without snagging my duffel coat, slam in clutch and gear and anxiously wait for the back-breaking jolt with which the thing would fire into sudden life, and trailing considerable clouds of black smoke make its proud way into the main traffic.

It caused a wild success with the Guildford stu­dents.

Probably the most significant thing that happened ever the ten or more years at Guildford was the holidays. About every two years, when I scraped the money (I was paying for my son at a private school I couldn't afford), I took the boat train from Victoria Station, and following the magnet of sun and clear skies, headed south. I'd been to India and Burma but never Europe until I was past thirty. Ruc-sac, drawing pad, colours, and not much else on my back, I set off for the first time with a ticket to Ryeka, Yugoslavia in my pocket. All night, as I recall, I half hung out of the window as the train trundled through the Ruhr, past stations with no platforms and steam locomotives with giant driving wheels, hissing and smoking.

Salzburg was so hot I got out for a drink, and stayed a week. From Ryeka a steamer takes you down the Adriatic coast as far as Kotar, past Dubrovnik; you can get off three times on route. I drank in the south like wine; with little money on the island of Hvar I simply walked uphill after supper and lay down. A night's purgatory from mosquitoes, despite swathing my head with a vest until only the nose was open to the air, was rewarded with a dawn view across the sea of island after island lighting to sudden gold, as each in turn caught the rays of the rising sun.

Another year, in a Venice youth hostel, an Ameri­can boy showed me what travelling light really meant. He was standing naked before one wash basin, his, pants, socks, and sweat shirt soaking in another. Still streaming wet, he pulled on pants and shirt dripping from the basin, slung a camera and waterproof wallet on a cord around his neck, and leaving behind a spreading pool of wet, paddled out in sopping sandals to greet the morning sun on the Rialto. "Gonna grab the museums," he told me.

On one holiday I was made to realise that the magic of the south had a boundary, beyond which the harsh struggle for existence strikes a sombre note. I was returning along the north coast of Sicily by train, The sea looked so wonderful I got off at a wayside halt for one last swim. I was among Indian corn, it was baking hot, the water ahead a streak of the deepest indigo blue, when a boy appeared with a stump instead of a hand. He began talking, but I couldn't understand him. Then his father came up. He told me he was a fisherman, but his boat was useless', his tiny farm was ruined, the soil barren. He said he had sold up and the whole family was emigrating, to a new life in Syden­ham.

Now Sydenham was my childhood home, the sub­urb near Penge; Just about the most unlikely place to choose from the middle of Sicily.

"Sydenham, London?" I repeated, bewildered.
"Yes. Sydenham, London," he insisted.
He pulled out a crumpled letter. The address was Sydney, New South Wales.
I said, "But this is Sydney, in Australia."
"Yes, in London,” he said
"But London is in England. This is Australia," I told him gently. He was puzzled. "England not Aus­tralia?"
"No," I had to tell him, "England is not Austra­lia."

He looked crestfallen, then he brightened up. They would find a better life, there would be "big fish" in Sydney.

As he put the letter carefully in his pocket, and the boy waved his stump of an arm, the scene changed for me. The cloudless sky looked leaden, the sun depress­ing, the sea merely a void. With no more wish to swim, I caught the next train to Messina, and so to England.

I have sometimes wondered what became of him and his family, travelling so ignorantly and hopefully across the world. Garage mechanic, laundry worker - ­perhaps even rich by now?

And what of my writing? During all this time, I have to admit, essentially nothing. Masses of scraps, beginnings, ideas for an illustrated diary of London, nothing carried through. I did a lot of illustration: book jackets, books, magazines, one or two posters. All forgettable. I painted a little, exhibiting at places like the Royal Academy, but really I was living out a delayed love affair with the world. The whole marvel­lous, visible, tactile world I had never felt real contact with in my youth. I walked for miles.

It was not until a new wife, Italian prodded me to " get down to it" that I really began, or rather finished, anything creative. My first book, Monday 21 October 1805, was arranged like a newspaper relating the events, or rather some of them, that actually happened on the day of Trafalgar, when Nelson shattered the combined .fleets of France and Spain. Even America figured, where Lewis and Clark were shooting the rap­ids on the Columbia River in Oregon.

