Tuesday, April 13, 2021


I found this piece of Ben Wilson's chewing gum art in Hampstead over the weekend. I can't quite figure out what's going on there -- it looks like a woman attacking someone with a vacuum cleaner?! Surely that can't be right.

It was supposed to freeze on Sunday evening, and I went out just before bed and covered the banana tree. (Over Dave's protestations -- "It'll be fine," he insisted.) And sure enough, when I woke up Monday morning, there was no frost and the bird bath was entirely liquid. (We did have snow flurries, though.) Last night, with more freezing temperatures predicted, I didn't bother with the banana -- and this morning there's ice on the birdbath and frost on the lawn, and my phone says it's 30º F (-1º C).

I just can't win.

I think Dave's right, though -- the banana will be fine. It looks like it's been through a World War, but I imagine when spring really does finally get here it will recover.

You may have read that our lockdown began easing yesterday. The government allowed non-essential retail and some services, like hairdressers, to reopen, as well as restaurants and pubs with outdoor seating. Dave, who has been grumbling about his long hair for months, had an appointment with his barber right after school and came home well-shorn and much happier. It's been interesting to watch everyone walk around with early-'70s hair, but I guess we will all tonsorially modernize now.

I was surprised to read yesterday that we in the UK have "lived under the most strenuous level of government restrictions for the longest period of time in the world," according to The New York Times. I mean, I know our three lockdowns have cumulatively lasted for what seems like forever, but I didn't realize we were so different from what other countries were doing. And yet we still had relatively high death rates, at least until vaccinations came along. Go figure.

I don't even remember what it's like to walk into a department store or go to a pub. Part of me wonders why I would ever do that, when I could just come home and order from Amazon and have a glass of wine on the couch. It's all part of re-acclimating to social situations, I suppose.

Dave and I just finished Season Six of "The Walking Dead." We've taken to watching several of our shows with the closed captioning on, because the dialogue can be hard to hear -- and this cracks me up because my dad and stepmother used to do the same thing and I always wondered why. Now I get it! Anyway, in "The Walking Dead," whenever a character stabs a zombie in the head (which is how you have to kill zombies, just FYI), the closed captioning reads, "flesh squelching." It intrigues me from a linguistic point of view. I associate "squelch" with radio transmissions -- a setting on receivers that allows us to adjust reception. But apparently it also means "a soft sucking sound made when pressure is applied to liquid or mud."

So there you go -- the word of the day. Let's all try to use it in a sentence while we're out and about. 😀

Monday, April 12, 2021

Post Box and Telephone Box

I am excited to be able to finally post a picture of this mysterious orchid, which has not bloomed in the several years we've owned it -- until now. It's a plant I rescued from someone's trash on the street, and I knew the flowers would be white because it had a wilted flower stalk attached at the time. I brought it home and repotted it, and we kept it in the living room, but it refused to bloom.

Finally, last year, I moved it to the dining room, which seems to have optimal conditions for orchids, because all the other ones bloom like crazy in there. And that did the trick.

Here's the whole lineup, with all seven of them in flower. This truly is the magic orchid windowsill. I think they like it because it's east-facing and gets morning sun, but it's also partly shaded by shrubbery and it never gets too hot.

We have four more orchids in the living room, and none of them are blooming. I really need to just make space in the dining room for all of them, but then I don't know what I'd do with all the rest of the junk treasures on that windowsill.

Speaking of treasures, here are my finds of the day for yesterday -- two coin banks, set out for the taking on a wall along Finchley Road. Don't you love those?! They're made of wood. I'm thinking I might give them to my nieces. 

I found them while walking Olga, who was eager for an outing in the morning. But later in the day, when we went to the cemetery, she plodded along like she was dying. Moody, that girl.


I also finished Doctor Dolittle yesterday. Although it's a hefty book, it reads quickly and it's pretty entertaining. Definitely one of the better Newbery medalists from the 1920s, a decade of otherwise mediocre winners. I could see modern kids reading this book -- in fact, I have seen them check it out -- while I can't imagine any of them picking up "The Dark Frigate" or "Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon."

Back to work today. Spring Break has officially ended.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Whitbread and Cuckoo Flower

Olga and I went walking on the Heath yesterday, and we managed to make pretty much the full circuit. Now that she's back on her anti-inflammatory meds she seems a little more energetic. We had a good walk involving some tennis-ball throwing and photography.


We found this patch of delicate little wildflowers blooming near a damp creek bed. It's cuckoo flower or lady's smock, which I don't remember ever seeing before but I probably just didn't stop to notice it.

