afternoon at the arms

London Southampton Arms 2022 sm

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

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

LHR to SFO 061222 sm

A L’Imaige Nostre Dame

Brussels GP Sunset sm After the rainclouds of Antwerp drifted away to wherever they go, I was back in Brussels for the evening. I ate a ‘Quick’ (a fast food they have in Belgium and France that I used to quite like, but tastes awful now) at the hotel, and then headed back over to the Grand Place before it got too dark. there wasn’t time to draw the whole thing yet again, but I wanted to capture that evening sky above the rooftops. Also that big crane. It was nice. I stood on some steps outside the massive Maison des Ducs de Brabant, others were taking selfies. There was a young tourist sat on the cobbles below me, I could see he was trying to open a bottle of Belgian beer he’d just bought, trying in vain. I went and asked a nearby cafe for a bottle opener, they kindly lent me one and I helped the tourist get his bottle open, he looked happy; good dead of the day done. We’ve all been there, when travelling! I remember trying to open a bottle of Fanta on a really hot day in a small town in Denmark with no bottle opener, I was trying to pry it open on metal street signs to no avail. After another long day of sketching I also needed to relax with a nice beer in another centuries-old tavern, so I went back down the little alley where I’d found Au Bon Vieux Temps the night before, but this time went into the lively A L’Imaige Nostre Dame.  Brussels Nostre Dame sm

This old tavern is one of the oldest in Brussels, dating back several centuries, and pretty colourful. There was no way I wasn’t sketching this. I had to find a place to sit with a decent sketchable view, and my table was a little small, but I got a ‘Malheur’ beer (which was alright) and tried to catch the spirit of the place. There was word on the mirror behind the bar that read ‘RastaTrolls’, whatever that means, it reminded me of the kids show ‘RastaMouse’, which was very funny. I could hear there were Americans at the bar who clearly loved this place, from what they were telling the bar staff. Who wouldn’t? It was a friendly place to hang out. I’ve been to some older pubs in Brussels and sometimes they can feel a little sleepy (thinking of A La Becasse), when there are pretty popular places elsewhere (thinking of Celtica, opposite end of the spectrum). I would recommend it here. I drew really fast, and then walked back to the hotel, my last night in Brussels. Next day I was planning to go to Charleroi to draw factories, but it rained a lot, so instead I slept in a bit and went in the opposite direction to Leuven. 

kulminator

Antwerp Kulminator INT sm

I went looking for a legendary Antwerp bar called ‘Kulminator‘. I thought I had been there before; back in 2000, I remember reading about this place in Antwerp with a ridiculous selection of beers, with enormous character that was worth looking for. I remember it took me a while walking around the evening streets in the days before smartphones with GPS showing us the way (that was only about three or four years ago for me, but now seems like medieval times), and when I got there, I was presented with what looked like a textbook but was actually the beer menu. I found a beer called ‘Forbidden Fruit’ (called ‘Verboden Vrucht’ here, or ‘Fruit Défendu’ as I know it) which I’d never seen before and sounded mysterious; it felt like I had completed a quest. It’s been my favourite Belgian beer since, although when I got back to Charleroi I told the barman at my local and he said, “oh no we have that beer too, here you go.” So I think that place was Kulminator, but I honestly cannot remember now, it was 22 years ago. I only had that one beer there that night, and then left to go explore night-time Antwerp a bit more, ending up skewering Pulp songs on karaoke; see a previous post.

