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

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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?

(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…

(1) Burnt Oak and (2) Kilburn

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So off we go, on our journey around Great Britain in 66 Sketches. Not the UK, I hasten to add, but specifically Great Britain the island. I’m starting this journey in Burnt Oak, a north London suburb near the end of the Northern Line, the place where I was born and grew up. That is Burnt Oak tube station, on Watling Avenue. So many stories and memories associated there, but I won’t go into any interesting ones now (because none of them are that interesting). Except that this station is not just the start of this virtual journey, but it was also the start of all my journeys across the world, they all came from here and led back to here. I also used to catch the bus from outside the station. It’s a small little station. When coming home on the Northern Line years and years ago I could always tell when I was getting close, before they had the actual announcements on the train or the little digital display, because of the colour scheme of the stations leading up to Edgware. Hendon Central was painted light blue, then Colindale was yellow, then Burnt Oak was red. Of course I’d be asleep and miss my stop and end up in Edgware and there’d be no more tubes home so I’d have to walk. Same with the Night Bus, the good old N5, those were the days. Always glad I lived only one stop from the end of the line, walking home after falling asleep never took very long. The Northern Line, for those who aren’t aware, is the black line on the London Underground map, the one that snakes up from Morden in the distant south, splitting into two shortly before reaching the Thames and sending two branches through central London, “Charing Cross” and “Bank” (that is, the one through the West End and the one through the City), before high-fiving at Euston and then meeting up again at Camden Town, only to say fare-thee-well once more and race north, one side to Edgware and the other to High Barnet. Not to forget the little branch that ends in Mill Hill East, which happened when people going up to Barnet decided in Finchley that they wanted to go to Edgware after all, but only made it as far as Mill Hill East before giving up. They were supposed to keep going all the way to Edgware and beyond up to Bushey, but then the War happened and they said ah leave it, this’ll do.

So, that is #1 in the journey. To get to #2, you would not take the tube, but you’d walk up Watling Avenue (we just call it “The Watling”) to Burnt Oak Broadway and catch the 32 bus down Edgware Road, past Staples Corner, until you reach Kilburn. This is the Cock Tavern on Kilburn High Road. Now I just named four roads in that past sentence, but one is the odd one out. Can you guess it? That’s right, Watling Avenue. The other three are actually the same road, different names for the road called “Edgware Road” in London, which ironically is part of a much longer Roman road called, yep, “Watling Street”. So when I talk about Watling Avenue as “The Watling”, it’s actually not even the Watling most people know. Watling Street, also called the A5, is one of the great historic Roman roads, straight as an arrow for long stretches, going from Dover to Wroxeter, although the A5 was extended beyond through Wales up to Anglesey. The Romans loved long straight roads, though this virtual journey will be anything but straight. Incidentally, Burnt Oak is historically supposed to have gotten its name from the Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark mile boundaries along the road, at least that’s what they told us at school.

That is enough Road talk. Let’s talk about the pub, the Cock Tavern. Pubs are an endangered species in England, even before COVID-19, with so many historic drinking spots stumbling and falling over on the pavement before being jumped and given a good kick-in by greedy property developers. For example the Carlton Tavern, which stood nearby on Carlton Vale, was the only building on its street to survive the Blitz, but it did not survive being illegally demolished by an Israeli property developer with no notice nor permission a few years back (they were ordered by Westminster Council to rebuild; have they? Yes, eventually, but not reopened it). So I’m glad the Cock Tavern is still there, a historic pub that dates from 1900. I haven’t been there in about twenty years though. Last time I was there was when I was seeing a woman who lived in Kilburn, which is a traditionally Irish area (as was Burnt Oak, but Kilburn and Cricklewood much more so), and I remember seeing this fight between two quite drunk old men in their 70s all over the outcome of a hurling match between Galway and Tipperary. Very heated it was, they were knocking each other into the fruit machine and eventually outside where I didn’t bother going to watch, but I imagine it was like High Noon, I just got another pint and some dry-roasted peanuts and put The Jam on the jukebox, probably. I don’t know, it was a very long time ago now. There were some good old pubs in Kilburn back then, some day I will get back to London and go and draw them in person. I want to go and draw the whole are in fact; you’ll see that I feel like this about a lot of the places I virtually visit.

