(34) Oxford, and (35) Cambridge

GB 34-35 sm
Oxbridge. The Brangelina of cities. What those of you outside of academic circles may not know though is that they are in fact two completely separate towns with very little in common. Sure they have world class universities that are hard to get into. Well, it was hard for me anyway, so I didn’t even try. You needed a lot more “As” to get in there, and my single “A” in English wouldn’t have been enough. Also I don’t know if I’d have been able to choose between the two. So I ended up staying in London and going to Queen Mary, and I liked it there. Just going to University itself was to open a different world to me than the one I knew from Burnt Oak, it was completely uncommon among most people I grew up with, so the idea of Oxbridge would have been like the idea of going to work at Buckingham Palace or something. Still, I wonder what it would have been like if I had set Oxbridge as a goal earlier in my school career. Probably no different. Even at sixth form college, I knew nobody who went there, or had applied there, it was just seen as effectively off-limits. I’ve met so many people since, great academics of course, who either went there or teach there now, and it seems strange to think of it as something so distant, but I still wouldn’t get in, unless they have a degree in drawing fire hydrants or making bad puns.

So, Oxford then. There are so many places to draw here, but I had to draw one of the big grand college entrances. This is the front of Brasenose College, right in the heart of the city. The University’s colleges are located throughout Oxford (as are Cambridge’s). The University of Oxford itself was founded in 1096 (possibly), although it was really around 1167 that it grew after King Henry II forbade students from going to the Sorbonne in Paris (in case the Sorbonne stole their data, good job we don’t have leaders like that now). Brasenose dates from 1509, its name coming from an old brass door knocker on the old Brasenose Hall. Famous alumni of Brasenose include David Cameron, who had some brass himself; Michael Palin, whose travel shows and books made me want to be a travel writer when I was a kid (yeah, working on that); William Webb Ellis, who invented rugby; and Field Marshal Haig, who was played by Geoffrey Palmer in Blackadder Goes Forth. I’ve been to Oxford a few times, always thought it a place I could live if we were ever to go back to England. I suppose I’m drawn to university towns, I like being close to big libraries.

I decided to skip past all of the places in between “Ox” and “Bridge”, such as Milton Keynes, and Luton, which I’ll be sure to include in a future virtual sketchbook, honestly, and proceeded to the other great university city of Cambridge. The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 after there were big punch-ups between the locals of Oxford (“town”) and the scholars of the University (“gown”). Actually it was pretty serious – three Oxford scholars were hanged by authorities following the death of a local woman, kicking off a load of violence. Many fled to Cambridge and decided to start a new University right there. Just like in Oxford the colleges are scattered among the town; just like in Oxford there is a “Bridge of Sighs”; just like in Oxford there is a river that winds around town between the colleges, which just like in Oxford is full of “punts”, those long flat boats where people will punt along by pushing a long wooden stick against the riverbed. I’ve done it myself, not easy to navigate at first, but I managed not to fall in. I really like Cambridge, a bit smaller than Oxford, although last time I was there it was pretty crowded with tourists. I first went to Cambridge when I was 19, to visit a friend who I had met on a college exchange trip to France. I remember that day, getting the train up from King’s Cross, walking about town, going to the shopping centre (I bought a Boo Radleys CD there, I remember clearly), reading the Cambridge Evening News and laughing at the hilarious headline “Rising Bollards Claim Another Victim”. I liked being 19, it was a simple time. I’ve been back to Cambridge a number of times and I always like it there, and though it’s somewhere I could definitely sketch I decided on the virtual trip that I would not draw another college building, just creating a mirror on the spread with Oxford, so I chose to draw the Round Church, which as you can see is just that.

Now these being 34 and 35 you’ll notice that we are now over the halfway point in our journey around Great Britain. We will zigzag around the country missing out many a great town and including some which you might think, wow you skipped Ipswich for this place? But the obvious next stop in this virtual journey is just up the train track from Cambridge in the Fens city of Ely…

(31) Ironbridge, (32) Birmingham, and (33) Worcester

GB 31-33 sm
So we virtually cross over the virtual border into the virtual country of England, and three more Places I Have Never Been. This will be the case for most places. I’ve lived more than a third of my life away from Britain, and certainly the majority of the most important bits, and when I still lived in London most of my travels would be across the channel (it was usually cheaper). So I have missed out on lot of interesting places in Britain, so the purpose of this virtual journey was partly to imagine myself travelling about them with my sketchbook, like a kid mountaineering on the staircase, but also to scout them out for future visits. The inspiration for a trip like this was a book I was given several years ago by my cousin Dawn, called “Richard Bell’s Britain”. It is a fully illustrated account of the artist Richard Bell’s year-long solo tour around Great Britain, drawing in brown pen and watercolour, mostly sketching nature such as plants, wildlife, hills, cliffs, really focusing in on the geology, the old country walls and fences, but also the occasional urban scene. Even the writing is in the same brown pen, printed on soft cream coloured paper. It was published in 1981, when I was very young, and in love with Watership Down – in fact Bell was one of the artists on that animated film, and he revisits the actual place in his book. (Fun fact – Watership Down was the first book without pictures that I ever read, and I remember it took me ages, and gave me nightmares, but I still have that original copy).

