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The Victoria Stakes, London, 17 October 2022

I emerged from the London Overground at Crouch Hill. More than nine years ago, on the occasion of my first booking with The Moon and Nude, I turned left for The Old Dairy pub. Now I turn right on a far longer walk, almost five years to the day since my debut for them at their current home: The Victoria Stakes. I arrived early, got a large red wine and ascended to where an oval of chairs awaited in the function room.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.

At the centre of the oval was a tapestry suitcase, waiting to be opened and disgorged of art materials. I sat alone in the half-light, feeling nostalgia for bygone sessions until my reverie was restored to the present when The Moon and Nude’s Julia walked in. It didn’t take long for the space to be ready and artists to join us. The sequence of pose lengths remained just as I fondly remembered, beginning: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.

The classic sequence continued – pose lengths of 10, 15, and 20 minutes took us up to an interval. Different groups operate different timings, but it’s not uncommon to get asked for three poses of 10 to 20 minutes before a break. Nowadays my tendency is to favour one pose standing, one sitting and one reclining. It’s just a question of what order. This evening as I sat for 10 minutes, stood for 15, and reclined for 20.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.

The second half would be a single pose of 40 minutes. I was feeling comfortable and altruistic so I asked Julia, “Is there any particular type of pose the group would prefer: standing, sitting, reclining? What have other models done recently?” Julia’s reply: “To be honest, most just lay down.” Very well… I would stand. Not an act of self-sacrifice, heroism or one-upmanship; I just felt warmly disposed and supportive in the moment.


Artwork by Rosalind Freeborn.

Life modelling can be unpredictable. I’d stood for 40-minutes and felt only a couple of dull aches whereas a few seconds into the opening 1-minute pose I’d been seized by the most painful cramp in my left calf, which lingered for days. But overall it had been a gentle evening. Whilst it’s great to work with many groups, I cherish my long history and feeling of connection with The Moon and Nude. See you again soon: 9 January!

Garrett Centre, London, 12 October 2022

Complacency about the need for a plan ahead of my last visit to the Garrett Centre resulted in me having to invent new poses to get through the first half-hour. This time I’d decided to contemplate some options on the journey there… but a failed tube train disrupted my train of thought, so yet again I would begin making them up on the fly.

I arrived on time to find the room crammed with artists, and still more coming through the door. It meant we started late but this was fine as it allowed me to settle mentally. To compensate, the first 15-minute pose seemed to last just 12. Five 1-minute poses followed, then a 5-minute pose, and then a 10-minute pose that overran to 12.

It’s not unknown for there to be fluidity in pose times at Adrian Dutton’s groups. I’ve learned to factor this in when selecting poses at particular moments; especially when Adrian is working alone and cooking a superb dahl for the group to enjoy at half-time. Specifically: nothing too strenuous for the 20-minute pose before the interval!

It had been a pretty comfortable first half. When Adrian brought it to a close and gave the artists a run-down of catering and group admin details, I slipped into my robe and out the door to get a mugful of dahl, some crisps, and a jellybaby for dessert. After an extended break, we resumed with a pose of 10-15 minutes.

By the time this penultimate pose was called to a halt we had 22 minutes left until our scheduled 9pm finish. Thus the final pose lasted 22 minutes. Working in the round all evening, I’d been alternating direction with each change and now did so one last time. Hopefully I managed to provide a pretty fair balance of views from all perspectives.

It had been a very enjoyable session in which I’d felt lots of positivity round the room. At the end, artists set out drawings on the floor for each other to see. Strong works, I thought, reflecting talent, enthusiasm, and the will to constantly explore and improve. This will probably be my last session with Adrian in 2022… so bring on 2023! 🙂

The Beehive, London, 24 September 2022

September 2022 was a strange and intense month. Sometimes sparkling, sometimes serene; other times numbing, despairing, overwhelming. Futures clouded, felt remote and unfathomable, ungovernable. Sleep was more comforting than wakefulness. Still the world turned, pages turned, and it barely registered that I wasn’t modelling much.

My only life modelling in this period was for Tottenham Art Classes at The Beehive. Here were reassuring surroundings and good people, away from my preoccupations, where I had only to be a reliable professional and remarkable poser; both roles came naturally enough. We began with quick-fire work: 2 minutes, 2, 3, 3, 5 and 5 minutes.

