Friday 7 October 2016

Visiting Faraday House

Michael Faraday was the self-taught chemist and physicist who, among numerous other achievements, was responsible for the discovery of electricity. In 1833 he was made Fullerian Professor of Chemistry, an appointment for life at the Royal Institution, and worked as a government researcher investigating, among other things, the causes of a disastrous colliery explosion.

Faraday came from a working class family, and became a devout follower of the Sandemanian branch of the Church of Scotland. He was offered a knighthood in recognition of his services to science, but declined it, as it was against the Bible to accumulate riches and pursue worldly rewards like titles. Faraday preferred to remain "plain Mr Faraday to the end." He also refused on ethical grounds to help develop chemical weapons for use in the Crimean war.

Faraday House, at 37 Hampton Court Road, Middlesex, was formerly the Master Mason's House. The building was awarded to Faraday as a grace and favour dwelling in 1848, after the Prince Consort is said to have made representations on his behalf. He spent his last years here, and true to spirit, turned down an offer of burial in Westminster Abbey, opting instead to be interred in the dissenters' section of Highgate Cemetery.

You can see a pencil study I did from a bust of Faraday, which sits in the British Library, on my Instagram.

Thursday 6 October 2016

The Stone Bomb Anti-Air War Memorial

"There are thousands of memorials in every town and village to the dead, but not one as a reminder of the danger of future wars." - Sylvia Pankhurst, 1936

Between the years 1924 and 1933 Sylvia Pankhurst lived with her Italian-born partner Silvio Corio at 126 High Road, Woodford Wells, Essex (what is now Woodford Green High Road, part of the north east London suburb of Woodford), opposite the Horse and Well pub, which still stands to this day.
In her lifetime Pankhurst was active in struggles for women's liberation, peace, socialism and, in her later years, the independence of Ethiopia from both Italian and British control. Corio was a journalist and painter who also worked at various times as a waiter and street trader, and for many years was active in the anarchist movement, first in Italy, then briefly France, before finally settling in London. In the early years of the twentieth century, before World War 1, he was part of the collective responsible for setting up a short-lived libertarian school near Euston.
The house Corio and Pankhurst moved into in 1924 was originally called Vine Cottage, but after settling in they re-named the four-room building Red Cottage, running a teashop for visitors making their way to nearby Epping Forest. Pankhurst herself had been a longtime visitor to Epping Forest. During WW1 she was fond of taking long walks with her ailing comrade Keir Hardie, the founding member and first leader of the Labour Party. 
Once settled at Red Cottage she began publishing the New Times and Ethiopia News, her contribution to the former British colonies' struggle for independence from another coloniser: fascist Italy.

In 1935, in what was then the building's front garden, a monument was unveiled by R Zaphiro, Secretary of the Imperial Ethiopian Legation London, of a stone bomb on a four-sided plinth. Across the four sides was inscribed a dedication: “To those who in 1932 upheld the right to use bombing aeroplanes this monument is raised as a protest against war in the air.”
The protest monument was designed and carved by the sculptor Eric Benfield, who has explained he was personally motivated by a strong feeling that: “Those [members of the league of nations] who had preserved bombing were politically and morally dead, and this was their gravestone.”
Visitors to the site may find it somewhat obscured by surrounding foliage.

During the 1930s the monument was subject to vandalism, at least one time by fascist Blackshirts. Sylvia, Silvio and their young son Richard, who was born during their time at Red Cottage, subsequently moved down the hill into a larger Victorian building called West Dene, which stood at 3 Charteris Road, next to Woodford station. West Dene has since been demolished to make way for flats, although in 1995 Redbridge council created a small park in the same vicinity which was named Pankhurst Green.

The building that housed Red Cottage was itself demolished in 1939 to make way for new houses. However, Benfield's unique protest monument of the stone bomb has remained, and was even awarded Grade II-listed status, mainly through the efforts of local activists who, during the 1980s, made the area a venue for peace picnics. So it is thanks to their efforts that the quote I used at the beginning of this article is not strictly true. There is still at least one monument that warns of the danger of future wars.
A moderately steep hill connects the Pankhurst Green in Woodford town centre with the busy road at the top where you will find the stone bomb memorial, but it is certainly worth the visit to bear witness to such a unique monument.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

You can now have my artwork on your phone case...

...and travel mugs, notebooks etc.

Yes, I now have a Red Bubble account. Just search for 'RussMcP' on Red Bubble or use the link below:

The current images on there at the moment are older pieces which have been sitting on the back burner, simply because they didn't fit with the tone of work I was producing at the time for comics publishers. I will be adding newer pieces in the coming weeks and months, so remember to check back there for updates.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

A ride through the Heathrow villages

The River Crane passes through Cranford on its journey south to join the Thames. 
Berkley Meadows can be seen in the background of this pic

This is the record of a journey I made by bicycle in early May of this year, as research for a new project I am working on. The spring was just starting to give way to summer, so there were still a few trees bursting with blossom, but by now most were fully in leaf.

