Thursday, 21 April 2011

Intimate lives: My bedroom in 1974

As soon as I got a decentish camera in 1973 - which also coincided with passing my driving test and therefore being able to get out and about as never before - I began the 'documentary' side of my photography. That is, recording myself and my surroundings and possessions. I felt it was important. I was extremely conscious of the transition from teenage life - dominated by school and parental influence - to the much freer life I was now leading as a young person with a career just started, money coming in, and a wider world in which to spend it.

I had high hopes for this new phase. As ever, I was optimistic, but it would take a long time for me to shake off the control Mum and Dad exercised over me. This control was very benign, and very caring. Their motives were sincere; they did not wish me to come to harm. But they did not wish me to grow up either. They feared that I would mess up, and succomb to drink, drugs and general depravity. I was indeed very young in my ways. Perhaps not as naive as my parents thought - I trusted nobody - but I was ignorant and unworldly. I had the wariness of an islander who has never travelled, and is new to the big city. In 1970, when I left school, I was aged 18, but I might as well have been 14 or younger.

In fact my parents need not have worried. I had long before worked out a standard of self-preservation that was proof against ordinary temptation. So (for instance) I did not smoke, and therefore never tried drugs, smoking being the key to that in my circle at the time, certainly at school. And although keen to try drinking, I quickly got tired of monumental hangovers. And I had intuition enough to detect bad company.

Fear of losing self-control, and therefore courting personal danger, had a lot to do with all this. It had a great deal to do with my attitude to sex, which was the attitude of a timid child who had never been told any useful facts. I had unearthed information for myself on the basic mechanics, but I knew nothing about the strong emotions that sex could arouse, and feared them. And there was anyway something very strange and confusing about the whole subject. I had the occasional chance to indulge, the girl always very willing, but I pretended not to notice what the gods so generously offered. I wasn't ready, and couldn't handle it.

Above all, I feared making anyone pregnant, which in turn was based on a desperate wish not to become a father and find myself locked into a conventional future. I did not know quite why I had a horror of this at the time. But I knew that fatherhood was the wrong role for me. Typically, however, I analysed it no further.

By 1974 some things had changed. or were about to. I was still a virgin, but my career was going fairly well, and self-confidence had increased. The big scene with my parents - our first ever argument over a girlfriend they didn't like - lay only months ahead. I was still living at home, and although allowed a lot of freedom, and much use of Dad's car in the evenings, the only place I could in any way really 'be myself' was in my bedroom. And it so happens that I have some pictures from 1974 which could bear some study.

This wasn't the famed Pirelli Calendar. I think some friends had given it to me in Christmas 1973. It was a daring innovation for my bedroom. Look, a girl with exposed boobs! Surprisingly, Mum and Dad said nothing. Perhaps they were relieved that I liked breasts, and therefore girls, and so must be 'normal'. But to me this wasn't simply mild pornography. I liked that calendar picture, and she stayed up there right through 1975. I couldn't have told you why, though.

Facing my bed, I'd painted this huge face on the wall. It was overpowering at the time, and I think it's completely over the top now! But I still consider this to be one of my best paintings. When Mum and Dad moved in 1980, Dad wallpapered over it. I often wondered what the new owners thought when they eventually redecorated. As they didn't mention it when I met them in 2006, perhaps that face is still lurking there under two layers of wallpaper! Imagine having that winking at you for years on end.

And here's me, doing my best Bruce Lee impersonation. I was aged 22 in 1974. I think I look 17.

And in this remarkably tidy corner was the Hai Karate talc (to go with the Bruce Lee image of course), the book of Kenneth Clark's landmark 1969 TV series on art made for the BBC, Civilisation (which I have next to me as I type this post), and the twelve volumes of Understanding Science, which I had built up month by month since aged 7 or so. Mum and Dad had noted an interest in science in me when I was little, and funded the purchase of this publication for many years until I'd got the entire set. By then I'd realised that science (however fascinating) was way beyond my understanding, but I kept these volumes because they were tangible relics of a younger life that had passed by without being fully explored. Even then I felt that my life was not on the right track, would need revisiting, and meanwhile representative artifacts must be preserved. But they have long gone. I must have thought this photo was enough.

There were diaries, and drawings, and work done on codes and cyphers and secret invented languages in my cupboards. But it became clear that sometimes Mum would look at them, and after a single remark about 'some gibberish' that she had come across one day, I destroyed the lot.


  1. Lucy, I never knew you were such a talented artist. Your parents must have been very tolerant. My parents would never have allowed me to paint murals on my bedroom walls.

    Interestingly, I have a cousin who was allowed to do just that. He painted his ceiling like the night sky, complete with moon, stars and comets. One wall was done as a tropical island at sunset. The backs of his doors were done like playing cards, and his baseboard was adorned with a faux mouse hole. His mother complained that it was like another world in there!

    Melissa XX

  2. That painting, it's you, winking at yourself from the future perhaps...

    All of the things we throw away, especially diaries. I have diaries from my 20s, but they aren't the inside diaries I threw out as I grew up.


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