By the middle of the second day I know I'm on trouble. In front of me the land stretches up and away towards a distant hill, and into the space, between that summit and me, is crowded one of the most vivid concentrations of colour I have ever seen. It starts with the trees. The wet season is only a few weeks off and; almost as if they can smell the coming rains, they out their leaves. They are no ordinary green and the dry grasses beneath them are ablaze with golds, browns and reds. I want to recreate this scene with watercolours . Although I can make a try it with words, trying to paint it in my sketch book is another matter altogether. I've already made one attempt: a series of zigzag sign orange and red, with bluish trees placed across them, which now lies face down in the grass beside me.
I' ve put it there because the last thing I want right now is for someone else to come along and look at it. a young man called Royale walks up the hill. Royale is a sculptor' and with several other local men, produces pieces of work in the local stone. Recently, and quite suddenly, this work, and that of several other local co-operatives, has acquired an international reputation. I certainly don't want a man capable of such things looking at my own awful brush-strokes. so I put my foot, as casually as I can, on the finished painting beside me and we resume the conversation started earlier in the day.
I want to talk to Royale about his life here. He, however, is only interested in what I am up to. To begin with, it seems that he considers me a fellow artist, and for a moment I find myself staring into the depths of embarrassment. But when he asks me, "What is painting like?" I realise that this professional artist has never painted anything in his life before. He just wants a go with my colours.
When I signed up for this holiday, I was hoping for an experience like the one I had had four years earlier in Wales. That was my first painting holiday, and I loved it. Two things made it great. First was the teacher, a man called Robin, who showed me that what is important about drawing and painting is not the finished article but the process of completing it. The second element of that week was the place. I grew up in places like that, and I connected with it immediately. But it was stupid of me to think that I could reproduce the experience down here, deep in the Southern Hemisphere. Zimbabwe is not a part of me, nor I of it. Trying to draw it for the first time, from a standing start, is like trying to start a conversation in Swahili.
There were compensations. The holiday was wonderfully organised by a friend of mine - Susan Scott-Thomas. Admittedly, there are some rather large differences between us - she's extremely wealthy and she inherited a farm in Africa when she was in her mid-twenties, and instead of taking the easy option of becoming a solicitor and staying in London, she came out to reclaim the land and rebuild the decaying farmhouse. In the process, she learnt how to lay foundations and make clay bricks. All of which she did while I was just mastering making sauce for pasta.
Even my disastrous painting didn't detract me from enjoying the holiday. Painting really forces you to look at things, to consider their shape and colour. And even if it is a disaster, that process of looking and thinking and transferring those thoughts into movements of your hand leaves an imprint of what you have seen. By the end of the week I have still not produced anything to hang on my walls, although there is a drawing of a local schoolboy of which I am rather fond, not because it is much good, but because it was so challenging to do.