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Life drawing online, 31 August 2021

Life modelling resumed with a booking from Jo McCormick. It was for a session that would form part of a 5-week online course. When she posted her schedule of themes to be covered each week, I guessed immediately which was my destiny:

  • Week 1 – shapes
  • Week 2 – colour
  • Week 3 – pastels
  • Week 4 – Degas
  • Week 5 – Alice Neel

Sure enough, I would be making shapes. To the begin, Jo gave quick demonstrations of simplification, drawing shapes in the figure, and abstraction of the figure by looking for shapes. Then it was my turn for the spotlight with some quickfire work.

We opened with three 1-minute poses, three 2-minute poses, two 3-minutes poses, a 5-minute pose and a 10-minute pose. For the first nine, I evoked rectangles, triangles and arcs with my limbs whilst either standing or kneeling. For the tenth, I took a seat.

Having settled into a 10-minute seated pose with one arm hooked high behind me on the back of the chair, it occurred to me I might regret it. But no, it remained a painless position, taking me through to my 20-minute portrait pose.

Online portrait poses can feel more painful in the sense that the webcam needs to be brought excruciatingly close. If you’re paranoid about any aspect of your appearance, don’t try this at home! Sweet relief, we finished with a ‘long’ pose of 30 minutes.

Whether through loose lineaments, audacious shading or a crescendo of colours, the artists enjoyed maximum creative self-expression for this final half-hour, finishing with flourishes. I’d enjoyed myself too. It felt like a good workout for us all.

Brighton Naked Bike Ride 2021 – A Breeze

My fourth and final World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) of 2021 was to be Brighton on Sunday 15 August. After the deluge on Folkestone, showers in Coventry and sunny streets of London, what would fate throw at us back on the south coast? As it turned out, rather than fickle fate it was the fickleness of Network Rail that first intervened.

With just a week’s notice, Network Rail announced emergency engineering work and replacement buses for the London to Brighton line on the day of the ride. Bugger! No way would there be space for scores of bikes on buses, so I bought a ticket to go the long way round: a 3-hour rail trip via Havant. Then… they cancelled the works! D’oh!

Park and ride

Leaving London Waterloo at 09:30, I arrived in Brighton at 12:23; a protracted journey is no problem when there’s keen anticipation. I cycled to our Preston Park start point and entered its fenced enclosure for participants. After much loitering, a spot of lunch and a bit of body painting, we were all set. The fence came down shortly before 2pm.


1:58pm in Preston Park: freedom – © Funk Dooby

We took the usual route from Preston Park. After exiting our grassy compound onto a pathway by the north side, we continued anticlockwise on wide paths around its edge. While waiting at the southern tip I suddenly realised I didn’t have my whistle! I hunted through my panniers in vain. It had gone. Arrgh! I’d left it in Green Park, London! 😦


2:01pm leaving Preston Park: off-road warm-up


2:04pm leaving Preston Park: whistle stop – © wightrider

Northern territory

Our gateway to the streets of Brighton was a left turn onto Stanford Avenue, followed by a hairpin right into Beaconsfield Road that led us downhill under a railway viaduct. Not that I knew at this stage, but compared with the last ride two years ago, the 2021 route had three changes. The first of these was an early left into Viaduct Road.


2:07pm on Stanford Avenue: onto the streets


2:09pm on Beaconsfield Road: via the viaduct…


2:12pm on Beaconsfield Road: …and now left into Viaduct

It seemed the sensible way to go. I guess there must have been roadworks or similar that forced us to stay on Beaconsfield last time and go left at narrower Oxford Street. Either way, we emerged right onto Ditchling Road and continued in glorious sunshine around St Peter’s Place for another right at the Phoenix Art Centre.


2:16pm on Ditchling Road: background boy – © Funk Dooby


2:17pm on St Peter’s Place: swinging right

To the pier

We now proceeded more-or-less directly south towards the Palace Pier. The descent took us from Waterloo Place to Richmond Place – occupied by fellow protestors from Extinction Rebellion – and into Grand Parade. From there we cycled on past Valley Garden and Victoria Gardens to enter Pavilion Parade and Old Steine.


2:19pm on Richmond Place: respect to Extinction Rebellion


2:23pm on Old Steine: big joy – © Funk Dooby


2:24pm on Old Steine: still smiling – © Graham Brown

The southern end of Old Steine, like the southern end of Preston Park, is a traditional place to tarry and regroup. The atmosphere thus far had been mardi gras all the way; music and colour, frippery and flags, whoops and cheers, pure positivity. Stiff breezes were blasting in from the Channel, sure, but conditions were still great for a ride.


2:25pm on Old Steine: the masses behind me

Seafront superstars

Our feelgood factor was about to go one louder. Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions had forced the ride to be postponed from June to August but the delay of two months meant we also benefitted both from warmer summer weather and an absolute throng of holidaymakers along the seafront by the pier. And they loved us!


2:27pm on Old Steine: towards tourist heaven


2:28pm on Grand Junction Road: westward Hove

Ordinary members of the public, people no different to us, roared their support as we swung right into Grand Junction Road then followed the coast – passing that tall ugly shaft-thing with a ring going up and down it – into Kings Road and Kingsway, until we reached Hove Lawns. Exhilarating! Here we would have our first and only rest stop.


2:33pm on Kings Road: passing the thing there


2:36pm on Kings Road: "She ❤ compost"

Out to grass

This year there was to be no rest stop at Old Steine Gardens where social distancing would be impossible along narrow paths. Instead we had 20 minutes at Hove Lawns. There was more mingling than distancing here, but at least we had persistent coastal breezes to disperse every breath. As for me, I just sat and took it easy.


2:40pm on Kingsway: arrival at Hove Lawns


2:47pm on Hove Lawns: nudes with messages


3:01pm leaving Hove Lawns: break time’s over

When moving again, our second route change sent us north on Grand Avenue rather than seven roads down on St Aubyns. It took us around the Queen Victoria Memorial with its statue of the monarch whose era defined English prudishness. Fitting that we should parade our liberated 21st century breasts, buttocks, vulvas and penises here.


