I sketched you in a bar down in old Soho

Old Coffee House pub

And so to the last night in England. It was an emotional trip, quick and busy, spent time with family, and friends, and places that I love. The last night there was just mine, all mine. I got back to Burnt Oak and watched old Alan Partridge shows on Netflix while packing my bag, never an easy task after even a short trip, what with all the various books (so many books) and new football shirts (more than one) and Cadbury’s cake bars and packs of Bisto gravy and Topic bars and whatever else I had to get. there was a lot I didn’t pick up. I didn’t get any Daddy’s Sauce, which I adore and am currently out of. For those who don’t know, Daddy’s is a brown sauce very similar to HP but less spicy and just tastes like home. I ate a Pot Noodle for dinner. I have not had a Pot Noodle for quite a long time. They seem a little less satisfying than I remember. I loved them when I was 14. I didn’t intend on ti being for dinner this time, but I left it a bit late to get much else when I finally finished packing my bag and venture back out into London one last time. I had a very early start the next morning and didn’t want to do any last-minute packing. So, I was along in London. I thought I might get some food and sketch an old pub. I wasn’t sure where I would go. London is vast and full of possibilities. I got off the train at Camden Town thinking, I could grab a curry at Masala Zone and then go up to sketch the Steele’s at Chalk Farm. But then at the last second I decided to jump back on the same tube because my head said, “you always go to Camden! Do that another time. London is yours!” So in the spirit of revisiting my youth, I got out at Tottenham Court Road instead. That was always my destination station whenever I would go into London as a teenager. It was right next to the Virgin Megastore – now long gone. It was also right next to the Hellfire Club, where as a 19-20 year old I would jump up and down to loud music with a group of international friends – also now long gone. In fact the station is completely different to the one from the 90s, having undergone a total transformation and rebuild in the past few years. All the old shortcuts are gone, and it’s a large, modern and open station now, not the cramped yellowing ticket hall of the past. I ended up not eating dinner, because I could not find somewhere that I fancied, and I wandered about Soho remembering all the old shortcuts that are thankfully still there. I passed by the Old Coffee House, a pub I have enjoyed a few fun evenings in with friends, one that I have tried to sketch before but at a time without pub-sketching confidence, and I saw through the window that there was a nice seat at the corner of the bar with a perfect panorama sketching view. That seat was mine. I would eat Dry Roasted Peanuts for dinner, hunger be damned.

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You’ll need to click on the sketch at the top of this post to see it in closer detail (it’ll take you to the Flickr site). As I sketched, I tried a couple of different beers, supplied by a local brewer, Brodies. The first was the Piccadilly Pale Ale, the second and third were the Old Street Pale Ale. I did all the ink at the bar, but added the watercolour paint on the plane next morning (my Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook being exactly the same width as my Virgin Atlantic economy seat). The bar staff were friendly, and the pub was chilled out. Oh except for the bar fight which broke out behind me. I have discovered that I can apparently sketch undisturbed while a bar fight happens around me, looking up occasionally before getting back to work. Now don’t imagine a long Wild-West style mass brawl, it was more of a few seconds of pushing before a quick “break it up, boys”. There was a group of lads out on a jolly, very drunk and celebrating some birthday or other. I say ‘very drunk’ but it was varying degrees of drunkenness, ranging from ‘friendly and convivial’ to ‘barely able to speak or stand’, with a range of performative drunkenness in between. Two of them for example were enacting a bullfight in the bar, another was sat down loudly singing to a couple of ladies (he was one of the louder ones, but actually he had a very good singing voice), and then one lad who would drunkenly go and sit with random people who would grin and nod a lot back before he sat down with the wrong group of people, one of whom got angry at something or other and they started scuffling, a glass broke, the drunken guy was whisked away and I turned to see one offended young man displaying the classic pose of “hold me back, hold me back”. I didn’t see much more because I was zen-posed with my sketchbook, working to a tight schedule, I had a plane to catch in the morning. The kerfuffles were quickly dealt with by the, I must say, very capable and calming pub staff, who’ve seen it all before I am sure. There was none of that macho make-it-all-worse strutting. The large partying group departed, the broken glass cleaned up, the “hold me back” guy went calmly back to his fresh pint, and the evening went on. I’ve always quite enjoyed this pub, in a little corner of Soho near Carnaby Street, and have been here many times with friends, going back to the 1990s, so I was glad to finally get a sketch of the place. Drawing a pub with lots of details inevitably means you get some wrong, and in this case I drew one too many frames on the wall above the main bar area. You won’t notice, of course. I also drew one person twice. He was standing at the bar waiting for a drink, and then afterwards he had his jacket off and was sat with a woman enjoying conversation. His hair somehow went from black to brown as well but I blame the lighting, not my urban sketching skills. The world is as you see it at that moment (and that of course can change by the third pint).

