And so to 2021. I was really hesitant this year to send out wishes of “Happy New Year” as the clock struck 12. After the 2020 we all had, and let’s face it we are still having, a lot of people are still very much suffering through, the wish of “Happy New Year” seemed a bit hollow. I want people to be happy, but it might seem like I’m telling them they should be happy, and people have a right not to be if they can’t be or just don’t feel like it. I usually just don’t feel like it. So I nearly said, “Have a positive new year,” thinking, that sounds better. And then I realized actually that sounds a lot worse, given the current circumstances, the word positive has a negative meaning. “Hope 2021 is better than 2020” seemed alright, but like, this seems a bit tongue in cheek, even though it’s true. In the end I decided, I won’t send out Happy New Year messages, I’ll just pretend I forgot because of the time difference. To be honest, so some fireworks went off on telly, and I have to write a “1” at the end of the dates instead of a “0”, and maybe put up the new calendar (I got a Tottenham calendar for Christmas; Dele Alli is January, which probably means he is going to be sold). Years ago I used to like New Years, something about it meant you could talk to complete strangers, which in Britain is illegal for the rest of the year as you know. These days we just stay home doing our best to stay awake for midnight, which isn’t ever a problem every other day of the year. But either way, wishing everyone a Happy New Year this year probably is for the best, at least it’s a bit of non-negative cheer. The Christmas season for me doesn’t stop until January 6th, when the decorations come down and the last of the Christmas Calorie Food has to be eaten. This includes these lovely pannetoni that I picked up from the local Italian deli, Zia’s (one of my favourite Davis shops). This particular one, a small pannetone you can cut in two and share over a cup of tea, as I did while watching the Neil DeGrasse Tyson show Cosmos, has chocolate chips in it. It was pretty delicious. The little boxes they came in though were so pretty and I had to draw it, while watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson pretend to be on a spaceship orbiting Saturn and saying things like “Uranus is a giant gas cloud”. I keep accidentally calling him Neil DeGrassi Junior High Titan too, I blame the effect of the Christmas Calories. One of the best things I ate over the Christmas was also Italian, a huge “Tronco di Natale”, kind of a Christmas log covered in chocolate, but also nothing like what you’d expect from a Buche de Noel or a Yule Log. It was much lighter and tastier than expected, I need to get one next year. I did get some imported mince pies, huge and mostly crumbly pastry, but I also made some of my own with some ruby port mincemeat I picked up in England last time I was there. Nice but a bit rich, and spilled everywhere, I need a bit more practice cutting the pastry. I got a Dundee Cake too because really, why not, but haven’t eaten that yet. We decorated the usual cookies too, and got some homemade cookies from my mother-in-law, and lots of other chocolates here and there, all the Lindt balls and peppermint bark and Hershey kisses and chocolate macadamia nuts and Cadbury’s fingers and Turkish Delights and Milka bars, plus the little chocolate reindeer I traditionally hide all over the house to be found on Christmas morning, all the choccies and candies I put in my son’s advent calendar, not to mention all the cheeses I feel it’s necessary to have on hand. This might seem like a lot, but Cost Plus in Davis was closing down in December and lots of things were massively reduced, so I stocked up. Because of that, I didn’t end up getting the big pannetone from Zia’s like last year, but I got several of these smaller little ones instead, and that was a great choice. Now the post festive season weight loss plan kicks in, before Birthday Cake Season starts. Heavy New Year!
Last week, after not leaving the house for what felt like a lifetime, and taking a few days off work to eat and look at a screen, we got out of the house and drove up to the snow. It doesn’t snow in Davis, down here in the Sacramento Valley, but a couple of hours to the east of us is one of the snowiest parts of the contiguous US, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The first time I ever went there I had never imagined snow like it, whole cars and the lower levels of houses swallowed up entirely, icicles like something from Hoth, and so cold my eyeballs were freezing over. It wasn’t like that this time, I don’t know they get quite that much snow up there any more, but there was still a good amount of snow, and lots of ice, though it wasn’t very cold. We went up to Truckee, walked around the town for a bit, got a pastry, ate our pre-packed sandwiches in the car. I really like Truckee and it’s been more than a decade since we stopped by there. I liked the look of this diner, Jax Truckee Diner, which of course wasn’t seating people inside right now but was allowing people to get take-out. Definitely somewhere I want to go to properly once all this Covid is behind us. I posted this on Instagram and my cousin said she had actually eaten there last year. I didn’t have time to draw it on site but I really wanted to draw it, so I took a photo and drew from that when I got home.
We had a nice time walking about in the snow. We went to a country park we’d never been to before close to Donner Lake (named after the Donner Party, the tragic historical incident which thankfully was given a name that many jokes can be made out of). It was like walking in a winter wonderland. When I say that, I don’t mean it was full of little stalls selling mulled wine and mass-produced hand-carved ornaments and expensive scarves, with Bing Crosby piping out of the speakers. Nor do I mean it was like walking in Woolie’s Winter Wonderland, which if you ever shopped at Woolworths in December you will know what I mean, back before Woolworths was finally laid to rest in 2008. I mean it was full of trees and snow, a perfect place to take photos. It was just nice being somewhere that looked different to Davis for a change. I don’t think I could live full time in a place which snowed regularly, but I don’t care, there is something magical about the world being blanketed in this white cold stuff. When it would snow overnight in London as a kid, which was way less often than you might think, looking out of the window and seeing the rooftops, the ground, the tops of cars, the branches of trees all gleaming white is still something I get excited about.
