This is Latitude, a dining hall at UC Davis which opened last year. I first drew it just before the pandemic. I was on campus recently and cycled past this on the way to or from my weekly Covid test, and really wanted to stop and draw the unusual shape. I like the name Latitude. If it were a 1980s band it would be called L’Attitude. If it were at a higher elevation we might call it Altitude. “With a latitude like that you’ll go all the way round the world”. Etc and so on. This was drawn the end of April; it’s the middle of May already. How did that happen? I mean I know literally how, but these days time runs in bizarre directions. I genuinely got the day wrong last week. I contacted someone at work to see if they needed me to sit in on a meeting in case they need extra reference information which I like looking up, and they were like, um that was yesterday. I’m like, why was it a day early? Then the penny dropped. I get that a lot now. You do too, I bet. Years ago I turned up for a meeting with the dean a day early. I’m sat there in the meeting room getting my notepad ready, nodding pleasant hello at those coming in, people I didn’t recognize, thinking this is weird, where are the usual lot. The dean came in, sat down and looked at me, confused. Yes, wrong meeting, my one was the next day. Ironically it turned out that my department chair at the time had done the exact same thing the week before, turned up a day early, same meeting room. Well we like to be ahead of the game in our department. So, Latitude was closed for most of 20/21 but opened up this spring, and features a menu of international-themed dishes. I should eat there some time, it sounds nice. When I’ve been back on campus I’ve still been eating at the Silo, and in fact earlier this week I had lunch there and even sat indoors, the first bit of indoors eating in well over a year. Apart from dinner at home obviously. A little bit of normality sneaking back in. I can’t wait until I can finally go down the pub, sit at the bar and sketch with a pint, and not worry. That’d be nice.
I’ve drawn this before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? This sculpture is actually called “Shamash” by Guy Dill, and was made in 1982. I’ve always wondered. 1982…I always say that my memory pretty much goes that far back, although I know I have memories from earlier, flashes really. In 1982 I was six, and I remember some things from that year clearly. The FA Cup Final replay, Spurs v QPR. I remember my older brother Johnny, who was at the game, came back from Wembley shortly before our neighbours, who were also at the game. We are spurs fans, they were QPR fans. My brother went to every home game at White Hart Lane in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons. So my brother got the Chas’n’Dave songs on his record player, “Tottenham Tottenham, No One Can Stop Them” and “Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley”, turned up the volume full blast, hung the speakers out of the bedroom window, and waited for the neighbours to get home. Everyone in the street came out, not to complain, but also to watch the QPR neighbours get back from Wembley. It was all good fun, we were a pretty close street. I do remember the Royal Wedding, Princes Charles and Lady Di, and that was 1981. We had a street party. Us little kids running around waving flags and everyone’s dinner tables lined up in the middle of the street with sandwiches and fizzy drink. There were games, and I distinctly remember my dad winning the “dad’s piggy-back race” with me on his back. I do have vague memories of the 1981 FA Cup Final win, the great Ricky Villa winning goal. I certainly have even earlier memories, I remember my Grandad, and he died in 1980. All I remember is him at his house on Blundell Road in Burnt Oak with my Nan and my uncle Billy, and I remember when he was ill, before he died. He was from Belfast. I have an old photo of him with me sat on his knee when I was about two, I’ve had that photo all my life. I have other memories from 1980. I had a small part in a BBC TV serial called “A Little Silver Trumpet”, and I remember going to the big round BBC TV Centre every day, I remember the sets, having greasy make-up put in my hair, I remember going to film in Brighton, I remember them just letting me draw and they just filmed me drawing, holding my pen in the same funny way. I have even older memories than that, I definitely remember visiting my Dad in “the Big House” which was where he lived until I was 4, and he’d always get a milk and a Yorkie bar. I remember walking around Burnt Oak with my big sister Jacqui and going through fields behind the houses with stingy nettles. I remember my uncle Billy taking me to see a film at the pictures that might have been Spider-Man. Memory is a funny thing, there are so many photos in albums and stories from others of events I have not really any memory of, but these things I always remember, things that belong to me. I’d say that from about 1982 though, when I was six, memories become a little clearer. I remember getting stuck in the snow with my mum down in Hendon, and it