seven dials

Seven Dials, London
Another panorama intended for colouring in but ultimately left as is, due to running our of time. This is the last one for London, then I have another post from elsewhere in England, and then it’s Davis all the way. It was the day of the England v Croatia semi-final in the World Cup. The evening before we were in Stratford-upon-Avon, watching France eliminate Belgium, and when we got back to London I took the tube down to central London for some last minute sketching and shopping, ahead of our trip to the Iberian Peninsula. This is Seven Dials, which is a junction of seven narrow streets located between Shaftesbury Avenue and Covent Garden. It’s one of my favourite spots in London, being right by the London Graphic Centre (where I stopped by for some replacement paint half-pans). That’s one of my favourite shops in London. The other is just around the corner, Stanfords, the cartographers and travel book store. I love a map. Ironically I get lost quite often. I think I see maps like art, beautiful objects of winder and magic that I just can’t understand nor explain. I always get there in the end, even if takes a long time. Seven Dials in London reminds of Seven Dials in Brighton (aka London-by-the-Sea), where in the early hours of one New Years Day a couple of decades ago I got terribly lost trying to find my way back to the indistinguishable house I was supposed to be looking for where my companions were staying. Brighton I thought is an easier place to navigate because there are only three directions – North, East and West, with South just being The English Channel. Haha, you foolish boy. I could not remember the name of the street I was supposed to be on, just that it was one of the ones going off of Seven Dials. Hours of walking around each of the ‘Dials’. I did have a mobile phone (this was 2000, well 2001 by that point) but it didn’t work very well and I may have been out of pay-as-you-go credit. I found it eventually, and forever have an amusing Brighton anecdote to tell.

But back to Brighton-by-the-Land (David Devant reference), I stood here sketching a panorama as people walked by, many heading to the pub to start drinking ahead of cheering on England. A lot of people, I noticed, were wearing yellow clothes. Yellows skirts, trousers, shirts, the occasional hat. I don’t think this signified anything, and certainly has nothing to do with the football. Perhaps yellow is ‘in’ this year. I don’t know fashion, but once thing I do remember about living in London, people would say, “oh green is ‘in’ this year,” or similar. “Brown is the new Black.” Football shirt fashion I understand, but real clothes, well I just wear navy blue and black mostly. Anyway I did notice this trend of wearing yellow, but I didn’t add anyone to my sketch in a yellow blouse or anything, so forget I mentioned it. The only colour I added, well you can see for yourself. The Union flag stands out. England were in the semi-final, and while it’s been a few decades since this was the flag waved at England games, it still seemed nice to include it.

I went home to watch the game with my family. England lost to Croatia. That’s that, then.

By the way, you might be interested in seeing the last such sketch I did in this neighbourhood, four years ago at the end of Monmouth Street, looking toward Seven Dials, below. This is one of my favourite sketches I have done of London.

monmouth and neal streets sm

Ok and one more for luck, this is a sketch of Seven Dials I did a few years ago around Christmas-time. At least in this one you can see the top of the coloumn. London can be beautiful sometimes.

seven dials

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old street, old pub, old football shirts

Shoreditch High St, London
London, early July. It was so sweaty. Air-conditioning is a thing that happens to other people. This was, I was often told, a heatwave to rival the one that happened in the year I was born. That summer was legendary, a long mid-70s sun-fest. I was too young to complain about it then but I’m sure I gave it a good old go non-verbally. I’m not a hot weather animal, which makes it all the more surprising that I now live in the California Central Valley, which has Really Hot Summers. “Dry Heat”. Not so much in humid London. While the temperature is lower than back in Davis, London summers can be unbearable. Specifically, London summers when you have to use the tube, especially when it’s packed, which is often. We went down into central London to go to the British Museum. I figured, it will be nice and cool in there, among all the marble. What we got was a ridiculously sweaty British Museum with no air-conditioning, with a large greenhouse in the middle. I tried to do some sketching in the Greek rooms but was sweating too much. Eventually we left, got back on the sticky tube, and went over to Old Street to find a very special store. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Above, I managed to sketch this scene of Shoreditch High Street. It was hot and sticky but it was mostly overcast, so at least there was no baking sunlight. In the background, new buildings going up in the City. London is changing, always changing.
Bricklayers Arms, Shoreditch
This is nearby, the Bricklayers Arms. I’d wanted to sketch an old pub, old pubs are becoming a little rarer each time I return (at least the ones that remain get a little older each time I come back too, if you think about it). I’d never been here before. I never really went out around Old Street and Shoreditch before, except a couple of times years ago. I wasn’t really Cool enough for this part of town. That was my excuse. I really liked sketching this – colourful flags, and lots of bricks. After I was finished with the sketch I popped in for a pint before heading home.

