I sketched you in a bar down in old Soho

Old Coffee House pub

And so to the last night in England. It was an emotional trip, quick and busy, spent time with family, and friends, and places that I love. The last night there was just mine, all mine. I got back to Burnt Oak and watched old Alan Partridge shows on Netflix while packing my bag, never an easy task after even a short trip, what with all the various books (so many books) and new football shirts (more than one) and Cadbury’s cake bars and packs of Bisto gravy and Topic bars and whatever else I had to get. there was a lot I didn’t pick up. I didn’t get any Daddy’s Sauce, which I adore and am currently out of. For those who don’t know, Daddy’s is a brown sauce very similar to HP but less spicy and just tastes like home. I ate a Pot Noodle for dinner. I have not had a Pot Noodle for quite a long time. They seem a little less satisfying than I remember. I loved them when I was 14. I didn’t intend on ti being for dinner this time, but I left it a bit late to get much else when I finally finished packing my bag and venture back out into London one last time. I had a very early start the next morning and didn’t want to do any last-minute packing. So, I was along in London. I thought I might get some food and sketch an old pub. I wasn’t sure where I would go. London is vast and full of possibilities. I got off the train at Camden Town thinking, I could grab a curry at Masala Zone and then go up to sketch the Steele’s at Chalk Farm. But then at the last second I decided to jump back on the same tube because my head said, “you always go to Camden! Do that another time. London is yours!” So in the spirit of revisiting my youth, I got out at Tottenham Court Road instead. That was always my destination station whenever I would go into London as a teenager. It was right next to the Virgin Megastore – now long gone. It was also right next to the Hellfire Club, where as a 19-20 year old I would jump up and down to loud music with a group of international friends – also now long gone. In fact the station is completely different to the one from the 90s, having undergone a total transformation and rebuild in the past few years. All the old shortcuts are gone, and it’s a large, modern and open station now, not the cramped yellowing ticket hall of the past. I ended up not eating dinner, because I could not find somewhere that I fancied, and I wandered about Soho remembering all the old shortcuts that are thankfully still there. I passed by the Old Coffee House, a pub I have enjoyed a few fun evenings in with friends, one that I have tried to sketch before but at a time without pub-sketching confidence, and I saw through the window that there was a nice seat at the corner of the bar with a perfect panorama sketching view. That seat was mine. I would eat Dry Roasted Peanuts for dinner, hunger be damned.

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You’ll need to click on the sketch at the top of this post to see it in closer detail (it’ll take you to the Flickr site). As I sketched, I tried a couple of different beers, supplied by a local brewer, Brodies. The first was the Piccadilly Pale Ale, the second and third were the Old Street Pale Ale. I did all the ink at the bar, but added the watercolour paint on the plane next morning (my Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook being exactly the same width as my Virgin Atlantic economy seat). The bar staff were friendly, and the pub was chilled out. Oh except for the bar fight which broke out behind me. I have discovered that I can apparently sketch undisturbed while a bar fight happens around me, looking up occasionally before getting back to work. Now don’t imagine a long Wild-West style mass brawl, it was more of a few seconds of pushing before a quick “break it up, boys”. There was a group of lads out on a jolly, very drunk and celebrating some birthday or other. I say ‘very drunk’ but it was varying degrees of drunkenness, ranging from ‘friendly and convivial’ to ‘barely able to speak or stand’, with a range of performative drunkenness in between. Two of them for example were enacting a bullfight in the bar, another was sat down loudly singing to a couple of ladies (he was one of the louder ones, but actually he had a very good singing voice), and then one lad who would drunkenly go and sit with random people who would grin and nod a lot back before he sat down with the wrong group of people, one of whom got angry at something or other and they started scuffling, a glass broke, the drunken guy was whisked away and I turned to see one offended young man displaying the classic pose of “hold me back, hold me back”. I didn’t see much more because I was zen-posed with my sketchbook, working to a tight schedule, I had a plane to catch in the morning. The kerfuffles were quickly dealt with by the, I must say, very capable and calming pub staff, who’ve seen it all before I am sure. There was none of that macho make-it-all-worse strutting. The large partying group departed, the broken glass cleaned up, the “hold me back” guy went calmly back to his fresh pint, and the evening went on. I’ve always quite enjoyed this pub, in a little corner of Soho near Carnaby Street, and have been here many times with friends, going back to the 1990s, so I was glad to finally get a sketch of the place. Drawing a pub with lots of details inevitably means you get some wrong, and in this case I drew one too many frames on the wall above the main bar area. You won’t notice, of course. I also drew one person twice. He was standing at the bar waiting for a drink, and then afterwards he had his jacket off and was sat with a woman enjoying conversation. His hair somehow went from black to brown as well but I blame the lighting, not my urban sketching skills. The world is as you see it at that moment (and that of course can change by the third pint).

