I was in the office this week, campus is still closed but I had a lot to do there, preparing for the new academic year. At the end of the day, I got to enjoy Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, with special guest presenter Gary Younge. It was titled “Going Viral: Race, Racism and Rebellion in the Midst of a Pandemic”. The talk was presented remotely from England, and so I watched in my office and sketched my desk and the laptop while it was on, using my iPad. I really enjoyed it. The live Q&A afterwards with Chancellor May and Gary Younge was cut short unfortunately due to loss of connection. It has been a long time since I drew my work desk, in fact I don’t think I have drawn it since moving offices. When I’m on campus I usually keep the drawing space and the work space separate, even though I’ve not been working from this desk regularly in several months now due to this damned pandemic. See if you can spot my Baby Yoda hand sanitizer.
This here is the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis, which used to be the Davis Library decades ago. It also used to be in a different location, but was moved to the edge of Central Park also decades ago. Buildings have a habit of moving around in Davis. I’ve only ever seen it happen once – in the dead of night, walking home in the darkness after an evening of sketching and beering, there it was, a house suddenly sprouting large legs, not unlike those of a chicken, and rising up and walking several blocks down the street. No, it didn’t happen like that, the legs were more like a turkey’s. Actually it would be cool to imagine them doing that. The building I saw move was on Third Street, and was being moved down on a trailer behind a big truck. It was a long time ago, my memory might be playing tricks, as it does, it might have been on the back of a turtle. Anyway, some buildings have moved about here in Davis, the Anderson-Hamel house on the corner of F and 7th used to be down on 2nd Street, and the Tank House up at Impossible Acres farm used to be next to the Varsity Theatre, among other places. This building used to be on F Street, moving here in 1988 to become the museum. Enough history mystery, I drew this recently, as a piece for the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction. This year the Art Auction (which has an incredible logo, by the way) will be completely online, so I will miss the usual event, I always like to go and bump into art people I know, and have some delicious wine and food. The Museum itself is interesting (here is the website: http://dcn.davis.ca.us/~hattieweber/) and is named after the first paid librarian in Davisville, Harriet Elisha Weber. I’ve not been in there in a while, but I remember they used to have a school bell outside that my son used to like ringing. One year when my son was little we came in to do an easter egg hunt, and while looking for easter eggs he spotted one of my drawings in there, which was a surprise, and a big honour. It was nice to be out drawing again in Davis, something I have not been doing much this year at all. although I didn’t do that much – just the basics, the outlines in pen, and then cycled home to add the details and the paint. I wonder if I’ll ever get back into the rhythm of going out drawing regularly, as I did when I was at the office every day. Of course this month the air has been too smoky to be outside, although it is improving. I cannot believe it is nearly September already. This year, this damned bloody year.
Our virtual journey is at an end. The traditional end-point for the island of Great Britain is John O’Groats (or the beginning point; end, begin, all the same), and so after all the cities and dramatic valleys we end at a tiny hamlet, well less hamlet and more medallion of bacon, or lardon, on the way to the Orkneys. People walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats for charity, or to see how far it is, or just to explore a route across the island of Great Britain. I can vouch, it’s a long way, with a lot in between. You have to miss a lot out; you can’t explore Great Britain and see everything. Doing this virtually means you miss out on meeting all the people, but on the plus side you don’t have to meet as many people. I don’t think that’d be a problem up here. In Edinburgh during the Festival maybe, or London while Camden Market is on, or Manchester on a Saturday night, or Bournemouth beach after lockdown is lifted (or even before), too many people for a crowd-avoider like me. The north of Scotland is significantly less populated, though I am sure it still gets a lot of tourists.
