my wandering days aren’t over

View from San Francisco Hilton

It was my first trip down to San Francisco in almost two years, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I didn’t have a plan. Sometimes when I come to the city to sketch I know which general direction I will head in and follow my nose, but on the whole I play it safe. I might have planned this trip a little better, plotted out a route of old favourite spots plus a couple of places I’ve never been, but as it turned out I just decided wandering would be enough. Wandering and sketching, but also just wandering. When I was a teenager I would wander, I would sometimes get on a bus on a Saturday morning from Burnt Oak headed to Harrow or Hendon wherever, find a library or a bookshop to sit in all day reading, or get a travelcard and jump on a tube down into central London, and just explore an area until it got dark, no particular plan, and where I went was where I went, then come home for dinner. I would follow my nose. I wasn’t sketching as much out and about when I was a teenager, just occasionally, but not making it my main reason for going anywhere. These days I don’t get to wander quite as often, so when I do I usually feel like I have to have a collection of sketches by the end of the day to make it worth the effort of all that wandering. 

On this particular Saturday morning, when I was on a solo overnight trip to San Francisco to wander and sketch, I watched the Denmark-Finland game in my hotel room on the 23rd floor, and was pretty shocked by what happened to Christian Eriksen. He has been one of my favourite players for years, all those seasons at Tottenham, so to see him almost die on the field on live TV was very disturbing. His picture is still on my son’s wall, along with others from that great Tottenham team that nearly made it (but not quite). The game was called off before half time (though they restarted later that day), and after a while on the phone to my wife who was watching it too, I went down the end of the hallway and sketched the view across the city to gather my thoughts a bit. There is a lot of detail to cover. I’ve always wanted to just look over the San Francisco cityscape and pick out the puzzle. You really have to observe. Putting one thing slightly out of place or making a building that bit too narrow in relation to the other ones around it can mess everything else up. It’s therapeutic though. I stood and sketched this rather than sat at the desk in my room which would have been comfier, but I did have to check out of the room before I finished so I wanted to give myself more time for the details. I did colour it in later though on the train back. The blank area in the corner, that wasn’t because there was something in the way, I just never got to that part of the city, but I did draw the skyline above it, so it looks like a panhandle. This isn’t “the” Panhandle though, which is up near Haight, this is Nob Hill, as it rises out of Chinatown, which is a pretty big area of the city. That’s where I headed next, after dropping off my card key, I went across to Portsmouth Square Gardens.  

portsmouth square SF

I’d never actually walked through Portsmouth Square before, so this fulfilled the ‘something new’ check box. It’s not super exciting, but it was pretty interesting as a place for people from the neighbourhood to hang out on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. I remember one of the Worldwide Sketchcrawls being held here in Portsmouth Square many years ago, but I didn’t go on that one, so I’m not sure why I brought it up, other than it’s always made me wonder about coming sketching here. There were so many interesting people here though that I mostly just did some quick people sketching. It feels like a very long time since I have come to a public place and done quickfire people sketching. Most people were Chinese, of all ages, but mainly older people. Some were sat on benches feeding birds, or talking occasionally to each other, or gathered in groups playing a very involved card game around a bench, there were several such groups. Everyone wore masks, no exceptions. I did too. I drew some of the rooftops above us, and also a statue called the ‘Goddess of Democracy’, a replica of the one from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, placed here in 1989 during the events there that year. I listened to a passing tour guide as I drew, referencing that it’s difficult for people to reference that event online there, that they would use terms like the “35th of May”. I didn’t listen in on much else of the tour, but there were several walking tour groups parading through here. Portsmouth Square is one of the most historic spots in the city, as this was the first public square in the original Mexican settlement of Yerba Buena. The name of the plaza comes from the USS Portsmouth, the ship of Captain Montgomery who took Yerba Buena for the United States and raised the flag here in 1846. The city was renamed San Francisco a year later. A year after that the prospector Sam Brannan held up his nuggets of gold here and told everyone there was a lot of it in the American River, so off they rushed towards Sacramento. After the 1906 Earthquake, Portsmouth Square became a place of refuge for those displaced from their homes. These days it’s sometimes called the “Heart of Chinatown”.  

portsmouth square SF

I walked through Chinatown, mostly looking for the perfect spot to draw, where I wasn’t going to be in the way of anyone walking past, not in the sunlight which was pretty strong. It was colourful, and I’d intended on doing a colourful lively sketch, but in the end I stood on the corner of Sacramento and Grant and drew the sketch below, with little bits of colour popping out. Along the street some drummers were playing while some performers did some balancing acts, it looked like they were having a great old time. San Francisco’s Chinatown is generally considered the oldest outside Asia, even the largest. Certainly in the context of California, the most historic. Apparently it is “the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan” with most residents being monolingual speakers of Mandarin or Cantonese. The area dates back to the first Chinese immigrants to the city in 1850. I would love to dive deeper into this area’s history, what little I’ve read about is dripping with story.


I was hungry, but I didn’t stop for Chinese food, because I headed down Grant to that French place, Cafe De La Presse, and at outside there while an voice of unknown location belted out live opera in Italian, echoing across each building. Refreshed from lunch, I made the mistake of going through the Union Square area, rather than somewhere more interesting. I popped into the Nike store and went all the way to the very top floor, to the furthest point at the back where they were hiding the soccer shirts, just to discover that they didn’t have the new Tottenham shirt. Oh they had Chelsea and Liverpool but not Spurs. Right, fine. I went down to Market Street, not entirely sure where I was headed next. I had no intention of drawing Market Street, it’s just not that interesting, and what I like about it I have drawn before. It’s an uncomfortable place at times, Market. This is the problem with wandering though, you sometimes end up somewhere and feel a bit stuck. I thought about getting on a bus to Lower Haight, or a Muni up to the Inner Sunset, but I didn’t have change and couldn’t be bothered figuring out how things are done now. I did have a BART pass though, so I just went down into the subway and jumped on the first train and headed towards the Mission.    

Roxie, mission SF

Each area of San Francisco has its historic culture. North Beach is the Italian area, Chinatown is Asian, The Castro is historically associated with the gay community, the Haight is the Hippies; and everywhere is the expensive real estate developers and gentrifiers pricing all these communities out. Historically, the Mission is a mostly Hispanic part of San Francisco, and there are lots of murals celebrating the Latin American community. Since I first came down there the area has been changing, going more upmarket and trendy, but it still has a lot of character. The large Mission Burrito was invented here. I had a massive burrito, about the size of a Greyhound bus, after I was done sketching. I wandered, coming across the colourful Clarion Alley, a narrow street of political murals between Mission and Valencia. I was going to sketch there but it was getting late. Plus, some bits smelled quite strongly of wee. I did sketch on 16th by the Roxie, whose distinctive sign was much harder to see than I remember, due to the growth of the trees around it. I remember years ago photographing this (not having had time to draw it evidently; come back another time I probably told myself)and there being no foliage around it, or very very little, but not now, those trees have grown. Still I stood beneath and got an okay view, and again despite it being quite a colourful scene I only added the red bits. It was busy in the Mission, most of the bars had full-up outside seating/standing areas, it would have been quite a nice afternoon to stand outside with a pint and people watch, but my legs were tired, really tired, and I wanted to get to Mission Dolores Park. In Covid times as in normal times, the park was packed, as you’d expect on a hot Saturday afternoon in June, with most people being young trendy types. Unlike in Chinatown, very few people were masked. Well it’s not required now, but I kept mine on anyway because I sometimes sing to myself when sketching, and I can pretend it was someone else if anyone looks. Not that that would be a problem here, several people had their music on for others to hear. I actually listened to a podcast about the X-Men (not the usual one, but a different one, this one talking in depth about Nightcrawler) and drew the skyline. It was a pretty pleasant way to spend the rest of the day before heading back to Davis. A lot has changed in this skyline since I moved here to California. It was a clear day, no fog at all, and I really enjoyed my little bit of time back in the city. I wish it were a little bit more normal (maybe a bit more space in the street and not so many outside seating huts, making things feel claustrophobic and yet remote; not so easy for a weary wanderer to just pop into a dark cool bar to refresh during a day’s heavy sketching), but the world is evolving, and I’m happy to have finally gone and had a look at some of it. 

