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!

The South Bank Show

South Bank Feb2019
Every time I go back to London, my family members have grown older, a little bit. With the adults it’s slower, less noticeable, while with the children it’s a much more visible change. I am now the classic “look how tall you are!” uncle. My uncle jokes are also the best uncle jokes in the world. I too have grown; not taller, rather I have encroached into traditional green belt lands. See, uncle jokes. London on the other hand changes faster than I can think. When I left in 2005, the Gherkin (aka ‘the Erotic Gherkin’) was still the new shocking addition to the City’s skyline, pointing like a stubby fishnet bullet at the sky. The older NatWest building still dominated the Square Mile, sufficiently far from the unchanging dome of St. Paul’s (though that too has changed since I left, having been scrubbed of its layer of grey pollution-particles, so much it now gleams as Wren intended). One by one newer buildings started to be approved, all with their pre-approved nicknames: the Heron, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Dodger’s Kerchief, the Ocelot Spleen, the Snood, and of course the Wizard’s Winkle. I might have made some of those up but you would be hard pressed to figure out which. London’s skyline is starting to resemble less a city and more a manual of Yoga positions. I don’t even know what some of the new ones being built are called (if only there was some way of finding out, some kind of instant source of all global information right at my fingertips!), but change is a good thing, I suppose. I never wanted London to stand still and miss me after I moved away, I wanted London to enjoy its life, meet other buildings, move on.
View from Tate Modern Feb2019

It was a lovely day when I went out sketching on the banks of the Thames. I miss the Thames more than I miss any part of London. I don’t have a Thames here in Davis. I used to come down to the Thames to have a look at it, and contemplate, and be pensive. Sounds stupid now I say it like that. You know like in films and TV shows when the main character has a lot on their mind and they go and look at the Hudson River or stand on the pier at Coney Island (all films and TV shows are set in New York), that was me, coming to the Thames, standing on the South Bank near Waterloo, looking at the Thames. I think I just like watching water move from left to right. Maybe it reminds me of the old Thames Television screen, which would come on just before Rainbow, and I always liked Rainbow. Geoffrey out of rainbow died recently. I met him when I was a kid, at Brentford’s football ground, he drew me a picture of Zippy. It wasn’t a super detailed picture of Zippy but I could tell it was meant to be Zippy. Unless it was meant to be a picture of himself and I misinterpreted it, or a picture of me. Either way, I always wondered what Zippy would be like as a modern-day politician. Yes, it is extremely easy to imagine that isn’t it (it’s even easier to imagine Bungle). When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London years ago I drew a picture of Zippy with Boris Johnson’s hair. A few years later, Johnson and his friend Joanna ‘George’ Lumley, had this crazy idea of building a new bridge across the Thames, right at the spot where I drew the sketch above. It was to be a ‘Garden Bridge’, covered in trees and plants and closed at night and on special corporate events such as when Rod Jane and Freddy would need to perform their Greatest Hits. If I recall, the plan was to build it “up above the streets and houses, everyone can see it smiling over the sky”. Being pedestrian only, it would not alleviate traffic, It would require cutting down scores of trees on the South Bank as well as blocking the view of the city with all its Yoga-position skyscrapers from much of the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge. Change is a good thing I suppose, but this was a change that really didn’t need to happen, at least not right here. When the pedestrian Millennium Bridge was built, it was visually unobtrusive and also in a place that had needed a crossing connecting St Paul’s with the new Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe (I well remember the circuitous routes before). Also, it wobbled, meaning those crafty Cockneys could re-christen it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, calling it that for many years even after the Wobble had been fixed and the joke had really lost its steam. The Garden Bridge was an expensive vanity project that probably wouldn’t even wobble. In the end, after millions being spent and many Bungles, the Garden Bridge was finally scrapped. I’m glad, and I think Geoffrey would have been glad too.

I sat on a bench by the Thames and drew in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite spots in the whole world, even with the growing metropolis sprouting up across the river. A man stopped to have a look at my sketch, enthusiastically asking me what I do with them. “I colour them in,” I said, and he laughed. People often ask what my sketches are for, which is a fair question, since they could be for sale or to make into postcards or maybe I am out looking for views to dismantle with expensive vanity projects, but the answer is always the same – it’s because I love to draw. I just love drawing, so I have to just keep drawing. This city is worth drawing and drawing and drawing, and then drawing more. This city changes so quickly. After this sketch, I went to the Tate Modern and up to the tenth floor of that new building next door, to sketch the City from above. That is one of my favourite new viewing spots in London, although the crowded elevator means you need to book some additional vacation time if you want to go up there. I decided to colour in only the sky and the river, leaving the city itself uncoloured like in the opening credits of a certain TV show I used to watch as a kid, the large tower of Tate Modern in the foreground. Tate Modern used to be Bankside Power Station, designed by the same guy who made the phone box (I’ve talked about him before). I love listening to tourists talking to each other when visiting London, hearing their enthusiasm for the city. As I looked out over the skycrapers I though about the previous times I had sketched it, and as I sketched I thought that this would be a very good point to include some of those older sketches in this part of the blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the South Bank with me. Next time I go back, it will look different again.

take me down to the riverover the thames to cannon street
by the banks of the thamesSt Pauls from Tate Modern
Waterloo panorama
The River Thames

How Topical

Topic bar
I was in England, and I remember saying to someone, “Topics. You never get those any more.” I went into how I used to love Topics, a chocolate bar full of hazelnuts, and how you never see them, and then into how most regular american chocolate just isn’t as tasty as British chocolate bars (seriously taste the difference between a British and American KitKat), and how much I miss the sheer variety of British sweets, and Topics are one of those things I used to love as a kid but cannot find in England now (like Pacers, remember those?). I realized I was sounding like a one-man Facebook group, “remember this thing from the 70s, don’t get those no more, remember this other thing from the 80s, don’t get those no more, the kids all eat iPhones and talk in txtspk, everyone’s obese now, not like in my day when we ate Lion bars all day and nobody went on about health and safety” and so on. And then they said, “no, you can still get Topics, they sell them in the Pound Shop.” My face was like, WHAAAAA? It was like a cartoon when the eyes poop out and the tongue rolls out and around the corner. But I think I saved myself by going, oh yeah, I know, I was being, er, ironic. I totally wasn’t. I had no idea Topics still existed. I went straight to the Pound Shop, and found a four-pack of Topics. I handed over my quid, and was the proud owner of what I had thought was an extinct species, namely Topic bars. I was not alone in this assumption. Just a few days later I was listening to a football podcast and one person said to another person, “Topic bars, do they still make those?” And the other person said, “no, I don’t think so.” WELL THEY BLOODY WELL DO! I wanted to tell the world. “TOPICS – ALIVE AND WELL IN THE POUND SHOP IN BARNSTAPLE.” But would the world believe me? Would it be like those people who reckon Elvis Presley is alive and works in their local chip shop? Would I be considered as a Topic Bar Conspiracy Nut? “The government man is coming to take away your Topic bars! They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our Topics!” This Topic was a bit small though, a bit on the scrawny side. Which I was ok with, because it’s smaller I can eat four times as many.