And why not, it’s spectacular. Loch Ness is a highlight, stretching up the Great Glen and slicing Scotland in two. I have started getting very interested in the geology of Great Britain, and I bought a book all about it, and have watched some shows on YouTube that talk about it, but I feel like I still have a way to go before I can really understand it – Britain has a very deep geological history. What is now Scotland in fact was once on a different continent to England, something which can never happen again in our lifetimes, at least not geologically, though maybe geopolitically. The area that is now the border between the English and the Scots is roughly where the geological border lies. But then you have the Great Glen, up in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive deep diagonal lobotomy through the head of Great Britain. The faultline is called the Great Glen Fault, where two tectonic plates meet and move slowly in different directions. In the Ice Age huge glaciers carved up this land, and glacial erosion in the Quaternary period formed the immensely deep freshwater lake called Loch Ness. The bit I drew was of Urquart Castle, from street View (but obviously on a boat, so Loch view) (incidentally, wen you use Google Street View here the little yellow person icon changes into a green Loch Ness Monster). You’ve all heard of the Loch Ness Monster, aka Nessie. It’s a monster that looks a bit like a plesiosaur or a dragon, and has to hide with his family of other Nessies whenever those damned scientists come along (I think they’ve had enough of ‘experts’), and there’s this family who helps them out, a couple of kids and a bloke with a big bushy red beard, he plays the bagpipes to warn them I think. I saw a documentary but it’s been a really long time. Actually I did watch a movie about it called “Loch Ness” with your man from Cheers in it, I actually saw that at the cinema in 1996. Bit of a story to go with that, I was on a date in central London, and we decided to watch Loch Ness at Leicester Square. I remembered it was a fairly boring film, but we heard this loudish bang during the film, thought nothing of it. Afterwards it was freezing outside but we walked down by the Thames talking about how Loch Ness wasn’t all that, until time to go home as I had college next morning (I was heading back to north London, she to south). But then the bridges across the Thames were closed, and I was stuck. The reason the bridges were closed was because the loud bang we had heard was actually a bomb going off on a bus on Aldwych, not that far away. It was an IRA bomb, but unannounced (often there would be a phone warning in those days) – this one was being carried by the bomber but went off accidentally while he sat on the bus. There were quite a few IRA incidents in the mid 90s. So, many of the bridges were closed, meaning I was stuck on the other side of the Thames. My date’s friend was picking her up by car and offered me to stay over if need be but I really needed to get home so I could be up for college next day (I was so responsible) so I said I’d be fine. I walked for ages down the Thames until I got to a bridge that was actually open; by the time I managed to walk back up to Trafalgar Square, absolutely freezing in the light snow, it was way too late for the tube (which I assumed would be closed anyway due to the bomb, that was a thing) and wondered if I’d need to walk home (which is about a four hour walk), there was thankfully a Night Bus. The good old N5. So, when I think of the Loch Ness, I think of that freezing cold night.
At the top of the Great Glen is Inverness. I have to say, I found it hard to find something on Street View I wanted to draw. I think I imagined more than I got, I thought maybe there’d be a great whisky shop or statue of Nessie or Ted Danson, but in the end I found this nice bridge across the water. What I really liked about it was the couple in the foreground, sat by the river, the woman’s head resting on the man’s shoulder, it just seemed warm and touching. I’ve kept in the people were I can in these drawings, because I’ve learned that geography is not just about the inanimate objects, but the inanimate human beings as well. It’s a nice view of the bridge looking over at the church, but these people give it a warmer, happier feel. Inverness is often voted the happiest place in Scotland, which makes me want to visit it more now. Apparently the accent is quite different, with none of the usual rolled ‘r’s, but the accents change as you get further north up here and can be quite different to what English or other people expect to hear from a Scottish voice. I want to travel just to hear all these accents, as interesting as differences in geology. Inverness historically was a stronghold of Gaelic speakers too, though use of the native language has dwindled over the years. Scottish Gaelic is similar linguistically to Irish and Manx, and also related to Welsh, Cornish and Breton, the Celtic languages. I know a little Irish, just a few phrases really (nobody in my Irish family spoke it), but the only thing I ever learned in Scottish Gaelic was “Alba gu bràth” which means something like “Scotland forever”.
