“That’s a nice stool.”
It was an older guy whom I’ve seen hanging around on that corner many times. I didn’t want to start my day chatting with men who may or may not have been drinking already, so I did an unkind thing. I started packing up my stool again.
“It’s grand and light,” he said, seemingly oblivious to my frostiness and the fact that I was walking away.
After a minute I figured I’d let myself down as an urban sketcher. That often the best part of urban sketching is chatting with people on the street, even winos. I went back and set up my stool again. He started chatting idly, but lucidly, and I wondered if I’d misjudged him: that perhaps he was an abstemious man, or one who drank no more than I (which isn’t wino levels, just to be clear).
“That’s a hard draw, all the same,” he said, looking at the pub I was about to start sketching.
Off he went, and came back a few minutes later with a large can of extra-strong beer.
He greeted passers-by, they returned his greeting by name, and I thought it must be nice for him to have his own spot where he can go, have a drink and feel like he’s in company, despite things having taken what might be considered a downward turn. Nice to know. Meanwhile he wasn’t bothering me in the slightest, somewhat to my disappointment. And you know what? He used a crutch to walk, and that stool of mine probably looked very comfortable.
Feet of flame
A street dancer arrived. He was wearing an aran jumper. He set up his iPad and amp, let trad music fill the street and started to tap, “sean-nós nua” style (the new old way). His clicky shoes gave expression to the music in a soft, easy rhythm. The dancing stoked his inner furnace and soon the aran jumper came off, and he was down to a navy waistcoat and white shirt. Then the waistcoat went the way of the aran sweater and after another twenty minutes of this easy but intense movement I could see his skin through his shirt. His tapping was mesmerising, my companion with the beer offering great encouragement and appreciation. A woman stopped to watch with two tiny girls. They were beautifully dressed for a day out in purple frock coats and both had long dark hair in high ponytails: the older of the two couldn’t have been more than three or four. They came forward to drop some coins in the hat, then one of them couldn’t resist helping herself. The woman shrieked for her to put it back and everyone laughed indulgently. Then the little girl decided to join in the dancing (perhaps that was her plan all along, and she was simply taking what she felt she was owed). It was most adorable. Máirtín, the dancer, came over to say hello. I thought he was a Connemara man from his accent and I was about to launch into Irish (because I’m very excited to be learning it) and then I overheard him say he’s from Offaly. I’m glad I didn’t ask in crap Irish if he was from Connemara.
“I’m going to get a takeaway. I can’t face cooking tonight – I feel sick.”
“I don’t need a loan. I have €400.”
“You can’t approach a trapped seagull. Their beaks are dangerous. You have to envelop them in a blanket. Anyway did you see the place yet? It was covered in seagull shit.”
“If you stand sideways when you pose for a photo you won’t look so fat.”
Eventually I was too cold to paint anymore, the paint had stopped drying and my fingers were doing their dead person impression, so I went into Tigh Cóilí to warm up. I love Tigh Cóilí. There is live traditional music there every night, which means that when I welcome visitors to Galway I know I’m guaranteed that they’ll hear great music. Years ago I did a wedding invitation suite for an American girl. Her parents were beautiful people and came to visit Galway, taking me (and my husband!) out for dinner. Afterwards we went to Tigh Cóilí, where her dad, who was Irish American, played the concertina with the group: anyone who wants to can join in a session in Ireland, by the way. The very adorable bride, Meghan, had asked me to sketch her father as he played, and she gave him the sketch as a gift a little while later.
Soon I was starting to come back to life with a coffee in front of me. I asked the barman if there was a snug. He said there wasn’t. I told him I was hoping to draw snugs in Galway pubs. Just like that, he offered to make a list of pubs in Galway that had a snug. The barman is called Aonghus. He started scribbling down names, asking the punters to contribute their suggestions – and I now have that precious list tucked into a small sketchbook.
A gentleman at the bar laughingly said that in the absence of a snug I could draw him. I never turn down an offer like that. His name is Neil and he’s in the purple jumper on the right. Of course no sooner had I started drawing than he realised he needed to use his hands and turn around a lot to better explain his points but I was fast. Then I noticed that his friend Kevin, the tall chap in the baseball cap, was one of those people who don’t move too quickly, so I asked him if I could include him too. Job done. Like Nature, a sketcher abhors a vacuum, and I was itching to fill the gap between the two chaps. I asked Aonghus if he wouldn’t mind leaving his duties for a minute so that I could put him in the middle. I was thrilled when he agreed, because that was exactly how the three of them had looked in between pint-pulling and point-emphasising.
I admired the many police badges that were displayed over the bar. Eighteen years ago a serving American cop had given his to the bar and since then it has been joined by many more. There must have been over eighty badges, a sketcher’s delight (especially one who has just taken delievery of NEW LETTER STAMPS). Meanwhile, Máirtín from Offaly danced on outside. We watched him in admiration: Aonghus said he’s there every day. My fingers were back to their normal rich pink colour and it was time to head off. I tried to pay for my coffee but Aonghus wouldn’t let me. He told me that the live traditional music starts at about 6pm every day, when it’s not too crowded, so I’ll make a trip very soon, and those police department badges aren’t going to sketch themselves.