I have to admit, London tired me out a lot this time. I think it was the heat – though naturally cooler than Davis, London actually had a heatwave, which when you add it to the fact that air-conditioning is a very rare commodity (Oxford Street’s shops were no places to cool off) and the overcrowded packed tube was a hellish place to be in hot weather, makes for a very stuffy city. I am not used to crowds and big masses of people any more, so I sought to see my home city in its quieter moments. Even a city that never sleeps dozes off from time to time. On one particular Tuesday, I got up and took the tube at the determinedly pre-rush hour of 5:45am and headed into central London to sketch in the early morning light. I love wandering around a city as it is waking up (preferably having recently woken up myself, rather than stayed up all night, as my much-younger self may have once done). London is no different, although in Leicester Square I did witness the remnants of some people’s night-before, a drunken testosterone match of pitiable proportions that made the street sweepers stop and raise their eyebrows and shake their heads. I’ve never liked Leicester Square. Trafalgar Square on the other hand… I’ve seen a fair few incidents of silliness there among the late-night throngs waiting for their night-buses in the shadow of Nelson’s Column, but when everyone is gone and before the city of the daytime re-emerges, this is an excellent place to stop and really absorb an epic sight. I’ll forever be grateful to London for pedestrianizing that awful north side of the square, the former rat-run outside the National Gallery, turning Trafalgar Square from a pigeon-infested overgrown traffic island to a pleasant place to sit and just watch the world, and this really is the world. The very centre of London, from which point all measurements from London are taken, is just on the other side of the square, at the statue of Charles I. I sketched the view from the northern side in the early morning light, with Horatio Nelson on his high perch looking down Whitehall to the clock tower of Parliament, home of Big Ben. Summer morning light is like a golden custard pouring across the city, and those shadows move pretty fast when that sun rises.
The morning moved along, some early commuters passed by the Square, the odd rise-and-shine tourist was out taking photos and waiting for the tour buses to start; when I used to tour-guide on those buses years ago I loved the early shift, with all the fresh faced tourists seeing the face of London that most Londoners miss. I sketched some of the buildings on the south side of the Square, whose rooftops I have long wanted to draw. That statue is of Sir Charles Napier, I believe, an old imperial commander, who has an impressive nose and sideburns that Wolverine would be jealous of.
London can be incredibly annoying sometimes, expensive, grumpy, sweaty, time-consuming; but in these moments you get to see it at peace, waking up with a smile, in a good mood.
Also posted on Urban Sketchers London – if you haven’t done so, please check out their site!