And so, September started and wow, it’s already dragged us into the middle of the month like an angry bouncer, knocking over all the drinks and startling the cats in the alley. The times move quickly. Right now at the UC Davis campus we are preparing for the Big Return of All The Students. We are going back in In-Person Teaching next week – next week! – after being totally remote since March 2020. The staff are returning – partially working from home for the most part – as are the faculty, although there have been people working on campus the whole time (including myself, going in a couple of days a week or so) but now the campus is about to start Getting Busy again. The bikes will be back everywhere, and yeah, it’ll be different. Not sure what to expect. Not sure how everyone will feel being around lots of people again. For many, it will be fine, for many it will be uncomfortable. We’ll see what happens. This is the building where I work, the Mathematical Sciences Building, I have drawn it a few times before. One Saturday morning I had left my iPod in my office the day before, so I cycled down to get it and decided to take advantage of the direction of the light and start drawing the building again. And then it got a bit hot and I thought, actually let’s do the rest later. So I drew as much of the middle bit, and outlined the rest, and added colour to the sign, and went home, where I added in all the foliage and the colours. There’s not a lot of shade on the other side of the street so when that hot sun comes out it gets pretty uncomfy. I like it inside though, nice and cool in my office. I have been spending a lot of time this summer trying to rearrange office spaces getting them ready for new people, an ongoing task this week even. I’ve been trying to personalize my office a bit more, added in a couple of colourful classic World Cup posters, nice for a bit of Zoom background (we will still have many remote meetings), getting rid of some bulky storage, and shredding a whole bunch of old papers. I could probably use a new chair, I’ve had my current one for over 15 years now, but not a priority until the wheels fall off of it. This week is the last one to get all those things done I wanted out of the way before Summer ended, but Fall is already crashing into us and it will be Christmas before we know it. Lots to do! I’ve been putting up all the signage reminding people to wear the masks inside, getting the hand sanitizer and wipes in the offices. But here is the building, before all the people come back, nice and peaceful. The big Turkeys are still coming by in the mornings, pooing all over the benches, digging up the plants and menacing those who dare pass by. They’ve ruled this part of campus for a while, but the Humans and their Bikes are coming back.
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.
Time to return to the second Shelter-In-Place sketchbook project I did, which was a short trip around Dublin in no particular direction. I drew this all in a book my friend Simon got me in Dublin, and since he ended up actually moving there this past summer I drew this in his honour, and then I mailed it over as a Christmas present recently; I hope he likes it. It’s been a while since I was last in Dublin, and it’ll be a while until I am back, but all of my grandparents (except the Belfast one) came from Dublin, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on for as long as ancestry.com can keep finding us. Lot of Scullys, Higginses, O’Donnells and other names too numerous to list. So Dublin kind of feels like home, in that special way which is completely and utterly imaginary; there are places where my dad lived in England that don’t particularly feel like home to me but places where grandparents who died before I was born, to be sure to be sure ’tis no place like wherever part of town they were from. Still I really enjoyed exploring the city virtually, and felt connections more from memories of previous visits over the course of my life than anything else. So, on which the journey! The bridge above was there when I last went, but not before. It’s the Samuel Beckett Bridge, named after surprisingly not the time-travelling Quantum Leaper but the bearded man who wrote that play with Magneto and Charles Xavier in it, En Attendant Gal Gadot. Spanning the Liffey at a wider point than many of the ones upstream, and is supposed to look like a harp on its side. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the Liège Guillemins station in Belgium, which I visited in 2019 (nothing I love more then a Belgian train station, but this one is pretty spectacular to look at and my friend Gerard Michel drew it in his own spectacular fashion). I liked this particular view because the sign (commonly seen around Dublin) says in Irish and English “Críoch /End”, which reminded me of Crouch End, an area where I used to live in London for a while.
This is the Lilliput Press, in Viking Place in the north side of Dublin. It’s an independent bookshop and publisher. My next door neighbour here in Davis told me he has been published by them (he’s from Dublin). I just liked the look of it at the end of this very Dublin road, the sort of thing I would seek out and draw. Although if I drew it in person the perspective would be slightly lower down and I might not be in the middle of the road. This is how you can tell it’s from Google Street View, they have those cameras that are higher up than human eye level. I like it when they are carried around in a backpack and you see the person’s reflection in a shop window, or when people sitting outside a pub all wave and call out, their faces erased by Google’s face-erasing tech. They have your face, it belongs to them now and you can’t have it back. Your haircut remains your own. The Lilliput Press (https://www.lilliputpress.ie/) looks interesting though (it is a Swift reference, I think it’s from his song “Lily put the kettle on”) and reminds me, I need to read more. I always forget to read books these days. We all do now don’t we, since we have those electronic face-stealing devices in our hands all the time. Yet every time I read a real actual book these days I am compelled to write, and write, and write. It probably shows then that I have not been reading enough, because I’ve not been writing. Until this week my last blog was in November, and I haven’t written my personal diary in many many months (a lot has happened in those months too, such as buying a house and the second half of the pandemic year, it’s like I’m going to need a long Star Wars opening crawl to get my diary back up to speed). Then again, I really haven’t many stories to tell, and I’m not going to tell the story of being at home during the pandemic lockdown because firstly, everyone has their own story and secondly nobody wants to hear it, or at least I don’t. Anyway back to the story about an imaginary trip around Dublin that I didn’t take this year.
