Sketchbook Archive: Edinburgh 2012, part 1


I had long wanted to visit Edinburgh – a capital city, but smaller than London, less sprawling; where the light was said to be noticeably different in quality. A genteel place, if you believe the books of Alexander McCall Smith; or not, if your mental image relies on Ian Rankin and Inspector Rebus.

First I went to London to spend the night at my sister’s flat before the long train journey northwards. She had two free-range pet rats, Ratty Jake and Ratty Elwood, who scampered and would not pose for their portraits.


In the morning I sat in the near-empty Leon café at Kings Cross station, at the back near the window, with glorious morning sunshine lighting up the steam from a takeaway cup of scalding mint tea.

Then, to the train. I am an aficionado of books, podcasts, and albums played in their entirety; I also lead a sedentary life in general. The four hour train journey from London to Edinburgh would therefore have been very pleasant, if it hadn’t been that the air conditioning in my train carriage was broken – and possibly the toilet too, judging from the smell. I was glad to get off at the station, but then proceeded to get lost. Google maps, dear reader, are not really designed for pedestrians. I wandered for a long time, trying to find what should have been a very obvious and large road, before realising that I was standing under a bridge and the road was above me.


When I eventually became un-lost, and arrived at my B&B, I fell upon the thoughtfully provided teapot and shortbread biscuits – for where there is tea and a biscuit, there is comfort and a sense of normality.

Pictured above: various teas. To be continued…

The sound of the sea.

Arts By the Sea Festival Opening Weekend – September 2013. An account of a mysterious marriage, rendered in purple prose and pencil by yours truly…

(It’s the sound, it’s the sound of the sea.)

Dressed in white with ceremonial red crowns, a train of women make their way through the town, chanting strange words of the sea and a mysterious sacrifice. They are accompanied by a motley crew of officials – a choirmistress, a souvenir seller, a chimney sweep – and me: a hanger-on; an impromptu wedding guest. Somebody has given me a small paper flag with a silver horseshoe, and I wave it self-consciously.

Passing through the square and towards the lower gardens, crowds line up in the gathering gloom, capturing the spectacle with cameras and mobile phones. People are curious, but not surprised: there’s an arts festival happening, and they’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I walk near a gaggle of brightly-dressed characters in Commedia dell’Arte masks, whose cheerful song and comic capering add an air of exuberance to the solemn parade.

We are now heading for the sea, and at the pier, the procession pauses. There is eerie music and a sense of foreboding. The sky is a deep electric blue, and coming across the water is a small boat lit by strings of yellow bulbs. The brides are illuminated, too, by torches clutched in nervous hands. Their pale, carefully made-up faces glow. They wait and the crowd waits.

A short time later, as the brides recede into the distance aboard the little ferry, I lean on the pier railings and think about what has just happened. A woman I meet tells me she’s heard that the brides are in fact on their way to Poole, where they will go on a post-parade pub crawl. The mental image of 50 or so women in second-hand wedding dresses descending on quay-side drinking establishments is as surreal as anything else I’ve seen tonight. Then I go and take a last look at the giant robot horse parked on the seafront, before going home.

Sketch for a picture inspired by the Marriage of the Sea parade

Sketch for a picture inspired by the event, which I might finish one day.


Note: for some excellent atmospheric photos of the event, see this website. Look carefully, and you might spot the impromptu wedding guest in the red scarf under the word ‘Rapunzel’.

Sketchbook Archive: Bournemouth Natural Science Society Open Day, 2011

Bournemouth Natural Science Society - CaribouBournemouth’s Natural Science Society has an open weekend every year. I was familiar with the building from my secret identity as a singer, and competing (not very successfully!) in the solo classes of the Bournemouth Music Competitions Festival – these are held under the gaze of slightly tatty stuffed animal heads that necessarily smell of moth balls.

On the open weekend, which is worth a visit, they display some of the exhibits that are not usually open to the public – collections of birds, butterflies, minerals and various other fascinating things. Here are some sketches I did in 2011.

A Priori

I’m in a Halloween mood today, so here are some of the more morbidly themed pages from my 2011 Moleskine:

I sketched these in and around Christchurch Priory, a lovely large historic church. I found it interesting how many differently shaped gravestones there were, but similar enough to each other that you don’t notice unless you really look. There is also lots of lovely carved stone inside the priory building itself. That bird-thing (eagle?) was part of a lectern.

Here are sketches from a singing masterclass I went to. Real skulls were used to demonstrate some of the vocal anatomy concepts; during lunch break I was allowed to draw them. Hence why this page is an odd combination of surreptitiously sketched people, and crumbly old bones.