We can’t stay in Inverness forever, so time for the sixty-sixth and final stop on this long journey, John O’Groats. As mentioned this is where charity walkers like to start or finish. The spot I chose to draw is right by the edge of the sea, at the little harbour where you catch the ferry to the Orkneys. The town is apparently named after an old Dutch ferryman. There’s not much here, but it’s the knowledge that you’re right at the tip of this big island with thousands of years of history and culture behind you. It’s been a fun journey, I hope to do it in person someday, but for now I’m at the desk in my house in California, the air quality from the wildfire smoke still making it hard to breath outside, a global pandemic making everything difficult, my son just started his first day of Junior High, all completely remote, and we had no big summer travels this year for the first time in ages. I suppose it’s good, we can sit at home and see the world in other ways, but we are looking through a keyhole, seeing only the bits we want to see, not hearing any real voices, or accents, not smelling the air or tasting the food, not getting a chill from a North Sea breeze or drenched in a Mancunian downpour or sun-burned on a Cornish beach, no exhaustion from climbing steep hills in Bristol or Edinburgh, no rushing to finish my sketch so I don’t miss the last bus out of Portmeirion. I should write a final page to close out the book, that I will keep to myself; I’ve left it blank. Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, even the long rambly often nonsensical and sometimes made-up-ish posts that go with them. If I ever do exhibit shows again this will be a fun curio to look at, of a virtual journey in a year when were were told to stay home. What a bloody year. I hope next year is better than this.
Scotland, bonny Scotland. Och aye. We’ve got past Glasgow and Celtic now, and now on to the other parts of Scotland. I didn’t leave enough spots for places like Stirling, Arbroath, Stenhousemuir, Forfar Athletic, Queen of the South, or other places I remember from lower division Scottish football tables. Speaking of which, I used to collect Panini football stickers, and after all the English clubs were out of the way you;d get the Scottish clubs, and they would be half-sized, two players per sticker, and you had some names etched into my memory, Murdo McLeod, Maurice Malpas, and they didn’t all have M names. Remember Campbell Money? Well that’s still an M name I suppose. Tosh McKinlay, Willie Miller, there was a guy called Fraser Wishart, and a Crawford Baptie. Enough of this, let’s see some Scotland.
First stop is St.Andrews, which is famous for two things – Golf, and William and Kate. This is where the sport of Golf was born, here in St.Andrews, when famously they were playing a game of football when one lad decided to pick up the ball, place it on a tee, and hit it into the goal using a metal club, and that’s how Golf was discovered. Now of course there are all sorts of types of Golf, you have regular Golf, Mini-Golf, Crazy-Golf, Golf League, Golf Union, Australian-Rules-Golf, Volkswagen Golf, and the Golf War. I’m not allowed to watch Golf in our house because apparently I make too many silly jokes about it, which surely isn’t true. So I’ll move on from the Golf to the other thing St.Andrews is known for, Wills and Kates. They went to university here, and met here, and the rest is History of Art. Obviously I am talking about the Heir of Windsor and Duchess of Middleton and not the American reality TV couple Will and Kate Plus Eight, though they may also have met here. I wonder what happened to them? I don’t really. I stopped watching them when Sister Wives came out. I wonder what happened to them? No I don’t. I wonder what happened to Wills and Kates? St.Andrews University – the oldest in Scotland – has many famed alumni though, you’ve got Edward Jenner (no relation to the modern Jenners), John Pringle (nothing to do with the crisps), John Knox (unrelated to the TV show Opportunity Knox). Now, St.Andrews does look like a nice place, though I bet that North Sea blows in a chill wind through your bagpipes. It’s a lovely looking town, few too many golf shops, but I drew this charming little bookstore. One more thing – St.Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. You’ve heard of St.Patrick for Ireland, you know St.George for England, you may be familiar with St.David for Wales, well St.Andrew is the saint for Scotland and its his cross on the national flag, the Saltire. We Britons learn the four Saints as kids, along with the other four national symbols, the Rose, the Shamrock, the Thistle and the Daffodil. Or the Leek, I forget now.