This is Trinity College Dublin. We did come here on my last visit, and it was an oasis of calm away from the very busy streets of central Dublin. Trinity College is a big important university in Dublin where very clever people work. I also work at a university with very clever people but they are pretty clever at Trinity. For example in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC Davis ranks but #64 while Trinity ranks, let me have a look at the top 100 list again, ok I’ll look again later, it must be so high up I can’t find it. Wait, #155? Are you sure? That’s lower than Southampton, no disrespect to Southampton. The Sorbonne is listed at #87, tied with USTC in China (where a lot of our best Stats students in our program come from); Oxford is #1, followed by Harvard and Stanford. I’ve never been too invested in those particular rankings lists, except when I am using them to show prospective students how great we are (for example UC Davis is the #1 vet med school on Earth, and back in 2011 we were ranked as the “10th happiest college campus in America”, which meant that there were nine happier campuses, which made me feel a tiny bit sadder). Trinity is a pretty renowned research university though with a long history (and is ranked #1 in Ireland, of course). It dates back to 1592, Queen Elizabeth I opened it. It’s also where you can find the famous Book of Kells. I think I saw that on my trip here in ’97, I know that we went to the actual town of Kells, and I also read a book, so maybe my memory is playing up. The college grounds are pretty grand, but crammed right into the city centre there. I got away with drawing too much on this page by drawing one taller building, and then drawing all the other buildings smaller. However the paper being so thin, you can see the other drawings through the page. Famous alumni of Trinity include Bram Stoker, who wrote Count Dracula; Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Gal Godot; Oscar Wilde, who wrote/drew The Picture of Dory and Gray; Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and Lily Put the Kettle On; and other people who maybe didn’t write stuff like that but were still very clever.
Dublin is a place full of writers though, just buckets of them, literally waste-paper-baskets full. Literary-bins. That’s why there are so many literary tours, they need people to write the guide leaflets for them all. Playwrights too, they love to wright plays, Dublin has a long tradition of the stage. The most famous theatre is the Abbey Theatre, which is the National Theatre of Ireland, but this is The Gate, which is a good theatre too. I mean it’s not the Abbey but it’s still totally fine. I admit, I don’t really know that much about Irish theatre. I have a degree in drama but I didn’t really study the history of Irish plays. Obviously I have heard of a lot of Irish dramatists, your Oscar Wildes, your Samuel Becketts (not the Quantum Leap one, the other one), your Roddy Doyles (lots of swearing, lots of “Feck This” and “Feck That”, and the other one, you know the one I mean, worse than “Feck”), your George Bernard Shaws (don’t call him George to his face, he hates it, and pronounce it BERNard nor BerNARD, and when he corrects you on his name don’t reply “are you Shaw?” because he really hates that too), your Jack Charltons (um, not Irish and not a dramatist, I just wanted to mention him here because he will come up later). Incidentally as well as “Pygmalion”, George Call-Me-Bernard Shaw also wrote “Man and Superman”, which is a prequel to Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, before Batman became Batman and was just a crime-fighting crusader called Man. The Gate Theatre though was where many famous Irish acting people started out, your Michael Gambons (Dumbledore #2, Fantastic Mr Fox), your Geraldine Fitzgeralds (Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Arthur 2: On The Rocks) and your Orson Wellses (I know, not Irish, but according to Wikipedia, in 1931 while on a walking and painting trip to Ireland Orson waltzed into the Gate, still a new theatre then, and announced he was a Broadway star and that they should give him a place on the stage at once. It worked, they put him in a play as a Duke and within a year he was acting in a Somerset Maughan play at the Abbey, and by 1941 he was making Citizen Kane, so that’s a lesson for you kids right there). Drawing this, which is right past the top end of O’Connell Street, I was drawn to the spots of yellow so added those colours in.
