Yesterday’s Dreams by Jack Vettriano
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Jack Vettriano: standing in the shadows of love

Scotland’s favourite painter on the art of heartbreak.

Yesterday’s Dreams was painted in 1994. The setting is the studio that I kept on the second floor of a townhouse that I had at the time in Edinburgh, in Lynedoch Place, not five minutes’ walk from the First Minister’s official residence, Bute House.

The title and inspiration for the painting come from a song by Lamont Dozier and the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, who, as a trio, arranged and produced many songs that helped define the Motown sound in the 1960s and provided the soundtrack to my adolescence. I first heard the song after it was released in 1968, when I was a 17-year-old with a girlfriend who was 19. And yes, she turned the boy into a man in every way. But she moved on to another trainee lover and left me totally broken-hearted.

I retired to my bedroom for three months, my solitude interrupted only by having to go to work, and listened to “Yesterday’s Dreams” endlessly and wrote poetry – nothing for Robert Burns or Leonard Cohen to worry about but cathartic at the time, for me. I was just a young guy who couldn’t cope with a broken heart and this song captured the terrible pain that only love can inflict.

Yesterday’s dreams today are all sorrow
Just like your love, girl, fading away . . .
Yesterday’s love won’t last till tomorrow
I know you’re leaving, but what can I say? . . .
Yesterday’s dreams though gone and behind us
They’re lonely reminders of plans that we made.

When I emerged from my self-imposed exile, I stopped listening to the song to prove to myself that I’d moved on, and didn’t rediscover it until 26 years later when I came across a CD of The Four Tops Greatest Hits. I bought it and immediately played the track and it took me right back to me as a tragic 17-year-old. I knew I had a painting to do and I didn’t want it to be a self-portrait, so I contacted a friend, told her my story and Yesterday’s Dreams is the result.

For some reason I have always been drawn to people, particularly women, whose hearts have been broken – occasionally by me. I think this feeds in to my melancholic tendencies, and definitely influences my choice of music. In Yesterday’s Dreams, I wanted to capture an atmosphere of melan­choly and longing, so I kept the scene simple: a woman dressed in black, holding a pair of gloves and a cigarette; she’s turned away from the viewer and is looking out of my studio window. Mundane though this may seem, I’d never painted net curtains before, but I wanted to see if I could do it because they added something in the partial veiling of her and the view beyond. When I look at the painting now, it makes me nostalgic about my time in Lynedoch Place and the view out of my window, which is Randolph Cliff, the most beautiful row of Georgian houses, opposite my studio.

I like to create atmosphere and here I wanted to capture the woman’s sadness that her lover has left her and is not coming back. There is a period of grieving after the loss of love and so I dressed my character in black and put her in a grey background to give the painting an almost funereal setting. The clothes were all from charity shops; I pick things up when I see them and they find their way into paintings at a later date. I gave her a cigarette as I do enjoy watching a woman smoking – I guess I’m in the minority there, but I just do.

I planned the painting carefully. I wanted it to be very simple, with a restricted palette of colours – almost monochromatic, with the tones of the Edinburgh sky blending with the pale grey stone of the houses opposite. I am proud of this painting and I was so pleased when it was selected for inclusion in my 20-year retrospective at Kelvingrove Art Gallery. I hope that visitors to the exhibition were moved by it in some way.

www.jackvettriano.com

This article first appeared in the 26 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: a special issue

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.