And what season is it? asks Julia.
The painting is called ‘The Last Day in the Old Home’. Through the window on its left, we can see leaves turning golden and brown and branches starting to bare. It’s Autumn. The answer’s Autumn. Pick me, Miss. Fifty years ago, I’d have stuck up my hand.
But we’re adults, we’re in Tate Britain and no-one wants to sound arsey. So we all wait politely until eventually someone proffers ‘Autumn?’ Excellent, says Julia. Though she’s such a good teacher, that even if you say the wrong thing, she makes it sound that you were so nearly right…
Pa and I have just started a course called ‘Looking at Paintings’. Every Tuesday afternoon, we meet our tutor at one of the London Galleries and learn how to… well, what it says on the tin. Julia is just brilliant. She tells us all about the context of the painting, the materials, the technique. She explains the background of the artist, the society they were working in. She helps us to understand what we are looking at. The afternoon passes in the blink of an eye.
Anyway, we’ve established it’s Autumn. Julia leads our eye to make sense of what it happening. She helps us see the louche Dad already leading his son into bad ways. The auction labels on the furniture and paintings. The keys of the house being handed over. Why is it Autumn? To symbolise things coming to an end. Autumn represents the dying off of the year, as it turns towards winter. Leaves are falling off the trees and t’ing, as Keats said in a less successful early draft.
It’s Autumn outside the gallery too: Pimlico looks glorious in golden colours. But this year, it doesn’t feel like Autumn at all in our neck of the woods, Hey nonny no, it feels like Spring, because we are up to our eyes in New Life. Specifically, there are first babies galore! Five due in the space of three weeks. And Actor Laddie and I have been bumped up a generation and need to become old and wise.
Last week, two of our children’s friends had their first babies. Youngsters who, just yesterday, were playing in the sand-tray with YoungLochinvar, or pitching tents with the Infant Phenomenon are now parents, for goodness sake.
Meanwhile, LovelyColleague has just started her maternity leave: daughter due in a fortnight. Very exciting. Lucky little girl to have such great parents.
And, as I write this, a cousin of my niece is in labour: birthing pool in the kitchen with her midwife Mum in attendance. Hopefully we’ll get a call before long.
Finally, closest to home, so, for us, most exciting of all, my niece Rezza’s baby daughter is due next Thursday. Ma and Pa’s first great grandchild, my first great-niece.
I shall be Great Aunt Jellywoman and am relishing the chance to become a proper Old Biddy. Miss Marple is my guru and I intend to embrace the role. I shall grow my hair into a bun and knit bootees.
Next time Julia asks a question about a painting, I shall stare knowingly over my pince-nez and not only explain why the Lady of Shallot is in the boat, but who cursed her in the first place (for the insurance money) and why, with reference to the butcher’s boy and the village postmistress. Such wisdom will arrive the minute I am a Great Aunt. Watch this space and prepare to be edified.