I followed the rough path of the Crane Valley, travelling north. The Crane is so-called because it is forged by the river of the same name, which back in the nineteenth century was a dumping ground for industrial pollutants from, among other things, a local gunpowder factory. The river has been cleaned up in recent years and is now increasingly a haven for wildlife.

Striking suburban architecture at the junction in Cranford 
(there are four sets of these faux medieval towers on each side of the intersection)

Continuing northwards I arrived at Cranford, a suburban town which is part of the London borough of Hounslow, and apart from the striking architectural features at one of its main junctions also includes the stunning Avenue Park. A beautifully maintained expanse of leafy colour, the park also has a very well equipped children's play area. What surprised me the most however was the free, open air gym equipment. 

One of many pieces of exercise equipment in the open air gym in Avenue Park

Heading west out of Cranford, and crossing the little stone bridge over the River Crane, I now found myself in Harlington, a small village which forms part of the neighbouring borough of Hillingdon, and includes the glorious landscapes of Cranford Country Park and Berkley Meadows. The latter takes its name from the wealthy family that once owned Cranford Manor.

The Bridge over the River Crane
(on the border between Hounslow and Hillingdon)

The journey west from Harlington to Sipson can seem repetitive at times, but as it is surrounded by fields on both sides it makes for an infinitely preferable route to riding along Bath Road, the busy dual carriageway which borders the airport to the south. 

The King William pub sits in the centre of Sipson, 
at the corner of the road to Harmondsworth

My journey took me through the small village of Sipson, which about ten years ago faced the prospect of complete destruction to make way for a third runway for the airport to the south. Due to a fierce campaign waged by a broad coalition of local campaigners and assorted eco warriors Sipson - including its church and local pub - still stands today.

A row of cottages in the heart of Harmondsworth village

On the road leading out of Harmondsworth village to the nearby Harmondsworth Moor

I ended the ride on this particular day in Harmondsworth village, which I still find striking in its traditional charm. There is a lot of beauty in this region, and I would urge anyone reading this to take the time to experience it themselves.

More doodles to follow soon.

Saturday 30 April 2016

Corporate Watch Pose Alternatives to Capitalism

How many times do you hear people say something like: "Look, I know capitalism isn't perfect, but what are the alternatives?"

To go some way towards answering this question, Corporate Watch UK have collected an interesting and illuminating collections of articles and reports in the Alternatives section of their website. Here you will find articles on the worker-run fair trade food cooperative Zaytoun - which aims to give a fair deal to Palestinian farmers - and democratic confederalism in Kurdistan, as well as analysis of the Eurozone crisis and much more.

It's well worth a visit, and not just for the amazing artwork on display. 

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Art for Spring

Some 'fineliner' drawings which attempt to capture the feeling of hope, optimism and renewed life that often accompanies the return of spring (in the northern hemisphere).

You can see more drawings like this on my Instagram.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

The independent micro state of Sweetstopia 2015

This is a very well put together little 16 minute documentary by the Drift Report about last years' occupation of the Sweets Way Estate in Barnet, north London. Sweets Way has been one of the many frontlines in the gentrification of London, which has been transforming the city from a place where ordinary people live into a mere investment opportunity for the global super rich.

The Sweets Way occupation lasted many months, as vulnerable social tenants held out against eviction by private developer Annington Homes, supported by young and seasoned housing and land rights activists. As time went by the site developed into "Sweetstopia", which had aspirations to be an independent micro state, a desire rooted in contemporary history with its echoes of Frestonia (the community that occupied Freston Road in west London back in the late 1970s).

Its a good short film, well worth a watch, as it features some beautiful and inspiring murals, along with a brief explanation of practical DIY permaculture. 

In the autumn of 2015 bailiffs finally succeeded in evicting the last tenants and occupiers (including a disabled father), and the area has become a fenced off ghost town. It is inspiring how long they held out, and how much support they received. I think some supporters may have moved on to running the nearby Dollis Valley Resist Community Centre.

London...where resistance is fertile!

Thursday 24 March 2016

Incredible Edible Wild Plants of Spring

There's a few really good plants which pop up in the UK/WISE Isles around this time of the year which make really nice herbal teas. Strangely, these well known plants have often been maligned and ignored as weeds, but it is as pleasant and rewarding to go foraging for these plants in the springtime as it is to go blackberry picking in autumn.

It's generally good advice to only pick stuff you can confidently identify. If you have any doubt, leave it. It's also good to avoid stuff that grows too close to the sides of roads, as they may contain more toxins. And wash everything before you consume it.

I took the picture above on Barnes Common, an area of west London which has remained beautifully underdeveloped on account of the land's marshy, flood-prone quality. While it has little value for property developers it maintains great value to the local ecology. The main plant in the photo is a dandelion, which has just begun to flower. 