I had my own ideas about history. I wanted none of the dull statistics of my own school days; I wanted facts to be "real” and vivid. I recalled the museum curator who asked me into his office one rainy after­noon to show me some armour. "You know,” he said, “I have a theory that horsemen in those days had thinner legs because they never walked. Now the curious thing is that I can get on every piece of that armour over there except the greaves. My ankles are too thick.' He pointed to a suit hanging on the wall and I realised he had dressed up in it! Eccentric, perhaps, but he knew the value of a particular detail.

Any illustrated history has to start with the writ­ing and that means research. Day after day I read through diaries and memoirs in the British Museum and newspapers at Colimiale. Newspapers of that time had tiny type, hand set letter by letter, and without a single misprint. Even advertisements can paint a pic­ture for us. In the Massachusetts Spy: "For sale, in main street of Worcester, a Mansion house, and good, well furnished Barn, including a convenient place for car­riages.... There is an avenue on each side through which teams, loaded with wood etc., may pass... " I'll take a bet Worcester looks a bit different today.

For visual research I took my sketch book for sev­eral days to Nelson's Victory which lies in dry dock at Portsmouth. To get one view I climbed a wire ladder, twisting terrifyingly, to the main top. Sixty feet up, sketch book in one hand, holding to the shrouds with the other, l wondered just how, in the smoke and din of battle, with ship rolling, ratlines half shot away, men could climb as high again to the cross trees.

An actual object, a relic like the Victory, gives you a sense of history no book can. When you touch the massive timbers and realise a whole ship had to be built and braced from wood alone, with no steel plates, no fibreglass, with only natural hemp instead of wire rope - you marvel at the shipwright's vanished craft. In Nelson's day Admiralty inspectors rode the Hamp­shire forests marking those elms or oaks which grew to a curve; they were preserved to be used as knees. A ship was designed to "give" a little to the pressure of the waves, and broadsides were actually fired in a rip­ple sequence, since the strain of a simultaneous recoil of all the guns along one side would have been too great.

I wondered about the sailors, perhaps press ganged from the alleyways of Portsmouth and Bristol. Ill-fed, flogged into obedience, discharged to beg in the streets when too ill or too wounded to be of further use - I wondered what such men, brave, brutalised, but still men who could have sweethearts - might have looked like. Then I realised that the type could still be seen, in my own London, working in Billingsgate. So Nelson's sailors in my book are actual fish porters, drawn from life in the early morning of a busy market. “Why don't you draw a barrer?" they would cackle, little suspecting they would later be pictured ramming one of Victory's thirty-six-pounder guns.

Since this first book of mine broke new ground, the publishers sent me on a lecture tour of Toronto, Montreal, and New York. In New York I put up at the famous Algonquin without realising it was where Harpo Marx had hired a suite to shoot craps for whole weekends. I took the ferry to Staten Island and like all foreigners was surprised that the Manhattan skyscrap­ers were brown and pink in the sun, not white. It was December, and one afternoon I emerged from the Met­ropolitan Museum to find the world turned white, all transport stopped, and had to trudge a mile through thick snow. At Idlewild I was holed up for ten hours waiting for flight clearance after the sudden blizzard.

The second book in the series, Tuesday 4th August 1911, the first day for England of the First World War, had the same format. This forced astringent counting of words to fill exactly the space between the drawings, an unusual discipline which was both difficult and a lesson to me on how much a craft writing is. Also I had to become organised. Since I had no idea of the final shape of the story or material until all my information was gathered, all extracts which might possibly be of use had to be copied out on file cards, and carefully numbered and cross-indexed. About 70 percent had to remain unused from lack of space; the material for one book, with all the various folders and photocopies, filled a small suitcase and weighed more than twenty pounds.

