the dying spark, you left your mark on me

3rd st Davis sunset

One from mid-December 2020. I didn’t sketch much in December, I found it a tricky month to get drawing. I mean, that’s not unusual. Looking at the chart I made from before, Decembers typically make up only about 3.7% of my annual drawing. Ok I will be honest, I made that statistic up, but it sounds about right. If I ever get the inclination I will actually do a statistical study of when my sketches were made and where, and with what pen or sketchbook, indoors or outdoors, in Davis or elsewhere, with or without colour, sketches per week, if there are trends with certain times of year or days of the week. And then I will use this data to create the perfect urban sketcher. Then I can predict what my year will look like to some degree of accuracy. You might be thinking, oh he is joking here, Pete says this stuff but isn’t really serious. To which I will say “exhibit (a), look at my previous post showing my chart of sketches from 2013-2020”, and “exhibit (b) I have spent almost a third of my life working for top-level statisticians. Not that I understand even one speck of dust of the sort of statistical work they do, I stopped doing maths at 16 with my GCSE (I got a grade C, which was the highest possible for the class I was in) (when I was at school, prior to the GCSE years I was in the top class for maths, but hated it, as I was taught by a certain Mr.Blindt, who was old school before there was old school, and his classes terrified me almost as much as the subject matter itself. So I asked to move down into the second-tier class, Miss Barker’s class, which was less stressful, but it meant I could feel alright about my grades (I even came top of the class in several tests), but it meant that the highest possible grade for my final GCSE exam was a C. I think it left out all the really hard stuff like sin/cos/tan and long division, and adding and subtracting and numbers and things. Grade C was a pass, and that was enough. I was more interested in art and languages.) (Incidentally, I actually only got grade A in two of my GCSE subjects, Art and German. In GCSE Art I got an “A” for every single piece of homework over the course of those two years, with one exception – the very first piece of homework assigned, for which I got a “D”. I didn’t mind, I didn’t expect a good grade for that joke. The homework assignment was “draw a part of your body” so I drew my eyebrow. I remember the boy passing back the homework assignments was a fairly mouthy kid who hadn’t been in any of my classes before, and he said loudly “hahaha, you got a D? You’re rubbish at drawin’!” That alone made it worth it.) (A-Level was a different story. I actually got a D overall for the whole thing. I was a bit more disappointed with that, but frankly my interest in the subject of art itself had waned so much, as had my interest in school life in general. I also got a D in A-Level German, a subject I had previously won annual school prizes for, while I ended up giving up A-Level History halfway through. I didn’t really get on with the History teachers, or at least two of the three we had anyway, the third was alright but looked a bit like Bob Geldof. One of the other history teachers seemed to despise me, because she would regularly turn me away from class for being even 30 seconds late, despite the fact nobody else had taken their jackets off; it didn’t help that I would go to my German class right afterwards complaining about her constantly, not knowing that my German teacher, a usually sympathetic guy, was actually married to that same history teacher – a rookie error on my part, to be sure. The other history teacher I had left teaching at the end of the first year to go and be a Welsh-language pop star (if memory serves, it was a band was called “Ian Rush”), but not before stating to the class that “certain people in this class will either fail or not finish this A-Level”, obviously meaning me; our class wasn’t very big, only about seven or eight students. I did enjoy his classes though, learning about the Italian risorgimento, reading Harry Hearder, studying Garibaldi and Mazzini and Cavour, doing the 1848 revolutions, German reunification, Bismarck; I really thought I was doing alright in his class at least, but evidently it wasn’t how the Ian Rush singer felt, and I remember feeling really disheartened by that at the time. My D in art though was honest, and I could have appealed it (if I recall my art teachers may have even suggested it, or maybe it was my head of year, I don’t remember), but I felt that I had really hit a low ebb in life by that point, and my school work was long gone; I hated being 18. I got a place in an art foundation course that didn’t require a very good grade to get into, but then I decided I was done with art and went off to college to do two more years of additional A-Levels, in English and French, with a retaking of German for my third one. Much more successful, and then I went off to university and did French and Drama.) (The decision to study Drama came out of absolutely nowhere, by the way) 

