Saturday, 9 September 2017

Another pro-EU march

People wear the flag any way they can. A woman with a seaside-postcard cleavage is wearing a plunging tight blue sheath dress and gold stripper heels. She sits next to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square.

You can't beat a good reversible hand-embroidered placard.

The man wearing an ersatz space outfit didn't expect to meet a veteran of the Apollo moon landing programme. Pat Norris received the Apollo Individual Achievement Award from Neil Armstrong in 1969, and the Arthur C. Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

David Davis has said: "Half of my task is running a set of projects that make the Nasa moon shot look quite simple." But he's having a bash, on our behalf. Marvellous.

Brexit threatens to harm the UK space industry. Athough the European Space Agency sits outside the EU, a third of ESA programmes have EU funding. The UK is preparing to shut itself out of those.

The speakers here are a mixed bunch. Protest marches depend on volunteers and donations. But we're trying to look like the top team, not something dumped outside Oxfam in a bin-liner. So can we apply a bit of quality control? Be ruthless about who's allowed to speak. Set time limits. Screen out the ranters and the laboriously unfunny. Jab speakers in the arm with a darning needle if they go on too long. Today an emerging star is Conor McArdle, a twenty-year-old law student from Northern Ireland.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Notting Hill Carnival - day 2

I'm a local resident - one of the few around in my road this bank holiday.
This morning I start drawing members of the Elimu Mas Band getting ready in the Paddington Arts building, but I begin to shiver on a hot day, leave early and make my way home.

The hundred-plus Batala drummers, sounding like the apocalypse, open proceedings and I pause to watch their complicated cornering manoeuvre into Westbourne Grove.

I revive at dusk and wander out. Concerned citizen journalists are videoing something through gaps in a hedge: police are subduing someone in a garden. But that means riot police and - oh joy - horses.

People are entranced. Pat-the-horse becomes the only game in town. 'I could stay here for ever,' says one boy as his girlfriend pulls him away.

One drunk boy offers to punch a horse. 'I really wouldn't do that,' says the rider.

'What a shitty carnival,' says a drunk white girl wearing hardly any clothes. In one sense she is accurate: as I walk past the villas tonight, the faecal smells are horse, fox and human; the neighbourhood dogs will have a diverting walk tomorrow morning.


Havona House

Havona House at the foot of Portobello Road has been a building site for years. Keen scholars of planning disputes can look it up on the council's website. The interludes when there are actual builders present are characterised by temporary traffic lights, reversing lorries and slippery mud. It has the obligatory ballroom and a two-storey basement - the last of these monstrosities to be permitted by the council. 

Visitors to the front door such as Mr Fox (pictured here) will enjoy not a red carpet, but a zebra crossing. Unlike the pastiche architectural flourishes all over the unfortunate frontage, the Belisha beacon is at least useful.

The ho-hum list of plants (all shade-tolerant, natch) planned for its poky, east-facing, overlooked back garden includes viburnum. Most viburnums in Notting Hill get blighted. That tree outside - is it a robinia or a gleditsia? Don't know, but it's got roots, just a few feet from the walls. There are reminders nearby of what tree roots do to walls.


Would anyone who could afford £14.5m (Zoopla's estimate) really want to live on top of a pedestrian crossing which can barely cope with the tourist tide at weekends? An absentee owner, perhaps? Or someone who likes looking into the top decks of buses?

I benefitted from the post-war boom in social housing even though some people - including my geography teacher, Miss Newell - were rude to me about it when I was growing up on the estate. Now it's collapsing while homes in this borough stand empty. If Havona House ever gets finished, someone who likes having balls had better move in quickly.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Notting Hill Carnival 2017: day one

A country which is capable of organising a minute's silence (pretty much) in the Notting Hill Carnival is making a total lash-up of Brexit. You're free to draw your own conclusions.

In the morning I draw people in Elimu Mas Band getting ready in the Paddington Arts building. All is calm and order.

Later in the day I wander out to see what's afoot.

Two views of Babylon:

I start to draw a girl who is rag-doll limp and shouting hoarse abuse at the world but I discover some finer feelings and tell her boyfriend that there's a first-aid centre nearby. It's early evening and her body is dyed which means she's been around since the morning's powder-paint-flinging ceremony. Her boyfriend opts to half-carry his cantankerous burden to the Tube instead. There is a lot of poison in her system which may find an outlet on the Central Line.

In the small area which I patrol, numbers of visitors are down this year but there are many more police. The hippy-ish-looking guy I saw being busted for the contents of his Old Holborn tin probably didn't expect a dozen riot police to find him an object of fascination.

In the streets I look for signs of green for Grenfell:

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Supreme Court: one for the road

Whisky. Horrid. Had some once. Never again. Some people like it so much that it kills them.

Attempts to find political solutions are charged; the agenda can change. I'm reminded of an upset from 2009 - here's a quote from The Guardian: 'Professor David Nutt, the government's chief drug adviser, has been sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.'