The next part of the virtual journey will take us to Camden Town, and you don’t get the tube there from Kilburn, you have to take the Overground from Kilburn High Road to Camden Road, or take a bus, or just walk it (but that takes ages, don’t bother). We’ll cover that next time though. See you down Camden…

A little London and a bit of Vegas

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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.

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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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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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I sketched you in a bar down in old Soho

Old Coffee House pub

And so to the last night in England. It was an emotional trip, quick and busy, spent time with family, and friends, and places that I love. The last night there was just mine, all mine. I got back to Burnt Oak and watched old Alan Partridge shows on Netflix while packing my bag, never an easy task after even a short trip, what with all the various books (so many books) and new football shirts (more than one) and Cadbury’s cake bars and packs of Bisto gravy and Topic bars and whatever else I had to get. there was a lot I didn’t pick up. I didn’t get any Daddy’s Sauce, which I adore and am currently out of. For those who don’t know, Daddy’s is a brown sauce very similar to HP but less spicy and just tastes like home. I ate a Pot Noodle for dinner. I have not had a Pot Noodle for quite a long time. They seem a little less satisfying than I remember. I loved them when I was 14. I didn’t intend on ti being for dinner this time, but I left it a bit late to get much else when I finally finished packing my bag and venture back out into London one last time. I had a very early start the next morning and didn’t want to do any last-minute packing. So, I was along in London. I thought I might get some food and sketch an old pub. I wasn’t sure where I would go. London is vast and full of possibilities. I got off the train at Camden Town thinking, I could grab a curry at Masala Zone and then go up to sketch the Steele’s at Chalk Farm. But then at the last second I decided to jump back on the same tube because my head said, “you always go to Camden! Do that another time. London is yours!” So in the spirit of revisiting my youth, I got out at Tottenham Court Road instead. That was always my destination station whenever I would go into London as a teenager. It was right next to the Virgin Megastore – now long gone. It was also right next to the Hellfire Club, where as a 19-20 year old I would jump up and down to loud music with a group of international friends – also now long gone. In fact the station is completely different to the one from the 90s, having undergone a total transformation and rebuild in the past few years. All the old shortcuts are gone, and it’s a large, modern and open station now, not the cramped yellowing ticket hall of the past. I ended up not eating dinner, because I could not find somewhere that I fancied, and I wandered about Soho remembering all the old shortcuts that are thankfully still there. I passed by the Old Coffee House, a pub I have enjoyed a few fun evenings in with friends, one that I have tried to sketch before but at a time without pub-sketching confidence, and I saw through the window that there was a nice seat at the corner of the bar with a perfect panorama sketching view. That seat was mine. I would eat Dry Roasted Peanuts for dinner, hunger be damned.

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You’ll need to click on the sketch at the top of this post to see it in closer detail (it’ll take you to the Flickr site). As I sketched, I tried a couple of different beers, supplied by a local brewer, Brodies. The first was the Piccadilly Pale Ale, the second and third were the Old Street Pale Ale. I did all the ink at the bar, but added the watercolour paint on the plane next morning (my Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook being exactly the same width as my Virgin Atlantic economy seat). The bar staff were friendly, and the pub was chilled out. Oh except for the bar fight which broke out behind me. I have discovered that I can apparently sketch undisturbed while a bar fight happens around me, looking up occasionally before getting back to work. Now don’t imagine a long Wild-West style mass brawl, it was more of a few seconds of pushing before a quick “break it up, boys”. There was a group of lads out on a jolly, very drunk and celebrating some birthday or other. I say ‘very drunk’ but it was varying degrees of drunkenness, ranging from ‘friendly and convivial’ to ‘barely able to speak or stand’, with a range of performative drunkenness in between. Two of them for example were enacting a bullfight in the bar, another was sat down loudly singing to a couple of ladies (he was one of the louder ones, but actually he had a very good singing voice), and then one lad who would drunkenly go and sit with random people who would grin and nod a lot back before he sat down with the wrong group of people, one of whom got angry at something or other and they started scuffling, a glass broke, the drunken guy was whisked away and I turned to see one offended young man displaying the classic pose of “hold me back, hold me back”. I didn’t see much more because I was zen-posed with my sketchbook, working to a tight schedule, I had a plane to catch in the morning. The kerfuffles were quickly dealt with by the, I must say, very capable and calming pub staff, who’ve seen it all before I am sure. There was none of that macho make-it-all-worse strutting. The large partying group departed, the broken glass cleaned up, the “hold me back” guy went calmly back to his fresh pint, and the evening went on. I’ve always quite enjoyed this pub, in a little corner of Soho near Carnaby Street, and have been here many times with friends, going back to the 1990s, so I was glad to finally get a sketch of the place. Drawing a pub with lots of details inevitably means you get some wrong, and in this case I drew one too many frames on the wall above the main bar area. You won’t notice, of course. I also drew one person twice. He was standing at the bar waiting for a drink, and then afterwards he had his jacket off and was sat with a woman enjoying conversation. His hair somehow went from black to brown as well but I blame the lighting, not my urban sketching skills. The world is as you see it at that moment (and that of course can change by the third pint).