  Mission Dolores Park, SF

You might like to see a whole Flickr album of my San Francisco sketches going back to 2006 or 2007, when I first started coming down here to wander about. It’s interesting to see how the city and my style of sketching has changed in all that time. Here it is:

walk away, walk away, walk away

Southgate 96 copy

And so, the rematch is on. Sure, England have played Germany loads of times since 1996. Euro 2000 for example, when an England in red beat a Germany in dark green in Charleroi, the city I lived in at the time. In October 2000 in the last ever game at the old Wembley stadium, the historic old toilet with the twin towers, Germany beat Keegan’s England causing Keegan to quit in sadness. And of course who can forget the 2001 5-1 mauling of Germany in Munich by the exciting young England of Owen and Beckham. And then there’s the 4-1 whopping of England all in red by the Germans at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, that was a hard one to take. But for me, that semi-final in 96 was the one. Bigger than 1990, the World Cup semi in which Waddle launched the ball into low-earth orbit, because that was held in Italy, and was about Gazza’s tears. 1996 was at home. England wore grey. It was a brilliant summer in London, and it all came crashing down in a penalty shootout. Ah well. Young Gareth Southgate missed the decisive kick for England before Andreas Möller beat Seaman and celebrated by strutting, and the BBC played Casts’s “Walkaway” over the end credits, a song which I’ve always felt should be called “Walk Away”, but always makes me relive the sheer crestfallen emotion of that moment. I can’t do those penalty shootouts you know, I can’t watch them. I end up in the kitchen. But next Tuesday morning (for me, living in California) England will play Germany in a European knockout game, once again at Wembley (the newer one with the big metal arch), once again with Southgate involved, this time as manager. I know I have Written Off The Germans (At My Peril), but no, no no no, this will end in penalties again, and I will be in the kitchen. We can hope. I had to do a quick digital drawing of Southgate, 1996, right after the penalty miss. He looks like he’s being taken hostage. In a way I suppose he was, nobody wants to be chained to the memory of penalty miss in a major semi-final on their record, which is why Stuart Pearce looked like he was expelling demons after his penalty against Spain in 96. Southgate you could say expelled his by managing England to the penalty shootout win against Colombia in 2018, but really the arc of history, the ninety-six narrative has all been heading here, to a game against Germany at Wembley in what is effectively another home Euros for England. It is, as they keep telling us, coming home. 

friday night, saturday morning, san francisco

View from hotel room

So, I went down to San Francisco for the first time in nearly two years for an overnighter. It was a beautiful early evening as my Amtrak bus crossed the Bay Bridge; I had come down on the train after work on a Friday and it was still light enough when I got there to get to the hotel, and get out for some sketching before dinner. My hotel was tall – I was on the 23rd floor, so I had an amazing view over the city. I couldn’t resist drawing some of that view from my hotel room window, while I didn’t colour it in or finish all the details it was great to sit at a desk and look over this view, even with my increasingly poor eyesight. Sutro Tower poked out above the fog-free sky, and the evening light was soft. But I wanted to get outside and wander, to see what was different about the city in my two year absence. 

chinatown SF

First of all, the restaurants and bars all have outdoor seating on specially built wooden platforms that come out into the street. It makes a lot of the areas around North Beach feel quite crowded, and more claustrophobic than before. I was right by Chinatown, and many of the restaurants there had the same thing, and were fairly busy. A few places were closed; the Comstock Saloon (which I drew two years ago, while enjoying a delicious cocktail). still had boards over the windows, with signs dated March 2020 saying they were closing for a bit. With so many other places still operating (such as Mr Bing’s across the street, which was positively bursting with merry drinkers on its wooden platforms) it was a shame to see the Comstock closed. I sketched in the street in Chinatown stood in the gap between two covered outside seating areas, the Great Star Theatre, but didn’t bother adding colour. 

Vesuvio SF Everywhere in North Beach was quite crowded, so I found a less busy restaurant down the quieter end of Columbus, and had some gnocchi. I grabbed a cannoli at Mara’s for dessert, before stopping at Vesuvio’s for an Anchor steam before bed. I sat in the small outdoors platform, with the traffic of Columbus zooming by, and drew the above. There were many people sat at tables in the well-lit Jack Kerouac alley in between City Lights and Vesuvio, you had to be directed to your seat by the Vesuvio door man and service was table-only, but you could go in to sue the toilet. In fact there was limited seating indoors too but very limited, and all taken. As things open up a bit more, things will start getting back to some kind of normal, I am just glad to see that Vesuvio, and my favourite place across he street, Spec’s, is still operating in These Unusual Times. I finished up by beer and my sketch and went to bed; my hotel was only five minutes’ walk away. 

SF 061221 north beach view

So when I woke up in the morning, I popped down to the donut place on the corner of Kearny and Columbus, and did an early sketch of that very scene looking down past Vesuvio, toward the TransAmerica Pyramid. I have of course drawn this view a few times before. It was 8:30am but already warm, for the city. I drew what I could and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Denmark-Finland game, which turned out to be the one in which Christian Eriksen collapsed.  I went out after the game was abandoned (temporarily as it turned out) and sketched for the rest of the day. I’ll post those another time. It was good to finally be back in the city, I’ve missed it, but it’s not yet the same. I suppose in this city, it’s never the same. 

Getting out of the Groups

And so, if you are following Euro 2020 (held in 2021; don’t worry about it), today was the day the Group Stages finished. It was an exciting end; as the last games played out simultaneously to decide the last few spots, teams moving up and down their mini-group with each goal, the phrase “If It Stays Like This” played on repeat. Some very good games, some not quite so good ones, and of the 24 teams that started, 8 are now out. I remember in the last Euros I drew some of the games (see here), so I thought yeah why not, let’s draw some of the games. And write in the commentary as I hear it on the TV. I started with Italy v Switzerland, and drew five more, below. I’m not going to bother talking about the games, but here are the matches I drew. The best was probably Wales beating Turkey, but the Germany v Portugal game was pretty fun as well. England played Scotland, the ‘oldest international game’, and just like that first one in 1872 it ended 0-0. Though in that very first game, England played with seven forwards and Scotland with five, though none were able to score. Apparently the Copa America is going on as well right now, someone asked if I was watching that too. No, no I’m not, I may be historically obsessed with the Euros (see previous post) but after this past season, boy I’m overloaded with football. There needs to be a good break from football after this tournament. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a few days off watching people in coloured shirts kicking a ball around, then this weekend it will start up again with the knockouts. England will play Germany next week in the ‘Southgate 96 Rematch’. I’m going to call it now – I am officially Writing Off Germany. At my Peril. I probably won’t draw that match. Probably…

Euro 2020 ITA-SUI  Euro 2020 TUR-WAL Euro 2020 DEN-BEL  Euro 2020 ENG-SCO  Euro 2020 HUN-FRA  Euro 2020 POR-GER

oakland on sunday

Oakland Tribune tower

Despite living here in northern California since my twenties, I had never been to Oakland. Never! Well, I’d been through it on the BART, on the way to San Francisco, but that’s not the same. And we flew out of and back into the airport once. or was it twice? Also, on my very first trip to the US, way back in 2002, my future brother-in-law took me to a baseball game at the Coliseum, where we watched the Oakland A’s play against the Cleveland Indians. That was back when the Indians had their old ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo. It was the first time I had experienced American sport, and it was completely different from going to the football in England. There were families there, they all did this ballpark song after about the seventh innings, you spent most of the time getting food and beer, but they had TVs in the food line and the toilets so you could see what was going on, and then there were the garlic fries, an experience I’ll never forget. So anyway that was my only experience of Oakland, and since living in Davis, I had never actually been to Oakland proper, walked around, sketched. Why not? I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t go down to the Bay Area very often and usually just go to San Francisco, and occasionally Berkeley. Oakland was never talked about as “oh you should go to Oakland, yeah”, more “oh you should not go to Oakland, yeah”, usually making references to the murder rate. So I had just never been. That’s not that unusual really, I wasn’t actively avoiding it, just never got around to it. There are places in London I’ve never been. I’ve never been to the Thamesmead Estate. Bad example, actually, that’s hard to get to from north London and has a bit of a crime-y reputation. (So maybe it’s a good example?) Ok, well I’ve never been to Fulham. I’ve never been to Richmond Park. I’ve never been to Putney, supposed to be nice there, I’ve never bothered going. Further afield, I’ve never been to Wales. I’ve never been to Bournemouth, or the Peak District, or Hadrian’s Wall. So Oakland is just another place that’s just there, it’s not going anywhere, and I’ve just never really gotten around to going to. So a couple of weeks ago I decided fairly spur of the moment to put that right. I got on a train to the Bay Area (see my previous post if you don’t believe me), jumped on the BART at Richmond (and it was a very modern BART, much has changed in two years), and got out at 12th Street Oakland. It was a Sunday lunchtime, and was pretty quiet. You had the usual characters shuffling about that you get in any big city street, no more than Davis really, the fact it was a Sunday meant it felt a little bit empty of usual foot traffic. Not a lot of people come to hang out in downtown Oakland on a Sunday, like many American cities actually. I knew I wanted to go and sketch the tall tower of the Oakland Tribune (‘Tribune Tower’; not really used by the newspaper any more) so I found that, stood by a bus stop and sketched the top of it. I didn’t know what to expect of downtown Oakland, so I thought I could maybe draw this, look around, and if nothing else seems interesting I’d just jump back on the BART to Berkeley, which I at least already know. I ended up staying the rest of the afternoon in Oakland, just exploring a bit, and I’m glad I did because I found a few gems, and a vibe I don’t find in San Francisco, and certainly not Davis.

Oakland Fox Theater

I wandered about, not exactly sure where to go, having no real orientation for the area. There’s nowhere in downtown Oakland that anyone has ever recommended to me to go and sketch so I was climbing free solo. Ok, I wasn’t climbing free solo, I was walking around a few streets within a block or two of a BART station, I’m hardly doing the Appalachian Trail. I followed my nose though. I drew a fire hydrant (below) because they look a bit different, and you have to capture one wherever you go. Then I found the beautiful Fox Oakland Theatre, with the big Oakland sign, and found a doorway with some shade across the street to draw it in. It opened in 1928, but as the sign says it has been ‘dark’ since 3/13/20, that fateful day when These Unprecedented Times began. I always struggle to capture the grandness of a tall ornate theatre on a small Moleskine page, but it was too sunny to stand beneath it and draw with a sense of perspective so across the street in a shady doorway I hid. The building closed in the mid-sixties and was used only occasionally for a number of years, and in the mid-seventies they nearly tore it down and put up a parking lot. But Oakland knew what they had before it was gone, and so plans to Joni the Mitchell out of that old building were scrapped and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Eventually it was restored and refurbished, and reopened in 2009 as a concert hall. Now of course, still closed during the pandemic… but that’s changing, and on their website it looks like shows have been announced from September, people like Wilco, Judas Priest, and… Madness! Apparently Madness will be playing there next May. Wow! Might have to look into that.

oakland hydrant

I got hungry. I had passed a sign for “Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken” earlier, and that sounded good. I mean it’s World Famous so it must be good, right? I ain’t joking – best decision ever. I got a three piece meal of white meat chicken, and WOW it was huge, and absolutely delicious. This was no KFC, no late-night London pre-night-bus chicken, this was a lot of tender meat with the most amazing batter, spicy with the hot sauce but with refreshing coleslaw to offset it. I sat inside the restaurant (good choice, this would have been too big to eat out on the street), and the server was really friendly.  Made the whole day trip worth it. Gus's Fried Chicken Oakland

I wandered about some more. There are lots of murals in downtown Oakland, particularly in support of black lives matter, and black rights movements in general. Oakland is a well known African-American community city and many prominent black figures have come from Oakland, such as Ryan Coogler, the director who made Marvel’s Black Panther (the opening scenes of that film are set in Oakland) as well as Fruitvale Station. MC Hammer is from Oakland. Oakland is also the birthplace of Vice President Kamala Harris. I wandered around a few blocks, looking for something to draw. Outside a bar there was an open sir seating area fenced off, with loud music playing. I saw that there was a drag artist singing (actually miming) and dancing along to songs from Madonna and the like, putting in brilliant colourful performances. It looked like there were several performing one after another, not to a big crowd, just a few seated people drinking, but it was pretty magnificent to watch. It’s Pride Month, I think it was related to that. So I listened to the music and drew nearby, this old building on the corner of 15th. Further down the street, I came across a small gallery that was closed, but the name jumped right out at me: “Burnt Oak Gallery“! It was clearly meant to be. I didn’t have a lot of time until my BART back to Richmond (they aren’t too frequent on Sundays), and I got the train back to Davis having finally checked Oakland off my list, and I will be back for more of that fried chicken.

Oakland 15th and Franklin 060621

carriage best

060621 amtrak train to oakland

After a very long time, I finally went on a train. On public transportation, first time since the start of the Strange Times. It was a big step. California is Opening Up, I’m all vaccinated, and I needed to get out of Davis for the day. So, I took the train down to Oakland, a city that I’ve never actually been to. Amazing isn’t it, I have lived here for sixteen years and yet never been to Oakland. Well I say I’ve never been, I’ve been through it on the BART many times, and I’ve been to the airport once. On the very first trip I took to the US in 2002 I even went to watch the Oaland A’s. I have never been to Oakland proper though; I will post the sketches another day. For now here is the sketch I did in red pen on the Amtrak train to Richmond (I got the BART after that to Oakland). This was the very last page of the Moleskine sketchbook (Sketchbook #39). I liked it do much that a week later I went back on the train, this time heading for San Francisco, where I spent an overnighter exploring and sketching. Another post for that. I opened a brand new Moleskine sketchbook (Sketchbook #40) and on the first page I drew the purple pen train sketch below. People wore their masks except when drinking or eating; the group in front of me here were all cyclists. The trains are never particularly busy when I get on them so it felt quite normal really, and I was I admit delighted to be on the train again. It’s been two years since I had my last sketching day out in San Francisco, amazingly. Every time I travel I think, I’m not going to draw the train again am I, but then I’m there and I think, yes I am actually. Here’s the album of most of my in-voyage sketches (planes, trains and…other trains):

061121 Amtrak train to Emeryville

F Street In May

F Street Davis

This is a building on F Street in downtown Davis. I drew it in May. This was like, a month ago now. It was a hot day, but these days we are in a really bad heatwave – a ‘heat dome’ I heard it called – so May seems like a balmy long-gone era. Who am I kidding, all the days and months roll into one. I have some sketches from Oakland and San Francisco to post, but I’ve not actually done that much Davis sketching lately. Yes it’s too hot, but also I’ve just not been inspired much to draw Davis, it’s so hot and I’m at home anyway. F Street… “F” is for “Father’s Day”, and today is Father’s Day. My dad always said lots of words beginning with “F”, well one “F” word, a lot. Well we Londoners tend to use that word a lot. I used the “F” word quite a lot this morning when we discovered a fairly sizeable black widow making good use of our backyard chair. The hot weather has made them bold. I had to move into executioner mode. I even went and changed costume (from shorts to long sleeve pants) and got the spray and swatter. Well, we can sit safely again on the chair. I know there are more, in Davis there are always more. The heat is on. It’s going to be a long, long summer.

flags up

061121 euro 2020 opener

“Who’s going to win the Euros?” you ask. I don’t care. Despite all of this, despite the elaborate chart I have made, despite my collection of shirts, despite that massive long autobiographical post I made with digital illustrations of players past, despite getting up at 6am to watch Scotland lose to the Czechs, despite all the flag banners I have put up and the paper mosaic flags I have painstakingly made (they go back several tournaments), despite hunting in vain for this year’s Euro 2020 Panini album here in California and then finally just spending money ordering it online just to have it with all the others, despite all of this I don’t actually care who wins the bloody thing. I don’t care who wins the groups, I don’t even really care who wins the games themselves, although obviously I want England to win theirs (yet I will wear the Scotland shirt this Friday when they both play, my son will wear the England shirt), and it would be nice if England actually won the tournament, there’s been too many years of hurt. Perhaps instead of “Jules Rimet still gleaming” someone could sing about the “Henri Delauney”, to the tune of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”. But no, I don’t actually care. Several reasons, firstly I am exhausted from football. It’s been a long couple of years. Imagine how the players feel. Secondly, Spurs aren’t in it, so I always feel differently about international football. Thirdly, watching Christian Eriksen nearly die on the pitch live on TV on Saturday morning scared and horrified me a bit. I was actually in a hotel in San Francisco at the time, and just couldn’t believe it. I can’t really comprehend all the feelings I have about that incident, all I can say now is that I am so glad he lived and is, as much as we know, ok. Alive. I was going to draw him in Illustrator tonight but I’m still upset thinking about him on that pitch, surrounded by his team-mates, trying to bring him back. I have a soft spot for Denmark having spent a formative summer there at the end of my teens, but I love Eriksen. He spent a long time at Spurs, he could have left long before but didn’t, when he finally decided he needed a new challenge he went to Italy and won the Serie A title with Inter, and bloody good for him. He was long part of my favourite ever Spurs team (maybe equal to the Ossie/Hoddle/Waddle/Allen etc team) and he’s still on my son’s wall; that Tottenham team forms part of the bond I have with my son, so I have a lot of affection for Eriksen. That’s all I can say on that. It wouldn’t be fair to say it’s made me not care about the Euros, on the contrary it’s probably made me appreciate all the players who take part in it more, they are human beings doing what they love so we can watch them. I think I don’t care who will win because I just want it to be all good and worth it. It doesn’t really matter who wins. Though of course, tell me that when England are in a penalty shootout in the quarter finals and I am in the kitchen eating a packet of Pringles too nervous to watch. As I write all the teams have played once; I drew this during the first match, Italy vs Turkey. You’ll see from the note that we had a plumbing incident, that would be the toilet spewing out sewage, which I was hoping wasn’t a metaphor for international football. However it was a really good start from Italy, and despite my reservations about this multi-country tournament I absolutely love that many teams are playing in front of home crowds. After this bloody year, it feels really fantastic, especially watching Italy in Rome with Andrea Bocelli banging out ‘Nessun Dorma’ (though of course Pavarotti was better; I said to my wife that it was a bit like having Ringo sing ‘Imagine’). The best bit was the little remote control car that drove out onto the field with the match ball on top of it. Star of the show. “Is that a Volkswagen?” someone asked; I said “I think it’s a Nissan Dorma”. Sorry, it’s late and I just needed to get that joke out of the way. Italy looked good, they could be Dark Horses. There are lots of Dark Horses in this tournament aren’t there. Why do we say Dark Horses? I mean, horse racing usually takes place in the daytime and a Dark Horse would be easier to see. Maybe we should say Green Horses, they blend in with the grass. Or Invisible Horses. Anyway it’s been a good tournament so far, some great names, there’s this one guy called Varcheck everyone’s talking about (or it may be his wife, Varcheckova). I know, just getting those ones out of the way. I was pleased to see Sweden have a player called Danielson, it reminded me of the Karate Kid. This will be a long tournament, honestly. I don’t care who wins.

Yosemite Slam

yosemite falls 053121

It takes a long time to get into Yosemite, but what a beautiful place that valley is. You do have to take some lengthy twisty roads with terrifying drops down into deep gorges just one swerve away, and then when you finally reach the environs of the park and the rocks start changing from a dusty ochre to a stern granite grey you see the line of cars going in at geological speed and start wondering about Fast Passes like at theme parks, and then you realize the drop to the valley floor, that is the Fast Pass. We arrived in the afternoon on a holiday weekend, therefore specifically requesting trouble on the form. You need a reservation to get into Yosemite these days to, ahem, stem the crowds. We had one, as we were staying at the Lodge in the middle of the park. You could see cars going the other direction and you just know they had shown up without one. It took the best part of two hours to get in, and it was hot. When we got in, we had planned to do the Mist Trail hike first and then go to the Lodge, but you couldn’t park anywhere near the Mist Trail. We found a spot about two miles or so away and then walked in, backpacks with hydration packs on, stopping to take photos of the amazing views, admire the immense rock walls of the valley, and also to question What The Hell. It was packed. It was hot. By the time we finally reached the start of the trail we were hiked out. The trail itself was fairly steep and a bit narrow, but mostly just jam-packed with people. I know why they call it the Mist Trail, it’s not the spray from the waterfalls but the clouds of other peoples’ sweat you have to walk through. I made it as far as the first bridge by a waterfall and we headed back. Massive headache. On the way back though, we saw a bear cub! I’ve never seen a bear in the wild. Not that I wanted to get too close to one, it was on the other side of the road, just minding its own business, I think it was in the collecting food business. Then I heard a very loud whistle. It wasn’t mama bear because they can’t whistle. It was some tall American dude in shorts and a big stupid hat, getting out of his big stupid car and approaching the bear like it owed him money, or honey, whatever. He was whistling to get its attention, while also exclaiming “do you see the bear!” to passers by. “Yeah leave it be, mate” I said. The bear disappeared into the bushes. The man looked like he was going to follow it in to try to get a photo on his phone up close. I mean, I don’t wish anyone’s face to be eaten by a bear for being stupid, but seriously, you don’t follow a bear into the bushes. Big Stupid Man in Hat then turned round and went back to his big stupid car still exclaiming “did you see the bear” to everyone who had been distracted by his ridiculous whistling. I’m pretty sure you can be fined a lot of honey for approaching the wild animals in Yosemite like that, at the very least his picnic basket should have been confiscated. Anyway now I had something to write about on my postcards, we got back to the Lodge. Our room smelled as if someone had been smoking in it, which was pretty unbearable (I see what you did there), so we opened up the windows and ran all the fans. I did insist we close the windows at night though Because Bears. They love to sniff out the food, they famously break into cars, I saw a documentary about it, Gone In 60 Seconds I think it was. Or maybe the Fast and the Furriest. Anyway, well fed and showered, and well rested, and safe from bears, I got up very early next day and headed out into the park before the heat, while the family still slept, and sketched the magnificent Yosemite Falls, above. It was not super busy yet, and this was the start of the trails leading up to the Lower Falls. Stunning sight though, and the absolute drama of the scenery is hard to describe, and not easy to draw either.


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This was our third National Park this year (after Arches and Canyonlands). The colour scheme was quite different; before the Utah trip I did actually do lots of practice sketching so that I knew how I would like to draw once I got there, what colour palette I would use, even what style of sketching would work best for quickest effect. I didn’t do that this time; I wish I had in a way, but then the greens and blues are always tricky bedfellows in my paint set. The Yosemite light is overwhelming, like I felt there was no way to capture the sheer epic-ness of it, but even on the hot day I stopped and gave it a go. The one above was very quick and done with pencil and watercolour, and I was pleased with it. As we walked through Yosemite Village I happened upon a familiar face, Robert Dvorak, a Sacramento artist and art teacher who has joined us many times on our sketchcrawls in Davis. I hadn’t seen him since a sketchcrawl just before  the pandemic, but I recognized his distinctive hat, he was teaching a small workshop on sketching. He was surprised to see me, and showed his students my sketchbook. I left and got the Yosemite National Park stamps in my sketchbook, and we continued exploring. The sketch below was drawn while standing on the Swinging Bridge (it didn’t swing, but I guess there were lots of 1960s British hip fashion-followers there at some point. I wanted to catch the colour of the Merced River and the silent giants behind it; I did the paint first and then pen over the top, which I never really like doing, and I can tell as it feels a bit awkward from about the riverbanks up. My green paints feel a bit dry as well. Still as a quick sketch drawn while balanced on a bridge with people passing by behind me, hoping not to accidentally drop my sketchbook and paints into the river, I still like it. It was a hot day, we explored the non-uphill parts of the valley, took a lot of photos, and headed back to the car for a drive up to Glacier Point. 

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Glacier Point (where I did the sketch below) is about an hour’s drive uphill from the Yosemite Valley floor. It is an overlook with a phenomenal view of the whole valley. The way up was a little depressing, as much of the landscape had been affected by big fires in recent years. In anticipation of this unusually hot holiday weekend there had been a controlled burn on the valley floor, we had passed the smouldering logs on the way in, but this was more of a sad beaten wasteland. Still, despite the fact that the past few years have been worse than anyone here has ever known, exacerbated by the rise in global temperatures, in the California wilderness fire is the way of things, nature’s way of renewing the forests. Still, it’s hard to see. It was another twisting rollercoaster of a road up. We have been to Glacier Point before; when we married in 2004 we came to Yosemite for our honeymoon, and we have photos of us looking much younger looking out at the view which is dominated by the otherworldly Half Dome, which resembles the cowl of a massive stone ghost. We could just about make out people on the top, tiny atoms in colourful hiking gear. It’s a dizzying view. There were a good number of people up there, but not as packed as the Mist Trail. I took a little time to do a quick sketch of the scene, but this one I did not fill in the gaps later at home, I just left it as it was. At this time of year the waterfalls are gushing and plentiful; in the western US we are in the midst of a potentially catastrophic drought though, so I expect that by the middle of the summer those will be trickles, if even that. When we were here in September 2004 Bridalveil Falls was not even running; this time that bride was running like she had just discovered her new in-laws were all death eaters or Hannity fans or something. It would be nice to come back slightly earlier in the year when it’s not already so hot, and the rivers are still booming, but even just a fortnight before there had been snow around here so it’s hard to predict. Maybe just when there are fewer people, not on a holiday weekend, it might be more fun to hike the trails. It just takes so long to get here. It’s worth it though, this Yosemite scenery is some of the best on the planet. We took a lot of photos of amazing backdrops, and the light always seemed to be just perfect.  

Glacier Point panorama I didn’t draw El Capitan, and it’s not in this panorama, but that was another geological marvel we passed by in awe. El Capitan is really massive. When we got home we watched the documentary film Free Solo, about the bloke who likes to climb up rocks with no ropes or harnesses or anything. They call that “free soloing”. “Freeing Solo” is when you dress up as a masked bounty hunter with a thermal detonator and sneak around Jabba’s palace at night looking for your carbonite-imprisoned boyfriend, just so you can ask him “what do you mean “I know”?” (Seriously Leia, when Han asked “Who are you” you should have said “Someone who knows you” and slapped him one.). So the Free Solo guy (Alex Honnold) was pretty bloody amazing. The movie was so good, and it detailed his journey to becoming the first – and so far only – person to scale the sheer face of El Capitan free solo, bottom to top, no ropes or nothing. Incredible film I recommend you watch it. (I also recommend the Return of the Jedi “Leia Says I Know First” special edition cut). It made me think, we all have goals, some people’s goals might be something huge like climbing a gigantic cliff with your bare hands, others it might be just drawing a picture of those cliffs and it turning out alright, but it’s an inspiration to see someone work on their goal, have setbacks here and there, but not give up, to really do it. No matter how big or small your goal, go for it. The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the song that played over the end credits, which had a chorus that went ‘Gravity’s a Fragile Thing”. I mean, it’s literally not. Gravity is definitely the thing you can rely on not breaking. It will break you. Those lyrics were a pretty fragile thing. Still, the film reminded me of when I went rock climbing when I was 17, I went about 25 or 30 feet maybe, with ropes, and was absolutely terrified. I felt that Gravity pulling me down, and I was myself a very fragile thing at the time weighing about half a stone dripping wet, so it juts blows my mind to see someone achieve a feat like that. Mind Blown. 

And that was Yosemite. It was a long and winding drive back to Davis, and when we got home we decided against long road journeys for a while. We had 17 years between visits to Yosemite, and this was the first time since we moved to America. It’s a pretty long way, but it’s worth it.

we need to talk about the euros

The UEFA European Championships start this Friday, aka “the Euros”. In years gone by I have drawn MS Paint images of the new kits and discussed those ahead of the tournament. I’m not saying I haven’t done that this year (I definitely have, just a few weeks ago, but then a few of the kits suddenly got changed and now I don’t want to. Besides, I am sick of football. I am. This has been a grind of a season, there has been too much of it, and now we have a tournament in an odd-numbered year, set in how many countries? During a pandemic that is simultaneously getting better and worse. Of course, I’ll love it when it starts. I might even cheer for England (though I got the Scotland shirt this time round). I made my wallchart (complete with pictures of players whoa re now going to miss it through injury), ordered a banner, and will put the usual paper mosaic flags on the wall, taking them down every time a country is eliminated. Who will win? England? Maybe Belgium? Probably France. I’m sick of football, but I love it too much. So I started drawing some classic footballers in Adobe Illustrator, one image from each of the tournaments, and so I thought I’d write a post about the Euros that have meant the most to me, that is, the ones between the ages of 12 and 28, after which I moved to America. It’s a story of my life, intertwined with the Euros, and paints as much a picture of me as it does the players I’ve drawn, so here goes. This will be a long, long post. It might be worth grabbing a cup of tea. We will kick off in 1988…

Euro Legends - MVB

EURO 88Orange Boom. The first European Championships that I can remember. I did know that France had apparently won something in 1984, because in World Cup 86 they talked about the 84 France team of Platini and Tigana, about how good the Belgians were, but it wasn’t on TV in England and literally nobody cared about it so it may as well have been a tennis tournament. When the Euros of 1988 came around, held in West Germany, we heard more about it, but still it was the European Championships, with only eight teams, hardly the World Cup. A bit like watching the European athletics championships when you’re only interested in the Olympics, but even less glamourous. Eight teams; this number didn’t change until 1996, but in 1988 there were far fewer countries in Europe than today, despite there being two Germanies. England were in it this time though, and so were Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland, and in 1988 that was a pretty big deal to our family, and it’s where my love of the Irish national team started. Around that time we were very much into our Irishness, going to the Irish Festival week in Southport twice a year, the sound of Brendan Shine and Philomena Begley playing out of our windows, and when Ireland actually beat England 1-0 in the Euros…well, that was celebrated quite wildly. I still have the shirt my mum brought me back from the London Irish Festival in Roundwood Park, Kilburn, a week later that says “These Boys Made History” with a photo of the team (a photo on a t-shirt! That technology was like sorcery to me in 1988) and the result on the other side. We were very much in Jackie’s Army ever since, and when Ireland play at a tournament with England, I’m always supporting them first, England second. Apart from that, there wasn’t a lot I paid attention to at Euro 88, which I still thought of as a fringe tournament (fringes and mullets, at least where Hoddle and Waddle were concerned). Until the final. We watched the final, the USSR with their CCCP emblazoned white shirts, and Holland, the greatest team who had never won anything (them and Hungary, as history books would tell me). The Dutch had those unusual orange shirts with the many gradients mixed up with chevrons, and Adidas classic now but not loved by the players at the time. They also had the three great Flying Dutchmen of Gullit, Rijkaard…and Marco Van Basten. I loved Marco Van Basten. I loved Ruud Gullit too, but while Gullit was a force of nature Van Basten was a ballet dancer with an assassin’s feet. His career ended very early through a long-term ankle injury (to this day, he cannot kick a ball without pain). In this final though, he produced the best volley I’d ever seen or would ever see. Watching it live was so exciting. Kids these days are fed a YouTube diet of classic goals, classic players, but in 1988 when I was twelve all I had was some old video of a few Spurs games and whatever the BBC wanted to show us, like Ricky Villa’s 81 twisty-turny Wembley winner, or that Ronnie Radford screamer over and over. Immediately after the final whistle, I was straight down the park with the other kids in the street, trying to do that Van Basten volley. It sounds like a massive cliche, but I remember it well. And I was so utterly useless as a player, to a fairly impressive level, but I really just wanted to hit the ball into the inside of the net as sweetly as Marco Van Basten. Well I say the side of the net, I mean against the wall of the boarded up brick toilet building that used to be in Watling Park next to the tennis courts, they’re gone now. I could never volley the ball like that in a million years. Or at least in 33 years, maybe I’ll try again today, maybe today. 

Euro Legends - PS92

EURO 92 – Danish Fairytales. By 1992 I was both taller and even more obsessed with football then ever. Rather than growing out of Panini football stickers with everyone else, I actually became a bit more avid collector, and with a small dinky little tournament like the European Championships that wasn’t too hard. I pored over that Euro 92 sticker book like it was the Bible, but it was better than the Bible, because it was shorter, substantially less confusing and had pictures of football players in it. I could write a whole book about my life and thoughts at the time of Euro 92 (same with Euro 96) but that would be longer, more confusing, and probably contain more pictures of kits than players. I was sixteen, the age at the edge of the world. I am pretty sure I watched every game; school was out, as it was by then for all sixteen year olds, so there was more free time. I would wander about, go to the library to read language books, listen to music, play guitar, see friends, draw, occasionally work as a waiter with my mum, go down Carnaby Street to the old Soccerscene football shirt shop, and obsess over football. My GCSEs were all done with, the final year of top-flight football before this new ‘Premier League’ started was over (I went to Lineker’s last game for Spurs at White Hart Lane), and the long, long summer beckoned. I remember going camping overnight with friends up in Stanmore, and even there I would bring my Euro 92 sticker album to read, when we weren’t firing air-guns at tin cans or trying to explode cans of beans on a camp fire. I would go regularly to a youth club at the Annunciation in Burnt Oak with my friend Terry, that’s where we would watch many of the games of Euro 92. The sticker album had all eight teams, plus two more, Denmark and Italy. They were the substitute teams, in case two of the qualified teams, CIS (formerly the USSR, kind of in the process of imploding) and Yugoslavia (on the verge of imploding) had to pull out. CIS managed to hold it together, though not with the beautifully insane kits they had in the sticker album (still a holy grail kit for me), but Yugoslavia started falling into chaos that year and were not able to take part. So, they called up Denmark, two weeks before the tournament. I was pretty disappointed, as Yugoslavia were the team that I was most looking forward to seeing, they really had the most amazing squad of players. Still, Denmark were always fun, and they did not disappoint. Their Hummel kit was like 1992 personified, baggy with unnecessary zigzags, carnivalesque stripes on the arms, and while Danish legend Michael Laudrup couldn’t play, his younger brother Brian became a real favourite. The star though was the red-nosed giant in goal, Peter Schmeichel, who wore a rainbow coloured kit that by the standards of the early 90s keeper kits was quite restrained. This was the last tournament before the backpass rule came into effect banning goalies from picking up passes from their own players, and Denmark milked every last ounce out of the old rule. This was the tournament that was Lineker’s farewell, but England, under the often maligned Graham Taylor, didn’t do so well and lost to the hosts Sweden, with Lineker being subbed off when England needed to score. Denmark though, they rode through on a big Viking boat shaped wave, and in the final they faced the old foes of Germany (playing as Germany for the first time since reunification), dispatching them with a John Jensen goal. “It’s like a fairy tale!” people said in the youth club while we watched. “It’s just like a fairy tale!” I hated that particular cliche even then; I hated most cliches, to the point of being a complete cliche myself. I couldn’t remember any fairy tales in which a ball kept getting passed back to a goalkeeper until the other team got bored and lost. Except the classic Jack and the Timewasting Back Pass. After this, if a goalie picked up a backpass he would give away a free kick, and the Age of Fairy Tales was ended. I was sixteen. Later that summer I went to Devon twice, first camping with that youth club, the second with my family; when we went to Cornwall for the second half of the trip, my parents were arguing so much that I ended up ditching them (I was sixteen, so already at the age I could just do that) and went to spend a few days with my old schoolfriend Kevin, who had moved to Devon. I also got my GCSE results – good in Art and German, not great in everything else, but enough to start A-Levels.  

Euro Legends - AS96

EURO 96 – Coming Home. The summer of 1996 was brilliant wasn’t it. You know it was. If you were in England, this was a great summer. The sun was out, and the Euros were being held right here, at home, football was coming home. For me, 1996 was one of those years that you feel your life turns on. I did my A-Levels from 92 to 94, and they didn’t go so well. By the time the World Cup USA 94 came around, I was done with school, done with it all, really. I loved the World Cup, but little else. By the time Euro 96 rolled around I was a different person, much more positive and upbeat, feeling fantastic. In the summer of 94 I decided that rather than go to a crap art college and paint badly until I got slightly better, I would go to a sixth form college and do a new set of A-Levels, including English, where I’d learn to write. Best decision I ever made. I made great friends, I was working part-time, I got into music again, I started exploring across Europe, the world was full of possibility. It was the height of Britpop, Blur and Oasis, Pulp, Elastica, Supergrass, er, Shed Seven. It was nearly the end of Tory Britain (until much later). In 1996 when I was at the end of my second A-Levels, excitement about the Euros was everywhere. This was a bigger tournament – sixteen teams instead of the previous eight – with exotic new teams like Croatia and their pizzeria-tablecloth shirts. At the time I was regularly going to the Hellfire Club and the Intrepid Fox in London, places full of leather-bound heavy metal rockers, among whom I was the only one wearing a football shirt, yet not being in any way out place; I also remember meeting up with friends at the Queens Head pub in Wood Green to watch a couple of games. What a tournament. Gazza’s goal v Scotland, with the dentist chair celebration. Most of all I remember working at Asda, in the coffee shop, on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. I had a little handheld portable TV (honestly, with a huge aerial) that I would sneakily watch the games on while filling the dishwasher. There was a guy I worked with called Lee, Arsenal fan but we got on really well, and on the day of the England v Spain quarter final he had to work in the kitchen upstairs, so we couldn’t sneakily watch the game together. So we would be on the supermarket phone to each other, I would be updating him on things as they happened. This is before the age of mobile phones and instant text updates. The penalty shootout came, and well, we knew that was that. But England won it. I called him up, huge cheers down the phone. I do remember going out that night, to the Hellfire Club, and pogoing up and down until the early hours with my friend Andrea (I know I bruised a rib), because the next day my uncle and I went with Andrea to see the Sex Pistols homecoming concert at Finsbury Park. My hair was longer, curlier, the sun was hot, the crowds were sweaty, and there was a big cheer when we heard Coratia had equalized against Germany, followed by a big sigh when Germany scored a winner, meaning England would play them in the semis. But we were jumping up and down to the Buzzcocks, and Skunk Anansie, and Iggy Pop, and then the Pistols themselves. My uncle Billy had got me into the Sex Pistols when I was 13, and we had waited our whole lives to see this. That day is one of my best memories. Billy died in 2019. A few days later, the semi final. I remember watching it at home, but I don’t actually remember who with. My dad probably.  England wore the amazing grey away kit, designed to look good when worn with jeans; Alan Shearer, the best goalscorer in the country, scored first, and early. That illustration is of him celebrating. “It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home…” Germany scored soon after, Kuntz. (Sorry, that’s the player’s name).  England were so close to a winner, but it went to penalties. It always goes to penalties. I’m sure I was in the kitchen, unable to watch. I’m never able to watch. And…they lost, at Wembley, with the current England boss Gareth Southgate, fresh-faced and innocent back then, missing the decisive kick. I still feel that. That was the feeling of that amazing 1996 year turning into a different year. At the time, I was dating an Italian girl who lived near South Kensington but worked at one of those amusement arcades near Leicester Square. Since she worked so late (usually until about 11:30pm) I would often meet her after work and we would spend time going out to the various rock clubs in Soho until the early sunrise hours, Bar Italia before the night bus. On the night of the semi-final defeat I got the tube down to meet her, I wasn’t in a great mood, feeling a bit glum. Football does that to me. Anyway at about Euston or somewhere these four boozed up English lads got on my tube train and sat around me, clearly also unhappy with the score. They decided to start singing at me, I’m not sure why, I suspected they thought I was German (that has happened before), but in retrospect it was probably because they were just stupid. I wanted to say look lads, leave it yeah, I’m as pissed off as you about the footy, but I just tried to ignore them. They definitely sang songs about the war to me, again because they either thought I was German or that’s just what a lot of England football louts do. I’ve said before, I usually support Ireland, but if England are there with no Ireland, I’m all for England, but it’s always the hooligans, the xenophobic louts that ruin it. This was a summer of positivity, feelgood, forgetting the years of Ing-Er-Land No Surrender thuggishness that had too often spoilt the party, but here they were. We pulled into Leicester Square and I got up to leave while they still sang intimidating songs at me. As I turned my back one of them grabbed my backpack and gave it a heavy shove. I nearly fell onto the crowded platform. At that point the Burnt Oak side came out and I turned right back around at them, standing in the doorway facing them all off with a barrage of “yeah come on then, off the train now, all of ya, come on!” Plus a few choice words of Anglo-Saxon origin. They stayed where they were, stood on the train. I glared at them as the door closed. Apparently that works. I was a skinny wretch with crap eyesight, but you know how invincible you feel at 20; I also knew that if they had stepped off the train, I probably couldn’t have taken all four on at once, but I did know all the quickest shortcuts around the station if I needed a speedy getaway. It turns out there was violence that night after the game, in Trafalgar Square most notably, as people took out their frustrations about a football team losing a penalty shootout on, I don;t know, the pigeons? I can’t remember us going to any rock clubs that night, I think we just had consolation ice cream, but that’s how Euro 96 ended for me. Oh right yeah, Germany beat the Czechs in the final with a Golden Goal. I’m not drawing bloody Oliver Bierhoff.      

Euro Legends - Greece 04

EURO 2000 – A Figo For Thee. In the autumn of 1999, two years into my French and Drama degree at university, I went to the city of Charleroi in Belgium for my Year Abroad. That was a required part of the French degree, and it gave me the opportunity to improve my French, albeit with a Charleroi accent. Charleroi was a special place; I’m not saying it’s the worst city in Belgium, but that’s what other Belgians say to me. I like it, probably because others don’t. It was rainy, gloomy, industrial, worn down, but it was also the place where England would be playing two matches of Euro 2000, a tournament held jointly in Belgium and Holland, and where I lived was right across from the stadium. I could see into the Stade du Mambourg from my 13th floor bedroom window. It was great fun being in Belgium during this tournament. There were lots of nationalities living in Charleroi, so every time one fo them played you would get locals from that country riding their mopeds or cars around town honking their horns and waving their flags, it was just what they do. the biggest groups in Charleroi, which is an old mining town, were from Italy (mostly Sicily), and Turkey. When Italy won a game, it was a huge party. When Turkey beat Belgium, it was half a huge party. The staff in the bar where I used to drink and watch the games were so pissed off at losing to Turkey that they just took away the TV and closed the bar. He did something similar when Arsenal lost to Galatasaray a month earlier. So, I drank up my beer and went over to the Turkish kebab place Chez Raoul for some food to celebrate with my very happy Turkish friends. I used to get kebabs there all the time and they were always very friendly to me. I was 24, teaching English at the Universite de Travail, living on a diet of frites in sauce, mitraillettes de dinde (turkey kebabs), chocolate, and Belgian beer. I didn’t have a lot of friends, a few people I would sometimes meet up with, I’d watch football with my neighbours from Africa (in Euro 2000, my friends only supported the black players, even if they didn’t know the names – “le noir! le noir!” – with the exception of Paul Scholes, who they would cheer for in my honour, because he had red hair. Every time he would touch the ball, they would cheer “le roux! le roux!” On our floor, I was “le roux”, and I came back from Belgium speaking French with a bit of a Congolese accent. My favourite bar was La Cuve A Biere, a little place near where I lived, always warm and welcoming. In the colder months I would come in, my glasses would steam up, and by the time I got to the bar and wiped them clean there would already be a 25cl Maes beer waiting for me on the counter, and maybe a little bowl of spiced cheese. I watched England’s first game on their little TV. That one was played in Holland, where there was none of the typical England fan trouble, probably because of the calming effect of the local produce found in Holland. (Spoiler alert, Belgium is more famous for quite strong beer, so that calming effect was a little bit gone by the time they reached Charleroi). Anyway England were playing Portugal, and England were going to win. Scholes scored first – “le ROUX!” followed by the curly haired scouse wizard McManaman. And then Portugal came to life. The man of the moment was Luis Figo, a handsome man of a man, and that’s who I’ve drawn here. I know this was the tournament of France, of Trezeguet and Zidane, but for me the main man of Euro 2000 was Figo. What a man, look at him. “A Figo For Thee” ran a headline, quoting Shakespeare as you do, rather than “‘Ere Figo, ‘ere Figo, ‘ere Figo” or “Figo-ing Home…” etc. England lost 3-2, but that’s ok, they were playing Germany next in Charleroi. The England fans arrived in town the night before. As I said, every time a country played and won its fans would ride around town honking car horns, everyone got along, it was all good natured. Until England showed up and spoiled the party. A large bunch of lads, singing “With St George In My Heart Keep Me English” and “No Surrender To The IRA” (which wasn’t really going to be an issue in Charleroi). There had been a lot of talk before the tournament as to whether bars would be made to close up when England came into town to prevent drunken hooliganism (“la maladie anglaise” as it is known), but in Charleroi they just opened up stalls in the street selling beer. The locals were quite amused at the prospect of these English coming in. Having witnessed the chaos of the Charleroi carnival, they laughed in the face of drunken idiots. Well these ones on that Friday night up in Place Charles II decided that the French fans who were celebrating in their cars were doing it to wind up the English rather than celebrate their win. I was down there, I watched it all unfold (I had gone down with one of my Congolese neighbours, who was looking to sell some tickets for the game and needed me to translate). A few lads started to throw chairs at passing cars, then a few more threw beer, and the odd table. There were non-violent fans too of course, one man I spoke to was there with his young daughter and looked really disappointed. After a while I left them all to it and went home, not really wanting to be in a riot.

The riot as it turned out was the next day, before the match itself. I was actually getting out of town that morning to spend the day in the countryside with some friends, coming back later to watch the game with my neighbours. Charleroi was a little messy, but it was always a bit messy so nothing new there. England fans were poring into town in their droves, singing and cheering, and trying to start a fight with a couple of Germans who were just ignoring them. When I got off the train back into Charleroi later that day, the sight of thousands of English fans packing the town was quite jaw-dropping, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it home in time to see the game. So I went through the back streets and short cuts, I always know those. I was nervous – despite Charleroi’s (deserved) reputation in Belgium, I had never been nervous there, until I saw this quite volatile looking crowd. It was nearly kick-off time, so I found a little cafe I knew would be open (it was) and watched the first half in there. Next to me was an English bloke the size of a hill troll tattooed with all sorts of patriotic fun. Did I still look as German as I did in 96? I really didn’t want England to score while I was in there. At half-time I dashed uphill to where I lived, and watched the second half in the common room with my African neighbours. Shearer scored, and there were many celebrations. From me anyway, my neighbours didn’t care about this Shearer bloke. They told me that during the day while I was in the countryside, there was a big riot of England fans in the Place Charles II, much bigger than the night before. I believed it. This time the Belgian police had brought out their favourite weapon, the tank-mounted water cannon, knocking the chair throwing ing-er-landers all over the place. After the violent element had been routed, and England had won the game, the rest of the night was a massive party with all those who were left. I went into town with my neighbours, and ended up meeting a lot of fun England fans, and showed them all the places that were still open, mostly the typical old-man taverns of the sort that never actually closed in Charleroi, and the best frites, which of course are from Robert La Frite. Many were waiting up all night for the first train to the ferry in the morning. I made friends with a guy from the north who was an amateur boxer, and I helped him get his mobile phone back when it was half-inched by a couple of Tunisian lads (who we also made friends with; I still have a photo of me with these random people). It was probably the most fun I had in Belgium that whole year. By the time of the second match, my friend Jacki from the UK had come to visit; England lost to Romania and went out, it was a shame, but then I moved back to London and watched the rest of the tournament there; France won the final, a game I watched at an upscale pub in trendy Notting Hill, a million miles from the grimy soot-stained bricks of Charleroi.

Euro Legends - Greece 04

EURO 2004 – Hellas Raising. My wife is American; we met in 2002 (France), got engaged in 2003 (Italy), got married in 2004 (Las Vegas). 2004 was a year of wedding planning; 2005 was a year of moving-to-America planning. In 2004 we lived in Hornsey Lane, near Archway. As I look back on each chapter, at each Euros, my life is at a very different stage from the previous one. I’m not going to go to Euro 2008, but that was vastly different again – living in California, parent to a new baby, watching the games in Spanish. In 2004 though I was living the last years of my London life. I worked at a bookshop in Finchley, called the Finchley Bookshop. I worked downstairs in the office, trying to pay their invoices, and there were a lot of invoices. I remember before the Euros began, my wife’s office organized a sweepstake among their staff, and my wife had to pick a team randomly. She picked Greece. No chance of winning then. Spoiler alert, Greece did win. They did ‘a Denmark’, but it was better than a Denmark, because they had to beat more teams. They beat the hosts, Portugal, the favourites, twice. They beat the France of Zidane, 1-0. They beat the Czechs of Nedved, 1-0. It wasn’t pretty. The players weren’t fashionable. I think the fairly boring template adidas kit they wore didn’t help, it was unlike the fun outfits worn by the back-pass masters Denmark. They didn’t beat the perennial mechanical winning machine of Germany, but the golden hopefuls of Portugal, the team of the man, Figo, and the new young stepover star Cristiano Ronaldo. This illustration is of the winning goalscorer, Charisteas, a man so unfamous I cannot even remember his first name. My wife won twenty quid from that Greece win, lot of money back then. You could get eight pints for that much; be lucky to get three now, maybe four. While I remember watching the final and many of the other games at our small Crouch End studio flat, one of my main memories from that Euros was going to a packed pub in North Finchley on a hot Thursday afternoon with my friend Tel, and watching England beat the Swiss 3-0, and everyone falling in love with this young Scouse kid, Wayne Rooney. He was so brilliant back then, like he was made of electricity and freckles, lightning fast but made of meat, like a power chord in a milk bottle. If you think these metaphors are bad, I remember the newspaper headlines back then, all having some sort of pun on the ‘Roo’ part of his name. It’s strange, I find it hard to remember that well now, those few years living back in England before we came out here. Our Vegas wedding later that year was obviously the big event, and 2004 is one year where I don’t measure my life by the European football championships. I do remember my stag night out in Chalk Farm with all my best friends…well, I remember most of it. I started a masters degree in medieval English at King’s, so spent a lot more time down in the library in central London, reading medieval texts and journals about Anglo-Norman. We started the process for me to become a Permanent Resident ahead of actually moving out here, which we did a year later. By the time the next Euros came about in 2008 we were three years here, parents to a newborn baby, now a teenager with whom I watch the Euros and World Cups. He is just a year older than I was when I watched Van Basten’s volley in 1988. I’ll tell you as well, he’s a lot better at those than I was.

So Euro 2020 starts tomorrow, here in 2021, Italy v Turkey, in Rome. England play on Sunday, and Ireland aren’t in it so I can cheer for England (though I’ll be wearing the Scottish shirt as well). I hope it’s fun, I hope I’m not too sick of football after this year. I suspect that in twenty years when I write another post I’ll remember this one more for the life events around it, what with it being postponed from last year because of the, you know, historic global pandemic. I wonder what player I will draw? Phil Foden? Gareth Bale? Kylian Mbappe? Or a completely unexpected Charisteas type unknown, like Elif Elmas of North Macedonia?