Prairie 1972

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Today’s photograph is one I’ve liked since I took it back in 1972. I loved the prairies in Alberta and this almost more than any of the other photographs I took captured the feel for me. I was 18 and this vastness and openness was so new to me. I’m not sure exactly where this is, somewhere south of Calgary. This is a digitised slide, there was quite a bit of work to do on the sky as the scratches showed up quite badly, luckily Lightroom is good for that, there is no cropping and other than raising the contrast it is as shot on Ektachrome using my Zenith E. The metering is pretty good which was always a problem on those cameras, the meter was above the lens and this shot was a bit paler than I would have wanted at the time, so I under exposed it a bit which brought out more colour.


Hospital yet again…


I’ve been in hospital again for a couple of nights, luckily things sorted (until next time), but it’s an opportunity for a couple of interesting photographs, odd bits of equipment pushed to one side, the fascination with the tubes and needles they stick in me. There was some interesting light yesterday with bright November sun streaming into the ward.



Underpainting 20


Chapter 20 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. For previous chapters go to the link above.

Chapter 20

The next morning Peter sat at an outdoor table of a café, drinking black coffee, he had a mild hangover after a long meal with students who’d attended his lecture.

The lecture had been organised by his old friend Eduard. In their conversations Eduard told Peter that he’d known Victor when he was a student at the Conservatoire in the late 1950’s and drew him when Victor worked there as a model. He’d given Peter a name of someone who may have some information. Madame d’Angers had taken a bit of finding through the telephone system and peter was pleased to have what may be a tenuous contact but at least something to go on.

First he phoned Marianne.

“Hi Peter, where are you?”

“Near the Musee Marmouttan, going to visit the Monets for a couple of hours. It’s a bit chilly today. How’s things?”

“Oh God Peter, you really wouldn’t believe it”, she told Peter the story of the previous day.

He was confused about exactly what was going on, Ryan and Angela? He knew there’d be things to sort out when he got back.

He was pleased when the line went dead.

Second Peter rang Clare, but there was no answer and left a short message to tell her he would be in London soon and would get in touch. Peter ordered another coffee, looked in his notebook, and tapped out the numbers.

“Allo, la maison de Monsieur et Madame d’Angers.”

“Madame d’Angers please.”

“Une moment Monsieur. Who shall I tell madame is telephoning?”

“Monsieur Marten”

Peter could hear the phone being switched.


“Madame d’Angers?”


“Excusez’moi, parlez vous anglais?”

“Ah oui…. Yes I do. Do you wish to speak to my husband?”

“No to you. My name is Peter Marten, I am an artist.”

“Ah oui I know your work.”

“You do! I am surprised Madame d’Angers.”

“My husband and I went to the opening of the exhibition at The Royal Academy, we were in London, my husband is in the Ministry of Culture.”

“Perhaps we met.”

“I think we did.”

This intrigued Peter, he’d already met her and didn’t know.

“Would it be possible to meet, today?” Peter asked.

“Mais oui, but why?”

“I’m interested in Victor Williams, I understand you knew him?”

There was a silence.

“Madame d’Angers, I hope you can help?”

He heard an intake of breath.

“It is a long time ago, I don’t know? You are not writing for a newspaper are you?”

“No, no. This is personal. Please, I’m only in Paris for a couple of days.”

“Can you come soon then, I have appointments this afternoon, and we are going away in the morning.”

“Of course! Right away.”

She gave him her address which wasn’t far away.

The d’Angers house was an elegant grey and white stone, early 19th Century town house, set back from the road with a wheat coloured pebble forecourt. It was situated in a quiet avenue, trees shading an endless line of parked cars. Today the light was pale and shadowless. The door was answered by an Asian maid who showed Peter to a very elegant sitting room. Around the room hung good quality paintings and drawings. He noted what looked like a Bonnard. There was a piano next to a window, the lid covered in framed photographs of children, families, groups of friends.

Madame d’Angers entered the room. She was elegant, fine featured, she looked what she was, a high ranking government official’s wife, used to dealing with people, organising dinner parties and being interested in people however boring they were. She was taller than he expected.

