afternoon at the arms

London Southampton Arms 2022 sm

The last sketches from my first trip back to Europe this summer. I’d be back in a month and a bit, with the family, for more London and France. On the Friday, following a Thursday of staying in Burnt Oak and then working remotely in the evening (I say evening, I didn’t actually stop until almost 4am…that’s late even on California time, but there was a deadline), I went to Hampstead and met up with my friend Roshan. We walked about the village and over the Heath, it was a nice day and the views across London were amazing. I really miss London, and this is what I miss. We stopped off at a couple of places to have a cold drink and a sit down, these forty-something-year-old legs need resting more often, and ended up at a pub we’d never been to before, the Southampton Arms, down Parliament Hill / Tufnell Park. It’s a small place, with great music and a good choice of beers. This is the sort of place to spend a warm afternoon. I had to draw it, to catch a bit of the light and the mood. I used to live not too far from this part of London, up in the Highgate area, before moving to America. I often daydream of whether we would still live around there had we stayed in London; it’s so expensive to live there, and we could never earn enough with the sort of jobs we were doing, but you never know. I’ll always be a Londoner, but we will probably never live there again; I guess I’m Californian now. Still it’s nice to visit and see friends and family, while we can. I went back home for dinner with my mum, and that evening also met up with another friend James down in the Angel for an overdue catch-up (and lots of Beatles chat).

I flew back on the 12th, on the day when the COVID testing requirement to re-enter the States was officially dropped (I still had to do a proctored video test the day before, but by the time I had to enter my results into the system there was no need). We had a small family gathering the evening before at my mum’s, which ended in a lot of singing and dancing in the back yard, many Irish songs. I found it hard to sleep through the night though, as there was a big punch-up in the street between some of my mum’s Romanian neighbours, and I mean it was a proper fist fight between three blokes, you could hear the ‘thwack!’ and ‘pow!’ noises as the blows landed, even over the loud exclamations of a woman right below my window. It went on for quite some time, I wanted to tell them to take it down the park please, but given how loud we were playing the Wolfe Tones just a few hours before I couldn’t really tell them to pipe down. So I just kept my window closed and thought well, at least this will be a story. Usually I’m kept awake in Burnt Oak by the sound of foxes fighting in the bins and bushes, those things are loud. I made my plane in good time though, and I had an odd seat, in that there was no seat in front of me, giving me loads of lovely legroom. Also no screen to watch, but then I was going to be watching that Sex Pistols show on my iPad anyway, and listening to more Beatles podcasts. The guy next to me was a bit jealous of my legroom I think. He was chatty and kept trying to have a conversation with me at first, but beyond a few pleasantries I wasn’t really interested in listening to this guy for ten hours so put the headphones on and started drawing, because I just can’t stop drawing can I.

LHR to SFO 061222 sm

what we have said will always remain

BurntOak - Watling Ave - 2022 Before I flew back to the States, a couple more sketches of Burnt Oak, the hometown. After all the sketches from France and Belgium I needed a couple of drawings from up the Watling to be getting on with. I’ve had a lot of Burnt Oakers get in touch over the years, people who have moved away, sometimes pretty far (like I did), to say they like my drawings of the old manor, the place is a shared memory, and one that is always changing. I stood at the top of Watling Avenue and looked downhill. Those chimneystacks stepping downwards towards the station are iconic to me. I drew the other side of the street looking downwards way back in 2008, and then again looking upwards back in 2012, a decade ago. This time I added colour, and also a lot more of the people that passed by, because it was quite busy. We are a very multicultural area. The Romanian foodshop across the street (Food 4 Less) is where Pennywise used to be (I drew that in 2013), and next door you can make out a place called Bella. When I was growing up Bella, which was run by an Indian family if I remember, was a place where you could get all sorts of stuff. Household products, kitchen items, cleaning gear, cups (I have that mug that says “I’m a Mug from Burnt Oak” which comes from Bella), batteries, toys, you would come here to get your keys cut, oh and it was also a video rental store, this is where I would come with my uncle on a Saturday morning to pick out what films we would watch at his flat that afternoon. It seems that it’s just a cafe now. There is a clothes shop just out of view to the right that is called ‘Respect Men’, but has prominently displayed in the window what can can only be described as the illegitimate offspring of a tuxedo and a cardigan, white on the top half and black on the bottom, divided by an ugly carpet pattern going across the middle. Respect Men. I should have drawn it. Instead, I walked down the hill to the corner of Orange Hill, outside the library, and drew Woodcraft Hall. I’ve never been in there (never really wanted to either), but it’s one of those buildings I’ve known all my life that is just there, and long may it be just there. This crossroads was pretty much junction number one in my life. I lived up one arm of it, Orange Hill. Up Gervase Road, my mate Terry lived, and it was the way to Montrose and then on to Asda, where I had my first proper job (but not my first work). Left up the Watling towards Woodcroft Avenue, that was the way to my junior school, and on the corner opposite Woodcroft Hall is our local doctor’s, where my mum works. And then right is up Watling Avenue itself, you have the library, the shops, and of course the tube station which for me was the key to going everywhere else in the world, which I couldn’t wait to do. It started raining as I was drawing this, though I was sheltered in the doorway of the library, but I went home for dinner, and coloured it in later.

