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 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.


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Supreme Court: retrospection

Lord Toulson receiving praise
Some careers are short by definition. I've seen footballers, gymnasts and ballet dancers come and go. Paul Gascoigne. Olga Korbut. Irek Mukhamedov.

It feels unsettling to have seen Lord Toulson's span as a justice of the Supreme Court begin and end - but that was not, of course, his entire career on the bench, and he'll return to this court as a member of the Supplementary Panel.

At the start of his last case before retirement, he looks down as Lady Hale and leading counsel pay tribute to his career. He eventually smiles and says he is 'appreciative and astonished'.

R (on the application of Johnson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department concerns illegitimacy so it resonates with me. ('Oh no,' frets my reader, 'that'll set her off again, building a mausoleum for that Unknown Grandfather with her bare hands.')

Someone recently told me the known fragments about his own accidental grandfather, who abandoned his three-year old son, but not before giving him a football. That seems like untold riches. 

Eric Johnson could be excused for feeling like a football. Born out of wedlock in Jamaica to a British father and a non-British mother, he was brought to the UK at the age of four but did not subsequently take up his right to apply for permanent citizenship. Following his conviction for manslaughter he is challenging a deportation order which would return him to Jamaica. ('You can't be made stateless,' says counsel although, still in free-fall after the referendum, I do rather feel it.)

Retrospection is key - including whether the Human Rights Act 1989 can apply to something which happened before it came into force but which still has an effect. Legitimacy can be bestowed retrospectively if the parents marry - not an option in this case.

I have outfit envy: an enterprising girl on the legal team is wearing a champagne-coloured jacquard-weave bell-skirted suit.

In the evening, I'm surrounded by people drinking, eating popcorn and chattering in the Albert Hall during Rossini's The Barber of Seville. I think of Mr Justice Harman who reportedly asked, 'Who is Gazza? Isn't there an operetta called La Gazza Ladra?' (Rossini again.)

During a prolonged episode of comic mugging from the singers (blame the director) someone is stretchered out from the stalls and someone else appears to cry out '****!' from the vicinity of the loggia. As in court, there is a thread of drama in reality which is impossible to recreate on stage. But I would cast Alex Jennings as Lord Toulson.

You'll find a grown-up interview with Lord Toulson here.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Article 50 in a heatwave

Douglas Adams was wrong. The answer is not 42, but 44.

The question: which way did you vote in the referendum?

Someone said to me once: 'I didn't recognise your number because it began with 44.' That makes him a leave and me a remain.

Yes, I oversimplify. This is a blog post.

I am in Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice. The outcome of the referendum is getting its first and by no means last day in court. 

The day of the referendum had apocalyptic rain. Today is beyond sweltering. The court has its own pathetic fallacy: in a ring of lightbulbs, one is dark, like the symbolic star which users of social media are removing from the EU flag.

Put out the light, and then put out the light:
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,  
I can again thy former light restore,  
Should I repent me...

My notes say: 

Ski jump nose flaring nostrils fine tapering fingers
Dirk Bogarde'

Good God, is this Mills & Boon?

Today, order has to be made out of a slew of represented parties and two litigants in person, who have what is described as a Venn diagram of intersecting interests.

From the bench:
'...urgency and uncertainty...'
'...concerned citizens...'
'I look across the front row and see a bewildering array of legal talent.'
'We are living in very uncertain times.'

'Four hundred funders are not necessarily four hundred clients' (prompting thoughts of the Four Hundred who established a short-lived oligarchy in war-torn ancient Athens).

Do you trigger Article 50 or invoke it? Most people in court today say trigger, which sounds final, but I prefer invoke, as in conjuring a spirit, which might vanish.

'It would be disturbing if the Government said: all right, we'll just do it,' says the bench.
Lord Pannick says that would be 'inconceivable'.

'There will be no decision and Article 50 will not be invoked,' says Jason Coppel QC (for the Government).
'Before the end of the year. Let's just finish the sentence,' says Lord Leveson.
[Laughter; hasty confab among counsel's party]

Afterwards Joshua Rozenberg, who has been taking notes on yellow paper, speaks to camera outside.

I catch a disastrously designed Heatherwick bus. It is intolerably hot and breaks down at Hyde Park Corner. 'The bus has gone mechanical,' says the driver.

At home I do a rough draft sketch of the court scene and lose the will to live. I go to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

Miserere nobis
Dona nobis pacem

My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until 30 July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Supreme Court: moral landscapes

I know someone who used to ______ Boris Johnson's ______.  But it's not the sort of thing you'd say on the record.

I often marvel at what people will say in front of journalists.

'Why did he/she print what I said when we agreed it was off the record?' 

I've heard that a few times.

'Because you said it, you moron,' is what I find a more polite way of saying. Why were you so sure that you and the journalist occupied the same moral landscape? 

They might leave the camera running.

Today's case, R (on the application of Ingenious Media Holdings plc and another) v Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, is about confidentiality.

