it’s not easy being green

A couple of months ago I mentioned the story of the Davis Toad Tunnel, and promised to draw the little toady post office they built to evade the snakes. It’s down by the human post office, on Pole Line Road. Toad Hollow, it’s called.

toad hollow

Yes, they are actually pretend solar panels on the roofs. This is Davis, after all.

ein märzen aus alten zeiten

a litre of sudwerk

Oh man it hot. I managed to cycle downtown last night, to read a few comics and take in the warm evening air, listening to live bands who were out playing tribute to Michael Jackson in their best non-Jacko sounding indie acoustic guitar. I cycled off and went to Sudwerk, the local German-style brewpub, whose locally-brewed beers are excellent. I would miss them a lot if I ever moved back to Britain, they don’t have anything that comes close back there. Pictured above, a nice big litre of the Märzen, my favourite one. Very refreshing!

Drawn in Itoya finepoint pen – I was trying something new – and watercolour.

it don’t matter if you’re black or white

14, chess

#14 of 30. I practically never play chess any more. This set was bought in Brussels, ten years ago, in a cool toyshop called Grasshopper. I remember the first games I played on it, at the historic A La Mort Subite cafe, against a bloke from Swindon, a fellow teaching assistant who was living in Liege. I won those encounters. I was still fairly sharp then. I had a few tricks, mostly ones my brother taught me, but these days the world would be wise to my tricks. I remember playing one match, at a hostel in Budapest (all these places, eh), against an American backpacker. Showing off, I told a girl sitting next to me that I would checkmate my opponent in ten moves, and asked her to count them. Exactly ten moves later, checkmate. Truth was, I could have checkmated in one move, but decided to show off, and distract my opponent by letting him take my queen and other important pieces, before moving my rook up and catching his trapped king. People were actually stunned. That was very cheeky. I doubt I would have the cockiness any more. I’m also too predictable; I only ever play as white (so I can control the opening), and almost always play with the same opening move, as seen above. But then, that is also a ruse, to make my opponent think I am predictable…


So Michael Jackson is dead! That was a shock. Quite a big shock. Right before his big tour of the Millenium Dome. I did notice the internet slowed down right after I was told the news. He was undoubtedly a massive talent, one of the all-time pop greats from a very early age, but it was a ruined legend; whatever the truth of those allegations (and he was after all acquitted), his persona was increasingly an unbelievable freakshow, Wacko Jacko, and he produced no decent music after Dangerous. I think he will be remembered as two people. No, not the ‘Black Michael’ and the ‘White Michael’, but as the brilliant prodigious pop genius of the 70s and 80s,  and the sad, degenerating figure of the 90s and 2000s, with the crazy, ever-loyal army of fans. The Bashir interview proved his ultimate undoing; even long-time loyal fans of his (my oldest friend being one) couldn’t believe what a serious joke he’d become (“no Martin, I am Peter Pan!”), and couldn’t quite swallow the strange things he was saying about his professed relationships with kids, nor the allegations that were made. Who knows whether he would have won back public respect, after his comeback tour? (you know, isn’t really a tour if you’re just playing one venue over and over, that’s called a residency) It might have helped him pay off some of his debts. As it is, his music is now selling out across the world, he has become a one-man economic stimulus. Untimely death can often be the best thing that happens to pop legends, especially fallen ones. I think I still have somewhere one Sunday tabloid rag from the morning after Princess Diana died  (here’s the obligatory Diana comparison). On the cover it was all about Our Princess of Hearts is Dead, etc, while just a few pages in, the editors hadn’t scrapped the already published stories of What a Disgrace Diana is, Shame on Her etc. Fickle just isn’t the word. I don’t think the Jacko media circus is over just yet. Expect the eventual biopic to sweep the board at the Oscars.

“many ugly strawberries”

12, strawberries in denmark

#12 of 30. Denmark, the summer of ’95, strawberries, adidas shorts, and those coins with the holes in them. I was only nineteen, but I felt like an old man of nineteen. I learnt a lot of things. I learnt that when traversing Copenhagen station (or any train station), have a bag that has wheels, or at least some sort of discernible shape, one that doesn’t look like you’re hauling a body bag with a live body in it on your shoulders. It took me approximately a day and a half to reach the strawberry farm in the south of the island of Funen from Victoria station in London, which seems an extraordinary amount of time now that we live in the age of budget airlines and long bridges. In 1995, the dreaded Eurolines buses were the way to go, and Denmark was a nation of many ferry rides. It took almost 24 hours to reach Copenhagen, and from there I went via a mixture of trains, ferries, locals buses and a lift from a chip-shop owner, until I pitched my tent in the dark, and proceeded to spend the rest of the summer picking strawberries, busking in the street with my fellow jordbærplukkers and writing postcards.