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Seen through the window of a barbers in Soho. A popular night-time photo opportunity.

As it turns out it, I witnessed two bar fights that night. Typical London, you don’t see one for years and years and then two show up at once. On my way back to the station I popped into another old favourite, The Ship, for a quick pint of London Pride. As I was leaving, it seemed a ruck had broken out just outside between two people who had been in the pub, which was being broken apart by excited pub staff, and people were being directed away from it (so that they could stop and watch, as of course you would do). One rutting stag showed us the true meaning of “hold me back, hold me back”, and did some of the best “hold me back” moves I have ever seen, getting absolutely no fighting done whatsoever, while the main belligerent was drunkenly trying to pick up those metal poles that hold up barriers and swing it around like a broadsword. Maybe someone had asked if he wanted to go clubbing and his Google Translate had mis-google-translated. Security staff did that thing where they multiply, and both men were held back, and the audience started ambling off, as did I, because I had a plane to catch. An entertaining last night in London.

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There was a nice article posted in the Davis Enterprise today, an interview with me by Tanya Perez, talking about urban sketching and this weekend’s sketchcrawl, among other things. It also has the picture of me in a hard hat on the cover. I didn’t realize that this would be on the cover, so that was a nice surprise. You can pick up a copy (in Davis today) or read it online at the Davis Enterprise website: “Sketcher draws attention to Davis“. Many thanks to Tanya and the Enterprise for the nice article!

Exit from Exeter

Exeter station, Devon
“Exit from Exeter”. That is really not a very relevant title. I just really wanted to use the word ‘Exit’ in the same title as ‘Exeter’. I scratched ‘Exiting Exeter’ because it could be misread as ‘Exciting Exeter’, and who am I to judge? I was only there for about 50 minutes, and I never left Platform 1. I wasn’t really in Exeter long enough to be really Exiting. ‘Departing from Devon’? I had taken the train from Barnstaple, and changed here at Exeter St. David’s for the train back to London. There was an Exeter rugby match happening that day, so there were several fans on board the train across Devon. I knew that I could get some sketching time in at the station while I waited, so I picked a spot and drew. It’s pretty standard classic English railway station stuff. I like travelling by train, and my journey went well. I actually did the colouring-in while on the train, reserving a table seat ahead of time. I would like to spend a bit more time in Exeter if I came back here again, maybe just a couple of hours to draw the cathedral, which I hear is quite nice. I do like drawing cathedrals. I have a dream to travel the whole of England, drawing all the cathedrals, and then go to France and do the same. I wanted to get back to London though, to pack my bag for the flight back to California. I was in Paddington by the late afternoon. Stepping onto the Paddington platform, I was struck by how cathedral-like it was. Maybe I should draw the railway stations of Britain. I’m sounding like a trainspotter. I already look like one.

Back in Barnstaple

Barnstaple parish church, Devon
I went to Barnstaple with family to see family, an almost six hour drive to the West Country. I like Barnstaple, all of the shops are close together, and if you need a pair of socks urgently you can just walk to a shop a few minutes away and get some for a quid (unlike in Davis). Yes it was the same shop I bought four Topics for a quid. By the way Americans if you don’t know what a quid is, it’s a pound, the UK currency, not the unit of weight. I say ‘quid’ a lot. In America I say ‘bucks’ a lot. By the way it’s never ‘quids’, you don’t say “seven quids”. Oh except in the phrase “quids in”, which means…ok let’s get on with the drawings. I was up early, having beaten my brother at MarioKart the night before in the hotel room (just wanted to point that out), and I like to wander about having a little walk. The sketch above is Barnstaple Parish Church. The church dates back to Saxon times over a thousand years ago (England is well old, folks), though none of that building survives. The present church is much newer, having been built just recently, in 1318 (the spire is even newer, having only been put up in 1389, which was pretty much just the other day). Some more building was added in the 1600s such as the Dodderidge Library in 1667 (it’s hard for a Londoner to see a building dating from 1667 and not assume it is just replacing one destroyed in the Great Fire of London, but it didn’t quite reach this far, hundreds of miles west). The spire of the church has a twist – it was a ghost all along. No, not that sort of twist. It was struck by lightning in 1810, but the twist is that it wasn’t the lightning that twisted it at all, but centuries of sunlight on the lead and wooden frame. Apparently George Gilbert Scott (the grandfather of Giles who built Tate Modern, Waterloo Bridge and designed the red phonebox) was asked to renovate the church, but he refused to fix the twist, because he said that “if you know Bruce Willis is a ghost all along it ruins the tension of this otherwise unwatchable film”. By the way if you ever travel back in time to 1810 and get stuck, at least you know you can generate the 1.21 gigawatts of power to get home by hooking up a cable to the Barnstaple Parish Church spire.
Barnstaple butcher shop

