Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Panther

Good news! Dave and I both passed our "Life in the U.K." tests. The proctors didn't tell us how many questions we missed, or which ones -- it's permissible to miss a few -- but I know I got at least one wrong. It had to do with whether smoking in the wrong place is a criminal or civil offense. (Actual answer: Criminal!) If I'd thought about it a little more I would have realized that the police are involved, which would have been a clue.

Anyway, having that behind us is a relief. We went out to lunch for a little celebration, and we had passport photos taken for our application for UK residency. Now we have to finish gathering some additional paperwork, and then we can schedule a meeting with the immigration authorities. That will happen later this summer, hopefully.

Remember how I called our local council to get a tax statement mailed that would prove our residency? Well, they e-mailed it to me instead, which defeated the purpose entirely. (It has to come via snail mail to prove we live at the street address we claim, which I explained to them, but oh well.) I'm also still wrestling with our bank to collect official bank statements, which I need on paper and apparently am not permitted to print and submit myself. They need to come in the mail, too. Sigh.

So, bureaucracy aside, let's talk about the Panther.

This (above) is the Panther. It's an ancient manual lawn mower, the kind with a cylindrical rotary blade, propped against the shed in our back garden. It belongs to our landlord, I assume, and who knows how long it's been back there. We've never tried to move it, much less use it, so it's pretty much just garden decor.

It's kind of cool, and the other day I got to wondering how old it is. Turns out there's a whole page devoted to the Panther at a web site called The Old Lawnmower Club. (I am not making this up.) I concluded that our model was made in the 1950s or '60s, but that's kind of a guesstimate -- I don't know enough about mower technology to evaluate ours relative to the descriptions from the club.

(Side note: There is also a British Lawn Mower Museum in Merseyside. Who knew? Fortunately, that question was not on the "Life in the U.K." test.)

We also have a large, mysterious metal drum-like device lying near the lawn mower. Dave says it's an attachment meant to flatten the lawn and roll out any lumps and bumps. I have no alternate explanation, so I'm assuming he's correct! We haven't moved this object either. This and the Panther are simply giving our garden some antique charm.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Piano, and Hawkweed

Dave and I finally, finally got around to renting "La La Land" last night. I really enjoyed it -- a colorful, fun homage to old Hollywood, and yet without the traditionally sappy Hollywood ending. It was well-made and entertaining. It was not, however, a Best Picture, no matter what Faye Dunaway says. The Academy made the right call by giving that award to "Moonlight," a much more substantial film.

Anyway, "La La Land" reminded me that I had this photo of a discarded piano -- or part of a piano, anyway -- to use on the ol' blog. I found it while walking Olga the other day. I'm surprised someone hasn't harvested all that metal from the interior. Aren't those wires copper?

In the garden, the fox & cubs -- a.k.a. hawkweed -- is blooming once again. I always enjoy these flowers, and this year we have more of them than ever before. Woo hoo!

Today Dave and I are off to take our "Life in the U.K." tests. My head is full of information about the Beveridge Report and the Butler Act and Queen Boudicca of the Iceni and the Cavaliers and Roundheads. I studied all day yesterday and Dave ran practice tests with an app that he purchased. Fingers crossed!

It was much cooler yesterday -- a high of about 72ºF. Now that's more like it!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walnut Husks and The Sneezer

The squirrels are going through their annual obsession with the walnut tree in our back garden. They scamper around in this tree all day, gnawing open the walnuts and dropping the green husks to the ground, and they would drive me crazy if I were one of those people who insist on a neat lawn. I do go out and pick up the larger pieces of shrapnel now and then, but for the most part, I ignore the situation.

Our heat wave continued yesterday. At 3 p.m. the temperature was 90º F. There were additional warnings about air pollution being carried up from France by southerly winds -- in which case it must have been la pollution, according to Google Translate. I didn't notice things being any more polluted than usual, and I even walked to Homebase in the morning along Finchley Road, which -- busy as it is -- has got to be an epicenter for air pollution in North London.

I went to buy compost, because we had lots of plants that needed repotting. While I was there I picked up these amazing petunias -- they're called "Night Sky." Aren't they great?