Regular organiser Taz was absent on parenting duties, so I was entrusted to the care of her husband, Tom. Or was it the other way around? Either way, I’ve known Tom for years and between us we made sure this well-attended evening proceeded smoothly. Poses of 10, 15 and between 12 and 15 minutes took us to our half-time interval.

After the break we restarted with a quick 5-minute pose, then ended the session with two longer poses: 20 minutes, and between 17 and 20 minutes. All was well. Another five days of oscillating intensity and numbness followed, and then… I flew to Norway with Esther for a restorative week in the Arctic, at Tromsø. A magical tonic. 💖

Garrett Centre, London, 31 August 2022

I guess everyone who made it through the peak pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 at some point thought about their priorities in life. Towards the end of 2021, I knew I had to improve my work-life balance, so for 2022 I decided to limit life modelling bookings to an average of just three per month. I’ve kept to the rule fairly well, but it’s only early September and I’ll have had my year’s quota of 36 bookings by the end of October.

Despite exceeding my target I’ve had long periods without modelling. This booking at the Garrett Centre for Adrian Dutton was my first of any kind in 30 days, or 50 days since a comparable short pose session. And bizarrely although I’ve been a life model for over a decade, operating with an almost innate instinct in recent years, suddenly I found myself on the spot, bereft of pose ideas, and having to relearn the skills.

That’s lack of practice. In life modelling, an interesting physicality and a natural ability will get you so far, enthusiasm and commitment may take you further, but experience and constant creative re-engagement are what make it an instinctive performance. In the seven weeks since I’d last filled two hours with short poses, it appeared I had lost the instinct. Or rather I’d mislaid my subconscious menu of empathic manifestations.

When Adrian asked me to start with a 15-minute pose, I realised my response was to invent one – not wholly original in every aspect, but not dredged from memory either. The same was true in varying degrees for the the next five poses of 1-minute and the pose of 5-minutes that followed. It wasn’t until the subsequent 10-minute pose, and a 20-25 minute pose taking us to an interval, that I managed to remember what I do.

Not senility (yet), merely rustiness. As I say, poses were not totally uninformed by my past efforts, I just didn’t know what each would look like until my body had settled into position. It was fun – the whole not-knowing – and I managed to avoid pains too. After the break, I concluded the session with poses of 10 minutes and 25-20 minutes to the end. So now I ask: what next time? Do I mentally prepare, or just let it flow?

Brighton Naked Bike Ride 2022 – On a Roll

After there’d been no official World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in the UK during 2020 (just an unofficial one) and many rides were delayed in 2021, WNBR London finally returned to its traditional second Saturday of June in 2022. The following day, WNBR Brighton did likewise; reclaiming its second Sunday slot. We were back on a roll.

I went by train from London Bridge to Preston Park station, then cycled to the nearby eponymous parkland – the ride’s starting point. On the way I popped into Sainsbury’s for a sandwich, and there chanced upon Natansky with friends Anthony and Roberto. What luck! The trio had travelled from London together, and I now joined their group.

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

Park life

We entered the start enclosure around 12:45pm, with the ride due to begin at 2pm. It was a glorious sunny day. Many people were already naked, both within and beyond the fencing. I left it relatively late to strip-off and, unlike at London, went without body paints on this occasion. My skin can only take so much post-ride scrubbing.


12:54pm at Preston Park: base camp


1:40pm at Preston Park: clothes off


1:55pm at Preston Park: Nat, Anthony, Roberto and me – © Natansky

Preston to Pavilion

Despite the novelty of having a digital countdown clock attached to the fence, we still somehow managed to be a few minutes late getting away. No problem, of course; we simply savoured our anticipation a little longer. Eventually, at 2:06pm, a section of the enclosure was rolled back and our fabulous flood of flesh flowed forth.


2:07pm at Preston Park: we begin


2:10pm at Preston Park: give us a wave!

Our route down to the coast was a familiar one. From the top of Preston Park, we set off in a steady procession anticlockwise on the wide pathway around its perimeter. At the southern end we waited for a couple of minutes as usual, gathering our numbers, ready to hit the streets en masse.


