(39) Lincoln, (40) Nottingham), and (41) Sheffield

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Onwards through great Britain we go. Last time out we were in Skegness, Lincolnshire, and that’s a big country so I decided to stick around. I really want to visit Lincoln some day, to draw the big cathedral. I would love to do a real tour of all of England’s cathedrals, but them into a big book. On this virtual trip however I couldn’t get a great view, but you can see it poking its head out from over that scaffolding in the panorama at the top of the spread. Lincoln of course is the name of one of the great American presidents, Honest Abe Lincoln, wearer of tall hats. The city does date back to the Romans, Lindum Colonia, though that grew from an older Iron Age settlement. The Cathedral was, believe it or not, the Tallest Building In The World for about 200 years in the Middle Ages, but the really tall spire that gave them that title fell down a long time ago and they never bothered putting it back.

Next up is Nottingham. I used to wonder a lot about Nottingham when I was a kid. Obviously I always associated it with Robin Hood, but I would read road maps of Britain before going to bed at night (and Europe too; I was really into travelling in my head) and Nottingham would pop out as a place that wasn’t far from all the other places in England. Now it makes me think of that film “This Is England”. So while virtually wandering Nottingham, I found a big old pub called “Rose of England” covered in England flags, so I decided to draw that. I needed somewhere with lots of England flags, since I drew a pub in Cardiff covered in Welsh flags. I never found a pub covered in Scotland flags, but ah well, maybe if Street View goes around Glasgow during the next football World Cup they’ll find some. Oh, ok, maybe not the World Cup, er, maybe the Rugby Six Nations. Anyway Nottingham is also the place where Brian Clough, one of the greatest football managers of all, worked as the gaffer of Nottingham Forest, leading them to two European Cups, one Football League Title, and a helluva lotta League Cups. I am a big fan of Cloughie and his funny ways, especially all the stories his former players would tell about him. but of course with Nottingham we have to think about one man only – the Sheriff of Nottingham. Oh, and Robin Hood. The Sheriff was played by one of my favourite actors of all time, Rickman. Rickman’s voice was perfect, nasal and dismissive. Anyway enough of Nottingham, time to move slightly further north into South Yorkshire, and to the Steel City.

Sheffield is big, and has an important history. This is where our knives and forks were made, the steel industry here being world-famous. In sporting terms, the oldest professional club is Sheffield FC, while the two other bigger clubs have a long history in the game, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United (who are the “Blades”). I used to watch the Snooker World Championships every May on TV which take place at the Crucible in Sheffield. One of my favourite bands, Pulp, are famous Sheffielders, as is the singer’s namesake Joe Cocker. There’s something intrinsically normal and unpretentious about Sheffield, and I’d like to walk about its neighbourhoods one day with a sketchbook. I drew the quite modern looking Winter Gardens entrance on my virtual tour. But despite all of this, whenever I think of Sheffield, I get flashbacks of nightmares I had for years because of one TV miniseries that came out in 1984: “Threads”. If you haven’t heard of Threads, it was a dramatization of a nuclear attack seen through the eyes of local people in Sheffield. It was so realistic, it scared the absolute living bejeezus out of me. The woman peeing herself in the street. The white flash melting milkbottles and people. I was only eight and the Cold War was very much a thing and something I worried about a lot, I had that book “When The Wind Blows” and I remember “Protect and Survive”, the government information advising us to paint the windows white and take the doors off their hinges. So yeah, if I think of Sheffield I think of when it was blown away in Threads.

And on that bleak note, we will move into the Peak District and continue westwards on the virtual Great Britain tour, and take our minds off of fictitious 1980s nuclear wars that still wake me up in the night.