3:03pm on Kingsway: a new way north


3:07pm on Grand Avenue: short cut to Church Road

Return to centre

Grand Avenue or St Aubyns, both were a means to the same end; specifically, a right turn onto Church Road. This started us in a long procession east from Hove, through Brunswick Town towards the city centre. Police escort cyclists, who had been with us from the outset, continued to keep us safe and supported on this usually-busy road.


3:11pm on Church Road: mini zigzag


3:13pm on Western Road: can you see me? – © Funk Dooby

Church Road led into Western Road where every now and then we stopped for traffic ahead. One such stop was outside The Temple Bar, whose customers welcomed us with uproarious cheers. All, that is, except one table where three young lads brooded in stony-faced silence. Everywhere was glee yet they clearly felt only disgust. Why?


3:21pm on Western Road: backsides and clean air

Many people still presume it’s illegal to be naked in public, yet the Crown Prosecution Service recommends ‘In the absence of any sexual context […] where the person has no intention to cause alarm or distress it will normally be appropriate to take no action unless members of the public were actually caused harassment, alarm or distress…


3:23pm on Western Road: passing Jubilee Clock Tower


3:25pm on North Street: “It’s getting hot in here!”

So we continued in joyous spirits on Western Road, passing Jubilee Clock Tower into North Street. Our third and final change of route from 2019 was that instead of a right turn at Ship Street for a loop around to Old Steine Gardens, we just carried on ahead. Here, in my Spirited Bodies body paint, I heard a fellow life model call my name…


3:27pm on North Street: glitter boy – © lupuskool

Laine loop

The voice belonged to outstanding veteran London model and artist, Ed. Unexpected encounters are a bonus on these rides, and it was good to learn he’d been doing well with his art in particular. Meanwhile we continued to Castle Square, left at Old Steine, passed the Royal Pavilion, and turned left again at Marlborough Place.


3:28pm on Old Steine: me, Ed and a pavilion – © Louise Yates


3:29pm on Marlborough Place: passing North Gate


3:31pm on Gloucester Place: a wave to the drummers


3:34pm on Sydney Street: in North Laine

Our next trajectory was a loop through the characterful narrow streets of North Laine. Marlborough Place took us to Gloucester Place, where drummers set a tempo for our left into Gloucester Street. Another left put us southbound again, down quirky Sydney Street, Gloucester Road, Robert Street, North Road, Jubilee Street and New Road.


3:37pm on New Road: completing the loop

Look East

Emerging on North Street again, I found myself riding alongside another friendly face. This time it was Pawel, one of the London ride marshals. He was still fully dressed as he’d only just left work but, all credit to him, with 15-minutes of the ride remaining and no more scheduled stops, he nonetheless somehow managed to strip before the end.


3:38pm on St James’s Street: towards Kemptown

From North Street, Castle Square and St James’s Street, we crossed Old Steine and began our eastward pilgrimage through Kemptown. I tend to think this part of the ride is merely a means to an end; our goal being Brighton’s naturist beach. But in fairness to the people here, although fewer in number, they always give us plenty of support.


3:41pm on St James’s Street: “Proud bike-sexual” 🙂


3:44pm on Bristol Road: “Be naked, be free”

St James’s Street led us to Upper St James’s Street, which became Bristol Road and then St George’s Road. Towards the end of St George’s Road, before we turned right at Eaton Place, I spotted an older couple ahead whom I’d seen at every ride this year, always fabulously decorated, always topical. Marvellous to find them here too.


3:47pm on St George’s Road: decorated regulars

Down the mound

Not far to go now. A left turn out of Eaton Place put us on Marine Parade, from where we took a sharp right down the steep gradient of Duke’s Mound. During the course of this year’s rides I’d noticed my back brakes were starting to get rather spongy, so this was a good test for them. They just about passed. Just about.


3:48pm on Marine Parade: to a final decline


3:50pm on Duke’s Mound: steepness


3:51pm on Duke’s Mound: jubilation – © Funk Dooby

On the descent I offered thanks to a random police officer for their positive support all afternoon. Then, having arrived safely in one piece at the bottom, I swung sharply left around the hairpin into Madeira Drive – our home straight. I savoured each of the last few yards before easing up to our final destination: Black Rock Car Park.


3:53pm on Madeira Drive: end of the road


3:54pm by Black Rock Car Park: end of the ride

Beached

Hardier people than myself went straight across the naturist beach and into the sea. I simply got dressed, locked my bike and walked over to where my partner Esther and our friend Rodger were sheltering from the by-now strong winds. There’s a time to be naked and a time share a celebratory bottle of wine. Cheers to Brighton WNBR!


4:22pm at Brighton Naturist Beach: blown out

Our route from Preston Park to the nudist beach

More on WNBR Brighton 2021

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

Bygone blogs

London Naked Bike Ride 2021 – Safety first

This was the one for which we yearned. Concerns about rider safety, spectator safety and public perception during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in all UK World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) events being cancelled last year. In 2021, however, they were back, with the biggest making its return on 14 August: WNBR London.

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

The ride had been postponed from its traditional date of the second Saturday in June due to the excruciatingly slow pace of pandemic restriction-easing. When finally it did go ahead, it was to be with more start points than ever. West Norwood was gone, but new starts had been designated for Croydon (south) and Victoria Park (east).

Once again, I would be starting from Trinity Square Gardens near Tower Hill. Once again, Natansky would be the ride leader here, and once again I’d somehow allowed myself to be volunteered as front-riding marshal. I’d fallen out of love with front-riding, to be honest, but full joy was restored when my partner Esther decided to ride too.

Colouring up

Aside from sharing routine guidance on wearing masks (many riders do anyway) and social distancing, two main changes were announced for coronavirus safety: first that riders should arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before the start times, and second that rides from individual starts would not linger at rest points or wait to merge as one.