BurntOak - Woodcroft Hall - 2022

her majesty’s a pretty nice girl

London Jubilee Traf Sq 2022 sm

So anyway, the Queen had yet another Jubilee, this time for being Queen for 70 years, which is a record for an English monarch. British monarch too I think. It’s a long time. I think that is to do with modern medicine, but then Victoria was around for ages and she lived in the Victorian age. Elizabeth I also went on for what seemed like ages, and that was in the Elizabethan age, which was probably disgusting. In terms of the all-time world monarch list, Queen Liz Two is actually second only to Louis XIV, the French ‘Sun King’, who is one of only two monarchs on that list to get a song on the Beatles album Abbey Road (the Queen was the other, making an unnamed appearance in Her Majesty). She recently overtook Rama IX of Thailand and Johan II of Liechtenstein (both kings in the 70 year club), though the latter uses the same theme song as our Queen Bess. In two years Elizabeth II will take the crown from Louis Quatorze, assuming she is still with us and we haven’t started the Short Reign Of Charles III yet. Then again, there is another king who was king for 82 years, Sobhuza II of Swaziland, who was king of the country when they became independent from British rule in 1968, so I guess the records are like, well before that date doesn’t count. Well they do count, and Lillibet is going to have to stick around cutting ribbons and watching horses run fast for another 12 years to beat his record. Nevertheless, there was a lot of celebration for Her Majesty’s Platinum album, 70 Greatest Hits. It’s a little strange to think that she was the Queen when the Beatles were still at school. She was the Queen when England won the World Cup. She was the Queen the last time Wales played at a World Cup. She was the Queen when the M1 motorway opened. She was the Queen when the band Queen was formed (will they have to change their name to King when she dies?) The Platinum Jubilee celebrations were scheduled to take place while I was back in London (no, I didn’t go back there for that), though I was leaving for France in the middle of it. My mum loves all that, and she decorated the house in union flags, the most in our street. There was no street party this time, unlike for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (and the Silver Jubilee in 1977, though I was only a baby), but not the Golden Jubilee in 2002. It’s like we alternate when we have them. Maybe we will have one for the 75th Jubilee, which is confusingly also called the Diamond Jubilee, or the 80th, which is disappointingly called the Oak Jubilee. Imagine that, the Oak Jubilee.

On the Thursday that the celebrations were to begin in London and elsewhere, I went with my mum down into central London to watch the flyover and walk about in the crowds. We went to Trafalgar Square to await the Red Arrows and all the other planes from the RAF (I do love seeing the planes, I must admit, I’m a sucker for a Spitfire). It was busy alright. We were outside Charing Cross Station, and I sketched the crowds a bit (above), while my mum went into the little Sainsbury’s to see if she could get some wine and a sandwich. That was not an easy prospect, the place was packed. So I said I would go in there for her, and I braved the squashed throng, and while there were no sandwiches left, I did get her a bottle of prosecco and the last plastic cups in the shop. I needed some time to recover after that, I don’t like crowds in small places, so we sat on the step and drank the wine, and eventually the planes flew over and everyone got excited. You couldn’t get anywhere near the Mall. We walked down to the Ship and Shovell pub to use the loos, and then just wandered about towards St. James, up Pall Mall and down Piccadilly. There were people from all over the country, all over the world actually, maybe the universe for all I know. It was a historic occasion, but I was glad to not be around for even more crowds and pageantry, and TV shows about the Queen, and so I went to France to do some sketching.

