The Shard from Borough Market

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Walking back from Intaglio Printmaker in Southwark, I thought it would be a good idea to walk through Borough Market. It was not. The crowds were so closely pressed together, and walking and stopping, that I could make no headway through the main part of the market. So I went round the edge, and glimpsed the Shard, high above the roofs.

The roofs, and the lights, look old but they are not really old. The lights, the nearest ones, are gas lights, with real gas flames. They are recent. The market was re-created and enlarged in the late 1990s. It’s now easy to believe that it’s always been a thriving London market.  But it hasn’t. The “Blueprint” website from developers CBRE says:

In the 1980s, the surrounding area of Borough Market had undergone severe decline. The market’s days as a wholesale hub were threatened by the growth of supermarket retailers and the nearby development of the New Covent Garden market in Vauxhall in the 1970s. By 1994, the market had as few as nine traders and an income of less than £400k per year…..

The first “green shoot” for the market emerged … in 1996. The market had hit rock bottom with little left but a few traders and a mobile barber’s stall operating from a caravan. Neil’s Yard Dairy approached the market seeking additional space in damp conditions for the preservation of their expanding cheese business. Damp space, according to [George] Nicholson [market chairman], “was something we had lots of.”

 

fullsizeoutput_331bI drew this picture standing up in Stoney Street. There was a strong wind. Papers, mostly takeaway food wrappers, rushed along in the air as if they had somewhere to go.

There were huge crowds outside Monmouth coffee. The whole of Stoney Street, to the right of my picture,  was occupied by people.

Astonishingly, cars appeared. This picture took about 45 minutes and in that time I must have seen about 10 cars, one every few minutes. They arrived and stopped, seeing the crowds. Then, no doubt consulting a GPS which said this was indeed a street, they pushed on.

People walked past me, eating food from wrappers or drinking beer from cans. One drinker rolled over to me. “Are you drawing a picture?” he leered, ready to make fun.

“No,” I replied, “I’m riding a bicycle.” In his drink-fuddled haze, he had a problem to process that.

He turned to his fellow drinkers. “She says she’s riding a bicycle,” he announced. His wise companions hurried him on.

 

Hôtel de France, Vaud

Last week I stayed with my friends at the Hôtel de France in Sainte-Croix.

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Here is a sketch I made of the hotel from across the road, sitting on a wall by the lay-by. It was really cold, 4 degrees C. One and a half hours, drawn and coloured on location.

A woman parks her car in my line of sight and blocks the view. She is one of a succession of people who parks their car in my line of sight and blocks the view. They all do so unapologetically. I might be just air, sitting there with my sketchbook.

They are collecting items from the hardware shop, which is called “Jaccard”. They all return quite quickly and drive off. So I have become used to the rhythm, and it no longer bothers me. I draw the chimneys, over the top of the car, and the distant mountain, which is called Covatannaz.

This particular woman, on returning to her car, called out “Hélène!”. Her car was empty. I assumed she was calling to someone round the corner. “Hélène,” she said again. I realised she was talking to me. None of my names is Hélène, although I quite like the name. I ran through the options in my head. Was “Hélène” a kind of French form of “Fore!”, which golfers shout? Was this a warning of some kind? No. She and I were looking at each other, she with an open face of greeting, me no doubt with a puzzled frown, which after a little while influenced her open greeting, and she frowned too.

“Bonjour!” I said brightly, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Ah,” she said, and her expression altered again. Perhaps my voice was wrong. Even with one word, my English accent must have been apparent. “Excusez-moi,” she continued,  “Je vous avez prise pour Hélène Jumeaux*.” She continued to look at me as though I might change my mind and confess to being Hélène Jumeaux, despite the accent. When I didn’t, she hid her confusion by examining my picture, which she genuinely seemed to like, and she complimented me.

Prosopagnosia, face blindness, affects maybe 1 in 50 people, according to “faceblind.org“. It is an inability to recognise faces, not an inability to remember names. That is also a problem, but a different one. I know this, because, as I’ve got older, face blindness has become more and more of a problem for me. I felt sympathy for the woman. Neither my limited mastery of French, nor the situation, enabled me to express this connection. But we managed. We smiled, and talked about the picture.

