These sandals didn’t get worn much in Scotland. Too many spaces and places through which water would happily ingress. Very few things are as unpleasant over a Glasgow August Weekend as wet, cold feet except, perhaps, midgies*. Nowadays, as you know I laugh and dance in the face of summer rain particularly when it follows a day or so of 35 degree plus temperatures. In the days when I bought these sandals in a posh sari shop in the Italian Centre in Glasgow I would have been imagining a holiday somewhere or other.
Although not known for its warm, sunny weather every spring Scottish women pelt headloing into flurry of frenzied purchasing of beachwear. For example, at present time while snow is still on the ground back home, Marks & Spencer will be flogging this wee number to ghostly white, sun seeking Paisley ladies.
These sandals did accompany me overseas on a trip to the Greek Island of Evia.
Alex Leckie, an acclaimed Scottish potter, one of my husband’s teachers at the Glasgow School of Art used to live there. Alex taught pottery classes at an artist’s retreat and in return he was given the use of a complex of villas including an old stable which he had white-washed and turned into a studio space. Alex was born in the West End of Glasgow, left school at the age of 15, and at the age of 18 enrolled at Glasgow School of Art. He had no formal qualifications for entry but was taken on by the school on “perceived potential”. Once it was founded in 1948, the Glasgow School of Art’s ceramic department was one of the school’s drawcards. The Mackintosh building’s entrance area (designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh) is decorated with ceramic mosaics by artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Robert Adam and Charles Rennie himself. Alex became one of the Ceramics Department’s great teachers.
Before I met him, the stories that I had heard about Alex from the Art School intrigued me. My husband tells me that when critiquing a ceramic student’s work his first question to that student was:
“Where the fuck’s your head at?”
He wanted to know what they had in their mind before he talked with them about what they had physically created.
I also remember the story of the Medieval Banquet Night when Alex returned to the Ceramics Department from the pub to find my husband barbequing a cow carcass in one of the big gas kilns for his fellow students. “That” Alex said to my husband “is not how you cook a fucking cow. Turn the heat down. Now. Slow and steady. That’s my boy“.
As a student, it was my husband’s job to impersonate Alex on the phone after a Big Night Out at the pub with his students. Despite the fact that my husband was thirty years younger the Dean of the Glasgow School of Art never once cottoned on to the hangover induced switcheroo.
While teaching at the pottery department at the South Australia School of Art, he got caught skinny dipping in a fountain in Adelaide. Apparently when asked to vacate the fountain by the police, he clambered out and passed out face down on the grass. The School of Art “politely asked him to vacate his position” in his words not long after. Before the naked fountain episode, he constructed a Ned Kelly Monument using huge ceramic drainpipes which, to this day, is displayed in a major art collection in Australia.
Through these Alex stories told by my husband and his many potter friends I created a patchwork hologram in my mind of a hard drinking, straight talking, no-prisoner-taking and quite frankly worrying individual. However, for many years I did not actually meet him nor did I catch sight of him. So I thought that Alex might be a triumph of theatrical invention, one of those TV characters who influence the lives of many but who remains forever unseen. A bit like Ugly Naked Guy in Friends or Maris Crane in Frasier. I wondered idly if the magic of the Alex Leckie legend would somehow be diminished if and when I finally met him.
When I did meet Alex he turned out to be a sweetheart albeit one with an uncommonly loquacious way with swear words. He looked very much then as he did in his Facebook page which I discovered when I Googled his name last Sunday night.
I wish, more than anything, that I had Googled and added him as a Facebook friend 6 months ago. Earlier this month (February 2010), he was admitted into hospital with appendicitis. He had his appendix removed and was doing well post op. Three days later, he started suffering acute abdominal pain. He then developed breathing problems and was immediately admitted to the the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Paisley. Things went badly wrong from there – Alex had multiple organ failure which lead to a heart attack. The ICU staff worked on resuscitating Alex for 9 minutes but by this time his vascular system had shut down limiting the blood supply to all other organs. He was ventilated for only a few hours until his partner Sandra made the heartbreaking decision to switch the ventilator off and let him go in peace. he went into the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Paisley for what was thought to be a fairly minor heart issue (he’d had at least two heart by-pass operations in the past). While in hospital, he contracted an infection which led to other complications which lead ultimately to a massive heart attack. He was 77 years old.
The reason that we travelled to Evia was ostensibly for my husband to help Alex test fire his experimental kilns that he had designed and built himself. He trusted John to help him. It was, I believe, a big honour for John and also a time for them to re-engage and to talk Secret Man Business. As for me, I brought a couple of pairs of sandals (these included), a black silk sarong, some swimsuits and some light holiday reading” “The Holocaust” by Martin Gilbert. I remember much of that holiday today particularly the image of Alex running flat out in a pair of underpants across night time lawn to answer the telephone in the torrential rain. He looked a bit like one of Santa’s hench men would look if he had any.
“Hen” he said to me “if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have got dressed to answer the phone“.
We miss you Alex.
“Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace“
Potter, lecturer and sculptor
Born: Glasgow, 2 June, 1932.
Died: Paisley, 7 February, 2010 aged 77.
* Miniature Scottish mosquitoes (Culicoides) that lurk under trees and in shadey place in the late summer. Quite psychotic and drawn to sweat and fear, the midge can inflict Grievous Bodily Harm via hundreds of multiple bites in the time that it takes to say “Oh buggery bollocks, midgies“.