gimme some Leuven

Leuven panorama sm

I woke up and it was raining hard. There was no way I was going to Charleroi to draw old factories if I was sitting on top of a hill getting drenched. I spent enough time getting drenched in Charleroi between 1999 and 2000 for a lifetime. So I had a little lie-in, and then hopped on a train to the nearby university city of Leuven (Louvain in French, but this is in the Flemish region). I have only been to Leuven once before, and that was an even rainier day, meeting up with one of my fellow year-abroad teachers. Always thought it would be a good place to go back to a less rainy day, but since it was raining anyway I thought, what the hell. This was my last day in Belgium, I was going to be catching a Eurostar that evening back to London. Originally I’d planned to stay another day, but as much as I like Belgium, an extra day in London is something I knew I’d love more (and I did). I dashed from shop doorway to shop doorway to stay relatively dry, until I reached the centre of town. I spent a bit of time in an interesting bookshop looking at Flemish books, including one very big volume all about the various dialects of Flanders, complete with detailed maps. If I could read Dutch better that would be a fascinating book. It’s hard for foreigners to sometimes pick up the subtleties of accent and dialect in a language where they struggle just to understand the words (I said that very thing to someone when I first came here in 1999, they asked if I was having difficulties with the accent, I said no it’s the vocabulary). I didn’t for example realize that the French of Charleroi was a particularly peculiar version compared to many other places in Belgium, such as my friends in Liege who told me they couldn’t always understand Les Carolos. Meanwhile they are struggling to understand my French, and then when I went to Charleroi, people told me “oh you have such good French!” so I understood, right, I learned it here, that’s why nobody else comprehends me. That’s my story anyway. So, I got to Leuven and had a waffle, and tried to figure out what sort of drawings I would do. I was faced with this big church – I’d go inside later – and the extremely ornate Stadhuis (Town Hall) building, which I knew I’d need to draw, but wasn’t sure where to start. I walked about, and found a covered passage by the Grote Markt where I wouldn’t get splashed on too much. I drew the panorama above. This took under a couple of hours, though I added most of the paint later. Click on the image, you will see it in more detail (on Flickr). It was a reasonably busy Wednesday lunchtime. As I drew, a girl crashed her bike not far from me, sliding on the watery street, and she seemed pretty hurt. I went over with some other bystanders and she was helped up into the dry, and her bike put to the side. I got back to my drawing, I couldn’t really help much more with my limited Dutch, but someone else was able to help her get her phone to call her mother who came to collect her. I felt really bad for her, I don’t think she’d broken anything but she was pretty upset. As much as I enjoyed this drawing I do think of that poor girl falling from her bike now when I look at it.

Leuven sm

Leuven is an important old town, the historic capital of the Duchy of Brabant. Its university goes back to the 1425 (as the old University of Leuven, though that was abolished in 1797, and its successor KU Leuven was founded in 1834). The university’s library was atrociously burned to the ground by the invading Germans in World War I. The enormous St. Peter’s Church (Sint-Pieterskerk) is opposite the Stadhuis and dates from the 1500s, though it too was seriously damaged in both world wars. I stood at the rear of the church sheltered from the storm, and drew the sketch above. I liked the shape of those rooftops. The flags were above a bar called Leuven Centraal, where I would stop in for some food before heading back. there was a young couple seated nearby who were if not on a date, seemed like it was a kind of date, they were having that “I like this music, do you like that music” sort of conversation (from what I could gather of their Flemish; I may have misunderstood, they could have been talking about horse racing for all I know). So I went into the church, walked about, was a bit overwhelmed to do a proper big sketch int here, and drew this big wooden pulpit thing that looked like a magic tree. I bet the priest loves going in there, it’s like walking into a fantastical sculpture, like you become some sort of wizard on the other side.

