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Patience is a Virtue – Part 1

To accompany the article published in the Autumn edition of Evolve, the magazine for Friends of Coventry University, I have reproduced my diary pages relating to the project with relevant photographs. Apologies therefore for poor grammar, repetitions etc but it has been transcribed as it was written in 1977. Reading them again 35 years later, the words revive many memories of a final year at art school, a reminder of good friends and 9 weeks of a daunting task which became a turning point in my life.

Vine Street, Coventry 1977


Thursday 13th October
Day max. 15°
Scaffolding erected up to about 20′ next to the wall. Weather extremely mild, warm. Erected with help from John (Jostins). Found that the structure might become more unsafe the higher it got, decided to order 4 x 21′ poles to brace the structure against the wall, also a ladder to cut out the monkey climbing up and down the side. Scaffolding also proved to be extremely heavy which didn’t appear evident in the instruction leaflet, decided that the instruction leaflet was a mere fib. ‘Versatile’ and ‘Adaptable’, it may be. ‘Safe’, is still open to question. ‘Fast’, never, and definitely not ‘Clean’!


Friday 14th October
Day max. 15°
Structure now within about 12′ from the top of the roof but wobbles precariously, one more layer could bring the whole lot down. Braces and ladder ordered, expected delivery anytime.

Monday 17th October
Day max. 15°
Ladder and braces arrived and secured to scaffolding. Structure now more secure and no wobble. Top layer put on, still with help from John and the extreme limits of the painting can now be reached. All step boards and kick boards also in position.

Tuesday 18th October
Day max. 14°
Brushed down the entire wall with a stiff yard brush removing top surface dirt and moss. Began covering wall with Weathershield, John helping out again, both of us continually suffered from cramp in the palm of the hand, wrist and forearm. Weather warm yet slightly foggy, college completely out of view. Over half of wall covered by the end of the day. Worked without a break from 9.30 through till 5.45.


Wednesday 19th October
Day max. 17°
Rain. John paints part of the wall yet to be protected by the Weathershield paint, because of the damp wall and action of the rain it becomes washed to the floor. Weathershield almost run out.

Thursday 20th October
Day max. 18°
Rain until 1.00. Decide to buy more Weathershield, 5 litres £6.33. Begin work on wall 1.30 and work through till 7.00. Finished covering wall with Weathershield now apart from two small areas near roof which a step ladder is needed for. Touching up in certain areas needed and drawing in can be done.

Friday 21st October
Day max. 17°
Rain until 2 o’clock. Visited wall at 3.00 but is saturated and needs to dry. Picked up paint from stores and key for Vine Street annexe car park in view for work over weekend. Saw Ken Pope and Frank McGrath about having some postcards printed to publicise the piece, will begin work on it on Tuesday. Postcard reads ‘Lanchester Poly, Extension Studies Dept, Vine Street, Coventry. Mural by Col Slater, Easter 1976 – Autumn 1977. Approximate size 30′ x 25′. Completed Autumn 1977. Available for viewing 24 hours a day, all weathers, no security guards, admission free’.


Saturday 22nd October
Day max. 17°
Weather excellent, sunny and quite warm. Began work at 9.00 and worked through till 7.00. Touched up wall with Weahershield and a couple of areas near the roof that couldn’t be reached before, at last I had access to a step ladder. After a break for some lunch the process of drawing in began. John arrived and was invaluable help. Each of us had a photograph of the finished drawing and we worked from that using distinguishing marks on the wall as a guide. We decided that to grid it would be laborious and as it is basically a fairly straightforward painting just stuck in an oar and went for it. John drew and I directed him from the opposite side of the car park. We decided we’d paint straight away, not use charcoal and ‘colour in’. The paint was used very thinly, a lot of water was added and the drips made a good enough guide for verticals. The drawing in was extremely hard work, both of us feel very tired tonight and deserve every spot of alcohol to hit our neck!