(18) Plymouth, (19) St. Michael’s Mount, and (20) St.Ives

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We are off to Cornwall, the southernmost tip of the island, but first one more stop in Devon. The big lighthouse there is at Plymouth, a fairly decent sized port city on the river Tamar that borders Devon and Cornwall. My only experience of Plymouth was passing through on a coach when I was 16, by myself, crossing the Tamar Bridge. I was off to visit my friend Kevin, who lived in Devon, while my family were holidaying in Cornwall. Cornwall was beautiful, but they were arguing and I was old enough to say, actually can I go and visit my friend Kevin cheers see ya bye. Plymouth makes me think of Francis Drake playing bowls while getting news of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and being totally like, yeah when I’m finished with this game alright, no come on on Drake you have to come now, oh FINE I’ll just finish this one game; we’ve all been there. I bet his mum used to call him down like ten times for dinner while he was playing Minecraft or something. We also think of Plymouth when we think of the Mayflower. It’s funny, I listened to a podcast about the Mayflower recently and it actually debunked some of the legends we think we know when it comes to the Mayflower. For example, it didn’t sail from Plymouth, but from Southampton. I know, right! And it was apparently the biggest ship ever, and wasn’t full of pilgrims but rich people drinking champagne, and it never even got to America because it hit this big iceberg and the band kept playing Celine Dion music as it sunk, and this one man who was the King of the World ended up sinking while his girlfriend floated home on a piece of wood. Nothing about the first Thanksgiving, none of those tall buckled hats, it is surprising what you can learn.

And so, we move into Cornwall, still travelling along the South Coast, which down here is full of cliffs and coves and caves, myths and legends and tales. Cornwall on a map is technically “in” “England” but it’s not England. Cornwall is an ancient duchy with a Celtic heritage, its people most closely related to the Welsh and the Bretons, left over after the Angles and Saxons came over from the continent . In fact those pesky Angles and Saxons drove a whole bunch of those “Britons” over the sea to Armorica in northern Gaul, which we now call Brittany. There’s still a lot of cultural heritage shared between these areas. I chose to draw St. Michael’s Mount, which is a beautiful little tidal island jutting out into the English Channel. There is another one across the sea in France called “Mont St.Michel, on the Norman/Breton border, but it’s much bigger than this one. St. Michael’s Mount is nonetheless like something from a fantasy book, and probably looks nice at sunset. St. Michael though makes me think of the clothing brand from Marks and Spencer.

I decided not to draw Land’s End; I had already drawn St. Michael so another clothing brand straight away would not have been a good look. So I circled back around Cornwall to the town of St. Ives. Made famous by the rhyme with the stupid question at the end, St. Ives was also the name of a butter when I was a kid, if I’m not mistaken. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me no it’s actually not that, it’s St.Ivel] Sorry, turns out I am most mistaken, it’s St.Ivel, but nonetheless St.Ives makes me hungry for butter. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me it’s not butter it’s “buttermilk spread”]. Well it tastes like butter. It has a Swedish flag on it. [Edit, no technically it’s not] It looks very pretty there in St.Ives though. I really liked the look of this pub, the Sloop Inn, which according to the sign dates from 1312. I bet it’s one of those places on a wet and stormy evening would be warm and cosy with bearded old seadogs drinking scrumpy. But what I like most was that in the Street View photo, all the people sat outside are clearly aware of the street View camera and are all waving and smiling, and I liked that. Unless they were saying awful things which they might well have been for all I know. Nevertheless, while I drew this, nobody could get close to anybody in public places so it already looked like a distant time past. I enjoyed walking virtually around St.Ives though, and along the rest of the Cornish coast. I’d like to come here some time and look for Arthurian sites, and pirate coves, and salty old pubs, and sit on the cliffs looking out at the Atlantic towards America, and think back on all those people from the Mayflower who hit that iceberg, singing “my heart will go on.”

Next up: back to Devon! I forgot something!

(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…

they only seem to come and go away

Baileys Taproom Portland
On my recent six-months-ago-now trip to Portland (not the one with the Bill, unless you count the bar bill) I took advantage of the chance to sketch a few drinking spots, because  after all, Portland is about the beer. Although actually one of the nicest spots I came to was a small wine bar across from my hotel, where I went in to do some pre-dinner wine tasting, because I thought why not. It was closing early so not enough time to sketch, but I did taste a few very nice local Oregon wines, and also spoke to a bloke who supports my own beloved Tottenham. Coincidence! He travels back and forth to Europe for wine stuff I guess, and he even went to the Champions League final in Madrid last summer when Spurs… well we didn’t win that one. Anyway as my hotel was nearby to Bailey’s Taproom, where I have been before, I wanted to come back and spend some time sketching in there and sampling some interesting beers. As it turns out, the guy behind the bar (not the one in the picture) recognized me from my previous trip there. In fact the last time had been a full six years before, on the very same date! I am nothing if not predictable. I told them I’d see them again in (gets out calculator) 2025.
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So above, the McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, which I had been very interested to go to, but was hugely underwhelmed. It was not very interesting, it was practically empty (this was Friday evening just after dinnertime) and the beer I had wasn’t very good. I didn’t finish it, nor the sketch. I went and had a little cake at a nearby cake shop instead, very tasty.
Hair of the Dog Portland
Above is Hair of the Dog, a walk across the river, a brewery I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I met up with sketching friend Kalina and had a beer and some food here, and a sketch and good conversation, always nice to catch up. Years ago a couple of friends had come here and brought me back a beer, and the beer here is certainly very good.
Jakes Portland
There was another place I really wanted to come back to sketch, and that is Jake’s Famous Crawfish. A smart and historic place downtown, I popped in and saw a spot right at the corner of the bar, a great place to sketch, ordered a single beer and drew this whole thing quickly. The last time I had visited Jake’s was in 2010 during the original Urban Sketching Symposium, on a late-night sketching session with Don Colley. I should like to eat here some day as well.
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And the last bar sketch i managed to fit in was not one I went into, but I really liked this view. The Crystal Ballroom is at the other side of the building, but this end has the Annex Bar, another McMenamin’s place, which does have an interesting interior and a downstairs cellar bar which looks like a great place to hang out and meet characters with colourful conversation. Seems like it will be a long time until we get to do that again, huh.