Now, its generally best to pick dandelion leaves before it flowers, as afterwards it can develop a more bitter flavour. Some people boil them for about 5-10 minutes to reduce the bitterness of raw dandelion leaves. The leaves make a nice peppery addition to salads, while the flowers, as rich in vitamin A and C as the leaves, can form the basis of herbal teas and even be brewed into dandelion wine. Later in the year the roots can be dug up, washed, dried, roasted and then grated up to create a caffeine-free coffee substitute. At present I mostly use the leaves.

I understand that if you take the fresh root as a tea it works particularly well for detoxifying the purifying the liver, kidneys, gall bladder and regular bladder. 

The other plant you may be able to see in the photo are the long, thin leaves of the cleaver (or goosegrass), which is also called "sticky willy" because it has a velcro-like texture which probably helps it cling to the fur or feathers of birds and other animals. You can chew it fresh or drink it in hot or cold infusions, and it has a pleasantly refreshing flavour, as well as providing a rich source of natural vitamin C, as well as the same cleansing properties as dandelion. The seeds of the cleaver provide a coffee substitute.

The value of the wild plants that pop up in springtime are as cleansing, detoxifying agents, which means you may have to visit the toilet soon after drinking, so make sure you take precautions. This is why the ancient folk name for the dandelion was "piss-a-bed."

Some cleavers I picked during a wild food walk in Sipson

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Yorkley Court Fundraiser

Related to my previous post on here, I wanted to share this powerful song by Muddy Summers & The Dirty Field Whores. It is filled with beautiful music and fiery lyrics, and has been recorded as a fundraiser for the more than twenty human beings who have been made homeless by the eviction of Yorkley Court Community Farm, to help them rebuild their homes and lives.

If you have the cash then do please click along to and donate what you can.

If you don't have the cash you can still share the song with anyone you know who might enjoy it.

One love x

Wednesday 16 March 2016

The need to reclaim the fields

So, Yorkley Court Community Farm, the land occupation down near Lydney in the Forest of Dean, is under siege. The possession order has finally been served, and the land rights activists involved have now apparently scattered into the surrounding woods.
Within the current framework of UK land law, this was all sadly inevitable, in spite of several instances of successful eviction resistance at the site over the last couple of years, it now seems that the prime movers will need to find a new site or fresh tactics for highlighting the gross inequalities of land distribution in England and Wales.
Sadly, I was never in a position to visit Yorkley Court. Now it seems I never will. So it goes.
One of the values of occupations like this is not necessarily their permanence or longevity, although undoubtedly more can be achieved within a given community over a longer time frame, nevertheless a feeling of permanence may inevitably run the risk of contributing to a sense of entrenchment both in membership and imagination, as members become more fixated on the day to day running of the space and less on challenging the dominant culture.
What matters is the example of another way.
This is as true of Yorkley Court as it was of other land occupations of the last five years or so, including some I have visited and reported on here and elsewhere such as the Hounslow Community Land Project and Runnymede Eco Village. Where else can people go to find ordinary women, children and men, no different from themselves, who have chosen instead of endlessly theorising or petitioning for a better and more equitable world, to create a working model in the here and now? By the very nature of their work they create a literal 'demonstration' of an alternative, more ecological and liberated future, that any visitor can bear witness to. Some passersby may be so inspired they even choose to become a part of it themselves.
I have little doubt that those who participate, at whatever level, in experiments such as this remain forever changed by the experience, their awareness of the relative strengths and weaknesses of this way and life informed by their own direct experience rather than any second-hand testimony such as this.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Radical History: The (Occupied) Cambridge Arms Pub

There used to be a pub at 42 Cambridge Road in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey (overlooking the Cambridge Estate) which ceased trading sometime around the millennium. It was called, imaginatively, The Cambridge Arms. All you'll find there now are a small block of modern, fairly unremarkable looking flats.

However, in its fallow period, which probably would have been in about 2004 or so, the pub was squatted, the ground floor painted red with the words "BUY SECOND HAND" painted in bold white letters across the front.

Although I never met any of the residents, I understood the message, and this may have been what made me decide to take a photo while passing by one day.

The image above is an embellished rendition made using some image manipulation software like Photoshop. I have included it here to create a semi-permanent record of a highly transitory and easily overlooked period in history. If anyone passing by this blog has any memories of the building as a pub, or even as a squat, you are welcome to share them below.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Blossoms in Teddington

For me, one of the most beautiful times of the year is springtime, when the whole world appears to be bursting with exuberant life and colour. I have seen some blossoms and bulbs emerging already this year, which is somewhat concerning (along with blackberry picking, a traditionally autumnal activity, but one which I have been doing since 2011 in early August and even July).

To brighten things up until things revive fully, here are a series of photos taken in the south west London suburb of Teddington over the last two springtimes.

Even in the midst of death there is life. 
This picture was taken in Teddington Cemetery, which includes the final resting places of the author and market gardener R.D. Blackmore, the "fifth Beatle" Neil Aspinall, musician Art Wood, and many more.