wild_flowers_March_2016I got a lot of plants and seeds into the ground early this year, so they got the benefits of some of the rain we had, and got in a good amount of growing before the relentless heat begins. Here is part of a patch of wildflowers that have been putting on a generous display these last several weeks. It has been great to enjoy them with the whole family too – the young gentleman is a big fan of flowers of all kinds.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Suited Up!

war_gear_smYes, I was in battle again. A persistent skunk that wants to take up residence in the crawl space. I got rid of it last week, having found one place it broke in. This involved a lot of crawling around on my belly armed with a headlamp (not pictured – this is an old picture) and curses. I’ve done this before… It left. Then yesterday I found a new place it had broken in through and the battle was rejoined. Interestingly, this time it decided to hide after some of the back and forth and I lost track of it for a good while and was about to give up and hope it will feel unsafe with all the lights I’d put on down there (and/or encourage it further to leave by deploying nuclear weapons to match the ones it comes armed with*).

In preparation for this I left open the large access hatch and sprinkled a layer […] Click to continue reading this post


Off-The-Wall-michael-jacksons-short-films-10646021-600-436Well, that was a double bill I don’t think my emotional infrastructure should be put through again any time soon. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”, about that crucial Nat Turner -led uprising, was a remarkable piece of work, made all the more powerful by the huge and engaged audience of the Eccles Theater that I saw it in. Then I had to duck out (missing the Q+A sadly) in order to get across to the Library theatre in 20 minutes to see Spike Lee’s brilliant new documentary about Michael Jackson’s transition from Motown to the spectacular “Off the Wall” album. A proper music documentary for music lovers, really digging into all the musical details, reminding me of my formative years and beyond, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Gown Uses…

Well, finally since arriving here in 2003 I’ve found a good use for the academic gown that sits on a hook on the back of my door! It is a master’s gown from Durham University. I had it while I was on the faculty there as I’d joined the excellent University College (housed in the awesome Durham Castle) so that I could have dinner at high table there from time to time (largely because of the aforementioned Castle). Since leaving there and coming here, it has sat largely undisturbed. But today, while crossing campus in a wonderful downpour, my trouser legs got rather soaked (umbrellas and trenchcoats have their limitations), and so I’m now sitting in my office trouser-less while they dry. Needless to say, my door is closed, and just in case […] Click to continue reading this post

That Serial Film Crime…

After all these years, I still have that little pain inside about what I think is one of the greatest missed opportunities (nay, crimes) in the history of film: that Guillermo del Toro did not get to direct the Hobbit due to all the delays in New Zealand over strikes (if I recall correctly), and so after two years of development he (and all his staff) packed up and moved on with their lives…. leaving Peter Jackson to take over the reins. That pain is right there next to those three jabbing pains inside that still feel a bit raw every time I get a reminder about how the films actually turned out overall. Just seeing a poster can set me off. (There are of course some nice set pieces in them here and there, but memory of them is rapidly erased by the overall wrong tone, silliness, and pandering to the need for pointless action sequences at the expense of common sense.) It’s old news now, but it still really hurts.

And it is nothing to do with the fact that […] Click to continue reading this post


Yesterday, an interesting thing happened while I was out in my neighbourhood walking my son for a good hour or more (covered, in a stroller – I was hoping he’d get some sleep), visiting various shops, running errands. Before describing it, I offer two bits of background information as (possibly relevant?) context. (1) I am black. (2) I live in a neighbourhood where there are very few people of my skin colour as residents. Ok, here’s the thing:

* * *

I’m approaching two young (mid-to-late teens?) African-American guys, sitting at a bus stop, chatting and laughing good-naturedly. As I begin to pass them, nodding a hello as I push the stroller along, one of them stops me. […] Click to continue reading this post

Thankful for UnThanks

On the strength of Becky Unthank’s guest appearance on a wonderful and heart-rending song (“So to Speak”) on Sting’s fantastic 2013 album “The Last Ship”, I decided to hear more. Wonderful… It is impossible to properly describe Becky’s voice and the (sometimes terrifying) shivers it sends down my spine when she brings out certain aspects of it that somehow constitute a vocal embodiment of a warm sea breeze: rich, complex, open, vast, with shades of gentleness and power at the same time. I can’t explain it, which frustrates me since I am usually reasonably good at that. And Rachel’s voice is wonderful too, in a different way. And then the two together produce that other fantastic indescribable vocal phenomenon – sibling harmonies! See e.g. here.

And taken altogether (and with Sting’s album), they remind me fondly of the North East of England that I got to know for a while…the people of Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and surrounding villages…Sigh*.


(*and reawaken a nostalgia for a time (of shipbuilding and the sea) that I really never knew. ) Click to continue reading this post


So here’s a funny thing. I had to renew my driver’s licence the other day, in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It was time to get a new picture and have my eyes tested. Somehow, because I’ve not found time to get to the optometrist for some time beyond when I was due, the ‘eyes tested’ part began to worm its way into my mind. What is the standard? (I could not recall from last time, it has been so long.) What if my vision is not as clear as it should be? Will they withhold the renewal? With recent events at home, this is the worst time to not have a license, etc. This all began as a low murmur in my mind but it steadily rose in amplitude as I got to the DMV, waited in the appointment line, got my waiting ticket, and sat down to meet my assigned official.

I actually love sitting in places in DMVs for while. (I know, it is weird. I also like dentist’s visits, although for different reasons, but that’s another story. You get it – I’m odd, let’s move on…) There’s something about the slice of life one gets in such places where almost everyone, regardless of walk of life, has to go at some point. There are all sorts of people, interactions, arrangements of workspaces, fascinating little stations for different functions, and signs, endless signs hanging on walls and from ceilings reminding people of things, reminding me of little village post offices in Britain. …It is all very interesting, and full of sketching opportunities. I prepared to get out my notebook and a pen. But then I noticed the set up for eye testing. There were charts up above each group of DMV office stations. They seemed very close to where the applicant would stand, so I imagined there was some arrangement with mirrors I could not yet see that would make them be visually further away. Surely.


I need not have worried, on two counts. The first is that the letters are remarkably, (almost ridiculously, it seemed to my worried mind) close. The second is hilarious to me. As you can see from the picture (click for larger view), FLEPT each line you are supposed to read is a permutation of the same five letters! F-L-E-P-T […] Click to continue reading this post

New Live Model!

Sorry I’ve been quiet here the last week. I was busy with helping complete the acquisition of a new drawing subject! Within 24 hours of said acquisition, I found a few minutes to do a quick pencil sketch of him (as it turned out) in my notebook, through my profound lack-of-sleep fog. (I did a little bit of extra chiaroscuro finish work on it later on.)


This is a whole new challenge, since: (1) his physical features are of course quite different in proportion to the usual grown-up faces I often draw, (2) when he is actually still enough to draw, I really ought to (2a) be catching up on […] Click to continue reading this post