In the car, we listened to the Adam Buxton podcast, his interview with Paul McCartney. That was a good interview. At one point Paul talked about when he met with John Lennon in New York in the mid 70s and they discovered they were both really into baking bread. I imagined what if they had decided to get together again and form a baking partnership together. I imagined they had a bakery in the West Village called “Love Me Dough”. (They would probably have had to invite George and Ringo in if they wanted to call it “Il Fab Fornaio”). They would sell products with names like “Got To Get You Into My Loaf”, “All You Knead is Love”, “Baguette Back”, “Bake in the USSR”, “I’ll Be Bap”, “A Croissant The Universe”, “Here Comes the Bun”, “While My Guitar Gently Wheats”, “Ticket To Rye”, “I Should Have Known Butter”, “Please Mr Toastman”, “Being Fro the Benefit of Mister Cake”, “All My Muffin”, “Garlic Twist’n’Shout”, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Loaf Away” and “Yeasterday”, to name but a few, I will think of more over the next rest of my lifetime. Flour Power. Rock’n’ Roll. Actually I’m already done with this idea. That was a loooooong journey home.
One from mid-December 2020. I didn’t sketch much in December, I found it a tricky month to get drawing. I mean, that’s not unusual. Looking at the chart I made from before, Decembers typically make up only about 3.7% of my annual drawing. Ok I will be honest, I made that statistic up, but it sounds about right. If I ever get the inclination I will actually do a statistical study of when my sketches were made and where, and with what pen or sketchbook, indoors or outdoors, in Davis or elsewhere, with or without colour, sketches per week, if there are trends with certain times of year or days of the week. And then I will use this data to create the perfect urban sketcher. Then I can predict what my year will look like to some degree of accuracy. You might be thinking, oh he is joking here, Pete says this stuff but isn’t really serious. To which I will say “exhibit (a), look at my previous post showing my chart of sketches from 2013-2020”, and “exhibit (b) I have spent almost a third of my life working for top-level statisticians. Not that I understand even one speck of dust of the sort of statistical work they do, I stopped doing maths at 16 with my GCSE (I got a grade C, which was the highest possible for the class I was in) (when I was at school, prior to the GCSE years I was in the top class for maths, but hated it, as I was taught by a certain Mr.Blindt, who was old school before there was old school, and his classes terrified me almost as much as the subject matter itself. So I asked to move down into the second-tier class, Miss Barker’s class, which was less stressful, but it meant I could feel alright about my grades (I even came top of the class in several tests), but it meant that the highest possible grade for my final GCSE exam was a C. I think it left out all the really hard stuff like sin/cos/tan and long division, and adding and subtracting and numbers and things. Grade C was a pass, and that was enough. I was more interested in art and languages.) (Incidentally, I actually only got grade A in two of my GCSE subjects, Art and German. In GCSE Art I got an “A” for every single piece of homework over the course of those two years, with one exception – the very first piece of homework assigned, for which I got a “D”. I didn’t mind, I didn’t expect a good grade for that joke. The homework assignment was “draw a part of your body” so I drew my eyebrow. I remember the boy passing back the homework assignments was a fairly mouthy kid who hadn’t been in any of my classes before, and he said loudly “hahaha, you got a D? You’re rubbish at drawin’!” That alone made it worth it.) (A-Level was a different story. I actually got a D overall for the whole thing. I was a bit more disappointed with that, but frankly my interest in the subject of art itself had waned so much, as had my interest in school life in general. I also got a D in A-Level German, a subject I had previously won annual school prizes for, while I ended up giving up A-Level History halfway through. I didn’t really get on with the History teachers, or at least two of the three we had anyway, the third was alright but looked a bit like Bob Geldof. One of the other history teachers seemed to despise me, because she would regularly turn me away from class for being even 30 seconds late, despite the fact nobody else had taken their jackets off; it didn’t help that I would go to my German class right afterwards complaining about her constantly, not knowing that my German teacher, a usually sympathetic guy, was actually married to that same history teacher – a rookie error on my part, to be sure. The other history teacher I had left teaching at the end of the first year to go and be a Welsh-language pop star (if memory serves, it was a band was called “Ian Rush”), but not before stating to the class that “certain people in this class will either fail or not finish this A-Level”, obviously meaning me; our class wasn’t very big, only about seven or eight students. I did enjoy his classes though, learning about the Italian risorgimento, reading Harry Hearder, studying Garibaldi and Mazzini and Cavour, doing the 1848 revolutions, German reunification, Bismarck; I really thought I was doing alright in his class at least, but evidently it wasn’t how the Ian Rush singer felt, and I remember feeling really disheartened by that at the time. My D in art though was honest, and I could have appealed it (if I recall my art teachers may have even suggested it, or maybe it was my head of year, I don’t remember), but I felt that I had really hit a low ebb in life by that point, and my school work was long gone; I hated being 18. I got a place in an art foundation course that didn’t require a very good grade to get into, but then I decided I was done with art and went off to college to do two more years of additional A-Levels, in English and French, with a retaking of German for my third one. Much more successful, and then I went off to university and did French and Drama.) (The decision to study Drama came out of absolutely nowhere, by the way)