Let’s move on. Dundee is not famous for crocodiles and comparing cutlery. To me, Dundee is famous for two things: the Beano, and Dundee United. And Dundee FC, and the Dandy. Ok that’s four things but you can lump the Beano and the Dandy together, and Dundee FC and Dundee United are two football clubs on the same street, literally a couple of minutes walk from each other. Dundee is getting very far north now, it feels very alien to me. I like Dundee United though, they were my favourite Scottish team in the 80s, though I liked Celtic for Irish cultural reasons. Dundee United had some great runs though, winning the league and later getting to the UEFA Cup Final, losing out to IFK Gothenburg, I remember watching that on TV and being so disappointed they didn’t win, but really loving both teams’ kits. For me though, it’s all about the Beano. (And the Dandy, fine). The Beano was a kids comic that was massive when I was little. My older brother was a huge Beano fan, and one of my earliest memories of us sharing a room is messing up his comics, though we used to read the Beano together and always got our own copies of the Beano Annual at Christmas. (He is ten years older than me, but I’d still get him the Beano Annual years later). I loved all the characters, the Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Minnie the Minx, but most of all Dennis the Menace and his dog Gnasher. I was a member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, I got the little wallet with the two badges. (I just checked – you can still get them!) The Beano and the Dandy are published here in Dundee by DC Thomson (whoah, I just made the connection between ‘Dandy’ and ‘Dundee’) The Dandy was alright, I liked it at Christmas but it as a comic it was always the one I would only get if the Beano was sold out. Desperate Dan with his massive chin and those cow pies was never as relatable as Dennis and Gnasher. I remember the Beezer comic, sometimes I’d get that at Christmas too and I liked it mostly for the Numskulls, but I never got Topper, Topper was rubbish. Now what I decided to draw for Dundee was a big tall ship, the RRS Discovery, Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic’s ship built right here in Dundee and now moored next to the V&A Dundee, an impressive modern building down beside the river Tay. I would like to see Dundee, home of the Beano, and it was apparently dubbed “Coolest Little City in Britain” in 2015, but the world’s a different place from 2015 so that tile might belong to Wigan or somewhere now for all I know.
And last stop on this trip is Aberdeen, the granite city. Aberdeen were the other one of those teams that in the 80s broke up the dominance of the Old Firm. We’ve had enough Scottish football for one post though. So, Aberdeen, it’s called the granite city. Presumably lots of granite there. I liked drawing this street, with the extreme angle perspective caused by scrolling Street View too far. I’m going to bet that building is made of granite. Ok all I really know about Aberdeen is the football team was food in the 1980s when Alex Ferguson was their manager, they had red Umbro shirts with JVC on them (Adidas shirts earlier on when they won the European Cup-Winners Cup while Gordon Strachan played for them) and had a player called Jim Bett in the Football 88 album. Sorry, I realize you probably expect some history of the city but even if I visited there, even if I went there in real life and went out speaking to locals over a pint and a chip supper, I’d still only think about the 1980s Aberdeen football team, the ‘Granites’. Apparently Lord Byron was raised in Aberdeen, old ‘Granite’ Byron as he was known.
We’ve only got one more spread until we are finally all done, and thankfully very few 1980s Scottish football references coming up in the next places: Loch Ness, InverNess, and John O’Groats Ness. So expect lots of references to the 80s cartoon The Family Ness. And of course, greatest Scottish show of all time, Super Gran (not actually filmed in Scotland). “Is there nothin’ that she cannae do?“
And so on to another spread that I really enjoyed drawing; I really like the spreads that have a big bridge spanning across the pages. I won’t try to do a Scottish accent, though if I am around Scots for a little while I find myself picking up little bits here and there in a way that has never happened while living in America. I can’t do an American accent to save my life, no matter how hard I try I always sound like John Wayne, or one of those 1930s gangsters (“maaaaaah, he’s a wise guy, seeee”). But I remember hanging around with my Glaswegian friend when I was a kid and my vowels would start changing without me noticing, I would say “Scaw’land”, and put “see me” at the start of sentences. I’ve never spent any real time in Scotland to see if I would pick up an accent but if my wife had been Caledonia rather than Californian, born in Rutherglen rather than Riverside, I might have ended up owning more raincoats and rolling my “r”s by now. Who knows. My London friends probably do think I sound American now and I just don’t realize it, just because I’ll say “sidewalk” occasionally, or “yeehaw” or “quit the lollygaggin, sheee, shtick em up, you doity rat, sheeee”.
