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.
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.

wheel of misfortune

wheel of (mis)fortune

Anybody who has been to Vegas knows that the sound of the inescapable beeping of slot machines stays in your head for ages afterwards. The one-armed bandits, which still have their levers, unnecessary though they are in this age of buttons, now have the pre-recorded sound of quarters dropping into a plastic tray when you win or cash out your paper token with a little barcode on it, replacing the sound of real quarters, the sound of winning big. The first time I went to Vegas, nine years ago, quarters were everywhere. They gave you big plastic slurpee cups to hold them in, and the cashiers distributed little sanitized towels to wash the metallic stain from your fingers. The world has changed so much, except for one thing: the house always wins in the end. The thing is, you win big one time, maybe twice, and it keeps you playing, and then ultimately you lose it all, because you don’t know when to stop. I won $100 on the Wheel of Fortune machine at the airport once, just before getting on the plane; that didn’t happen this time, oh no. Oh well.

cravings buffet

And of course, the buffets – you have to do the buffets in Vegas. They are good. The problem with buffets is that there is so much choice, you end up getting too much and not eating all that much of it. Not that I didn’t stuff my face of course, and we got there late enough for breakfast that lunch was starting to be served as well, which was handy (there’s one for Alan-Partridgesque buffet tricks 101). This was what remained of my very big breakfast. That chocolate mousse thing was delicious.

oscars at zeffirino’s


I sketched at Zeffirino’s, a bar/restaurant at the Venetian in Las Vegas, while the Oscars were on TV. The King’s Speech did well, didn’t it? That was a good movie. I like Geoffrey Rush, ever since that movie Shine. Colin Firth was good too of course, but he’s more for the ladies (he’ll always be D’Arcy apparently). I have a British accent too – OSCAR PLEASE! Mike out of Neighbours was in it too, as Edward VI. I didn’t see many of the other films that were up for stuff, except for Toy Story 3, and was therefore utterly ignorant; good job the King’s Speech won, I’ve seen that. I’ve never been a big Oscars-watcher, though. It was always on in the middle of the night, when I lived in England; you’d get up and catch the end of it on GMTV, but it wasn’t exciting like Election Night or anything. At least in California it’s on at a more respectable hour of the day. Happy Hour!

even better than the real thing…

rialto bridge

I have been to Venice three times – 2001, 2002 and 2003. On that last occasion, I got engaged to my wife. I think back then I had hoped to go to Venice once a year, but in 2004 I didnt make it – so we went instead to the venetian detailVenetian, Las Vegas, on the night after our wedding. I love the Venetian – as a ‘Venetophile’ (I just created that word, but I bet it already exists) I was always absolutely amazed at the incredible level of detail the designers went to to produce this amazing tribute to La Serenissima. It’s utterly unbelievable – this is not some disney-like mockery, this is some serious, serious cash.

We went there again recently on our Vegas weekend, and I still absolutely love it. I had to sketch there. I sat outside and drew the Rialto bridge – an improvement on the original, as it has a moving walkway for those who simply cannot bear the thought of using their feet for walking – beside the canal while gondoliers sang below the bridges. The sketch on the left is a detail of the Doge’s Palace, which provides the main entrance to the casino, complete with a Bridge of Sighs (which I didn’t draw, sigh).  

Inside, there is an immensely grand entranceway complete with richly decorated painted ceiling. We’ve stayed in the hotel suites and they are wonderful. We had dinner at Canaletto in St Mark’s Square (which unlike the reall Piazza San Marco was largely pigeon-free, except for one which had found its way up from the blackjack tables and was scrounging breadcrumbs).  The main attraction though are the Grande Canal Shops (it might be ‘Shoppes’ – Vegas apparently believes that spelling adds authenticity…), with the Canal running through it. There’s a sketch of it below. As with most Vegas hotel shopping, the boutiques are high-end and a little out of my spending range. This is however the home to that shop from that Michael Jackson / Martin Bashir program, Regis Galerie. You know, the one with all the gaudy nonsense, where he was wandering about the store pointing at this painting or that ugly sculpture, saying “woohoo! woohoo! do i have that one? I’ll take that one, yeah, and that one. Ohh, I saw a ghost, I’m scared now, woohoo…”  You do see a lot more Jackos in Vegas now, by the way. They are catching up with the Elvises.

