Letter to Sister-in-law

Dear Jenny,

A long letter arrived this morning from you just as Beth was leaving to do her Wednesday morning class. We’ve both read it and enjoyed it like all the other letters you have written. I expect you have begun to wonder if I am still alive as you havn’t heard a word from me! Anyway I am very much alive and very well - and so is the whole family.

This morning there was a very sharp ground frost and the front side of the house was all dark and cold with the car covered in frost, while the south, garden side was in blazing sunshine. As my studio hasn’t warmed up yet and the transparent roof section is still misted over so that I can’t really see to work I am sitting in the roasting hot dining room writing a letter. About time too.

All the letters from you during your trip out (all history to you now I expect) brought back images of my National Service boat journey to Japan (via the Suez of course). I could imagine very well the blanket of heat in the tropics and seeing geography ‘picture book’ sights on the shore off Africa, and the shopping trips at the ports of call. Thankyou very much for all our presents. You seem to be having a very good/fascinating/varied time and making the most of it - unlike, from what you say and I can well imagine, most of the permanent diplomatic people. I can’t help being amused by the emotional ups and downs hinted at in your letters which involve being ‘on’ or ‘off’ Pakistan and other continents according to the state of your love life!! Anyway you seem to be getting your share - as the vulgar English say - and I hope that things are going well ‘love wise’ when you get this. When you first left England you seemed to be feeling very sorry for us stuck in old Kingston! Actually we’ve never been in better heart. We’ve stopped for the time being worrying about moving. (House price inflation has gone completely into the stratosphere) and we didn’t like the country much anyway - well not to live in all the time. The children all seem to be far less trouble than they used to be now that they are getting older. and although she does have her hands a bit full Beth is so much happier doing a part time job. I do a bit more of the routine housework on non-Chelsea days and I don’t mind at all. I don’t take it for granted that Beth is doing as much as she is - but I’m certain everyone is better off for it. We also have a bit of economic security at the moment as I sold a few pictures in the summer and the cheques seem to keep coming - and Beth’s earnings. We are determined not to get any more materialistic and don’t really want to anyway. But we are getting John Varney to draw up a plan for some minor changes to the house to give us a porch, a better drive in with cover for cars and bikes, and some internal extra space if he can think of a way to do it. But not an extension at present - too expensive. With the country going through a pretty massive economic shake up (but in my opinion good prospects in the medium term ‘...a Latchmere spokesman said today’) one should be happy with a home, a car, and a bank balance rather than miserable because of what one hasn’t got. Beth has always been a bit keener on the country than I, but I think she feels too that when the boys are so happy at school etc it is probably tempting fate to start uprooting everything. We have both been buying some clothes! Me for the first time for a long time - the new tough look! Very nice battledress type leather jacket for wearing on all occasions, from teaching to going anywhere. - brown, big zip, elastic waist - very similar to old flying jackets of 20 years ago but neat. Blue levi’s (flared) - funnily enough the first time I have worn the famous levi’s! and my one indulgence, high heeled shoes ( the new trendy fashion) chunky and so that you don’t get too kinky an image - masculine -, very good with long flared levis! Beth is having a terrible time buying anything and goes out for odd hours here and there but never finds anything - I think she is being a bit indecisive but also I think she is up against this problem that a woman has to choose between very limited young dolly girl stuff or boring department store fashion. She has finally bought a pair of shoes largely at my instigation which are splendid, a sort of half school girl half school teacher look! Very appropriate. Plus an amazing pair of Ravel boots which I am sure she will not wear enough to justify the price!! I make no excuse for talking at length about clothes - although I wouldn’t to anyone else. I know you’re interested and you know we are! Anyway there are worse things to spend your money on - like loose covers or dressing tables!

Another reason for my present high spirits is the aquisition of a motorbike. I’ve got a new 125cc Honda - very small engine - but amazingly agile and quick. I use it to go to London on always (even in the rain) and besides enjoying it for it’s own sake it has dramatically cut the completely pointless fatigue factor involved in driving a car up and down to London in traffic that is worse than ever. If you can believe that. I just slip through the gaps at a steady 20mph and get there in about 20 mins.
As you may have heard (or was it before you left?) I have rediscovered an old enthusiasm - motor cycle Road Racing. and have been to Brands Hatch and Mallory Park quite a few times to watch racing. I even took Beth and the children to Crystal Palace and everyone enjoyed it. With me and David being rather stunned Robert and Ben have picked it up too. Robert and his friend Jim came to Brands Hatch (Kent) with me in September and they were so grown up and appreciative (following the racing etc) that I was absolutely delighted. Needless to say I am not satisfied just watching and long to have a go - but it is sometimes dangerous and obviously if I did some people would dissapprove strongly. But I havn’t decided not to.

My work is going rather well. During the early part of the year I worked very slowly and was not happy with the lack of openess and directness of my general way of working. My temperamental need for order and discipline and visual clarity always clashes with my desire to work spontaneously and more sensuously but it is necessary to know oneself in art and I think my best work so far has come out of just this contradiction. Now I am doing a series of slightly shaped very big, very simple pictures which are going well - and I have been fiddling with some sculpture! I am having a show in the spring sometime - but plenty of time before I need to think about that.

As you know during the past year or so I have been rather depressed about the lack of constructive criticism and general lack of enthusiasm for painting and sculpture and the general fashionable idea that both were old hat and worn out. Now the pendulum is swinging back - as it always does - and I have a feeling that painting and sculpture - but specifically painting - are about to get more attention - but we’ll see. The important thing is to keep working the way one believes in and to the best of one’s ability and honestly. I must learn not to worry too much about short term responses. I had an 2 or 3 hours with Tony Caro yesterday - who you may remember is one of the artists I have spent most time over the years talking and arguing with - and although I don’t agree with some of his commitment he is one of the very few people I know who has as much, or more, vitality and mental energy towards art as I feel I have. Not that these are the sine-qua-non of good art - but they help. I want my next show to be a very strong one - like nailing my colours to the mast and forcing people to look again and not just take me for granted as another 60’s ‘cool’ painter still doing his thing!

We are playing bridge quite alot - it may sound very suburban but not the way we play I hope - it’s good fun and we have taught Anthony Macrae and his girlfriend Diane.

By the way my sister Diana and Graham have a baby boy - born 2 weeks ago - Christopher. We all went over to Essex last weekend, after a roast beef lunch cooked by David at his flat. It’s fine but I’m glad we are not starting on babies again - it’s a bloody hard grind. Though Beth insists it was alll marvellous fun!

My mother spent this weekend with us, and your mother joined us for Sunday lunch - from her job at the Caravan show. As the show is combined with the motorcycle show I spent several hours there last week and saw Joe and looked at the new range of of cottage style (! ugh) awnings - or rather Tudor style I suppose. Apparently it’s what everyone wants - but I like blue or orange.
I’d better stop this rambling document now. As I have this page over I will leave it to Beth so that she can answer all your questions about Bras etc! Much love, Jeremy

Keep sending us your news and excellent descriptions of the countryside and the people. Your ambivalence towards the locals (sometimes seeming to like them more than Europeans and sometimes less) reminds me abit of how my father talked about India - I think all British feel like that. Or have I misunderstood you. J