When I first came to Barnstaple last year to visit my uncle Billy who lives here, I saw this really interesting looking butcher’s shop in Joy Street. I determined that I would sketch it when I came back, so I did. I could never be a butcher. I would just be doing ‘meat’ puns all the time, like “nice to meat you!” and “it’s bacon hot today!” and “gammon have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. See, I’d be really bad at it. Master Butchers are very skilled at what they do. They really know their meats. They know all the meats. Beef, Lamb, Pork Pies, all the meats. It would take me ages to learn all the meats. Across the street from here is an art shop called the Blue Gallery, so I popped in to have a look around. Lots of nice art supplies. They also had a copy of Matthew Brehm’s perspective drawing book, I have quite a few sketches in that one. These were the only sketches I did in Barnstaple this time, but my ones from last year are in this post: https://petescully.com/2018/05/19/barnstaple-devon/ . Devon’s nice. I came to Devon when I was in my teens a few times, and always thought I would come back more as I grew older, but never got around to it. It’s a big county, with lots of places to discover. Devon is old country. When you are out on the windswept moors time is almost irrelevant. Unless you are sentenced to Dartmoor prison, when time becomes a thing you do. I always liked the ghost stories from the moors, like the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. Seriously, the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. That is an actual ghost story, look it up. It sounds like a Dr. Strange incantation. “By the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor!” 

Brick Lane

Brick Lane, London
I had to go to Brick Lane. I used to come here twenty years ago when I was a student at Queen Mary, in nearby Mile End, usually after performing in a play, for curry and fairly decent amounts of wine or beer. This time I wasn’t here for curry (much as I wanted some), no this time I was here for Classic Football Shirts. I’ve followed Classic Football Shirts online a for a few years, they sell old football shirts, and last year after they had an exhibition in London I visited their pop-up store in Shoreditch. Now they have a more regular store in Brick Lane, well organized and full of absolute gems. A real treasure-trove of old footy kits, which for someone like me who is obsessed with them is the best thing ever. Most of the really interesting old ones were a bit out of my budget (tempted though I was by the early 1990s Northern Ireland Umbro kit with the weird triangular pattern, and the light blue Spurs 1992 third kit), but I did pick up for twenty quid an Accra Hearts of Oak home kit from Ghana, which I’d been looking for. I like their stripes. Contented with all football kit conversation with one of the guys who run the place, I started to head off back to Burnt Oak, but decided that I could not leave without a sketch. It was a lovely day to be out and about. So I stood on the corner of Hanbury Street and drew. There are lots of artistic murals and colourful shop fronts around here now. I walked through Spitalfields on the way back to Liverpool Street tube, the whole area being very, very different from when I was last here in 2013 for the Jack the Ripper sketchcrawl (it was that long ago? I’m going to have to do a sketchcrawl commemorating the sketchcrawl). And of course, all the new skyscrapers that have sprouted up in the past decade or so, I did one very quick sketch in pencil, and I was going to add paint (not ink) but ended up not doing so. London’s great, isn’t it. I could draw every inch of it, given the chance.

City of London in pencil

 

