Friday, 25 July 2014

Supreme Court art: thorns and spines

The Supreme Court café sells Tunnock's tea cakes, a Scottish delicacy, at a pound each. I buy one as an experiment. Its middle is white, fluffy, tacky.

I photograph it next to one of the cactus table decorations. I don't understand its mystique although I can get quite emotional about Wagon Wheels.

Today's case, Moohan and another v The Lord Advocate, has been parachuted in because of the urgent time-scale. Two prisoners serving life sentences seek the right to vote in September's referendum on Scottish independence. There will be a decision today - not the customary wait of weeks or months.


‘I’m being reminded that four members of the bench don’t have the right to vote,’ says Lord Neuberger.
‘I should like to offer my services,says counsel.

(Members of the House of Lords can't vote in parliamentary elections; the former law lords who became justices in the Supreme Court are prohibited from sitting and voting in the House of Lords until they retire from judicial office.)

Court is adjourned. The courtroom atmosphere is awkward. The legal teams chat and check their phones. We hear the ping from the airside lift.The justices return. The prisoners' appeal is dismissed. Reasons will be given in due course.

The carpet throughout the building has several thousand thistles woven into it.

More picture if you scroll down.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble in Trafalgar Square

On the way to the airport, the young musicians from Soweto stop in Trafalgar Square to play a set for Mandela's birthday, replacing the trashy human statues and beat-box buskers who are such an affront to the National Gallery.

They play, sing, dance and drum for Madiba, watched by groupies who've followed them on this week-long tour from a private drawing room to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Other people stop, enthralled. They haven't got a clue what's going on. They probably think they are seeing some precocious students from Lewisham, not dedicated musicians from Soweto who need a bigger audience and a leap in sponsorship if the life-changing vision is not to end in rubble.

After the performance I give an interview in French to a reporter called Geneviève from BBC Afrique. I probably end up on the cutting-room-floor, who knows.

Buskaid is Rosemary Nalden's raison d'être. Redefine Properties and the National Arts Council of South Africa backed the tour.

More pictures if you scroll down.

PS there are eight pillars in front of the National Gallery, not seven. I offer a choice.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Buskaid tour reaches London

My hairdresser has never heard of Soweto. And I know a business journalist who saw Soweto from the air and assumed it was temporary accommodation.

The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble has a powerful effect on audiences. Beauty, discipline and grace are strong cards to play, let alone soul singers (recruited from the players) delivering show tunes, township music, gospel and Afro-pop after the baroque, Brahms and Karl Jenkins.

Dancing with their instruments, they have enough showbiz clout to engage a broad audience.

They talk matter-of-factly about having played in Syria and Colombia.

There needs to be a succession plan, an idea to make sure that this school in Soweto can grow and keep on changing lives.

After the rehearsal for tonight's concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall I walk past Grayson Perry. His crimson lipstick is not chewed off with the frustration of drawing as mine is.

He's just attended a Central Saint Martins graduation ceremony in the Festival Hall. The South Bank is teeming with yoof in academic dress.

I should have dragged them into the rehearsal to interpret this phenomenon. But all I had to keep me company was the ghost of Feliks Topolski whose former studio is over the road.

Redefine Properties and the National Arts Council of South Africa backed the tour. Rosemary Nalden has dedicated her life to the ensemble, scolding them into shape.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, ten thousand times

'Think of the thing you really love and try to make it sound like that.' Rosemary Nalden is rehearsing the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble for their Queen Elizabeth Hall concert.

'Practise something ten thousand times if you want to do it properly,' says Rosemary, quoting the violinist and teacher Suzuki. I know. A drawing is an idea, a what-if. Most drawings should be discarded, not put up on the internet ten thousand times.

Lunch is a surprise. The price, anyway. Here in the Indian YMCA in Fitzroy Square, an aromatic vegetable curry with pilau rice costs £3.80.

Karl Jenkins has composed a piece for the ensemble. Another surprise: he turns up after lunch to conduct his work.

The orchestra rehearses some of Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes. I remember singing them in the school choir in the final concert before we left. We wore cotton summer dresses, some home-made like mine.

We stood on the stage with a drop in front of us. Where were we going? Disastrous loves awaited more than a few.

We sang a heavy-duty English translation:

O stray not, dear heart, midst yonder green meadow fair,
The flow'rs about thy feet will harm thee, so wet are they.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Monday, 14 July 2014


I meant to draw unobtrusively on the lawn outside a stately home but I'm instantly surrounded by young Sowetans joking, joshing and putting it all on instagram.

'Give him more wrinkles.'

They've been rehearsing for tonight's concert in the suitably baroque setting of Boughton House in Northamptonshire. And because this is the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, solo singers will put down their instruments after the Bach and Rameau to hit you between the eyes with show tunes.

They end each concert with their string arrangements of kwela - South African township music complete with drumming, whistles, clicks and hisses like dry grass.

Redefine Properties are among their sponsors. Buskaid repays support by changing lives and putting on barnstorming evenings like this, if you can describe the tapestry-lined Great Hall full of oval portraits as a barn.

There is a rival attraction at Boughton House today: AA road signs lead to TOUGH MUDDER. Messy running. It's popular. Rosemary Nalden runs Buskaid, teaching the older players to teach the younger. She has dedicated her life to them. They call her mother. And she is tough.

Please follow the signs to Rosemary if you can. The school is worth maintaining.

You get charm and enchantment here.

Tonight's songs are My funny Valentine and What'll I do when you are far away?

Stay, little Valentine, stay. Each day is Valentine's Day.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Supreme Court art: exam nerves

I'm drawing under exam conditions, silent and alone. There's a time limit. Fear. Risk. Self-doubt. Ultimate exposure. Latin. Just like old times.

The sitters don't keep still but I chose an unpopular subject - drawing moving people - so it's too late to complain.

Trinidad and Tobago is today's jurisdiction for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Lovell Romain v The Police Services Commission came about because the Commission refused to exempt Mr Romain from taking the exam for promotion to corporal although he'd passed the exam for promotion to sergeant.

Later on, I download a sample paper for the Police Service Entrance Exam (although I can't find a sergeant or corporal exam).

I'd clean up on comprehension, grammar and arithmetic, but is that enough to pass? The local knowledge section is a granite wall, e.g. "Which carnival band won the 2011 ‘Band of the Year’ title in Trinidad?"

Back in court, a teacher drawls in my head: 'Don't look at the drawing, that won't help you.' The teacher-pupil relationship that continues into adult life is symbolised for me in Kipling's story The Man Who Would Be King, in which the destitute cripple Peachey Carnehan is guided by an illusion of his comrade Daniel Dravot whose crowned head he carries wrapped in rags.

I check the ruthless clock. Twenty to ten. Too early. It's stopped. Surely that kind of thing can't happen here. (Later on, I learn that the clock in Court 1 also stopped at twenty to ten today.)

Counsel looks at requirements for taking other examinations: 'In honour moderations, my lord...' One of those tribal terms I go without hearing for decades. Along with 'battels' and 'sconced'.  A recent memory for him, whereas for me they are a dull, distant ache.

Rule one for exam technique is to read the rubric. For example: 'Write on one side of the paper only.' So why, when someone wanted two drawings last week, did I have to confess that I'd done them on both sides of the same sheet of paper?