Friday, September 20, 2019


Here's another one of my plant rescues. Dave and I went to Waitrose, our local supermarket, several weeks ago and saw this plant, a scabious, looking really sad. It was wilted and many of its long flower stalks were broken. It was the last one, and it had been priced down. So we bought it.

("Scabious," by the way, is kind of a gross name, isn't it? A little too much like scabs or scabies. Well, there's apparently a connection -- it was once believed to be a treatment for scabies and other itchy skin conditions. Hence the name. Who knew?!)

Anyway, I brought it home, potted it up and trimmed it back, and now it's doing great -- so great, in fact, that it's blooming again. I think it will overwinter and come back next year. Fingers crossed!

I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but we have an "innovator in residence" this year at the school where I teach -- Kwame Alexander, a well-known writer of books for children and young adults. He's a great guy and he's pretty much based in the library, so I've been seeing him in action quite a bit. Yesterday he led a workshop with our English teachers in which they wrote and published a poetry book in a single day, and although I wasn't participating, it was fascinating to sit by and see (and hear) the process unfold. Some of the teachers wrote remarkably personal and touching poems. I learned a lot, both about poetry and my colleagues!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Another Main Break

There's another water main break right in front of our house. This has happened several times now. I don't know if there's a particularly weak section of pipe there, or if we just have lousy luck, but we definitely seem to be the epicenter of water repairs on our street.

We first noticed it a few weeks ago when a sinking puddle formed in the middle of the pavement and water began trickling down the gutter. We called to report it, and I know the neighbors called too -- but it took Thames Water a surprisingly long time to finally get here and start to fix it.

Anyway, they're here now, and as you can see they've dug up a good-sized section of road.

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but our front garden is also ridiculously overgrown. The bushes are obscuring our front window and overhanging the sidewalk. I've notified our property manager that they need a trim (we manage the back garden but the landlord manages the front) -- we'll see whether that has any effect.

A couple of big pieces broke off the christmas cactus at work. (It's now much bigger than it was when I first pictured it here on the blog, so it could afford to lose a couple of branches.) They were already pretty wilted when I noticed them, but I put them in water and brought them home last night. I'll plant them over the weekend and see if I can root them. Supposedly christmas cactuses are easy to root. We'll see!

We're having our first autumnal blast of chilly weather. I went out with the dog yesterday morning, wearing shorts and a thin sweatshirt as usual, and I was freezing by the time we were halfway through our walk. I checked my weather app on my phone and it was 45ยบ F! No wonder I was cold!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Flowerpot Men and Royal Blue

Last spring, when I posted about walking the Capital Ring through South London, I included a picture of some curious home decorations. Some of you immediately identified them as Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, who were the subjects of an old children's TV show on the BBC.

Well, when I was walking the last segment through East London over the weekend, I found these two figures on someone's patio. More Bill and Ben! Now at least I understand what they mean!

I just finished a book called "Red, White & Royal Blue." A co-worker bought it at an airport while traveling, and after reading it was conflicted about putting it in the school library collection -- she offered it to me for a second opinion. It's about a college-aged son of a fictional female U.S. president. The son falls in love with a British prince, and the two carry on a clandestine relationship that (of course) is eventually revealed to the public. At the end, as the president fights for re-election despite this revelation, and the prince and first son try to navigate their lives together, I actually got misty-eyed! On one level, it's completely silly, but on another, I found it quite entertaining and optimistic -- and in her afterword the author, Casey McQuiston, says she was motivated to write the book partly to give progressives some hope after the disastrous U.S. election of 2016.

As Booklist said in its review, "In between sweet and steamy love scenes, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' allows readers to imagine a world where coming out involves no self-loathing; where fan fiction and activist Twitter do actual good; and a diverse, liberal White House wins elections. This Blue Wave fantasy could be the feel-good book of the summer."

We added it, despite those steamy love scenes. I think it's fine for an older high school student, particularly at our school, which emphasizes tolerance and inclusion. I wouldn't check it out to anyone under tenth grade, though, and we'll have to be a bit careful because the cover is bright and cartoony and suggests a book for younger readers. The perils of the school librarian!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Just a Tuesday

The days are drawing in, getting darker and darker. The garden is well past its peak -- one buddleia is still blooming purple among its dead seed heads, one last red-hot poker is slowly fading, the inulas are done, the cardoon is entirely brown and listing to one side. Yesterday I picked a last handful of blackberries for my cereal.