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Seen through the window of a barbers in Soho. A popular night-time photo opportunity.

As it turns out it, I witnessed two bar fights that night. Typical London, you don’t see one for years and years and then two show up at once. On my way back to the station I popped into another old favourite, The Ship, for a quick pint of London Pride. As I was leaving, it seemed a ruck had broken out just outside between two people who had been in the pub, which was being broken apart by excited pub staff, and people were being directed away from it (so that they could stop and watch, as of course you would do). One rutting stag showed us the true meaning of “hold me back, hold me back”, and did some of the best “hold me back” moves I have ever seen, getting absolutely no fighting done whatsoever, while the main belligerent was drunkenly trying to pick up those metal poles that hold up barriers and swing it around like a broadsword. Maybe someone had asked if he wanted to go clubbing and his Google Translate had mis-google-translated. Security staff did that thing where they multiply, and both men were held back, and the audience started ambling off, as did I, because I had a plane to catch. An entertaining last night in London.

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sketchcrawl in trafalgar square

Trafalgar Square

On Saturday July 23 I went along to the “Let’s Draw Trafalgar Square” sketchcrawl organized by members of Urban Sketchers London. It was a hot, sweaty day, and the Square was filled with people: tourists, buskers, and people playing Pokemon Go. By the way I love how Pokemon Go is the latest Thing-To-Be-Annoyed-At among the moaning classes, just the mention of the words ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Go’ automatically bring forth  well-rehearsed stories of people walking in front of buses or just not looking up from their phones in the street, neither of which were things that ever happened before people started catching Porygons and Spearows just a few weeks ago. I bet if you had a referendum to ban people playing Pokemon Go you’d get more than half the population saying “Gotta ban em all!” Just let them be, grandad. Anyway, as I sat and sketched the National Gallery and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a man on an unusual bike in front of me beckoned tourists to have a go and try to win ten quid from him. I didn’t sketch him. I did speak to a few tourists, giving directions and talking about the sketchcrawl. The crowds really did start getting a bit much, but I look at this stretch of pedestrianized goodness and I still remember how much of a coughing traffic mess it used to be. That right there is where I would get my Night Bus back to Burnt Oak in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, twenty years ago. It’s so much better now.

Charles I statue, Charing Cross

We met up at half-time by the column of the Grand Old Duke Of York, and the sketchcrawl’s numbers had swelled to include many more of the international sketchers who would soon go up to Manchester, including a large contingent from Singapore. So great to see so many familiar faces, such as Tia Boom Sim (Singapore), Omar Jaramillo (Berlin) and James Oses (London), and also meet many new ones I had only ever known from following online, such as Stephanie Bower (Seattle), Patrick Ng (Singapore) and Emma-Jane Rosenberg (Ely), and many others. Above though is not the Duke of York, rather this is King Charles I. He is holding a European flag, which is either a pro-Europe protest or the opposite, depending on your views of Charles, I guess. Look at all those Boris Buses milling about in the background there. The interior temperature of those buses was on that particular day hot enough to fry an egg (but to do that you needs to brexit first). No, I didn’t get it either. This statue by the way is the middle of London – all distances from London are measured from this spot. Charles was the shortest English king (well, the shortest adult English king). After his head was chopped off, just down the street from here, he was considerably shorter. Ok that is your history lesson done now. I sketched this while squashed against a wall next to Tesco Metro, itself a highly squashed experience, stood with paints balanced on elbow, while a large number of anti-Mugabe protesters from Zimbabwe paraded past, while tourists waved selfie-sticks in front of them, and absolutely nobody was playing Pokemon Go. Samuel Johnson said a couple of centuries ago that the full tide of human existence is at Charing Cross, and he wasn’t wrong. I bet he would have hated Pokemon Go though. Imagine his face when you asked whether Jigglypuff, Blastoise, and Lickitung are in his dictionary! It would have caused him terrible pericombobulations.

