Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Another Stack of Postcards

Here are a few of the postcards I rescued on Monday. I was thinking as I scanned these that if I saw them in a store, I would never blog them. What makes them interesting is the finding -- the serendipity involved in my almost literally stumbling across them after someone else had discarded them as rubbish. Hopefully that serendipity is interesting to you, too!

First, some "shire horses harvesting hay," at the Acton Scott Working Farm Museum in Shropshire.

This is supposedly southern England, 124 million years ago. And look -- alligators! I am home, after all! The card is from the British Museum (Natural History), now the Natural History Museum, dated 1987.

A very sunny postcard for Bridlington, a town on the Yorkshire coast. Definitely makes you want to visit, doesn't it? A veritable Riviera! Someone wins points for graphic design and marketing.

And now for something completely different, as Monty Python would say. This is the only postcard in the bunch that has been mailed -- it was sent from Larache, Morocco, in August 1993. Coincidentally, I was living in Morocco at that time, and I went to Larache almost exactly a year later, in August 1994. In my journals I called it "a dump," but I was very enthusiastic about the hotel where we stayed, which "had 3 soft beds, a hot shower, was scrupulously clean and had a great toilet deodorizer that made the water foamy and the bathroom smell like lilacs."  The hotel, I wrote, was "the best part of the trip."

Anyway, that was my adventure in Larache. What did the postcard writer have to say? Not much: "I'm having a great time in Morocco. It's very hot. I hope you got my message on the phone. Goodbye, see you soon."

Clearly he stayed in the wrong hotel. If he'd encountered my spectacular toilet deodorizer, he would have had more to write home about!

Continuing the African theme while simultaneously circling back to Britain, this is a pair of elephants from the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Although the zoo still exists, apparently it no longer has elephants -- the last one reportedly moved to another location in 1995.

Finally, this looks like a picture I might take on the Grand Union Canal -- but it's actually the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Skipton, in North Yorkshire. (With what looks like a clump of pink valerian growing in the foreground.)

I saved a few more, but I can't blog 'em all!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Early Morning Light

Here's our little holiday home at dawn, complete with Olga curled up in the pink blanket behind the computer. (She's probably been online again.)

Dave has finished his final band concert, so that gigantic seasonal hurdle is behind us. Suddenly it seems like it's almost Christmastime. We'll be finished with school this week, and we leave for Florida next Monday. I still need to do a few things for the holidays -- some minor Christmas shopping -- and I'm starting to think about packing and the practical stuff.

I got a call from Simone, who's going to dog-sit Olga while we're gone. She wants to take Olga for a walk on Saturday, to re-familiarize her with the routine. When she suggested it, I blurted out, "That sounds great -- then I won't have to do it!" Which is an obnoxious thing to say, but I have to admit it was my honest unfiltered response. Simone just laughed.

I think we're just going to let the houseplants fend for themselves. They should be fine. I'm pretty sure that's what we've done in the past in the winter.

On the way to work yesterday I passed the trash bag with the postcards and I saw, in daylight, that there were many more postcards still lying there. So I grabbed almost all the rest -- a fairly big stack. I took them to work, sorted them out, threw most of them away and dried the few I wanted to keep. (It's been a bit rainy recently.) Surprisingly, this did not freak out my co-workers. In fact, my boss asked me to save some for a guy she knows who regularly sends unusual postcards to his kids. Anyway, I'll probably have another blog post of random postcards to show you!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Goldfinches and Nasturtiums

Last year, after our teasel plants died back in the fall, Dave and I cut them down. They're big ol' plants and we just got sick of looking at those dry, brown stalks and pods. But later we heard that it's better to leave them standing because they attract birds.

I was skeptical -- we'd never seen any birds show an interest in our teasels before we cut them -- but this year we decided to leave them for longer and see what happened.

Lo and behold, on Saturday, we were visited by a flock of goldfinches. They landed on the teasels and scoped them out for a few minutes before they were scared off by a big flapping pigeon. I only had an opportunity for a couple of photos, and I never got a great shot, but in the picture above you can see four finches. (I was trying to focus on that one at upper right, in case you're wondering!)

