Saturday, May 23, 2015


I had the dubious honor of sitting in a dunk tank yesterday afternoon at an event for the high school students at work. One of the student organizers sent an e-mail a few days ago to me and a list of other teachers, saying we "had been selected" as potential candidates for the dunk tank, and did we want to participate? This, of course, set off immediate speculation among those of us on the list about why we were chosen. Was it because the students hate us, or because they like us?

At any rate, I agreed to be dunked. So yesterday at 1:15 p.m. I traveled to the school athletic fields in suburban North London, and soon I was sitting on a tiny little board over a huge tank of water while kids threw tennis balls at a target. It wasn't the warmest day to be doing this -- about 65 degrees, I'd say -- and I kept praying they wouldn't hit the target. But of course someone did, and it was the strangest sensation, going from completely dry to underwater almost immediately. I didn't even have time to be shocked. I just thought, "Oh, hey, I'm underwater."

I sat on that board for 15 minutes and in that span I got dunked five or six times. But my crowds were definitely smaller than those for the high school principal. One girl walked by and said, "None of us want to dunk you, Mr. Reed, because we like you!"

I told them to think about all those times I harassed them for overdue materials!

Anyway, it was fun, but I was glad when it was over.

Then, last night, Dave and I met up with one of his former students, who's now at Yale and working temporarily in London. He took us to Cadogan Hall to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which was terrific. I'd never been in Cadogan Hall. It's a great space for a concert -- smallish and with pew seating upstairs that allowed us to spread out a bit. Among other things, the orchestra played one of my favorite pieces, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, which was a nice surprise. Dave had said they were going to play Rachmaninoff, but when the pianist started, I thought, "Gee, this sounds like that Ravel piece I like!" Turns out Dave got his composers mixed up.

(Photo: A bookstore in Bloomsbury, two weeks ago.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wild Kingdom

We've had some more "Wild Kingdom" excitement around here. (And I apologize that this has become something of a gardening blog lately, but what can I say -- that's where the action is!)

Our lacewings came in the mail yesterday. They turned out not to be fully-grown lacewings, but rather lacewing larvae, which are incredibly tiny and thus not very photogenic. So, sadly, I have no pictures to share. We opened the envelope and extracted the cardboard "wafer" the larvae inhabit, and put pieces of it on various plants. Supposedly the bugs will crawl off the wafer and onto the leaves. Somehow this is far less satisfying than releasing easily visible ladybugs that begin consuming aphids right away!

Speaking of which, the ladybugs are still visible on the campion, eating. I can't find them on any of the other plants where we released them, so they may have moved on. Who knows.

We also had a bit of excitement with our foxes this morning. Olga leaped out of bed at about 4:30 and stood in rapt attention at the bedroom door. I didn't hear anything but I got out of bed and went to the window, and sure enough, the adult fox and at least one kit were romping around in the back yard. The kit hopped up on the birdbath and knocked it over. Such a puppyish thing to do! Once again, I couldn't get to my camera while they were out and about -- and I think it was really too dark to get a decent shot, anyway.

"Hey, are you eating behind me?"

I read the most distressing article in The New Yorker yesterday, about elephant poaching in Africa. It began with an account of a caravan of well-armed poachers -- hundreds of them, including janjaweed fighters from Darfur -- traveling from Sudan to Cameroon, where they proceeded to occupy a national park for three months and slaughter 650 elephants. Even the Cameroonian army couldn't drive them out. A group of them went north to Chad and killed several park rangers along with more elephants before heading back home again. And of course, they only want the elephants' tusks, which they sell to the Chinese.

The article made the point that this occurred in a relatively well-governed African state -- so imagine what's going on in Congo or the Central African Republic, places with huge national parks and barely functioning government. The central figure in the story is an elephant researcher in the CAR, who was driven out of the country by political instability and later returned to find many of "her" elephants poached.

Are the people in Asia who buy all this ivory aware of what they're doing? Do they not care, or simply not understand? I just don't get it. Such a waste, for nothing. And even more frustrating: WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?! I could donate money -- somewhere -- but forgive my skepticism that it actually reaches the elephants.

One thing the elephants have going for them is that the proceeds from poaching often help fund terrorism and war -- which gives governments like ours in the U.S. and Europe an even more urgent reason to pay attention. But still. Agony.

(Top photo: Blue doors in Bloomsbury, a couple of weeks ago.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ladybird Liberation

Things have mellowed in the garden, partly thanks to the fact that there were no new plants waiting when I got home from work last night! Dave did some online research and found a web site that recommends geraniums for gardens with underplanted bluebells and grape hyacinths -- exactly our situation. So I feel more confident that they won't kill our wildflowers. He agrees that we probably need to find another place for the hydrangeas, and I think he understands that I need to feel more a part of the garden decision-making.

Meanwhile, another of Dave's purchases arrived yesterday -- a box of ladybugs, or "ladybirds," as they are known in Britain. We bought them to help control aphids and other pests, which we have in abundance on some plants, as you can see from the photo of the campion above.

The ladybirds came crawling around in a hard plastic box...

...many huddled on a piece of non-sticky tape within the box. The directions were to simply open the box and leave it on a desirable plant, or gently encourage the bugs to crawl out onto the leaves.

We put a couple of bugs on each rose bush...

...and some on our lily-of-the-valley, which has easily visible aphids clustered along the stems.

They really seemed to like the campion, and they're still there this morning, feasting on the aphids.

