the pool of london

hms belfast

This is almost it for London sketches, I promise you. But not quite yet. These were sketched down at the Pool of London – that stretch of the Thames after London Bridge, the true ancient heart of London the river city. It was an absolutely freezing cold day, bitter and icy, with snow still blasted to surfaces even here in central London, days after the massive blizzard. The scene above is of HMS Belfast, the battleship-turned-tourist spot permanently moored in the Pool of London, with the ancient Tower of London to the left and the less ancient Tower Bridge to the right. The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century as a symbol of the Normans’ military control of the capital, while Tower Bridge  was built at the end of the nineteenth century because people needed to get from one side of the Thames to the other.

I found this great spot to sketch all three, on a little covered outcrop overlooking thethe gherkin Thames, with benches and shelter from the wind. I sat down to sketch, got my moleskine and pens out, started to sketch and then within three minutes a couple of men from India came up and asked me not to sit there. They would be filming there, and needed me to move. I saw that there were some other people there with them, and one had a camera (not a film or TV camera, but just a fancy hand-held). “How long will you be?” I asked. I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to sketch this scene. They both answered at the same time, one said “ten minutes”, one said “half an hour to an hour”.

“Which is it?” I replied. “Half an hour at least,” they said. I told them I wanted to sketch here, it’s a public place.

“You can come back another time, the ship’s not going anywhere,” one said back to me.

“But I  am,” I said. “Do you have a permit to film here?”

I know that you need a permit if you’re out filming and require the public to not go into public places. Again they both answered at the same time: one said “yes, the other said “no”. I asked to see it. No response. I knew they didn’t have one. 

“Look,” I conceded, “I’ll give you fifteen minutes, and then I’m coming back and I will sketch here.” Thankfully they agreed; it was either that or call a policeman to sort out who has what rights to be where. I went off and did a quick ten-minute sketch of the Gherkin (see right), then went and warmed my hands up in a bookstore, before resuming my spot to sketch HMS Belfast. They were filming some romantic kissing scene, but they didn’t object when I came back for my turn. While I sketched, several people came along and stood in the way to take photos and look at the view, and I didn’t mind because they had every right to.  It is an amazing view.

london bridge

And this I sketched shortly before then, at London Bridge. This looks towards the heart of the City of London – you can see Tower 42 and the golden-topped column of the Monument there. That column, built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, would, if it fell over, reach the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the fire began. Presumably Wren kept that fact to himself, lest gangs of curious seventeenth-century scallywags attempt to push it over to find out. There has been a bridge on this spot called London Bridge since the time of the Romans, and yes, previous incarnations did sometimes fall down (or burn down, usually). This particular London Bridge dates back to the 1970s, when the previous one (which was not falling down, but sinking) was sold to a man in Arizona who needed it to sell postcards.

I however was utterly freezing. After these sketches I went and had a nice hot chicken pie.

oh, the weather outside is frightful

sketching burnt oak in the snow

So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.

Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…

HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge

These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!

But boy, is it cold…