(36) Cambridge, (37) Norwich, and (38) Skegness

GB 36-38 sm
I’m not doing East Anglia any justice. It might not be as dramatic as Wales or as culturally diverse as London, but there are lots of places to explore, immense amounts of history and legend, and despite geographically not being that far from London it sometimes feels far away and distant. At least that’s how I usually felt when going there as a kid, but even now Premier League football teams in London will often fly to games in Norwich rather than take the coach. So in this virtual tour I am really rushing past this important part of England, just stopping off at a couple of places to say hi before heading into the north of the country.

First up is Ely, a small cathedral city in Cambridgeshire. Ely might be small but the cathedral is huge, and I’ve always wanted to go back there and draw it. The first time I was in Ely was in 1995 visiting my friend Jacki for the day, looking at the cathedral, the river, Oliver Cromwell’s house, the shops, and the Woolworth’s, but not the Little Chef which I had heard a lot about, before I caught my train back to King’s Cross; I think I stopped by Ely again briefly a year later, but memory fails me a bit. I do have a few sketching friends in Ely now and have wanted to get back there for a while to draw that cathedral, but I’ll have to make do with virtual sketching for now. The Woolworth’s is long gone, as is the Little Chef I expect. Ely is in the Fens, and the name probably comes from the “isle of eels”, or so I was told at the time. The Fens are a flat and marshy landscape, spreading out across northern East Anglia right up to The Wash. They bring to mind the great Anglo-Saxon hero Hereward the Wake, who held out against the Norman conquerors (who probably called him “The Wake” as an insult like online trolls now dismiss people as “Woke”). Hereward the SJW led a virtue-signalling rebellion (or was it a radical left riot?) against the freedom-loving Normans who had come to England in 1066 to create jobs (building castles, chopping heads, harrying norths). They didn’t have Twitter in those days, just scribes who used no punctuation whatsoever (so a bit like today). It was here in Ely that Hereward made his stand against William the Conqueror’s Normans, who even brought along a Witch, an actual Witch, in a tall mobile wooden tower to try to freak the English out with magic and spells, though that didn’t work and the English just set fire to the tower (true story). The isle of Ely (as it was an island in those days) ultimately fell, and Hereward escaped to live as an outlaw in the Fens, with his brothers Thereward and Everywhereward (not a true story).

So that’s Ely, now it’s time to head into Norfolk. I decided to miss out the Suffolk part of East Anglia, which is a real shame as the countryside is really nice there. Think Constable, Gainsborough, and the others. I needed to get to Norwich, the biggest city in East Anglia and a place that has a lot of childhood memories for me. My aunt Pat lived in Norwich when I was a kid, in a house next to the big Heath with lots of my cousins. We’d visit them from time to time, this house with what seemed like so many rooms, even a basement (I still get excited when a house has a basement). When I was seven I spent a few weeks staying up there with my aunt when my little sister was a baby, mostly playing with my cousin Daniel, speeding down the steep slope of the Heath on bits of cardboard box, playing Star Wars, going to see Superman III, eating out at a place called Zaks. My cousins were Jehovah’s Witnesses so I remember bedtime stories being stories like Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt, which didn’t give me nightmares but made me really wonder about the physics of that. I think I still have the book of those stories my aunt gave me somewhere. Speaking of salt, when I was visiting as a kid my cousin Daniel decided to pour loads of salt into my orange squash, to see what would happen. I remember saying, this tastes funny, and he told me what he’d done. Oh ok, I said, and I kept drinking it, assuming it was some Norfolk thing. Then we sat down for breakfast and I erupted in vomit like Mount Vesuvius, all over my older cousin Debbie’s nice leather jacket. Daniel got in trouble, I just kept throwing up, but the lesson learned was don’t put salt in orange squash. The last time I visited Norwich was when I was 15, we popped by to see my aunt and to my cousin Denise’s. I still have a lot of family around Norwich and Norfolk, I wish I had the time to pop by and say hi to them all, and Norwich would be a fun place to explore and draw. I chose to draw Jarrold’s, the big department store in the centre of town, I vaguely remember my cousin telling me about it when I was a kid, but I don’t know if I ever went there.

