Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Billy Fury with Golden Eyes

This rather disturbing face belongs to Billy Fury, or rather a mural of Billy Fury, in West Hampstead. Recently, some vandal painted out his eyes. Now he looks like zombie Billy Fury.

Fury was an early rock star, kind of a British Elvis Presley. I don't recall ever hearing of him before I moved to London, but in England he's still a well-known name. There's a statue of him in Liverpool (I overheard a tourist misidentify it as Elvis) and the path along the railroad tracks where the above mural is located has been named Billy Fury Way. It's kind of a skanky path. I wouldn't want it named after me.

This week has so far been taken up with our normal beginning-of-school training and meetings. I went to child protection training and data security training on Monday and our big all-staff motivational assembly yesterday. Main lesson learned in data security training: DO NOT ABANDON PRIVATE STUDENT DATA IN AN UNLOCKED BAG IN A PUB. (This isn't much of a risk for me, since I don't often handle and certainly don't carry around private student data.)

Today I finally resume my normal work schedule, going in at 9:15 and staying until 5:15, which I'm happy about -- more time to walk Olga in the morning!

Last night Dave and I went to Royal Albert Hall with some friends to hear the BBC Orchestra perform pieces by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. We were sitting in a box -- courtesy of one of the families at school -- just two boxes away from the royal box seats! I didn't recognize anyone in the royal seats, though. If there were any royals there they must be quite low on the totem pole.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hollyhocks and Weeds

Even though summer seems to be winding down, the garden is still going strong. Our hollyhocks have finally bloomed -- well, one of them, anyway -- with big ruffly flowers reminiscent of carnations. Not at all what I expected. Dave said he knew it was a double, but to me it looks more like a quadruple!

The ragwort is at its peak, if not a bit past. The bees love it. I have never been so happy that I left a "weed" behind to grow. I don't understand why gardeners don't plant ragwort -- it's beautiful!

(If it proliferates wildly next year maybe I'll have my answer.)

Another of our "weeds," the asters, are beginning to bloom. I just recently heard that these are known as Michaelmas daisies, for the feast of St. Michael at the end of September. I guess that's their peak blooming time. They are quite weedy and tend to spread like crazy, but we try to confine them to one area of the garden and their light purple blossoms are always welcome.

On Sunday I spotted a lone ladybird larva on our inula. It's only the second one I've seen this summer. Seems a bit late in the season -- I hope it can mature through all its stages before cold weather arrives!

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Rough 'Hood for Birds

I mentioned a couple of months ago that we took down our squirrel feeder and moved the daily dose of squirrel food -- bird seed and peanuts -- to a saucer in the back of the garden. This (above) is exactly why. When we put the food out every morning, it gets mobbed by pigeons. They don't eat the whole peanuts, so there's still something left for the squirrels, but it really is more of a pigeon-feeding scheme than anything else.

We put it in the back of the garden in an effort to be sensitive to the upstairs neighbors, who had put pigeon spikes on their balcony railing in a vain effort to keep the pigeons away. They never said anything to us but I'm sure they weren't thrilled having them all flapping around so close to the house. Apparently the move made them happy, because they took the spikes down afterwards.

I think Dave and I do need to re-evaluate our bird feeders. These days, almost all we get -- in addition to the pigeons -- are mobs of starlings and one or two noisy magpies. And mice on the peanut feeder. (Although, to be fair, I haven't seen the mice for a while. They may have moved on.)

Smaller, more interesting birds, like tits, seem to pop in only when the bigger ones aren't around -- and the bigger ones seem to be around more and more.

Several months ago we switched to mealworms in one of the hanging feeders, and suet balls in the other. The starlings, in particular, love both. We could go back to seed, which seemed to attract a greater variety of birds -- but we had pigeon problems then, too. A coworker suggested that we get a Niger thistle feeder, which is good for goldfinches.

Or maybe we should just roll with it, admit we live in a city and we're going to get scruffy urban birds!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Raindrops on Grass, Marks on China

It was supposed to rain yesterday, and we briefly got a little spattering, but it wasn't much -- certainly not by English standards. So what I'd expected to be a leisurely day indoors turned into a long outdoor walk with Olga on Hampstead Heath.

We found some interesting stuff, like pearls of rain on grass blades...

...and more discarded shards of china. You can see the manufacturer's stamps on the piece on the left -- it's Ridgway china, which was manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent until the mid-20th century. The diamond-shaped mark is known as a "kite mark" and in the Victorian era, it indicated specifics about each piece's manufacture, like date and batch number. (Unfortunately this mark is broken so the details aren't all there.)

I picked up these shards and added them to my collection.

Olga and I also discovered patches of orange crocosmia, a common garden flower, on the Heath. I didn't know it grew wild, but apparently it can be an invasive species. At least it's pretty! (Olga was retrieving her Kong toy from that muddy ditch.)

Although it wasn't very rainy yesterday, it was super-windy. This guy was flying one of those high-performance speed kites on Parliament Hill. I was scared to get near him, that thing was moving so fast. Then he sat down for a brief moment and the kite crashed seconds later.

By the end of our walk, Olga was worn out, and happy to find the shade of this tree. As I write this, the following morning, she's still asleep at the foot of our bed!

Last night, Dave and I went to dinner with our friends Chris and Linda, the Brexiteers. We had another lively conversation about Brexit and -- from my perspective -- how short-sighted and damaging the vote to leave the EU was. I think we'll probably never stop debating this issue!

