Skip to content

Not the World Naked Bike Ride 2020

Context – it all happened so fast

On 31 December 2019, a pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). A month later, on 31 January, the first cases of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the UK were confirmed. On 5 March, a first death in the UK from the coronavirus disease – COVID-19 – was confirmed. The number of known UK cases passed 100. Six days later, WHO declared a pandemic.

On 23 March, the UK was ordered into partial lockdown. We were instructed only to leave our homes for limited purposes such as: for any medical need; to go shopping for basic necessities; to take one form of exercise a day; and to go to and from work, only when absolutely necessary. By 12 April, the number of people reported to have died with the coronavirus in UK hospitals alone exceeded 10,000.

On 14 April, just 105 days after that first report to WHO in China and with more than 12,000 deaths in the UK, the inevitable announcement came from WNBR London:

“So sorry to say it, but here is the news you were probably expecting to hear. The World Naked Bike Ride in London will not take place on 13 June 2020. Participants and spectators should not go to the start locations. WNBR London has considered current circumstances and concluded we must take a cautious approach for the safety of our participants and the general public. We assume it will still be unwise to encourage public gatherings in June.

“We have seen no reliable evidence to indicate when it will be safe to take the ride onto the streets so we have not proposed a new date for the ride. It is possible that there will be no ride in 2020. We will review the situation at each of our monthly meetings and have the ability to mount a ride at short notice if circumstances change. We will let you know if there is any news.”

Many other regional rides had already cancelled, as indeed had most events across most of the whole world. We were all shut away in our homes for our own safety and the safety of others, only allowed to take exercise outdoors with members of our own household. People were dying by the thousand, while the living were going stir-crazy within their own four walls. We all needed a lift. We needed to do something. Safely.

Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Locked-down in south Essex, Esther and I decided that for one day, our ‘one form of exercise‘ would be our very own naked bike ride. Not a World Naked Bike Ride – not an official one – but one for ourselves, somewhere local, without many people about, where we could ride for at least 10km, for more than hour, without courting trouble or breaking the lockdown rules. We opted for RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve.


9:47am by Church Road: ready to roll

Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve facilities were closed but its walking and cycling trails remained accessible. In early sunshine on Monday 1 June, we painted our chests with positive slogans, saddled-up in loose clothing and set off. Our start point was by Church Road, a couple of kilometres from home, just south of its bridge over the A13. We undressed in the tree-shadows of a discreet side turning.

Church Road descent

At 9:47am, we began. This upper part of Church Road passes beside a crematorium and cemetery so we took great care to check that nobody was visiting. Further along, we were ignored by a mother and daughters out walking, before we hooked right and freewheeled down the steep hill leading to St Margaret’s Church. After a brief photo stop, we continued to the end of the road and turned right, into the reserve itself.


9:48am by Church Road: waiting for traffic to clear


9:49am on Church Road: about to turn south


9:51am on Church Road: freewheeling downhill


9:53am on Church Road: a pose at St Margaret’s Church


9:54am on Church Road: under the c2c rail line between Benfleet and Pitsea


9:54am on Church Road: the parked cars of other visitors


9:55am on Church Road: into the reserve we go

Round to Great Pound

For the rest of our ride we would be bumping along stone tracks. Our outbound route would be roughly circular, going anticlockwise: north to west to south to east to north. We started slowly, our city bike wheels crackling the pale gravel beneath us. The first quarter of the ride took us to the most westerly point of our circle, the first lake of our traverse, evocatively named ‘Great Pound scrape‘.


9:58am: starting slowly off road


9:59am: no knowing what’s around each corner


10:00am: our only encounter on this stretch – a lone twitcher


10:02am: not many obstacles, but this was one


10:05am: emerging from the bushes into marshland and reeds

Between the lagoons

The south part of this circuit sent us between two lagoons: a freshwater lagoon to our left and a saline lagoon to our right. On the path by a reedbed at the first of these, we met our second twitcher; a nice chap with whom we stopped to talk for a few minutes. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by our nudity, but warned us that other people ahead might take offence. I smiled; we were natural in nature, just part of the wildlife.


10:10am: a sign of life, part 1


10:11am: now heading south-east


10:20am: a chat with a friendly twitcher


10:27am: ignoring a helicopter overhead


10:28am: freshwater left, saline right


10:29am: gates for grazing cattle


10:31am: under a big sky

The long way

A couple of women on bicycles passed while we chatted, taking no notice and surely no offence. We pushed on: first left towards the Old Saltings viewing point, then right, but a missed left-turn meant we would be going the long way around. Ahead we saw the people about whom we’d been warned, but it looked like they were only a couple of minutes’ walk from their parked cars. We waited a short while, then continued.


10:32am: first left


10:34am: Old Saltings left… but we’re going right


10:36am: a sign of life, part 2


10:38am: passing a frogless pond


10:44am: within metres of completing one circuit

Parking and picnic tables

Almost back at Church Road, we turned left onto a narrow path running alongside the pre-pandemic entrance to the car park. We walked our bikes over a low embankment, cycled across its surface of broken white shells, walked over another embankment on the far side, then veered right, around a barn and between picnic tables. On a superb morning like this, I was surprised to find the whole area deserted.