Let me tell you -- walking home with a box of petunias and a 50-liter bag of compost, along with a few other odds and ends, was definitely a challenge.

I spent some time in the garden in the afternoon, despite the heat. Almost everything is now in its new pot, including an overwatered aloe that I found in someone's trash a few days ago. It may or may not survive.

This is such a funny time of year because everyone's windows are open and we all learn a lot more about each other. There's a guy who lives in one of the apartments behind us who has the most explosive sneeze I've ever heard. Naturally, we call him "The Sneezer." He's like the neighborhood foghorn or factory whistle -- the background sound we all subconsciously know and acknowledge.

Today it's supposed to be cooler, thank God. And it's also Dave's birthday!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

NSFW...But It IS Art

Right at the outset I must tell you that there's a rather shocking picture below. If you are a person of Victorian sensibilities you may not want to proceed further.

I went to the British Museum yesterday. Does the forecourt (above) look blazing hot? That's because it was! I'm impressed anyone was sitting out at the cafe, but around lunchtime it was actually quite busy. This photo was taken a few hours later, when things had slowed down.

I went to the museum partly to be in a cooler environment than our house, and partly to see a show of LGBTQ artifacts -- or more accurately, artifacts of interest to the LGBTQ community. They included political buttons from the '70s and '80s, an engraved print of a transsexual French nobleman from the 1700's, and antique coins and pottery shards depicting same-sex relationships.

And then there was this, from the Roman empire:

Those crazy Romans!

Some of these items were once considered so scandalous that they were housed within a separate "Secret Museum" section of the British Museum, no doubt away from the delicate eyes of women and children.

Anyway, it was an interesting exhibit, but incredibly tiny -- a shoebox-sized room that, ironically, was woefully under-air-conditioned. (Or perhaps not air-conditioned at all.) I enjoyed the museum gift shop more, where I found some non-scandalous birthday gifts for my nieces, which is a huge relief.

Speaking of LGBTQ, have you heard about Drag Queen Story Hour? I think this is possibly the best idea I've ever heard -- bringing drag queens in to read to small children. Kids love costumes and glitter and imagination, after all, and drag queens (at least the ones I've met) love to perform. Everybody wins!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bad Hold Music and THB

I spent virtually all day at home yesterday. But I did get a lot done -- I caught up on all our laundry and I finished a book I've been reading. I studied for our "Life in the U.K." test and collected some documentation we'll need to prove our residency when we take it on Friday.

At one point I called the local council to have them mail me a tax statement. They put me on hold, and I waited, and waited, and waited. I was listening to tinny, synthesizer-heavy hold music that sounded like something from Miami Vice, repeating over and over. I never even got to hear the whole tune -- it would play for 30 seconds or so, abruptly cut off, and start again at the beginning. It was so bad I began laughing, perplexing Dave. Finally someone answered the phone, but then her computer wasn't working, so she put me back on hold and I waited some more. It took me about half an hour to get that statement mailed. (Hopefully it will arrive in time, but I have a backup plan!)

The hot, dry weather continues. I made a salad for lunch yesterday from stuff left in our fridge after our dinner party, and it hit the spot. I may do the same today. Things are supposed to cool off on Thursday, when rain is expected.

Remember my West African beer labels? Well, here's one from Madagascar, from 1999. (I worked more yesterday on my journal transcribing project, as you can see.) Apparently it's known locally, or maybe just among expats, as "THB," and I called it mauvaise but I also seemed to drink it fairly often while I was there -- so it couldn't have been that bad. I got a kick out of reading about my experiences on that crazy trip. I went because one of my oldest friends was working there temporarily, and I stayed with him while exploring the island. It's a long story, involving lemurs and sea urchins and poverty and land crabs and torrential rain!

(Top photo: West Hampstead, yesterday morning.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Caterpillars and a Collation

Good Lord, it is hot. At least for England. It was about 90ºF yesterday, and while that's slightly better than what I'll face in Florida in a few weeks, it's a challenge here in the land of no air-conditioning.