chasing clouds on the banks of the thames

London battersea ps 2022 sm

On the first day of June, which is always a good day in the calendar, I took the tube down to Battersea to meet up with friend Simon, who was flying over from Dublin that morning for a few days. I say I took the tube down, well this being classic London, I left in good time only to find the Northern Line was down, so I had to get a bus to Queensbury to jump on the Jubilee Line. Can’t escape the Jubilee. Incidentally that Jubilee Line was named for the Queen’s 25th (Silver) Jubilee, which is why it is coloured in grey. This year it was the 70th (Platinum) Jubilee, and they named the new Crossrail after her, the Elizabeth Line (that was actually her mum’s name, Elizabeth Lines-Bowen) (I think they missed a trick by not renaming Crossrail as “we-are-not-amused-rail”, ok maybe not). Anyway silly jokes aside, I was hoping to see the new London underground station on the Northern Line, Battersea Power Station Station. That is actually its name. It is the tube station for Battersea Power Station, so therefore it is Battersea Power Station Station. However, once me and Simon met up, at Vauxhall Bridge, we never found it, as we were catching up on three years of silly jokes. It was a fun day out we had along the river, and then up into Chelsea, and the clouds were incredible. He’s a pro photographer and got some great shots – follow him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/naderissimo/ – and I started some sketches, very much in the ‘finish these later’ category. I had not drawn Battersea Power Station before, I do want to draw it from the other side of the river sometime, but it has all been redeveloped in recent years and is all a bit fancy now. I notice that the Urban Sketchers London had a sketching event down there recently, part of the ten year anniversary, as many Battersea Power Station sketches kept popping up on my feed, making me want to go back down that way. I haven’t really explored there before, so it was an eye opener.

London Albert Bridge 2022 sm

We walked down through Battersea Park, where I have not been for many years, until we took a rest by the Albert Bridge (above). I drew this bridge as an illustration for a book years ago, the “London Walks, London Stories” book in about 2008 or 2009, so I was keep to draw it in person. Not super easy, so I drew the main bits, the main outlines, and drew in the rest of the details later. We were busy chatting. Albert Bridge is named after Queen Victoria’s dead husband Prince Albert (I mean they are all dead now aren’t they, the Victorians), and is one of the best and most charming bridges in London. Lots of things are named after Prince Albert, you’ve got the Albert Embankment, the Albert Hall, the Albert Bridge, the Albert Memorial, Albert Square, and of course the Prince Albert, which I won’t elaborate on further. We crossed Albert Bridge and wandered about Chelsea, looking for one specific pub that Simon knew about, and I can definitely say I got my ten thousand steps in that day a couple of times over. Still at least we got to look at some cool shops and see loads more colourful Jubilee displays, including this union-jack-themed mini. Simon used to have a very beloved mini, so I just had to draw this, though now he lives in Dublin he probably wouldn’t drive this particular one about. There were so many interesting floral displays along the Kings Road, we spent a lot of time taking photos (and being silly of course) before resting with a pint in the old pub he was looking for, and then heading over to Harrods (I got some delicious cannoli). One thing about this trip, I did explore a fair bit of London I either hadn’t been to before, or not been to in years. It’s like a book you can keep coming back to and learning something new, but because it’s the city where I’m from there’s always a connection.

London UK Mini 2022 sm

what the dickens

London Dickens Inn EXT 2022 sm

After visiting the Classic Football Shirts shop in its new location on Commercial Street, I decided to take a walk down to St. Katharine’s Dock, near Tower Bridge. I hadn’t seen any football shirts I wanted to buy,
all the really classic ones were out of my price range, although the pound is very weak against the dollar so maybe I should have gotten that 1992-93 light blue Spurs 3rd kit I’ve always wanted. I ended up buying some socks (one pair themed like the 1984 Belgian shirt, and another themed after Roberto Baggio’s 1994 Italian kit), and having a hot chocolate. It was the last day of May, it wasn’t cold but wasn’t hot, it was good London weather, and the weather was about to turn wet. I walked through the east end, taking photos of old pubs I would draw later, but didn’t have time to stop and draw now. The clouds were looking a bit ominous. I’d not been to St. Katharine’s Dock before, at least not since I was a kid and can’t really remember that. My mum likes to go there for lunch, and another mate had told me about the Dickens Inn, and it looked like something I should draw. So I walked about the pretty little docks, there were some boats I thought about sketching, but I sought out the Dickens Inn instead. I found a good spot with a classic red phone box in the foreground, and started mapping out the sketch…and then the skies opened up. It wasn’t so bad, but I had to find something to stand under. So I stood inside the phone box! Yeah this is great, what a story. No, that was uncomfortable, and the phone box just got a bit steamy, and what if someone needed to use the phone? Oh right, it’s not 1994. Anyway, I found a better spot, underneath a tree, this time with a classic red postbox in the foreground. I abandoned that fairly quickly, trees aren’t actually that good at keeping you completely dry, plus I thought I heard a rumble in the sky, though that might have been my tummy. I don’t stand underneath trees if there’s thunder, thunder famously hates trees. So there was the awning of a nearby building, this time with a classic gas-lit lamp-post in the foreground, yes this will do. I drew for as long as I could, which turned out not to be as long as I would have liked, because that rain, man, it kept on coming and just got heavier. I’m almost flat against a wall with little keeping me dry thinking, just do this later yeah. So I dashed inside to dry off.