When I mowed the lawn on Sunday I did some trimming and neatening, but I don't want to be too neat. Apparently it's good for bugs and critters to leave some dead and dying plants as winter hideaways. I haven't touched the wildflower area at all -- it's a tangled mess but I'm just going to leave it alone, so all the plants can go to seed and the insects can hunker down.

A few nights ago, while Dave was Skyping with his parents, I went out and sat in the garden in the dark. (I usually join in their Skype calls, but sometimes I like to give them space to catch up on family business more candidly without me there.) I never sit outside at night, for some reason, but it was really nice. The apartment blocks behind us were all lit up, and the sky was a dusky blue. I could even see stars -- not a lot, because it's London and light pollution drowns out everything celestial, but a few.

I've repotted our foxglove seedlings and lined them up atop the old mantelpiece on the patio. The squirrels can't easily get to them there. I'm not sure they're getting enough sun -- that spot is entirely shady -- but I don't know where else to put them so the squirrels can't rough them up.

Dave and I have been watching "Mindhunter" on Netflix. We really like it! I'm trying the second season of "Top of the Lake," too, but I don't like it as much -- it's changed settings from New Zealand to Australia, and now there is no lake, and the main character seems almost like an entirely different person. Where she was firm and certain in the first season, she is shaky and hesitant now. It's very strange. I'll probably stick it out, because I usually do, but I'm waiting for the magic to reoccur.

Oh, and Dave said a bird got into the house yesterday! We leave a living room window cracked open, and apparently a little tit flew in and couldn't get out again. Dave came out of the shower and found it flapping against the glass. Olga, lying on the couch, was completely confused. He opened one of the windows and it flew away unharmed. I've seen birds sit on that window frame before, looking for spiders and other insects that nest there, so I'm not surprised one took a wrong turn and flew inside. This is what happens when there are no window screens!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Early-Bird Special

I had grand plans yesterday to take Olga on an adventurous outing, maybe to Wormwood Scrubs or an even more distant park. But life intervened.

First, when I took Olga on her regular morning walk -- usually just a circle around our neighborhood -- she was like a tightly coiled spring. She had so much energy to unwind that I just couldn't get her to turn back toward home. We wound up walking toward Kilburn and then up through Fortune Green to Childs Hill and THEN back home. It took a couple of hours, and finally, toward the end, her spring was unsprung enough to allow her to relax. (I think she was so wound up because I was out all day Saturday and she got very little exercise.)

I also had a million things to do at home -- cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry. I had to order a birthday present and do some other stuff online, although I was on the computer very little overall. (And I know I still have to catch up on blogs -- sorry!)

Because Olga walked so far in the morning and I frittered away so much of the day on other tasks, our grand plans fizzled and I wound up just taking her to the cemetery in the afternoon. I shouldn't say it like it was a small thing, though -- she chased her Kong and squirrels and generally acted like a lunatic. I don't think she came home disappointed.

I heard the turaco again -- it's still hanging around!

Dave and I went out to dinner on Saturday night with his Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Roger, who are visiting from Michigan. We went to Pied-a-Terre near sunny Goodge Street, and for some reason Dave had us show up a half an hour before the 6 p.m. reservation, which is a crazy time to go to dinner in London. (Even 6 p.m. is ridiculously early.) When we walked in the staff were still vacuuming! But they seated us and we got cocktails and Phyllis and Roger arrived at the appointed hour and dinner was terrific. Phyllis and I had halibut with mussels; Dave and Roger had lamb. I hadn't seen them in five years, since we last visited Michigan for Christmas, and it was good to catch up.

Right now there's a very annoyed squirrel trying to get into our peanut-filled bird feeder. It just can't get to the nuts through the fine wire mesh (obviously designed to repel squirrels). We've shuffled the bird feeders around to deter Roy, and it may have worked -- we haven't seen him recently. But maybe I need to shuffle them some more, before this squirrel does any damage!

(Photos: Geranium leaves in the garden, backlit by morning sun.)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hackney Wick to Woolwich

I walked the final two sections of the Capital Ring yesterday, which completes my 78-mile circular journey around London and put me right back where I started last March. Seems like a really long time ago!

