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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.

The Birds, Leytonstone, 20 July 2021

Such joy to be back for Life Drawing at The Birds! My last booking here was 7 April 2020; except… it wasn’t. Just 15 days before, the first UK-wide coronavirus lockdown had been declared. Overnight, diaries were wiped clean and futures left unclear. That booking and all others between mid-March and mid-August 2020 were cancelled. Yet here we are again, summer of 2021, returning at last to this wonderful space.

It was a warm evening with intermittent drops of rain during my journey to The Birds. My climate shock came, however, when I entered the upstairs event room and found its air conditioning cranked up to maximum chill. Group organiser, Jenny had needed to cool down after the heavy work of preparing the space. We soon got temperatures back to a bearable level for a naked person though, and began with quickfire poses.

By “quickfire”, I do indeed mean quickfire: four poses of 30 seconds, four of 1 minute, three of 2 minutes. I rattled through a varied sequence, making up each new position as I went along. For the final 2-minutes, Jenny suggested the artists draw a rectangle and try to fit me within it. Rectangle first, model second. A tough ask but it went down well enough for them to try again for the first of two 5-minute poses that followed.

Before our half-time break the artists were given another choice: a 25-minute pose or two of 10 and 15 minutes. With a unanimous show of hands, they opted for the latter. Whether evolution or revolution there’s been a distinct shift in preference from long to short poses at Leytonstone Life Drawing. And that suits me down to the ground. Give me vigour and variety any day.

Having got their short pose fix in the first half, normal service resumed in the second. When the artists were given a choice of one or two poses after the interval, the clear preference was for one long pose to take us the distance. I sat upright upon the floor, shaping my limbs into angles that wouldn’t become hideously painful, and there I did remain in static serenity for the next 45 minutes.

Thus ended a very nice evening. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my life modelling, each artist had – without exception – created good works, and Jenny had been on buoyant form throughout. She asked if I would be happy to model for the group more often, and, of course, I said ‘yes’. Now we just hope future lockdowns can be averted, the business stays afloat and we all stay healthy. These are uncertain times, but we look forward.

47/49 Tanner Street, London, 23 June 2021

Post-lockdown #3 of our undulating coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Tanner Street life drawing has made a very welcome return. Nothing in life these days seems quite how it was, however; here the group is at the same address, but no longer in the large brick ‘Ugly Duck‘ building. Instead, it now meets in a connected studio to the rear.

Upon arrival I was greeted by group organiser, Cliff, whose lockdown long-hair growth looked, pleasingly, to be the fruit of a laissez-faire evolution much like my own. In time we were joined by a dozen artists and got underway at 7pm with quick poses: three of 2-minutes and three of 5-minutes each

Working in the round, I rotated through a series of poses, adjusting and responding to the relative position of artists, translating my ideas of a silent, invisible communication with them. In these moments, I really felt the full joy of being back doing in-person life modelling. To a degree, short poses are an improvised performance.

Over-confidence is the muscle killer. For the next 10-minute pose I sat upon the floor and rested my left elbow on my left knee. Alas, enjoyment impaired my attentiveness and I allowed the left arm to tilt inwards a little too far, making this the evening’s most arduous pose. A simple 15-minute standing pose took us to our break.

When we resumed at 8pm, it was with a single pose that would occupy all of the final hour. I opted to sit upon a low stool but contrived a few bonus angles to make it more interesting from every vantage point. During my two stretch breaks, I remained sitting to avoid the need for lots of place marking. I was aching by the end, but it was good.

The new Tanner Street life drawing space is perfect. The previous space was so vast that, whilst artists might have appreciated room to move and spread out, I sometimes felt remote and detached in its cathedral-like atmosphere. The smaller space is clean, clear and feels more intimate without being crowded. I hope it remains a success.

The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 14 June 2021

Through the cold dark months of winter, coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown number 3 seemed tougher than the two that preceded it. There was precious little in-person life, let alone in-person life modelling. I had a couple of tries at the online version – one in March and one in April – but it wasn’t until this booking at The Conservatoire that at last, in 2021, I could once more stand in the presence of artists and do my thing.

Tutor Victoria Rance was one of the few people I’d had a chance to catch-up with as lockdown eased. We’d met outdoors a couple of times by her wonderful ‘In Real Life‘ installation at Cable Depot (I feature in her film ‘Myth‘). Now here I was, posing in the round for her and seven artists. I counted down to call the times for our opening three 1-minute poses. Next came poses of 5 and 10-minutes, give or take a few minutes…

These quick poses got us warmed-up from 7:30pm to 8pm, and would be followed by one long pose up to 10pm. When Victoria asked what I would like to do, I said I didn’t mind as long as it wasn’t a back-bend. She looked a little disappointed but I’m far too rusty to be bending backward for two hours – even with three breaks! Instead I stood symmetrically upright with hands on hips; Victoria likes me to be symmetrical.

When getting into pose I’d thought nothing of the stance in relation to my nakedness, yet I was surprised to find I felt curiously exposed and brazen when at first the artists walked round me scrutinising aspects and angles. Fleeting self-consciousness aside, it was a physically-undemanding, painless position. The only challenge on this humid evening was to keep my palms from slipping slowly down the ledge of my pelvis.

During the deepest darkest hours of lockdown I couldn’t help but wonder whether my modelling days were over. There was no existential crisis, just uncertainty as to what kind of figurative art scene might emerge. If the rise of online life drawing had fuelled appetites solely for young sexy flesh, there may be no place for physiques outside of mainstream body ideals. Happily we’re not there yet. It’s good to be back.

Life drawing online, 22 April 2021

One of the more exciting aspects of providing poses for gesture drawing – poses that last mere seconds rather than minutes, hours, days – is that neither artists nor model have any idea what their next pose will be till the moment it manifests. In this session, for example, I was asked to start with twelve poses lasting just 10 seconds each. Not the kind of routine that can be planned in advance.

This online life drawing class was one of a series organised by artist Jo McCormick. She had invited me to model for this particular session as my physique lends itself to variety and the observation of clear lines within the form. Whilst the intention was not that students should draw ‘stick men’, it didn’t harm their practice to have a stick man for their subject. Next the poses lengthened: four of 30 seconds each.

After the half-minute poses came five of 1-minute. I know several life drawing groups where 1-minute poses are a warm-up; here, however, I had already barrelled through sixteen poses just to reach this point. The two 5-minute poses that followed felt like a sedate luxury, and the subsequent 20-minute pose might have been an eternity. How to proceed from there? With a portrait study, of course.

For 35 minutes I sat with my phone positioned a few inches from my face so persons unseen could study it and all its flaws in unflinching detail. Psychologically, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but in practice the artists have more than enough lines, shapes and shades to grapple with through their computer screens. Hopefully soon we can return to these challenges in-person, face to maskless face. Surely it’s coming.

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