Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Foggy Day with Mags

A heavy, dewy mist settled over Salisbury yesterday, obscuring the tower of the cathedral. It made for some interesting photos and an atmospheric walk through the "water meadows," a system of man-made channels surrounding pastures and farmland.

But I'm getting ahead of myself -- because before Dave and I took that walk, we had breakfast at our hotel. And just as we sat down to eat, who should show up but Margaret Thatcher! Again!

(Not the REAL Margaret Thatcher, obviously. See yesterday's post if you're confused.)

With impeccable hair and timing she appeared just as we were about to get food, and wound up talking to (at?) us for another half an hour, at least. This time we mostly steered clear of politics, thank God. We heard about innocuous subjects like breeds of chickens (which she knows from her family's farm) and extinct varieties of pheasant. (Ditto.) We heard more about her husband's CBE and her illustrious family.

The conversation was more pleasant than yesterday, but I still wanted her to go away.

Finally we stood, leashed up Olga and went back to our room to freshen up. Then we set out across a nearby park to get to the path into town through the water meadows.

We enjoyed the foggy morning, the sheep in the fields, the old mill beside the river and the dew-soaked spider webs on the bridge. And then Dave looked behind us, and who should be following but Mags! She was stalking us!

We tried to walk faster but she finally caught up with us -- "You can't get away from this crazy Welsh woman!" she said. I guess this time we gave off positively hostile vibes because she eventually kept walking, bound for communion at the cathedral.

After Mags departed we were able to relax once again. We wandered the park and found little knitted artworks decorating some of the benches, such as this tea set, complete with knitted cookies! (It was fastened to the bench with a subtly placed zip tie.)

We walked into town and settled into a Cafe Nero for coffee:

We found a prime window seat with wonderful people-watching opportunities. We got a kick out of listening to the ladies sitting beside Dave, who were complaining about the results of "Strictly Come Dancing" and making their own amusing comments about passing pedestrians. ("His mother loves him," they said about one man.)

Finally we collected our bags from our hotel, ate some take-out Thai food at an unpretentious pub near the train station, and caught our train back to London. Traveling went smoothly and we were home by about 4:30 p.m. I think Olga was happier to get home than any of us. She spent the entire evening asleep on the couch, under her pink blanket.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Cathedral Dog

Dave and I had breakfast at our hotel yesterday, with Olga at our feet -- we couldn't bring her into the dining room, but we were allowed to sit with her in the lounge. As we ate, a sixtyish woman in a sparkly blue beaded top and perfectly coiffed hair came in, sat right down at the next table and began chatting with us.

Or more like chatting at us. Within a few minutes we'd learned all about her husband's CBE and her visits to Buckingham Palace (three of them), and the ills of the National Health Service where she works because it is stretched to the limit by immigrants, and her firm belief that hard work and sacrifice were essential for success. (She and her siblings had inherited a farm in Wales.) She didn't come right out and say she was a Brexiteer and a Trump supporter, but both were strongly implied. My subtle attempts to suggest an alternative viewpoint were ignored.

Dave and I couldn't reveal our thoughts to each other, of course, but after about half an hour of this right-wing haranguing we broke away. "What a repulsive woman!" he exclaimed when we got back to the room. I hope to God we don't see her again.

Speaking of God, we went to the cathedral yesterday. By most everyone's standard it's the main reason to visit Salisbury. We walked over in the misty rain and planned to do our sightseeing in shifts, while one of us stayed outside to mind the dog.

But no! DOGS ARE ALLOWED INSIDE THE CATHEDRAL! I couldn't believe it.

I'm not sure Olga appreciated the religious significance, but she was very interested in the loaf of bread on the autumn harvest display.

The cathedral was built over a 38-year period (quite quickly, really) in the 1200s, with the tall tower and spire added a few hundred years later. It features an original copy of the Magna Carta, beautifully written out by hand and kept in a special octagonal chamber. Nearby, displayed on a table, was the body of a dessicated rat found inside a skull in one of the tombs. Wild!

The photo above shows a medieval screen that used to divide the cathedral, and you can see the large cloisters in the photo at the top.

