Mickey Raymond, 81, mover and shaker at Colefax and Fowler lives in stately home style in a spacious bungalow in Tangier’s Marshan, the plateau west of the Casbah, the hill before the Old Mountain where it gets truly Surrey-like, beyond and above which are the palaces of the King of Morocco, the Saudis and the Emir of Kuwait, and those of their wives.
The Marshan is a district of faded grand residences, one-time legations, a football stadium, hospitals, schools and the King’s Tangier town house or ‘office’, where York Castle crumbles, the Phoenicians entombed their dead and the hip hang-out Cafe Hagh tumbles down the shady northern cliffs facing Tarifa and Spain.
Mickey’s bungalow is at the eastern city end as the hill plateaus out and Tangier reestablishes back into more hectic hilly familiarity. He is hedged between a print works and an apartment block but once inside you’d not know. His seclusion is absolute, the calm disturbed by a grandfather clock and a visual assault of furniture, furnishings, pictures, murals, and objets d’art, that should but fail to preclude elegance.
Each piece and every detailing, kitschy or fine as maybe, stands alone on examination.
High windows open onto a shady and entwining garden that utterly deceives in belying its tininess.
How such a densely arrayed mish-mash fails to be the mad grotto of an eccentric is Mickey’s miracle.
It is the canny gaps between the pieces that form and define Mickey’s gift, and it is on two such gaps that I’ve been invited to paint.
I think, ‘Is this wise?’ On Mickey’s part, wise, to crowd the space further. Wise of him to ask me, wise of me to contemplate the task and agree.
Mickey is not a scary man. Generously hospitable and urbane, he is shruggingly tolerant as you have to be to live in Tangier, but in truth he scares me a little. He is of the suave, alert, well educated, society-monied establishment that I am not. Colefax and Fowler, designers to an age and class that may have a resonance in the dreams of my parents and grandparents, are unknown to me. He refers to places I know only on the map and to folk, nay, personalities I don’t know of at all. If he’s testing me I’m failing but what the heck, money isn’t involved and they’re his doors that he wants me to adorn.
Mickey doesn’t know I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in anger for two years.
I tell my friends, and they tell me ‘You can do this’. I have brushes, packed in a reflex for a journey that had no painting intent, and the same friends supply me with the rest of the kit.
Crowded and surrounded at Mickey’s I blunder around trying to water colour wash with acrylic on a vertical surface. Astonishingly this works although it is not a recommended method and had no right to work at all. I always was a crap painter. I know nothing about and mistrust acrylic paint, I know nothing about painting opaquely impasto, or on panels, or vertically, but in two sessions and two entertaining lunches cooked and served by sweet smiling Fatima, Mickey is pleased as punch and I’m astounded.
The work is done, and now I see what he wanted and why. Freshly painted they may be, but the new panels sit in the overall scheme as if meant to be there all the time.
We are more relaxed now, both more confident and Mickey Raymond isn’t finished yet.
A Noel Coward CD plays through a happy third session while we ponder the angle of light and nuances of green for trompe d’oeil roundels.
Fatima pats me lightly on the back as she serves us lunch, approvingly I believe, and drinking a lovely Moroccan wine I marvel at what has happened here.
Before I’d moistened a brush, Mickey Raymond saw it all.