(44) Chester, and (45) Liverpool

GB 44-45 sm
Continuing the virtual tour through North-West England now, with one place I’ve never been to, and another place I have not been too in a really long time. As I wind my way through England I am going through the emotions that I went through when I drew all of this. Now at this stage in the virtual journey, in the real world the living-room flood had happened and I’d relocated upstairs; I only just moved my desk downstairs again, much to the annoyance of my cat Whiskers who has gotten very comfortable spending his afternoons on the downstairs desk chair. Now he tries to push me off at around 2pm so he can get his usual nap in. In the virtual world, I was still passing through each virtual street, with so many places “temporarily closed”, the image of a country in limbo. My relationship with England waxes and wanes in my absence, as it did when I lived there, some days I just think nope, place drives me nuts, other days I miss it terribly, even missing places I have never stepped foot. Often I just miss the Cadbury’s chocolate and the Jaffa Cakes, and silly things like the meal deal sandwiches at Tesco Metro. I don’t know, it makes me feel sad sometimes, especially during this whole thing. Anyway.

So, first stop on this spread is the city of Chester, in Cheshire. This might be my favourite drawing in the whole damn book. I love nothing more than drawing timber-framed buildings, and the whole of downtown Chester (“downtown”, I’m so American now, I’m going to forget what a Jaffa Cake is) is filled with this sort of architecture. I should draw a whole book just of timber-framed buildings. I am sure there must be lots of sketchers in Chester, busy drawing these all the time, but if they aren’t called “Chester Drawers” I’d be really disappointed. While there are medieval buildings in Chester, most of these ones such as this are from the 19th Century’s “Black and White Revival”; this one was built by one of its great proponents, T. M. Lockwood. I bet his friends called him “Trademark”. I don’t know much else about Chester, except that it has a zoo, and that I think my nan lived there years ago before she lived in London, I remember my mum telling me (I might not have been listening, for all I know she was telling me about her chest of drawers). It’s funny visiting places where ancestors lived (even if it was only for a short time and might actually have been me mishearing a story about a chest of drawers). Chester is actually Roman though, the imperial city of “Deva”. On AA road maps in the UK (at least ones I used to read) the Roman name of the city would be listed underneath the modern name on a map, usually in small caps. While it is interesting for someone like me to know that Chester was once DEVA, York was once EBORACUM, St. Alban’s was once VERULAMIUM, I’m not sure why it’s important to the motorist trying to find their way from the A41. Unless the AA are expecting the Romans to return someday.

Speaking of the AA, the next stop is Liverpool. That is a reference to the joke, who do you call when your car breaks down in Liverpool? The “AA, Calm Down”.  That is a reference to a Harry Enfield sketch about Scousers, which itself was a parody of characters from Liverpool-based soap Brookside, which I’m not ashamed to say was one of my favourite shows years ago. The Liverpool accent is probably my favourite English accent, much better than my own one. Years ago when I spent a year in Provence I directed a university play, an adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and my flatmate Emma who is from Liverpool played one of the “Scouse Squirrels”. Every time a Davis squirrel gets all aggressive with me on campus now I hear the Scouse Squirrels voice in my head. Liverpool is most famous for the Beatles, who I love, and also loads of old comedians like Jimmy Tarbuck, and of course Cilla Black, singer and beloved TV presenter. I visited Liverpool a couple of times when Iw as a kid, while we holidayed in nearby Southport, the last time being back in 1989. That was a long time ago! At that time, local football teams Liverpool and Everton were trading league titles (although in that year Arsenal won it, though Liverpool got the FA Cup; it was also the year of Hillsborough). We did all the tourist stuff, went to the Beatles museum (I remember getting a cool Beatles badge that I actually gave to a girl a few years later), took a ferry across the Mersey, went to the Albert Dock and saw the floating weather map from This Morning (although I’ve since heard about the weather man from that map; ughhh, glad he’s in jail), and visited one of Liverpool’s TWO cathedrals. We didn’t go to the big Anglican cathedral, which was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (he of the phone box, Waterloo Bridge and Bankside Power Station, aka Tate Modern); shame as that one is massive; we could see it across the city. But probably because my mum had become a Catholic in the 80s we went to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the modern triangular spikey looking building which I actually thought was totally brilliant. I really like this odd looking church, built in the 1960s, because on the inside the colourful light is beautiful. It reminds me of the Jedi Temple. Liverpool has a very Irish heritage; it’s not surprising given how close it is, but this was where a lot of Irish immigrants landed in the 19ths century during the Famine, many settling and many leaving Liverpool on a big boat to America. Lots of the Irish songs I learned as a kid were about this very thing. I never expected I would end up in America myself. Actually the reason we would come to Liverpool is because, as I mentioned, we were holidaying in Southport at the Pontins resort, which hosted an annual Irish Festival in the 1980s, so we always had a lot of traditional Irish music on in our house. I’d like to come back to Liverpool, come sketching, maybe visit my old flatmate Emma, not seen her in nearly two decades. I expect it has changed a lot since 1989. The football team just became league champions for the first time since 1990. There aren’t as many Beatles any more, but a lot more Beatles monuments. I assume there is still a ferry across the Mersey, though I expect people take hoverboards or flying cars now or something (in 1989 I imagined they would be by 2020). Mostly I would come just to hear the accent.