Leuven st peters sm Leuven Frites smLeuven Statue sm

A couple of different things. The first was outside a friterie, and is an anthropomorphized bag of frites eating a frite. He only has one arm so maybe another bag of frites ate his arm. Maybe cannibalism is a thing in the live-action-frites community. Either way this was CREEPY as hell, but not the creepiest frites related image I’ve seen in Belgium (that would be the odd three-legged feminine-frite, a ‘frite-fatale’ if you will, seen in Charleroi next to an image of, for some reason, Dopey the Dwarf). Still it is a bizarre figure. Yet it still made me hungry for more salty frites. The next statue is a more well-known Leuven fixture, ‘Fonske‘, or ‘Fons Sapientiae’. I would presume this is Leuven’s version of the Fonz, is telling kids “eeeh, be smart, be cool, read books, stay in school” and then for some reason pouring a drink on his head, which Fonzie would never do, unless the drink was hair gel. I don’t know, I’ve not seen Happy Days for a long time. Fonske was created in 1975 to commemorate the university’s 550th anniversary, and the name means “the fountain of wisdom” in Latin. Just like Mannekin Pis in Brussels, the statue is sometimes dressed up in costume. I really hope that one of those costumes is of the Fonz. (Side note, when I first met my wife in France, I would sometimes make her laugh by singing the theme tune to Happy Days in French, “Dimanche Lundi, Heureux Jours…” etc).

Well there was no goodbye grey skies, hello blue just yet, so I popped into the cafe Leuven Central (my guidebook recommended this place) for a late lunch. I got a veggie curry and drank a Kasteel Rouge, which to my surprise was a kriek (or cherry beer). Krieks are popular over here, I’ve never been a big fan of them but this was quite nice. And that was my day out in Leuven. I had to get back to Brussels and back to London, and this little sojourn in Belgium would be over.

Leuven Kasteel sm

“thou Scheldt not pass”

Antwerp Steen sm

I weaved through the streets of Antwerp heading for the river Scheldt, to use that brilliant “thou Scheldt not pass” line I had thought of in my previous post. I might use that as a title for this blog post. I headed for Het Steen, the little castle on the banks of the wide river that is the oldest building in Antwerp. It dates from the early 1200s, and means “The Rock” (though “Steen” is a pretty common word for a stone castle in Dutch). There was a castle on this spot right back in the 9th century Carolingian period. It has a decent tourist information office in there now, where I bought some chocolates for my son (little chocolate hands from Antwerp). I had a good spot to sketch from across the busy street, up some stairs, but it was starting to spit so I sketched quickly. You know I love a street sign, so I made sure to include the blue crosswalk sign in the bottom right corner. Some people might think no, you leave those out, takes away from the historic castle, but I say thee nay, give me modern metal street signs and old medieval buildings any day. Back on my 1998 train tour of Europe I became a little bit obsessed with crosswalk signs, because they were a little different in every country. I liked the German ones in particular, wearing the little hat, as do the ones in the Czech Republic which look a bit like spies. I would always get obsessed with things like that.

Antwerp Lange Wapper sm

I tell you what, they can’t get enough of those Flemish giants here in Antwerp. This is a statue of a big lad called Lange Wapper. It’s right outside Het Steen, and shows Lange Wapper doing that Tory-party conference stance and looking down on two smaller people, crotch out, threatening them with his Lange Wapper (I’m so glad he is clothed, unlike Silvius Brabo). Lange Wapper is a Flemish folk tale, about a boy who started out as a bit of parsley and cabbage and then became a bit of a trickster. He apparently saved an old woman who had been thrown into the river Scheldt by a gang, and the old woman gave him the ability to shape-shift, for example turning into a massive giant who could leap between towns. He got into all sorts of antics; he would probably be cancelled now. He is kind of like a bogeyman figure of Antwerp. This statue was put there in the early 1960s.

Antwerp hydrant 2 sm

Not far from here I found another hydrant I needed to draw. This one had a peculiar sticker that said “Love the game, hate the business” and “Against modern football!” on it, which must really make the firemen think. Haha, a fire hydrant talking about sportswashing, the irony. Anyway I drew this down a fairly quiet street. Those few drops of rain I felt over at Het Steen were coming back, we were definitely going to get wet today. It’s good to keep adding new city fire hydrants to my big collection.

