Thursday, February 28, 2019

10 Mars Bars

Recently I received the sad news that an old college friend of mine (Mick - Michael Dean) had passed away. Although those days were now 35 years in the past, the memories remain as vivid as ever and probably will remain so unless I suffer a lapse of memory brought on by old age.

At times like these there is often an exchange of memories and photographs between friends and, though we feel have a clear picture of events, there are also surprises or 'blasts from the past'. I received one of these 'blasts' in the form of a tangible record of something that occurred within the first few weeks of arriving at college.

In the Autumn of 1981 I arrived at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic (Later to become Northumbria University) to study on the BA (Hons) Fine Art degree course and initially stayed at the Lovaine B Halls of Residence. There I met a group of friends, most of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Within the first 2 months we collectively decided that life in the Halls of Residence was horrendous and so 7 of us rented a house in the Benwell area of Gateshead, just across the river from Newcastle. However before we moved out an event occurred one Wednesday evening the memory of which has now been brought to the fore.

During a casual and mundane conversation, mention was made of Mars bars and how filling they were. I personally liked them and declared that I found them so tasty that eating one would be as easy as anything, in fact I could probably eat more than one. I'm not sure how this happened or what exactly was said but within a short time I had stated that I could eat 10 Mars bars without problem.

Consequently, on Wednesday evening on the 21st October 1981 a group of friends gathered in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, primarily to eat dinner but also to witness me eat 10 Mars bars. As 8 of my friends sat down to eat a perfectly normal meal, I lined up the 10 Mars bars in front of me on the table. At 7:00pm I began eating the first one and by 7:40pm I had consumed all 10. Surprisingly, after dinner I accompanied the others into the city to have a few drinks and didn't feel worse for wear. In those days, it is worth noting, Mars bars were considerably larger than they are today.

In recent weeks, following Mick's sad passing, among many truly nostalgic photographs there was one of a page in a notebook. It turned out that this page, in one of Andrew Brown's notebooks, commemorated the Mars bar event in the form of a declaration, stating:

'Between 7:00pm and 7:40pm on Wednesday the 21st of October Patrick S. Ford at 10 Mars bars in quick succession without any break longer than a minute and without throwing up. We the undersigned are witness to this event.

Andrew Brown
Jane Watmough
Mark Dunn
D. Todd
Alan Laffey
Nigel Roberts
Michael Dean
Heather Craig (I took some pictures)'

I could only marvel at this document, seeing it now after so many years. It is a terrible tragedy that this news only surfaced due to Mick's untimely passing, but this is often how the world works. Mick was a hard-working, kind man and deserved to live out many more years with his family. It just doesn't seem fair at all.

Despite the event being the result of a silly, playful wager among friends, it is also quite prescient as it seems to point towards performance as an activity to be explored. This is quite possibly my first performance piece. If only I could track down those photographs taken by Heather Craig!

I would need to check the dates but the event may possibly have been inspired by visits to The Basement in Newcastle where, as a first year Fine Art student I saw artists such as Alastair Maclennan performing a 24 hour walking performance. Seeing him perform was such a privilege and I feel grateful that I had such an experience and I feel exactly the same way about attending a lecture by the great Joseph Beuys at Leeds Art Gallery (Henry Moore Institute) back in my Foundation Course days, wonderful experiences that should be treasured. 

The page in Andrew Brown's notebook

Since this account was posted I have been contacted by Alan Laffey, one of the signatories to the 10 Mars Bars event. He made two pertinent comments that are worth adding here:

A) He felt sure that the event occurred not in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, but in the house we subsequently moved to in Rectory Road, Benwell, Gateshead. He remembered that the wrappers from the 10 Mars Bars were attached to the wall in Rectory Road as a memento of the event. I remember this but cannot recall if the event happened there, or if the wrappers were brought from the Halls of Residence when we moved. I need to find my now misplaced diaries to check as I'm sure there would have been an entry to record exactly where the event took place.

B) He also reminded me that following the 10 Mars Bars event there was talk of a follow-up project, namely the eating of 25 Cadbury's Cream Eggs. I can remember this now and I wonder why it was never followed up. Perhaps I gained some sense?

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