Friday, 28 February 2014

Number 8 update

Well, I have to report a damp squib. I went into the police station this afternoon, and a smiley duty officer came to the window and said 'What can I do you for?' Normally a cliché, I thought this was quite funny in the context. 'Attempted murder', I said. He stopped smiling. OK, so I didn't actually say that - that's what I really wanted to say. One blurt from trouble - good title for a thriller. I asked if they still had identity parades, and he told me with a nostalgic look in his eye that they finished a couple of years ago, and they use a database of photos nowadays. So that was that for the challenge that had the potential to push me into Grand Theft Auto territory - or, more likely in Witney, Small Theft Bottle of Sherry territory.

Witney police station. I had to get this off google earth because it's the only                        building in the world that has no image on google. How sad.

He clearly hadn't had much human contact for a few months, and was keen to chat. 'They were a nightmare, those parades. Imagine you're looking for someone with short blond hair and a scar over his left eye - you've got to find seven people who meet that description. In Witney. Mind you, it's a horrible feeling when they pick you out.' I asked him how he knew. Turns out most of the line-ups mostly consisted of police officers, because they couldn't find enough people who fitted the description. If I was the victim,  I definitely wouldn't choose anyone wearing a police uniform - that would create a cycle of confusion no one would get out of.
'Those artists impressions weren't any better', he told me. 'We had one old lady had had burglars. She gave a brilliant description, and the artist drew someone that looked exactly like Sandy from Crossroads. Turned out that's what she'd been watching when she'd been burgled. Never caught the burglar.' As Crossroads finished in 1988, I felt like this wasn't a fresh anecdote.

                      Sandy from Crossroads. Where is he now?

So that's it. No adventures, but I enjoyed a short chat with a very human and friendly duty officer.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Number 8

Jesus O'Reilly. I wasn't expecting this one. I laughed on and off all day after opening this, picturing myself in a line-up with a suspected criminal and other 50-year-olds doing the same challenge as me. But there were nerves behind the laughter. What if I get picked out, and the wheels of justice creak into motion? You can't stop them once they've started. I can see myself becoming the Witney One, blinking in the flashlights as I'm released age 92 after serving time for a crime committed by someone who looks a bit like me. Claire assured me, on the basis of no research at all, that volunteers who are picked out can't actually end up going to prison. If this is true, there's nothing stopping me volunteering before going on the greatest crime spree this town has ever seen (breaking the 20-year old record of two broken wing-mirrors and an overturned wheelie bin).
I was also wondering what crime someone who looked like me would be most likely to commit. Fraud and indecent exposure seemed most likely, probably simultaneously – pretty much sums up my face. So at some point this week, once I've stopped laughing, I'll be outside the police station, trying to arrange my face like a criminal's and plucking up the courage to sign up.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Number 7 update

I recorded some snippets of our fantastic four nights in Devon with my on-loan art kit. We took a jigsaw to all do in odd moments, and I drew Claire starting it on the first evening. She looks like she is using her giant head to control her robotic claw to do something unidentifiable. But it was a quick sketch, and you can tell her hair is wet and her clothes are patterned, which is the main thing.

Same evening, tried a really quick sketch of Lola listening to her bedtime story. No ... all I can say is thank Christ she had her hands over her face, or she would have come out like Elephant Girl. Plus point: you can see it's a girl (long hair + dress = girl).

Next morning, while waiting for kettle to boil for tea, I attempted the view from the caravan window. Car park, mobile homes, cars and net curtains. Pencil. Very tricky with a dreary result - should have sat down and relaxed.

It was a really sunny day for February. I got a photo of a dog running along Paignton beach carrying a tennis ball, and drew the photo with a biro afterwards then added a bit of paint. I was pleased with how it turned out. Apart from drawing and painting, the good thing about this challenge has been noticing stuff I would never have noticed before – how a dog's limbs and muscles are arranged when it's running, the positioning of the eyes, how black the nose and lips are. I just don't look at dogs. Not to mention the legs of a pier, the sea, or how reflections work. It also captured a great day more than a photo could on its own. The green tennis ball theme continued later when we stopped a couple to ask them if they knew where we could find  some food.  As they were helping us, Freddie knocked what was clearly their old dog's 'comfort' tennis ball into a massive bramble patch. 'He's not going to get that, is he,' the man said very sadly.

A minute later, Lola was on the concrete path running next to the beach and I took a photo to get her against the really blue sky. The photo came out well, so I did a biro version then painted. Children's faces are hard – that was the main lesson – but it came out OK, especially the dress and hair. 

We had 15 minutes sitting on the Paignton to Dartmouth steam train before it went. I had a go at a church – St Andrews, as I've just looked up. It just looked like a series of lines and shapes until the very last couple of minutes. Top tip for drawing a church when you're in a rush: start with the windows and roof crosses.

And that was it. Only six pictures, but it made me want to do more drawing and learn how to paint, and it will make me look at the world in a different way. I will also do portrait commissions of children with ping-pong ball heads and dot eyes.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Number 7

There was a mysterious parcel next to the wicker basket for the opening of number 7.

I'd had hints it had been specially positioned for our 4-night stay in a caravan in Devon. And it was ...

Fantastic - definitely outside my normal holiday activities. Inside the parcel was the necessary ...

