Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lassie Finds My Hat

Yesterday morning, as I was walking Olga, we came to an intersection. Rather than turning right, which we always do at this particular corner, Olga was very insistent that we walk straight, along very busy Finchley Road. I never really like walking along Finchley Road, but I gave in. So we walked a few hundred feet and there, lying on the ground, was my hat.

Now, this is very weird, because I hadn't even realized my hat was missing. I had a vague idea that I hadn't seen it in a few days, but at this time of year I don't really need it so I didn't give it much thought. There's no question, though, that the hat lying on the sidewalk was mine -- because who else in my neighborhood has a beanie bearing the logo of the University of South Florida football team?

I haven't walked on Finchley Road for a very long time. I think I must have dropped it on the side street where Olga and I walk almost daily, and it made its own way around the corner -- in someone's hand, or via the wind, or something. It was a little the worse for wear -- torn open on the top, in fact --  as if it had been run over by countless cars. But I brought it home and washed it and sewed up the top seam, and it's as good as new. (Well, OK, not that good -- but as good as before I lost it.)

When I told Dave this story, he looked at Olga and said, "Good job, Lassie!"

I'd like to think Olga wanted to walk along Finchley Road because she somehow knew my hat was there. But honestly, that's just too crazy to believe. I think it was a happy coincidence.

At the risk of exhausting you with dog news, here's Olga on our neighborhood basketball court yesterday morning. We found two balls there -- both already punctured, thank goodness! She had fun chasing them around, and I let her bring the football home. In a sure sign that she is slowing down a bit in middle age, she has not yet torn it apart. It's sitting right in front of me, on the floor rug in our living room.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell about yesterday. I read, did laundry, poked around in the garden, took Olga to the West Heath. We're back to some fairly chilly, cloudy weather this weekend, so there will be no basking in the spring sunshine, unfortunately. In fact, I may need my hat!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Dreaded Red Blotch

These are our amaryllis(es) this year. They're coming along, but they don't look so great. Some of the flowers seem stunted and dry, and one bunch died outright.

These never quite got successfully launched.

I'm not an expert, but I think the plants have a fungus known as red blotch. See those red streaks on the flower stems (especially on the one above)? And the red patches on the leaves? They indicate red blotch.

From the reading I've done, our options at this point are to buy a systemic fungicide or discard the bulbs entirely and start over. Even though I'm not a fan of poisons, I hate to toss the plants -- we've had these bulbs five years and I always enjoy them, and properly cared for, they should last for decades. So I'm leaning toward the fungicide option. I still need to explore availability and cost, though.

Granted, these plants have been a little bit wonky from the very beginning -- often one bulb lags behind the others or produces stunted flowers. In retrospect, I think I've been seeing signs of red blotch for years -- slightly curled or misshapen leaves, for example. I just never recognized them as a serious problem. They may have had the fungus even when we first bought them. Argh!

Friday, April 21, 2017


I've been listening to "S-Town," the newest podcast from the producers of "This American Life" and "Serial." I just finished it last night, sitting on our bench in the back garden.

It was a very strange experience.

I'll be careful not to spoil any surprises. The podcast began as an investigation of a murder in small-town Alabama, reported to the producers in a letter from a disgruntled resident. He quips that he lives in "Shit-town," and he turns out to be quite a colorful character -- both genius and, possibly, lunatic. Soon, circumstances change and the podcast becomes something else entirely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but about halfway through I began experiencing nagging feelings of doubt about its journalistic purpose. The murder tip doesn't pan out, and we're left with an examination of one man's small-town life, in extremely intimate detail. And that man, for reasons that become apparent, doesn't fully participate in revealing all these details about himself. Is the show just high-brow reality programming, radio-style? Or is it something more -- an exploration of what it's like to be different in a remote, rural community?

As a former newspaper editor, I found myself questioning the story's raison d'etre. I think it succeeds, in the end, but if I'd put it together myself I'd have done two things differently. I'd have elided some of the intimate physical details about this man's past relationships, the reporting of which frankly seems like an unnecessary violation of privacy. And I'd have discussed -- somewhere along the line -- why the podcast remained relevant, despite the loss of its initial journalistic purpose. I understand wanting the listeners to determine that for themselves, but I think it would have helped us crystallize our view of the finished product. (Surely there were internal debates among the producers about whether to continue reporting, given the twists and turns in the story -- what were those like?)

Anyway, it's hard to explain all this if you haven't heard the show, and I don't mean to drag it down. I found it fascinating and I looked forward to every episode. (There are only 7 of them.) If you're at all interested in Southern culture, give it a listen.

(Photo: A church in Walthamstow, East London.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

E-Mail Calamity and Laura Nyro

We had a little incident at work yesterday in which a guy mistakenly sent an e-mail chain of medium sensitivity to, literally, the entire school. Or at least all the employees. It popped up in my e-mail box and I began reading it, thinking, "I don't think I was supposed to get this." And then, like any nosey reporter, I kept on reading right to the bottom.

Then a second e-mail arrived advising us that the previous e-mail contained "personal information" and should be deleted. Not only was it too late, in my case, but telling people that an e-mail contains something they shouldn't see is a sure-fire way to get them to read it. He should have just said "disregard my previous e-mail" and left it at that.

I did feel bad for the guy, though. It's such an easy mistake to make.

