Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • It had been a fight to be allowed to attend art classes that were part of the Kingston Art College curriculum. My mother had insisted that I learn shorthand typing at Hollyfield School so I could earn my keep when I reached sixteen.

    I started the shorthand class a whole year behind all the other girls. Whilst I was struggling to understand how to phonetically record sounds of speech written in strokes of varying thickness, length and position on the line of the page; the other girls where transcribing whole phrases made up from the basic code, simplified. I found it hard to remember which signs went above the line and which sat underneath the line. Practicing the system was difficult because I had to remember all the rules equally and instantly for the right sound or group of sounds whilst taking dictation.

    At the same time I carried on pleading to be allowed to take art too. Eventually, my parents had a meeting with the Headmaster, who suggested that I could attend art classes whilst the rest of my form had double maths.

    A year later I trudged up the steep King Charles Road towards the old building; arrived at the side door of the art studio, where Geoff, a tall skinny boy with lank dark brown hair, blocked my way.

    “You need the password to get in” he told me. I blushed furiously and teetered uncertainly on the spot unable to think of a witty retort.

    Jeffrey stepped back and stared at me quizzically. “Didn’t you realise, it was only a joke.”

    I knew Jeffrey from my English course and admired his writing. In class last week my advertising satire had been imaginative and made the class laugh, unexpectedly, but Jeffrey’s story had been inspiring; just the thoughts of a man lying in his bed watching the neon lights of an advertisement on the wall in opposite his window.

    I scuttled up the wooden stairs and starting setting up my easel. I wanted to appear sophisticated and arty but she was too much in awe of the main art group. She breathed in the smell of smoke from the old wood burner, the heady smell of oil paint and mustiness of paper, as she walked across the creaking floorboards of the old building.

    The art teacher Mr Bradbury, a mild humoured man with a brown beard, emerged from the resources cupboard with an armful of rolled up drawing paper.

    It was the life drawing exam. My teacher had advised me to take life drawing, still life instead of creative painting because I had not been able to put enough hours in class to reach the standard expected for my exams.

    The still life exam had been a nightmare. A glass vase with white flowers set against a white table cloth covering a wooden table; but I had managed to paint a vase that looked transparent. When I had finished I glanced at the painting of the guy next to me who had painted the whole table with a tiny vase on top. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

    We were split into two groups for the life drawing. My group had a very pretty Asian girl, Hilary as a model. She made herself feel comfortable on a green couch. She had fantastic bone structure and a curtain of thick brown hair.
    I stood beside two other girls, Jemima who was tall willowy with cropped blond hair and blue eyes, and her best Margaret, who was short, dark haired and plump, had the same cropped hair and the same clothes , the uniform of the ‘Mods’, Fred Perry tea shirt, white pleated skirt and chunky shoes.

    “You may begin now” the art teacher told us.

    I drew a flowing confident line down the middle of the canvas then stretched out my pencil measuring the head, the shoulders. Then I started shading in the hollows of the Hilary’s face abd shoulders, remembering my teacher’s words “shading of each muscle and bone fibre lends depth to the drawing and solidity to the precise lines.”

    An hour later I rubbed my aching neck feeling satisfied with my drawing. I reckoned I had at least passed the exam.

    I bumped into Jeffrey as we walked out of the studio. “How did it go?” he asked me.

    He’s talking to me? He wants to know how I did, I thought.

    “Great, I’m so glad I had Hilary as my model.”

    “See you around” he told me and walked off down the road with Donna, who had posed for his group, and put his arm round her
    Jemima and Margaret caught up with me. “Has Jennifer told you we’re going to try and catch the Yardbirds at their new record launch in Kingston tomorrow?” Jemima asked.

    “No, I’ve got my Saturday job at the bakery. Take lots of photos won’t you.”

    “See you at the leaving party,” they chorused.

    I carried on walking up the road to the railway bridge and turned right into Cheyne Hill where my dog Monty was waiting for me.

    Soon I would have to say goodbye to all my friends in Surbiton. We were moving back to North London. I had lost the chance of going to art college with Jeffery although I passed the exam. I would have to find a job using shorthand, a code that left no space for free expression; instead of following my true creative talent.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.