Speaking of O’Connell Street (Sráid Uí Chonaill in Irish), this is the entrance of the great boulevard right down by the Liffey. The statue is of Daniel O’Connell himself, one of the greatest of all Irish political leaders from back in the 19th century. It is not Daniel O’Donnell, who is someone else entirely. I must admit, brought up with a degree of Irishness as we were in my north-west London family in the late 80s, I didn’t know who Daniel O’Connell was. I knew who Wolfe Tone was but only because we listened to the Wolfe Tones a lot. Daniel O’Donnell on the other hand well, he was much beloved by my mother and all those ladies older than her. Daniel O’Donnell records played in our house as much as anyone, the boyish Irish crooner was very popular. I like the version of him they did on Father Ted, Eoin McLove. There was a lot of Irish music in our house in the mid 80s to early 90s. We did listen to that Wolfe Tones tape over and over, but I think our favourite was the great Brendan Shine. “Catch me if you can, me name is Dan, sure I’m your man.” I did see him at the Irish festival in Southport (was he performing with Philomena Begley? I forget) but mum went to see him down at the Galtymore in Cricklewood if I remember rightly. Pretty sure she saw Daniel O’Donnell there more than once too. They liked going down to the Galty, and the Town and Country, back in the 80s. My mum and dad were very outgoing and social, much more than I’ve been as a grown up. Music was big in our house growing up though, and especially Irish music. When I learned the guitar one of the first songbooks I had was a book of Irish classics. It was written more for the piano but I just needed the words and the chord names. I always the songs liked James Connolly, The Mountains of Mourne, and The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee. Honestly though, I really couldn’t sing for peanuts, so it was when I first heard the Pogues that I didn’t feel quite so bad. Anyway, O’Connell Street, the first time I came here as a kid I remember there was an older lady who would walk up and down smiling to the sky, oblivious to everyone, walking up a few steps, back a few more, on and on all day. My big sister pointed her out because she remembered seeing her when she came to Dublin as a kid in the 70s, and I’ve subsequently heard from other Dubliners that she walked up and down that street for years. I remember there was another character on that street she pointed out, a man who also walked up and down, but I don’t remember much about him. I’ve always found that the streets themselves are the best stage, and have the most interesting characters. Maybe I’ve just been to a lot of bad plays.
And finally, a different sort of stage. This is the Aviva Stadium, aka Lansdowne Road, which is the great Irish football stadium. Not just football of course, but other sports too. Rugby, er, music, loads of sports. Not gaelic football or hurling though, as far as I’m aware, they take place at Croke Park. Among other places. I don’t really follow other sports, I’ve watched rugby a few times but my sport is football/soccer, which someone told me in Ireland was about the sixth or seventh most popular sport after gaelic football, hurling, rugby, fishing, cycling, and I don’t know, snap or snakes and ladders. I just remember lots of people supported (a) Celtic and (b) either Liverpool or Manchester Untied. My main national team is the Republic, I won five Ireland shirts compared to one England shirt (the 2010 red umbro away kit, well it is a lovely kit, though I don’t wear it that often). One of my favourite Ireland shirts is the 1995 Umbro shirt, the ‘Father Dougal’ shirt, the one Dougal wears to bed. I still have that shirt and it still fits. I remember Lansdowne Road from the great Jack Charlton era, when they were great in the late 80s / early 90s, when we were listening to a lot of Brendan Shine and Wolfe Tones and Daniel O’Donnell (well, Mum was). Jack Charlton died this year, famous World Cup winner with England and brother of the much more talented Bobby, Leeds legend and danger to ankles everywhere Jack Charlton was the man who transformed the Irish national team into one that would go to play in World Cups, partly by looking up the grandparents of half the players in the English Football League. He was a legend. My favourite moments with his team were (a) beating England in the Euro 88 (I still have the t-shirt), (b) his angry rant on the sidelines during Ireland v Mexico at USA 94, and (c) when Ireland beat Romania on penalties at Italia 90 and my Mum ran down the road screaming with joy. Also a big fan of when we beat Italy too, I still have the t-shirt celebrating that. The old Lansdowne Road was demolished and they built this great big modern stadium in its place. You might notice actually, in this little square of low-roofed houses dwarfed by the big glass spaceship that has landed behind it, there are a couple of Dublin lads playing hurling on the green. I have watched hurling a couple of times on tv as a kid, the All-Ireland Hurling Final, and witnessed the real passions this sport brings about, notably a punch-up between two pensioners in a pub in Kilburn over the result of a Galway-Tipperary game. I walked across a field of people playing it once too, which was one of the scariest moments in my life, that hurley ball looks like it’s made of concrete and flies about at several hundred miles an hour.
And that is it for part two, join me at some point for part three, the finale.
Oxbridge. The Brangelina of cities. What those of you outside of academic circles may not know though is that they are in fact two completely separate towns with very little in common. Sure they have world class universities that are hard to get into. Well, it was hard for me anyway, so I didn’t even try. You needed a lot more “As” to get in there, and my single “A” in English wouldn’t have been enough. Also I don’t know if I’d have been able to choose between the two. So I ended up staying in London and going to Queen Mary, and I liked it there. Just going to University itself was to open a different world to me than the one I knew from Burnt Oak, it was completely uncommon among most people I grew up with, so the idea of Oxbridge would have been like the idea of going to work at Buckingham Palace or something. Still, I wonder what it would have been like if I had set Oxbridge as a goal earlier in my school career. Probably no different. Even at sixth form college, I knew nobody who went there, or had applied there, it was just seen as effectively off-limits. I’ve met so many people since, great academics of course, who either went there or teach there now, and it seems strange to think of it as something so distant, but I still wouldn’t get in, unless they have a degree in drawing fire hydrants or making bad puns.