Sunday 23rd October
Day max. 14°
Yet again the weather was kind, sunny and warm, began work at 10.00, both of us still feeling tired from the previous days work. The schedule for the day was to have all the piece drawn in as John would be back on his own work tomorrow and it’s a job that needs two, and to cover as much of the glaring white as possible. This time we were both on the scaffolding, blocking in areas and building up the painting but not outlining first. The top section of the scaffolding felt wobbly as there was quite a stiff breeze. By 3.00 the weather had turned against us and it became perishing cold. We walked back to the end of the street to see the work accomplished so far and everything seems to be working okay. Everything is in proportion and is beginning to look quite impressive. The buildings on both sides of the painting were mapped in, dark areas of the imaginary inside of the building blocked in too. A good days work, flopped in a chair and fell asleep immediately when we had given up for the day. Several people in the street are now stopping and asking what’s going on. Many people in cars just stop and stare and go on their way again, should have some constructive comments tomorrow when the kids come back to school. Quite an audience yesterday too with Coventry City playing at home.

Monday 24th October
Day max. 13°
Rain all day. Rang up for the weather forecast from Birmingham Airport which told me that the afternoon would be sunny with clear skies and a fair wind. Instead there has been a constant drizzle the entire day. Wall looking pretty good from the college, a lot of students now come up to me and tell me they can see it. It’s nice to know that so many are able to, that’s one reason for doing it.

Tuesday 25th October
Day max. 15°
Clear sky, sunny and fairly warm, the weather promised for yesterday afternoon. Began work at 9.30 and worked through till 4.45 when it was beginning to get a bit dusky. First mapped in building in background of painting, then the car park and the tears in the bottom left and right parts of the painting. Changed the ‘folding’ windows mapped in on Saturday, they look about right now and worked into them a little. More people stopping now as they pass me and shout comments. One chap thought I was going to paint the Queen and was disappointed I’d ‘changed my mind’. One lorry driver pointed out his disapproval, first one so far, by saying that Hillfields was a dismal enough place as it is without my painting making it look even more gloomy. The residents however are all enthusiastic and haven’t earned any rebuff from them. This evening I feel extremely tired again, dread to think of the number of times I’ve been up and down the scaffolding today. Feel, however, at this rate if the weather stays in my favour I could finish within the next 3 weeks. Optimistic?

Wednesday 26th October
Day max. 12°
Not a good day but fine, very cold and very blustery on the top level. Began work at 10.00 and continued until 4.00, finished early as I was feeling a bit ill. After working on the top layers the wind has been attacking my forehead all day. My face is like a furnace again this evening. Has taken all day to put the struts in the top of the painting right. Still annoying that even with Brian’s (the technician) step ladder there’s still a good 2 sq. ft. either side the top section of scaffolding that I can’t quite reach. One of the nearby traders, the bookmaker, hailed me today and asked me whether I would do his wall next, I said I’d think about it. Then he added that it was ‘the competition’. I said I hadn’t heard of one.

Thursday 27th October
Day max. 14°
Morning very sunny, fairly warm. Begin work at 9.00 and work through till 3.30. By midday the weather had turned against me and was extremely cold, wind also was very bitter. Worked on the windows in the folding area, the windows in the background and the window in the building on the left. Had to stop work by 3.30 as I was feeling dizzy and had a splitting head, also I was perishing cold. Must be the cold wind causing the trouble, I wrap up warm enough I reckon but through working I sweat and become warm, then when I stop I shiver as the wind freezes me almost immediately. For the second day running Annie Cunliffe supplied me with Dispirin, also the canteen lady offered me some of her ‘strong ones’. Still feel I can finish in 3 weeks if the weather holds and I have plenty of rest between each painting session.


Friday 28th October
Day max. 13°
Think a chill must have come my way, can’t face the thought of going up the scaffolding today. Muscles in my shoulders, back and neck continually ache and so does my head. Decided to have a days rest.