London Dickens Inn INT 2022 sm

It’s a big place, the Dickens Inn. It wasn’t super busy but there were quite a few people in there, several American tourists (probably why all the tv screens were showing baseball), and a lot of wood. The website says that “it is believed” to have been built in the 1700s – the building, not the pub, this being an old warehouse, maybe a tea factory, just east of where it currently stands. “Years later” it was turned into a tavern. That would be in 1976, so it’s not as ancient as you might think, being as old as I am – we would have been in the same year at school, but it probably has better eyesight than me. It’s not called the Dickens Inn because Charles Dickens used to drink there (this being the one pub in London’s Zone 1 that Dickens apparently wasn’t a regular at), although “Dickens” did drink there, that being his grandson Cedric Dickens who opened the pub. There are Dickens references about, as seen written on the beam in the sketch I did above. It was very nice in there; the windows were open, and outside the rainstorm grew heavier, the rumblings of thunder grew louder, and I had an afternoon of not needing to be anywhere thanks, so here I stopped, eating a pub lunch and having a couple of nice pints, and of course getting the sketchbook out. Bliss. This was the first London pub I was sketching in a long time. I wouldn’t mind coming here again some time.

When the rain slowed down a bit and I was done with sketching, I walked over to Tower Bridge and crossed the Thames, and enjoyed an ice cream in the rain from a proper ice cream van. Ice cream vans in England look like ice cream vans; the ones in Davis, not so much, more like creepy child-catcher trucks with scary jingles. I had a 99 of course (they cost a lot more than when I was a kid), and walked along the river in the rain, before heading back to the Northern Line. Have I mentioned that I love London?

st pancreas

London St Pancras 2022 sm

I had a few nice family days in London, went to my older brother’s wedding, met my younger sister’s baby for the first time, ate some lovely breakfasts after discovering that Richmond Irish Sausages now come in a chicken sausage variety. Yes please guv. I must point out, I gave up eating red meats (beef, pork, lamb) when I was 12, and one of the only things I regretted giving up were the Richmond Irish Sausages. I bloody loved them. But they had to go. So when I was in Asda and saw that they had a chicken variety, well, that was discovery of the century. They were so good. Anyway, breakfasts aside, I took another day out for some London sketching, and went down to St Pancras. I was headed towards Classic Football Shirts, always a destination when I come back, but now in a new location near Aldwych. Outside Kings Cross, I had the most delicious lime and coconut doughnut (wasn’t cheap, was well worth it though), and then draw the road between Kings Cross and St Pancras, towards the latter’s famous gothic station facade. The sky was fairly ominous; we would have lots of rain later, but this is England, where the weather can go either way, but rain is never off the table. So I had to paint the sky. Across the street, unseen in this (unfinished) sketch, there was a queue of people stretching almost a mile long. I asked a station worker who was managing the line what it was for. “Eurostar!” he said. Delays caused by staff shortages, too many people travelling, the Jubilee, all sorts of things. I was worried, because I was going to be taking the Eurostar myself to Lille just a few days later on Saturday. How long were these people in line? “Three hours at least,” he said, clearly having a miserable day at work; he had my sympathies. I asked what time he advised I come for my 10:30am train on Saturday. “Jubilee weekend? When the station opens, I’d say, if you are lucky.” That would be at 5:00am. Right. Oh well, I thought, I’m glad I asked. I hope his day got better, he was very helpful. So I’d have to show up five and a half hours before my train? Phew. My ticket said to arrive 90 minutes early. I’d have to leave Burnt Oak at what, 4:30am? Would there even be a tube? I’d have to get the night bus, and we all know how I feel about those. Doesn’t feel right if I’m not eating cheap greasy fried chicken, and wake up at the wrong stop. Tant pis, as they say in France. If I end up not getting to France, I’ll get more time to enjoy the Jubilee. I was determined to get that train.

London - Old St Panc 2022 sm

The main reason I’d stopped at St Pancras was because I wanted to visit St Pancras Old Church. I’ve never been there before, but had seen pictures of the graveyard and thought, I should sketch there next time I’m in London. So I walked up to find the church, and a man seated just inside the gates asked if I needed any help. He told me that unfortunately the church and the grounds were all closed for an event for the next few days (Jubilee related? Not sure but probably) which was a bit disappointing, but there’s a lot of London to draw so I wasn’t too miffed, there’s always next time. I did try to draw the church from outside the fence, looking up, but to be honest it was a weird angle and I wasn’t super comfortable, so I gave up and headed for the tube.