Anyway I was talking about statistics. I think the reason this came up is not because I work with statisticians or because I need to chart my sketches, but because I came across a website this week of football (soccer) statistics called FBRef, and I can’t stop poring over the numbers. I love it, it has everything. Not just xG but xA as well. I never knew I needed to know Moussa Sissoko’s xA score before (“expected assists”) but 0.01 still seems low. Ok maybe I still need to get my head round those particular stats, but I like learning that over the past four years for example he has an 85.4% pass completion rate (3542 passes out of 4041 completed), 3317 of which were with his right foot, 382 with his left, 169 with the head, 96 from throw-ins, and 22 with “other body parts”. I could go on, I’m not obsessed with Moussa Sissoko or anything, but that’s just one example. So maybe I need to up my stats game when analyzing my sketches over the years. How long did each one take me? Was it morning, afternoon, evening? Temperature? Did I finish off at home or do all on-site? Waterbrush or paintbrush? I could get obsessive. (I do get obsessive for example with my running, I make charts detailing this stuff). But to be honest, this isn’t how I improve as a sketcher. This isn’t how I analyze what I’m doing that doesn’t feel right, what I could improve to make it how I actually want it. sometimes you just have to keep doing. Little by little you think, well ok this didn’t work last time, I’ll try that this time. It’s also not a trajectory. I’ve drawn myself into cul-de-sacs before, using one style so much that I realize after a while it’s not the style I really want, and try to pull back to an earlier way of drawing, but my fingers need exercising. Sometimes it is fun to just see what comes out, take the thinking out of it and jump in. Don’t worry about inspiration, just get the pen moving and the inspiration will come. Things such as value and perspective are important technical abilities to learn, but like when I’m coaching soccer I say that the game is the best teacher, with drawing I say that going and looking and doing is the best teacher. So the sketch above, it’s not technically a great drawing, it’s probably not the best sketch I could have done given the temperature, time of day, length of time I had been standing, but I liked it, it was quick. Whereas the one below, on 3rd Street, which was what I had originally set out to draw, I stopped because I wasn’t enjoying it. I felt rusty, it required a bit more thinking than I felt capable of at that moment (and I have drawn this building many times before), so I just turned myself around 180 degrees and drew the view toward campus. Maybe in that sketch I was ‘rubbish at drawin’ and that it was ok, not every sketch has to be an A. So that is the statistic that I can barely quantify, my state of mind, my mood, and my reason for sketching something. I like the sketch above because it represents me saying no to something I’m not enjoying and just jumping in somewhere else instead. And I will keep the one below because, unfinished or not, you can fill the rest in yourself using your imagination, so there’s no need to finish it, really. A bit like my History A-Level. I didn’t really fail at it, and I didn’t really need to finish it, because my imagination filled in the rest. Which is probably why I thought World War 2 was won by Captain America and Bucky, the French Revolution ended when Godzilla ate Napoleon, and Italian unification was achieved by Garibaldi, Rich Tea and a packet of Chocolate Digestives. Well you live and learn.

3rd st Davis

goldbeaters

Goldbeaters School
After the Spain and Portugal sketches, I’ll step back a few more weeks to the England part of the trip, for this post at least. This is Goldbeaters School in Burnt Oak, sketched early in the morning when I was awake with the jetlag and wanted to go for a little walk to see what had changed in my old home town. Burnt Oak, for those of you not familiar, is in the northern reaches of London, the second to last stop on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line, and it is is where I am from. Burnt Oak has changed a lot for sure but I’ll always be from there, and since my family still lives there I will keep going back. Another change this time, the Tesco on Burnt Oak Broadway has closed down. I really don’t know why they would do that (I really do, though: to build expensive flats). That was a shame, because it means now there is no Tesco in Burnt Oak, and Burnt Oak is where Tesco actually had its first store, in 1929. I will miss Tesco in Burnt Oak. I remember going shopping there with my mum as a little kid, she’d bump into her friend Lyn and they’d talk for half an hour, the Indian ladies on the checkout were always very nice to me, then we’d pop into the Stag next door to say hello to my nan, go into John Ford across the street to buy sewing materials, stopping by the greengrocers on the Watling to get five pound of of potatoes, and I’d maybe get a Slush Puppy from ToniBells on the way home. Yeah I hated being dragged around shops as a kid actually, I just wanted to go to Vipins and look at pens and pencils. And don’t get me started on being dragged around shoe shops in Brent Cross, to this day I can’t spend more than a minute in a shoe shop without saying “are we done yet?”.

