Monthly Archives: February 2015

They started laughing again

Robert MitchumLaugh and the world laughs with you, as the saying goes. Depends who starts the laughter and what it is the world is laughing at. It was a tough enough life as a child coping with taunts connected to my cleft palate and hair-lip impairment. Amongst other flawed traits that life bequeathed me was colour blindness, which also singled me out for taunts. I panicked when Mother asked me to go upstairs to her wardrobe and fetch her brown, pink, blueish or red coat. If my younger brother was nearby I’d coax him to do it, if not then I often fetched the wrong coloured coat. Mother just tutted and went to fetch the right coat. It did not dawn on either of us that I was colour blind. She dismissed my mistake as that of a boy who was ‘dopey’, as I was occasionally called by my Dad. For the sake of peace I was happy to live with that label, not that I could reason with Dad to stop it but it was less painful than a whack around the head. It was at school where the colour blind problem was probably identified at first by an art teacher known affectionately as ”Squeaky”. Her remedy was for me to paint or draw subjects in black and white. Of course I hadn’t a clue why. I simply thought she was giving me special projects to do. But when ‘Squeaky’ wasn’t looking, so to speak, I’d paint birds, landscapes and animals in colour, and that’s when some of the pupils clocked my problem. They laughed and taunted me in the playground by shouting: ”Hey, what colour’s the sky?” or ”Hey, green face, what colour’s your mother’s face!” By secondary school, some of the taunts took a cruder character. No need to spell these out. However, a new art teacher came to my rescue. the ideal successor to ‘Squeaky’. I gravitated towards Miss Ritchie instinctively because of her gentleness and patience. She laid out my coloured pencils and paints in name order for me and spent time making sure that any merging of colours fitted with what I had in mind for the subject. She encouraged me a lot and had hoped that I would go on to Art College when I left school. However, things changed. I was moved to another art class with another teacher in the final two years. His name is not important but he was the opposite of Miss Ritchie in temperament and character. Nonetheless, he did spot my talent and had me paint a large Santa Clause for the school dining hall Christmas decorations. Still not fully aware of my colour blind problem, I sensed I was doing something wrong when the other pupils started laughing and taunting me again, and no wonder. Where else would you see Santa in a green suit and with a green face and pink beard? The only part I got right was the colour of his boots – black. The teacher wasn’t amused when he returned to class. He thought I was trying to be clever and as a result excluded me from future paint and graphite work. I was consigned instead to sitting at the spinning wheel – a skilful and admirable art form but not for me. The straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were, was the teacher’s reaction during a rare moment when he let me paint again. Once more I used the wrong colours. He stood behind where I sat and looked at my work, which, in my innocence, I was pleased with. I thought he’d be pleased too. He suddenly pushed my head forward with his large hand: ”What’s that meant to be boy? What colour of nonsense is this?” I could not answer and therefore was duly exiled to the cupboard till after class. While standing in the darkness of that solitary confinement I decided that I didn’t need this hassle so I dropped out of art class altogether and thereafter hid in the toilets instead. I never went to Art College, much to Miss Richie’s disappointment. It was not until I tried to join the Navy that I learned I was colour blind. The world was spared a disaster there. Thankfully the art world today welcomes artists with my condition and even lauds us as prime examples of what the deeper, psychological recesses of art is all about. Really? Be this as it may, I am happy with my art. I tend to stick to ‘Squeaky’s’ ‘special projects’ with rare exceptions. Then I depend on a Miss Ritchie to lay out the colour scheme in order of name. No one laughs at me now … not for my colour blindness anyway … not that it would bother me now if they did. I leave my art to deal with that.



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