back to burnt oak library

BurntOak - Library - 2022

At the end of May I finally returned home to London, having not been back since before the pandemic started. This was my longest period of time not going back, and it was great to see my family again. My older brother was getting married to his long-time partner (I was best man and gave a speech). It was the first of two trips back to London this summer, and both times I would be going off to France for the second half of the trip. It’s been a busy time. I also managed to get a lot of sketching done, as well as many drawings I would start now, finish later (gives me something to do on the plane home). I felt a bit odd flying across the Atlantic again after all this time, but it wasn’t so bad, and I landed at Heathrow and took the brand new Elizabeth Line, London’s newest train line, that had opened only a day or two before. It was pretty exciting getting to ride this new train so early in its existence. The Elizabeth Line (formerly called Crossrail) station within Tottenham Court Road was like an underground cathedral, at least compared to the tube platforms. Anyway, I made it up to Burnt Oak on the Northern Line which is where my family still live, and this is where I got my first sketch of the trip in. This was a London sketching day and I was headed down into town to fill my book and wander the streets, as I do. I like to explore. But I had to stop here on Orange Hill Road and draw Burnt Oak Library. This iconic landmark of Burnt Oak (opened 1968, designed by B. Bancroft) was like a second home to me growing up, I spent so much time in here. These days only the top part is the library, greatly reduced in book numbers, while the bottom floor is all council offices for local services now (very useful of course). When I was a kid, the children’s library was upstairs while the main library was downstairs. I still dream about the library from those days. There was a smell, a bookish smell, and as you walked in the main doors (which are in a different place now since the remodel), you were greeted with three maps on the wall (I think it was three, maybe two?) showing Burnt Oak as it was when it was all fields and a few roads, then a small village in Middlesex, and then how it looked in the 60s all built up and part of the Greater London suburban metro-land. Burnt Oak is on the Edgware Road, which is part of the ancient Roman road called Watling Street, shooting dead straight in a general north-western direction. It’s from Watling Street that we get the name Watling Avenue, the main road that cuts from Edgware Road (called ‘Burnt Oak Broadway’ in this section) downhill and past the Underground station towards this intersection with Orange Hill Road, and that’s where you find the library. Watling Saturday Market by the way, from the sign in the sketch, was the market that was in the parking area behind the station. I don’t know if it even still goes, and I think the stairwell down there from Watling Avenue has been closed off, but we used to go there on Saturdays and look around the stalls. The little street to the right is Park Croft, a tiny cul-de-sac that just backs up to the train lines. The library itself didn’t used to be painted in such a dark grey colour, but was white (not a very clean white admittedly) and looked quite striking. Then they painted some colourful patterns on the interior parts, and when they did a big redevelop in the 2000s they painted it an uninviting dark grey. There didn’t used to be a fence around the grassy bit, well there was a small shin-height barrier we used to jump over, so we could sit in the shade outside the library windows. I remember getting my library card as a very young kid, possibly on a visit from my infant school which was just up the road (Goldbeaters), the librarian upstairs in the kids section had brown curly hair and was friendly and kind but serious, you couldn’t make noise of course without a stern look, but I remember her teaching me all about book care (I still remember her advice that it’s not a good idea to turn the corners of pages in your books to mark your spot, and to this day I still don’t). I do remember that I forgot to take some books back when I was a kid, and it turned out they were in our loft, and the two books were a very silly children’s story about colourful teddy bears getting into trouble, and a heavy book about the Soviet manned space program. Two more completely different books you could not have chosen but that was the sort of thing I would read, I guess. As I grew I would read lots of adventure books, but I’d mostly spend ages poring over the travel books, especially the Insight Guides which have all the colourful photographs in them. New Zealand, Hong Kong, Germany’s Rhine Valley, Brazil, the fjords of Norway, Australia, Japan, the Trans-Siberian Express, there were all these places I read books about at that library but have as yet still never visited. Some day. When I was an older teen I would study in the library, especially on the evenings when it would stay open late until 9pm, I could get some quiet study done and also if I needed to study with friends, but usually it was a quiet place for myself. I would go to other libraries too, I remember studying hard for my Maths GCSE in Edgware library every day, and the big library at Hendon was a favourite for me, I’d sometimes spend all of a Saturday in there getting lost among the language books, and they also had an excellent music library where I would check out vinyls (I often used to get the old BBC Sound Effects records, for some reason). Libraries were such a big part of my growing up as a place where I could find ideas and let the imagination bubble, and I carried that on into adulthood. When I lived in Hornsey Lane, when I wasn’t working I would spend most of the day in Crouch End library. When I moved to Davis, similarly I would spend a lot of my time in the library, looking through books that might be interesting. I think it’s always a massive shame whenever public libraries close, they need to be protected. While it’s a lot smaller than it used to be, I’m glad Burnt Oak Library is still there. Probably not quiet enough for me to do my homework in now though. And I wish they paint it white again.

