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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…
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London urban sketcher linda smLondon urban sketcher bearded sm
London urban sketcher johnLondon urban sketcher sketch 1
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

 

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!” 

to warwick and stratford

Warwick Castle
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.
Warwick Castle Armoury
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.
Stratford Upon Avon Alveston Manor
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.
Stratford Upon Avon

seven dials

Seven Dials, London
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.

monmouth and neal streets sm

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.

seven dials