Antwerp Kathedraal sm

This is the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Kathedraal, in the heart of Antwerp. As well as fire hydrants, and crosswalk signs, I am obsessed with drawing cathedrals, though one subject generally takes a lot longer than the other. I drew this one looking upwards from a standing spot, all the benches in that particular square having been taken, and those clouds were pretty ominous. I did about 75% of it and finished the rest later when I was sitting down not craning my neck. The hours of the day were moving along quicker than those clouds, and I wanted to go and sit inside somewhere before getting the train back to Brussels, and have another hearty Belgian beer. I had a place in mind, but it would be a walk to get there. It took a while, but I beat the incoming rainstorm by bare minutes.

and on to Antwerp

Antwerp Station EXT sm

After my morning pain-au-chocolat I took a train from Brussels Centrale to Antwerp. It’s been 22 years since I set foot in Antwerp, and even then it was at night, and the one time before that it was a rainy dark grey autumn day. So I’ve never seen Antwerp in actual daylight. It wasn’t very sunny today though, but it was dry and good weather for sketching and exploring. It was a city that always interested me though, full of places to discover, and lots of shops as well. I don’t actually remember the train station being all that interesting, but my Belgium guide book put Antwerp’s Centraal Station as one of the big architectural highlights, and they weren’t wrong. After eating a quick waffle, I sat down on a bench and started drawing the scene below, but decided after about ten minutes that this would be just too much to attempt, I should do this later. In the main interior ticket hall there was a big basketball court set up with TV cameras, filming some famous Belgian basketball players bouncing balls about. Basketball is popular in Belgium; my local Charleroi team Spirou were quite good (and named after one of the local comic book characters). I went outside in the fresh North Sea air and drew the exterior (above). It’s pretty magnificent. Inside the mainline platforms are all on several levels, it feels a bit like a huge deep shopping mall underneath a Victorian exhibition hall. The building was finished in 1905, designed by architect Louis Delacenserie, and is sometimes nicknamed the “spoorwegkathedraal” (“railway cathedral”). I left the outside sketch unfinished as I wanted to move along and get some frites (it was nearly lunchtime already!), and as for the drawing below, I kept the outline I’d already started but ended up doing the rest later on from photos. So many details.

Antwerp Station INT sm

And so, into Antwerp. It was a fairly long old walk from the station to the main city centre where all the shops are. The first time I came here, on a gloomy day at the end of 1999, I was pretty excited by all the big shops, because it was better than what Charleroi had at the time. This time I was most excited to find a really cool art supplies shop, and spent longer in there than I meant to, buying quite a few little things. The woman behind the counter spoke to me only in Dutch, and I did manage a few words myself (I tried to learn Dutch twenty years ago but found it hard to speak because every Dutch speaker would only ever reply to me in English). I didn’t completely understand her, but I did my best. I really should get learning that language again, and it’s not hard to read. The Dutch of Belgium (which is usually called Flemish, or ‘Vlaams’) does sound a bit softer to my ears than the Nederlands of the Netherlands, and I really enjoyed listening to it while I was out and about. I discovered that even the garbage bins speak Dutch. As I put something into a bin, it made a funny sound, like I was feeding it. When I threw something else in, it made another sound, saying something in Dutch. The bins are very peculiar.

Antwerp hydrant 1 sm

On Meir though, it was too noisy to listen to anything. Meir is one of the big shopping streets of Belgium, like the Oxford Street of Antwerp. I did pop down the adjoining street called ‘Wapper’ (they really need to put a Burger King on that street) to have a look at the Rubenshuis museum, where Antwerp’s greatest painter son Rubens used to live. I didn’t go in though, just mooched about the gift shop. I mean I like Rubens I guess, but I also really like drawing fire hydrants and there was one I saw on Meir that I really had to sketch. Meir was just so noisy though. There was some construction going on in a building nearby, the echo of the pneumatic drill bouncing off the buildings. There was a fire alarm in a nearby Primark, and the shop staff all stood outside. People passed by on their phones, dogs barked, and it was one of those moments when I have a bit of audio-sensory overload and can’t fully concentrate. I got through the hydrant quickly (there was a sticker on the hydrant that said ironically “Take Sides – Silence”) and went looking for somewhere a bit calmer.

