Friday, 14 April 2017

The Amorist, a new magazine

'Never get involved in a new publication,' my boss would intone, in the days when old publications were deemed to be safe. We did editing with pencils, rubbers, scissors, glue, a Rotadex full of jokes, and an art department along the carpeted corridor. They had scalpels and a more narcotic glue. The art director was chairman of the Royal Yachting Association. The editor's PA's boyfriend had a sideline in porn but she was so posh it didn't count.

We moved on. One of us married the chairman of a big four accountancy firm. One became the Duchess of Buccleuch.

Selfridges' window, 2016
And I got involved in a new publication.

The Amorist is edited by Rowan Pelling, who negotiates the boundaries of taste with zest and refinement.  Billed as 'a romantic, witty and discursive erotic magazine – a flirtatious conversation, designed to appeal to women and men', it's aimed like Cupid's arrow at readers of The Oldie, London Review of Books, History Today, The Lady, The Spectator, The TLS, New Statesman, Private Eye...
Selfridges' window, 2016

My own involvement is low on stress (for me, anyway). It's a feature written and illustrated by me about drawing Japanese rope bondage in performance (see my other blog, two clicks away, for background). I'm very happy to have it in the launch issue, out on 26 April in WHSmith and elsewhere, including an online edition. There's a cheapo subscription deal.

For more information please see
Selfridges' window, 2016

Ladbroke Square Gardens, Notting Hill

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

I am dying, Europe, dying

I've just done a swathe of English things.

I don't normally watch telly at 9am but this is Hue and Cry, the Ealing comedy/adventure from 1947, a love-letter to bombed-out London. Street kids in hand-me-downs outwit the powerful enemy. The population is lean; sugar and meat still rationed; the NHS unborn.

The kids escape along sewer tunnels without waders. Amid the odd fist-fight, the film celebrates kindness, inclusion and defence of the weak. You know, those values we're chucking down the sewer.

I set out for the anti-Brexit march. A Christian is proselytising on the bus: 'Egypt means house of bondage,' he says. Babylon. But there are very few police needed on this demo.

In Park Lane we wait calmly for an hour and a half while coaches from the provinces disgorge polite campaigners. Damn, I've forgotten my Soho House membership card. I'd rather be a member of the EU though. I'm with a friend whose work is endangered by Brexit. He designs MRI scanners. Nah, we don't need those any more. We protest along Piccadilly, nip in to use the loos in a club off St James's, and end up in front of the speeches in Parliament Square. Gallant losers. Numbers are estimated at between 25,000 to 100,000.

I walk up Bond Street, past some contemptuous demo-chic. 

I turn to the best bit in The Times, the obituary column. Lucky Gordon is dead. He became a building block in the end of deference when his face was slashed by a jealous lover of Christine Keeler. What could expose the tribal English more than the Profumo affair - aristocracy, cruelty, hypocrisy, sex, money, drugs, Soho, Notting Hill, a fall guy driven to suicide - and the disapproving prism of a restricted childhood through which I uncomprehendingly read the gloating reports in Beaverbrook's Daily Express. 

I'm going to the RSC (kept alive by taxpayers, punters and corporate sponsors, all of whom will take a harsher view of their spend after Brexit).

I swot up by reading Plutarch's life of Julius Caesar: 'Writer after writer had entered the bitter controversy. Britain was just a name and a legend, they said; the island did not exist and never had existed. Now Caesar attempted to conquer it, and advanced the Roman Empire beyond the bounds of the human world. He sailed twice to the island from the opposite shore in Gaul, and in a long sequence of battles he did more damage to the enemy than good to his own men, for there was nothing worth taking from a people of such wretched poverty.'

I'm in denial. Brexit won't happen.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Supreme Court: ICLR OU mooting competition grand final

My safe word is remain.

That’s how I was going to begin this post when I thought that the case behind today's competition was R v Brown (Operation Spanner), about consent to sado-masochistic acts which incur actual bodily harm. I was polishing an analogy with Brexit.

But I hadn’t read the brief properly so I prepared for the wrong case. Are barristers’ nightmares made of this? Plus being bombarded by what Lady Hale cheerfully calls horrible questions? Quick, what’s the test for calculating the measure of damages in contract? What’s the test for direct discrimination? What are the facts of Schnorbus v Land Hessen?

