Never going back to that place again, physically and mentally was so true for me in 1987. Although at the time this concept never entered my head, just another new and exciting challenge starting my Foundation Course at Portsmouth College of Art. As discussed in previous blogs, I had become very socially isolated living in Winchester. So what did I do next, move to a new city where I knew no-one.
I remember travelling on the train from Winchester to Portsmouth on the first day of college. It was an hour each way daily, with a change at Eastleigh ten minutes ride from Winchester. I decided to still live at home with my parents despite the lengthy journey. My mum is a great cook if the truth be told. Anyway, compared to my first day at 6th form college, I don’t recall any feelings of anxiety about meeting new people and being accepted. We were split up into different tutor groups of about 12, quite quickly people naturally drifted into sub-groups. I tagged along with what loosely speaking were the misfits, the less trendy people. At first I was a little shy, but my Dad told me to be assertive and try and make conversation if I didn’t want a repeat of past situations i.e. when I was in sixth form. Difficult as it was, I struck up a conversation with a guy who appeared to be on the quiet side like myself. From that moment things would never be the same again.
I gradually made my voice heard and people were willing to listen and interact with me. I think it was halfway through the first term someone decided to have a house party and invited me along. This was great compared to Winchester. My peers viewed me as an equal. I can’t exactly say for certain, but Portsmouth seems a much bigger and more diverse place than Winchester. I remember when we lived in South London, when I was a young boy, I did feel part of something. Our street was full of people from different cultures, Asian, Irish, West Indian etc. However, when we moved to Winchester in 1976 everyone was white British mainly from the middle classes. Yes, there weren’t that many people of different ethnic origins in Portsmouth, but the socio-economic demographics were more diverse. Also compared to Winchester, I found political empathy. I didn’t feel confident to express my political views at sixth form, because most were Maggie Thatcher bum lickers. However, at Art school I found those who I was forming friendships with had shared values with me.
In my second year I became friends with a female, Eileen (not her real name), who had very strong left wing opinions as myself. In my final term, 1989, I decided to move into a terraced house not far from Fratton Park, home of Portsmouth FC. Two rooms became vacant, Eileen took the bigger and I had a tiny box room. Two hours travelling a day was getting to me, although more expensive than living with my parents, I felt it was the right time to make this move. The summer of 89’ was a glorious one, lots of dry warm sunny days spending extended lunch breaks with my peers on South Sea beach and a shared bottle of Woodpecker cider. Anyway, this was when my passion for social drama started – not on the beach, before you ask!
One Friday in June 1989, Eileen asked me if I wanted to go and see this film ‘High Hopes’, by the director Mike Leigh. Leigh’s most notable work arguably is ‘Abigail’s Party’, a cringeworthy comedy drama about two middle class couples having a house party, set and made in the 70’s. Leigh’s work, made on low budgets, is very much about the divides of the English class system. ‘High Hopes’ in my opinion is one of his finest films. Looking back we watched it in a very apt venue, a community centre with the film projected on a temporary slide screen. Amateur, but I thought fitted brilliantly with the context of the film. The central premise of the storyline was how two siblings acted towards their mum. One sibling lived a very middle class lifestyle, ‘keeping up with the Jones’ place in society. The other sibling lived a very down to earth way of life. Leigh made the social comment that it’s those who have the least who are the most compassionate in society. The poorer sibling was the one who made the time to look after his elderly infirm mother. Whilst the middle class sibling was only bothered with her mum on special occasions like a significant birthday, throwing a lavish party that the mother never really wanted. Since watching this film, I’ve become inspired by other film writers like Ken Loach and Jimmy McGovern, who have written and directed fabulous social dramas for the big and small screens. So much so that I’ve been inspired to write a short film script which I plan, in the long-term future, to be shown on television. That’s a story for another blog, peeps.
COMMING UP IN NEXT MONTH’S BLOG, I take a trip to Scouseland and never return…