“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.
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.
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!”
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Another panorama intended for colouring in but ultimately left as is, due to running our of time. This is the last one for London, then I have another post from elsewhere in England, and then it’s Davis all the way. It was the day of the England v Croatia semi-final in the World Cup. The evening before we were in Stratford-upon-Avon, watching France eliminate Belgium, and when we got back to London I took the tube down to central London for some last minute sketching and shopping, ahead of our trip to the Iberian Peninsula. This is Seven Dials, which is a junction of seven narrow streets located between Shaftesbury Avenue and Covent Garden. It’s one of my favourite spots in London, being right by the London Graphic Centre (where I stopped by for some replacement paint half-pans). That’s one of my favourite shops in London. The other is just around the corner, Stanfords, the cartographers and travel book store. I love a map. Ironically I get lost quite often. I think I see maps like art, beautiful objects of winder and magic that I just can’t understand nor explain. I always get there in the end, even if takes a long time. Seven Dials in London reminds of Seven Dials in Brighton (aka London-by-the-Sea), where in the early hours of one New Years Day a couple of decades ago I got terribly lost trying to find my way back to the indistinguishable house I was supposed to be looking for where my companions were staying. Brighton I thought is an easier place to navigate because there are only three directions – North, East and West, with South just being The English Channel. Haha, you foolish boy. I could not remember the name of the street I was supposed to be on, just that it was one of the ones going off of Seven Dials. Hours of walking around each of the ‘Dials’. I did have a mobile phone (this was 2000, well 2001 by that point) but it didn’t work very well and I may have been out of pay-as-you-go credit. I found it eventually, and forever have an amusing Brighton anecdote to tell.
But back to Brighton-by-the-Land (David Devant reference), I stood here sketching a panorama as people walked by, many heading to the pub to start drinking ahead of cheering on England. A lot of people, I noticed, were wearing yellow clothes. Yellows skirts, trousers, shirts, the occasional hat. I don’t think this signified anything, and certainly has nothing to do with the football. Perhaps yellow is ‘in’ this year. I don’t know fashion, but once thing I do remember about living in London, people would say, “oh green is ‘in’ this year,” or similar. “Brown is the new Black.” Football shirt fashion I understand, but real clothes, well I just wear navy blue and black mostly. Anyway I did notice this trend of wearing yellow, but I didn’t add anyone to my sketch in a yellow blouse or anything, so forget I mentioned it. The only colour I added, well you can see for yourself. The Union flag stands out. England were in the semi-final, and while it’s been a few decades since this was the flag waved at England games, it still seemed nice to include it.
I went home to watch the game with my family. England lost to Croatia. That’s that, then.
By the way, you might be interested in seeing the last such sketch I did in this neighbourhood, four years ago at the end of Monmouth Street, looking toward Seven Dials, below. This is one of my favourite sketches I have done of London.
Ok and one more for luck, this is a sketch of Seven Dials I did a few years ago around Christmas-time. At least in this one you can see the top of the coloumn. London can be beautiful sometimes.
London, early July. It was so sweaty. Air-conditioning is a thing that happens to other people. This was, I was often told, a heatwave to rival the one that happened in the year I was born. That summer was legendary, a long mid-70s sun-fest. I was too young to complain about it then but I’m sure I gave it a good old go non-verbally. I’m not a hot weather animal, which makes it all the more surprising that I now live in the California Central Valley, which has Really Hot Summers. “Dry Heat”. Not so much in humid London. While the temperature is lower than back in Davis, London summers can be unbearable. Specifically, London summers when you have to use the tube, especially when it’s packed, which is often. We went down into central London to go to the British Museum. I figured, it will be nice and cool in there, among all the marble. What we got was a ridiculously sweaty British Museum with no air-conditioning, with a large greenhouse in the middle. I tried to do some sketching in the Greek rooms but was sweating too much. Eventually we left, got back on the sticky tube, and went over to Old Street to find a very special store. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Above, I managed to sketch this scene of Shoreditch High Street. It was hot and sticky but it was mostly overcast, so at least there was no baking sunlight. In the background, new buildings going up in the City. London is changing, always changing.
This is nearby, the Bricklayers Arms. I’d wanted to sketch an old pub, old pubs are becoming a little rarer each time I return (at least the ones that remain get a little older each time I come back too, if you think about it). I’d never been here before. I never really went out around Old Street and Shoreditch before, except a couple of times years ago. I wasn’t really Cool enough for this part of town. That was my excuse. I really liked sketching this – colourful flags, and lots of bricks. After I was finished with the sketch I popped in for a pint before heading home.
But before I did this…further down the street was (during July only) the pop-up store of Classic Football Shirts. This was on the back of an exhibition of old football shirts called ‘Fabric of Football’ which had taken place in London this year.Now if you know me you know that I am obsessed with two things: fire hydrants, and football shirts. Ok I’m obsessed with old languages, travel, Formula One, noodles on toast, Marvel comics, Star Wars, Tottenham, and obviously drawing, but if you’ve ever followed my Twitter feed during football tournaments or any other time you’ll know I’m in love with those colourful uniforms. I pretend I know all about things like tactics and player fitness, but I’m usually just saying words I’ve read in a Jonathan Wilson book to sound clever. With football shirts though I feel like I do at least Know My Stuff. So it was a pleasure beyond pleasure to come here and browse through the old shirts, mostly the ones from the 1990s, such as that great Nigerian shirt from the 1994 World Cup (never mind the 2018 one, the home and away from 94 were the real classics). I was also pleased to find they had the very shirt I was wearing (1993-95 Spurs home shirt) on display outside the store. I got a few compliments at various times on this trip for this shirt, by the way. The 1990s kits have made a comeback in a big way (still amazed all my 90s shirts still fit, actually…). Anyway this place was a highlight of the trip! Check out their website at: https://www.classicfootballshirts.co.uk/. I didn’t buy myself anything (all the things I wanted were a little bit expensive) but I did get my son an AS Roma shirt from 2016.