palace theatre London

I had to leave the Trafalgar-Squarea (tourists! This is a real term used by actual Londoners by the way so you should definitely say it next time you are there) and escape to the slightly less busy area of Cambridge Circus. Still a busy bustling Bedlam, but I was able to find a spot next to a pub and sketch the Palace Theatre, where currently they are showing the play about Harry Potter, call “The Cursed Child”. I just read the expensive hard-bound script, and I can reveal it is pretty good, and probably makes more a hell of a lot sense watching it on stage. Tickets are sold out for the next century and a half, and it’s in two parts, for some reason (I think the reason rhymes with the words “bunny bunny bunny”). I have wanted to sketch this theatre for ages, so the Potter connection gave me a good reason too (for example if I sell this sketch, then the reason may well rhyme with “honey honey honey”). I remember when Les Mis ran here for about six hundred years, or something. I sketched for an hour and added the colour at home, as I had to run down to St. Martin’s for the final meeting of the sketchcrawl, where everyone puts their books on the ground and looks down at them. It was a fun event and I am glad I went, a good sketching first day back in London, and I spent a good bit of time catching up and chatting with my fellow sketchers afterwards in the cafe in the crypt beneath St. Martin’s. By the way that cafe is the place to go when it is hot outside and you want a lukewarm fizzy drink. I did some sketching of the sketchers…

Sketchcrawl Sketchers sm

And afterwards I met my friend Roshan, and we went for dinner, then out for a nice relaxed beer in Covent Garden, being joined by other friends Lee and Jamie. I sketched them too. A couple siting next to us kooed over eagerly at my book while sketching, it seemed like they thought they might be next in the book, but alas my sketching energy needed conserving for the next day, when I would be sketching Wren’s London. Nice segue there into the next post, huh!

Roshan Jamie Lee

blue blue electric blue, that’s the colour of my room

blue posts kingly street soho, london
This is the Blue Posts pub in Soho. No, not that one, that’s on Berwick Street. No, not that other one, that’s down on Rupert Street. This is the one near Carnaby Street, on the corner of Kingly Street and Ganton Street. I sketched it a couple of days before Christmas, as the sky got dark early, and people rushed around getting last-minute Christmas presents. “Where is Hamleys?” they would ask me. I would tell them, and they would just run in the opposite direction without looking back. Here’s a pro tip – don’t go to Hamleys on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and be on the top floor when all the escalators break down. Yes, we did that. Well on this particular Wednesday I had an afternoon to spend sketching (and shopping), so I came up to the craziness of the Regents Street end of Soho and found the Blue Posts pub. This particualr Blue Posts pub anyway. I’ve sketched the one on Berwick Street, and the one on Rupert Street is on my must-sketch list, but this is a nice pub, and I’d had the pleasure of coming in here the Saturday evening prior. That night I had been out with a few friends at a pub on Beak Street called the Old Coffee House, which I did not sketch. Two of them had not yet seen The Force Awakens, while me and my other friend Roshan had been to see it the day before. When you see The Force Awakens, you want to talk about it, but we couldn’t, for the whole evening. Oh we had a great time talking about comics, but the Star-Wars-talk was just busting to come out. So when the other two had left, Roshan and I went to the Blue Posts, as it was open later, to finally talk theories and spoilers. It was packed, so we stood by the bar, where we met a man who was in a similar predicament. However he had promised to keep his mouth zipped, because unfortunately the barman at the Blue Posts, a lovely chap, had not seen it, and any Force-based chat was again off-limits. Dammit! Respecting the fact that the universe was still inhabited by people who did not know that [SPOILERS EDITED OUT!] and that [SPOILERS!] is in fact [SPOILERS!] who [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!], we kept quiet and talked comics (we had no problem spoiling those). So when I came back to sketch the pub a few days later, I popped in to see if the barman had seen Force Awakens yet, but alas I couldn’t find him. Now it is January, there really is no excuse, so next time I go back it will be in the full Kylo Ren costume, exclaiming loudly that [SPOIIIILLLLLERRRRSSSSSS-LALALA-NOTLISTENINGGGGG]. I won’t discuss the film here, not right now anyway, except to say that it was awesome, amazing, beautiful, and that I am totally on Team Rey, but that I do miss George Lucas’s storytelling. Anyway, the Blue Posts. I think I have mentioned before the fact that in centuries past Soho was a hunting ground? Well, it was, before all the buildings, before all the clubs and bars and strip joins and hang on they are hunting grounds too, of a sort. Well, those royal hunting grounds were bordered with blue posts, which is (we think) why several pubs take their names from them. There is another Blue Posts pub in Mayfair, not too far from here. You can make out the bright pink lights strung above Ganton Street on the right, as well as the large metal banner marking the entrance to the Carnaby Street shopping zone, which I photographed below I would love to sketch a panorama of Carnaby Street some day, but only if that day is actually about twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still interesting. It doesn’t even have Soccerscene any more, the once great football shirt shop that I spent too many hours in in my youth, where I fell in love with the Sampdoria shirt, the Fluminense shirt, the 1991 CIS shirt (the red one with the little squares and lines on it), and all the metal badges. Back then the shops were all punk t-shirts and Bowie and leather and loud music. These days it’s all Muji and Puma and mobile phone shops. But it does have beautiful Christmas lights.
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map, soho, london
Well, it’s now 2016, January 10th, and I’m writing an hour or so since I learned that David Bowie, that cosmic super-being, has died aged 69. I’m stunned. He was a hero of mine since I was a kid, there’s never been a part of my life when I didn’t hear his music, and now he’s gone. I just want to say rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Give our regards to the cosmos.

