Rumpole never ceases to amaze me. He, of an opinionated, conservative and curmudgeonly nature, has some fairly rigid ideas for how men must behave, comport themselves and achieve in life. So, the occasion of his first face-to-face meeting with Remittance Man revealed an aspect of openness in Rumpole of which I never suspected he was capable.
Back about eight years ago, when the life drawing group was limping along and barely surviving week to week with low attendances, a group of us met at the Lone Wolf Pub and came up with our “Naked Lunch” happening.(I wrote about this in the blog “Naked Lunch, the David and the Birth of Venus”) We decided that Remittance Man, our young poet friend and Leila our Science major model would be the ideal models for this famous painting re-enactment. Remittance Man is probably the oldest male model on the West Coast, drawn and painted by many during the past 35 years or so, and has been immortalized by Jeff Wall in one of his compositions which hangs in the Tate Modern. It became my job to phone him and ask for his support of our little endeavour. So I called him with an offer he just couldn’t refuse. A weekend stay with Rumpole and me, access to a mountain bike he could tool around on in the local countryside, room and all meals, the company of nubile and intelligent female models and familiar artists and an opportunity to put on one of his sound and movement performances in a new venue, a suburban lawn. He was enthused to take part and arranged to come out by commuter train on the Friday night before Naked Lunch.
It occurred to me that maybe I should prepare Rumpole for Remittance Man’s upcoming weekend sojourn with us. Thus a careful and thorough description of RM’s peccadilloes and background seemed to be in order. I carefully laid the groundwork by stressing that RM had served in the British Army as a young man (Rumpole is in awe of men who have served their country!) I did neglect to mention, however, RMs tendency to doff his clothes and cavort in the altogether whenever the slightest opportunity presented itself.
I carefully laid in food provisions for RMs visit. He had very few teeth left in his head with which to chew substantial foodstuffs, so it was fish, vegetables, brown rice and soft fruits that were on the weekend menu. Rumpole expressly requested only halibut and most definitely not salmon, which he hates – and, oh yes, in a savoury white sauce, not au nature. The spare bedroom cleaned, fresh bedding laid on and I was ready to fetch Remittance Man from the train station.
At the train station, old Remittance Man emerged from the rail car wearing his home made summer jester outfit, hefting his ever-present back-pack which bulged with unknown necessities. We hugged and did the European Kiss-Kiss on alternate cheeks, to much curious ogling by commuters streaming by us at the station. On the drive to my house, RM wanted to know when Rumpole was expected to arrive at home. We chatted about this and that.
Once inside the house, RM made himself at home, laid out his gear in his allotted room and , bearing a nice bottle of wine, joined me in the kitchen. He asked if Rumpole would mind if he came home to find us already sipping some wine. I needed alcohol fortification for Rumpole’s initial reaction on meeting RM, so I suggested uncorking and pouring a couple of glasses.
Rumpole arrived home from the office, hot and weary, to be greeted by RM and me in the kitchen, sipping wine and munching on pate, soft bread guts and olives. RM hopped to his feet, the spry old dog, exchanged a manly hand shake with Rumpole and poured him a glass. Rumpole suggested that we repair to the living room and relax as it was still too hot to eat supper.
In the living room we reclined and Rumpole and RM had an extended conversation about RM’s military experiences and service in Kenya. The sun filtered through the west window, we chatted comfortably and ferreted out some information about RM’s years as an immigrant in Canada, his children and his family back in England. RM mentioned that he had travelled in India, and Rumpole shared with him that his own Mother had been born in Indore and he wanted so much to travel in India himself.
Suddenly, Remittance Man asked Rumpole if he would like to see for himself a brief performance of the type RM made regularly as a busker on Granville Island. I almost choked on a mouthful of wine at this proposal, knowing full well what was coming up if Rumpole might say “yes”. Huge surprise, yes was the answer. Rumpole sat on the green velvet love-seat, like a lounging Pasha awaiting entertainment. RM commandeered me as prop-girl. We moved the coffee table into the dining room and cleared a large space on the living room floor for the performance. Then, with a flourish, RM produced a stop watch, set its timer for seven minutes, placed in on the arm of Rumpole’s perch, and withdrew into the dining room where he proceeded to take off all of his clothes, which he carefully draped on one of the dining room chairs.
He made his entrance into the living room, completely nude, and like a true performer provided a preamble for his sound and movement exposition. Rumpole didn’t twitch an eyebrow in surprise. One would think it was a common occurrence in our household for new male guests to shed their clothes and cavort around naked. Seven minutes is a longish time to test the patience of one as conservative as Rumpole, and I held my breath in anticipation of a fit of impatient temper on his part. He calmly sipped his wine and watched the performance with care and attention. Remittance Man screeched, whooshed and hissed in accompaniment to stretches, twirls and impossible body positions. The seven minutes ticked by, the alarm on the stop watch announced an end, at which point RM calmly walked back into the dining room and put on his clothes.
Rumpole asked for a top up of his wine glass and leaning back in his seat calmly asked “Have you extensively studied Yoga, and are you a student of Sufi culture?” Remittance man perked up; here was a thread of discussion, aside from things army, they could follow up on. From that point on these two men, who had completely different beliefs, backgrounds and ways of operating in the world, relaxed into a companionable evening.
You could have knocked me over with a feather! Rumpole’s entirely unexpected reaction took me completely by surprise, and I thought “God bless your soul, Rumpole, now I know why I have always loved your capacity to surprise me with your ability to make anyone feel at home with us!”
To this day, Remittance Man comes to our home twice a year for short week-end’s holidays. We spend pleasant visits with him, and Rumpole always welcomes him. RM does performances for me in my studio, and I make a sustained study of motion on every occasion. Rumpole is always curious about these drawings, and now has a basis for appreciating them.