And finally in this spread, we leave East Anglia but stick with the flatter Fen counties, going into Lincolnshire, on the other side of the Wash. This is the coastal town of Skegness, traditionally seaside holiday spot on the North Sea. Since I missed out all the other east coast seaside spots like Clacton, Walton-on-the-Naze, Great Yarmouth, Caister, Sheringham, I had to include Skeggy, though I have not been there myself. I drew the clock tower on the seafront, and you can see in the background there are several fish and chip shops. There seem to be so many chippies around here, and that is a very good thing, I think you always need a good fish and chip shop nearby, it’s a requirement. Being northern and by the sea the fish and chips are bound to be pretty good. When I think of Skegness, as with many coastal towns, I think of chalet parks, caravan parks, chip shops, arcades, bingo, sticks of rock. We used to stay in chalets at holiday parks in Caister as a kid, and we would go further north on the other side of England to the Pontins resort in Southport, near Blackpool. We would also go to a caravan park in Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, and occasionally to Camber Sands on the south coast. But never to Skegness, always just a bit further away, most Londoners wouldn’t head that far, again unless they went up to Blackpool. “Skegness” as a name sounds very “Danelaw”, and the name does come from Old Norse, with Skeggi either being the name of a Viking or just a word meaning “beard-shaped”, with “Ness” being a coastal headland. What’s the Danelaw? That’s the portion of England that was cut diagonally across the country in late Anglo-Saxon times that was effectively taken over by the Vikings, in short. You’ll find a larger number of place-names of Norse origin, lots of -thorpes and -bys and -holmes and -nesses. Looking at the map as I take the virtual trip I see a lot more of them popping up the further we travel up this way.

But next up, we are heading west again, to Lincoln and further inland.

a couple of days at cal

UCAAC 2017 sm
Recently I went to Berkeley for the annual UC Academic Advising Conference (UCAAC). I’ve been going to this conference most years since 2007, which was hosted by UC Irvine at the Disneyland Hotel. Each year a different UC campus hosts the conference and this year Berkeley got the chance. I sketched the opening remarks at the morning breakfast, before the break-out workshops began (fun note: I won a Starbucks gift card for this sketch!). The theme this year was ‘Building Bridges’, because, as you know, lots of bridges near here. The Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinas Bridge, loads of bridges. But yes, yes I kept thinking if Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering his Magnetoesque line from X-Men: The Last Stand: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” He said that as you know just after ripping the Golden Gate Bridge from its base and dumping it on Alcatraz for some reason. I love Magneto.
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This sketch of Bancroft Avenue was drawn early in the morning, after getting off the train. There is always a lot to sketch in Berkeley.
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Such as Sather Gate. This is a very ornate gateway on campus, and I did draw it many years ago, but wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I’m pleased to report, I like the newer version. There were quite a few students in graduation garb walking around taking photos, as you do. It was that time of year. Below, I drew a detail of the gate. Making a heart.
berkeley sather gate detail sm
I did those between workshops, but I also did a bit of sketching after the final workshop on day two, when I wandered campus a bit after lunch. Below is the University Library, which is just a massive, grandiose epic structure. A lot of UC Berkeley is like this, full of grandeur, far more than UC Davis. Berkeley is Davis’s parent school of course, with UC Davis being founded as Berkeley’s offshoot University Farm. Our library is also massive, but this one looks far grander.
berkeley uc library may 2017 sm
Below is the Sather Tower, the large campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the Berkeley campus. It’s nice up the top of there by the way. I just had to draw it again.
berkeley sather tower may 2017 sm
And the fire hydrants. Like in Davis, the city has a different colour hydrant from the campus, but unlike Davis, it’s the campus that has the yellow hydrants while the city has the white ones. I know! You don’t care! But I think that is funny. The yellow one there is outside the Playhouse on campus, while the short white one is on Shattuck Avenue next to that discount bookstore.
berkeley yellow hydrant may 2017 smberkeley hydrant may 2017 sm

not something distant and unfound

aix: place de l'hotel de ville
Day two in Aix, and I awoke to the sound of thunder and rain. A big storm was washing over France, and while the rain stopped the moment I stepped out of my hotel (thanks, rain!), the air was soupy. My head was a bit soupy too after going to O’Sullivan’s the night before, but after a pain-au-chocolat and an escargot (the pastry, not the actual snail) I felt right as, well, rain. I had avoided sketching the clock tower outside the Mairie in the Place de l’Hotel de Ville the day before, mostly because I ran out of time just saying that sentence, but I wanted it to be the first thing I sketched in the morning. It’s the iconic view of Aix, it may even be required for all visiting artists to sketch or paint it at some point. This spot is just around the corner from where my then-future-wife lived when we started dating, so there were lots of happy memories walking up there. The three flags outside the government building incidentally are the French flag (in the middle), the flag of Provence (red and yellow), and the flag of the European Union on the left, which at the time of writing still existed. I’m jesting of course, but all this talk about the Eurozone falling apart brings back more Aix memories. I was living in Aix at the time of the changeover, when we all gave up our Francs and Deutschmarks and Lira to take up the exciting new Euro. It was exciting too; while my bank account had been formally in both Euros and Francs for a while (as it had been when I lived in Belgium a couple of years before), now we could get to use the real thing. The first thing I noticed, prices tended to get rounded up. We all knew the rate between the Franc and the Euro but with new coins, well, makes sense monsieur. Secondly, no fake money. I probably came across a counterfeit Franc at least once a week before January 1st, 2002, but in the first months of the Euro everything was real, or at least nobody knew how to spot the fakes yet. Thirdly, on trips to other Eurozone countries, no more exchanging currency. It was a happy, innocent time. On this trip however, I was having a great time with the Euro being so weak against the Dollar. I came back to the US thinking, man I should have spent more. But my time was short, my bag was small, and so I spent time on sketching.
aix: cathedrale st sauveur

