The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work

Feature of the week  03/02/2019

Northern Stores

Even in the sixties the Northern Stores seemed an anachronism. It was a throw back to a more leisurely age when the purchase of some hinges in a paper bag would have been thought about with great deliberation. It was a hardware shop I enjoyed visiting with my dad sometimes on Saturday mornings when he would buy something for his allotment, perhaps chicken feed or paraffin or a bag of nails for mending a fence. My pleasure at being out with him was increased by the awareness that the next stop would be the shop that sold art materials or the bookshop where he almost invariably spent more on me than he had on his own requirements.

Another shop I loved was a grocers named Blockleys, with sawdust floors where they sold proper coffee beans, the aroma of which was so different from the coffee we drank at home. There was always a queue to buy the cheeses cut from huge roundels. The best

experience was when you paid for something…  the money was put into a drum and went whizzing off along a tram line system up to the floor above. A few moments later, change would arrive and the transaction was complete.

 

Such enterprises are virtually extinct these days, run out of town by the likes of Wicks and B&Q. However, here where I live in Forest Gate, we are lucky to have a local hardware store, Webster’s, where you can still buy a few sheets of sandpaper and discuss the exact coarseness you need for sanding down oil paint with a pleasant and knowledgeable assistant.

 

To my astonishment, Northern Stores battled on after I left home in 1972, run by a very odd pair of brothers who would not have looked out of place in a Dickens novel. Both brothers wore grey overall jackets and had rheumy eyes. I don’t remember the year it closed and boarded up but its memory of as a childhood symbol of freedom stayed with me for many years and eventually I pulled out an early drawing I had made to work it up into a small painting.

 

My home was in a dip amongst row upon row of terraced houses, built in the 1860s to house mill workers. They were huddled together forming a closed, tight knit community of families, corner shops surviving by selling produce on tick and a couple of pubs. Most of the inhabitants had been born within a few miles of Newcastle-under-Lyme, the exception being an Italian couple from Milan who came to work in the mill and a few Polish and Yugoslav refugees who spoke almost no English and who had a special delicatessen where they bought food on the other side of town. All were accepted although there seemed some confusion about their nationalities.

 

When I went to High School in 1963, my walk to school took me on a journey from the low lying terraces to the more prosperous and commercial part of the town on the hill. My 15 minute journey took me through a dark subway, of which we had been warned of a number of men, well known locally, who were often lying in wait. Girls and boys were simply told to walk past quickly and ignore them, which we did but it could still be a frightening experience. By far my greatest terror though were the kids coming in the opposite direction from other schools who enjoyed taking pot shots at the ridiculous hats I had to wear- a pudding shaped contraption in Winter and a boater in Summer. Possibly they mistakenly thought I was rather posh in the school uniform I used to have to wear. 

 

The Northern Stores heralded my arrival at the summit of the hill, and here I breathed a sigh of relief at entering neutral terrain.