With a few days to draw a series of landmark scenes around London, I've found myself rubbing shoulders with international tourists seeing the side of the city that only tourists do. At Tower Bridge I spent a couple of hours working by the railings in front of the Tower of London, the water lapping against the pier, the only suggestion that the city is overflowing with cars being the stream of tiny vehicles crossing the bridge. The river is hardly teeming with craft, but it's lively, and it seems like the natural way to get around.
A yacht comes in, and the bridge opens, the first time I have seen it happen in all the years I've lived in London. A family visiting from Pakistan watch it as it happens, having been in town for all of a few hours, thinking it as regular an event as traffic lights going red. At Buckingham Palace, too, I am there for the Changing of the Guard, which I probably saw when visiting London from Cornwall as a boy in the 1960s, but never since. There's the band, horses, coachloads of French schoolchildren, and American tourists, who, I can tell from their well broadcast conversations, know much more of Britain's history than I do.
Becoming as much a fixture of the cityscape as lampposts and railings as I stand and draw, I come to be seen as a dependable travel guide: I offer suggestions for trips down the river to an Israeli couple; highlight the main points of interest in Trafalgar Square to two young women from the US; suggest the shortest route to Oxford Street from Piccadilly Circus; and tell the story of Ken Livingstone's downfall as the city's mayor on Westminster Bridge. Few want to engage me in conversation about what I am doing in the sketchbook. Not that I'm complaining.