At one point, Chris was talking about the possibility that former Prime Minister Tony Blair could face judicial proceedings in The Hague as a result of the British participation in the Iraq war. And I said, "In an international court of justice! Imagine that!"

"Touché," he replied.

I was proud of myself.

Fortunately Chris, like me, is an old journalist and we can debate the issues without taking it all too personally. We both agreed that having a newsroom background helps in that regard!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Wounded Moth

It's so easy to fall into a black hole on the Internet.

This morning, a friend sent me a link about a photographer's project to shoot the mid-century motels of Wildwood, N.J. I went to the Wildwoods back in May 2011, shortly before Dave and I moved to London -- so then I also had to look at my own photos and then pictures from the same area by other photographers on Flickr.

That led me to numerous vintage pictures of the Jersey Shore and elsewhere. Before I knew it, I'd browsed away an hour of my life.

Not that that's a bad thing. There's a lot of interesting, sometimes bizarre photography out there. Years ago the same friend who sent me the Wildwood link introduced me to a fascinating blog called Internet K-Hole (now on Tumblr), a veritable gold mine of weird, vintage photos. (Be warned -- occasional nudity!) I can kill time there quite easily, though I always feel vaguely disturbed when I leave.

Around here, about the most disturbing thing you'll find is photos of wounded butterflies. I found this Jersey tiger moth on a sidewalk in Islington a few days ago, alive but not able to fly too well. I picked it up and put it on a bush next to the street. I imagine it's probably not with us any longer, but it was still beautiful. (You may remember one landed on our window a few years ago.)

It's the weekend! Yay! I know, I've only worked two days this week -- I can hardly plead exhaustion. But there's nothing like going back to work to make a person appreciate unstructured spare time.

Speaking of which, I think I'm not going to sign up for French class this fall. It just takes too much time away from my Saturday -- half the day! -- and besides, I feel like I'm not really learning to speak. Sitting in a classroom will only get me so far. I need to travel to some French-speaking locale and really use the language. First, I need to recharge my batteries. I'm still a bit fatigué!

(Top photo: Between Highbury and Shoreditch, on Tuesday.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

An Autumnal Post

Leaves are an autumnal motif, and even though it's still the middle of August, it's seeming very autumnal around here. Summer break officially ended yesterday. I was back at school, checking in books and sorting through all the library's mail.

We got a mountain of magazines, as usual, which needed to be opened, cataloged and filed. So I worked mainly on that. One of our library subscriptions -- to Harper's -- has petered out for no apparent reason, so I'm trying to figure out what's going on there.

Overall, it's good to be back at work. I've missed the routine.

Of course, a standard question among my co-workers is, "How was your summer?" A tricky question for me, given Dave's recovery from major abdominal surgery and my dad's brain surgery and subsequent death. It's been a crazy three or four months.

But usually I just say, "Oh, it was fine!" I'm trying to spare them my negative experiences.

And truthfully, overall, the summer was fine. I had a good visit with both parents before Dad died, and I was able to squeeze in lots of fun activities and see many old friends.

My stepmother wrote yesterday and asked how I was doing with Dad's death. I told her the adjustment is a process, which is certainly true for both of us -- indeed, all of us in the family. Interestingly, I find that my chief emotion has been anger -- not rage, just a low-level simmering -- at the fact that Dad was such a heavy smoker for so many years. Not just a smoker, but a defiant smoker, insistent on the pleasure he received from his cigarettes -- which ruined his teeth, his lungs, and ultimately, his brain.

I just don't understand tobacco or smoking. I don't get why, when a person weighs health and family against a momentary, completely unnecessary, poisonous pleasure, they opt for the latter. Of course, I'm sure they don't frame the issue that way. They somehow think they'll be the one smoker who gets away with it, who doesn't get sick.

My view is probably simplistic. I've never comprehensively studied the psychology of addiction, and it's not really my place to scold. But it is a mystery to me.

Anyway, it's good to be back at work. Back in the groove. We still have another week or so before students return, but there's plenty to be done to get ready!

(Photos: Hawthorne leaves from our lawn, dropped by our neighbor's tree.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dave Elvis

This is Dave Elvis. I crossed paths with Dave in Islington on Tuesday -- I saw him walking ahead of me, in his shiny gold jacket, and I thought, "I need a picture of that guy." He stopped at the bus shelter, and I asked him whether I could photograph him.

Sometimes I'm shy about asking someone for a photo, but when they're dressed like Dave Elvis, I figure they don't mind being noticed. You probably can't tell, but in addition to the gold, sequined jacket, Dave is wearing an Elvis Presley necktie and buttons.

Turns out, Dave performs Elvis songs. He broke into a rendition of "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You," and he sounded pretty good! He had the Elvis voice-warble down pat. We had a short chat about the pub where he sings karaoke, and Elvis movies -- Dave also serenaded me with a version of "Viva Las Vegas" loud enough to turn heads. He isn't at all shy about singing in public.

I promised to send him the photo via Facebook (he has a Facebook page). Which I did when I got home.

Today I'm headed back to work! I got up at 5 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to get ready, because honestly, over the two months I've been on summer break, I've forgotten my morning timetable. Olga gamely got up with me, though she promptly fell asleep again on the couch.