Next up, we turn north up to Blackpool, before taking in some Lancashire countryside and crossing the Pennines into Yorkshire. We’re right up north now.

(39) Lincoln, (40) Nottingham), and (41) Sheffield

GB 39-41 sm
Onwards through great Britain we go. Last time out we were in Skegness, Lincolnshire, and that’s a big country so I decided to stick around. I really want to visit Lincoln some day, to draw the big cathedral. I would love to do a real tour of all of England’s cathedrals, but them into a big book. On this virtual trip however I couldn’t get a great view, but you can see it poking its head out from over that scaffolding in the panorama at the top of the spread. Lincoln of course is the name of one of the great American presidents, Honest Abe Lincoln, wearer of tall hats. The city does date back to the Romans, Lindum Colonia, though that grew from an older Iron Age settlement. The Cathedral was, believe it or not, the Tallest Building In The World for about 200 years in the Middle Ages, but the really tall spire that gave them that title fell down a long time ago and they never bothered putting it back.

Next up is Nottingham. I used to wonder a lot about Nottingham when I was a kid. Obviously I always associated it with Robin Hood, but I would read road maps of Britain before going to bed at night (and Europe too; I was really into travelling in my head) and Nottingham would pop out as a place that wasn’t far from all the other places in England. Now it makes me think of that film “This Is England”. So while virtually wandering Nottingham, I found a big old pub called “Rose of England” covered in England flags, so I decided to draw that. I needed somewhere with lots of England flags, since I drew a pub in Cardiff covered in Welsh flags. I never found a pub covered in Scotland flags, but ah well, maybe if Street View goes around Glasgow during the next football World Cup they’ll find some. Oh, ok, maybe not the World Cup, er, maybe the Rugby Six Nations. Anyway Nottingham is also the place where Brian Clough, one of the greatest football managers of all, worked as the gaffer of Nottingham Forest, leading them to two European Cups, one Football League Title, and a helluva lotta League Cups. I am a big fan of Cloughie and his funny ways, especially all the stories his former players would tell about him. but of course with Nottingham we have to think about one man only – the Sheriff of Nottingham. Oh, and Robin Hood. The Sheriff was played by one of my favourite actors of all time, Rickman. Rickman’s voice was perfect, nasal and dismissive. Anyway enough of Nottingham, time to move slightly further north into South Yorkshire, and to the Steel City.

Sheffield is big, and has an important history. This is where our knives and forks were made, the steel industry here being world-famous. In sporting terms, the oldest professional club is Sheffield FC, while the two other bigger clubs have a long history in the game, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United (who are the “Blades”). I used to watch the Snooker World Championships every May on TV which take place at the Crucible in Sheffield. One of my favourite bands, Pulp, are famous Sheffielders, as is the singer’s namesake Joe Cocker. There’s something intrinsically normal and unpretentious about Sheffield, and I’d like to walk about its neighbourhoods one day with a sketchbook. I drew the quite modern looking Winter Gardens entrance on my virtual tour. But despite all of this, whenever I think of Sheffield, I get flashbacks of nightmares I had for years because of one TV miniseries that came out in 1984: “Threads”. If you haven’t heard of Threads, it was a dramatization of a nuclear attack seen through the eyes of local people in Sheffield. It was so realistic, it scared the absolute living bejeezus out of me. The woman peeing herself in the street. The white flash melting milkbottles and people. I was only eight and the Cold War was very much a thing and something I worried about a lot, I had that book “When The Wind Blows” and I remember “Protect and Survive”, the government information advising us to paint the windows white and take the doors off their hinges. So yeah, if I think of Sheffield I think of when it was blown away in Threads.

And on that bleak note, we will move into the Peak District and continue westwards on the virtual Great Britain tour, and take our minds off of fictitious 1980s nuclear wars that still wake me up in the night.

