I was Born in Kidderminster the middle son of 3 boys. My father’s passion for travel took us round the world, we lived in Africa and Australia it was an exciting childhood, but I think I attended 10 junior schools in total. During this season of life I developed a pretty good clown act to distract people from the fact that I was unable to read or write with the same ease as everyone else. Wherever we went we had cats, the first one I can remember from the age of three was “Pickles the fire Cat”. I used to bring cats home to be part of the family, but my father would make me take them back to where I had found them.
We returned to the UK for secondary schooling which was a tricky time as I was in the remedial classes with the other kids with learning difficulties, I got into a lot of trouble and left without qualifications. My father moved back to South Africa and my mother died. My brothers who were not academically challenged went onto have successful careers, but by the age of 21, I was wild, lost and homeless.
A friend was living in lodgings in Kidderminster and he persuaded the landlady to let me share his room and thus began the slow journey of salvation. It was in Hamilton Rd that I began my journey with Art and cats, I would sit in the same armchair, hood up, headphones on, drawing anything and everything from my imagination. Ricky an enormous black and white Tom cat was also part of the household, he and the ginger tom a few doors down used to battle for control of the street. He was a well loved character, grumpy and very vocal, the kind of cat that didn’t crave human affection but would make his presence known. I think because I had rather long thigh bones reminiscent of tree branches he would come and drape himself over my leg like a leopard. We became good friends.
Age 28 I scraped together enough money to visit my father in South Africa, I went with a friend. While I was there my father persuaded me to join a computerised reading programme which was provided for the people in the local township, I found that dealing with a machine caused a lot less anxiety and I was able to learn something. It was suggested that instead of being just stupid I might have dyslexia and that if I could muster up the courage I could try going to the college back home (Kidderminster college) to do the art foundation course where I might also get some help with reading.
So on returning from South Africa age 29 on the strength of my portfolio Kidderminster college accepted me for a 2 year art foundation course, here I got into ceramics. A lovely lady called Marion arranged for me to be assessed by the College for the blind in Hereford and helped me with some strategies for coping with my form of dyslexia. For the 1st time in my life I passed an exam, an A level in ‘Art in Architecture’ and gained a distinction in BTEC diploma in Art Foundation, setting me up for the ‘Horace Stamford Memorial Prize’ for highest achievement in my year. I then attended Stafford College of figurative sculpture for 2 years and obtained an HND at distinction level.
On leaving Stafford I moved to London with a fellow student, we lived in a 2 bed single brick mushroom shaped cottage in the midst of a yard full of garages. We lived upstairs and turned the living room downstairs into a studio. He brought Fi Fi with him an almost wild Persian cat whom his mother had used for breeding and had discarded. Eventually she let me groom her until she disappeared. For my birthday some friends knowing I missed Fi Fi decided to give me a pair of kittens, Daisy, who was tortoiseshell and white and Fat Cat, a marmalade and white Tom. I became dad to numerous litters of kittens as Daisy kept escaping, before I could get her neutered, they were all reared in my room. Although ‘Fat Cat’ was not the father, he had a beautiful nature and was the most loving uncle to his nieces and nephews, keeping them clean and in order. I managed to find good homes for all the kittens, my friends in Kidderminster took Charlie and Poppy, kittens from the last 2 litters who had become inseparable. Sadly Charlie died of liver failure shortly after moving, we think he got poisoned.
After being in London 9 years, developers bought the garages and I was asked to leave, not having enough money to relocate, I stood my ground as long as I could and lived under siege surrounded by bulldozers. This was obviously not a safe situation for Daisy and Fat Cat so they too went to live in Kidderminster. Eventually the developers agreed to a small settlement figure, enough for a deposit on a room and something towards removals. With the encouragement of my brother I moved to Exeter, but there were no pets allowed so my babies stayed in Kidderminster when I moved. Tragically Fat Cat also died from poisoning which broke my heart as he was very special, but Daisy and Poppy are still going strong. Unfortunately I now live in a place which would be unsuitable for cats, but one day I hope to have a garden so I can have cats again and keep them.
On moving to Exeter I became a founder member of a community of artists setting up affordable studio spaces. I spend most of my waking hours working on projects in my studio or doing odd jobs for people. The shame of not being able to read has been with me till very recently, I had only told a handful of close friends. The energy taken to keep it hidden and the anxiety of being found out has definitely held me back from making a living, as filling in forms and being computer savvy seems to be part of everyday life with which I struggle. It has only been in the last 12 months when I got referred to St Loyes and New Leaf that I received the help I needed to begin to shake the stigma off and to build the confidence to ask for help and start a business. The launch of ‘Custom Cats’ is the beginning of that journey.