As I said, my cousin Dawn Painter, herself a brilliant all-round artist and expert (particularly of the natural world), sent me the book, having picked it up at a second-hand bookstore in London. In the note she left inside the book she had drawn a picture of the Iron Bridge which spans Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, at the town of Ironbridge. She said that there is so much to draw, and so much history and from my virtual tour I can see that I really have to come here some day. I like drawing a bridge, and this one made me concentrate. If I go in real life I need to practice that bridge. If it rains though I’m starting under an umbrella and then drawing the rest from a photo with a pint in the pub. So what’s the deal with Ironbridge then? This was in fact the first cast iron bridge in the world. This is where the Industrial Revolution started. You know the Industrial Age we all like, we’re all big fans of, well this is where it came from. Coalbrookdale, the village around the corner, is where Abraham Darby smelted iron ore. As all his friends would say, “he who smelt it dealt it”. Funfacts: Tony Stark was born here, and this is where he first built Iron Man, and the hidden realm of Kun Lun is also around somewhere around here, which is where you’ll find Iron Fist, and rock band Iron Maiden, they were made here too, and the Iron Throne from Westeros was forged here, and…Sorry, I let it get silly. Ironically, irony was not born here. Now another town just a smelted iron ore’s throw away from here is Telford, which I did not draw, but I remember as being a ‘new’ town which would actually advertise itself on TV, “come and live in Telford, a lovely place to live,” or something along those lines. It was named after Thomas Telford, who, as you will remember from my last post, built the big bridge over the Menai Straits. It’s actually very close to The Wrekin, a tall cone-shaped hill I learned about as a kid. It is pronounced “reekin” (he who smelt it dealt it, eh, Abraham). The story I learned was that there was this giant who really hated Shrewsbury, because he kept pronouncing it “shrow-sbury” when locals insisted it was “shroo-sbury”, so he decided to flood the town, or “floooood” it as he would say mockingly. So he goes and gets this massive great big mound of earth and sets off towards Shrewsbury. On the way he meets a cobbler carrying a sack of old shoes (or “shows”, I’m not sure). When the giant asks him the way to Shrewsbury, the cobbler realizes what the giant plans to do and thinks quickly, telling him that “no no Shrewsbury is a really long way away, look at all the shoes I have worn out coming from there!” Now you and I know this was just, haha, a load of old cobblers, but the giant thought, well that does look quite far, and decided to dump the massive pile of earth right where he stood, and went off home I suppose. The mound became known as the “Wrekin”, pronounced “reckin”, but just to annoy the giant even more local people started pronouncing it “reekin” instead.

Enough gadding about Shropshire legends, let’s head into the second city of England, Birmingham.  We have established I’ve never been there, and in all my life I have never once thought of ever going there. I used to be mildly obsessed with the Birmingham, or “Brummie”, accent when I was a kid, because of Barry from Auf Wiedersehen Pet, although I’d be lying if I said it was in my list of top accents in the country. (My top three by the way are Liverpool, Glasgow, and probably Swansea, though that might be just specifically Elis James’s voice.) But I sometimes hear the accent and it just blows me away how gentle and soothing it can be. I can’t say the same for my own Burnt Oak accent of north London, which has more of the “oi you f*#!in’ w@%ker” about it, though that can really come in handy in a tight spot. All I’m saying is that when pushed, the fake transatlantic British accent steps aside and the Burnt Oak comes right back out again. But I used to try to practice accents when I was a kid, and Birmingham was one I always tried, though usually it just made me sound a bit bored. This is what I’m missing out on in this virtual tour, all the accents, and those found across the Midlands are a big gap in my knowledge. I remember watching Crossroads as a kid, with that one very Brummie character Benny on it, but I wasn’t really interested when he wasn’t on screen. We all know Slade and Ozzy Osbourne and Def Leppard from that Vic and Bob sketch. I used to like Bovril. So virtually touring Birmingham, I found it very much as I had always imagined it, a big city that wasn’t London, lots of canals (so many canals). Birmingham is famous for the quiz question, “Watt Steam Engine was invented in Birmingham?” It is also famous for its “Bullring” shopping centre in the middle of town. But I was most drawn to this grand building in Victoria Square, which houses Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery. I was really happy with the slightly Dutch camera angle layout, even though it only left me a small place in the top right corner for whichever town I was heading to next.

Which turned out to be Worcester. None of your sauce. Most people know Worcester from the joke about the Bicester Times and the Worcester Times, but it also has a history with the King Charles II. After losing the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles popped into this very pub for a post-battle drink and probably had some lovely Worcester Sauce flavour crisps, hiding out while Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army looked for him in the most famous game of Hide and Seek ever played in Britain, if you don’t count the one Richard II played with his nephews in the Tower of London (BTW, the Princes won that game). The New Model Army wasn’t an Airfix kit, and while they were called Roundheads, it’s not because they looked like Playmobil figures. But that’s what I see whenever thinking about Civil War era England. Anyway Charles II, son of the recently beheaded Charles I (shortest English King ever, for obvious reasons) hid in here, probably wearing a t-shirt saying “Worcester. Day. Ever.” This pub is now called the King Charles House, which I presume it wasn’t called at the time, because that would have been a really bad place to hide. Or a genius place, because Cromwell surely wouldn’t look there. After the Roundheads turned up, he ran out the back door, as you would in any pub when the Millwall firm shows up. Charles went on to hide in various places (such as in the branches of trees, which is why you get so many pubs called the “Royal Oak” in England) (incidentally the Colonel who hid in the tree with him was called Colonel Careless, who for obvious reasons had to speak in a whisper, and I think you know where I’m going with that) before eventually making his way to France where he hung out for nine years until it was safe for him to come back, like Dirty Den in Eastenders.