In some woods I found the lower part of this bottle protruding from the ground. I thought it was whole, and got a bit excited, but it turned out to be only a broken portion of a bottle, as you can see. Still, I managed to identify it -- it's a Whitbread & Co. beer bottle, age unknown but probably Victorian. Here's what it looks like intact.

Otherwise, yesterday was full of small household tasks. I changed the sheets and dropped them off at the laundromat. (Yes, we have a washer, but it doesn't handle king-size bedsheets very well so I always have them washed for me. I usually throw our towels in too. A wonderful luxury!)

All the geraniums are back inside and the cannas are in the shed. Freezing temperatures are predicted for tonight. (Sigh)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Snail and Tortoise

This gate or garage door or whatever faces out toward Finchley Road and was recently repainted. It used to look like this.

I had astonishingly bad timing in choosing yesterday to make silly references to the Queen. Of course I had no idea about Prince Philip when I published that post, but oh well. I can't say I feel any sadness about his death -- he was, after all, 99 years old and led a longer and more interesting life than most of us could hope for. It was kind of refreshing to have someone so ornery and occasionally unpredictable in the monarchy, I'll give him that. I wish he'd made it to 100. It seems a shame to get to 99 and not cross the century line.

Some of the TV channels were "all Prince Philip all the time" yesterday and you could tell they'd been preparing for this event for years. As I told Dave, all those news directors and editors are probably relieved they can finally run those stories they've had stacked up and waiting. (I'm thinking like a journalist here.)

I stayed home yesterday and read my newest book, "The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle," which won the second Newbery Medal back in 1923. I've never read it -- in fact I never saw the movies either, though I know some of the songs from the '60s film because a friend had the record when I was a kid. I was horrified to realize the book is 440 pages long! It goes pretty quickly, but it needs an editor.

Later, I had to go to the Royal Free Hospital for a routine blood test. When I made the appointment online yesterday morning, I was given several options for Friday afternoon, so I grabbed the earliest one at 5:10 p.m. Only after arriving at the hospital did I realize my appointment was actually for Friday, April 23! Bloody hell! Fortunately they squeezed me in.

On the way home, I was stopped on a street in Hampstead by a somewhat shabbily dressed older man wearing a single brown work glove, a la Michael Jackson. "In that garden across the road," he said, pointing, "a pack of snails attacked a tortoise!" I laughed, thinking what the hell is up with this guy, and started to walk away, but he stopped me and proceeded to tell a joke that seemed to last for five hours. I only understood about a third of it, but the punchline was that the tortoise was suffering from shellshock. I laughed again (and escaped successfully), but I must admit I smiled all the way home at the sheer weirdness of the encounter. Maybe he saw me carrying "Doctor Dolittle" and assumed I'd appreciate an animal story.

And as I sat here writing this post, a fox came right up to the back door, sniffed the doorframe and looked inside! "If I could talk to the animals..."

Friday, April 9, 2021

Sunbathing Queen

I slept in a bit this morning, and once again had vivid dreams in that time just before waking. I was working somewhere -- a hospital? -- and I'd forgotten to check the schedule to see whether or not I was supposed to work that day. So I had to race in to do that, and instead I somehow wound up having a picnic lunch with some woman in the courtyard of what looked like a big housing estate, with an acoustic guitarist playing nearby. The woman wasn't anyone I know in real life -- she was Middle Eastern or South Asian, and she wore an elaborate turquoise turban with beads that went under her chin. My exotic dream life! I never did figure out if I was supposed to be at work.

One of my commenters asked if we were going to get tickets to see the gardens at Buckingham Palace, now that the Queen is opening them for the summer. I did bookmark the web site when I first read about the plan, but I haven't tried to get tickets and I understand the online queues are huge. The more difficult it is to get tickets to anything, the less I want to go. I am just not into the competition.

Will the Queen will be there, sunbathing on her chaise and slathered in cocoa butter? Holding one of those foil reflectors up to her face? Wearing Jackie O sunglasses and a plastic nose guard? I guess not. Even in summer, it's still London, after all, not Miami Beach.

Besides, we have plenty to do in our own garden. Yesterday I mowed the lawn again, and Dave continued pruning the hydrangeas. He's been making a slow circuit, doing one or two bushes per day, and I think they're all finally done. When it finally warms up I have more wildflower seeds to get in the ground, and we need to remove a few plants that appear to have died (the fox-bait hydrangea and possibly the sea kale) and put some others in the ground in their place.