I became absorbed in diplomatic history. Through the first four days of August 1914 many hun­dreds of telegrams clicked in code across the world as blundering statesmen tried to halt the coming disaster which simply snowballed. Years later Luigi Albertini spent the rest of his life in an attempt to discover just how the catastrophe which no one had really wanted could have happened. His book of three volumes, of about a thousand pages each, is un-putdownable. After such a milestone legends arise: my mother, like others who lived through it, always swore that the first day of war was gloriously sunny; in fact the weather records prove a day of rain...

For the third book the American publisher suggested Gettysburg. It was a strange feeling being a "foreign author" who was completely impartial be­tween North and South in the Civil War - something I imagine to be almost impossible if you have been born in the States. I put my elder son to use here. His shoulder-length hair at the time just matched some of the Brady photos of Northern infantrymen. Lying squinting along a broomstick, behind a " trench" of cushions, flourishing it as a ramrod - he was very-patient.

Two books for younger readers followed. One set in old Japan arose from a fairy tale I made up while bringing a four-year-old daughter back from school; the other was based on an old houseboat I sketched on the Thames. I did one more history; I was asked to complete some notes I'd begun on Waterloo. Research for this meant only a walk down the road to the Na­tional Army Museum, but it still took ages to complete. Extraordinary facts come from old manuscript letters. Lieutenant Black, for instance, wrote his aunt that her letter had arrived on the battlefield that very morning; the mail cart from Brussels rolled up in the middle of guns preparing for action!

When it came to considering what this momen­tous and bitter battle must have looked like, I discov­ered something quite astonishing. The most truthful reference lies in photographs from the First World War. Men, the thousands and thousands of horses; guns, the Flanders mud which caked and hid the uni­forms, had hardly changed in a hundred years between Waterloo in 1815 and Ypres in 1915. So much for the romanticised paintings of the Victorian period.

As an illustrator, I’ve often had to travel; likewise a lot of my painting, particularly watercolours, is done on the spot. When the Crowd gathers to settle down and watch, say in Bologna or Rome, I pretend I don't understand their language. The Dutch, a polite nation, have a maddening habit of waiting until something is going wrong and then murmuring, “Moie," meaning super or beautiful. And things very often do go wrong. This spring I was in Puerto Rico. I’d walked up to the old fort in San Juan; the sky was perfect, the sea pure azure, a gentle breeze tempered the heat, the view of the battlements was just my cup of tea. And what should happen? The breeze started flicking grit on the paper, The grit became sand, and more sand, until it was sticking in my hair, my paints and even speckling my washes. I was sitting ten feet from the only patch of loose earth within a hundred yards. They probably heard my swearing in the fort.

I was in Puerto Rico because of the British Navy, The Admiralty arranged for me to spend six weeks drawing ship life at sea. I've seldom worked harder and yet had such a good time in my life. Boat drills, gun­nery practice, the Chinese laundry, Barbados in the rain, Antigua, Virgin Gorda, sweating in underpants to paint the engine room, people from stokers to the cap­tain-the subjects were endless. Before I left them in Mayport I drew the U.S.S. Pegasus, on which Bob Holt, the Commander, wanted to take me on a hydrofoil flight. Finally I flew back from Washington sitting backwards on an RAF "crab air" schedule to rainy Oxfordshire.

For me, literature and painting have always mingled. A six-foot canvas stands roughed out on my easel, the last of a series of Largish paintings to T. S. Eliot's Waste Land. Strange that Eliot, an American., should come to write a poem which immortalises London more than any I know. “Unreal city, / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,...” Perhaps one day I'll try to set down my own feelings for that fabulous city I was born in.

I there a pattern to my life? I can't see it. I am sitting at this minute in a high glassed studio with the noise of traffic and an evening sky outside. The Thames is within three hundred yards or so; disorder spreads in my studio much as the plants do on the balcony; my brain is full of projects, many of which I shall never have time for. Except for one damaged leg I feel as young as ever ( I can't afford to be Ill). I shan’t ever retire. This summer I go to Amsterdam to paint as a commission the Leidseplein and tomorrow I begin planning a new book on the navy at sea. Though the publishers would censor out some of the best stones I heard!

And after that, who knows?