The house was an unkempt red cottage deep in undistinguished countryside. The persistent rain and muddy surrounds rendered the whole place more sad and squalid than bucolic. The artist greeted us warmly and took us into the smokey interior. We ducked through cobweb bedecked doorways as he led us past three yapping terriers into the living room. We were ushered onto a deeply dubious sofa that had obviously served as a bed recently - there were grubby sheets thrown over the back. We made small talk for a while. The terriers climbed all over us - eager to lick their way into our affections. The artist was courtly if a tad diffident. Conversation faltered. Then his rather bedraggled wife burst in and immediately began to fill the lulls. She offered us drinks and I accepted a glass of cider. The honey-flavoured cider was handed to me in a beautiful heavy Waterford glass. She also poured herself a very large glass of wine - her effusiveness suggested it wasn't her first of the day. She began coyly flattering the youngest member of our group: "you can't have children that old", "you're very tall aren't you" etc. As we took in our surroundings she told me, rather unnecessarily I felt, that she hated housework.
There were very many examples of the artist's recent more formulaic work strewn around the room and in the small adjacent studio. There was no sign however of the early work that I was sniffing after. The studio far exceeded Bacon's famous example in squalor. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere and the small room was littered with artist's debris - old paint pots, discarded brushes, torn magazines, ancient plates and a floor matted with dirt. An easel and a chair sat in the centre of the room in the only space available. Overhead was a dirty corrugated plastic roof mostly covered with vegetation. He sat into the seat while we took some photographs. There was a sad resigned slump to his posture.
The increasingly loquacious wife then insisted that we come out and look at their "shed". This turned out to be a self-contained apartment at the side of the house - marginally less filthy that the main house. The wife said they hoped to let it soon.Then we all tramped back inside - fighting off the amorous terriers.
Now I don't have a fetish about cleanliness and tidiness, as anyone who's been to my house will attest, but all this was too much. There's bohemian laissez faire and there's truly alarming filth - this was the latter. But they were a sweet hospitable couple - even if the wife did prattle on. My abiding feeling as we drove off was pity for their predicament. But who knows, it may suit them very well.