Archives for posts with tag: illustration


Visited Bossiney Cove
Ate many ice-creams
Fell in love with brown girl twins
Looked over many cliff edges (no trace of vertigo)
Told my dad my first dirty joke (not amused)
Threw a wobbly because I was out first ball (cricket)
Watched ‘Treasure Island’ film strip in rain-hammered caravan
Visited King Arthur’s Hall to see the actual Sword in the Stone
Revisited Bossiney Cove
Tested several, found, then ate the ultimate Cornish pasty (plus the ‘breakfast’ and ‘mackerel’ varieties)
Ate freshly caught mackerel in sashimi, ceviché and grilled formats in one meal (and in sandwiches the next day)
Flew the zip wire – 660m – high over the Eden Project domes in an attempt to conquer my vertigo
Went to the top of the rainforest walkway in an attempt to conquer my vertigo
Fell under waterfall in Rocky Valley
Watched Arthur Miller’s The Crucible during a positively Satanic downpour
Found the Lost Gardens of Heligan


Standing at the foot of the bed, I’m watching a couple make love with some urgency. I’m watching through the eye-holes of a white skull mask. All round me in the dim light, white skulls are intent on the performance on the bed. It feels uncomfortable, but this is what we’re here for… A woman walks in and drops some costumes onto the bed beside the thrusting pair, smiles down at them, and walks out. Later she will seduce the man herself, or try to.

They’re in the dressing-room of a film studio, a seedy, gloomy place. The skulls all swirl out, following the hastily-zipping pair to the next act…

It’s all in the play, of course. And I won’t tell you more because if you haven’t seen a Punchdrunk production, 1: you really should if you can, and 2: it will spoil it for you.

Punchdrunk: The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable


My friends at the Hybrid Gallery have invited me to the private view (free drinks!) at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, where they have a stand. It’s in a vast plastic marquee with air-conditioning and hectares of art. And thousands of visitors, though I’m here just after it’s opened (more arrive later, hot from the City. No, that’s unkind – there’s a smattering of bankers – what’s the collective noun? A slick of bankers? A shaft of bankers?) – but I imagine most are ordinary people, here to look for art priced between £40 and £4000 (it says on the publicity).

In the entrance foyer, there’s an aluminium Airstream caravan dispensing wine, and a black-clad performance artist slowly scaling her metal construction, to the mild interest of the crowd around her. The DJ plays classic R&B and soul tracks, and stalking through the crowd are attractive young women on stilts, strangely dressed in snorkel, bathing cap and rubber ring, smiling charmingly but professionally. In fact, I get smiled at a lot as I walk round, which is nice (I’m on my third plastic wine glass by now), but I’m not here to buy. There is so much art here: formulaic much of it, ‘designed’ to sell, gimmicky, clever, artfully-distressed. Nostalgic iconography, pop motifs, figure painting… Everything is beautifully crafted, but there is still much that seems honest, that comes from the heart of a lone artist in a small room.

So why am I here, if I’m not buying anything? To see my friends, sure, but also to be excited, stimulated, and kick-started; to get painting again. After the third rosé, I’m feeling a bit less overwhelmed, but I can’t shake off the thought of the hundreds of thousands of artists in this country desperate to have their work seen. And I wonder – art: is it a commodity? does it still have value in the age of instant high-tech gratification? And the old question: what constitutes art? Aaaagh…


PS: my friend Peter Clark tells me that the collective noun for bankers is a ‘wunch’. Thanks Peter!


We have stumbled on Three Dog Night at The Hand in Hand. Gill and I are in a tender embrace as the dogs embark on a tri-partite sexual encounter (as dogs will) around our feet. In the middle of this tiny Kemptown pub, we’re being filmed, dogs and all. Huddled in the corner are the members of The Self Help Group, playing their song, The Rapture. It’s not a gig, it’s the making of their music video. Jamie and Stevie, from The Union Music Store, quickly had to find a replacement film set, and The Hand in Hand is it. As we go through our dance routine for the film, regulars walk past the camera, completely unfazed, to the bar (three steps) and perch on a stool, with or without dog.

We have already been filmed doing our sequence in eighteen situations: in a misty field (cold); in the window of a charity shop; on the rock promontory at Rottingdean (slightly scary, colder); at the checkout in Asda (the security guard smiled and looked away); in the glass lift in Churchill Square mall, beside a large man in a very large wheelchair; on a Brighton rooftop (really cold)… Passers-by ignore us (probably thinking, well, this is Brighton) until finally a woman eating a pie asks us if we’re getting married.

Now in The Hand in Hand, we’ve finished the shooting, the band put their instruments away, and I can finish my pint of Dark Star Darkness. A lovely pub, and it’s the Kemptown Brewery too. And the music – acoustic-based, sweet songs, with the most gorgeous harmonies. On The Self Help Group’s Facebook page, they describe themselves as a ‘Brighton band making pretty music about mostly miserable stuff’. Their album, Not Waving But Drowning, is out on the Union Music Store label, and their next gig is at The Brunswick, Hove on the 31st May. Enough plugging. Get off, dogs!