Back in Belgium (Brussels and Bruges)

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We leave these depressing times and return to the European travels of last summer, before social distancing was even imagined. In the last chapter we were all done with Amsterdam, that was all finished, now it was time to return to my favourite country: Belgium. Land of very slow queues but very quick access to beer and frites. This time I was returning with my family for some more touristy travels – no Charleroi, more Bruges. In fact we were staying in central Brussels, although due to the heatwave-related Thalys delay we got in later than expected, but still early enough for an evening stroll around the Grand Place, Mannakin Pis, the chocolate shops, the waffle stands and of course the friteries. Belgian frites are just the best. The next day though we took the train to Bruges (or Brugge as it’s properly called in Flemish). We walked up the steep hill to centraal station, stopping for a pain-au-chocolat (or “couques” as they call them here) on the way. The ticket machines in Belgian stations are not very good for foreign visitors with US credit cards, as they didn’t seem to take them, so we had to line up in the slow Belgian train station ticket office line. By the time we figured out a way to but tickets online instead we had reached the window. I love the train system in Belgium, it goes absolutely everywhere and runs a good service, but I forget that when I last used it I lived there and had one of those Belgo-passes I think they were called, where you just paid an amount and got ten train journeys. Ah well, tant-pis, we got where we needed to go in the end. I sketched on the train as the language switched from French to Flemish. The heatwave was over, now we had an overcast muggy sky. We arrived in Bruges ready to tourist.

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I last went to Bruges in, whew, either 1999 or 2000 and was pleased to see that it is still a medieval city. Above is a sketch of the Grote Markt. Bruges was busy as usual, as always expected, and we even took a horse-drawn carriage around the city. I love all the old architecture and lanes and canals. The first time I was here all those years ago it was Christmas-time and there was a lovely Christmas market in this square. I decided not to colour in (since I was touristing with family) but I packed a lot in while my wife and son explored. Below is the incredibly large Belfort on the other side of the Grote Markt. It reminded me a bit of Orthanc, the large tower of Isengard where Saruman lived, with Gandalf on the roof ready to jump onto the back of a massive eagle.

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Below is a stone lion which is at the entrance to the twelfth-century Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) in De Burg (don’t start singing The Lady In Red). The shield is the Bruges city coat of arms. Inside this basilica they have an old holy relic brought back from Jerusalem during the Second crusade, a phial containing a cloth which has some of the blood of Jesus on it. Glad they never called this place Christ De Burg (don’t start singing The Lady In Red). The building was amazing, dating back to the time of Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. That would be some time between 1134 and 1157.

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We had lunch before all of our touristing in a nice little restaurant called De Zevende Hemel. There I ate my moules. I’m a big fan of moules. These ones were nice, but just nice. The trappis beer I had with it was delicious, La Trappe. IMG_4597

We got the train back to Brussels, and while the family got an early night, I went out for one last sketch of the day. I was looking for a historic cafe called A La Becasse. I had never been there before, and it was hidden away down an alley near the Grand Place. There I had a table to myself in the corner, a Hoegaarden Grand Cru, and just enough time before closing to get a lot drawn. I actually sketched this paint first for the most part, adding in the ink afterwards. There were a few American tourists in here talking, but it wasn’t particularly busy. They have a lot of beers on the menu, as a good Belgian ‘estaminet’ should (that is another word for tavern), and dates back to 1877. Here’s their website: https://alabecasse.be/en. Every time I saw the name, I kept thinking “…the lady loves Milk Tray”. But then that made me think of The Lady In Red again, get that song out of my head.

