(9) Broadstairs, (10) Canterbury and (11) Hastings

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Leaving London by the south you come to Kent. The Garden of England, so called because that’s what you concrete over to build a front drive for your truck. Lot of history in Kent; dialectally it was supposedly different from the rest of Anglo-Saxon England, but more importantly this is where Canterbury is, the very important seat of the Archbishop. But more on Canterbury later because I decided to whizz straight to the coast to the small seaside town of Broadstairs. I have never been to Broadstairs, but I hear it is quite nice, and that Charles Dickens used to come here (then again he went everywhere). I found a wooden building with a clear view of the sea and drew that, red phone box and big red buoy thing in the foreground. This is right down at the southern end of the North Sea, where it meets the English Channel and the wide gulpy waters of the Thames Estuary. “Estuary English” is what some people call the dialect in the southeast, Essex and Kent and London, somewhere between popular London/cockney and standard RP.

Ok, back to Canterbury. Going geographically I should have put this as number 9 but it’s too late to fix it now. I’ve been to Canterbury once, visited the impressive Cathedral, and I want to go back and draw the Cathedral some day but not on Google Street View. You can’t get a good view, and there are other things to draw. This amazing building is some sort of local museum or library or information centre, or all of them, one day I will come in person and find out. Canterbury is also another place that’s on Watling Street, the historic Roman road I mentioned a couple of posts ago, although the straight road bit is a little harder to track down. I bought a book recently called “Watling Street”, written as a journey all along the modern day ancient road, with stories that like the road go on fro a bit too long. Like the road, I’ve not finished it yet because I just stopped when I got to somewhere I liked and went somewhere else. Canterbury is of course the focal point of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s great work, and even there the pilgrims never actually made it there, because even Chaucer got a bit bored making jokes about how badly they speak French in Stratford and decided to just switch off his television set and go out do something less boring instead. I know how it is, I’ve been blogging since the mid-2000s and still haven’t come up with a suitable ending.

I decided to skip Dover, because evidently places like New Cross Gate and Broadstairs were much more of a priority, and so missed out on drawing the White Cliffs. It’s not that easy from Google Street View anyway, since most of the streets are on the other side of the cliffs. The White Cliffs of Dover are so-called not because of the chalk but because of all the bird poo on them. I know you don’t believe me but it is true. If you listen closely to the most famous song about the White Cliffs of Dover, “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Dame Vera Lynn (may she rest in peace), it says clearly that there are blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover, and anyone who has parked their car underneath a tree full of blue birds knows what that means. But I didn’t draw Dover, and proceeded with haste to Hastings, number 11 on the sketch list.

Hastings is famous for the Battle of Hastings, which took place in nearby Battle, which was known locally as “Battle, just off Hastings”, and which in time became “Battle of Hastings” in time, so I can see where the confusion might arise. That was in 1066, and William the Conqueror beat Harold Godwinson to win the country. This was long before General Elections and Referendums and Twitter. 1066 is the date we all learn about at school, and we say “ten-sixty-six” not “one-thousand-sixty-six”. Harold did win a battle just before Hastings, the Battle of Stamford Bridge (it was against an army of Norsemen let by Harald Hardraada, not against an army of Chelsea fans led by Harry HardBastaard). Still, it was like having a semi-final against your big rivals, going to penalties, then having to get on a coach to the other side of the country to play the final against a team that basically walked their semi-final 6-0 against Luxembourg or someone. The Anglo-Saxons lost that one, and it would be exactly nine hundred years of hurt until they would eventually win the World Cup. Even Chaucer, in a lesser known Canterbury Tale called the Skinner’s Tale, mentioned a popular song from the 1360s called “The Leons Thre”, which went as follows: “Thre Leons embroidered on a vesture, The gleme of Joules of Rhemes, Of Hurt ther was, thre Hundred yeer, That nevere stynt my drems.” Not really, I made that up. I have been to Hastings, a long time ago when I was a teenager, when we spent summer holidays nearby at Camber Sands holiday park. I remember it being an interesting seaside town, full of all the things I like about seaside towns, shops selling sticks of rock and toffee apples (the stick of rock is a fundamental British seaside thing that I miss so much), bingo, and also a nice looking castle overlooking the channel. Another place I would like to go back to in real life.