But before I did this…further down the street was (during July only) the pop-up store of Classic Football Shirts. This was on the back of an exhibition of old football shirts called ‘Fabric of Football’ which had taken place in London this year.Now if you know me you know that I am obsessed with two things: fire hydrants, and football shirts. Ok I’m obsessed with old languages, travel, Formula One, noodles on toast, Marvel comics, Star Wars, Tottenham, and obviously drawing, but if you’ve ever followed my Twitter feed during football tournaments or any other time you’ll know I’m in love with those colourful uniforms. I pretend I know all about things like tactics and player fitness, but I’m usually just saying words I’ve read in a Jonathan Wilson book to sound clever. With football shirts though I feel like I do at least Know My Stuff. So it was a pleasure beyond pleasure to come here and browse through the old shirts, mostly the ones from the 1990s, such as that great Nigerian shirt from the 1994 World Cup (never mind the 2018 one, the home and away from 94 were the real classics). I was also pleased to find they had the very shirt I was wearing (1993-95 Spurs home shirt) on display outside the store. I got a few compliments at various times on this trip for this shirt, by the way. The 1990s kits have made a comeback in a big way (still amazed all my 90s shirts still fit, actually…). Anyway this place was a highlight of the trip! Check out their website at: https://www.classicfootballshirts.co.uk/. I didn’t buy myself anything (all the things I wanted were a little bit expensive) but I did get my son an AS Roma shirt from 2016.

goldbeaters

Goldbeaters School
After the Spain and Portugal sketches, I’ll step back a few more weeks to the England part of the trip, for this post at least. This is Goldbeaters School in Burnt Oak, sketched early in the morning when I was awake with the jetlag and wanted to go for a little walk to see what had changed in my old home town. Burnt Oak, for those of you not familiar, is in the northern reaches of London, the second to last stop on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line, and it is is where I am from. Burnt Oak has changed a lot for sure but I’ll always be from there, and since my family still lives there I will keep going back. Another change this time, the Tesco on Burnt Oak Broadway has closed down. I really don’t know why they would do that (I really do, though: to build expensive flats). That was a shame, because it means now there is no Tesco in Burnt Oak, and Burnt Oak is where Tesco actually had its first store, in 1929. I will miss Tesco in Burnt Oak. I remember going shopping there with my mum as a little kid, she’d bump into her friend Lyn and they’d talk for half an hour, the Indian ladies on the checkout were always very nice to me, then we’d pop into the Stag next door to say hello to my nan, go into John Ford across the street to buy sewing materials, stopping by the greengrocers on the Watling to get five pound of of potatoes, to and I’d maybe get a Slush Puppy from ToniBells on the way home. Yeah I hated being dragged around shops as a kid actually, I just wanted to go to Vipins and look at pens and pencils. And don’t get me started on being dragged around shoe shops in Brent Cross, to this day I can’t spend more than a minute in a shoe shop without saying “are we done yet?”.