Lady Hale is judging the ICLR Open University Law Society mooting competition. The level of nerves looks normal – even starry QCs can blush or address Lady Hale as ‘my Lord’, so the four finalists have nothing to worry about on that score.

Jacqueline Roque by Picasso

This court is not judgmental about looks but the Erin-O’Connor/Jacqueline-Roque-looking finalist can come back and model for Picasso.

The moot question involves a gay wedding, religious convictions and a contract to supply photography and catering.

I am pathetically relieved to see that I know a little about two of the authorities mentioned in the notes – Preddy v Bull, which I sat in on here as Bull v Hall, and Gough v the UK concerning the Naked Rambler, two of whose appearances I attended at Winchester Crown Court.

Top tip for contestants: if there’s a microphone, it’s your friend, so know where it is. Old hands take time to adjust a desk mike if necessary.

Another tip: criteria plural, criterion singular. That gets clocked here. Along with everything else.

And a final tip for life from Lady Hale: ‘When you realise you’re on to a loser, you move on to the next point.’

After giving what is in effect a tutorial, she compliments the finalists on standing up to her interrogation very well. ‘I must be a natural sadist,’ says Lady Hale.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Carnival Captured exhibition

The Carnival Village Trust have just held a multi-media art competition to mark 50 years of the Notting Hill Carnival. 

There is a free exhibition of selected entries at the Tabernacle, 34-35 Powis Square, W11 2AY, until 5 March 2017, 10am-9pm.

I won second prize in the 18+ category with these five drawings. Elimu Carnival Band and Paddington Arts kindly allow me to draw people getting ready in the morning. It's indoors, and quiet, with a proper chair. 

This photograph, taken in 1994 by Chandra Prasad, is the competition winner. It looks at skin but is the only image in the show which gets under the skin of the carnival. No one is smiling. Hard to date (and hard to photograph in the gallery lighting), it's in one of those parts of Notting Hill haunted by Peter Rachman.

And do you know who this woman is? She was dancing at last year's carnival. It would be nice to find her before the exhibition ends. This photo, by Denise Turley, shared third prize.

Thanks are due to the competition benefactors - Arts Council England, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (despite what I said about them in a recent blog post and in repeated submissions to the planning department), the Tabernacle and the Westway Trust.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Job application

Dear Ms Hawkins,

We are writing to apply for the post of President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on a job-sharing basis.

We note that high judicial office is a requirement for the post. We sit at a height of five feet on our retail display point, which gives us an advantage over other applicants. Our bench, being made of glass, offers complete transparency.

We have observed with pleasure the Court’s thoughtful gesture in placing the TV monitors so that, while fulfilling our duties in the cafeteria, we can hear the oral submissions.

We exist in multiples, so we can be in more than one place at a time – something denied to the present incumbent although we believe he would find it extremely useful.

While we have travelled in the briefcases of many senior legal entities and shared their boudoirs, we are noted for our discretion, even though our eyes really do follow you round the room.

Our approach to appellants and respondents would be consistent and, some might argue, overly predictable; our contribution to debate would be modest; our judgments would be noted for brevity, or even for total absence; and we accept that we would find the interview stage of this application rather challenging; but the role which we are proud to uphold in society would make it impossible for us to be defined as ‘enemies of the people’.

As some of our friends in the USA may need to be reminded, we represent a voice, albeit a very quiet one, for unity: E PLURIBUS URSUS.

Yours respectfully,

The bears of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Supreme Court: council policy out of the window

Blind cord, Court 2
First up, phobias. Poshteh v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is about post traumatic stress disorder, not phobia, but I’m going to link them as they both enrage people who apply terms such as ‘reasonable’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘pull yourself together’.

My first memory is of being scared witless by some geezer with a fake white beard and red hood. Later, as a student, I was being paid to chop vegetables in a private house on Christmas day. The grandfather crept up behind me in costume and said, ‘Don’t peek, it’s Santa Claus.’ I spun round in terror and to this day I marvel that I didn't stab him as a reflex.

This case also involves an asylum-seeker. The Royal Borough once asked me to draw at an event for looked-after children, some of whom had been asylum-seekers or refugees. Some were from Eritrea. Some had arrived in this country alone. They were a great bunch, and they will always be ambassadors. 

