18. Your House’s Story


While I was drawing this I was so engrossed that it took me quite a while to realise there was a man standing behind me, until I heard his voice over the top of my music*.
‘How do you choose the houses you draw?’ he said to me when I took my earbuds out and looked up at him.
‘I drive around until I find one I like,’ I said, ‘and this one has good light, and it’s white, and the plants stand out.’
‘Uh-huh.’ he said.
Not knowing what else to say, I squinted and said- ‘Do you know who lives there?’
‘I do.’ he said, looking right down at me, without expression.
‘Ooooh, I see!’ I said, surprised by his unexpected response, ‘It’s a lovely house.’
‘I know.’ he said, without a smile.
‘What is it, 60s, or something?’ I asked him.
‘No,’ said the man, who was wearing a baseball cap, greyed beard, glasses, jeans and shirt, and a piece of soft blue cloth draped around his neck, ‘1948.’
‘Were they built for returning servicemen, then?’ I asked him, and he told me no, they weren’t, that they were built by a developer who ran out of money.
‘There’s a park behind the houses where there should have been more houses.’ he said.
As we talked I continued to draw while the man gave me some more information on the development of the tract houses: the names of streets and so on.
Then he told me how beautiful my drawing was, and then told me he had no idea how to draw.
‘I could teach you,’ I told him, ‘in just a few lessons you’d be surprised how good you’d be. It’s like a recipe, you know, learning to put things together the right way.’
‘I’m sure it is.’ he said.
I presume you’re retired,’ I said to him, ‘so you’ve probably got the time.’
He made a little huff of a laugh.
‘Ha!’ he said, ‘All the time in the world but not the money.’
I was about to tell him I would teach him for free, just for the challenge of it and to show him I was right, but he got in before before me, telling me about the woman living in the house behind where I was sitting, and that he was surprised she hadn’t been out to talk to me.
‘Would she be grumpy that I’m sitting in her gutter?’ I asked him.
He made a little huff-laugh again and said no, that she was an artist and would probably want to have a look at what I was doing.
Then, because there was a bit of silence and I wanted to be alone with my drawing, I tried to wind up the conversation by telling him about my hundred houses project.
‘Only 86 to go.’ he said, and we’d both laughed, and then I took┬áhis email address so I could invite him to my hundred houses exhibition.
And then we said goodbye and he’d started to walk back across the street to his home.
‘And, oh,’ I called out to him as he was half way across, ‘I write a little story about the people I talk to while I draw, and today you’ll be your house’s story.’

Today’s music: Amy Winehouse Back to Black