Friday, 26 December 2008

What a diamond, what a legend

After much deliberation, illness and personal demons, I decided to spend Christmas at The George Tavern with Martin and Dario. Not being able to spend it with family for a 3rd year in a row has somewhat dampened my previous excitement for all things Christmas. I thought it would be best to spend this year's celebrations out of sight and out of people's ways...I have to thank the other Birds though for their relentless invites and concern for me over the festive period. I love them.

We arrived to find a Christmas Tavern - the George is a splendid pub full of character on a normal day but on Christmas Day it was purely magical. It felt like we were at the tail end of the last century. Really atmospheric and beautiful.

Now the point of this blog is not to go into details over how much I ate and drank on Christmas Day but it is to shed some praise on some unsung heroes that truly deserive it. Commencing with Pauline Forster...

Pauline has had an amazing inspiring, difficult life. She has battled through extreme poverty, cancer, tragic deaths and much much more. However every year, she opens up her pub on Christmas Day to those who have nowhere to go - local OAPs who live on the nearby estates, young families who can't afford their own Christmas dinner and people like me who had nowhere to really go. The main thing about Pauline is this - whoever she meets she accepts and embraces internally. You can see it in her eyes and in her smile - she welcomes you genuinely and so generously. She really is a star of a person.

After we stuff ourselves with lunch, she comes over to me with a glass in one hand and bottle of red wine in the other. She sits down next to me, smiles and refills my wine glass and pours herself some wine too. She thanks me for coming along before I even manage to thank her for inviting me. At that moment, Harry (an old man in his 80s who is a regular at The George) comes in with Pauline's son Everest who went to collect him to join him the festivities. Pauline then goes on to tell me a bit more about Harry. I remember the first time I met him earlier this year I'd just played a gig and was exhausted and came outside for fresh air. I saw Harry watching us and asked him if he enjoyed the gig. After about a minute's silence he looked at me and then said, '....No what a racket!...Can you buy me a pint?'. I fell in love with him from that moment on.

Harry lives on an estate behind The George. He doesn't say much but he does like his Guinness. I know that from one time when I was standing at the bar and he asked me to buy him one. Which I did. However I had no idea like most of the people I've met at The George, about his past.

Pauline told me that Harry is Harry Diamond. A prominent photographer in the 60s and close friend of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud (see the main picture of them taken by Harry above). He was also one of Freud's muses and Freud has painted many paintings of Harry, most of which are hanging in international art galleries around the world.

Pauline then points out a very elderly lady across the room who is bent over and picking up torn wrapping paper and bits of crackers from the floor. "That is Caroline who is also an artist, she's in her eighties. She has absolutely no income or help from the state or anyone. She lives in a squat on Commercial road. You can offer her the finest and best things from the table but it is in her nature to see what lies beneath it, on the floor." Pauline gives money to Caroline very often and welcomes her to the pub for food and drink whenever she comes by. I was pretty shocked to hear that an OAP lives in a Limehouse squat with local drug addicts.

Pauline has set up a charity called Turangalila to raise funds to acquire a building next to The George where she aims to establish a social, education and health centre for local people. You can read more about it and donate to it here:

If you haven't been already, then please make sure you stop for a pint at The George. It really is a genuine thriving community for artists old and new. Please join us.

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