Anyway enough childhood reminiscences. Well maybe some more. This is Goldbeaters School. Where is that name from? Much of Burnt Oak was built on the old Goldbeaters Farm, which goes back to the 14th Century. I attended Goldbeaters from the nursery (1979?), through the infants (1980-83) and through the juniors (1983-1987), before going off to big school at Edgware. I loved Goldbeaters. I’m so glad it’s still there, looking not very different from the day I left, from the outside at least. My mum went there too, back when it was a secondary (‘senior’) school. My oldest friend Terry, who lives in Japan now, that’s where I met him (though we only swapped football stickers, we actually became friends after we both left for Edgware), and his mum also went there (not at the same time obviously). My next door neighbour Tasha went there, we would walk to school together, her mum would pick us up, we’d walk through the park and play on the swings on the way home. Years later her kids went there too, and she worked there. Yet none of my siblings went there, they went either to Barnfield School (next to Silkstream Park) or the Annunciation (same street as Goldbeaters, but that school is for Catholics, and I’m not a Catholic). My old Goldbeaters friends, I hold such affection for to this day, though I’ve not seen many of them since then: Ricky, Daniel, Lee Glenn, Carl, Wayne, Lee Fickling, Hartman, Duggan (who is sadly no longer with us). And many others. We were very international too, with families from all over the world, all backgrounds. My old teachers, Mr Winston, Mrs Baldwin, Ms Welsh. Ok, ok, we can all do this, draw a picture of the school we went to and remember our old teachers and friends, and that is always tedious to read. Ok then here’s a few more memories that pop up randomly about Goldbeaters from the 1980s. Those outside toilets which were just the worst, basically a metallic gutter behind a wall. Football stickers on the playground when someone would knock them in the air and shout ‘scramble’!! Buying those buttery biscuits for 2p at break-time.  Singing “All Fings Brite and Byoootiful” in morning assembly. The noise in the lunch hall getting so bad that the dinner ladies would bang a massive metal spoon on the table and shout “SHUT-UP!!!” and it would go silent, for a few minutes. In fact that lunch hall (which was also the gym)… the terrible ‘mashed potato’ which was white and powdery and tasteless, the peas which are actually the reason I don’t eat peas to this day, bringing a packed lunch of pork pie, yoghurt and sandwich and not being allowed to go out an play until I’d eaten up the whole pork pie, horrible jelly and all (I don’t eat pork today either, I’m seeing a pattern emerge). Mr Bunster attempting to teach us to sing “Little Donkey”. Kids vomiting on the playground, and instead of cleaning it up the school would cover up the sick with sand. Grazing your knee on the concrete playground and going to the medical office where Mrs Lyons or Mrs Eftychou would douse a piece of cotton wool with a stinging antiseptic and hold it against the wound. Carl Sanderson making us always play ‘Hammer House of Horror’ (I always wanted to play ‘Star Wars’). Getting to be the one who rang The Bell for Home Time. Being on the team that beat our local rivals Woodcroft School in the ‘Panda Competition’, a quiz organized by the local police. Winning a borough-wide pottery competition for a ceramic butterfly I made. Drawing, drawing, drawing all the time, being known as the kid who draws all the time and holds his pen in a funny way. I could go on, but I won’t. I’m surprised I remember so much.

going for gold

goldbeaters school

This is Goldbeaters School in Burnt Oak, where I went to school from the nursery until the age of 11. When I left the Berlin Wall was still up, Thatcher still had some years to go as PM, and Glenn Hoddle had just left Spurs for Monaco. This was drawn from a photo I took on a previous trip back home; I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. I was up early yesterday morning and needed to do a drawing. I decided to make it sepia; in a way this is how I remember it. Apart from the grass and a bit of graffiti I left out, everything else is actually the right colour, pretty much.

I was inspired to finally draw my old junior school when an old, good friend from Goldbeaters got in touch with me via Facebook, Lee Glenn. I’ve not seen him since back then, so it was a real pleasure to hear from him. Reminded me of all the fun old times we had when we were kids, playing A-Team and, er, Hammer House of Horror in the playground. I will need to dig out my old school photos on my next trip back home. He blogs too – at leeglenn.net, and he made a very nice mention of me over there – and also runs a forum about film, music, books etc called ‘the popcorn patch’. Check it out!

I have good memories of Goldbeaters. I always remember most fondly my friends from the juniors, in the days when swapping Panini football stickers was pretty much the most important thing in the world. That was like a little microcosm economy of its own, the football sticker swapping market. Couldn’t have too many Spurs badges or Maradona stickers on the market otherwise the whole thing would collapse, and every so often there’d be a bust when some silly sod would knock someone’s wad of Football 86 into the air and shout “SCRAMBLE!”, showering the playground with doubles and triples of Ian Rush and rare Hamilton Academical team stickers alike. I have always imagined that that, essentially, was what the real Stock Market is really like.

if you wanna be my cover

covered by chemists

I was not a great chemist at school. I hated Bunsen Burners, you see, and those little gas-taps on each desk were just trouble waiting to happen (then again everything was at my old school). I used to like drawing on the desks, and in the textbooks, but that’s it. However, I was happy to lend my one of my lunchtime drawings to the UC Davis Chemistry department for their new graduate handbook (which made me want to completely redesign our own graduate program handbooks). I remember, it was a really cold December day when I drew this, I was proving my tenacity to myself (like I do when it’s hot in the Summer). I hope the chemists like it. Just don’t get me near those Bunsen Burners.

KMnO4, Potassium Permangenate. I knew at the time that t might be the only thing I would ever retain in Chemistry. I was much better at Biology. But only really interested in German and Art.

you do the math

mathematical sciences building

I don’t like that expression, by the way. Plus being British I’d say ‘maths’ (though being a Londoner it sounds more like ‘maffs’). A lunchtime sketch; I’d never drawn the front of my work building before, so thought I should give it a go. since one of my other drawings will be adorning the front of the chemistry dept’s new handbook, maybe i’ll use this sketch for something one day too. Or not. There are then still things in Davis I’ve not drawn. It’s just usually too hot to draw them (he says with several full sketchbooks).

Mathematics…it must be popular in California, you always hear about all those math labs on the news, I think. At school, all I wanted was just to pass maths, no better. I quite hated the teacher of the top class, Blindty, an ancient creature who had been teaching there since before Pythagorus got into triangles, and he quite disliked me; well, me and almost everyone else. So I requested to move into the second class (and tried my best not to get moved back up), and as a result had a much much better teacher, Miss Barker, and I passed the GCSE no problem, and restored my self-esteem. I left maths behind at 16, but I’m still pretty good at the numbers game on Countdown. Perhaps I should try to become Vorderman’s replacement?