Weirdly, they didn't stick around to sample the nyger thistle seed from the finch feeders. Maybe they'll come back. Fingers crossed.

Yesterday I spent some time working in the garden, cutting more dead stuff. We've got one tree in the back that needs to be trimmed because it's blocking the sun from our wildflower garden. I thought I might try to do it myself, but it's a pretty big job. I think we'll call the tree service.

Instead I took down our dead cosmos and our peonies and persicaria and the milk parsley, all of them dry and brown. I also cut back our passion flower vine, and I'm a little afraid that I've killed it -- Dave talked about needing to cut it back, but he really meant trimming it. I cut that sucker back to just a foot of stalk. When Dave saw it, he said, "Oh!"


On the bright side, the nasturtiums are still going gangbusters. They clearly haven't figured out that it's winter.

Dave's high school band concert was yesterday afternoon, and of course I went. I always like to see how well he's managed to wrestle astonishing music from his students! This time they played Dvorak and Grieg, among others, and did an excellent job. Afterwards we went to dinner with his co-workers at a posh place in St. John's Wood, where I had excellent roasted butternut squash and a watery, mediocre martini.

This weekend we rented "First Reformed" with Ethan Hawke. It started out well, but got a bit bizarre as it went -- in the end I'm not sure whether I liked it or not. I didn't find the ending entirely satisfactory and there's a sort of surreal sequence in the middle that I didn't love. The performances were good, though, and I liked its spare, bleak mood.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

How We Do the Holidays

Olga and I managed to take a long walk yesterday morning, remedying my shameful lack of bloggable photos.

We meandered through West Hampstead and Cricklewood, pausing at Cricklewood Millennium Green to check out the graffiti wall...

...and the sheep on nearby Cricklewood Lane, garlanded for the holidays.

Then we walked up to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields, where there were numerous football games or practices or something going on. We walked to the far side of the playing fields and back, passing several groups of crows... of whom was very taken with this beer can. (Shiny, I guess.)

Back at Fortune Green we paused by the community Christmas tree, which is apparently a new thing this year. There was an article in the paper about the lights being sabotaged (scandalous, and also, why?!) but they seem to be in good working order now.

Olga was annoyed at my picture-taking and barking her frustration.

Finally, while Dave went off to help out with the fifth school music concert of the season (and still two more to go!), I did some minimalist holiday decorating. I strung lights on the avocado, like we did last year, and I hung ornaments from our aloe on a nearby windowsill. That's as good as it's going to get, I'm afraid.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Stack of Postcards

Yesterday I was walking home from work, in the rain, when I came upon a torn-open trash bag of clothes and shoes on the sidewalk. My arms were full of groceries, so I didn't attempt to save the clothing (as I have done in the past). But I did grab a stack of somewhat soggy discarded postcards.

This find came at a fortuitous moment, because I've been so busy recently -- and the daylight has been so short -- that I've pretty much run out of pictures of my own to blog. I needed something to post today. Et voila!

I brought the postcards home and sorted through them. Most were junk but these few seemed worth saving.

First, a lovely nuclear-family vacation on Amroth Beach, in southwest Wales. (None of these cards have been mailed, and none are dated, by the way.)

This is Brimham Rocks, near Ripley in Yorkshire: "A scarp 'edge' of Millstone Grit sandstones, eroded and fretted by the elements into rocky crags of castellated appearance. Differential weathering of the sandstones has accentuated original bedding and current-bedding directions."

(The card was published for the Geological Museum in London. Those geologists take the fun out of everything!)

This is Staithes, in North Yorkshire, around 1875. "A North Yorkshire coastal village steeped in history and legend. The Cod and Lobster Inn around which figures are grouped in the distance has been washed into the sea on four occasions, the last time being in 1953."

I think the Cod and Lobster Inn is that little white building out on the point to the right. I can see how it would be vulnerable! Wonder if the owners can get insurance?