Anyway enough childhood reminiscences. Well maybe some more. This is Goldbeaters School. Where is that name from? Much of Burnt Oak was built on the old Goldbeaters Farm, which goes back to the 14th Century. I attended Goldbeaters from the nursery (1979?), through the infants (1980-83) and through the juniors (1983-1987), before going off to big school at Edgware. I loved Goldbeaters. I’m so glad it’s still there, looking not very different from the day I left, from the outside at least. My mum went there too, back when it was a secondary (‘senior’) school. My oldest friend Terry, who lives in Japan now, that’s where I met him (though we only swapped football stickers, we actually became friends after we both left for Edgware), and his mum also went there (not at the same time obviously). My next door neighbour Tasha went there, we would walk to school together, her mum would pick us up, we’d walk through the park and play on the swings on the way home. Years later her kids went there too, and she worked there. Yet none of my siblings went there, they went either to Barnfield School (next to Silkstream Park) or the Annunciation (same street as Goldbeaters, but that school is for Catholics, and I’m not a Catholic). My old Goldbeaters friends, I hold such affection for to this day, though I’ve not seen many of them since then: Ricky, Daniel, Lee Glenn, Carl, Wayne, Lee Fickling, Hartman, Duggan (who is sadly no longer with us). And many others. We were very international too, with families from all over the world, all backgrounds. My old teachers, Mr Winston, Mrs Baldwin, Ms Welsh. Ok, ok, we can all do this, draw a picture of the school we went to and remember our old teachers and friends, and that is always tedious to read. Ok then here’s a few more memories that pop up randomly about Goldbeaters from the 1980s. Those outside toilets which were just the worst, basically a metallic gutter behind a wall. Football stickers on the playground when someone would knock them in the air and shout ‘scramble’!! Buying those buttery biscuits for 2p at break-time.  Singing “All Fings Brite and Byoootiful” in morning assembly. The noise in the lunch hall getting so bad that the dinner ladies would bang a massive metal spoon on the table and shout “SHUT-UP!!!” and it would go silent, for a few minutes. In fact that lunch hall (which was also the gym)…the terrible ‘mashed potato’ which was wide and powdery and tasteless, the peas which are actually the reason I don’t eat peas to this day, bringing a packed lunch of pork pie, yoghurt and sandwich and not being allowed to go out an play until I’d eaten up the whole pork pie, horrible jelly and all (I don’t eat pork today either, I’m seeing a pattern emerge). Mr Bunster attempting to teach us to sing “Little Donkey”. Kids vomiting on the playground, and instead of cleaning it up the school would cover up the sick with sand. Grazing your knee on the concrete playground and going to the medical office where Mrs Lyons or Mrs Eftychou would douse a piece of cotton wool with a stinging antiseptic and hold it against the wound. Carl Sanderson making us always play ‘Hammer House of Horror’ (I always wanted to play ‘Star Wars’). Getting to be the one who rang The Bell for Home Time. Being on the team that beat our local rivals Woodcroft School in the ‘Panda Competition’, a quiz organized by the local police. Winning a borough-wide pottery competition for a ceramic butterfly I made. Drawing, drawing, drawing all the time, being known as the kid who draws all the time and holds his pen in a funny way. I could go on, but I won’t. I’m surprised I remember so much.

six planes, one train, no pain

SMF-LAS 2018 sm

Sketching on a plane helps me relax. That is my excuse for sketching on a plane. I have this book, this little Miquelrius book that I use for in-flight sketches (the one with the Lapin-designed cover), and I brought it with me to record all six flights (and one train journey) on my trip to Europe. Twenty years ago I took a five-week train trip around Europe and I really wish that I had done the same back then. Sketching all the night trains. Pete of 2018 would definitely have enjoyed that, Pete of 1998 would perhaps not so much, but Pete of 1998 was so much easier with speaking to strangers and making friends with fellow travellers than Pete of 2018. Pete of 2018 is a little shyer, but makes up for it with readiness to sketch. Pete of 1998 did sketch a little but not much and very loosely, though he drew a lot of cartoons and wrote loads, writing like there was no tomorrow; I kept two diaries on that trip, one for me personally, written small and densely, and one with just briefer notes about the train journeys and cities, at the back of the special book I had prepared ahead of the trip. Wow, this was going on 20 years ago now. I will need to write my thoughts about that trip very soon, it was a pretty formative voyage for me. Anyway, back to this summer’s Euro trip – not as many countries, but still a fair bit of travel, and probably more miles covered (what with flying across the world and all). Above, the first leg of the journey, flying from Sacramento to Las Vegas on a very bumpy flight over the desert. I liked stopping in Vegas, we got to go to an amazing lounge (my wife organized that, she knows the best stuff), though my son was less impressed with Vegas, thanks to the turbulent descent on the plane. Soon we were off again, flying Virgin from Vegas to Gatwick.