Monday 31st October
Day max. 13°
Weather is fine but extremely windy, top section of scaffolding can be seen to be swaying from the bottom of the wall. Decide to wait until after lunch before attempting any work. Begin work 1.30, wind dies down a little but still difficult to paint a straight line, the wind keeps blowing me off balance. Worked on window in bottom right of painting. Straightening, using chalk and a dark paint making proportions better and generally beginning to look more crisp. Finish work 4.50, feeling extremely cold, fingers, toes and nose completely numb. Yet again face burning and the usual headache. Weather expected to be more fair tomorrow. Didn’t work above second layer today as I felt the wind was too strong, even mid afternoon.


Tuesday 1st November
Day max. 10°
Rang weather bureau for advice after yesterdays fiasco as I’d asked my chum Jeff Veitch to take some photographs of me. Forecast was scattered showers, occasional sunny spells and a high possibility of rain around the middle of the afternoon. Began work at 10.00, decided the task for the day would be to cover the ‘orange’ colour of the two main buildings. As these two areas were mapped in with a wash on top of a Brilliant White Weathershield the colour Russet looks to be a very bright orange. The idea is that these two buildings should match and blend with the brick colour of the rest of the building. The main problem was my lack of red, the building is basically a very red-bricked one and the only emulsion near to a red was the Russet, a rust colour. A lot of problems occurred mixing the emulsions, the colours mixed didn’t give the colour I expected, but a more dirty version of it. This is something of which I had been previously warned. Nevertheless I painted in these large areas with more a colour of brown than red but still I felt was a closer match to the rest of the building than the Russet wash. From down the street and viewing from the Poly, the match appears to be reasonably good. It becomes more obvious however the closer to the building you are. Russet runs out, instead of buying more decide to buy a Matchmaker Flame Red to give more scope in mixing with the rest of my colour range. Sky becomes threatening, decide to break about 3.00. Begins to rain 3.45.


Thursday 3rd November
Day max. 13°
After a night of heavy rain and high wind the morning is sunny, clear sky and reasonably calm. ‘Borrow’ taller step ladder from college to reach parts of ‘stretcher’ as yet out of my reach, and intention to change its colour and put in darker colour behind. By 11.30 wind becomes stronger and colder. At about 1.00 decide to return to college for a soup and cup of tea as beginning to feel decidedly cold. After eating soup head begins to feel light and dizzy. Return to wall, still feeling ill, at about 2.30 to finish ‘stretcher’. Then dark colour used to pronounce depth within the building and under folds at the top to make them appear more convincing. Finish work about 4.00. Return to college feeling extremely cold and windswept, headache returns and eyes ache. Definitely need at least one beer to put things right, and some jazz. Tonight I’m taking Denise Thomas out to the Earlsdon Cottage.

Friday 4th November
Day max. 11°
Clear sky, light wind, very sunny but still cold although not as yesterday. Begin work 9.30, intention to complete ‘stretcher’ and paint in area behind. As yet there are two struts which up till now have been out of my reach, the step ladder was borrowed again. Soon as I was balanced precariously on top of the step ladder, the wind became strong again and I had my biggest fright so far. Previously I have put my foot down the gap between wall and scaffolding, saving myself by hitting my shoulder against the wall and holding myself up. Today I was on the second layer on the top rung of the step ladder and reaching for the roof of the building, holding a long guide stick in my left hand and chalk in my right, so basically as I hadn’t hold of anything I was asking for trouble. A sudden gust caught me and I was knocked backwards, my shoulder blades hitting the planks of wood on the third layer, which saved my fall and held me at an angle till the wind died and I was able to regain balance. I then climbed down to ground level and sat on the car park. It was a shock and disturbed me a great deal. Regardless, stretcher is now complete and background almost mapped in, a slight misjudgement of paint has left a small area unfinished. Have had key to actual Vine St. building cut so I will be able to work over the weekend. I think concentration now must be towards the lower half of the painting which seems to have been neglected.

