We settled down next to the roaring fire, just as I’d imagined. Marcel insisted on sitting next to it, despite my warnings that he would soon melt (I know that particular fire. It is like the mouth of Hades).
I drew this view through a doorway into the snug, where a party of about five or six was having dinner. The waiter came in.
“We have Christmas pudding,” he said to the diners. “Would anyone like Christmas pudding?”
Many of them did.
“I’d like Christmas pudding,” I said to Marcel.
“You don’t need that,” he said, which I hope was not a reference to how naughty it is. I hope and trust that he would have said the same thing if I’d said I fancy the cucumber salad.
Happy sounds soon drifted our way from the snug.
“This is so delicious,” said a woman’s voice, “it’s got cream, and creme anglaise, and rum. Mmmmm.”
I would have ordered some but you know how it is – you’re engrossed in a sketch and you really cannot be bothered with anything that will interrupt you. Marcel and I were both put in mind of an exhibition of Dutch paintings last year, in which scenes painted through a doorway featured prominently. Apparently it was quite the thing in 17th-century Dutch art, and I can see why – there’s something about the half-hidden world within that’s enticing.
I didn’t colour much but I thought the jars of jam looked nice. They were for sale.
“Not right to sell jam in a pub,” said Marcel.
Then closer inspection revealed that they all had alcohol in them so he was a little happier about it. There was Orange and Dingle Gin Marmelade, Raspberry and Prosecco Jam and Blackberry and Guinness Jam. I myself prefer my jams to have just fruit and sugar: I remain to be convinced.
I used the rather lovely Payne’s grey in my set of Rembrandt watercolours for the uncoloured bits and the shadows. I’m starting to choose it over indigo which is odd for me, a longtime fan of the latter. I felt the two aul’ fellas in the snug needed to be painted in colour to portray their fine colour, so I made sure to paint them first, in case they couldn’t face another bite of Christmas pudding, cream or custard and ran off. The chap in the foreground was gesticulating with his hands about British oppression through the centuries. You need two hands for that. After that the group began to put the world to rights and Marcel and I fell silent , the better to eavesdrop, but I always worry that my subject will come crashing over and be furious that they’ve been drawn. I don’t know where this fear springs from but there you have it. It’s groundless, because no one has ever been angry to have been drawn in all my years urban sketching. I don’t know how some of my fellow sketchers just draw people up close without any self-consciousness: then again, some other sketchers I know think I’M the brave one for sketching alone in public at all.
The smiley man in the photo was a familiar character around the area for years and years. He looked just like Wurzel Gummidge from that chidren’s TV programme years ago. He was always in a good mood, with a gummy smile usually in evidence. His hair was the same light red as mine but his chin was much more bristly (I fervently hope). One evening a couple of years ago he was propping up the bar in the Clarinbridge Oyster Festival, in the next village. Someone suggested I sketch him.
“He’ll be thrilled,” she said, “but he’s as cute. Good luck.”
I knew what she meant and my courage failed me. How I wish I’d been bold enough to ask him for his portrait: he departed this world last year, so that’s that.
In the dresser were blue china plates, a cream-coloured spaniel, three little thatched houses, two tropical shells and a clock or something. They made for satisfying sketching. Marcel, who was now as far away as possible from the fire, was patient for a good while but eventually had enough of watching me sketch and so we went home…by car.