Antwerp Silvio Brabo sm

I headed over to the Grote Markt. That’s where you’ll find the statue of Antwerp’s most famous hero – no not Rubens, no not Romelu Lukaku, no not Toby Alderweireld. This is the statue of Silvius Brabo. Now we enter the realm of mythology and city origin stories that we all love, like Romulus and Remus (Rome), King Lud (London), and He-Man (Manchester). Brabo was a Roman soldier, who cut off the hand of a giant and threw it in the river. The giant in question was a big lad called Druon Antigoon, and he would demand money from people who needed to cross the river Scheldt. (I really hope he would say “Thou Scheldt Not Pass!”) If they didn’t pay up, their hand was chopped off and thrown into the water. I would have thought that made it more difficult to put their hand in their pocket after that but giants might be big but they are not clever. He tried it on with Silvius Brabo. Brabo, who as we can see was stark naked, clearly had, um, balls. He told Druon Antigoon to go and do one, and while he was scratching his head to see if there was a pun on his name, Brabo beat him up. It’s not clear whether he had clothes on before the fight or if they came off during the fight, but in the end Brabo sliced off Antigoon’s hand and slung it into the water. Everyone thought that was hilarious, except Antigoon, who left the story at this point. So the people decided to honour Brabo by calling the region ‘Brabant’ (dubious mythology klaxon #1), and calling the town ‘Antwerpen’ (dubious mythology klaxon #2). Antwerpen means, so the tale goes, ‘hand throw’, from ‘hand-werpen’ in Flemish. Ok, let’s be fair, Antwerp is almost certainly not named after this event (poo-poo on your parade klaxon #1) but it’s a much more fun story than the likely real etymology (something about wharves or mounds on riverbanks, nobody knows for sure) but it’s a fun story and even if it’s not true, we can say it is because who cares.

Antwerp Grote Markt sm

“Hand-throw”, yeah alright. Imagine you are one of all those people Antigoon dismembered, and then they go and name the town “hand-throw”, well it’d be a bit of a slap in the face. More likely it was already called “hand-throw” before Brabo showed up, maybe Antigoon himself named it so people knew what they were getting themselves into. The Grote Markt is a pretty nice square. The statue of Silvius Brabo (after whom the Duchy of Brabant is definitely NOT named; if anything his name comes from that) is in front of the town hall. Around the square are the old guildhall buildings. Antwerp is a historic Flemish merchant port with a rich history. I sat at a little tavern (‘Den Engel’) on the square with a delicious Maredsous beer, wrote some postcards, and drew this. I remember coming here on that damp and gloomy day in 1999; I also remember coming here in early 2000 after a day out in Ostend, and spent much of the evening at a nearby pub where people were singing karaoke. Chatting with locals, I was encouraged to sing too, and I did a version of the Pulp song ‘Help the Aged’, a version in which the words had been replaced with football-themed lyrics, called ‘Help the English’. That version was written by me and my friend Roshan, along with many other popular songs that we had re-clothed in football colours. ‘Help the English’ was probably our favourite, all about how England might need help because they can’t win trophies (no change there then, though the caveat now of course would be that it just means the men’s team). “When did you first realise / You’re never gonna win another World Cup? / Sixty-six, don’t it make you sick / Funny how you’ve won nothing since.” Anyway the Antwerp crowd in the room, well some of them liked it, others were either England fans convinced that Euro 2000 would be their year (spoiler alert, it wasn’t), or people who disliked football and assumed it was just some English hooligan chant, or massive Pulp fans who really wanted to hear the right lyrics. Still, it got a cheer (just one cheer) (and I probably misheard it). There were these two women who walked out, and then came back inside right after I was finished. They actually told me (in that straight-talking Flemish way) that it wasn’t only because I changed the lyrics, or that it was about football, but because I just couldn’t sing at all. I mean, yes, this is true, but ouch. I’m surprised they didn’t throw my hand in the river. Instead, they brought me some sandwiches, for some reason, and I chatted with them all about music until it was time for my train back to Charleroi. The year 2000 was a long long time ago.