This was a really interesting leg of the virtual journey, and there are so many other places I had to miss out. I didn’t draw Warwick, or Stratford-upon-Avon, or the Cotswolds villages, or Coventry, or any of the other urban areas of the West Midlands like Wolves or West Brom. I was on the clock, so I hightailed it down to Oxford, back on the River Thames (or the “Isis” as they call it there, unless they have stopped calling it that, like when Lord Grantham’s dog was killed off in Downton Abbey). So join me next time as we go to Oxford and then straight away to Cambridge to compare the two.

(29) Menai Bridge, and (30) Conwy

GB 29-30 sm
The last of the Welsh trilogy brings us right up to North Wales, although I wish I’d made space for the interior. I had to weigh up whether I needed to include Wrexham, but later on leave out Sunderland? It’s a weighty issue, and I’d only be including Wrexham because they knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup that one time. I really enjoyed this spread though, I hope it shows. It was a very enjoyable virtual journey, very peaceful. It was still a couple of days or so before our flood, when I was still at the desk downstairs, and so it’s funny that two bridges ended up on these pages. Or not. But I imagined myself walking these areas, like Tony Robinson in that TV series I have watched a lot of lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about walking the UK, planning out hikes, right down to deciding which walking poles to bring. Of course I would need to factor in sketching time, so each walk would take a lot longer, but I draw pretty fast, and can always do half and finish the rest at the local pub in the evening, listening away for accents and dialects. I studied the history of the English language, and one of my popular-academic linguistic heroes lives up this way, David Crystal, on Anglesey. I have read many of his books, and I’ve always wanted to meet him and talk language and its history and future with him.

So, let’s have a butcher’s at the first drawing then, this is the mighty Menai Suspension Bridge, which crosses high above the Menai Strait that separates the mainland from the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh). The bridge was built by the great civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford and was opened in 1826, and the road that goes across it is actually the A5 – the very same road that links up what we call Watling Street, although that Roman road did not come out this far, although in that Watling Street book I started reading the author does continue past Wroxeter and up to Holyhead, but fails to talk about this amazing bridge. So technically this links it up with the first spread of the book. Now, this sketch was drawn on the Anglesey side of the Menai Strait, so technically it is not on the island of Great Britain – exception to the rule – but you can see the island of Great Britain in the drawing so no rules broken. The name “Anglesey” is likely of Viking origin, but the best place name on the island is unmistakably Welsh: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It means “Stmaryschurchinthehollowofthewhitehazelneartotherapidwhirlpoolofllantysiliooftheredcave”, which is easy for you to say. It’s where you go to take a picture of the train station sign using panoramic mode on your phone. I have to go there.

It’s North Wales, so another castle was needed, and I like the one in Conwy, mostly because Caernarfon would mean backtracking again, and I’d already done that, or putting the first sketch on the bottom of a spread, and I had done that already. I’m trying to make the book interesting to pick up and look through. Not that I have any interest in publishing, this is just a curio to bring to events in future, but it’s good to mix it up. I get it right a few more times, and less right on a couple, but mostly I’m very happy with the spreads from Wales onwards, and this one more than most. I love a bridge, I love a castle. So for Conwy I needed to find a good angle, and so I went across the River Conwy and found a nice spot next to a little cottage, I can imagine standing here sketching, maybe with the brolly sticking out my coat, saying hello to a local old fellow who passed me by, and nodding while I pretended to understand what he was saying to me, and complementing him on the beautiful countryside as if he was personally responsible for it, and him telling me something about how when he was a kid he’d catch cockles and cook them up for breakfast but that his grandkids just want to listen to records and go to London and work at desks, but they come back for Christmas and they always want cockles for breakfast, but I’m a bit old to get out there now with my back the way it is. Nice chap, this completely imaginary passer-by. Now the castle itself is another one built by Patrick McGoohan from Braveheart, and it is a World Heritage Site. It is a proper example of a proper castle, one that if you have kids and they like castles you should take them to this one.

There’s a lot more in North Wales to draw – coastal towns like Llandudno, which always reminds me of Neville Southall, the great Wales and Everton goalie (and a great follow on Twitter), the peaks and valleys of Snowdonia, and resort towns like Rhyl to draw caravan parks, chalets and chip shops. But as it is, we had to get back to England, to the Midlands, to draw yet another bridge – the very first one made of cast iron…

(26) Swansea, (27) Portmeirion, and (28) Harlech

GB 26-28 sm
Part two of the virtual trip through Wales, Two of three. Wales is not a big country, although there is a lot to draw and you could fill whole books just on the castles. But I am on the clock, so whistle-stop it is. It’s a beautiful place, and I had to totally miss out Pembrokeshire. But here is a spread of three interesting places. Well, I assume Swansea is interesting. I liked their football team being in the Premier League. So that city is first up: Swansea. I went around the town virtually looking for something that would make a good illustration. One spot there was a bloke who looked he had fallen over, and as the virtual camera went down the street, all you see looking back is this guy just lying on the ground, nobody helping him. It looked like it was early morning  and perhaps he was getting over a night out but seeing someone just lying on the ground in Google Street View was a bit disturbing. I couldn’t virtually help, so I just felt virtually guilty. I remember once years ago in London, down near Leicester Square, I was on my way to the night bus stop after visiting friends in Notting Hill, and this old man who had been at the pub walked nearby me, tripped and fell right onto his face on a doorstep, CRUNCH. Good job I was there, I stayed with him until the ambulance came. Anyway, on this virtual occasion I kept wandering virtual Swansea, and this old boarded up run-down theatre building opened its legs wide and held out its chest and roared “whooooOOOOOAAAAAHHHH TO BEEEE or not to beeeee….”. It looked very dramatic. I just had to sketch it. Swansea is known as “Abertawe” in Wlesh, that is, the “Mouth of the River Tawe”, and it is Wales’s second city. Because of its copper smelting past Swansea has another nickname, “copperopolis”. I grew up very near to the police training school at Hendon and that’s what we called that place too. One of the most famous people from Swansea was the poet Dylan Thomas. I’ve not read much Thomas, I know a few lines, but they all make me think of that one guy lying on the pavement in Google Street View, unhelped and helpless.

