Artist car­ries some­thing cu­ri­ous on the new tide

The Wharf - - The Week - Maxwell Ryan

She calls her­self a vis­ual artist. It is the first thing she says – as if she is keen to af­firm the la­bel if only to her­self. I’ve lucked out, I think. Cul­tured, pas­sion­ate, enig­matic – artists make for good com­pany if you hate small talk.

We are at a din­ner party, and Chris­tine is my only neigh­bour as I sit at the ta­ble’s end. There is mo­men­tum in our first ex­change so I store away the artist theme un­til con­ver­sa­tion flags when I can throw in a few in­sights.

The con­ver­sa­tion wilts be­tween the duck and the cin­na­mon ice cream so I ask: “Oils? Water­colours?”

She says, “Wood.” She is a cu­ri­ous crea­ture, maybe 30s, but child-like and dis­con­certed, as if this din­ner party is her at­tempt to play at grown-ups. Her com­ing out. She pushes her glasses over list­less hair and picks at her nails.

“I’ve just given up smok­ing,” she says, fret­fully.

I es­tab­lish, over cof­fee, that she saun­ters along the banks of the Thames and col­lects drift­wood. She came by cab this evening. I of­fer to drive her home.

“So does the form of the drift­wood re­veal the hid­den story?”

She nods. She’s never thought of it that way. Or at all.

“Sounds idyl­lic,” I say. She tells me that three years ago she gave up her stress­ful job “in health man­age­ment” to pur­sue her call­ing. Later she lets slip she worked in a shoe shop too.

Sud­denly she says she’s weirdly hot and fans her­self fu­ri­ously with a ta­ble mat. “Yeesh”. She was in­vited by a friend who thought she should get out more. They ig­nore her now and as the party breaks down we head to my car.

She in­vites me in. She has four cats, which she in­her­ited from her mar­riage which broke down three years ago. She hasn’t lived in the flat long, she says. She’s been un­set­tled re­cently. She’s bet­ter now though. Oh, and care­ful of the poop.

“I haven’t got my wood pieces here. But I have my bead work.”

“Like em­broi­dery?” I say. “They en­cour­age us to stick the beads to a piece of card.”

“OK,” I say. “Any­way, I’m al­ler­gic to cats so…”

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