Here’s a quick sketch I did on a lunchtime from work (in the at-home office) on Covell Boulevard, north Davis. It’s Calvary Chapel on the corner of Oak Street, and I have drawn this building before, quite a long time ago now, back in 2012 when I first moved to north Davis (after six and a half years in south Davis). Back then, there was a funny looking periscope thing on the roof, one of those architectural details that bring light down into the building. That has gone now. Not gone entirely though, it’s been moved next to the building (on the other side of this, unseen; I should go and draw it really). The 2012 sketch is below. As you can see it’s a different colour now. Those trees behind the building didn’t just sprout up in that time, at least I don’t think they did, I probably just left them out. Not the Cypress trees in front, they were there. Of course what you are probably wondering about is the foreground object, a wonky electrical box on my side of Covell. It really was quite wonky, not much exaggeration there. It looks like a drunken robot, on the walk of shame in the early morning when the sun’s coming up. Come on, we’ve all been there. It looks like it’s just stumbled off the night bus having gone halfway across London in the wrong direction because it missed its stop. Several times. Like, London is massive and the night buses at Trafalgar Square when it’s freezing cold, sometimes you jsut jump on the first one that looks about right, just to get warm, and suddenly you’re in like Enfield or Chingford. Yeah I know this is really specific now, but we’ve all been there, we’ve all done it. One time it was like Queens Park or Harlesden, or somewhere pretty scary looking at 3am and you just jump on the next bus outta there, wherever it was going, and back to sleep. The 90s was an age of exploration, and sleep.
This is the almost-ready Graduate Center in the almost-refurbished historic Walker Hall, on the UC Davis campus. If you have been reading this site for a while you might have seen this building once or twice; see all the previous posts at petescully.com/tag/walker-hall. Well the little huts where all the construction workers go have been moved away, and so I had a pretty good view from across Hutchison, though the fence is still up. I did this fairly quick panorama while I was on campus earlier this month. Click on the image to see a close-up.
And this is what it looked like back in January 2014! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, as Bowie would say. If he were still alive. I wish Bowie were still alive.
That big storm we had a couple of weeks ago felled a lot of trees. When I say ‘felled’ I mean ‘tore down violently’. The storm was loud, louder than I remember any storms here in Davis (and I’ve seen a few now, though very far between). Maybe it’s because I’m a homeowner now that I’m a bit more anxious about flying foliage and tumbling trunks but I didn’t get much sleep that night, listening to the deep booming howls and the intermittent crunching sounds from our neck of the woods. Next morning I went out to review the damage, while our internet was down, and power out for thousands (but not us, thankfully). Debris strewn everywhere, trees (or the tops of them) toppled, one large thick tree had fallen directly onto the roof of a house, another just missed the house but completely blocked the drive, other huge trunks blocked pathways on the Green Belt, but most concerning were the large branches in trees that had snapped but not quite fallen, hanging precariously, and it was still a bit windy. Falling branches can be deadly. So I proceeded with caution and went home. Still, I needed to do some work, so I went (carefully) down to campus, steering clear of dangling branches and passing many big old wounded oaks, and into the safety of our large solid stocky building. It always feels much safer watching the world from a window up there, but we’ve had our share of trees go down outside over the years, and this past storm was no different. I saw the tree above snapped like a broken doll at the back of the building, so I did a quick sketch of it. (I thought I’d keep a log of this event). Soon after it was cordoned off with yellow tape, and a couple of days later a man with a chainsaw had come to cut up what he could. It’s only now, a fortnight later, that many of the trees that went down are being removed, they had to deal with the most urgent ones first (like those plonked onto rooftops or blocking traffic, or the many that went down taking the powerlines with them). I wonder if any of them went down like Neymar, falling dramatically and rolling around a bit, maybe waving an imaginary yellow card. Poor old trees though.
This as you may know from previous posts is one of the new buildings that have been popping up on campus the past few years that I can’t help but draw as they grow. This is the Teaching and Learning Complex, or TLC, next to the Silo which is away to the left there. Behind that tree. On the day I drew this, the wind was blowing hard, blowing off some of the coverings on the building. It was also the last day of the Trump presidency, speaking of wind blowing hard. I’ve been waiting to use that one, I thought of it when I was drawing. I drew most of this fairly quickly for a panorama, it was the afternoon and I was working on campus, and had to drop something off at the international department, which these days of hardly anyone being on campus means some coordination and passing off of a brown inter-office envelope at an outside location. It makes me feel like a secret agent or something. Anyway I got that out of the way earlier than expected so I had a bit of time before my weekly COVID test, a requirement for those who do come to work on campus (and I come in once or twice a week) (I am bored of working from home and miss the office, which has fewer snack distractions or cats begging me to turn on the taps at the sink). I coloured it in later, the blowing hard wind not really the place for the watercolour set. We have had much harder blowing wind since, there was a big storm that rumbled across northern California last week taking down so many trees here in Davis, it was a scary, noisy night.
