I was living in Suffolk when I painted that, he told me. I gave it to my father and when he died I had it reframed. I reminded John that I owned a similar picture that I'd bought off him twenty years ago. I did a number that year, he replied. But you know, I remember everything about this one: the smell of the field, the trees bending, the taste of paint on my lips. I remember the brush strokes, the colour of my water - everything, everything, he said again.
I smiled as John talked. His words said more about the intensity and integrity of the picture than could any formal description. I knew too, something of what he was saying.
On my computer is a photograph of Dan and Michael when they were small. They are lying together on a double bed - the visitor's bed, we used to call it - where they would often choose to sleep together. I remember thinking they looked like figures by Klimt. And I remember too the smell of that room, the warmth of their breath as I kissed them and pulled the covers over their soft bodies. I remember Michael stirring, and me standing for minutes, watching them from the half open door. I remember dimming the light, the sound of the TV, and the taste of salt on my lips as I walked downstairs.
I suspect we have all had experiences like this. Moments when, for whatever reason and perhaps for only an instant, we see things differently. Moments that burn into our consciousness, unlike the billions of others that we will never recall.
A few months ago I watched an interview of the scientist Buckminster Fuller. He was talking about a girl in a white dress that he'd noticed walking off a ship, fifty years previous. I don't suppose she even saw me, he said; and yet not a day of my life has passed without me thinking of her. Why was that he wondered, and what did it say about human memory and consciousness?
The truth is I can barely remember the details of my sons being born, and yet if I think of climbs I did in my twenties I can bring to mind the shape and sequence of each hold, the pull on my fingers, the strands of heather on the ledges, the harness on my waist... And more darkly, I have images from my childhood, of a father with manic depression and little self control, that have haunted me for forty years.
The artist Terry Frost said that his painting could take that long to gestate. In his later life he was painting the fields and boats and sunsets he had seen as young man. The late Pembrokeshire painter Peter Daniels said something similar to me once; I'm interested in the moment of seeing; the instant before consciousness, before we categorise and commit the image to memory.
Talking to John last week reminded me of this. It reminded me too of how art - be it images, music, or writing - is a means of connecting with a world beyond ourselves. And how when that happens, even in some small measure - even in a photo of two sleeping boys - it can bring back memories that are more vivid and real than the taste of the coffee I have just put down.