Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Egbert the St Lucian Rasta
soliloquises in his hypnotic voice then begins a rapid dive into sleep. As his head droops I start another drawing. Neither is finished, even by my hazy speed-freak standards: he wakes and has to keep an appointment.

Adam, the skateboarder from Day Eleven, arrives.

'It all comes down to being a tree trunk or a cavity,' he says. 'I always say a bird in the hand is worth 82 million in the bush. I'd have been lost without my three sisters and my mother. My sisters were all undone by childbirth. They used to sit around the kitchen table talking about how to get unpregnant, or not pregnant in the first place.'

An ancient man in a yellow jumper cycles past glumly. 'Oh look,' says Adam, 'there's Rupert Murdoch. No, he's a Portobello trouble-maker. I'm so glad I don't pick up dog-ends any more although they're a feisty smoke. I was in the park once and saw a clear blue sky with just one cloud that looked like a cameo of my friend's dog. Not a fluffy cloud, striated. I asked someone to reproduce it on his computer but he couldn't so I just drew the shape of the cloud with a candle and washed over it with pale blue watercolour to show the underdrawing of the dog.

'In the sixties I was all ban the bomb and Yanks go home but the more LSD I took the more poetic I got. I was the premier wall-painter in the neighbourhood until Banksy came along. In 1974 some revolutionary in France started using stencils because posters could be torn down. Someone around here is doing fox stencils. I do white surfers on a triangle, at the top of a wave. I've put four of them at the top of St John's Hill. I like skating uphill, it's much more fun. Then when you go down it's quite a shalom. I mean slalom.'

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Day 14 - brandy and Special Brew

Egbert the St Lucian Rasta found a safari jacket yesterday; he's wearing it under his cannabis-patterned hoodie. I wish he'd find one for me. I dash home for my winter coat the colour of gloom.

Jeffrey strolls over in the same blue string vest as yesterday and sits for me again. He contentedly watches the image evolve.
'Very nice,' says a passing drunk, patting me on the shoulder. 'That's you, man.'

Look, I know there's room for improvement. A friend writes to me: 'I like the way so many of your sitters decided to give their portraits to their mothers. Curiously touching. Or possibly a veiled insult?'

But it isn't just about drawing. My friend adds: 'There is something special about the process of drawing/painting a portrait, isn't there? A temporary intimacy. Taking the time to really look at a person - even if only for two minutes, it is a concentrated, focussed kind of looking, making a space where you have the possibility of connecting in some way.'

'Will you sign it please,' asks Jeffrey. What do they do with the pictures? Please don't throw it away until you're out of sight. I think a lot of them end up as roaches.

As I draw, several tons of solid rain are dumped on the canopy. Some of it is hurled in sideways. Police and passers-by rush under for shelter. My hair flicks my face in the wind.

Egbert appears for the second time today, in one of his prickly moods.
'How are you, Egbert?'
'You ask me that already, young lady.'
So I did. I didn't mean to be patronising, I'm just a bit vague.

Jacqueline drops in for a chat, en route from the London Print Studio where she's preparing for an exhibition. This open-air daytime salon is far more sociable than my normal feral freelance existence. 
I'm forever berating my friend Rebecca for holding her exhibitions in inhospitable places such as freezing belfries, lifts and wardrobes. My heart soars to see her striding towards me across the arid, storm-tossed asphalt.

She looks up at the canopy: 'Ooh, it's just like the Sydney Opera House.' She pours out a cocktail of hot chocolate, brandy and orange juice from a thermos, even bringing a white china cup for me because she knows I don't like sharing cups. 'I always take it on demos,' she says. 'It was very popular on the 2003 Stop the War march.'

She points at Jeffrey: 'I recognise him from the blog.'

Rebecca once worked at a shelter for the homeless. The residents were asked to write a job description for homelessness, such as knowing where to find warm air vents and sandwich rounds. Rebecca then asked them to write a job description for the staff of the shelter.

A boy walks past in Cardinal Vaughan School uniform and a baseball cap with NY on it. 'No one has Totteridge and Whetstone on their baseball cap,' she says.

She points out a public employee carrying gardening tools. 'He's walking backwards and forwards with his hoe. Very Westway.'

Kilimanjaro and Dee are sharing a can of Special Brew. I beckon Dee over.
'Don't make me look old, ' she says.' I haven't been drawn for years and I was made to look 160.'

The conversation turns to a sexual encounter Dee had in the bandstand in Hyde Park. 'Then this man was watching me getting dressed through the railings, yeah.'

She uses an embellished walking stick with a heart-shaped conker swinging from it. 'One of the things I set myself to do before I was 40 was to find a nice Welsh guy. He took me into the bluebell woods and we found this stick. He was a rugby player with thighs as thick as both my legs. He weighed 16 stone but I made him lose three stone so I could see the real him.

'It's nice to get a man in for the winter with a good bottle of wine and a spliff. My mother always asks: "Which nationality is he this time?" Travel through the male population and you'll be surprised what you might find.'

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Day thirteen

Egbert arrives, this time with his supermarket trolley: 'That trolley don't answer me back.' Inside it is a hand-written notice:
SINGED [sic]

I've no idea why we start talking about the royal family. 'Oh, Margaret, she was a raver. She'd go where royalty is not supposed to. If there was a problem she'd sit down with a bottle of wine or Champagne and deal with it. When Diana died I cried, yes.'

He points out that the Notting Hill riots of 1976 began just round the corner, after some boys had stolen jewellery in Queensway: 'Instead of takin' it home and hidin' it they were flashin' it off. A policeman said what's that and the youth said mind your own effin' business. Then it started.'

Egbert peers around. 'That man is lookin' at the circumference of that woman.'

He holds his picture at arm's length and talks to it: 'You look as ugly as sin. But I like you. You are me. Who said I was as ugly as sin? Oh, I know. My mother.'

Benjy [left], profoundly courteous, limps over slowly; I've seen him most days, always elegant with a hat and stick. He arrived here from Dominica in 1960. He announces: 'For deviosity, women are the champions.'

Jacqueline turns up for a chat. I like being generally available, out on the asphalt - a geographical reference point. Turn left at the windswept woman with the drawing board. We talk about drawing children and the risk of making them look like little adults. Study the proportions, she says; there's a roundness to their faces.
'That guy over there,' I say. 'Interesting trousers.'
'I heard him talk on the phone when you went to the lavatory,' she says. 'He's a tosser.'