“Monsieur Marten, you gave me quite a surprise, I hadn’t heard anyone speak of Victor for many years”

“I am sorry I didn’t mean to cause any inconvenience”

“Oh no, it was just… well out of the blue. Strangely I have been thinking of him lately, then you rang…”

“I brought these, perhaps you’d like to look?” Peter handed her a deep red folder. Madame d’Angers opened it, she took out the three drawings of Victor, placed them on a table, side by side. She took her gold rimmed glasses from a tiny handbag that Peter hadn’t noticed, and carefully inspected each one.

“He was good looking” she said slowly and deliberately, “I think these were drawn a little later than when we knew each other”

“How can you tell?”

“Look, there” she pointed at a shoulder for Peter to see, “…there is a… how do you say? … a scar. When I knew him he was perfect, his skin was a beautiful olive brown, it shone. That must have happened later.”

“I hadn’t noticed”

He noted this in his notebook, something to look into, perhaps from his time in prison he thought.

“Monsieur Marten…”

“Please, Madame d’Angers, please call me Peter”

“Merci, I am Beatrice, please call me that. Peter, what do you want of me? Is Victor wishing to see me?”

There was a soft knock on the gilt and pale green door, the maid entered with a deep red Chinese lacquer tray, on which were paper thin tea cups and an elegant tea pot, and a plate of delecate dark brown biscuits. At the knock Beatrice put the pictures back into the folio, and stopped talking until the maid left.

She poured two cups without asking, and sat opposite Peter.

“Beatrice, you don’t know?”

From the reaction in her face he could tell she didn’t know Vic was dead.

“Ah, I see. When did Victor die?”


She stood and went to the window overlooking the garden. She stood for a couple of moments in silence, wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, then returned to the table and studied the drawings again.

“I didn’t know.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you must have known.”

“After he left I heard nothing, until you rang. He was so young, how?”

Peter knew he shouldn’t tell her how, it was too gruesome, even at this distance.

“An accident I think.”

“And why are you interested in Victor?”

“I knew him when I was a boy, he inspired me to become an artist. He told me tales, I didn’t believe them, but the more I look into his life, I see they are true”, he realised he better get to the point, “… I understand that you were married to Victor?”

She moved to a vase of roses in a window. She adjusted one to show better.

“Yes for a short while.”

“I understand there was a scandal?”

“Ha”, she laughed, “when isn’t there in French politics Monsieur Marten? It was such a petty scandal, so silly.”

She took a pair of scissors from a writing desk, went back to the roses, cut a dead head, and dropped it in a waste bin hidden behind a heavy curtain.

“Sometimes a journalist or political biographer will ask questions, I never tell them. You are the first person I’ve met who knew him… I don’t see the harm, not now.”

Peter assured her that it would go no further, and as Beatrice began her story, it felt to Peter she had rehearsed it over and over again, but never told it to anyone else. Throughout she never looked directly at Peter. As she talked she moved, almost danced around the room, moving a figurine a couple of inches, adjusting a picture, picking up a letter then putting it down, sorted some papers.

She told Peter that her father was Minister for North Eastern Canals, a pompous bourgeois man, for whom everything had to be correct, terrified of a scandal which could ruin him. She was sixteen and life was getting exciting again after the privations of the post war period. She described the jazz clubs and how she and her friend sneaked out at night to dance and live life.

Peter wanted her to hurry up, but knew like Victor’s mother, there was no-one but he who could be an audience.

Beatrice met Victor at a party, she saw him dancing with a sophisticated, married, woman. He had been paid to attend by the hostess, and later Beatrice had walked into the wrong room where he was giving her his ‘services’. Something she had to live with later on when they were together, as Victor always seemed to need money.

Two or three times she stopped and asked if he understood her English and he in turn complemented her on her accent. There were times he felt he may be going to sleep, the effects of the night before still working on him.

Somehow she told him, they got together at the party and Victor asked to meet her again. She told him she couldn’t pay him, and she remembered how he laughed and said that was only for rich old women.

Peter wanted to ask why her? A young girl? But she already had the answer, she felt Victor was lonely, his French was poor and her English good, he wanted someone to talk to.

She remembered how he talked about his mother, about boxing, about Devon, about an artist called Miller, the one who did the drawings.

Somehow after a few meetings they ended up in a bed, and Beatrice got pregnant the first time she had sex.

There was a long pause, Beatrice walked to the window and looked at the trees swaying in the breeze.

When she told Victor he was happy and they sat in a park planning their future together. He wanted to marry, to meet her parents! But she knew that couldn’t be, her father would probably have shot him, he didn’t trust black people. So they planned to elope, go to England. When they arrived in Brest they got married. But for some reason decided to go back to Paris. Beatrice wasn’t sure why, it just seemed the best thing to do, what could anyone do now it was official?

