Haven’t done too much sketching in 2016 yet though…
The last sketch from London. I was there for two weeks, but I didn’t sketch as much
as usual. Perhaps on my next trip I will get more done – the International Urban Sketching Symposium this year will be held in Manchester and I do hope I can go. Early-bird Registration opens on January 30 ($415 though, may have to sell a few drawings first!) If I do go, I will try to organize another themed sketchcrawl in London on the weekend before, maybe on the Sunday. We will see. London Urban Sketchers are holding one on the Saturday before (they like to set out the year’s “Let’s Draw…” sketchcrawls in advance), so I’ll try not to clash. I do like a themed sketchcrawl, and back in 2014 I did organize one called “Sketching Wren’s City”, which went from the Monument down to St. Paul’s, taking in as many of Christopher Wren’s buildings (mostly churches) as possible. I provided everyone with a hand-drawn map and lots of information; it was immense fun, and we topped it off with a visit to the Old Bell Tavern on Fleet Street – also designed by Wren.You can see the sketches I did, and find out more about the sketchcrawl here.
One Wren church we did not make it to (being just outside the City borders) is this one, St. Clement Dane. I used to pass by here every day when studying at King’s College, and it’s in an amazing location, on a traffic island at the intersection of Strand and Aldwych, just where the traffic turns to down towards Temple Station and the Embankment. Further down Strand behind me is another church on a traffic island, St. Mary-le-Strand, known to taxi-drivers as “Mary-in-the-way”. St. Clement Dane’s is more famous – its bells regularly play out the tune to “Oranges and Lemons”, after the nursery rhyme that mentions St. Clement’s, although it’s possible that the church in the rhyme is actually st. Clement Eastcheap. St. Clement Dane dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and though the ‘Dane’ part of the name also dates back this far, it’s not exactly certain why, though this church was located at the very edge of the ‘Danelaw’, the large swathe of England ruled by the Danes. The current building, designed by Wren in the 1680s, was gutted by bombs in World War Two and restored in the 1950s. The large statue in front is William Ewart Gladstone, the former Prime Minister. Behind him are two more statues, of prominent Royal Air Force chiefs Hugh Dowding and Arthur “Bomber” Harris (unseen). This church has long had connections to the RAF, and contains many memorials to fallen airmen. Behind the church is a statue of Dr. Samuel Johnson, writer of the first English dictionary, who lived nearby off of Fleet Street. And just visible behind St. Clement’s are the Royal Courts of Justice.
I stood on the edge of the traffic island and sketched, as the day started drifting away. Days are so short in London winter-time, and I had to get back for dinner. Goodbye London, until next time.
Here is Stanford’s, a fantastic shop on Long Acre, Covent Garden (London) that ha slong been one of my favourite shops in, frankly, the entire world. It is primarily a map and travel book shop, founded by Edward Stanford in 1853, moving to its present spot in 1901. I used to come here when I was in my teens and just look at maps, maps of anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to travel the world, and literally everywhere was exotic. I would look at street maps of nondescript German towns, maps of the Colombian highlands, plan routes across Siberia, imagine barren rocky island hopping in the north Atlantic. Once I bought a map of Sydney, Australia, to put on my bedroom door at home and I would just learn the names of all the suburbs. I’ve still never been. Well, I ended up living across the world, and my love of maps has not really dimmed, I still get a kick out of flicking through a road atlas. Yeah, Stanford’s was one of my favourite shops, and it’s still great now, so I had to sketch it. It was a nice bright London morning after Christmas, and once I was done I met up with my friend Simon and we popped to a little old pub around the corner, the Lamb and Flag. I didn’t do a particularly detailed sketch, just capturing an interesting doorway, but its a small place and there were lots of people in and out. And I sketched Simon too! It’s fun being back in London from time to time.
