(3) Camden Town, (4) Soho and (5) The City of London

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I may have spent too long in London on this virtual journey, not leaving space for some other places along the way – your Southamptons and your Swindons, your Leicesters and your Lutons – but in my defense I am from London, so I don’t mind being London-centric, and also I didn’t see anything I wanted to draw in those places, although if I went in real life undoubtedly I’d feel different, except in Luton. London is so big and diverse though, and I was still looking at places that meant a little to me. The next stop was in Camden Town, top left in this spread. This is Camden High Street, the point where the railway bridge crosses the famous Camden Market. Camden Lock itself is around the corner from here, where the Regents Canal cuts through on its way from Little Venice to the Docklands. I come out in Camden almost every time I come back to London, as it is easy for me to get to and all my old favourites are there, even if they aren’t really my favourites much any more. Many memorable (and a fair few unmemorable) nights out round here over the years, with the usual lads. A long time ago late nineties early noughties I used to go to the Mixer with my mate Tel and we’d play pool, or rather he would play pool and I would sit there watching him win game after game while I chatted to people. It’s what I like about the pubs in Camden, you always get a conversation. Not always an interesting one but you meet some characters. Me and my mate Roshe would always get into long drinky conversations with interesting people in Camden, like the fella we met from Sweden a couple of years ago late at the Hawley who was in London to take photos of the Cure. Camden has too many memories to count, but I still think it’s a mess. It’s supposed to be, long may it be.

Right that is enough of Camden, time to go into town and go to Soho. Northern Line maybe, or just jump on the bus, end up on Frith Street, go to get a coffee at Bar Italia. Now it must be pointed out, I don’t drink coffee, I don’t like it at all. Yet the only time I had a coffee drink that I liked was right here at Bar Italia, a cappuccino at about 3:30am, and admittedly it was in about 1996. That is in the twentieth century so yeah, it has been a while. You might know Bar Italia from the last song on Pulp’s Different Class. I used to come here for a little while back in the mid-nineties when I was briefly going out with a girl from Perugia, she worked at a Soho amusement arcade and we would usually meet up at midnight to go to clubs like St Moritz or the Wag, and then with some other Italian friends we’d go to Bar Italia while the sun was coming up, before I’d get my Night Bus back home to Burnt Oak from Trafalgar Square (often getting home and not even sleeping before heading into work at the Asda coffee shop next morning – I really had so much energy when I was twenty). That summer reminds me of 1996, the Euros, that Gareth Southgate penalty miss, seeing the Pistols at Finsbury Park with my uncle Billy, going to the Hellfire Club on Saturday nights with my friend Andrea from Hungary, working at Asda on weekends, and ending up at the end of the summer on a bus to Germany to spend a year which lasted three weeks. Memories that I’m pretty sure happened but all blend together like old posters pasted on top of each other on an old wall that was knocked down years ago. You know when memories of people and places vanish but jump out again in dreams years later? Time to leave that cappuccino behind in Bar Italia and get out of Soho now.

The final sketch in this spread is at Bank, right in the heart of the City of London. The City of London is its own thing, an area known as the Square Mile that has a degree of independence dating back to the twelfth century. Like, we in London distinguish “London” from “The City” but it’s a real distinction – you see statues of silver dragons marking the entrances into the City, it is managed by the Corporation and governed by the Lord Mayor, and if the reigning monarch wishes to enter the City they must attain permission from the Lord Mayor. They also have their own police force – Greater London has the Metropolitan Police, those bobbies from New Scotland Yard, but the Square Mile has the City of London Police, which have distinctively different police constable helmets with little crests on them. The location of this sketch is right next to the Bank of England (left) and Mansion House (unseen on the right), looking towards the Royal Exchange, and a whole load of skyscrapers, new ones going up all the time. This skyline has grown increasingly spiky since I left England, like the City is going through its experimental haircut phase. There’s an open-top bus. The thing this junction reminds me of most are my days as an open-top bus tour guide twenty years ago, I loved going through this are, so much to talk about, and on a weekend when there was no work traffic you had to get those facts out quick, no time for rambling. Mention the grasshopper on the weather vane, talk about the Lombard bankers, catch your breath because the Great Fire is coming up and then you’re at London Bridge. Of course if it’s Thursday afternoon and traffic is crawling you can really start telling stories.

From here, I probably should have moved beyond London on the virtual tour, to give myself a few more spots for your Blackburns and your Bradfords, your Warwicks and your Weymouths, but not wishing to appear North-London-centric I went east to Stratford, and then south-east to New Cross, then south to Tooting, before finally finding the road to Kent, like a Chaucerian wandering about lost, unable to read a map written in the French of Paris when all I know is the French of Stratford at Bow. Dammit I was saving that joke for the next post, not that anyone will understand it. All will be revealed, I’ll see you at Stratford Town Hall…

down the grafton with james and paul

grafton arms, kentish town
On the Monday I was back in London, I took my Mum to afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason’s (always fun), and in the evening I went down to the Camden area to meet up with my good friend James, and my fellow urban sketcher Paul Heaston. It was actually the first time I had ever met Paul in person, having followed him for the best part of a decade online since the early days on Flickr and Urban Sketchers, always been one of my sketching heroes (and a fellow ginger sketcher). So it was great to finally meet him, and he is a super nice dude as well. It turns out he loves the Beatles as much as James and I do, so there was a lot of music talk. We went down to the Grafton Arms in Kentish Town and sketched in there, silly jokes ahoy, and Paul showed us his remarkable sketchbook, full of extremely accurate curving perspectives and highly detailed interiors. Blown away and inspired in equal measure. I sketched the above scene, and also drew my companions (below). A fun evening out in north London.
james mcauley
paul heaston
And here are a couple of action photos, the first sowing Paul’s great skills of fitting everything in, the second showing me with that thing I apparently do when I am drawing, poking my tongue out. My son does that when he plays soccer so it must be a Scully thing.

