... was the anniversary of the death of Alan Brunton and also of my sister Rachel. But the day began with news of another death, that of Thelma Clairmont. She was 85, or thereabouts. I got to know Thelma quite well while researching and writing a book about her son, Philip, an artist, with whom she was completely obsessed. It's not too much to say she lived only for him and, after his own death in 1984, for his memory. The curious thing about this obsession was that it required her to ignore what his work was actually about. I don't want to go into all that here, suffice to say, perhaps, that although she worshipped his art, in her house she only ever had photocopies of it on her walls. Thelma once tried to make me promise to write my book without mentioned drugs or the police. I said I couldn't do that - both were intrinsic to the story - and at that moment knew the book would end our relationship. So it proved. I received a nine page letter from her after she had read and then burned it (there had been many, many earlier letters) in which she said she would never speak to me again as long as she lived. And she didn't. I had joined the long list of enemies: of art, of promise, most of all of Philip, by which she meant herself. She subscribed absolutely to an heroic, romantic view of the artist as misunderstood genius, whose virtues included purity of heart, greatness of soul, an intellect that was unfathomable to ordinary mortals. She was herself, in this version, the fount of these qualities. Phil spent much of his life deconstructing this heroic myth while remaining in some sense helplessly bound to it. I liked Thelma for her irreverence, her courage, her amazing energy, her commitment; I'm sad to think she's gone and I wish there could have been some reconciliation between us while all the time knowing that such a thing was, as she herself was, impossible.

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