The T-bone steak seemed about the size of a dustbin lid , well seasoned and nicely cooked by the look of it. It nestled behind the near- side front wheel of my car, just outside the kitchen window. My puzzlement increased when I heard our neighbour’s wife, in a rather perplexed and shrill voice enquire ‘Brian, have you eaten your steak?’
The steak was then obscured by a bundle of orange fur.
Oh God,! NOT AGAIN! Two hours previously a group of people walked past our front gate. One of them pointed at Hamish and with thinly disguised fury screamed ‘That’s the one, BLOODY CAT’!
Some 10 years earlier, in 1977, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch was published.
One of the main protagonists in the story (and subsequent stories) was and is Hamish the ginger cat. A complete invention of course. We had no pets and were awaiting copies of the said book when, one morning, our children, aged about 5 and 3 called for Ronda and I to come to the kitchen AT ONCE!
On the doorstep sat a perfect example of life imitating art. He might as well have jumped out of the pages of the book. Even his whiskers matched. He was dubbed Hamish and lived with us for about 12 years.It seems he had been unceremoniously dumped by a distant neighbour. Why? He had demolished her young child’s birthday cake by the simple expedient of eating all the cream and fancy trimmings which adorned this exquisite creation. After a string of such incidents, her patience ran out.
Essentially Hamish was a fearless thug and as cunning as a dunny rat with a gold tooth. This had it’s advantages. One day I discovered an Alsatian bitch in our garden merrily trampling over the seedlings. I rushed out intervene but just as quickly in- rushed. Yellow fangs snarled, hackles rose and laser- like eyes fixed on my throat.
With what dignity I could muster I retreated inside. My ginger friend was sleeping off a heavy lunch. By now he had lost one eye, half an ear and had more dents and tears in the bodywork than an ancient stock-car. What remained of him was a bundle of teeth and claws held together by whipcord sinews. I took him outside and pointed his good eye at the Alsatian. What followed was the concept of an orange Exocet missile. He flew in a splendid glowing arc aiming squarely for the carotid artery. The Alsatian was terrified. It reared, stumbled and yowled as it got caught in some fencing wire which she dragged down the road.
Back inside, I glanced in the fridge and saw the ample remains of some very tender beef which was going to be re- cycled. As Hamish tucked into a goodly chunk of this, I am absolutely certain he knew it was for a job well done.
He was no mug.
His stay with us was a kind of symmetry, he came out of the blue and left to go ‘who knows where?’ The children looked everywhere for him, as did we all, but no joy. I think he knew his time was up and found some secluded spot. He wouldn’t want any of his umpteen vanquished rivals dancing on his grave.
Forty years later, he is about to entertain a third generation of readers. He lives on.
30 or so years later… Our cottage in a Sussex village.
It is late, wife and children have gone to bed. I am in a small galley kitchen clearing up after a splendid meal with some friends. Radio 3 is employed to keep me company. My toil with the dishcloth stopped abruptly as I was plunged into a manic scherzo, gloriously anarchic stuff. It stops, starts again, stops, repeats, does it all again. Mad but terrific music. Who on earth was this? The bell-like scherzo gave way to a sublime adagio, deeply felt, almost Schubertian in its profound sense of yearning. By now, dishes done, I was sitting on the floor, keeping company with the remains of a splendid 20 year old port.
As is often the way of the classical tradition, the fourth and final movement involves a triumphant resolution of many musical arguments. ‘Right, sweetie’, I thought, if you can extend, equal, or beat what came before, I have stumbled across a musical voice that is of the highest order. Why had I got to thirty something and never heard it? He delivered, my God, did he ever. By the time we got to the closing pages I resembled a quivering bundle that could have been the result of the contents of a boiled-over pot that had oozed to the floor. An emotional wreck, contemplating an experience that will live with me for the rest of my days, and , with any luck, beyond.
Same music, Radio 3, about 10 years later, this time on the car radio as I made my way to somewhere about 2 hours from home. After roughly about one and a half hours had elapsed, I was coming again on the closing pages of this sublime musical argument. At this point I became dimly aware of a flashing blue light in my rear view mirror. Oh God! What to do? I pulled over and indicated by a series of gestures that… ‘could the officer wait two minutes until my musical journeys end?’ I desperately hoped my finger gestures and facial expressions would not be misconstrued. Tricky. I guess the noise issuing from the car confirmed my request. Shortly after, I emerged from the car, red-eyed with tears and looking visibly shaken. The young officer, bless him, assumed my demeanour and apparent distress was caused by a traffic violation. He politely told me to get my brake light fixed ASAP.
Someone told me I should write a blog, and I always do as I’m told [pause for laughter] or perhaps I got a ghost writer to do it all for me… who would ever know?!
Hmmm… anyway here we are at my first blog post, I’ll keep it fairly brief. Above here you see one of my most loved paintings, Giverney which will be out on show at my studio during the Glyndebourne Festival season – more on that next time. For those of you who don’t know, my main passion is abstract painting and colour, always colour. Whether it’s from an inkpot applied to paper, or from a bucket tipped onto canvas, there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than colour.
La couleur est mon obsession quotidienne, ma joie et mon tourment – Claude Monet
Colour is my daylong obsession, joy and torment.
You can see more of my paintings on my website and also facebook and instagram. Yes I am a man of the 21st century!
But there are many more strings to my bow; does anyone remember The Lighthouse Keeper? Mr and Mrs Grinling and of course Hamish are now entertaining a new generation of children, and many people still tell us how much they loved these books when they were young.
I have also illustrated many other books, including the Kate Greenaway Award nominated Queen of the Night:
And most recently a self published book Winterreise, bringing to life the timeless song cycle for voice and piano, composed by Franz Schubert and including the poems of Wilhelm Muller.
But what there’s more? I hear you gasp! Well being a well traveled and well matured specimen I have many a tale to tell which you may find diverting; and being a Tasmanian by origin I do love a bit of banter over the cricket which you may find amusing or infuriating depending on your allegiance. I’ll try to be gentle on you.
That’s all for now. Make sure you come back again soon to see what I’ve been up to, or subscribe by email… someone’s got to keep an eye on me!