It has to be said that it was old Garl Furtling who set me off with this particular train of thought. He has produced some wonderful paintings, for forty years young ladies almost fought to be painted by him; indeed I think he painted every leading lady from every theatrical performance in the city over a period of two generations. Now he paints almost entirely still life.
But he is working into his old age. I too expect to work until I finally drop. Indeed I have, stored away in note form, a selection of those ‘helpful’ comments poets of a far older generation made about my work when I was a young poet just setting out on this road. I feel that it will be my duty, when I at last approach my dotage, to share these character building comments with a younger generation.
But still, the elderly are always with us. The biggest problems are faced by widows and similar who’ve been too busy working, building a home and a family, to learn a trade. Suddenly they are alone, what do they do?
Well a fair number of them do use the gifts they have and run cookshops and boarding houses. Some will take on a small emporium; others will branch out into other, more exotic careers. But for those for whom health, debility, debt or decrepitude place impassable obstacles in their path, they normally go and live with their daughter. Obviously they cannot go and live with their son and his wife as they will doubtless be preparing to provide a home for her mother.
In wealthy households, this doesn’t present too much of a problem. I know some of the greatest households who look upon a sensible widowed kinswoman in middle years as an asset to be cherished. She can often be persuaded to take on the role of housekeeper at one of the family’s more distant holdings. There her skills, loyalty and good sense will provide a core around which that household can coalesce.
Wealthy households will often have a number of less active elderly ‘living in.’ Often with a room of their own, they will join the family for meals, provide a loyal and appreciative audience for the family’s poet, and ensure that any social event held in the house has a core of well-behaved and grateful guests. When they get too old and tend to remain more in their rooms, they can be looked after by their maid, and the family can visit them as often as guilt, or a wilful desire to play Lady Bountiful, demands.
It is at the lower levels of society where the pressure is more keenly felt. Dowti Crutchwheel was widowed in early middle age. This was a signal for her mother to move in with her, ‘to provide the girl some support.’ Over the next decade, half a dozen more elderly relatives by blood or marriage managed to fit themselves into Dowti’s not particularly large house. All were happy to give Dowti the benefit of their experience and wisdom, but alas, were rarely able to contribute anything as common as hard cash to the household finances.
Finally and inevitably, Dowti snapped. She fled one night, having seen an advert by one of the smaller Condottieri companies who were advertising for a cook. She disappeared into Partann with them and there won golden opinions for both her cooking and her ability to lay out the nit-picker with a blow from her ladle. She was feted and adored by the men of her company, who cherished somebody who could produce a hot meal at the end of a long march through the pouring rain. She was held in high esteem by her commander who valued her ability to make a little go a long way. Even more he valued her ability to deal firmly with thieving sutlers, petty officials angling for a bribe, and in more than one case, enemy scouts who had somehow found their way into the camp. When she at last returned to Port Naain, she was the undisputed matriarch of the camp and was asked to stay on the company roll and maintain order in their small city headquarters. Whilst she was in charge, no soldier reporting home was ever cold-shouldered or forced to find his own billet.
But somehow I seem to have drifted off the topic of Garl Furtling. As I said, a prolific painter with a fine eye for a lady. Not only that but he had a kind heart and a generous brush, so when he painted a lady, he showed good points she never suspected she had. And yet, he threw all this up to finish his career painting still life.
Obviously I had to ask him, and equally obviously I chose to ask him half way down the third bottle. As they say, in wine there is truth. So when I did ask him he sighed. He toyed with his glass. He filled his glass. He drained his glass and sighed again. Finally he glanced over his shoulder to make sure nobody else was watching before telling me his secret.
“Frankly, Tallis; no bowl of fruit has ever tried to entice me to paint it with improper proposals and erotic suggestions that I no longer have the time, the patience, nor the stamina for.”
This probably comes as something of a surprise for those who have been purchasing his later paintings because of their latent eroticism.
Avoiding latent anything, it has been brought to my attention that
needs to sell merely a few tens of thousands more copies before it is confirmed on the best sellers list. Go on, take this opportunity to thumb your nose at convention and make the literary world a better place!