The once-viney tree is again putting out new leaves. THANK GOD it isn't dead! It lost its leaves so early last fall -- in September, I think -- that I was worried about it. Mostly, I didn't want the neighbors blaming me for its demise! The new growth is quite late this year -- last year it put out new leaves in mid-March. Maybe that's why it lost them early. (I also suspect it might have a fungus called apple scab, which affects crabapples and can cause premature leaf drop. That smothering vine probably provided an environment conducive to fungal growth. Now that the vine is gone it should get better. In any case, apple scab wouldn't kill the tree.)

Once again we got fortune cookies in our Chinese takeaway, and once again Dave didn't want his, so I ate them both with yesterday's afternoon coffee. A fortune cookie is not my favorite thing food-wise, but I never like to throw them out, and now I'm very curious about what will happen next Tuesday!

(Top photo: A sign in a window near Fortune Green.)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Laughing Gas

Well, the good news is, it looks like all the plants coped just fine with the frost. The geraniums are still inside -- I'll put them out today, at least until the weekend when it's supposed to get cold again -- but everything else pulled through. Even the azalea flowers.

This little primrose (above) is on the verge of blooming, and I'm sure it won't be slowed down by frost. Primroses don't mind the cold.

The forget-me-nots were unfazed, too.

At first, the teasels looked a little battered and bruised (above), but as the day wore on they perked right back up. Of course, they're notoriously tough plants -- basically weeds. As my mother would say, "You can't kill 'em with a stick."

I accomplished basically nothing yesterday -- some minor housecleaning, some laundry. I went through my clothes, our books and our odds-and-ends and collected a pile of stuff that I plan to donate to charity when the shops reopen next week. I watched the movie "Magnolia," which is a perennial favorite of mine.

Olga, on the other hand, had a banner day. I let her out into the garden in the morning and the next thing I knew, she was wolfing down what looked like a frozen meat pie or burrito. I have no idea why it was lying in our garden -- probably the foxes pulled it out of someone's trash -- but she was thrilled and it was gone before I could stop her. There have been no ill effects.

Later, I took her for a walk and, on the next street over, found a pile of debris where some kids apparently sat on a curb doing whip-its (inhaling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas). There were ten open boxes of cream chargers, each containing 24 pellets, scattered all over the road. I picked them all up, put them in a plastic bag and carried them to the corner trash bin, and of course just as I arrived, the trash guys were there to empty the bin! Just my luck! These bins are routinely neglected, filled beyond overflowing, but when I show up with a bag of sketchy, embarrassing trash they're suddenly getting attention. I asked the trash guy if I could contribute my bag and he said yes, and I'm hoping he didn't look inside it and conclude that I'm a nitrous oxide addict. Not that he knows me or will ever see me again, but still.

I thought I might try to take a walk today, but I'm not sure how energetic I'm feeling and it's still freakin' cold out there. Maybe I'll knock down another Newbery book instead.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Flower and Flurry

This white comfrey appeared of its own accord in our garden this spring. Mrs. Kravitz next door used to have comfrey, and a year or two ago she tore it all out -- but I'm thinking this must be a descendant of hers. We have some too, but ours has purple blooms and is supposed to be a variety that doesn't re-seed. (Regular comfrey apparently re-seeds like crazy, so while I'm happy to have this now, it may eventually become a pest!)

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and checked the weather app on my phone, which said it was 30º F (-1º C) outside. And sure enough, when I let the dog out a few hours later, there was frost and the bird bath was frozen solid. I have no idea how the plants have fared.

Yesterday afternoon, we had this:

What a crazy year! I think last night was the coldest one we're expecting, but nighttime temperatures aren't supposed to rise above 40º F for the foreseeable future. 

Queen Victoria: We are not amused.

Here are some garden shots from the past few days. I think most of these plants should be OK through this cold spell -- fingers crossed!

Our bleeding heart (dicentra) is performing again, with the forget-me-nots as its back-up singers. I always like this combination.

One of our azaleas is blooming, but I'm not sure how the flowers will handle the freeze. Stay tuned.

We have several violas that have come up on their own. Mrs. Kravitz gave us a flat of violas last year, and although all those plants eventually died -- they're annuals -- apparently they re-seeded pretty vigorously. They're scattered around the patio and in the flowerpots.

This is actually a weed known as hairy bittercress. I kind of like it, so for now I'm leaving it where it grew in the pot with the lupines. Like comfrey, it can become a pest, though.