Anyway I was talking about statistics. I think the reason this came up is not because I work with statisticians or because I need to chart my sketches, but because I came across a website this week of football (soccer) statistics called FBRef, and I can’t stop poring over the numbers. I love it, it has everything. Not just xG but xA as well. I never knew I needed to know Moussa Sissoko’s xA score before (“expected assists”) but 0.01 still seems low. Ok maybe I still need to get my head round those particular stats, but I like learning that over the past four years for example he has an 85.4% pass completion rate (3542 passes out of 4041 completed), 3317 of which were with his right foot, 382 with his left, 169 with the head, 96 from throw-ins, and 22 with “other body parts”. I could go on, I’m not obsessed with Moussa Sissoko or anything, but that’s just one example. So maybe I need to up my stats game when analyzing my sketches over the years. How long did each one take me? Was it morning, afternoon, evening? Temperature? Did I finish off at home or do all on-site? Waterbrush or paintbrush? I could get obsessive. (I do get obsessive for example with my running, I make charts detailing this stuff). But to be honest, this isn’t how I improve as a sketcher. This isn’t how I analyze what I’m doing that doesn’t feel right, what I could improve to make it how I actually want it. sometimes you just have to keep doing. Little by little you think, well ok this didn’t work last time, I’ll try that this time. It’s also not a trajectory. I’ve drawn myself into cul-de-sacs before, using one style so much that I realize after a while it’s not the style I really want, and try to pull back to an earlier way of drawing, but my fingers need exercising. Sometimes it is fun to just see what comes out, take the thinking out of it and jump in. Don’t worry about inspiration, just get the pen moving and the inspiration will come. Things such as value and perspective are important technical abilities to learn, but like when I’m coaching soccer I say that the game is the best teacher, with drawing I say that going and looking and doing is the best teacher. So the sketch above, it’s not technically a great drawing, it’s probably not the best sketch I could have done given the temperature, time of day, length of time I had been standing, but I liked it, it was quick. Whereas the one below, on 3rd Street, which was what I had originally set out to draw, I stopped because I wasn’t enjoying it. I felt rusty, it required a bit more thinking than I felt capable of at that moment (and I have drawn this building many times before), so I just turned myself around 180 degrees and drew the view toward campus. Maybe in that sketch I was ‘rubbish at drawin’ and that it was ok, not every sketch has to be an A. So that is the statistic that I can barely quantify, my state of mind, my mood, and my reason for sketching something. I like the sketch above because it represents me saying no to something I’m not enjoying and just jumping in somewhere else instead. And I will keep the one below because, unfinished or not, you can fill the rest in yourself using your imagination, so there’s no need to finish it, really. A bit like my History A-Level. I didn’t really fail at it, and I didn’t really need to finish it, because my imagination filled in the rest. Which is probably why I thought World War 2 was won by Captain America and Bucky, the French Revolution ended when Godzilla ate Napoleon, and Italian unification was achieved by Garibaldi, Rich Tea and a packet of Chocolate Digestives. Well you live and learn.
And here are all the sketches from 2020. Far fewer than in 2019, but given the year it’s been, that’s hardly surprising. I put these together every year, as I go along. You can tell the story of the year this way. 2020 has been a story in everyone’s lives for shitter or worse; for me it started off in Hawaii, on the paradise island of Maui. To summarize the rest: youth soccer coaching; birthday in the ER; pandemic starting; Friday the 13th of March; sketching the house over and over; working from home; schooling from home; flood at home, sick cat; landlord deciding to sell house, and then us buying the house; fires all over California / unbreathable air; Zoom calls; family members passing away, new family being born; cancelling all travel plans; doing a virtual tour of Great Britain; sports stopping then starting and Spurs briefly topping the league; US presidential election result going as hoped-for; son starting a new school but then breaking his arm; running lots but needing to get back into it again. We’ve all had our own years, some much much harder than others, and the new year won’t be making that change any time soon. All in all, on the sketching front it was a less productive year maybe but still a good haul under all the circumstances.
Here are the comparisons year by year from 2013 to 2020. I was not surprised that 2020 was about half of 2019, but didn’t expect it to be on a par with 2015, for example. My goal for 2021 is just to match 2020, in some way, beat it if I can, and maybe to try and learn something new, bring something more to my sketching. Or just do what I can to stay sound of mind. If I have times when I just cannot draw, that’s fine too.
