Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Please hold the line while we try to connect you. The number you are calling knows you are waiting.' This bright lady's voice often assails me through the telephone. Who is she? She sounds very like the girl who used to present Blue Peter, yet is she quite trustworthy? Does the person I am calling really know I am waiting? Temporarily unavailable persons have never subsequently told me they knew I was hanging on. I think this is a recorded message, since the lady's voice always seems to have the same inflection, though this morning I detected the very slightest hint of suppressed laughter, even mockery. Is she trying hard enough to connect me? How hard is she trying? For many years there was a man on Australian Telecom who, when you tried to dial England, said in a deep 'butch' voice and a slightly put-on Australian accent, suggesting unashamed national pride, `Your call has failed overseas. Please try later.' 'Overseas' in Ozspeak means anywhere beyond Australia - even New Zealand - but to me this announcement always implied that my failed connection was due to some typically incompetent 'overseas' operator or faulty foreign equipment. `Don't start blaming Australia's superlative communications technology just because those overseas bastards have buggered up your call,' the voice seemed to say. I rather miss that cryptically chauvinistic message.

I am a very good landscape painter with a style midway between that of Hitler and Churchill, only better. There is some evidence to suggest that Lavery put the finishing touches to Winston's better works, and Hitler's few successes are probably forgeries. I suppose my style is a kind of modified Fauvism. I am the Marquet of Melbourne. A couple of years ago, some Hampstead friends of whom I was, and am, deeply fond, admired one of my effortless efforts. It was a north Italian landscape in oils, and, flattered, I presented it to them. The gift was greeted rapturously, and I was pleased that a picture which would otherwise be stashed in a cupboard was now exhibited in the home of persons of taste and fashion. Months later, they held a party and I naturally scoured the walls for my masterpiece, so generously bestowed. Not a sign. Easing my way past the revelling guests - the Holroyds, Spurlings, Murdochs, Brendels, Warners and Drabbles I peered up the stairwell. There were many more pictures hanging there, but not mine. With the air of a man seeking the lavatory, though not as a matter of urgency, I explored other less populated floors. A peep in the master bedroom, a casual glance into the nursery, a more feverish scrutiny of the maid's and children's quarters. Again I drew a blank. Finally, after a 15-minute search of the house from basement to attic, I discovered my little landscape in an ill-lit box-room, face against the wall and trailing a tendril of cobweb. I said no word to my hosts of this poignant discovery. Instead, a few weeks later, I brightly informed them that I had been offered, in Australia, a retrospective exhibition of my work - a rare honour for an amateur. Alas, it would mean, I explained, that I might have to borrow `Umbrian Hillside' for a month or two. The painting would perfectly represent the technical bravura of my middle period. `Oh, we'll so miss it,' lamented my quondam hostess over the phone. All this happened two years ago, and I've never returned the picture. My intention was, and still is, to make a faithful copy of it and restore it to its place of honour in their box-room, but I just haven't got round to it. Now, this morning, I have a Christmas card from my friends, begging for the return of their treasure. …

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