Forgive me if I pass you on the street without recognising you, even if we’ve seen each other only a few hours before. Please say hello. And say your name.  As I’ve got older I’ve realised that many mental and physical defects, such as deafness, visual impairment, prosopagnosia, encroaching memory loss, can all be interpreted, by people who are young and fully functional, as rudeness. It’s made me more forgiving of other people’s weaknesses, other people’s apparent rudeness.

Here is the line drawing, the same picture as above, before the colour went on.

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Here are a couple more drawings from the same trip, and a photo of this drawing on location, just after I finished it.

I have made pictures at the Hôtel de France before:

Sainte-Croix, Vaud, Switzerland

Sainte-Croix, Vaud

View from a Swiss Hotel

Some sketches of hotel tableware

Here is a gallery of archive sketches from Vaud and Sainte-Croix.

*names in this story have been changed

Strawberry Hill House

Strawberry Hill is about 40 minutes out of Waterloo, towards Twickenham.

Here is the summer villa of Horace Walpole (1717-97) son of Sir Robert Walpole, the “first British Prime Minister” according to the leaflet.

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Amazing what you find, and this was still only in Zone 5. This is “Gothic Revival” style. Out of the picture, to the right, was a hospitality tent, where an event was bring held. The tent was 21st Century basic style, not at all Gothic.

Here is a picture I drew after we had toured the house, which is like a stage set of rooms leading off rooms, and pictures which look at you from ornate frames. It would make a good set for an episode of “the Avengers”*. It was very stuffy indoors, and the rooms were surprisingly small, or perhaps surprisingly crowded. I came outside and found a bench in the garden. There was birdsong, and a distinct smell of marijuana.

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Pictures took about 40 min each.

*The Avengers: British TV series, 1961-69, espionage and thriller, featuring John Steed played by Patrick McNee and a series of his assistants, notably Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg (1965). A formative part of my education.

A wall in Waitrose Car Park

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I like pictures of walls. It seems to me they have much to say. This one, for example, talks of the house that it once supported, of the concrete small bunkers that were at its base. It has been there longer than the development called “Cherry Tree Walk” which is above Waitrose, to the left. And now, behind and above, is the new YMCA hostel.

This wall is brick. It must have taken a long time to build. And it’s still there.

I drew the YMCA hostel from the other side, in December 2017:

YMCA site, Errol St EC1

88 Golden Lane

Today was a glorious sunny day. I walked out into the sun and everywhere was worthy of a sketch.

Here is 88 Golden Lane, a strange thin building. It is an architects’ practice: Blair Architecture.

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I sketched this standing on the side of the road in the sun, then retreated to sit on my case by a nearby wall to add the colour.

It must have looked as though I was sitting on the pavement. An elderly woman, pushing a shopping basket on wheels, stopped and asked me if I was alright. I said I was, and explained that I was drawing a picture. “Oh,” she said, “because I was going to say that if you needed a sit down, there a bench just around the corner here.”

I gestured to the building I was drawing. “Ah yes, you wouldn’t be able to see that if you went round the corner.” She told me she had wanted to be an artist. She always got the art prize at school. But then the schools closed. “We were blocked,” she said. I didn’t know what she meant. “I’m old,” she said, smiling at my blank expression, “the war.”

Because the school closed, she left at 14. “I wanted to go to the art school, St Martins, but that was closed because of the war.” So, she said she’d be a typist. Then the firm she worked for closed down because of the war. “So I went on War Work,” she declared. “Oh, I’ve had a good life. I’m 93. Although people say I don’t look it.” She certainly didn’t look it.

I suggested she take up art now.

“I can’t,” she said, “it’s the hands.” She held up her arms. Her hands were balls, in gloves. “Arthritis,” she said. “But I’m alright. I was ill. And I recovered. So now I think, well, I’ve got a new life. Get on with it.”

She waved her balled hands cheerfully and pushed her trolley on. She turned round. “I hope to see you again,” she said.