LAS-LGW 2018 sm

I drew this one in pencil. I am trying to use pencil more, for the looser scenes. My son and I played a few rounds of MarioKart on the 3DS, and we couldn’t wait to land in London, where it was hot and sweaty and the trains weren’t all running, so we squeezed onto a train to Mill Hill. This time we were travelling light, no large bulky suitcases, I didn’t even bring the backpack carry-on. I could have probably travelled even lighter. I didn’t need the second pair of shoes (my main ones were so comfy), though honestly I should have brought more underwear. That whole washing in the sink thing in Portugal really didn’t fly for me, so I ended up buying some, wait for it, Cristiano Ronaldo brand underwear. Yep old CR7 has his own line of pants and socks.

STN-MAD 2018 sm

Well England was fun, it flew by, but then it was time to go to Spain for a few days in Madrid. After getting the coach from Golders Green on Friday the 13th, we flew Ryanair from Stansted (fourth airport on the trip) to Madrid (airport number five on this trip, oh I love airports, don’t you know). There’s my son playing FIFA. We were sad about England losing the semi finals a couple of days before, but excited for the World Cup final. We were still humming tunes from Hamilton, which we had watched in London the night before (amazing show). I’m always sad leaving the UK, excited about going to other countries but there’s always that sense of loss when I go, it changes a little bit more every time I return.

MAD-OPO 2018 sm

Wow Madrid flew by, eh! Eating dinner late, getting up early, going to the Bernabeau, visiting Toledo. The family flew back to America from Madrid while I went on to Porto for the Symposium, flying with Iberian. Airport number 6. Porto airport was really nice actually, though I took ages leaving it as I decided to hang about and get a shuttle that would drop me off miles from where I needed to be, and I got lost in a neighbourhood of tiled houses and steep hills, smart move. Note to self, get a larger map next time. Or a taxi. Ah, you know, I love to wander, I am an explorer. Not much of a navigator though.

PORTO-LISBON 2018 sm

Many many sketches later, many many hills later, I took the Alfa Pendular train from Porto to Lisbon. That is the fast train. It zipped along the Atlantic coast for a bit, the fog hanging out there like a large grey Nothing. I do wish I had spent some time on the Portuguese coast now. There is so much Portugal to discover. So much World in fact. I want to go Everywhere. Well maybe not everywhere, I could give probably places like Swindon a miss (sorry Swindon, I’m sure you’re lovely) (I would probably like Swindon actually, there’s a historic Ossie Ardiles/Glenn Hoddle connection). I have my tall thin Pepsi Max can there. I was so worried about being hungry or thirsty on the two-and-a-half-hour train ride that I got a load of snacks at cafe in the station. It’s funny cos when I travel I will sometimes go from breakfast until late dinner without eating a bite (I often don’t get hungry when I’m busy sketching), but put me on a train and I’m anxious I might go crazy if I don’t eat a Mars bar.

LIS-ATL 2018 sm

Lisbon was relaxing, the hills much less stressful than Porto, and my hotel was amazing. I could have spent most of the time just chilling out there. I met some sketching friends in Lisbon on the last evening for dinner, and it was a nice way to cap off a long trip. And then, back home. Lisbon (airport number 7) to Atlanta (airport number 8) on Delta, which was a really nice flight actually, I would fly them again. Once more I got as many snacks and ate a bunch of food getting on the plane, prompting my seat neighbour to cheerfully remind me that they will be feeding us. I had never flown Delta before so sisn’t know how much that would be true – airplane food can sometimes be a bit rubbish – but it certainly was true and their food was really good, and plentiful. I had a good chat with my neighbour too, interesting man who flies a lot and works in DC. On the flight I watched Rush (that movie about James Hunt and Niki Lauda, such a fun film), and Lady Bird, the one set in Sacramento, which I really enjoyed and it made me a little yearnful for my adopted home. Well, a bit. The flight was good and transferring in Atlanta was fairly painless.