This time I looked for Kulminator in the daytime. I had been doing some reading about old Antwerp taverns to check out and sketch, and this leapt out at me as possibly being that place from 2000. Even with my smartphone sending me upstreet and down, I still managed to get lost trying to find it. When I got there, the door was locked. It was open, but you couldn’t just walk in. There were signs all over the door. This place was serious about its beer, but you needed CASH, no cards. While I was in Lille I only ever used cash once, when buying a book off my friend Vincent Desplanche, but otherwise it was tap-tap-tap with the cards. In Belgium I found a few places which were cash only, but Kulminator evidently wouldn’t even let you inside. The door opened narrowly, and the face of an old lady peered through. “Cash?” she asked. “Ja,” I replied nervously, feeling like I was still probably not going to be let in. The clouds were starting to get greyer. Nevertheless she welcomed me inside, and it was like entering an old curiosity shop. You couldn’t see the bar itself – it was hidden behind boxes and bottles and glasses and all kinds of Belgian-beer-related knick-knacks, so it became more of a retreat den for the lady who ran the place. There were books piled high, shelves with board games, even a Brazil football shirt hanging from the rafter. The only people in there were an old man hidden away in a corner with his head in a book, and another older couple seated at a table, talking in Flemish. At the rear there was some kind of covered semi-outside area I didn’t go into, but I could hear a couple of American voices talking about beer, but otherwise the only sound was classical music, and Flemish chatter. I could see bottles of every kind of beer in the gaps through to the bar, and the old bar-lady brought to me not a massive menu , but a large chalk board, upon which were written the names of various beers. I think these were the ones on tap (“van’ vat”), and I felt that I should probably order one of these, and I should probably order the one she recommended. So she recommended a Gouden Carolus, and I took a seta by the window. The rain hard started and now it was chucking it down, so I was going to be hear for a while. It was very much the sort of place that you dream of finding as an urban bar sketcher. As I sat and drew, another older chap came in and was talking with the other patrons and the bar-lady. I can’t speak Dutch but I could understand a decent bit of what they were saying. I think he was called Vladislav and may have been an afficionado of classical music, it sounded like he was talking about it with a passion. I loved listening to the rhythms and patterns of their Flemish conversation with the backdrop of gentle music and pounding rain, and the occasional laugh as they made each other smile. I just sat in the corner with my beer and my sketchbook. I picked out some phrases; one of them said “geld is macht en macht is geld”, “money is power and power is money”. When the Americans passed through, looking nervously at the rain, they did speak with them briefly about a couple of beers they were on the lookout for, one of which was Krusovice Dark (a Czech beer). I joined in with a nod of approval and a thumbs up for that, I used to like drinking that here in Davis at the old Little Prague, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. I had one more Gouden Carolus, and by the time I was done with my sketch the rain magically stopped, and I walked to the train station. I enjoyed this place and I’m glad I found it (and glad I had some cash).

Antwerp Kulminator EXT sm

I drew the outside of it (above) from a photo I took quickly across the street before I went in, before the rain started. If you are in Antwerp, look for Kulminator. I needed to get back to Brussels though (well, I didn’t need to, I had no plans, but I thought I should get some rest). The next day I was planning to catch a train back down to the old haunt of Charleroi, where I would be climbing slag-heaps and drawing old rusty factories – at least, that was the plan.

from sudden death to the good old times

Brussels Mort Subite sm

I’ve always enjoyed the cafe A La Mort Subite in Brussels. ‘To Sudden Death’. You may have heard of the beer. I’ve sketched here before, and years ago when I had my rainy year in Belgium, this is where I would come sometimes on a weekend to dry off in the early evening, usually after a day of wandering about Brussels, to sit and read a book with a glass of their lovely Gueuze. It hasn’t changed much over the years (except for one important thing – it doesn’t reek of smoke like it did back in 1999). It opened in 1928, and is a proper heritage site. I always liked sitting at the little wobbly table inside by the door, and remember playing chess there years ago. I always make a point of stopping here whenever I visit Belgium, and this time I made sure my hotel was right around the corner. After taking a quick rest in my room, I came out and drew the outside (I was very happy with how this turned out), before coming in for some beer and food. I got myself a lambic blanche (a wheat beer made from ‘lambic’, which I think is something to do with sheep) (took an effort not to order a ‘lambic baaa-r’) and found a spot with a good view to sketch from. My food came quickly, a very eggy omelette full of mushrooms, and the longest slice of bread you ever saw. Seriously it was about three or four regular slices in length. You could have used it as a yoga mat. I took my time, that’s the way at a Belgian cafe, and listened to the French conversations around me. I didn’t hear much Flemish (Dutch); although Brussels as the capital is officially bilingual, with everything in French and Flemish (not to mention every other language you will hear spoken here in this capital of Europe), and despite being landlocked in a sea of Flemish language areas, French is still very much the main language of Brussels. I remember when I was in Belgium it was explained to be roughly 70-80% French speaking, with the remainder being Flemish-speaking (not including the not-insignificant number of languages spoken by the many, many other nationalities living in Brussels of course). Actually, I say I listened, I didn’t really listen very much, I was inside the page of my sketchbook. I had another beer, a peche (a peach beer), and went back out to finish off my big Grand Place drawing.

