Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back to the Homeland

I'm all packed up and ready to fly, more or less! Packing for Florida really isn't that difficult. As I said yesterday, shorts and t-shirts -- and nothing bulky. No surfboards or water skis for me!

Dave and I went to hear Holst's "The Planets" last night at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. It was preceded by two other pieces, both odd, discordant and sort of spacey. One consisted of chirping and trilling violins that brought to mind jungle birds or stridulating insects. Or maybe aliens? I think whoever programmed the evening was going for an extra-terrestrial vibe.

The mealworms in our bird feeder have been a huge success. We see far fewer pigeons and many more birds of interest -- tits, finches, and our local spotted woodpecker, who keeps coming back for more. He thinks he's found the best tree ever.

I'll be sorry to leave the garden for the next few weeks because there's a lot going on -- but I'm sure Dave will keep me in the loop via text message and e-mail. And Olga won't be getting to the Heath nearly as much in my absence, because Dave just doesn't enjoy walking her that far -- but we have her dog-walker coming back five days a week now, so that will help.

Coming to you next from North America!

(Photo: Near Golborne Road, July 10.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Sopping, Snoozy Sunday

Yesterday was another daylong soaker. We were so unmotivated by the drizzly weather that we stayed inside reading and watching movies. I finished "The Whites," which I really liked -- but why Richard Price had to have both his name and his nom-de-plume on the cover is a mystery to me. Isn't the whole point of a nom-de-plume to keep the author's identity secret? So "Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt" really doesn't do the trick, and seems a tad pretentious.

Having said that -- excellent book, and recommended if you like noir crime novels.

We also had a friend over for brunch, and initially Dave intended to cook. But like Yeats's falcon in its ever-widening spiral, our ambitious plans lost their center. We considered going to a nearby French bistro, and then staying in entirely and ordering takeaway Lebanese -- which is what we did. Mere anarchy loosed upon our brunch.

The mimosas probably contributed to our lack of motivation! We still have a boatload of champagne from our garden party several weeks ago. I don't know how we're ever going to drink it all. There's a magnum in our smallish European refrigerator, and apparently once you've chilled your champagne you don't want to let it go to room temperature again -- and of course once you've opened it you have to drink it all. So we're stuck with that huge bottle hogging our fridge space, until we have enough people around to help us polish it off. At one point we couldn't even close the door easily. With only three of us, we did not open the magnum yesterday.

I was interviewed by Time Out London for a piece on Bleeding London -- and specifically about my accordions photo, which they are said to be reprinting. I don't think the article is out yet, at least not as far as I can tell. Also, the BBC News Magazine used some of my pictures of the now-demolished Carlton Tavern, which was exciting, even though the pictures themselves are pretty straightforward. (Interesting article, too.)

Today I've got to pack for Florida! Shorts and t-shirts, I'm thinking!

(Photo: Harrow Road, west London.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Purple and Gold

When I was growing up in Florida, purple and gold meant fall to me -- the goldenrod, the blazing stars, the pine lilies.

Here, they're summer colors. Olga and I found a few examples while walking yesterday on Hampstead Heath Extension.

Have I mentioned that I'm taking off for Florida in just two days? The immediacy surprises even me. This trip has been planned for a while, but I was startled when I woke up this morning and realized I'm leaving the day after tomorrow! Holy cow. Fortunately I don't have much to do to prepare.

Dave and I watched the TV movie pilot for "Fantasy Island" last night. I vividly remember watching it when it first aired in January 1977, and I even remember parts of the plot. But I hadn't seen it in, oh, 35 years at least. I found it on YouTube but the posted movie turned out to be flawed, so I bought it on British iTunes -- where, by the way, the picture quality was much better and well worth the £1 and change that it cost. It was a hoot to watch! Bill Bixby, Carol Lynley, Eleanor Parker, Sandra Dee, Peter Lawford, Victoria Principal and a host of other actors...a real nostalgia trip. Interestingly, although I remember loving the pilot, I was never a fan of the series itself. Between Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize, the schtick was a bit heavy to endure every week.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sun and Rain, This and That

We're having a midsummer chilly spell. It rained all day yesterday and the temperatures were in the high 50's. Thank goodness Olga's dog-walker showed up -- even though he wasn't technically scheduled -- so I could spend the day pretty much on the couch. It was fabulous.

