Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Supreme Court - Rembrandt and part-time judges' pensions

The panel of judges
'Have you got a knife in your bag, madam?'

The X-ray in the Supreme Court picks up the Swiss Army key fob which I forgot to leave at home.
John Cavanagh QC,
11 King's Bench Walk,
on his feet
John Cavanagh QC

O'Brien v Ministry of Justice is about judges' pensions. Dermod O'Brien, a retired Crown Court Recorder whose work was counted as part-time, is alleging discrimination. A recently retired immigration judge watches intently: a favourable outcome could be retrospective.

Ian Rogers,
Monckton Chambers
Law students file in. They are of the generation which says 'awesome' a lot. Why do so many of the people in the public seats exhibit something like awe? Do people not go to cathedrals any more? Or is it panic - in the original meaning of the word, sensing the presence of the god Pan, or rather the presence of an inexorable justice system? An implacable god requiring sacrifice if people get some code of living wrong?

A few of the girl students flick and preen but attention is not on them: it's on the clock, as it has been all morning. The students have decades before them. Counsel has two minutes left to bang in his remaining points, like nails.

Postcards are on sale at the till. I buy a team photo of the judges. I think of how Rembrandt exploded the conventional group portrait with The Night Watch.

Rembrandt's The Night Watch

Several storeys above the cafĂ© is a spotless glass roof. So the Supreme Court is protected by something immaculate, incorruptible. The cynic will say this is fanciful, that there is an obsessive-compulsive clean-up squad or a pigeon-zapping force field. But today it is without blemish. I'm told that the glass will take a body's weight.

And  now I have to do a drawing which is going to be looked at more keenly than the others. One of the security staff has offered himself as a sitter.

This has got to work in the watchful eyes of the whole security team. Word of mouth could destroy me here.

I'm lonely. I haven't got long - their shift pattern is relentless. Look, I never said I was Rembrandt. I just draw in society.

One of my sitter's colleagues comes over to look.

'If this was made into a poster the police would arrest you, man.'
Robin Allen QC,

I get my knife back.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Financial Times gig and a dangerous squat

Occupy squatters at the Cross Keys, a boarded-up pub in Chelsea, have just been thrown out by a criminal gang with knives who hold raves in squats and don’t read my blog, or they’d know that bailiffs are due any day. Two male squatters were beaten up. I go to draw somewhere marginally safer: a gig at the Financial Times office.
To get there I walk past the aggressively opulent frontage of law firm S. J. Berwin. It’s a relief to reach the unglitzy, boffiny engine-room that is the newspaper. 
Mary Wilson (vocals/violin)

Peter Whitehead is celebrating 25 years as an FT journalist by holding a charity folk/rock concert with friends and a colleague. They sing and play to a congenial audience in a conference room with the passionate sincerity of non-professional musicians. 

I use conventional pens, quills, a bamboo pen and a few inches of hemp bondage rope.

Afterwards I take the stairs and find a sight which makes a freelance home-worker weep [left]. Last time I had access to something like that the techies wore Fairisle jumpers, corduroy trousers and beards. 

The day before, I borrowed a Cross Keys squatter to model for the life class I go to. She took charge of her life at the age of 13. Now 18, she is confident, well-spoken, absurdly grown up for a pretty fairy and can do things I can’t – smoke, rifle through skips outside supermarkets for food, not feel cold in flimsy clothes, go out in socks but no shoes. She has a pungent insouciance. 

One of the squatters who was beaten up by the gang, Arthur, is quoted in the Financial Times of 5 November 2012 (Chicken with wine sauce from a skip on lunch menu for pub occupiers). He says he sees ‘a choice between wasteland and trespassing.’

The life drawings
are of the squatter
Peter Whitehead and nine other musicians perform songs by Lori McKenna, Sam Baker and Mary Gauthier on his CD Lori, Sam and Mary. Sales benefit the Down’s Syndrome Association. Peter’s wife Grania Langdon-Down is descended from the doctor who gave his name to the syndrome. Details:  

At the gig he was joined by Simon Botham/percussion, Heidi Felton/cello, Derek Huff/keyboards, Richard Lloyd/guitar, Martin Nielsen (also of the FT)/guitar and Mary Wilson/violin and vocals. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Activist squat: from the pub to the psychiatric hospital

View from the disused psychiatric hospital
The phone wakes me up. It's a squatter from the Cross Keys, the disused pub at the classy end of Chelsea. Bailiffs are due any time.

'Can you help us move to the new squat?'

I feel like Wendy with the Lost Boys. Or Ragueneau in Cyrano de Bergerac, the pastry-chef-poet who turns up with sustenance and transport when things get rough for the ramshackle Gascon cadets.

I hear a whisper. It's Margaret Thatcher saying the Good Samaritan had money. I've got enough cash for dog food and toilet paper.

In the sunless public bar at the Cross Keys, groaning figures wriggle out of sleeping bags. Tom stretches, rolls a fag and looks into the gas flame-effect fire. The light on his perfect cheekbones is Caravaggio. I don't have my drawing kit with me.

After much nagging from me he lugs some clothes out to the car.
'Cool car,' he says.
I haven't got time to tell him he's an activist and cars aren't cool.

The new squat, off the Kings Road, is a disused private psychiatric hospital for young people which was last cleaned in 2007 according to notices on the walls. The building is eerie with an unlit spiral staircase and blind corridors.

It's a landlocked Marie Celeste. The patients' notes, complete with names, have been left lying around in the office by the departed management. Chronicles of harm and self-loathing. A girl carved FAT on her foot with a paperclip. A successful escaper went to Birmingham by train then returned the next day.

Four storeys and 17,652 square feet of dustiness. Individual en suite rooms with nowhere to hang yourself. The windows are sealed so that you can't jump out.

One of the squatters, who camped outside St Paul's cathedral with Occupy through the chill of last winter, models later on for the life class I go to.

He tells me that last night the squatters ate rump steak and sausages retrieved from a waste bin outside Waitrose and cooked in the hospital kitchen.