For a long time I harboured an irrational dislike of the landscape painter John Constable, based mostly on the fact that his paintings appeared on my grandparents’ ‘good’ place mats. To a kid inside on a hot day, marooned between the main and the dessert, Constable’s rivers and hedgerows looked damp, boringly British and disappointingly free of bandits. Years later I turned a corner at the National Gallery in London to encounter one of those paintings and nearly reeled back with its force: a terrific, seething paint-heavy thing – clouds like curds, peaty blacks, and a glitter hanging over it all. I doubt I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but here’s a rule to live by: Never trust a place mat.
—Justin Paton in How to Look at a Painting.
Ah, the ‘good’ placemats. In my family it was McCubbin. So many birthdays and special dinners spent staring at McCubbin. And, because it was the 80s, we had glass plates so I could look straight at those bush scenes as soon as I finished my peas.