The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Festivals

Institut Français, London: SW7: BD & Comics Passion Festival, 24 – 27 May

"Bandes dessinée" literally translates from the French as “drawn strip”. It is from this phrase that we took the notion of the “comic strip”, and it lends its name this week to one of the UK’s premier comics festivals. Hosted jointly by the Institut Français and Comica Festvial, the Bandes Dessinées (BD) and Comics Passion Festival features a four day event schedule of renowned comics creators, including Guy Delisle, Luke Pearson, Tom Gauld, Grzegorz Rosinksi and Jonathan Ross. Also expect music, performances, workshops and bookstall from some of the best independent comic vendors.

Various London Venues, London: Chelsea Fringe Festival, until 10 June

Embracing Chelsea’s floral heritage whilst stepping out of the ticketed cloisters of the annual flower show, the brand new Chelsea Fringe Festival calls itself “a wonderful mix of public spectacles, horticultural happenings, and community celebration”. The three week festival will be staging a huge range of free events and quirky installations across the capital including “edible bus stop” gardens in South London, a “Floating Forrest” designed by Alexander Reford and built from 600 wooden disks suspended in the Grand Union Canal and a mobile beer garden powered by bicycle.

Literature

Olympia Exhibition Centre, London W14: London Antiquarian Book Fair, 24 – 26 May

Book lovers  – listen up! This weekend sees antique texts take centre stage at London’s long-running Antiquarian Book Fair, presented by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) in collaboration with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). The Olympia Exhibition Hall will be filled with books, maps, prints, ephemera and manuscripts, with an atmosphere that encourages browsing and the indulging of curiosity. The fair will also feature tours and a popular lecture series. Tickets are free but must be reserved online in advance.

Exhibition

The Turner Contemporary, Margate: She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea - Tracy Emin at the Turner Contemporary, until 23 September

Tracy Emin’s first major solo exhibition at the Turner Contemporary, She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, was specially conceived for this exceptional space in Margate, the town where the artist grew up. She credits Margate as the inspiration for a number of her most famous works. Here, she brings together pieces exploring themes of romance, sensuality, eroticism and love. Expect drawings, monoprints, sculptures and neons, both pre-existing and newly created, spanning the range of Emin’s ouvre.

Art

Brick Lane Yard, London, E1: Art Car Boot Fair, 27 May

The organisers of this one-day festival, now in its ninth year, were probably quite pleased when the Wall Street Journal called it “the funkiest car boot fair around”. Art Car Boot is an art fair that aims to put the emphasis on art as accessible, affordable, and interactive. Boasting its “best line-up yet”, this year will see over 70 artists offering up their work, including Sir Peter Blake, Polly Morgan, Billy Childish, Emin International and many more. Staged in a car park off Brick Lane, the fair also ramps up the entertainment with vintage cars, a “handbag disco” and food stalls hosted by St John’s Bread and Wine, Rod and Line, and Nude Espresso.

"Cycle London" by comic artist Luke Pearson, on display at the London Transport Museum. Pearson will appear this weekend at "BD & Comics Passion Festival" in London. (Image: Nobrow Publishing)
Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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