here be dragons


The City of London – the square mile, the original city founded by the Romans as Londinium Augusta and re-established a few centuries later by Alfred the Great’s Saxons, the separate city governed by the Lord Mayor and the Corporation of London with its own police force, local laws and customs, and pubs which never open at weekends – is a realm guarded by magical beings. Of course it is. The silver heraldic dragons (often erroneously called – as I did above – ‘griffins’, because as you know silver hybrids save you money on the congestion charge) which stand at the major entrances to the City serve to remind us of this ancient boundary. The Queen for example cannot cross this boundary without invitation from the Lord Mayor. Pretty annoying for her when she has to take the tube from Westminster to Tower Hill. “Oh bugger, one has forgawten to bring one’s invitation with one, one will have to get orf the tube at Temple and walk along the South Bank instead.” Sorry guv, it’s the rules, yer majesty.

The dragon holds the shield of the City, which is the cross of St. George (which I’m sure would offend dragons these days) and a little red dagger, which is widely believed to represent the dagger that was used to stab Wat Tyler at Smithfield, ending the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, but may just as well represent the sword of St.Paul, patron saint of London. Or it could represent the London media’s obsession with knife crime.

I sketched this after a nice afternoon with the family in London, when I was on my way to see the house of Dr. Johnson. A nice festive dusting of snow had just fallen, and everything looked pleasant. Next day a massive blizzard came.

cool for cats

gough square

While in rainless London I found myself in Gough Square (named after a former Spurs player), a tiny back-place off Fleet Street, former home to Doctor Johnson, the man who wrote the first Dictionary of the English Language, an excellent and hilarious book, if slightly disparaging with regards the eating habits of Scots.  That statue, that was his cat, Hodge (named after another former Spurs player). I don’t know why he didn’t just get a real cat. Cheaper to feed I suppose, and it never crosses your path or pees behind the telly. LBC used to be based here. I used to listen to LBC, back when I used to stay up really late (he says, writing at 1am).

and i sang ‘you’re as free as a bird’

The second morning in New York was brighter and breezier. I took an early train, and went all the way down to the bottom tip of Manhattan, to look out at the Statue of Liberty, which is famous because it was in X-Men. It was placed out on Liberty Island way before the world became a place full of digital camera snapping tourists, so it’s not there just as a cynical ploy to get you to take the ferry and get a closer look. It was there to greet the throngs of immigrants, the huddled masses arriving on ships toward Ellis Island, that the New York was eager to welcome, and who have contributed so much to the city and the country’s character (something to remember, daily mail readers). A gift to show the bonds of liberty and friendship between America and France (something to remember, fox news viewers). From here though it’s kind of hard to see properly. You’d think they’d move it closer.

Gotta love her though. Really, I couldn’t come all this way and not see Lady Liberty, holding up her ice cream. I’ve been close up before, and she’s cool. This day however was a sketching day and that means packing in as much of the city as I can grab, and drawing some along the way. I wandered about the wall streetfinancial District, stopping off at the World Trade Center site, still empty and closed off as it was when I was there six years ago. Mooched around the narrow streets that reminded me so much of the City of London (and with names like Thames Street you can see why). Stopped off in Wall Street, to see what all the fuss is about. There was a lot of construction work going on, cue all the quips from all the passers-by. Sat on the steps beneath a huge statue of George Washington (on the site where he was inaugurated President, which is pretty cool), I sketched the New York Stock Exchange, which is still covered over with that huge (and unnecessary) flag, which reminded me of a giant band-aid. Are they hiding behind it?

überlingen am bodensee

Überlingen am Bodensee
Überlingen am Bodensee. I came here in 1996 to stay for a year, but liked it so much I stayed for nearly a month. That was a funny episode in my life. Whatever possessed me to up sticks and suddenly move to Germany? Where I knew nobody, with practically no money nor idea of what I was doing, going off to save the world I think it was. I’d always wanted to live in Germany. I had gone to work with mentally disabled children at the local Heimsonderschule, several miles out of town (on my one day off a week I’d hike or hitch into town, look around the record shop and the bookstore – I love German bookstores – then trudge back again). For one reason or other I decided it was the wrong move, though, and trudged back to England.

I no longer recall that much about Überlingen; I did revisit briefly in 1998 while on my five-week tour of Europe, and took the photo from which I drew this picture, but didn’t stay long. It also made headlines after two passenger planes collided ouside the town, a few years ago. I have been to Bodensee (or Lake Constance, on the Swiss/Austrian/German border) several times, first of all when I was 15, on a school work experience trip to Vorarlberg. “Schnupperlehre”, I think the experience was called.

I do remember hitching into town, though. The walk was pleasant enough, going past pear orchards and rolling sunflower meadows, but long; a lift would be nice. I often hitchhiked while strawberry picking in Denmark – pretty much everybody I knew there did, not just into town or back to the farm, but often across Europe. I was told one trick of hitchhiking, to stand nearby to where a car has broken down. They may just be waiting for the AA to show up, but you’re more likely to get offered a lift by some kind passing audi. When it’s raining, you’re happy for such advice, even if you feel a little guilty about it. But local people would always offer to give you a ride:  the first evening I arrived in Überlingen, I was checking out the map at the station as the sky grew ever darker, when a family asked if I needed a lift to wherever I needed to go. Oh, no that’s ok, danke, ich gehe zu Fuss. “Nein, nein, es ist zu weit!” they insisted, laughing hearty German laughs (after discovering how far it was and how dark the countryside was at night, I bashfully agreed). They even invited me to dinner at their house the following week (I regret not going). It seems so long ago. The idea of hitchhiking anywhere now seems so mental to me, perhaps it’s living in America where, and I thank you media, hitchhiking equals certain death possibly involving machetes and being buried in the desert.