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Seen through the window of a barbers in Soho. A popular night-time photo opportunity.

As it turns out it, I witnessed two bar fights that night. Typical London, you don’t see one for years and years and then two show up at once. On my way back to the station I popped into another old favourite, The Ship, for a quick pint of London Pride. As I was leaving, it seemed a ruck had broken out just outside between two people who had been in the pub, which was being broken apart by excited pub staff, and people were being directed away from it (so that they could stop and watch, as of course you would do). One rutting stag showed us the true meaning of “hold me back, hold me back”, and did some of the best “hold me back” moves I have ever seen, getting absolutely no fighting done whatsoever, while the main belligerent was drunkenly trying to pick up those metal poles that hold up barriers and swing it around like a broadsword. Maybe someone had asked if he wanted to go clubbing and his Google Translate had mis-google-translated. Security staff did that thing where they multiply, and both men were held back, and the audience started ambling off, as did I, because I had a plane to catch. An entertaining last night in London.

Brick Lane

Brick Lane, London
I had to go to Brick Lane. I used to come here twenty years ago when I was a student at Queen Mary, in nearby Mile End, usually after performing in a play, for curry and fairly decent amounts of wine or beer. This time I wasn’t here for curry (much as I wanted some), no this time I was here for Classic Football Shirts. I’ve followed Classic Football Shirts online a for a few years, they sell old football shirts, and last year after they had an exhibition in London I visited their pop-up store in Shoreditch. Now they have a more regular store in Brick Lane, well organized and full of absolute gems. A real treasure-trove of old footy kits, which for someone like me who is obsessed with them is the best thing ever. Most of the really interesting old ones were a bit out of my budget (tempted though I was by the early 1990s Northern Ireland Umbro kit with the weird triangular pattern, and the light blue Spurs 1992 third kit), but I did pick up for twenty quid an Accra Hearts of Oak home kit from Ghana, which I’d been looking for. I like their stripes. Contented with all football kit conversation with one of the guys who run the place, I started to head off back to Burnt Oak, but decided that I could not leave without a sketch. It was a lovely day to be out and about. So I stood on the corner of Hanbury Street and drew. There are lots of artistic murals and colourful shop fronts around here now. I walked through Spitalfields on the way back to Liverpool Street tube, the whole area being very, very different from when I was last here in 2013 for the Jack the Ripper sketchcrawl (it was that long ago? I’m going to have to do a sketchcrawl commemorating the sketchcrawl). And of course, all the new skyscrapers that have sprouted up in the past decade or so, I did one very quick sketch in pencil, and I was going to add paint (not ink) but ended up not doing so. London’s great, isn’t it. I could draw every inch of it, given the chance.

City of London in pencil

 

The South Bank Show

South Bank Feb2019
Every time I go back to London, my family members have grown older, a little bit. With the adults it’s slower, less noticeable, while with the children it’s a much more visible change. I am now the classic “look how tall you are!” uncle. My uncle jokes are also the best uncle jokes in the world. I too have grown; not taller, rather I have encroached into traditional green belt lands. See, uncle jokes. London on the other hand changes faster than I can think. When I left in 2005, the Gherkin (aka ‘the Erotic Gherkin’) was still the new shocking addition to the City’s skyline, pointing like a stubby fishnet bullet at the sky. The older NatWest building still dominated the Square Mile, sufficiently far from the unchanging dome of St. Paul’s (though that too has changed since I left, having been scrubbed of its layer of grey pollution-particles, so much it now gleams as Wren intended). One by one newer buildings started to be approved, all with their pre-approved nicknames: the Heron, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Dodger’s Kerchief, the Ocelot Spleen, the Snood, and of course the Wizard’s Winkle. I might have made some of those up but you would be hard pressed to figure out which. London’s skyline is starting to resemble less a city and more a manual of Yoga positions. I don’t even know what some of the new ones being built are called (if only there was some way of finding out, some kind of instant source of all global information right at my fingertips!), but change is a good thing, I suppose. I never wanted London to stand still and miss me after I moved away, I wanted London to enjoy its life, meet other buildings, move on.
View from Tate Modern Feb2019

