I went to the market yesterday, and bought what I still think of as a green pepper, but what is here called a capsicum. It was large, dark and glossy. In the evening I pulled out my beautiful little Winsor & Newton Field Box, which arrived last week, and painted three pictures of it, two from the outside and one in cross-section. I put it under a lamp, and after a while, because of the light’s warmth, a delicious, faint smell like capsicum pakoda rose from it -- which is the same as that which a cycas, an ancient tree which is an ancestor of the palm, sends out when you walk past it in the night.

If you close one eye and squint at my painting with affection, you might say that these are expressionist capsicums...

As I painted I remembered my father. He was an engineer, and could draw beautiful little sketches of vaulted arches and such. But when he tried to get serious he froze up. Two of his paintings hung in our house when I was growing up: one oil, of a bare rocky landscape with bits of green scrub; and one watercolour, of a competently drawn sailboat, floating on frozen water under a dead sky. I never saw him paint - he had given it up long ago. There were two hinged wooden boxes in the closet under the stairs. The larger one held tubes of dried-up oil paints, a palette knife, some stiff brushes. The smaller one held tubes of dried-up watercolours. We were allowed to open the boxes and look inside once in awhile, but never to touch anything.

The closet was a repository of my father’s abandoned projects. Behind the coats was a hunting rifle, which he took out once, to shoot a couple of squirrels with some friends; and a fishing rod, which he also used once. Slipped and gashed his leg on a rock, and that was the end of it. On his desk was the untouched sumi-e stuff: an ink stick, a grinding stone, a seal, fascinating to me and my sister; and the brushes, which lived in the pencil jar.

It was the pencils which he really used, black drawing pencils with points which he kept needle-sharp. I remember one of his throwaway sketches, perfectly rendered, of a crypt with spiralling columns and stars on the arched ceiling, which he labelled 'Merlin's tomb.' He was a gifted doodler. If you squint and look at that fact with affection, it’s not such a bad thing.

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