This was the last sketch of 2020, outside Cloud Forest Cafe on D Street, Davis. And in the spirit of 2020, a bird pooped on the page while I was sketching, as if to say, you know what, this year is not done with you yet. At least I presume it was a bird. I was standing underneath a tree, and then plop a big black splat across the page. It was really dark black as well, which makes me think maybe it wasn’t a bird but one of those oily things that trees occasionally plop onto the sidewalk, there are trees here that do that, lots of sticky paths. But it was a direct hit, missing my clothing completely, and leaving thick muck across the page. I wiped it off but was also a little delighted. This will be something to talk about! I thought, happy to have a conversation starter. Also, if the sketch didn’t turn out to be all that, I’d have a ready-made get-out-of-hard-drawing card, plus the actual effect of the black poop (which splattered bluish grey poop artistically across the spread) would make it look really interesting. Unfortunately I did such a good job at cleaning it up (I didn’t want to leave too much of it on there, in case it was diseased, if it was from a crow and I got sick it would be ironic after avoiding covid to get ill from a corvid), that it looks like a brownish smudge now. Still, whether it was a crow or a tree that pooped onto the page, I welcomed it as the last hurrah of twenty-twenty. What a year! I don’t know about you, but I thought 2020 was a little bit shit.
And now it is 2021. I saw online that if Back to the Future was made now, Marty McFly would be travelling back to 1991. 1991! There would be loads of references to jokes about the ridiculous idea of Donald Trump being president some day, and Doc Brown would be asking if Bryan Adams was still number 1. There would be payphones and cassette players. When Marty walks into a 1990s cafe wearing his 2021 clothing, someone would say “hey what’s with the face mask?” And when Marty travelled 30 years into the future to the far-off year of 2051 there would be a news report about Tottenham winning the Premier League (as well as all the usual flying cars. Anyway the point I’m making is that we now live in the future and we used to live in the past when it was the present. Wait no the point is, what seemed like ancient prehistory to us in the 80s and 90s is as far away from us then as the 80s and 90s is to us now. And when you think about it, it’s really even further. Is 1991 closer to 1961 than 2021 is to 1991? I mean, it kind of is. The internet, mobile phones (and not the big brick ones carried by yuppies in 1991), plus lots of other things I’m too lazy to think of. (Tottenham won the FA Cup in both of those years too, so maybe 2021 is our year?) Let’s just say that sounds about right, 1961 and 1991 are closer to each other than 1991 and 2021. Or maybe not, I don’t care that much.
But will 2021 be that different from 2020? 2020 was definitely different to 2019 for example. I did approximately half the amount of drawing in the past twelve months as in the previous, but then 2019 was a bumper year for sketching and travelling. I went to London three times in 2019, but zero in 2020. Right now my calendar says it is 2021, but the president is still that same tiresome person for another few weeks, people are still getting sick and dying, businesses are still closing, we’re still working and schooling from home, the pandemic is still raging as bad as ever, though at least there are vaccines now. 2020, the real 2020, won’t actually stop until we are out of This Whole Thing, in the same way that the ‘real 2020’ didn’t start until mid-March, but then again we might not be back to any sort of normal for a long time yet, so we’ll just keep on keeping on. And Happy New Year, all the same.
Time to return to the second Shelter-In-Place sketchbook project I did, which was a short trip around Dublin in no particular direction. I drew this all in a book my friend Simon got me in Dublin, and since he ended up actually moving there this past summer I drew this in his honour, and then I mailed it over as a Christmas present recently; I hope he likes it. It’s been a while since I was last in Dublin, and it’ll be a while until I am back, but all of my grandparents (except the Belfast one) came from Dublin, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on for as long as ancestry.com can keep finding us. Lot of Scullys, Higginses, O’Donnells and other names too numerous to list. So Dublin kind of feels like home, in that special way which is completely and utterly imaginary; there are places where my dad lived in England that don’t particularly feel like home to me but places where grandparents who died before I was born, to be sure to be sure ’tis no place like wherever part of town they were from. Still I really enjoyed exploring the city virtually, and felt connections more from memories of previous visits over the course of my life than anything else. So, on which the journey! The bridge above was there when I last went, but not before. It’s the Samuel Beckett Bridge, named after surprisingly not the time-travelling Quantum Leaper but the bearded man who wrote that play with Magneto and Charles Xavier in it, En Attendant Gal Gadot. Spanning the Liffey at a wider point than many of the ones upstream, and is supposed to look like a harp on its side. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the Liège Guillemins station in Belgium, which I visited in 2019 (nothing I love more then a Belgian train station, but this one is pretty spectacular to look at and my friend Gerard Michel drew it in his own spectacular fashion). I liked this particular view because the sign (commonly seen around Dublin) says in Irish and English “Críoch /End”, which reminded me of Crouch End, an area where I used to live in London for a while.
This is the Lilliput Press, in Viking Place in the north side of Dublin. It’s an independent bookshop and publisher. My next door neighbour here in Davis told me he has been published by them (he’s from Dublin). I just liked the look of it at the end of this very Dublin road, the sort of thing I would seek out and draw. Although if I drew it in person the perspective would be slightly lower down and I might not be in the middle of the road. This is how you can tell it’s from Google Street View, they have those cameras that are higher up than human eye level. I like it when they are carried around in a backpack and you see the person’s reflection in a shop window, or when people sitting outside a pub all wave and call out, their faces erased by Google’s face-erasing tech. They have your face, it belongs to them now and you can’t have it back. Your haircut remains your own. The Lilliput Press (https://www.lilliputpress.ie/) looks interesting though (it is a Swift reference, I think it’s from his song “Lily put the kettle on”) and reminds me, I need to read more. I always forget to read books these days. We all do now don’t we, since we have those electronic face-stealing devices in our hands all the time. Yet every time I read a real actual book these days I am compelled to write, and write, and write. It probably shows then that I have not been reading enough, because I’ve not been writing. Until this week my last blog was in November, and I haven’t written my personal diary in many many months (a lot has happened in those months too, such as buying a house and the second half of the pandemic year, it’s like I’m going to need a long Star Wars opening crawl to get my diary back up to speed). Then again, I really haven’t many stories to tell, and I’m not going to tell the story of being at home during the pandemic lockdown because firstly, everyone has their own story and secondly nobody wants to hear it, or at least I don’t. Anyway back to the story about an imaginary trip around Dublin that I didn’t take this year.
This is Trinity College Dublin. We did come here on my last visit, and it was an oasis of calm away from the very busy streets of central Dublin. Trinity College is a big important university in Dublin where very clever people work. I also work at a university with very clever people but they are pretty clever at Trinity. For example in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC Davis ranks but #64 while Trinity ranks, let me have a look at the top 100 list again, ok I’ll look again later, it must be so high up I can’t find it. Wait, #155? Are you sure? That’s lower than Southampton, no disrespect to Southampton. The Sorbonne is listed at #87, tied with USTC in China (where a lot of our best Stats students in our program come from); Oxford is #1, followed by Harvard and Stanford. I’ve never been too invested in those particular rankings lists, except when I am using them to show prospective students how great we are (for example UC Davis is the #1 vet med school on Earth, and back in 2011 we were ranked as the “10th happiest college campus in America”, which meant that there were nine happier campuses, which made me feel a tiny bit sadder). Trinity is a pretty renowned research university though with a long history (and is ranked #1 in Ireland, of course). It dates back to 1592, Queen Elizabeth I opened it. It’s also where you can find the famous Book of Kells. I think I saw that on my trip here in ’97, I know that we went to the actual town of Kells, and I also read a book, so maybe my memory is playing up. The college grounds are pretty grand, but crammed right into the city centre there. I got away with drawing too much on this page by drawing one taller building, and then drawing all the other buildings smaller. However the paper being so thin, you can see the other drawings through the page. Famous alumni of Trinity include Bram Stoker, who wrote Count Dracula; Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Gal Godot; Oscar Wilde, who wrote/drew The Picture of Dory and Gray; Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and Lily Put the Kettle On; and other people who maybe didn’t write stuff like that but were still very clever.
Dublin is a place full of writers though, just buckets of them, literally waste-paper-baskets full. Literary-bins. That’s why there are so many literary tours, they need people to write the guide leaflets for them all. Playwrights too, they love to wright plays, Dublin has a long tradition of the stage. The most famous theatre is the Abbey Theatre, which is the National Theatre of Ireland, but this is The Gate, which is a good theatre too. I mean it’s not the Abbey but it’s still totally fine. I admit, I don’t really know that much about Irish theatre. I have a degree in drama but I didn’t really study the history of Irish plays. Obviously I have heard of a lot of Irish dramatists, your Oscar Wildes, your Samuel Becketts (not the Quantum Leap one, the other one), your Roddy Doyles (lots of swearing, lots of “Feck This” and “Feck That”, and the other one, you know the one I mean, worse than “Feck”), your George Bernard Shaws (don’t call him George to his face, he hates it, and pronounce it BERNard nor BerNARD, and when he corrects you on his name don’t reply “are you Shaw?” because he really hates that too), your Jack Charltons (um, not Irish and not a dramatist, I just wanted to mention him here because he will come up later). Incidentally as well as “Pygmalion”, George Call-Me-Bernard Shaw also wrote “Man and Superman”, which is a prequel to Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, before Batman became Batman and was just a crime-fighting crusader called Man. The Gate Theatre though was where many famous Irish acting people started out, your Michael Gambons (Dumbledore #2, Fantastic Mr Fox), your Geraldine Fitzgeralds (Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Arthur 2: On The Rocks) and your Orson Wellses (I know, not Irish, but according to Wikipedia, in 1931 while on a walking and painting trip to Ireland Orson waltzed into the Gate, still a new theatre then, and announced he was a Broadway star and that they should give him a place on the stage at once. It worked, they put him in a play as a Duke and within a year he was acting in a Somerset Maughan play at the Abbey, and by 1941 he was making Citizen Kane, so that’s a lesson for you kids right there). Drawing this, which is right past the top end of O’Connell Street, I was drawn to the spots of yellow so added those colours in.
