It occurred to me on the weekend in a moment of flashback that Custard – platinum blonde, fluffy, pale, and ancient-looking –  is a spooky spitting image of a man who used to come into Titirangi New World when I was a checkout girl there in my first year of university. He was a very old man, with long, polished fingernails, the worst comb-over than humankind has ever seen, and I think I can remember him wearing badly-matched foundation that caught in his wily eyebrows. The combover has to be explained – his creamy-hued remaining long strands of hair were combed up from the base of his skull, plastered thinly and evenly over the back of his head, over the top of the scalp and then met in the middle in between his powdered eyebrows in an arrow shape. Sort of like a pointed superhero skullcap, made of his own ancient hair.  Among the supermarket staff it was rumoured that he was the painter of those awful black velvet paintings of bare-breasted sultry Polynesian women that were once to be found in very bad-taste homes, then to be found in ironic kitschy cafes and bars. We didn’t believe it – not really. But then Titirangi is a funny place, and the supermarket had a few other customers who were worthy of note – one being the chain-smoking short woman who had 15 children and was running a successful international baby-wear company from home (now supplying Harrods) and the occasional sighting of some famous-in-NZ soap star/band member on his/her way to Piha.

Anyway, this weekend, I thought of him, and realised that Custard could have been his lovechild.

And it turns out his name was Charlie McPhee, he died in 2002, and he did indeed paint lots of quite brilliant, politically questionable velvet paintings as quite a lot of googling revealed.

Tell me, could Custard be the reincarnation of Charlie Party-Boy McPhee?

And here is the Dusky Maiden:

Camera Obscura extract

And that, Dear Reader, is what I have done today – watched a documentary on velvet paintings in an effort to find a shot of McPhee to prove my hunch that I gave birth to his doppelganger, occasionally stared into middle distance, and googled quite fruitlessly. As well as made a lasagne. And ate some cake.

The weekend was hardly more productive – on Friday night I was persuaded to venture into Acton, and was persuaded to have a few (ahem) glasses of Prosecco, and before you knew it, I was telling the bar staff they were very handsome and was telling Mark’s assorted gang of business partners/contractors/accountant and mechanic etc, etc about how old I was when we met, and how much my Alexa cost, and other better-left-unsaid tales. I was AWESOME! And did that thing where you look at yourself in the mirror of the loos and kind of grinningly chuckle and tell yourself you are very funny and beautiful and best get out there to share more deeply private things about your marriage, before smearing on lipgloss that ends up near your left earlobe.

Does anybody else do this? Needless to say, I am in no hurry to get back to Acton.

(Shot of McPhee shamelessly taken from “Velvet Dreams”. Here’s the link

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8 Responses to Velvet

  1. Cath says:

    From the mac geek: If you’re still in mac land, press command + shift + 4 and you will get a wee cursor where you can select the section of image you want and it will save it to your desktop where you can drag and drop it where’er you will.

  2. theharridan says:

    Thank you, Mac Geek! Thank you! Charlie is with us again, thanks to you xx

  3. Cath says:

    Oh no problem at all. I just love that the mac has in built clevernesses to solve all life’s problems. (OK Steve, if you’re reading, I want an ipad.)

  4. Belinda says:

    Did you see the name on Charlie’s hat? That brought back a few memories.

  5. theharridan says:

    I know – me too. Was nice to see – and I believe The Hardware still up and running!

  6. Chris Wilkes says:

    I was reading “Rascals in Paradise” by James Mitchener and A. Grove Day, enjoying the story of Edgar Leetag about velvet paintings. Googled Leetag, and ran into Charlie McPhee and your blog. Always though velvet paintings were tacky, but the story of Leetag in Tahiti is quite interesting. Apparently they sold for about US$7,000 a pop in the 1955’s…amazing! Enjoy…..Sincerely, Chris, from Milwaukee and Shanghai

  7. sinned says:

    Hey fellow New Zealander, I stumbled across your blog whilst searching for an image of Charlie McPhee. Thanks so much, it’s the only one out there!
    I met him personally on a few occasions, a lovable scallywag with the energy of a teenager that lived life to the max. I got to hear some of the many amazing stories of his life in the pacific islands where he worked as a policeman for a while and then under the guidance of the great master Leetag.
    He had a passion for socialising and by night at local bars impressed many a dusky maiden by performing feats of streagths he had learned while working as a strongman in Australia.
    I now collect his velvet paintings and have about 8 originals including the one pictured above. There are some pics on my site
    I hope it’s ok to borrow Charlie’s pic to accompany some of his works?
    It’s great that custard has found his calling, he’s in for many busy and interesting decades hosting infamous weekly parties, constantly island hopping, taking new wives as he goes. always remaining the consumate gentleman. By the way during the 1960’s in NZ when Colin McCahon was getting 100 pounds per painting Charlie was getting up to $500US from american buyers. Happy springtime in London, enjoy!

  8. theharridan says:

    Thank you! I ripped the image from the doc, so it isn’t mine, but I can’t imagine anyone would mind. You have Dusky Maiden? Jealous!

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