jog on

norh davis greenbelt 011021 sm

We live near the North Davis Green Belt, and that’s where I walk or run most days. I started running a little bit in 2019 but after the Turkey Trot I picked it up a lot more by the start of 2020, intending to do all these 5k races, and I did the Davis Stampede no sweat and signed up for the Lucky Run, and then coronovirus came along and that was that. So I started running more in general, as if training for these runs that were not going to happen, building up to not just 3 mile but 4 mile runs (I never managed further than that), improving my times each time, usually getting up and running just after sunrise so the hot weather wouldn’t drain me. And then when the fires came and the sky got smoky from August to October, that stopped all of that, and it’s taken me a bit of time to get back to running regularly, but as 2020 ended I decided to get back out more, and I’ve been doing 2 mile runs each time, not fast, but as regularly as I can. I managed a 3 mile run yesterday. It’s the shower afterwards I look forward to most. I couldn’t run marathons, at least I don’t see that in my future, mostly because I don’t want to. Running for more than 26 miles! At some point it’s like, ok this is a bit pointless. At least, this year’s London marathon looked a bit pointless. Due to the coronavirus, rather than being an epic journey in the rain through the streets of Britain’s capital dressed as a kiwi fruit, crossing over Tower Bridge, doing the Lambeth Walk, going down the Strand, having a banana and running up the Mall to Buck House, this year they just had a few proper runner starting before dawn and just running round and round and round St.James’s Park like the Indy 500 or something. They told everyone else they had to run virtually, in their own areas, dressed up as mangoes or peaches or whatever. You do feel great after a good run though, even when not dressed as a fruit, and with all the fun stuff in the world happening,  running helps because it’s like you are trying to outrun it, like Brave Sir Robin. “Run away! Run away!” You have to be mindful on the paths though, trying to keep a good distance from everyone else, so I always end up verging off when there are people on the path. I remember early in the pandemic, everybody gave everybody a wide berth, people crossed the street or went around parked cars. That was my favourite time in the pandemic, people crossing the street to avoid you, it was like “finally this is ok”. Back then, they told everyone to stay home, so there were suddenly more people outside walking than ever. 

Anyway I drew that sketch above whilst walking the Green Belt, I was stood off of the path and on the grass, I like this intersection of several paths and that big old wooden house in the background. This is probably my favourite sketch of this year so far, I like this one. It reminds me of all the walks we’ve done this year.

 

dog statue on the greenbelt

This isn’t a real dog, it’s one that was turned into metal by a wizard or something, probably because it was off its leash. Riding a tricycle. Or as Yoda would call them, a docycle. Bit of Star Wars humour there, cheer us up in these dark times. These trying times. Or as Yoda would call them… Down below is another sketch from the path, this time of a neon yellow sign, indicating “bike” “person” “go down left slightly”, not necessarily in that order. Along with another sign lower down that says “wear a mask” “stay 6ft apart” and “wash your hands”, not necessarily in that order. I like the shape of that building in the background, it’s like an opera house made of cereal boxes. I like the way it forms triangles or as Yoda would call them etc and so on. Honestly Yoda give it a break mate, it’s been a difficult year for everyone without you giving it all that. I haven’t even got the energy to shoehorn in a joke about this week’s impeachment trial or as Yoda would call it impeachment do-al (the joke there being ‘dual’ impeachment I suppose?) because we’re done with the Yoda stuff now. 

Catalina Ave, Davis

“The Romans? I’m all forum!”

Colosseum and Arch of Constantine sm
A couple of days before our trip to Italy, we went to the Museum of London. London’s history was always a great interest to me, the story of one of the world’s greatest cities, from the chaos of the Blitz, the Restoration period of Plague, Fire and Rebirth, the medieval city of tightly packed lanes and Bow-Bells, the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic, right back to its origins as the Roman city of Londinium Augusta (and even farther back, into the area’s British past). Outside the Museum of London we marvelled at a decent stretch of the old London Wall, built by the Romans to surround Londinium, a piece of the Ancient World that we can see and feel. It’s an impressive history. And then we went to Rome. Suddenly I felt like Americans often do when going from New York to London. Right, now this is old. Two days after looking in wonder and imagination at a segment of the Wall of Londinium we were standing inside THE COLOSSEUM. It is a surreal experience, stepping back into big history. Rome is not insignificant in any sense. What have the Romans ever done for us? Rome is the father of London. They built our first London Bridge. So as a Londoner, as with many cities with Roman origins, coming here to Ancient Rome I felt a connection, and a sense of coming from the provinces to the capital.