I’ll post the rets of the day’s sketches next time, but wanted to keep on the St. Pancras theme by posting the next sketch which is actually page 1 of the following sketchbook (landscape sketchbook #43 if you are following along; check out petescully.com/sketchbooks for the full list!). So Saturday came, the news was all about travel chaos at the airports and stations, and did I leave at 4:30am? No I did not. I left at about 7:00am, thinking you know what, I’m not daft. When I got there, instead of desperate queues and confusion, the hall was empty and orderly, and there was a sign for each scheduled Eurostar’s line to start, with my one not opening for a good hour and a half. Plenty of time to just hang about, and do what? What would I possibly do with all my time? So outside I went and sketched St. Pancras Station again, from a bit closer up. This is a very detailed station that requires a bit more time a touch of patience and a lot of good eyesight, and out of those, two out of three ain’t bad. I wasn’t right on the street level so nobody bothered me, and I was done with time to still wander about the shops and get a snack before my journey to Lille. Travel lucky again.

St Pancras Station  London

You know I always wondered who St. Pancras actually was. We used to see that name on the Underground map when we were kids and laugh, because it sounded like ‘pancreas’, and since we had no idea what body part the pancreas was, we giggled because it was probably a rude part. The Underground map is actually full of possible naughty double-entendres, none of which I would have understood when I was nine, but still sniggered at “St. Pancreas”. Apparently St. Pancras was from Phrygia but moved to Rome and was beheaded when he was only 14, just for being a christian. To paraphrase Stewart Lee, “These days mate,” Roman chariot taxi drivers used to say, “they arrest you, lock you up and chop your head off just for saying you’re a christian.” This was in fourth century Rome, under the persecution of Diocletian, so they totally did, even though he was only fourteen. So now Pancras is the saint of children. And years later, children in London (such as I) would laugh because his name sounded a bit like a rude part of the body that isn’t even rude. It’s a funny old world. 

Next up, more London sketches (with more completely sensible history). I’ll leave you with a joke. “‘Scuse me mate, how do you get Kings Cross?” “Forget their birthdays. Hahaha.”

a thousand things i wanna say to you

London - Prince Charles Cinema 2022

I had a big grin on my face when I got out of the tube at Holborn and started wandering about the streets I always knew so well, but are now thousands of miles away. I always feel so comfortable being back in this old place, sure it’s crowded and the city air makes your throat scratchy, sure so many things have changed lately, and what’s with all the big new tall buildings, but it’s still London. I stopped along Long Acre in Covent Garden and drew the Sun Tavern pub (below), which is a pub I’m not even sure I’ve ever actually been to, there are so many around there, I wasn’t a regular to any. In Covent Garden I mostly spent time in art shops (well, one specific art shop) and map shops (well, one specific map shop) (both of which I visited again on this same morning). The scene above, that isn’t in Covent Garden but just off nearby Leicester Square, on the corner of Leicester Place and Lisle Street, as you enter Chinatown. The cinema on the corner is a proper London icon, the Prince Charles Cinema, which is beloved in London as a place to watch films that are out of circulation from the general commercial cinema circuit, so you might catch old movies here or runs by a certain director, movie marathons, occasionally new films, but often classics (as I write, August 12, I see that they are showing Pulp Fiction tonight, me and my wife still love that film) – I remember years ago (mid-90s) coming here to watch a late night screening of The Godfather Part II, which is so long it needed an intermission, and didn’t finish until after 1:00am (that’s Night Bus territory, as all Londoners know, which in 1996 meant a pretty long wait for the N5 on Charing Cross Road, I would eat greasy fried chicken while waiting in the cold). The Prince Charles also did singalongs to classic musicals, “Sing-along-a-Sound-of-Music” was popular on a Friday night, people would dress up, and I did go to see the long-running sing-and-dance-along to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they showed that here for years. I think they are doing Sing-along-a-Grease soon – by the way, rest in peace Olivia Newton John – and Sing-along-a-Dirty Dancing too, both of which were well played and well sung-along to in our house growing up, not by me but by my two sisters. I wish we had a Prince Charles Cinema in Davis, it’s one of the places I miss most from London.

London - Sun Tavern Cov Gdn 2022

Below is the St. Moritz Swiss restaurant on Wardour Street. Wardour Street was one of my favourite roads in London, I always seemed to end up somewhere there back in the 90s. The St. Moritz has been there for ages. While I never ate at the restaurant, I did go regularly to the St. Moritz club next door (or underneath, Soho nightclub geography always confused me). It was tiny, but the music was always good. I remember I knew one of the DJs who worked a club night there, it was a good hangout. I remember one night out there, I was studying French at university and really had to finish my book by the next day, I think it was Le Pere Goriot or something, I’m sitting there reading with a beer in the dim light while everyone in the club was dancing to the Stone Roses or something, it’s a funny memory. I never finished the book – well, no, I did, I definitely got to the end, but I do remember skipping long bits. I recall trying to read it on the night bus too, eating greasy fried chicken, and still reading it next morning on the tube down to Mile End on my way to class. I had a lot more energy in those days. As I drew this, it was a Saturday afternoon and there were a lot of Hen parties about (Bachelorette parties, as Americans would call them), groups of women (many in costumes) going from place to place enjoying their Saturday, and a few did stop by as I was drawing to say “Wow! That’s lovely!”. Soho has a real buzz to it, it’s an interesting neighbourhood, being both party central and local residential area, it has always had a community spirit to it. Soho is changing, no question, and isn’t the Soho I remember from the 90s, but it still makes me smile. I used to dream about drawing the whole of Soho, capturing it all before changes swept through, and while the most interesting Soho is gone, some of it is still there if you look.

