Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Crisis at Christmas: a blurry picture

There are balloon sculptures all over the place.

Sky, with long pink hair, is doing ashtanga yoga: 'Their bodies are brittle. When they lie down they put their hands on their front to protect themselves. And their feet are very hard.'

If someone wants a conversation, you talk. After an hour you might try to move on - recommend an activity or a meal.

'We would flock home for lunch,' he says, talking about his childhood in what was then Ceylon. Flock. His rapid discourse is elegant and precise. Cricket, Shakespeare. He tells me there has been a disproportionately high number of Sri Lankan presidents of the Oxford Union.

A young Eritrean tells me he doesn't understand Kandinsky.

This is my fourth Christmas at Crisis and I feel a wave of concern that so many of the guests are regulars. But how do you fix homelessness when it can slip in through the keyhole and turn everything inside out? How do you fix mental illness and addiction? Amy, a resilient and cheerful activities officer wearing a Christmas pudding costume, reminds me that some guests rely on the annual Crisis reboot.
Guest's drawing

And while I am drawing I am falling, falling and I have a home, somewhere to crawl around in when I'm too ill to stand up. That makes me queen of the world.

He grabs my paper and one of my pens and the pen top flies off somewhere. Ah well, I think, that pen's a write off. Shame. I get them from Japan via the internet. He does this drawing on the right.

He says: 'Bla bla bla! They're all just saying bla bla bla!'

'Did you see my pen top anywhere?'

He goes and retrieves it and hands it back to me.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Supreme Court: Crisis, Shelter, Babylon

'What are you doing for Christmas?' he asked.
'Crisis,' I said.
'Yeah, a friend of mine does that. She spends most of the year blogging about her collection of Louis Vuitton handbags then at Christmas she's with the cool kids.'

By making volunteers feel treasured, Crisis has pulled off the minor miracle of making it cool - or whatever your/my word for that is - to spend Christmas with people who are mainly homeless and single.

I'd been curious about Crisis for years but felt that I couldn't handle scary homeless people. Then I started drawing at the Occupy protest camps and squats. Compared with that, Crisis is a doddle.

Do you want to be a manicurist for a day, drive a van, walk a rough sleeper's dog, act as an interpreter, run a yoga class, play chess, give legal advice, make dinner, coach indoor football, hear all the life stories you can handle from guests and volunteers? The only scary people are the Green Badges - shift leaders wearing reindeer antlers and swearing into walkie-talkies.

By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

That over-exposed Boney M song came on the karaoke and a pale woman took the microphone. We were in the vast communal area of a college: table-tennis, people sleeping on sofas, The Wizard of Oz coming up on TV.  Surely every guest had a better time, a better place to remember than this Christmas Day. Like the young Eastern European girl who pretended to her mother back home that she had a good job and a nice flat. But this isn't the time or place for weeping. Come on, have a Quality Street.

Crisis and Shelter are intervening in today's cases: Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark. The chilling concept of 'ordinary street homelessness' is explored. Does the Pereira test - to assess a homeless person's priority need - work? You can own a home and still be homeless if, for example, you are the victim of domestic violence.

Dusty:  How about Pereira?
Doris:  What about Pereira? 
            I don’t care. 
Dusty: You don’t care? 
           Who pays the rent?

- Sweeney Agonistes, T. S. Eliot

As it's pointed out in court today, a lot of people are two wage packets away from homelessness. I can remember, as an infant, being told by my mother to hide under a table when the rent man was due to knock at the front door, so that he wouldn't see us through the window. I think it was only two or three times, but the sound of that unanswered knock doesn't leave you.

I wrote about my experiences at Crisis here and here.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Guest and volunteer at Crisis

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Supreme Court: The Treasury Singers

I owe my worst musical experience this year to the man sitting behind me at a Prom. He declaimed AT SALZBURG I PAY SIX TIMES AS MUCH then, during a barely audible passage of Debussy's La Mer, announced IT'S VERY GOOD ISN'T IT.

Contenders for the best are Dialogues des Carmelites at the Royal Opera and, in the amateur section, the Treasury Singers' performance of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (Elizabeth Poston's setting).

Their annual lunchtime carol concert at the Supreme Court is not flawless, which is a relief. I'd rather they concentrated on their Treasury jobs than rehearsed all the time. But the poised, sincere soloist, Debbie Edwards, and their pure shiny amateur enthusiasm pierced this godless heart. They have an excellent conductor, Edward Adams. Sadly this is his last year with them.

The drawings here are from 2012, 2013 and 2014. Last year the singers helped to make the Nicklinson 'right to die' hearing bearable: they supplied reassuring human continuity within a solemn context. Carols aren't just about wassailing.The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, as bitter as any gall, as sharp as any thorn.

The Treasury Singers support Shelter and Crisis in alternate years. Both charities are intervening in three joined cases about homelessness starting in the Supreme Court on 15 December: Hotak v London Borough of Southwark, Johnson v Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, Kanu v London Borough of Southwark.