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The most breathtaking site of all, of course, was the Colosseum. I first saw it from the plane, this huge oval amphitheatre, testament to the Roman love of spectacle, entertainment, power. Definitely power. There are species of animal that were brought to near-extinction by their use in the gladiatorial arena over the course of a millennium. It was a hot day when we went, but the crowds were not as impossible as we had imagined. Booking your tickets ahead of time makes a huge difference too. There is not a lot of shade in the main open area of the Colosseum, but in the passageways leading in, and in the areas with the history on display, it is much cooler around the old stones. I drew some old marbles (below). I didn’t sketch the inside of the Colosseum itself, due to time, sunlight, people, but I did draw it when we got outside. The sketch at the top of this post was done in the bare shade of a tree – there is not much shade in the grounds around the Colosseum either. That sketch includes the Arch of Constantine – oh, nice arch, wonder what it is, I said. This arch inspired the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Marble Arch in London, and the Siegestor in Munich, so it’s kind of important. As I sketched I noticed a car nearby with a couple of people taking notes and making reports. Undercover police, for sure, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. There were a fair number of cops on patrol, and the road leading up to the Colosseum was blocked by a couple of armoured vehicles, positioned to prevent a random vehicle speeding towards it. There were a lot of those around the main sites and piazzas in Rome, which was reassuring. You always have to be watchful and mindful everywhere, always, but I felt quite safe in Rome.
Colosseum Marbles sm
After an exhausting and thirsty walk around the Colosseum, gladiatorial spectacles swimming through our imaginations, we had lunch and then walked over to the Forum. The grounds of the Forum are huge, filled with ruins and rubble and centuries of stories. We didn’t stay too long, for my son’s feet were starting to get Rome-fatigue, but I did a quick sketch of this structure that reminded me of cricket stumps. Owzat! This place bowled me over, hitting me for six, and I don’t know any other cricket terms so we’ll leave it at that. We wanted to visit the Palatine Hill, but the day was getting away from us, and we had an appointment to go to the Gladiator School, which was a short and expensive (yeah, we were ripped off) taxi ride from the Colosseum (and again, future Rome visitors, don’t bother with the Gladiator School, it was a waste of time and a waste of money). The Forum though, that is somewhere I want to return to, with a sketchbook (and a lot of sunscreen).
Roman Forum sm
I did walk back down to this area the next day though, while la famiglia rested up at the apartment. I wanted to draw Trajan’s Column, standing above the ruins of the ancient Trajan’s Forum. Emperor Trajan was one of the greatest of all Roman leaders, being one of the Five Good Emperors (that would be a good name for a soul band). Under Trajan, the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. It was his son Hadrian, also a Good Emperor, who decided to start building walls around it such as the one in the north of Britannia. Trajan’s Column dates from about 113 AD and is decorated in a spiraling relief  of Trajan’s victories against the Dacians (I do not know how many times I said the crap joke “phew, that’s a relief” while in Rome but it was a lot, it was definitely a lot). The statue on top is of St. Peter; the statue of Trajan that used to be on top was lost in the Middle Ages (bloody Time Bandits). The large dome behind is of the church called “Chiesa Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano”. This took the best part of two hours to sketch; I kept stopping and speaking to those people who come up and try to sell you little trinkets and stuff, or going to watch the marching army band outside the huge Il Vittoriano, which was opposite, across the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
Trajan's Forum sm

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

and said goodbye to the circus

Piccadilly Circus

I’ve been away for a little while…but now I am back. Jetlagged, with lighter pockets. For just over three weeks I was back in my native city of London to see family and friends, and to feel like a tourist. I even organized a sketchcrawl. I did a LOT of sketching, so I will undoubtedly be scanning and posting for the next month or so, but it’s about time to get started already. On my first morning in London, I awoke bright and early (well it was not quite bright yet), did a panorama sketch of my old street from my old window (to scan and post later), and hopped on a train down to Piccadilly Circus, the crazy traffic and tourist filled pulse in the middle of London. I generally dislike Piccadilly Circus, especially now that there are no big record stores worth going there for, but they do have that big Waterstones bookstore a little further down Piccadilly, and of course they have Lillywhites. That is a huge sports store, to which I primarily go to look at the massive collection of football shirts (you may not know this, but I’m a football shirt nerd, oh you did know? Oh yeah, see all my previous posts this summer…). I got down there early, before it opened, and took a spot outside their big windows to sketch the Angel of Christian Charity, also known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, but known to Londoners and sign-posts as Eros. I usually avoid this spot due to overcrowding but at this time of the morning it was immeasurably more pleasant. I sketched in a large spiral-bound Stillman and Birn Alpha book, and stood looking towards Regent St and Shaftesbury Avenue. After a while, some police officers showed up, dressed in bright yellow overcoats. They were just hanging around, and then more came. Some photographers also started gathering, and then more police, and then two officers mounted on horseback, all in a jovial mood, all happy to pose with tourists. There must have been over forty police officers there, and they all stood together and said “cheese, guv” and had their photo taken in front of the statue (“Ello, ello, ello, what’s goin’ on Eros then?” I nearly quipped). I had alreayd drawn most of it by then but I did add a couple of coppers for good measure. A young woman from Germany, holidaying in London, stopped and watched me sketch for a while, even sitting down when I crouched over to add the paint. I was in a good mood for my first out-and-about sketch in London, and when I was done I said goodbye to the circus, popped into Lillywhites to look at all the new football shirts, and set off to sketch the narrow dusty streets of Soho. 