down in old soho

Greek Street

I would love to draw the whole of Soho, if that’s possible. Like every single block. And I kind of want to do it immediately because it’s changing, year after year, but then it always has done. Centuries ago this was a hunting ground (“So-ho!” was a hunting cry, like “Tally-ho!”), its borders marked with blue posts (hence the two pubs called ‘The Blue Posts’, and when I was a guide on the open-top buses I used to wheel out the old chestnuts about it “still being a hunting ground, know wot I mean”, but I’m not even sure wot I mean now. In my 500-miles-away-ness in California, I’ve been concerned about pubs and other famous London landmarks closing down or disappearing, and I’ve been eager to record these narrow streets while they are still here. Above, Greek Street, at the junction with Romilly Street. Greek Street was so named because of a Greek church nearby, and former residents include the very same Giacomo Casanova. On the far left, past the Prince’s Theatre on Old Compton Street, is a Michelin-starred restaurant called L’Escargot, where a long time ago a friend of mine worked for a week before quitting. I recall it being a much funnier story at the time. The timber-framed pub is the Three Greyhounds, another name reminiscent of the royal hunting ground days, while the patisserie in blue is the Maison Bertaux, which has served tea and cakes since 1871. On the corner is the Coach and Horses pub, also known as ‘Norman’s’ (after the infamous long-standing landlord Norman Balon, who claimed to be the rudest landlord in London). This pub has a good claim to being Soho’s most famous, a haunt of well known writers and actors such as Peter O’Toole, Jeffrey Barnard (he of ‘Unwell’ fame), it’s about as Proper an old Soho Drinker as it’s possible to get. Further down on the right Romilly Street leads to Cambridge Circus, at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

old compton street sm

For those of you who haven’t gathered by now, I am talking about Soho in London, not the one in New York, which is a contraction of the words “South of Houston”. Our Soho as I always told people is named for “South of Hoxford Street” of course, with ‘Hoxford’ over time becoming ‘Oxford’ due to the predilection of London English speakers to drop the ‘h’. No, not really. One of the thoroughfares that really defines Soho is Old Compton Street. Old Compton is well-known for its gay community, and in centuries past it was populated by the French Huguenots; there are still several French-themed places in the area. Above we see some of Soho’s other European residents, with the Spanish tapas restaurant Cafe Espana located next to an Italian deli. ‘I Camisa & Son’. I do love an Italian Deli.

And here is the map, showing where I sketched…

map, soho 2015 sm

back in the ship

The Ship (interior)
London! This explains my recent blog-absence, I have been travelling back to Europe. Not just to London, but to France as well, where I did a great many sketches, most of which were in Strasbourg at the 2015 “Rencontre Nationale” of Urban Sketchers France – more on that fun later. But London, it’s always a pleasure to come home, and it’s always so brief. I came bathe ship, sohock to surprise my dad for his birthday, which was fun, and we had a nice family get-together. On the second day, I went down into central London and took my mum to afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason. It was pretty posh. Afterwards though we popped into The Ship, my favourite pub on Wardour Street, where I did this sketch above. I have sketched outside The Ship before (see left), but this was my first interior. I always liked this pub’s unchanging, yellowy, old-fashioned interior, so was surprised to find that it has been ‘done up’. Not demolished and converted into a gourmet burger restaurant or luggage store like everywhere else, in fact the interior hasn’t really changed much at all, except it has been nicely repainted and cleaned up considerably. It is still very much The Ship, just smarter. My mum took a picture of me sketching it, in case you wondered what I look like when I sketch a pub (what did you expect?). It was great to be back in London.

