Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Notting Hill carnival - second day

An expensively dressed American blonde gazes at the inhospitable residential streets and whines: 'Why did they choose here?'

Because, ma'am, in 1958 there were race riots, and...

A man strokes a parked car: 'That's a fat Maserati. Wicked.'

Inspector Howe stands in the crow's nest above Westbourne Grove. A steward calls up to him: 'There are seven floats on the way. And 60 in total.'
'Six zero?'
'Yes. More than.'

Constable Basill
As I'm drawing Constable Anderson [right], a passer-by uncharitably says: 'Don't forget the horns.'

I move on to Constable Basill and a posh voice behind me says: 'She's drawing the one with the distinctive profile.' It occurs to me some hours later that he should have said 'arresting profile'.

I draw Inspector Handsome-Profile, who allows himself a bit of a wiggle to Ass in the Air. Inspector Rutland [right].

Because I spray each picture with fixative I stink like a glue-sniffer. Some youths, each one carrying a full bottle of rum, are stopped by the police.

I sit on the pavement or the kerb, scrabbling for charcoal and chalks, with people constantly passing between me and my subjects.

Constable Shiels has a helmet hanging from his belt so I guess he's in the riot police. He's very jolly.

At about 6pm, two young male tourists ask me where the party is.
'What party?'
'The big party.'
'You mean the carnival?'
'Yes, the party. We want to party.'
We shout because of the amplified music from the float going by. I point to the float.

I tell them the carnival ends in an hour. They stand drinking and sulking, womanless.

The atmosphere thickens and the police concentrate on shepherding people away. A girl with a tear-streaked face staggers after her friend, screaming. Men urinate copiously on streets and in front gardens. Lots of women would wish for that privilege. A young man shouts at a girl sitting on the pavement: 'She wanted a wee but you just wanted to dance. You think it's all about you. You said let's go there. She said please. We've done our bit. This is a collective. It's you. Let's just leave. You're being delusional.'

Monday, 29 August 2011

Notting Hill carnival - first day

Thudding, blue barbecue smoke, whistles, a helicopter. Amplification that travels up the sternum. I wander around with Karen, my house guest from Cornwall. Someone with his birthdate tattooed on the back of his neck tells her: 'You've got a lovely bum.' I sit on the pavement in Colville Road and draw Constable Bateman of the Barnet force.

Constable Baker
I brush broken glass off some house steps before I sit down. One man is urinating in the doorway of 1 Colville Square; another makes a phone call while peeing through railings into the basement of 2 Colville Square. An empty green glass bottle hits me on the back - fallen from above rather than thrown; a yellow vuvuzela drops at my side. I go to find Karen, who reports that she's made a lot of friends she doesn't want to make. She asks me to try street food but I can't get over seeing - some years ago - a man slicing onions for carnival burgers directly onto the pavement, nor can I forget the embarrassment and grief it was possible for feel for his situation.

Karen finds a Jamaican flag on the pavement and brings it home.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The day before the Notting Hill carnival

Unusually early vomit outside McDonald's. Unrhythmic electric drills as shops board up. Stacks of crush barriers. Portaloos. Tourists at a loss, waiting for fun.

I sit outside a cafe on Portobello Road. Kilimanjaro has been in hospital with stomach pains. He is considering giving up drinking for a couple of weeks or maybe forever.

Courtesy of me, a photo of Egbert the St Lucian Rasta has appeared in ES magazine. Tesco's on Portobello Road stocks the Evening Standard but not its aspirational Friday colour magazine, ES, which indicates what the distributors think of Portobello Road. I ask Kilimanjaro what Egbert feels about it. 'It's made him the happiest he's ever been,' he says.

Egbert appears, looking happy and holding a copy of the magazine which looks like papier mache after prolonged handling. I offer to make him a durable copy of the page sealed in plastic. 'One for each of my daughters,' he says. 'I went to a funeral party the other day and for the first time I saw my daughter Victoria in black. She looked WICK-ED.' He walks away, waving. 'I love all women, even the married ones,' he says.

Monday, 22 August 2011

An orderly queue

I leave the Westway to seek another open-air population supervised by a semi-benevolent uniformed force, with occasional spats and cultural divisions, speaking their own patois: Promenaders. 

Two queues are forming on the wide stone steps leading down from the Albert Hall. I pick the queue for an Arena day ticket costing a fiver. I flick a fag end and a petrified lump of chewing gum off my chosen step and acclimatise to the terror and humiliation of a fresh drawing spot. A pigeon keeps getting too close. 

Words of a friend ring in my ears: how brave I am to do quick portraits using a medium I can't erase. For brave read foolhardy. I choose charcoal this time, rub rub rub, sometimes with a few bits of white, red, pink and yellow chalk. I wish my cheap grey sugar paper weren't quite so vile. 

Snippets of conversation blow across on the breeze:
'So where did you go in France?'
'I said to her, is it worth putting yourself through the horror of a real...'
'Such a silly way to spend a Sunday afternoon.'
'...more every year. This has been a shambolic season for us.' (A BBC employee.)

I sketch a Promenader who is sitting upright but sleeping. He wakes. I call him over. Nicholas (left). He doesn't want to talk about himself: 'Nothing has happened to me.' 

A Welshman and I discuss whether the Welsh are the British race most like Rastafarians. He is swimming in London culture on holiday, and has just been singing in the scratch run-through of tonight's Mozart Requiem. He is wearing a plaited gold ring, his grandmother's eternity ring, which we hope is Welsh gold. I have been invited to tonight's Prom by another true Welshman called Hywel Davies. 'That's my name!' he says.

At the concert I meet a couple rooted in the Portobello music recording scene. The man started his career during school holidays at the age of 14; by 17 he was watching Ginger Baker shoot up in the studio.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Day 17 - closeted

Yesterday evening, after Monday's looting, Portobello Road was deserted apart from some police and a few listless tourists. Only the chip shop kept going. Today it's business as usual except for the shops that were trashed. I need the view of Egbert, the St Lucian Rasta, on current events. It's like having a colleague.

'There's a new nutter out here,' he announces. 'Just arrived from the madhouse.' I hope I find him soon.

I ask Egbert what he thinks about the riots. 'I wasn't around. Someone accused me of being in Hackney. I don't think so. I'm not into confrontation or the rioting business so I stayed here.'

What about the carnival?  'You can't suppress the residents. Let them enjoy themselves, they won't loot or shoot nobody.' He falls asleep with his usual abruptness, wakes, coughs, makes a liquorice paper roll-up, sleeps.