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree

There is a secular apple in the Supreme Court, made of glass, a gift from the Vice President of the Judicial Yuan in Taiwan. The two birds represent happiness, good luck and prosperity.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Supreme Court: my confidential memo to HRH

To: HRH The Prince of Wales

Subject: Loyal

The packed courtroom is silent for the final three minutes before the justices enter. Is this the sound made by an unwritten job description within the unwritten British constitution?

This silence is far more dramatic than anything I saw at the play King Charles III which I left in the interval, beaten about the ears by cod Shakespeare. If you want to know about kingship, read the real thing. And on a different but relevant note, read Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing.

The justices file in. What a relief. We are in The Queen's symbolic presence. The Supreme Court has opted not to display the royal coat of arms in its courtrooms, but if you look up, Your Royal Highness, you will see a portrait of Lord Bingham in the robe of the Order of the Garter (founded by Edward III).

And there's Arthur Wellesley, 2nd Duke of Wellington, with his Garter robe slung on a chair. It reminds us of the Lady Jane Wellesley episode in your agonisingly documented romantic life. Goaded by photographers, she rounded on them: 'Do you really think I want to be Queen?'

So, sir, are your confidential memos to government departments a necessary and protected part of your role as, an Arthur without a Merlin, you prepare to be a king of 'heartfelt intervention'? R (on the application of Evans) v Her Majesty's Attorney General and another is examining whether they can be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act, following a request from Rob Evans of The Guardian.

I leave at dusk. Over the weekend, the tide of Occupy was lapping at the walls of the Supreme Court in a protest about democracy. I assume the crimson paint on the wall is theirs. At Occupy I met the man who'd attended every day of the six-month Diana and Dodi inquest with DIANA AND DODI written on his forehead.

I head for the monthly gathering of Laydeez Do Comics and a talk by Jill Gibbon who draws covertly at arms fairs disguised as an arms dealer, wearing a suit and pearls as an act of subversion. My own fancy dress pearls express admiration, recognise what was good about 1963, and acknowledge that The Queen's life of exemplary service has intervened in more than one heart.

In The Queen's Jewels, Leslie Field describes the funeral cortège of King George V: the Maltese cross on top of the imperial state crown, placed on the coffin, fell to the ground and was retrieved by a Grenadier Guard. "Two Members of Parliament, Walter Elliot and Robert Boothby, who were watching from the pavement, heard the King [Edward VIII] mutter, 'Christ! What will happen next?', and Elliot remarked to his companion: 'A fitting motto for the coming reign.'"

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Supreme Court: Pinsent Van Gogh

Installing it (designer David Mitchell)
I feel like the spacecraft Rosetta sundered from the little lander, Philae, which has to fend for itself on a comet. After what seemed like a journey of four billion miles, my exhibition of Supreme Court drawings, only one of them blood-stained, has landed right way up in the foyer of Pinsent Masons' Broadgate office. I guess I have to leave it there for a while.

Reflected arrow highlights Dominic Grieve QC MP

After dark I walk through the City. I pass urine-scented flowerbeds full of plastic-looking but real anemones. I navigate by the fixed stars of Christopher Wren's buildings.

A poem by Andrew Motion is chiselled on benches outside the court

 After Sir Joshua Reynolds

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Judicial images: costume drama

A cluster of shop dummies are modelling sumptuous judicial robes not normally found together in the wild. Although headless, they appear to be engaged in conversation.

Christopher Allan, Court and Ceremonial Manager of Ede & Ravenscroft, reserves Jeevesian distaste for the mean-spirited modern civil robes designed by a committee.
New male civil robe

I'm at a Judicialimages.org workshop run by Professor Leslie Moran from Birkbeck and Professor Linda Mulcahy from the LSE.

The robes are a bargain. You wouldn't get a decent bespoke suit for four grand, the price of a QC's ceremonial outfit built on Tudor lines. Nor could you buy a couture evening dress with as much gold on it as a Lord Chancellor's robe for a mere £28k.

The audience are invited to try on wigs and gowns. I hold back as they would not fit me in more ways than one, but others succumb to the magic of silk damask, and begin to bear themselves with ritual grace.

These are outfits which, Mr Allan suggests, would get you arrested if you wore them on the Tube late at night.

'I'm surprised to hear them described as kinky,' muses Professor Alan Read of King's College, London, who has just shown us a photo of himself in a jailbait Fauntleroy outfit and long blond locks in the school production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Context is all. And you can't do it on the cheap. If the provenance of your party gear (right) is H&M, a jumble sale, Portobello, Oxfam and Claire's, then no amount of Rigby & Peller will get you back on track.

Coda: there will be an exhibition of my Supreme Court drawings at Pinsent Masons' Crown Place offices from 14 November until early January.