Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Notting Hill Carnival

I want the policemen to walk into view to complete this very Notting Hill scene. But, seeing me snapping away, they politely hang back.

'When I get my hands on that whistle I'm going to shove it so far up your arse it'll go out of sight.' Not me speaking, but a carnival-goer to her friend.

I draw in a dance studio where members of Paddington Arts and Elimu Mas Resurrection are getting made up. I'm biased but they seem to have the best costumes and the most beauty queens.

Face painter in the street

On the way home I encounter a boy of about ten standing inside his front gate. He is selling use of a lavatory in the high-end property behind him for £2 a time (and fancy cupcakes).

'How much did you make yesterday?' I ask.
'£270,' he says breezily. 'You should try it.'

Batala London, a swaying samba reggae band of about 200 drummers, sounds like the end of the world. Bring it on. It's preceded by a flotsam of selfie-takers.

Two exaggerated blondes toil at the coal face of Beach Blanket Babylon for the duration, smiling in high heels and selling shots of pink liquid from heavy bottles strapped to their tiny waists.

I hear the Spice Girls being played inside.

More pictures if you scroll down.

Wings to one side, looking out of the high window

Miss Carnival International Model (left)
A rich couple looking neither right nor left

And that's it for this year

Monday, 29 August 2016

Uses for the Financial Times, part 5

Drying moulted goose feathers to make quills. Four right-handed, four left-handed. I'm going to need hot sand.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Tom Palmer. 'He looks like James Dean in that picture.'

Tom was beautiful, highly intelligent, musical, raffish, playful, intuitive, funny, inventive, charming and well brought up. He was kind to cats and liked fancy cars. He had the gift of being able to write as he spoke. He died today, leaving many sorrowful people to mourn the loss of his young life.

I met him when I was drawing and writing about the Occupy protest camps and squats for this blog. Here are some extracts:

20 May 2012
Occupy camp, Finsbury Square

'Does anyone know how to tie a hangman's noose?' asks Tom, aka Johnny Teatent.
'Ask Charlie or Fern,' responds another Occupier automatically.
'Why do you want to know?' I ask.
He wants to hang bankers in effigy from the trees in Finsbury Square.

6 June 2012
Occupy camp, Finsbury Square 

Remains of rain-soaked sketches of Tom
(hand peeling clementine, right)
Tom, aka Johnny Teatent, a contemptuous blond swaggerer, peels a clementine with the prehensile fingers of one hand, leaving the peel in a single piece, without looking.

Later he emails to the clique (I quote exactly): 'Banging castle built. Campfires. If anyone wants to hammer. Slash come down take pictures. it is getting to be an awesome barricade.'

14 June 2012
Occupy camp, Finsbury Square

Roaring-boy blond-bombshell Johnny Teatent, aka Tom, dropped out of a philosophy course and won’t be going back. ‘Teatent’ in this context isn't about cucumber sandwiches: it’s the Occupy hangout for the homeless, the disaffected or the alienated.

Tom is wearing jeans decorated with scarlet spray-paint. He glares at his phone: ‘More emails. I want more emails.’
He’s built a barricade out of inner-city detritus, aspiring to a glorious last stand against the bailiffs. I think of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys without a Wendy. Two Portaloos, a bonfire in a brazier, a mains water pipe, adrenaline and testosterone are inside the barricade.
Tom feels sidelined by the Occupy cadre; he's impatient with members whose souls yearn for flip-charts and meetings about the names of meetings: ‘Occupy’s press strategy is completely xxxxed,’ he says. ‘Look at this fortress. Look over there at London’s big iconic buildings. It’s like Asterix. It’s like a World War Two outpost. It’s got to be on the news. They’re directing me to stop people lobbing bricks when the police come. Why the xxxx should I bother. The camp’s been co-opted by people who want it to be a talking shop. I don’t do that.’
Tom with Ella and fortress

He’s also frustrated by the lack of wi-fi. ‘I tried to go to the library but I had holes in my shoes.’

He flops on a muddy sofa, strums a guitar, dries a saturated pair of trousers over the bonfire.  He takes the drawing: ‘I’ll use it for my propaganda.’

A man says, ‘He looks like James Dean in that picture.’

9 November 2012 
Cross Keys squat, Chelsea

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.

23 March 2013
Festival Hall; the Elephant squat

Tom (left) is refused permission to speak further
Inside the Royal Festival Hall the Philharmonia plays Charlie Chaplin's music to his 1936 film Modern Times, a satire on the Great Depression.

Outside the auditorium, Occupy is having a meeting. Activism and satire are an awkward mix. They create conflict in the soul of Johnny Teatent, aka Tom.

In the squat
From Tom's belt dangles a white man's dreadlock - the only one the man possessed. It is long, springy and shiny. It gives Tom a faint air of My Little Pony back to front. It is described as a scalp, a body part.
The victim - the former owner of the dreadlock - has asked me to cut what happened.

Some people leave the meeting in a sweary flurry. Chaplin's sentimental music swells.

Next, we head for the squat pub quiz.

The quiz is at Eileen House, Elephant and Castle, a brutal architectural disaster and subject of an eternal planning dispute. I am accused of seeking glamour in going to the squat. I wish.

'Is the asbestos on this floor?' says someone. Shrug. There is bright cheerless office lighting, a room full of bikes, grey everywhere, a couple of friendly dogs.

My friend Orlando goes to buy himself some tobacco. He comes back. He's left the tobacco in the shop. He goes back for it. Orlando and Tom are probably cool but I don't have a cool gauge. Tom has front teeth missing - knocked out by police, he claims.

Tom, Orlando and I are a team, the Radical Quiz Faction. The questions are monotonous.

'What does LASPO stand for?'
'Name two open-air squats in London.'

PS the tip of the dreadlock is now part of my drawing kit. I am unapologetic. Tom gave it to me.

21 October 2014

Parliament Square

I stop in the square on my way to the launch of a book, The First Miscarriage of Justice by Jon Robins. 'Can I come with you?' asks Tom, who yearns for the glory days of Occupy camped on chilly cobbles outside St Paul's Cathedral three years ago ('I want to get my hair cut outdoors smoking weed'). I don't think I'd get Tom through security at Portcullis House.

In the rapid sketch below, Tom is the figure holding the guitar (red) sitting under the statue of Lloyd George.

The last time I spoke to Tom, on 4 July, this was the scene:

I'll leave you with his voice:

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Fur and bristles

The pink and white African pygmy hedgehog is a lovely design for a cake. An albino who wouldn't survive long in the wild, she tucks into wiggly grubs, or scampers to infinity on a plastic rotating saucer. 

I've even got some black card to draw her on, as I scavenged some offcuts left outside a picture framer's on the way here - I'm in Chiswick where the locals aren't posh enough to rifle through recycling bags. 

Oxfam has a book in the window by the painter Roger Hilton for £125. Cheaper than Amazon but the cover is fading and warping in the direct sunlight.

I'm here for a club night organised by wildlifedrawing.co.uk. Our models this evening are two meerkats, an opossum, the hedgehog and a Richardson's ground squirrel.

There is no strict-art-teacher vibe so some people snap the creatures with their phones, draw what's on their screens and put it on Instagram.

The animals are non-judgemental unless you happen to be prey. They move like mercury, busy with their routines inside their transparent mobile homes. The squirrel is ferociously shredding blue paper to make a nest. 

When brought out and introduced to us by their minders, they are calm because they have been hand-reared in captivity. The hedgehog's bristles feel soft if you stroke her in the right direction.

More pictures if you scroll down.