ich liebe dictionaries

swedish berlitz dictionary

I don’t remember how old I was when I first discovered foreign languages. My older sister went on an exchange visit to Stuttgart, Germany, when she was fifteen, so I would have been around six years old when she came back, introducing me to Nutella, and to the German phrase “ich liebe dich”. Although I went to a school full of kids from different countries, if I ever heard other languages it would have been as an impenetrable barrier, not something that I could actually learn. Thanks to my big sister and her travels, I now knew a foreign phrase and could say it, “ich liebe dich”, “I love you”. She probably learned it from a boy that she met. I like to think that “ich liebe dich” was a good place to start.

I didn’t really think much about foreign languages again, until I got the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album. As a ten year old boy, I was obsessed with football. It’s all I would talk about, think about, dream about (I was pretty much over Transformers by this point). Swapping stickers on the school playground was the highlight of the day. What I really liked about the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album, apart from all the funny names and wacky beards (I’m looking at you, Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Disztl), was that there was a list of every country, even those who did not qualify, in its own language. It was a list of exotic lands like ‘Deutschland BRD’, ‘Magyarország’, ‘Shqipëria’, and the confusing ‘Helvetia’. Some were almost like the name in English, just a little different, such as ‘Brasil’, ‘Turkiye’, ‘Italia’, ‘Danmark’. The countries themselves were not alien to me. I had been reading Atlases since I could read, and used to draw maps of the world for fun, but seeing them listed in their own languages was mind-blowing. And then, in the middle of the World Cup, my family and some of our neighbours all went on a package trip to sunny Spain.

It was my first time outside England. I had been to Norwich, which doesn’t look far on the map but actually takes ages to get to, and linguistic differences only stretched as far as my cousin saying “int’ it!” instead of “innit!”. To prepare for this foreign adventure I bought myself a Spanish phrase book from the Salvage Shop in Burnt Oak. The Salvage Shop was the most exciting place in town, you could get anything there. Well they had some cheap phrase books and I spent whatever it was, 50p maybe, and suddenly a new world opened up. It included a smattering of Spanish phrases, but was mostly a word-to-word dictionary. Naturally, my friend and I went through the book looking for the ‘funny’ words. It didn’t include any swear words, more’s the pity, nor any words like ‘fart’ or ‘bum’, but it did include the hugely hilarious words for ‘drunk’ (‘borracho’) and ‘hangover’ (‘resaca’). We knew full well what those words meant in English having observed our parents at parties over the years, and in fact on the first night in Spain, our dads went out and got quite ‘borracho’ indeed, very much ‘resaca’ the next day. In fact my mum locked my dad out of the apartment as a result, meaning he spent the first night in Spain sleeping on the sunbed by the pool.  If any Spanish locals were not familiar with English swear words before that night they were probably quite familiar with them afterwards. Dad would always tell me that those swear words were also a different language, ‘Anglo-Saxon’, and for a few years afterwards I probably still believed that. Apart from ‘borracho’ and ‘resaca’ I must admit I didn’t pick very much else up, except for a few numbers, the Spanish word for toilets (‘lavabos’ and ‘aseos’, because of course we looked those up), and the incredible discovery that some chocolate bars have different names in other countries, such as ‘Raider’ (foreign for ‘Twix’), and ‘Snickers’ (foreign for ‘Marathon’; that will never catch on, I said at the time).

I never did learn Spanish, in fact, despite going back to Spain for every single remaining summer of the 1980s. Holiday resort Spain isn’t really Spain, though, being full of English people getting ‘borracho’, and the foreign language I heard most was usually German, in the swimming pool. When I moved to secondary school though, I finally got to learn a foreign language – French. British people of a certain age will know what I am talking about when I say the words ‘Tricolore’ and ‘La Rochelle’. Say no more. I finally visited La Rochelle in 1998 on a rail trip around Europe and yes, it was exactly as I remembered in the famous school textbooks. French was fun, but in the second year I finally got to learn German. At twelve years old I was becoming a lot more interested in different languages, and I loved German. It quickly became my best subject, but I wanted more. I would sometimes go to the library and look through any books teaching foreign languages, to the best of my abilities – usually “1,000 words in Italian” or similar picture books, not really picking a lot up.

