Friday, 2 September 2016

Art for Fuchs Sake

Art for Fuchs Sake

Since Brexit, the trains have got worse and worse, haven’t they? They don’t run late anymore, they crawl. So it was without any sort of expectation of arriving on time that I boarded at Truro.

My seat reservation confidently spoke of a forward facing seat with a table; next to the window. In reality, it was, of course, a cramped affair with no leg room whatsoever and facing the rear.

You don’t waste any time, do you? I looked down the aisle, found an unreserved table seat and swapped the tickets, pleased to notice I’d have no company until Newton Abbot and that was hours away.

Watching the passing countryside meander and the towns dawdle, I reflected how fast and how quickly things had slipped since the vote. Conductors on zero hour contracts, train managers who didn’t anymore and rolling stock rusting itself into oblivion. No one bothered and those who once did had been repatriated years ago.

A journey to London might take eight hours or eight days. It was impossible to predict and depended on a brisk tail wind anyway. You put up with it.

As Newton Abbot approached, I wondered who might get on and keep me company all the way to Paddington. Nobody noisy, I hoped. Lots to think about and I’d booked the quiet carriage on purpose. I always book the quiet carriage.

When they boarded, you could tell straight away. They fussed all the way down the aisle with too much luggage, those mini suitcases on wheels with extendable handles bashing into exposed ankles ignoring the barks of pain and raised scowlbrows. Already making no friends, both were trifling around with cell phones as they sat down opposite me, placing hefty raffia bags on the small table.

All available space was lost.

“Well, you know, she set up her easel on the beach by Slapton sands…”

“Slapton? No!” The younger of the two snorted.

“I mean, I like her, but…”

“I know what you mean, she thinks she knows everything, she won’t be told.”

“Well, I can’t work with her. I don’t want to…”

“Yes, yes, she’s just impossible.”

“And we have to put up with her all weekend.”

“We’ll be polite, of course.”

“Well of course, but if she starts with her outdated opinions, well, I won’t be responsible, you know?”

The conversation paused. As I rested my elbow on the tiny ledge, palm pressed to my temple, they flicked through glossy art magazines. I didn’t catch the titles. Possibly ‘Vital Art’ or ‘Sake, Forsakes Art.’ Who knew? The way these two were flicking and sneering, they were either skilled speed readers or were using the pages as fans.

“What do you think?”

“Oh awful, ostentatious, no attempt at subtlety.”

The younger lady, possibly sixty years, looked sideways at her friend and pursed as if about to make some terrible confession. “You know it’s my first visit to ‘The National’?”

“Yes. Well there’s a first time for everything. I think you’ll love it. I have been many, many times and I’ve been blown away; quite entranced.”

“By what, particularly?”

“Oh, you know, the paintings. And the sculptures. Yes, the paintings, definitely. I love the paintings.”

“She wouldn’t appreciate it.”

“God no. I saw her take oil paint to Exmouth once. She set up on the beach and painted the sand. I didn’t want to say anything.”

“Did she?”

“Oh yes. All over the rocks and the weed, too.”

And with that, the two ladies set to; hissing, flicking and tapping cell phones. 

By now the train was slow approaching Taunton and the sun was high in the sky. I guess I’d been on for three or four hours since Truro.

I’d wandered up to the all British buffet and was unimpressed by slaps of dry fruitcake, bacon rolls and I had spotted the dick and run from custard. I’d wandered back. I’d wondered how much longer I’d be stuck listening to two artists.

I was shocked awake from my stoic sulk by a sudden commotion. A large, red faced and sweating man was barging his way down the aisle. In his left hand a paint brush, his right an easel and over his shoulder a large sack like back bulging with jagged objects. He was flailing about with a stick and wore darkest shades.

He was drawn to us as if by a a magnet, although, to be fair, most of the passengers had left the quiet carriage in search of silence. He plumped himself down opposite and offered a dripping, filthy hand, at the same time smearing his brow with a soiled cloth. He was generous with spittle as he shouted. “Fuchs! Emile Fuchs! Is my name. I am artist, yes!”

My two ladies had been staring in contempt at the entrance but now their expressions changed entirely and they leaned forward, braving the spray.

“I am blind, yes, blind. God has removed my vision entirely. But like your British bat, I don’t fly, I use my sonar, no?” He removed the hand then glared at me. “You. You must move, move away. It is these two artists I wish.”

I moved. But, you know, I was intrigued. So I made sure I could see what the Fuchs would happen.

So were my ladies. Magazines put to one side, they leaned towards the seat and frowned. “Who are you?”

Fuchs ignored the question because he was busy removing a variety of implements from the sacks he was carrying and pretty soon equipped for an assignment in art. “You are on way to National? You win British Rail star Brexit prize. I paint portrait, yes? Only thing – must be finished before Bristol Temple Meads. My ticket run out. Quiet please.”