There was another long pause, Beatrice went to a drawer, took a tiny notebook out, then returned it unopened.

By now the police were involved, her friend had told them and her parents everything. Her father refused to let her back home, and after sleeping on the floor of a friend of Victors they got a flat, one room above a butchers shop, which stank. Beatrice got a job washing dishes at a local café. Victor carried on modelling and giving other services. It was a strain, she was used to having money, it was difficult to be poor. This lasted for about three months then one day he didn’t come home. Beatrice waited three days, as often he would be away for a night, even two. Then she went home, to see if they had heard anything.

When she got there my father looked gloatingly satisfied. He said that Victor had gone to him and asked for money on the promise he’d leave Beatrice. She found out later that he’d had Victor followed and they’d found out what he’d been doing. He was threatened with all sorts of things, Victor needed money, she never saw Victor again.

“And the baby?” Peter asked, this was a new strand to look into.

Beatrice looked into her hands. She was close to tears.

She explained that she was sent to a convent on the coast of Brittany, where rich people sent their unmarried daughters to have babies, as terminations were out of the question in those days. The place was hell. They made her work scrubbing floors and in the fields, and gave long sermons on sin. The idea was that through hard physical work you would lose the child naturally, and for many girls it happened, but Beatrice had got stronger. On the eighteenth of February she had the baby. She stopped and looked at the photographs on the piano.

“I never saw, but I’m sure it was a girl, I’ve always had that feeling. I don’t know what happened to her, I’ve made enquiries since, nothing, the church doesn’t like the past dragged up. I heard many babies went to Australia or America” Beatrice spoke very bitterly, “… I’d love to see those nuns go through what I’ve been through, only for an hour, then they’d see, they’d see Hell, they’d really know suffering. I thought I’d go mad, I became depressed, wanted the child, wanted Victor.

“I was locked away for ages, out of sight, and when I came back home my father handed me an official form annulling the marriage. I never spoke to him or to my mother again. They are both dead.”

“Does Monsieur d’Angers know about this?”

“He knows some of it. We met a year later, I was still only eighteen. I have three sons, seven grandchildren.”

She gestured Peter to go to the piano to look at the photographs.

Beatrice proudly explained who they were and what they all did, the successful family. From behind all the other frames she picked up a delicate silver empty one.

“This is waiting for when I meet my daughter.”

It was time to depart, Beatrice showed Peter to the door.

“Thank you Peter, I am pleased to meet someone who knew Victor, I think in different ways he was an important part of both our lives. Perhaps one day I will find our child, we can live in hope can’t we?”

“Of course Beatrice, I wish you luck, and please let me know how you get on, I really mean that. If I find anything out, I will let you know.”

Peter started down the drive, then turned back and handed Beatrice the folio of drawings. No more was said.

Stepping Stones

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In March next year I am going to be 60, not that old, but a milestone or maybe better a stepping stone to the future. Of course it seems not that old now, but looking back to when I first went to art college in 1970 something which was hard to imagine and I don’t think I even tried. Quite rightly too.

On my Pinterest site a few weeks ago I set up a ‘board’ I’ve called ‘Places I’ve never been; things I’ve not seen or heard – and could easily and should have…’ . Long winded I know. It came about when I saw a poster for Kubrick’s 2001- A Space Odyssey, and realised I had not seen it either in the cinema or on TV/DVD. It would be very easy to watch it, unlike when it first came out. Films were only on at the cinema, and in a city like Stoke-on-Trent which had 3 main cinemas and about 6 smaller ones in the late 60’s, if you didn’t go that week, then it was hard luck until many years later they may appear on TV.

I went to Boots in Hanley to buy David Bowie’s single Space Oddity which of course came out at the same time in 1969. Without me noticing the assistant put the single from the soundtrack of 2001 (Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra) in the bag, which was selling many more and in the Top10. Luckily I looked in the bag before I left the shop and they changed it. So that was the closest I got to the film.

My ‘board’ is an odd collection of things and places, it certainly isn’t a wish list and I may just be stubborn and not bother making all these things ‘right’. Would a visit to Stonehenge, Bolton, Southampton or Sunderland change my life? I deliberately based my story The Report in Bolton, a Bolton in a Nazi run Britain and I have set a number of chapters of an unfinished story in Venice. These were helped by Google maps, so who needs to actually visit a place nowadays!

