‘Loving Lance Clark at the Seaspray Cafe’

In the the New Year, Lance painted with a renewed energy.  He relished  the life drawing classes at the SAC on Monday evenings, where all his fellow artists and models also enjoyed the company of his lovely dog, Kit, who was frequently drawn as well.

Whenever there was a warmish day, Lance would be at Falmer, Stanmer or in Alfriston, painting churches.

On February 12th, he painted a superb view of the ‘Cathedral of the Downs’  at Alfriston.  He invited me to accompany him on this outing, but I was unable to join him that day.

Little did we know, that this would be one of his last paintings.  Because in the hours of Tuesday morning – February 27th –  our dear friend, sadly died.

His death was a tremendous shock to us all.  He had been a little unwell, on the Monday, with a slight cough, but was feeling positive about a trip to the Gambia that he was planning.  In fact, he was meant to be leaving from Gatwick in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  Of course, he never made it.

At his funeral, On March 14th, his family asked me to read a eulogy about the six months that Lance spent in Sussex, which I was honoured to do.  It was also read  by one of his daughters, at his Memorial service in Street, Somerset, on April 19th.

I looked after Kit on that  poignant  day.

 

There is now a  framed cartoon drawn and painted by Lance hung on one of the walls at the Seaspray cafe, which we are happy – and sad – to look at every day.  A sweet reminder of our personal   and all- too -short memories of  dear Lance.

 

 

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‘Loving Lance Clark at the Sea Spray cafe’.

When  Lance returned to the cafe, feeling bruised by his serious bout of ‘flu at Christmas  he told us that he had been reluctant to take antibiotics for his bronchitis, but his doctor had advised him to do so.  He felt fortunate to have survived.  He was really shaken by how ill he had been. We  also learned that he had had a serious operation on one of his legs at the Lister hospital, shortly before his move to Sussex .

His family life, too,was turbulent.  He told us that he and his wife, Ying,  weren’t speaking to each other; and that  he had moved downstairs at the family home. His three daughters seemed to be acting as ‘go-betweens’.He  had bought a Baby Belling to cook on, and I  and others, were worried about his health, and how fragile he looked.

One Sunday, I accompanied Lance to the ‘Coach’ pub in Rottingdean, where he watched an international rugby match on television there. Lance really loved the game, and had been a fine player in his youth.  He had been chosen to play for Bath, I believe. I didn’t watch the match, but I had a meal with him afterwards. A delicious fish supper. It was good to see him eating properly; and we gave Kit some scraps from the table, which he loved.  Once or twice, I would make breakfast for Lance ( at my flat) and would encourage him to eat more.  He also loved eating at the ‘Star’ Inn at Alfriston, especially the excellent breakfasts , whenever he went painting in the village. We had planned to eat at a fish restaurant in Newhaven,too,  but it was not to be.

I would give him cans of soup and oranges to take home with him; and he started to buy various provisions from the local Tesco. At least he seemed to be looking after himself a little better.

Loving Lance Clark at the ‘Sea Spray’ cafe.

None of us at the ‘Sea Spray’ knew Lance’s identity.  To us, he was an artist. He was out painting his watercolours en plein air most days.

At Christmas he became very ill with bronchitis.  He would joke that he wasn’t sure if he’d see us again.  He was worried he might not make it.  We were all worried about him. However, he recovered, and was back to his daily routine in early January.

He seemed to have a very Tolstoyan character, and view of the world.  He was ascetic, frugal, almost monk-like, and passionate about his charity: Soul of Africa.  Beyond that, we had no idea what kind of work he had been involved in throughout his life.  However, he seemed to know a great deal about shoes –  and shoe-making.

Then, one day, he gave me his e-mail address, with his surname, and I guessed that he must be a scion of the Clarks footware brand. Suddenly, his references to Quakerism,  and his passion for charity work, and knowledge of shoes – all made sense.  I decided to keep his identity to myself .  He was a very private and modest man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Loving Lance Clark at the ‘Sea Spray’ cafe.

Lance’s Ford was soon replaced by a silver, 1978 T-reg Nissan Micra, which had faulty wiring, and a door that would often close and refuse to open at will.  George Polea, one of the regulars at the cafe, and a friend, soon became adept at ‘breaking and entering’ into it.

Kit was ever- reluctant to get back into the vehicle, after his walks, and had to be bribed and cajoled with treats and tennis balls before he’d get in.  I would often avoid the offer of a lift from Lance, because I  soon learned that  being driven by him was hair-raising.  On the occasions that I accepted a lift, I was grateful to have survived the journey, especially when it was dark, and I suspected that the brakes were rather unreliable.

Talking to Lance, on a daily basis, was always fun. He was always ‘on the go’ – a tornado of energy. He’d go for business meetings in London; argue with people on his mobile phone; visit the Royal Academy; have tussles with figures of authority: parking officials, owners of cafes, and so on.  He was a combatative man, given to altercations with people.

I think that Lance genuinely liked to annoy people, and witness their reactions to some outrage he’d dreamt up. He had a confrontation with the lady owner of ‘Molly’s’ ( a local beach cafe), over her allegations that he hadn’t picked up after Kit.  Lance then went on to draw a sweet cartoon of the event. He enjoyed these run-ins and laughed about them.

This also included the  jobsworth who objected to him parking his car in front of the church at Falmer, where he was doing a drawing; and the cafe owner near St Peter’s church, who banned Lance, because he drew portraits of the customers. Lance loved these battles with authority, and enjoyed recounting them. People probably saw him as a disreputable, old tramp, with a dog that was rarely kept on a lead.  He really was a master of disguise.

Once I stopped him from ‘having a go’ at our local computer repair man , as I knew  that he was indispensable to Lance, and this was one   battle that wasn’t worth fighting .

Behind all this bluster, however, was a sweet and sensitive man, with a mischievious sense of humour.  He liked to test people; and enjoyed the cut and thrust of a good argument or discussion.  He was an iconoclast, and the most  amusing and stimulating company possible. He was entertaining and well- informed on so many subjects. A highly intelligent, inquisitive man,  open to new ideas and opinions, although certain of his own views, too.

To use an unforgivable cliche, he really was a ‘class act’.

 

 

 

 

‘Loving Lance Clark at the Sea Spray cafe’.

I first spoke to Lance when the had written  off his car in a collision with a bus.
He’d managed to drive the car down to the cafe, but the bumper was totally crumpled. I asked if I could help him, and his characteristically  brusque retort was:

‘Are you an engineer?’

I laughed and explained that I wasn’t.  And from  that moment we became friends.

He told me he’d just moved locally – to Ovingdean- and that he was new to the area.

I sensed that he had a large family – many children, in fact.  And this proved to be the case.  After he saw some of the sketches I’d made of Kit ( in the cafe), he asked if I’d like to go along with him to the Sussex Arts Club in Bond Street, Brighton that afternoon, and I decided that I would.   Thus, our mutual and shared passion for Art began.  We rapidly became artistic ‘soul-mates’.  We were both watercolourists; and loved various places, especially Alfriston.  I introduced Lance to the Church of the Good Shepherd, at Lullington, which I had recently drawn; and then lent him a my copy of a book of watercolours by John Singer Sergeant.  Lance was entranced by them; and changed his colour palette accordingly.  He had just been commissioned by Sussex Yacht Club to paint some boats at their Shoreham branch.  Together we collected the framed, finished picture from Lee, the picture framer in Rottingdean.  It was a really very fine piece of work.