Welcome to the GunnersoreArse blog. Being blogged 918.74 kilometers (in a straight line) from the Emirates Stadium.
If you have not read them already, to understand the full context of this post, it may be good to read parts 1 and 2 here:
Part 1 http://wp.me/p4FeF9-8g
Part 2 http://wp.me/p4FeF9-aa
Life journeys can be funny things, what fate brings can alter the future forever. The same could be said of football, a little twist of fate will change the future outcome. Take Arsenal last season, fate intervened with injuries in the team which could be said, stopped us winning the league and Cup double. But we’ll never know for sure, because once a path is taken due to the intervention of fate, the alternative will be lost forever. It is one of the wonders of life, organic and continually changing….. you can never really know what lies ahead.
And this is where I found myself at the beginning of the 1980’s. On the threshold of change, not just through fate, but because of decisions I had to make. However, the past still had a hold on me and there was one more short journey I had to take before finally pulling free of a culture that had controlled me from the age of 14, when I had stolen my first car. Change was not going to be an easy thing I discovered. I had to see a Parole Officer for six months after I stopped giving pleasure to Her Majesty. A Probation Officer who had a very narrow view of change, she sincerely thought all I had to do was to make a decision to stay away from criminal activity, and that would be that, I’d be a reformed character. It was akin to asking me to stop drinking or god forbid, change the football team I supported. In other words, it wasn’t so fucking easy and could be downright impossible!
However, whilst pleasuring Her Majesty I’d met someone who had taken an interest in my artistic skills, Reginald, who was due to see the light of day just a few months after me. So we arranged to meet for a drink when he got back to London. He called himself a ‘Art Dealer’ but for all intents and purposes, he was a fraudster, someone who conned greedy art dealers and gallery owners. It was easy he said and the beauty was, if they did finally find out they had been duped, they would never admit it and tell the police, because their reputation was on the line. Easy I thought. In the meantime, I’d found a job, driving for a timber merchant, yes, a real job, through some very good friends of mine. I had also started doing some voluntary work with the elderly, my first move towards social work.
In my first week of smelling fresh air I’d had three priorities, the first is obvious, Mr Chorizo needed some action, the second was a decent Ruby Murray and the third was going to Highbury for a match. The Gunners had not been having a good time, since the Cup final defeat against West Ham, they’d continued a mediocre period, Terry Neill was still manager and the players of any note were Graham Rix and Frank Stapleton. The first match I went to see was a home game against Leicester City. It was a drab affair and we just about won 1-0. But for me it was great to be able to sit in the East Stand again and watch a game. However, this was the start of a period where I didn’t truly follow the Gunners, I had my life to sort out. I needed to be an upstanding member of society.
However, it wasn’t easy, all the people who I knew were involved one way or another in the criminal culture. A mate of mine Micky K, had gone into the pub game and he had a pub just off Caledonian Road, the typical mix of rogues and villains. Then I finally met up with Reginald, he was in his 50’s and looking very dapper, all suited up, shirt and tie and looking like a country gent, he even had the accent. We met in a pub in Soho and he outlined his scheme, very simple and what appeared to be ‘victimless’ and foolproof. He just needed someone who could paint, which is where I fitted in because his last ‘artist’ had gone back to Holland.
The next day he took me to his ‘studio’ in Lambeth, it was a cross between an artist’s studio and a chemistry lab, full of all the paraphernalia needed for an artist, canvasses from the late 19th and early 20th century, paint mixing bowls and jars, piles of paper taken from 19th century books and meticulously dated, pigment powders, old jars of glue, gum arabic and paint binders. Everything needed to produce an ‘authentic’ 19th or early 20th century painting. And this was the idea, to paint in the style of a fairly well known artist, with original paper or canvas and with the accurate mixture of original pigment to be able to fool a collector or art dealer. We agreed I would do something in watercolour because that had been the medium I’d started with and was used to, then we decided on what style, what artist and what epoque. Eventually we got it down to a couple of English watercolourists and Cezanne. Paul Cezanne had often worked in watercolour for his initial ideas and sketches, so he was the obvious choice, easy to do in the style of and leaving out the signature. All I had to do was to paint it, then Reginald would do the rest, finding a ‘mark’ as he called it, doing the deal and collecting the proceeds, of which I would get exactly half. Lovely jubbly I thought, so the following week, I set to work in the studio.
I continued with other things, working for the timber yard, doing some voluntary work at weekends, doing my degree in sociology and going to an occasional Arsenal home game. The Gunners weren’t doing brilliantly but it was looking like we could get close to the top, eventually going on to finish third with Aston Villa as Champions and Ipswich in second place. In the meantime I continued working at the studio, it had taken me a while to get six or seven decent paintings done but Reginald was happy with three of them, two Cezanne style still lives and a small study for Cezannes painting of the bathers. I then left it to him to do the business but it was only a couple of weeks before he contacted me to meet up in Soho.
