Albany, Western Austrslia Australia (PressExposure) April 24, 2007 -- I first met John Arnott and Dave McCleery in 1990.
I had just opened a Backpackers for travellers from around the world to relax, have fun and enjoy the stunning sites of Albany in South Western Australia.
The trouble was, I couldnât get John to stay there.
He was fresh out of England; a Geordie with set ideas about what blokes meeting other blokes off buses and offering them a place to sleep for the night were up to.
I knew John should have been staying with us. I sensed it, though weâd never met. But instead of sensing the same thing John took off towards the Youth Hostel lugging a big backpack and a worried look on his face.
I had a sensible policy of not pursuing reluctant guests, but in Johnâs case I made my first exception. I walked with him all the way to my oppositionâs door, cajoling, tempting, promising and dealing, but to no avail. John looked at me and said, âLook mate, Iâm not interested, all right?â
I had no idea why I felt so disappointed walking back to our place. We were nearly full, very popular and the place was awash with personalities, real characters and show stopping moments every day. What was so important about John?
It took a few days to forget this niggling feeling Iâd missed something, missed an opportunity. A crossroads had been reached and I felt John had gone down the wrong path.
Six months later he arrived and tapped on the reception door to get my attention. âI decided to give you a go,â he said, grinning and showing off an outrageous Newcastle accent.
I was married at the time and our son Gareth took to John straight away. It may have been the silly voice, but there were other talents John began to share that fascinated all of us. He played classical and ragtime guitar, baffled everyone with wondrous card tricks and everytime he spoke it was like listening to another language. We wondered what he was talking about.
Heâd come back because I had been so bloody minded and determined he also figured out he must have missed something. He told me that during his first visit, when I had met the bus looking for potential guests, that heâd been asleep and come along way before staggering off the bus and being confronted by, according to him, a religious zealot.
âI thought I was being dragged off to a religious sect,â he explained. I must have come across as a bit fanatical.
John then proceeded to stun us with a series of murals he began painting on our walls. Huge pictures of Pavarotti, Lennon and Hendricks appeared on the wall in the entertaining area and during an extended period John would come back and forth adding to his masterpieces.
One morning he came down and began working in a room that used to be our kitchen. He said heâd just dreamed it and had to put it on the wall. It was possibly at this moment John became a legend, because what he painted was staggering and attracted people from around the world to gaze upon and get vertigo from.
You can find âOut of a Dream Onto A Wallâ at: http://www.artwanted.com/johnarnott-art
This trompe lâoeil twists the mind. It is a beautiful piece of art, and youâll find it among dozens of other masterpieces that artists and critics from around the world are now raving about as well.
During this time I had also met a guy I also instantly bonded with. I met him and his then wife off a bus too. His reaction was way friendlier.
I instantly recognised his accent. I asked him where he was from, he said âEngland.â I said whereabouts, he told me âNorthamptonshire.â I said I knew that, but what town. He said âKettering.â I knew that as well, so I asked him the street and which number.
We had lived only a few streets away from each other, never seen each other and had now met up in my early thirties 10,000 miles away.
Daveâs life seemed to mirror Johnâs. They were both artists and muralists, both played wicked guitar and both had a superb sense of humour and an artistic nature that gave them no respite from the self-doubts which often threatened to overwhelm them, and still do.
Dave began playing music at the Backpackers, and started painting murals too. Presley appeared next to Johnâs work, Liza Minelli went up above the piano and Chaplain, the Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy sprang into life as well.
Over two years these two characters would appear and disappear, each time leaving a memorable mark not only on the walls but on the lives of people who met them.
Sometimes they missed each other by a matter of hours, one leaving in the morning only for the other to arrive in the afternoon, but during all this time â they never met.
They competed in a friendly game of duelling paintbrushes without ever meeting. We become very close friends with both Dave and John, and they both knew everything about each other, saw photoâs and watched clips of each other working, but still didnât meet.
The Backpackers was sold. Dave and John kept appearing in my life afterwards every couple of years, still missing each other by sometimes days, travelling back and forth from the UK to Albany like others commute to work each day.