London - StMoritz 2022

Also on Wardour Street, a pub I used to enjoy going to the most (they always played good rock music in there): The Ship, which is not far from the St. Moritz, on the other side of the street. It’s a little cleaner in there now but hasn’t changed that much, the toilets are still pretty tight (no chance of social distancing in there), and I popped in for a pint and to rest my weary legs. It’s always been a good rest-stop, in the middle of Soho, but I loved coming here in the evenings when it would be crowded and people would spill into the little courtyard outside. Literally spill. I remember coming here with friends in about 1996 and then going over to the Intrepid Fox across the street (best rock pub ever, now long gone, though the stone sign remains), and then on to the Hellfire Club on Oxford Street. You will notice all the union jack bunting all over the place. London was preparing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which was the following week, celebrating her millionth year on the throne, something like that. People were making a big deal about it. Thing is, I presume she had to get up from the throne occasionally, to go to the toilet or watch the racing, so it’s probably not 70 years continually sitting down.

London - Ship Soho 2022

Speaking of the Jubilee, I did do a quick sketch at Piccadilly Circus (you can see Lillywhites across the street, where I used to get football shirts, though the place gives me a headache now), and there are some of the big union flags that were all over London for the upcoming festivities. I didn’t bother finishing this drawing. I don’t really like Piccadilly Circus much. And so, this was my first big sketching-day in London for ages, and while I probably could have got more drawn, I did wander and explore a good bit too. The jetlag was kicking in, and it was time to head back to my mum’s for dinner.