(21) Barnstaple, (22) Bristol, and (23) Bath

GB 21-23 sm
Now for Barnstaple, Bristol and Bath; I like the Bs, I like to make them rhyme. After a brief whistle-stop tour of Cornwall we are back in Devon, but this time North Devon, which is different. Devon’s a big county. First stop is Barnstaple, which I wanted to stop in because I have been there twice in the past couple of years, and I had wanted to draw this bookshop. Barnstaple is where my uncle Billy lived, until he passed away last year. He loved his music, knew more about music than anyone I’ve ever known, I still have several old Beatles and Pistols records that he gave me when I was a kid, but he also loved to read and had a huge library of books about music and crime in his living room, so sketching a bookshop seems appropriate, though I couldn’t find a good record shop to sketch. Right opposite this bookshop is an amazing chip shop. Seriously amazing chips there, but I always like chips in towns like this, usually a lot better than in London. When we visited Barnstaple for his wedding, my older brother and I stayed out late one night playing pool and afterwards went to a kebab shop near here to get some sort of local food called a “Jemmy Twitcher”. It has every kind of meat in it, plus lots of other stuff. I didn’t eat one but fair play, my brother did and he finished it. Helped sop up all the Guinness! So that’s Barnstaple. I remember coming to North Devon when I was a teenager, well just over the border in Somerset, camping with our local youth club, we did some into Devon a lot for activities like canoeing and walking about.

I’ve never been to Bristol. It’s been in the news lately, with statues of slave-traders going into the river. I didn’t really know much about Bristol as a city, except for the two football teams – City and Rovers – and the accent, and even then I couldn’t pick the accent out of a crowd. I know people who went to university there, I think, it always seemed like a college town people used to live in but now live somewhere else (bit like Davis). So the virtual tour was an eye-opener, it looks like a really interesting place, and a bigger city than I realized, lots to see and sketch, lots of places to walk, the big Clifton Suspension Bridge, there’s a cool looking market area, but I just really enjoyed all of the terraces of old houses, usually with different coloured doors. There was something really characteristic about them. So that’s what I drew. I must have virtually walked around the whole town. I wish I had been there in real life.

Something I noticed a lot which made me really sad was looking at the Google Map and everything, cafes and shops and pubs and especially theatres, everything had “temporarily closed” next to the name on the map. That was horrible, this whole thing is horrible, but these cities are their places and this virtual tour was one of imagination, imagining what it would be like standing there on the street, wandering through that market then popping into that pub for a local beer, to listen to that accent, but it’s not to be. Some day perhaps, I just hope all these places are still open when we come out of this. On that note, I went to the next spot on the tour, one I couldn’t miss out, and that’s Bath. I have only been to Bath once before, on a day trip from London when my wife first moved to England, with a tour group of Americans in the UK on student-work visas (we went to Stonehenge that day too), and it was very pretty. All the buildings are the same colour though, all made from the same type of stone. When I was a kid Bath was in a small county called Avon, named for the River not the Lady, but now it’s just part of Somerset. This drawing is a place I think we came for tea, Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, a little cafe named after a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon who became known for her delicious buns. People called her Sally Lunn because they couldn’t pronounce her name properly, but mostly they wanted to make it rhyme with “bun”. The thing called Sally Lunn’s bun isn’t even a bun, they just call it that to make it rhyme with “Sally Lunn”. See? Logical. So “Sally Lunn’s Buns” it is. They look pretty massive, Sally Lunn’s buns.

Ok that’s that. The next chapter in the virtual tour of the island of Great Britain takes us into the country of Wales. I am reminded of a joke I loved as a kid, “How do you get two whales in a Mini? Drive down the M4”. Now I live in America nobody gets that joke, so I have to try making a local equivalent, Americanize it. “How do you get two whales in a Ford SUV? Stick em in the back seat with the two giraffes!” It’s not quite as funny, but it makes me laugh on the inside. I suppose I could try it with a smaller car, like a Prius or a Corvette. “How do you get two whales in a Corvette? How the heck would I know, wise guy!” You have to do the 1930s gangster voice and say “myeaaaah, shee” as they did. I suppose I need to use an equivalent road, but it would have to go to a town that sounded like Whales, or maybe somewhere more American that sounds like a big animal in a small car. “How do you get two Antelopes in a Mini Cooper? Drive up I-80 past Sacramento!” That’s quite local for our area, I suppose, one for the Davis folk. Or maybe not an animal, how about “How do you find two needles in a garbage truck? Drive down Route 66!” Needles is a town that is on the old Route 66, at least it said so when I went there, the map says it’s actually on 40. No, best stick with the old classic, but even then it only works of you live in London or along the M4. Bath is close enough for it to still work. If you live in Wales you’d have to say “How do you get two baths in a Mini? Drive down the M4 and then turn off the A46 at the Tormarton Interchange!” Which we can all agree is much funnier. Right, see you in Wales!