Speaking of O’Connell Street (Sráid Uí Chonaill in Irish), this is the entrance of the great boulevard right down by the Liffey. The statue is of Daniel O’Connell himself, one of the greatest of all Irish political leaders from back in the 19th century. It is not Daniel O’Donnell, who is someone else entirely. I must admit, brought up with a degree of Irishness as we were in my north-west London family in the late 80s, I didn’t know who Daniel O’Connell was. I knew who Wolfe Tone was but only because we listened to the Wolfe Tones a lot. Daniel O’Donnell on the other hand well, he was much beloved by my mother and all those ladies older than her. Daniel O’Donnell records played in our house as much as anyone, the boyish Irish crooner was very popular. I like the version of him they did on Father Ted, Eoin McLove. There was a lot of Irish music in our house in the mid 80s to early 90s. We did listen to that Wolfe Tones tape over and over, but I think our favourite was the great Brendan Shine. “Catch me if you can, me name is Dan, sure I’m your man.” I did see him at the Irish festival in Southport (was he performing with Philomena Begley? I forget) but mum went to see him down at the Galtymore in Cricklewood if I remember rightly. Pretty sure she saw Daniel O’Donnell there more than once too. They liked going down to the Galty, and the Town and Country, back in the 80s. My mum and dad were very outgoing and social, much more than I’ve been as a grown up. Music was big in our house growing up though, and especially Irish music. When I learned the guitar one of the first songbooks I had was a book of Irish classics. It was written more for the piano but I just needed the words and the chord names. I always the songs liked James Connolly, The Mountains of Mourne, and The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee. Honestly though, I really couldn’t sing for peanuts, so it was when I first heard the Pogues that I didn’t feel quite so bad. Anyway, O’Connell Street, the first time I came here as a kid I remember there was an older lady who would walk up and down smiling to the sky, oblivious to everyone, walking up a few steps, back a few more, on and on all day. My big sister pointed her out because she remembered seeing her when she came to Dublin as a kid in the 70s, and I’ve subsequently heard from other Dubliners that she walked up and down that street for years. I remember there was another character on that street she pointed out, a man who also walked up and down, but I don’t remember much about him. I’ve always found that the streets themselves are the best stage, and have the most interesting characters. Maybe I’ve just been to a lot of bad plays.
And finally, a different sort of stage. This is the Aviva Stadium, aka Lansdowne Road, which is the great Irish football stadium. Not just football of course, but other sports too. Rugby, er, music, loads of sports. Not gaelic football or hurling though, as far as I’m aware, they take place at Croke Park. Among other places. I don’t really follow other sports, I’ve watched rugby a few times but my sport is football/soccer, which someone told me in Ireland was about the sixth or seventh most popular sport after gaelic football, hurling, rugby, fishing, cycling, and I don’t know, snap or snakes and ladders. I just remember lots of people supported (a) Celtic and (b) either Liverpool or Manchester Untied. My main national team is the Republic, I won five Ireland shirts compared to one England shirt (the 2010 red umbro away kit, well it is a lovely kit, though I don’t wear it that often). One of my favourite Ireland shirts is the 1995 Umbro shirt, the ‘Father Dougal’ shirt, the one Dougal wears to bed. I still have that shirt and it still fits. I remember Lansdowne Road from the great Jack Charlton era, when they were great in the late 80s / early 90s, when we were listening to a lot of Brendan Shine and Wolfe Tones and Daniel O’Donnell (well, Mum was). Jack Charlton died this year, famous World Cup winner with England and brother of the much more talented Bobby, Leeds legend and danger to ankles everywhere Jack Charlton was the man who transformed the Irish national team into one that would go to play in World Cups, partly by looking up the grandparents of half the players in the English Football League. He was a legend. My favourite moments with his team were (a) beating England in the Euro 88 (I still have the t-shirt), (b) his angry rant on the sidelines during Ireland v Mexico at USA 94, and (c) when Ireland beat Romania on penalties at Italia 90 and my Mum ran down the road screaming with joy. Also a big fan of when we beat Italy too, I still have the t-shirt celebrating that. The old Lansdowne Road was demolished and they built this great big modern stadium in its place. You might notice actually, in this little square of low-roofed houses dwarfed by the big glass spaceship that has landed behind it, there are a couple of Dublin lads playing hurling on the green. I have watched hurling a couple of times on tv as a kid, the All-Ireland Hurling Final, and witnessed the real passions this sport brings about, notably a punch-up between two pensioners in a pub in Kilburn over the result of a Galway-Tipperary game. I walked across a field of people playing it once too, which was one of the scariest moments in my life, that hurley ball looks like it’s made of concrete and flies about at several hundred miles an hour.
And that is it for part two, join me at some point for part three, the finale.
Post #2 about all the autumnal colours that painted Davis streets in late November to early December. It was like a fall extravaganza. Above is the corner of B and Ovejas in north Davis, the streets over here were looking ridiculously autumnal, like you get in an American rom-com set in the suburbs. A lot of Davis looks a bit like that, I guess. I don’t really watch American suburban rom-coms. I’m not even sure what rom-com stands for, probably some futuristic tech from the 80s.
