When I'm not at one of my part-time jobs - which now includes selling Brazilian handicrafts at a shop in Bond Street - I paint in the spare-room, the house quiet and still when T is at work. I've pinned to a closet door some sketches and clippings and decide to do a painting of the door itself: a study of studies for an idea about an idea.

Ideas on the Underground

Ideas on the Underground NdA   Oil on board

As soon as I hear the basement door slam and T's heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, my concentration spirals away from the painting and homes in on him: the Presence which dominates every compartment of my mind, awake or asleep.

Love and lust, inseparably blended, rush into every crevice of the brain and there's nowhere to escape. Maybe it's because I welcome the flood, throw open all the doors and windows so as to drown even faster. Or maybe it's because that's what women in love/lust do, much more so than men in love/lust. A female artist has to be very determined to keep at least one corner of her psyche free from invasion but such determination seems to be lacking in me. To the object of my love/lust I say: take it all! Yes, I'm standing here painting like a real painter but the truth is, I've been waiting for you to come home and knock on the door of my studio, the room next to your bedroom.

T knocks on the door and comes in, asks how I'm getting on. He has a perceptive, incisive critic's eye, formed from acute observation, natural intuition and a no-bullshit approach. Some of his comments, quoted from my journal of that time:

You are painting literary ideas, not painting. You're using excuses so as not to paint. Maybe you are an illustrator, a novelist, not a painter. The idea is more important to you than the picture and you lose interest in the idea in the first half hour of putting it down. It's not the painting which interests you but the use of painting as a means of being recognised, or of explaining an idea. You see a Byzantine panel, say, a life of John the Baptist - John walking, John blessing etc. - and you say: 'I can do that! I'll do a modern Byzantine panel. Instead of a goat I'll have a motorcycle, instead of a woman in veils I'll have her in shorts!' Another technique you can use for a literary idea."

Ouch! But it's what I need and want to hear. I lap it up thirstily and ask for more. An eye that really sees beneath the surface and tells it like it is - what a gift! The more T exposes my defenses and pretenses, the more enslaved I become. To those of us with the slave-gene intact there's nothing sexier than a master, one who tells you who you are, or even invents who you are. Between T and me, the master-slave thing later becomes more than metaphorical.

Love bites

Love Bites  NdA  Acrylic on wood panel

Nat against the wall

T being a photographer, I have boxes full of pictures from that period, my first ten years or so as a Londoner. A wall of T's basement kitchen-diner is dedicated to a changing display of photos, often portraits of actors who come to be snapped for their portfolios. Sunday night dinners around the cigarette-scarred table provide an endless source of camera-fodder. Not sure who shot this Christmas dinner aftermath but they caught me unaware. Booze of every description is never in short supply and the meals, always cooked with gusto by the master, are traditional English fare: roast beef and Yorkshire pud, steak and kidney pie, boiled bacon, multi-layered trifle with lashings of cream. Strangely enough, none of those who gather regularly around T's table ever seem to suffer ill effects from such diet-defying food and drink.

Around T's table

A sagging sofa occupies the space beneath the photo-wall and that is where I sit between T and M on many evenings, three pairs of eyes fixed on the television in the far corner of the room. I am only waiting for the moment when M will get up, say goodnight and go upstairs to her flat, leaving T and me alone at last. Does she know? She knows. Does it worry me? No. I am too deeply mired in the supreme egoism of desire. Grappling, groping, burrowing into each other's faces with the desperation of lovers about to be separated by impending disaster - war, earthquake, furious rivals? None of those, but a sense of hopelessness, emanating from T and transferred by osmosis to me.


Back to my bed-sitter after another of those evenings clutching each other on the sofa, I'm all wired up, impossible to go to sleep. I put my coat back on and go out again. It's past midnight, it's cold, it's crazy but I don't care. Walk down the dimly lit crescent of Primrose Gardens into England's Lane, cross over into Fellows Road then into Adelaide Road, keep walking. This is mad, go home. No, keep walking, reach my destination, tap quietly on the basement window.

"I knew you'd come back," he says, opening the door.

We go upstairs to his bedroom. Curtains drawn, a pile of photography manuals on the bedside table. Did I sit in the armchair or on his bed? Can't remember. He starts talking. About how nothing can ever come of this, him and me. It's a long story. She was a Cockney girl - big, beautiful, long dark hair down to her arse. He feels at home with her, she's one of his own kind. She's twenty, he's forty. He becomes the girl's mentor, as Miss M had been to him. Takes her to the theatre, to museums. She loves him, wants to marry him, have his babies. He loves her but tells her his loyalty belongs to Miss M and that this will never change. Tells her, often, that she should find a bloke her own age. But they have happy times, King's Road is their playground, he buys her high-heeled boots, leather coat, heads turn when they walk down the street. One day she comes in and tells him their affair is over. She's met someone else and is going to marry him. T goes berserk. Has a breakdown. Stops going to work. Stays drunk for a year, lies under the table in his pyjamas plotting how to murder the rival, the pop musician who stole his girl. Miss M sits through it all stoically, waiting for time to heal the wound. But it's not healed, never will be, only papered over. You should have known me as I was before, lambkin, not the miserable old bugger I am now.

I go home confused, moved, jealous of that girl, angry with M, angry with myself. Seems that every time I actually have freedom, I look for captivity. Escape from marriage because it 'limits' me only to go straight into a deeper kind of bondage, enslaved by my own emotions, seeing only myself reflected in a man's eyes. I should break free. I don't want to be free.

Nat's eyes reflected

Maya Clothed

Maya Clothed (Sofa Series No.1) NdA   Oil on canvas