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If that wasn’t enough, I couldn’t help getting one last portion of late night frites from Fritland, near the Bourse, whose frites I absolutely love. Filthy delicious. Even seeing this picture makes me so hungry, and just want to get back to Belgium.

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The next day we touristed some more (I did a quick sketch on the metro, above), going up to the Atomium (I don’t know if you are allowed to show that online, it was always banned, but it’s a massive great big sodding metal building you can see for miles). I don’t really love the Atomium, because it reminds me of being bored, when I lived in Belgium and I would sometimes come here, not all that interesting, and go back, or maybe I would get the tram that goes all around the city to reach here, so I would have somewhere to read a book and watch the city go by, and I never liked reaching the destination. Still, we all had fun walking in the parks around it, and (food photo alert) we got waffles from a waffle truck, simple no-nonsense waffles with a little bit of sugar on them, none of that fancy chocolate and kiwi fruit stuff for the tourists, and we all agreed it was the best waffle we had ever tasted. Cheap and cheerful, no pretensions, the most Belgian thing ever.

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That isn’t of course to say Belgian doesn’t do fancy. When it does fancy it can outdo all of you. I’m talking about chocolate. There are some crazy super fine chocolatiers in Brussels, but maybe the nicest ones we had were at Pierre Marcolini (at least as recommended to me by my Belgian friends, and they would know). This is the real fancy stuff. Not cheap either, but worth it. I got some for my wife as a souvenir. We got some others from places such as Mary and Neuhaus, but we ended up leaving them for family in London. I tell you what, all this talk of Belgium makes me very hungry.

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And then we left Belgium on yet another train, this time headed to France and our first ever trip to Disneyland Paris…

“Je bent in de aep gelogeerd”

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If I was continuing the silly a-themed alliterative titles I would call this post “Apes and Ale in Amsterdam” but the phrase I am using, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, is more than appropriate. Ape-proriate if you will. This is ‘In’t Aepjen‘, a celebrated historic brown cafe in the heart of Amsterdam, near the red light district. It was on that Friday of the Symposium when I was totally wiped out by the heat, I had gone back to the hotel for a rest in the evening, to spend some time in air-conditioned comfort. But I got hungry, so I went out to find some food. It was still stupendously hot. I wanted to eat some Indonesian food, but I was passing an Indian restaurant near my hotel that just looked really nice, and I can never resist a good Indian. It was absolutely delicious. I sat in there for a while writing my diary, sweat dripping from my brow. There was a couple on the table next to me, who asked if the food was too hot for me, I said no it’s just the weather! They were visiting from India, and they said the food was like back home, it really was very good. Happy to have found a delicious meal, I went for a wander about Amsterdam. It was already after 10pm by this point, so I didn’t want to go down to Amstelhoeck with the other sketchers, so I went for a walk. I had wanted to find a proper old ‘brown cafe’, and maybe get one last sketch in. I ended up coming across ‘In’t Aepjen’, which was small and full to the brim with character. Brown cafes are old Dutch pubs, called brown due to their dark and cozy interiors, usually wooden and often stained with decades of smoke. No smoke any more, thankfully, but the brown was very much in this cafe. It was decorated with lots of monkey themed items, and barrels and ships and other knick-knacks. I decided to continue drawing with a brown Pitt brush pen, and knocked out the panorama above, which took me just one beer to draw. The beer in question was the ‘Aepjen Bier’, red and tasty. Click on the image to see it in more detail. I chatted with the barman, who told me the story of the bar, its name, and that Dutch phrase.
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The brown cafe was opened in 1519 on Zeedijk, so it was celebrating its 500th year, and the name means “in the monkeys”. It was a place that would give lodging to sailors, many of whom would have been returning from distant exotic lands, like Indonesia, this being the Dutch Golden Age of Exploration, bringing back many things, including monkeys. To pay for their lodgings they would sometimes give the monkeys to the owner of the cafe, who would then sell them to a local whose animal gardens would be what became the Amsterdam zoo, but in the meantime there would be monkeys all over the shop, and it wasn’t a great place to sleep when you’ve got monkeys jumping about all over you, with their fleas and lice and banana skins and PG Tips and so on. In fact people would get sick from staying there, bringing rise to a common phrase in Dutch, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, which meneertje barman told me translates as “you are fucked up by the monkey”. I suspect ‘gelogeerd’ is probably closer to ‘lodged’ but the barkeep’s colourful local translation is better. Its written on all their stuff, and I’m assured this phrase is well known in Dutch, and that it does actually originate from this cafe. To be “fucked up by the monkey” is to be having bad luck or be in trouble. I went home having learned a new Dutch phrase, repeating it to myself as I walked through the narrow streets back to my hotel in the Scheepvaarthuis.
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I really wanted to come back to In’t Aepjen and sketch another time, so a few days later when I was less heat-exhausted I returned for a couple of beers and to draw in more regular pen. I spoke again with the barman, and he told his story (reluctantly this time) to some female American visitors who wanted to know about it. I also chatted to a guy from Glasgow who was visiting on business (I think he was in the toilet paper business, but I couldn’t think of any good jokes, apart from “how do you make a bog roll? Push it down a hill” but I didn’t say that because one, it’s rubbish, two they might not call it bog roll in Scotland, that might be a London thing, and three he might have actually explained to me how you do make bog roll, what with him being in the bog roll industry). So I just told him the story about “je bent in de aep gelogeerd.” It’s a conversation piece alright. I might start making up similar stories in London pubs. “Oh yes, the Olde Cheddar Cheese, that gave rise to the popular phrase “to get the cheese stuck on your elbow”, which basically means to be confused about what time it is,” or if I’m in the Good Mixer, “ah well this is where the very common phrase “you have been good-mixed up” which is when you can’t find your wallet but a stranger buys you a beer and a round for the whole bar”, or actually I’m going to not think of any more now. I drew as much as I could, adding a little bit of colour, but my eyesight wasn’t great and I wanted to sleep so I added the rest of the colour later on. These are a couple of my favourite of my many bar-sketches, and if you’re in Amsterdam you should look for this place, there is lots to see and sketch, and the atmosphere is good. Just don’t get fucked up by the monkey.

