Wednesday night about three weeks ago and I’m working on a painting. It’s a very, very, very late present for a friend’s birthday and, with dutiful thanks to the members of the Art Group, is starting to finally look like what it is supposed to.
Most of the group are standing around their tables nattering: this is the dual purpose of the group – to paint in watercolours and to talk about your latest bunion treatment. Having no history with watercolours and no bunions I often find myself with nothing to say, or else making nice noises about each person’s paintings by way of introduction.
The Club Membership Secretary (at least I assume that’s what her role is) announces grumpily that membership is due for renewal at a rate of £10 for Full members and £5 for Associates. She makes this announcement with the kind of ill humour only mastered by guitar technicians pursuing a day job in a music shop, who take your money as if it is covered in arsenic and whose copy of the dictionary only includes one word: condescending (Unless you go in and start talking in technical terms about the A-grade multiplex tune assimilator, when their condescension turns to sneering and they assert “I think you mean the D-grade”).
I meander over to her and explain that I am not yet a member, nor am I yet at the stage where I could realistically submit three paintings for assessment: so I would like to pay Associate membership. I proffer a £10 note and she looks at me like I’ve just quoted an infamous line from the last fifteen minutes (give or take) of “The Exorcist”
Money, her whole demeanour says, why should I accept your money? As it turns out she has no change, so I am unable to pay on this occasion.
The next week comes around and I am fully armed and loaded with my £5 note. This time there can be no escape for her and she is forced to agree that I can, indeed, have one of her Much Prized Membership Cards, but demands that I provide her with a piece of paper containing my home address and my works mobile number (because I seldom give my home number to anyone). The card itself is suitably disappointing for the Herculean Endeavours I have apparently had to endure to be considered worthy.
I’m actually beginning to wonder if I really should be continuing to come to the group: I find them terribly unwilling to consider new ideas and there are several aspects of the groups membership policy that trouble me. My Inner Moral Compass tells me I should probably walk away, but the Voice Of Reason tells me that, despite everything I actually like a few of them and besides at £1.50 per session it’s far cheaper than going to class.
I sit down at my painting and try not to think about the Doddery Old Man (or DOM) to my right. The Membership Secretary I can forgive; there is something about the British Psyche that seems to attract grumpy teenagers to public service roles and make enthusiasts running a shop in something they love disapprove of anyone buying their produce: to the point where I feel quite wrong-footed if I go into a shop and am NOT served by someone with a scowl.
DOM is another matter. DOM is still on my list of Bloody Idiots I’d Like To Slap.
The reason being that after I had been going to the group for about three or four weeks DOM turned up for the first time and gave me the Curious Stare which is reserved for Young Interlopers before setting up his easel. He was thin in the way that normally only a pencil is thin and had wispy grey hair that looked like it had spent too many years being used as a floor mop. He was the owner of one of those faces that is best described as drawn, along with a pair of eyes that clearly announced to all who might be enquiring that Mr Brain was not at home to visitors.
I was pretty much engrossed in some project I had taken on just to give me something to do, so thought no more about him until the tea break.
All of a sudden the sun seemed to have fallen out of the sky in DOM’s world, as he was cluttering around his easel like a deranged chicken. A few of the other members, apparently more familiar with his ways, asked gently what the problem was.
After a few prompts along these lines DOM announced that someone had stolen the magazine he had been working from.
“Stolen? Are you sure?” The regulars were unwilling to believe such a thing was possible, “perhaps you’ve put it away?”
“No: it’s gone” more burrowing through bags “It must have been stolen”
Over the next five to ten minutes there was much rifling of bags and noise from my right, before DOM started a sedate round of the room, looking for the culprit. Finally he stopped in front of me.
He stood over me, glaring for a minute or so: clearly assuming that if anyone had stolen something then it must be the new boy. Part of me wanted to ask him why the fuck I would want to steal his magazine, but instead I looked him in the eye and asked “Are you OK?”
DOM seemed taken aback by this, and muttered something to himself before backing away to his stand. One of the other members finally seemed to lose patience with the game and came over to help, pulling a couple of magazines out of DOMs bag and saying “Are these the ones DOM?”
DOM grunted, seeming flustered as he realised that his magazines had been there the whole time, “Huh” he said, flummoxed by events, “Someone must be playing games with me”
And that was when he pissed me off.
The absent mindedness I could associate with, the confusion I could understand: even the suggestion that he thought I might be to blame I could live with – after all I was the new boy…but it was the refusal to accept the facts and back down that made me mad.
There’s a book in the UK called “Who Moved The Cheese” that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently. The basic premise being that if you run things in exactly the same way everyday in your life and refuse to move on then eventually you must expect the tide to turn and your audience to leave you high and dry.
I mention it now because despite the brilliance of some of the members, and (despite the niggles against some of the “characters”) the general nice and friendly atmosphere, it is a group that firmly has its head in the sand. Give them ten years and, unless they stand up and looking for new cheese soon, there will be nothing left but crumbs.
Sad but true.