Are you in search of a unique, personal gift? Do you have someone’s birthday/wedding/anniversary on the horizon? Christmas, of course, is now coming up…
Commission me to draw a personalised cartoon! It’s a hassle-free way of creating something special, which they’ll be sure to treasure. Just tell me what you want me to draw, and I’ll post you the framed cartoon. Turnaround is normally only a few days.
I’ve discovered that people love having their memories rendered in sketch-form. Everyone’s friendships and relationships are full of warmth, meaning and humour, and by telling me what to draw, you enable me to capture that.
Wedding gifts are my most popular commission: they’re a way of saying something thoughtful to the happy couple. But I’ve done plenty of other jobs too – check out my Commissions page.
How much does it cost?
A standard personalised, framed cartoon is £79, including postage. The paper size is A4.
A cartoon without the frame is £40, and other arrangements (multiple pictures in the same order; a different paper size; a different frame style; postage beyond the UK) are all easily negotiable if you get in touch.
How does it work?
What makes each framed sketch special is your input – but this is extremely easy to provide! Just tell me what you want me to draw, send me photos of the people in the drawing, and let me know if there’s anything else in the image that you want me to include. It can be a meaningful moment, a hilarious memory, something that’s relevant to your relationship with the recipient, or things that represent them as a person/couple.
Below is an example from a couple of weeks ago. You can scroll through the brief I got – notice how it doesn’t have to be particularly detailed to be personal and meaningful – and then see the finished product at the end.
And here’s the end result:
It’s as simple as that! Get in touch using the form below if you’re interested.
Two weeks after finishing school, my friend Michael and I arrived in Pamplona to run the bulls. We were excited and nervous – running the bulls sounded both glamorous and terrifying – but we didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for.
Pamplona is in the mountains of north Spain: Basque country. Every July it hosts the San Fermin festival for two weeks, and the heart of the festival is the world-famous bull-running event. The Running of the Bulls takes place at 8am each morning. Each day of the bull-running showcases a different stock of the cattle lovingly reared in the surrounding countryside. San Fermin is a rich, complex event that inspires great passion, devotion and controversy. The festival is so multifaceted and charged with meaning that it would take a whole book to do justice to it. Michael and I were interrailing around Spain; and although Pamplona is full to bursting in July, we’d somehow succeeded in booking a hotel so that we could experience San Fermin for ourselves.
When we arrived, there was an American woman in the lobby, wearing the distinctive San Fermin white clothes and neckerchief. We got talking with her, and she had lots of intimidating advice about bull-running. She’d run the bulls that morning, and said things like “Don’t wear a watch, it could get snagged on something,” and “Remember not to stick together – other people will distract you from your own safety,” and “if you fall over, DO NOT move until someone taps you on the shoulder with a rolled-up newspaper,” and “The biggest danger isn’t the bulls, it’s the other people.”
The most worrying thing was her horrible, very fresh black eye, which made half of her face puffy with bruising and cuts. It was a starker warning than anything she could have said. We went to bed, not very reassured.
By dawn the next morning, we were at the start of the bull-running course. A large proportion of the people gathering in the square were English-speakers – Australians, Americans and South Africans. There were macho Spanish guys, alpha male tourists with dreadlocks and loud laughs, self-confident patriarchs taking their last chance to pit themselves against the bulls, and a couple of blokes in morph suits. I’m pretty tall, but for once I wasn’t one of the tallest people around: everybody seemed to be my height, or even taller. The crowd got packed closer and closer together, hemmed in by a police cordon.
Hundreds of watchers, wearing matching San Fermin outfits, waved and called down to us from balconies all along the narrow street. Beside me, a man and his grown-up son were trying to calm his terrified wife. The crowd was very tense, but chanting defiantly. As we reached fever pitch, the line of policemen dissolved and let us through. We ran as a horde, up the street, releasing our pent-up adrenaline. The policemen moved through the crowd, dragging away people who looked like they might be drunk or be otherwise unsuited for running the bulls. The course between the square and the bullfighting arena was penned in by sturdy fences, to make sure the bulls didn’t escape – and to give us a barrier to duck behind if we needed it.