(18) Plymouth, (19) St. Michael’s Mount, and (20) St.Ives

GB 18-20 sm
We are off to Cornwall, the southernmost tip of the island, but first one more stop in Devon. The big lighthouse there is at Plymouth, a fairly decent sized port city on the river Tamar that borders Devon and Cornwall. My only experience of Plymouth was passing through on a coach when I was 16, by myself, crossing the Tamar Bridge. I was off to visit my friend Kevin, who lived in Devon, while my family were holidaying in Cornwall. Cornwall was beautiful, but they were arguing and I was old enough to say, actually can I go and visit my friend Kevin cheers see ya bye. Plymouth makes me think of Francis Drake playing bowls while getting news of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and being totally like, yeah when I’m finished with this game alright, no come on on Drake you have to come now, oh FINE I’ll just finish this one game; we’ve all been there. I bet his mum used to call him down like ten times for dinner while he was playing Minecraft or something. We also think of Plymouth when we think of the Mayflower. It’s funny, I listened to a podcast about the Mayflower recently and it actually debunked some of the legends we think we know when it comes to the Mayflower. For example, it didn’t sail from Plymouth, but from Southampton. I know, right! And it was apparently the biggest ship ever, and wasn’t full of pilgrims but rich people drinking champagne, and it never even got to America because it hit this big iceberg and the band kept playing Celine Dion music as it sunk, and this one man who was the King of the World ended up sinking while his girlfriend floated home on a piece of wood. Nothing about the first Thanksgiving, none of those tall buckled hats, it is surprising what you can learn.

And so, we move into Cornwall, still travelling along the South Coast, which down here is full of cliffs and coves and caves, myths and legends and tales. Cornwall on a map is technically “in” “England” but it’s not England. Cornwall is an ancient duchy with a Celtic heritage, its people most closely related to the Welsh and the Bretons, left over after the Angles and Saxons came over from the continent . In fact those pesky Angles and Saxons drove a whole bunch of those “Britons” over the sea to Armorica in northern Gaul, which we now call Brittany. There’s still a lot of cultural heritage shared between these areas. I chose to draw St. Michael’s Mount, which is a beautiful little tidal island jutting out into the English Channel. There is another one across the sea in France called “Mont St.Michel, on the Norman/Breton border, but it’s much bigger than this one. St. Michael’s Mount is nonetheless like something from a fantasy book, and probably looks nice at sunset. St. Michael though makes me think of the clothing brand from Marks and Spencer.

I decided not to draw Land’s End; I had already drawn St. Michael so another clothing brand straight away would not have been a good look. So I circled back around Cornwall to the town of St. Ives. Made famous by the rhyme with the stupid question at the end, St. Ives was also the name of a butter when I was a kid, if I’m not mistaken. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me no it’s actually not that, it’s St.Ivel] Sorry, turns out I am most mistaken, it’s St.Ivel, but nonetheless St.Ives makes me hungry for butter. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me it’s not butter it’s “buttermilk spread”]. Well it tastes like butter. It has a Swedish flag on it. [Edit, no technically it’s not] It looks very pretty there in St.Ives though. I really liked the look of this pub, the Sloop Inn, which according to the sign dates from 1312. I bet it’s one of those places on a wet and stormy evening would be warm and cosy with bearded old seadogs drinking scrumpy. But what I like most was that in the Street View photo, all the people sat outside are clearly aware of the street View camera and are all waving and smiling, and I liked that. Unless they were saying awful things which they might well have been for all I know. Nevertheless, while I drew this, nobody could get close to anybody in public places so it already looked like a distant time past. I enjoyed walking virtually around St.Ives though, and along the rest of the Cornish coast. I’d like to come here some time and look for Arthurian sites, and pirate coves, and salty old pubs, and sit on the cliffs looking out at the Atlantic towards America, and think back on all those people from the Mayflower who hit that iceberg, singing “my heart will go on.”

Next up: back to Devon! I forgot something!

(15) Bournemouth, (16) Exeter, and (17) Brixham

GB 15-17 sm
And just like that, we are in Dorset. Virtual tours go quickly. Hampshire might be a big county with a lot going on but there’s a lot to see. Bournemouth is the next stop, but I’m avoiding the beach because there are crowds of people, so I walked virtually inland to see if there was anything else to draw other than the pier. Time for the first church of the book, and this one is very tall, the 1879 church of St. Peter. Good name that. I have never been to Bournemouth but I know people that live there. My mum actually went there last week for the first time. It’s a popular seaside resort town, looks like a nice place for a weekend away, but I’d probably prefer somewhere a little less popular. The local football team, Bournemouth, got relegated from the Premier League this season after a few seasons, and I still can’t quite believe that Bournemouth were in the Premier League. I hope they come back some time.

