Cotswold Life

Dog days are over

De­spite ini­tial con­cerns, it seems that town life suits Tru­man and Fitzger­ald very well in­deed

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It’s been al­most a year since we made the move from coun­try back into town. We left our farm on the other side of Cleeve Hill and moved into a town house in Chel­tenham. This was mainly be­cause my kids wanted “fast in­ter­net and De­liv­eroo” but, oh, how they re­gret­ted this de­ci­sion when lock­down came. No more cricket nets, swim­ming pools, acres of so­cially dis­tant space to play in. I thought it might be even worse for my dogs, Fitzger­ald and Tru­man. How were they go­ing to adapt to town life? Af­ter all, nei­ther had ever been on a lead in their lives and we’d all howled with laugh­ter when, on a drive through town, we spot­ted a hu­man pick­ing up their dog’s poop and putting it into a plas­tic bag.

“What on earth is that about?” gig­gled Tru­man, wip­ing away tears of laugh­ter.

“Town peo­ple are strange,” replied Fitzger­ald, who al­ways took the role of a dog who knew a lot about things.

“What do they do with the poop in the bag?” asked Tru­man, watch­ing the woman con­tinue walk­ing, car­ry­ing her lit­tle poo pack­age like a box from Tiffany & CO.

“They feed it to their cats. Never get in­volved with a town cat. They are ar­ro­gant and filthy crea­tures.” Fitzger­ald was no fan of cats.

“Why do dogs wear clothes here?” asked Tru­man, spot­ting a small poo­dle sport­ing a bright check coat.

“It’s an af­fec­ta­tion and not mas­sively com­mon. It’s mainly pop­u­lar amongst Con­ti­nen­tal dogs, but they will all be gone soon.” Fitzger­ald looked tri­umphant.

“The dog-catcher?” asked Tru­man ner­vously.

“Brexit. We’ve got our coun­try back.’ Said Fitzger­ald adopt­ing what he felt was some­thing of a heroic pose, his back arched stiffly, his nose out the win­dow, fight­ing the urge to let his tongue hang out.

“How do you know about all these things?” In­quired Tru­man.

“That bull­dog, Trevor, at the end of the vil­lage is big into pol­i­tics and he told me about how great life was go­ing to be for us Bri­tish dogs soon.” Fitzger­ald felt a wave of pride wash over him and he barked im­pe­ri­ously at a chi­huahua be­ing car­ried in a hand bag by an overly man­i­cured woman.

“But… I’m not Bri­tish. I’m a Labrador. Tech­ni­cally I’m Cana­dian,” said Tru­man, his big wor­ried eyes star­ing at Fitzger­ald.

“But you’re not French Cana­dian, are you?” Fitzger­ald looked at him ac­cus­ingly.

“I don’t think so. I’m the same as you,” Tru­man whim­pered.

“Then ev­ery­thing is fine,” said Fitzger­ald and he stuck his head far out of the car win­dow to in­di­cate that this dis­cus­sion was over.

Now we are in town and the dogs have taken to it like… dogs to towns. Ev­ery day I get dragged vi­o­lently around Pittville like some out-of-con­trol La­p­land dog-sled­der as they ex­plore more and more of their new en­vi­rons. But there is trou­ble in par­adise. Fitzger­ald has fallen head over heels in love with a neigh­bour­ing dog, who is both male and French. His world-view has been turned up­side down. On the way back from a walk along the Honey­bourne Line, I lis­tened in to their con­ver­sa­tion.

“How’s your boyfriend do­ing?” asked Tru­man.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” growled Fitzger­ald.

“You seem very close,” smiled Tru­man.

“We get on very well.

He is a very in­tel­li­gent dog and we have a lot of things to talk about that you wouldn’t be able to un­der­stand.” Fitzger­ald was not com­fort­able with the con­ver­sa­tion.

“You seem to do a lot of talk­ing into his bot­tom. You’re al­ways sniff­ing around back there with zero so­cial dis­tance.” Tru­man tried to keep a straight face while Fitzger­ald pre­tended to con­cen­trate on his col­lar.

“Also, isn’t he… French?” asked Tru­man.

“Yes… and… what’s your point?” snapped Fitzger­ald.

“It’s just that, you said all those things about them and you said that Trevor said that all French were cheese-eat­ing sur­ren­der mon­keys.” Tru­man’s poker face was on point.

“Trevor’s an id­iot. He’d never even left the vil­lage. He wouldn’t un­der­stand the way things go down in town.” Fitzger­ald tried to change the sub­ject by star­ing at a squir­rel.

“But what about Brexit and kick­ing the French out?” Tru­man was en­joy­ing this.

“SQUIR­REL!!!” screamed Fitzger­ald be­fore bolt­ing off to­wards a nearby tree.

Tru­man smiled to him­self. He liked be­ing in town.

How have the months of lock­down been for you, PJ, and how have you been fill­ing the time?

Per­haps I learned about sep­a­ra­tion as a child – when I was seven my Mum had TB and so my sis­ter and I lived with a foster mother for two years through her treat­ment and re­cov­ery. So I have never taken life for granted. But as an artist I have al­ways worked from my stu­dio at home, but our prob­lem was that Richard now lives with lym­phoma, which is a can­cer of the blood. He re­ceived mul­ti­ple warn­ings from the gov­ern­ment and the NHS that he must not go out as he would be dan­ger­ously ill if he caught Covid-19, and that any­one who lived in the house with him also could not ven­ture out as if they did they would have to iso­late from him.

My big­gest dilemma was how we would keep Richard fit. I’ve al­ways done ex­er­cises or a work-out be­fore

I start the day, but we knew for him it would need to have more pur­pose. And so I sug­gested mak­ing a veg­etable gar­den, which he took to with such vigour and en­thu­si­asm that we had to al­lo­cate more and more ar­eas to the project. Soon he was cre­at­ing wood­land gar­dens and ar­bors un­der the trees, and lay­ing dec­o­ra­tive paths to them.