2:15pm on Trinity Square Gardens: Esther paints while Lucy muses

As a ride marshal I felt justified in arriving a whole hour before our time to assess the situation. I wasn’t alone; Natansky had done likewise, as had other ride regulars. Not long after 2pm, nakedness began. Esther and I waited a while longer, then dived into our body paints: me going all-over copper, with Esther a fluorescent kaleidoscope.

Me –
© Will Le.
Esther –
© Steve Woolhat
Natansky –
© Steve Woolhat

Cameras were soon in abundance. In addition to the usual mix of cheery tourists and creepy voyeurs, we had media photographers, Lucy Muse and Thomas making their annual film, and of course we all took snaps of each other. After about half an hour of merry capers in brilliant sunshine, I led us out to Trinity Square road at 2:30pm.


2:34pm on Trinity Square: Tower Hill starters…

Photography intensified at the front while the rest of the ride assembled behind us. In truth, we were in the mood this year and lapped it up. Soon we had ever more naked people on the pavement alongside us as riders from Deptford unexpectedly rolled up, resplendent with their own body paints and a fantastic sound system in tow.


2:40pm on Trinity Square: …meet Deptford starters

Breakout on Byward

While Esther and I held the line, Natansky endured the altogether more arduous task of rounding up assorted latecomers and late movers so everyone was in place, ready for our 2:45pm start time. As always, she did a magnificent job; we got away bang on the minute amid a cacophony of cheers, whistles and booming bass.


2:47pm on Byward Street: leading us out

First I led us out onto Byward Street, eschewing its off-road two-lane cycleway so we could occupy the main highway instead – after all, this was a protest ride about cycle visibility. As we descended the hill beyond All Hallows by the Tower church, I glanced round to the riders streaming behind. We were many!


2:48pm on Byward Street: Esther in front – © Steve Woolhat

After Byward Street, I tarried a little way along Lower Thames Street to allow enough time for everyone to get through the traffic lights at Trinity Square and come together. Such delays of a minute or two can be frustrating for our more enthusiastic riders but us marshals have a responsibility for the whole. Ergo, I’m afraid it has to be done.


2:49pm on Lower Thames Street: getting us together

Tate Modern trail

But anyway, what does it matter if we stop a few times when each time can be a mini street party? Lower Thames Street led to Upper Thames Street, where we turned left onto Southwark Bridge and tarried again at its southern end. The city was behind us, the Thames beneath us and the sun was (mostly) beaming above us. Why hurry?


2:56pm on Southwark Bridge: happy naked people

From Southwark Bridge our first turn was a right into Sumner Street, which guided us in a left-hanging curve at the rear of Tate Modern to a junction with Southwark Street. This busy right-turn at traffic lights was a natural place to regroup again for a moment or two. Likewise for a fourth time by the lights at the end of Southwark Street.


3:02pm on Sumner Street: a work of art

A reminder of the value of all this regrouping came when I pulled out from Southwark Street onto Blackfriars Street and immediately had to gesture for others to wait as an ambulance with flashing blue lights was racing towards us. If I’d already disappeared out of view and wasn’t pausing routinely, we might have been split-up for miles.


3:03pm on Sumner Street: Tate Modern winks at us

Blackfriars to Embankment

I waited for the ambulance to pass and led us onward across Blackfriars Bridge, then held us briefly by the lights at its northern end. From there, we went left down the slip road onto Victoria Embankment and waited again by the lights at the bottom. As ever, this is a great place to look back – up the slope – and marvel at so many bare bodies.


3:10pm on Blackfriars Bridge: mustering upon our return north


3:13pm on Victoria Embankment: descent to the riverside

While I kept us steady at the front, Natansky was still shuttling back and forth herding the proverbial cats stretched out behind. For our crossing of Victoria Embankment on to the cycleway along the river side, she went ahead and waited for the right moment to block traffic and let us all through. Heroic work, worthy of a wave and a smile. 🙂


3:14pm on Victoria Embankment: “Hello Natansky!…”


3:15pm on Victoria Embankment: “…Hello Steve!”

Rendezvous at Trafalgar Square

We paused midway along Victoria Embankment, again to be sure everyone was with us, and simply to soak up warm rays by the Thames. After passing beneath Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, we turned right into Northumberland Avenue. Here an abundance of red buses kept our speed in check.


3:26pm on Northumberland Avenue: up to the square

Why do I keep mentioning our pauses and pace? Because suddenly, here, at the top end of Northumberland Avenue while we waited at traffic lights and Esther danced in sunlight, we beheld the miraculous vision of our fellow riders from Hyde Park hoving into view. It was a perfect convergence.


3:27pm on Northumberland Avenue: dancer!

Unpleasantness at Whitehall

Our two groups became one at Trafalgar Square. As the Hyde Park front-riders – our friends Cy and Pawel – came alongside, I deferred to them the honour of leading our combined ranks. Not only was this fair acknowledgement of the huge contribution Cy in particular makes towards organising the ride, but also I’m happier in the crowd.


3:28pm on Whitehall: Pawel and Esther – © Funk Dooby

Unfortunately no sooner had we entered Whitehall than matters turned unpleasant. A group that was drinking outside The Clarence began hurling vitriolic abuse at us; they even acted physically against some of our riders. Further down Parliament Street, we were similarly abused outside The Red Lion. I had to dodge an object thrown at me.


3:31pm on Whitehall: post-confrontation

I don’t know who these sets of people were or whether they were connected, but they had the same general demeanour as groups of hard right-wingers we’ve encountered before on Whitehall. They fester in their own little bubbles of self-righteous bile, totally oblivious to us being cheered, celebrated and applauded everywhere else we went.


3:37pm on Westminster Bridge Road: city sightseers

I led the main group of riders away from these isolated flashpoints, onto Westminster Bridge Road and across the bridge itself. I’m of the opinion that future rides shouldn’t include Whitehall or Parliament Street at all. Like the buildings of state all around, the two roads now attract too many people with hate-filled ideologies.