And so to Edinburgh, capital of Scotland. I have been to Edinburgh in 1999 for the Festival, with my university’s theatre company. I wasn’t acting, no I was doing technical stuff, lighting (trying to figure out the complicated lighting deck which occasionally didn’t work for me) and sound (pressing play and pause on a minidisk player, significantly easier). It was a very drinky-stay-out-late time, as is not unusual during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but I found the event a bit too overpopulated for my liking. My favourite bits were just going up that big hill and looking over the city in peace, as the sun went down. I remember going to see one comedian who was from South London or somewhere, who told a joke I still remember, he said that they have gangs in Edinburgh, but up here they have drive-by headbuttings. A few people laughed. Best show I saw was a crazy version of Ubu Roi (in English) at the theatre we were based in, I recall going on a pub crawl with most of the cast afterwards. Acting and performing friends love Edinburgh, it’s a big time for them, especially if trying out new shows. I would like to go back and see my friend Simon perform there some day when he gets back there, but I really don’t like being somewhere like that when it’s so crowded; this year of course coronavirus did for it, but I hope that the theatre industry can bounce back from all this. Edinburgh is an attractive place, lots of dramatic scenery, quite a diverse city, and one i’d like to go to at a more normal time. I think I applied there for university when I was doing A-Levels, but ended up going to Queen Mary in London. I didn’t get into Edinburgh, the only place I didn’t get an offer, but looking at my UCAS form afterwards it looks like I applied for the MA rather than the BA; the Scottish universities were a bit confusing. Scotland’s education system is a bit different from England and Wales – a little ahead, if the Scottish kids in our school were to be believed – and the legal system is also different. The money is different too – it’s pound sterling but the banknotes are issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, not the Bank of England, and don’t have the Queen on them. I’d love to come and draw Edinburgh, but honestly, I’d be coming for this bridge.
The Forth Bridge, going over the massive Firth of Forth, is one of my favourite bridges. Even looking at the picture in Google Street View, I really had to study all the metal girders (pronounced “gar’dahs”, or however it was pronounced in the Irn Bru adverts) (similar to the way Taggart would pronounce ‘murder’, “Sir, there’s been anuthah mur’dah”). It’s a beauty of a bridge. You can’t really tell here but it’s red. It’s a railway bridge; there is aq different one for cars, which is more boring. I mean it’s ok, looks a bit like the older stretch of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, but next to the rail bridge it’s very much the bass player nobody cares about, or Simon Le Bon. Or the less funny member of a comedy double act. I bet many comedy double acts came to Edinburgh over the years and came out here, and one of them knew they were the rail bridge, and the other knew they’d always be the road bridge. So, the Firth of Forth goes over to Fife. I’m not making that up. If you speak with a London accent as I do, switching your ‘th’ sounds to ‘f’ sounds, that’s a lot of ‘f’s all in one place, faffing about. “Fifty-five thieves in the Firth of Forth near Fife”. I need a glass of water. Speaking of girders though, I used to really like Irn Bru when I was a kid. You don’t see it over here, except on rare occasions like at the Scottish Games (they used to hold that in Woodland, all bagpipes and caber tossing), though I last had some at a Scottish food cart in Portland. It’s quite a sugary fizzy drink, some people call it Scotland’s national drink (after Whisky) (and Buckfast).
We move northwards through Scotland for two more spreads, before we will finally finish our virtual journey around Great Britain. I don’t really like whisky so I’ll need to find some virtual Irn Bru, shortbread, and deep-fried Mars bars for the last legs as we head into Dundee, home of the Beano, St Andrews, birthplace of golf, and the granite city, Aberdeen.
And so, the final leg of the virtual journey, we are heading north to Scotland. By the way, WordPress, I hate the new editing tool for posting on the blog, too unnecessary, clunky. The old one was much better. Anyway, here are the final few posts on this journey, written as I’m stuck inside during a pandemic and a wildfire smoke emergency, wondering if I’ll start the next virtual sketch journey or not, and thinking maybe it’s not worth it, but I’ll tell you it’s good practice drawing buildings.
Before we reach Scotland, we must get to the end of England. Hadrian’s Wall isn’t the border between England and Scotland, a border that’s moved about a bit over the centuries, but it was a border once. It was the edge of the Roman Empire, ordered to be constructed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian around the year 122. It’s old. There was no England or Scotland back then, there was the Roman province of Britannia, and Caledonia, where the Picts lived. I think Hadrian was one of the better Roman emperors, I suppose, because he had a beard, not many of them did. His statues make him look a bit like Matthew Corbett, you expect him to be putting on a puppet show with a very naughty little bear, a grey dog that squeaks and a bossy miniature panda. Even his name, Hadrian – you get other emperors with names like Nero, Caligula, Severus, Voldemortus, Bastardus Maleficus, Anus Panus the Heinous – but Hadrian is basically ‘Adrian’, bespectacled and bookish (hey I’m both of those things), into Subbuteo and French films (me too, this is weird, maybe I’m really called Adrian?). I wonder if Hadrian kept a diary when he was thirteen and three quarters? He did write poems, well, one poem. He was one of Rome’s “Five Good Emperors”. Sure he loved a bit of excessive cruelty but that was the Romans, I guess. The wall itself runs from Newcastle all the way to the Solway Firth. There is Google Street View along the wall too, so I did a virtual walk along some of it, and found a spot I liked. I decided to add all the colour, it just seemed right. I really want to walk the Wall some day. explore the old Roman sites, learn about life along the edge of the Roman Empire.
And so forth to Scotland, taking the high road (or the low road, they both get there, though I think the low road is quicker). I decided to go straight to Glasgow, the biggest city, though not the capital (that’s Edinburgh). I have only ever been to Glasgow very briefly, over twenty years ago, staying with my friend Simon’s uncle outside the city for a couple of days. Scotland is beautiful, like amazingly so, we drove around some of the most amazing countryside I’d ever seen (and in a classic Jaguar too, beautiful vehicle). I’ve had a few Glasgow connections. One of my best friends at school when I was 12 was Glaswegian, Ralph, when he first came I was the only one in our class who understood his accent. My mum was in Glasgow when she was younger, in fact she got married there to my older siblings’ father. I used to have other Glaswegian friends I met on holiday and we’d write to each other. I always felt a connection to Glasgow but I’ve never actually spent any time there at all myself, and wandering about the city virtually I really wish I had. Glasgow has my favourite UK accent. I loved that show Rab C Nesbitt when I was a kid. One of my all-time favourite bands, Belle and Sebastian, are Glaswegian. Glasgow’s an artist’s city – famous art school, plus Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s a very Irish city, a lot of Irish immigrants settled there over the years, which is why we have Celtic football club, I have a couple of Celtic shirts (one is from about 1988 which doesn’t really fit now obviously). Also, while not set in Glasgow, one of my favourite films is the 1981 Bill Forsyth film Gregory’s Girl. I kinda fancied Clare Grogan when I was a teenager, I even finally met her when I was in my 20s. I also liked Forsyth’s film from a few years later, Comfort and Joy, with Bill Paterson (Grogan was also in that one), about an ice cream war in Glasgow (though there really were ice cream wars in Glasgow in the 80s, but I think that was more of a turf war between drug gangs). My uncle used to sing “I Belong to Glasgow” when he’d had a drink. The drawing I did is of Glasgow City Chambers, in George Square. Signs everywhere in bright pink state “People Make Glasgow”.
Right, next up on this trip we will head east to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. May the Forth be with you.
We’ve been having a heatwave in northern California over the past week or so, with temperatures hitting up to 108 degrees at the weekend. And then came some storms, at first bringing some drops summer rain, but mostly they brought hot winds and dry lightning strikes. Lots of them – one night was constant rumbling, low rumbling mostly, with flashes echoing in the sky. It kept me awake, fascinated by the electrical storm but nervous about what it might bring to this big dry state. Fires did break out as we could see from the thin layer of smoke in the sky next day, giving everything a dirty orange hue, so I drew from the dining room table before dinner (above). This is where my desk is now, I’ve moved back down from upstairs, much to the annoyance of my cat who has gotten used to sleeping the afternoons in my desk chair. I am not sure I like being closer to the kitchen again, closer to the snacks, but I was crammed into a small space in the bedroom for quite a while and needed a change. I’ll go back up again at some point, if I get bored. I coloured this in using some new fancy Daniel Smith paints, which I’m not really used to yet. Wednesday morning I went outside to cycle to the office, and while there were blue skies, the air smelled dense with smoke. Ash was falling everywhere like snowflakes, and the sky away to the west was filled with billows of dull grey. This was the LNU Lightning Complex fore, which is around Napa/Vacaville and now beyond, a terrible and huge fire that even jumped across Interstate 80 cutting off the freeway. Evacuation zone has gone up as far as Winters, next town over, which is a lot closer than any other fire yet. I didn’t cycle any further than the next block, I went straight back home, and stayed inside. Ash has been falling ever since, and the house is generally filled with that orange/ochre light, turning red as the sun sets. Above is a sketch I did of one of the cats, Whiskers I think, on his high perch by the back door, while the dirty air outside casts an alien glow. This was done on the iPad. Cat don’t care, he sleep. Below, this was a quick sketch of the sun in the sky outside our window, looking like a sore red boil. We’ve had lots of wildfires in California the past few years, and fire season is long and scary, and our skies have been blanketed in unhealthy and hazardous smoke, especially a couple of years ago. But this is the closest we’ve had a big fire that I can remember since I’ve lived in Davis. We packed some bags in case the evacuation zone increased, not a bad idea, though given our location it’s pretty unlikely. Lots of people have lost their homes, and some historic state parks have been seriously damaged by the fires. And more dry lightning is expected over the weekend. The firefighters do an amazing job, they are real heroes, I just hope it doesn’t get even worse.
Yesterday afternoon, clocking off a little early after the smoky air gave me a headache, I sat on the couch watching Agents of SHIELD until dinnertime, my son played on his device, so I sketched him, that awful sky washing in. Step outside and it’s choking, like being in a north London pub in the 90s, I feel like putting the Charlatans on the jukebox and buying a pint for under two quid, then getting some cheap fried chicken and falling asleep on the night bus. My throat is dry, and the ash keeps floating around outside. So when my Apple Watch scolds me for not having my exercise ring further along than usual, I’m like, not now, Apple Watch, not now. There’s a global pandemic on, and it’s election season, and now the world’s literally on fire.
We took a drive over to see family in Santa Rosa, not something we;ve done much of lately since the pandemic started. We sat in the backyard of my wife’s mother, all socially distanced and wearing masks. My nephew had grown taller since I last saw him, so much time has passed. They all played a game of Goosebumps around the table while I sketched from a different table. The weather was cooler than in Davis. My mother in law’s back yard looks lovely now, it has all been done up nice. I have a feeling if this pandemic keeps up like this we’ll be having Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner out there too! I want this whole thing to be over, back to normal. I want to fly to England to see my family there, but this is where we are right now so we do what we can. It was nice to at least go and do this. Now this summer is flying past, working from home, the world outside is literally burning as I write with clouds of ash and smoke from nearby wildfires, mass evacuations going on, firefighters working around the clock to keep us safe, the air outside thick and choking, the sky a dull orange, all the while a global pandemic is going on, and then there’s the bloody election season upon us. At least the Champions League football has been fun.
Taking a break from the GB66 sketches to post one from Davis. I have not been drawing much lately. It’s been hard to get into the rhythm again, and it means leaving the house which there isn’t as much of lately. As I speak we are in the midst of a massive heatwave, expected to hit 111 degrees tomorrow. I’ve pretty much stopped drawing the inside of the house, that part of the pandemic story concluded, or rather I’m just bored of it. In the past I’d go out at lunchtime from my office and draw campus, but I just eat lunch in the living room now and watch Serie A goal highlights on YouTube, before moving a few feet back to the work desk. I was going to do another big virtual sketchcrawl, filling a whole book again, probably around France, but it’s a daunting task and makes me sad I can’t travel in real life right now. I haven’t had this many breaks from sketching in years. Still, I’ve been doing some here and there. A few weeks ago I cycled downtown on a Sunday or a Saturday and drew Newsbeat, the little newsagents on 3rd Street I love to go to. A proper local shop. I go there for my BBC History magazines and a cold bottle of Calypso. I have wanted to draw it for years but it’s not an easy sketch, usually tucked away on the shaded side of the street. I drew until I was uncomfortable, masked up and standing under a tree on the kerb, and the biked back home.
Howay man, wey aye pet, gannin reet op to NewCAStle noo! Apologies for my terrible attempt at a Newcastle “Geordie” accent, I definitely can’t do one in real life, though two of my best friends were born in the northeast, one in Sunderland and one in Newcastle (though they grew up in London so they have Tottenham and Harrow accents respectively). The Newcastle mate, Simon, can do a great Geordie accent though and comes back up here regularly, and I’d never be able to go there without him, this is very much his toon. I have never been to the north-east of England, not beyond Whitby, it really does feel like a different country to me, and the language spoken, it is English but the dialect sounds very different to mine from daahn saahf. It can be beautiful in its intonation, though growing up for me I associated it with two very specific TV programs – Byker Grove, and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. There was Jossy’s Giants as well, but I only remember the theme tune now and not a lot else. I must say, I am very pleased with how this page turned out, it might be my favourite spread. I would love to stand beneath the real bridges and draw that angle. But I’d have to go with Simon, and I’d never attempt the accent in real life.