It was a lovely day when I went out sketching on the banks of the Thames. I miss the Thames more than I miss any part of London. I don’t have a Thames here in Davis. I used to come down to the Thames to have a look at it, and contemplate, and be pensive. Sounds stupid now I say it like that. You know like in films and TV shows when the main character has a lot on their mind and they go and look at the Hudson River or stand on the pier at Coney Island (all films and TV shows are set in New York), that was me, coming to the Thames, standing on the South Bank near Waterloo, looking at the Thames. I think I just like watching water move from left to right. Maybe it reminds me of the old Thames Television screen, which would come on just before Rainbow, and I always liked Rainbow. Geoffrey out of rainbow died recently. I met him when I was a kid, at Brentford’s football ground, he drew me a picture of Zippy. It wasn’t a super detailed picture of Zippy but I could tell it was meant to be Zippy. Unless it was meant to be a picture of himself and I misinterpreted it, or a picture of me. Either way, I always wondered what Zippy would be like as a modern-day politician. Yes, it is extremely easy to imagine that isn’t it (it’s even easier to imagine Bungle). When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London years ago I drew a picture of Zippy with Boris Johnson’s hair. A few years later, Johnson and his friend Joanna ‘George’ Lumley, had this crazy idea of building a new bridge across the Thames, right at the spot where I drew the sketch above. It was to be a ‘Garden Bridge’, covered in trees and plants and closed at night and on special corporate events such as when Rod Jane and Freddy would need to perform their Greatest Hits. If I recall, the plan was to build it “up above the streets and houses, everyone can see it smiling over the sky”. Being pedestrian only, it would not alleviate traffic, It would require cutting down scores of trees on the South Bank as well as blocking the view of the city with all its Yoga-position skyscrapers from much of the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge. Change is a good thing I suppose, but this was a change that really didn’t need to happen, at least not right here. When the pedestrian Millennium Bridge was built, it was visually unobtrusive and also in a place that had needed a crossing connecting St Paul’s with the new Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe (I well remember the circuitous routes before). Also, it wobbled, meaning those crafty Cockneys could re-christen it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, calling it that for many years even after the Wobble had been fixed and the joke had really lost its steam. The Garden Bridge was an expensive vanity project that probably wouldn’t even wobble. In the end, after millions being spent and many Bungles, the Garden Bridge was finally scrapped. I’m glad, and I think Geoffrey would have been glad too.

I sat on a bench by the Thames and drew in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite spots in the whole world, even with the growing metropolis sprouting up across the river. A man stopped to have a look at my sketch, enthusiastically asking me what I do with them. “I colour them in,” I said, and he laughed. People often ask what my sketches are for, which is a fair question, since they could be for sale or to make into postcards or maybe I am out looking for views to dismantle with expensive vanity projects, but the answer is always the same – it’s because I love to draw. I just love drawing, so I have to just keep drawing. This city is worth drawing and drawing and drawing, and then drawing more. This city changes so quickly. After this sketch, I went to the Tate Modern and up to the tenth floor of that new building next door, to sketch the City from above. That is one of my favourite new viewing spots in London, although the crowded elevator means you need to book some additional vacation time if you want to go up there. I decided to colour in only the sky and the river, leaving the city itself uncoloured like in the opening credits of a certain TV show I used to watch as a kid, the large tower of Tate Modern in the foreground. Tate Modern used to be Bankside Power Station, designed by the same guy who made the phone box (I’ve talked about him before). I love listening to tourists talking to each other when visiting London, hearing their enthusiasm for the city. As I looked out over the skycrapers I though about the previous times I had sketched it, and as I sketched I thought that this would be a very good point to include some of those older sketches in this part of the blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the South Bank with me. Next time I go back, it will look different again.

