Early Saturday evening, mid-August, Charing Cross Road, which I used to call my favourite street in London (there were more bookshops in those days). Also the place of too many Night Buses. This is Molly Moggs, a little pint-sized pub on the corner of Old Compton, which despite walking by a million times I’d never been into before, though I did pop in with my friends Roshan and Big Lee shortly after sketching this. Across the street from here is Macari’s music shop, which is where I bought my current acoustic guitar, back in 1996. London is full of old stories for me. Molly Moggs was named after a lady in a poem by John Gay, “The Ballad of Molly Mogg” (“The Fair Lady of the Inn”), about a real woman who worked at a tavern in the eighteenth century. From the decor inside it seems to be a very popular place for performances by drag artists, cabaret, burlesque type of thing. We didn’t stay long enough to see any, moving on to an old favourite pub of mine, the ever-unchanging Ship on Wardour Street. There was no more sketching that evening, just lots of catching up with good old friends.
Here’s one from Davis. To say I’ve been busy lately is an understatement. Yeah yeah we’re all busy, aren’t we, but I’ve been excessively busier than usual and my email inbox overfloweth too, so I’m trying to catch up there. I’ve not been sketching as much. I’m told that it is “Inktober”, but I’ve only just realised that it’s “OCTober”. October… yet the hot, hot weather has not gone away, not yet. However on one particularly galling day I just had to find a quiet spot at lunchtime and sketch. Admittedly the bus terminal at the UC Davis Silo isn’t exactly a quiet spot but I was too exhausted to go searching for somewhere more serene, and I didn’t want to sketch the Arboretum. I sat at a bus-stop and listened to my iPod (in fact I’ve been listening to “Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-Men”, a really fun and informative podcast about the X-Men universe). This is the back of Haring Hall, UC Davis, and well, that’s about it really. One of those lunchtimes where I just needed to sketch something different, though in Davis, I often feel like I’ve sketched everything.
(Click on image to get a bigger view) And now a return to posting, with something very special. While I was back in the UK, my family and I took a little jaunt across the Irish Sea to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland. In case you were unsure. This was a big deal for me; my whole family is of Irish origin, with many of them being either from Dublin o having lived there, and the Irish thing was a big part of growing up in my corner of north London, in my family and community. I grew up around all forms of Irish music from the Wolfe Tones to, er, Daniel O’Donnell. I own a lot of Ireland football shirts, and a few Celtic ones too. I like my lemonade red. However, I’ve not been back to Ireland in a really long time. Seventeen years in fact, so I have long been overdue a visit. I have been told how much the place had changed in the past couple of decades, with the influx of money and the housing boom (and the subsequent recession), and they even have motorways there now. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Dublin, and my mum, who came with us, hadn’t been to Dublin in even longer. We were then very pleased to see that, yes lots of things had modernized and there were way more people and traffic than years ago, but it was still very much Dublin, there’s no changing that! One evening, my mum and I got fish and chips from a local chip shop, where a group of kids, aged about nine or ten, just started chatting away to us all friendly like about this and that, as if they’d known us for years; that was the Dublin I remember! It was my wife’s first ever trip to Ireland, and my son’s as well, in fact the trip there was all his idea. We stayed near the Liffey not far from Christchurch, it was nice talking with my mum about various great-grandparents that lived not far from there; we of course do still have a lot of family in Dublin but haven’t seen them in decades, wouldn’t know them now. We did a lot of walking about, there were crowds, but it was just nice to be back in Ireland after all these years. My mum and I joked about the characters that used to go up and down O’Connell Street years ago, long gone now. On the first night though, everyone was exhausted, so by myself I walked a block around the corner to the Brazen Head pub to do my first pub sketch in Ireland – my one and only sketch in Dublin, as it happened. It was a lovely place, too.