London - PicCirc 2022

back to burnt oak library

BurntOak - Library - 2022

At the end of May I finally returned home to London, having not been back since before the pandemic started. This was my longest period of time not going back, and it was great to see my family again. My older brother was getting married to his long-time partner (I was best man and gave a speech). It was the first of two trips back to London this summer, and both times I would be going off to France for the second half of the trip. It’s been a busy time. I also managed to get a lot of sketching done, as well as many drawings I would start now, finish later (gives me something to do on the plane home). I felt a bit odd flying across the Atlantic again after all this time, but it wasn’t so bad, and I landed at Heathrow and took the brand new Elizabeth Line, London’s newest train line, that had opened only a day or two before. It was pretty exciting getting to ride this new train so early in its existence. The Elizabeth Line (formerly called Crossrail) station within Tottenham Court Road was like an underground cathedral, at least compared to the tube platforms. Anyway, I made it up to Burnt Oak on the Northern Line which is where my family still live, and this is where I got my first sketch of the trip in. This was a London sketching day and I was headed down into town to fill my book and wander the streets, as I do. I like to explore. But I had to stop here on Orange Hill Road and draw Burnt Oak Library. This iconic landmark of Burnt Oak (opened 1968, designed by B. Bancroft) was like a second home to me growing up, I spent so much time in here. These days only the top part is the library, greatly reduced in book numbers, while the bottom floor is all council offices for local services now (very useful of course). When I was a kid, the children’s library was upstairs while the main library was downstairs. I still dream about the library from those days. There was a smell, a bookish smell, and as you walked in the main doors (which are in a different place now since the remodel), you were greeted with three maps on the wall (I think it was three, maybe two?) showing Burnt Oak as it was when it was all fields and a few roads, then a small village in Middlesex, and then how it looked in the 60s all built up and part of the Greater London suburban metro-land. Burnt Oak is on the Edgware Road, which is part of the ancient Roman road called Watling Street, shooting dead straight in a general north-western direction. It’s from Watling Street that we get the name Watling Avenue, the main road that cuts from Edgware Road (called ‘Burnt Oak Broadway’ in this section) downhill and past the Underground station towards this intersection with Orange Hill Road, and that’s where you find the library. Watling Saturday Market by the way, from the sign in the sketch, was the market that was in the parking area behind the station. I don’t know if it even still goes, and I think the stairwell down there from Watling Avenue has been closed off, but we used to go there on Saturdays and look around the stalls. The little street to the right is Park Croft, a tiny cul-de-sac that just backs up to the train lines. The library itself didn’t used to be painted in such a dark grey colour, but was white (not a very clean white admittedly) and looked quite striking. Then they painted some colourful patterns on the interior parts, and when they did a big redevelop in the 2000s they painted it an uninviting dark grey. There didn’t used to be a fence around the grassy bit, well there was a small shin-height barrier we used to jump over, so we could sit in the shade outside the library windows. I remember getting my library card as a very young kid, possibly on a visit from my infant school which was just up the road (Goldbeaters), the librarian upstairs in the kids section had brown curly hair and was friendly and kind but serious, you couldn’t make noise of course without a stern look, but I remember her teaching me all about book care (I still remember her advice that it’s not a good idea to turn the corners of pages in your books to mark your spot, and to this day I still don’t). I do remember that I forgot to take some books back when I was a kid, and it turned out they were in our loft, and the two books were a very silly children’s story about colourful teddy bears getting into trouble, and a heavy book about the Soviet manned space program. Two more completely different books you could not have chosen but that was the sort of thing I would read, I guess. As I grew I would read lots of adventure books, but I’d mostly spend ages poring over the travel books, especially the Insight Guides which have all the colourful photographs in them. New Zealand, Hong Kong, Germany’s Rhine Valley, Brazil, the fjords of Norway, Australia, Japan, the Trans-Siberian Express, there were all these places I read books about at that library but have as yet still never visited. Some day. When I was an older teen I would study in the library, especially on the evenings when it would stay open late until 9pm, I could get some quiet study done and also if I needed to study with friends, but usually it was a quiet place for myself. I would go to other libraries too, I remember studying hard for my Maths GCSE in Edgware library every day, and the big library at Hendon was a favourite for me, I’d sometimes spend all of a Saturday in there getting lost among the language books, and they also had an excellent music library where I would check out vinyls (I often used to get the old BBC Sound Effects records, for some reason). Libraries were such a big part of my growing up as a place where I could find ideas and let the imagination bubble, and I carried that on into adulthood. When I lived in Hornsey Lane, when I wasn’t working I would spend most of the day in Crouch End library. When I moved to Davis, similarly I would spend a lot of my time in the library, looking through books that might be interesting. I think it’s always a massive shame whenever public libraries close, they need to be protected. While it’s a lot smaller than it used to be, I’m glad Burnt Oak Library is still there. Probably not quiet enough for me to do my homework in now though. And I wish they paint it white again.

Behind the library it looks like they are building some sort of extension on top of Silkstream Parade, that changes the look of the street a bit. I’m interested to see how that turns out, but I hope it’s not some big redevelopment scheme like we saw in Colindale, which is a completely different place from when I left the area. I miss it round Burnt Oak, so it was good to be back for a little bit. I did do a few more drawings round here while I was back, will post later. Next up – central London sketches…

gardening leave

Covent Garden Tube Station

For this year’s Pence Gallery Garden Tour show, they couldn’t actually have the in-person garden visits like they have done in years past, with the artist painting or drawing in the garden (and sneezing, in my case) while visitors looked about at the pretty plants and flowers and then we exhibited our finished artwork at the Pence later. I’ve done it a few times and it’s fun (apart from the sneezing). But as I say, they can’t do that this year so instead they are having a garden-themed show, and asked us to submit our garden-themed artwork. I don’t have a garden (just a small back yard with not much in it) and haven’t been sketching much foliage this year yet, but…well I have been drawing old Leslie Green tube stations from London, and I hadn’t yet got around to drawing Covent Garden…that is garden themed, right? It’s one of my favourite gardens after all, and I really love drawing these old Leslie Green stations. I drew a whole load of them last summer, using only three colours (QOR watercolor paints Nickel Azo Yellow, Ultramarine, and Quinacridone Magenta – I don’t often use a limited palette but these very strong paints were a winning combination). I just realized while searching for those old posts to link to that I never actually posted them here, so I guess I’ll need to write a new post about those old stations…soon. Maybe I will draw a few more first. 

I miss London, and I especially miss wandering about the little shops of Covent Garden. I don’t miss the tube station itself (I never get off there; coming down on the Northern Line I always get out at Leicester Square and walk up, it’s quicker) (the distance between the tube stations of Leicester Square and Covent Garden, which is on the Piccadilly Line, is one of the shortest in London – the tube actually takes twice as long as walking, especially as you have to get into a crowded lift at Covent garden tube, ugh). (Plus I use all the short cuts to beat the crowds). After living away from London for sixteen years now though, many of those short cuts through the centre of the city are becoming lost to me, not just through memory but through construction. The CrossRail project demolished many buildings around Oxford Street and changed a lot of the geography. There was a really useful unsignposted short cut between the central and Northern lines inside Tottenham Court Road station that meant avoiding the escalators, but that is now blocked off.) Thankfully Covent Garden isn’t too changed, it’s a labyrinth as it is, but some landmarks are gone or moved, such as Stanfords map shop, which is now smaller and around the corner from the old Long Acre site. I used to run through Covent Garden’s narrow streets on the way from the 134 bus-stop at New Oxford Street to my classes at King’s College London on the Strand when I was doing my master’s degree, that was a long time ago now. I miss London. I miss the pubs, and the people from all over the world, and the stories, and the sounds, and the smells, and the memories it makes me think of every time I dash round a corner. I love living in California, but blimey I miss London.  

