Before I flew back to the States, a couple more sketches of Burnt Oak, the hometown. After all the sketches from France and Belgium I needed a couple of drawings from up the Watling to be getting on with. I’ve had a lot of Burnt Oakers get in touch over the years, people who have moved away, sometimes pretty far (like I did), to say they like my drawings of the old manor, the place is a shared memory, and one that is always changing. I stood at the top of Watling Avenue and looked downhill. Those chimneystacks stepping downwards towards the station are iconic to me. I drew the other side of the street looking downwards way back in 2008, and then again looking upwards back in 2012, a decade ago. This time I added colour, and also a lot more of the people that passed by, because it was quite busy. We are a very multicultural area. The Romanian foodshop across the street (Food 4 Less) is where Pennywise used to be (I drew that in 2013), and next door you can make out a place called Bella. When I was growing up Bella, which was run by an Indian family if I remember, was a place where you could get all sorts of stuff. Household products, kitchen items, cleaning gear, cups (I have that mug that says “I’m a Mug from Burnt Oak” which comes from Bella), batteries, toys, you would come here to get your keys cut, oh and it was also a video rental store, this is where I would come with my uncle on a Saturday morning to pick out what films we would watch at his flat that afternoon. It seems that it’s just a cafe now. There is a clothes shop just out of view to the right that is called ‘Respect Men’, but has prominently displayed in the window what can can only be described as the illegitimate offspring of a tuxedo and a cardigan, white on the top half and black on the bottom, divided by an ugly carpet pattern going across the middle. Respect Men. I should have drawn it. Instead, I walked down the hill to the corner of Orange Hill, outside the library, and drew Woodcraft Hall. I’ve never been in there (never really wanted to either), but it’s one of those buildings I’ve known all my life that is just there, and long may it be just there. This crossroads was pretty much junction number one in my life. I lived up one arm of it, Orange Hill. Up Gervase Road, my mate Terry lived, and it was the way to Montrose and then on to Asda, where I had my first proper job (but not my first work). Left up the Watling towards Woodcroft Avenue, that was the way to my junior school, and on the corner opposite Woodcroft Hall is our local doctor’s, where my mum works. And then right is up Watling Avenue itself, you have the library, the shops, and of course the tube station which for me was the key to going everywhere else in the world, which I couldn’t wait to do. It started raining as I was drawing this, though I was sheltered in the doorway of the library, but I went home for dinner, and coloured it in later.
I always intend to sketch more Burnt Oak whenever I’m back home but I never quite get around to it. And I should – the old place keeps changing in small, and sometimes pretty big, ways. Since my last trip, at least one of the historic focal points of the area has closed down, probably for good: the Bald Faced Stag, the old pub on Burnt Oak Broadway. Love it or loathe it (and it was often pretty loathed), the Stag played a big part in many of our lives as Burnt Oakers, and it just doesn’t feel right that it’s no longer there. What then is left of old Burnt Oak? Rather a lot, B.O. fans, rather a lot. I did a quick solo-sketchcrawl one afternoon, starting with the distinctive buildings of Silkstream Parade, above. This is between the Library and the Station, and to many of us these were the shops you went to when you went Up The Road. The old newsagents on the corner, at one time called Magson’s but I don’t recall its previous name, was replaced by Costcutter’s many years ago, but you can still see the long-disused cigarette vending machine on the side of the building. Heron Pharmacy is still there, unchanged in decades. Zam’s chicken is where Toni’s used to be, an old ice cream and sweetshop, I remember showing my Mexico 86 sticker album the Italian guy Toni who ran the place and him telling me all about the Italy players. Whenever I think of Paolo Rossi I think of Very Cherry Slush Puppies (remember them? You remember them). The kebab shop is also long gone, that had one of the most often broken windows in the whole of England I recall. There used to be a butchers shop here too, and was there a greengrocer’s? Was that the whole set? Tanning salon now. Anyway that’s enough “How We Used To Live”, any more of that and I may as well start every blog post with “Who remembers Penny Sweets, remember them eh, Kola Kubes eh, not like that any more eh”).
I moved up Watling Avenue to Hassan, which has been there since before I was a kid, unchanged. They don’t make shop signs like that any more, it’s all primary colour plastics now, but Hassan has class, gilded edges which of course my sketch doesn’t really show. Not being much of a clothes shopper, and this being a clothes shop for Men (my Mum, not being a Man, never dragged me through this shop as a kid, unlike John Ford and other Burnt Oak shops), I’ve never ever been inside Hassan’s. I know people who do, people who live far from Burnt Oak and come out of their way to go there. Personally I just love that it is there, still there. So now I’ve finally sketched it. I stood opposite outside a closed-down cafe on the corner of Gaskarth Road. Cafes, eh, remember cafes? Don’t get cafes any more, it’s all Starbucks these days, etc.
Sketching across Watling Avenue wasn’t too difficult. As busy a street as it is, it’s pretty narrow. Burnt Oak Broadway on the other hand is much wider, so when I sketched the old fish and chip shop the Captain’s Cabin I had to squint a lot more. Burnt Oak Broadway is what we call this part of Edgware Road, itself part of the ancient (and I mean ancient) Watling Street, the long straight road built by the Romans linking Londinium with the north-western reaches of Britannia. It’s from Watling Street that Watling Avenue gets its name, and in fact the name Burnt Oak is a reference to the old Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark the boundaries between places, or so we were told at school. See, my town got some history, bro. This chip shop is pretty much the only one in ‘downtown’ Burnt Oak (to use an Americanism) left from the Olden Days (“who remembers fish’n’chips, eh, vinegar, chip butties, eh, it’s all piri-piri cappuccinos now”). I do remember there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door when I was a kid (remember those? No seriously, you don’t get them any more, all KFC now) and a Barclay’s Bank on the corner which got turned into an amusement arcade, not sure how amusing it really is though, maybe it amused NatWest across the street. The Captain’s Cabin is still there, the sign is different from when I was a kid, so I sketched it. Personally I used to get my chips from the Golden Fry down the Watling, where they had the Space Invaders games my brother used to play (“Who remembers Space Invaders, eh? Don’t get that any more, it’s all Minecraft and Halo and Words With Friends now”). Captain’s Cabin for me was always that bit further to walk for the same thing, but I still always liked their chips.
And here is a map of Burnt Oak, you don’t get maps like this any more, it’s all iPhones now, but it was with maps just like this that I managed to navigate my way around town when I was a kid. No not really. I just wanted to draw a bit more of a fun treasure-island-style map (and yes I know north is in the wrong direction, I’m not working for the Ordnance Survey or nothing) for my home town (and yes Burnt Oak is not an actual ‘town’, just a small nook in the expanse of London, an offshoot of Edgware really, but Burnt Oakers everywhere, even those who have long since emigrated to the far-flung corners of the world, we know that it is its own place, our home town, but once you start getting too sentimental it’s only one step away from “Who remembers bus passes, remember bus passes eh, get on a bus and go somewhere yeah, can’t do that now eh”). I do love to sketch the place though, to capture it for old time’s sake, because by golly it changes fast. But…not that fast.