The Artist Watches


Some years ago I was in Oxford with Peter. He must have had an appointment somewhere because I was alone for a few hours enjoying a book-buying spree in the city centre. While sauntering along minding my own business I saw three people strolling toward me, a man and two women. Age hard to guess, but he looked to be in his thirties or early forties, and one of the women was older, though not so that you’d notice. The three were arm in arm, him in the middle, and they were laughing and clearly enjoying themselves. They were beautifully dressed, the man in one of those generously cut heavy woollen overcoats that cost as much as a small car, the women in understated shirtwaist dresses under long, swinging cardigans. A smattering of discreet jewellery. Fantastic, glossy hair, all three of them. Definitely not British. I think I heard Italian as they passed, but my heart was drumming in my ears and so everything sounded as if I were underwater.

I stood transfixed, turning to watch them, book-filled carrier bags around my feet. He was half a head taller than his companions. They looked as though they owned the day. Magnificent. His beauty was heartstopping.

I followed them. Oh, not for very long – I’m not a stalker – but I just wanted to drink in more.  Hurtling down a side street I managed to loop round and get ahead of them, and by dint of pretending that I was waiting for someone – I even checked my watch to appear more convincing – I stood where I could get a better look.


The subterfuge was unnecessary. They were absorbed in the moment and in each other. I could have been in a Mickey Mouse costume and they wouldn’t have noticed. Looking at his broad back as he and his companions disappeared into the Oxford crowds I thought faintly, where the fuck do you go to get that hair, that skin, those teeth, that mesmerisingly deep voice, height, physical ease and presence? I felt like a hamster watching a puma walk past.

His face has never left me, etched sharply by whatever chemistry surged through my brain at the sight of him. Here he is, at the top of this post, reinvented as Bertilak de Hautdesert.



15 thoughts on “The Artist Watches

  1. Surely not a hamster! If you must be something tiny, how about a hedgehog in its nest of leaves? Perhaps on some other day, you were the perfect fox or Jackanapes for some other passer-by. Strange to think that we’ve all had bit parts in the lives of strangers. He makes a good Bertilak.

    • Ah, yes, I like those thoughts and plan to cling to them. Trust Marly to get it right and to know that not only may a beast change his spots, but that he may even with the passage of time, change species. Peter would say that a hedgehog is about right, because I can undoubtedly be prickly. However, I’m going for an old cat, less nimble and limber than the once fox, but able to still slink about and put on a turn of speed for short bursts between napping and going about cat business. Oh, and I have claws, still, though they only unsheathe when I’m provoked.

      Was I ever watched when I was a fox? Perhaps I was, though I would have had little inkling of it. I was unconscious of allure in myself.

      • How about a bush baby? Somewhere I have a crinkled, faded, much loved photograph of you with your pet bushbaby. So, small, cuddly with amazing hypnotic eyes but perhaps sharp claws and the occasional bite?? Sounds appealing.

        • Oh my! That’s an OLD photograph! He was a handsome chap, but BOY did he pack a bite when riled, his little face screwed up in concentration and effort. Bushbabies have the softest palms, like a human infant. They pee on them to keep them moist and sensitive. Ha ha! So no, maybe not a bushbaby!

  2. Oh Clive, hamster! Never! even amongst pumas.
    I know what you mean, I saw perfection two weeks ago in a young woman, I could not look away. I wanted to take a photograph, tell her how beautiful she was, she seemed unaware of it, sweet natured. I said to someone afterwards, that I would let the Devil have my soul for a goodly number of years to look like that!
    By the way,
    I have never seen a gondolier with that kind of presence!!
    Any way if you must be something, not puma, you would be the most beautiful and exquisite fox.

  3. What a wonderful description, Clive! You have such ability to remember and note, it’s such a bonus for an artist, ( I lack that unfortunately) Perhaps he was a gondolier, I suppose they must have holidays too……xxxL

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