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Architecture and Urban Planning - A Memoir \ David Best
I 1950 - 1960
Summer Holidays Abroad

 At The Faculty of Architecture, an essential part of our education was accomplished between each semester. The summer holidays were for foreign travel; the spring was for work on building sites and the Christmas holiday for time with the family at home and serious reading assignments. In summer we were encouraged to travel each year to a different part of Europe in order to sketch and prepare measured drawings of important architectural monuments. The problem was always how to finance these trips abroad. 

   During my first year at University, I had a friend who was studying in the Art School down Oxford Road.  He had an unusual talent for discovering quick ways to make enough money in order to go abroad.  After the end of my first summer term, I decided to travel through France to Italy, a trip which required at least about twenty pounds. If I hitch-hiked through the continent and did a bit of fruit picking on the way, that sum would get me there for about six weeks and hopefully get me back.   

 My friend that year was making and selling ‘Decorated Wall Plates’ and agreed to take me on as an artistic sub-contractor. The plates were made of plaster of Paris. Their design was quite abominable, with such topics as thatched-roof farmhouses with stylized creepers on the wall, or windmills with stylized milkmaids sporting around them and other such inane subjects dearly loved by the middle-aged ladies of the Manchester suburbs.  They were in base relief with irrelevant holes here and there, which my friend claimed created a chiaroscuro effect, whatever that ment. My job was to paint the white plates in as garish colours as I could possibly invent.  At last I would become a professional painter!  For every five plates that I painted I would receive one for myself, which I could flog for about five shillings each; a lot of plates and a lot of flogging!  But such was the enthusiasm for these wretched things amongst the Manchester housewives that by a personal door to door service, I achieved my financial goal within a couple of weeks; eighty despicable plates and the same number of unstoppable talking ladies!  Neither my friend nor I were fully aware however that the material of plaster of Paris was far less appropriate than the traditionally burnt clay versions of such things, which were on sale in the shops. Within weeks our plates were disintegrating all over the Rushholme and the Moss Side areas of the city, which subsequently became out of bounds for both of us for months. But that was next year’s problem. 

 Having accumulated the necessary finance for a third class return boat ticket to Calais, I was only able that year to tour the south of France where I carried out the obligatory sketching and measuring of historic buildings.  On my way back home I spent the last couple of weeks in Paris with my school- friend Maurice Packman.  It was for both of us our first visit to Paris, which at that time was still the Mecca for all the great artists, and potential ones.  In 1947, Paris was already recovering from the effects of the occupation during the Second World War and was becoming again the gay city of its reputation ('gay' meant 'happy' in those days).  We stayed at the modern student's Hostel called 'Maison Swiss', designed by the architect Le Corbusier, in the 'Cite` Universitaire'. 

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