10:46am: entering the car park


10:46am: car park crossing


10:48am: one hour into our ride


10:49am: no picnickers here


10:50am: back towards the Old Saltings

Saline Lagoon

We soon completed a loop back to the Old Saltings crossroads from where we would start our long return journey. We hadn’t gone very far, however, when we took a short detour along a more overgrown track down to East Haven wildlife viewing point at the saline lagoon. Here it was private enough for us to get off our bikes and take a break, with little chance any random encounters.


10:51am: an utterly pointless gate


10:55am: up to East Haven wildlife viewing point


10:59am: us

Backtracking

It was a few minutes past 11am when we rejoined the main track. From this point on, we would be backtracking paths we’d already ridden. With a friendly nod, we passed another cyclist (clothed) and we met our twitcher friend again as he looked for marsh harriers and cuckoos. In the last quarter, we overtook a guy that we’d crossed on our outbound journey, and we passed a couple of women walkers. None complained.


11:03am: between the lagoons again


11:13am: with an RSPB van away to our right – distant, but did they see us?


11:14am: into the final quarter


11:16am: a walker we’d passed once before


11:18am: cracked my chain guard on this bloody barrier


11:22am: St Margaret’s Church in sight

Finished!

We called a halt to our ride just before we rejoined Church Road. It was 11:23am and we’d been cycling naked for more than an hour and a half. Under a cloudless sky, our backs had been baked, our nostrils assailed by pollen and our exhilaration eventually became exhaustion. Our ride was finished and so were we; but we had honoured the official WNBR spirit. Let’s hope that spirit can reclaim our cities before 2020 ends.


11:23am: end of the first – and probably last – Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Our ride on Vimeo

Our route around Bowers Marsh

Open the official RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve trails guide (PDF 156KB).

About the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)

WNBR is a worldwide campaign that demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and protests against car culture. Its linked objectives are to:

  1. protest against the global dependency on oil
  2. curb car culture
  3. obtain real rights for cyclists
  4. demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets
  5. celebrate body freedom

Shine, London, 11 March 2020

It’s been precisely one month since this evening of life drawing at Shine in Haringey, north London – my last life modelling gig before the coronavirus lockdown. People in the UK had begun dying of COVID-19 only the week before, and there was a shared sense of foreboding that all our lives would soon undergo a fundamental upheaval…

In spite of this – or more likely, because of it – everyone seemed determined to enjoy life, liberty and happiness together before isolation was enforced. There was a strong turn-out of artists at Life Draw Shine, all keeping calm and all carrying on. Organiser Ruth Pickard got us underway with poses of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 10, 10 and 10 minutes.

One person left us during the break, apparently more overwhelmed by six foot four of nude angles than by fears of a global pandemic. Others remained resolute and it was nice to chat about passions rather than pathogens. For the second half, I resumed by perching on the edge of a high stool with my torso twisted and left arm bent forward.

After 15 minutes on the stool there was time for one final pose of 35 minutes. I asked the group whether they would prefer me standing, sitting or reclining and got greatest encouragement for a seated pose on the Shine sofa. Fine by me. I settled myself into an agreeable composition. It was to be my last pose until… who knows when?

Such is the community spirit of this group that when the session was over, most went to the pub together. As for the rest of the life drawing world, many groups have opted to run online alternatives. Good luck to them all. Barring exceptional circumstances, I will leave their scarce modelling opportunities for those most in need. Stay safe!

cave, London, 10 March 2020

Originally Esther and I were booked to life model at cave for a Valentine’s Day event, but sadly this had to be postponed when group organiser Karen Turner was taken ill. We rearranged to one month later, by which time Karen was back at her irrepressible best but the rest of the world was on the cusp of a pandemic. London was still active, although not without some tentative trepidation for what might be brewing.

It was understandable that slightly fewer artists had opted to join us than on previous visits here. As with all Karen’s events however, anything less than joyfulness was out of the question. Karen pressed play on a Macy Gray CD then got us started with five poses of 1 minute each – a real test when two models are entangled! We lengthened to 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 10 minutes before breaking for cakes and wine.

When we resumed it was to the beats of ‘Native New Yorker Disco Classics‘. Not that we were dancing. Rather, we settled into a motionless half-hour, with Esther reclining and me curled by her side. A final embrace for 18-20 minutes completed our session. Artists had struggled with our plethora of limbs, but there was little we could do about that. Nobody really complained, though – tougher life challenges would lie ahead…

Workers’ playtime, London, 5 March 2020

Last December, I posed clothed for employees’ after-hours life drawing at Blue Zoo Animation Studio. Then a month later, I returned and posed nude. For this session in March there would be a bit of both. Nude first. With a handful of artists present, we commenced with five poses of 1-minute, four of 2-minutes, four of 3-minutes and two of 7-minutes. A high-energy first half; no heater required.

