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.
Ok, more London sketches posted way after the fact. So if you were reading carefully you will have seen that on a Monday I sketched the Dublin Castle pub in London, and then the very next day I sketched a pub in the actual Dublin (not far from the castle, funnily enough). Well the story doesn’t end there. On the Friday, I sketched another pub in London, this one called…the Castle. Ok that’s enough doo-noo-noo-noo spookiness. This is the Castle in Holland Park. I came down to Holland Park to meet my friend Simon, who lives nearby in Shepherds Bush, and after dinner we came to this pub he told me about a while ago. I’d liked to have sketched the outside but it was too dark on this occasion, so we went in and we both sketched and chatted. I forgot to bring my chessboard; we usually like a game of chess when we meet, Magneto and Charles Xavier style (I’m Magneto of course). Hey look, the pub is on Twitter, according to the sign on the wall.
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…
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.
I always intend to sketch more Burnt Oak whenever I’m back home but I never quite get around to it. And I should – the old place keeps changing in small, and sometimes pretty big, ways. Since my last trip, at least one of the historic focal points of the area has closed down, probably for good: the Bald Faced Stag, the old pub on Burnt Oak Broadway. Love it or loathe it (and it was often pretty loathed), the Stag played a big part in many of our lives as Burnt Oakers, and it just doesn’t feel right that it’s no longer there. What then is left of old Burnt Oak? Rather a lot, B.O. fans, rather a lot. I did a quick solo-sketchcrawl one afternoon, starting with the distinctive buildings of Silkstream Parade, above. This is between the Library and the Station, and to many of us these were the shops you went to when you went Up The Road. The old newsagents on the corner, at one time called Magson’s but I don’t recall its previous name, was replaced by Costcutter’s many years ago, but you can still see the long-disused cigarette vending machine on the side of the building. Heron Pharmacy is still there, unchanged in decades. Zam’s chicken is where Toni’s used to be, an old ice cream and sweetshop, I remember showing my Mexico 86 sticker album the Italian guy Toni who ran the place and him telling me all about the Italy players. Whenever I think of Paolo Rossi I think of Very Cherry Slush Puppies (remember them? You remember them). The kebab shop is also long gone, that had one of the most often broken windows in the whole of England I recall. There used to be a butchers shop here too, and was there a greengrocer’s? Was that the whole set? Tanning salon now. Anyway that’s enough “How We Used To Live”, any more of that and I may as well start every blog post with “Who remembers Penny Sweets, remember them eh, Kola Kubes eh, not like that any more eh”).
I moved up Watling Avenue to Hassan, which has been there since before I was a kid, unchanged. They don’t make shop signs like that any more, it’s all primary colour plastics now, but Hassan has class, gilded edges which of course my sketch doesn’t really show. Not being much of a clothes shopper, and this being a clothes shop for Men (my Mum, not being a Man, never dragged me through this shop as a kid, unlike John Ford and other Burnt Oak shops), I’ve never ever been inside Hassan’s. I know people who do, people who live far from Burnt Oak and come out of their way to go there. Personally I just love that it is there, still there. So now I’ve finally sketched it. I stood opposite outside a closed-down cafe on the corner of Gaskarth Road. Cafes, eh, remember cafes? Don’t get cafes any more, it’s all Starbucks these days, etc.
Sketching across Watling Avenue wasn’t too difficult. As busy a street as it is, it’s pretty narrow. Burnt Oak Broadway on the other hand is much wider, so when I sketched the old fish and chip shop the Captain’s Cabin I had to squint a lot more. Burnt Oak Broadway is what we call this part of Edgware Road, itself part of the ancient (and I mean ancient) Watling Street, the long straight road built by the Romans linking Londinium with the north-western reaches of Britannia. It’s from Watling Street that Watling Avenue gets its name, and in fact the name Burnt Oak is a reference to the old Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark the boundaries between places, or so we were told at school. See, my town got some history, bro. This chip shop is pretty much the only one in ‘downtown’ Burnt Oak (to use an Americanism) left from the Olden Days (“who remembers fish’n’chips, eh, vinegar, chip butties, eh, it’s all piri-piri cappuccinos now”). I do remember there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door when I was a kid (remember those? No seriously, you don’t get them any more, all KFC now) and a Barclay’s Bank on the corner which got turned into an amusement arcade, not sure how amusing it really is though, maybe it amused NatWest across the street. The Captain’s Cabin is still there, the sign is different from when I was a kid, so I sketched it. Personally I used to get my chips from the Golden Fry down the Watling, where they had the Space Invaders games my brother used to play (“Who remembers Space Invaders, eh? Don’t get that any more, it’s all Minecraft and Halo and Words With Friends now”). Captain’s Cabin for me was always that bit further to walk for the same thing, but I still always liked their chips.
And here is a map of Burnt Oak, you don’t get maps like this any more, it’s all iPhones now, but it was with maps just like this that I managed to navigate my way around town when I was a kid. No not really. I just wanted to draw a bit more of a fun treasure-island-style map (and yes I know north is in the wrong direction, I’m not working for the Ordnance Survey or nothing) for my home town (and yes Burnt Oak is not an actual ‘town’, just a small nook in the expanse of London, an offshoot of Edgware really, but Burnt Oakers everywhere, even those who have long since emigrated to the far-flung corners of the world, we know that it is its own place, our home town, but once you start getting too sentimental it’s only one step away from “Who remembers bus passes, remember bus passes eh, get on a bus and go somewhere yeah, can’t do that now eh”). I do love to sketch the place though, to capture it for old time’s sake, because by golly it changes fast. But…not that fast.
This is Kentish Town station, in north London. I came here when I was meeting up with my friend James one evening, and stood outside a curry house opposite sketching as buses and cars trundled up Kentish Town Road towards Tufnell Park and the Archway. There are a lot of old tube stations that look like this, with the dark ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiles and the typical arches, and one day I swear I would love to sketch them all (hint hint London Transport, a fun book commission?), though I hurried through this one a bit, not drawing the whole length of the building (it would make a really good panorama…) and added the colour when I got home. It was designed by Leslie Green, who built many of the iconic London Underground stations over a century ago, and is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It’s a pretty interesting place, Kentish Town, and this was my first time here in years, other than passing through. Though in fact I did end up passing through, ending up meeting my friend in nearby Camden Town, where we swapped world cup football stickers.