Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flying Things

Well, my colonoscopy is over, thank goodness. Aren't you impressed with how quiet I was about the 48-hour prep period? I figured you didn't need to hear about that. You're welcome.

Anyway, the coast is clear -- no polyps, nothing scary. Apparently the digestive issues that nearly sent me home early from Florida really were gastritis. I've finished my course of Nexium so hopefully it won't come back, but if it does, I can always buy more meds.

Just to show you that we do get actual birds at our peanut feeder (and not just mice), here's a photo taken a few days ago. The top bird is a blue tit -- we see lots and lots of those. The bottom bird was a mystery to me, but I looked it up and I believe it's a dunnock, which I don't remember ever seeing before.

Yesterday we had a whole group of long-tailed tits on our suet feeder. I also saw a juvenile goldfinch and several other more common birds. It seems like everything eats these suet balls -- squirrels, magpies, starlings. In fact there are three starlings on the feeder as I write.

(Top photo: A housefly on Totoro, in our garden. For some reason the flies like to hang out on his face.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Tree Mallow, and Trump

This amazing bush, a tree mallow, is located around the corner from our flat. It's less amazing now, though. I took these pictures in late June, when it was spilling over the garden wall in floral abundance.

Since then, someone decided the mallow had to be pruned back to the wall, and most of the front of the bush was chopped off. Argh! Was it an inept gardener or maybe someone from the council, trying to clear the sidewalk? Who knows.

I'm going to remember it as it was.

There's an article in the July 11 & 18 issue of The New Yorker about fans of Donald Trump, and I found it fascinating. I know very few people who are likely Trump voters, and I'm always curious to know what's going on in their heads. I genuinely cannot conceive of a reason that anyone would support Trump. The article explores that, as well as the political conditions that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

There are lots of terrific snippets in the piece, by George Saunders, but I especially liked this one, given my background in newspaper journalism:
"Where is all this anger coming from? It's viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems...In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a "dove" and a "hawk," say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional."
In RightLand, he points out, Vince Foster really was murdered, children are brainwashed by left-leaning universities and Obama really is a Muslim (and maybe not even an American!). To me, those are all laughable assertions, repeatedly disproven. In RightLand, they're facts.

How does a Democracy function when so many people willingly believe outright falsehood?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sultry Day, with Drummers

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday. The sun was out and the weather was balmy. As I sat on a bench she lolled nearby in the tall grass, wearing a huge panting smile for all to see.

"That dog is loving life," said a man who walked by and took her photo with his iPhone.

He's right!

During our walk I found lots of ragwort, which I know to look for now that we have a very tall example in our own garden. Remember how I mentioned it is the favorite food of the cinnabar moth caterpillar? Well, our ragwort is still caterpillar-free -- but I found some caterpillars on ragwort on the Heath. A new generation of moths is on its way!

The cinnabar moth is beautiful, by the way. Hopefully one of these days I'll see an adult.

As we walked, I heard drumming. It sounded like a drum circle, so I decided to follow the sound, just out of curiosity. I expected to find a big group of colorfully garbed hippies. Well, we walked and walked, practically all the way across the Heath, before I located the source -- these guys! I can't believe just two people were producing so much rhythm!

When I got up this morning, I once again found our venus flytrap ravaged on the lawn. I put it back in its pot, but I'm not sure how much that poor plant can take. I moved it inside.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


More nocturnal garden shenanigans! Remember our poor, beleaguered venus flytrap plant? It's been hanging on, sitting in our garden in its plastic pot, shaded by some larger plants. Well, yesterday morning we awoke to find it dragged across the yard and pulled from its pot. I'm thinking it would require an incredibly athletic squirrel to do that, so once again, I suspect the fox -- although why the fox was interested in the venus flytrap I have no idea. We put the plant back in the pot. It may survive.

Our hanging basket on the patio was also excavated and dirt flung everywhere. That had to have been the work of a squirrel.


Speaking of which, for weeks now, Dave and I have been marveling at how quickly the peanuts in one of the bird feeders have been disappearing. We see tits eating them all the time, but tits are tiny little birds, and we were impressed they could consume so much.

Then, the evening before last, as darkness was falling, we saw the true culprit:

Aha! That explains everything. We've since seen at least three of these little mice eating the nuts. (The photo is a bit blurry because it was so dark and I had to manually focus.)

Dave and I went to see the new "Star Trek Beyond" movie yesterday afternoon. We stopped in to a cafe in Swiss Cottage before the film -- that's Dave in the top photo, sitting out front -- and then caught a 3-D IMAX show. We both loved it. I wouldn't say it's very cerebral but it sure was fun, and the effects are amazing!