I can already see in my mind's eye what I might produce. Moody seascapes in the style of early Turner. I mean, of course, Christopher Turner, from my class at primary school. He was utterly crap at art, and I vividly remember everyone pointing and laughing in disbelief at his painting of a dog. But then again, he didn't have nearly as many pencils as me (eight - won't be going short of them!).

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Number 6 update

Not much action here. A Well Worth It £2.99 bird-feeder swinging around in the rain. There are no birds around, and even if there were it would take a very skilful cross-wind landing to get on the feeder in these conditions. I have also been informed, by someone who knows, that the feeder is 'rubbish'. Birds like metal feeders, apparently, but not as much as they like fat balls. I'll have another crack when the weather's less mental, as no one wants to see fat balls swinging in the wind out of their kitchen window. The only other thing I've learned from this one so far is that a 'nuthatch' is in fact a bird, not part of the feeder.

... right, next day, and we've upgraded the feeder, the sun has come out, and we have our first customer! It's Fat Alan the greedy woodpigeon, who's been hoovering up spilled seeds for the last 45 minutes.

Good job he hasn't yet learnt to land on the feeder, as he'd probably bring down the bush it's attached to. The photo captures him waddling off to Greggs for a couple of pasties. We saw a feeder in action outside a cafe this morning, with a queue of delicate and colourful little birds waiting to land and nibble. That's more what I had in mind, but will make do with Alan for now.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Number 5 update

Did the hug - a full 10 seconds with kiss on cheek. No ambush necessary. 'That's 10 seconds of my day wasted' was the response. I suspect he secretly enjoyed it as much as me. It wasn't caught on camera, but here's an earlier tender moment, after we'd stayed up all night watching the Open University course on Using Theodolites in Surveying, just for the hell of it. We were young and foolish then.

Number 6

Yes - like it. I don't think about birds much; although I know a lot of them (owl, robin, penguin, eagle, both types of tit (long-tail and stupid), beagle and ... erm ... owl - that must be all of them, surely) I admit there are gaps in my knowledge. So I'll do some basic research about their feeding habits and then it's down to Well Worth It to see what the hell a bird feeder even is. So many questions already swirling in my head - Are they vegetarian? What time do they have meals? Can they get overweight? What do they drink?
Blimey, another niche of life I never thought I'd be delving into.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Number 2 update

Very kindly, Claire asked me last night if I'd like a bath, at the right temperature this time. It sounded perfect, and ten minutes later I was lowering myself in. It didn't live up to what I was imagining - I felt hot and restless. The shower attachment then focused my attention. It had clearly exploded during the running of the bath, blowing out a large chunk of rubber. I think that the kind person who ran the bath - let's call her 'Clara'* - may have forgotten my series of powerpoint talks on Water Pressure and its Effects on Shower Attachments, and run the cold tap on its own**.
This would mean a) having to buy a new shower attachment (Argos £17.99 - explosions not covered by the guarantee) and fit it next day, and b) making do with a Charlie Potter stand-up jungle wash instead of a shower after my run next morning***. Even more restless now, I got out after five minutes.
This morning, Layla**** told me that she was on the loo just feet away when the explosion happened. It followed hissing that got louder and louder, and she thought the world was going to end.
So that's me finished with baths. They aren't pleasant - they're uncomfortable, sometimes painful - even potentially fatal - and expensive. If you ever see me getting into a bath, shoot me*****.

                                                    blast damage

*Not her real name
**Damn - I hope that wasn't too close to her real name
***Oh no, I've accidentally mentioned her real surname now
****Not her real name
*****Hang on a minute ... what are you doing in my bathroom with a loaded gun?

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Number 5

Six seconds could be tricky, but apparently it's important, because research shows that if we hold a hug for at least six seconds, we 'optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals'. If I tell Fred what's going to happen, he will refuse - that is what teenagers do. From my days in the Vietcong, I know that the only approach is the ambush. I'll wait around a corner this evening, keeping away from breakables, grab him and hold on for as long as possible before he shakes me off. I will then post the results of this six-second hug research, hopefully not from the fracture clinic.

Number 4 update

OK - I first tried to do this after a meeting in London, while paying my tax bill online at the Traveller's Tavern by Victoria Bus Station.

It was pretty crowded, and I worked out that I'd have to tell one of the bar staff what I was doing, and give them £4 for someone's drink, then give them the nod when someone suitable went to the bar. It was impossible though, partly because the bar was really crowded, and partly because hardly anyone came in on their own.
Next try was in Witney on a Saturday morning when I had a bit of time, at Church Green Cafe, chosen because it's a rare place where you pay after you order.

It only has about four tables downstairs, so the anonymous bit would be tricky. A young couple came in first, and if they'd just had a coffee each they would have been perfect, but they ordered three toasted sandwiches, soup, several sausage rolls, baked potatoes with chilli, and - I think I heard right - a roast swan. Two other young couples also ruled themselves out through sheer greed. A young woman then came in on her own and ordered a coffee. I put myself in her shoes - I would have been the only person who saw her come in, and it would have clearly been me who paid for her coffee. I didn't want to be seen as a pervy old bloke at any point, so I took off her shoes and left.
By Tuesday I'd already opened the next challenge, and had to take action. I remembered there's a chap who goes to the Blue Boar ...

... every day for coffee, who I've met but who won't remember me. He's a good-hearted, gentle kind of bloke (can't name him because people will know him), so I got one in for him even though he wasn't there. So I sort of fulfilled the challenge.