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.
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.
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.
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.