So, Oxford then. There are so many places to draw here, but I had to draw one of the big grand college entrances. This is the front of Brasenose College, right in the heart of the city. The University’s colleges are located throughout Oxford (as are Cambridge’s). The University of Oxford itself was founded in 1096 (possibly), although it was really around 1167 that it grew after King Henry II forbade students from going to the Sorbonne in Paris (in case the Sorbonne stole their data, good job we don’t have leaders like that now). Brasenose dates from 1509, its name coming from an old brass door knocker on the old Brasenose Hall. Famous alumni of Brasenose include David Cameron, who had some brass himself; Michael Palin, whose travel shows and books made me want to be a travel writer when I was a kid (yeah, working on that); William Webb Ellis, who invented rugby; and Field Marshal Haig, who was played by Geoffrey Palmer in Blackadder Goes Forth. I’ve been to Oxford a few times, always thought it a place I could live if we were ever to go back to England. I suppose I’m drawn to university towns, I like being close to big libraries.
I decided to skip past all of the places in between “Ox” and “Bridge”, such as Milton Keynes, and Luton, which I’ll be sure to include in a future virtual sketchbook, honestly, and proceeded to the other great university city of Cambridge. The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 after there were big punch-ups between the locals of Oxford (“town”) and the scholars of the University (“gown”). Actually it was pretty serious – three Oxford scholars were hanged by authorities following the death of a local woman, kicking off a load of violence. Many fled to Cambridge and decided to start a new University right there. Just like in Oxford the colleges are scattered among the town; just like in Oxford there is a “Bridge of Sighs”; just like in Oxford there is a river that winds around town between the colleges, which just like in Oxford is full of “punts”, those long flat boats where people will punt along by pushing a long wooden stick against the riverbed. I’ve done it myself, not easy to navigate at first, but I managed not to fall in. I really like Cambridge, a bit smaller than Oxford, although last time I was there it was pretty crowded with tourists. I first went to Cambridge when I was 19, to visit a friend who I had met on a college exchange trip to France. I remember that day, getting the train up from King’s Cross, walking about town, going to the shopping centre (I bought a Boo Radleys CD there, I remember clearly), reading the Cambridge Evening News and laughing at the hilarious headline “Rising Bollards Claim Another Victim”. I liked being 19, it was a simple time. I’ve been back to Cambridge a number of times and I always like it there, and though it’s somewhere I could definitely sketch I decided on the virtual trip that I would not draw another college building, just creating a mirror on the spread with Oxford, so I chose to draw the Round Church, which as you can see is just that.
Now these being 34 and 35 you’ll notice that we are now over the halfway point in our journey around Great Britain. We will zigzag around the country missing out many a great town and including some which you might think, wow you skipped Ipswich for this place? But the obvious next stop in this virtual journey is just up the train track from Cambridge in the Fens city of Ely…
There’s a new building on campus. I might not have been on campus much the past few months, while working from home, but I cycled in recently a couple of times to see what’s going on – not a lot – but this new building is going up next to the Silo. It will be the “Teaching and Learning Complex”, or “TLC”. Unsurprisingly this isn’t on the Med Centre because staff there wear scrubs and the TLC don’t want no scrubs. Right, obligatory TLC joke out of the way. It’s always fun having a bit of construction to draw, because you know it’s something new and interesting that will look different next time. Also it is something new in a familiar location. This was a parking lot. The one above, I drew on the way into the office one lunchtime, but the one below was done last Friday after being in all day and finishing early, but by that time of the afternoon, about 4pm, it’s getting way too hot. I stood in the shade, but I walked home afterwards very much in the sun and I wish I’d brought my bike, but oh no, gotta get my steps in, gotta walk. I have been running a lot lately, slowly building up my speed and instances, very slowly but every bit of progress counts. I ran my first four mile run on Sunday, felt a great accomplishment afterwards, and took a rest from the running today. I have to run early in the morning, but too dry and hot later on. Davis in the summertime.
We’ll all remember March 2020. For one thing it was the longest month on record. Sure, it was 31 days, but it felt longer, much longer. I’ve already posted my at-home sketches, a story unto itself, during the whole Shelter-in-Place period which is now over except that it is probably starting again any day now. We’re still working from home anyhow, so life carries on just the same, but with even more masks. Speaking of which, you can now purchase face masks with my sketches on at : https://society6.com/petescully/masks. There are plenty in there, Davis sketches, other country sketches, loads of sketches. Ok, so on with the story. I did do a bit of outside urban sketching before we were all ordered to march back home, so here are them. At the top is a sketch of the UC Davis Quad, with slightly out of proportion people, which is fine but next time I’ll get it right. Although in my defense purple hair lady with red top was very tall. It was a Springtime day, and while news was starting to get ominous about the virus, we were still here living in a “well maybe it won’t be so bad” bubble while looking at Italy and wondering what on earth was going on there. We started wiping things down religiously in our departments, and started looking for the facemasks left over from when we had the fires, and our instructors were ahead of the game with starting an option for remote instruction, while everyone washed hands while singing happy birthday and stockpiled all the bogroll. I didn’t really expect what was coming though, which turned out to be no shortage of bogroll at all.