Right that’s Bournemouth and Dorset done with, time to move along the coast. This is where I really start editing out the stopping points. I’d like to visit Poole, and Portland Bill, and I hear Weymouth is nice, and of course the Cerne Abbas giant in the hills further inland. I need to get to Devon though, one of my favourite counties. when I passed through Exeter last year I never left the train station, though I did sketch the platform. IF I’d had time I would have visited the cathedral, so I went there virtually on this trip instead. I couldn’t get a great view, and I’d dug myself into a bit of a corner for space on the page, so I just drew what I could. Little dash of colour from the bunting. Exeter goes back to Roman times, though their football team Exeter City’s nickname is the “Grecians”. It’s not clear why, some say it might be because of their location outside the city walls in St.Sidwell a century or so ago gave people the idea that they were the Greeks (or Grecians) outside the walls of Troy, honestly the things people think up. Dundee United’s fans for example call themselves the ‘Arabs’ because years ago they had lots of sand on their pitch, true story. Their other nickname “Tangerines” makes more sense given their orange shirts. Portsmouth are “Pompey”, a nickname for the town which could come from a number of origins but one I like is that Charles II’s wife Catherine of Braganza thought Porstmouth reminded her her Bombay, and mispronounced it. Bournemouth are the cherries, makes sense because of their historically red shirts (also apparently fruit orchards nearby their ground when the club was founded). But Exeter are the Grecians, but I’m not sure what they’ve done to urn it.

Always with the puns. I could write a book about football club nicknames but I don’t want to. My brother and I used to quiz each other on them years ago, the Shakers and the Quakers, the Addicks and the Latics, the Eagles and the Seagulls. But time is pressing and I have to move along. I couldn’t find anywhere I wanted to draw in Torquay or any of the surrounding towns, until I found Brixham with its pretty little harbour. Again though, it got a bit squashed into that corner. Pages like this made me rethink the spread layouts a bit, and the next few will evolve a bit more until I start getting much more out of the space. Brixham is on the southern end of Torbay, and apparently this is where the Dutch William of Orange landed with a big Dutch army on his way to taking the crown in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. That would be William the “No no no, I’m not a conqueror! I was totally invited here! And my wife Mary is the current-but-soon-to-be-former King’s daughter. All good? Throne please!”. King Billy, they call him in Northern Ireland. Yeah, that’s a story for another place, let’s leave William behind and move along. Brixham apparently has a big Pirate festival every year, which sounds like something I’d want to go to. This is getting into Pirate country down here in the SouthWest, especially once we hit Cornwall, in the next post. Bit more Devon to come yet though (I do like my cream tea and Devon fudge).

(12) Eastbourne, (13) Brighton, and (14) Portsmouth

GB 12-14 sm
The virtual tour continues along the south coast of England. I decided to stop off in Eastbourne, haven of older people, and draw part of the Pier. Eastbourne, like Hastings, is in East Sussex. I never pointed out that Hastings is not in Kent last time, I forget that it isn’t always obvious to non-English people what English town is in what county. Anyway Eastbourne is definitely in East Sussex, because I just looked it up (I had no idea). Sussex for those unfamiliar with old English history is named after the South Saxons. King Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex, they were the West Saxons. Essex was the land of the East Saxons, who drove whatever the horse version of the Ford Capri was. There wasn’t a Nossex as far as I know, unless you count the film “Nossex Please We’re British”. I am from Middlesex, which now makes up most of London and no longer exists as a county, except in my old address. Back to Sussex. I always forget what order all those towns on the south coast come in. There are lots of cliffs, and not far from here is the massive Beachy Head. So let’s move along from Eastbourne…

…we now find ourselves in Brighton, still in East Sussex. That long drawing across the top of the page, that is the Royal Pavilion, built for the Prince Regent a couple of hundred years ago. The Prince Regent ruled at a time when it was normal to be ruled by a rich womanizing buffoon with messy hair who everyone hated. Thankfully he had architect John Nash around creating all sorts of amazing buildings and roads and other projects, and the Brighton Pavilion is wonderful, I remember seeing it as a kid and just thinking it was the most exotic building I had ever seen. We used to come down to Brighton when I was a kid, even though the beach is all stones I would still get a bucket and spade, and a stick of rock, and maybe an ice cream with a flake in it (a “99”), Brighton was always a favourite seaside spot. One other time in Brighton as an adult I visited my mate Gilbert, who was at uni there, and we went to this crap nightclub, then went home and played Championship Manager all night. Well, he played, I just watched. Then I remember spending one new year’s eve in Brighton with some friends, and we joined a group of other people who do this thing where all of them have a party the same night, and they just go to each others’ homes, so I think we ended up going to something like seven parties that night – the energy of youth. They weren’t wild affairs, just friendly low-key gatherings, conversation and snacks and cheap beer. I recall one of them was spent playing Trivial Pursuit with members of the band the Wedding Present (I’m not very familiar with them). And then I somehow got separated from the people I was staying with, and this was before cellphones were everywhere, and had to find my way back to their house just using my natural navigator instincts; unfortunately they lived in a house just off a big roundabout called Seven Dials, and could I remember which street? Could I flip. I walked about for HOURS trying to find the right house, I was cream-crackered, it was freezing, but I somehow found it, and slept and slept. Mad times in Brighton.

