4XF#20 Annigoni in the Attic

The summer I met the Goodmans changed my life. They lived in a large cluttered house, crammed with paintings, cases of wine and piles of mismatched crockery. Leo enjoyed acquiring works of art, fine claret and golf trophies. His wife Dione loved cooking but her passion was collecting people. Her husband, who worked in London during the week, was often absent at weekends, playing golf or buying wine, so Dione amused herself by inviting friends, family or casual acquaintance to stay for a few days, weeks or months. Leo didn’t seem to mind and amicably chatted to the motley collection of guests that lodged in the spare rooms, sat round his table and drank his wine.

I was gathered into her fold one summer when, on vacation from college where I was studying history of art, I was fruit picking on a local farm. I met her in the village shop whilst trying to find somewhere cheap to live for a couple of months. She promptly scooped me up and installed me in a rustic bedroom over their garage, saying she loved young people around her and that Leo would enjoy discussing art with me. She explained that their main guestroom accommodated her many weekend guests and apologised for the fact that I was unable to stay in their large top floor bed- sitting room, as it was already taken. It was, she divulged in a mysterious stage whisper, occupied by ‘Rembrandt in the Roof’.

A couple of mornings after I moved in, I was eating breakfast with Dione in her chaotic kitchen, when a tall gaunt man of about thirty with a magnificent droopy moustache appeared in the open doorway. Since his clothes were smeared with paint I assumed that he was the mysterious lodger at the top of the house. ‘Here’s Annigoni in the Attic’ said Dione beaming at him. He gave a wolfish grin and uttered a string of flamboyant compliments in Spanish, a language I had taken at ‘A’ level. He then sat down beside his benefactress and ate a huge amount of food without uttering another word. Dione patted him on the arm and chatted in English to him, though it was not clear if he understood her. After he returned to his temporary studio upstairs, she told me that he was always ravenous and that she had to buy rot-gut red wine to stop him raiding Leo’s rare vintages in the cellar. Dione demanded conspiratorial chats with her young ladies and enjoyed flirting with the men.

A few days later, I met the artist lounging in the sun in an old deckchair with a battered straw hat on his long straggly hair. He smiled and said his name was Miguel. He soon realised I could speak some Spanish and we became friends. The summer slipped by and I got to know the attic room quite well. When Dione found us asleep together in the old wooden bed one afternoon, she flew into a jealous rage and banished us from her domain. We were amazed, contrite and departed sadly.

I never did get my degree in fine art but have had a wonderful experience living with a fine artist. We and have three sons and a home near Seville. Miguel’s work sells well and I teach at the local school. Dione forgave us long ago and has taken to visiting us, sometimes with Leo. She claims she ‘discovered’ Miguel, gave him a start in life and found him a wife.