Dave and I visited our friends Sally and Mike in South London for a cold "collation," which, I learned, means "a light, informal meal." We popped into M&S for some beer on the way, and the store was deliciously air-conditioned.

"Let's just stay in here all day," I said to Dave.

But no, we did not. We got on the tube and went to their place near Greenwich, and sat out in the shade of their garden talking about the crazy state of politics, and pop culture and gardening and our summer plans. Sally recommended a TV show called "The Detectorists," a dry British comedy about guys with metal detectors trying to strike it rich. We haven't tried it yet, but it sounds promising.

Dave and I didn't even eat dinner last night, we were so inert and overheated. We just had strawberries and cream left over from Dave's dinner-party pavlova, and then we went to bed.

Today is supposed to be a scorcher, too, although right now, at 6:30 a.m., it's very pleasant.

This is the caterpillar of the Solomon's seal sawfly. Who knew that such a specific predator existed? We've been noticing for a while that the leaves on our Solomon's seal were looking tattered, and then the other day I noticed that entire stalks had been stripped bare. I took a closer look and saw these guys, munching away.

At first I thought they might turn into butterflies or something desirable, but no -- they turn into black, aesthetically nondescript flies. They drop off the plant and pupate in the soil before hatching and laying eggs in the tender stems of next spring's regrowth. Thus, the cycle continues, and the plant gets weaker and weaker.

I debated what to do, but eventually I grabbed a paper towel and killed them all. I still feel guilty about it. But as much as I am into letting nature take its course, I don't want to lose our Solomon's seal. You have to draw the line somewhere, right?

(Top photo: Chalk drawings on the sidewalk down the hill from our flat.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Childs Hill, a Dinner Party and a Calamity

My dog is so weird. (Exhibit A: Photo above.)

Yesterday morning she and I walked to Childs Hill Park, an area north of where we live. We don't go up that way very often, but Olga seemed very certain about where she was going, pulling me this way and that. I don't think she had any idea, but she pretended she did.

I feel like there's a little Zen parable in there somewhere -- the value of not-knowing, rather than pretending to know. But honestly, it wasn't Olga's not-knowing or pretending to know that led us to the park. It was my iPhone.

In the background of the photo above you can see a couple of council tower blocks covered with cladding. I couldn't look at them without thinking of Grenfell Tower. I suppose councils all over the country, and probably the world, are re-evaluating the cladding on their buildings as we speak. At least, I hope so.

Last night, Dave and I had four friends over for dinner. I'm posting a bit late today because I just spent a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen and dining room. When Dave makes a five-course meal for six people, you wouldn't believe the number of dishes generated. We're on our third dishwasher-load now, and I did the rest by hand. But the meal -- an amuse bouche made with caviar, followed by cold white gazpacho, lobster newburg, chicken jardinière and a pavlova for dessert -- was quite amazing. Did I marry well or what?

My moment of mortification came when one of our dining room chairs collapsed beneath one of our guests, who is very big and tall but not overweight and certainly not accustomed to furniture failure. I believe my first response may have been "Did the chair break?" I honestly didn't mean that as an indication that I wasn't concerned for him, but I guess I took it for granted that he was fine. We have carpeting. Still, probably not the most caring thing to say!

So now one of my summer projects will be chair repair. Fortunately, the chair seems OK -- the joints simply became unglued, and I know exactly why this happened. We took the chair into the backyard at the beginning of the evening, and it sat on uneven ground, which, beneath our tall guest, led to uneven weight distribution and strain. Lesson learned: Keep dining room chairs indoors.

Still, it was wonderful to sit outside yesterday evening before dinner, with some prosecco and our caviar nibblies (apparently some caviar, like ours, is quite inexpensive). We also had thinly sliced, smoked ham and chorizo which one of our guests, who lives in Madrid, brought from Spain. Another guest brought several bottles of good French wine. The weather was beautifully warm and sunny, and everyone was out -- our upstairs neighbors, the Russians, had guests over and they were all sitting out on their terrace, and our neighbors a few doors down were playing volleyball in their garden and speaking some unidentifiable (to me) language. Piano music wafted from the windows of the apartments behind us. Magical London, a global crossroads!