il fait chaud à charleroi

Charleroi Eglise St Christophe
After my late night frites from Robert La Frite, Charleroi’s finest friterie, I had a much needed lie-in. I spent much of the morning in the large new comic shop near the hotel; Belgian (and French) BD stores are really incredible. They love their hardback comic books, and I get very inspired by the artwork. It made want to get drawing. I have daydreamed about returning to Charleroi and drawing as much as possible. I spent a year there with hardly any drawings, so I always felt I needed to return to catch up. I did want to walk through the fancy new Rive Gauche mall though. Now I know where all the shopping has gone since the stores all closed down in Rue de la Montagne. Despite the novelty, it didn’t feel like I was in Charleroi at all, so I left and headed out with the sketchbook. I went straight up to Place Charles II, and drew the Église St. Christophe, the large rusting-green domed church dominating the round plaza. But wow, it was already really hot.
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Any football fans among you may remember the Euro 2000 tournament. Incredibly that was twenty years ago now. In that tournament, which was held in Belgium and Holland, there was a famous game in which England played Germany right here in Charleroi. This plaza saw the English hooligans running wild before the game, throwing chairs and giving all that old little-Englander nonsense about St George and yelling obscenities at anyone foreign, and in one case I witnessed a drunk Englishman hilariously kicked one of those concrete balls (which had been dressed up to look like footballs at the time) hurting his foot in the process and spilling his beer, but Charleroi is a place that did not care for that sort of thing at all, and they just pulled out the water cannons and sprayed them all over the place. I’ll never forget, some of the local bars decided not to open up that day, but they still sold beer from lemonade stands outside, because Belgians don’t give up on beer. Once all of the losers had been washed away, the evening following England’s victory was one of the best nights in town, and I met some great English lads staying up all night to catch the morning train and ferry, and showed them to all the places the locals love. I though back to all of that while drawing the church, glad that it was two decades in the past.