This is the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence. I love to sketch a cathedral, but I hadn’t planned on sketching this one because, my ratioanl went, I had drawn it already, about thirteen years ago. Never mind that I draw things again all the time and quite a lot has changed about my drawing in the past decade or so, I just didn’t fancy it. And then I got there and I’m like, well if you must. I love this building. It is gorgeous inside, dating from the twelfth century, but there were prior churches and maybe even a Roman temple on this site long before. It’s up the hill from the old town of Aix, nearby to where my wife was studying when I met her. There are a lot of visiting American students in Aix, especially around here. I did go to a party not far from here once, at an American frat boy’s apartment, though I had no idea what a frat boy was at the time. There was a lot of drinking, but I studied in England so that was hardly unusual (I thought them relatively sober in fact). For some reason I remember having a conversation with someone about how Robert de Niro is a terrible actor, and the guy who hosted had a map on his wall where every visitor could put a pin in the place where they were from. Fuzzy memories.

aix: forum des cardeurs
Do you see that sky? Do you see how dark it is? That’s what happened, all of a sudden, as the storm clouds rolled back in. No rain, just heavy, ominous skies. I decided to skip eating lunch at the Forum des Cardeurs, a long sloping square full of restaurants and old rooftops where I used to eat quite regularly. Sketching before eating I’m afraid; well, Prima Pasta, whose seafood pasta dishes I always enjoyed, have big covers over all the outdoor seating now to make it feel more ‘indoors’, so no nice views to sketch while waiting to eat. I made do with a Quick later on instead (that’s the French fast food place, and nice it is too). Those clouds did look ominous though. While I sketched, two guys in their car got blocked in the square by another car which had decided, in typical southern French fashion (yes, you know what I’m talking about) just park directly in front of the only exit to the square, as if, huh no biggie. These two guys honked their horns patiently, quick toot at first, then a longer one, then a seriously-come-on one, then repeatedly, until when nobody came they just got out, exasperated, and looked at the offending car over and over. No car owner came. Shoulders were shrugged, ladies and gentlemen, shoulders were shrugged. They didn’t think to call anyone to remove the car. Now if this was England, there would have been a lot of swearing, letters would have been written to the Daily Mail, LBC would have been phoned in, the license plate would have been named and shamed and if the owner ever turned up it would have been curtain-twitching at twenty paces. Well the driver did eventually saunter by, a very earnest “oh, désolé“, another shrug, and the two stranded blokes just casually waved it off to say, no problem, you’re here now. And that was it, all very laid back. That little scene pretty much summed up a lot of how I remember people here in Aix. Time just happens, and that’s that. My barber in Aix, who famously never gave me what I wanted but always came up with a better variation on my very unimaginative hairstyle, used to spend half the time cutting my hair and half the time chatting away to people passing by in the street. Time is different here.
aix: bechard calissons, cours mirabeau
That said, time was getting on. I had time enough for one more sketch before getting my bus to the TGV station. I went to the Cours Mirabeau and sketched Bechard, the Calisson makers. Bechard is a lovely sweetshop which specializes in Calissons d’Aix, small almond-shaped sweets made from almonds and dried fruits, similar to marzipan but a bit nicer. This is the traditional Aix candy and yes, I brought some home.
place d'albertas
And then it was goodbye to Aix! Well, au revoir. An all-too-brief trip, but a nice reunion. I don’t know anybody here any more, but I still know the city, and that is enough. Aix-en-Provence was the city that changed the direction of my life, set me on the path I am now on, both personally and artistically. It’s so far away now, but still there, for when I need it. I got on my bus to the TGV, and within seconds the heavens opened with an enormous downpour – perfect timing you might say! It could have been a bit more perfect though – my bus got stuck in absolute standstill traffic on the autoroute, caused by the thunderous storm. Panic set in. Sacre bleu, I thought, I’m going to miss my train to Strasbourg. Traffic wasn’t even crawling, it was just stopped. But thankfully I made it, and the train itself was delayed – more fortuitous traveling. I settled onto the packed TGV, and zoomed north through the impenetrable grey.

Next up: Strasbourg!

