Never put turpentine in a water bottle while out painting in the sun

10 Aug 2013

It had been a decent enough session on the beach, sketching figures and umbrellas, first against the light, then with it. But I needed to get rid of the dirty turps in my jar, and I was in a nature reserve, not to mention that jettisoning turps anywhere is a tricky, not to say unacceptable, thing to do.

I looked in my bag for a suitable receptacle. An empty water bottle. Perfect.

When I finished painting, there it still was, at my feet. I was thirsty. The water bottle was within lunging distance, winking at me from the sand. So I picked it up and took a swig. Easily done- in fact I am somewhat surprised I have never done it before. The first thing that crossed my mind was, it was warm and smooth. I was expecting the ‘water’ in the bottle to be warm, so my mind didn’t question the odd taste straight away, and so it just happened before you could say ‘mine’s a large absinthe’- a large mouthful of green poisonous liquid, sliding down my throat with nothing I could do about it.

Passers-by may well have wondered at the expletives and strange antics of the artist on the beach. I am well aware it must have looked funny.

Turpentine is poisonous

Less amusing were the warning signs on the turps bottle- ‘harmful or fatal if swallowed’. You can imagine what this hypochondriac made of that! I was already seeing the artist, stretched on his death bed, Chatterton-like, a tragic loss to the world of west-London-based portrait and landscape painters.

Reader, fear not. I’m OK. I survived, but after 24 hours of turps burps and diarrhoea, I cannot say I’d recommend turpentine as an alternative to gin or absinthe.