Brussels Mort Subite INT sm

My legs were tired after the big Grand Place sketch. The weather was nice, the big rainstorms from the day before in Lille had not followed me to Belgium, though they were probably not far behind. I imagined myself as being on the run from a big storm, like the little fellows in Time Bandits. I strolled past chocolate shops and friteries, wandered about looking for Mannekin Pis, a famous little statue of a small boy doing a wee, which despite never changing location in all these years I always seem to have trouble finding. I needed a rest now, and after that long session stood drawing in the Grand Place I needed a Belgian beer a little stronger than a lambic blanche. I’d never been into the little tavern Au Bon Vieux Temps before, though I had passed by the narrow alleyway that leads to its door many times. “At the Good Old Times“. It’s opposite another very old bar, A l’Imaige Nostre Dame, which I’d also never once visited. Why I’d never been in those places I don’t know, but I think I was perhaps a bit nervous of them. Something a bit scary about going down those medieval nooks, perhaps I had read too many fantasy adventure stories when I was a kid, and expected to be jumped by vagabonds or goblins. There were no orcs or padfoots in here though. It wasn’t busy – it was a Monday evening – but there were a few people seated at the bar chatting (in French and American). I could have spent hours sketching here; if I ever come back, I may well do. I found a table with a view of the bar and the big colourful stained glass window, and got myself a dark Orval trappist beer. The bartender was friendly, the atmosphere was warm. I drew fast; this felt more like a cool-down exercise after the big Grand Place panorama, but in truth I’d been sketching non-stop for three days straight and had no intention of slowing down now.

Brussels Au Bon Vieux Temps sm

It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep. The next day I was going to be back riding on the train tracks again, to explore the port city of Antwerp. Good old times.

bierchope

Lille Beerchope 060422

Saturday evening in Lille, I had dinner outside at a little restaurant near the Port de Gand as it got dark, eating a delicious ‘ch’timi galette’. I did keep seeing these things on the menus of all the ‘estaminets’ in the area called ‘Welsh’, which is apparently a local specialty. The descriptions I was given made it sound like they mostly had ham in them so I gave them a miss, as I don’t eat ham, but will look a bit harder for a non-ham one next time. I was out by myself, and I wanted to try some local Nord-Pas-de-Calais beer before heading to bed, and there was this one little place called ‘Bierchope’ that looked inviting. I could tell as soon as I walked in that this would be a sketch, though you don’t see all the bottles behind glass along the wall behind me. This place had a ridiculous selection, specializing in all the beers in that part of France, so I sat next to a group of people all chatting in the northern French dialect, ordered a really nice beer called ‘Beer Choper’ (the label was amazing), and got the sketchbook out. Within minutes, a massive rumble of thunder. Outside, rain started absolutely belting it down. Minutes earlier I had been sat out there at a table with a galette wondering what a Welsh was, but I’m generally lucky when it comes to these things. The downpour was so heavy and sudden, the noise of the rain was almost matched by the panicked patter of feet splashing down the street for cover. Well, I guess I’m in here for the evening. Flashes of lightning raised a few eyebrows as they reflected through the bar. The bartender was very friendly and played great music. All along the stairwell were framed illustrations of other bar and cafe scenes, not too dissimilar in style to the way I like to draw. When I’m relaxed like this and in a good mood, the drawing really comes easy and quickly. I had had a good day of sketching – it’s never enough, I always need more drawings, but this was a good way to round things out. For my second beer, I went to the barman and asked his opinion, what local beer should I drink? Without even asking what I liked, he grabbed a bottle from the fridge, opened it and handed it to me, a beer from a local brewery with a name like ‘Piggy’, I don’t remember exactly. It was ‘coconut flavoured’, he assured me. A bit too much so, for my liking, but I bought it and I drank it. Not sure of the coconut connection to the coal mining towns of the Ch’Ti region but I suppose when it’s stormy outside, it reminds you of being in the stormy tropics, on a beach somewhere. I really liked this place, and this was my favourite sketch from Lille. Had I not been travelling from north London since 7am and wandering about Lille with a sketchbook all day, I might have stayed for another beer recommendation, but my bed was calling, and I had a full day’s sketching and exploring ahead of me the next day. Just before I left Bierchope, the rain completely stopped. Perfect.