Behind the library it looks like they are building some sort of extension on top of Silkstream Parade, that changes the look of the street a bit. I’m interested to see how that turns out, but I hope it’s not some big redevelopment scheme like we saw in Colindale, which is a completely different place from when I left the area. I miss it round Burnt Oak, so it was good to be back for a little bit. I did do a few more drawings round here while I was back, will post later. Next up – central London sketches…

knowing just where you are blowing

rice lane downtown davis

Well it is 2022 now, I suppose. The number at the end of the year changed a bit. Due to general busyness (and a few technical issues putting me off of scanning my sketchbook) I’ve not posted in a while so will make up for that now. I have also not drawn that much lately, December was a big slowdown in terms of my sketching output. Ah well. So it’s time to just catch up by posting these sketches from late Fall, when bright orange leaves were still on the trees and in the streets (long since blown away). Above is Rice Lane, which joins up B and A Streets near campus. I did this over a couple of days, so some of the leaves may have moved about a bit overnight, who knows. I was listening to a Terry Pratchett audiobook while drawing. I remember that because that’s what comes to mind when I look at my sketches, the sounds in my ears. Those are the things you don’t see. You’ll never look at a sketch I did of, say, Community Church and think, this puts me in mind of the Great Vowel Shift, but I would because I was probably listening to a podcast about that when I drew it. Associated sounds are personal. It’s good when visiting new places to keep the earphones out and listen to the city itself, the crunching leaves, the traffic, the language of the passers by, the sizzle of a hot dog, whatever. If I’m just here in Davis where I always am I want to listen to stories through my headphones, I already know what Davis sounds like.     

D St, Davis

Above is somewhere on D Street. I have long said we should rename the lettered streets to something more memorable, maybe something to do with university subjects, like Anthropology Street, Biostatistics Street, Chemistry Street, and I guess D would be Design Street? Drama? Then I thought in the spirit of fraternity / sorority we should rename them with Greek letters, so Alpha, Beta, C would have to be Gamma confusingly, but D would automatically be Delta. You don’t want to be Delta. Well now it’s Omicron that’s everywhere. This pandemic, it’s never going to end. I’ve been a bit depressed about it all lately (me and you and everyone else) and now the new year is here it’s like, oh, 2022, it’s going to keep going isn’t it. On and on and on. We will run out of Greek letters for variants, we will need to start using the NATO phonetic alphabet, you know, Foxtrot, Charlie, Bravo, those ones. Except Delta would still be Delta, and who would want to say they caught the ‘Mike’ variant? It gets a bit problematic that alphabet.  Or maybe Father Jack naming scale? The ‘Drink!’ variant, followed by the ‘Feck!’ ‘Arse! and ‘Girls!’ variants. No, that might be problematic too. That would be an ecumenical matter. You can’t use the Care Bears scale (“Tenderheart”, “Love-A-Lot”, “Grumpy”) though I’d like to see that scale used more for weather (“Hurricane Funshine”), but I could see the Transformers scale working (the “Megatron Variant” sounds terrifying) though maybe not the He-Man scale (really, the “Fisto Variant”?) I’ll leave naming conventions to the experts.

alphi chi omega davis

Speaking of Greek letters, I drew this Alpha Chi Omega house on C Street (we are back to regular alphabet for street names then), in mid-November. They are a pretty old women’s fraternity, dating back to 1885 in Indiana, that’s a long time. I have drawn this building before, because I date back to Davis in 2005 and that’s a long time for a sketcher. I remember when I first came to Davis, I was a little bit fascinated by all the fraternity and sorority houses, with those big greek letters outside, because this whole ‘panhellenic’ society thing you get at universities here is pretty alien to me, we don’t have those at British universities, at least not to the scale they have here. They would have their big Rush periods with their big dress up events, and their hazing (though I think there’s much less of that nowadays), but I was already well beyond student age when I came here and I just kept getting older, so anything the youthful did looked a bit alien to me. So I just occasionally draw the big old buildings with the big mystic-looking letter combinations on the wall. Sometimes there will be lads playing beer pong outside. I daresay these buildings hold a lot of memories for people.

shields library uc davis

And this last one, another from November, a little bit more autumn colour but not much, standing outside Walker Hall and looking towards Shields Library. I used to spend a lot of time in Shields when I first came to Davis, because my default mode was sitting in big quiet libraries looking at books (usually about language). I’d finished my Masters not long before flying out here (I had handed in my MA dissertation – about the relationship between the English and French languages within England in the late Middle Ages – a week before emigrating; my wife had originally set the leaving date for the day after I handed it in, but I’m really glad I had a week of non-library time before flying off, time to say all my bye-byes and party a little. I’ve lived in America ever since.) This library was the only place I could access the internet at first, so I would send my long emails home from here, update my old blog, and start looking for jobs. I was still a bit shell-shocked after moving countries so coming to the big Shields library felt like finding a little bit of familiar me-space, and even after I started working on campus I would come here at lunchtimes and try to translate some old Anglo-Saxon texts, most of which I’ve forgotten all about now. It’s 2022 now, I suppose…   

bum bum

bum bum and shields library, uc davis
This is another scene from UC Davis, showing the side of the huge Shields Library, with the metallic sculpture called “Bum Bum, You’ve Been Here Before”, which is by the artist  Tio Gianbruni. I don’t think it’s ever appeared in any of my campus sketches before. There’s a lot of public art on campus, many sculptures. We’re a campus with a rich history of sculpture. ‘Bum Bum’ is found near the Arts Annex. I drew this in dark green pen. I like the dark green. Those red flowers make it feel like Spring, but it’s very much Fall. Mornings are getting cooler, though daytimes are still very much sunny and in the 80s. Shields Library is named after Peter J Shields, son of an Irish emigrant and Gold Rush rancher, who was one of the founders of UC Davis. When I first moved to Davis, before I was working at the university, I would come to the library and read medieval language books, riding on the back of my recent studies in the subject, though I never carried on. Shields is massive. Lots of places to read in peace. I miss spending hours on end in university libraries, doing research as best I could. My undergrad was spent in the large library at Queen Mary in London, which was always busy but had a great video library section (I did a course in German film). My Masters was spent mostly in the quiet corners of the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane, one of the main libraries for King’s College London, and I spent many hours every day there (though my best friend worked on the same street and there was a pub right across the road). I also spent a great deal of time in the medieval literature corners of the huge Senate House library, the central library of the University of London, near Russell Square. That really became a home from home while writing my MA dissertation (about the antagonism between English and French in the middle ages). In addition to Middle English and Old French I studied a fair bit of Old English (particularly the alliterative poetry, much of which I’ve forgotten now), Old Gothic (Wulfila and his bible), Old Saxon (the Heliand), and Old High German (Althochdeutsch; I did read the actual Abrogans, the oldest thing in German, at the beautiful Stiftsbibliothek library at the Abbey of St.Gallen in Switzerland) (I love telling people that) (makes me sound clever). Now, I draw pictures, and remember library time and dictionaries of languages I never learnt properly.

the library years

Davis Library
This is the Mary Stephens Library in Davis, our local public library. I like it here, and am super thankful for the fact that public libraries exist. I spent so many years in the library, looking for the exit. No when I was a kid I would go to Burnt Oak Library after school and read every book I could, mostly the ones about other countries, I always wanted to travel. I never thought I would end up in America; I do remember reading all about Australia, and Germany, and Hong Kong – there was this one book about Hong Kong I used to read over and over, and to this day I still have never been. Nor Australia. I used to read a book about Australia and learn all about exotic things such as Lamingtons, Flying Doctors, Funnel Web Spiders. I loved the library. Sometimes I would go to Hendon Library, a couple of stops away on the tube, but it was much bigger and had a music section. I would check out records there, they had a lot of old BBC Sound Effects records I used to enjoy for some reason, you know the ones with “Door Creaking” or “Thunderstorm”, I remember they would check the record for scratches before giving it to you, marking each imperfection with a yellow crayon, and don’t even think about bringing it back damaged. Hendon Library. I spent so many Saturdays in there, sat in the Languages section, they had a lot of books about Languages. That’s where I did most of my reading about Languages when I was a boy of 13 or 14, amazed that there were so many in the world, I tried to learn different alphabets and was especially enthralled with the Cyrillic alphabet, this being back in the days when the Cold War was about the end and it had such a distant and exotic feel, and I loved how different languages that used Cyrillic did it in their own different way, the special letters in Serbo-Croatian (the Serbian side anyway) that the Russians didn’t have, and then all the others across what was then the Soviet Union. I devoured those language books. History too, I would read whatever I could about anywhere, especially the remote far away places; I read one book about the history of the Falkland Islands once, cover to cover. I didn’t only read about Languages and Countries and History but also a lot of fiction, especially fantasy fiction, though my favourite books were always the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, I still have my collection of them (except a couple which I lent to my nephew many years ago) but I would read many many more at the library. Sometimes I would go to Hendon Library on a Saturday after lunch and get a bunch of books at the library, and then get the bus from The Burroughs, the 183 to Harrow, reading book after book on the way, and then in Harrow I would go to the bookshop near the St.Ann’s shopping centre and read more books, mostly about Languages, before popping by the Games Workshop to buy some colourful dice, getting a bag of chips from the chippy, and getting the 114 back to Burnt Oak. Those really were the days. When I grew into adulthood I still spent ages in the Library, like Crouch End Library when I was jobless in Hornsey, or the Maughan Library when I was studying at King’s, and of course the massive Shields Library at UC Davis, the first place I ever came to spend my time when I first moved here, reading as many books about Old English as I could find on the shelves. Libraries were always my natural home, my quiet retreat, and they still are. I stand up for libraries. This one here in Davis is near my house, and I sketched it one afternoon before picking my son up from school, with grey clouds hanging in the sky. We went in afterwards, and spent some time with the books.

the egg of good luck

egghead "bookhead"
Another Egghead, this one is called “Bookhead”, by Robert Arneson (1991). It is located outside the Shields Library at UC Davis. There is a legend that students touch it for good luck. Really. I think that is one of those things that people just say, and then people do because people just say, “it’s a tradition”.  It’s one of those things that people say because there are no other interesting stories to tell about it. Yes, I know this old trope, I used to be a tour guide too. “Legend has it the lions in Trafalgar Square will get up and dance if Big Ben strikes thirteen,” that sort of thing. Nonsense with no evidence at all. Or “Charles Dickens used to drink here, even the plaque outside says so,” when he may have popped in for a pint on his way to his next bar; he drank in pretty much every pub in London, it’s amazing he wrote any books at all. Ok, so here’s what I would like someone at UC Davis to do. Have someone stand next to this Egghead and every time someone touches it for luck, have them give their name, and then have them come back with their mid-term results or final term grades, perhaps include their grades prior to touching the Egghead for a comparison, and then do some sort of statistical analysis to see whether touching the Egghead gave them any particular advantage over those who did not, or if it signaled a shift in their general academic progress, and maybe have them indicate if they had won any competitions or survived an accident, or if they had bad luck, like, well the opposite of those things. Then perhaps we will know the truth. In the meantime I am willing to hazard a guess that it does not give any magical gift of luck, and I might even have a sign posted next to it warning people that touching it will not give any guarantee of an upturn in your fortunes, and that UC Davis is not held responsible should your luck be not quite as good as you expected. In fact, just move the whole thing completely, put it somewhere else, on the roof maybe , somewhere nobody will be able to touch it. Then there could be a story behind it, “too many students were using ‘Luck’ to affect their grades that the UC Regents voted to have it moved to ensure academic integrity”.

Or perhaps tour guides could just not mention this obviously misleading legend at all, let it die a death, and perhaps use this opportunity to tell perhaps the most appropriate joke there is to tell when faced with a big egg in a book. What did the chicken say in the library? “Book-book-book-book…”

No? Alright, keep telling the silly ‘good luck’ story. Doesn’t make it true.

pete in the library

Exciting News! For the month of November, my sketchbooks and drawings are currently being exhibited in a public display cabinet at the Davis Public Library! I’m very honoured by this. If you are in the area, please pop by and check it out! The Library was redeveloped last year and it’s a really nice place to visit. Here are some photos I took on my iPod after setting it up (apologies for the quality, I’ll take better photos!).

Sketchbook display at Davis Public Library
Sketchbook display at Davis Public Library
Sketchbook display at Davis Public LibrarySketchbook display at Davis Public Library
Sketchbook display at Davis Public Library

Many thanks to the kind folks at the Mary L Stephens Library for giving me this opportunity. I have more exhibitions in Davis coming up soon too, so I will announce those very shortly…

quiet time in the library

davis library

The Mary L. Stephens public library in Davis reopened a few months ago after a big refurbishment; I popped by last weekend to check it out. I had forgotten just how much I love libraries. I used to spend hours and hours in libraries, searching through the books, letting my imagination go wild in silence. When I was a kid, I would go to Burnt Oak library and spend ages reading books about space and dinosaurs and languages. As I grew up the love of libraries never left me. I spent a lot of time at this library when I first came to Davis. It was nice being back. I think libraries are incredibly important for our societies. In these days of budget cuts and ‘austerity’, I’m more thankful than ever that we have them. It’s amazing, in a way; while record companies vehemently fight tooth and nail to stop illegal downloading of songs and file sharing of copyrighted material, it’s perfectly normal for us to go to a library and borrow for FREE any published book they have. It’s a lesson to those moneygrabbers; free lending libraries have usually helped rather than hurt the publishing industry. Nowadays we have the internet of course, the ‘reliable’ Wikipedias and Googles and other such instant sources if information, on our iPads and iPods and Kindles and Blackberries and Raspberries and other smart-fruits, people might think libraries are less important, just places for people with nowhere to go. I however think that a society which wilfully loses its libraries loses its link to culture, learning and freedom of thought. In Davis, for one, the library seems to be as popular as ever. Long may our libraries last.

the medicine chest of the soul

shields library, uc davis

I like symmetrical pages in my sketchbooks, and this one is opposite the G Street pub (not geographically, don’t go looking it up on Street View, it’s in the moleskine). Appropriately, it’s the UC Davis Shields Library, possibly the opposite of the aforementioned pub. Here you borrow books; there you buy beer. There you can listen to, well, not very good experimental bands, here you can read Ibsen. But, you can’t drink your beer in the library (not that I’ve ever wanted to), while you can read library books in the pub (now that I have done), but only if you sit near a neon lamp.  

ibsen on the shelf

I love libraries, especially academic ones. When we first moved to Davis I spent a lot of time in here, browsing the medieval language section. It’s very peaceful.

“A great library contains the diary of the human race.” – George Mercer Dawson

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”  – Jo Godwin

a learning curve

shields library

I had a pen in my bag I’d bought in London, a uni-pin fineliner I got in the big Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, and wanted to run it down. I have wanted to draw the Shields Library on campus for a while but never found myself a good angle. I have also wanted to mess about with curvilinear perspectives for quite some time but have not done so. Until now; I sat at lunchtime in the shade among the bicycles opposite the library and started drawing. I’ve made it look like a baseball stadium or something. It is a very big library, and very well stocked. It was my destination of choice when I first moved here, way before I started working on campus, when I was just coming off from my Master’s back in the UK, where I had gotten quite used to spending hours locked away in the polished silence of the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane, or the high-up dustiness of Senate House. As a medievalist and germanic philologist I enjoyed the privelige of being in those quiet parts of the library that nobody went to, because usually nobody else was studying what I was studying (similarly I had little problem with borrowing books). I’ve not dusted off those books in some time.

I showed this to my two-year-old, and he was immediately impressed that I’d drawn a picture of a bicycle. He’s one for the small details (bit like me).

wrapped up in books

in the library

Cycled to the Davis library on sunday, took back those books I didn’t read. I then got books out I’ve already read, well this one anyhow. I sketched the biography section in brown pen. I’ve always been a library-dweller, since I was a kid. I used to bury my nose in books about language, scouring libraries across the borough (preferably for those that said “warning: contains obscure language”). Sometimes I would read fiction, sometimes – quite often – I would read travel books. And I used to spend a lot of time in the music library, taking out records, any scratches marked clearly on the vinyl by the librarian with that yellow crayon. I would get back on the bus with a can of Lilt and a Mars bar, and read up on philology, all the way home.