3:39pm on Westminster Bridge Road: say ‘no’ to hate

Forum Magnum Square

Back in south London we turned left at York Road and left again into Forum Magnum Square for a short break. Riders from another start point were already there, but they departed soon after we entered. I dismounted and went looking for those who’d been abused on Whitehall. No sign, but I found Natansky and shared what little I knew.


3:48pm on Forum Magnum Square: check-in with Natansky – © Funk Dooby

It was worrying. The euphoria of our magical alignment at Trafalgar Square had been blown away and equilibrium would not be restored until I was sure everyone was OK. That moment would come later. For now, though, most riders were utterly unaware of any dramas and just carried on celebrating body freedom till it was time to move on.


3:59pm on Belvedere Road: the ride resumes


4:00pm on Belvedere Road: still concerned – © Funk Dooby

At 4pm, we exited Forum Magnum Square via Belvedere Road then turned right onto Chicheley Street, following the familiar backsides of old comrades Gil and Chas. This was a departure from previous routes as usually we continue further along Belvedere Road, but it made sense as bottlenecks here can get notoriously congested.


4:00pm on Belvedere Road: all shapes, sizes – © Mara K


4:01pm on Belvedere Road: with Gil and Chas at Chicheley Street

Waterloo to Lincoln’s Inn

A left turn out of Chicheley Street brought us back onto York Road. By now I was well and truly in the pack of riders, and felt much better for it. We continued onto Waterloo Bridge and – after pausing for a photo with the London Eye – carried on to Lancaster Place, followed by the eastbound arc of Strand and Aldwych.


4:03pm on York Road: towards Waterloo


4:10pm on Waterloo Bridge: Eye and I

It’s a phenomenon of each year’s ride that from being a horde in Belvedere Road, we become inexplicably stretched and thinned-out along this section of Strand. Whoever was in front had raced ahead and I saw cut-adrift riders starting to take wrong turns. I called them back and once more became a reluctant shepherd, albeit now by default.


4:16pm on Strand: at the Royal Courts of Justice

Lincoln’s interlude

From Strand and a tiny bit of Fleet Street, we took a left into Chancery Lane, another left into Carey Street, and a right into Searle Street, to be greeted by a river of naked cyclists passing before us at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Again, these were riders from other start points now moving on, but it was confusing: should we stay or should we go?


4:20pm on Searle Street: bemused arrivals

I tried to tell the riders around us that we should take our turn for a stop, but most lost their nerve. A herd instinct kicked-in and they immediately followed onto the departing pack. As for me, I still wanted a break, a banana and a pee (in that order), so I stayed with the plan. Esther and I continued round to the north side and parked by the loos.


4:29pm on Newman’s Row: energy top-up – © Andrew Brandse

We weren’t alone, and whilst we were lacking the glorious spectacle of the entire ride mingling together, there were at least two or three dozen other riders scattered about, enjoying a well-earned rest in the sunshine. Amongst them, we were delighted to find Cy, still a model of composure amid all the craziness.


4:34pm on Lincoln’s Inn Fields: Cy and Esther

In total, we loitered around for about quarter of an hour before setting off again. From Newman’s Row, we once more skirted the south and west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields before veering off down Remnant Street and pausing by the crossing of Kingsway, all set to complete the last third of our ride.


4:39pm on Remnant Street: preparing to re-emerge

West End weave

We were fewer in number but still a presence, applauded spontaneously and with joy by so many who witnessed our part-protest, part-celebration. As usual we went down Great Queen Street, Long Acre, Bow Street and Wellington Street. We thought better of negotiating Covent Garden’s cafés, however, so instead exited via Exeter Street.


4:40pm on Great Queen Street: passing Grand Connaught Rooms


4:42pm on Bow Street: by the Royal Opera House


4:45pm on Wellington Street: into Exeter Street

A right turn from Exeter Street brought us out onto Strand, opposite The Savoy hotel. I’d expected us to have trouble with traffic here but our progress was unhampered as we continued westwards, passing Charing Cross station and bearing down a second time on Trafalgar Square.


4:47pm on Exeter Street: breakout on Strand

Into the sun

There was no incredible confluence at Trafalgar Square this time; merely our modest menagerie of immodest merrymakers, traversing through tourists and traffic, taking a leisurely looping line ‘twixt lions and lights, as we set our sights on the grand gates of Admiralty Arch. The broad red carpet beyond would lead us to our finish.


4:53pm on Trafalgar Square: towards Admiralty Arch – © Richard

We weren’t quite cycling into the sunset as we went west along The Mall, but with the ride taking place two months later than usual and the sun slightly lower at this time of year, we got that feeling. Even in our reduced circumstances, I still had familiar folk in front of me and behind me. And best of all, Esther by my side.


4:57pm on The Mall: sunglasses required


4:58pm on The Mall: to the palace

Though not encouraged, many riders can’t resist dismounting to pose for photos with Buckingham Palace as backdrop. Esther and I decided to skip the ritual this year and instead continued onto the cycleway up the right-side of Constitution Hill. In no haste, we pedalled wearily towards a side-path at the top; end of the line. It was now 5pm.


4:59pm on Constitution Hill: no need to tarry


5:00pm on Constitution Hill: leaving the road

Done and done

At the far end of Constitution Hill, we walked a hundred metres or so into Green Park and parked our bikes. It was five past five and, after two hours twenty minutes’ naked bike riding, we were done. All that remained was to get dressed, before the inevitable lurking camera-wielding voyeurs could gravitate around us.


5:05pm on Green Park: reunited at our finish

We managed to track down friends we’d met along the way, and I gave my Marshal’s armband back to Natansky. My duties were done for this ride and for future rides too. After four years of volunteering as a marshal I feel it’s time for a handover to the next generation. As for me, I’ll vanish into the crowd, renewing my love of this crazy day.

