Journal – Thursday 9th July 1981: “…so I went to the Clairon des Chasseurs on the Place du Tertre where I met a Scottish nutcase, an artist, with whom I passed the entire afternoon and half the evening, discussing everything from Burns to whisky, Billy Connolly to witchcraft, curry to world politics. He’s long-haired, says he’s self-taught, one of the most interesting people to talk with I have ever met… and as much in love with Paris as I am… and if I get back on my next day off, I’m to be treated to a curry for lunch at a great little place that has just opened…”
I am glad I still have the journals from the Paris years. Memory is a strange and fickle beast. Whole chunks of your life are consigned to dusty forgetfulness, never surfacing except when something triggers a specific recollection. Some things, though, will always stand out sharp and clear. Today has been a journey through memory and emotions, but I have worn a smile all day even though I may have shed the occasional tear.
People wander into your life and out of it all the time. You never know what is going to happen next or what you might learn from each new encounter. Some people stay for a lifetime, others are merely passing through. Some, though their physical presence is fleeting, leave a mark upon you that is never forgotten, even though your paths separate and the big, wide world swallows them, closing around their footsteps with impenetrable shadows.
The ‘Scottish nutcase’ I met that day was one of those people. For just a couple of years our paths ran together and we were friends. We talked as if there would be no tomorrow about everything on earth. We got to know each other pretty well; we laughed, he mopped up the occasional tears, tore strips off me for attitudes and behaviours he could see needed to change and helped me see why. He knew the world and its ways and saw things through a much clearer eye than I did back then. He occasionally reduced me to a quivering wreck with his honesty… I was very young and had a lot of growing up still to do.
He also gave me a moment I will never forget. At the time, I don’t think I understood it at all… only half knew how it felt. It was an insignificant incident on the face of it. Yet it was the first time I was made to realise that I mattered… that I need not pretend to be anything other than who I am, need not be a shadow or an echo, I could just be me… and that I was enough, and more than enough, to be worthy of love… just as I was.
In that all–too-short and joyous time in Paris, he changed me, and my view of the world, in ways it has taken a lifetime to begin to understand. He became one of the best friends I have known and one of the few men I have loved deeply, without a shred of romance involved.
Life did what life does. I married, moved to Vichy and became a mum, he went off to paint in Germany. We lost touch. I never had the chance to let him know what I had not understood at the time… that when he came into my life, he helped me change it for the better by helping me grow into myself. He remains one of the most important people to have touched my life and the picture he gave me that Christmas in 1981 hangs on my bedroom wall where I see it and smile every day.
The oddest thing is, that I have no way of knowing if he even remembers the immature young woman in Paris… So many lives pass through the Place du Tertre, flare briefly and move on.
Years later, with the advent of the internet, I looked for news of him unsuccessfully. I was surprised there was no mention… he’s a superb artist. One man did contact me though, an old friend of his; he told me about some of their exploits. For a few moments, my smile was ‘back then’ as I heard again the tale of the portrait of the lady with the double chin, this time from another angle. But I never found anything else.
Last night, some thirty five years later, another young woman was also trawling the internet for an artist with the same name. She found it on my blog and very kindly got in touch. She’d been given a drawing by a customer… a man whose story matches that of my friend… and who shares his name. She’ll show him the article she found next time. You just never know…