Afterwards we went outside and threw the Kong on the cathedral grounds, to work off some of Olga's energy.

We explored the town and saw a few of the landmarks that featured in the Novichok case -- the restaurant where the victims ate, the park where they were found on a bench. We also saw...

..."Fudgehenge," which is as close as we're going to get to Stonehenge on this visit. (It's only eight miles away, but we've been there before.) Dave bought some fudge at this shop, so Fudgehenge appears to be an effective marketing gimmick.

We had lunch in town and then made our way back to the room, where Dave took a nap and I finished my book and caught up with life on Facebook (as much as one ever can). We didn't run into Margaret Thatcher again, but there's always this morning!

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Demon on the Way to Starbucks

We made it to Salisbury, where fall seems more advanced than in London, and temperatures seem considerably cooler. I didn't bring my jacket, which I may regret, but at least I have a good sweater.

We got here early yesterday afternoon after a smooth train ride and checked into our hotel, on the banks of the River Avon and a stone's throw from the famous Salisbury cathedral. We can see the cathedral's steeple towering above the trees, tall enough to require a red aircraft beacon on the top. We set out for a walk to find lunch.

We crossed the river and passed the cathedral, which we'll see in more detail today. I was amused by this gargoyle, with a lizard or demon or something chewing on his neck. He's saying, "Here's what happens when you don't go to church!"

We had lunch in this pub, ironically named considering it bills itself as a "charming 15th Century quality catering inn, beautifully restored." The comfy interior was full of dark beams and low ceilings, the perfect atmosphere for a chilly, damp afternoon. Olga lounged under our table and had a sausage of her own, which seemed to make her happy.

Afterwards we took a brief walk through the town and went to Starbucks, where there was a randomly capitalized sign on the counter: "We Have run out of Change. Card or Exact Cash Payments only. Sorry for the Inconvenience." The words were followed by a frowny face emoji. One would think if they made only a few cash transactions they would then have change, but maybe everyone pays by card these days. (I had a free drink through my health insurance, so I didn't pay anything at all!)

Walking back across the river, we admired the lush gardens on both banks. The river isn't a single stream here, but multiple smaller streams swirling around islands and through marshes.

Here we are back at our hotel, where we remained for the rest of the evening. We have a ground-floor room on a wide lawn where the dog can run. Dinner in the restaurant was a bit overpriced, and when I ordered a martini the waiter seemed skeptical. He rustled one up but it had lemon rinds and a black olive in it -- not garnishes I would have chosen, but maybe that's how they do things in Salisbury?

The hotel has carpeting that would make Jefferson Airplane proud. Here's the junction of two hallways and our bedroom. Psychedelic!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Musk Mallow

Remember those wildflower seeds I planted in early spring? The ones that slumbered dormant in the chilly ground until I finally planted a second batch, which were equally unproductive? The ones we finally gave up on entirely before planting fully grown comfrey and cow parsley in their place?

Well, I never wrote about it, but we did finally get a few peculiar-looking sprouts in the wildflower garden. They never did much until this week, when one of them rewarded us with some completely unexpected flowers! It's a musk mallow, and I'm assuming it came from the seeds I planted because we don't have them anywhere else in the garden -- but who knows. I suppose it could just be a volunteer, too.

Anyway, we like it!

I had a busy day yesterday. Dave went to school to finish recording student auditions for an honor band competition, and I spent the morning cleaning the house and doing laundry and trimming some stuff in the garden. We've tried to leave the garden alone, even though everything's gone to seed, because plants like the teasel and cardoon and thistles and hydrangeas are interesting when they go all brown and dry and rattly. But finally yesterday I had to gently tidy up, trimming some uninteresting stragglers, because it was getting hard to walk around out there in places.

I'm reading "Boy Erased," a memoir about a boy from a fundamentalist religious family whose parents send him for gay conversion therapy after he comes out to them. Apparently it's being made into a movie, which is probably why we just got it in the library. It's a really good read, but all the Jesus-speak makes me tired and somewhat depressed. I can only take so much.