ATL-SMF 2018 sm

And so from Atlanta back to Sacramento. I was sat next to a tall man who didn’t mind me jumping over him to use the bathroom the one time I needed to. I often don’t need to get up at all during a flight, which is why I like the window seat (or the very middle of the middle row) but on this occasion I did. It was a long journey back. I watched Notting Hill, which I’ve not seen in years and still makes me laugh. I landed in Sacramento exhausted, happy to see the family again, but missing Europe and vacation time. My head is still somewhere over the Atlantic I think, though my feet are finally returning to Californian soil. Travel is great; air travel is annoying and stressful, but sketching on a plane helps me relax. Or that’s my excuse anyway.

the bones of the blue whale

NHM blue whale 2018 sm

Back in February, I went back to London for a very short (unexpected) visit. I was down in Devon for a few days, and then back home in London for a day before heading back. For my one day in London, there was only one place I wanted to go – probably my favourite place, the Natural History Museum. It really is the best. I want to spend all day there some day, just drawing, drawing and drawing a lot more. I got a late start on this day, partly because, hey, nice to get a lie in after a lot of busy busy, but also because I’d spent the previous night with friends in Camden Town, after a long journey back from the South West of England. So I made it to the Natural History Museum by almost lunchtime. It was the first time I have been there since Dippy moved out. Dippy was (sorry, is) (if you call being a skeleton of an extinct animal present tense) (I say skeleton, it’s only a model) moved out last year to go on tour around the country, and make room on the ground in the Hintze Hall for more fancy events. Dippy was a Diplodocus, by the way. I realize I’m making Dippy sound like a House Elf. I sketched Dippy’s rear end back at the end of 2016, shortly before Dippy’s departure. Dippy was replaced by the large skeleton of a Blue Whale which now hangs majestically from the ceiling, the largest mammal in the world. I really wanted to sketch it. I don’t know if the Blue Whale has an inventive nickname yet, Bluey or Whaley, but I look at it and imagine I am one of the Avengers, facing down against a Chitauri space vessel. Well, in my head obviously. I’m not standing there doing Hulk impressions. I sketched from above, from one of the staircases in this most magnificent of London buildings, the sort of building that makes me really wish I had never left, that makes me so proud to be a native of a city that has such a place just right there where anyone can go and learn every single day. Sorry Davis, your bike museum is fine, but my heart is in Albertopolis. So, I drew Bluey the Whale from above and always intended on adding the colour, the browns and golds with purple tinted shadows of the museum, contrasted with the pale luminescent blue of the skeletal whale, but my friend Simon arrived and I didn’t want to keep him waiting about while I faffed about with the paints, so I left it as it is. We went around and looked at all the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed animals, and he expressed his grief at the removal of the much loved national treasure Dippy, which made me laugh as he’d just told me he hadn’t stepped foot inside the museum in well over twenty years.

NHM mantellisaurus 2018 sm

I did draw one dinosaur though, the one above. “Dinosaur” the sign called it. Thanks, but isn’t this, you know, Iguanadon? I know it is. They have moved everything around in there since my last visit (just over a year before) but I know my NHM dinos. When I was four or five I went there with school and was the resident dino expert in my class, counting vertebrae, knowing all sorts of things I cannot remember now (though I still have a couple of my old childhood dinosaur books, themselves relics of a past scientific age). It turns out this is The Dinosaur Formerly Known As Iguanadon, now renamed Mantellisaurus after its discoverer, Gideon Mantell. I wish I had discovered a dinosaur, maybe I could have one named after me. Scullysaurus has a nice ring to it. I don’t know what I’d be doing to discover a dinosaur, I don’t exactly go out digging in the rocks, but I might find one in a park or an art shop. It wouldn’t need to be a ‘saurus’ either, I would take a ‘dactyl’ or a ‘docus’, even a simple ‘don’ like my old big thumbed friend Iguanadon here. Maybe Pteranodon was named after a Pete but they mis-typed his named, we all do it, I’m always typing Ptee or Pere, to the point my autocorrect has given up and says I can be called whatever I want.