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Oh, and James and I did our Panini football sticker swapping for Euro 2016. Business sorted!

drinkin’ at the mixer

Good Mixer, Camden Town

This is the Good Mixer in Camden Town. I was meeting up with my friend Simon, and while he dealt with the fun that is London Transport I came down here to sketch this old pub from the outside. It was pretty chilly, which I was not displeased with (writing as I do after several 100 degree-plus days here in Davis), but I just had to capture this old Camden warhorse. One day I will draw the unchanging interior; that place has stories to tell. The Mixer is well-known in Camden, in the 90s it was the haunt of many Britpop locals, and when I used to come out in Camden this would invariably be the place where we would end up. My mate Terry and here spent many Saturday nights in here playing pool (well actually he wad the one playing pool, I would usually lose a game then watch), met many interesting characters, saw the odd ruck, drank a lot of beer and cider. I still have a nice orange scarf that was left in here one night in the early 2000s; a woman (I think she was French) who was sat next to us had left it behind, so I held onto it until she came back. When she didn’t, I handed it to the barstaff at closing time, but they said they would just throw it away, so I should keep hold of it. It was a nice scarf, and a cold night waiting for the N5. Fun place, the Mixer. For years I didn’t realize the bar had two sides, I had assumed that it was a mirror behind the bar, but a mirror that didn’t work very well reflecting people (this gives a good idea as to the time of night we would usually end up in here). Lots of fuzzy memories. Admittedly my stories are not anywhere near as colourful as some of those who pass through here, but I’m not that interesting a person. Anyway, I finished up my sketch, and popped in for a beer (by the way London, wow, how can you charge so much for pint? It’s almost double what it cost when I last lived in London!), and added the colour while waiting for my mate to arrive, and we went to the Spreadeagle.

we need to talk about camden

Camden Lock
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.
Dublin Castle pub, Camden
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.

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And here’s the map…

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down camden

Hawley Arms, Camden
While back in London I wanted to get at least one in-bar sketch done, and I usually find it harder to draw at the bar when I’m busy talking to non-sketching friends. So one night I met up with a mate at the Hawley Arms in Camden Town, so I got there a bit early, got a pint (not cheap in London, much dearer than in Hawley Arms exteriornorthern CA), and drew from a little table at the end of the bar. It took about twenty minutes. You can see my reflection if you look hard. I do like drawing bars, there are all the usuals, the beer-taps, the bottles, the little shower things that dispense sodas, and of course the black straws. All bar drawings I do have to have a big stack of those black straws that just seem to get in the way of everything else in the sketch. I don’t see that many people using them, but they always keep them right there.

This was a nice pub, popular with famous musicians I guess (well known for one in particular), though I had never actually been here before, in all the nights I have been out in Camden. I used to go to Camden quite a lot back in the old days – the Mixer, the Dublin Castle, NW1 (in the reverse order of appearance) – so always have to go there at least once on any return trip.

 

if the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the english rain

name your saucesbig ben

The smart thing to do would be to check the weather forecast and then decide what to do, but of course as anyone who is familiar with London summers (or winters, autumns and springs) knows, the weather forecast cannot be relied upon anyway. We’d planned to do a walking tour around Westminster (one of the London Walks; I illustrated their book a couple of years ago, including the chapter on Secret Westminster) and wasn’t going to be put off by a few drops of rain. Indeed it looked like it would be just another breezy, grey Saturday, maybe the odd drop here and there but nothing to worry us. We met the group outside a tourist-packed Westminster station, giving me enough time to grab a ten minute sketch of Big Ben (above) before learning about Westminster’s secrets. As we stood behind Westminster Abbey looking at Oliver Cromwell across the road, the rain suddenly turned into a torrent, and pretty much stayed that way for the next few hours.

rainy walk in westminster

It was an interesting tour, to be sure, despite the massive downpour. We went down backstreets of Westminster I never even knew about, and took a stroll through the old Westminster school. Of course I attempted to sketch as we went along, which was a challenge I’ll admit. Once it was all over (a little earlier than planned, I suspect), we went to a pub in Whitehall, the Old Shades, to dry off and have something to eat.  
the shades, whitehall

Not that the rain deterred us too much. We still spent a day around central London, popping into the National Gallery, squeezing through the crowds at Hamley’s, looking through the football shirt shops (hey, it’s me).

shoe in pall mall window

And then in the evening, a night out in Camden Town with friends (one of whom, Ralph, I hadn’t seen in over twenty years). Before meeting up, I grabbed another very quick sketch standing on Camden High street. So despite all the rain, that was a fun day, and it was a fun night as well.

camden sketch