The Brazen Head proudly calls itself “Ireland’s Oldest Inn”, established in 1198. It has a pretty good claim too, and I’m basing that on at least one person saying so, so it must be true. The present building is from 1754 and the pub is referred to as far back as 1613 but it was built on the site of a tavern dating from 1198, apparently. It is said that Irish heroes Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins drank here (not at the same time necessarily), as well as literary figures such as James Joyce and Brendan Behan. Ah, I know this type of factoid from my London tour-guide days, the old ‘Dickens used to drink there’ story; Dickens drank everywhere, there was barely a pub he didn’t sink a pint in. I believe a lot of people came here though, and it is still popular – it was filled with a good mix of tourists and locals. I sat and sketched one of the bars (there are several bar-rooms) from a little table opposite. Live music wafted in from the bar-room next-door to this, There was an enormous amount to draw – for some reason there were a large amount of souvenirs from U.S. police departments (I can’t think of the connection between American police departments and the Irish). I had an Irish cider, which, given that my stomach was feeling very unusual all day, turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I finished up my intensely detailed sketch without adding any paint and wandered home (an apartment a block away) along the Liffey, feeling pretty sick. And I wondered, warmly, how many of my forebears stumbled along this very river feeling this very way (presumably after more than a single pint). I wonder how many of them were sketchers?
It feels weird that this ended up being my only sketch in Ireland, having waited all these years to come back, but it was a pretty busy family trip, we rushed here and there about Dublin and took the train down to the beach at Bray, and then flew back to London. I did go back to the Brazen Head the second night we were there with my wife to watch some of the live Irish music, a bunch of guys surrounded by tourists sat on bar-couches playing traditional music. Sure, the sort you get in Irish-themed pubs everywhere, but this was in your actual Ireland and that was good enough. This was a brief trip, but it was really nice to be back. And I even stocked up on my favourite chocolate bar, Cadbury’s Tiffin. Erin go Bragh!
Camden Town, ladies and gentleman. There’s no way to properly describe Camden, it’s just Camden. It’s grimy and tacky and great, and vibrant and awful and touristy and local and rough and everything, it is Camden and can be everything at once. Everyone in north London has their own Camden I think. I for one have a lot of personal history around here, nights out, days about, the odd gig, too many night buses, a good few birthdays, and of course my stag party. I haven’t sketched much around here, so I wanted to do a bit while I was back. I chose the Regents Canal, specifically Camden Lock, well Hampstead Road Lock. I stood, with the sun shining, and sketched the lock, as far as I could. I didn’t do any colour except the red cross of the flag. The clouds were rolling in, oh big black clouds, scary looking but not enough to stop me. And then, whoah, massive thunderstorm, super heavy rain – good job I got the ink done, because this rain was stupendous. People dashing about like mad things, and I took shelter in a doorway. When I added the colour later I left it as the luscious N1 summer blue sky, pre-tempest.
This is the Dublin Castle pub on Parkway, Camden Town. It is approximately 1994. No no, wait, it’s 2014, I got confused there. It’s easy to get confused, it hasn’t changed in the slightest. Well, maybe the price of beer. Anyway, I arrived soaking wet, having run through the rainstorm from Camden Lock (see the handy map below to figure out my route), to see if this old haunt had gone the way of the so many London pubs – gentrified, sanitized, or worse, closed. Thankfully it was still the same, though being the daytime it was practically empty. I got a beer (actually wasn’t expensive, for London) and sat and sketched the red interior. As I was sketching the big ‘Madness’ poster, I heard a guy talking to a woman at the bar whose voice was familiar, and it was in fact Suggs himself, the Madness singer. Now he does have a long association with this pub and this area (here’s his ode to the area) but still it was fun seeing him in there, briefly, especially as I was drawing his poster (he’s on the tube-sign one next to it too). Oh, this old place, many evenings were spent in here, back in the 90s and early 00s. Playing the Who on the jukebox. Talking Serbian poetry with students from Belgrade. Watching very serious unheard-of bands while surrounded by record company band-scouts. Getting my drink knocked vertically across the bar by bouncers steaming past quickly to conclude a fight. Dancing to Anarchy in the UK while my friend Tel threw up in the toilets. Yep, there’s a lot of social history in a place like this. I sketched here until the sun came out, before heading back to Burnt Oak for dinner.
