I’m really enjoying working on my new book – a memoir: Yank – An American in 1960’s Swinging London. I was unsure and hesitant when I started working on a memoir as I’ve always written fiction. But it is just sailing along. I thought you might enjoy a sample.
Setup: I was working as a photographic model in London and I got my first job outside of London. This is what happened.
This was to be my first gig outside of London.
I was to take the train down to Dover the evening before the shoot, as we needed to be ready to work at dawn.
At 5 a.m. (and remember, I was now living on a schedule of going to bed at 2 and not getting up till 10) I received my wakeup call. I showered, dressed in a fog, and was in the lobby by 6. We were to have breakfast in the van on the way to the site where we were to shoot. It was still dark when we left, and breakfast was coffee from a Thermos, and stale crunchy rolls with ham and cheese – probably left over from yesterday’s hotel’s luncheon service.
The shooting site was atop the cliffs of Dover. The sky was grey and threatening, and a cold wind blew off the channel – and I do mean wind, not breeze.
This was a photo shoot for White Horse Whiskey. There were four models – two men and two women. As we got out of the van we were immediately stung by the biting wind. I had not expected, nor prepared, for this kind of weather, as it was a balmy September in London. Presented before us were a large helium balloon and a white horse. We were to represent ballooners tethered down for a luncheon in the grass. In front of the balloon there was a large luncheon hamper with a bottle of White Horse Whiskey on top. The poor horse was tethered by the balloon with his handler. I felt bad for the horse as he looked miserable and was shivering.
Mercifully, the wardrobe lady appeared and outfitted all the models with heavy overcoats. I was given what appeared to be a Russian fur hat with warm earflaps. That helped. A heavy scarf was wound around my neck and I was to wear goggles. But they looked ridiculous, so the photographer had me hang them around my neck. We were all issued gloves.
Now, I would not – if I were designing this advertisement – have set the scene in a mini hurricane in what felt like the dead of winter. I would have chosen a summer dale, with fleecy clouds, a running brook and perhaps few more balloons floating lazily in the sky. I would have put out a lovely blanket on the ground, and had a scrumptious luncheon spread out upon it. But, alas, this was not the case. It looked more like we were trekking in the Himalayas.
I’ve described before how long it can take to set up a shot. Then just imagine trying to control a helium balloon in the wind – a nervous and cranky horse, and four miserable models. We were sequestered in the van most of the morning while the production crew tried to set up the shot even though it was trying to blow away.
Finally, just before lunch time, we were told it was impossible to shoot today and they were to scrub the shot, and try again tomorrow.
So the next morning back again we all came. This time the grey had lifted some and there were occasional bursts of sunlight. The wind had abated – some. And the poor horse looked only slightly less woeful.
I was to be in the basket with my ‘bird’ (a girl in 60’s speak) pointing up to the balloon as though I was the driver of the damn thing. The other couple was to be outside the balloon’s basket. He was holding a glass – undoubtedly of White Horse Whiskey – and she, for some unknown reason, was holding a clipboard.
Now, if one were to analyze the photo carefully, one could see that all four people plus the picnic hamper would never fit into the tiny basket of the balloon. And what was with the horse? Did he just appear, hoping for an apple or a sugar cube?
But let it be said, they finally did get the photograph they wanted, and it eventually appeared in a national magazine. However, one can see from the flags frantically flapping on the struts of the balloon, and the blowing skirt of the woman on the ground that it was not some sensuous, lazy, summer dale. But hey, I got my fee, a free trip to windy Dover, and enough bread to keep me going for a good long while.