took a long time to get home, and we had oxtail soup when we did, and to this day I think of that when I taste oxtail soup. I remember that was the year we got central heating in our house. I remember getting chickenpox that year. I remember cutting up my pyjamas and pretending to be the Hulk, and getting into trouble because “my days of being the Hulk are long gone”, whatever that meant. I remember seeing pictures of the Falklands War on TV. I remember reading all of my brother’s Beano and Roy of the Rovers comics. I remember in 1982 going to meet The Tweets (the ones who wore bizarre bird heads and did “The Birdy Song”) with my friend Daniel, and I remember they wore big leathery gloves and did not talk. I even have a photo of that meeting. I remember my uncle Billy singing Come On Eileen in our kitchen. I remember playing in the sandpits at Welwyn Garden City. I distinctly remember going to see the Dark Crystal with my Dad and my next door neighbour Barry, and dropping all of my popcorn when Fizzgig appeared. At school the next week my friends all played Dark Crystal. “Another world, another time.” I am still obsessed with the Dark Crystal (I loved the recent Netflix series so much). 1982 was the last year when I was the youngest in the family, my little sister Lauren being born a year later. In my life 1982 was a really long time ago, and this sculpture has been around since that year. I’ve drawn it before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? Back to 1982? I mean, at least Spurs won a trophy that year. I always forget not to write posts like this, those “I remember when I was a kid” posts, but I suppose it’s part of getting older isn’t it, trying to keep remembering. Another world, another time.
The thing about using the watercolour Moleskine sketchbooks again, I just love how the pages open flat making me think, I really need to draw a two-page panorama on this one, I just have to. But of what? I wander Davis sometimes not sure what I want to spend time drawing over two pages that I haven’t already drawn. Not everything works. The time of day makes a difference. How long I have to draw is fairly essential. How interested in the shape of the buildings I am. I mean the buildings aren’t going to be too unusually shaped, this isn’t the world of the Dark Crystal or something. With this one, on D Street at the corner of 3rd, I’d not drawn these two buildings before (at least from this angle, I’ve drawn the other side) and I had never realized what a pair they make. So I stood in between them and drew. I didn’t finish it all there though, I coloured in later. Style Lounge, and Myland Nails and Spa. Until very recently Style Lounge had these large ornate mirrors parked outside, which is where they would have their outdoors work with clients (I’m sorry my vocabulary for style stuff is limited, me having no style at all). I never did draw one but they looked really cool from the street. The other side of the building is painted all different colours, it adds a bit of life. Myland Nails and Spa, again not really aimed at me, unless they are actually a hardware store that sells nails and spanners, but part of the sign has fallen off. But they only sell nails and spanners, nothing else. Maybe I should go in there like Ronnie Corbett, asking for nails. No, I won’t do that. I bet that happens all the time though. No, I don’t bet that. This is what happens when I just write without really thinking, I can’t be bothered coming up with any actual jokes or interesting things to say. I can’t even come up with a good blog title. My last post was actually fairly well written I thought, little bit of history, bit of emotion, bit of metaphor linking the theme of the drawing to the wider world and my longing to get back to see London, while this one is more “I’m sure I have a lot to say, but this ain’t the time”. Sometimes my blog posts veer off dramatically from the theme of the drawing, like I’ll post a drawing of a bookshop and use that to launch into a story about when I got chased by a dog in Namur. (There was not such post by the way, and anyway it was two dogs). Sometimes like this one they are literally about nothing. I’m always a little worried when I write a post like this that someone who knows me will read it and think, oh that guy hasn’t got a clue, what’s this? What is all this? Like, they may have Googled me because I coached their kids soccer and found all my drawings of Davis, which are nice, and then read some of the stories, which are funny, and then read a blog post like this where it’s not really saying anything. “‘Nails and Spanners’? Is this guy nuts?” Or perhaps they were forwarded a link to my sketchblog after my drawings were shared across the university or in a newspaper somewhere and they read the words bit and go, ok nice drawing but do we need the words, what are these words and do they even go together? Years ago, when I had my old ’20six’ blog, I would often write blog posts with just words and no drawings – what a concept! – and act like I knew how to write things and have ideas. And then when I would post drawings, I would include some text