what the dickens

London Dickens Inn EXT 2022 sm

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

London Dickens Inn INT 2022 sm

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

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

a thousand things i wanna say to you

London - Prince Charles Cinema 2022

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

London - Sun Tavern Cov Gdn 2022

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

London - StMoritz 2022

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

London - Ship Soho 2022

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

London - PicCirc 2022

sketchploring in sunset

Little Shamrock, SF Inner Sunset

Many of my favourite things to do got sidelined during the pandemic. Going to the cinema – I loved doing that. The last thing I’d watched at a cinema was Sonic The Hedgehog; I was determined not to have that be the last thing I saw at a cinema before the cinemas all closed down and replaced with streaming. I love travelling to other countries, not exactly an easy thing to do even now. My last trip to the UK was November 2019. And I love to sketch in pubs. I love to sit at the bar, nice slow pint, sketchbook out, putting the atmosphere of the pub on the paper. Historic old pubs, all the better. I’ve missed that. So, down in the city for the third time in less than three months, I found myself in the Inner Sunset neighbourhood, on my way for an afternoon wandering about Golden Gate Park, because I’ve not really spent much time doing that. I had some new green paints and fancied drawing a bit of foliage. I am usually bored by foliage but I thought, different park innit. However, I needed a wee. I didn’t think I could wait to go looking for the public toilets in the park, so I stopped by the Little Shamrock pub on Lincoln, which dates back to 1893. As I approached, I could see through their open window that they still have a sketch of the pub that I drew in 2013 hung proudly on the wall, next to all the historic photos and articles about the old place. That was a nice surprise, and a sign that maybe I didn’t need to go to the park just yet. so I decided to stop here; you still have to show the vaccination card to get a drink, but it wasn’t very busy and I found a lovely table by that open window for the breeze (and I was sat beneath my old sketch). And over a couple of beers, I drew the scene above, which is my first pub interior since 2019. I was pretty pleased with it. It surely ate into my foliage sketching time, but pah, I prefer sketching a pub. The couple seated at the bar were, I guess, on their way to the baseball to see the Giants, the man was in a Buster Posey jersey. That brings me back to 2012, 2013 myself, when we were watching the Giants a lot ourselves. Back when they were winning stuff. Posey was the young buck; he’s still there. I haven’t watched baseball in about eight years. I think the game I was watching might still be going on. Anyway there is a lot to sketch, all the flags, all the colourful lamps, all the ornately shaped chairs. The dark areas, the light areas, oh I have missed this. I spent a good hour and a half or so in there. Here’s my old exterior sketch on the wall, I love the red frame. Makes me feel like part of the story. 

IMG_3758

And here is my other sketch from 2013, for a bit of ‘Throwback Thursday’ on a Saturday. This was done sat at the bar. I remember listening to a couple next to me talking about the art world, I think they worked in galleries, so I knew I was in good art company. I usually am, in the city. I had just attended the annual ZineFest, and was armed with some of my own zines, that short bar-zine I produced back then, Davis Bar-By-Bar. The guy who worked there even bought one, and really liked my sketches of the day, and not too long after that they must have bought that print of the exterior sketch, because next time I came here with my wife we saw it in there. It’s a great old pub this, maybe my favourite in the city (well top two, I do love Specs down on Columbus) it would be nice to come back in the evening some day. I’m not quite ready for busy bars right now though, but this was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and involved very little foliage sketching. 

Little Shamrock SF

I did go to Golden Gate Park though, eventually, wandered about. But there were a lot of people, a lot of cars, and not really enough things I wanted to draw. There was a long line to go into the Japanese Gardens, and it was a bit expensive for the amount of time I’d have been in there, so I gave it a miss. I wandered without sketching, and headed back to the Inner Sunset.