Saturday 5th November
Day max. 14°
Very dull sky, high wind. Arrive at wall at 9.30, indecisive whether it will be worthwhile to begin work or not. Within half an hour it begins to rain. By midday rains very heavily. Rains on and off till about 3.00 and decide to call it a day and continue tomorrow.

Sunday 6th November
Day max. 11°
Still very windy but quite sunny and reasonably warm. Decide to pick up car from car park in town, bring it back to Vine St. car park and spend day there. Find car in vandalised state. Door handles sawn off, driver side door hanging on its hinges, boot attempted to be prised open, roof rack wrenched off, foot marks and scratches on roof and bonnet, scratches along driver side of car. Engine looked untampered and started first time but decided to check wheels. Back wheels okay but after taking hub caps off front two wheels found that all wheel nuts were missing. Found door handles, clamps and rubbers to roof rack and 8 wheel nuts scattered in hedgerow next to the car. Felt too upset to work.

Monday 7th November
Day max. 14°
Heavy rain all day, which pleased me. Took car to garage for repairs. Getting the car put right was the priority today. Forgot to mention yesterday that inside the car was my paint, my brushes, diary and my camera, the film inside containing the documentation of the progress of the painting. Maybe luck was on my side that ‘they’ didn’t actually get into it.

Tuesday 8th November
Day max. 12°
Weather good so an early start was necessary, the weather bureau forecasted heavy rain, perhaps thunderstorms for the afternoon. Task for the day was the folding windows top right and to put the folds right that come from top right to middle bottom of painting. The folds proved to be a bit tricky as I kept having to move betwen the first and second layers. Colin Saxton, my HOD, came up to have a word for 5 minutes this afternoon and pointed out several things that were wrong. Finished work about 4.20, painting pulling together quite nicely now although a lot of time still needs to be spent on it in order that it will be considered in terms of illusionary painting rather than a theatre back drop.
A conversation with a girl from Sidney Stringer School:
“What are you doing it for?”
“My degree”
“Bet you don’t pass!”

Wednesday 9th November
Day max. 16°
Very stormy sky, slight drizzle, low cloud. Rain continues all day, not heavily but as a fine mist. Will continue work tomorrow all being well.

Thursday 10th November
Day max. 15°
High wind, slight drizzle again. Decided to drive around the ring road today to see if the painting could be seen from there. It could and looks okay from that distance.

Tuesday 15th November
Day max. 7°
I’ve been neglecting the log the last couple of days so I’ll take over from now. The last couple of days have been so cold I can hardly believe it. Today I’ve had to give up because I feel so frozen. Hailstorms were expected today, also thunderstorms and I experienced both. The strong to gale force winds predicted were true and again I found the planks on the top layer had been blown around and were balancing precariously. The maximum temperature forecast by the weather bureau was 7°, which I don’t think was reached. Had a phone call from Saths Moodley toward the end of last week who told me he would like to do an article on me for the Union of Students in Ireland newspaper (USI News). Have sent written work and photograph to him today.

Tuesday 22nd November
Day max. 7°
Log has been neglected again but perhaps it will become boring reading as the things I have to do now are merely tightening up and finessing, and from down the street no major changes will be seen anymore. The main parts I have been trying to change are the large areas of red/brown which form the main part of the design. John helped me again last Saturday and dropped in to see how things were going Sunday afternoon. The plan now, which I didn’t include in my drawing, is to paint every brick and match the colours with the brick colour of the rest of the building. This has proved to be very difficult. On Sunday afternoon the painting seemed to be pulling around slightly although not much has yet really been done, only the bottom part, but already from the edge of the car park one can relate this series of painted bricks to the rest of the building.
The weather of late has been awful. The wind has been strong and the temperature has barely been reaching 5° according to the weather bureau. Also I have been snowed and hailed on this last week.
My health also hasn’t been up to scratch just recently, I’ve been feeling dizzy again when I come back into the warm and have felt like passing out on several occasions. I put the blame on the fact that I am going too long without enough to eat, working for too long in the cold and not having enough rest. My own fault entirely but everyone is encouraging me to visit the doctor.