This was downtown, corner of 3rd and D, when the trees on 3rd turned red with rage. Things were still a bit open here, with Cafe Bernardos and other places having their outside seating for the COVID age, but I don;t know what it’s like since we went into a stricter purple tier, they told all the restaurants to be take-out only for the time being. At this time though there were a lot of people still about, enjoying the Fall colours, just before Thanskgiving. We had a Zoom Thanksgiving with family, played Scattergories. Same with Christmas, except for the Scattergories, we just opened presents.
Above is International House, corner of Russell and College Park. It was a warm day when I sketched this, with the sun on the back of my head (kept my hood up). International House does lots of things for the international community here in Davis, including organizing the International Festival every year to promote cultural awareness and global appreciation. I’m well into that. It looked lovely on this day. The adjoining street College Park looked gorgeous too. This is one of the most stunning streets in Davis in my opinion (it’s more of a big ring than one street) with amazing houses, including the UCD Chancellor’s residence. I’d love to draw most of these houses, I do feel a bit self-conscious sitting outside one though, so have never sketched them. I did do the drawing below though, but this was mostly done at home. I did a very quick sketch outline from a spot in the road next to a pile of leaves, but then drew the rest from a photo with the fountain pen and the watercolours. Caught the feel of the street I think.
The one below I drew and painted standing right there, a street near my house right on the north Davis Green Belt. The houses here are nice too, if not quite as grand as College Park, still very pretty. I love living near the Green Belt, but in November it was more the orange red yellow and brown belt. This one didn’t take too long, just under an hour, a lunch break while working from home.
And the one below was down on D Street, in Old North Davis in the block off of 5th, near downtown. The trees were mostly brownish orange, I didn’t draw or colour everything because I was getting a bit stiff from standing, the light was starting to go, I thought I might finish later but I never did, this was enough. This was pretty much the last of my autumn sketches for 2020, a little period of excited energy that has now faded away with the leaves. I’ve not sketched much in December at all, in the run up to Christmas, as the stay-at-home orders got tighter and the days got much shorter, and I just didn’t want to leave the house at lunchtime. Maybe I will today. I still have a bunch of different coloured autumn leaves I collected while cycling around town which I intended on drawing, like some sort of botanical artist (I am in awe of botanical artists and really should try more of that myself), but they might all be too crunchy and dry now. I took a lot of photos of colourful autumn Davis too, but it’s the sketches that make me really feel the season. Now it’s winter, which in Davis means, well not exactly American rom-com suburbia, which would be snow. No, for us it’s just colder than Fall, with fewer leaves on the trees so you can see the buildings clearly (great for sketching shadows!), with more bright skies than overcast ones, a bit of rain but not like back in England, just enough to close the soccer fields. I should like to do a book about Davis (ha, been saying that for ten years), but maybe one where I go through the months of Davis, and show what the town looks like in different seasons. “The Year in Davis”. I don’t know. I also want to do one just of panoramic drawings of Davis streets. I have ideas but then never finish them off, I just like to keep drawing. Better get back to it then.
Last month the leaves in this town just exploded in all sorts of colours. When I say all sorts I don’t mean blue or white or mauve, but most of the other colours in the spectrum were represented there somewhere. My paint box was jumping up and down for me to get outside and put some of this into my watercolour Moleskine. Happy to do so. It was a short period when I couldn’t wait to get outside. Right now, on the Sunday after Christmas, I don’t want to leave the house, or get dressed, but that’s normal. We’re still working from home, though on vacation this week (officially it’s curtailment), but I still have to go to campus every so often to do stuff at the office, and get to take free weekly COVID tests now too. So coming onto campus I took the time to catch some of the colours there. Above is the view of Celeste Turner Wright Hall (drawn it before) which is one of the most gloriously autumnal spots on campus. You can see Robert Arneson’s Eggheads there still arguing beneath the leaves, like Bert and Ernie. These colours bring me a lot of joy. Without sounding like some sort of uplifting Netflix show host (something I have never been mistaken for), it’s good to focus on things that bring you joy. For me, interesting chord changes in songs, the smell of a French bakery, the sun setting over a city as seen from a train, Tottenham beating Arsenal, but nothing quites matches the joy brought by bright colours of autumnal leaves.
I drew the above fairly quickly while stood on a narrow bridge in the Arboretum. There was no way I could really catch all the sensations of the colourful leaves, but also quite a few people were crossing the bridge and stopping to take photos. I stayed as socially distanced and masked up as possible. A lot of people were having photo sessions in the yellow gingko trees nearby, as they were dumping their leaves. I bet that gives the trees a lot of joy, the feeling of dumping their leaves at the end of a busy year. I know how that feels. I wonder if the trees know about our pandemic this year? Actually, no I don’t wonder that. I know scientists have discovered that trees do feel and communicate, in their own tree-like fashion, but they probably don’t check the internet or read the papers (probably a sore subject too, paper), and probably haven’t noticed all the masks or social distancing any more than I’ve noticed what the mayflies did this year. They didn’t have to read retweets of all of Trump’s endless rage tweets. They’ve never used Zoom. They also didn’t have to watch that ‘Imagine’ video. But they do get to that point in the year when they are like, right here goes, here’s all the colours, there’s all the leaves, see you in the spring dudes. I like trees, they do their thing. That said I also like things like wooden chairs and guitars and paper, so the trees probably don’t like me back.