In the next spread, we move along the south coast to Brighton, Eastbourne, and Portsmouth, before going to Bournemouth, Brightbourne and Portston, followed by Eastmouth, Bourneton and Brightport. You can see why I left all the ‘hamptons out of this trip.

(6) Stratford, (7) New Cross and (8) Tooting

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Going east from the city, this is the last bit of vaguely familiar territory for a while for me. On the left, number 6, that is the Town Hall at Stratford in east London. I have been inside there once, while I was a student at Queen Mary University of London in nearby Mile End, and I took a French exam there. I studied French, though I probably didn’t study it as hard as I could have. I lived in Belgium and France for brief periods, but my French is not the best. Chaucer made a joke in the Canterbury Tales about one of the pilgrims, the Prioress, speaking only the French of “Stratford at Bow”, not the “proper” Parisian French (“And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frenhssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.”) Seems to me he was making a joke at my own poor French, learned at Stratford atte Bowe, seven hundred years early. Oh well. You may know Stratford from the 2012 Olympics in London, that was a beautiful occasion wasn’t it, still my favourite opening ceremony, made me miss home for sure. I’ve spent a bit of time in Stratford over the years, seen it change, I would never have guessed the actual Olympics would end up there some day, but that happened.

Right let’s not linger, time to jump on the Overground and end up in New Cross Gate, across the river in southeast London. Have I ever been to New Cross? I don’t think I have. It was always one of those places I’d see interesting indie club nights advertised on fliers handed out in Soho or Camden, but then I’d see where New Cross was and I lived in the complete opposite end of London. If it was beyond the river, yeah probably too far. I don’t know south London very well; as a north Londoner you grew up with a lot of people basically acting like it was a different city entirely. They talk different them Saaf Landoners, and there aren’t as many tube lines down there, and cabbies won’t go saaf of the rivah after dark, see. Not that I ever got a cab anywhere. I did get to know some of south London in the late nineties though through the medium of going out with women that lived in Clapham. That’s an interesting area, divided into Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South, but there’s also Clapham Junction but that’s not on the Northern Line. It’s an area so full of European au pairs that my friends referred to it as “Nappy Valley”, though I didn’t get the pun on Napa Valley at the time, I assumed it was some saaf London thing. I love that we call it “saaf” London, even though I also pronounce “south” as “saaf” more than half the time. My norf London accent can be quite thick, even now I’m Californian. For example when I was a kid, true story, I though Bran Flakes were called that because of their colour, because they were “Braan”, literally brown flakes. Not all norf London speaks like that, in fact there are loads of slightly different accents across London, but most Burnt Oakers like me have quite strong cockney voices. So no, I’ve never been to New Cross. Why did I include it here? Not sure, maybe I really wanted to go to nearby Goldsmiths College years ago, doing art and whatever else they are famous for, but I ended up choosing Queen Mary and studying French and Drama, and life takes whatever turn it has to.

Right, turning away from New Cross, I now have to get across south London somehow to reach Tooting. I probably should have left this stop out, or drawn Greenwich or moved directly to Canterbury, but I didn’t want to be so dismissive of South London that I would draw New Cross and then be like right, that’s all there is. So I went (virtually) to Tooting, which is a stop on that lower part of the Northern Line, the line that stands on one leg, and a place I have never been. I know it only from that TV show that was on when I was about 3 or 4, Citizen Smith, with Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith. Aparently when I was 4 and filming a TV show at BBC TV Centre in White City I saw Lindsay and went up to him excitedly. My mum told me that years later. Never been to Tooting, but I’ve been to nearby Balham a couple of times, both times going to parties there in my early 20s. Being on the Northern Line, that meant I could get home without changing trains, theoretically, so I wouldn’t be lost in the wilds of saaf London. This sketch is of Tooting Market, which looked interesting but I will probably never go to. Maybe I should have drawn Croydon, that’s a more interesting place, but in my mind I probably still thought, yeah but I should be near the tube so I can get home in time for dinner and watch Gladiators and Noel’s House Party, even though actually I’m sitting at a desk in California in 2020.

Ok, enough norf-London bewilderment at saaf-London, now time to get all London-centric with the rest of the country. Next stop, Canterbury! (checks notes) I mean, next stop Broadstairs! Broadstairs?