"I'm going to be an architect, Sir", I said.
"Well, you'll need 'O' Level latin to do that," responded the corpulant edifice.
I never did manage to find out why he said that. Was it ignorance or malice? Whatever, it remains one of my main memories of being at a state grammar school run by the Church of England. At the time I was studying for 'A' levels in maths, physics and geography and it had never occured to me that latin might be a prerequisite for 20th century architiects. Actually, the problem went away in the sense that I was struggling with the maths which meant that I had increasing trouble with the physics and by the end of the year I was left doing just geography.
There were also a lot of parties.
I was doing what is called a Foundation Year, which is a general introduction to all the main discuplines of ART as it was then, fine art, commercial art, print making, theatre design and so on. At the end of the year you choose a further course which will be your specialism. I chose Environmental Design at Barnet College of Further Education.
Environmental Design was/is on of those 1960's type of courses that could mean almost anything you wanted it to. It could be designing bollards for shopping malls, painting murals, cladding for ugly office blocks, street theatre and so on. My roommate in halls, for instance, spent much of his time building wattle and daub huts on the college lawns. He never got very far with them but it was always a great talking point.
I became really interested in language in the environment. Both in terms of street signs and advertising hoardings and in terms of buildings as cultural symbols in the sense of semiotics and Roland Barthes. This turned out to be one of the very few things Environmental Art at Barnet did not include.
My interest in language and in particular poetry went back to my schools days. When I was about thirteen or so a student teacher had set us a ballad to write for English homework. To my surprise I found the exercise both easy and fascinating and have experimented with various forms of poetry and creative writing ever since. As I became more disallusioned with the course I was studying - the feeling was mutual on the part of the staff teaching it - I become more and committed to the idea of pursuing a career as a writer. I send off a collection of what I called poetry to a small independant publisher suggested to me by one of the lecturers who had a side line in designing sleeves for poetry books.
So I left art college without completing the course and threw myself into the Sound Poetry movement, going to workshops and gradually getting myself invited to take part in performances and contribute to exhibitions. I also learned to publish and distribute my own work - considered a virtue, not a cop-out, in such circles.
As you might guess, my new found career was high on aesthetic and emotional rewards but decidedly low on the financial kind. I had to get a job.
After about three or four years in various bits of the Civil Service I was making a bit of money from poetry and thought I should give up the day job. By this time I was heavily involved with education schemes which placed writers in residence in schools and colleges for short periods of time. I was writer in residence at a large London comprehansive for a number of years.
In addition, several of us had formed a group to perform and exhibit our work collectively and had begun to be invited to art festivals around Europe including such cities as Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin. As a result of this we also did some radio shows and the odd, very odd, TV spot. Word must have spread because we were soon invited to a major art festival in Toronto. However, by the time we got there the group had fragmented and we all turned in solo contributions. I carrried on quite successfully as a solo artist for a number of years during which time I toured France with the help of the British Council and took part in a big festival in New York.
For some time I worked in a select little hotel in Kensington where film stars were wont to stay when in town working. I had a job as a room service waiter and had many envigorating conversations with the stars.
"Can I get you anything?", I enquired.
"No thank you," Peter Lorey replied.
"Is there anything else?", I enquired.
"No thank you," replied Catharine Ross.
"Is there something wrong?", I enquired.
"Yes! Where is the salt", demanded Shelley Duval.
Scatman Cruthers also stayed at the hotel while he was filming part of 'The Shining' with Jack Nicholson. He was full of stories and would get out his tenor ukelele at the drop of a hat and sing old comic songs such as 'Some of My Best Friends Are Shoes'.
By then the alternative cabaret scene scene was thriving in London and we did turns at some of the more esoteric venues. We also, somehow, ended up several times on a Saturday morning TV show for kids called "No. 73". We regularly did TV and radio slots in continental Europe and many radio shows in North America but getting involved with any sort of mass media as an artist in the UK was almost impossible.
But I was changing. I had discovered computers. This all came about through working with a saxaphone player who was doing a PhD at the Royal School of Mines - part of Imperial College. We used one of the School's computers in the evenings and developed as system for turning words and phrases into graphic images. My colleague did all the programming and the ideas were largely mine. This prompted me to buy a Sinclair QL, which I still have to this day. I started to learn BASIC.
I also discovered the philosophy of science through reading some of the text books for my wife's psychology degree which she was taking a Birkbeck College. I was now just over 30 years old and it felt like time to go back to college myself.
I embarked on a designer education that was to be composed mainly of the philosophy of science and a significant amount of computer science just to see how far I could get with it. I found a lecturer on the BSc Science modular degreee who was able and willing to supervise me and set off. To my surprise I had some aptitude for computer science and actually enjoyed the maths, discrete maths that is. So I could do maths after all.
As the course progressed I build more and more logic and computer science into ti while retaining the philosophy of science. My interest was such that when I graduated I determined to continue work in computer science and was able to gain a place at Imperial College to do an MSc in Fait (Foundations of Advanced Information Technology) under such people as Robert Kowalski and Igor Alexander.
I was now solvent and a mathematician
So I retrained in Virtual Reality.