Now: you can see the finished video at


It’s a secular cathedral, a cubist ship, a vast glittering shoal of fish… Here, in the atrium of the Guggenheim, huge waterfalls of glass cascade in apparent curves from the ceiling, encasing lifts and stairs. In fact, everything is curved: the walls, the window surrounds, the ceiling, and especially the steel girders that are the armature of the building. Metal walkways snake round above your head. Right at the top, light pours in through windows with criss-cross spars, in contrast to all the other shapes. It takes your breath away.

Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, the museum was commissioned by the Basque government to revitalise the run-down port area of Bilbao, and indeed the city. It apparently took shape from Gehry’s free, looping line drawings, in which he didn’t lift his pen from the paper. You can see that freedom and fluidity in the shape of the building, seen from across the river. It’s made of steel, limestone, glass and covered in plates, scales, of titanium. They are half a millimetre thick – they give under your touch – and reflect the pink of the city and the sky’s blue. In the largest gallery, (over 400 feet long), Richard Serra’s huge rusted steel sculptures stretch away, eight of them, all over 12 feet high, in circles, spirals, S-shapes – it’s called Snake (or The Matter of Time). You walk between the massive orange plates; whoops and cries echo under the long curved roof.

We go to Café Iruna on the corner of the Plaza: walls tiled with ceramic bas-relief advertisements for wines and sherries from the early 19th century. Outside, the entrance is solidly blocked by a crowd of smokers, but once through, there’s a space at the bar to drink rioja and eat pintxos – elaborate Basque tapas, bread topped with ratatouille, salt cod, quail’s eggs, anchovies, Iberian ham, cheese – and always the thick slices of tortilla. And more rioja.


Over my head, two huge wasps hang motionless. From my position, flat on my back on the Theatre Royal stage, they are quite threatening, though motionless. I’m recovering from the first exercise. At 9.45 on a Saturday morning, Amanda, the teacher from Ballet Rambert, has just made us drop, bring one knee forward to a right angle, stretch the other leg back, lift our arms… oh, come on. We’re all over 60. A quiet word from Hannah, our project manager, and Amanda adjusts her expectations of us. She’s young, dynamic, funny, and very very fit. It’s strange to look out on the old gilded theatre, as we twist, stretch, and windmill to some loud mashup dance track booming out, but it’s exhilarating too.

After two hours of this, and the full English breakfast, we cross to the Corn Exchange for three hours of rehearsal for ‘Handbag’ – a performance involving over a hundred women dancing round their handbags, and walk-on parts for twelve men, in the vast space. It starts with one woman at each end (the audience are corralled in the middle behind hazard tape) to an extended ‘Billie Jean’, while our group huddle behind a door, trying not to laugh, talk or sneeze, before we make our separate entrances onto the floor. We do six performances, then sprint off to see the Rambert show, where beautiful young bodies fly through the air in white pants, to a video backdrop of a snake writhing through flames, a burning erotic flower and snowdrops falling into diamonds…

Pina Bausch’s company at Sadler’s Wells is a different kettle of goldfish: from inside a distorted white room, windows show a cactus garden, a tropical garden, and big tanks of, yes, goldfish. This is not ballet, it’s dance-theatre. Surreal, if not actually dada, it shows the everyday human condition in bizarre scenes. Men in dinner jackets threaten, bully and cajole women in evening dresses: I shudder each time an axe is brought on-stage (usually to chop oranges for drinks though). A distraught woman crashes from wall to wall, her arm in a sling, shackled by a saucepan; four couples waltz all around the room on their bottoms, perfectly synchronised; an old transvestite dons flippers to share the goldfish-bath; a naked man quietly sprays himself white from toe to hair… Well, you had to be there. Phew.


Come on birds! Swoop down and enjoy this feast I’ve prepared for you, you ingrates!

Are there more birds around the garden when it’s snowing, or do you just see them more clearly against a white background? Whatever the reason, I’m more aware of them at the moment. And full of pity as they sit in the tree, feathers fluffed up against the cold. I’ve never been particularly interested, except in the occasional bird of prey: a hawk hovering over the A27 or a buzzard high up. No twitcher, I. Still, I find myself rubbing up a load of breadcrumbs from the loaf I’m about to eat (such compassion!), and even mixing in some mashed-up peanuts, and pulling the fat off slices of prosciutto (lucky birds!), some seeds, rice… That is right, isn’t it? I’m not going to make their little stomachs swell up and burst, am I?

Anyway, I carry a blue plastic tray full of this birdfeast out into the thick snow, still falling heavily, in bare feet so I don’t slide on the treacherous decking (and also to feel the effect of bare feet in snow in a Finnish sauna sort of way) and slide it up onto the wobbly wooden arbour. Then retire to watch them all swoop! I imagine myself as a St Francis of Assissi figure, arms outstretchrd with birds sitting on every horizontal surface of me…  Except that they don’t swoop. I sit in a warm living room, reasonably still, waiting…. After 15 minutes, and many birds flying past, none have landed. Perhaps blue plastic is the most unnatural element that a bird can think of (I’m not sure if birds really think). Perhaps a camouflage-finish tray would be better.

