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My mission, if I chose to accept it, was a mural, an invitation from Iain Erskine, Head of Fulbridge School, Peterborough. The theme – ‘Champions of Humanity’. The catch – that it would be painted in a corridor during a normal school day, with staff and children watching its progress as they went about their daily routine. It would be my first major project since ‘Black Sunday‘, and an opportunity to paint on a large scale again. I picked up the gauntlet and accepted the challenge.

My brief was to produce a painting comprised of inspirational people whose influence has extended beyond their years, and which has shaped the world we live in today. I was determined to design a composition which would become a bold feature within the school, a conversation piece and with an even mix of gender.

The design was always intended to be a starting point to stimulate discussion for other personalities who could have been identified for inclusion. My initial decision was that the composition would be limited to 12 people, however I easily compiled a ‘short’ list of 39 candidates. The elimination process was a troublesome dilemma. As my research progressed it became not so much a decision of who to include, but who to leave out. Nevertheless, with Iain’s approval I finally produced a composition containing 15 portraits:

Mother Teresa
Florence Nightingale
Mary Wollstonecraft
Frida Kahlo
Anne Frank
Marie Curie
Isaac Newton
William Wilberforce
Ludwig van Beethoven
Albert Einstein
Charles Darwin
Mohandas Gandhi
William Shakespeare
Leonardo da Vinci
Steve Jobs

I had already decided that the final image would be monochrome, allowing the image to achieve the ‘timeless’ appearance of a black & white photograph. However the main problem I faced with the design, with its collection of famous personalities gathered together, was to avoid the composition resembling a Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’ album cover, or a Dutch Golden Age group portrait of militia companies or guild members. My solution was to produce a composition which took the appearance of a collage, as if it was a page from a scrapbook where images have been found and pasted together. Although there were variations in scale this was simply an aesthetic decision and not intended to denote importance or hierarchy.

For the record, the other 24 candidates I considered for inclusion were:

JMWTurner


Maria Callas


Galileo Galilei


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Nelson Mandela


Georges Méliès


Miles Davis


Michael Faraday


Clara Schumann


Hildegard of Bingen


Orville & Wilbur Wright


John Lennon


Mary Seacole


Helen Keller


Michael Jackson


Vincent van Gogh


Billie Holliday


Martin Luther King


Pablo Picasso


Edith Piaf

Muhammmed Ali

Alan Turing

Simon Weston

Stephen Hawking

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    Haze. Sleep. Dream. Nightmare
    Suddenly. Without warning
    Prostrate. Hanging on

    A deep rooted pain
    Aggressive and insistent
    And out of this world

    Air gasped through gritted teeth
    Ribs crushed tight in hot barbed wire
    I refused to leave

    The other side called
    I almost lost ev’rything
    But wouldn’t let go

    My spirit tested
    But Black Sunday came too soon
    – I wasn’t ready

On 21st November 2010 I suddenly found myself lying on my living room floor, tied up with red hot barbed wire crushing my chest like a garotte. At least, that’s what it felt like. I was fighting for every breath in excruciating pain, the like of which I’ve never experienced before nor ever want to again. When asked its strength on a scale of 1 to 10 by a paramedic, I replied “89!!!” – to have simply replied “10” would have been far too tame, this was well off the scale. I haven’t the faintest idea how long I had been on the floor, all I can remember is how hard I had to concentrate on dealing with the pain and trying to breathe – and the realisation that my wife Henri had saved my life. I was in shock, confused, and hanging on by my fingernails until the second injection of morphine kicked in. From nowhere, and without warning, I felt my end had come and the only thought in my head was about staying alive. It was a nightmare, and I wanted to wake up. Unfortunately the nightmare was reality, I had to accept that it really was me in that desperate position. I thought I had a heavy cold coming on, instead it was pneumonia and pleurisy, and when I arrived at hospital the x-ray showed I had only one lung working. I developed other complications too, and was in hospital for 23 days. When I left I felt I’d entered another world. The reflection in the mirror was changed, winter had arrived, everywhere was covered with snow and the price of petrol had shot up by 15p a litre!

Now, twelve months later, to describe this event as life changing would be too predictable and melodramatic. Nevertheless it’s certainly given me food for thought. What happened that day turned my world upside down. There has been plenty of time for reflection, contemplation, rumination, deliberation, consideration, meditation, and frustration – but most of all, the last twelve months has been about recovery, and starting again. It’s been a very strange year, and a long one, but at the same time it’s passed in the wink of an eye. Life can be like that sometimes.

    From out of nowhere
    Something came to collect me
    The choice wasn’t mine

    Parcelled up in pain
    Unsure of destination
    Bound, weighed and measured

    For Delivery?
    For Recycling? Or Disposal
    Promised land? Or Dump!

    But winged ‘Postman’,
    Celestial ‘Bin man’ or
    ‘Courier’ no-showed

    With address unknown
    I was returned to sender
    For collection later

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