2:14pm at Preston Park: clean as a whistle


2:15pm on Stanford Avenue: to city and sea

At 2:15pm we made our move, turning left out of Preston Park onto Stanford Avenue, before a rapid right put us on Beaconsfield Road. Coasting smartly downhill, we soon passed beneath the towering railway viaduct then went left at The Hare and Hounds into Viaduct Road itself.


2:16pm on Beaconsfield Road: under the bridge


2:17pm on Beaconsfield Road: haring down Viaduct

A right turn at the end of Viaduct Road put us on Ditchling Road heading towards the seafront. The gentlest of doglegs at St Peter’s Place and Waterloo Place took us into Richmond Place, Grand Parade, Pavilion Parade and Old Steine. Everybody had felt such ecstatic joy here at last year’s post-lockdown release. Now I felt… contentment.


2:21pm on Ditchling Road: less gas


2:25pm on Pavilion Parade: looking back – © Mr Konehead


2:26pm on Pavilion Parade: parading past pavilion

Beside the seaside

Whilst we’re a popular presence all around Brighton, the biggest cheers always come as we exit Old Steine and tack right at the roundabout in front of the pier. Sunseekers and funseekers are out in force, lined-up in rows to spectate our extraordinary flypast and offer raucous appreciation as we gleefully soak up the extra attention.


2:28pm on Old Steine: end of the pier show


2:28pm on Grand Junction Road: police escort


2:33pm on Kings Road: i360 fly-by

From the pier, our ride followed the coastline westwards along Grand Junction Road, Kings Road and Kingsway. As ever in Brighton, police outriders (clothed) stayed with us, halting all westbound motor vehicle traffic so our part-protest, part-demonstration, part-celebration could proceed in safety. Thank you, Sussex Police.


2:38pm on Kingsway: westward Hove


2:40pm on Kingsway: end of part 1

Downtime

At 2:40pm, we left Kingsway for a break on Hove Lawns. This was our one chance to abandon the bikes and relax, snack, socialise, use the loos, or go walkabouts. I often find that bracing breezes make it quite chilly here, but today was nice. Our little group went down to the lawns’ sea-facing edge and bagged a few photos… ever the posers.


2:44pm at Hove Lawns: out of the saddle


2:52pm at Hove Lawns: body positive! – © Natansky

Alas, Natansky had to leave us here before the ride continued – domestic duty called her back to London. As we got underway again at 3:15pm, someone spotted Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, taking photos of us from between two parked coaches. “Get your kit off, Norman!” went the cry as we resumed on Kingsway, up to St Aubyns.


3:16pm at Hove Lawns: off again


3:22pm on Kingsway: big smile into St Aubyns

Hove to Hall

St Aubyns takes us north up to Church Road, where a right turn sets us on course for our return to the city centre. Church Road leads to Western Road, which in turn leads to North Street, taking us past shops, cafés, bars, buses and pedestrians. In fairness, many people just carry on their day regardless, but even more stop and applaud.


3:27pm on Church Road: back to the centre


3:28pm on Church Road: still smiling


3:36pm on Western Road: don’t mind me

Weirdly, from North Street we turn south along West Street. This leads us all the way back to the seafront at Kings Road, but only briefly as we take the next left up Middle Street. A right turn puts us on Duke Street, which slides down into Ship Street, where we fork left on Prince Albert Street and Bartholomews, passing the Town Hall.


3:39pm on Western Road: North Street next


3:44pm on Ship Street: backseat driver


3:45pm on Bartholomews: peace, love, happiness

Lanes loop

Little East Street took us to Grand Junction Road for a final glimpse of the pier before we looped north on Old Steine, around Old Steine Gardens, and back past the Royal Pavilion. We went left on Marlborough Place, passing the pavilion’s North Gate, and then north again, making our approach to The Lanes along Gloucester Place.


3:48pm on Old Steine: pavilion reprise


3:49pm on Old Steine: left to Marlborough

Our passage through the narrow Lanes always begins with a left turn into Gloucester Street, and ends with a freewheel descent along Jubilee Street, but otherwise seems to vary each ride. This year’s in-between Lanes were Gloucester Road, colourful and chaotic Kensington Street, and a snippet of North Road.


3:53pm on Gloucester Road: Basketmakers Arms aloft


3:54pm on Kensington Street: hues and cries


3:57pm on Jubilee Street: leaving The Lanes

Eastbound

Wheeling on from Jubilee Street to New Road, then swinging left on North Street and thence Castle Square, we twice traverse Old Steine via St James’s Street to start our journey east through Kemptown. St James’s Street leads to Upper St James’s Street, which leads to Bristol Road, which leads to St George’s Road.


