I go on coach tours to London and we stay in a hotel in the Docklands area on the Isle Of Dogs. I dump my suitcase in my room and walk to the shop for milk as those thimbles of cream in the rooms were probably made in a factory in Bulgaria 5 years ago. On the walk to the shop I often see two new skyscrapers have appeared since my last visit. At night they’re nicely lit up and some are residential. I take my binoculars and, from my room, zoom into the thousands of windows hoping to see a juicy murder, some dwarves having a jolly good mud wrestle or some lovely big jugs on the windowsill.
This area was developed in eighties however it had sustained profound damage after a bomb planted by the IRA decimated many building. Please see this link...
The hotel lends itself more to business people so the overall quality is high. In the restaurant I usually eat until my stomach’s walls are splitting (it’s self service - you have to) and go for a walk around the skyscrapers to get some air. One night about 10pm I was walking back to the hotel when I passed a middle-aged man with a suitcase frantically scanning the pavement.
“You haven’t seen a debit card have you?” he asked without looking up. He was in his mid-fifties and casually dressed.
“No, I’m usually looking up at the skyscrapers,” I said, “but I’ll help you look for it.”
He said he’d been walking along the pavement and when he'd taken his handkerchief out of his pocket his bank card must have fallen out.
I scanned the pavements on both sides of the road but found nothing. The man said he’d come from Cambridgeshire for a weekend on the train. Going to catch the train home he’d collapsed and spent the night in hospital. He looked a bit washed out and there was a cannula line still attached to his wrist. He said he’d discharged himself as he needed to get home for a funeral. When he'd collapsed someone must have stolen his phone and wallet with this train ticket inside. He had no money but his debit card which he'd now dropped. I helped the poor man out by scanning the pavements again. He was looking thoroughly too, demonstrably anxious. I was wondering what he would do to get home to Cambridgeshire so late at night. I said it’d have been wiser for him to stay in hospital for another night. My hotel room had a spare bed (I was in a twin room) and I considered letting him sleep there if desperate (I’d nothing worth stealing.)
At the last moment I found he was a con man creating a state of desperation that would prompt anyone decent citizen to offer him monetary help. I found out by accident. He’d put his suitcase on a low-level wall to scan the pavements for the lost bank card.
“Have you checked your case for your wallet?” I asked. I saw there were a couple of zipped pockets on the side.
“About twenty times,” he said disconsolately.
Getting desperate I tilted the case away from some bushes to see if there were any pockets on the other side. It was empty. Bum. It was a scam: the collapse, the cannula, the sob story, the urgency to get home. I'd been to a shop and had a bottle of orange. I said, “I’m in the Britannia there...just let me get this drink back to someone and I’ll come back out.” I didn't go back out though. My room was facing the street and from high up I watched the man. Perhaps I was being cynical and judging him harshly. Perhaps he was truly in a jam and starting to panic. He didn’t continue to scour the pavement for his lost bank card though and his posture had changed. My instincts told me this smelt rotten and I flopped on the bed and watched The Sopranos.
This is an effective scam. I employ it most Friday nights and so far this year I’ve levered £6340 from Betty, Hedley, Eunice, Phyllis, Ernest and Morag (those oldies are so gullible - and generous.)
Back to the painting. On those evening strolls around Canary Wharf I’ve seen some cracking orange and pink sunsets. At home views to the sky are unobstructed but in the wharf the skyscrapers block it out. I’m not used to it. I took some photos thinking those mammoth buildings with their straight lines could be smeared onto a bit of board with a knife and form a painting. Here are some smearings on an A3 bit of board.
Where do you start painting skyscrapers with thousands of windows? No I don’t know either. I wasn’t sure what colours to use but I went for mainly autumnal shades. I’ve just been away to the coast in the motor home and waking at about 5am I lay in bed listening to the sounds of crisp autumn leaves scraping the pavement as the wind pushed them around. I thought, “Blimey it can’t be autumn already.” It’s my favourite season but it seems to have elbowed summer out of its way.
I did this painting in one session with a small trowel knife and made it up as I listened to a radio play. I smeared on the sky at the top and then did a couple of columns that would be gaps between buildings. It was then just a case of doing some lofty skyscrapers and a few buildings. A blade doesn’t lent itself to minutia so I just us indicated windows here and there. Suddenly it was finished and I went downstairs to put food out for the foxes and have some Honey Golden Crunch for supper. It’s yours for £2688. It’s a bit multi-coloured but I’m sure it wouldn’t look out of place in your library with all those thousands of coloured book spines.