This building is one of the newest on campus, called “Latitude”. It looks like it could be a graph showing a rise in, I don’t know, cases of something, followed by a dip, and then a second wave, but that is just using architecture to make a point that doesn’t really match up with the current situation. Still it is an interesting looking design. If we in Stats ever got given a new building something that looked like this would be nice and visually representative of a graph. Chemistry too should get a building that looks like lots of test tubes, English should get a building designed to look like a big book-case, and Animal Science should be housed in a gigantic statue of a cow. This is why I don’t design university buildings, I just draw them. Although the Backflow Preventer in the foreground reminds me of a mechanical horse, or maybe a robotic camel.
This is Mrak Hall, where the university administration does its administering. I’ve spent a lot of time in its 1950s marbled halls, even going once up to the top floor where the boss works, Chancellor Gary May (a fellow Lego and X-Men fan who I have sketched before), when I was escorting a prominent guest from the UK to meet him. I have drawn Mrak a whole load of times, and I like it from this angle with the pink springtime blossoms on two of the trees and one of a pair of Eggheads visible in the foreground. Mrak Hall is named after Emil Mrak, the first chancellor when Davis became its own UC back in the 50s. This was March 6, and things were starting to look ominous, but we still moved as though the world would still be turning, preparing for visitors from across the country, though at this time we did have one visitor withdraw from a visit from Europe out of concerns, wisely as it would turn out. We still planned our big soccer tournament for May, the Davis World Cup, though with a doctor on our committee voicing concerns about the upcoming pandemic we did start wondering if perhaps we should postpone before we put in all the major work – wisely, as it would turn out.
This is the parking structure at the MU, where my wife would park her car back when we all went to campus every day. By this date, March 9, alarm bells were ringing. Not literally, just figuratively. On campus we started having ad hoc committee meetings to switch to remote instruction if that became a thing. However, everything was still normal until told otherwise, classes, sketchcrawls, soccer practices and games. AYSO encouraged us to be aware of the threat of coronavirus and that players who were sick should stay home, we should not shake hands with fellow coaches, players should not share water bottles, but games would still go ahead. We were planning for our upcoming vacations (we were looking forward to visiting Utah for the first time in April, and still thinking about a trip to Italy which in another year we would have already had booked and planned and paid for by this point but in 2020 we held off and delayed for some reason, wisely as it would turn out). I was looking forward to another 5k race in Davis, the ‘Lucky Run’ having done the Davis stampede in February, and was planning on having a series of races throughout the year. I’m really into running now. In fact since the shelter-in-place I have been regularly running 2 to 3 mile runs, which is much more than I used to be able to do.
I remember this sketch being the moment when things started getting real. Before sketching I was emailing back and forth with the opposition coach planning for the weekend’s game in Mt Diablo, and then while sketching I had parents asking if the game would go ahead, followed by an announcement that no, the season was being postponed, for now. No games, no practices, no meetings, until further notice. I’ll always think of that with this picture. On campus, we were starting to encourage staff to work remotely if possible, as other counties started a lockdown of sorts, a ‘shelter-in-place’, a phrase I only knew from whenever there was a different type of emergency, that is a gun-themed one. Now the sketch, I have drawn it before, but it’s one of the oldest buildings on campus, University House, and I like it when there is pink blossom on the tree. Schools however were still open, just under thorough disinfection, but I think everyone knew they would be closing any moment now. Any moment now. Here it comes, schools are going to close…
And it had to be Friday 13th, didn’t it. I walked into campus that morning and it felt odd, unusual, and calm. Well we got the message after lunch that schools would close until mid-April. On campus, people were nervous about being there, about getting on the bus, about meeting with anybody in person. The Trump administration announced travel bans from Europe (not including the UK at first, and then deciding oh yeah, them too). And we staff decided that we would work remotely if possible, though we did not get the official order to do so until the next week, once the state had announced the Shelter-in-Place order. And this is when we start drawing from home. It feels like remembering history now rather than just a few months ago, but This Whole Thing isn’t going away any time soon and keeps developing here and around the world, not always with the best leadership at national levels, though I think our campus leadership has done well under the difficult circumstances. And here we are in the middle of July. Things are rubbish, they really are, and I don’t want things to be so rubbish, but they are. And this sketch is of Wellman Hall, ironically named in a pandemic situation. This was my last outside sketch until June, and even now I’m not doing much of it.
