Jon says, “I love this painting. It conveys the fabulous light as day becomes night in London. It is a wonderful evocation of post war London. My father left school at the age of 13 when his own father died. He worked for a printing firm on Fleet Street before working for a number of different newspapers. He knew London intimately and as a boy would run everywhere taking messages. At the outbreak of World War 2 he joined the Fire Service and was based at Euston Fire Station during the Blitz. In 1942 he joined the RAF and was with 615 squadron as a wireless operator. He spent four years in Burma. When he returned to London, he tried to follow up his interest in art at various colleges but without qualifications he had little success. He had a great talent and it was a shame he was not able to develop it in a formal sense. He had that rare ability to be able to transfer what he was looking at onto paper or canvas. For me this painting really captures the essence of London, particularly on a wet wintry evening. I am a Londoner through and through.”
Visiting the animals
Jon’s love for animals and the natural world started with their garden and then from regular trips to the zoo. It never left him. He couldn’t take the animals home with him but the plastic Britains toys were a substitute and the essence of boyhood happiness.
“We lived close to Regents Park and we were always at London Zoo. As a small boy it seemed to go on forever and just be full of such fascination. I had a recurring dream as a small boy that I had climbed in by the canal and had the whole place to myself to explore without the crowds. I was just as fascinated by the house sparrows and mice that you would see taking advantage of the free food. As a treat I was bought an animal from the shop. They were made by a company called Britains and were always displayed in a tall glass cabinet. My favourite was the bison, but the crocodile was my bath toy.”
The Bird Table Book by Tony Soper published in 1965 was Jon’s first bedtime reading book with black and white illustrations. If you’re with Jon outdoors he’s listening to the conversation, but one ear is always identifying bird call and looking out for those fleeting glimpses of darting wing. Jon loves books and calls them “old friends”. This is one of his most loved, chosen from his vast collection.
“I loved the simple illustrations and drawings by Robert Gillmor. I also loved all the practical suggestions and I was always trying to put into action what I was reading about. It was published in 1965 so that is apt as it was the year I was born and over the years I have collected subsequent editions from second-hand bookshops and charity shops. It also was a catalyst for my love of books, particularly natural history ones which I have been collecting ever since. I now have well over three thousand. I could name many other wonderful books that have influenced me and my thoughts about the natural world. Chris Baines ‘How to make a Wildlife Garden’. Anything by Richard Mabey. With all the electronic apps – as amazing as they are – none replace a good book.”
Reading book “At Home”
“My father was an accomplished photographer and worked for J Allan Cash, who owned a photographic library based in Park Way in Camden. My memories as a child often revolved around being ‘extras’ in photographs that ‘might be of use to somebody’.”
Jon is posed and photographed by his father and features in this old-fashioned children’s book with his mother. There’s a story behind the book which he explains in his podcast. He used to help in his father’s dark room which sowed his early interest in photography which has become a lifelong passion. He still uses his father’s tripod from the 1960s which Jon pairs with a telescope and his iphone; not a digital camera in sight. His photography of the natural world can be seen on instagram @theearlybirder. His father gave him a love of many things, including creating images.
My grandfather’s clock
“My grandparents moved to live in Hampden Park on the edge of Eastbourne in the late 1960s and I spent many classic seaside holidays on the Sussex coast. My grandfather was born in 1898 and came from a very large north London family. He was the third child of 21; thirteen brothers and seven sisters. He was a very gentle man who had been injured in the First World War where a bullet had passed through both his arms. He took me rock-pooling at Holywell on the quieter beaches and even forgave me when I smuggled home a dead starfish which I hid in his shed. The clock was the sound I associated with those holidays and I had it restored a couple of years ago. It takes me instantly back to those childhood holidays.”
Map of London
“I am a geographer and I do love maps. People talk about map reading and I will spend hours looking at a map in the same way that you might spend time with a book. This map has a particular resonance for me as it was one that I used to plot a route from Harrow to Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2013. We were walking to raise funds and awareness in memory of a student of mine who was one of the bravest and inspiring young people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Her positivity and philosophical approach to her situation was a lasting lesson to me. I have been a teacher for over thirty years and loved every second of my career. Above everything else for me it is a source of continuous inspiration to see the amazing achievements of my students and what they go on to achieve.”
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