Actually no, next up is a map of Aix plus a little post comparing Aix sketches from twelve or thirteen years ago and now…

the mother of all parliaments

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Parliament Square! Click on the image for a closer view. After sketching the Royal Court I went back to Westminster, and stood in Parliament Square to sketch a panorama of the Palace of Westminster, that is, the Houses of Parliament. I know what you’re thinking, I spent a lot of time sketching the tourist attractions this time and not enough time sketching little newsagents or hidden side-streets, but they are all to come, don’t worry. When I passed through the frankly impossible Parliament Square I thought, well why not. There really is a lot of traffic around this square, and not many crossings to get into the middle; it’s never been one of my favourite places. But in the golden sunshine, what a spectacular view! When I was a tour guide I loved the turn into this square, it was almost cinematic with Big Ben (yes I know it’s the bell) and centuries of history unfolding all at once. We’ve had a parliament here since the thirteenth century, though most of the Palace of Westminster – including the Clock Tower (that houses the bell Big Ben), now officially called “Elizabeth Tower”, being renamed in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee –  was built in the 1800s by Sir Charles Barry after the old palace burned to the ground. The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall, built by King William II (William Rufus) in around 1097. That’s the part with the big sloping roof.

The square is, naturally, a popular place for protest movements. On the left is Parliament Street which leads to Whitehall, many of the British government buildings are located here. Westminster Bridge leads off, over the Thames; in the distance there you can see the Shard, tallest building in Europe. I’ve included the statue of Winston Churchill which, I was told when training as a tour guide, is actually electrified with a low voltage to prevent pigeons from sitting on his head. “We will fight them on the statues.” It’s hidden away a bit but you can just make out the statues of Oliver Cromwell, former Lord Protector, a strange choice for a statue outside Parliament because despite leading Parliamentary forces in defeating the Royalists in the Civil War, he did also shut Parliament down as and when it suited him too. On the right hand side you can just about make out St. Margaret’s Church, the parliamentary church; on my old tour I would joke that it was a place where Tory and Labour MPs would go and pray together but not the Lib-Dems because they haven’t a prayer, tee-hee, well times have changed now haven’t they. This church backs onto Westminster Abbey.

parliament square bigben sm

Here’s a close-up. I worked in Westminster Hall once back in the 90s, serving tea as part of a catering job I was working on (it if I recall rightly a Jewish single’s night organized by the MP Oona King). I remember walking about the amazing building, seeing where William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace was tried before his execution, wandering about the old stone corridors and hearing voices echoing down the stairwells. I went to the toilet, and remember the booming sound of Big Ben making me jump, opening the window and seeing the large clock face right there. I do love this old building.

Here’s a map showing whereabouts I stood. After this, my drawings were done for the day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon mooching around bookstores.

westminster map

high time for chocolate

SF Ghirardelli Square
Here’s another from San Francisco. After sketching the Balclutha, I stood on the corner of Beach and Larkin to sketch the sloping view up to Ghirardelli Square. You’ll know Ghirardelli as a famous chocolatier, and they do make really nice choccies. I even treated myself to a delicious hot fudge brownie sundae after this drawing, setting me back a cool $10 but ermagerd, it was good, so good. This place is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I coloured this in later – I had stood there long enough, and there were plenty more things to draw. I also added a map into my sketchbook showing the locations of my sketches so far – there it is below. You will see a lot more of these maps from now on, as I have decided to paint little maps accompanying my pages. Let’s see how long that idea lasts. anyway, I do have more San Francisco sketches to come, I have just been very lazy with the scanner…
SF map

empire building

courthouse santa rosa

I hope you are all having yourselves a Merry little Christmas. Mine has been very nice, one long Lego-building bonanza. We’ve been over to Santa Rosa a couple of times to visit family, and on one afternoon before Christmas I went downtown to do a bit of afternoon sketching. It has been quite sunny here lately. This is the Empire Building in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square, built in 1910. Christmas shoppers bustled about getting those last minute stocking stuffers.

all around the clocktower

crouch end, london

A bigger, more complicated drawing for the previously mentioned amazing pen. This is Crouch End, an area of London we lived in for three years. This is the clocktower at the junction of Crouch End Broadway. This took a while. The Old Crown pub one I drew before took just under an hour, while this took several hours, spread over a couple of evenings and a lunchtime, but it’s bigger and more ridiculously detailed. I haven’t drawn a mega-tiny-detailed street scene in a while, and of course I’m playing with (and draining all the ink from) this incredible pen. It’s like the elder wand of pens, it just feels so nice to draw with that i want to keep drawing.

Drawn with uniball signo UM-151 on Canson classic cream drawing paper (first time i’ve used it since getting it at last year’s portland symposium), size is a bit shy of  8″x8″. I think I’ll do some more of these.