I met a turtle in a bar in Ostend the other day. Not of the hard-carapaced or even Mutant Ninja varieties, but “Turtle” – a man whose lust for life and considerable panache clearly remains undiminished despite his having achieved octogenarian status.
And what a life it’s been; as a child in the early days the Second World War, he was sent to England as his homeland of Belgium had been engulfed by the relentless onslaught of Blitzkrieg. His father, Victor Billet, a very highly-regarded Belgian naval officer had taken it upon himself to carry on the fight against Fascism as part the British Royal Navy’s “Section Belge” and quite rightly thought it would be prudent to bring his family to the relative safety of English shores.
They eventually found themselves in Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast as this was the location chosen by the Admiralty for the training of Belgian volunteers. Tragically, Lieutenant Billet was listed as missing and presumed dead during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe in August, 1942. Understandably, this was an event that would leave an indelible mark on his young son.
After the war, “Turtle” followed in his distinguished father’s footsteps by joining the reformed Belgian navy, and this took him to just about every corner of the globe, and every kind of adventure imaginable.
In more recent times, he’s become something of a local legend and an established part of the Ostend community. It is all too easy to see why this might be; always game for a laugh, and utterly charming with it. We’ll never forget the amazing banter with other pub regulars, or with Janet, the English barmaid at Ron’s (and another huge character herself) and Elisabeta, the Albanian owner. Equally unforgettable was his rousing delivery of quotes from Shakespeare to the crowd assembled outside to witness the spectacle of a huge mural being painted.
We were fortunate enough to get to see a stunning portrait of “Turtle” as it was being created by the hyper-talented german artist Case Maclaim (a.k.a Andreas von Chrzanowski), and his partner, Samira, on the exterior of local institution, Ron’s Bar as part of this year’s The Crystal Ship festival.
Frankfurt-based Maclaim specialises in vast, photo-realistic wall pieces, that are absolutely packed to the gunnels with astonishing levels of detail and fidelity to their subject matter. Maclaim is widely known for his exacting standards and unwavering dedication to his work, and this has been clearly evident in the processes behind the Ostend piece.
One of the artist’s signature elements is the depiction of human hands, and it is no surprise that these feature heavily in this particular piece. Its subject always carries a selection of photographs taken over the duration of his lifetime (including many of his heroic father), and one such image can clearly be seen in the work.
We’d like to think that if there’s a twenty foot image of your face on the wall of your favourite local hostelry, painted by one of the best in the business, then surely, this is a benchmark for a life well-lived. In Turtle’s case, it would be thoroughly deserved. Santé!
Photo Credit Alex Stanhope Graffitistreet