So first up on this North-Eastern leg, Sunderland. I liked this view of the Empire Theater and a pub with a big advert for Newcastle Ales on the side of it. Sunderland didn’t look like the prettiest city from my virtual tour view, I’ll be honest, but it had a charm about it that felt familiar to me. The name of the town reminds me of the Dark Crystal, “What was sundered and undone”, well that’s where the name came from, not the dark Crystal, but the word “sunder”. The land on the other side of the river Wear was separated or ‘sundered’ from the monastery on the other side at Monkwearmouth. That monastery was filled with Mystics, while Sunderland became filled with Skeksis who lived at Roker Park, and at first the Skeksis gave all the local Gelflings jobs, working in the palace as guards or looking after the coaches, until eventually they discovered that if you drain the essence from a Gelfling it makes you look a bit younger, so they just started draining all the Gelfling’s essence until all the Gelflings were dead, except two who were hidden away, only to come back and heal the Crystal reuniting the Skeksis with the Mystics to create a race of beings called the Mackems. Their new local football stadium was henceforth called the Stadium of Light. This is a true story, no need to look it up, definitely not made up. Speaking of football, the local team has been the subject of a Netflix series called “Sunderland ’til I die”, which I’ve seen some of, but I think they edited out all of the Skeksis but probably should have left the Podlings in, they might have done better on the pitch. Still, bit of a grim name, “Sunderland ’til I die”, perhaps they should call it “Sunderland ’til I get reunited with my evil other half and fly off into space to live forever”. Now, you may not know, but the town of Washington, which is within Sunderland, is the ancestral family home of one George Washington, the tall man that was in the musical Hamilton; he was Hamilton’s boss.
And so on to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I like drawing bridges, and this place has bridges. Newcastle is a big port city, important for the coal industry historically, and a long tradition of ship-building on the Tyne. For those who don’t know, that is the river, the Tyne. There’s also a famous song by Lindisfarne called “Fog on the Tyne”, which famous Geordie son Gazza “Paul” Gascoigne re-released when asked to bring out a music video making sure people knew he was a Geordie in case they were not aware. Fellow North-Easter who played for Newcastle and Spurs, Chris Waddle, also tried his hand as a pop star alongside Glenn Hoddle in the mid 80s, with the most cringeworthy record of a cringeworthy time, “Diamond Lights”. I am still embarrassed to have ever watched the video for that. I’ve mentioned the word “Geordie” a few times as a descriptive name for people from Newcastle, that is like “Scouser” for Liverpool, “Cockney” for London, “Brummie” for Birmingham and “Someone from Bristol” for Bristol. The most famous Geordies in the world are Ant and/or Dec. They started out as PJ and/or Duncan, characters from Byker Byker Byker Byker Grove, with a hit song called “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble”, which was a good bit better than Fog on the Tyne, and light years better than Diamond Lights. They went on to become Britain’s most beloved TV presenters with their cheeky little faces and most famously presented the Jungle reality series “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!” which recreates the real situation of famous people being put in a tropical situation to talk behind each others backs, eat insects, and become more famous for that than anything they ever did. The other most famous Geordies in the world are Sting and Jimmy Nail, both named after things with sharp points. Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits is also a local Geordie and they play some of his music before Newcastle United games. That’s the big black and white striped football team from up here, with long suffering but very vocal fans. One of the best periods of football from them in my lifetime was the mid 90s when they came very close to winning the Premier League, under the great little North-East lad Kevin Keegan, a hero of mine. I met him in Charleroi when he was England manager, he signed my diary. But without doubt one of the best things to come out of Newcastle is the comic magazine Viz. Biffa Bacon, Billy the Fish, Finbarr Saunders, though I always liked the letters pages, and the Top Tips. It’s still going now, but I used to read it when my brother would buy it in the late 80s, and it’s from there that I learned all the Geordie words that I cannot say in real life.
Also coming out of Newcastle is Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman barrier between the Empire and the wild world beyond, and that is our next stop. I might take a break from posting while I catch up with some of my other sketches, though I’ve not been drawing that much lately. But the next spread will take us into the country of Scotland, the last leg of the virtual journey…