Our route from Tower Hill to Green Park

More on WNBR London 2021

Bygone blogs

Coventry Naked Bike Ride 2021 – Inauguration

Coventry was due to host its first World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) on 5 June 2020, until coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived. The pandemic put all plans on hold, and meant Coventry would instead get its inaugural ride on 7 August 2021, during its year as UK City of Culture. For me personally, it would be a first-time riding on a first-time ride.

Watching the sky

Seven days before, I had been utterly drenched by heavy rain during the Folkestone Naked Bike Ride. Whilst this made for an extraordinary experience, I hadn’t relished it much at the time. Now, arriving at Canley rail station on the west side of Coventry, I was already soaked just from cycling across London to get the train. I glanced up…


1:23pm on Hearsall Common: another wet one?

…leaden skies hung heavily over our gathering point on Hearsall Common. With the start scheduled for 2pm, I was forty minutes early. About a dozen riders were present though none seemed in any hurry to undress. A forecast of rain looked accurate. This time, however, it might only be a couple of light showers. And I’d come prepared.

Common origin

With about 10 minutes left until departure, it was the familiar committed naturists who were first to go naked. My mind was still submerged in the floodwaters of Folkestone, so with a fine precipitation now upon us, I waited till the last moment before removing all except my sandals, cap and… an anorak. That stayed. Purists be damned.


1:54pm on Hearsall Common: riders undress

By 2pm, I reckon our number had roughly doubled. Reports later claimed we were 50 strong, though I would have estimated nearer the 30 mark. A mere 5 minutes late, we rolled off the common and onto Beechwood Avenue. Inclement conditions did nothing to dampen the merry cheers of participants and well-wishers alike.


2:06pm on Beechwood Avenue: we begin!


2:07pm on Beechwood Avenue: me on the right, anorak’d

Suburbia

From our low-key start point well outside the city centre, we would sweep unhurriedly down and around through suburbs before hitting the heart of town. Full credit goes to the organisers for this intelligent piece of planning; don’t cause a stir at the beginning or end, don’t peak too early, make time to get a feel for the ride, riders and public.


2:08pm on Beechwood Avenue: round the houses


2:11pm on Beechwood Avenue: left into Rochester Road

Our first suburb was Earlsdon. We went left from Beechwood Avenue into residential Rochester Road, then to Radcliffe Road, then Earlsdon Street. We cycled past shops and houses, but our protest went largely unobserved as the damp weather kept most locals indoors. Passing motorists couldn’t help but see, however, and tooted support.


2:13pm on Earlsdon Street: our first few shops


2:14pm on Earlsdon Street: the watchmakers’ clock

Southern loop

At the north end of Earlsdon Street, where a four-faced clock stands on a roundabout to honour the local watchmaking trade, we headed right. This took us down Earlsdon Avenue South to begin what would be a mile-and-a-half loop: south, then east and all the way north into central Coventry.


2:19pm on Earlsdon Avenue South: our southernmost point


2:24pm on Warwick Road: heading back north

We turned left at the leafy junction with Kenilworth Road, then left again into Warwick Road. Here the rain fleetingly intensified from spits to a light shower before easing off again and seeming to peter out. Perhaps the anorak would soon be gone. Meanwhile our route was now leading us alongside dystopian glass-clad office blocks.


2:27pm on Warwick Road: first sight of cathedral spires


2:28pm on Warwick Road: crossing the rainbow

Church and state

Where Warwick Road becomes New Union Street, we traversed Coventry’s first (and perhaps only) LGBTQ+ rainbow crossing. We passed The Wave water park, went left into Little Park Street, swung by the central police station and advanced on the grand old façade of Coventry City Council offices, lurking beneath wronged cathedral spires.


2:29pm on New Union Street: passing The Wave


2:30pm on New Union Street: at Coventry Central police station


2:32pm on Little Park Street: Coventry Cathedral spire glares down


2:32pm on Earl Street: quite fancy, as council buildings go

Eastern loop

After one last fleeting flurry, the spitting rain abated. I was now waiting only for a brief halt that would give me the few seconds I needed to get properly naked. Of course, it took an age to come. First, at the council building we headed right into Earl Street, on to Jordan Well, left into Cox Street then under the Elephant Building to Fairfax Street.


2:33pm on Jordan Well: our eastern loop


2:36pm on Fairfax Street: under Britannia Hotel


2:37pm on Fairfax Street: towards the Whittle Arch

Passing under the Whittle Arch – an aesthetic pleasantry amid urban grimness – we turned south down Trinity Street and pierced the city’s heart. With no rain falling, I felt even more self-conscious about not being naked on a naked bike ride. Still there was no pause for me to do anything about it. C’mon, c’mon…


2:38pm on Trinity Street: still in that blasted anorak

Heart of the city

As much of the city centre is pedestrianised, we only dabbled our tyres on its surface. After Trinity Street we turned right onto Ironmonger Row, then took another swift right to swing back north along Cross Cheaping and The Burges. A left turn at the top took us arcing back down around Corporation Street.


2:39pm on Ironmonger Row: heartland – © gerikdr


2:39pm on Cross Cheaping: northbound again

About halfway along Corporation Street, we slowed just enough that I could stop for a few seconds, hastily strip off my anorak and stuff it unceremoniously under the spring clamp at the rear of my bike, then rejoin the ride before the tail passed me by. Oh, the joy to be naked at last! Finally I had become a credible participant.


2:40pm on Corporation Street: a non-participating police cyclist


2:45pm on Greyfriars Road: a 360° turn

Corporation Street led into Queen Victoria Road, which led into Greyfriars Road. Our route had already carried us once across the mini roundabout where Greyfriars Road meets Warwick Road. This time we completed a full circuit to backtrack up Greyfriars Road… Queen Victoria Road… Corporation Street, as far as Belgrade square.