I don't think I've ever done it in a work context, but back in the mid-'90s, when the Internet was new, I once wrote an incredibly personal e-mail to a guy I knew. He and I had a fling at a journalism convention, and I wrote him about our time together, and then somehow sent the e-mail to everyone in my address book! Because the Internet was new, this wasn't many people -- maybe ten -- but I remember my mother was on the list. I was mortified. Several of the addresses were already out of date, including hers (thank God). I called the others up and asked them to delete the e-mail, and they said they did, but even then I was pretty certain they probably read it first.


In other news, I read an article in the Guardian pointing out that it's been 20 years since songwriter Laura Nyro died. Do you know her? I remember being shocked at the time because she was only 49. (Younger than I am now!) She wrote several songs that were big hits in the late '60s and early '70s for The Fifth Dimension, like "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Save the Country." I was an ardent fan of The Fifth Dimension in high school (despite the fact that they broke up in 1975 and everyone around me was listening to Devo and Billy Idol), so I knew her work well.

I remember trading computer messages with a copy editor at work about Nyro's sad, untimely death. This copy editor and I had a somewhat contentious working relationship, but this was one subject we bonded over. I expressed embarrassment about my infatuation with The Fifth Dimension. "Oh, but they made some great harmonies," she said.

(I still have about six Fifth Dimension albums in my iTunes.)

Nyro was an amazing pianist and singer herself. Her album "New York Tendaberry," from 1969, is one of my favorites.

(Photo: A cafe in Walthamstow, East London.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Flat Inspection

Yesterday after work Dave and I had to race home to meet someone from our landlord's property management company who came to inspect the condition of our flat. For some reason, this year, before renewing our lease, they wanted to take a look. We didn't mind, but it's strange that suddenly they've taken an interest.

Maybe it's because during our three years here, we've had to prevail upon them to replace both the dishwasher and the washing machine. They think we're The Who, smashing up the place.

Anyway, the inspector noted a few problems like potential damp corners near the back door, broken floor tiles in the bathroom (they were like that when we moved in, honest!) and a need to redecorate the living room (!). Our white living room wallpaper is peeling and bubbling a bit, it's true, but we don't really notice it. I doubt the landlord's going to go down that road.

Dave pointed out a problem with the electric oven -- when we turn it on, it sometimes turns off by itself in mid-bake. I think there's a faulty switch or connection somewhere. We've told them about it before but it's a very intermittent problem, usually easily corrected by turning the switch again. But the inspector seemed to think this is a potentially major issue. We'll see if anything changes there.

In between all this, the handsome and very chatty young Portuguese guy doing the inspection told us all about his dogs (a Yorkie and a Pomeranian), his partner and his flat in Vauxhall.

Very chatty. I think he liked us -- which hopefully bodes well for lease renewal!

In other news, I made an appointment next week with our new doctor to have a suspicious rough spot on my forehead checked out. When you have fair skin and you grew up in a very sunny place, skin issues are bound to arise and must be addressed. I couldn't get this spot to vanish with the cream I got from our old doc, so it's back to the experts. (And let me offer a word of advice -- never Google "skin spot that won't heal." Terrifying!)

(Photo: A huge rhododendron on Hampstead Heath.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Celebrity Poppy Rescue

Our plant rescue nursery persists!

You may remember that the sidewalks are being re-paved in our neighborhood (resulting in the destruction of the volunteer hellebore). Well, a few days ago I spotted some small poppy seedlings growing in a crack beneath a neighbor's garden wall. They'd obviously spread there naturally, and yesterday morning, while walking Olga, I gently extracted a few of them to save them from the pavers. I brought them home and potted them -- two of the five wilted because I didn't get enough root, but the others seem to be holding their own for now. We'll see whether they survive!

We had purple poppies in our front garden last year that appeared all by themselves. This year, I don't see a trace of them. The shrubbery has filled in and less sun is hitting the ground, and poppies like sun. Since those guys may not come back, I hope these new seedlings make it.

(They were growing in the sidewalk in front of the home of some of our famous neighbors. Dave joked that I was stealing celebrity poppies -- he threatened to commit the act to video -- but I think if they're just random volunteer seedlings growing in the cracks of a public sidewalk they're fair game, don't you? Especially when they're doomed to death by re-paving? I wasn't taking them out of the neighbors' garden.)

Meanwhile, our rescued orchid -- the one that produced a single malformed flower several weeks ago -- has opened a second bud. This one seems normal.

I know all this must seem incredibly inconsequential (and slightly insane) when the United States is about to go to war with Russia, Syria, North Korea and God knows who else -- but you know, I just have to deal with things on my own level. I can't stop North Korea, but I can save plants.

We spent yesterday here at home, walking Olga up to Fortune Green and around the cemetery. Also, I finally booked my flight to Florida for July, direct to Jacksonville. I'm committed!

(Top photo: A sunny sky, jet trail and building under construction, seen from our street.)

Monday, April 17, 2017


I mentioned the in yesterday's post that the bluebells are out on Hampstead Heath. Here's what they look like -- a blue carpet beneath the new, fresh green trees. We have bluebells in our garden, too, but for some reason ours don't seem quite as far along.

Bluebells come in a variety of colors, including white and pink, but most of them are purple. Here's a clump growing out in the middle of a field.

Olga loves them too!

I walked her on the Heath yesterday for about three hours, and then we came home and watched "The Towering Inferno." Dave spent the day planting in the garden. We have one more day of break -- today, a holiday known in the UK as "Easter Monday" -- and then we're back to work!