During the break, I sat quietly feeling old and out-of-touch as all the young animators chatted enthusiastically about the latest cutting edge computer games. In fact, I even feel old writing “cutting edge computer games” as I suspect that type of phrasing was sounding dated at least 20 years ago. But, hey, I’m quite happy with my current life in the real world – each to their own! I put on my white garments, ready for part two.

When we resumed, it was with five poses of 3-minutes and five poses of 7-minutes. I oscillated high and low: standing up, down on the floor, in a chair, under the table, on a stool; in fact, any place and shape that my imagination could conjure. Time enough remained for poses of 6 minutes, 3 minutes and 3 minutes, taking us to the end. Lots of fun. I do like the expressive possibilities of dynamic work.

Thank you again, Wei Wu, who created all the wonderful artworks in this post.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 25 February 2020

One of the most pleasurable venues to life model over the past half-decade has been The Star by Hackney Downs. To help celebrate the fifth anniversary of Drawing the Star life drawing, organiser Catherine Hall invited me and Esther back once more to pose as a couple. We opened this special treat with 10-minute and 5-minute poses.

It was nice to get a goodly gathering of artists around us, including long-time regulars and welcome new faces. This group has a genuine community spirit – drink and draw as it should be – where the highly-proficient and complete novice can relax and enjoy their art side-by-side. Three poses of 2-minutes each came next.

For our second 2-minute pose, Esther stood while I sat on the floor holding her hands and her gaze. Star artist Giovanni Forlino immediately hailed it the cutest pose he’d ever seen, so as an antidote we wrestled for the final 2-minutes. With 22-minutes left till the break, Esther loomed above me as I stretched one hand up to her belly.

Drinks were taken, and then a vote was taken: should we wrap-up with one 30-minute pose, two of 15 minutes, three of 10 minutes, or a 20 and a 10? A show of hands was unambiguous in calling for two 15s. We started by reclining together, me leaning over and gently cradling Esther’s impeccably sprawled form.

With two models together as a couple, there is sure to be cuddling at some point. We saved ours till last. Cuddles must be deployed sparingly, otherwise all the poor artists get to draw is a succession of backs. Mindful of this, we sat holding each other tightly in an asymmetrical embrace.

I first modelled here on 23 April 2015, not long after the group began. This five-year anniversary special was my twenty-third visit as the model, while on other occasions I’ve come simply to draw and stay for a drink afterwards. Every time is a joy, and it is clear that many artists feel the same way. Bravo, Catherine, and thank you.

West Wickham Arts, Hayes, 24 February 2020

It seemed to take an age for the preceding class of young girls and their instructors to vacate Hayes Free Church hall so West Wickham Arts Association could move in. One can’t help feeling a bit self-conscious, waiting patiently amongst parents who are there to collect their daughters. I imagined them glaring contemptuously and ushering their offspring away in haste if they knew my purpose was to bare all. Not that there is anything shameful about the profession of a life model – but people do spook easily…

…or maybe I was just being paranoid; either way, I was glad when we got started. We were down on numbers from my last visit, but the setting-up of tables, chairs, easels, heaters and extension cables still takes time. Eventually with a horseshoe of artists in position around me, I opened with a 15-minute standing pose, followed by 30-minutes seated on the floor. Only the scratchy sounds of mark-making on paper and the warm hum of two highly effective heaters broke our silence.

With about ten minutes of the second pose remaining, two chaps broke ranks and set about making the half-time tea. It was a most welcome beverage. Whilst artists talked intently about the forthcoming Annual General Meeting, I partook of refreshments and admired their work. For the last 45-minute pose, I asked if they would prefer me to sit, stand or recline. The preference was sitting on the floor again, which suited me fine. It was a most comfortable end to a pleasant evening with an affable group.

Lewisham Arthouse, London, 23 February 2020

Five identical poses, each one held for 1-minute then rotated 72° or thereabouts, and held again. Thus began ‘Printing from Life: Monotype and Life Drawing‘, organised by London Drawing Group at Lewisham Arthouse.

I’d posed for one of the group’s monotype sessions at this venue last autumn, loving its novelty; with the final act of creation coming after each pose, not during. As before, the session was expertly guided by Frances Stanfield.

I followed the single-minute rotation with a twisted upright pose of 10 minutes. Next, I sat with my right leg outstretched, my left foot on my right knee and hands behind my head for 20-minutes. Not quite the position of total relaxation it may have appeared.

For sitting, I had the choice of either a regular plastic chair or a tiny little six-inch high wooden stool. In the previous pose I’d used the latter to support my heels, but for the next 15 minutes I tried perching my backside upon it… and just about succeeded.

A brace of 8-minute poses took us to the session’s end: first standing, then squatting once more on the cute wee stool. As I found the last time I posed for monotype work, the most effective poses are those with strong outlines, shapes and negative space.

It’s fascinating to observe so many different styles emerge from this process; curious textures, scrapes and lines. My favourites were dark backgrounds with scratched out blocks or swirls or light. Lots of experimenting, lots of imagination, lots of fun.

%d bloggers like this: