I took the Caledonian Sleeper to London. The ride was so smooth that departure wasn't even noticeable; our movement down the rails was indistinguishable from the relaxing vibration of the train resting at the platform. At some point in the night I was conscious enough to suspect we were in the London area (based on increased bumps in the ride), which was confirmed when the attendant delivered the morning coffee as a way of announcing that we had in fact arrived at London Euston. After the coffee, we were permitted to take our time getting up and leaving; there was no rushed exit. Sweet! I just wish there had been a shower. Lynn and Lou wouldn't be able to meet up with me until that evening, so I checked my now overstuffed bag into "left luggage" and went wandering out into the streets. To be honest, I wasn't very excited about visiting London itself - I've been there before, done the basic sightseeing, and generally found it overwhelming and somewhat generically urban compared to my beloved Scottish cities. (This attitude would change before my departure!) My main purpose in town was to see Lynn and Lou, and no plans had been made beyond that. Still, it was a lovely day and I was on vacation in one of the great metropolises of the world!
After taking advantage of a blessedly cheap internet cafe, I just walked randomly until I spied this monstrosity peaking out from behind some more humble structure...
Then did a double take because the humble structure in front turned out to be the British Library. That's THE British Library. Which is free to enter, and currently featuring an exhibit on science fiction. Besides the decorative crashed saucer and Police Box in the exhibition space, there were some gorgeous vintage book covers and illustrations; you can find them (and many more) at the British Library's print shop. Very inspiring! Then I explored the rest of the Library. Not bad, London... I wandered randomly in your streets for five minutes, and ended up viewing gorgeous early sci fi illustrations, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta, a Mervyn Peake exhibit, and draft pages from Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass.
After some time in the Library I felt ready to do some actual "urban sketching" and settled in for this street scene. Unfortunately my brush pen ran out of ink, oh no!
This sketch marks the only time someone *in a car* would yell to me... "what are you sketching?" I answered, "those buildings over there!" "Can we see?" I showed them. "Cheers! Good luck!" ...and the light had changed, and they were off.
I saw signs pointing towards the British Museum, so figured it was kismet. My first stop was the Museum cafe, but then it was time for some ancient statues (and tourists).
Here's where I started to get a lot of attention. While drawing Seated Sakhmet (above), at one point I looked up to my left and there was a gigantic camera *right next to my head* focused on my page. I turned to my right, and there was another gigantic camera focused down on me and my page from above. This was a little disconcerting, but got me thinking about why people would turn their cameras on me, when surrounding by all these great antiquities of the world.
We all, as tourists, want to connect with the place we've found. We want to be part of a story that binds us to the place forever. Urban Sketchers have a great advantage in that we know we can bind ourselves to places by sketching them. Now that I have sketched Seated Sakhmet, I feel like we're partners in a way - we know each other, we get along, we're part of a shared story. Many tourists try to get this feeling by snapping photos or video of her, but I think it is harder that way - it's too easy to forget to focus your mind at the same time as you focus your camera, and you can arrive home to find your SD card full but your memories empty. These people came to the British Museum to see art, but didn't know how to be part of it; I think that is why they wanted to photograph me sketching. Now they had a story - "In the British Museum I came upon this artist, sketching" - my presence gave them an anchor in time and space, which perhaps helps them to connect to the space themselves.
I feel blessed to have found a way to forge a strong bond to my environment, and proud to have something to offer these strangers as an incidental bonus of fulfilling my own desire.
The British Museum was calling for at least 5 more days, but my time for this day was up so it would have to wait until my NEXT vacation to the UK. I adventured through the Underground and navigated unfamiliar London streets to find Green & Stone, a gorgeous little art store jam-packed with paint-stained easels, shelves and shelves of sketchbooks, tiny beautiful vials of ink - it's an artist's art store for sure, and old-timey as all get-out.
After that I found Lynn & Lou's house, and we spent the evening catching up and having really lovely tapas at Mar I Terra. I'll leave the rest of the details of our visit private, summarizing simply as this: the decade that had passed since we last met felt like nothing, and my evening spent with dear friends was precious and wonderful.