After a while the blue has all but disappeared under snow, and birds are feeling more comfortable with the lumps sticking through the white, and they queue up to get at the food. Well, I say queue, but the thrush or starling or blackbird stands in the middle pecking away, while the sparrows, chaffinches, blue-tits and robins hop around nervously waiting for the big thing to finish, before making off fast with a crumb.

You see, in the meantime, I’ve found the RSPB bird recognition web-site… Great, the internet, isn’t it?


From the flooded toilet floor of the Dome’s dressing rooms up to the stage area, it’s a long, cold way. Especially barefoot. Hazardous too: the steps have a metal edge. Cameraman and soundman stand impassively amongst the women changing their costumes, filming interviews. After the last two days of rehearsal, ThreeScore Dance Company are about to go on. Nerves ripple down the lines of us waiting for the doors to open, and for us to file through, finally, to an audience.

We’ve performed Bettina Strickler’s piece before, but in less than ideal conditions. Now, it’s properly lit, in classic ‘black-box’ theatre, and we’ve all come a long way in the conviction (and maybe grace?) of our movements. The group (twenty of us) are intertwined on the stage, ‘breathing’ to the Morricone score, then breaking into the fast klezmer: I and three other men finally co-ordinate our strange feints, and with a ‘Hey!’ – slap back-to-back, sink down, and are pulled off. (You had to be there, really).

Antonia Grove’s piece is complex: four of us play live music at the beginning, building to a crescendo, after bedding down plants in the bank of earth at stage front. Then the company stands in front of our triangular-back chairs, before the strange repetitive sequence begins, in total silence. We stand, then the music starts: ‘Treasures’ by Seasick Steve, and we perform the rituals of caring and tending, waiting for growth: it’s about ‘the emotional relationship that forms with something alive and rooted to the earth.’ Labour and Wait.

Ben Duke’s piece, You Can’t Miss Me, evokes the classic footage of the flood of commuters across London Bridge, leaving one man isolated in the middle: ‘Well – how did I get here?’ His is one story among many – he’s joined (but not joined) by others, also questioning their positions. We attempt to make contact, but ultimately, we’re on our own. We move, slowly, around the stage, surrounded by the richness of Glenn Gould playing Bach, and for me it’s a truly beautiful, euphoric moment. This is the culmination of a year’s work in a parallel life, a life I’d never imagined. Dance.

6.30am – satnav bright in the rainy dark – to Stansted Airport, our lanes clear, but incessant headlight stream swarming in to London. Imagine that your job requires you to drive into London every day at 6am; perhaps it does. Stansted Airport: modern world writ large. Huge steel beams frame World of Mammon, thousands of shelves of exquisitely-displayed perfumes clothes phones phone accessories spirits wine scarves ties food… high-gloss images of airbrushed perfect people buyingshoppinglivinglifetothefull: don’t you wish you were? Instead of fretting about the luggage restrictions of Ryanair (1 bag under 10Kg in the cabin – otherwise an extra £25 each way).

The American is dabbing the little wound on his bald head: he was warned about the low roof and the stalactites but immediately walked into one. The cave, though immaculate, still has that deep rich old smell, beyond time. Above us two reindeer are nose-to-nose, painted onto the rock shelf. The standing deer seems to be licking the other’s snout, standing over it, sympathetically, or triumphantly – who knows? A herd of bison stampedes around the walls at head height; the undulating surface of the walls would give body and movement to their forms, especially when lit from below by flame. 17,000 years ago artists were painting these living animals in manganese onto the wall, and they still live.

Sadly, the guest poet had to cancel, and, in a helpful and completely mad moment, I offered to step in. And now I can’t find my glasses as I’m about to read to seventy-odd children and adults, from a book of Basho’s beautiful haiku. It’s another Lewes Junior Film Club event: the films are poignant and very poetic – The Red Balloon and White Mane, both made in the 50’s by Albert Lamorisse. Before the showing, the kids sit at the tables in All Saints, drawing up storyboards (involving Lewes and – yes – a red balloon) and now (when it comes to it) I suddenly get nervous. I read a couple of haiku that I made up; we’re to make some up together on a big smeary white board.

Once on the Kisoji trail in Japan I stepped on a snake (apart from snakes and bears, there are very sophisticated toilets on the trail) so I tell them this:

Scared by a snake on the path–
How comforting is a warmed
toilet seat!

which gets a bit of a laugh. After the first film, the kids write messages on tickets hanging from a great cluster of red balloons, and then burst out into the sun in All Saints’ churchyard to launch them.

Silent stone walls.
Then a squeaking red eruption
Up! go the balloons


One red balloon
Drifts along the golden street
Looking for an owner

Seventeen syllables do not
a haiku make–