We're off school tomorrow and Tuesday for October break, and today we'll be boarding a train with Olga, bound for Salisbury. Yes, yes, I know -- beware the Novichok. That's what everyone's been telling me, in a mostly joking tone. I'll do my best not to touch any suspicious doorknobs.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Empire of Light, Part 2

Here's another early-morning shot from my neighborhood, taken when the streets are quiet and the day is balanced on the cusp of dawn. This photo and the one I posted two days ago both remind me of Rene Magritte's "Empire of Light" paintings:

I remember seeing this painting at MoMA, I believe, many years ago and loving it. Something about that magical time of early morning or late evening, and the perfect glow of that lonely streetlight, is really captivating. It's one of a few Magritte paintings depicting this theme.

I've read that the paintings supposedly create an unsettled feeling in the viewer by showing a nighttime street against a daytime sky. The scholarly conclusion seems to be that these two phenomena can't coexist in real life, creating conflict and possibly representing some sort of moral or philosophical conundrum. I'm not so sure, though. I've always found "The Empire of Light" peaceful and soothing, and as my photo shows, day and night can in fact coexist, briefly.

The only element that seems menacing to me is the tall building (or water tower or something) at left, an architecturally Brutalist disruption of the otherwise natural border between treeline and clouds.

(I compared one of my photos to this painting once before, way back in 2010. But that photo was taken at night, which, in retrospect, misses the point of the painting.)

Here's the Waterlogue version of my shot. Not terrible, but hardly Magritte. Which once again proves that even the most remarkable phone app can't replace the genius of human intention in art!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Don't Forget Your Cucumber

Do you ever listen to podcasts? I've recently been listening to one called "Dr. Death," about a Dallas neurosurgeon who was at best incompetent and at worst a sociopath. He maimed and killed so many patients in such a short period of time that he was prosecuted, and is now serving life in prison! It's a crazy case, and unprecedented, apparently. If you want some interesting listening, give it a try. I'm also told "Serial" is out with a third season that I plan to begin ASAP.

I finished cleaning out the library's DVDs yesterday. I've found that getting rid of everything that hasn't been watched in the last five years -- which is the method I used for documentaries and instructional films -- doesn't entirely work in the fiction section. If I did that, I'd be keeping movies like "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," "The Lake House" and "Maid of Honor" while discarding "Birth of a Nation," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Gone with the Wind" and everything by Fellini and Bergman.

So I made a little pile of films I think we should discard, even though they were watched once in recent years, and a little pile of those we shouldn't even though they weren't checked out. I'll talk it through with my boss today and we'll see how she feels about the results.

It's interesting, because like all library weeding projects, this forces us to consider our mission. Do we keep what people want, or do we bring them significant films for educational or cultural reasons?

(Top: Hampstead Heath, last weekend. Bottom: Found on the sidewalk on my way home from work yesterday.)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Early Morning and Early Life

I took this at sunrise on Tuesday, as I was walking Olga. I liked the balance between the two light sources -- the colorful morning sky and the street light casting its orangey glow. It was an interesting moment. We're getting to the time of year when we'll be taking our morning walks in darkness.

At work, I'm thinning out our DVD collection. There's a plan to remove the cabinet where all our DVDs are filed, and when we relocate them they're moving to much smaller quarters. Since we're streaming more video (like everyone else) we're going to take the opportunity to get rid of a lot of them. My standard is, if it hasn't been checked out in five years, we don't need it.

You'd be amazed at how many DVDs that is. Looks like we'll be keeping about a third of what we've got. I wish I could get Dave to help me thin out the DVDs we have here at home -- I think we could cut back just as much, if not more!

Here's a photo my mom gave me when I visited her in August. That's me as a two-year-old. (I was very into flowers as a little kid -- hence my enthusiasm for gardening, I suppose.) My parents were living in Adelphi, Md., that year while my father finished his doctorate at the University of Maryland. They rented a modern house and I have very faint, scattered memories of that period -- losing a toy in a drain pipe in the yard, for example, and going to a nearby park with my father. Funny what sticks in our minds. And look -- I had the same hair then as I do now!