SF Hydrant Inner Sunset

I used a bit of the green paint. After stopping for a cookie at a counter, I crouched down on the corner of Judah and 5th and sketched this hydrant with a nobbly top. There’s always a fire hydrant. These ones with the little metal bobbles on their hat are very specific to San Francisco. I was told years ago that it was for the horses, the fire horses would be tied to the big ball on top of the hydrant. That’s true, I’m going to say. It has been a while since I drew a hydrant like this too, I think. 

9th St San Francisco

I had wanted to go across the park to the area along Clement, to finally find Green Apple Books, to explore a part of town I’d not been to. Alas I never made it. But there is another branch of Green Apple Books right here, “By The Park”, so I went in for a browse and picked up a little postcard book of artwork from My Neighbour Totoro. I had a little bit of time before I had to jump on the Muni back downtown, so I stood in the street and drew as much as a I could of the shop and the view up 9th. The fog had rolled in by this point, but it had been a really nice day. I had to finish it off later, but I was tiring and needed to get back to Davis. Another well-worth-it day out in the city, I can’t wait for the next one. I’m already studying the map for more exploring. ‘Sketchploring’. I am a sketchplorer. Or maybe a sketchsplorer?    

and i’ll sing in your ear again

De Veres and Bizarro World

Last Year when the pandemic hit, De Vere’s Irish Pub in Davis took the difficult decision to shutter up, focusing on its Sacramento site, temporarily until the pandemic eased. Well, in California at least we are at that point now where more and more people are getting vaccinated, and we are preparing to All Go Back To Normal*. Last weekend we were in Yosemite (sketches to come) where they are allowing people in with reservations only to stem the crowds, and after waiting nearly two hours in line to get in after a two hour plus drive from nearby Sonora, we parked several miles away from where our first hiking trail began due to lack of spaces, and waded through throngs of people on a steep narrow trail to look at a bit of a waterfall among large groups of people all trying to take photos of each other (and it’s fine for strangers to touch each others’ devices now). The Mist Trail is so-called because of the mists of sweat from the hundreds of other hikers, not from the waterfalls. It was a hot, hot day, we were tired, and we gave up and hiked back to the car. But more on that story next time. This was the first day of June, I was working on campus in the morning for a bit, the weather was ridiculously hot. I had to cycle downtown to pick up a drawing from the Pence (the Covent Garden drawing I had done for their ‘garden-themed’ show, it hadn’t sold). Anyway, as I pulled into D Street I noticed my bike tyre was getting low. When I came back out, it was completely flat, so I wheeled it over to Freewheeler on 2nd Street, and grabbed some lunch on E Street. I then noticed that De Vere’s across the street looked a little bit different. They were busy finishing off the shiny new paint job, going from black to red, a new look for the reopening which I was told would be happening this week. If you have followed my sketchblog over the past decade you will know how much I like this pub, I’ve drawn it many times. I really like their pub chips, served in gravy. So I did a drawing of it. I stood in the heat waiting for my bike to be fixed up, and when that was done I cycled home to work the rest of the day, finishing off the pen and colours later on. I’m well pleased for them to be reopening, I hope business is good, and can’t wait until I get back for some pub chips, a paint or two, and an actual interior sketch of a pub for the first time since before This Whole Thing. Last weekend in Sonora we did eat inside for the first time, at a pasta restaurant that was not busy (and going by the food wasn’t much of a pasta restaurant either), and yeah I’m still a bit anxious to go inside a pub, it’s been so long, but something about seeing these guys repainting and reopening made me feel pretty optimistic. It’s been, well not an easy week, news of other people I know losing family members in other countries to Covid, plus just being so far away from my family in England, my dad’s birthday was this week, it would have been nice to be over there but it’s still very hard travelling (on top of the restrictions and the quarantines and the expensive required non-NHS tests, I’m still not comfortable about being stuck in a plane with lots of people for eleven hours and then stuck in line at Heathrow for more hours). I’ve been generally feeling exhausted. But signs of optimism make me feel good, and when I’m up for it, knowing I can get some pub chips and a pint or two is pretty nice, maybe with a comic from Bizarro World next door, like I used to. I hope the reopening goes well.

