Archives for the month of: November, 2011

Black, crumbly, scratchy, smeary… charcoal: I love it. Standing up at a precarious easel, I’m concentrating on the hip of the naked woman in front of me and trying to relate it to the elbow of another, and get it in the right elbow/hip proportion.

Under a black-and-white check canopy with a disembowelled chair hanging over my head, I’m at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (in New England House, Brighton). That’s the theme of this life class: I expected people dressed in Alice in Wonderland costumes sitting around a table – maybe a stuffed dormouse hanging out of a teapot. I wasn’t really expecting four beautiful young women, wearing, respectively, a top-hat, striped stockings, rabbit ears, and a cigarette-holder, in a surreal grotto of giant playing cards, a huge key, flowers and checks everywhere… it’s years since I went to a life-drawing class, but things have clearly changed! You might say it’s a bit, well, burlesque, but it’s not: it’s a life-class, imaginatively-staged.

The models start with quick poses, five minutes – in fact, they change positions when the song finishes. The songs all relate to the Alice theme, but don’t include the song from the old Disney film (aaah), and do include a disappointing cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (oh well). But that’s not why I’m here. I plunge into a few brush drawings, all bad – I should have been practicing. It takes a while to get your eye back in, but I switch to soft pencil, then lovely charcoal. Everyone’s concentrating hard, and the models are striking really taxing poses, and I’m getting a bit better, and then it’s all over. Time flies in Wonderland.

Sun slotting in through venetian blinds: I get up and shower. Aching from a day’s humping of gravel bags, digging, planting, easing Arthur into his hole (see previous post), we’re going to spend this last golden day cycling. At the station we can just get the three bikes between standing passengers in a 2-car train: the woman in a wheelchair could squeeze between us to the toilet, if it was working.

It’s a relief to burst out at Polegate, and finally we find the Cuckoo Trail: an 11-mile cycle and walking path that once was the Polegate to Eridge railway line, torn up in 1968. It’s a lovely ride between the big oaks, still with their leaves on. And it’s not strenuous, I’m glad to find! We come to junctions with other paths and roads, gateways that are really unusual: bullet-nosed bollards with a simple cast iron shape on top, or a big serrated steel arch, imaginatively-wrought – it’s a sculpture path as well. It’s a beautiful day, warm too: we eat our Co-op sandwiches sitting on a bank, looking at the gradated layers of landscape stretching back towards Firle Beacon.

We’re aiming for the 4.02 back to Lewes, but we’re a bit tired now and miss it, so have a pint of Old in the pub (also tired). Cycling the 100 yards to the station, we’re separated by the crossing barriers rattling down between us: I wait obediently till I realise that it’s our train. Pedal furiously towards the footbridge, hoist my bike onto my shoulder, and leap up the steps into the crowd coming down. At which point my perfect day becomes, well, less-than. My ankle turns over and I go sprawling across the steps, bike clattering, and the crowd parts around me, avoiding eye-contact. Battered and wincing, I lurch across the bridge dragging the Ridgeback, but it’s too late – our train pulls out. I curse that pub’s dreary embrace. Apart from that, though…

“I have a north-facing front garden, sheltered, in chalky soil, which doesn’t get much sun. What bush would give a good strong shape under these conditions?” I can just about bear The Archers but GQT (as it is known to aficionados) gets on my pectorales major.

There was a time when the idea of doing anything in a garden, except for wandering around with a soppy smile on my face, or worse, feeling anxious bordering on paranoid, would have been unthinkable. I spent many a year inhaling the fruits of the soil, (which did me no good at all, kids!) and it’s been a long time since I last choked on a lungful of smoke; then I had no idea that one day I would be asking the above question in a garden centre. (A GARDEN CENTRE!) It’s not rock&roll, is it?

But here I am, buying a Salix Caprea ‘Pendula’: it’s a small willow, and its branches curve over from one side to the other (fig.1). We name it ‘Arthur’, because it reminds us of Arthur Scargill’s bouffant comb-over hairstyle.

A few little Buxus Sempervirens, some Uncina Rubrasome, gravel, and a couple of rocks, and we’ll soon have this feline lavatory transformed into a zen garden.

Sheltered, trailing willow

in a gravel garden –

catkins, not cat-crap.

‘Last Year FTSE 100 Executives awarded themselves a 49% pay rise. They gave their workers only 2.5%.’ It’s just one of many posters taped to the pillars of St Paul’s Church Yard, among a wide variety: thoughtful, ranting, funny, clever, scurrilous, caring… On the side of the Info Tent is a poster for the Halloween Zombie Banker’s Run (meet at St Paul’s, 1pm for make-up) – a rather well-choreographed lurch in the streets to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
There are many tents here, of all colours, posters flying from guy-ropes. There’s Tent City University – a marquee for seminars and discussion; it has a full timetable with lectures on Socially Responsible Investing?, Land As Common Property, Guided Meditation sessions, Who Owns Britain?, A History of St Paul’s Cathedral – I count 24 sessions scheduled this week on the board.
Camera crews are everywhere, filming and interviewing; I’m drawing a cameraman in front of Queen Anne’s statue, ‘Root Out Usury’ as backdrop, when another cameraman interposes himself; I quickly draw his hand and lens and tripod until he swivels round behind me and films my drawing of him filming etc etc…. this is getting silly.
The atmosphere is relaxed: a few police in non-threatening uniforms stand around, chatting amiably to protestor and tourist alike. Though there are some flamboyant costumes, it’s difficult to tell who are protestors, who are visitors, and who are media, unless they’re holding a microphone or camera. What will come of the protest, I don’t know. Just the fact that it’s happening, voices protesting against greed as the basis of society, is thrilling.
There’s a crowd now, to hear an announcement: not from the Authorities, but from its own representatives: St Paul’s Cathedral has abandoned its court action to evict the camp. The crowd shakes hands in the air in approval and joy – this is a momentous decision after the resignations of Canon Chancellor, then the Dean himself. And the Corporation, the authority of the banks and financial companies, has put its action on hold – the ‘pause button’.
Will anything change? We shall see.

Michael Munday