Changing the subject completely, a few months ago the legendary presenter of the game-show Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, passed away and his final show was broadcast recently. The show is now continuing with a new host, Ken Jennings, a well-known former Jeopardy champion who for all the will in the world is not a game-show host. I think technically he is a ‘guest host’, but it got me thinking about all the game shows I used to like years ago in Britain, and so my wife and I discussed those game shows we had when we were kids, her ones being over here in the US and mine being very much anything with Bruce Forsyth. There were many that crossed the Atlantic (the most recent one being British game show The Chase which we had seen on previous visits back home, but just started here, also with Ken Jennings and two other Jeopardy champs as the ‘chasers’, including my son’s favourite James Holzhauer). At this point in the story I should start listing all of them, your Price Is Rights, your Generation Games, but I can’t really remember them all (I’d have been useless on the Generation Game), and then this becomes another blog post about ‘member this? ‘Member that? ‘Member when we had TV and everyone watched TV, etc. I’m not sure why I’m bringing it up in fact, and I think this is a topic for a longer post that I already would advise against reading. But game shows do add a lot to the language, in certain catchphrases and sayings that filter in to the common consciousness, a bit like how sporting terms crop up in conversation without you knowing the origins. For example we all say things like “that came out of left field”, which is a baseball term (nothing to do with the musician who did that track with John Lydon in the 90s). Or we will say “they had a good innings” when someone dies, more from cricket than baseball. Or we might say someone is “out for the count” which is from either boxing or vampire slaying, both popular sports you don’t see on regular TV any more (I think vampire slaying is still available on “pray per view” channels). I do often find myself using phrases from old games shows that I realize might not have been as popular over here. For example I was at the supermarket buying fruit, and I says to the fruitmonger, “you don’t get nothing for a pear…” and they didn’t respond “…not in this game!” In meetings at work, if someone says I have made good points, I always respond with “and what do points make? Prizes!” while rubbing my chin, while everyone stares and blinks. I was at the card shop, and I was buying some birthday cards and I said “dollies, do your dealing” and the look I got, well, let’s just say it wasn’t “nice to see you, to see you nice”. Basically growing up my whole vocabulary was shaped by Bruce Forsyth. I want to point out that I never say any of those things in public in America because I’m not insane, but it does remind me that I grew up with tv game show hosts being proper tv game show hosts. So farewell Alex Trebek, I hope that a worthy full-time successor comes along at some point (although not necessarily with lots of outdated eighties-era catchphrases).
I’ve been trying to draw every day in January, and except for one I think I have done. Ok two, including today, unless I get a sketch in before bedtime. However there is currently a huge storm rolling through northern California and I’m sure the power will go down any moment. Lights are flickerin’, rain is pourin’, wind is howlin’. Trees are takin’ a rollickin’. The gusts are so strong, they have blown the ‘g’ away from the end of all these verbs. We’ve not had much weather this winter, such as on this particular Saturday when I drew this, when it was bright, sunny, a typically fresh January afternoon in Davis. I got out of the house, mask on, and cycled down B Street to the corner of 5th, and decided to draw the view across this school parking lot, looking over at Newman Chapel. Click on it to see a bigger view, if you need to.
Saturday afternoons, sometimes I will stick on a movie, preferably something I have seen a lot of times so I can do something else while it’s on, such as build some Lego, get on with some drawing, do the laundry, cycle downtown and sketch a panorama, that sort of thing. Most recently I rewatched one of my favourite films that I’ve not seen in ages, Les Visiteurs. Les Visiteurs was a French film I first watched in about 1993 or 1994, starring Jean Reno and Christian Clavier, utterly silly in a French humour kind of way. It’s about this knight (Godefroy le Hardi) and his vassal (Jacquouille la Fripouille) who get accidentally transported into the present day (that is, 1993; god knows what they’d make of 2021). Despite the silliness, Reno plays it with such a sincere seriousness, and every single other character is well fleshed out in their own way, I just love it. I was learning French at the time and I would watch it all the time, and funniest of all are the terrible subtitles (“toil toil never recoil”). The soundtrack too is epic, as you would expect from the best French flicks, rivalling Jean de Florette (another of my favourites, along with Manon des Sources). I did watch the sequel Les Visiteurs 2: Les Couloirs du Temps, on VHS when I lived in France, without the subtitles and with a different actor playing Dame Frenegonde, and it wasn’t anywhere near as good. I didn’t have high hopes, whenever I asked French friends about it they shrugged indifferently; but the again they tended to do that a lot in France. Also I once went to a nightclub outside Charleroi in Belgium called Les Couloirs du Temps and it wasn’t all that. See, I shrug indifferently too. I never saw the English language remake Just Visiting that came out about 20 years ago, starring the same two main actors, but with Christina Applegate and set in Chicago for some reason. I shrugged highly differently at that, taking it as an abomination unto a classic of French cinema at the time, but Les Visiteurs isn’t exactly Le Chateau de ma Mère or Les Parapluies de Cherbourg or one of those other ones I haven’t actually watched (though I did a course in French cinema at university), and now I think I’d actually like it in a funny retro sort of way. And then there was a more recent one, back in French, following on from Les Couloirs du Temps, called Les Visiteurs: La Révolution, set during revolutionary France (and called ‘Les Visiteurs: Bastille Day’ in English, for some reason). I’ve not seen that one yet. But nothing can take away from the original Les Visiteurs, one of my favourite films of all time.
Regular listeners will recognize this building as Walker Hall, which has been under redevelopment for quite some time now on its way to becoming the new Graduate Center, which was slated to open in 2020 but looks set for 2021 now, unless you subscribe to the opinion that 2020 hasn’t really ended yet. (To be fair, 2016 only just ended yesterday). It’s starting to look quite different now and almost nearly ready, as a lot of the area in front of the building (I mean, the rear of the building, this is actually the rear, but I think it’s the front now) (a bit like Buckingham Palace, you know the part of the building we all see is technically the back? It doesn’t matter, it’s a building not a video game) has been paved and a lot of the construction huts are going, though it’s still all fenced off. The last time I went inside there was November 2018 when I got to draw the insides with a hard hat on (see: https://petescully.com/2019/01/28/inside-walker-hall/), which was very exciting, because your urban sketching street cred goes right up if you wear a hard hat. It has been fun to watch this whole building evolve (by the way I made a handy folder on Flickr to see all the drawings I’ve done of this building, for those who are interested: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petescully/albums/72157678149480548) but it will be nice to draw it from a different angle once again.
That said, here are a few sketches of this angle (usually stood on the steps of Shields Library) from over the past couple of years during the rebuild, for comparison. Funny how I usually draw it in January, and twice now on January 15th, which was the traditional Deadline Day for PhD applications when I was a grad coordinator. In fact it was the former Graduate Dean Jeff Gibeling that gave me the idea to draw the redevelopment back when plans for the new Graduate Center was first unveiled years ago, as I had been drawing the developments at the Pitzer and the Manetti Shrem at the time. It’s fun tracking changes in sketchbooks.
This is the Social Sciences and Humanities Building at the UC Davis campus, also known as the Death Star, despite being incapable of hyperspace travel and having zero giant superlaser weaponry, at least that I am aware of. It’s a complicated structure, and I always get lost on it. I would have been terrible on the real Death Star, I’d never have made it out just by running around. Similarly, if there are meetings in a part of this building I’ve not been to often I will definitely be 10-15 minutes late while I get lost in the Escher-like architecture. Not a problem any more now we are all Creatures of Zoom. I drew this building after working at home all day, and at the end of the day before the sun came down I felt the need to get out of the house, so I went down to campus and drew this quickly. January keeps moving along. 2021 keeps dragging 2020 along with it. I’m writing this post early in the morning after one of those nights where I fell asleep very early (on the couch after dinner, with a headache, having been up very early yesterday morning to watch Tottenham play Sheffield United on TV) (if someone had told the teenaged me that in my mid-forties I would be living in California during a global pandemic and getting up at 6am to watch Spurs play Sheffield United I would have said, yeah that sounds about right. “Oh but Spurs are wearing green shirts.” “WHAT!?!”). It was a sleep last night littered with the mad dreams, all over the place, all sorts of things going on. I’m usually back in London somehow during these dreams, they were the sort of dreams that take me a few hours to get over when I wake up, which I did today at about 4:30am. So I got up, and listened to podcasts about football tactics and X-Men, listened to some Belle and Sebastian, they always fix my mood, and I’ve been trying to draw a picture of Boulogne Sur Mer, which is taking longer than it takes to cross the English Channel. I started a new virtual sketch tour, since there’s no travelling, I’m going to go on a virtual Tour de France. I drew Calais already. I should miss out Boulogne, but it’s impossible, since they go hand in hand from a British day-trip perspective. The sun is coming up now and I should get ready for a morning run but these quiet dark pre-dawn hours I always feel I need to learn stuff, practice a language, work on my drawing, write something interesting, achieve something to start the day with, but that sun keeps on coming up. It’s windy out there today. New week, wonder what fun it will bring.
We live near the North Davis Green Belt, and that’s where I walk or run most days. I started running a little bit in 2019 but after the Turkey Trot I picked it up a lot more by the start of 2020, intending to do all these 5k races, and I did the Davis Stampede no sweat and signed up for the Lucky Run, and then coronovirus came along and that was that. So I started running more in general, as if training for these runs that were not going to happen, building up to not just 3 mile but 4 mile runs (I never managed further than that), improving my times each time, usually getting up and running just after sunrise so the hot weather wouldn’t drain me. And then when the fires came and the sky got smoky from August to October, that stopped all of that, and it’s taken me a bit of time to get back to running regularly, but as 2020 ended I decided to get back out more, and I’ve been doing 2 mile runs each time, not fast, but as regularly as I can. I managed a 3 mile run yesterday. It’s the shower afterwards I look forward to most. I couldn’t run marathons, at least I don’t see that in my future, mostly because I don’t want to. Running for more than 26 miles! At some point it’s like, ok this is a bit pointless. At least, this year’s London marathon looked a bit pointless. Due to the coronavirus, rather than being an epic journey in the rain through the streets of Britain’s capital dressed as a kiwi fruit, crossing over Tower Bridge, doing the Lambeth Walk, going down the Strand, having a banana and running up the Mall to Buck House, this year they just had a few proper runner starting before dawn and just running round and round and round St.James’s Park like the Indy 500 or something. They told everyone else they had to run virtually, in their own areas, dressed up as mangoes or peaches or whatever. You do feel great after a good run though, even when not dressed as a fruit, and with all the fun stuff in the world happening, running helps because it’s like you are trying to outrun it, like Brave Sir Robin. “Run away! Run away!” You have to be mindful on the paths though, trying to keep a good distance from everyone else, so I always end up verging off when there are people on the path. I remember early in the pandemic, everybody gave everybody a wide berth, people crossed the street or went around parked cars. That was my favourite time in the pandemic, people crossing the street to avoid you, it was like “finally this is ok”. Back then, they told everyone to stay home, so there were suddenly more people outside walking than ever.
Anyway I drew that sketch above whilst walking the Green Belt, I was stood off of the path and on the grass, I like this intersection of several paths and that big old wooden house in the background. This is probably my favourite sketch of this year so far, I like this one. It reminds me of all the walks we’ve done this year.
This isn’t a real dog, it’s one that was turned into metal by a wizard or something, probably because it was off its leash. Riding a tricycle. Or as Yoda would call them, a docycle. Bit of Star Wars humour there, cheer us up in these dark times. These trying times. Or as Yoda would call them… Down below is another sketch from the path, this time of a neon yellow sign, indicating “bike” “person” “go down left slightly”, not necessarily in that order. Along with another sign lower down that says “wear a mask” “stay 6ft apart” and “wash your hands”, not necessarily in that order. I like the shape of that building in the background, it’s like an opera house made of cereal boxes. I like the way it forms triangles or as Yoda would call them etc and so on. Honestly Yoda give it a break mate, it’s been a difficult year for everyone without you giving it all that. I haven’t even got the energy to shoehorn in a joke about this week’s impeachment trial or as Yoda would call it impeachment do-al (the joke there being ‘dual’ impeachment I suppose?) because we’re done with the Yoda stuff now.
This is ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, they make cakes, and when you buy them they will let you eat them. It’s a good name, they are a well-known local business. Like most people I like cake, though I don’t eat cake very often. Birthdays, usually a good time. My favourite cake is probably a Victoria Sponge Cake, classic simple British cake with a layer of jam in the middle, and maybe some of that nice icing on top but that’s not really necessary. That and a cup of tea, yes please guv. ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ is a phrase commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette, headless Austrian wife of the headless French King Louis XVI. Of course the phrase has been translated wrong over the years, she was supposed to have said ‘Let Them Eat Brioche’ but most English people would have been like, what, eh, bri-what, what’s that fancy foreign food, I don’t know what a croissant is. So they said ‘cake’ instead. Or maybe, maybe the mis-translation goes deeper. Maybe it’s “Let the Meat Cake”, that is, “Let the Meat Brioche”, which when you think about it, that’s where we get Meat Loaf. And I do mean the singer. It could also have been “Let Them Meet Cake”, like perhaps cake was a person that they needed to met to discuss their grievances about food, perhaps his name was Monsieur Brioche, maybe the famous brioche was named after him, that’s a thing that happens, see for example the sandwich. Imagine if you will that the Earl of Sandwich was in charge of free school meals, and the king’s wife said that we should “Let Them Meet Sandwich” to discuss increasing the size of food packages for those in need, you can see how it would be mistranslated to “Let Them Eat Sandwich”. We’ll never know, we’ll never know. Of course there is zero evidence whatsoever that Marie Antoinette ever said such a thing, so all this silliness is just as valid as any purported historical fact. Of course Marie Antoinette wasn’t the only historical figure with a very-probably-made-up story about cake associated with them. King Alfred the Great, the King of Wessex who was on the run from invading Danish armies, famously burnt the cakes while hiding out in Somerset at a West Country peasant woman’s hovel. “Ok Alf I will let you stay here but can you watch these cakes while I just go and feed my goats? Cheers my lovely.” “Right, right, cakes, cakes.” (A few hours later) “Alfred what the hell! Seriously, you had one job, you’re like a chocolate teapot.” “I did wonder what that smell was. I thought it was my socks, I’ve not changed them in six months.” “Well you may as well take them, perhaps you can throw them at the Vikings, they are rock hard now.” “Good idea! I’ll throw them at the Danes! Let them eat cake!” “Good idea? More like a GREAT idea, amirite?” I imagine it went down something like this, but with a lot more alliteration and no rhyming. But Alfred the Great never let the cakes burn, it’s another old myth, but again one that doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. And these days, we have the Great British Bake-Off, which Alfred the Great would have been terrible at. Not being technically British for one thing, that being something different back in 870 AD, plus also being very bad with cakes. There was a show in America called ‘Cake Wars’ for a while, but I think it was cancelled because nobody could think of any good cake / war puns, though there are many to pick from.
Coming back to reality and away from ideas for Horrible Histories sketches, I drew this late in the afternoon shortly before it got dark, and it was pretty cold out, cold for Davis anyway. This was the short of sketch that I would have loved to have taken round to the pub to warm up and finish off there over a pint, but the pubs are all closed. This pandemic, man. I need a cake.
This here is my Lego “A Christmas Carol”, which I got as a Christmas present to my delight. In the run-up to Christmas this year we sat down each evening in the living room and read A Christmas Carol, which we’d never actually done before, aloud with hot chocolate and cookies and mince pies. I found it hard to read aloud with my mouth full of mince pie but I gave it a go, it’s what Dickens would have wanted. Dickens really stuck faithfully to the original Muppets version which was nice to see. While reading Scrooge’s voice I managed somehow to avoid doing a Michael Caine voice, and instead did something more along the lines of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s Old Gits. We always watch the Muppets version on Christmas Eve, for us it’s the best one, and of course the Blackadder Christmas Carol. I like the Albert Finney one too. This Lego set then was a really nice surprise and I made it straight away to put on the shelf. I drew this (deciding not to add the colour) on January 6th, traditional last day of Christmas, after finally turning off the endless news of the bloody awful events at the Capitol. I still can’t really gather my thoughts on that as it feels like we don’t really know where this is going, but it’s so depressing. At times like this, getting the sketchbook out and furiously scribbling away feels like the best way to get through it. I have Lego to build though. I did start making a Christmas themed Lego animation but I was struggling to find the time to work on it (despite hardly ever leaving the house, it’s finding the ‘mental’ time) and now I’m putting the Christmas Lego sets away. But here is one final festive image for you, Han Solo on a tauntaun.