Dublin Part 3: pints make prizes

Dublin Phibsborough House sm

The final chapter in my recent (August and September…recent enough) virtual tour of Dublin, a series of drawings made on long and painstaking virtual walks around the city via Google Street View, reliant on the often unusual angles and above-head-height horizon lines, hoping traffic does not impede the view of something good. Thankfully I found some good views of several pubs, and in Dublin you are never very far from a good pub. I wish I could have gone inside, had a beer, sketched the interior, but I just had to imagine instead. This pub above is in Phibsborough, Clarke’s, aka the Phibsborough House. My next door neighbour Gregory here in Davis used to live opposite this pub, he said his cousin still frequents there. The large ‘BOHS’ sign above is a reference to the local football team (soccer that is, not Gaelic football, which is huge in Ireland) in Phibsborough, Bohemians. I have a Bohs shirt myself (courtesy of my neighbour, cheers) and the club’s supporters have a reputation for being very anti-fascist, pro-left issues, one of their recent kits had “Refugees Welcome” across the sponsor area. My kind of club. I did stay at a B&B in Phibsborough near the stadium on a visit back in the 90s. I liked this area a lot (I think one of my cousins lived there when I visited as a kid too) and would walk into downtown Dublin from Phibsborough every day. We never went to this pub, but my friend Simon who moved to Dublin in the summer has been here, and hopefully when all is Back To Normal and I can travel again, I’ll go there with him (and maybe say hi to Gregory’s cousin).

Dublin Bleeding Horse sm

Walking on, this is south of the Liffey, down on Camden Street Upper. It’s called the Bleeding Horse and goes back to the 17th century. I don’t know how the pub got its name but it might be from an incident in the Battle of Rathmines in 1649, when apparently a horse that was wounded fled the battle. and YES, he WENT INTO THE PUB, and OH YES, the barman, the first ever barman to utter these immortal words, said to the horse, “WHY THE LONG FACE?” Oh yes he did. Although in this case he probably said “Why the long bleedin’ face?” Anyway this pub is just around the corner from the crosswalk outside the chicken farm, and the polygonal shaped parrot cemetery. The pub was mentioned in Ulysses, although I don’t remember that as I haven’t watched that cartoon since the 1980s, but I still remember the theme tune. The Bleeding Horse is a great pub name, but really is best said in a London accent, “the bleedin’awse”. Another one on my list of places to go on this future Dublin trip. I imagine this trip being one where I hope it rains a lot so I can spend more time inside the pubs drawing. It won traditional pub of the year in 2017 and 2018. 

Dublin John Kehoes sm

Next up, this one is on Anne Street in central Dublin not far from St. Stephen’s Green, called John Kehoe’s, which is described on its website as “an award winning traditional Irish pub in the heart of Dublin’s south city centre”. Sure it looks like a place I would spend an afternoon with my sketchbook and a couple of pints. I must confess though, I don’t like Guinness. Never been my thing. I’ll have a pint, but I’ll take a Smithwicks after that. Being where it is, I expect this place gets a lot more tourists looking for the authentic heritage pub than the others in this post, but as a Londoner who never minded tourists I don’t mind that at all, people on their travels and stopping for a pint or two are always up for a friendly chat. I’m usually a tourist myself. So this is another one added to the list, though I’d need to make sure I get there when I can find a good spot to draw the bar area. However I know for a fact that I would constantly be making jokes about the classic TV show “Through the Keyhole” because the name sounds a bit like keyhole. If here with my now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon, we would undoubtedly be going from Loyd Grossman’s distinctive New England twang “WHO LIVES in a HOUSE like THIS? DAVID it’s OVER to YOU” followed by David Frost, “Lets see…whose house…this is.” And of course it would turn out to be Michael Caine’s house, of course, so we’d have to do a Michael Caine voice, “Oi, get OUT of my HOUSE”, and I’ve only had one pint at this point. If you are thinking, no you wouldn’t, you’d think all of this but not say it, you are wrong. My now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon and I spent an entire evening in McSorley’s in New York City one sub-freezing February night doing a variety of voices, and when I say ‘variety’ I mean 95% Michael Caine, saying a variety of Star Wars quotes, and when I say ‘variety’ I mean almost every line in all of the movies. Even Jar-Jar. The poor couples sat next to us trying to enjoy a Valentine’s Day drink. But just imagine Michael Caine saying Han Solo’s line “Don’t get cocky!” I want to do a remake of Star Wars where all of the voices are replaced with Michael Caine saying the lines. “Mesa day … starten … pretty okey day … with A BRISKY MORNIN MUNCHIN!” Ok I can see you’re not impressed, let’s move to another pub.

