Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Naked Rambler: AND SITTING

The Naked Rambler's outfit - hiking boots and socks - doesn't fit the legal system. His tailor-made ASBO says he mustn't be naked in public.

The cost to the taxpayer of his 10-year incarceration to date is the equivalent of 100 entry-level bespoke suits, if you can still find them for £4k.

Our tegument today is Winchester Crown Court, an architectural affront. Indoors, a bicycle is parked next to a bust of Lord Hailsham. The reception area is gaudy with tinsel and the guards are in possession of a turkey hat. Made of plush to simulate raw flesh, it plays tinny music while the legs judder. 'The best ten pounds I ever spent,' says a guard.
The Naked Rambler, aka Steve, has a compulsion to defy authority. This has led him to the highly controlled environment of solitary confinement. Does he seek this control? He expresses his compulsion by not wearing clothes. He does, however, have control over his behaviour: he wore clothes in order to travel to meet his children, undressing on arrival. He has refused a job in a nudist reserve, presumably because it doesn't give him an obvious mode of defiance.

Steve is like parchment - something blank on which other people can impose their ideas: hero, martyr, mischief-maker, loony, PTSD-sufferer, victim of the law's inflexibility who has suffered a grotesquely disproportionate punishment. His skin has something of parchment's dryness and sallow glimmer in the harsh downlights of the dock, on what is probably his fortieth court appearance.

I'm also working on an analogy with polenta - yellowish, bland, and prone to mysterious lumps as is Steve's right leg.

He reminds me a bit of the anti-protein campaigner Stanley Green, an eccentric part of the Oxford Circus scenery for 25 years who made that naff precinct more human.

But Steve's own body is his protest banner, his cause is himself. He has won the support of a loyal entourage, he is polite and co-operative when arrested, albeit inconsiderate on the hygiene front, but he lacks ironic self-awareness and soaks up the altruism of others. His conversation is solipsistic and his choices mean that he can't contribute to society by paying tax or doing voluntary work.

In court today Steve wishes to be unrepresented, but his long-suffering brief is here as amicus curiae in a gallant attempt to offer him some necessary cover - Matthew Scott is 'always known for his helpfulness to the courts in whatever he does,' says the judge.

'Do you want to say you're sorry?' asks the judge.

'I'm not sorry,' says Steve, his breath misting the glass in front of the dock.

Even so, Steve gets off with what sounds like the minimum sentence. He could be out soon - but for how long? Will he take the judge's advice to seek an alteration to the ASBO, which he has outgrown? The default expression on the face of the guard escorting him in the dock is 'We've got a right one here.'
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. - Genesis 3:10. 

Traditionally, public nakedness has been seen as a punishment (here is an Air France executive after an attack by disgruntled workers). So why should society punish the already naked?

Coda: the only inappropriate erection in this story is Winchester Crown Court and Steve appears confident that he can get around without being plagued by such. This should give comfort to any citizen pusillanimous enough to feel outraged by someone who would have been seized by any self-respecting Renaissance painter as a scrawny model for John the Baptist.

I've blogged about Steve here and here.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Illustrating moral panic

Justice in a time of moral panic is a collection of essays by lawyers, academics and journalists.

Most of the illustrations in it are by me.

I gave the art director components which he assembled on the page.

I started by wanting to draw a twitter storm - a furious flock of twitter logos. Nope, said a copyright lawyer.

'I want you to imagine you're being attacked by birds,' I said to friends and life-class models who crossed my path, and drew them with tufts of sheep's wool dipped in ink. One day I forgot to bring wool and improvised with Andrex which worked just as well.

Doing proper botanical drawing would kill me. These are stylised leaves from a castor-oil plant, to illustrate a story about ricin.

The most co-operative model is yourself...

...although if I'd realised that the hands would be used so prolifically I would have grabbed some big gnarly male hands to balance my small one.

A selection of inked lines came in useful for layout purposes.

The drawings below were rejected as too esoteric for the brief. The subjects for them were reactions to Irish accents, historic child sexual abuse, rape myths and terrorism. I blog about them here.

Apollo and Daphne, Piero Del Pollaiuolo c1470-80, National Gallery

Justice in a time of moral panic is the theme of the first issue of Proof magazine, edited by Jon Robins and Brian Thornton and designed by Andrew Stocks (£15, The Justice Gap).

John Robins is a freelance journalist. He has written several books and runs The Justice Gap.

Andrew Stocks is a freelance designer and an art director at The Guardian.

Brian Thornton is a senior lecturer in Winchester University’s journalism department and commissioning editor on The Justice Gap.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Supreme Court: the Treasury Singers

The Treasury Singers are an annual fixture in the Supreme Court foyer, where they sing Christmas carols, this year for Centrepoint. The new conductor optimistically lets us join in if we know the words, which I do thanks to years of school assemblies and choral singing.

