I was born in Leicester and christened Rodney Arthur Ison. It was necessary there be an Arthur somewhere in my name because my brother, two years and eight months older than me, upon enquiring how a baby got into mummy’s tummy and being told daddy (Arthur) had given it to mummy as a present, went around telling everyone he was going to have a ‘bibby arfur.’ So, there it is.
I was brought up on the outskirts of the city close to the countryside, which no doubt contributed largely to a love of open space and the freedom it promises. Although art was a strong subject for me, I was always passionately interested in literature; give me a good, book and I could be transported to another place or to another time and experience for myself the feelings of various characters from elation to despair.
Despite these two passions, art and literature, I finally ended up earning my living as a woodcarver and gilder specialising in making and restoring picture and mirror frames. I do not regret this occupation; it brought me to where I am now, with a fervent belief in the value of what is ordinary. Not that that occupation is ordinary: It is relatively, rare: It requires both skill and dedication to do it well: And if you add an intelligent approach it becomes extraordinary. It is ordinary, however, in that you will never earn a fortune because a craftsman is limited to what he can make with one pair of hands.
Apart from the joy of producing something from start to finish that is truly beautiful, the principal gift of this type of work is the fondness I have for the Arts and Crafts Movement but, more especially, what it stood for, the beauty of craftsmanship, the value of ordinary lives and the dignity of honest labour, of producing nothing but what is useful or beautiful, what is worth-while.
Notwithstanding my love of art and making beautiful things, I decided to take up writing after being advised by a solicitor to study law and become a barrister: ‘With your advocacy skills you could earn a lot of money,’ he told me. After a brush with government, through fighting local government, and then with the legal system, principally helping the underprivileged who could not afford a solicitor, I decided I would sooner put my ‘advocacy skills’ into writing, hopefully to greater good and wider effect than that of barrister.
‘Oh! I’m still making people’s lives a misery.’ (Barrister responding to: ‘How are you?’)