He turned to me and raised his shades. “You!” he shouted, rudely. “Stupid fellow – how long is Bristol Temple Meads?” Then he turned back to my fellow passengers. “He will not know, he is not artist.”

“How should I know? A couple of hundred yards?” I snapped and pretended to read the paper.

“Fool!” he screamed. Then he eyed up the ladies once more, raising his thumb and brush. I’d seen artists do this before. I had no idea why. A bit like a mason’s handshake. Still, I did wonder how useful a blind painter might find it.

My two companions were flattered to find themselves the subject of attention, it had to be said. I could imagine them composing letters to the local galleries, universities and art journals. And their absent friend who painted the Slapton sands, the rocks and the weeds would be put in the picture and made aware of her stupidity in being absent, I felt sure.

“Please to remove blouses, Ladies.”

“What? We can’t do that!” The older one looked appalled at Fuchs’ suggestion and the younger blushed and looked coyly at her sandals.

“Yes, please to do so. This painting for British Rail, glamour, no? Beautiful titties. Poster on London Underground, next to MacDonald’s, splashed all over world.”


“Yes, we put you on the Big Mac boxes, plenty exposure. You famous.”

Fuchs had now mixed himself up a mess of oil paints and his brush was poised. The two ladies sat unmoved, still in their shirts. It looked as though they had no real desire to be immortalised, topless, on the used boxes of ‘Chicken Royales’ or ‘Big Tasties’. I wouldn’t have minded.  But he had no interest in me. “Don’t do it, Maureen,” I heard the older one whisper.

“You can paint us as we are, or not at all,” declared the other, firmly.

Fuchs shrugged. “OK, if what you want. Not sell so many, but if it what you want.”  And with that he raised his brush like a pistol.

The screaming was horrendous.

Sharapova and Azarenka combined could hardly have been louder. It bought my tinnitus right back on with a sharp slap, I’m telling you.

Fuchs had raised his brush and was flicking large gobbits of paint at the two ladies. They were being systematically sprayed in huge splots of colour, from their heads to feet. And not just them. Windows, seats, baggage racks were showered randomly and with vigor.

Escape was impossible. Every time one of the ladies attempted to bolt for the aisle, another missile would drive them back. They cowered in the corner, wailing until, finally, Fuchs finished.

My two artists were drenched. And the blouses had received the most attention. They looked like two giant Pollocks.

Fuchs flung his materials to one side with a satisfied smile and stretched his arms wide apart. “Beautiful, beautiful!” he exclaimed, beaming like a set of headlights. “Wonderful!”

The older lady spoke at last, crimson oils dribbling from her spectacles onto her lap. “What on earth are you doing?” she spluttered with admirable composure, I thought.

“I blind. I paint in braille, yes?”


“Yes, Braille for British Rail. Is gimmick. Sell many tickets for trains. MacDonalds, too.”

“You can’t paint in braille,” screamed the other, with less tolerance, I thought, drooling colour all over her magazine and cell phone.

Fuchs disagreed and reached forward, grasping the nearest ample chest with his sweaty clams. He moved his hands over the frontage, prodding with his fingers and twiidling with his thumbs. “Yes, braille, this say ‘nice titties’,” he replied, firmly.

“Get your hands off me, you filthy old pervert!” screamed the affronted painting, in fury.

But Fuchs grabbed and ripped. Off came the blouse which he held up to me in triumph. Another grab, tug and off came the second. “Masterpiece! Worth thousands. Which you buy?”

“I don’t want either of them.” I replied, shocked, as the two ladies covered themselves. “I’m reporting you.”

“Not good enough for you? Ah. You no like art. You not artist.” suggested Fuchs, disappointed. “OK, I sell British Rail.” Clutching the two blouses in his fist and seizing his materials, Fuchs disappeared up-train. I doubted he would get very far.

I would have pulled the emergency chain, but it probably wouldn’t work due to the cut backs and the train was ambling into Bristol Temple Meads anyway. I fully expected to see police lining the platform. The two ladies were texting on cell phones and it wasn’t hard to imagine the gist of it.

“Terrible. Humilation. Arrest,” I heard them, muttering and typing feverishly.

At Bristol the door of the quiet carriage was flung open. But no police. Instead, a third lady appeared. She too had magazines, cell phone, suitcase on wheels and copious baggage and she made her way determinedly towards the bespattered seats where my two companions sat. Ignoring the smeared paint, she sat down opposite in the seat I had previously occupied with a smile.

“Cynthia. Maureen. How nice to see you. And to see so much of you, too,” she smirked. “Now what an earth have you been up to, for Fuchs’ sake?

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