So I moved on from Swansea up the coast, missing out the impressive Pembrokeshire coast, Carmarthen and Cardigan, Aberystwyth and Dolgellau, and stopped in Portmeirion. I have wanted to visit Portmeirion since my brother showed me the TV show The Prisoner when I was a kid; this was “The Village”, the place you couldn’t escape from, ebcause you would be chased by large white balloons (why didn’t Number Six carry a knitting needle?). While the show was a bit mad, I loved the music and those opening credits, and the colourful locations, and McGoohan’s indomitable, suspicious, suppressed-sense-of-humour personality. It’s always amazing to me that Portmeirion is a real place, and most people I know who have been there say it’s a nice place to visit. It was the bright idea of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who back in the 1920s wanted to build an Italian style coastal town on the breezy banks of a Welsh estuary. It reminds me a bit of the town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I just want one of those jackets that Number Six wears, the black one with the white trim along the lapel.

Next stop, I actually had to backtrack a bit and go back across the Afon Dwyryd to the coastal castle town of Harlech, on Cardigan Bay. I used to think it was called that because it gets a bit cold sometimes. I like the look of Harlech, the landscape around the castle and town looks like it could inspire an epic poem. Lot of steep hills in the town as well, but I drew the castle, another one started by Edward I, the English conqueror of Wales. Wales has a lot of castles, largely because of English kings such as Edward I building them to keep the Welsh locals in check. You’ll remember Edward I if you saw the mid-90s fantasy movie Braveheart which of course wasn’t based on true events except those that are an unintended coincidence. In that made-up drama there were a few ‘real’ historical figures such as Edward Longshanks, the villainous English king with an indomitable, suspicious, suppressed-sense-of-humour personality, played by none other than Patrick Number Six McGoohan himself. He also played the prison warden in Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood, who in turn also played the Outlaw Josey Wales, thus coming full circle.

Next up on the virtual tour of Great Britain in 66 sketches, the final leg of Wales, and then we turn back to the midlands of England.

(24), Tintern Abbey, and (25) Cardiff – Wales!

GB 24-25 sm

And so to continue the virtual tour of Great Britain, we have passed into a land i have never been – Wales. It’s quite amazing I’ve never been to Wales, but maybe not that surprising. It’s quite far, and I’m told it rains a lot. I suppose like a lot of places I always figured, it’s not going anywhere, I will get there some day, and then I moved to America and all those places were suddenly thousands of miles away.  I have only ever flown over Wales, on the way to Ireland, or back from America. After spending a good deal of time Google Street-Viewing my way around, I really want to go to Wales now. Looks beautiful there. Plus, we just learned that my wife’s family dates back to this part of Wales several hundreds of years ago, and some fairly historically prominent figures too, so now we want to go there and explore where they were from. Some day. We watched some videos earlier about Welsh food, and now I want to eat Welsh rarebit. Or maybe just cheese on toast will do me, I’ve not had that in a while. One of the first places I found in Wales was the lush Wye Valley, specifically the grand ruin of Tintern Abbey. I really want to do a walking trip around there. The abbey is a crumbling heap, but spectacularly evocative. It dates back to the twelfth century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries it fell into ruin. Looks like it’s been literally dissolved. Henry VIII and his big bloody ideas. Good job we don’t have leaders like that now eh. Great poets and artists would come here over the centuries and do their thing. Turner did a series of paintings, one of which is called “The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window”, which I totally get, thinking up a snappy title is really hard. Thomas Gainsborough did a nice graphite sketch of the abbey which is also at the Tate. Wordsworth wrote some poetry about this place, called “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey“. He probably had drones and a camera, I doubt a helicopter could get a few miles into the air. My point of view was just outside. It was just like being there.

I let the sketch spread across the bottom of the page, which meant that the next sketch above the top would have to be constructed carefully. The next stop was Cardiff, the Welsh capital, and I didn’t know what I wanted to draw. I wandered lonely as a crowd, until I found an interesting view in a narrow street looking up at a church, next to a pub with lots of Welsh flags outside – perfect. So this became my favourite spread yet, I was pleased with this one. I quite like the Welsh accent, though I’m not super able to discern all the differences between the Welsh accents, that is another reason I’d like to travel there and learn more about. I really like listening to Elis James, a Welsh comedian who is often on my favourite football podcasts (he’s a Swansea City fan; we’ll be in Swansea next time), he has a lovely soft lilt in his voice. When my son was small he was obsessed with Fireman Sam, the Welsh kids cartoon. Often kids shows from the UK such as Bob the Builder were dubbed into American voices, but for some reason they kept Sam in the Welsh voices, so he’d always be doing the voices of Norman Price or Elvis Cridlington. I know a few words in the Welsh language but that’s it, although I did used to watch “Pobol Y Cwm” when I was a kid. That is a Welsh-language soap that was on S4C, a Welsh channel in the UK. I also had a teacher at school whose first language was Welsh, he was my history teacher and he ended up leaving the school to focus on his career as a Welsh-language rock singer (if I remember rightly his band was called Ian Rush, although I cannot remember his name). The Welsh do like singing, traditionally. He did say to the class right before leaving though that “some people in this class are not going to pass this A-Level”, meaning specifically me, which turned out to be a true prediction, because I gave the history A-Level up after a difficult first year, although it felt a bit too dismissive at the time and was probably the reason I quit. I remember my GCSE English teacher saying something similar when I was 16, she said that I would not pass that class and put that in my report, but only when another teacher, the awesome Mr Hedgers, stepped in and disagreed with that assessment, tutoring me and encouraging me, did I turn around and pass English GCSE; I went on to get an English A-Level grade A and later on a Master’s in English – medieval English at that, where you need to be a historian – so I’m glad for Mr Hedgers who said actually no, actually you can do it. Certainly made me believe I could.