Ok next up is Portsmouth, passing right through West Sussex and into Hampshire. I last went to Portsmouth when I was a kid with my neighbours to see HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship. I would love to go back and draw that, but I chose instead to pay homage to local football team Portsmouth FC, aka “Pompey”. This is their home ground Fratton Park. It’s not like I’m particularly a fan of Pompey, but I did watch them beat Spurs at White Hart Lane back in 1988 I think it was, and even though they were already relegated, they completely outsang us the entire game, an enormously vocal bunch of fans. I never forgot that, I was hugely impressed. “Down with the Hammers, we’re going down with the Hammers” they were singing, referring to fellow relegatees West Ham. So, I drew this stadium. I was also starting to get conscious that I wanted to mix it up a bit thematically, drawing different types of buildings and scenes, and not necessarily the most obvious ones for each place. Some you will find are maybe a bit too nondescript, but mostly I tried to draw churches, train stations, pubs, stadiums, tea shops, department stores, piers, town halls, castles, bridges, ruins, clock towers, and even a fruit and veg shop.

After Portsmouth I decided to give Southampton a miss, not even go to the Isle of Wight (where I spent a fun school trip week back in 1987), and head to Bournemouth, which I was surprised to find much closer by than I realized. See you at the seaside…

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

GB 03-05 sm
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…

A little London and a bit of Vegas

Haymarket London
I went back to London at the end of November / start of December for a short week, and managed to get in a couple of sketches while I was at it. Above is the view looking down Haymarket. It was a bright day. I really enjoy looking up in London, seeing what’s at rooftop level. Years ago I used to tourguide down this street, on the upper deck of an open-top bus, pointing out this, talking about that. That was twenty years ago now, how things have changed. These rooftops have not changed much. Another thing that hasn’t changed much, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is on the right there, at the corner of Charles II Street. I went to see it once, I knew someone who worked for the show who got me a ticket, and I had to enter right as it was beginning, so it was dark as I went to my seat, which was in the front row, where people have long legs that I can trip over, and I tripped over and onto my head, and nearly fell into the musicians. Fun times, always the cool cat I was. Bit of a silly story though, Phantom of the Opera, at least the bits where Jar-Jar was messing around. Lightsabre fighting was amazing though. Wow that was twenty years ago, I remember it so well.
Victoria Palace Theatre London sm

A show I saw considerably recentlyer was Hamilton, which we saw right here in London two years ago, and then again in San Francisco last year. This is the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, with Little Ben in the foreground. I drew this after leaving my Gatwick Express train and before jumping onto the Tube, that;s right, I arrive and immediately start sketching in the rain. Well I knew my wife would like this, she is a big fan of Hamilton the musical. I loved it too, especially the bit with the racecars, but I was sure Vettel would challenge him to a duel at the end, but he crashed out in the 46th lap after making another avoidable mistake. I have a really good memory for theatre stuff, it must be my degree in drama.
LHR-SAN sm
I didn’t draw much on this short London trip. It was really just to see the family, I just felt the need to come over there (maybe I had a feeling that 2020 would see us all stuck at home and unable to get across the Atlantic), catch up with some friends, and that’s it really. I bought a bunch of mince pies for christmas, a nice store assistant in Tesco Borehamwood showed me how to find all the boxes that had sell-by dates later than December 24, they were hidden deep. I was taking all my mince pies and yule logs and British festive foods with me to Hawaii for our Christmas vacation. But then it was time to go home, and sat on the plane I could tell was going to go home with a cold, just a feeling in my throat, back in the days when we just trusted our immense immune systems to do their job because that cold was probably just a cold, no worries. (It was, though I also picked up some bad nasal infection). I managed another sketch on the plane though, this time with the iPad, while Big Tex next to me planted his massive elbows on the armrest and beyond like it was manifest destiny. There was no social distancing in coach. It was another time, back in the 2010s.
Luxor bar Las Vegas sm