Wednesday 23rd November
Day max. 9°
Saw the doctor today. Says I must improve my diet if I want to finish the painting. Have collapsed several times recently and have been told I’m pushing myself too hard and should have more breaks. I associate myself with the labourers on the building site across the road, they work in all weathers so I see no reason why I shouldn’t. Doctor suggests I suck boiled sweets, that I’m burning up too much sugar to keep warm and also suggests I don’t work all day long without a break. I told him I’d heed his advice. He also suggested I wore a hat of some description as I am probably losing a lot of body heat through the top of my head. Began work later today but the building on left hand side really pulling together. To illustrate the temperatures I’m working in, I left a tub of a particular colour on the scaffolding while I worked with another and when I returned to it found the surface of the paint had slightly frozen over.


Tuesday 29th November
Day max. 5°
Since the clocks have been altered my working day has become shorter and shorter, I now cannot work after 3.30 because it is too dim. An early start on a fine day is essential now, by 3.00 my blues appear purple. Apart from the snow the weather has been fairly clear, the wind is still extremely strong and blizzards and hailstorms attack at regular intervals. Every night I suffer from dizzy spells, bad headaches and ‘hot aches’ but the painting will soon be finished. I wonder if I will remember the cold pains and the exhaustion I am feeling now when the painting is at an end. I still ache all over and feel fairly washed up. I’m now referred to as the College Tramp, the clothes I am wearing distinguish me as a breed apart. I now wear a cap, neckerchief, two vests, shirt, jersey, jacket, one short scarf, one long scarf, one pair fingerless mittens, one pair gloves, tights, ordinary socks, two pairs woolly socks, one pair rugby socks, trousers, boots, old overcoat. The wind has also blown a lot of paint on me and have been asked if my clothes were designed by Jackson Pollock! The weather has completely wrecked my schedule. October was going like a dream but since the weather turned I’m struggling to keep time, I hope I can finish before the end of term. Henri now brings me dinner at the wall everyday and several chums constantly ask after my health. I do still suffer from dizzy spells but not so often. Was told yesterday that the building is due to be demolished next Easter. I couldn’t believe my ears and the news has shattered me. Have decided to dedicate the painting to the Queen for her Silver Jubilee. Might hold things up a bit.

Thursday 15th December
Day max. 11°
I have declared the painting finished today even though there is still work to be done on it. The cold weather has beaten me, I cannot work in it any longer. The bricks have almost all been painted in, the unfinished area is within the building on the right about 12′ from the floor either side of the window. I have battled against the weather for a long while now, the wind however is still strong and the temperature is freezing all day long. I feel very disappointed but too ill to continue. I shall remove the scaffolding tomorrow.

Friday 16th December
Day max. 6°
Would you believe it, it felt milder today! Still cold but more mild than of late. Firstly I notified the Coventry Evening Telegraph the scaffolding was coming down and they arrived at the wall about 10.30. John helped take the scaffolding down, as usual his help was invaluable. I then saw the painting for the first time and it felt strange seeing nothing in front of the wall. I took some more photographs and walked away to college. Looking back at the painting I felt a big empty hole in my stomach, what I’ve been wanting to do since a year last Easter had now been completed. Odd thing, I didn’t feel elated at all, in fact quite tearful and upset. I’d done what I had set out to do and now I was feeling empty. There was no big unveiling ceremony and no celebration, the painting was just doing what it was meant to do – stare down the street. Over this 8 weeks I’ve become really attached to the painting and I think that is what has upset me. Now that the scaffolding has gone, it looks lonely.


(Day max. temp. forecasts supplied by Meteorological Office, Terminal Building, Birmingham Airport 1977)


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