As I write, he’s dig­ging up the lawn to re­seed it so it can live up to the rest of his work. I’ve nur­tured the tomato seeds into tall plants on the win­dow sills, and var­i­ous herbs dur­ing my breaks from paint­ing. Richard has also be­come a baker; most days when I come down I’m greeted by the de­li­cious aroma of freshly-baked bread, ba­nana loaf or wal­nut cook­ies. Be­cause of his con­di­tion, we’ve been for­tu­nate to have ded­i­cated on­line shop­ping de­liv­er­ies each week, and blessed with kind friends who col­lect our post, etc.

I have to ad­mit I’ve shed many tears on hear­ing how many have lost their loved ones and the sac­ri­fices made by our NHS, car­ers and key work­ers. But hav­ing re­cently read Ca­mus’ The Plague and De­foe’s Jour­nal of the Plague Year, I re­alise how for­tu­nate we are by com­par­i­son – in 1665 the sit­u­a­tion was far more fright­en­ing and dire, so much so it of­ten sent peo­ple mad. There weren’t mag­a­zines like this or news­pa­pers to keep them in­formed, ed­u­cated and en­ter­tained, or the ra­dio, tele­vi­sion and so­cial me­dia. Global com­mu­ni­ca­tion meant we could see this com­ing and its in­evitabil­ity. It is for­tu­itous that we have a so­phis­ti­cated pro­gramme set up by the state to try to look af­ter us all, in­clud­ing the home­less. I am moved and en­cour­aged by the great kind­ness and hu­man­ity I ob­serve in all oth­ers, al­though a few have acted more self­ishly. Even through

idea be­tween me and Trin­ity House Mod­ern. They did’t auc­tion it as auc­tions nor­mally go, but ac­cepted sealed bids. There were four other artists who then joined in and we raised £18,350 – £5,200 of which came from He­roes of the Hour – for the NHS Char­i­ties To­gether Covid-19 Emer­gency Fund.

Your Twit­ter feed over the last few months has shown some of your works which have re­ally res­onated with many of us dur­ing the pan­demic, such as Times Past and The Writ­ing on the Wall. Has it made you see some of your own work in a dif­fer­ent light?

Yes, it is in­ter­est­ing when I look back over my work. Much of it mir­rors what is hap­pen­ing in the world at that time. This era of the coro­n­avirus has con­cen­trated many of those el­e­ments into this pe­riod of ex­tremes. In Times Past I was look­ing at the lone­li­ness of old age; it is based loosely on ‘ Aun­tie’, the woman who fos­tered my sis­ter and I whilst my mother had TB. She was in her eight­ies when I made the paint­ing, and had been wid­owed since the War and only had one son. Even though I would visit her at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, I know she was in­tensely lonely liv­ing with her cat Sammy and her mem­o­ries. The plight of the el­derly in both care homes and their own homes, and their vul­ner­a­bil­ity, be­came mag­ni­fied dur­ing the re­cent pan­demic. Peo­ple, such as Robert Fripp, have sug­gested that some of my work is prophetic, al­though The Writ­ing on the Wall, which hung in the Royal Academy in 1991, was painted at the time of the first Gulf War when scud mis­siles were be­ing fired into Is­rael and many there were seen wear­ing gas masks in news footage. It struck me that it would feel very strange for in­fants to see their par­ents trans­formed into these sur­real ele­phan­tine crea­tures. The He­brew script around the frame made ref­er­ence to the Bib­li­cal Bels­haz­zar’s Feast and Rem­brandt’s paint­ing “...you have been weighed in the bal­ance and found want­ing...”

When I put these im­ages on so­cial me­dia, I felt that they might res­onate with other peo­ple be­cause we see art through our present ex­pe­ri­ences, even when the im­pulse that cre­ated it was not quite the same... art mir­rors life.

Trin­ity House Mod­ern in Broad­way is stag­ing your next ex­hi­bi­tion. What can we ex­pect to see?

Al­though this isn’t a ret­ro­spec­tive, the ex­hi­bi­tion has three works from early on in my ca­reer. Passé, Présent, Fu­tur was first shown in the Royal Academy in 1983 from whence it trav­elled to the USA, but I was re­cently able to ac­quire it and two other works from the same pe­riod ( The Seven Ages and

The Dream) back. The rest of the show is a col­lec­tion of paint­ings cre­ated over the past three years, and also in­cludes three-di­men­sional works such as my soft sculp­ture In Prayer made last year – per­haps a pre­mo­ni­tion of what was to un­fold this year.

Sev­eral of the works make ref­er­ence to the plight of our planet, re­fer­ring si­mul­ta­ne­ously to the Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion theme, and Noah and his Ark. Also cli­mate change in the paint­ing Happy New Year 2020, where most of the news­pa­per painted in the fore­ground is taken up with a large pho­to­graph and cap­tion ‘Aus­tralia Ablaze’. Oth­ers, like The Night­watch, Dis­tance Danc­ing and The Prayer, are ex­pres­sions of this era of Covid-19.

The Black Na­tiv­ity refers to the mass demon­stra­tions across our globe, Black Lives Mat­ter, now run­ning con­cur­rently with the coro­n­avirus. We need to love each other, what­ever our colour or creed, as well as our planet and all that in­hab­its it.

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LEFT:
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: Townie boys Tru­man and Fitzger­ald
The ob­ject of Fitzger­ald’s de­sire
ABOVE: Townie boys Tru­man and Fitzger­ald The ob­ject of Fitzger­ald’s de­sire
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