Carlisle, cartoons, and a caveman
In 1964 I got married. We moved to Carlisle where I'd got myself a job teaching typography at the College of Art. It was an agreeable place to live but the job wasn't very exciting. Here I am giving a really interested student some really useful advice.
Why cartoons I don’t know. But one day I thought of a joke, drew it up and showed it to the college librarian. He suggested that I send it to the editor of ‘Punch’. I did: It was politely rejected. But I wasn’t put off. I sent it to the ‘Daily mirror - it was accepted. And they sent me a cheque for £5.
I was still writing songs in my spare time but to no particular purpose; there weren't any folk clubs in the area where I could test them out.
And so my mind turned to other things such as..........
In those days £5 was enough to pay for a weeks groceries. What more incentive did I need? From that time on, each week for about 2 years, I posted off a dozen or so cartoons to one or other of the daily newspapers. In a good week one, or even two, would be accepted
As you can see they were not 'laugh out loud' funny. I reckoned that they didn't have to be. Just so long as the picture editor thought the readers would 'get the joke' that was good enough for him. The £5 was more than good enough for me.
We were renting an old country house. It was fully furnished — and it had a piano. I wondered if I could teach myself to play it. It looked easier to play than a guitar. With the guitar you have to learn how to organise your fingers and press the strings properly before you can play a note never mind a chord - and it hurt your fingers too. The notes on the piano keyboard were just there, in alphabetical order, visible, waiting to be played.
I found a manuscript book of folk songs in the piano stool. I was familiar with some of them and after a bit of practice, found I could pick out and play the melody by ear. But, those I didn’t already know - were a mystery.
I couldn't read the music.
I could see the way in which the keys on the piano corresponded to the position of the notes on the staff
The length of any particular note was shown by its own symbol.That was easy to follow.
The problem was I couldn't work out how they sounded when they were put them together in a sequence.
I couldn't tap out the rhythm.
The chord of C is made up of 3 notes C. E. & G
The chord of C on the guitar
The chord of C on the piano
C E G
The chord of C on the staff
Meanwhile, at the art school I had my typography students designing graphs & pie charts and investigating other ways that complex facts, and concepts could be presented. I talked a lot about analog models and machines, and how they could transform concepts that were difficult to get your head round into a form that were easy to see and work with. A good example of this, I said was - The clock.
The clock face was an analog of time
Later that day I was thinking about this - and had a flash of inspiration.
I set about designing what was later to be officially described as . . .
A fixed frame apparatus with exchangeable parts, the manipulation of which allows for the visualisation, and auditory demonstration of the length of musical notes, and rhythms.’
It was a complicated contraption involving sliding parts, reflective strips, and photoelectric cells. But It did do what it was intended to do. The patent agent said it was ingenious, and what's more - patentable. "This is it," - I thought. "It will revolutionise the teaching of music. I shall have it mass produced. and make a fortune."But I was deluded.
What Mr Pearson didn't say - but very probably thought, was that as commercial proposition it was an out and out non-starter. I probably wouldn't have listened anyway because in my head I was 'an inventor' and on a roll. It was two years before I finally accepted that I was never going to find anyone with the will or the technology to reproduce my rhythmic analog machine by which time I'd already invented MAZE - a game of skill for two people, and WHIRLWIND a family board game with a unique revolving board based on the principle of an AC generator. Neither of these two works of genius could be economically manufactured either. As a working inventor I was a failure.But I didn't have time to dwell on this because real life took over. The first of our three children was born. I became senior lecturer at Stoke-on-Trent College of Art. We bought some land and a half demolished farmhouse, and we spent the next few years living in a caravan while I made the ruin habitable.
Cut to 1991
I'm a full-time author-illustrator now. My publishers have asked for a follow up to 'Ging Gang Goolie it's an Alien'. I'm at the keyboard staring at the screen - I've just come across something that's taken me back to my inventing days of 1966. We have computers now. Everything that my rhythmic analog contraption was invented to do can now be done on a mobile phone. Was I a genius before my time - or simply out of sync with reality? It was through these thoughts that I came up with tthe idea for a story - 'Stone the Crows, it's a Vacuum-cleaner', and a fictional character with whom I could identify; a neolithic caveman named
who is by his own admission . . .
Who doesn't get the recognition he deserves
because, although he has lots of inventive ideas
they are out of sync with the available technology.
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