take me down to the riverover the thames to cannon street
by the banks of the thamesSt Pauls from Tate Modern
Waterloo panorama
The River Thames

seeking out the ship and shovell

Ship and Shovell, London
This is the Ship and Shovell pub in Charing Cross, a well-hidden mystery of a pub I had never known existed, like a character in a long-running TV show that shows up and everyone acts as if they had been there all the time. I had intended to colour this in, with its bright red barrels and atmospheric early morning lighting, but I never got time and I wanted to show it to you quickly. These days so many London pubs are under threat and you never know how long they will be there. The Ship and Shovell, not ‘Shovel’, but ‘Shovell’. Probably after Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, his picture is in the sign (I didn’t draw him). The Ship and Shovell is found in Craven Passage, right behind Charing Cross Station, next to a tunnel that leads down to Villiers Street – I had never taken that tunnel before, just assuming it plops out unassumingly into Northumberland Avenue. In fact just a short block further is the Sherlock Holmes pub which I have been to. London is a place that is always worth exploring. Around the corner is the house where Benjamin Franklin used to live, which is called the Benjamin Franklin house, I’m assuming that’s no coincidence. I knew nothing of the existence of this pub – it’s not like I know every pub in London – until I saw a photo recently on one of those historic London Twitter feeds that you follow for old photos and stories, some of them are good. Some of them do attract the overly nostalgic commenters, if you get my drift, the “it was better before all the [insert xenophobic descriptive here] moved in” lot. I left several Facebook groups because of that, my reasoning being “it was better before all the xenophobes moved in”. Most however just like to reveal old London’s historic gems. I assumed this pub was long-gone, another casualty of six-quid pints and predatory property pirates, a blurred photo from the sixties, villains and rakes and lost tourists from Nebraska, “Underneaf the Arches”, “Roll Aht the Barrels” and “Let’s All Go Dahn the Strand”, but no, it’s very much still there, hiding away, having a banana. What is most interesting about the Ship and Shovell is that, as you can see, it’s actually two pubs rolled in one, split down the middle by Craven Passage. It’s joined by the cellars, but otherwise may as well be two pubs. As far as I can tell, one side isn’t the Ship and the other the Shovell, though I bet regulars have their preference. It was too early for me to go in and sketch inside. I left the house at 8am so was sketching this by 9, when people were still on their way to work. It was a bright morning, not very cold, and I was glad to have sought out and found this little red jewel. Some day I will pop in for a pint. Or maybe, half a pint in each side.
Map to Ship and Shovell

how to sketch in the rain

St Martins Lane, London
The weather was lovely while I was in England. Sunny, unseasonably warm for February, nothing like the huge storms I had left behind in California. Only one day was different, when some rain showers came down on the Monday, but that was my designated all-day-sketching-day so I was not letting that stop me. It was President’s Day in the US as well, so an official day off. I had my extendable London Underground umbrella and my AYSO soccer ‘Coach Pete’ raincoat, so I put the umbrella into my jacket firmly, rested the top on my head, and it stayed in place, keeping my sketching-zone dry. Totally worked! I’ll be doing this from now on. I drew a diagram below. It’s a little bit wrong though because the umbrella did not poke out of my jacket, I should have crossed that out or something. Ah well, do what works for you. Anyway, after sketching and exploring Westminster, I popped over to Leicester Square/Covent Garden to do some shopping in my favourite spots, and of course more sketching. Above, the view down St Martin’s Lane, one of my favourite scenes of London. I didn’t get the view which includes St. Martins-in-the-Fields itself, but the globe-topped English National Opera is visible.
Rain sketcher
I needed to visit my favourite map shop, Stanford’s. I love maps and travel books and I’ve been going there since I was a teenager, and I got there and IT WAS GONE! But not gone for good. It had just moved. I needed to read the map carefully to find the new location (just around the corner, but even to the well-trained Covent Gardener it can be a bit easy to get lost around there), but I found it and spent some good time looking at maps. I went to a few other places, and then at the end of the day I popped into the Nag’s Head opposite Covent Garden Station for a pint and a final sketch. The other way to sketch in the rain, you see, is to just pop into the pub where it is dry and sketch in there. It’s a good tip. The pub was filling up with tourists, tired after a day of London. They do nice McMullen’s beer here, from Hertford. I chickened out of drawing the detailed tile pattern on the floor. When I was done, it was back into the rush hour tube and back to Burnt Oak for dinner.
Nags Head Covent Garden