South Kensington Books 2018 sm

We were done with the museum, and it was dark outside already. I could have spent hours longer in there, but I had to get back to Burnt Oak as my family wanted to take me out for a curry (I was flying home next day), so Simon and I walked down to South Kensington and into the little shops there, and I did one last sketch, of South Kensington Books. Small independent bookshops are among the best things in the world, because I am the sort of person who says so, having worked for a couple over the years. I want to draw all of the old bookshops in London, while they are still there. Actually not a day goes by when I don’t miss London, this London, not the crowded working rainy expensive irritated London, but my London, the one I spent my teenage days looking for on Saturday afternoons with a travelcard. I am glad to have had an unexpected afternoon there, a last minute very short trip, but it reminds me how much I really miss it.

ghosting through london

Smithfield Market
Ok so for the first post of 2018 (or the 2nd, I suppose, since the last post ended up coming shortly after midnight) I am going back in time six months to some sketches I did not post back then. Back home, back to my native city of London. It’s funny, I’ve been away from London for a quarter of my life now. It will always be my city, but as each year goes by I feel further and further away. Yet no city ever continuously gives me more to discover. Almost two decades ago I was a tour guide, on an open-top bus with a microphone and a rainjacket, and in my spare time I would read history books, or explore streets on foot, looking for the stuff that has always been there but I have overlooked, walked past, ignored. When I was a teenager I would on weekends take the tube down to a different part of town, literally just to look around, as if marking my territory. I wasn’t just looking for old historic sites, but newsagents, shortcut alleyways, I wanted to see how the city connected together. London changes daily, a story that keeps being written. So on my last trip back, I took a day sketching down a stretch of the City that I’ve overlooked for too long. At the top, Smithfield Market. I’ve wanted to sketch this building for so many years and, well it’s just a little out of the way from my usual routes. It always requires a special journey, despite its centrality. It is essential London, yet, like Farringdon, feels like ‘not my London’, I feel like a stranger. And it’s quiet around here, there’s not a lot of foot traffic on a Saturday. This part of London has always creeped me out a little; it feels haunted. I would come down this way on weekends when I was younger and end up escaping back to the inhabited world of Oxford Street or Charing Cross because it was just so dead; now, this appeals to me more. Smithfield has a history alright. Located just outside the historic wall (the name comes from Old English smēðe feld, meaning smooth or level field) and was a place of many historic public gatherings, most notably the one at the end of the Peasant’s Revolt when Wat Tyler was killed by the Mayor, and in fact Smithfield has seen many famous executions, such as William Wallace. There were also great medieval tournaments here, but it is most well known these days for its market, which also dates back to the middle ages. The large covered Smithfield Market, primarily a meat market, was built in the 1860s by Sir Horace Jones. A couple of years ago a friend of my family, whose dad worked for years at Smithfield, told me I had to sketch it, and soon, so I promised one day I would. Now, redevelopment seems to be moving forward and it’s been announced that the Museum of London will move in to part of the market building. This section, looking up West Smithfield, is currently abandoned. Still feels haunted on a Saturday afternoon.
Holborn Viaduct
Holborn Viaduct is about as haunted as it comes. Look at it, it says ghostly London all over it. Even those dark statues look like cowled spectres from down here in the street. That red Victorian ironwork. Those dark arches. The lamps. Newgate prison was once in this area, leaving Holborn full of ghost stories, but this part of the city doesn’t need the stories. Poking through the modern towerblocks, crossing the busy tarmac carriageway, the whole place itself feels like a ghost. We don’t make places like this any more.
Black Friar Pub, LondonFinally, the Black Friar pub. Even the name feels creepy. That robed friar above the door. Yet this was the place that surprised me the most. I remember this area near Blackfriars Bridge as being constantly under construction, an easy place to get lost. And suddenly, this area feels open and brand new. The modern Blackfriars station just blew me away, and stepping out of it and looking across to this old tavern I had always known but never steeped into, and looking across the river toward the Shard and the modern changing metropolis, this was yet another London surprise. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner. The way the Black Friar is wedged into this junction was a delight to sketch, a nice test of perspective skills. It was pretty early still (I am listing these sketches backwards) but the pub was open so I popped in for a cup of tea. The interior is remarkable. The pub itself was built in 1875 on the site of the Dominican priory of Blackfriars, and is filled with carved wooden panels cheekily showing off priory life, in a comical fashion. One day I will sketch the interior, but on this day I just sketched one of the stained glass windows, of a friar standing next to a gate.
Black Friar Pub Window
I do miss London! I want to explore this part of town, with all its ghosts and histories, in my 2018 sketchbook. I’ll need to wait until summer…