Would listening to the whole of Never Mind the Bollocks make me change my life? At the time it came out I had bought quite a lot of punk music, but felt The Sex Pistols were a sham and punk by that time just a fashion, so never bothered, heard all the tracks over the years but never listened to it as a whole as no-one I knew owned it.

So reaching milestones is a useful time to assess things. I certainly do not have a list of things to do before I die, or a wish list of things to see/read/hear, places to go. Things will turn up. My regrets are having missed exhibitions such as Ben Nicholson’s at the Tate, which will never be repeated, and all those personal regrets like not asking things of now dead parents or taken actions which may have led to different outcomes, but then realising that I would not have experienced people, places and things if I had made a different decision. Changes to my life in terms of finance has meant I have had to look towards other things. My not working has given me the great opportunity of developing my own work which working put on hold. Even in ten months of taking more photographs I can see development and aim to concentrate more on refining my ‘eye’ which had wandered off course a bit! When I write, draw, photograph, create, even watch, read and listen, I don’t do these as a form of relaxation, they are far more intense, I do them in the terms of an artist.

Today’s photograph comes from January 1979, taken in The Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on Ektachrome with my OM-1 using the standard 50mm lens.

Underpainting 19


Chapter 19 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. For previous chapters use the link above or in Categories.


Chapter 19

Marianne entered her house and could sense she was not alone. She knew Peter would have arrived in Paris for his lecture. Ryan had said he was returning to London. She looked in the living room, dining room, the kitchen. No sign of anyone.

Cautiously she climbed the stairs, she could hear a noise, a rhythmical noise.

As she reached the top she was sure the noise was sex, the unmistakable noise of copulation. Unusually her bedroom door was almost shut. Marianne slowly and silently pushed it open.

On her bed was the spread out naked figure of Angela, on top of her, a semi dressed Ryan. Angela looked up at Marianne and gave a wave, she put five fingers up, Ryan didn’t look and didn’t cease in his labours. Marianne backed out and shut the door, with a noticeable bang.

Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee Marianne was furious.

“That was my bed they were on. How dare they use my bed…” she shouted at the kettle, “…what does he think he’s doing, God, AND with Angela! …Lizzie’s mother. How dare they, my bed… and what if I hadn’t come back, I’d have slept in that…” she shuddered, “…it’s like some freakish black farce, mother and daughter… what does that bitch think she’s doing?”

Angela entered the kitchen, wearing Marianne’s silk robe that Lorete had bought her at a Japanese store in Washington, and which Lorete had very slowly removed from her on their second night together. The thought made Marianne blush. Angela looked flushed and Marianne could see she was still naked underneath. The robe didn’t suit her Marianne thought.

“Don’t look so shocked”

“Well Angela! What would you think, I mean, in my bed”

“Oh, don’t be so old fashioned!”, Angela poured herself a coffee, spilling some on the robe and sat down at the table, “…this is nice” she said stroking the silk.

“What are you thinking of? What will Lizzie say?”

“Oh that’s all over. Didn’t Ryan tell you?”

“No. No he didn’t… Poor Lizzie, she must feel hurt”

“Poor Lizzie my fanny…”

“Angela, remember she is your daughter?”

“How could I ever damn well ever forget… I don’t blame her though, he is rather good… very… animal”

“Oh Angela!”

“Well, why shouldn’t I. You could have you know…”

“I never…”

“He came up here specially to see if you’d leave Peter”

“He never said, I don’t want him anyway. Ryan’s an old friend. Anyway why use my bed, and my robe! Really how dare you…”

“Oh stop going on, it was only sex. He said that he wanted you and had always wanted you, but after seeing you and Peter together he knew there was no chance. It changed his mind…”

“…so you leapt in there instead!”

“No, it wasn’t like that”

“Well what was it like, all I saw was you two, well… in full bloody flight!”

“I came round to see Ryan, he rang to say there’d been more problems with Philip and he wondered if I’d heard anything. So I came round to discuss things and well we started talking and…”

“…and you ended up in my bed”

“I suppose so”

“God Angela, you… well I’m not going into it, I’ve had enough of you!”

