OUTCASTS and strange folk are fascinating to me ... as I say in my website porch, they are most welcome in my world, and indeed they people my paintings more than do any others.
As you may have read before, our living is made by selling our work from town to town, setting up a temporary display on the street, selling pictures to passers by and then moving on. This is the most exhilaratingly precarious way to make a living, where earnings are dependent on such see-sawing variables as the weather, people's whims and wallets, vehicular compliance, police and council officials' good will & finding a Good Spot...
Recently we have been hiding in the hills more than usual due to unending rain, truck preparations and repairs, and paintings to do.. nevertheless, we have to go and sell when we run out of money and grab any chink of sun that we can. Often this might mean a small trip to our nearest big town - Glasgow, which for the last two weekends has been the case (yesterday being a true escapade of frazzling exhaustion, ending in us randomly not being allowed on the tube due to our baggage and "health and safety reasons".)
In this country, selling our work like this is not exactly legal; it is impossible to get a license for street trading in the way we do it. Most towns have a handful of licenses available and these have been bought up for years ahead by locals who turn up every Saturday with a tacky display of cheap football shirts and mobile phone accessories, and this is not quite what we're after anyhow, as we sell in many towns. The only alternative is a pedlar's license (bought from the police) which "officially" covers you for peddling door to door or selling on a mobile trolley sort of affair that you move every 15 minutes down the street.
The term “pedlar” means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft;
~ Interpretation of the term "pedlar" from the Pedlars Act 1871
Luckily we get away with it most of the time, and if we are approached by police on their rounds/suited council officials on their lunch break who decide to invoke the law, often a pleasant conversation about how we do what we do, try our best not to bother anyone, and how we'd buy a country-wide license if one existed appeals to their humanity and they turn a blind eye. Not so always however. There are people in the world who take pleasure in speaking to us as if we are a piece of dirt on their shoe, making assumptions before even trying to have a conversation with us. If these people are the ones asking us to move and happen to have a uniform on, then we have to move, even if the day was going well and the sun was shining. On the whole though, the police are fine.
Plenty of contradictions are thrown in our laps too... over the road we see a beggar preparing for his days' work: positioning his polystyrene cup in front of his feet, donning a suitably grubby t-shirt, pulling it forlornly over his knees, and bowing his head, ready to invoke peoples' pity and in so doing earning often more than a street musician. This is not illegal. The police can move us for selling pictures that we've made ourselves, but they can't move him. In other towns we are approached regularly by people with cameras and microphones... they are making a film about the vibrancy of the street entertainment in the town and could they interview us.
On top of all this, we have to deal with the colourful circus of humanity that lurches past us while we sit there quietly selling our pictures. Despite the fact that we tend towards the shy and certainly never shout "roll up, roll up".. we are called upon by the street to rub shoulders with what, I am certain, must be the strangest, most challenging and disconcerting folk ever to walk the planet.This phenomenon never fails to amaze us and cause us to shake our heads in disbelief.
In the early morning we have to battle with our trolley of wares and armfuls of pictures up and down public transport steps to beat all the other street performers to our Good Spot (a wall where we can lean our pictures that isn't in front of a shop).
Once there and set up, and before many people are even about, we will have met at least two teetering bedraggled drunks who can barely speak and decide that we are the most interesting folk to talk earnest jibberish to, three inches from our faces, even though they can't remember who they are or where they live. The day continues like this ... there are the regular hoo-haas between buskers loud and quiet, talented and dreadful /balloon modelers /Big Issue sellers /street performers /left-wing campaign groups with leaflets and tables and stiff expressions /religious fanatics with microphones and billboards of sin and damnation /annoyingly bouncy "chuggers" (charity muggers) with studenty haircuts who block people's path and bully them emotionally into giving.
In between meeting lovely interested kind people who look at or buy pictures or just pass with a smile, we have to parry the metaphorical blows of a stream of nutters: abusive track-suited teens on low bikes who, laughing, pretend to ride over our pictures and tell us to cut our hair; lonely old men with obsessive interests in cameras and large bellies who engage us in inescapable conversation for aeons; costumed genuflecting weirdos with quotations tattooed on their arms who use the word "betwixt" in ordinary conversation; hollow-eyed heroin addicts who want money for the train; tottering abrasive plastic women/judgmental fat lawyers talking on mobile phones who stand almost on top of of our display and on being asked kindly to move a little say things like "he wants us to move" or "You dare to ask me to move? You're scum"; guitar strumming buskers with dogs that howl to the harmonica who chat at us vaguely; red-faced old scots who shout - "Are you English?! What are you doing here?!"; bearded and alcoholic old men with no homes who dance in joyful oblivion to the street musicians playing and who are not the tiniest bit aware of the crowd of shoppers who have stopped to hold up mobile phones, to laugh and ridicule and video him ...
All of these sad, funny, upsetting and unbelievable anecdotes are true to the letter and have happened to us on the streets of the UK. I may sound like a ranting hermit, but days like yesterday make you marvel and despair at the people in the world, and want to scuttle off to the forest. However, I have always found these interactions fascinating, and it makes a happy encounter with a friendly, unusual or interesting person all the more appreciated. I love the beautiful colourfulness of life, but there are some horrors out there too. Being on the street and exposing yourself to that thing which we call people is a brave eyeopener and a journey and a half for a hermit.
Sometimes when we sit waiting for a sale (which can be a long wait on a bad day and a fleeting minute on a good day), I play the accordion to pass the time and gather a few pennies, or I draw.
There above (click for a larger view) is a collection of a few sketches that I have made whilst sitting amidst the uproariousness of the street, they are almost always portraits of people in my head (although once, in Canterbury, an exact incarnation of my just finished drawing walked past! ~ the old plaited lady, bottom left).
They are odd folk, outcasts, people with wonky eyes ... the people I welcome into my world, and, I suppose, they are the medieval marketplace of folk going by. Maybe I romanticize them ... for in amongst it all, these people are raw and not always pleasant. But for all that, my eyes always will be drawn to the ones who are sitting on the edges of things.