down at the bottom of the garden

fisherboy statue

Here are the last ones from the Garden Tour last week. Just to clarify I didn’t do any actual touring, I was in the one garden all day. The first thing I was attracted to was the row of birdhouses, and below was a little statue of a fisherboy. He didn’t mind me drawing him, and stayed still the entire time. This was a very peaceful part of the garden, though at one point I was distracted by a massive bee the size of a small bird who had no interest in me, but I kept my distance all the same. I’m very pro-bee (but rather anti-wasp) and wish they weren’t disappearing at the rate that they are, because they basically help keep us in existence. This thing was like the Mountain that Buzzes. I spent a bit more time looking around at the various yard ornaments and garden furniture, sketching them below on one page. Along the lawn where metal silhouettes of fairies, reminding me of the Cottingley fairies. Sketching that garden was fun.

garden objects

they’re changing the guard at buckingham palace

buckingham palace

Perhaps it was the hangover of royal wedding fever that got me wanting to go to and sketch at Buckingham Palace. Maybe it was just that I decided, on this sketching day in London, to get out at Green Park, where I’d not been in such a long time, and walk over to the Mall rather than head down to the River or the City. Either way, I had forgotten about the Changing of the Guard, and arrived at the Palace about half an hour before it started, just as the crowds were gathering. The Queen was home, as the sovereign’s flag was flying, and amazingly the sun was shining. It had rained every day, heavily, since I’d been in London and so perhaps this was to be my lucky day! (Fat chance, it bucketed down later on.) ‘The Mall’ by the way is pronounced as in ‘pal’ not as in ‘small’, a note to American tourists. There are no Sears stores or Gaps or food courts (though I’m sure Victoria has a few secrets). The Queen’s guards know their audience though. Sticking to tradition, as they performed their historic ceremony at the gates of the royal residence, the Scots guards in their bright red jackets and tall bearskin hats belted out the theme tune to ‘Superman’. Or perhaps it was ‘Superma’am’?

st james park

I made hay while the sun shone. That’s St.James’s Park above, one of the smaller but more decorated Royal Parks, looking off towards Big Ben and the London Eye. Below, a statue of the Queen Mum, and behind her a statue of Colin Firth.

queen mum and king george vi

hey paper champion!

philadelphia museum of art

Five hours to kill in Philadelphia, so what do I do? Do I go down to the historic centre, visit where United States of America was made, see the Liberty Bell, see where Ben Franklin lived, eat a Philly cheesesteak? Well I wouldn’t do the last one as I don’t eat that sort of meat. No, for me it’s all about Rocky. I took the train to 30th St Station (an impressively grand station, in what I must say is an impressively grand city), checked out a map with my ipod on the free wifi (gotta love technology), and walked over to the famous Museum of Art, where Rocky Balboa famously ran up the famous steps, humming the famous tune under his breath, jumped up and down a few times, then ran down and got back into his tourist bus with the scores of other people doing the same. I for one walked up the steps. The view is very nice. At the bottom of the steps and to the side is the famous (and impressively grand) statue of Rocky, a prop from the movies which has become a pilgrimage spot for folks like, well, me. Well I wish they had a statue of Clubber Lang, he’s my favourite. Him and Mickey. “This guy’ll kill ya to death! He’ll knock ya to tomorrow!” Anyway after a sketch and a few photos of the Italian Stallion, I sauntered back to the train station, having only enough time to stop and sketch one Philly fire hydrant. I liked the yellow traffic lights here too. And then I flew to England, to tell everyone I saw Rocky. They were suitably impressed.

rocky statuephilly hydrant