the convent at the top of orange hill

Orange Hill Convent
This is another very early morning sketch from back home in Burnt Oak. It was Father’s Day, and I was up super early so went out for a walk in the early morning June sunlight, when hardly anyone was around. The light was golden and heavy, rising beyond the Mill Hill end of Abbots Road, while I stopped at the Orange Hill end and drew one of the more impressive local buildings, the old Orange Hill Convent. Look at that chimney! That is a serious chimney. I remember the nuns, coming up and down to Burnt Oak, and I was told I had to greet them with a “Hello Sister” (not “Hello Nun” as I had been doing up to that point). Many years ago this was next to St.James’s School, the local Catholic school that I never went to (what with not being a Catholic), but would have been handy (being only two minutes from home; my actual school Edgware was a much further walk, and I did it daily – and slowly, as my old teachers will attest). My younger sister did go there, but only after it had relocated to Grahame Park. I remember friends of my older sister though who did go the St. James’s (my older sister by the way went to Orange Hill, just around the corner, which is also no longer there), they used to talk about St.James’s purely in terms of their terror at the nuns next door, Oh the nuns, so strict, the nuns! Which I never believed, having only met the nice sweet nuns going up and down the street, and saying “Hello Sister” to them, and they would say “oh hello young man” back. But then, I wasn’t a Catholic.  Pupils at St. James’s wore uniforms of two different colours – black and grey for the boys, green and yellow for the girls. It’s funny living in the US now and high school kids not wearing uniforms. We could always tell where kids were from by their uniforms (which was exactly the point, I think, for when kids from different schools got into trouble, as was not uncommon – trashing a McDonalds, running rampage on a bus, throwing things (or people) into people’s gardens – then the head of that school could be contacted and the boys or girls would get into trouble and very pointed words would be had at the school assembly next day. Yeah this happened a lot at Edgware (not by me of course). Our uniforms were blue, white and maroon. Our rivals at Mill Hill Country High had similar uniforms but had cherry red instead of maroon. There was one Catholic girls school who were kitted out all in purple, in Finchley if I recall, and were nicknamed locally “the Purple Virgins”. Not by me, of course. I always loved how tall and imposing this building was, on those dark early evenings when the rain was lashing down it would appear like a haunted mansion out of the gloom. I do remember as a kid though, my friends and I would go to the field behind it, next to the Watling Community Centre, to get conkers from the big horse chestnut tree. We’d look around for those big green spiky balls, peeling them open to find a huge shiny conker inside. Now I know this sounds like something that mawkish sentimentalists will post on groups on Facebook, oh remember when all we had was conkers, not like now where it’s all video games and obesity and violent crime (you know, the sort of Facebook post with a comment thread that quickly turns xenophobic, regardless of the original subject), but this is in fact true, we did go and get conkers from a big tree just behind the convent. I was a pretty innocent kid, it has to be said. It was all football stickers and conkers. And video games to be fair, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing Donkey Kong. I did go to karate class a couple of times in the building next to this, but I gave it up because there was another boy from my school, who I think fancied himself as a bully, in the karate class one time when I was 11 or 12 and he just spent the entire time laughing at me from behind and making disparaging comments. He then followed me down Orange Hill trying to talk to me, not in a particularly menacing way, but I didn’t want to talk to him, and I knew that next day at school he would basically have all his cronies humiliate me for attempting to do karate. So I never went back, which was a bit of a shame. Kids eh. I would probably have been rubbish at karate anyway, but I do think of that when I see that wall in front of the convent. Here I go again, memory lane. Well the school building is gone, replaced by houses and flats, I don’t know if the chestnut tree is still there but I doubt kids are picking its conkers, in these days of violent obese video crime games, and it’s probably too late for me to go back and try my luck at karate now, but the outline of this old Convent still stands out at the top of the hill like always. And finally, I sketched it!