“Stop being so fucking pious Marianne. You think you are so bloody perfect. You’re too cold, so faultless, you couldn’t find a real man if you tried. Who’d want you anyway? Look at you, dress like a bloke, don’t give a damn about how you look. You make me sick, so what if we did go to bed? So what? What’s it to do with you, I’m sorry we’ve messed your wonderful bed… I’m sorry I’ve fucked your fancy man… I’m sorry your life is so boring, that’s what you are, boring!”

With that she flung off the gown and departed the room.

Marianne slowly clapped as if it was the end of a performance, poured another coffee and a large whiskey. She drank the whiskey. She smiled as she looked in the mirror over the sink, she thought of Lorete and pressed the silk to her face. Then she thought of Peter and then thought of Bill.

The day’s post lay on the table, one of them must have picked it up before they went upstairs. There was a letter from Lorete, hand-written on expensive hand-made paper.


Dearest Mari,

I feel so happy, I feel that we can be one, I never thought I’d be so in love again. I know things are hard for you to understand yet, so many changes, please the moment you make your mind up let me know. We are one. We are strong.

Please phone, now.

With my deepest love,



Marianne took a deep breath, tore it up and threw away the pieces. She stared out of the window for what seemed ages. She went back to the bin and took out the torn up letter, placing them back together and read it again.

The noise of the shower running upstairs broke the spell.

“Not that as well” she said aloud.

There were another two letters. One in an official looking brown envelope with a black crown.


Dear Miss Mary Maddox,

Re: The Crown vs. Colin Montgomery Maddox

You are required to attend The East Midland Crown Court on Monday April 28th at 10.30am to give evidence in the case cited above…


She slammed the letter onto the table and looked in her diary. That was a teaching day. ‘Damn’ she said to herself, ‘damn’. She knew she didn’t need this, she knew this would cause problems with her mother. Marianne had never given evidence in court, what do you say?

The third letter was from Juliet Farrow College formally offering her the position of Artist in Residence with minor Teaching Responsibilities, to begin in September. She knew it was time to decide, to discuss this with Peter, no to tell Peter; for Peter to agree? For Peter to suggest she goes? Laughter came from upstairs, then more copulation noise. ‘Not again’ she thought, she wondered whether to take a bucket of cold water and throw it over them, and knew however good that would feel she was the one who’d have to clean up.

The phone rang.

“Hi Marianne, is Queen B. there? We’ve just arrived home, brought Philip back, I  thought…”

“Yes Lizzie, I’ll get her. Are you OK?”

“Oh I’m fine. I wasn’t going to come up but I couldn’t find Ryan, we’d had a bit of a row, well you know. Philip’s in a bit of a bad way, and Mark’s sorting things out”


“Henry’s partner”

“But… Ah…. I’ll get your mother” she put the phone down and shouted upstairs, with a wicked glee, “Angela it’s Lizzie, she’s brought Philip home!”

The noise upstairs stopped and there was a scrabbling about. Angela appeared, half dressed and ran downstairs not looking at Marianne. As Marianne returned to the kitchen she heard the explanations starting.

Half an hour later Ryan was sitting at the kitchen table with Marianne, they were eating cheese sandwiches. Angela had left soon after the phone call. Ryan wasn’t sure what to do and sheepishly came downstairs. Silently Marianne made sandwiches, Ryan realised how hungry he was.

“These are nice” he said

“Good” Marianne said coldly.

Marianne reread the offer letter and put it behind the clock. She didn’t want to talk about it to Ryan, it may get to Angela before she wanted it to.

“I was sorry to hear about you and Lizzie… Angela told me”

“Yes, it was difficult with Philip and, well…”

“You could have told us the other night”

“It was awkward, I didn’t really know then” said Ryan.

“Have you told Lizzie? On the phone she said she was trying to get hold of you”

“Oh yes, we had a big row, I think we both knew”

“I hope so, Lizzie means a lot to me, to us. I know she’ll feel hurt, I don’t want her hurt more than she needs be”

“And me?”

“You’re old enough to look after yourself” retorted Marianne.

“Is that really true? I mean at Lizzie’s age she knows there’s more to come, more love, more people. But me, what is there?”

“You’re not that old, we’re the same age. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, anyway there’s Angela now, isn’t there?”

“I don’t know, a bit soap opera-ish isn’t it?”

“You should have thought about that before shoving your cock in!”

“I suppose I should… well things  happen” Ryan said.

Marianne thought back to Washington. Who was she to talk? To judge?