(I'm posting this sunny photo of a nearby pub, taken several weeks ago, as an antidote to the chill.)

I did get some productive stuff done in the morning. I managed all the refuse for our household and those of our neighbors, as I wrote yesterday -- and the rubbish men did pick it all up, thank goodness. You just never know with those guys. Sometimes they leave things behind and sometimes they come through.

I also worked on bagging up some yard waste that we've been piling up at the back of the garden. We don't want a super-manicured garden -- we want to leave some places for bugs and critters to live. But that pile of old cuttings, twigs and branches was getting out of hand. It will be collected next week by the yard waste recycling people.

The downside of working in the yard, for me, is that I always get attacked by nasty little gnat-like insects that leave red, itchy welts on my skin. They never seem to bite Dave -- or if they do, they don't leave marks -- but they feast on me. It only happens when I thrash around in leaves, weeding or, in this case, bagging up brush. My arms are a red lumpy mess.

I've been meaning to post this photo of some hollyhocks growing on a street where I regularly walk Olga. Aren't they impressive? As tall as I am! They came up like this last year, too.

Finally, Dave and I watched several movies -- "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything" (it was "British scientist biopic" night, apparently) as well as the original "La Cage Aux Folles," which Dave had never seen. He loves "The Birdcage," so I wanted him to see the original European movie on which it was based -- and even I never realized how closely the two are linked. The dialogue is almost line-for-line. "The Birdcage" always rankled me -- the idea that a young man in 1996 would ask his gay parents to upend their lives and hide their relationship from his fiancée's family annoys me to death. But the original was made in the 1970s, and back then, that plot seems more defensible.

I finally got a decent shot of the woodpecker that comes to our yard. We replaced the bird seed in our feeder with dried mealworms, because the seed was attracting so many huge, flapping pigeons that the other birds weren't coming around. Apparently pigeons don't like mealworms. But woodpeckers do!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Olga's Kong Crisis

Dave was throwing Olga's Kong toy in the back garden the other day when it bounced over the fence into the next-door neighbor's yard. In the past, when this has happened, we've been able to reach over the fence with a weird three-pronged garden tool from our shed and retrieve it. (The only thing that three-pronged tool has been good for.)

But this time, the Kong was so far out in the neighbor's garden that we couldn't begin to reach it. So we knocked on her door, and of course she was away. We knocked again, hours later, and she was still away. Turns out she must be on vacation or something, because she hasn't been home in days.

Olga, meanwhile, acted as if we had stolen her puppies. She'd repeatedly stand at the fence, looking at us as if to say, "I know it's over there! Please go get it!" She moped around the house and went from room to room, as if willing the Kong -- her best friend, her only possession, her signal that fun is about to be had -- to appear.

The dog was such an emotional wreck that we decided to order another one and have it sent for next-day delivery. It arrived last night, and she eagerly snatched it out of my hand. Now she has her security blanket and all is once again right with the world. (We'll get her old one back, too, when the neighbor returns from Ibiza or Tenerife or wherever the heck she is.)

In other news, today is garbage day, and I am hoping against hope that the rubbish guys actually pick up the trash this week. Last week they left all our recycling behind. This morning I pulled all the bins out of the alley next to our house and lined them up on the curb so they couldn't miss them. I think one of the neighbors has thrown some stuff in the recycling that may not be recyclable, and I hope that's not why the garbage guys have avoided it -- because the neighbor will never fix it by herself and I, as the default garbage maintenance person for all three of our households, will wind up having to move everything to the garbage bin.

Suburban drama! Sigh...

(Photo: The view from the cafe in City Hall, a few weeks ago. The palm trees are a temporary, summertime addition!)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters

Yesterday we achieved the last of my English summer travel goals. We walked a small portion of the South Downs Way, a cross-country trail, from the town of Eastbourne on the Sussex Coast. We saw Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, tremendous sheer cliffs of white chalk that drop straight down to the ocean.

I was very impressed with Dave for agreeing to do this walk with me. He's not crazy about walking or hiking, but he stuck it out!

