In Simon Macbeth last term at Leeds College of Art and Design, everyone started applying for all kinds of courses. I was told Nottingham was one of the best universities to do a Fine Arts degree and that I would have a great chance of getting a place there. It was something I should have done before and when I found out I had been selected for an interview I was pretty confident. I spent most of the money I had getting to Nottingham.
The interview took place in an art studio. The room had nothing in it, just splashes of paint all over the floor, walls, and the few tables and chairs that remained in one corner. I sat at the end of the room at a big desk on a high stool. The male and female interviewers sat on either side of me. Their hands were dirty with charcoal, presumably from flicking through other applicants’ portfolios.
My artwork lay in front of them on the table. Things seemed to go well and they both said that they liked what they saw. They asked me lots of questions about why I’d done things in certain ways, what my inspirations were. I was passionate about what I’d done and I felt I talked really well.
The man in particular was throwing my work all over the place. I’d spent the last couple of weeks sorting out the pictures and neatly presenting them in my portfolio. They continued to throw my stuff around as if it meant nothing. I asked them nicely if they could be a little more careful. The man who was on my left-hand side stopped talking and looked at me and muttered, “Mmm, alright,” in a pretty dismissive way.
He carried on as he had been doing, so after a few more seconds I asked him again if he would be a bit more careful. I was worried that some of the charcoal that was on his hands would ruin my artwork. He had been seeing people’s portfolios all day and was probably getting tired, but it was my work he was carelessly throwing around and his behaviour antagonised me.
He took no notice of my pleas, so ultimately I ordered him to get off my work and pushed in front of him so that I could carefully put my portfolio back together. I put it in my folder, zipped it up, and left them sitting there. I think that they’d asked me a couple of times what I was doing and I just ignored them. I’d had enough at this point. I didn’t want to go to their college if that’s how I was going to be treated, in such a disrespectful manner.
I have looked back at that incident and wondered if I was too stubborn and proud, but it was the difference between what was right and wrong. It was wrong for them to treat me and my work in such a way, so I did something about it. It probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but it’s what I did and what I thought was right at the time. I could have been more considerate to them. They were probably interviewing a hundred people like me on that day, they were fed up, and it takes longer to treat people’s work carefully. I don’t know.
Needless to say, a short while later I got a letter in the post saying that my application had been unsuccessful. I was disappointed, as I had really wanted to go there and give myself a chance for a fresh start. After that interview, I gave up on the idea of going away to college. I was told it would be all right because I’d be able to get a place through clearing. I didn’t understand how that worked or what I needed to do to make that happen, so nothing came of that at all and my fresh start went stale.
Going away to college would have made life so much easier for me through the first few years after my Dad kicked me out. I would, however, be a different person today and I doubt very much that I would have enjoyed the successes that I have enjoyed in recent years. I certainly wouldn’t have missed being in Leeds with the pressure that was on me at the time. In many ways, though, dealing with those difficult times has made me into the person I am. It made me understand things. It gave me the desire to change my life around and work the way I chose to work when I set up my own company eight years ago.
When I settled down from the disappointment, it started to sink in that one of my dreams had disappeared. I considered taking a year out and reapplying the following summer. The trouble was, I wasn’t planning a year in advance at that stage; I was just getting through life day by day and it wasn’t that easy to do that.
I remember the last day that I was at college, one of my best friends Lisa and I had fallen out over an argument she had had with our mutual friend Jo, as only girls can. Lisa was being a bit nasty and I took Jo’s side because everyone else took Lisa’s side. We’d not spoken for a month. It was again my stubbornness that kept that going. Lisa and Jo made up with each other, but Lisa and I didn’t, which was a sad thing. On the last day after everyone else had gone, I bumped into Lisa outside, we said our goodbyes, and then I never saw her again. It was a sad time.
I had four close friends at college: Lisa, Jo, Matt, and Lee. Matt didn’t seem too interested in staying in touch. I kept in touch with Jo a little bit. I’d been up to Ripon where Jo lived a couple of months earlier and gone out on a disastrous date with one of her friends named Dawn. She was a fun girl Jo, a really honest and open person, more like one of the lads, and a good laugh. I felt a bit sorry for her because she was hung up on a few things, but because of her honesty I was more aware of them than with other people. It was mainly to do with her body and the way she looked.
I never thought she was overweight or anything like that, but she thought she was. Her own perception of herself was obviously what was important to her. She wasn’t happy with her boob size either. She had a nice B cup and Lisa had triple Zs. Lisa didn’t rub them in her face (that would have been quite inappropriate, if not a little interesting,) but it made Jo feel a bit self-conscious, which was unfortunate.
When we were at college, we used to go on our little trips to all sorts of places. I broke the window of her car once by opening it too quickly and the catch went. We had to go to a scrap yard to replace the catch and together we fixed it. I kept in touch with Jo for a little while and saw her again a couple of times until it fizzled out. In college we had stuff in common. Out of college, we didn’t share so much common ground. She lived with her parents who were comfortably off and I didn’t have any money to do anything with. Again, it was the lack of money that got in the way of a good friendship.
Lee was different. He was somebody I should still be friends with now, but I’m not. From the first day, Matt and I sat at the same table next to where Lisa and Jo sat, so that established the four of us in the group. Unlike the rest of us, Lee knew other people as he’d been on another course there before and he hadn’t joined us until halfway through the first year. We became friends and used to go to the university and play on the racing simulator games, spending money I couldn’t afford. We’d also play game after game of pool and got on really well together.
Lee was more like me, in that he had moved out of home and was living with his German girlfriend. She was a year older, lovely and good looking, and they’d been seeing each other since they were about 12, which I thought was really sweet. They were now 18 and 19 years old and Lee was besotted with her and would never cheat on her. He’s always said that his fantasy was to shag a Black girl, and he sometimes said that not being able to do that was the only regret he had of being in that relationship. He wasn’t the type of bloke who would go around flirting with other girls. He was a straight up kind of a guy and from what I knew of him, he was totally faithful.
He had his problems as well. He didn’t have money to spend, as he was in a similar financial boat to me. We needed to eat at lunchtime and we used to go down to Morrisons, which was a 10-minute walk. We used to buy a block of cheese for 60 pence and some bread cakes for 22 pence and put half in together at a cost of 41 pence each. Our budget each day was 50 pence and we’d have cheese sandwiches. Everyone else was going to the shops and spending £1.10 on a posh sandwich, but we couldn’t afford to do that. In a strange way, our mutual poverty was nice as it was something I had in common with someone away from college. I felt much closer to Lee than the others, when it came to leaving at the end of the course.
Lee left college a little bit before me because he went over to Germany to spend the summer with his girlfriend and her family. They were both really nice to me and I let them down badly and it’s something I still think about.
Learn More About Simon Macbeth Leeds
You can find out more about Simon Macbeths life, from being a child and growing up in Leeds, to where he is now. A successful, award winning, business owner and web designer that owns high ranking websites. He is active on Google+ and Facebook where he creates interesting content.
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