Recently I took a couple of days in San Francisco, the City by the Bay. I know lots of other cities are by bays as well (and this isn’t even the only city by this bay, nor the biggest), but when we talk about the City by the Bay we mean only one place. Anyway, to San Francisco I came, not to sit here resting my bones as such but to draw furiously, and draw furiously I did. After this one, anyhow, which was drawn calmly, peacefully and without any fury at all. It is lovely down there by the water’s edge, listening to the tide as it rolls away. I was blessed with a beautiful warm day (I always get weather-lucky in the city), the day before a huge storm washed away any doubters. I didn’t fancy sketching the mania of Fisherman’s Wharf much, and considered going out to sketch the Golden Gate Bridge (another time perhaps) but just wanted to sit and sketch the Balclutha, a magnificent old boat moored near Hyde Pier. There is Alcatraz, the former prison island, in the background (Clint Eastwood swimming just out of shot). I sat on a bench as joggers, tourists, cyclists, and those funny looking Segway riders bumbled by. At one point I took a photo of the scene using my iPad, at which point a Wandering Drunk stumbled by and said loudly, “I wish I could sink that thing!!” Now here is an example of the modern world taking over common vocabulary, because I actually thought he meant the iPad, as in ‘sync’, and I was most confused. “It’s not even American!” he continued, while swilling his can of cheap beer. Now I was confused; Apple is based not far from here, surely, what are you on about you nutter? It was not a conversation I was interested in having, but then when he started gesturing at the ship I realized, aaaah, you mean the boat, right I get it now, you make sense now, carry on. He perched himself at the top of the steps with a six-pack and carried on making idle threats at passing maritime vessels, which to be fair is probably a nice relaxing way to spend the day, for all I know. I did look up the sailing ship Balclutha when I got home, to see if it really wasn’t American, and apparently it is not, it was built in Glasgow in Scotland (‘Balclutha’ is Gaelic and refers to the city on the Clyde), was renamed Alaska Star and Pacific Queen for periods, and has been moored in San Francisco since the Maritime Museum purchased it in the 1950s. You can find out more about the Balclutha on the National Park Service website.
This is almost it for London sketches, I promise you. But not quite yet. These were sketched down at the Pool of London – that stretch of the Thames after London Bridge, the true ancient heart of London the river city. It was an absolutely freezing cold day, bitter and icy, with snow still blasted to surfaces even here in central London, days after the massive blizzard. The scene above is of HMS Belfast, the battleship-turned-tourist spot permanently moored in the Pool of London, with the ancient Tower of London to the left and the less ancient Tower Bridge to the right. The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century as a symbol of the Normans’ military control of the capital, while Tower Bridge was built at the end of the nineteenth century because people needed to get from one side of the Thames to the other.
I found this great spot to sketch all three, on a little covered outcrop overlooking the Thames, with benches and shelter from the wind. I sat down to sketch, got my moleskine and pens out, started to sketch and then within three minutes a couple of men from India came up and asked me not to sit there. They would be filming there, and needed me to move. I saw that there were some other people there with them, and one had a camera (not a film or TV camera, but just a fancy hand-held). “How long will you be?” I asked. I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to sketch this scene. They both answered at the same time, one said “ten minutes”, one said “half an hour to an hour”.
“Which is it?” I replied. “Half an hour at least,” they said. I told them I wanted to sketch here, it’s a public place.
“You can come back another time, the ship’s not going anywhere,” one said back to me.
“But I am,” I said. “Do you have a permit to film here?”
I know that you need a permit if you’re out filming and require the public to not go into public places. Again they both answered at the same time: one said “yes, the other said “no”. I asked to see it. No response. I knew they didn’t have one.
“Look,” I conceded, “I’ll give you fifteen minutes, and then I’m coming back and I will sketch here.” Thankfully they agreed; it was either that or call a policeman to sort out who has what rights to be where. I went off and did a quick ten-minute sketch of the Gherkin (see right), then went and warmed my hands up in a bookstore, before resuming my spot to sketch HMS Belfast. They were filming some romantic kissing scene, but they didn’t object when I came back for my turn. While I sketched, several people came along and stood in the way to take photos and look at the view, and I didn’t mind because they had every right to. It is an amazing view.
And this I sketched shortly before then, at London Bridge. This looks towards the heart of the City of London – you can see Tower 42 and the golden-topped column of the Monument there. That column, built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, would, if it fell over, reach the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the fire began. Presumably Wren kept that fact to himself, lest gangs of curious seventeenth-century scallywags attempt to push it over to find out. There has been a bridge on this spot called London Bridge since the time of the Romans, and yes, previous incarnations did sometimes fall down (or burn down, usually). This particular London Bridge dates back to the 1970s, when the previous one (which was not falling down, but sinking) was sold to a man in Arizona who needed it to sell postcards.
I however was utterly freezing. After these sketches I went and had a nice hot chicken pie.
Sunday morning in San Francisco, and the weather was amazing. Twain said that the coldest winter he ever had was summer in San Francisco. That of course has absolutely nothing to do with this post but I thought I’d throw that in there anyhow. Well, winter you see is not hugely different from summer in the bay area, in many ways, except there is a bit less fog in the winter. It was t-shirt weather last Sunday (and I’m talking to you, man I saw with no shirt, only shorts). I wore a t-shirt (under my jumper of course). Anyway it was bright and sunny, and thnakfully not too busy at Pier 39, where I got off the Amtrak bus. I don’t like Pier 39 too much, and the rest of Fisherman’s Wharf even less, but mostly because of the masses of people. It’s so much better when it’s less crowded. I can look at Alcatraz mugs and cable-car magnets to my heart’s content.
What I had come to draw were boats, and not any old boats, but two in particular I had wanted to sketch on a previous trip but didn’t (because of the wintery rain and fog). The USS Pampanito is a big submarine moored at Pier 45, outside the Musee Mecanique, at San Francisco Maritime National Park. It was too long for me to (be bothered to) sketch so I focused on the turret thing. There’s a broom on top which apparently indicates a ‘clean sweep’ of an area. Useful thing to know, when looking at a submarine. Not to be confused with the sign that means they’ve had a ‘brush with the enemy’.
Here is the big cannon that sits on top of the Pampanito. At least I presume it’s a cannon. For all I know it’s a periscope. Still, the big long shaft kind of gives it away. Best be safe I think and stay out of the way.
And this is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a big huge battleship moored behind (sorry, astern of) the Pampanito, and like the submarine it fought in World War II. in fact, this ship was used in the Normandy Landings on D-Day. Now that is a big ship. By the way, there is Alcatraz in the distance behind the ship.