These are native British ladybirds that came in a box of 20. Dave also bought a box of lacewings, another beneficial garden insect. They haven't arrived yet, but my guess is they'll come today. His coworkers think he is insane to be spending money on bugs! I think they're great, though, and apparently they won't fly away as long as they're able to find food.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Bit of Mania

I came home from work last night to find nine new plants in pots on the hall table. This is in addition to at least seven new plants that are still sitting in plastic pots out in the garden, waiting to go in the ground. And I got really annoyed. What resulted was a come-to-Jesus conversation with Dave about his mania for purchasing new plants that, in my view, we don't have room for and don't need to basically donate to our landlord.

I know Dave loves the garden, and it looks great. I don't mean to dampen his enthusiasm for it. But he's making lots of decisions without talking to me, and when I do agree to something, he takes it farther than I intended. When I agreed to mow the forget-me-nots around the roses, for example, he also pulled up all the forget-me-nots around the perimeter of the yard. I hadn't intended to get rid of those, but now they're gone. He cut the tops off all the daffodils while they were still green, against my advice. He weeded out some of the campion. He's overzealous.

My big thing is, I want wildflowers. British wildflowers. And I'm afraid that the wildflowers are being slowly pushed aside by all this planting and weeding. The newest plants are destined for a part of the garden that's already full of bluebells and grape hyacinths. Dave believes he can plant them so that they don't disturb (too much) the existing flowers, but I just can't imagine that adding three hydrangea bushes and nine geraniums for ground cover isn't going to shade out all those little bulbs.

Oh well. It could be worse. I suppose I should be happy that he's not snorting cocaine.

I am tense in general these days. I've been feeling like there's so much to do, with all the year-end stuff at work and planning our summer. Last night I got online (despite our dismal domestic internet connection, which is another story entirely) and bought a ticket to Florida for two weeks in July and August to visit my family, and I booked a guest house in York for a holiday with Dave and Olga. (I tried to book a different place that advertised itself as dog-friendly, but the desk clerk crisply informed me that while they do accept most dogs, they don't accept staffys. Well!)

I also have some work to do for another upcoming photo project, which I'll write about separately sometime. I have got to sit down and etudier my Francaise. The New Yorkers are piling up.

(Photo: Dave's brolly in our front hall.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

More Garden Goings-On

We got a surprise yesterday when our first iris bloomed! We have two kinds of iris, this one -- which is quite elegant -- and another called foetidissima or "stinking" iris. The stinking iris hasn't bloomed yet, but I am very curious to see it (and smell it) when it does.

The wild geraniums are also blooming profusely. We learned from a gardening TV show that this is a proper geranium, and the plants that so many of us call geraniums -- with the thick woody stems and bright bunches of flowers -- are actually pelargoniums. For what that's worth.

This mysterious wildflower grew up out of nowhere. I believe it's pink campion. I've seen it on Hampstead Heath, too. Dave accidentally weeded some of it, but we left this plant alone.

And this is Solomon's seal, which we found growing here when we moved in but, like the iris, we've never seen it bloom before.

What did I ever write about before we had a garden?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunny Sunday at the Heath

I know I'm repeating myself here: another Sunday, another day out with Olga. What can I say? Our lives develop a pattern of routine, do they not?

Yesterday we went to the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension. The weather was spectacular. We stayed out about three hours and I got the dog good and exhausted...

...but not so exhausted that she didn't need a good scratch from an available brick wall.

And needless to say, we weren't the only humans and dogs out and about on such a nice day. Check out this crowd!

While I was out with Olga, Dave was in the garden, and things are looking impossibly neat and manicured back there, at least by my standards. It's amazing. I helped Dave mow and weed when I got home, but he redoes everything I do because I'm not thorough enough, in his judgement!

We mowed down the forget-me-nots in the center of the yard. They were looking very weedy. I hope we left them long enough to re-seed so they come back next year.

I had an extremely annoying conversation with our next-door neighbor, who is constantly harping about how many rubbish bins we have (she also keeps hers in our driveway -- don't get me started) and finds our gardening wanting. She declared that she's going to remove a limb from our walnut tree because it hangs over her property ("that tree is only good for the squirrels, anyway"), and urged us to have the entire thing cut down. Then she told me all about how the previous tenants "did so much" in the garden. "I mean, I know you do some work there too, but..."

I think it's best if I just steer clear of her.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Day on the South Bank

It was such a beautiful day yesterday! After my French class, during which we struggled through descriptions of our daily activities ("Je me réveille à cinq heures et demie tous le jours") I decided to go for a photo walk. I went down to Westminster to walk along the river.

I haven't been to the Thames in months. While I was focused on Bleeding London -- basically for the past year -- I kept mostly to residential neighborhoods and stayed away from Central London. So it feels great to get back to where the action is.

Starting at Westminster, I crossed the Lambeth Bridge and then walked eastward along the river, all the way to Bermondsey. I passed most of London's major sights and wound up with about 160 pictures, of which I kept about 40.

I can't wait until school ends and I can do things like this more often! My photo wandering is pretty much limited to once a week at this point. We only have a few more weeks to go.

There were lots of interesting characters out yesterday, too, so I got some pretty good people pictures. I'm sure I'm in a lot of their pictures as well, though I doubt that I am as interesting!

Today looks like it will be nice, too. Olga and I plan an outing while Dave works more on the garden.