It’s November 1968. Laurie’s been in his first job as an assistant lecturer in photography at the Art School for nearly three months. All Laurie’s older colleagues, dinosaurs as far as he’s concerned, are set in their ways and he’s yet to be accepted as an equal. They enjoy denigrating his belief that photography can be a force for positive social change. The worst of them is an autocratic Dutchman, Ivo Aalders, who’s publically accused Laurie of being an incompetent commie bastard. It’s become so intimidating that Laurie is fighting to keep his enthusiasm. He dreads the mid-morning gathering of the all-male staff for a brew and chat that normally degenerates into Laurie being made the butt of their so-called humour.
Each weekday Laurie walks to work down Middleton Street to the Photography department, housed in what was a large nineteenth century Board School. On this morning, Middleton Street is very much as it was at the end of the war in Europe, except for a few TV aerials above grey slate roofs. On each side of the street, the houses that survived the Blitz are interspersed with gaping holes like missing ivories on a piano, forever waiting to be replaced.
On this morning, there’s been a heavy frost and Laurie carefully avoids the icy patches on the pavement’s fractured flagstones and wonders when the council will, if ever, repair them. It feels like a land that time has forgotten. Laurie takes his SLR from his shoulder bag and photographs a rag and bone man, the spitting image of Wilfred Brambell as Steptoe, with his horse and cart as he shouts, Bottles! Bones! Rags!
Just as Laurie reaches the street’s mid-terrace shop, two young boys, dressed in underpants and bright white vests burst out of the shop door. Laurie laughs; they’re both wearing brand new adult-sized Converse black and white basketball boots. As they run, stumbling and tripping, to play on the bombsite, Laurie photographs them. They look like happy clowns with skinny legs and massive feet – a pair of half-dressed Max Walls.
Where’d you get those Converse? Laurie shouts as the boys hurl brickbats at a wooden chair. You look great!
Trans-Atlantic cargo boat, one boy shouts.
Straight off the back of a lorry, the other boy laughs.
Aren’t you cold? Laurie asks.
Nar. You can get a pair off our Jim in shop, if you wants.
At this mid-morning’s break Aalders arrives with a yellow Kodak box of paper and says to Laurie, I’ve some of my self-portraits here. Want a look? Someone titters. Ivo takes the lid off the box to reveal a black and white print of himself, naked, in a forest clearing, wearing Converse black and white basketball boots.
Laurie laughs; he’s had enough of the Dutchman.
Outraged, Ivo asks, What’s so funny?
You are, Ivo. There’s some lads out there wearing oversized Converse boots – they look great. Whereas, you, conversely, look what you are – an egotistical fool with no sense of the absurd.
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© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.