I'm afraid that the older you get the more curmudgeonly you get and the more things seem to irritate you. Still, I haven't always been old. Many years ago, about 34 to be precise, I started a new job as a graphic designer on December 8th 1980. I remember the date as it was the day John Lennon got shot which gave me something to talk about and relieved the first day nerves. My boss was a chap called Rob. Yes, same name as me, so I became known as 'young Rob' which kind of stuck. So, you see I was young!
Rob was great, more like a mate than a boss and we had a great laugh. Rob was funny, he didn't mean to be, he didn't crack jokes or anything but he just did funny things. He always got himself into really bizarre situations that only he could manage but always came out seeing the funny side.
Rob's exploits come with a bit of a health warning, not always politically correct but always colourful and definitely funny. I don't really know where to start, rather like Mr Bean he would encounter scrapes on a daily basis. I am reminded of a trip to London, Earl's Court to be specific, for an exhibition. We travelled down the motorway in his Passat Estate loaded up to the gunnels and headed to the big smoke. Now, Rob grew up in Bromley (went to school with David Bowie, don't you know!) and fancied that he knew his way around London. So, instead of taking the proscribed route he knew a short cut through the back streets. So, with panels and boxes rattling around in the back he charged down the narrow streets at excessive speed. We rounded a corner at break-neck pace to encounter a young mother with a toddler and a baby in a push chair in the middle of a zebra crossing. She locked eyes on Rob and froze, clutching her children waiting to die. Rob dropped anchor, all the boxes and panels ended up in the front and as the dust and tyre smoke settled Rob wound down his window and proudly exclaimed, "I f****ing stopped, didn't I?"
Things could only get better, surely? We finally located a multi-storey car park and Rob proceeded to reverse his car into a concrete pillar smashing his rear light. Anyway, after a day at the exhibition we decided to get something to eat in Covent Garden to relax after a stressful day. A lovely meal and a glass of wine, or two, and back up the M1. It was late and the motorway was empty so Rob put his foot down. Thundering up the middle lane at over a ton we inadvertently passed, yep, a police car. Rob immediately slowed down and pulled in right in front of the police car and we stayed like this for about 10 minutes when inevitably the blue lights came on. Oh s***! He'd had a drink, was speeding and a broken tail light, they would throw the book at him! We stopped on the hard shoulder as the policeman, in slow motion, strode up to his window and sounding slightly annoyed said, "Excuse me sir, I have been following you for about 5 miles and your reflector is broken showing a white light to the rear and it's doing my head in, now get out of here!" I couldn't believe it, only Rob could get away with that!
That was one day in the life of Rob. A man who had previously driven in to an open man hole in a petrol station, was thrown in prison in Bulgaria after getting his passport mixed up with a local bandit. A man who drove through a red and white candy striped GPO tent covering a manhole to slow his car down after the brakes failed only to find a worker inside eating his sandwiches! A man who one hour in to an eight hour train journey across Europe in a compartment with a German businessman reading a newspaper had his lemonade bottle explode only to leave his Teutonic companion scraping papier mache Die Welt from his face for the duration of the trip in stony silence. A man who after ripping the sleeve off his brand new tweed jacket as he karate chopped his way into a darkened room suspecting a burglar only to get it invisibly mended and lean on a painted door the next day.
A man who hosted fantastic fancy dress parties only to get stuck in a corridor dressed as a submarine and had to pee out of the torpedo tubes! Or dressed as a postbox where people blew smoke through the opening. Or a daffodil where people had to pour drinks down the 'funnel'. Whatever he did he made you laugh.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, whatever the world threw at him (admittedly, a lot of it was self-inflicted) he came up smiling and joking, always seeing the lighter side and never moaning, never grumpy. He was a good artist, an inspiration to me, an all round good bloke. I would often just watch and learn how he did things, his creative ability and his observation.
Just one more anecdote, but it has a relevance. Rob had a beard for about twenty years, nobody had ever seen him without one, but one day he came in to work and he had shaved his beard off just leaving the moustache. And what a 'tash', you know the sort of Merv Hughes style, well it was the early eighties. Now here's the funny thing. Everybody, but everybody, on seeing him said, "Oh, you've grown a moustache!" People that had known him for decades simply had not noticed that he had had a beard for twenty years...?! I was staggered by their lack of observation..
As artists we have to log our experiences in our memory banks and draw on them in later life, good and bad. Our artwork is an expression of our lifetime. If you don't take notice of what is going on today you won't be able to use it in the future. Observation is the key to being a good artist, you are probably all nodding in agreement, but how many of you have missed what is staring you in the face here? Hmm?