but in a much smaller font, in italic, and it would typically be nonsensical gibberish that I felt it necessary to include but didn’t want to distract from the drawing. These days I just ramble. I don’t re-read them. And now WordPress can also convert your blog posts into audio podcasts through Anchor. It is possible to have the posts converted into a generated voice. Now for me this doesn’t make a lot of sense as I am posting drawings, but I suppose if someone was listening to me talk about the drawing in more details and the experience and all of that, it might be interesting. But probably not. So I decided to test out the service and converted one of my long posts about Dublin, if you remember I did that virtual Dublin sketchbook last year. The generated voice is Male American, and my words said in Male American auto-voice sound absolutely hilarious, to me alone. Now, this has been posted just as a test, ok, and I will very likely delete it if I actually want to publish any of these stories on that platform in the future, in my own proper voice. But hearing my words in auto-generated non-ironic Male American is quite a thing: https://anchor.fm/petescully/episodes/Dublin-Part-2-literally-littered-with-literature-eqslqo. Especially the bit where the Male American voice keeps pronouncing BERNard as BerNARD specifically in a bit about pronouncing BERNard in that way. Twelve minutes of fun.
Wyatt Deck, in the UC Davis Arboretum, is going to be refurbished. Or is it Remodeled? Or Rebuilt? Renovated, that’s the one. I couldn’t remember my “re-” word. At least it’s not “reimagined”. That’s the buzzword right now, everything is being “reimagined”. Russell Boulevard in Davis is being reimagined. The workplace is being reimagined. I’m half expecting all those celebrities from that awful video last year, when the pandemic was only a couple of weeks old, to come out with a sequel, “Reimagine”. That was terrible wasn’t it, an early embarrassing low. But while the world is reimagining reality, Wyatt Deck is being renovated and the fences have gone up already. I’ve drawn Wyatt Deck before, a few times, we’ve had sketchcrawls here. I did a two-page panoramic in 2014. This renovation will be a long project, with the two decks actually being demolished and replaced by Winter 2022. According to the Arboretum’s website, the original redwood boards are rotten and may be unsafe, and it’s not particularly accessible by modern standards. So, renovation it is. I do wish I had come in for a longer last sketch, but I always have that one from 2014 and now I have this one with the fence, which tells its own story. It’s been here for over 50 years, and is named for Fred S. Wyatt. In fact when it first opened it was called ‘Wyatt Snack Bar’. Nearby is Wyatt Pavilion, which I drew in 2016 for the UC Davis Magazine’s Art Map (it used to be a livestock judging area located over near the Silo, but was moved here and converted into a theatre on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth; actually I went to see Richard III there in 2013). Anyway, I came down here during lunchtime when I was on campus this week (working from home I still have to come down to the office a couple of times every week; we’re planning on a full return in the Fall, but we are ‘reimagining’ how we all do things, so we’ll see what it looks like). I needed to sketch. I think I missed the window for most of the colourful plants that burst out in March and April but the weather is getting warm and May is knocking on the door. As I write, here it is; welcome in, May, it’s nice to see you. The past week was a bit crap for me, and I was feeling pretty down on Tuesday, hadn’t been sleeping much. People, again it’s people, they make things so stressful. Sketching helps, a bit. Just being on campus does too, over the past year it’s felt like a familiar place of retreat, not simply a place of work, somewhere I’m genuinely part of. So I drew this, a beloved old place I always liked going to, for the last time. And I made sure to include the fence in the foreground going right across it. A beloved old place I always liked going to, I can see it but I can’t go to it. I mean, there’s a story right there. Isn’t there just. I’d really like to get back to England some time soon, to see the family, but I can’t. This pandemic, man. I’m vaccinated now at least, but the stress involved in flying for eleven hours, and then there’s long waits at Heathrow, plus self-isolation, quarantine, and then nothing being like it was, and that’s before the emotion of family stuff. A lot of people I know have passed away since I was last there, and the world is a different place. Fences are up, more than I’ve ever known. But there is hope. We will be back on campus this Fall, we’ll make it happen, we’ll all do our part. Things will be different. Hey, that’s the point of life isn’t it, change. Eventually, the solid old wood beneath our feet starts to get rotten, things that we thought worked once need updating for a new inclusive way of living, new places are imagined, new stories not yet written. It’s going to be ok. I think it’s going to be ok.
Another panorama from downtown Davis, this is Ali Baba, near the UC campus, on 3rd Street. I was doing that thing where I go out to draw, cycle about, not sure what I want to draw and then stop and see a building that I’ve not really draw, and the light is right. So here it is. While I drew, a man cycled up and parked his bike and his bike cart (full of random junk) right behind me and went off to eat at one of the tables across the street, not paying me any notice, so why mention it, well he parked his bike right behind me, and turned on his radio or music player very loud, so I had to try to listen to my podcasts while also hearing this very loud pop music from behind me. He wasn’t even nearby, he went off to eat. It was a bit odd, but well, I wasn’t going to say anything, and the music wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t like he was playing the Cheeky Girls. Remember them? The music was actually alright. I felt a bit uncomfortable drawing this though, because being April, that means sneezy season. And being Covid times, that means wearing a mask. Now I can’t wear the mask outside at all time – when I’m running for example, and that exemption is covered by our rules, and even when cycling – but if I’m sketching in the street I do my best to wear one, if I can’t be six feet away like on the sidewalk. However I find that my glasses steam up a lot more because I’m looking up and down from my sketchbook and the mask moves it around. Some masks work better than others, and the temperature makes a difference. So sketching masked up can be uncomfortable. I normally like wearing the mask because it hides my expression. But in sneezy season…well, it can be uncomfortable, even if I’m not sneezing as much, my eyes are itching. So there was that, making me uncomfortable. I had to concentrate harder on the perspective. Thankfully other than Music Man there weren’t many people around. Saturday afternoon, near the university, in a global pandemic, not a super busy time. Nevertheless some guy commented on this picture on Instagram saying, “Are you thinking that your drawings would be better if they had people in them?” which of course didn’t annoy me in the slightest, having published an actual book about drawing people. I had to point out “there ARE people in this drawing”. They might be small but they are there. But look, other than the Cycling DJ there weren’t many people around, and I like my drawings to reflect that. I do put people in my drawings, especially in scenes where they help to break up the repetitive scenery or provide context for perspective, but if I choose to leave people out or not include those that weren’t there, that is my prerogative, my choice. All drawings are a series of choices. People. I remember once about seven or eight years ago I was drawing on a street in downtown Davis, when this violin-player came and plonked himself into the view. He had his back to me, and again I was trying to listen to a podcast about I don’t know, the history of the alphabet or something, while his strings screeched and scratched, making me turn the sound up on my headphones. I’d already drawn the thing he was in front of, but I decided he made an interesting shape, and quickly added him in. There’s no way he could know that of course, and I was in the middle of drawing some brickwork a few minutes later when he appeared in front of me like a tall skinny praying mantis; I couldn’t tell what he was saying. I popped out my earphone, the history of the alphabet would have to wait, and was met with accusations of “why are you drawing me, you are not allowed to draw me, show me what you are drawing!” I showed him my page, though I didn’t have to. He went into a rage that I was not allowed to draw him and that his identity is protected, and I’m like whoah whoah, I was here drawing before you got here, and I’m not here drawing you. The bit where I had included him did not even show his face, and frankly looked nothing like him (I may have written a book about drawing people, I didn’t say I was any good at it). To say it even looked like someone playing a violin would have been generous. He was apoplectic, yelling at me in the street to the point where people stopped to watch, and would not accept it, claiming loudly for anyone that would hear that he was in the witness protection scheme, that gangs from LA were after him, that if his face is seen they would come after him, despite the fact he regularly goes out and performs music in public. I said that if it makes him feel happy I will draw a face with a beard on the figure to show it was not him, and so I did, but he would not calm down, yelling that he would be discovered, they know he plays the violin, because of course he is the only person who does. And then he gets out his phone! He was threatening to call the police, though I was on a public street and not breaking the law, so he said he was going to call his lawyer and take me to court “my lawyer knows more about law than you!” he said. Ok, well you do that. So he stood there having a ‘conversation’ on his phone trying to get his ‘lawyer’ to call the ‘police’ on me, when I could tell there was nobody on the other end of the phone. Seriously, I think he was making a pretend phone call. Eventually my lunchtime was up and I had to get back to work so I just left, annoyed, and never finished the sketch. This was years ago. So, why do I sometimes not want to add people into my sketches if I don’t have to? Because People.
Anyway, once I was done drawing this, generally undisturbed except by some loud pop music, I cycled home for dinner. I realized I have not eaten at this place in well over ten years, it’s not on my usual way from campus to downtown so I never stop in. I remember eating something with falafel here once. Anyway, another panorama from downtown Davis. I have it in my head that I would compile my Davis panoramas into a book that would be nice to look through and think of Davis and all its people, but I am too busy.
I mean, the Super League? It lasted less time than it’s taken me to watch Zach Snyder’s Justice League. Which I’m only half way through, because there’s only so much slow-motion darkness I can take. I have a lot of thoughts about the Super League (for a start with, the name “Super League” is really the best they could come up with) but the moment has passed and everything has been said, so I’ll wait until next time it rolls around. Call it the “Bat League”. Maybe that would be a good rebranding for Major League Baseball. The whole thing is comic book anyway so they may as well take it further. If Arsene Wenger started his own breakaway league he could call it “A.Wenger’s Initiative”. If I thought long and hard about this I would come up with a lot more comics/football crossovers, but it has been a very tiring and draining few days for one reason or another and I don’t have the energy. So I am posting this panorama I did earlier this month, on a Friday afternoon once I was done with work. It’s at the corner of 4th and D Streets, Davis, near Community Church. It was a pleasant sketch and I decided not to colour it in.
I’ll tell you though, a couple of weeks after this I had a less fun experience on this corner, when a man came up and started shouting loads of abuse at me while I was taking a phonecall. It was just after lunch, I’d gone downtown to eat because our fridge was broken, and was about to cycle back when one of our instructors called me up to say they had locked themselves out of their office, and their online class was going to start in 20 minutes. I was on the phone for less than half a minute trying to help explain what to do, and I am not a loud speaker on the phone, when a presumably-homeless man with long hair and dirty clothes approached me and started saying stuff to me. His eyes were a bit wild. I was on the phone so I told him “mate, I’m busy” and he went into one, kept on yelling at me, I couldn’t tell exactly what. I told him “Mate will you go away, I’m not interested” but he just got angry and started calling me all sorts of abusive names, all of which could be heard on the other end of the phone. I gathered that he was nearby and objected to me using the phone as he kept mimicking my voice and saying “I don’t want to hear you talking” and to “get away” and a whole host of rude names I won’t repeat here but, well, they weren’t as imaginative as you’d hear in London or Glasgow. They use very imaginative language. He was physically threatening me though, I had to keep my guard to make sure he didn’t launch himself into me, but I needed to resolve the phonecall, so I came up with a solution – I would cycle home, get my department key, and cycle back in time for the class to begin, which would involve some fast cycling and short cuts but first I had to get through this issue. I put the phone down, and still he kept yelling abuse; when I’d said “mate will you please leave me alone” he was all “I’m not your “mate” I’m your ENEMY” and then he spat at me!! Obviously he wasn’t wearing a mask otherwise the spitting would have been funnier but in this age of Covid this random shouty weirdo actually spat at me on the streets of Davis. I half expected all the traffic to slam to a halt and birds to stop singing and hear the narrator’s voice go, ” He? Did? WHAT?” But that didn’t happen. In fact he missed by a mile, it was a very social-distanced spit. I told him where he could go, colouring in a few of the words, and he went back to where he was lurking before. I got back on my bike and did the mad dash across town, but not setting off so quick that it looked like I was running away, I made that clear. But that run-in gave me a bit of mad kinetic energy because I zoomed up to north Davis, grabbed my keys, and zoomed down to campus making it just a couple of minutes late for the instructor’s online class to begin. I was focused, man. I felt like Lewis Hamilton.
So anyway, now I have to be on the lookout for random hairy shouter social distance spitters if I’m out and about, especially when sketching when I’m concentrating on other things. And then if I do get a phonecall, I’ll be like that bloke on Trigger Happy TV with the massive mobile.
This old BMW was parked on a street near us, and that means it needed to be drawn. What a beauty. My parents had a white BMW for a while when I was a kid, not the sort of car we’d usually have but it was nice, and I loved telling people at school we had a BMW because those cars were always cool. Before that, my dad even had a white Mercedes for a while. Those were the nicest cars we had, but my dad would go through cars a lot when I was young, often buying and selling. I wasn’t drawing cars back then, I wish I had been. I wish a lot of things.
This is the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building at UC Davis, with the big water tower in the background. there are actually a couple of big UC Davis water towers on campus, plus at least one more like this in north Davis, but this is the good looking one, the leader, the big brother. The ‘Barry’ of the Water Tower Bee Gees, standing tall over the others with a huge mane of lustrous hair. Ok maybe not the hair, maybe it’s more Clive Anderson. You remember that interview, the one where they walked out? The one where Barry Gibb got up, said “You’re the tosser, pal” and left? Classic TV moment. I’d always liked Clive Anderson, funny man, and when that first happened I didn’t really warm to Barry Gibb much, but watching it back again Clive Anderson was pretty out of order, and the Bee Gees were well right to say, yeah we don’t need this smug little guy taking the mickey out of us for a few aren’t-I-clever-and-hilarious giggles on late night TV on channel 4 or whatever it was on. Ok, this is obviously a very specific early-90s-British-TV tangent, let’s get back to the drawing. I drew this while on campus during a late lunch (I think I had Zoom meetings during lunch), this is very close to my office. Earth and Planetary Sciences is right across the street from us, and I drew this at the edge of the Arboretum, by the newly reopened LaRue bridge. The water tower is a big presence, and likes to appear in official photos, like a sentinel of education. That metaphor doesn’t, hehehe, hold water. I like the STOP sign in the foreground, with the unusual orange and white striped signs around it, I don’t know what they are for. They add a nice bit of colour into the scene. The Earth and Planetary Sciences building is very interesting. I remember when they had the groundbreaking for it, I went over with my old supervisor to watch the special ceremonial laying of the first brick, and then they went full steam ahead to build it. There used to be a small wooden building on this site not dissimilar to the ones I draw so often at the Silo area, and I remember saying “I should draw that some time” but never did, and then it was knocked down. I did draw a tree with the empty space of the future building behind it. I was really into drawing ALL of the branches.
That was in March 2008, which seems like a very long time ago, but it was actually only a week or so after Spurs last won a trophy. The same trophy that we will be (probably not) winning in a cup final at Wembley in a week or so.
One thing I really like about the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building (apart from the name which is really future-thinking, considering we have been to zero other planets yet) (apart from with robots of course) (we have visited them virtually via Zoom, I suppose) (actually they have some amazing space rocks in there, I lifted one up on Picnic Day a few years ago and it was super heavy) (or maybe it was kryptonite and it just made me weaker? We’ll never know for sure), anyway the thing I like the most is that there are these huge rocks all around the outside of the building, all with labels, some are volcanic and all are interesting. My son is really into geology (or he was, before he discovered looking at his phone all day) (admittedly he does play a lot of Minecraft which is technically still about geology) so when he’d come to my office during the summers we would sometimes go down and look at the rocks. It’s brilliant working at a university where lots of very clever scientists work. In the building next door is the Entomology museum, where they have loads of interesting and frankly frightening creepy crawlies. On the other side is an actual nuclear lab with big nuclear machines in them, yeah I don’t visit that one. These aren’t very good descriptions, they sound like a 9 year old has written them; it’s late, it’s been a long day, and I’ve forgotten how to write, if I ever knew. I can’t wait for campus to all be open again. Soon, soon!
This is the Va… wait what? This is the [insert name here] Theatre on 2nd Street in Davis, which as you can see is currently going by The Theatre Known Formerly as Varsity. (Sorry, “Theater”). Regular listeners will recognize this building from the 500 or so times that I’ve drawn it before, but there was one big difference. Can you tell what it is yet? (Um, that sounded a bit like Rolf Harris, you might be a bit more careful with your catchphrases) That’s right, the ice cream shop is closed. No I’m kidding, it’s the historic “Varsity” sign which ahs been taken down temporarily to be cleaned, or fixed or something. The movie theatre itself has been closed during this pandemic you might have heard about, though coming soon, folks, coming soon we will have cinemas open again. I miss going to the pictures. Nobody says that now, “going to the pictures”, it sounds like something people said in the 1930s. “Oh you’re going to the pictures, eh grandad? Don’t forget your penny farthing and your flat cap!” Oh right because “movies” doesn’t sound old-fashioned at all, like you have to make a distinction between watching a film that moves and one that doesn’t? “The movies eh grandad, well see ya later gramps, I’m off to the talkies“. In Britain we generally say “film” rather than “movie” (though my nan, who was from Dublin, used to pronounce it “fill-um”) and “cinema” rather than “movie theater”, and “theatre” rather than “theater”, and that is the end of today’s unwanted transatlantic vocabulary lesson. But I miss going to the pictures, it was something I used to do a lot. I’d go and see a film / movie here in Davis at one of the three cinemas / movie theaters in town, and then go for a pint / not quite a pint* at a local bar / pub. (*They like a 16oz “pint” in America, as opposed to a 20oz pint in British pubs). And of course I would then sketch the bar/draw the pub. As for the Varsity, I wonder if they will “accidentally” rearrange the letters when they reinstall the sign, Fawlty Towers/Watery Fowls style? It could say “Travisy” maybe, or “Sir Vyta”, or “Sty Vira”, , or “Rayvist” (which sounds like a magazine for techno -clubgoers), or “Stray IV” (people might think it’s a sequel movie about a cat, from the streets, who makes it big against the odds, and in this one he has a catfight against a Russian cat – wait, I might have to sit on this idea, it is Hollywood gold), or “Artsy VI” (about six artists stuck in a room with only one brush, one pot of paint, and a lollypop) or “Try Visa” if they want credit card sponsorship, or “Try Avis” if they want sponsorship from car rental companies. Or maybe sponsorship from the Swedish crispbread sector and call it “Ryvitas”. Do it, Varsity people! This is our chance for some Flowery Twats style silliness.
A late afternoon/early evening “need to get out of the house” sketch, sat at the desk in the kitchen all day I escaped on the bike despite the threat of sneezes, and cycled toward the UC Davis campus where we’re currently working away from. I stopped at Russell, and drew one of the many fraternity/sorority houses that line that long avenue. Sorry, boulevard. Street, boulevard, avenue, road, I don’t mean to be rue’d. Sorry I’m juts avenue on. Right, now the obligatory weak puns are out of the way, this is Delta Gamma. It’s a sorority and as I have mentioned before, the whole fraternity/sorority thing is highly alien to me, for two reasons: one, I’m from Britain and we don’t have those there at our universities like they do in the US (not to say that certain old universities don’t have their posh-person clubs, but that’s also very alien to the likes of me), and two, well I have never been one of those “member of a social club” types. Some people just are, some people just aren’t. So I’ve always found the whole thing fascinating, but not so fascinating that I want to know anything about them. I work for the university, but I have never interacted with them, and I’ve mostly worked with international graduate students who are probably as nonplussed about these organizations as I am. The Greek lettering they use for the names means you can come up with funny pretend ones; Terry Pratchett once joked about the rowing club “Rho Rho Rho”. I always liked Theta Xi, where future cab drivers go to learn The Knowledge. (For non-Americans, The Knowledge is something that London black-taxi drivers have to learn in order to be eligible to drive one of the famous black cabs. It’s not something you learn overnight or by taking an online course. You learn The Knowledge over the course of a couple of years or more, by studying the A-to-Z every day. My brother did it, but gave up. My former brother-in-law did it too, but also gave up. He had a huge map of London on his wall while trying to learn it. They both drive all over the country for a living and could tell you the quickest route from Penzance to Penrith, but the Knowledge requires you to learn every single street in London and the shortest route between them. I know quite a few black cab drivers back home who’ve driven for years. You would see trainee cabbies riding around London on their mopeds, easy to spot because there would be a huge map board on their handlebars. There was a little test book you had to study. I never wanted to be a cab driver myself, but I was fascinated by The Knowledge and loved the idea of being able to store all of that information in your bonce. This is why cabbies have such great general knowledge, they are used to soaking all that in. Now as I write all of this, I’m writing from memories about this stuff when my brother was doing it, so it might be completely different now. Even since I have moved to the US, the world has changed. With smart phones and more accurate GPS, with all these Uber and Lyft apps, black cabs and their Knowledge might seem a bit old fashioned but I still admire them. Not that I’d hail black cabs very often, a bit expensive. I like to walk about central London. How did I end up talking about London taxis? I should draw one sometime. In the meantime, here’s another fraternity/sorority house. To get into one of these, you don’t need to do The Knowledge, you just need to do whatever they do in their ‘Rush’ periods, I don’t know, wear a different dress every day is one I was told about, or hazing, which I think involves beer. I remember the first time I ever met “Frat Boys” at an American party in Provence, and my American friend explaining to me “these lads are typical Frat Boys” and the idea of them stuck. Very drunk, huge muscular frames, nasal voice, glazed expression. Long time since I was a student, and this would have all been alien to me. Except the beer, of course. (And the glazed expression, and the nasal voice; it was the muscular frame my skinny-boned stick figure body didn’t have). Many British universities are actually built around the campus pub. I suppose the closest thing I can think of to these institutions in British universities are the rugby teams. I remember at Queen Mary, being in the pub at the same time as the university rugby team was not fun. I remember one rowdy night when the rugby team were all partying around one table and one shirtless bloke was stood on a chair drinking massive amounts of cheep beer (the student union pubs always had the cheapest beer, like a quid-twenty a pint), vomiting into a bucket, then drinking more beer all while stood up, with his fellow rugbyers singing something one of their public school rugby field songs (by the way, a “public school” in England is a private school, not a public school, which is a state or comprehensive school, and both rugby and cricket are very popular at those) (the one I worked at for a while had strong rugby and cricket teams, but didn’t even have a football team, that’s more a sport for the oiks, like at my school). Anyway I seem to recall he was then encouraged to drink the vomit from the bucket as well, which he gladly did, to much public schoolboy merriment. The antics of the British public boarding schools and university rugby teams are more worlds of mystery to me. But I studied drama, and I’m sure they thought we were all bonkers as well, and they were probably right. I took part in a multilingual performance show once where I had to play a drunken old man doing a solo piece on stage drinking a bottle of wine and ranting about, I have no idea what, it was by Raymond Queneau. Anyway I was given a bottle of real wine and I got through about three quarters of it during this one very silly speech, which only wet on for less than ten minutes. Needless to say there was plenty of ad-libbing by the end of it. the vice-chancellor of the university was in the audience and he actually came up to me and said how much he enjoyed the show, but because I had so much wine in me by this point I immediately asked if there could be more funding for the university theatre company, as if I had any idea about that at all, I’d just heard they were well short of dough These days I am part of university bureaucracy so I navigate such things differently, but when I was a kid I thought “the multilingual absurd performance piece is the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the vice-chancellor!”. Ah, student life was fun.