4:00pm on North Street: bums and buses


4:04pm on St James’s Street: rainbows and greens


4:08pm on St George’s Road: cheers!

On St George’s Road a couple beside me asked, “Weren’t you painted silver all over on the London ride yesterday?” Yes, indeed! I was impressed they’d recognised me after such a substantial, all-over transformation. We continued right from St George’s Road into Eaton Place, the sea in view ahead of us, then left onto Marine Parade.


4:09pm on St George’s Road: orderly queue


4:11pm on Eaton Place: back to the sea


4:12pm on Marine Parade: down Duke’s Mound

Mound and round

From Marine Parade, we’re just one big zigzag ‘Z’ from our finish line. Top of the ‘Z’ is Marine Parade itself, but a sharp right puts us on the slash of the ‘Z’: a steep downhill roll along Duke’s Mound. At the bottom, if our brakes are working, a sharp left puts us on the lower parallel of the ‘Z’: Madeira Drive, our home straight.


4:13pm on Duke’s Mound: legs wide


4:14pm on Duke’s Mound: round the outside – © Ðariusz


4:15pm on Madeira Drive: nude not crude

Unexpectedly, rather than an exhilarating end, we then came to a grinding bottleneck halt. Although not clear at the time, apparently the petty ultimatum of a local business meant our traditional destination, Black Rock car park, couldn’t be used. Instead we had to funnel single-file through a tiny gate leading across Volk’s Electric Railway.


4:19pm on Madeira Drive: frustratingly funnelled


4:23pm from Madeira Drive: one by one


4:27pm at the naturist beach: our end

It seemed to take forever – hundreds of naked people pushing bicycles one-at-a-time through the narrow opening – but it also gave a pleasing sense of finality. The railway tracks were, after two and a quarter hours, over 9.6 miles, a true finish line. For many riders, the goal now was fun on the naturist beach. Me? I just rolled happily home.

Our route from Preston Park to the nudist beach

Bygone blogs

Mall Galleries, London, 1 August 2022

Long pose sessions for Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at Mall Galleries have a way of turning into a test of endurance. I’ve written previously about some of the localised dynamics that must be negotiated or tolerated. Artists this evening were considerate, respectful, attentive and kind, right from the outset. The fact that it ultimately became an excruciatingly awful experience was entirely my own fault. Well, mine and a fly’s…


At the interval.


At the interval.

Having been given a long, broad, well-padded seat on which to pose, I took it in mind to pull up my legs and form a kind of side-saddle posture, left hand on left ankle, right hand resting on an edge of the seat. Ten minutes into the first hour, I began to feel an ache in my right palm that no amount of miniscule shuffling would alleviate. And most annoyingly, I was buzzed and crawled over by a housefly for the whole 60 minutes.


Artwork by John Williams.

When we resumed after a 15-minute interval, the fly abandoned me to my own pains. During the first half the artists had offered me a stretch break but, maybe because I’d declined, no further offer was made. The aches in my right hand, and now my left leg became agonising. At the end it took me several minutes to stand and even longer to walk. I think I left in a haze of low-level post-torture shock. Great pictures, though!

Arts Theatre, London, 27 July 2022

This return to Arts Theatre for City Academy came so soon after my previous visit that I found paintings of me in oil, still hanging up to dry. Those were clothed portraits whereas this would be session 3 of 5 in a Painting the Figure course. When I arrived, tutor Lawrence F Crane was busily preparing the ‘Pigeon Loft’ studio space.

Three artists joined us, all very capable mark-makers and highly receptive to the flow of theoretical and practical knowledge that Lawrence eagerly shared. We started with four 2-minute warm-up poses for sketches in charcoal. Then I got myself comfortable on a chair, angled sideways with one arm over its back; the evening’s long pose.

I sat for 45 minutes, had a break, then resumed for 35 minutes to the end. Aside from being absorbed by Lawrence’s enthusiasm, focus and clarity (not everyone has it all), most impressive was how quickly and effortlessly the artists captured my proportions, allowing them to focus primarily on exercises with oil colours. A fascinating session.

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