Ice, Ice Baby

Ice, Ice Baby

In the February of our second year we all trooped off to London with Sid to visit design studios and try and get ourselves fixed up with work placements. Work. That nasty four letter word that the whole student shebang was ultimately about. My first one was a place called Thumb Design in Soho. I went with Nicole and we stuffed our faces with extra strong mints to disguise the fact we’d been drinking before the interview. They wanted her and I was despatched to a packaging company near Old Street with Dave Crow. They wanted him, but fortunately he already had an offer from a record company. So there I was, tubing my way across London from Ealing to Old Street for three weeks. On my first day I was plonked beside a middle-aged woman who looked like Dot Cotton. She was doing a dog food container and I was set to work on an aerosol of shaving foam. We both had A3 pads of wafer-thin layout paper and a pile of coloured felt pens. Three hours till lunchtime. I stared at a blank page, scratched my head and wondered if this was what the next forty years was going to be all about. Its quite miraculous that I knuckled down and didn’t head back to Victoria Coach Station and jump the first National Express to Manchester. But I cracked it, not just the early starts and the ridiculously long commutes, but filling up that sheet of paper. A week or so later I was really chuffed when my design for a can of de-icer went into production for BP. Another aerosol, I truly was king of the land-fills. The bosses were a bit stiff and maybe needed a bit of a spray to thaw them out, but the design people were bright and lively and did cool things like selling tshirts in Camden Market and going to the Lake District for the weekend. On my last lunchtime they took me to The Eagle in Clerkenwell. I had five pints of Dogbolter and fell asleep slumped at my desk. I went back to Manchester with tales of how I’d conquered the evil south and when I picked up my de-icer at the garage in Irvinestown that Christmas, I thought I was a superstar.

The Son of Arnold Swain

The Son of Arnold Swain

Arnold Swain’s bigamous ways on Coronation Street scandalised Middle England in the summer of 1980 when he won and broke the fragile heart of the nation’s favourite maiden aunt, the blessed Emily Bishop. The other Geoff on my course happened to be his son and it was a big thrill for me to find myself rubbing shoulders closely with such soap royalty. Indeed in our third year his desk was adjacent to mine – not that he sat at it too often. Unlike the avian superstars in my design orbit, he had a down-to-earth approachability and good humour that kept him grounded. He was though a proper art student – the band, the flat in Hulme, the clothes, the hair, an effortless cool. Indeed his effortlessness was what impressed me more than anything. He didn’t come in too much, didn’t seem to try too hard completing set projects. Didn’t get too bothered when the grades weren’t as good as they could have been. But whatever he ended up producing looked good in a minimalist and understated way. He would set a bit of type for a party invitation and it looked just right – the leading, the kerning – just perfect. I could play around for hours and it would look like a dog’s dinner. It took me years to understand typographic sensitivity, what worked and what didn’t, when sans serif was the only option or capitals was a no-go, how to juggle your weights to perfection. You couldn’t imagine this Geoff finding a sheet of Letraset in a skip and rushing home gleefully for his burnisher – if it wasn’t just the right font or weight he’d have chucked it straight back in again. No, Swain Junior was a natural and just as Dad had Emily Bishop wrapped round his finger, cosied up in a snug in The Rovers with a rum and blackcurrant and the promise of cottage in Glossop, so Geoff had Futura Condensed and Gill Sans Bold dancing to his typographic tune. That’s talent.

Biddy Baxter

Biddy Baxter

It was bad enough having one excitable dog in the house but Sam was positively mellow in comparison to the puppy boy from Ilkley in Yorkshire who shared my bedroom in the autumn of 1984. He went by the name of Biddy Baxter and was overflowing with a potent mix of testosterone, youthful zest and enthusiasm. He was a Loaded lad, but ten years before his time, and though charged up on Diamond White and Chubby Brown tapes, in possession of a softer, cuddlier underbelly that made you want to reach out and give him a tickle. His Freshers Week seemed to last about three months as a predictable pattern emerged of him arriving home very merry in the small hours and waking me up to regail me with tales of his escapades. Now, I was working long hours in the hotel and Sid was putting the pressure on at college, so the last thing I really needed was some excitable bubblehead rousing me from my hard-earned slumbers. But bizarrely, I positively welcomed and encouraged his nocturnal intervention. It wasn’t that his stories were even that outlandish really, they usually involved a mate climbing scaffolding holding a traffic cone or someone urinating in an inappropriate location. It was just the way he told them and the sheer delight he took in sharing the stories that fascinated me, his big eyes getting wider and wider and his chuckle more manic as he reached the climax. Ilkley really must have been very dull because he was like a kid in a sweet-shop, let loose in the big city and lapping it up with every inch of his big puppy dog tongue. He spoke in a quite high-pitched Yorkshire drawl which got even more shrill when he was under the influence. Sometimes I taped him on my dictaphone, just for the hell of it and later he took to recording himself which was quite a feat given his inebriated condition. He was so full of cobblers and of course he fell about the next day when I played it back, usually as he was preening himself in readiness for the next evening sortie. Fastidious about his appearance, he was in fact some kind of part-time model, (possibly for a mail-order catalogue company in Ardwick). It amused me no end to witness such unashamed grooming and self-love as he gelled and perfumed himself in readiness for the night ahead, usually to the accompaniment of his favourite record, Sade’s Smooth Operator.