Sometimes the picking was not good. The farmer, Bjarne (who I was told was nicknamed the Terminator because of his voice), would inspect each punnet, and if he didn’t like what he saw he would admonish you with the slow mechanical line, “many ugly strawberries”. Usually, ugly ones would be eaten mid-pick, since they were juicier, or even used for jam, but you were paid by the kilo, so more often the jordbærplukkers would hide big fat ugly ones under nice tender pretty ones. On the other hand, a nice punnet of shiny, shapely strawbs would be rewarded with a cool “many beautiful strawberries”. Sometimes the work would be frustrating, cold, back-breaking, sometimes it would be hot, back-breaking and frustrating. Often it would be fun though; the other jordbærplukkers, plucked from around the UK and Europe, were a great laugh. Sometimes we would meet the raspberry pickers from a nearby farm, sometimes hang out with locals, such as ‘Scouse’ Claus, who spoke in a broad Liverpool accent but had never been anywhere near the Mersey (he did work on a ferry though). People are very friendly in Denmark, the friendliest country I’ve ever been to.

It really did put me off strawberries though. I had nightmares about them, giant strawbs chasing me down the street, big piles of them every time I closed my eyes. That horrible red juice would just not wash from my hands, leaving me scrubbing like Macbeth for days after the last berry was picked. What little money I had left as the strawb season closed i used to jaunt around the country for a few days, first to Århus in the north, finally to Copenhagen, where I forewent a night in a packed and sweaty hostel, preferring to spend my last few kroner locking up my unwieldy luggage at the station and crooning in a karaoke bar, where locals bought me drinks and told me stories. When the sun came up, I got on a bus to England, with only a single krone left. I put that coin on a piece of string I found, and wore it all the way home, and for some time afterwards. I wonder where it is now.

chipotle shoulder


Lunchtime downtown, sketched out in the heat (almost hit a century today). Had a burrito at Chipotle. That’s not my bike, by the way.

Have you noticed how everything these days is ‘chipotle’? Food marketers can’t get enough of it. I even saw some chocolate dessert thing somewhere that had chipotle in the title recently, presumably to entice ye who cannot get enough chipotle. I’m surprised automakers haven’t started using it to shift cars in these troubled times. “The new Chevrolet Chipotle, more fuel efficient than a Fajita and spicier than a Ford.”

bag it up

I have this bag, from Eddie Bauer, which I carry everywhere. It’s the perfect size for what I use it for, which is to carry my sketchbook and pencil case and anything else that might come in handy, with lots of extra little pockets and compartments, without being so big that I’m tempted to fill it up. It’s my perfect shoulder bag (I went through a few to get there).

bag it up

And today at lunchtime I had nothing I wanted to draw, so I just drew the bag. Ive drawn it before. I also wanted to use my blue/black micron 05.

a change it had to come

Hundred degree weather came back to Davis this week, after a relatively cool period for California – on the KCRA3 Weather they said it had been a ‘summerless June’. Apart from a few clouds and some rain in the mountains, it has been generally sunny and in the warm 80s. So, obviously gloves and scarf weather. You gotta love Californians. 

 bike barn from bainer

I’ve drawn this view – the Bike Barn and South Silo, as seen from Bainer Hall – several times before. I like the view, it is fun to draw and you always see it anew each time. The only things that change are the leaves on the trees and the work on the green in the foreground. Funny enough, that even changed while I was drawing. I had to spread it out over a couple of lunchtimes, and on the second lunchtime that fence had gone, and someone was mowing the lawn (after I’d drawn all that spongy long grass). Oh well! It is the front of the Hog Barn – sorry, it’s not called that any more, it’s the Hubert Heitman something or other, as they made clear at a campus design council meeting I went to there (coincidentally, fellow Davis sketcher/blogger Pica was at the same meeting, and caught me without sketchbook). Anyway it has recently been renovated and opened (and it smells so new inside) so they’re adding the finishing touches. The world sits still for no sketcher.

Here are some other versions of this scene.

uc davis trees encore no leaves for you
smoky and the bikebarn rainy rainy day

we mean it, man

11, a band called gonads

#11 in the series. I have a box full of old cassettes, ones I’ve owned my whole life. Gonads, that was my band at school; I didn’t sing, but I played the guitar (well, I strummed it and my fingers made chord shapes every so often). The singer, Hooker, was very good. One year he sang in front of the whole school in only his y-fronts, and a beret, if memory serves. I also wrote the songs. Three, four chords. Sometimes we’d just improvise. Once we improvised an entire gospel piece, which still makes me laugh to this day. The song about Jacques Delors was very catchy, and was full of absurdist lyrics parodying the absurd Europhobic headlines of the day, all about banning crisp flavours and killing off willo-the-wisp. We had some of those teenage songs about girls, too, like the ‘Great Unnamed Love Song’, and we covered (rather, absolutely slaughtered beyond recognition) stuff from Sex Pistols to Bryan Adams to Wonderstuff. We were obsessed with ‘Enter the Dragon’. And we had a song about the people who sell the Evening Standard down in London, based pretty much on an encounter we had near Bank station with one particularly incomprehensible vendor. The things that inspire you when you’re fifteen.

Oh we sounded absolutely dreadful, but it was just great fun. Something I’m proud of. If you like I will tell you where you can hear some of it.