I have no forward plan for the order in which I write my story, and a comment from my thoughtful blogging friend, calmkate, has sent me reeling back to the mid 1950s, to try and pick apart the secrets which lurked in my father’s brain when he made his various decisions. I’m switching to the past tense, as I have no recollection of the events – I’m just attempting to get to know the enigma which was my father.
In 1954, Antony Basil (Tony) was the father of three sons, Neil, little more than a baby, Fenton, aged three, and Angus, who was five. His first daughter was curled up in her mother’s womb.
The tale that went down in the annals of history was that the family came down to Devon for a holiday, and decided to stay, but it wasn’t that simple. The London home and the photography studio had to be disposed of.
He rented his house to Ken Russell, who’d been one of his students at a time when Tony was teaching photography at The Slade (now called the Slade College of Fine Art), and later became famous for directing such renowned films as The Devils, and Women in Love.
As for the studio in Denman Street, I don’t know how it was disposed of. It’s likely that Tony let the equipment go for a song, or even gave it away.
Angus had an unnamed chest condition, resulting in a constant, deep-thoated cough, which was believed to be exacerbated by the London smog. It’s been claimed that this was the catalyst for Tony’s decision to move the family to rural Devon, but it’s doubtful that he’d have carried out any plan for the benefit of anyone unless it suited him, so we can assume that he moved to Devon simply because he wanted to. Tony had ties with DL Knight photographers, and he secured a post there, as assistant photograper .
Friction developed between Tony and his employer, possibly owing to Tony’s arrogance. Added to that, he was a studio photographer, but now his job involved a lot of fieldwork, dealing with weddings and the like. Wedding photography was far less sophisticated and creative than it is now. He didn’t enjoy it.
He missed the pink challenge;
the careful arrangement of hair and limbs;
the gentle request to arch the back, to raise the arm;
the choice remark, inducing her to lift her chin, imagining
the promise that a kiss brings, the stroke of silk,
or any number of melting things.
He missed the sly click,
which intimately imprinted
her perfect, unready image on film,
every detail in exact opposition to reality,
to be later swished in chemical liquid —
all lies of dark and light made truth
by the miracle of Kodak Bromide.
He missed the thrill of theft,
his arm stretched toward his next release,
smooth hands soaking up the tremble of shoulder;
sliding lower, tracing the line of her spine;
finding the soft flesh of her behind;
a feminine swell flattening against his chest;
his groin pressed against her vacant lot
alert and ready to hit the spot.
Later he’d share his tale of domination,
deftly dismissing the lady, but not the recollection
“A studio photographer,” he would say,
is honed in the art of manipulation.”
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Rather than compromise, he gave up his job, and managed to secure a post as designer for Brannham Pottery. The pottery was a successful company, famous for its traditional patterns and styles.
The products had their own particular look, which was popular. The job of their designer was to come up with similar designs, to prevent the stock from becoming stale. “If it ain’t broken, why fix it?” was their attitude, and it worked for them long after Tony had packed up his pencil and left. He didn’t see eye to eye with the company; he wanted to be innovative, to design pots with an edge, to bring the pottery steaming through the 1950s and beyond. He refused to conform to the company’s standards.
Rather than compromise, he gave up his job.
Wait a minute, haven’t I said that before? There seems to be a pattern emerging…
His next job was that of night watchman somewhere in the locality, but he had to up and move houses to be close enough to the site where he worked.
Tony didn’t like that job, so he switched to farm labouring. It came with a tied cottage, which he had to take, as, otherwise, he’d have been too far from his work. He didn’t get on with the first farmer who employed him (yawn), so he applied to work at a farm nearby, owned by Charles Gott. He got the job. We had to move out of the tied cottage, but for the time being his new employer had nowhere for us to live, so we spent a winter living in three caravans, which were parked up in Mr Gotts orchard.
The following spring, a tied cottage became available to the family. Tony had finally found an employer that he liked, and I’d found my home, the place I return to in my mind, whenever I look out of my living room window and see the branches of the trees swaying in the wind, or when the sun is so bright I can’t see my computer screen. I was six years old.
By this time, Tony was father to three sons and two daughters, which was rather a disappointment to him; he’d wanted to have at least thirteen children, thereby proving beyond all doubt that he was a fine, virile, example of the species – upstanding, if you like.
In the space of six and a half years, his wife had been dragged, pregnant, from the comfort of her London life, where electricity and hot running water were taken for granted, she’d lived in a total of four primitive hovels (and in an orchard,) – each time being uprooted as soon as she mastered whatever antique cooking range the hovel contained, and just as she was trying to establish some kind of life in the community, she’d given birth to two children, she’d endured all of the difficulties of child-rearing on her own – Tony was of no help to her, she’d been demeaned and belittled by an arrogant, selfish, adultering husband, and now she finally had her electricity – once the farm generator was switched on in the morning, and until it was switched off at night. She even had hot water, and a couple of years later my father was paid overtime by Mr Gott, to put a bathroom in the property.
But none of her troubles mattered to Tony. She was a woman, there to uncomplainingly do his bidding.
Now I come to the original reason for this post; when my father moved to North Devon, he burnt his bridges. He messed up. Maybe, if he’d had a choice, he would have taken us all back to London, but he no longer had his studio – or the money to start up a new one. Had he returned to London to work for another photographer, he’d have lost face in that community, whereas switching to farm labouring looked like a bohemian rebellion against middle class values. He had his pride.
So Driven; a Tanka
So driven, this sod, riven
by his selfish, craven needs.
These five fertile seeds;
his proofs of manhood, sinking
‘neath his sticky words and deeds.
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to be continued…
©Jane Paterson Basil