duck soup

View from office
A break from the London sketches, to show a Davis sketch. I’ve not sketched as regularly as usual since coming back, which is common after a trip abroad. I get back to Davis and I’m like, yeah I’ve drawn it all before. However I don’t think I ever drew the view from my office. I have been in a new office since summer 2017, having previously been in a windowless office in the same building. In that office, I had to draw on the whiteboard to pretend there was an outside world. Now I can see what the weather is like. Usually it’s sunny. Lately however we have been having ridiculously wet and stormy winter weather, rain that has been flooding some areas. Many of our soccer games (and this week’s tournament) have been cancelled, causing my son to instead kick his ball against the front door (a lot). Good weather for ducks they say. Not all ducks. Apparently one duck got sucked into the embarrassingly-named Lake Berryessa “Glory Hole” (which I see is referred to as the ‘Bell-mouth Spillway’ by some news outlets, which sounds SO MUCH better). I don’t think the duck made it. When I heard the news I immediately thought of Donald Duck going red and getting angry and making those furious steam-eared Donald Duck noises. What do you think of when you see the headline “Duck gets sucked through Glory Hole”? Actually don’t tell me the answer to that, honestly. The rain was bucketing down as I sketched this, stuck inside on my lunchtime, eating a microwave ready-meal of ‘roast’ turkey. Speaking of turkey, there are these two turkeys that live near our building and are a verified Menace to Society. One of them chased me into my building one morning. I wasn’t going to fight it, I’d look pretty silly fighting this big leathery-feathered bird on the way to work. It was pretty aggressive though. I did that thing where you make yourself look big and say “I’m the boss”, but the turkey was having none of it, and came at me with his huge beak and surprisingly long claws, giving it all that. So I went inside the building and made faces at it through the window instead. It stood there looking at me, trying to be all alpha male (which clearly it was), but I won out really, not being drawn into a battle of talons and feathers, I walked away with my dignity still intact, when that turkey went low I went high, and if it chases me again then I will run away and live to run away another day. Bloody thing. You tell people back in London about these turkeys and they’re all like, “just kill it and have it for thanksgiving!” Like yeah ok, I’ll kill a wild turkey with my bare hands and skin it and freeze it until November, or I could just not do that, and go to Safeway instead and buy a frozen turkey. Infinitely easier. Or they’ll say, “if that was over here,” (and this is in London, not the countryside) “someone” (immigrants is what they mean) “would hunt that and eat it! They would! I read about it in the Sport! They do that to all the geese!” Or they could just not do that, and just go to Sainsbury’s instead and buy a frozen goose. I do like telling people back home about the wildlife around here though, the black widows, the massive birds of prey, the coyotes, the mountain lions (bit rarer here but not that far away), rattlesnakes, bats with rabies, cats with the plague, sharks with jetpacks, trans-elemental spectres, werewolves, and those bees that come together and form a massive giant hammer and stomp all over things. And they always have the same response, “oh if we had those over here,” (in the inner-city housing estates, not like on the moors and fens) “if we had trans-elemental spectres then people” (foreigners is what they mean) “would hunt them for dinner and eat them, it’s true, I saw them doing it, I read about it in the local paper, they ate all the elemental spectres from Grahame Park duck pond.” Or maybe they could just not do that, and go to Lidl instead for frozen trans-elemental spectres.

This story is starting to have very little to do with the weather. Time to ‘rain’ it in a bit (I see what you did there). Anyway, it is rainy and continues to be so. I probably could have added some colour to this, to show that it is rainy and grey, but the small person at the bottom with the umbrella should be illustration enough. And because I like looking back to days of Davis past, below is a small sketch I did from the same building (but from a window further along) back on a rainy day in November 2006. I had been in Davis barely a year back then. I don’t think I had even seen a wild turkey back then, let alone any of the other dangerous wildlife.

grey view from msb

Post-script: It turns out the bird that fell into the watery glory hole was a cormorant, not a duck. Cormorants make bad headlines though. Good job it wasn’t a rooster.

When the Spurs go Marching Home

Tottenham Stadium
And here it is, the brand new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium! The new home of my beloved team. I have wanted to come and sketch the construction for ages, but never made it here until a couple of weeks ago – fortunately, construction has taken many months longer than the original optimistic plan, so I was able to get one sort-of in-progress sketch. The stadium is huge. It’s so different walking out onto Tottenham High Road and seeing it loom out, much larger than the old White Hart Lane ground. I wandered about taking photos, before settling on a spot to sketch on Park Lane by Northumberland Avenue. Lots of workmen in their hi-viz jackets, cranes still putting the panels onto the side. And then it was time to go into the new Spurs Shop, much vaster than the old one, and they’re even better at getting me to spend my money. One of the many things I did buy was the new book, The Spurs Shirt, an amazing (and very heavy) book covering the history of the Tottenham shirt. Very much up my Lane. When I was finally done, my backpack much heavier than before, I went off to my friend’s place in south Tottenham, for a fun night out in Stoke Newington.

After Tottenham’s historic home White Hart Lane was knocked down, the massive new modern stadium (with a retractable pitch, so that some NFL games can be held there) was built with an expected opening date of the start of the 2018-19 season. Maybe a few games in. Alright it’ll be September. Ok maybe not September, maybe a bit later. January? Hmm not January, let’s just say “coming soon”. In the meantime we have been playing at Wembley, waiting to move into the new home, couch-surfing in north-west London. Today, Spurs finally announced two test events, ahead of expected Premier League games at the new ground, with the expectation that our Champions League quarter-final will be, finally back home in Tottenham. Come on you Spurs!