Running the Bulls
At 8 o’clock we heard the gunshots that signalled that the bulls had been released. The atmosphere was electric. Bizarrely, because everybody was straining to look the same way down the street, they all started jumping for a better view. As far as I could see, there was a wall of grown men bouncing up and down. Waves of panic and exhilaration swept up in our direction, scattering people like gusts of wind through leaves. It was clear now why the stampeding people were even more dangerous than the bulls. People were properly scared now, and the camaraderie was gone.
Into the whirlwind of panic burst the bulls. I tried to run but I did not dare take my eyes off the flailing horns, and in the blur people were throwing themselves out of the way. The beasts thundered past, terrifyingly close. Then more of them came, ploughing through the confusion. I chased after them, running as though my life depended on it, convinced that there were more bulls still behind me. People were lying prone on the ground, and others were tapping them with newspapers as the signal that it was safe to get up.
I sprinted towards the bullfighting stadium, through a passage into the arena. At that moment I heard another gunshot, which meant all the bulls had been rounded up successfully. I later found out that the bulls had taken just 136 seconds to complete the 875-metre course, goring two people along the way in “the fastest and most dangerous running of the bulls” that year. In the stands, the crowds were in a frenzy, chanting down at us. Replays were already being projected on great screens, the crowd oohing and aahing at the footage.
Michael and I quickly found each other and shared a triumphant hug. Michael pointed to one of the giant screens. “See the guy falling over?”
“Ouch,” I winced, as the figure on camera slid across the cobbles alongside the bulls.
“That’s me,” he grinned. Michael had managed to fall over twice – “but the second time I had it coming because I tripped over somebody who’d tripped over me the first time.”
The morning wasn’t finished yet. A furious, frantic bullock with rubber-tipped horns burst out, scattering all of us still in the arena. Because of the rubber-tipped horns, the idea was that this one wasn’t dangerous – as long as you were a pro and you knew how to fall safely.
The bullock stampeded around, goaded by dozens of cocky Spaniards who were all trying to catch its attention. Everywhere it charged, the crowd gave way with a surge of adrenaline and fear. When the bullock got tired, it was replaced by another, and then another. The crowd cheered and jeered – some people held onto its horns, some were brutally thrown onto the sand, and others were forced to flee from its charge. One man was caught by his rucksack – he eventually wriggled free, and the animal ran amok with the bag still hanging from its horn. Somebody else leaped forward and nabbed the rucksack, to adulation from the crowd.
The Living Statue Pimp
That evening, we returned to the centre of town and joined the nightly party. We tagged along with an exuberant marching band, got squirted by a water pistol filled with sangria, and worked our way through a succession of overcrowded bars. We stopped to admire a living statue in a motorbike helmet, who appeared to be doing a very impressive balancing act.
At that moment, a man came up and started chatting to us – or more accurately, chatting at us. I have no idea why he decided to do so. He was very intense; and he told us something that has intrigued me ever since: he was the living statue’s pimp.
Living statues have pimps. If you knew this, it’s probably because I’ve spent the last nine years telling everybody about this unexpected insight into the world of street performers.
The pimp was from Mexico, but he told us he was much happier in Europe. He painted a rather idyllic picture of life in a van, with some living statues and costumes in the back, driving from festival to festival and living by his motto: “Don’t. Pay. Taxes.” Everything he told us, he kept coming back to the same point: “Don’t. Pay. Taxes.”
“What are you going to study at university?” he asked Michael.
“Physics,” said Michael.
“That’s cool,” said the living statue pimp, “but then you have to go and study economics and learn how to Don’t. Pay. Taxes.”
When I commented on the living statue’s apparently incredible balance, his pimp was airily dismissive: “It’s a trick; of course it’s a trick.” There was a hidden frame inside the suit, supporting the living statue’s weight. He emphasised that he never let any of his performers become a star. “If one of them becomes a star, you are dead in the water.” Then he shook our hands warmly and moved off.
I was aware at the time that running the bulls was a coming-of-age experience for me. We were eighteen, and it was the most intense thing I’d ever done. The thrill and the emotion is unlike anything I’ve encountered since, and it’s hard to put into words.
There was no running of the bulls in 2020, due to coronavirus. The Times Literary Supplement asked me to write an article about the cancellation of San Fermin, and what it might mean for Pamplona. Have a read – and let me know what you think!