pete sketching in the ship

oh so soho

Berwick St panorama sm

My first two-page street panorama in London! Click on the image to see it in closer detail. This is the intersection of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street, looking down towards Wardour Street in Soho, the heart of London. I have loved Soho since I was a teenager, all its narrow, slightly grimy streets, alleys and shortcuts. I love sketching down there, in this neighbourhood between the Big Streets. Do you know why it’s called Soho? I used to tell people it’s because it is “South of Hoxford Street”, and some people even believed it, but in fact the name comes from an old hunting cry (“So-ho!”, like “Tally-Ho!”). This area in fact used to be a hunting ground in years gone by (yes, yes in some ways it still is, ha ha, very funny). Now, the hunting ground would be bordered by posts which were painted blue, and that is why there are two pubs in Soho called the Blue Posts, one of which is in the middle of the panorama above. Here’s a close-up, below.

blue posts pub, soho

Ok, there’s some history for you. This is on the edge of the Berwick Street Market, which has its origins in the 18th century. Down the end of Broadwick Street on the corner of Wardour Street used to stand a famous old pub, the Intrepid Fox, which for more than 200 years was one of Soho’s best loved drinkers. I knew it as the rocker’s pub, the best in town (along with the more trad-pub but still rocker-heavy Ship across the road) and used to go there many years ago with friends before heading to the Hellfire Club, but alas it eventually closed down, and is now a gourmet burger restaurant. What a shame. The Ship’s still there, unchanged. I think I’ve only been into the Blue Posts once, but this is the second or third time I have drawn the building. I spent two and a half hours standing there on the corner opposite, sketchbook in hand (Stillman and Birn Alpha landscape). Occasionally tourists and passers-by would stop and look, or ask me for directions (“Excuse me,” one Italian guy asked, “where is Soho?” Right here, my friend, right here.)

Pete sketching SohoPete sketching Soho

Here I am sketching, in a photo taken by Random Passing Chinese Tourist. And below, the sketchbook-selfie (really? That’s what it’s called?) showing what I was able to do on site. Two and a half hours of penwork. I added all the watercolour when I got home.

Sketching Berwick St

Around the corner, the Soho staple art store Cowling and Wilcox now stands empty, closed after fifty years, though they are still open in other locations. A representative from Cass Arts around the corner was stood outside handing leaflets to people directing them there instead, but I told him I didn’t need one (I had just been to Cass). He didn’t take that for an answer and told me to take the leaflet. No thanks mate, I don’t need one. “Take it anyway,” he insisted. No, I don’t need one. “Take it and throw it away then,” he kept on. I don’t want a leaflet, mate, will you leave me alone. He wouldn’t. “You’d be doing me a favour by taking the leaflet.” He was quite pushy. No mate, please leave me alone. He glared for a while incredulous at the idea that I wouldn’t take a leaflet telling me where a store is that I have just been to but then left it and started bothering other people. That’s Soho for you, but there are sometimes pushier sales-folk on these streets, if you know what I mean. By the way, there is another sketch I did in Soho that afternoon, around the corner on Brewer Street. It’s a cool looking shop called Lina Stores Ltd on the corner of Green’s Court, and I just had to sketch it.

Brewer St, Soho

And that was the end of my first day back in London! Here’s a map of Soho showing where these two were sketched. IT doesn’t show the previous two from earlier in the day but well, you can figure them out.

soho map

soho lyrical

The Lyric, Soho
One of the missions I set myself was to draw old pubs in Soho. Pubs…they are a dying breed these days. Remember pubs? they’ll say one day. Pubs were great. So many are closing down, old ones like the Nellie Dean, an old favourite of mine, and those that remain are often modernising, sterilising, losing their uniqueness. I say that, but still I managed to find many great old pubs in London, and people still drink a lot, despite the massive hikes in the price of a pint. Wow, beer is dear now. But for me its the existence of the pub, and the old architecture of the British public house, that I’m drawn to (I actually don’t like a lot of beer in London these days, I prefer the brews of the west coast of America). While back, I did stop by an old favourite, the Ship in Wardour Street, for a great evening. This pub, The Lyric in Great Windmill Street (http://www.lyricsoho.co.uk/), sits on the cusp of Theatreland, and while I’ve never actually been in I have walked by many times wanting to sketch it. So on my first day back I made sure I drew it. I stood opposite on an extremely narrow pavement while delivery vans stopped and started and a local workman, presumably some sort of security guard, I wasn’t sure, stood chatting away on the phone the entire time, joking with his colleague about something called a “jelly cab” whatever that is. He was friendly, and asked if I was an architect, I said no, they work longer hours than me. I did most of the inkwork and some of the paint, but finished off the paintwork later. It is nice taking sketches home to colour in, it gives me more time to sketch other things! Which I promptly did. Anyway I am very pleased with the result and here is another London pub added to my collection. I love Soho.
The Lyric, Soho