In One Ear and Out the Other

Bill Barrell says his  last year in school was spent gazing out of the school room window…..

…..   ” The teacher would get my attention by aiming a piece of chalk at my head, often with great accuracy, and bring me back from my adventure among the clouds and sky. I was fourteen. Even though I would then sit and pay attention, so much seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

In One Ear and Out the Other, Head with Green Nose
In One Ear and Out the Other (Head with Green Nose), 36 in x 32 in, 1998

 The British school system was set up as to provide a work force with a bunch of muscle, lacking brains. How to add and subtract pound shillings and pence was drummed into us so that we could go out into the world and spend our wages on beer and baccy after toiling in the mines, factories or fields.

I did have the one teacher who I could understand what he was talking about. The art teacher. He would walk around in his tweed jacket with leather elbows while sucking on a pipe and umming and arring over our work. He was big into abstract art of which I knew nothing. He mentioned Miro, I remember. He would encourage us to just make shapes and forms and curvy lines. He liked my work so much that he pinned one up and discussed it. Little I knew this would become my calling ten years later. His was the only class I didn’t daydream in. I still remember it all very clearly, whereas history, science and math is all a blurr.

My first year as a wage earner was spent in the west end of London as a theatre ticket and messenger boy. I had previously found a job in a stained glass workshop at apprentice’s wages. That didn’t sit well with my father as he felt I had to contribute to my upkeep. He found me my West end job saying it would broaden my mind (and give him more to spend down the White Lion). Perhaps it was just as well. Who knows. I probably would be dead from lead poisoning if I had stayed at the glass shop. Maybe my father with his selfish desires saved me from a grizzly end.

Also, being a messenger boy perhaps fitted in with my later calling. Paintings are like messages. They reveal things in us we would never have known otherwise.  We can view things in a different light and peer into the dark recesses of our minds. Art keeps pressing forward, never stagnant always fresh and questioning. For instance, who would have thought a hundred years ago that Damien Hurst’s sliced up cow in formaldehyde would be a priceless museum piece.

So, in one ear and out the other makes me aware of where I came from and perhaps, some things we hear do not need to be retained.”

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