One more thing, one more trip back in time. I flew to London via Las Vegas, as it was the easiest route, but it meant I had to stay the night. It has been many years since I was in Vegas, so this one night away was going to be a bit of a time-travel trip, and so I chose to stay at the Luxor, which is the hotel we stayed at before our wedding way back in the mid 2000s. We still lived in London them, so the Luxor felt big and glamourous and futuristic. Yeah not so much this time. I checked in fairly late, the desk woman barely saying a single thing to me as she snatched my credit card and scornfully slammed it back, “welcome to Vegas, now f*%koff to wherever”. Nice to feel like a valued customer, not even telling me how to find my room in this ridiculous headache of a shopping mall. The room was dark and a bit grubby, peeling wallpaper that certainly has not had an upgrade since we were here in 2004. I walked about the casino, a depressing experience, unsure of what the time really was, and went to find some food, which I found, and didn’t enjoy. This is one of the older casinos, of course, but I’m just so not used to Vegas any more. Worst of all though was the smoke, hanging over everything like a plague-ridden miasma. This is definitely something I don’t miss, choking in other people’s fumes, irritating my nose, throat, eyes, soaking into my clothes, in a huge concrete pyramid. That gave me a headache more than the flashing Wheel of Fortune machines. Still this is a trip back in time. I contemplated walking over to New York New York where I remember having a fun evening with friends at the Five Nine Irishmen bar or whatever it’s called, when my mate Simon had the worst Guinness he ever drank, but instead I stopped for a couple of drinks at the bar in the centre of the Luxor, and drew what I could see amid the colourful 70s style haze. I listened to people talk, it seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out there rather than tourists, and the cocktail I had was nice, and the barstaff pleasant. I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep before the flight to London in the morning, though my own airways couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

London Times

London Victoria Embankment Gardens sm
After a couple of weeks city-hopping the low countries of Europe, we Eurostarred it under the channel to fellow-EU-country-at-the-time UK for a week of family time before flying back to America. Seems like a Golden Age Of Travel now. That week was interesting, in an Interesting Times kind of way, but there were some highlights, like going to the new Spurs stadium to watch Tottenham v Inter (sure we lost on penalties, but I got that beer that pours from the bottom of the plastic glass). I did manage a few sketches that week though. Above, this is the York Water Gate found down in Victoria Embankment Gardens, by the Thames. This gateway dates from 1626 and if you turn your head sideways, you can read what I wrote about it, copied from a plaque. I used to like coming to these gardens to read and study when I was doing my master’s many years ago. There were a few dodgy characters lurking around, on the prowl for picking pockets. I social distanced myself from everyone even back then. Still it was nice to be back in London, on a warm early evening, down by the river. I like it by the river.

London Dappa Brick Lane sm

Earlier that day we had been to Brick Lane to visit the Classic Football Shirts shop, one of my favourite places of course. My son picked up a youth size 1994 navy Spurs away kit, quite a find. I actually bought that same shirt (adult size) on the day it was released, I was only 18, and it still fits. I wore it when I met Jurgen Klinsmann at his first training Spurs session in Mill Hill, where our old training ground used to be, near Copthall Swimming Pool. I met a few other legends that day, Sheringham, Barmby, Mabbutt, Anderton, Ian Walker, even Rony Rosenthal. But best of all of course was my long time hero Ossie Ardiles. What a gent. He even waved to me from his car when he drove past me and my sister walking down Bunns Lane. Look when I was six I used to want to BE Ossie Ardiles, that was my ambition when I grew up, to somehow be him. Anyway I digress. We ate at some food trucks (I got some tasty fried chicken and chips at a little truck called Mother Clucker), and I drew this ice-cream van above, Dappa.

London Tube People sm

Let’s call this one “Before Social Distancing”. We’ve never been social on the tube anyway. I drew these quickly with different pens while on a packed Northern Line carriage back to Burnt Oak. I always get very sleepy on the tube.

London Stegosaurus sm

Here is Sophie the Stegosaurus. We like to go to the Natural History Museum, one of my favourite places in the entire galaxy, but my son mostly likes all the rocks and geology. I love the dinosaurs. This was a very quick one. Stegosaurus is my favourite of the dinosaurs.

St Albans Cathedral sm

We went to St Albans with my mum, and had a look at the cathedral there. I also joined one evening the London Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl down the banks of the Thames. After a busy day, I ended up down near London Bridge, I called my uncle Billy on his birthday. And then I met with the sketchers and drew them. There were great amazing vistas to behold, but this was a shirt summer evening sketchcrawl and I was done with architecture for now. It’ll be different next time I am back. So, I just sketched the sketchers. Here they are…
London urban sketchers group sm
London urban sketcher linda smLondon urban sketcher bearded sm
London urban sketcher johnLondon urban sketcher sketch 1
London urban sketcher with hat smLondon urban sketcher sebastian sm
London urban sketcher throwdown sm
And then they laid out the sketchbooks as they do, and looked at them. They get large groups in London, I remember the very first Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl in 2012, which I organized, called “Let’s Draw London”, we had a whopping number of over 50 participants, but that seems about average these days. I think the 2016 Wren crawl had around 70 or 80. It’s nice to come back and see familiar faces.
After that I met up with my friend Roshan (who I’ve been mates with since late teenage years) and we hung out on the South Bank for the rest of the evening, I sketched some singers who were performing at a pop-up bar by the river.
London singer by thames 3 sm
London singer by thames 1 smLondon singer by thames 2 sm
And that is that. At the end of the trip we flew back home to America (see the in-flight sketch below) and got back to work, and the credit card bill. That was a long trip. I’m still not completely recovered! But I have been back to London since then.
LHR to LAX sm