This is – or was – the Railway in Edgware, north London. For those of you unfamiliar with where Edgware is, look at the tube map, and look up at the top, it’s there at the end of the Northern Line. No, not that end, that’s High Barnet, the other end. There we are, just past Burnt Oak. I was born in Edgware Hospital (which is more Burnt Oak), and went to Edgware School, both my sisters have lived in Edgware at some point (one in an actual haunted flat), and it’s where we go when we go shopping in real shops, or at least used to. Edgware was that place which was a bit more upmarket than Burnt Oak, I always looked up to it. Again, that was the tube map, you had to look up to see it. I used to walk to school, down Deansbrook, through the alley into Fairfield, through the other back alley into Station Road, right next to this building here, the Railway. It looked like something from the Middle Ages (it was built in 1936 in neo-Tudor style, I was clearly a history idiot) (I wasn’t by the way, I was actually really good at history) (and I never ever thought this was medieval, and would have probably laughed at anyone who said it looked like it) (I wasn’t very good at history A-level though, it was all ‘the nazis’ and ‘the 1848 revolution’ and that sort of thing, I struggled with the reading, actually I know for a fact my Edgware School history teachers thought I was a ‘history idiot’ and they pointed it out) (in the end I got a Masters degree from King’s in Medieval English and you can’t do that if you’re a history idiot). So, this is a neo-Tudor building. “Neo-Tudor?” Sounds like a Stuart-era political thug. I read this description of this building somewhere but I think it’s more mock-Tudor. (History idiot) So…this is a Mock Tudor building, and was once a great pub called the Railway Tavern. No wait, it was the Railway Hotel, not the Railway Tavern (that was up Hale Lane I think? History idiot). Let’s start again.
The Railway Hotel was built in 1936 and is not, I repeat not a Listed Building. My source of this information comes from random local people telling me that back home, and they are never wrong about such things. The side part of it apparently is Listed, but the main part isn’t. I don’t know if it was ever an actual Hotel, and the Railway it refers to is really just the Tube line – back in the 30s Edgware was this glamourous place referred to as ‘Metro-land’, the new world opened up by the expansion of the London Underground. Big buildings such as this were built in the Mock-Tudor style in these burgeoning and now-connected suburbs almost as if to emphasize the ‘rural’ appeal of these now less than rural areas. Edgware itself goes back centuries (Middle Ages! Yes!) and is on the historic and vital Roman Road of Watling Street (actually called Edgware Road from here to central London; you’ve seen Edgware Road on the tube map, it is miles away). There are some genuinely historic buildings here, one around the corner being an old tavern that the famed highwayman Dick Turpin is rumoured to have stayed at. Right across the street from the Railway is St.Margaret’s Church, whose tower dates from the 15th century, with the building dating from the 18th century. And while it’s not particularly historic, George Michael’s dad used to own a restaurant a few doors down from here called Mr. Jack’s. The Railway Tavern may not be so old, but it is beloved locally. I remember the pub being a nice, warm place, friendlier than many other more raucous pubs nearby, with a lovely carvery restaurant upstairs. I remember going to that restaurant for my friend Terry’s 18th birthday, all those years ago. Some nice memories here.
I don’t remember when it actually closed. Was it before I left for America or after? I remember writing a blog post in 2006 on my first trip back from the States lamenting the passing of two of my favourite spots in Edgware, Music Stop the guitar shop and Loppylugs the record shop. I was sad that Edgware was changing so much, and it struck a chord, because somehow people from all over the world – well, from Edgware but living all over the world – were commenting with their memories of Edgware, of the school, of the old cinema and the record shops, that general old nostalgia thing we all do when we get online. You’ve seen it, the old nostalgia thing, you know what I’m talking about, “Like if you had one of these space hoppers”, “retweet if you remember what a flake in an ice cream is”, “share if you remember Daz Ultra” that sort of thing. The Railway must have been still open, or I would have mentioned that as well. It has been closed for some time now, with no chance of reopening. These days pubs close, and that is that. So many old pubs are falling by the wayside, not profitable in these modern times, once great centres of community (ah remember that, it was great when everyone was drunk, Retweet if you Like). Remember the Pub, the old Rub-a-Dub-Dub? All gawn now mate, all gawn and never comin’ back.