So one day I’ll get to Wales in real life, have some of that delicious looking cake they have there, do some more sketching, and maybe even do some of that writing they do there, or maybe if I don’t get time I’ll just look out of the window of the plane going to London and write a few lines from a few miles above.

Nest up – more Wales! Swansea, Harlech and a place I’ve wanted to go for a long long time, Portmeirion. Be seeing you.

(21) Barnstaple, (22) Bristol, and (23) Bath

GB 21-23 sm
Now for Barnstaple, Bristol and Bath; I like the Bs, I like to make them rhyme. After a brief whistle-stop tour of Cornwall we are back in Devon, but this time North Devon, which is different. Devon’s a big county. First stop is Barnstaple, which I wanted to stop in because I have been there twice in the past couple of years, and I had wanted to draw this bookshop. Barnstaple is where my uncle Billy lived, until he passed away last year. He loved his music, knew more about music than anyone I’ve ever known, I still have several old Beatles and Pistols records that he gave me when I was a kid, but he also loved to read and had a huge library of books about music and crime in his living room, so sketching a bookshop seems appropriate, though I couldn’t find a good record shop to sketch. Right opposite this bookshop is an amazing chip shop. Seriously amazing chips there, but I always like chips in towns like this, usually a lot better than in London. When we visited Barnstaple for his wedding, my older brother and I stayed out late one night playing pool and afterwards went to a kebab shop near here to get some sort of local food called a “Jemmy Twitcher”. It has every kind of meat in it, plus lots of other stuff. I didn’t eat one but fair play, my brother did and he finished it. Helped sop up all the Guinness! So that’s Barnstaple. I remember coming to North Devon when I was a teenager, well just over the border in Somerset, camping with our local youth club, we did some into Devon a lot for activities like canoeing and walking about.

I’ve never been to Bristol. It’s been in the news lately, with statues of slave-traders going into the river. I didn’t really know much about Bristol as a city, except for the two football teams – City and Rovers – and the accent, and even then I couldn’t pick the accent out of a crowd. I know people who went to university there, I think, it always seemed like a college town people used to live in but now live somewhere else (bit like Davis). So the virtual tour was an eye-opener, it looks like a really interesting place, and a bigger city than I realized, lots to see and sketch, lots of places to walk, the big Clifton Suspension Bridge, there’s a cool looking market area, but I just really enjoyed all of the terraces of old houses, usually with different coloured doors. There was something really characteristic about them. So that’s what I drew. I must have virtually walked around the whole town. I wish I had been there in real life.

Something I noticed a lot which made me really sad was looking at the Google Map and everything, cafes and shops and pubs and especially theatres, everything had “temporarily closed” next to the name on the map. That was horrible, this whole thing is horrible, but these cities are their places and this virtual tour was one of imagination, imagining what it would be like standing there on the street, wandering through that market then popping into that pub for a local beer, to listen to that accent, but it’s not to be. Some day perhaps, I just hope all these places are still open when we come out of this. On that note, I went to the next spot on the tour, one I couldn’t miss out, and that’s Bath. I have only been to Bath once before, on a day trip from London when my wife first moved to England, with a tour group of Americans in the UK on student-work visas (we went to Stonehenge that day too), and it was very pretty. All the buildings are the same colour though, all made from the same type of stone. When I was a kid Bath was in a small county called Avon, named for the River not the Lady, but now it’s just part of Somerset. This drawing is a place I think we came for tea, Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, a little cafe named after a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon who became known for her delicious buns. People called her Sally Lunn because they couldn’t pronounce her name properly, but mostly they wanted to make it rhyme with “bun”. The thing called Sally Lunn’s bun isn’t even a bun, they just call it that to make it rhyme with “Sally Lunn”. See? Logical. So “Sally Lunn’s Buns” it is. They look pretty massive, Sally Lunn’s buns.

Ok that’s that. The next chapter in the virtual tour of the island of Great Britain takes us into the country of Wales. I am reminded of a joke I loved as a kid, “How do you get two whales in a Mini? Drive down the M4”. Now I live in America nobody gets that joke, so I have to try making a local equivalent, Americanize it. “How do you get two whales in a Ford SUV? Stick em in the back seat with the two giraffes!” It’s not quite as funny, but it makes me laugh on the inside. I suppose I could try it with a smaller car, like a Prius or a Corvette. “How do you get two whales in a Corvette? How the heck would I know, wise guy!” You have to do the 1930s gangster voice and say “myeaaaah, shee” as they did. I suppose I need to use an equivalent road, but it would have to go to a town that sounded like Whales, or maybe somewhere more American that sounds like a big animal in a small car. “How do you get two Antelopes in a Mini Cooper? Drive up I-80 past Sacramento!” That’s quite local for our area, I suppose, one for the Davis folk. Or maybe not an animal, how about “How do you find two needles in a garbage truck? Drive down Route 66!” Needles is a town that is on the old Route 66, at least it said so when I went there, the map says it’s actually on 40. No, best stick with the old classic, but even then it only works of you live in London or along the M4. Bath is close enough for it to still work. If you live in Wales you’d have to say “How do you get two baths in a Mini? Drive down the M4 and then turn off the A46 at the Tormarton Interchange!” Which we can all agree is much funnier. Right, see you in Wales!