And finally, it's blackberry season again! These are the first berries harvested from our backyard vines. I cut them back quite severely in February and thought we might have fewer berries this year, but as it turns out, the blackberries always win. We have just as many as before.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Yesterday morning I got up and went out into the garden, and was confronted by a pungent, unpleasant smell. Really pungent. Like the cargo hold of a fully loaded shrimp boat that's been locked up at port for a week with no refrigeration.

I found a bag of garbage that had been torn open and its contents spread across our grass. I can only surmise that Mr. Fox retrieved it from some local trash can and brought it to us. How thoughtful of him! I wasn't wrong about the smell, either -- rotten eggs and last week's scallops. Lord. I picked it all up and hosed down the grass, but the smell lingered until midday.

The rug cleaning people did come to collect the rug on Wednesday. Now that it's gone, I'm kind of wondering why we have a rug at all. It's pretty nice in the living room with just a bare floor, and it would certainly be easier to keep clean!

Also, ever since we moved in two years ago, Dave and I have been hating the living room drapes. Saggy, dusty and colorless, they served no purpose since we never closed them -- our garden is pretty private, and even if someone were to look in, all they'd see is us reading or watching television. So we took them down entirely -- even the curtain rods, where possible. Again, the room looks much better! So much light!

We're apparently doing the minimalist thing, at least during the warmer months of summer. Maybe when winter returns the rug will feel better on our feet.

We've planned our trip to Copenhagen a week from tomorrow -- bought our tickets and our hotel room. We'll only be gone three nights, but long enough to stroll the Tivoli Gardens and enjoy a Danish beer or two. This will be our one fun trip of the summer, so I'm looking forward to it!

Also, I solved my colonoscopy problem. I found a hospital where I can have one done privately, and although it's expensive, it's not insanely so. I'm going for it. Monday is the day. Dave and I met with the gastroenterologist yesterday for our initial consultation and he agreed that my family history warrants the colonoscopy. He seemed surprised that my NHS doctors wouldn't recommend one -- he said he was willing to write them a letter and suggest it, but it would probably take several months. I told him I was tired of waiting and I'd rather just pay and get it over with.

And finally, Dave and I celebrated our sixth anniversary yesterday. Although we married last December -- as you may remember -- when the law finally allowed it, we were first civil-unioned in New Jersey in July 2010. So we count that as our real anniversary. In addition to the gastroenterologist (how romantic!) we went to a local Vietnamese restaurant that we've always wanted to try. There was some unexpected excitement when a tragedy occurred at the train station next door -- suddenly lots of people were running and looking down on the tracks with expressions of horror. Dave and I caught a glimpse but we didn't want to see too much. It was an alarming yet useful reminder that life can be cut short at any moment. Any day could be our last!

(Photo: Hollyhocks in Lisson Grove, on Monday.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Armchair Traveler

As I've written before, every once in a while I get curious about a remote corner of the world, and I do some exploring on Google Street View. I just run up and down a few streets on my computer to see what the place looks like. Occasionally I get lucky and turn up pretty interesting images. Here are some of my recent favorites, all courtesy of Google.

Above is Archangelsk, Russia, on the White Sea north of Moscow.

Camden, New Jersey

Santa Barbara in the Azores, a tiny island group in the Atlantic

Vientiane, Laos

Sofia, Bulgaria

Perth, Western Australia

Lagos, Nigeria -- Ghostly figures sometimes appear when someone walks through the frame during the making of a 350-degree panoramic photo.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Henderson Island, an uninhabited speck in the Pacific (but not devoid of plastic!)

And finally, Vina del Mar, Chile

It just goes to show that great photo opportunities are all around us all the time -- even a completely unskilled robot camera gets a good capture now and then!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hot and Sunny

We are having quite a little heat wave. Yesterday's skies were sunny and temperatures reached 91ยบ F, which is pretty impressive for London. I seized the moment and took our blankets to the laundromat, then brought them home and hung them outside to dry -- which they did in no time.

(Still, it's not Florida. It's not THAT hot.)

I also bathed the dog, and I arranged to have our living room rug cleaned. We bought it in January 2012, soon after moving here, and although it's a dark plum color and dirt isn't easily visible, I know it's there. It's starting to smell a bit earthy. So the cleaners are going to pick it up today and, for £55, clean and return it to us in a week.

Did I mention that I've put together a new photo book? It contains the best of my pictures from 2013 (the date of my last London book) to 2015, and it's my biggest book yet. (Those were busy years, with all that Bleeding London photography!) I made an inexpensive e-book version, too. Check it out here and here, if you're interested. You can preview it by clicking on the covers. I'm happy with the way it turned out and I plan to order a copy for our school library, where the kids seem to have enjoyed my two previous London books.

Also, remember how I rescued those slides from my neighbor's trash? Well, I came across a similar story in The New York Times the other day -- by a woman who found a bag of slides on the sidewalk, and investigated whose they were and how they came to be there. It's an interesting video clip! You can check it out here.

(Photo: Notting Hill, on Monday.)