The appellants run film partnerships which they say offer tax breaks although this is being disputed in the tax tribunals. Did an off-the-record briefing to journalists by HMRC breach HMRC's duty of confidentiality or the appellants' legitimate expectation, abuse HMRC's power, fail to follow its existing policy or breach the appellants' Article 8 and Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR rights?

The flowers in the carpet are at risk again
The Court of Appeal judgment gives a flavour of the briefing, including text which wasn't published in the newspaper: 'You won't find anybody here at all...who thinks film schemes are anything other than scams for scumbags.'

I always bring sheets of drawing paper. Of course I do. Today I forget them. It's been like that since the referendum laid an ostrich egg in my brain. I scrabble around in my bag. There's a small sketchbook. 

Heavy hitters are slugging it out. Hugh Tomlinson QC and James Eadie QC.

One of them is ticked off by the bench in a manner which would have me running out to cry in the toilets. I've seen it before. It always rolls right off them. The other side get smug for a bit. That doesn't last long.
I ask a guard if he knows why one of the justices is using a crutch. 'All that football,' he says. I realise where the next England manager should come from.

Outside on Parliament Square there's a desultory lager-and-spliff anarchist demo. Although it's billed on Facebook as pro-migrant-workers, the EU hardly figures: it's an anti-everything collage including hunt saboteurs in case anyone pursues a fox across the grass.

I've found it difficult to relax lately but out here as the wind picks up and clouds gather I feel at home in a place of certainty. No one in court resigned today. No one out here seems to have anything to resign from. No one bothers to make a speech. The sound system plays hardcore punk, reggae and easy listening.

I chat to a survivor of Occupy, which I used to watch. Although he shouted pro-EU slogans at the anti-Brexit rally last Saturday, he voted Leave. As I said, be sure you know what your interviewer is thinking.

I head for home. In Victoria Street I find a broken heart on the pavement. Mine.

But the newspaper offers a shred of hope: we're not that well protected against asteroids.

My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until 30 July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Senate House exhibition: evading the issue

Dr Judith Townend of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, who kindly invited me to exhibit some law-based pictures in Senate House, asks the following:

How did you select the drawings? 

First, they had to go with the tawny yellow Travertine walls. Then I went for variety.


Which ones were created especially for this exhibition? 

I'd already drawn a QC in chambers doing an intense yoga routine. I don't own the originals so I framed two digital reproductions, about half actual size. (These are not to be confused with prints.) This is a terrible sin as such reproductions look dull compared with originals, but I wanted the QC's physicality to be part of the show.


I created a large drawing of a barrister for a particular space. The vulnerability of the work - unframed paper - reflects that of the subject.


Senate House is a mysterious machine. My best discovery there is the magical realm of music and gadgets run by Hannah Thompson, the Leverhulme-funded Senate House Library sound artist in residence [left].  

Can you explain a bit more about the rope work?

The exhibition space is a hectic accretion of furniture, recycling bins, red rugs and signage. Framed drawings would have to fight for attention. But how? 

The first thing that caught my eye was jute - upholstery bands trailing from two broken benches. I decided to reflect the falling jute with jute climbing the wall. The tension of the rope would reflect the tension of the courtroom. Fred Hatt and Anna Bones of Anatomie Studio kindly installed a taut trail of rope and pink legal tape by the most physical group of drawings (the yoga QC and the Naked Rambler).

My plan was then exploded. I'd thrown such a tantrum about the state of the benches that they've been repaired. The power has now gone to my head.

What are people’s reactions to your in-court/about law sketching? Do they vary between lawyers or non-lawyers? 

When I'm drawing in the public seats of the Supreme Court, reactions fall roughly into these categories:

'Did you draw me?'

'I just love your work.' (Thank you, Dean.)

'Where are the toilets?' 

'Who's going to win?' Not my field, hunny. But if you're trying to interpret the body language of the justices, be careful. There's a difference between the performance of counsel and the undertow of judgment.

Not many counsel ask, 'Can you see my best side?' Even if they notice me through the blur of Supreme Court nerves, I think they twig that I'm not there to depict Action Person Top QC.

Non-lawyers say, 'Your other blog is better.'

Are you motivated by the notion of bringing the public more closely into contact with law and legal processes (as I am) or do you have another motive for choosing legal settings/themes? 

I like live drawing (not the same as life drawing) - depicting the passing scene, almost as part of it. If you do it in the street, people want to talk to you. Sometimes I'm up for that. But during a court hearing, they can't. Good.

I was once on an after-hours tour of the Old Bailey when some people thought it would be a lark to climb into the dock and giggle a bit. They were solicitors. As I don't have the carapace of legal training, I was shocked - the dock is a numinous space and there but for the grace of God, etcetera - anyone who drives a car, for example, could end up there. Lawyers would dismiss that as sentimentality, but I still think that lawyers and people who administer and design courts have something to gain from reflecting about the legal process. I'm at the finger-painting end of things, though, and easily distracted by appearances. 
My exhibition of drawings, The Body of Law, is on the second floor of Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. It is part of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies’ public engagement programme, Open until 30 July, Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm, Sat 9.45am-5.15pm.