Who knows what will happen to the Railway. I’m sure someone does; I was old it would be knocked down to make way for a big block of flats. These statements are usually correct, but I’ve learned to proceed carefully (as they are often book-ended with statements like “too expensive for the locals, they’re going to give them free to all the asylum seekers,” a phrase I have actually heard said). The truth is that land is owned by someone, usually someone less concerned with building communities and more concerned with building profits. There was last year a pub in Kilburn, the Carlton Tavern, that was illegally demolished a week before it was due to be a listed building (knocked down with all the tenants’ possessions inside and against the orders of the council), because the landowners CLTX, a company based in Tel Aviv, wanted it out of the way. Well, didn’t Westminster Council only go and order CLTX to rebuild the Carlton Tavern brick by brick within the next 18 months! A victory for the old pubs, perhaps, but we’ll see if it happens. I intend to sketch the site some day, maybe on the next trip. I wonder if a hundred years ago the Edgware locals will probably have lamented the loss of all their lovely green space, demolished so that houses can be built, along with these ugly mock-Tudor pub buildings (“Mock-Tudor?” they would say, “Medieval more like!”). The world keeps on turning…
The shortest day of the year is shorter in London than it is in Davis, because London is further north and the night-time is subsequently longer. It gets light at about midday and then five minutes later it’s dark again. Well, that might be an exaggeration. It also feels shorter because there is (a) more stuff to do and (b) more people in the way when you are trying to get to those things. While I am adept at navigating London crowds, having worked on Oxford Street when I was younger, ten years in tourist-and-commuter-free Davis have, if not quite dimming my instincts, decreased my tolerance for the slow-moving crowd nature of pre-Christmas London. I still know most of the shortcuts, however, and back when I was a student at King’s College London I would dash through this area to get to my classes, in wind and rain. This is Seven Dials, a junction of seven streets just north of Covent Garden which was deliberately designed to confuse American tourists. It’s always been one of my favourite spots in London and one day I will draw a panorama encompassing 360 degrees and all seven of the Dials, but it was not this day, because this day was very short (refer back to my previous statements), and also rainy.
Although the day was short, I had filled it well, meeting in the morning at the National Portrait Gallery with the lovely folks from Rotovision Books (by the way, a quick plug, my book creative Sketching Workshop which was created by Rotovision Books is available in bookshops and online, you can find our more about the book on my dedicated page CREATIVE SKETCHING WORKSHOP). I then met up with my two cousins, the amazing artists Dawn Painter (http://dawnpainter.co.uk/) and Claire Scully (http://www.thequietrevolution.co.uk/; Claire also published a book recently which you should all get, it’s called The Menagerie and is a colouring-in book filled with her exquisitely detailed and bejewelled drawings of animals), and Claire’s fiance and another amazing artist, Stewart Easton (http://www.stewarteaston.net/), and his little boy Archie. We all went for tea and then wandered Covent Garden, going to Stanfords (Yeah!!) and the London Graphic Centre (Yeah!!). A brief meet-up, but always a pleasure to see them. I wish I were in London more!! I also got to meet, even more briefly, with London urban sketcher James Hobbs (http://www.james-hobbs.co.uk/), who of course wrote chapters in the creative Sketching Workshop book, nice to see him. Hopefully on my next trip I’ll get more time to sketch with London’s urban sketchers (by the way, I am considering organizing another ‘themed’ sketchcrawl in London this summer, perhaps on the weekend before the annual Urban Sketching Symposium which this year is going to be held in Manchester). Anyway, once I left everyone I did a bit of shopping (had to get a football shirt for my old great friend Simon, aka the actor Simon Nader (http://www.simonnader.com/; incidentally he was in Silent Witness on BBC1 earlier this week playing a drug dealer), who I was meeting up with that evening, and then I went back up to Seven Dials to get this sketch in. I stood beneath the awnings of a building and sketched as the sky darkened and the sparkly Christmas lights got brighter, and the rain sprinkled down. It was not heavy. Seven Dials is lovely.
