When I was a little girl I bought Many Eccentric Things from jumble sales in the Institute in Wylam, where I was brought up. For sixpence I could buy a stack of used 7-inch vinyl singles (I've still got some of them). This was like acquiring a mysterious radio programme- somebody else's taste, worn and crackly. I suppose these days, I would've been 'diggin', except I was the wrong gender and the wrong location for that because you're supposed to be a young urban male. I also acquired strange books: 'Scouting For Boys' (yes Mr B-P, that's you, sir, in all your weirdness) which had fantastic concepts- the bucket up a tree with holes in it and a little boy pouring what must have been cold water on to another little boy beneath to make a makeshift shower. I know I have blogged about it before. Unforchly, McMum had a massive clearout when I left home and that, and my copy of 'Thoroughly Modern Millie', which McMum thoroughly modernly disapproved of, went probably back to another village jumble sale, along with 'Gert and Daisy's Wartime Cookery Book'. In a fit o nostalgia several months ago I put out a search on eBay, and hole and below, as my French manager Claudine used to say, it turned up and I now have a very soft and worn copy of the book with its sad recipes for wartime Britain, and the stylish black and white cartoon Gerts and Daisys, with their huge heads and tiny bodies, discussing things with sly smiles and crisp pinnies over their frugal clothing, at the beginning of each chapter.
Once, I bought a huge and beautiful pale green ankle-length coat with bell sleeves and a lovely slippery satin lining. I drifted hither and thither up and down the village with my head in the clouds until my friend Debbie, who was very down to earth and practical, refused to go anywhere with me until I abandoned the pale green coat.
So that one went back to the jumble sale, to be replaced by a matted black jumper that was solid with being washed too much, and a hairstyle made by plaiting my hair while it was wet and unplaiting it when it was dry. 'You look like a sheep', said McDad. So I started ironing my hair on the ironing board to make it straight (I'd seen Barbra Streisand say she had her hair ironed in some film or other).
I made a blouse out of the kitchen curtains that McMum was throwing away (red and white checked cotton). Big Bruv grew bigger than me and I inherited his Levis, and wore them with my shirt and a pair of Stars and Stripes clogs that I bought mail-order from Sounds
. I know I looked ridiculous because I was painfully thin in spite of eating half a loaf of bread a day, but I did not care. Clothes were part of getting out of the village and having adventures and even at the age of thirteen, when I bought my first ever lipstick (Rimmel, gold), I didn't care a fig for what everybody else thought you were supposed to do. I didn't like being different, but people had made fun of me even when I wore ordinary things like them. In doing that, people liberate you from even trying to blend into the herd, which is both a blessing and a curse. It forces you to go off and have adventures, to find other people like you; I found them at Sunderland Polytechnic, where I did my Art Foundation course. Dennis, from Jarrow, who could buy tabs of LSD for sixpence as a child and who told us the natural fluoride in the water in Jarrow meant you never had to brush your teeth if you came from there. He broke his tooth on a chip one lunchtime.
There was William, with his loud voice. 'William strode into the canteen: everyone looked round', he would bellow as he strode into the canteen and everyone looked round.
There was Tom, brother of one of the Kane Gang (B-B-Byker... GROVE!), who collected the clay ginger-beer stoppers that you found on the beach at Ryhope (they had been dumped into the river Wear when the factory closed down) and made a mysterious game that not even he could play.
There was Sheena, who had a laugh like Muttley, and who once dropped a ping-pong ball on the top step of the lecture theatre which bounced loudly down each step in slow motion during an excruciatingly intense and boring lecture.
There was Fiona, who wore boy's clothes and shoes, Trevor who liked rainbows, Owen who had been a gas man but changed his mind and decided to be an artist instead. Susan who, in a state of cold fear, hoovered up spiders every day with her mother's vacuum cleaner.
Our teacher Brian had been at Newcastle University with Brian Ferry. Imagine that!
And that's just half of 'em. Three cheers for art colleges! Brilliant places where madness is nurtured and cherished, where vulnerable people collide with extraordinary people, where you can be fat, thin or in-between and where you are barricaded from the rest of the world with a mountain of weird projects and activities invented by senior, madder versions of yourself.