Let’s go back in time again to January. January was when we were nearly at war with Iran, and Australia was burning, and Trump was in the middle of his impeachment, and we thought wow, the 2020 season is starting strong, lots of big news, maybe the rest of the year will be quiet. Well here we are. When I thought ‘quiet’ I didn’t mean ‘stuck at home for months, no travel, no sports, school from home, working from the bedroom, uncertainty and unhappiness, paranoia and panic, anxiety and antagonism’ but here we are. Oh well. Above is a sketch I did of the Silo at UC Davis, scene of a million sketches of mine, place of having lunch. They were redoing the roof, it’s all done now I think. It was freezing cold that day; a few days before I had been swimming in the middle of the Pacific on Maui, so chilly Davis was a comedown. Fast forward to June, Davis is 100 degrees Fahrenheit now and I’m stuck in my bedroom.
Here are some people, sketching around the Silo in January, along with the following obligatory comment about “ooh they aren’t social distancing, we didn’t even know what that was back then, oh how the world has changed” etc: Ooh, they aren’t social distancing. We didn’t even know what that was back then! Oh how the world has changed. But this is not a drawing of a crowd, each of these people was drawn individually at different moments. I could have drawn them standing on each others’ heads but they weren’t. So don’t worry about it, it’s not a photo of Bournemouth beach or anything. That said, yes it was back in January, and while none of these people have them on, a lot of our students and faculty from China were already wearing masks, having experienced outbreaks of contagious disease before. Fast-forward to now, I like wearing my mask, personally. I can’t use it while exercising, which for me is running, but I wear it when I’m outside even walking the neighbourhood. I rarely go into shops but I wear it there. I did have to run some soccer tryout events this past week, following strict protocols on social distancing, and I had to wear it at almost all times in my capacity as a coach (I took it off to run during the warm-up – it was 100 degrees out! – and to drink my water, but kept it on while attempting to give loud but muffled instructions). The mask means I can do funny voices more, like Bane or Doctor Doom or Brian Clough. (Can you imagine Brian Clough as Doctor Doom? “Oh that FOOL Revie, oh he may have beaten Galactus but it doesn’t count because he did it by CHEATING. If superhero battles were meant to be fought in space God would have put New York city streets in the sky. Now I wouldn’t say I was the best scientific mind/super-villain/supreme god-emperor in the Marvel Universe, but I’d say I was in the Top 1.” Brian Von Doom. They both liked wearing green. I can’t imagine Cloughie wearing a mask though, but I bet Don Revie wished he did.
I drew this, the Academic Surge building next to the one where I work, during a lunchtime in later January. They really like large rectangular arches. There was a sale on at the large rectangular arch shop, and it was buy one get one free at the dark window store, so with the money they saved there they got the biggest massive cylinder they could find at Massive Cylinders R Us.
The day before I went to the gym (remember the gym?) which at UC Davis is the ARC, where I would go regularly while exercising and losing weight. Now the only only exercise I am doing is running – I set myself goals in terms of miles per month that I have been hitting, although now I have to run early in the morning or not at all, to beat this damn heat – and eating doughnuts. Technically that last thing isn’t exercising but there’s a global pandemic on, what you gonna do. But I would love to get back to the routine of going to the gym, going on that elliptical thing (where I watch Netflix Formula One shows or that amazing Dark Crystal series), doing the rowing machine, squashing all my stuff into a small locker. This is the blue Aggie fire truck. It’s not an in-use fire truck any more, but belongs to the UCD Athletics dept. I have drawn it before. They sue it in the big parades and to promote sports at UC Davis. Kids love fire trucks. My son went through the whole fire truck phase, it’s when I started drawing them loads. He loved visiting the fire station, meeting the firefighters who were always happy to meet the local kids, they even had special ‘baseball cards’ with each of the firefighters on which kids could collect. They were fun days, when you could make their day by just walking past the fire station and seeing the doors open so you could see the ladder truck and all the others. Those really were the days. I’ve a lot of respect for firefighters, especially in the past few years where fires have been such a terrible thing in California (and elsewhere), but I do really like to draw a firetruck.
