Saturday, 31 March 2012

Friends In High Places

Well you asked me to continue the story, but I don't think it's going to go the way you think......

Pat and I had earned some serious fun time by the time we arrived in Germany. Life had been very hectic for us during the previous 20 years: I was always on the other side of the world, and she had four kids to bring up. 

We had made 20 home moves in my flying career and here, like manna-from-heaven, we were to have three straight years together. The boys had grown up and left home and we only had our daughter with us. 

My flying to this point had been mainly on two aircraft types, the 

de Havilland Comet

and the Vickers VC10

For the five years prior to Germany, we on the Comet fleet had been in a VIP role, flying the Royal Family and Government Ministers around the world.  For example, Prince Charles to Kathmandu, Nepal, Princess Alexander To Brazil, Princess Margaret to the Seychelles, the Queen Mother around Iran!! ...... 

My last two flights were, taking H.M. The Queen and Prince Philip on a two week tour of Africa, and, on the final trip of all, taking a brand new Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, to Washington DC.

From now on, the day job was to be with NATO, keeping the Russians on their side of the border. Two or three times a week they would sent helicopters over the German border - to test our reaction time. Similarly they flew the 'Bear' bomber into our airspace and we scrambled Battle Flight to 'escort' them back over the border - there was a certain camaraderie between the 'enemies' which thankfully was never tested.
"OOOOps which way did they go?" The RAF F4 Phantoms
I'd been called many things but never, until now, 'Seagull'!

But the serious work was the pictures. They were selling like mad and we were running out of charities.  We started selling them for ourselves, "Charity begins at home?" Past suggested. :0)

The USAF from Ramstein Air Base visited and a new market sprang up. As we were in North Germany and they were in the south - I drew for them, Bavarian and Austrian scenes ... a great team job, we kept the markets apart!  The printers in Roermond  didn't mind, they just kept churning out the prints.

Then a major event happened, although it wasn't obvious for some time. 12 Flight, Army Air Corps asked me if I would accept a commission to draw the six types of helicopters they had flown in their 25 year history. They wanted to send the pictures to the UK to be etched onto tableware and coasters - these were to be memorabilia for the Army Air Corps's 25th. Anniversary celebrations.

They were a great bunch of guys, and they had done me a few good turns and so I was pleased of an opportunity to return the favour. 

For example, they had provided a flight on their lovely Gazelle chopper, down the Mosel Valley for me to get photographs of a monastery.

I made such a mess of the monastery drawing that it never got seen, let alone sold. However, to be honest, the helicopter drawings for 12 Flight, were some of the best aircraft pictures I ever drew. They were delighted.

A few months later I received a letter from the company in the UK that was to producing the table-ware for 12 Flight. They wished to discuss a 'large' commission with me, when would I next be in the UK? We had a week off, and as Pat and I are never ones to hang about, we jumped into the car, drove out of Germany, across Holland and Belgium, onto the ferry, off at Dover 4 hours later and drove to Hastings!

It transpired that they wanted a whole series of World War 1 aircraft, a series of World War 2 aircraft and a set of Vintage Cars. I realised that this was going to take every moment of my free time, but it was well worth the effort. Although this was almost at the point of 'going professional', it was also, believe it or not, the beginning of the end - for now I was drawing what other people wanted and not what I wanted to draw...
                                                       ...Crystal Cook put it perfectly on her blog this week, "Paint what you love, or what excites you. Don't let yourself think that there's only one subject" ....
                                    ................I would add, particularly when you never get to choose the subject .

A month or so after I completed the commission, the UK Company exhibited my work At the UK's National Exhibition Centre (Center) Birmingham. Although I should add that it was not an Art exhibition, but rather a Trade exhibition. But ... what came out of it is going to make you painters Scream ... I got to paint!!! But that's another story, and I've rambled on too long already (all ready).


  1. You really had an interesting life, John! How wonderful that your prints were so popular! Now I'll wait patiently for the next story. Painting....?!

  2. You never ramble enough, John. Your stories are so incredibly I wish I can sit down and listen to all of them...thanks for sharing them with us...I look forward to more of your paintings (and stories!)

  3. Thank you , Judy. One of the benefits of getting old, I sometimes think, is the scope for variety in life. You won't want to know about me as a painter :0)

  4. Bless you, Hilda you are too kind to an old rambler. How I became a painter in 2 days will drive all you genuine painters mad :0))

  5. My, what a colourful life you have led! And it's wonderful how your drawings were so sought after! I would love to see your paintings. Will we be aloud to see them? ;0D

  6. Rest assured you will see the paintings, and then realise why I'm not a painter :0)
    The point that's not coming across in my posts is - I'm not really an artist but somewhere between an artisan and an artist. The reason my pictures sold so well was: there was a market that wasn't being serviced - I accidently stumbled into it and produced cheap prints!

  7. John you have lived such an incredible life! I can only dream of traveling to the places you have and exdperiencing all you have as well. Although some I'm sure I would not like to experience since it has to do with war. :( But that is so great that your drawings were so well appreciated, it seems that it is so hard for art to find the right public. And thank you very much for the quote, I'm honored that you did that. I totally agree with your add on. Painting what other people want you to paint is never where great work is done, and especially not happiness!

  8. You may have noticed, Crystal, a continuity in my stories of, 'life by accident' :0) Most things that happened were never planned by me. If it had all been left to me I would have gone on building boats ... but things just happened!

    Your last sentence really points the way my 'stories' are leading: in the end you are not 'painting' it has become 'working' if you never have time to 'paint' what you want to paint.