We thought about bringing Olga, but it would have meant a lot of time on a train and keeping her on a leash during the walk (for reasons that will become clear). So we left her at home.

We started by taking the train an hour and a half to Eastbourne. We missed one train and then had a bit of drama with a reluctant ticket machine at Victoria Station and missed the next one too, so we had to hang around almost an hour, getting a later start than I had hoped. But that didn't matter. We were on no timetable.

Eastbourne seemed like a quiet mid-sized seaside town, bright white in the sunlight. Weirdly, it reminded me of old Miami Beach, back before it went all pastel and neon in the '80s. We walked to the oceanfront and turned westward.

Beachy Head was our first stop. The tallest chalk cliff in Britain, it drops 531 feet to the sea below, where a lighthouse was built out in the water to make its location clear to ships. It was a bit of a climb to get from town up to the top of Beachy Head, but manageable and well worth it for the views.

Apparently the name Beachy Head has nothing to do with beaches, although there is a small beach below the cliff. Instead it's an Anglicization of Beau Chef, its medieval French name.

Beachy Head has a reputation as a popular suicide spot. The edge of the cliff is dotted with memorial crosses and we saw a chaplain walking in the area. They routinely patrol to try to stop jumpers.

Perversely, I was reminded of the "This Man is About to Die" scene from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." (Link warnings: Gratuitous nudity! Objectification of women! In short, typical Monty Python.)

After Beachy Head we continued west, passing another lighthouse. We got a clear view of the Seven Sisters, a procession of white cliffs stretching from the village of Birling Gap westward to Seaford Head in the distance.

Incidentally, as you can see, there's not much in the way of barriers atop these cliffs. You can walk right up to the edge, though signs warn against getting too close -- the chalk cliffs continually erode and crumble, and the wind is fierce. There were a few areas with small, low fences and signs warning of erosion, and we respected them!

We ended our walk at Birling Gap, though the South Downs Way continues another hundred miles to Winchester. We caught a bus back to Eastbourne, where we took the train home.

From the train we had a nice view of the "Long Man of Wilmington," a figure carved into a hill. The figure's origins are murky. It was once thought to be from the Iron Age, but some believe it to be much newer -- as recent as the 17th century.

We got home, ordered Chinese food and rested our weary bones!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thistles, Blackberries and Donald Trump

We've moved into a new mini-season in the garden. The roses have finished their first flush and the pink persicaria are gone, and in their place so much more has bloomed -- the loosestrife, the butterfly bushes, the hydrangeas.

Our globe thistles sent up spiny round flowers weeks ago, and we thought, "Well, those aren't very impressive." Then one of the globes covered itself in tiny purple flowerets, and we were more impressed. As were the bees.

Our hawkweed is going strong. I found out another name for this flower is "fox and cubs," which is pretty adorable, isn't it?

Speaking of foxes, I haven't seen ours in weeks and weeks. But as I type, I hear one barking nearby. So they're still out there.

It's blackberry season again! I picked these yesterday from our bushes and ate them on my cereal.

When I went out this morning, I found this wonderful surprise amidst our wildflower seed patch -- a red poppy, like a swirling flamenco dancer. We're getting blue cornflowers and some kind of yellow daisyish things too.

Olga is unenthusiastic about it all.

Dave and I went to dinner last night at Fifteen, one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants, to celebrate our fifth anniversary. I can't believe it's only been five years since we civil-unioned in New Jersey. It seems like a lifetime ago! (I swear, I mean that in a positive way. So much has changed since then!) We had a great time and it's a nice restaurant -- and its profits support a charity that helps challenged young people get training and mentoring in restaurant work.

Also, a couple of nights ago, we watched a fascinating documentary, "You've Been Trumped," about Donald Trump's ultimately successful efforts to build a golf course on a patch of oceanfront land in Scotland. The film raises some interesting questions about Trump and the complicity of some local officials -- including the police force -- in making this development happen against the strong wishes of immediate neighbors, scientists and environmentalists. I'm not sure it's exactly even-handed, but it's definitely entertaining and revealing. His presidential candidacy isn't viable -- is it?