Billy and the magic mushroom

This is a photo of my bedroom wall when I was a baby. (Oh yeah… that’s me, the baby.) Isn’t it awesome?

The photo – tea stain and all – only shows a small part of the scene. The whole wall was covered. Apart from the mushroom, rabbit, butterflies and flowers that you can see here, there was a path – or possibly a stream – that wound its way up and over the hills, into a wood.

As a child I would drift off to sleep wondering where that path might lead to. What lay beyond those hills? I’ve always been a bit of a hippy and I’m pretty sure it’s because I fell asleep next to a massive mushroom for the first few years of my life. I loved that wall.

But where did the amazing mural come from?

Allow me to tell a half-remembered story, second hand.

In late 1974, when she was pregnant with me, mum was working at the BRMA Health Research Unit in Birmingham. Mum worked in the offices, but was friendly with lots of the girls at the unit, and one day – around Christmas time, she thinks – she got chatting to one of the lab technicians. The lab technician’s name might have been Viv, or Yvonne, or Yvette. Mum thinks it was probably Viv.

Mum and Viv talked about decorating the boxroom as a nursery. How do you prepare for a baby? How do you decorate a room for a child without even knowing whether they are going to be a boy or a girl? Mum can’t remember how the idea of a mural came up, but remembers Viv suggesting that her husband Billy would love the chance to paint one.

Billy and Viv (or Yvonne, or Yvette) were “a really lovely couple,” remembers mum; “very laid back and absolutely besotted with each other”. She can’t remember their surname – Hancock? Hitchin? – but reckons they were a couple of years younger than her and only lived a short distance away – Kings Heath, she thinks, or possibly Moseley.

After giving him an idea of what they wanted, mum and dad agreed that Billy could go ahead and make a start on the bedroom wall.

And so, for a couple of weeks, Billy came round to the house every night after work and holed himself away in the boxroom to paint, smoking (in mum’s words) his “weird smelling cigarettes” and drinking Coca-Cola. He didn’t want paying, apparently – just the chance to ‘do his thing’.

The result was my fairytale wall.

Although mum remembers the couple fondly, she lost touch with them over the years. Mum remembers hearing that they had had daughters – one called Crystal and another called Faith… or was it Hope…?

It’s a bit of a long shot, of course, but I would love to find Billy again. If he was about 25 then, he’d be in his early 60s now. If his children were born a few years after me, they’ll be in their early 30s. Did he paint their rooms too? Does he remember painting my mushroom, my butterflies, my path into the forest? Did he ever wonder if I liked it? I’d love the chance to tell him that I really did.

8 thoughts on “Billy and the magic mushroom

  1. This was a fantastic read, Em. Beautifully written.

    Judging by the photo, Billy was extremely talented! Your wall was amazing! I hope you manage to track him down. (But I expect another blog post if you do.)

  2. What a great story!! AND what a fabulous room to grow up in. I hope you find Billy – looking forward to reading an update!!!

  3. Andy and Lady H: thank you! Of course I’ll update you if I track him down. (An arty guy who lived somewhere near Moseley? How hard can it be?)

    And Moofleur: aw – Flossie, scary? The poor girl was made out of a pair of woolly tights. And she wasn’t that big; I was a 6 month old baby, remember… :)

  4. It’s great seeing the reaction to the story of the wall. I hope you find Billy too, though whether he’ll remember anything about it is anybody’s guess. I know it’s all about the wall, but I have to comment on Flossie the doll. She wasn’t made out of a pair of woolly tights Em, though by the time you had played with her, it probably looked like it! The face was covered with some sort of stockinette material (which started off white) so that’s probably what you’re thinking of. She was beautifully made wasn’t she.

  5. What a lovely story – came across it quite by chance – hope you find Billy!
    I’m from Brum (don’t live there now) and would be about the same age. I did know a few people who lived in the Moseley area but not your artist I think.

  6. What a lovely mural and a lovely baby girl who grew up into a beautiful woman- guess I’m a biased mother-in-law

  7. I went to school with two girls called Crystal and Faith. They also had a brother named Leaf and Billy. Surname is Hinx. Lived in the Wylde Green area. Possibly Station Rd.

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