(18) Plymouth, (19) St. Michael’s Mount, and (20) St.Ives

GB 18-20 sm
We are off to Cornwall, the southernmost tip of the island, but first one more stop in Devon. The big lighthouse there is at Plymouth, a fairly decent sized port city on the river Tamar that borders Devon and Cornwall. My only experience of Plymouth was passing through on a coach when I was 16, by myself, crossing the Tamar Bridge. I was off to visit my friend Kevin, who lived in Devon, while my family were holidaying in Cornwall. Cornwall was beautiful, but they were arguing and I was old enough to say, actually can I go and visit my friend Kevin cheers see ya bye. Plymouth makes me think of Francis Drake playing bowls while getting news of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and being totally like, yeah when I’m finished with this game alright, no come on on Drake you have to come now, oh FINE I’ll just finish this one game; we’ve all been there. I bet his mum used to call him down like ten times for dinner while he was playing Minecraft or something. We also think of Plymouth when we think of the Mayflower. It’s funny, I listened to a podcast about the Mayflower recently and it actually debunked some of the legends we think we know when it comes to the Mayflower. For example, it didn’t sail from Plymouth, but from Southampton. I know, right! And it was apparently the biggest ship ever, and wasn’t full of pilgrims but rich people drinking champagne, and it never even got to America because it hit this big iceberg and the band kept playing Celine Dion music as it sunk, and this one man who was the King of the World ended up sinking while his girlfriend floated home on a piece of wood. Nothing about the first Thanksgiving, none of those tall buckled hats, it is surprising what you can learn.

And so, we move into Cornwall, still travelling along the South Coast, which down here is full of cliffs and coves and caves, myths and legends and tales. Cornwall on a map is technically “in” “England” but it’s not England. Cornwall is an ancient duchy with a Celtic heritage, its people most closely related to the Welsh and the Bretons, left over after the Angles and Saxons came over from the continent . In fact those pesky Angles and Saxons drove a whole bunch of those “Britons” over the sea to Armorica in northern Gaul, which we now call Brittany. There’s still a lot of cultural heritage shared between these areas. I chose to draw St. Michael’s Mount, which is a beautiful little tidal island jutting out into the English Channel. There is another one across the sea in France called “Mont St.Michel, on the Norman/Breton border, but it’s much bigger than this one. St. Michael’s Mount is nonetheless like something from a fantasy book, and probably looks nice at sunset. St. Michael though makes me think of the clothing brand from Marks and Spencer.

I decided not to draw Land’s End; I had already drawn St. Michael so another clothing brand straight away would not have been a good look. So I circled back around Cornwall to the town of St. Ives. Made famous by the rhyme with the stupid question at the end, St. Ives was also the name of a butter when I was a kid, if I’m not mistaken. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me no it’s actually not that, it’s St.Ivel] Sorry, turns out I am most mistaken, it’s St.Ivel, but nonetheless St.Ives makes me hungry for butter. [Edit after some clever clogs tells me it’s not butter it’s “buttermilk spread”]. Well it tastes like butter. It has a Swedish flag on it. [Edit, no technically it’s not] It looks very pretty there in St.Ives though. I really liked the look of this pub, the Sloop Inn, which according to the sign dates from 1312. I bet it’s one of those places on a wet and stormy evening would be warm and cosy with bearded old seadogs drinking scrumpy. But what I like most was that in the Street View photo, all the people sat outside are clearly aware of the street View camera and are all waving and smiling, and I liked that. Unless they were saying awful things which they might well have been for all I know. Nevertheless, while I drew this, nobody could get close to anybody in public places so it already looked like a distant time past. I enjoyed walking virtually around St.Ives though, and along the rest of the Cornish coast. I’d like to come here some time and look for Arthurian sites, and pirate coves, and salty old pubs, and sit on the cliffs looking out at the Atlantic towards America, and think back on all those people from the Mayflower who hit that iceberg, singing “my heart will go on.”

Next up: back to Devon! I forgot something!

(15) Bournemouth, (16) Exeter, and (17) Brixham

GB 15-17 sm
And just like that, we are in Dorset. Virtual tours go quickly. Hampshire might be a big county with a lot going on but there’s a lot to see. Bournemouth is the next stop, but I’m avoiding the beach because there are crowds of people, so I walked virtually inland to see if there was anything else to draw other than the pier. Time for the first church of the book, and this one is very tall, the 1879 church of St. Peter. Good name that. I have never been to Bournemouth but I know people that live there. My mum actually went there last week for the first time. It’s a popular seaside resort town, looks like a nice place for a weekend away, but I’d probably prefer somewhere a little less popular. The local football team, Bournemouth, got relegated from the Premier League this season after a few seasons, and I still can’t quite believe that Bournemouth were in the Premier League. I hope they come back some time.