Breaking Bad may be acknowledged as one of the best TV dramas of all time, but more and more viewers are now coming to the opinion that its prequel spin-off, Better Call Saul, is even better. As this debate rages among fans, it raises interesting ideas about the relationship between the two shows. The obvious question for newcomers is: should they watch Breaking Bad first, and then move on to Better Call Saul, as the rest of us did; or should they view it chronologically, starting with Better Call Saul and then progressing to Breaking Bad?
A quick overview for people who haven’t watched either show:
Breaking Bad ran for 62 episodes between 2008 and 2013. It is undeniably a masterpiece, breaking new ground in writing and cinematography, and won an extraordinary number of awards. The fast-paced show stars Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who gets involved in the lucrative business of cooking crystal meth after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unshackled from fear of death or prison, Walt’s suppressed criminal instincts come to the fore as he navigates the illegal drug trade. In 2019, a film – El Camino – was released on Netflix, set immediately after the Breaking Bad finale and serving as a sort of epilogue for some of the surviving characters.
In Season Two of Breaking Bad, Bob Odenkirk joined the cast as Saul Goodman, a crooked lawyer who becomes one of Walt’s closest associates in the underworld of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Saul Goodman became one of the show’s most enjoyable and popular characters. In 2015, less than eighteen months after the end of Breaking Bad, he returned as the eponymous protagonist of a prequel spin-off, Better Call Saul.
Saul Goodman emerged into the Breaking Bad universe as a colourful, ruthless criminal operator, and the prequel serves primarily as his origin story. Set in the early naughties, several years before the events of Breaking Bad, we witness how Jimmy McGill, a kindhearted, irrepressible hustler with a law licence, transforms into Saul Goodman, a man entirely lacking a conscience or scruples. The fifth season of Better Call Saul aired between February and April 2020. and the sixth and final season will be produced when the pandemic allows development to resume.
Both shows are about a man’s descent into the darkness and what he finds there. Both protagonists poison themselves and those around them with an irreversible web of destruction that threatens to corrode their lives and the lives of those they love. For my money, the journey of Saul Goodman losing his soul is the more fascinating of the two; but Breaking Bad is the show with more heart-stopping momentum.
The two shows are different in feel, despite sharing an aesthetic and clearly inhabiting the same universe. They have several things in common. A remarkably deep, nuanced exploration of their characters’ psychologies and relationships, for one; a remorseless focus on the moral and practical consequences of every choice their characters make, for another. Their camerawork and brilliant montages are in a class of their own, and several visual signatures are shared by both shows. On a plot level, seemingly every loose end gets cleverly tied up, and both shows are full of ingenious schemes and explosive action sequences.
Well… perhaps it would be misleading to suggest that Better Call Saul is full of action sequences. It is slow-paced almost to the point of perversity, and it has a precision that verges on pedantry. But stay with it, because this slow, intricate storytelling is a taste well worth acquiring, and the payoffs are phenomenally good. With each passing season, it’s become clear that Better Call Saul is a world-class show. And while it hasn’t got the high-octane intensity of Breaking Bad, which manages a thrilling moment of high-stakes drama almost every episode, Better Call Saul certainly isn’t without action sequences of its own. One central storyline spans both shows: the wranglings of a lethal Mexican cartel, whose influence has crept over the border and into Albuquerque. Wherever the cartel goes, violence soon follows.
And this leads to the heart of the paradox. If you watch Breaking Bad first, you know which cartel members are definitely going to survive Better CallSaul, and you know the ultimate fates of most of the characters. If you watch Better Call Saul first, you wouldn’t understand how great chunks of the show are setup for the devastating consequences of Saul Goodman’s alliance with Walter White. You’d be unable to appreciate the Breaking Bad callbacks, cameos and references which frequently make the show richer and more resonant.
I think I’ve cracked it.
If you haven’t watched the shows yet, take the following piece of advice. If you’ve already seen them, I’ll explain my logic in a moment.
Start with Breaking Bad. Watch up to Season Three, Episode 10: “Fly.” It’s the thirtieth episode in the series, so it’s just short of halfway, and it’s the one with the fly. “The fly?” I hear you say. Yep, the one with the fly. You can’t miss it. (Be aware, that if you hate “Fly,” then Better Call Saul might not be the show for you, as they have certain… similarities. If, like me, you think “Fly” is genius, then you’re in for a treat with Better Call Saul.)
