I always carry a sketchbook and watercolours with me so that I can make quick sketches of the fascinating people I come across.
This short story is about one of those meetings. The day I met Sid The Boxer.
Sid the Boxer. watercolour I first visited Barnes, SW London in August of 2005.
I was preparing to leave Wales where I had been living and working for thirteen years to move to London, primarily for work, and to be closer to my failing elderly Mother. It had been suggested that I rent rooms in a house in Barnes in SW London.
This particular visit was to take a look at the area before making the move in October 2005.
On what was a lovely summer’s morning, I packed my watercolours and something to eat and went off to explore.
I found a promising place in a little park next to the river Thames between Barnes and Mortlake and set myself up on a bench. During the next hour or so I enjoyed the sense of peace and tranquility that comes when I am painting and communing with nature.
Across the little park from where I was sitting were a group of people on another bench. Other than this group and myself, there seemed to be no-one else around. Eventually the group got up and began to walk towards the river and then towards me. My first thought was that I hoped they wouldn’t want to chat with me and disturb my solitude.
As the group steered towards the river (thank goodness) one of its members broke away and came directly towards me. He was a big man with dark glasses, drinking a large can of beer and generally looking rather disheveled. He said ‘Hey love – you wanna paint my portrait’? I looked at him and said ‘Actually yes – I would love to on the condition that I paint one for you and one for me‘. I motioned for him to sit at the end of the bench.
Clearly very surprised at my response….he actually became quite nervous. ‘Did I mind if he drank his beer‘? ‘Should he take his dark glasses off’? I told him to make himself comfortable and then as I painted him he began to tell me about his life.
His name was Sid the Boxer – be was born into a gypsy travelling family and had spent most of his life in reform schools and prison. That he had only recently been released from Wandsworth Prison for attempted murder. Banned from every pub in Barnes and surrounding areas, he basically spent most of his time wandering around with his friends during the day time, until they could return to their hostel.
As dangerous as this might sound, I knew instinctively, intuitively that there was nothing to be afraid of. I learned that Sid had a daughter who he hadn’t seen for over thirty-five years. Sid had been a very good boxer and he went on to tell me this talent had kept him alive and given him respect when in prison. It had been his protection.
As we came to the end of our time together, he asked if I had gone to a special school to learn to be an artist. I told him that I had gone to the Medway College of Arts in Rochester Kent, and he exclaimed with great delight. ‘That’s where I went to Borstal’ – (a boys reform school for the uninitiated)”!
We shook hands and Sid the Boxer left with his sketch and I kept mine. As I thought about our meeting, I recognised what an accident of birth our start in life is. In the random nature of things, Sid had been dealt a tricky hand, however he used his best attribute, that of being a boxer to survive.
Wherever Sid the Boxer and his sketch is, I send him this magical hummingbird, and hope that he is able to drink from some of the sweet nectar of life – if not in this life, maybe the next……..
The moral to this story, is to never leave home without a sketchbook…..You never know what interesting person you might meet……