Over two days, starting on the anniversary of the forced abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, Scotch Whisky Association and others v The Lord Advocate and another asks whether the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 is incompatible with EU law and therefore unlawful under the Scotland Act 1998.

Over the road in the House of Commons, the merest mention of the ECJ can provoke boorish jeering and it's a relief to be in a more enlightened setting.

Should alcohol be subject to a minimum price of 50p per unit, which producers claim would make them less competitive? Or, as counsel asks at the beginning: 'Why not tax?' It's pointed out that Buckfast Tonic Wine, already more than 50p per unit, fuels a lot of crime.

There is passing mention of people who can afford 'a decent Burgundy from Waitrose' but the focus is on the one per cent of drinkers who are 'hazardous and harmful drinkers in poverty'.

You don't have to walk far from the court to meet street drinkers. Beyond the issue of price, tackling drunkenness involves looking at poverty, unemployment, deprivation, family breakdown, homelessness and mental illness. Once you've done volunteering stints somewhere like Crisis you don't just see a street-drinker shape any more: you look into a face and wonder if you've met that person before.

William Hogarth's engraving from 1751, Gin Lane, depicts the plague of cheap spirits. The Gin Act of 1736, which raised taxes and attempted to impose licences on the legions of gin sellers, was widely flouted.

This is Lord Neuberger's last hearing as President but it's business as usual. There are no epoch-marking verbal posies presented to him by counsel - not while I'm in the courtroom, at least. Instead, there's a beginning: Philip Simpson QC finishes bang on lunchtime by saying: 'This has in fact been my first appearance before the Supreme Court or indeed the House of Lords and it's been a privilege to address you in this case.'

'Mr Simpson,' says Lord Neuberger, 'it may have been your first appearance here but you have timed your ending of your submissions extremely well.'

The President has set a swift pace and in the afternoon proceedings end with an hour in hand.

'The Court is now adjourned,' says Lord Neuberger.

Sunday, 23 July 2017


I'm asked to draw scissors for the third issue of Proof, the magazine of This number is about legal aid cuts and access to justice.

Okay. My pinking shears (dianthus flowers are called pinks because they look pinked, not pink) make seam edges neat. They are not chosen.

My dressmaking shears from Morplan (the West End rag trade emporium where you go for tiara stands) try to look hard. An innocent implement for a tough subject.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Supreme Court: a guide for bears

This is a picture book for people who like bears and litigation.

One day I bought a Supreme Court pen and pencil and used them to draw a souvenir bear which was on display.

I then bought a bear and drew some putti around the view from the public seats of Robert Howe QC.

Some people are a bit snooty about the fact that the Supreme Court stocks bears, along with Christmas tree baubles, baseball hats, bone china mugs and other goods. As a tax-payer I'm happy if they can make a few bob and, more importantly, good-quality souvenirs help to spread information and goodwill.

I occasionally draw real life scenes from the public seats, with the Court's permission, but I did most of the bear drawings at the kitchen table - a home from home for the bears, because the table had been made by Luke Hughes's company, which was involved in the design and layout of the refurbished court.

This project didn't make the front burner for a while. One delay was caused by doing rough drawings for a children's book written by someone else about the snail in the bottle case. She is seeking a publisher. Lawyers will guess rightly that this is the Stevenson tartan.

The final unpredictable interruption was a new magazine, Rowan Pelling's The Amorist, for which I wrote and illustrated a couple of articles.

The horror of self-publishing at least meant that I had control, even if I agonised over the choices. What size should the book be? Too late, I now know the answer: whatever fits into the pillar box near your home, so you don't have to go to the post office.

The choice of typeface was easy: Perpetua, as used by Faber in its poetry books. The bears' utterance on the back cover is in Gill Sans - they don't see the world in terms of serifs.

I left the front cover until last. I sat on the wall of a shrubbery on Parliament Square to sketch the building.

Not ready for its close-up
Then I took approximate layouts and the drawings to Dick Makin Imaging for imaging and book design.

Ready for its close-up

It was printed, very quickly and without drama, by Biddles. 

The Supreme Court: a guide for bears is available from the Supreme Court, Avizandum, Blackwell's (Oxford), Daunt Books (Chelsea, Holland Park and Marylebone), Foyle's (Charing Cross Rd), Heffers, Heywood Hill, John Sandoe, Wildy & Sons, Amazon, eBay and me for £6.95 plus relevant postage.  

Paperback, 32pp, 8” x 10”, illustrated in colour, ISBN 978-1-9997146-2-8    

“Isobel Williams’s drawings capture the essence of these inquisitive and endearing characters – and her words help bring to life some of the things they get up to when the Justices and staff aren’t looking.” – Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court 

“Clever, funny, informative.” – Ann McAllister, Judge

"A charming guide for children and adults alike. Who knew there were so many bears at the UK Supreme Court?" – Joshua Rozenberg