Charleroi Town Hall
Charleroi is not a place awash with tourists (even though the town was literally awash with cannon-sprayed football hooligans once), but there is a tourist office right here on the Place. I went in to look around, picking up some badges and a few postcards. I was suffering from the heat and so came in to cool off. I got talking to the guy working in there, talking about all the changes in Charleroi, he told me about all the new cool stuff in town, new breweries, while we also reflected sadly on the state of some of the old shopping streets. I said that I was intending on sketching the city and that I had always wanted to promote its image, being that big overlooked city in Belgium, and we talked about how the city always was and still is a place of art; Magritte of course lived round here, and then there are the comics, the famous Marcinelle School. I also said that I have been following a photographer online whose work actually inspired me to come back here, ‘Charleroi Zoom‘, they really show the best of the city. The guy was a bit shocked – it turns out that Charleroi Zoom is him! He shook my hand and couldn’t believe I had been inspired by his photos to come from California back to Charleroi, but it’s true. I was just as gobsmacked. Always nice to meet someone who loves the place. I went back out into the Place Charles II and drew, in what shade I could still stand in, the Hotel de Ville (above).

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The heat was unbearable, and moving about the city was slow and ponderous. I wandered down to Parc Reine Astrid, looking a little shabbier than twenty years ago but this was where I used to come to relax and read books. On the edge of the park is a statue of the cowboy Lucky Luke, another BD hero who originated here. I thought I’d draw in pencil for a bit, it was a bit quicker in this heat. The more animated style of sketching it gave is probably appropriate for the Marcinelle School (also called the Charleroi School), which was the house style of Spirou back in the 1940s or so. This style, also called ‘comic-dynamic’ was said to be in opposition to the very precise ‘ligne claire’ style of other Belgian books books like Tintin.
Charleroi Lucky Luke
I was saddened to see that Lucky Luke has really weathered a lot over the years. He used to be so shiny, but hasn’t seen a lick of paint in years. Here he is below, in 2019 (left) and 2000 (right).

Further up the road near the stadium is Boule et Bill. I didn’t sketch Spirou, also nearby, but I had to draw these two. Boule is wearing the black and white stripes of Sporting Charleroi, the local team. Of course, I ahd to visit the stadium. The last time I went there was for a game at the end of the 1999-2000 season when Charleroi drew with Anderlecht to just about stay in D1. They were never a very good team, although this season 2019-20 they have been playing brilliantly. I bought the new season’s shirt, I love my football shirts, and then walked back up to Square Hiernaux.
Charleroi Boule et Bill

Square Jules Hiernaux is where I lived twenty years ago; I could see into the Charleroi stadium from my window. It’s not a square but a large roundabout – the ‘vicious circle’ I used to call it, when I would watch the Belgian drivers aggressively battle their way around it – but in the middle is yet another local BD hero, the long-tailed leopard-like creature Marsupilami. My little neighbour friend was looking good.
Charleroi Marsupilami
And here is La Vigie, the student living quarters for the Université de Travail (UT), the tower that was my home from 1999-2000. I worked as a teacher at the UT, in the attached building, during my year abroad from my French degree. It was an interesting experience living there; I remember that for months the showers were freezing cold, and we had no hot water even in the sinks. There was nowhere for me to refrigerate food or drinks so I didn’t eat a lot of dairy that year (outside of chocolate or the mayo on my frites), but I would cook pasta and noodles in the small kitchen in the basement. My neighbours were mostly from central Africa, friendly guys who would often cook spicy-smelling dinners on a little electric stove-top in the corridor, while playing Congolais music. The neighbour right next door to me however was more into Celine Dion, and would play “My Heart Will Go On” at full blast on repeat EVERY SINGLE MORNING. For MONTHS. I remember how glad I was to bring my guitar over to Charleroi to counter this musical monstrosity. I wrote a lot of songs there that year, that’s what I used to do instead of drawing. That’s what you do when you’re 23 and don’t know many people. It was an entire lifetime ago, but it looks like the building has not changed a bit, except for the new white neon sign on the roof.

Charleroi La Vigie

I took the photo below the evening before, looking up to my old bedroom on the thirteenth floor. I really wanted to go inside, and go up to the rooftop to look out across the Caroloregion, with the giant ‘terrils’ (old slap-heaps now turned into grassy hills) dotting the landscape. I perhaps should call ahead some day and arrange this. This time though I thought I would just pop in and ask the custodian if it was ok. The door opened as someone was leaving, so I went in to ask.