On my brief trip back to England I went to Barnstaple in north Devon, with my mum and sister to see my uncle Billy and his family. It had been a long time since I was in Devon; my 16 year old cousin Jade was still a newborn, which gives you an idea how long ago it was. I did go for a little walk on the Saturday afternoon to do a couple of sketches (also to have some amazing chips in gravy, so tasty). I stood at the busy intersection near the bridge over the wide river Taw and drew the scene above, the Barnstaple Museum, with the clock tower outside. Barnstaple is quite a busy town, and has a pretty bustling town centre on a Saturday afternoon. I have to say, coming from California, and coming from a suburb in north London, it was nice being in a town which has all the shops. Our hotel was right opposite a great toy shop too, they had a lot of Lego, as well as loads of model railways. As I say, it has been a long time since I was in Devon, and one of the things I love about the southwest are the hills in the background. I remember going camping in Devon when I was 16, and the scenery just brings me back. The English countryside really is beautiful. I’ve never really spent a lot of time in the country and the smaller towns and cities, always being in London; I’d love to tour the UK with a sketchbook like that Richard Bell book my cousin Dawn got me a few years ago), but living our here I’ll never get time. You can see the hilly backdrop behind the building below as well, I forget the name of that building (if only there was a way I could instantly look that up on the device I am typing this), but also visible is the Long Bridge over the Taw. I got up very early in the mornings to walk around town and along the river, cold damp February mornings. In those early mornings, you still had a few local lads out from the night before, singing, slurring, bit of scrapping. It was actually raining when I drew the one below, and I had to stop when it started getting heavy. I like the colour of the stone they use for these old buildings down here. Barnstaple itself goes back to Anglo-Saxon times and there is an interesting mosaic near where I drew this, at Queen Anne’s Walk, showing the whole history of the place, vikings, pirates, traders and raiders.
This is another very early morning sketch from back home in Burnt Oak. It was Father’s Day, and I was up super early so went out for a walk in the early morning June sunlight, when hardly anyone was around. The light was golden and heavy, rising beyond the Mill Hill end of Abbots Road, while I stopped at the Orange Hill end and drew one of the more impressive local buildings, the old Orange Hill Convent. Look at that chimney! That is a serious chimney. I remember the nuns, coming up and down to Burnt Oak, and I was told I had to greet them with a “Hello Sister” (not “Hello Nun” as I had been doing up to that point). Many years ago this was next to St.James’s School, the local Catholic school that I never went to (what with not being a Catholic), but would have been handy (being only two minutes from home; my actual school Edgware was a much further walk, and I did it daily – and slowly, as my old teachers will attest). My younger sister did go there, but only after it had relocated to Grahame Park. I remember friends of my older sister though who did go the St. James’s (my older sister by the way went to Orange Hill, just around the corner, which is also no longer there), they used to talk about St.James’s purely in terms of their terror at the nuns next door, Oh the nuns, so strict, the nuns! Which I never believed, having only met the nice sweet nuns going up and down the street, and saying “Hello Sister” to them, and they would say “oh hello young man” back. But then, I wasn’t a Catholic. Pupils at St. James’s wore uniforms of two different colours – black and grey for the boys, green and yellow for the girls. It’s funny living in the US now and high school kids not wearing uniforms. We could always tell where kids were from by their uniforms (which was exactly the point, I think, for when kids from different schools got into trouble, as was not uncommon – trashing a McDonalds, running rampage on a bus, throwing things (or people) into people’s gardens – then the head of that school could be contacted and the boys or girls would get into trouble and very pointed words would be had at the school assembly next day. Yeah this happened a lot at Edgware (not by me of course). Our uniforms were blue, white and maroon. Our rivals at Mill Hill Country High had similar uniforms but had cherry red instead of maroon. There was one Catholic girls school who were kitted out all in purple, in Finchley if I recall, and were nicknamed locally “the Purple Virgins”. Not by me, of course. I always loved how tall and imposing this building was, on those dark early evenings when the rain was lashing down it would appear like a haunted mansion out of the gloom. I do remember as a kid though, my friends and I would go to the field behind it, next to the Watling Community Centre, to get conkers from the big horse chestnut tree. We’d look around for those big green spiky balls, peeling them open to find a huge shiny conker inside. Now I know this sounds like something that mawkish sentimentalists will post on groups on Facebook, oh remember when all we had was conkers, not like now where it’s all video games and obesity and violent crime (you know, the sort of Facebook post with a comment thread that quickly turns xenophobic, regardless of the original subject), but this is in fact true, we did go and get conkers from a big tree just behind the convent. I was a pretty innocent kid, it has to be said. It was all football stickers and conkers. And video games to be fair, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing Donkey Kong. I did go to karate class a couple of times in the building next to this, but I gave it up because there was another boy from my school, who I think fancied himself as a bully, in the karate class one time when I was 11 or 12 and he just spent the entire time laughing at me from behind and making disparaging comments. He then followed me down Orange Hill trying to talk to me, not in a particularly menacing way, but I didn’t want to talk to him, and I knew that next day at school he would basically have all his cronies humiliate me for attempting to do karate. So I never went back, which was a bit of a shame. Kids eh. I would probably have been rubbish at karate anyway, but I do think of that when I see that wall in front of the convent. Here I go again, memory lane. Well the school building is gone, replaced by houses and flats, I don’t know if the chestnut tree is still there but I doubt kids are picking its conkers, in these days of violent obese video crime games, and it’s probably too late for me to go back and try my luck at karate now, but the outline of this old Convent still stands out at the top of the hill like always. And finally, I sketched it!