Bonus points if you can spot what the background is before reading to the end or looking at the comments shot!
Following 3 strangers where I found out relatively little about their lives I decided that today I wanted a story – by the end my head was spinning trying to remember it all ;).
I first spotted Lester at Grey’s Monument but he was on the phone so I wandered around a bit whilst keeping an eye on him waiting for him to finish. He eventually finished his call so I walked straight up to him (actually it was more of a bee-line as he tried to escape) and asked if I could take his photo. He was "honoured" he replied with a big smile and enquired why but long before I’d finished explaining I knew he was going to say yes, which he did, commenting that he “certainly was strange” and again that smile was there – and it never really disappeared throughout. Lester was great fun to talk to and I really enjoyed the 20 minutes that followed before we parted company – with me stating that some of us worked for a living … he smiled again, taking this in the right spirit!
Whilst talking about Flickr it came to light that Lester is in the process of converting 40 years of film photographs to digital and he is putting some of the better ones on Flickr. He has about 500 reels of his own and I think he said he had about 24 of his Dad’s so there’s a fair amount of work involved there. I kept meaning to come back to photography and what it means to him but I didn’t quite manage to steer the conversation that way as it always seemed to flow from one topic to the next with no obvious point to start on something completely new.
Lester is a learning mentor in a secondary school in Jarrow and I was amused to hear him list "security guard" amongst the duties that this entails but as Jarrow is one of the more deprived areas locally having built its fortune in the coal and shipbuilding industries I am sure that this only tells half the story. Lester left school aged 15 before eventually qualifying as a primary school teacher and he worked in primary schools whilst his 4 kids were of that age then became a learning mentor 10 years ago pretty much as his kids moved to that stage of their lives – as a result coming home from work was often like a busmans holiday as he was confronted with the same types of issues he had been dealing with all day. Indeed his daughter once commented that he sorted everyone else’s problems out but not hers ;). At 60 Lester reckons that he will be at this school for the rest of his working life and seems to enjoy it commenting that he really appreciates it when he bumps into ex pupils and they say thanks for what he did for them. It seems to be that a little life experience enables them to reflect on what school is all about and appreciate it more retrospectively. Lester is in the last week of his 13 week summer break (hence my parting comment) and looking forward to getting back to work.
Slightly random fact: Lester’s eldest is now a policeman in Leeds just out of his probationary period and working in the Yorkshire Ripper’s old hunting ground.
An Eastender originally, Lester moved to Newcastle in 1991 moving into the east-end Byker area and he reckons he will see his days out here. We talked quite a bit about multi-cultural society and Lester remembers once seeing an Afro-Caribbean in the area and suddenly realising that this was not commonplace – he had been in the area for about 6 months by this point. He also recounts that when he first moved here his kids used to shush him in case the locals heard his accent and caused trouble!
A while back I came up with a new soundbite question to ask strangers and I tried it out in my last encounter but it fell completely flat but I reckoned it’d be a good bet with Lester – and I told him as much heaping on even more pressure, he came up trumps though:
Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
A: PS: Don’t do this kids – it’s not big and it’s not clever! Nonetheless … when he was young a friend had a party when his "2 bit film producer" Dad went to Italy. At the end of the party Lester got into his car and drove home but whilst driving down the rather long driveway he got a bit lost and drove across the lawn and flowerbeds (much to the amusement of his other friends in the car). When he woke up in the morning there were still bits of flower stuck in various parts of the car’s bodywork. He denied all knowledge when his (rather concerned) friend later mentioned the devastation but has felt somewhat guilty ever since. Maybe this public admission will help cleanse his conscience and let him sleep easier at night. It turns out then that the "Alka Seltzer" background was more pertinent than I realised ;). I wonder what the odds on his mate reading this are? Just in case and in the interests of fairness, the "2 bit" phrase was only used when I asked if I was likely to have heard of his friend’s film-producing Dad.
Lester, thanks very much for taking part in my project – it was a real pleasure talking to you and I hope you like the photos.
This picture is #32 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page