(6) Stratford, (7) New Cross and (8) Tooting

GB 06-08 sm
Going east from the city, this is the last bit of vaguely familiar territory for a while for me. On the left, number 6, that is the Town Hall at Stratford in east London. I have been inside there once, while I was a student at Queen Mary University of London in nearby Mile End, and I took a French exam there. I studied French, though I probably didn’t study it as hard as I could have. I lived in Belgium and France for brief periods, but my French is not the best. Chaucer made a joke in the Canterbury Tales about one of the pilgrims, the Prioress, speaking only the French of “Stratford at Bow”, not the “proper” Parisian French (“And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frenhssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.”) Seems to me he was making a joke at my own poor French, learned at Stratford atte Bowe, seven hundred years early. Oh well. You may know Stratford from the 2012 Olympics in London, that was a beautiful occasion wasn’t it, still my favourite opening ceremony, made me miss home for sure. I’ve spent a bit of time in Stratford over the years, seen it change, I would never have guessed the actual Olympics would end up there some day, but that happened.

Right let’s not linger, time to jump on the Overground and end up in New Cross Gate, across the river in southeast London. Have I ever been to New Cross? I don’t think I have. It was always one of those places I’d see interesting indie club nights advertised on fliers handed out in Soho or Camden, but then I’d see where New Cross was and I lived in the complete opposite end of London. If it was beyond the river, yeah probably too far. I don’t know south London very well; as a north Londoner you grew up with a lot of people basically acting like it was a different city entirely. They talk different them Saaf Landoners, and there aren’t as many tube lines down there, and cabbies won’t go saaf of the rivah after dark, see. Not that I ever got a cab anywhere. I did get to know some of south London in the late nineties though through the medium of going out with women that lived in Clapham. That’s an interesting area, divided into Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South, but there’s also Clapham Junction but that’s not on the Northern Line. It’s an area so full of European au pairs that my friends referred to it as “Nappy Valley”, though I didn’t get the pun on Napa Valley at the time, I assumed it was some saaf London thing. I love that we call it “saaf” London, even though I also pronounce “south” as “saaf” more than half the time. My norf London accent can be quite thick, even now I’m Californian. For example when I was a kid, true story, I though Bran Flakes were called that because of their colour, because they were “Braan”, literally brown flakes. Not all norf London speaks like that, in fact there are loads of slightly different accents across London, but most Burnt Oakers like me have quite strong cockney voices. So no, I’ve never been to New Cross. Why did I include it here? Not sure, maybe I really wanted to go to nearby Goldsmiths College years ago, doing art and whatever else they are famous for, but I ended up choosing Queen Mary and studying French and Drama, and life takes whatever turn it has to.

Right, turning away from New Cross, I now have to get across south London somehow to reach Tooting. I probably should have left this stop out, or drawn Greenwich or moved directly to Canterbury, but I didn’t want to be so dismissive of South London that I would draw New Cross and then be like right, that’s all there is. So I went (virtually) to Tooting, which is a stop on that lower part of the Northern Line, the line that stands on one leg, and a place I have never been. I know it only from that TV show that was on when I was about 3 or 4, Citizen Smith, with Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith. Aparently when I was 4 and filming a TV show at BBC TV Centre in White City I saw Lindsay and went up to him excitedly. My mum told me that years later. Never been to Tooting, but I’ve been to nearby Balham a couple of times, both times going to parties there in my early 20s. Being on the Northern Line, that meant I could get home without changing trains, theoretically, so I wouldn’t be lost in the wilds of saaf London. This sketch is of Tooting Market, which looked interesting but I will probably never go to. Maybe I should have drawn Croydon, that’s a more interesting place, but in my mind I probably still thought, yeah but I should be near the tube so I can get home in time for dinner and watch Gladiators and Noel’s House Party, even though actually I’m sitting at a desk in California in 2020.

Ok, enough norf-London bewilderment at saaf-London, now time to get all London-centric with the rest of the country. Next stop, Canterbury! (checks notes) I mean, next stop Broadstairs! Broadstairs?