I don’t get out much now. It’s me feet. And me hands. Doctor says it’s severe arthritis. So, when this nice woman moved in down the road, bit posh, said she came from Suffolk, and wanted to do a painting of me, I thought it’d make a change, something to do. Why she’d want to do a picture of me, gawd only knows. I’m nothing to look at. Mind you, years ago my Joe used to say… I can’t see too clearly now, doctor says it something called macular degeneration. But that’s never me in that painting! Me hair’s grey but never that thin. And why’s she made me hands so red. And what’re all those red bits on me face. Anyway, I did feel a bit nervous about it all, but I had a good wash, put on me best blouse. Three times I had to go to what she called her studio, room upstairs at the back which she says had a northern light or something. She kept telling me to keep me eyes over her right shoulder. Easier said than done, missus! Couple of times she said, nice like, that I’d moved. Like I said, I don’t get out much these days. Nice girl comes and gets me shopping especially me Guinness! My Joe died two years ago, but before that he always drove us around. Married 60 years. He was a good man. Worked hard all his life at Smithfield market. We never had a cross word. Mind you, he sometimes got worked up by the kids. Especially when he’d had a few beers. Now, I’ve got no one. Our daughter, Pauline, lives in America. And our son, my Terence…my Terence was killed in the Falklands war. He never married. Don’t know why.
I always wanted to paint that sad, defeated face. Mrs. Rose lives along the road and I’d sometimes talk to her when I walked back from the shops and she was pruning her roses in her front garden. She once gave some of her strawberries. I chose a neutral background to bring forward that worn face and hunched body. And those large, gnarled overworked hands with a slim gold wedding ring embedded in the flesh. And she still takes in washing! I used bold strokes, strong colours on her face and hands to illustrate the sense of someone strong and resilient. She’s a survivor. She always arrived on time, immaculately turned out in a black sweater over a blue skirt and blouse, walking with a stick. Smelling of a soap that reminded me of my mother. Couldn’t get her to talk much and she always refused a cup of tea. I know little about her. She did tell me that she started work in service when she was 14, that she’d lived in that house from the day she got married at 20. Local gossip has it that her husband knocked her about. Neighbours heard her screams and she often had a black eye. Apparently, the children left home as soon as they could. I sent her some flowers to thank her. I don’t imagine she gets many flowers.
Frances Rose was inspired by the Maggie Hambling portrait of the same name.
Marian Philips worked in television production, then lived abroad for 25 years. She enjoys the cinema and theatre, has always scribbled and enjoys writing dialogue most of all.