Right that’s Bournemouth and Dorset done with, time to move along the coast. This is where I really start editing out the stopping points. I’d like to visit Poole, and Portland Bill, and I hear Weymouth is nice, and of course the Cerne Abbas giant in the hills further inland. I need to get to Devon though, one of my favourite counties. when I passed through Exeter last year I never left the train station, though I did sketch the platform. IF I’d had time I would have visited the cathedral, so I went there virtually on this trip instead. I couldn’t get a great view, and I’d dug myself into a bit of a corner for space on the page, so I just drew what I could. Little dash of colour from the bunting. Exeter goes back to Roman times, though their football team Exeter City’s nickname is the “Grecians”. It’s not clear why, some say it might be because of their location outside the city walls in St.Sidwell a century or so ago gave people the idea that they were the Greeks (or Grecians) outside the walls of Troy, honestly the things people think up. Dundee United’s fans for example call themselves the ‘Arabs’ because years ago they had lots of sand on their pitch, true story. Their other nickname “Tangerines” makes more sense given their orange shirts. Portsmouth are “Pompey”, a nickname for the town which could come from a number of origins but one I like is that Charles II’s wife Catherine of Braganza thought Porstmouth reminded her her Bombay, and mispronounced it. Bournemouth are the cherries, makes sense because of their historically red shirts (also apparently fruit orchards nearby their ground when the club was founded). But Exeter are the Grecians, but I’m not sure what they’ve done to urn it.

Always with the puns. I could write a book about football club nicknames but I don’t want to. My brother and I used to quiz each other on them years ago, the Shakers and the Quakers, the Addicks and the Latics, the Eagles and the Seagulls. But time is pressing and I have to move along. I couldn’t find anywhere I wanted to draw in Torquay or any of the surrounding towns, until I found Brixham with its pretty little harbour. Again though, it got a bit squashed into that corner. Pages like this made me rethink the spread layouts a bit, and the next few will evolve a bit more until I start getting much more out of the space. Brixham is on the southern end of Torbay, and apparently this is where the Dutch William of Orange landed with a big Dutch army on his way to taking the crown in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. That would be William the “No no no, I’m not a conqueror! I was totally invited here! And my wife Mary is the current-but-soon-to-be-former King’s daughter. All good? Throne please!”. King Billy, they call him in Northern Ireland. Yeah, that’s a story for another place, let’s leave William behind and move along. Brixham apparently has a big Pirate festival every year, which sounds like something I’d want to go to. This is getting into Pirate country down here in the SouthWest, especially once we hit Cornwall, in the next post. Bit more Devon to come yet though (I do like my cream tea and Devon fudge).

(12) Eastbourne, (13) Brighton, and (14) Portsmouth

GB 12-14 sm
The virtual tour continues along the south coast of England. I decided to stop off in Eastbourne, haven of older people, and draw part of the Pier. Eastbourne, like Hastings, is in East Sussex. I never pointed out that Hastings is not in Kent last time, I forget that it isn’t always obvious to non-English people what English town is in what county. Anyway Eastbourne is definitely in East Sussex, because I just looked it up (I had no idea). Sussex for those unfamiliar with old English history is named after the South Saxons. King Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex, they were the West Saxons. Essex was the land of the East Saxons, who drove whatever the horse version of the Ford Capri was. There wasn’t a Nossex as far as I know, unless you count the film “Nossex Please We’re British”. I am from Middlesex, which now makes up most of London and no longer exists as a county, except in my old address. Back to Sussex. I always forget what order all those towns on the south coast come in. There are lots of cliffs, and not far from here is the massive Beachy Head. So let’s move along from Eastbourne…

…we now find ourselves in Brighton, still in East Sussex. That long drawing across the top of the page, that is the Royal Pavilion, built for the Prince Regent a couple of hundred years ago. The Prince Regent ruled at a time when it was normal to be ruled by a rich womanizing buffoon with messy hair who everyone hated. Thankfully he had architect John Nash around creating all sorts of amazing buildings and roads and other projects, and the Brighton Pavilion is wonderful, I remember seeing it as a kid and just thinking it was the most exotic building I had ever seen. We used to come down to Brighton when I was a kid, even though the beach is all stones I would still get a bucket and spade, and a stick of rock, and maybe an ice cream with a flake in it (a “99”), Brighton was always a favourite seaside spot. One other time in Brighton as an adult I visited my mate Gilbert, who was at uni there, and we went to this crap nightclub, then went home and played Championship Manager all night. Well, he played, I just watched. Then I remember spending one new year’s eve in Brighton with some friends, and we joined a group of other people who do this thing where all of them have a party the same night, and they just go to each others’ homes, so I think we ended up going to something like seven parties that night – the energy of youth. They weren’t wild affairs, just friendly low-key gatherings, conversation and snacks and cheap beer. I recall one of them was spent playing Trivial Pursuit with members of the band the Wedding Present (I’m not very familiar with them). And then I somehow got separated from the people I was staying with, and this was before cellphones were everywhere, and had to find my way back to their house just using my natural navigator instincts; unfortunately they lived in a house just off a big roundabout called Seven Dials, and could I remember which street? Could I flip. I walked about for HOURS trying to find the right house, I was cream-crackered, it was freezing, but I somehow found it, and slept and slept. Mad times in Brighton.

