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4:37pm on Tuesday, 25th July, 2017:



My mother's favourite aunt and uncle were known to me as Auntie Edie and Uncle Tom. Like pretty well everyone else in the village, Uncle Tom worked in agriculture, mainly with tractors.

We liked visiting them as children, as they had what we thought was an enormous garden and a quirky house which featured a cellar, a room half-way up the stairs, a larder, a kitchen on two levels (one three inches above the other) and a sink with three taps (hot, cold, don't-drink-that-it's-rainwater). They had eleven cats, and walls covered in paintings.

The paintings were done by Uncle Tom. He was the only person I knew who could paint, and I've had one of his paintings all my life (this one).

The best painting, to my eyes, was one we always called Honesty. Indeed, I think it may have been the only one of his paintings ever to have a name. When he, then Auntie Edie died, it went to my grandmother. When she died, it went to my mother, who gave it to me. It now hangs on the wall on the upstairs landing.

It's mainly brown, because oil paints weren't easy to come by and he had to use what was available. It has some chips and scratches in the paintwork that it's acquired over the years, too. I'm still a fan, though. The vase is beautiful, and the flower in it — known as honesty in Yorkshire — is one of my favourites. This was the picture that, when I looked at it and tried to figure out how to make daubs of paint look like something, told me I was never going to be a painter. I just don't have that skill.

Had he been born in a different world at a different time, Uncle Tom could perhaps have made a career as an artist. He never stood a chance with his background, though. So it still is today: so many people have creative skills that others value — whether it's painting, writing, composing, sculpting, acting, dancing, architecting buildings, designing games — yet so few have the opportunities to put their talents to use.

When I was a child, I liked Honesty because of the artistry and the subject matter. I still do, but as an adult I also like it for the feeling of melancholy it imbues.

Honesty was painted in 1917 — a hundred years ago — by an 11-year-old boy.

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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).