So, as a nation, let’s not turn our back on more kids like these, eh? While we allow rich people from overseas to buy properties and leave them empty?

Empty or full, the housing stock in Kensington and Chelsea is varied. Slapdash Victorian speculators, Peter Rachman and the Luftwaffe have all left their mark

Nowadays, casual violations of planning and conservation rules pop up like weeds. Together with legally permitted vanity projects. And don’t get me started on the basements. If there isn't enough room for you and your cigar storage around here, go to Bracknell.

Today’s case concerns Vida Poshteh who was tortured and imprisoned in Iran. She applied for asylum in the UK; she and her child were housed temporarily by RBKC. 

She was offered permanent accommodation in a housing association flat with a round living-room window but on viewing it she had a panic attack and turned the flat down. She suffers from PTSD and her prison cell had a round window. No one is suggesting that she is lying. The council says she should just live there anyway.

The bench proffers suggestions – that she should maybe put a curtain over the round window or never go into the living room. 

This is kindly meant, but to a PTSD-sufferer it is likely to have overtones of the bloody chamber.

For a couple of seconds we see a photo of the living room
The council says that the window is three feet in diameter, set in a wall five feet three inches wide. There is a rectangular window in the same room. It sounds like some unpardonable jeu d’esprit on the part of an architecture student.

Ms Poshteh’s undoing in the Court of Appeal seems to have been that she had initially agreed to live in that flat on a temporary basis. The council wished to construe this as permanent. But sometimes you might just say things to get authority figures off your back. Ms Poshteh has been served with an eviction notice. Happy Christmas.

Window fastenings in Court 2 look like handcuffs

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Supreme Court: Article 50 - miserere mei, deus

‘Today the Supreme Court will rule on whether the government needs military consent to begin the Brexit process.’

That kicked off the Radio 3 news bulletin at 6.30am today. I checked it on iPlayer. He really said military and not parliamentary. Valid until the end of February:  

Well, it's a thought, isn't it. And anyone can make a mistake. Including an electorate. And an electoral college. Trump and Brexit have normalised waking up in a panic.

Each day I give oracular significance to whatever is playing on Radio 3 when I switch it on. Today it’s Allegri's Miserere for the service of shadows, the Tenebrae. One by one the candles go out. Music to echo through toxic particulates after the end of the world.

Facts are useful at times like these. And at all other times.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

But lo, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts: and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.

On with the motley. Sheep and goats - wool vest, cashmere jumper, mohair wrap (there’ll be a wait outside in the cold). Daily grief. Pencil sharpener.

A woman from the crowd-funded grassroots People's Challenge group, some of whom are in the queue, wishes she could go back to before 24 June when she wasn't interested in politics and didn't have to give media interviews.

Because UK Supreme Court judges are blessedly not chosen for their political allegiance, we don’t know what the ruling will be. The sightlines in the packed courtroom are terrible for a short person, but for connoisseurs of tension the atmosphere is a collector’s item.

Lord Neuberger briskly reads out a summary of the judgment. You know what it is by now. No intake of breath, no gasp of surprise. The mischief-makers wanted the full Monty – a nod to the devolved powers and a court case in Europe – but the grown-ups are content with the outcome.

There’s an orderly press pack outside. ‘Have we got anyone bigger than Jeremy Wright?’ a television journalist asks his telephone, referring to the Attorney-General. The previous AG, Dominic Grieve QC MP, is strolling around in a nice beige coat looking pleased. Despite Radio 3 there are no tanks on Parliament Square and Big Ben has not yet struck 13 although it's shaping up that way across the pond.

As Laura Kuenssberg is being filmed, Gina Miller – poised and radiant but not triumphing – walks past with her entourage. Kuenssberg hastily finishes then sprints after her in clicky heels.

A ‎German journalist, polished and prosperous-looking, does a measured piece to camera out of my earshot, but I don't think my schoolgirl German would have been up to it. The British pack pay him no attention. 

Maybe they should.

Lincoln turns his back on it all

Coda: Nightmares collide on Friday when the member for Maidenhead meets Mr Trump. In preparation, here is the correct way to grab a pussy, demonstrated by American ballet students posing as the White Cat and Puss in Boots in Petipa's Sleeping Beauty.