Their talents developed and evolved. During the time Dave and I spent together weâd created two characters called âDan and Dave.â Weâd sit there for hours in hysterics dreaming up different scenarios for these two cartoon drawings who although they never spoke, began to take on a life of their own.
We also dreamed up a story called âThe Treeâ which we outlined and Dave began illustrating. Working 10,000 miles apart before the Internet didnât work and the story faded on sheets of fax paper. These have been rescued since and in one of the worlds longest running literary projects at last have a date for publication.
One day in the early nineties John sat in the kitchen with my young son and, with me in the other room, showed him a few techniques on how to memorise information. I came out and was stunned to discover Gareth could remember 150 items in a row. Iâd only been out the room for half an hour. He showed me how it was done, and since then I have worked on a system to teach these techniques in schools.
There are thousands of children who have been impacted on by Dave and Johnâs prodigious talents, and they will never know the influence they have both had on so many young lives without even meeting them.
I began to think that Dave and John were the same person, just changing out of their skins and visiting in different bodies. As silly as that sounds, I couldnât work out why these two, who not only shared the same talents but seemed to go through the same highs and lows simultaneously, could never meet.
I was working in primary schools, running creative writing and memory workshops, self-esteem and anything else I could think of to make a difference. I was asked to start a lunchtime program for children who were feeling disconnected and isolated at school, and before two weeks had gone by I had over a 100 children in the library, writing for our online newspaper, drawing, writing stories and interacting with everyone else in the room. The isolated kids werenât isolated anymore and found friends they would never have otherwise met and then, along came Dave for a visit.
I dragged him, not quite kicking and screaming but certainly reluctant, into a random classroom and let him loose with his talent. Cartooning, caricature, lampooning everything in sight. The kids loved him, he loved working with them, and Dave found his vocation. The lunchtime program continued all year and Dave volunteered his time every day. It wasnât for a specific group anymore. Everyone joined in, and Daveâs shared the mastery of his art with every child he met.
Four years ago Dave and I began working with children in classrooms and suddenly why weâd met and what made us tick made sense. We have since got an agent and get booked all over Australia to visit schools. This is expanding around the world. If youâd like to see what we can offer a school near you, please go to: http://www.chocmint.com
Dave McCleery and John Arnott have unknowingly moulded what I do today. I couldnât do what I do if it hadnât been for them; if it hadnât been for miraculous chance meetings and the realisation in us that something bigger than who we were was at work.
And then it happened. The earth didnât shudder, but my world completed a circle that had remained broken and incomplete for 15 years. John and Dave met. They came to stay at the same time and within minutes were jamming with their guitars and cracking jokes together in my lounge room, with my two children half grown up and my wonderful new wife Paula.
I felt really emotional. I donât know why; it was as if they were always meant to meet, perhaps had in another life.
They havenât become firm friends or anything like that. They didnât need to. There was a mutual respect and recognition between the two of them. They both get on, but are completely different types of people, despite the fact they still lead parallel lives.
You need to see some of Daveâs work as well, and see why people are in hysterics over Dan and Dave. We are growing a small but loyal fan base from around the world, and weâd love you to join us. http://www.artwanted.com/davemccleery
The thing about talented people is that often, they simply donât get it. They are prone to massive highs and terrifying lows and those who care for them are helpless to help as they seem to get caught up in every conversation whirling around in their heads and cant see the light from the dark.
This could be a book. It should be a book, to acknowledge not only the talents of John Arnott and Dave McCleery and share it with the world, but to let them know the amazing impact they have had on me and my familyâs life.
There are enough stories, enough ups and downs, enough funny moments watching John trying to play table tennis and muddle his way through a game of chess, enough Dan and Daveâs Toddy Times to fill a few chapters and a lifetime of artistic, literary and creative ideas to keep us all busy and happy for the next thousand years.
Visit their sites, and if you have a comment to make about what you see, please make it.
And the really exciting thing about all this is, the journey weâre on. Magic is happening like it did when I met these two off the buses all those years ago, and whatâs next is both in our hands and yours. Want to know more? Drop us an email to say hello.