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But nobody was there, and it didn’t look like the custodians were working that day. It was the summertime, so they probably have a limited schedule there, while most of the students are gone. Ok, well maybe next time. I went to leave, but the door would not open. I remembered that to get in years ago you needed a little electronic badge, but you also needed it to leave the building, inexplicably. They have not changed their system in two decades, so for now I was stuck in there. The doors would not budge; I knew that from experience. Twenty years before I was stuck outside in the snow one night after returning from a work visit to Brussels, when the doors were locked while the custodians went wherever they would go. I tried everything to prise the doors open with my frozen hands, to no avail, and got into an argument with the custodians when they finally returned an hour and a half later. I wasn’t going through that again, so I just waited. Nobody was coming, it was the middle of summer. What was I going to do, stay there in the lobby all night? I couldn’t get further into the building without an electronic key so I was stuck in this small lobby. There wasn’t even anything to draw. After half an hour or so I thought I would try the door to the canteen, which I was certain would be locked like all the other doors, as it led into the main university building. To my surprise it was unlocked! I wandered into the canteen area, where years ago they would give me free dinners (of grated carrots or weak soup; I could not eat anything meaty as I was ‘le vegeterien!’). Amazingly the door from the canteen into the main university was also unlocked. I was wandering through an empty building I had not stepped foot into since my early twenties. You know when places from your past like this show up in the dream space when you sleep, morphing into those buildings you have to try and somehow get out of, well this was where I was in real life. It was surreal. I remembered my way to the main entrance, which of course was locked. I found another entrance, and that too was locked. I was still stuck, and really wanted to get on with the rest of my day. And then I remembered that years ago there was this one door in a stairwell that led outside which for some reason was often left unlocked, if I could just find it. Since nothing else here had changed over the years, maybe I had a chance? And I found it, and of course it was unlocked, and I was finally outside. Typical Charleroi, still messing me about years later. I had one more sketch to make, the Waterloo Metro entrance right outside the front door. I think I was just about done with La Vigie.
Charleroi Waterloo Metro Station

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I headed back to the hotel (picking up a delicious “mitraillete de dinde” on the way from Robert La Frite) before coming back up this way to sketch La Cuve. However, La Cuve was closing early due to nobody being there, so I wandered the town a bit more, taking some pictures of the dramatic summertime sky.

There was one place I used to go that I wanted to check in on – the Irish Times Pub. I remember when this place opened in early 2000, a new pub in town that the locals made sure kept very busy. Again, it has not changed in the slightest. I had many late nights here back in 2000, so it was fun to spend time working on a bar interior after all that time sketching out in the heat. Naturally I had to give in a drink a Westmalle Triple, the beer I first tried in this very bar which I always knew was trouble, one that you definitely can’t have many of.

Charleroi Irish Times
Westmalle Triple

And that was my brief visit back to Charleroi. Definitely some mixed feelings about the old place, but it was nice to finally be back. The next morning I was to be up and away to catch the train to Amsterdam; little did I know that the intense heatwave was going to make that journey very difficult…

the answer’s in the looking glass

De Veres Davis

Continuing in nonlinear fashion (until I pluck up the courage to write properly about my summer trip to the Low Countries), let’s stop in at De Vere’s for a pint or two. De Vere’s is my go-to pub for sketching – lots of places to sit, lots of perspective, nice atmosphere, friendly staff. I also really like Sophia’s but it’s smaller, and a bit less light to draw by (but it’s my favourite place for food in Davis). Little Prague used to be my sketchpub years ago when it was there (it closed six years ago), it had a long bar perfect for panoramas, lots of stuff all over the walls, and awesome tall Czech beers. De Vere’s however has Pub Chips, and that is a big win for me.  Their Pub Chips have some thick gravy on them, and some melted cheese. Not quite as nice as proper northern Chips in Gravy, and possibly more similar to Canadian Poutine, either way they taste pretty nice. On this one Saturday night in September I found my favourite spot in the corner at the end of the bar and sketched away. I got into a nice conversation with a bloke from Ireland and his American partner. I lay the paint on very thick, and scribbled away with the pen very hard; I had fun with this sketch. This was one to attack the paper. I’ve drawn this place before, and I’ll draw it again, no need to be precious. I was celebrating; that evening I had sold another drawing at the Pence Gallery in the annual Art Auction, which is always a nice feeling. I really like drawing. Sometimes I get down on myself, start questioning if I’m good at anything, and then I remember I can draw fire hydrants pretty well, and while it’s not a useful skill, it’s a starting place. I can draw a bar too, in my own way, and it’s often fun as well.