This is the Blue Posts pub in Soho. No, not that one, that’s on Berwick Street. No, not that other one, that’s down on Rupert Street. This is the one near Carnaby Street, on the corner of Kingly Street and Ganton Street. I sketched it a couple of days before Christmas, as the sky got dark early, and people rushed around getting last-minute Christmas presents. “Where is Hamleys?” they would ask me. I would tell them, and they would just run in the opposite direction without looking back. Here’s a pro tip – don’t go to Hamleys on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and be on the top floor when all the escalators break down. Yes, we did that. Well on this particular Wednesday I had an afternoon to spend sketching (and shopping), so I came up to the craziness of the Regents Street end of Soho and found the Blue Posts pub. This particualr Blue Posts pub anyway. I’ve sketched the one on Berwick Street, and the one on Rupert Street is on my must-sketch list, but this is a nice pub, and I’d had the pleasure of coming in here the Saturday evening prior. That night I had been out with a few friends at a pub on Beak Street called the Old Coffee House, which I did not sketch. Two of them had not yet seen The Force Awakens, while me and my other friend Roshan had been to see it the day before. When you see The Force Awakens, you want to talk about it, but we couldn’t, for the whole evening. Oh we had a great time talking about comics, but the Star-Wars-talk was just busting to come out. So when the other two had left, Roshan and I went to the Blue Posts, as it was open later, to finally talk theories and spoilers. It was packed, so we stood by the bar, where we met a man who was in a similar predicament. However he had promised to keep his mouth zipped, because unfortunately the barman at the Blue Posts, a lovely chap, had not seen it, and any Force-based chat was again off-limits. Dammit! Respecting the fact that the universe was still inhabited by people who did not know that [SPOILERS EDITED OUT!] and that [SPOILERS!] is in fact [SPOILERS!] who [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!], we kept quiet and talked comics (we had no problem spoiling those). So when I came back to sketch the pub a few days later, I popped in to see if the barman had seen Force Awakens yet, but alas I couldn’t find him. Now it is January, there really is no excuse, so next time I go back it will be in the full Kylo Ren costume, exclaiming loudly that [SPOIIIILLLLLERRRRSSSSSS-LALALA-NOTLISTENINGGGGG]. I won’t discuss the film here, not right now anyway, except to say that it was awesome, amazing, beautiful, and that I am totally on Team Rey, but that I do miss George Lucas’s storytelling. Anyway, the Blue Posts. I think I have mentioned before the fact that in centuries past Soho was a hunting ground? Well, it was, before all the buildings, before all the clubs and bars and strip joins and hang on they are hunting grounds too, of a sort. Well, those royal hunting grounds were bordered with blue posts, which is (we think) why several pubs take their names from them. There is another Blue Posts pub in Mayfair, not too far from here. You can make out the bright pink lights strung above Ganton Street on the right, as well as the large metal banner marking the entrance to the Carnaby Street shopping zone, which I photographed below I would love to sketch a panorama of Carnaby Street some day, but only if that day is actually about twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still interesting. It doesn’t even have Soccerscene any more, the once great football shirt shop that I spent too many hours in in my youth, where I fell in love with the Sampdoria shirt, the Fluminense shirt, the 1991 CIS shirt (the red one with the little squares and lines on it), and all the metal badges. Back then the shops were all punk t-shirts and Bowie and leather and loud music. These days it’s all Muji and Puma and mobile phone shops. But it does have beautiful Christmas lights.
Well, it’s now 2016, January 10th, and I’m writing an hour or so since I learned that David Bowie, that cosmic super-being, has died aged 69. I’m stunned. He was a hero of mine since I was a kid, there’s never been a part of my life when I didn’t hear his music, and now he’s gone. I just want to say rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Give our regards to the cosmos.
There are a few places in the world that are very special to me, and this is one of them – the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London. I came here just before Christmas with my family to see the dinosaurs (Dippy the Diplodocus is still taking pride of place in the main hall, but will soon be replaced with a whale skeleton). I used to come here when I was a child to see the dinosaurs (Dippy was my favourite), when my older sister used to bring me here as a four-year-old so that I could argue with the staff about vertebrae (I never understood that story either). I was a total dinosaur nut, and I even still have a few of my old dinosaur books from my youth. Those dinosaur illustrations enthralled me, and the long hard-to-pronounce names were fascinating to me. This place is more than just dinosaurs of course, and within its walls it keeps a massive collection of specimens from all periods of natural history – around 80 million specimens in all, mostly housed in the Darwin Centre. This is an unbelievably important place. But back to the dinosaurs, the term ‘dinosaur’ was coined by Dr. Richard Owen, who eventually helped to found the Natural History Museum. This building was opened in 1881, and is one of the jewels of London. And importantly, it is free to go in.My son’s not as into dinosaurs as I was, he kind of likes them, but he really likes rocks and minerals, so he enjoyed that. After we were done and had played a few games of Top Trumps in the cafe, we went and had lunch in South Kensington (it’s so nice there, so civilized, and I had an organic mince pie which is very posh of me), I went back to use up the rest of the daylight sketching the ice rink and Christmas tree in front of the museum. In London in December it starts getting dark at about half past three, though this was an unseasonably mild day with some clear sky. The scene before the museum is so festive, I might make it into a Christmas card next year. You’d probably not catch me ice skating though.