venetian grand canal

The Venetian isn’t Venice itself, of course not. Venice is unique. But for sheer effort and faithfulness of detail, it’s quite a remarkable place.

a visit to vegas

room at the mirage

We went to Las Vegas for the weekend, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We’ve been several times before (we got married there), and this time we stayed at the Mirage, as we were going to see the Beatles ‘Love’ show by Cirque du Soleil (which was incredible). The rooms at the Mirage are very nice. I had to sketch ours.

Below, another airplane sketch. Our flight was full, on a pretty small and veyr cramped US Airways flight. The flight was so full that after everyone was on the plane, the attendants asked that two people volunteer to get off because the plane was too heavy. That didn’t make me nervous at all. 

flight to vegas

I managed to get in quite a bit of sketching, which I’ll post shortly…

between a rock and a hard place

central bar, hard rock Las Vegas

The Central Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas. Stopped there first on my overnight trip to Sin City. Not much sinning going on, but lots of beer and some great Bavarian food at the Hofbrauhaus afterwards, and excellent company too. My idea to come here first, but then I remembered I’m actually off guitars at the moment. This bar kinda looks like the inside of the TARDIS. That pink light turned yellow from time to time, and then blue, sometimes green as well, though that may have just been through the bottom of the beer bottle. Those people there, playing video blackjack or whatever it was, at the bar. This was the only sketch I did in Vegas, I wasn’t there for long enough. Came back 24 hours later, much the wiser.

Week Thirty: Vegas in the Springtime

I’ve been to Las Vegas three times now. The first time, A and I were on the way from Disneyland to the Grand Canyon; the second time, we invited the families, and got married by an Elvis. We love Vegas, crazy Vegas with its dry heat, its non-stop neon lights, and its trance-inducing slot machine noise. I went there for the third time this week, this time not with my wife, but with Tel, my oldest mate from Burnt Oak, who was in America on a visit.

We stayed at the Super 8 Motel on Koval, not far from Paris and Bally’s – not a first choice, of course, but there was a convention or two in town, so it was the best we could afford. It wasn’t bad, a good location, decent rooms, an okay pool – and the sort of place where, over breakfast, you could see a decent fight between a tall black hooker, a small Hispanic pimp and two rejected guests from Jerry Springer. Well, you’d see it if you weren’t in bed with a terrible hangover from a crazy karaoke night at the Ellis Island casino pub right next door, like I was.

The funny thing about going out in Vegas is that drinks can vary wildly in prices. In the casino, of course, they are free, as long as you are filling the slots, and give the waitress a good tip (such as, “put some clothes on, you’ll freeze to death in that”). In lounges and clubs, though, expect to feel like a pushover parent in a toyshop. In those bars which purport to be brewpubs, however, you can have many a beer at roughly a couple of dollars each. We went to a few of them. People even bought us drinks, even after I’d done a nasal cockney spoken-word version of Lola to an audience of local rednecks in cowboy hats.

We went Downtown, to Old Vegas, where we had an average buffet, met a fat old Elvis, watched the Fremont Street Experience and saw the casino used in Back to the Future 2 as ‘Biff’s’ (“We can do this the easy way or the hard way – thud! – the easy way…”). It’s a lot more red and gold carpeting downtown, a lot more CSI and Fredo Corleone. The cool swinging hipsters that we are, we took the bus there and back, meeting Texans and Iowans and other merrymaking mid-Staters on the way. I sensibly kept my Bush-whacking comments to myself. That’s Vegas for you, it has many faces, many accents, many opinions. And so we flew back from the dusty Nevada desert to the wetlands of Sacramento, with Tel deciding that though he kinda liked it, he preferred little Davis better. Me, I still love Vegas, and next time, I’m going back with my wife, my good luck charm (as Elvis would say). Without her, the third time wasn’t lucky, but may the fourth be with us!