VI – Carlton Hill

THE HOUSEHOLD OF 7B CARLTON HILL, my new home was made up of Trix Craig, once married to Maurice, Catherine aged thirteen, dark haired with an adult air of control which only an adolescent can master, Michael aged about eight, a quiet and dreamy serious boy and Meggie, a very gentle black Welsh Collie.

Judy Scott-Fox was the other lodger. She was straight red-headed, tall and well built and worked in the theatre public relations field. She was frighteningly sophisticated and appeared to know every one of any importance or about to become important in the entertainment business.

The poet Adrian Mitchell and Celia his wife, an actress, lived in the basement flat, as did the garage which contained a vintage Ford which was very occasionally driven by Trix and most important of all and in the process of being restored, the Grand Luxe Delage green racing car belonging to Maurice.

Trixie herself was fair, not fat or thin, still Irish even after many years in London, and radiating warmth, kindness and intelligence more than anyone I have ever known.

The scrubbed kitchen table was the living heart of the house, the place of mugs of instant coffee, endless toast made on the cooker’s grill, comfort, solace and kindness for all who needed it. The drawing room – living was also on the ground floor and overlooked the garden which was grass with a couple of large trees at the end. The living room was also home to a baby grand piano, the black and white television set and a plentiful supply of books. I believe it was truly home for everyone who had stayed there.

Maurice and Trix were on speaking, if impatient, terms. Maurice was by then married to Jeanne and was the owner of an old English Sheep Dog. The devoted Jeanne spun and knitted a jersey for him out of its wool. Trix had a not live-in lover, Jeremy Brooks, a novelist who was married to Eleanor, a rather good painter who became known for her portrayals of her cleaning lady. It was a fairly undramatic and stable arrangement.

I had remained in contact with my closest childhood friend, Rosemary Fitzgerald – “Ro”. We had known each other from babyhood, our families being friends and neighbours for generations. Ro was somewhat round and dark haired looking strikingly like her eighteenth century forbear, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the great Irish patriot. Our common interests were botanising – we had the freedom of the countryside, bog and mountain on our ponies, and a somewhat precocious taste in reading material, novels possibly not completely understood or at least the likes of D.H. Lawrence who was banned in Ireland at that time. Ro eventually went to Oxford which was rather unusual for an Irish girl at that time. She had married young and rather unhappily and was living in Gloucestershire so we continued to see each other.

Ro’s circle of friends included Desmond Guinness, Desmond Fitzgerald, the Knight of Glin and David Mlinaric, who was to become the decorative advisor for the National Trust. Maurice and Trix had tutored the younger Guinness children and Maurice nurtured Desmond’s love of eighteenth century architecture. I had also remained in contact with Victor Coates, occasional lunches at The Ritz which I was too nervous to enjoy.

Daily life was cycling to the Byam Shaw, being worked hard and loving it. The Byam Shaw training aimed to turn us into professional painters capable of earning our livings as professional painters. Around thirty percent of us did, which was an unusually high proportion.

Maurice De Sausmarez became principal. As well as being an outstanding painter he was an intellectual, a born teacher of great charm and determination. We were incredibly lucky to have had him in our lives.

Maurice also believed that we should be appreciative of music, both classical and contemporary and the literary arts. Among writers W.H. Auden talked to us and also the composer Nicholas Maw. An upright piano was brought in for the occasion. Maurice would also, if I was lucky, give me and my bike a lift in the back of his Volkswagen Camper Van if it was very cold or wet. Tragically he died too young from heart problems. I was privileged to have had him in my life.

My other main tutors were Bernard Dunstan R.A. and his wife Diana. Bernard is a fine colourist with a marvellous feeling for the handling of paint. I probably learnt most from him by life modelling in his studio in Chiswick. Certainly this gave me permission to paint fast, drawing with my brush, use colour as part of drawing and in general purely enjoy the whole process. Diana, sometimes small subtly coloured still lives of wilting bunches of wild flowers. She always said the colours became more subtle and interesting as they faded. Bernard and Diana have remained my friends. Bernard’s official tutorials were somewhat more gossip than stern lectures on the meaning of art but one way or another he taught me well.

 

PhilippaVI – Carlton Hill