Ok next up is Portsmouth, passing right through West Sussex and into Hampshire. I last went to Portsmouth when I was a kid with my neighbours to see HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship. I would love to go back and draw that, but I chose instead to pay homage to local football team Portsmouth FC, aka “Pompey”. This is their home ground Fratton Park. It’s not like I’m particularly a fan of Pompey, but I did watch them beat Spurs at White Hart Lane back in 1988 I think it was, and even though they were already relegated, they completely outsang us the entire game, an enormously vocal bunch of fans. I never forgot that, I was hugely impressed. “Down with the Hammers, we’re going down with the Hammers” they were singing, referring to fellow relegatees West Ham. So, I drew this stadium. I was also starting to get conscious that I wanted to mix it up a bit thematically, drawing different types of buildings and scenes, and not necessarily the most obvious ones for each place. Some you will find are maybe a bit too nondescript, but mostly I tried to draw churches, train stations, pubs, stadiums, tea shops, department stores, piers, town halls, castles, bridges, ruins, clock towers, and even a fruit and veg shop.

After Portsmouth I decided to give Southampton a miss, not even go to the Isle of Wight (where I spent a fun school trip week back in 1987), and head to Bournemouth, which I was surprised to find much closer by than I realized. See you at the seaside…

(9) Broadstairs, (10) Canterbury and (11) Hastings

GB 09-11 sm
Leaving London by the south you come to Kent. The Garden of England, so called because that’s what you concrete over to build a front drive for your truck. Lot of history in Kent; dialectally it was supposedly different from the rest of Anglo-Saxon England, but more importantly this is where Canterbury is, the very important seat of the Archbishop. But more on Canterbury later because I decided to whizz straight to the coast to the small seaside town of Broadstairs. I have never been to Broadstairs, but I hear it is quite nice, and that Charles Dickens used to come here (then again he went everywhere). I found a wooden building with a clear view of the sea and drew that, red phone box and big red buoy thing in the foreground. This is right down at the southern end of the North Sea, where it meets the English Channel and the wide gulpy waters of the Thames Estuary. “Estuary English” is what some people call the dialect in the southeast, Essex and Kent and London, somewhere between popular London/cockney and standard RP.

Ok, back to Canterbury. Going geographically I should have put this as number 9 but it’s too late to fix it now. I’ve been to Canterbury once, visited the impressive Cathedral, and I want to go back and draw the Cathedral some day but not on Google Street View. You can’t get a good view, and there are other things to draw. This amazing building is some sort of local museum or library or information centre, or all of them, one day I will come in person and find out. Canterbury is also another place that’s on Watling Street, the historic Roman road I mentioned a couple of posts ago, although the straight road bit is a little harder to track down. I bought a book recently called “Watling Street”, written as a journey all along the modern day ancient road, with stories that like the road go on fro a bit too long. Like the road, I’ve not finished it yet because I just stopped when I got to somewhere I liked and went somewhere else. Canterbury is of course the focal point of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s great work, and even there the pilgrims never actually made it there, because even Chaucer got a bit bored making jokes about how badly they speak French in Stratford and decided to just switch off his television set and go out do something less boring instead. I know how it is, I’ve been blogging since the mid-2000s and still haven’t come up with a suitable ending.

I decided to skip Dover, because evidently places like New Cross Gate and Broadstairs were much more of a priority, and so missed out on drawing the White Cliffs. It’s not that easy from Google Street View anyway, since most of the streets are on the other side of the cliffs. The White Cliffs of Dover are so-called not because of the chalk but because of all the bird poo on them. I know you don’t believe me but it is true. If you listen closely to the most famous song about the White Cliffs of Dover, “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Dame Vera Lynn (may she rest in peace), it says clearly that there are blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover, and anyone who has parked their car underneath a tree full of blue birds knows what that means. But I didn’t draw Dover, and proceeded with haste to Hastings, number 11 on the sketch list.

Hastings is famous for the Battle of Hastings, which took place in nearby Battle, which was known locally as “Battle, just off Hastings”, and which in time became “Battle of Hastings” in time, so I can see where the confusion might arise. That was in 1066, and William the Conqueror beat Harold Godwinson to win the country. This was long before General Elections and Referendums and Twitter. 1066 is the date we all learn about at school, and we say “ten-sixty-six” not “one-thousand-sixty-six”. Harold did win a battle just before Hastings, the Battle of Stamford Bridge (it was against an army of Norsemen let by Harald Hardraada, not against an army of Chelsea fans led by Harry HardBastaard). Still, it was like having a semi-final against your big rivals, going to penalties, then having to get on a coach to the other side of the country to play the final against a team that basically walked their semi-final 6-0 against Luxembourg or someone. The Anglo-Saxons lost that one, and it would be exactly nine hundred years of hurt until they would eventually win the World Cup. Even Chaucer, in a lesser known Canterbury Tale called the Skinner’s Tale, mentioned a popular song from the 1360s called “The Leons Thre”, which went as follows: “Thre Leons embroidered on a vesture, The gleme of Joules of Rhemes, Of Hurt ther was, thre Hundred yeer, That nevere stynt my drems.” Not really, I made that up. I have been to Hastings, a long time ago when I was a teenager, when we spent summer holidays nearby at Camber Sands holiday park. I remember it being an interesting seaside town, full of all the things I like about seaside towns, shops selling sticks of rock and toffee apples (the stick of rock is a fundamental British seaside thing that I miss so much), bingo, and also a nice looking castle overlooking the channel. Another place I would like to go back to in real life.

In the next spread, we move along the south coast to Brighton, Eastbourne, and Portsmouth, before going to Bournemouth, Brightbourne and Portston, followed by Eastmouth, Bourneton and Brightport. You can see why I left all the ‘hamptons out of this trip.