And then I discovered Berlitz phrase books and dictionaries – small pocket sized books with, as far as I was concerned, everything I needed. The first one I bought was a yellow-covered Swedish dictionary, bought from a now-gone bookshop on Burnt Oak Broadway. It cost £2.25. I think I was thirteen, and I’m sure part of my motivation for wanting to learn Swedish was ‘girls’. I just loved the way the language looked, and sounded, and all those little dots over the letters, and the little circle they sometimes put over the ‘a’, and even the word for ‘dictionary’ itself – “ordbok”, which my keen detective mind deduced must mean “word-book”. Around this time I would start to explore London. Sometimes I would get on the tube and go into central London looking for records, but usually, on Saturday afternoon, I would get on a bus and got to Harrow-on-the-Hill, to the bookshop at St. Anne’s, and spend literally hours sat upstairs in the languages section. It would be pouring with rain outside, and I was sat in the corner, reading the ‘Berlitz European Phrase Book’. I wish I still had that book, but I left it with my nephew when I moved to America. I read that book more than any other. It covered fourteen European languages: French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and, most exotic of all, Finnish and Russian. The Big Fourteen, as I thought of them. There was no Czech, that remained too exotic, no Romanian or Bulgarian (how excited was I when I discovered how Romanian was more like Italian and French), and Ukrainian was a language I didn’t even realize existed back in the pre-Soviet-demise era. I started spending my Saturday afternoons in the biggest local library, Hendon, devouring their language section, getting out books about Albanian or Afrikaans, drawing little Indo-European family trees, attempting (and failing) to figure out how to pronounce Irish words.

I did German and French A-Levels and ended up studying French at university, where I must admit my progress in languages started to flounder, as it got a bit hard. I was better at drama. I did do foreign language plays though, acting in several productions in German (including Romulus der Grosse by Friedrich Durrenmatt in which I was covered in fake blood with a Luke Skywalker-esque mechanical hand inside a stage built to look like a chicken coop full of feathers) (that was fun). In the end though I got my French degree and was selected to go and teach in Aix-en-Provence, where I continued to be bad at French to new levels, but it’s where I met my future wife, who was impressed at my ability to converse in three languages simultaneously at the pub, albeit not necessarily to the right people. My love of languages took me abroad to Aix which ultimately took me here to California, where my wife is from, and so you might say that in a roundabout way this little yellow Swedish dictionary is why I am here in Davis right now. But that is a bit of a stretch. I still have the book though, and here it is (scroll back to the start). I haven’t done any language learning in a long, long time (though I did get a Masters in Medieval English), but I still love the subject. And I still collect World Cup sticker albums. But I never did learn very much Spanish.  Or Swedish, for that matter.

pottery barn

ucd craft center (rear)
This is the back of the UC Davis Craft Center, in the South Silo building.  Well, it’s worth drawing buildings you have drawn plenty of times before from a different angle for once. I like triangles, shapes. I’ll tell you something, I’ve never been into the Craft Center. I should take a class with them sometime, they do some interesting courses. I like a bit of ceramics, not done that since I was, well since Everton were the English champions, that’s rather a long time. I actually won a competition for pottery when I was 11, Borough-of-Barnet-wide, I made this big butterfly and did a bunch of drawings that went with it. I won a book called “The Young Naturalist”, which was presented to me at Goldbeaters School. My older brother and sister used to rip the piss out of me for that book, because they thought it was about Naturism, and I had no idea what that was. (It’s where people go about all nudey). I was always like, you what? Obviously this is about finding caterpillars and identifying plants. Oh you mean bushes and snakes, they’d chuckle. Yeah I suppose so, idiots, I’d say back. I’m still confused about it actually. When people talk about Naturist beaches I imagine it being full of people in green jackets with little magnifying glasses and Thermos flasks. Anyway my only ceramics experience after that was at school with Mr Herring, yes Mr Herring, the pottery teacher who hated me. He was the only teacher who gave me ‘Discredits’. He was my Snape, or would have been my Snape if I’d ever been taught by him after the first term of the first year, which I wasn’t. He used to throw the clay across the classroom onto the pupil’s tables. In class one, I said to him, you shouldn’t do that. I was always told at Goldbeaters that Throwing Clay Was Bad. I lived by the Rules. So I got a Discredit for it! Then a few weeks later Mr Herring gave me another one for not handing in homework on time (drawing homework, which he usually criticized no end anyway, often giving me a C or a D; he was of the opinion I was rubbish at drawing, and wanted me to know that). He really put me off doing ceramics, because ceramics was done through him at our school and if he didn’t like you, then tough tit my friend. This wasn’t really a thing in any of my other classes (especially not Art, which I loved). That Discredit meant I got my one and only Detention. I remember the Detention teacher being surprised to see me, and I noticed her eyes say ‘hmmm’ when she saw who gave me the Discredits. I had to write an essay called “The Day I Nearly Died”, that was the Detention essay at our school. I wrote about when I was hanging off of a cliff at Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight on a school trip, and had to be rescued by Mr. Winston, one of my favourite ever teachers. Anyway I never did ceramics again, so cheers for that Mr. Herring.

you took your last chance once again

guilbert house a st, davis
This is Guilbert House, on A Street in Davis. Not any street, but A Street. I don’t just mean ‘a street’, no I mean the street is named after the letter ‘A’, or at least I presume it’s named after the letter ‘A’, unless it is named after a famous person who was just called ‘A’, like ‘Q’ from James Bond or ‘T’ who played ‘B.A.’ in the A-Team (who were not just ‘a team’, etc and so on). I like to think of myself as a man of letters. I have sketched this building before you will be flabbergasted to hear, after over a decade in Davis I do on occasion draw the same thing more than once. This town isn’t very big. So, this is another lunchtime sketch, with colour added afterwards.

Let’s Draw UC Davis! October 20, 2018

LDD Oct 2018s

It’s time for another ‘Lets Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl! If you’re in the Davis area and like sketching, why not join us?

This time we will draw once more at the UC Davis campus, starting inside the Memorial Union at midday with a quick ‘portrait party’ (*details below), before going off and sketching around campus and meeting up again at 3:30pm outside Hart Hall to look at each others sketchbooks. 

As always this is FREE and open to anyone who likes to sketch, all you need is something to draw with and something to draw on. The campus bookstore has great art supplies if you run out though! Sketchcrawls are a fun way to meet other people who like drawing outside, and learning from each other. It’s a great excuse to draw!

START: 12:00pm, UC Davis Memorial Union (in the main Study Lounge inside, 1st floor)

FINISH: 3:30pm, outside the front of Hart Hall (SW Quad)

*”Portrait Party“: To kick off the sketchcrawl, I’ll encourage people to pair off and have ‘portrait duels’, where they draw five minute portraits of each other (they’ll be timed!). This ice-breaker will be a fun (and optional) way to meet each other and exercise those sketching muscles before heading off to sketch bikes and trees and buildings and stuff. 

Once you’re done, feel free to share your Davis sketches on the Let’s Draw Davis Facebook group!

Look forward to seeing you there!

get fresh on the weekday

peets coffee truck, uc davis
The start of the Academic Year at UC Davis always brings busy times. I like it; after the long hot summer it’s nice to have all the people back. A lot of people, a lot of new cyclists, a lot of young drivers. People dress well in those first couple of weeks, dressed to impress new classmates. All the sorority houses along Russell that I cycle past are bursting with outfits and hairstyles. I haven’t been downtown much lately but this is also when people go out to restaurants and bars in huge groups; they’ve all just met each other and don’t know who will be their best buds yet. This is what I’ve seen over the years in this college town. By about November the cycling crashes will slow down, the homework sets in, the leaves become crispier. On this day though in the first week of classes I sat in the shade by the food trucks at the Silo and sketched this temporarily located Peet’s Coffee truck which was busy offering people a free cup. I don’t drink coffee, and I also spell ‘Pete’ properly (this must be another American spelling like ‘color’ and ‘aluminum’). It was nice though to see something new at the Silo, something different to sketch. ‘Cold Brew’, I suppose this is some sort of cold coffee? I don’t know. That large ‘Nitro’ looks like a beer. In fact not knowing that this was Coffee I might assume this was a beer truck, if such a thing were allowed on campus. Brings me back to British universities, those first weeks of the academic year there, now they had a lot of beer on campus. In many UK unis the campus is built around the pub. The student union bar at my old uni, Queen Mary, was the Draper’s, and I remember back to 1997, that place would get messy. None would get so drunk as the rugby team though, going there on a Wednesday night you’d see the players there, large heavy-shouldered public-school types (America: ‘public’ school in England means ‘private’ school, yeah our language makes no sense occasionally), vomiting into buckets while stood on the table and then carrying on drinking. ‘Fresher’s Week’ is what we call the first week of the university year, ‘Freshers’ being like ‘Freshmen’ in the US (just less gender-specific).  God I’m glad I’m not back in those days.


Amtrak Station Pano Sept 2018 sm

Saturday afternoon and I needed to sketch more. Yes yes I have drawn everything in town and want a new perspective on the same things, I am not feeling super creative right now though, and finding little comfort in the usual sketching, i suppose I am just in need of another long journey somewhere far away with lots of interesting streets and angles, somewhere like Porto for example (but maybe without the tired legs). There are still views to discover here though. I have drawn the Amtrak station before, of course I have but never while stood behind that circular fountain feature outside of Tres Hermanas on 2nd St. So that is what I stood and drew, while listening to a History podcast (two guys talking about the extraordinary history of ordinary things, such as the ‘history of the lean’, or the ‘history of clouds’, a really fresh perspective not only on history but on observing the world and universe itself – the sort of thing I should really be thinking about more, in fact you might say it has inspired me to think more  like that, or rather, it’s inspired me to do that tomorrow. Next week). I needed a panorama. I must say I am using the softcover Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ landscape sketchbook and, while I do love the paper, I can’t wait to be done with this book. The softcover is starting to bug me. I need the hardback again. My next cued-up book is another Seawhite of Brighton book, then I’ll likely use the hardcover Alpha again. The softcover is fine if I’m sat at a table, and its slightly smaller scale means I can draw a panorama more quickly than in the slightly bigger hardcover. The way I stand though, it becomes awkward keeping it open, especially as I get further into the book. So, I’m looking forward to finishing it, which means I need to draw a lot more.

I’d really like to publish a book of Davis panoramas, that’s my intention. I’ve not worked that out yet, but I do have quite a few already. To see this one more closely, either move your face really close to the screen, or click on it and a larger version will pop up.