He’s ugly, underweight, his face sagging swathes of empty bristled flesh. His eyes peer out from beneath heavy overhangs and his thick bristled brows point up and towards each other like a demon’s. He looks out through a wall of windows at the chaos of plants and shrubs that are his small garden. He wonders just how many rat families have made their homes there. When he catches them indoors in humane traps he gently releases them back into the garden. Sometimes at night he hears their awful squeals as neighbourhood cats carry out periodic culls. 

Inside Lol Godley’s bright little house is a different sort of chaos, one where colours reign supreme. Oils, acrylics, watercolours, crayons, felt-tip pens, charcoal and coloured pencils of all sorts litter most available surfaces. But not his stool, his drawing board or his single comfy chair. This is placed strategically close to the radiator, facing the television and as far from the light as possible. There’s a small table beside the chair, tangles of coloured Christmas lights and an ancient persian carpet on the floor. It is threadbare and ingrained with decades of grime, charcoal and pencil shavings. A diary. Dirty curtains block the windows in the front and side of the house and, when occasionally drawn, the glass wall at the back. In the kitchen there is a gas cooker and fridge from forever ago, cups and plates for three: one dirty, one being used and one in the sink. The one in the sink can sometimes stay there for weeks. It’s the same story in the decrepit fridge: one meal half eaten, one meal waiting and one meal yet to be made. Ingredients are limited to cheese, tomatoes, marmite, tinned beans and spaghetti hoops, tinned tomatoes, crackers and crisps. He gets his beer from the pub across the road and on Sundays treats himself to a Sunday roast there. 

For many years he has lived this tiny life, rarely leaving his house and sending his work by courier to the people who commission him to do botanical drawings. Lol Godley is known for accuracy with thorns and prickles and spines. But he is very good at flowers, leaves and stems too and has a reputation for punctilious detail, subtle colours and accuracy. He has hard-won fame amongst wealthy plant collectors and in the trade. His reputation is as an eccentric who doesn’t leave his space and for whom visitors are not welcome. He is fine with this. As long as he has some money for beer and comestibles and can by luxuries such as Easter eggs and Christmas lights, of which he has many sets some on the walls, some on the floor, he is content. His drawings and pictures are what matters; even the money that builds in his bank account is unimportant to him.

It is a far distance from when he moved into the house all those years ago with his new and extraordinarily beautiful young wife. She was already disconsolate and he was reeling from an unexpected diagnosis. They said it could be years or decades, so he didn’t tell her but worried for the future. He hadn’t noticed her sadness, but when she left he took comfort from the curious return to balance. And from the fact that he didn’t need to worry any more. Now he could just wait. He had always known she wouldn’t stay, that the little corner house with its rear wall of windows and small garden wouldn’t be enough. She was so pretty and he was so very ugly; she was so very clean and tidy and he with his flowers and colours was not, except on the page. They had met at a gallery opening, dated once or twice and he wanted her so. They married. But her fascination with his artistry and the novelty of his curious demonic appearance were short-lived. An easy divorce with no expectations, and an unexpected turn for the better as far as the drawing went. What was he thinking. Such vanity. No more.

Amidst isolation and gradual physical decline he worked and worked. Passing years, as the house and garden also declined and as his artistry distills. Then a sudden break. A gallery show and a private view. And unexpectedly people wanted his work, attracted to its lyrical turns, its precise contours. Waiting to die alone gave him intense concentration and in his hands came a stillness and calm that found its way onto the page. Pain and inconvenience, but not death. Stasis and a steady and unwavering routine. Stressless and nurturing. 

More on this story to come.

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