Can I Walk You Home?

Many years ago I was up at Scarborough for a long weekend. I was in a chip shop and saw an old man outside on the pavement. I was the only person in the chippy so I wondered what he wanted. As I exited the door he asked if I would mind Olga – his Alsation - while he went in to buy something. I gladly held the lead for a few minutes though I was a little anxious (I remember reading the autobiography of house burglar who said most dogs are friendly but German Shepherd’s are a one-man dog and often don’t take to strangers.) She fixed her eyes on the door, awaiting her master. When the old man alighted from the shop he told me had adopted Olga. He had found her in some fields, snagged on barbed wire which she had tried to leap over. She had been in a sorry state.

The old man was a friendly thing and we sat on a bench consuming our vinegar-drenched chip muffins. He lived locally and went to the chip shop as a treat at weekends. He was missing his wife who had died recently. She had done everything for him, he told me, had looked after him attentively.


I felt sorry for him and he told his wife had met him through feeling sorry for him. After his first wife died he did not look after himself, dressed in a threadbare way, wore every pair of underpants and socks he owned as he did not know to operate the washing machine. One evening he was walking home from a church service and a woman (his future wife) noticed his trousers were so high his socks were showing. Even though they were strangers her first words to him were “Can I walk you home?” I have tried to capture this moment in this painting.

That was over thirty years ago and they had got together and married. Short trousers had got him a wife. That’s a good deal.

That conversation on that bench spawned this painting. I have not shown the man’s socks sticking out from the bottom of his trousers. He told me the name of the road they had met on but I cannot remember it. It had the word “white” in it. Milk is white so I have called it Milk Road.


I would have put grey or black gloves on the man but the old man suspected the woman might be a nagger: as she walked him home she told him almost immediately blue gloves “didn’t match anything.” The old man told me, “Whatever you do never marry a nagger.” This is the second time I have heard this in 45 years.

These small canvases can be finished quickly. I drafted out this painting about 18 months ago and it’s sat by my television all that time. Every time I went to turn the television on/off I glimpsed the canvas and thought, “must finish one day.” I’m not keen on that jaundiced sky.