Dublin Gravediggers pub sm

Slightly quieter spot now, north of the river, we might keep the Michael Caine impressions to a minimum at this one. John Kavanagh’s, next to Glasnevin Cemetery, is called the “Gravediggers’ Pub”. Right, so this one has a bit of history, and is even mentioned in Atlas Obscura, that book that talks about loads of interesting and obscure places in the world. The cemetery was apparently the first one to be opened up to Irish citizens of all faiths, Protestant and Catholic, in 1833. Anyway, Kavanagh’s is called the gravediggers’ pub because, well this is where they came after digging the graves. The story is that there used to be a hole in the wall that the barman would pass drinks through to the graveyard shift workers on the other side. A ‘stiff drink’ indeed. Here’s one: a gravedigger walked into a pub, asked the barman for a Guinness and a hot Lemsip. “Why d’you want the Lemsip?” the barman asked predictably. “For me coffin,” replied the gravedigger, also predictably. Thing is, the gravedigger has been a staple of comic humour for centuries, just think of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet, the funniest part of the very long play. Especially in the Kenneth Branagh version where Yorrick’s skull is very obviously Ken Dodd, even before it’s revealed to be he. And that always reminds me of the tongue twister, “Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead”. Try saying that after a few pints at the Gravediggers’.   

Dublin Rathmines sm

And finally, not a pub this time but the view from the middle of Rathmines Road, south of the centre of Dublin. This is the end of the book. There is a pub on the left called the Bowery, which seems to be built in the style of an old galleon, so very much somewhere I’d like to go. Except that I think it may have since closed, maybe eve pre-pandemic. Even before this past year, so many good pubs were closing down, and I really hope that they all can somehow survive this pandemic mess. I miss sketching in pubs, I miss the very idea of pubs, places of life, social history, and Michael Caine impressions. That clock tower kept making me think of the old song “Quare Things in Dublin” by the Wolfe Tones, there’s a clocktower in that song, and a pub of course. Rathmines I guess is an area of Dublin I’ve never been to but a lot of my great-grandparents and beyond lived around this neck of the woods, Harold’s Cross, Ranelagh, Portobello over the canal. Plenty of Higginses. The Scullys were from more north of the Liffey. These days I know what Dublin family I have is all over the place, I only met a few of them in my life when I was a kid, as well as many of the Higgins lot who’d gone down to Wicklow a long time before (I remember walking into my great-uncle Bernard’s house and it was like the hall of mirrors, so many red-headed Higgins who looked like me – this is where they were all hiding! None of my siblings or parents have red hair). It’s not like I’d be going on a family discovery tour if I went back to Dublin though, we’re not really like that; I remember when my nan died, end of 1988, when I was a kid in Burnt Oak, London, and her brother came to the funeral. I never knew about this brother before so that was a surprise great-uncle, I assumed he had come over from Dublin. No, he also lived in Burnt Oak, in the street next to my old school, but this was the first I’d ever heard of him. So I just assume that I’m probably related to loads of people I’ve never heard of, they just don’t necessarily all talk about each other. In fact I never even knew the names of my great grandparents until recently when my sister did some digging. Lots of people with the same names going back generations, it turns out, and mostly Dublin for at least a couple of centuries. Lots and lots of people called James Higgins, one (great-great grandfather) with an exceptional General Melchett moustache. One other thing we did discover, my grandfather William Scully, who died before I was born but who gave me my middle name William, well I found out his middle name was Edward, which completely coincidentally is my son’s middle name (which in this case was named after my older brother’s middle name, and he isn’t a Scully). I think my great-grandfather may have been Edward William Scully too. We like to re-use names.

So that was a brief jaunt around Dublin, in no order, on paper I probably would not choose to draw on again. I sent the finished book to my now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon (he actually got me the blank book in Dublin in the first place) and I hope he can explore all the historic story-filled pubs, once this bleedin’ pandemic is done with. My next virtual tour I have started already, a long tour of France, starting at Calais and finishing up in Paris, while circling around the country, 64 stops, much more detail. It’ll take a while, but I’m not going anywhere.