Day 51 of the Shoe Challenge: Hole-y Sandals, Holidays & Absent Friends

Esino by Trickers International Black Patent Leather & Gold Sandals

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.

Marks & Spencer Empire Line Drawstring Cover Up Tunic

These sandals did accompany me overseas on a trip to the Greek Island of Evia.

Evia, Greece from june_godiva's photostream

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

Alex Leckie

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“.

14 thoughts on “Day 51 of the Shoe Challenge: Hole-y Sandals, Holidays & Absent Friends

  1. Love all your shoes! I try never to wear the same pair if heels to work more than once a season and try to keep the height around 4″. Keep up the blogging!
    Ps my heels have been know to get as high as 6″ don’t tell anyone

  2. thank you for the epitaph discussing alex leckie. there was a time when the only thing that mattered in a distinguished art college were the distinguished artists who help the continuum created through the decades of previous gifted artists who flew the flag of art decade after decade. I attended the glasgow school of architecture for three years which, as everyone now knows, is called the “mackintosh school of architecture”. they say that it is world famous and who am I to dispute this flag flying claim. MACKINTOSH! now, there is a name to be rolled around the aesthetic tongue. poor lad, prodigious talent, but wholly despised in glasgow and forced to leave the city to find whatever crusts and crumbs he could find elsewhere by selling little water colours and asking for and occasionally getting hand-outs. today, of course, he is lauded across the length and breadth of the city, the land, the terrestrial globe. souvenirs ranging from teacups, spoons, chairs, ceramic tiles, scarves, jewellery things and more unmentionable things all bear his name. surely, that is an honourable and true way to laud one of scotland’s supreme artists i.e. a manufacture a bunch of junk which is sold to an unwitting public?

    I reflect on mackintosh from time to time and think that his first two initials C.R. i.e. CHARLES RENNIE could just as easily stand for CHRIST REVISITED. my theory is that just like christ, who would be stuck back up on a cross before he could have a cup of tea (despite all the christian verity) mackintosh would be shoved out of glasgow just as quickly as before. basically a good dose of cant and HUMBUG. so, why am I saying all of this? well! artists such as alex leckie will live on through their own work and the students they taught and the students that the students will teach. our academic institutions are run today by the faceless ones i.e. the accountants who only have eyes for columns of figures and balanced budgets. since when did art ever amount to a balanced budget? some of my design classes were taken at the edinburgh college of art school of architecture and the principal, sir william gillies, not only ran the institution he was a star scottish painter and, above all, a gentleman. great artists great characters, great people are not some kind of bas relief pastiches they are the flesh and blood of art and architecture. the faceless accountants would have had alex leckie’s balls in an iron vice but will buy his work because it might increase in value as an investment. when one considers alex say in relation to caravaggio who, from time to time, bumped people off, he is really quite saintly.
    anyway, the faceless ones, in the end, won the day for their grey columns. they closed the ceramic department down for good. now, that is a true phyrric victory and a hard blow for democracy. R.I.P. ALEX LECKIE. I am very glad to have one of his little pots which is much treasured.

  3. What a lovely post. Alex sounds like he lived a great life, touched many hearts and inspired a great deal of people. What a great legacy.

  4. I love how you meander in a what at first seems a random fashion from sandals, to art, to death. Some wonderful, enviable memories here.
    Also I must thank you for clarifying what midgies are. They are mentioned in a Winnie the Pooh book and I wondered what they were!

  5. I just read your blog and I have to thank you for writing such a nice piece about my father, Alex Leckie. You, like everyone else who met him have fond and funny memories. I love him with all my heart and he will never be forgotten. I feel I am so lucky to have had a dad like him and he was a fantastic grandad too!
    Thank you again, Melissa Leckie.

    • Hi Melissa – I am glad that you found it. It is a shame that I couldn’t find any online images of your dad’s work. My husband and I have a wonderful planter that he gave Tommy the Janitor at the Haldane. Tommy gave it to John and died not long afterwards. I remember sharing a room in Evia with the War Heads which were horrific and serene at the same time. He was such a rare talent your father.

  6. That’s quite a nice and amusing tribute to your friend Alex there. Amazing that that is where the shoes led you to, but then, that is one of the things I love most about this blog.

  7. Hi
    I ran into Alex on the grounds of an old Venetian castle in Rythemnon in 1981. He was with 2 mates (one being Jimmie Macgregor) and they were munching on fat dripping salamis and surrounded by beer bottles and bottles of red.

    My wife (girlfriend at the time) spent a wonderful few hours sharing in his celebrations and by the end he had offered us the keys to his Scottish house and his van if we ever wanted to tour Scotland.
    Sadly we never made to Scotland and never saw Alex again.

    But we have a wonderful photo of our afternoon together.
    I’ve been putting up some old Greek pics on facebpook and thought I’d look up Alex and found your blog instead.

    All the best

    Also that afternoon Alex convinced Jimmie (folk singer) to sing harmony down some holes leading to some catacombs under the castle. Despite how much he’d had to drink, he made a choir come out of those holes with his singing. Magic.

    • Hi Dillon

      Wow! I am so pleased that this post found it’s way to you. It is still kind of hard for me to get my head round the fact that I won’t see Alex again. Part of me still remembers the time we spent in Greece with him so vividly. I’d love to see your Facebook photos – I am on there as Caveat Calcei BTW.

  8. Wonderful to realise that there are so many ‘Leckie Lovers’ still out there. We were friends from around 1955 when he burst on the South Australian conservative art scene and on through his varied life here in OZ and in Scotland. Some of my fondest memories are labouring at Mercat Pottery in 1988 in Glasgow – we’d stagger down to the pottery after many spliffs and a few hours sleep about two in the morning to polish the new cement floors. I’ve got a million tales. He knew how to live and did it 100%. I miss the wee man and treasure his work.

    • Billy thank you so much for visiting and leaving this comment. They say that the measure of one’s life is how many miss you when you are gone. With the number of memories and stories perhaps one day a Leckie visual history will reach the shelves. Or a film. Who would honour him most playing him in ‘Leckie the Movie” do you reckon?

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