Moving around campus, it was a very rainy day when I stood under a tree and tried to draw this end of Freeborn Hall, home of the legendary local radio station KDVS. I have known several people involved with KDVS over the years, it is a proper institution, and I’ve always wanted to go and sketch their record room, where they keep all their huge supplies of music, it looks amazing. However I must confess, I don’t listen to the radio. I haven’t listened to the radio in years. When I was a kid I would listen to the radio a lot, in fact when I was 10 I wanted to be a radio DJ. In 1986, a radio DJ was approximately the number 1 job in the country, right up there with The Queen or Gary Lineker. I liked Capitol Radio, and used to listen to Steve Wright, and I would record songs from the radio and then with my twin cassette player. You remember those! One of the tape decks would be just play only, the other one had play and record (hold them down together), and don’t forget to put the little tab out of the cassette so you can’t tape over it later. Come to think of it, I only had a single tape player, my mum had the double player, I used to borrow it all the time to copy-record tapes. Remember having to do that, to record a tape or make a playlist you’d be playing the whole thing, listening as you go along, a much more organic way than nowadays with your digital playlists. Look how much we have gained, but what have we lost?! Anyway I would record myself talking like I was on the radio, no idea what I would have said back then. I probably put on that radio voice too, the one where all “t” sounds become “d” sounds, my mum would listen to Capital Gold. Remember Capital Gold? This is one for Londoners. It played all the old songs from the 60s, which to me then as a kid in the 80s seemed like a million years ago. Tony Blackburn was on it, and David Hamilton. One of my favourite radio-themed things though was a board game I had, Mike Read’s Pop Quiz. It may be one of the most 1980s things you ever see. I also wanted to be a football commentator. It’s funny because I really don’t like listening to recordings of myself speak. Fast forward to 2020 (and we all remember how slow fast forward was on those old cassette players) and we have Zoom and so on, and I had to record a presentation where I gave a virtual sketch tour of Davis for new students, and I really say “um” and “er” a lot, even when I’m scripted. I have considered making YouTube videos about my Davis sketches, a tour of the town and a little sketch demo, but I can’t listen to myself talk right now. Maybe I need to do more funny voices. So, no radio DJ career for me, but that’s ok, I haven’t turned on a radio in years. I do listen to a lot of podcasts though.
Ok nearly done with January campus sketches now, this is Roessler Hall, as drawn from next to the Physics building. Always reminds me of the brilliant East German striker Uwe Roessler, who used to play for Man City back when they were heroic and rubbish, but had amazing Umbro and Kappa kits. I think that 97-99 Man City kit is one of the greatest kits of all time. They also had this player from Georgia back when foreign players were still a bit new, and Georgia was a new exotic independent country: Georgi Kinkladze. He was on the City team at the same time as Roessler, and they were exciting to watch, but ultimately terrible, getting relegated in 1996. Roessler and Kinkladze stuck around as they failed to get promoted, but eventually City came back up to the Premier League a few years after they both left, in the year 2000 (this is like talking about the 60s to a kid in the 80s, I feel like Tony Blackburn) (Wait till you hear about Blackburn Rovers!), but then went straight back down again, because City were really bad, like way worse even than Spurs were at the time. Now they have tons of oil cash and Pep Guardiola and Noel Gallagher has a secret portal to their dressing room, but I quite liked them when they were heroically shite.
And finally, a quick sketch of the Student Housing building. I drew a lot in January. Right I’m off to play Mike Read’s Pop Quiz, with my mask on.
If you keep a sketchbook, or maybe several at once, you are keeping a record of things that are in your head, just like a diary. The diary might be an internal monologue of how you are feeling, inward-looking and for your eyes only, or it might be one like a politician or a journalist might keep, their own observations on the world they see. They may be a place to work on your writing, to find your voice, to figure out your thoughts and expand your ideas. Sketchbooks can be very much like that. Sketchbooks can be whatever you want them to be, and for many are a mixture of the two, a sketched journal. I have tried that myself, writing out pages alongside the drawings, but I often have a hard time mixing the two; people can be so differently affected by text than by image. Image is often undermined by the text, which can be a distraction. Text, even open-ended and vague text, sometimes tells the reader what to think about the drawing around it. So I usually reserve my own text for the blog post when it is a step removed from the drawing, and very much a take-it-or-leave-it thing. You can look at my entire website without reading a word and it wouldn’t matter. In fact on my old iteration of my blog from a decade ago, every time I would post a sketch I would shrink the font of the accompanying nonsense writing to about size 8, so not to distract from the sketch itself. Anyway, I thought I would share this thought with you. I think of my own ‘main’ sketchbooks, which are produced very much with the idea that someone would look through them, as visual diaries. I would never let someone read a written diary (not without heavy editing), it gives too much away. (In fact when I was younger and wrote pages and pages in my diary nightly, I wrote in a different alphabet that I invented when I was about 13 or 14; hey you were interested in girls (or boys), well I was interested in alphabets). So my main sketchbooks are ways for me to relax and draw the world that I live in. I do have non-realistic more fantastical drawings too, but I do those elsewhere. Since I live in Davis, my sketchbook is filled up with images of Davis, and since I work at UC Davis, well I can say that I have a campus in my sketchbook. All of which is a way to say, I have just started to catch up on my scanning, so here are four recent (January) sketches from the UC Davis campus.
The sketch above (sorry, you need to scroll back up there) is the Science Lecture Theater, or SciLec, which would be a cool space villain name. It’s hidden behind those trees and frat boards. Below though, on a cloudier day, is Robbins Hall. I’m starting to catch up on the buildings I walk past but haven’t yet drawn (yes, there are still a few).