summertime in the low countries

Sketchbook first page
Well it’s time to tell you about my summer. Now that it’s cold and probably wet, and we’ve all aged a bit more than six months in the past six months, let’s take a look back at my summer holiday in the Low Countries. They are called that after one of David Bowie’s albums (though I took so many trains that it should be called Station to Station). Following the tradition of the last three summers, I took a Stillman and Birn Alpha with me and filled in the front page with a hand-drawn map and drawings of various things I ate and drank along the way. This was a longer trip – three weeks, two on the continent and another staying with the family in London, taken in the midst of a whopping heatwave. It’s not the longest or anywhere close to the most journeyed trip around Europe I have ever taken – look back to 1998 for that, the pre-sketching days – but now I’m older it takes longer to recover; I’m not sure I have, even looking at the map makes me tired. It was a fun trip though, full of memories, meeting up with good friends, seeing old places from the past, and finally showing my son that mad country of Belgium I keep talking about. He was just as impressed, it was his favourite place. In the image above you can see some of the food and drink I liked – poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes) in Amsterdam, from a jolly guy called Tony; classic simple waffle from a waffle truck in Brussels, the most delicious waffle I’ve ever eaten; Charles Quint, perhaps my favourite beer, from my favourite bar in Charleroi, still open despite much faded glory; proper Waterzooi from Gent, which I had never tasted before; a bright pink juice called ‘Stress Down’ from Joe the Juice in Amsterdam, which honestly revived my brain after it melted in the heatwave, and got my sketching working again; Belgian frites covered in Sauce Andalouse from Robert La Frite in Charleroi, naturally eaten after midnight, the very best frites in the world; and of course, a 99 from an ice-cream van in England, that’s a soft-serve in a cornet with a chocolate flake, everything seems like it will be ok when you have a 99. Lovely foodly memories. Not to mention the delicious Belgian chocolate.

Suitcase

I got a new small suitcase for the trip, smaller even than my other small case, and I had to pack light. I knew I’d be wheeling it around cities, cramming it into luggage lockers, not unpacking much on my one night here, two nights there hotel stays. Fortunately football shirts don’t take up much room and I wear a lot of those. So, this trip took me to France – Paris and Disneyland; to Belgium – Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Charleroi and Bruges; to the Netherlands – Amsterdam, for the Urban Sketching Symposium; and to England – London, plus a day in Watford and St.Albans. Oh, but I did get to start in an exciting way – I flew first class from LA to Paris. I had never flown first class before, and wow this was an experience. Completely lie-flat seats, amazing food with real metal cutlery, a huge TV screen (I watched Bumblebee, of all movies), and flight attendants calling me by my name ‘Mr Scully’. Oh and a door, and actual door, so I could be in my own little cubicle, instead of my usual squashed-against-elbows flights over the Atlantic. And it didn’t cost us anything, as we got it on points. Very much a one-off experience for me! I was unashamedly excited about the whole thing. People from Burnt Oak don’t often get to do this sort of thing. The only thing I was disappointed in was that the toilet was just like any other airplane loo, I was expecting some huge fancy bathroom or something, golden seat maybe. Also, the old man who went in there before me kind of left it a bit messy. I was a bit worried they might think it was me so I actually tidied it up. Still the champagne was nice, and by the time I landed in Paris I had that unusual sensation of having actually slept well on a plane, so I had plenty of energy to get sketching around Montmartre before speeding off to Brussels – more on that later. But you’ll notice IO flew from LA – I first had to fly from Sacramento down to LAX, which if you’ve ever been there is quite a headache of an airport. Looking forward to the first-class flight made up for that. So, here is what I sketched on the flights, drawn in the small in-transit-sketches Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ book, on the very last pages in fact, a book I had started on a trip to Paris back in 2012.
SMF-LAX
LAX-CDG

I really love travelling, and I really love sketching. I’m not a super fan of hot weather, and there was a fair bit of that, and it made the travelling and sketching much harder at points, but I am always so excited about being on the move in a new place that really, I didn’t care. It wasn’t yet so hot when I landed in Paris though. Join me next time for a description of my day in Montmartre, where I had not been in about twenty years.