We met in the same pub, he had a massive grin on his face and handed me an envelope full of cash, £5000 in total. He’d sold two of the paintings to American dealers at an art fair. The third was currently with a New York gallery owner and he would know soon if it was sold. The yank was a greedy bugger he told me, and was being difficult over the price. An oil painting on canvas by Cezanne at the time could fetch $1m or more, but we were doing very small watercolour sketches, which at auction could go for about $50,000, so any dealer buying our paintings would be looking at a vast profit, and this is what Reginald relied upon, greed. His philosophy was ‘buyer beware’ but knew from experience that dealers would take stupid risks on the basis of earning a great deal of money.
A typical Cezanne watercolour still life.
In early 1981 I had my first solo exhibition at the Islington Public Library Gallery in Holloway Road. It was a sell out and many of my works of local buildings and streets were bought by Islington Council. It was a success and gave me the hope and motivation to continue. However, during my voluntary work with the elderly, I’d met a social worker who I’d told about my background and she told me of a part-time job going at a drug centre in the West End, saying that I could have a good chance of getting it. I went for the job and was successful. I loved it, it was a day centre for drug users and prostitutes in Rathbone Place, just off Oxford Street. We also did outreach work at night which consisted of six male workers, working in pairs going to different areas, distributing clean needles, swabs and condoms and educating users and prostitutes on safe syringe use and safe sexual practices for health reasons and the prevention of HIV. The system for the night shift was simple, we’d go to the centre at 10pm, collect a rucksack each and fill it with syringes, antiseptic swabs, condoms and a dildo.
My area was Kings Cross where we would meet working girls in an all night cafe on Euston Road, hand out the various items and then sit down with them, buy coffees or teas and then, with the dildo, show them how to give a blowjob without the punter knowing they were using a condom. The joke amongst the staff was that at the centre there were six different sized dildos, from small to frigging massive, whoever got there last got the monster and then had to give it a blowjob in front of 4 or 5 giggling prostitutes. I eventually got wise to this because I was often the last one to arrive at the centre, so one day I visited a sex shop and bought one that was more manageable and easier on the jaw muscles.
Reginald finally heard from the American dealer and contacted me, he had to go to New York to finalize the deal, which would be in the region of $15,000, and asked if I would like to go. So we booked a trip and he arranged for us to stay with a friend of his in the West Village. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the gallery to finalize the deal, the police were waiting, whilst the dealer had the painting in New York he’d asked an expert on Cezanne to examine it. We were charged with forgery, we got bail but our passports were confiscated. However, the law on such things was very vague and the painting was unsigned. We had a lawyer and he managed to get the charges dropped on the basis that Reginald had bought the painting in good faith and was selling it in good faith. It never got mentioned that I had actually painted it. However, during their investigations the police discovered that we both had serious criminal convictions when entering the USA. We were deported and put on a list of undesirables, unable to enter the country again. We were allowed to keep the painting and Reginald later sold it to an English dealer for £4000.
This was my first, and last, sojourn into the world of art forgery and the final event that made up my mind to get out of criminal behaviour permanently. I continued working at the drug project and also found part-time work in the Probation Service working with difficult young offenders. My route was now clear, I gradually moved away from mates who were still involved in dodgy activities and got more involved in a social life with Probation Officers and Social Workers. It was difficult at times because I often felt inadequate amongst all these university educated people, I felt awkward socially and very rarely contributed to conversations, often feeling inhibited. Consequently, I kept a small amount of contact with a few old mates. It was a schizophrenic lifestyle for a while.
This was the most difficult time in my rehabilitation and made me understand the difficulties that offenders have when trying to go straight, it takes a major change in social acquaintances to really be successful, which for many is near impossible. A real benefit from my change of lifestyle and social circle however, were female social workers, bloody hell, were they up for it, especially with a bit of rough like me! I couldn’t keep up with it, it felt at times that I was gradually shagging my way through the entire London Probation Service.
I went on to finish my degree in Sociology, I got a full-time job in the Probation Service as an assistant, I continued painting with quite a bit of success and I finally got accepted onto a Social Work qualifying course in 1986, the same year George Graham was appointed as the Arsenal manager and there were nine years of success to come. My visits to Highbury increased dramatically. And during my social work course, I soon discovered the pleasures of young, horny, female social work students, I was like Winnie the Pooh with a new pot of honey! So you could say I was now a very ‘upstanding member’ of society.
Right, time for a glass of wine and some spicy chorizo…. I hope you enjoyed your visit. Until the next time.
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