This is the town of Tenby, also in southwest Wales. For some reason, lots of the cards depicted Tenby and its environs. Maybe whoever threw them out was from there, and kept a stack of postcards to remind them of home during their long dreary workdays in London. And now they're moving back to Tenby and they don't need the postcards anymore. Let's go with that!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I finally finished "Partners Three" the other day. A middling book, I'd say, but mildly entertaining. Most interesting to me was the author's language -- given that it was published in 1928, you can imagine that it was full of lingo we wouldn't dare use these days. There were repeated references to the relative weakness of the female character, for example, and a curious and blatantly racist nickname (which I won't repeat) for tussocks of tundra grass.

I didn't see any of George H. W. Bush's funeral this week. His death made me recall how I felt about him while he was president. In retrospect, he seems capable and dignified, and I suppose he was, compared to what we have now.

But back then, I was not a fan. I had plenty of issues with Ronald Reagan, his social conservatism and trickle-down economics and scare-mongering about "welfare queens" and, above all, his appalling refusal to address the AIDS crisis. I saw Bush -- not wrongly -- as an extension of Reagan. I campaigned for Michael Dukakis when I was in college, in 1988, and was bitterly disappointed when Bush won on the back of Willie Horton. Later, I was opposed to Operation Desert Storm -- the first U.S. incursion into Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- so that didn't endear him to me, either.

When I was a 25-year-old reporter I covered one of Bush's presidential re-election campaign appearances. My journal entry from March 4, 1992:

Today was interesting -- I got to meet George Bush! Well, I didn't really meet him, but he came to the Strawberry Festival in Plant City and I covered it, and I was only standing about 4 feet from him or so. I could have shaken his hand, but I didn't want to since I think his politics are completely reprehensible. Still, it was kind of neat to see him. I got an OK story out of it, though it was all crowd reaction. The prez himself didn't really do anything except smile and shake hands.

I no longer seem to have a clip of the story, so apparently I didn't like it enough to save it. I'm sure I was professionally objective, but it's telling that I saved silly clips about, for example, a baby named after a gas station (true story) but not my one encounter with a sitting president.

A friend who wants to remain nameless took this picture in the early '90s. While Bush was announcing Desert Storm, my friend wrote on the TV screen over Bush's forehead and photographed the result. It may seem kind of mean now that Bush is dead, but I've always loved this picture and I'd say it concisely captured our feelings at the time about the Reagan/Bush era.

(Top photo: Hampstead Heath, last weekend.)

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Late last week we finally got around to putting up some holiday decorations in the library. We put up a tree, and wrapped Mr. Mellon, our library's namesake, in a scarf and put some silly antlers on his head.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, a group of kids were clowning around near the statue. I looked over at them from my desk, at one point, and noted that a girl was wearing Mr. Mellon's antlers. But I didn't say anything. I let them have their fun.

A few hours later, when I was locking up the library at 5 p.m., I noticed the antlers were gone.

Now, this may seem like a minor matter, and I suppose in comparison to Brexit or Trump or climate change or any of our other global disasters, it was. But I vowed that this desecration of our holiday shrine would not stand. I sent out a firmly worded e-mail to the students involved, making plain that I expected the antlers returned or else.

Yesterday morning, when I got to work, the antlers were resting beside Mr. Mellon with the following note:

So all's well that ends well. I shall speak no more of it.

Putting Antlergate aside, we had a busy day in the library yesterday. Some carpenters arrived in the late morning to dismantle our DVD cabinet, with extraordinarily bad timing, given that we were hosting several classes doing research. Everyone coped, but the kids sent eye-rolling glances toward the workers whenever they fired up a drill or even -- once -- an electric saw.

Here's our library Christmas tree:

It's a bit Charlie Brown-ish, leaning to one side, but we like it. We had the middle school kids produce star-shaped decorations bearing recommendations of their favorite books.

Kind of a cool idea, I thought! (I cannot claim credit.) We then put the recommended books on a shelf beside the tree and around its base. Some of the kids recommended typical middle school stuff, like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," while some went for more sophisticated fare -- Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" and Yuval Noah Harari's "Sapiens," for example. Some serious readers, here! Or at least aspirational ones.