Yesterday's portion of the walk started in Hackney Wick, where I picked up the canal towpath and enjoyed fine views and reflections across the relatively still water.

Londoners never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a nice sunny day. (And yesterday's weather was about as close to perfect as a person could want.) There were lots of people out and about, some simply soaking it in like this guy, others biking or running.

The walk left the canal and joined the Greenway, a 6-mile walking path on top of the elevated Northern Outfall Sewage Embankment, a legacy of Joseph Bazalgette's sewer system built in the 1860s and still in use today. It runs from Hackney to Beckton, where the sewage is treated.

The Abbey Mills Pumping Station (above) was built in 1868. It's a lift station, bringing sewage back toward the surface from the gravity-operated system beneath the ground, and apparently it's still used occasionally, though most of the work is done by a more modern facility next door. It's definitely the most amazing, ornate lift station I've ever seen!

Eventually the path reached the Royal Albert Dock, a former shipping basin connected to the Thames. The University of East London, with its groovy dorms (above) is located here, and London City Airport is just across the water. I could watch planes taking off and landing with the skyline of London in the background.

I accidentally veered off the path and passed the ornate Galyons pub, where I decided to stop for lunch.

I'm not usually a cider drinker, but I'd never seen Strongbow's "dark fruit" cider before, so I decided to try it. Not bad! And a beautiful color, too. I asked the bartender if it was a seasonal drink, but he said no -- they stock it because the university students like it.

I rejoined the path and soon found myself at the Thames, walking along the riverfront.

The path got a bit dicey at this point -- overgrown with blackberries and buddleia, and passing behind several large construction sites. I eventually came to a couple of canal locks leading from the river into the shipping basins. The map and Capital Ring signage directed me to walk across the lock arms, but at the King George V lock there were gates closed and padlocked across the path! I couldn't believe it. I had to climb over a chain-link fence to keep going -- and judging from the condition of the fence others have done the same thing. Super annoying!

From there the path went behind some housing estates and through Royal Victoria Gardens until it reached the entrance to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, a pedestrian tunnel beneath the Thames that opened in 1912. I took the lift down to the tunnel itself and walked a quarter of a mile beneath the river to Woolwich.

In case you're wondering what it's like down there...'s my not-very-dramatic 22-second video. There were only a few other people in the tunnel but a trio of boys with a basketball managed to make a fair amount of noise in that echoey space.

Finally, after walking 9.2 miles, I got to Woolwich -- only to find a carnival going on! I was too exhausted to hang around very long, but I saw some Rajasthani (I think?) musicians and lots of other people marching in a parade around the main square. I caught a Thameslink train that took me straight back to West Hampstead.

And now I can say that I have walked both the 150-mile London LOOP walk (the blue ring) and the 78-mile Capital Ring (the red one, obviously). Whew!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Edward Gorey

The most interesting thing happened yesterday. I checked my mailbox at work and found a slim parcel. This was inside -- a book of fascinating and curious little stickers that I never ordered. There was no note.

It came from Blackwell's, a book shop in Oxford. So I called Blackwell's, thinking there had been some sort of mistake. They confirmed it was ordered for me, but would not reveal the sender -- they said only that it was someone with a Gmail address (like half the planet).

I have no earthly idea who might have sent me this or why. I love the little drawings, but I've never expressed an affinity for Edward Gorey, who was an American author and book illustrator. If you'd asked me before yesterday, I could have told you he was an artist, but that's about it.

Turns out he's known for his whimsical, vaguely unsettling depictions of Victorian and Edwardian characters and fantastic creatures, like someone's nightmare "Downton Abbey."

So I'm thinking there are a couple of possibilities here. One, it's a mistake -- someone ordered it and accidentally had it shipped to me rather than its rightful recipient. Somehow I think this is most probable.

Two, it's an anonymous gift -- in which case it's AWESOME but I wish the sender had given me a hint who sent it! I would love to thank that person for an interesting present that has made me learn more about an intriguing artist. (If it's someone out there in Blogland, THANK YOU!)

One of the stickers, by the way, does look a bit like Olga. And Olga does love her skateboards -- though she prefers chasing them to riding them. I'm not sure she appreciates bugling, though.