Talking of which... I’m concerned about proposals to abandon the compulsory act of worship in schools because - leaving aside arguments about faith/s - you can then wave goodbye to a) an experience of communal silence and b) knowledge of the Bible, which upholds the canon of western art, music and literature. Art galleries already have to spend limited caption space on explaining who Noah was.

My life is lived without religion, so a dusty wind howls about the place. The thing about the canon of art history is that someone has already seen what you are seeing and has tried to interpret it, which makes you feel less alone.

Photo outside the Bataclan (Christian Hartmann)

Deposition by Hans Memling (left wing of diptych), 1492-4, Groeninge Museum

Friday, 27 November 2015

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: momma’s baby, poppa’s maybe

Genealogy is the second most visited category of website after pornography, according to ABC News in America. That is impossible to verify, but I wonder how much of the internet is used for genealogy porn – dodgy conclusions drawn by self-indulgent hobbyists from evidence that won’t stand up. I overheard quite a bit of that when I was hanging around in public records offices.
Today's case came about because the Pringle clan, seeking to confirm who should be chief, decided to bring scientific rigour to the proceedings. They organised DNA tests for men in the family. Just asking for trouble. And they got it. 

A mother was posthumously discovered to have given birth to the child of a man not her husband.

‘It was my instruction that it was a great surprise,’ says counsel.

Maybe she was following a primeval imperative to rev up the gene pool. Her handsome son, Lt-Gen Sir Steuart Pringle, 10th Baronet, had a distinguished military career and, according to his Daily Telegraph obituary, was ‘noted for his intellect, shrewdness and acerbic sense of humour.’

The DNA test result is not disputed. Instead, the court is examining how legitimacy and biological descent are related - ‘factors which are more important than the possible truth,’ as counsel puts it.  

In the matter of Baronetcy of Pringle of Stichill is causing an establishment frisson because of its implications for holders of hereditary titles, and is the only Privy Council case this term to be heard by seven justices rather than the usual five.

It isn't a tussle to see who inherits the Spode: there is no estate at stake, no proto-Chatsworth. It is about, as Lord Reed puts it, ‘the honour of holding the title.’


In court I spot two people who resemble Archibald Skirving’s pastel portrait of Mrs John Pringle of Stitchell [sic], née Mary Drummond (1719–1804).

It starts with a bang. The bench tells both teams that their arguments should give more consideration to Scottish law, so there will have to be a further hearing. After a dazed ten-minute adjournment, counsel resume starting positions.

Counsel: ‘It is rather unfortunate that events have taken this turn.’

Lord Neuberger: ‘Well, we are where we are.’

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council knows where and what it is. But what am I? I mean, like you care, but bear with me.

This is a detail from my father's birth certificate.

And this is a detail from his marriage certificate.

These tight-lipped inked lines are the only images I have of my unnamed grandfather. My parents didn't tell me about my father's illegitimacy until my sister and I worked it out independently. To them it was a stigma. I'm not telling you what could or should be, only what was the pattern of those times. When I see a pregnant woman, my conditioned reflex is to glance at her ring finger.
I never met my father’s mother. I don't know what she looked like. I wasn’t told her Christian name. I was brought up far from Toxteth, the lair of unmentionable family secrets.

So a few years ago, when those who could have been hurt were dead or cocooned by dementia, I followed the ancestry trail and joined some of the dots.

In 1918, Annie Williams was an 18-year-old who worked in a munitions factory in Liverpool and lived with her parents. Assuming that her pregnancy ran to a normal term, my father was conceived on or around the Whitsun bank holiday. She never said who the father was.

My father was born in 1919 and brought up by Annie's mother. 

In 1923 Annie married a docker called Jimmy. Six months after the wedding she gave birth. They had four children. Jimmy, Annie and their growing brood lived in the same street as my father, who never entered their home and kept apart from his half-siblings. 

I traced Jimmy’s only surviving child. 'Are you Arthur's girl?' she said immediately, as if she'd been waiting for me to ring. ‘Me dad would offer ’im sweets to come in the ’ouse and play with the other children but ’e never did. We always thought ’e was a shy boy who liked to be by ’imself. Gorra go now, luv.’

Annie died aged 88 in Skellington Fold, Liverpool. Old bones. 
I'll give this one a shot of watercolour

Further reading

Counsel are relying heavily on A Treatise on the Law of Adulterine Bastardy by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas (1836), still in print and free online. 

“You girls are my vocation. If I were to receive a proposal of marriage tomorrow from the Lord Lyon King of Arms I would decline it. I am dedicated to you in my prime.”
                             – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark.

That makes him some dude but in court we’re told that the Lord Lyon King of Arms, who handles heraldic spats north of the border, found himself unable to deal with the matter in hand. 

Edmund: …Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got 'tween asleep and wake?

King Lear, Shakespeare

Is there any chance that you and I might be related? 

Arthur Williams, 1919-2014

If you see anyone who looks like my father, let me know

Bist du bei mir

Postscript: garbage from the Daily Telegraph - predictive text is a killer: