back yard game of goosebumps

lois's garden

We took a drive over to see family in Santa Rosa, not something we;ve done much of lately since the pandemic started. We sat in the backyard of my wife’s mother, all socially distanced and wearing masks. My nephew had grown taller since I last saw him, so much time has passed. They all played a game of Goosebumps around the table while I sketched from a different table. The weather was cooler than in Davis. My mother in law’s back yard looks lovely now, it has all been done up nice. I have a feeling if this pandemic keeps up like this we’ll be having Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner out there too! I want this whole thing to be over, back to normal. I want to fly to England to see my family there, but this is where we are right now so we do what we can. It was nice to at least go and do this. Now this summer is flying past, working from home, the world outside is literally burning as I write with clouds of ash and smoke from nearby wildfires, mass evacuations going on, firefighters working around the clock to keep us safe, the air outside thick and choking, the sky a dull orange, all the while a global pandemic is going on, and then there’s the bloody election season upon us. At least the Champions League football has been fun.

christmas crackers

xmas fireplace 2018
Christmas morning, we were up early, opening presents, calling England. Our morning pressie-time is about the time of my London family’s Christmas dinner-time. Then, time to go over to my wife’s family in Santa Rosa for Christmas Day. We have crab for dinner on Christmas Day in Santa Rosa, and I’m always the world’s worst eater of crab, it tastes great but I am such an amateur with the crackers. I did pretty well this year but I live for the broth, I love dipping the bread into that. We have brought the tradition of Christmas Crackers with us from England, along with the hilarious Christmas Cracker jokes. I say hilarious, I mean terrible, but British humour is different from American humour anyway. That said, my five-year-old nephew likes knock-knock jokes, and we always do the ‘interrupting cow’ version (“knock-knock / Who’s there? / The Interrupting Cow / the interruptin/MOOOOO!”) (I got that one from the Vicar of Dibley back in the 90s), and then many other variants (the one I like the most is the ‘interrupting rabbit’, because of course the rabbit doesn’t ‘moooo’ or anything but just makes a noise tapping its foot). Actually my favourite joke EVER sounds like it comes from a Christmas Cracker, but in fact it comes from ‘3001 Jokes For Kids’. It’s the only joke I remember from that book, which I got for Christmas when I was about nine or ten, and to this day is my favourite joke. When I first read it, by myself in my room, I laughed harder than I had ever laughed, and then laughed more. I still find it hilarious. What is the joke? Well if I tell you, promise not to laugh. Well I mean you can laugh at the joke obviously because it’s brilliant and funny, but just not at me for liking the joke so much. Ok, here goes, the best joke of all time, here it is, here goes.

“What is a polygon? A dead parrot.” 

Isn’t that the best?! Many years later in America someone made some reference to the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch being their favourite bit of British humour, and yes it is very funny, the Pythons are my favourites, but it’s not even the funniest dead parrot joke. Polygon is the funniest dead parrot joke. I remember doing maths at school and we had to do shapes and someone used the word polygon, and I laughed so much I had to go to the toilet. When I was in my late teens I visited Strasbourg and the lycee was close to a street called the ‘Route du Polygone’ and every day I would see that sign and laugh so hard, and I tried the French version of the joke, “Que-ce que c’est un polygone? C’est un perroquet mort!” The joke didn’t necessarily translate directly but they laughed at me anyway, and pointed a lot, which I think means it was extra funny. Strasbourg being historically part German I would sometimes impress people with the German version, “Was ist ein Polygon? Ein toter Papagei.” Again the humour isn’t necessarily transferable but I like to think that what I mistook for confused silent stares were in fact their way of saying, wow what a joke, das ist really cool, Pete ist sehr lustig.

snowman xmas tree 2018
Let’s move on from the world’s funniest ever joke (if you are finished laughing about Polly being ‘gone’, if not, take your time). Above, I sketched my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree, which this year was dressed up as a snowman. The hat actually has a history, it was brought over from London by my mum over ten years ago and left at my mother-in-law’s in Santa Rosa, and before that my mum actually got it from my uncle in Belfast, so the hat has a long well-travelled history. I like this snowman tree, and I sketched it while we watched the Water Horse, that movie set in Scotland with the Loch Ness Monster. It reminded me of the Family Ness, that was a cartoon I liked as a kid. Not as funny as the polygon joke but amusing nonetheless. I nearly drew a cartoon many years ago about fish living in a Scottish loch called “Under Loch And Quai”, with a kind of Porridge-like cell-mate dynamic to it, but while the little fishies were fun to draw, I had no actual material other than trying to work in the polygon joke, which doesn’t really work when it’s a cartoon about two fish, because (a) they wouldn’t understand what a parrot is, what with fish being entirely water-bound, and (b) parrots not exactly being aquatic nor common in Scotland. To the underwater community, “Polly” might well be a common name for a frog, for all we know, what with a ‘pollywog’ being another name for a tadpole, albeit more common in America than rural Scotland. So a better version of the joke for two fish to say would be “What is a Polygon? A dead frog.” And you can imagine, this might make two fish roll about in hysterics, but would have us humans just shrugging our shoulders. Maybe humour isn’t as translatable as we think. The only joke I could think of for this cartoon was another one which I may have read in 3001 Jokes For Kids, I don’t remember, but it goes as follows:

FISH 1: “Why are you swimming under the pier?

FISH 2: “Because it is raining.”

christmas every day

christmas living room dec2015 sm
Happy New Year! I’ve been away these past couple of weeks or so, not blogging over the Christmas period, instead gorging on Quality Street and mince pies. I was in London for Christmas, flying back on New Year’s Eve, and am still getting through the jetlag even now. Our decorations are staying up for a couple more days yet, and there is still festive seasonal beer in the fridge. 2016 is going to be busy, very busy. To bring you right back into the spirit of Christmas however here are the first three sketches from the new Watercolour Moleskine (#14), all of a certain festive theme. Above, our living room here in Davis. We dragged out the fake tree this year, sketched a few times before (years ago). On the TV, Stewart Lee on DVD. On the shelves to the right you can make out my son’s advent calendar, made by me – I make him one every year. This year was pirate-ship themed. I tried to sketch this same scene last Christmas, on Christmas Eve, but not long into sketching it our electric went out, not to return for almost a week, which was an adventure. This year at least I finished my sketch!

lois's living room xmas 2015 sm

Second up, this is my mother-in-law’s living room in Santa Rosa. Click on the image for a closer view. We had an early Christmas with our U.S. family before our trip to London, and I sketched this while my two-year-old nephew was napping and the house was still relatively quiet, before all the presents were unwrapped. Everybody’s stockings were nicely placed above the fireplace, and dogs were asleep on their blankets. They are in this image, but you can barely see them, and they don’t look as much like dogs as they might (I don’t really draw dogs too well). This was a nice day, but we had to go home in the evening to pack for London…

xmas mum's living room sm

Finally, across the ocean to England! This is my Mum’s living room in Burnt Oak, north London, (again click on the image for a closer view) which I started sketching on the first jetlagged morning there, up early with my son, but finished off over a couple more night-time sessions on the trip. This is the living room that I had all of my childhood Christmases in, beside that very fireplace. The Christmas parties my family had in this room, many years of memories. This year as in many others we had all the family over for Christmas dinner, with two long tables going the length of the room.  On the TV there, we were watching Return of the Jedi, because this was December the 18th and we had tickets for the morning show of a film called The Force Awakens (which you might have heard about). We had a lovely Christmas in London, and the weather was warmer than in Davis. I hope you had a lovely merry time too.

Happy new 2016!

empire building

courthouse santa rosa

I hope you are all having yourselves a Merry little Christmas. Mine has been very nice, one long Lego-building bonanza. We’ve been over to Santa Rosa a couple of times to visit family, and on one afternoon before Christmas I went downtown to do a bit of afternoon sketching. It has been quite sunny here lately. This is the Empire Building in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square, built in 1910. Christmas shoppers bustled about getting those last minute stocking stuffers.

sweet spot, black friday

sweet spot
I hope you all had a very happy Black Friday last week. I went shopping and bought a blu-ray player and some toys, and then later that day took the blu-ray player and the toys back to the store, just so I could say I was involved in this very cultural holiday. I’m not really a fan of Black Friday. I always hope it rains on those people waiting outside Best Buy at 4am (although this year they decided that Thanksgiving was not an important enough holiday any more and all went shopping on Thursday evening, which thankfully we didn’t). This year our Black Friday was more relaxed, and we even went down to Scandia to do some go-kart racing. That was fun. Naturally I got a bit carried away, speeding around like it was the Monaco Grand Prix. Still, the one previous time I had been go-karting, as a kid twenty-five years ago in Spain, I literally had been carried away, crashing at full-speed into a pile of tyres on a tight corner, completely totaling the barely-safe go-kart. At least there was none of that this time!

In the evening I decided to head downtown (we were in Santa Rosa, not Davis) and sketch a bar. I wanted to sketch the Russian River Brewing Co, but it was a little packed to say the least. So I walked down the street to the Sweet Spot, a pub I’ve always liked. And here is why – there are football shirts (soccer jerseys to you) behind the bar. Some of you may know that my number one obsession is football kits. That is putting it mildly. So naturally I drew these fast. I could name almost all of them, however two of them eluded me. That drove me nuts! I spent the next day trying to figure them out. I determined that the blue one with the ‘Sol’ badge was actually a local team from Sonoma, so that doesn’t count. The red one, made by diadora with a blue/navy  trim  and the ‘Pilsener’ sponsor I simply can’t work out. The badge looked like it had an ‘N’ in the middle but I have no idea. A football shirt has me stumped. The beer was nice, the atmosphere friendly, and I finished the whole thing in under three pints.
sketching the sweet spot

formula 1 on mother’s day

mothers' day
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in America (two months later than England). We were over in Santa Rosa, and we all had doughnuts on Sunday morning (or ‘donuts’ as they insist on spelling them over here), after which my son and I watched the Formula One, for it was the Spanish Grand Prix, which was won by Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. I sketched the living room in my Moleskine, while family milled about. Sketched with brown uni-ball signo um-151, with a spot of red paint.

Hope you mothers all had a happy mother’s day!

russian river brewing co

russian river brewing co, santa rosa
On Saturday we popped into the Russian River Brewing Co in Santa Rosa. I drank a couple of Perditions, while my wife’s father, visiting from southern CA, tried the full sampler set. Their beer is very famous and very well respected among beer afficionados. We spoke to some fellow beerophiles visiting all the way from Michigan, and I drew this on the astrology page of a local free paper.

that cinqo feeling

garden ornament

Yesterday was Cinqo de Mayo (Happy Cinqo de Mayo!), being May the 5th. We were in Santa Rosa, and went to a garden party at my mother-in-law’s house. I took the opportunity to sketch, to practise my garden sketching before today’s Garden Tour, and to try out the Stillman & Birn Delta series book. Nice paper! Being thicker and great for watercolours. I may still have the same issues with the pens ultimately of course but this felt pretty nice, so I’m going to bring that with me today. I only got as far as this garden ornament, and I started a larger piece showing the whole garden but gave up early, and went for a beer. Met a nice bloke originally from Glasgow.

is it merry black friday or happy black friday?

black friday 2011, 4th st Santa Rosa
Black Friday. It’s the day when the U.S. economy takes a brief break from it’s colossal downturn, and when Christmas lists are checked and checked off, the post-thanksgiving sales. It seems that Black Friday is getting earlier every year; it used to be the 4am lining up in the cold outside Best Buy, then it was mmidnight opening, now big stores like Toys R Us are opening at 9pm on Thanksgiving, with lines around the block. Thanksgiving is America’s favourite holiday, but it almost feels as if Black Friday is becoming more focal, especially given its importance to the economy. I am personally not built for Black Friday. I stay home with my son during the morning time, watching Cars and Charlie Brown. I did the early sales once, never again. It’s all very overwhelming; I might get out in the afternoon for a bit, but, like this year, I am usually just drawing stuff. Above and below, fourth street in downtown Santa Rosa. That evening, we went to Santa Rosa’s courthouse square for the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, with music and activities for kids and photos with Santa, who rode in on a fire truck (inspiring my advent calendar). And it was all free, even the photos! A very nice evening. That’s the one thing about Black Friday, as the day after Thanskgiving, it’s traditionally the first day of Christmas time.  
black friday 2011 D & 4th, Santa Rosa

Below, my wife, my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law busy checking the ads on Thanksgiving afternoon, pre-turkey dinner. I do like Thanksgiving, love a bit of turkey and stuffing, lubbly jubbly.
angela looking at the black friday ads on thanksgivinglois also looking at the black friday ads on thanksgivingkris probably also looking at the black friday ads on thanksgiving

phrasebook diplomacy

4th st, santa rosa

While sketching this building, across from the Cancer Survivor Plaza in Santa Rosa, I listened to a Portuguese audio phrase book on my mp3 player, to learn some of the language. I think I learnt some, but kept thinking “Rui Costa”. I’ll get there, maybe. I grew up reading Berlitz phrase books, and it’s interesting to see how they have evolved, or not. The audio versions are especially fun, as they often switch between a British and an American accent with comic ease. The British accent is always very RP, as you’d expect, and you can almost see them quietly queuing and smiling politely while bristling on the inside. The one with the American accent, however, always seems to get the ‘complaining about the service’ phrases, the tone being that he really would like to enjoy this exotic foreign food but the waiters keep ignoring him, and there’s nowhere on this damn train to put my heavy luggage. I keep imagining the couple from that episode of Fawlty Towers.

It’s funny; in a way, after years of California I have become that guy from Fawlty Towers. My last visit to London, we had lunch at a pub by the Thames, near Tate Modern. It was ten past twelve, and my young niece wanted pancakes; the ones on the menu sounded scrumptious. Not possible, the young woman taking the order told me, as pancakes are a breakfast item and that ‘stops’ at twelve. There was nothing else that she wanted, and all the lunch items were very expensive. It was not busy there at all. Can we not have the pancakes anyway? “No.” No? Can you ask the chef? “Well, ok I’ll ask,” was the aggrieved response; obviously asking the chef anything was like trying to get audience with the Great Oz. She went and asked the chef. The chef said he could do it, but only for one person. One person! Well that’s a relief, good job it was only ten minutes after breakfast time, or that pancake mix and that pan would have magically vanished into thin air.

I must point out actually, credit goes to my Californian wife for helping resolve that one. My British customer attitude was actually prepared to back down at one point (what we British do best is go back to our table to moan, but do nothing about it). In the end, California prevailed and my niece got her pancakes, and they were very nice too. Next time though, I’ll ask for a Waldorf Salad and a Screwdriver.