2:45pm on Greyfriars Road: nakedness now achieved


2:46pm on Greyfriars Road: our CWNBR marshal, Ken

Belgrade break

At Belgrade Square, outside the Belgrade Theatre, we dismounted for a short break from our saddles. By now it was about ten to three. A young employee emerged from the theatre and told me she reckoned it was brilliant, what we were doing, but asked: “Will you be here long? Only we’ve got families about to arrive for a children’s party.


2:52pm on Belgrade Square: all bare with ‘Princess Running Bare’ – © gerikdr

Every naked bike ride is clear about the law and the rights of individuals to be naked. Equally, none I’ve attended has ever sought to cause specific offence or controversy. It’s enough to be seen to convey our messages of protest and celebration. I assured her we would be leaving in a few minutes. Duly, in under five minutes we were gone.


2:55pm on Belgrade Square: no offence intended


2:57pm on Upper Well Street: back in the saddle

Northern loop

When we left Belgrade Square, we also said farewell to the city centre. We were now headed back to the suburbs, northwest on Upper Well Street and Radford Road, into the Daimler Green area as far as its junction with Engleton Road. Here, we went left and carried on deep down into Moseley Avenue.


3:03pm on Radford Road: law-abiding


3:09pm on Engleton Road: Stan flies the flag


3:11pm on Moseley Avenue: waving to our public – © gerikdr

The public response to our spectacle had been a curious mix. Overwhelmingly we got encouragement, cheers and applause; much rarer were the unenlightened sour-faced stares or loutish jeers. Most endearing were looks of open-jawed astonishment, whilst at Hoochie on Moseley Avenue, they were crazy for us! I think we made their day.


3:12pm on Moseley Avenue: a Hoochie selfie reflection


3:22pm on Queensland Avenue: ‘Laddie Godiva’

Back to the common

Moseley Road became Four Pounds Avenue, which led into Queensland Avenue and thence to Earlsdon Avenue North. After meandering its full length we found ourselves back at the roundabout with the watchmakers’ four-faced clock. All the way round we went, and immediately retraced our tracks along Earlsdon Avenue North.


3:25pm on Earlsdon Avenue North: southbound first


3:26pm on Earlsdon Avenue North: O’Toole’s, we’ve got lots


3:28pm on Earlsdon Avenue North: in the Govida spirit

Hooking left at the top of Earlsdon Avenue North, we cycled along Hearsall Common; not the grassy area but a road of the same name on its northern edge. Here a jogger at the opposite side of the road cheered us on and kept pace with us for a time, even chatting with a lead riders. She was our last great supporter before the finishing line.


3:33pm on Hearsall Common: with our supportive jogger


3:35pm on Canley Road: the end’s in view

History made

We veered off to Canley Road and down onto Beechwood Avenue where, at 3:36pm, we were finally back where we started, 90 minutes before. In completing the circuit at Hearsall Common, each rider had contributed to a little piece of history. Coventry had witnessed its first ever official World Naked Bike Ride. You’re welcome.


3:36pm on Beechwood Avenue: finished

Congratulations to the organisers on devising an excellent route and managing to get everyone around safetly without incident. If I could offer one suggestion it would be to allow a 60-second pause every 10 or 15 minutes, just so riders can sort out problems without being left behind. But this is no complaint – I hope to see you all next year!

Our route from Hearsall Common and back

More on WNBR Coventry 2021

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

Folkestone Naked Bike Ride 2021 – Deluge

It’s 2021 and the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is back! After global cancellations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic last year, appetites were strong to take out bikes, take off clothes, and bring the ‘protestival’ back to UK streets. Spring came and went with restrictions still in place, but by early summer we had the green light.

Decisions

I’d originally planned to join a couple of rides during the first weekend of August. This had the potential to turn into an overdose of train travel, however, so as a last-minute switch of plan I looked to the weekend before. The Folkestone ride was taking place on Saturday 31 July. I hadn’t participated in Folkestone before, but always fancied it.

Forecast

All eyes were now on the weather. Rain was forecast but, like everyone else, I simply hoped to wish it away. On the Friday before, Folkestone WNBR posted: ‘According to the local Met Office it’s not looking too bad tomorrow. There may be a shower risk but so what? We’ve done WNBR rides in the pouring rain in the past so lets ride.

The weather forecasts I had seen were not quite so optimistic; heavier rain seemed a distinct possibility, yet it never crossed my mind to drop out. I have a tendency to look around for the most positive prediction then try to believe that. Miraculously, come the morning of the ride, the local Met Office soothsayers had indeed turned positive…

With a shade more confidence I made my way to London Bridge station and boarded the 10:49 train, scheduled to reach Folkestone West at 12:19. From there it would be just a 6-minute cycle ride to Pent Road, on the west side of The Green, by Shearway Road. Everything went smoothly to plan. And still there was no rain. Yet.


10:48am on the train bound for Folkestone

Gathering

The call-out had said gather from 1pm to start riding at 2pm. I was well early even for the gathering – it’s my contingency in case of train cancellation – but already a dozen or so cyclists were on the scene. Simon, the ride organiser, was there with his mobile sound system, and there were even body painters busily at work. And dark clouds.


12:44pm on Pent Road: more cloud than crowd

Over the next ninety minutes, our numbers increased very slowly. The area is located within a business park that sees very little traffic at the weekend, so some people had stripped immediately. I remained patiently clothed, however. We saw glimpses of sun, but there was still a slightly chilled edge on the breeze.


1:53pm on Pent Road: our time approaches

Away from the huge rides around London and Brighton, participant numbers are a lot lower, but faces become familiar. I recognised Gabriela and her companion who both took part in the last full ride I’d joined, pre-pandemic: Clacton in 2019. Also joining us was Michael, our fully-kitted medic on a motorbike – with much of his kit off.


1:54pm on Pent Road: one last pose – © Gabriela Pliant

Rolling

During the last minutes before 2pm, a Spitfire soared overhead. Behind it, the clouds were looking thicker, darker, more ominous. The sun had long since been smothered but there was no question of us not doing this. Simon shouted for everyone to get on their bikes, rallied us on to Pent Road, and slowly led us out.


