Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Crisis. Christmas.

Faery (with wings) bingo-calling, helped by Diego
'What are you doing for Christmas?'
'Going to Crisis.'

She thought I meant a nightclub. But it is a club of sorts. It has people who are guests year after year. Mostly single and homeless.

Volunteering for Crisis gives you a rare example - not found in corporate life - of people working together with a default position of kindness, because that's all we have. The centres are teeming with volunteers wresting happiness for themselves and others from the nation's distress/disgrace.

For years I heard the siren song of Crisis but thought no, I can't cope with all those scary people. But in 2011 I started to draw the scary people attracted to the Occupy protest camps. It was a doddle. This is my second year at Crisis.

Barbara, volunteer hairdresser
(in mirror, left)
The scariest person I meet is a Green Badge (Crisis High Command).

'Who are you and what are you doing here?' she barks, existentially.

A drawing is an experiment, a what-if. Most drawings should be thrown away. But when you're drawing the face of a guest at Crisis you have to do the best you can, every time, and you sweat on the result, because it matters to someone who has never been drawn, who is faceless, who sees the drawing which you will give them as validation.

Cate (top) and Faery
There are extraordinary volunteers. Inspirational Faery, aka Charlotte, makes up her own agenda - pop-up salsa, anyone?

Cate (of teaches yoga. A couple of men challenge her strength. She idly supports herself on her arms for a while, levering herself up and down.

Men gaze and sigh at women, with courtesy. I sketch a shaggy ex-punk/glam-rocker in a buttercup yellow suit.

'Do you believe in free speech?' he asks.
'Give me your phone. Why do moths fly with their legs open?'

Two beautiful young couples in love ask me to draw their double portraits. I can't show you these, or any other pictures of guests, as their identities are shielded.

Boxing Day: Transport for London tweets that traffic is sluggish or stationary around shopping centres in east and west London.
At the Crisis day centre, the idea of using a holiday to drive to a traffic jam to buy stuff is...
Volunteer barber

I go home via Sainsbury's for a small bottle of wine and a large bar of chocolate. Serving at the tills are young men, strong and handsome like many of the guests at Crisis. Lucky bastards to have jobs, I think.

Cate teaching yoga


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Graham Fitkin Band and a sugar rush

I'm drawing the composer/pianist Graham Fitkin rehearsing his band at Kings Place in London. I try not to trip over anything and end up being the thing that can be tripped over.

There are musical fragments, moments of dynamism, longueurs during sound checks.

Last time Graham gave a concert here he finished his piano solo with apparent poise then left the stage to succumb to norovirus. There is no such problem today.

Graham never wrote anything for harp until he met his partner Ruth Wall, the harpist. Now there are two amplified harps centre-stage.

I don't know how to describe his music, which includes a string of prestigious commissions. Phase-minimal-troubadour-jazz-electric-acoustic-bouncy-mellow gives you completely the wrong impression.

New, that's what. New.

It's a last-minute concert with a full house. Graham has made meringues with Cornish cream which band members distribute to the audience after the interval.

Then Graham hands out party poppers which we're allowed to let off ad lib and on the beat. It's celebratory and we're sent home happy. Scroll down for more pictures.
Meringue in the hand of another gifted pianist,
Justin Snyder

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Supreme Court and a dream setting

Lord Neuberger, reading
Trying to view distant justices across the high-backed chairs is like being a child straining to see over the dashboard. I'm focusing on Lord Neuberger but he's an all-action judge who doesn't lapse into long poses.

Lord Neuberger's definitive image
continues to elude me
The case is Zakrzewski v The Regional Court in Lodz, Poland. Lukasz Zakrzewski's sentence was reduced before his extradition hearing; did that invalidate a European arrest warrant? Five law lords sit in the calm abstraction of Court 2, a white space relieved with flowery national emblems and the hint of a proscenium arch. 

I think of the sparse white box used by Peter Brook as the set for his legendary 1970 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream - no photograph does justice to its stark magic. Court 2's plushy curtains, with their Pre-Raphaelite enchanted forest look, would have been dismissed by Brook as too obvious.

I am struck by the beauty of the judges' voices. Worthy of Alan Howard, Brook's Oberon/Theseus.

Counsel and judges benefit from discreet amplification. Their individual desk microphones have red lights at the tips when they are live. And after the judges go off stage, the legal teams really should check the red lights are off before going into a post-match huddle.

It's panto season, so I look behind me. And see Brendan Cotter, a pin-striped regular on the public benches. Now retired, he was the Principal Solicitor for Surrey County Council. He gives me an authoritative spectator's guide to the Royal Courts of Justice, the Old Bailey, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, and more.
Supreme Court tree
decorations for sale

I'm back a few days later for The Financial Services Authority v Sinaloa Gold plc and others and Barclays Bank plc. 'What is a freezing injunction?' asks a judge, rhetorically. 'White goods,' mutters another.

Lord Neuberger is all movement again, so I abandon a portrait and look at the judicial assistants who sit behind him, like putti.

Héloïse, Charles Coypel,

The bench are discussing the concept of recklessness as I start to draw a jug of water recklessly (glass, air, light, reflection, shadow). One of my teachers speaks inside my head: 'Don't look at your drawing. That won't help you.'

Coats are slung on the backs of chairs. The man second from
left is drawn as if transparent.
Counsel's hands are sometimes behind his back when he's on his feet. He sits down and has a glass of water.

Other counsel

At lunchtime the Treasury Singers come in to the foyer. They sing carols, accompanied by the bleep of the body scanner, and raise money for Centrepoint.

(Scroll down for pictures.)

Monday, 3 December 2012

Air, floating and Graham Fitkin

The model is Gorgone,
draped in gauze
Some composers serve up meringues. Airy confections that disappear. Delibes. Walton on occasion. Anyone involved in the score of La Fille Mal Gardée. A musicologist just said Saint-Saens. Hmn.

By contrast, the composer and performer Graham Fitkin is making real meringues, ones you can eat, to share with his audience after his next concert with the Graham Fitkin Band (Kings Place, 11 December 2012). I am not aware of any other composer who does this.

Graham has composed the music for Not Until We are Lost, a show by aerial theatre company Ockham's Razor which is touring England until spring 2013. And I'm already thinking about airy things and suspension because I drew Japanese rope bondage for ten hours over the weekend; it involves people floating in ropes.
Ockham's Razor members

Un Re in Ascolto, an opera by Luciano Berio, was worth the admission price for the harness suspension of the chorus alone.

Sentences can also be suspended, both in court and thus...

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 café 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.