De Vere's Davis on iPad

Anyway, I drew De Vere’s again a couple of months later, when I wanted to try out sketching with the iPad. It was a quicker sketch (one beer, late afternoon, on the Nov 11 Veterans Day holiday), while I played with the new Apple Pencil. A good learning experience, also enjoyed alongside those lovely Pub Chips. Now one of the nice things about Procreate is that you can create nice videos showing every stroke you made, very helpful in showing how you put the sketch together. Here it is…

Sketching De Veres

Previously, I had to show this by just taking photos of my sketchbook when I remember to. For that first sketch, I actually did, and even tweeted out the progress. Here are the photos, which helpfully show the beers too, which I’m sure you will agree is helpful to know. No sign of the Pub Chips though. Everything stops for those. Prost!

de veres sept 2019 in progress

kearny to columbus and a pint of anchor steam

SF Kearny & Sacramento
I usually head towards Columbus. It’s my favourite street in San Francisco, cutting a diagonal slice across the grid, leading from the Financial District to the Italian flavoured North Beach. I haven’t sketched a lot of Chinatown recently, but my tired feet didn’t feel like climbing up to Grant or Stockton, so I strolled along the flatter Kearny, and stopped a couple of times to draw the scenes above and below. I was on the corner of Kearny and Sacramento, the long slope of the latter blowing dust downhill and into my eyes. Standing a few feet back shielded me from the wind, and gave me a cheeky view of Coit Tower, waving at me like a prize. I had no intention of going that far this time.
SF Kearny St shop
I could not resist sketching the store above. Something about this view just said it all to me. These are the types of scenes I like to sketch the most. I didn’t go into David’s Food store, perhaps David is Beckham, or who knows even Bowie, reborn. Or maybe Cameron, perhaps they have a lot of pork products. But maybe it’s more David as in Goliath, with Goliath being modern expensive San Francisco, and this little food store is holding out against them as the David figure, with long hair that gives him strength, until Goliath finds his weakness in his tendon, I might be mixing up my old stories here. I also didn’t go to Rainbow Cleaners, but I assume that is where Geoffrey would get Zippy, George and Bungle dry-cleaned. This is the silly thing I think about when I sketch. I should be thinking about meaningful pearls, writing travel articles in my head, stories of the smells and sounds of the city, but in reality I’m just daydreaming about Rod Jane and Freddy. At least I wasn’t humming any of their songs! Oh no maybe I was.
SF Sentinel Building

I got myself back on track.This is not the end of Kearny, but it is where it meets Columbus and where it starts getting significantly more mountainous. I have drawn this view before, many times, in fact one of the earliest San Francisco sketches I did was of this building. It’s the Sentinel Building, which has Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope at the bottom. I’ve not been in there but next time I will. I like Coppola’s films. The Godfather, the Godfather II, all his films.
SF Specs

And finally, time to rest. I left the bright late afternoon and walked into Specs, one of my favourite spots in the city. At first I though it was closed, all the lights were off, but it was just much darker than outside and it took a while for my eyes to acclimatize to the dim lights in there. It’s full of stuff, and a few characters. I ordered a pint of Anchor Steam, took a seat with a view and started scribbling in my book. I read for a little (amazingly I could see really well after my eyes got used to it), reading some of those travel stories, and then drew these two fellows at the bar in pork pie hats. Or bowler hats, I don’t know, I’m not a hatologist. I enjoyed drawing this. It’s very different, much more of a reaction to the low light than a line-for-line interpretation; I’ve done that already. I’ve sat on this seat before, years ago at the end of a night out with my friend Simon, we played chess (drunkenly, he drank whiskey and I drank beer). Seven o’clock approached, the long journey back to Davis beckoned. I really love coming to the city, especially this area. I have plans to do a historical sketchcrawl down here sometime in the next couple of months, I have thought about it for a couple of years now. There is a lot to discover. Just around the corner, for example, on the very next day, March 24, City Lights Books was celebrating the 100th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous local Beat poet and co-founder of City Lights. A hundred years old, can you Beat that!

back at three mile

Three Mile Brewing, Davis
I’ve sketched this place before, it’s Three Mile Brewing in downtown Davis, a small brewery that does some very nice beers. Such as ‘Burnt Reynolds’. There always seems to be dogs in here. There was another one unseen in this sketch, as well as the one that is there. Last time I sketched in here there was a dog in the sketch. Am I now a dog sketcher? I have drawn a few dogs over the years, but I don’t really go for drawing animals much. So, Three Mile Brewing in Davis is named for the old three mile no-alcohol exclusion zone from campus that existed years ago (until 1979!). I like the colour scheme in this room, and it was handy that man wore that jacket providing a balance between the Burnt Reynolds beer and that wall on the left.