1:56pm on Pent Road: Simon prepares to lead…


1:57pm on Pent Road: …and off we go

No sooner had we turned the corner on to Shearway Road than two latecomers went zooming past, braked and removed as many clothes as they could manage whilst we waited for them to join us – very welcome additions. By my estimate they swelled our ranks to about 30 riders in total, all set to hit the town.


1:58pm on Shearway Road: pausing for latecomers


2:01pm on Shearway Road: away we go again

Drips

The 7th annual Folkestone WNBR was underway. A lone photographer awaited us on Cherry Garden Lane. I presumed he was working on behalf of the local media, but we were not destined to make the papers. We continued along Tile Kiln Lane and left into Ashley Avenue, entering a residential area, although few witnessed our passing.


2:02pm on Cherry Garden Lane: our media presence


2:04pm on Tile Kiln Lane: left into Ashley Avenue

It was here that I felt the first drips of rain on my naked skin. I redoubled my efforts to wish it away, but in my heart I knew it was going to get worse. How much worse, only time would tell. Laughably, when we halted briefly, I mounted the pavement to shelter in the doorway of ‘Yummy’ Chinese takeaway – still kidding myself I could stay dry.


2:05pm on Ashley Avenue: a brief halt


2:06pm on Ashley Avenue: I can feel it… rain’s coming

Downpour

Previous times I’d rode my bike at WNBR events, I’d also rode my luck with regard to the weather. Not so on this occasion. By the time we’d turned left on to Cheriton High Street, we were well and truly the midst of a downpour. Mercifully the rain wasn’t cold and pedalling warmed my muscles, but rain is still rain. My hands were soon shaking.


2:10pm on Cheriton High Street: the clouds open


2:13pm on Station Road: when it rains, it pours

Some riders were better prepared than others. One couple quickly put on transparent plastic raincoats whereas someone else remained in a woolly cardigan. Intricate body paint that had taken so long to apply, slowly began to wash away, in one case leaving poignant streams of glitter where once words of positivity had stood.


2:14pm on Station Road: body paint begins washing away


2:17pm on Shorncliffe Road: a deceptive easing

We’d been riding for twenty minutes and the last ten had been like a monsoon. When we stopped at traffic lights I tried sheltering under a tree but it was pointless. My main concern now was for my camera. I could no longer shield it from the water that ran as unstoppable rivulets down my arms, around my hands and between my fingers.


2:18pm on Shorncliffe Road: the great washed

Drenched

At some time around now, CheritonWeather CT19 tweeted: “A torrent of rain coming down in Folkestone. 10.8mm in less than 15 minutes with a rain rate of 79.1mm/hr.” It was serious stuff. Folkestone’s average rainfall for the entire month of August is only 2.2mm. We’d had almost five times that amount in just a quarter of an hour!


2:23pm, God knows where: last photo before my camera died

Inevitably my camera died completely. It went through spasms of the lens opening or half-opening, locking, withdrawing and ultimately not responding at all. Meanwhile by now I’d lost all track of where we were, or what way we were going. We had deviated from the planned route but I just had my head down, pushing through a wall of water.

Emergence

I guess some time around 2:30pm, the rain must have relented. The sun’s rays broke through and brought huge relief. I recall we passed cheering customers at Rosemont Restaurant and Cocktail Bar as we entered Sandgate Road. Down West Terrace and back along The Leas, we got more cheers from the colourful Charivari Day crowd.


Emerging on Beach Street: by the Harbour Fountains – © The Wendstar

We looped back to Sandgate Road, eliciting more cheers at the Rosemont, then from West Terrace, went down the Road of Remembrance to the harbour area. We looped from The Stade to Beach Street to Fish Market and passed by the Harbour Fountains down to Harbour Approach Road, then turned right into Marine Parade.


3:01pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: in glorious sunshine

I didn’t realise at the time, but this was our home straight. We carried on along Lower Sandgate Road and soon entered Lower Leas Coastal Park. At first I thought it might be a rest stop, but it turned out to be the end of the line. With such atrocious weather, Simon had cut out several roads from the planned route. It was the right decision.


3:02pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: time to dismount


3:03pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: still smiling

Weathered

Not being permitted to tarry naked in the park, we dismounted and filed down a slope to the beach front where we’d always intended to stop. Our total riding time had been just 65 minutes, making it my shortest ever WNBR – but what an intense one! For me this had been an experience without precedent. Looking back, I’m so glad I did it.


3:06pm by Folkestone Beach: end of the line

There had been plans for a skinny dip at the beach but the coastguard on duty asked no-one to enter the sea as it was too dangerous – a final spoiler for those who’d been looking forward to it. A couple of women went for it anyway. I got dressed and walked back to town, chatting with our two latecomers, who’d at least ended the ride nude.


4:05pm on Sandgate Road: hot tea at The Chambers

Killing time till my train home, I warmed up with a pot of hot tea followed by a glass of red wine. I basked in sunshine at a pavement café table, spreading out my wet things to dry. The camera’s condition was terminal but it died a noble death. And my train? it arrived late: ‘due to speed restrictions made necessary by bad weather‘. What a ride!

Our route from the green to the beach

More on WNBR Folkestone 2021

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

Spirited Bodies: Life Drawing Living Room #4

When the life drawing world went online from the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Esther and I were reluctant to follow. We both derive greatest satisfaction from sharing all our spatial dimensions with artists and were slow to embrace change. However, when Esther’s Spirited Bodies turned 10 years-old in November 2020, the anniversary was too significant not to be celebrated with past participants. At the time her only option was to stage an event online, so she did. It was a great success.