Then, when you’ve watched “Fly,” take a break from Breaking Bad. Watch the entirety of Better Call Saul. This way, you’ll catch all the Breaking Bad references, but you won’t yet know how it’s going to play out. When you’re up to speed with Better Call Saul, watch the second half of Breaking Bad.After that, you can finish off with El Camino. Got it?
If you haven’t watched the shows yet, go and do that now. I’m about to discuss spoilers.
Here Be Spoilers
Why “Fly”? Well, I’ll tell you.
“Fly” takes place at the quietest moment, plot-wise, in the whole of Breaking Bad. There is no antagonist, no threat, no feud. Some plotlines have just ended, while others are about to begin. The Salamanca twins have recently been killed, Hank is beginning to recover from their assassination attempt, and Walt is on reasonably good terms with Jesse, Gus and even Skyler.
At the end of the previous episode, Skyler crossed a terrible Rubicon: she offered to pay for Hank’s treatment with Walt’s money, thus becoming morally complicit in his crimes, but we haven’t yet begun to see what this will mean for her or for Walt. And it’s in the following episode, the eleventh episode of season three, that Jesse discovers Gus’s empire’s involvement in the death of Combo, which rapidly leads to the war between Walt and Gus: the show never gets a peaceful moment ever again. It could even be argued that “Fly” is the episode that shifts the viewer from identifying primarily with Walt to identifying primarily with Jesse: he grows from a sidekick to the emotional heart of the show. So “Fly” is a pivotal episode – a moment of stillness, a deep breath before moving forward to the relentless second half of Breaking Bad.
What is the experience of a first-time viewer, switching shows and watching Better Call Saul at this point? They discover that Saul Goodman will end up going into hiding; but that’s the only spoiler they get. They know who Mike is, but they don’t know much about him; Mike hasn’t yet told Walt that he works for Gus, and his skill as an enforcer is not yet apparent. They know about Gus’s operation, and that he is responsible for the death of his nominal chief, Juan Bolsa; but they don’t yet know the depths of his chess game against the cartel, and they don’t know how it will end. They know about Victor, Gale and the remarkable meth lab, enough to enjoy their introductions in Better Call Saul, but they do not yet know that both men, as well as the superlab, are doomed.
These viewers are familiar with the paralysed old man in the wheelchair, but they might not even initially realise that he and the chilling Hector Salamanca are one and the same. They know that Tuco, Krazy-8 and the Twins are going to die; but as they haven’t met all the later-season Breaking Bad characters yet, they have no guarantee which Better Call Saul characters (Nacho, Lalo, Tyrus, Don Eladio, Chuck, Kim, Huell, Lydia, Ziegler, Howard) will survive to pop up later in Breaking Bad. (Four do; six don’t.)
The stories of Jimmy/Saul, Mike and Gus will benefit from their original character introductions, in Breaking Bad; but in the second half of the show, they will also benefit enormously from the weight of backstory, motivation and characterisation that Better Call Saul gives all three of them. Take Mike. It would be a surprise when Mike pops up in Better Call Saul, for anyone who doesn’t know that he will be a central character of Breaking Bad’s later seasons. The viewer learns all about him; watches his association with Jimmy develop; and then feels Saul’s horror when – at the end of Breaking Bad season three – Mike threatens Saul with physical harm if he doesn’t give up Walt’s whereabouts. By the time Mike meets his cruel, unnecessary end, we know far more about his family relationships and inner turmoil, and we feel all the things that Walt has robbed him of.
Which only leaves…
…Season Six. Better Call Saul will wind up being one episode longer than Breaking Bad, for a combination of 125 episodes. Perhaps something in Season Six will negatively affect the value of watching the Breaking Bad franchise in this order; after all, we don’t know how the black-and-white flash-forwards will be resolved. But for now, I stand by it; and if I re-watch both shows to prepare for the eventual release of Season Six, this is how I’ll do it.
When I was sixteen, I did a week’s work experience on the set of the Harry Potter films. They were filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts I and II, and I was in the costume department. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.
I signed a nondisclosure agreement and was taken inside. A member of the film crew generously gave me a tour of the most impressive sets. As everyone knows if they’ve gone on the Harry Potter Experience, the studios are on a former airfield near Watford, and the place is huge. The central hangar was vast, filled with portakabins and extensions and offices and film-sets. And the hangar was only part of the sprawling Harry Potter complex. Hundreds and hundreds of people worked there. Nobody took much notice of an overawed teenage boy.