Underneath, sketched after a morning training class, is Veihmeyer Hall. I last drew this almost a decade ago I think it was, I like the way the shadows cross the white building. I sat in a little garden on a bench and sketched this. When January comes, with its bright chill skies, I get excited because I can finally draw the leafless trees, but sometimes they are a bit intimidating (see the ones of the right). I like it when the trunks are not just that bleached brown or grey, but also have patches or orange or green colouring the bark.
You cannot get much of a window into my thoughts from looking at the sketches. You can only imagine. I assure you I was probably thinking about soccer (listening to the Totally Football podcast or the Football Weekly podcast), or maybe history, or maybe alphabets. Below is one of Haring Hall, but I kept that uncoloured because I like the big yellow sign.
When I first starting drawing Davis in my sketchbooks, I hadn’t been here long and the idea was that I was drawing the world around me to remember it after I had left. Davis, I am still here, and still finding more to draw.
Recently I went to Berkeley for the annual UC Academic Advising Conference (UCAAC). I’ve been going to this conference most years since 2007, which was hosted by UC Irvine at the Disneyland Hotel. Each year a different UC campus hosts the conference and this year Berkeley got the chance. I sketched the opening remarks at the morning breakfast, before the break-out workshops began (fun note: I won a Starbucks gift card for this sketch!). The theme this year was ‘Building Bridges’, because, as you know, lots of bridges near here. The Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinas Bridge, loads of bridges. But yes, yes I kept thinking if Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering his Magnetoesque line from X-Men: The Last Stand: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” He said that as you know just after ripping the Golden Gate Bridge from its base and dumping it on Alcatraz for some reason. I love Magneto.
This sketch of Bancroft Avenue was drawn early in the morning, after getting off the train. There is always a lot to sketch in Berkeley.
Such as Sather Gate. This is a very ornate gateway on campus, and I did draw it many years ago, but wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I’m pleased to report, I like the newer version. There were quite a few students in graduation garb walking around taking photos, as you do. It was that time of year. Below, I drew a detail of the gate. Making a heart.
I did those between workshops, but I also did a bit of sketching after the final workshop on day two, when I wandered campus a bit after lunch. Below is the University Library, which is just a massive, grandiose epic structure. A lot of UC Berkeley is like this, full of grandeur, far more than UC Davis. Berkeley is Davis’s parent school of course, with UC Davis being founded as Berkeley’s offshoot University Farm. Our library is also massive, but this one looks far grander.
Below is the Sather Tower, the large campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the Berkeley campus. It’s nice up the top of there by the way. I just had to draw it again.
And the fire hydrants. Like in Davis, the city has a different colour hydrant from the campus, but unlike Davis, it’s the campus that has the yellow hydrants while the city has the white ones. I know! You don’t care! But I think that is funny. The yellow one there is outside the Playhouse on campus, while the short white one is on Shattuck Avenue next to that discount bookstore.
This is the Crocker Nuclear Lab at UC Davis, which is located right next to where I work, so I didn’t have to go very far for my lunchtime sketch. The building itself is called John A. Jungerman Hall, but the lab has been home for the past 50 years to incredible machinery such as the 76-inch isochronous cyclotron. I know, right? Ok I don’t know what that is but it sounds great. I’m actually very interested in particle physics. I’m quite particular to it, no that doesn’t work. I like listening to podcasts and watching TV shows about particles, the old bosons and quarks, all the particles, they’re great. I do sort of understand it, for sure, but I think I just like hearing all the words being said, I like to know someone is out there doing the science. I loved physics when I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at it but it was such an exciting science (conversely, I got great grades in biology but was always bored with it) (we don’t talk about chemistry though. I was scared of the Bunsen burners). Except I had a teacher called Mr Vilis, who I always liked, but he would get very angry if anybody opened the window in class if it was hot, he would go and furiously slam it shut. He did do a very good turn as the Laughing Policeman at a school show one year though (along with my form teacher Mr Singer) so I always knew he was a joker at heart. I do remember the Van Der Graaf Generator in his classroom though (I’m probably getting quite far from particle physics and radiation now I think), making our hair stand on end. Not exactly a hard trick with me, my hair always stands on end, it’s why I keep it short. Van Der Graaf Generator were a really good band back in the day, I say really good, I only knew one song but I did meet one of the band members when doing a thing years ago at Union Chapel with Shape Arts. I remember telling him, oh wow I’m a really big fan, but only of that one song, which I heard recently on a compilation album free with Uncut magazine. So not a really big fan then. But I would be because I like your band’s name, because I like physics, event though I’m not very good at it.
So anyway this is the Crocker Nuclear Lab at UC Davis, home to the cyclotron (which you can learn more about at cyclotron.crocker.ucdavis.edu), and I’ve walked past it every day for over a decade, so here it is. Well not every day obviously, I do have weekends off, and vacations, and half the time I cycle, not walk…etc etc