In early 2021, Spirited Bodies collaborated successfully online with organisations like The Barber Institute of Fine Arts and LSE Mental Health Collective, yet ironically Spirited Bodies’ own events only went online once lockdown restrictions had lifted. In July, Esther launched a new hybrid format, Life drawing Living Room, where a strictly limited number of tickets are offered for people to draw models in-person (and maybe even try modelling too) in the safe space of her flat, whilst others draw online.

Art from the room: Ken Bruin.

Spirited Bodies empowers models to express themselves through their own words as well as their poses. Esther spoke at Life drawing Living Room #1, Peter at #2, Leo at #3, then I joined Esther for this fourth session. We posed solo and as a couple, whilst Esther spoke on the theme of sexuality and relationships; not specifically our own but observing how – for many Spirited Bodies participants – the opportunity to pose nude in front of others can address a deep-rooted need to be seen, understood and valued.

Art from online: Robert Black.

At 7pm, 11 August 2021, with three artists in the room and plenty more online, Esther asked me to get us underway with three 5-minute warm-up poses. Not any old poses either. She wanted me to show vulnerability (I cringed and raised one protective arm), curiosity (I rubbed my chin and gestured outward) and masculinity (I tried to come up with a form that’s not essentially toxic, and settled on the masculine figure of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker‘ – or as close as as my scrawny figure could replicate).

Art from the room: Richard Norman.

Next it was Esther’s turn to go solo. She opted to represent of female sexuality with a slow-motion dance movement pose to music. The track lasted 5-minutes, after which she froze in position and spoke more about her subject. I take my hat off to any artist who can do magical things with movement poses, so I go bare-headed for Richard in the room and Sarah online. We completed our first half with duo poses of 15 minutes and 10 minutes; each an intimate embrace.

Art from online: Sarah Davis.

After a break of ten minutes, we completed our evening’s work with two longer poses. For the first we sat side-by-side for 20 minutes, making our own shapes with a gentle connection whilst Esther talked. I blurted a couple of unbidden monologues, although these probably spoke rather more of the red wine I’d swigged at the interval, than our subject matter. We let a playlist take over for our last pose of 30-minutes. By the end, Jane Birkin was moaning in ecstasy as Serge Gainsbourg remained nonplussed.

Art from the room: Steve Wilson.

It had been an uplifting two hours. We felt appreciation and warmth, both in the room and online. All artists joined in sharing their works, and several stayed to chat with us afterwards. Life drawing Living Room events are set to continue with different models posing. Get details via spiritedbodies.com and facebook.com/spiritedbodies. You can also enjoy a video of this session, which is still available to watch or download by donation to paypal.me/EstherBunting – email info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com!  😀

Mall Galleries, London, 26 July 2021

Hesketh Hubbard Art Society has booked me to life model at Mall Galleries every few months for over half a decade. It was among the last groups that I’d worked with before the first coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, and one of very few with which I’d worked in person during the UK’s brief reopening before its second lockdown.

Whether I’m booked for a portrait pose, one long pose or a short pose format, I always look forward to being present in this setting, mingling with the multitude of characterful artists and being an inspiration for so much strong and idiosyncratic creativity. Even in our happy places, however, not every day can be the best day.

On this occasion I’d been booked for the long-pose slot. It would be my first time back on this format in nearly three and a half years. Where did the time go? As ever, I gave careful thought to a pose I would be required to hold for two periods of 1-hour each. It would be a pose I hadn’t previously used here; angular, but sustainable without pain.

Upon arrival, I changed into my dressing gown, practised the pose I had in mind, and arranged various cushions to provide maximum support at pressure points that might be most vulnerable. I draped my own white sheet over the lot and with a minute to go till 6pm, disrobed and got into position. That’s when things began to go wrong.

I’d bent my legs beneath me, with knees forward and my right hand holding an ankle for balance. One artist didn’t like it; they wanted one foot on the floor, so as not to be “drawing half a person”. Another artist then said I should face to the left to fix the line of composition. Stupidly I complied, turning a tolerable 2 hours into 1h 45m of hurt.

When half-time was called after my first hour with no stretch break, an artist shouted: “don’t move”. Without asking for permission from me or anyone else, they walked up with a stick of charcoal and drew a thick black outline around me – on my own white sheet – with little care about brushing my legs or backside as they went.

Next, come the second half, I’d barely started getting back into pose when they were up again without so much as an ‘excuse me’; fussing about in my space, inches from my face to arrange me how they believed I was before, as though I was incapable of managing myself. As they walked away, they told me bluntly they’re “a control freak”.

It shouldn’t need explaining to anybody that these are breaches of basic courtesies in any setting, and absolutely cross the line of taboo behaviour toward nude models. I’m experienced enough to look after myself but I hate to think younger models might feel that accepting low-level indignities, discomfort or disrespect is all part of modelling.

I must stress I attach no blame to Hesketh Hubbard organisers who, due to on-going COVID-19 precautions, are unable to move about and directly supervise every pose. Needless to say they were mortified when I later shared my experiences. I have faith there will be no repeat; this was a one-off bad day with an otherwise lovely group.

My concerns may appear petty and trifling at a time when so much of life is a struggle for so many people. In this instance, however, it’s not so much what occurred as what it represents. There is an inherent vulnerability to nude modelling and once we start to normalise the crossing of lines, it creates a potential for worse to follow.

I would all ask those who attend life drawing groups anywhere to remember:

  • artists must remain a respectful distance from models while they’re working and never touch models when they’re unclothed or in pose
  • whilst artists may wish to share ideas with models for poses or modifications, each model must be allowed to decide what’s right for their own body
  • professional models provide artistic challenges for the group as a whole – artists must not treat group sessions like a private commission

Finally, a huge thank you to the organisers and countless artists of Hesketh Hubbard Art Society, who have always been so welcoming, friendly, courteous, respectful and encouraging over many years. I recommend the group to any aspiring model or artist. Rare bad days can happen anywhere. I share only so we can all be better together.

Many thanks to the two kind artists who shared their wonderful works, below.


Painting by Vanya Marinova.

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