And here’s the map…
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Pence Gallery’s annual art Auction, as one of the contributing artists. The wealth of amazing work on display was amazing, as always. The Pence is a great place and they work tirelessly to promote excellence in local art. I met a lot of nice people there, and really enjoyed watching the auction. I sketched at the back, stood next to the dessert table (wow, amazing chocolates!). The auctioneer is very humourous, and very god at getting the crowd to buy art (though every time he said “going once, going twice,” I really wanted to say “c’mon baby don’t be cold as ice…”) This is the third year in a row I’ve sketched it, and I think I’ve captured it now. Below, the view from the patio outside. A very warm night, people talking, art-lovers buying, music playing. One of my favourite spots in Davis. Oh, and both my pieces sold! I honestly hadn’t expected them to this time (I’ve sold my pieces in the previous three years) so I was pretty buoyed, and went home pretty happy. I had been coaching my son’s U7 soccer team (the Red Foxes) that afternoon, it had been a good game, so all in all a pretty nice Saturday. Many thanks to Natalie Nelson and the good people at the Pence for inviting me to take part and attend this very fun event.
Westminster Bridge, crossing the River Thames. As I started sketching this, the rain came down, so I moved into the little tunnel next to the bridge (which I had never seen before; is it new?) and sketched from there. Eventually the rain stopped. Then started again, then stopped. It was one of those days. There is a very famous clock tower on the other side of the river. I like bridges. I even bought a book about bridges while I was back. In fact I spent a lot of time in bookshops in London. Bookshops are the best. Anyway, I had planned to sketch a lot more bridges in London but you know it is. Maybe that is the next sketchcrawl I organize? Those curves were not easy to capture with absolute mathematical perfection while stood against the wall in a damp tunnel with wet people shuffling by. But here it is, Westminster Bridge, painted green because the seat in the House of Commons are green (Lambeth Bridge further down is red because the House of Lords has red seats). It was opened in 1862 and Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about it.
Borough Market is great. It may be one of my favourite markets. On this one Saturday morning, I took the train down to London Bridge station and marched right over to my favourite sandwich stand, lovely chicken served by the same guy with the amiable smile. You always get a lollipop too, well I do anyway. But as I now like sketching iconic markets (hey this is still a new thing, but after Barcelona’s La Boqueria last year, San Francisco’ Ferry Building and of course, er, Davis Farmer’s Market, I needed to sketch the market under the railway arches, with all its goats-cheese middle-class craft-beer tourist-trail glory. I stood and sketched the scene above, next to the Globe pub. There’s been a market here, on and off, since the eleventh century (not really surprising in the least given that London Bridge and the gates of the City and all the docks and the Pool of London were like, right there). Apparently it was abolished in the 1750s by an Act of Parliament due to ‘traffic congestion’ which let’s face it Borough Market, don’t make things up. Cars weren’t even invented for another hundred and fifty years, so stick to the facts, Borough Market. Anyway it came back and thrives today, a fun and colourful spot to be on a Saturday morning. I had a few hours to sketch before heading off to take my son to his first Spurs game at White Hart Lane.
I sketched the scene above from stoney Street, right on the other side of the market. It was pretty crowded as I walked through. That huge great big triangular glass tower is the Shard, tallest builidn gin Europe. One of those buildings you look at in its development phase and its like, oooh, hmmm yeah, yeah that’s different, and then when its built its like, “take a photo from this angle! Ooh and this angle! Ooooh and this old church in it as well, juxtaposition of the old and the new!” (By the way, never, ever utter that phrase in my presence, ever.) And now it’s like, er, London did you see this thing? You do know you can’t just get rid of it when you’re bored of it? It’s like a big glass Orthanc, or whatever that tower was called in Mordor, ‘Eduard Balladur’ or something. Or maybe the Ministry of Truth. It dominates proceedings. Look London its things like this that become symbols of the city in the long run. Is this what London is now? A big, sharp glass behemoth standing high above everything else like an oligarch’s shiny fantasy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the sides actually turn into a V-style TV screen so that some benevolent rich dictator can tell us how happy we are, how contented we are, and to destroy Emmanuel Goldstein. Yeah, not sure I like the Shard all that much, but we have it now. We need another, somewhere else in London, just as a counterweight. But I do like Borough Market.
And here is the late-night hand-drawn map. The odd thick lines are traintracks, isn’t it obvious, and I foolishly decided to add some buildings before deciding that was quite pointless. Anyway, this shows where I sketched. I had a job interview down here once, about a decade ago, at the Institute of Linguists. I wished I’d gotten it, because I always wanted to be coming down here every day (I had been working in Finchley, nice place but this was nearer to the Thames) . I never did, and then I moved to America. Ok, enough life story. More London sketches to come.