Above and below, the fiery trees around the Silo. They really blazed a bright reddish orange for a bit, before throwing off the leaves in a tantrum, all at once. When I drew the scene below it was rainy, a rare occasion here, but I stood under a tree and drew what I could, adding the rest in when I got inside. I’m glad for rain, after the year we had. For a lot of trees, the blazes have not been metaphorical. This years fires have been awful, we lost a lot of trees in California and beyond, some very ancient. The trees had their own really bloody rubbish 2020. But when they make it this far, beating the fire season, and bursting into displays of colour as an expression of boundless life, it’s like they are sticking a huge two branches up at the deadly seasonal fires; they made it to the end of the year, long may they make it beyond. Drawing these colours brings me joy, no doubt, and I’ll post the other ones I did in the next post. Just before Christmas the UC Davis Staff Assembly sent out a message to all staff thanking them for their efforts with remote work this past year, and included a link to some of my campus views to have a look at, in case (like me) they might be missing campus. And I am missing campus. I can go whenever I want, it’s only ten minutes bike ride down Oak Street for me, but it’s not the same. So much is closed, so few people are around, the campus atmosphere just isn’t there right now. But it will come back. I can’t see it happening that quickly, and even when it does it will inevitably be gradual for a lot of people, something I’m very sensitive to, but we will come back, things will return. That’s something that will definitely bring some joy.
It’s Boxing Day today, and we’ve had a nice Christmas at home this year, seeing family only via Zoom or Facetime, like so many others. I’ve had rather a lot of snacks and spent a fair bit of time on the couch. I’ve not been drawing much lately, although looking at my blog posts I realize I’ve still got tons of unposted sketches to post yet (I had a bit of a flurry in November when the leaves were all crazy colours), but I’ve not been writing, I suppose maybe not had the mental energy for writing. What a year. However I did make a gingerbread house! I made it two weeks ago, and it still smells amazing, and is still holding up very strong. It’s the first time I ever made a gingerbread house from scratch as opposed to from a set, and yeah it took a while with a good bit of measuring and planning and cutting out bits of card to measure out the gingerbread dough pieces (which of course expanded in the oven), but it all stood up well, incredibly, and yes as you can see it’s a gingerbread Big Ben. I am pretty proud of it. We had a virtual holiday party over the Zoom for work, and one of the games was a gingerbread house contest, which I had great fun with. I used gold-foil chocolate coins for the clock faces and they look nice reflecting the christmas tree lights. Take my word for it. So tonight, I drew it. First sketch in a while. I should definitely keep it for New Year’s Eve, since we Londoners go down to hear Big Ben’s bongs to ring in the New Year. Actually I only ever did that once, and that was when 1999 turned into 2000, and this was way before social distancing. Two million people on the streets, and I was right below Big Ben with my nephew on my shoulders, and the fireworks were loud, and then we had to find the rest of the family, and walked with throngs of people for miles up to Euston, and that’s the only time I’ve done that. 21 years ago! 21 years is a mighty long time, as the Dartmoor prisoner once sang. Anyway, I made a Big Ben because I was missing London a bit, and yeah I know it’s the bell not the tower (I did decorate a bell-shaped cookie but I ate that). Fun fact, until the tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower (after the Queen, for one of her many many jubilees), I used to ask tourists on my open-top bus tours if they could “tell me the name this clock tower?” when our bus would turn into Parliament Square. “Big Ben!” They would all call out, but it was of course a trick question because it was just the Clock Tower. But I said they could call it Big Ben anyway, nobody cares at all. Like Frankenstein’s monster not caring if people called him Frankenstein, it’s fine. Like Grogu not caring that people who now know his name keep calling him Baby Yoda, although to be fair nobody does that to his face in the actual show. Like Alan Dale always being called Jim Out Of Neighbours, despite having a long international acting career after (see also Mike Out Of Neighbours). So yes, it’s fine to call it Big Ben, because I said so. Just don’t call Tower Bridge “London Bridge” because haha you tourists.
Here it is in the flesh, with the wall of advent calendars behind it (ten years of advent calendars now! This year’s one is a model of our house, appropriate since we spent so much time here this year). Plus some of my Christmas Lego. So Merry Christmas, folks, as happy as it can be. This year’s nearly over but well, these times aren’t over yet.
Last week we braved the elements (it was a bit cooler than usual) and held a socially-distanced Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl. We started out at the Amtrak station and went down 2nd Street. It was kinda sorta a scavenger hunt, but my list wasn’t very good, putting two of the items/prompts twice, and I didn’t follow any of them. I only did two drawings, at pretty much the same place (just from opposite sides of the train track). In the second one (the panorama of the Amtrak station, below) I stood leaning against the wall and my fingers got chilly. It was only a few weeks ago we were hitting temperatures in the big 90s! I mean it’s not cold cold, but it was noticeably more autumnal. I drew the above sketch with a Lamy safari fountain pen in black ink, and below the uniball signo um-151 in brown-black ink (click on it to see it bigger on the Flickr site).