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.

Week Two: No Crony Left Behind

Santa Rosa must have the most intelligent homeles people in the world. I’ve just joined the local Sonoma County library, and it is full of grizzled, unwashed hobos, shuffling around the journals, poring through encyclopedias, lost in thought and pungent odours. They are there every day, like mumbling monks, preparing either for an overthrow of the regularly-washed capitalist regime, or a special tramp version of University Challenge (better watch out, Paxman). Their greying pony-tails and Haight-Ashbury beards betray them as old Northern California liberal hippies, more LSD than LSE. These are not, absolutely not, the people who voted in Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governer of California.

I am yet to meet a californian who thought giving Arnie their top job – the ‘one man with one veto’ (and he aint afraid to use it) – was a good idea. Most people here are saying his days are numbered (a phrase I’ve never understood – surely all days are numbered, isn;t that what calendars are for?), but even the Governator isn’t losing support like the President is. Yes, the legendary (read mythical) ‘approval rating’ has never been lower for George W Bush, particularly after his slow response to Hurricane Katrina (he thought it was a female boxer). One of the big political stories to fall from the Katrina fiasco was the resignation of Michael Brown, the Bush-appointed head of FEMA whose only qualifications for running large scale relief operations amounted to cleaning shit from paddock floors at the horse-shows he used to run. Now, the politcial storm is Hurrican Harriet: Bush is insisting on appointing his White House legal adviser (and long-time Texan friend) Harriet Miers to the highest legal position in America, Supreme Court Justice.

Her qualifications for being the nation’s most prominent judge do not include ever having been a judge, nor ever having shown any inclination of wanting to be one. Her own judgement, in fact, is fairly dubious, having once said (to David Frum) that the President was the ‘most brilliant man she knows’, according to the SF Press Democrat. That such a Dubya-acolyte is being rewaded with a position so clearly above her station has naturally angered Democrats, but the real backlash has been from right-wing Republicans – even they abhor the obvious cronyism. On the internet, in the newspapers, on the radio and on TV, Bush is losing the support of his own supporters.

Yet surely he is just showing Americans another version of the American Dream? That you can become important and powerful even if you don’t have any qualifications or experience – in short, ignorance, stupidity and a lack of education pays off. Those homeless guys in the library are clearly wasting their time – or will one of them be the next Secretary of State?

Originally published 10/11/2005