Monday, October 31, 2011

Guy Fawkes Night

We're coming up on Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, and every evening I've been hearing the pop and bang of firecrackers. On Saturday someone launched a full-scale fireworks show just west of our apartment, and I stood on our balcony and filmed about a minute of it (above). I've been unable to find out who sponsored it.

(Some of the recent fireworks might also be related to Diwali, the Hindu "festival of lights" holiday that fell on Oct. 26. I'm not sure.)

The actual Guy Fawkes Night isn't until Nov. 5. It's named for Guy Fawkes, a conspirator in the so-called Gunpowder Plot of 1605 meant to overthrow the British government. The celebrations commemorate the arrest of Fawkes and his co-conspirators and the survival of King James I.

Events are scheduled all over London for next weekend, when children build effigies of Guy Fawkes -- known as "guys" -- and bonfires and fireworks displays will be held. (Apparently the use of the word "guy" to mean any man comes from Guy Fawkes' name. Who knew?)

I'm not sure yet what Dave and I will do. I'd love to go see some fireworks, but we may want to stay home to console the dogs -- they might get jittery with all the bangs and explosions. (If last Saturday is any indication, though, they won't have a problem. They slept through that celebration without so much as a whimper.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy 2

Despite my ambivalence, I went down to the Occupy campsite in front of St. Paul's Cathedral yesterday afternoon, just to check out the scene. I took some photos, as you can see, and more are on Flickr here.

While I was there, a housekeeping meeting of sorts seemed to be taking place. Organizers were talking about upcoming workshops and planning issues, and speaking in support of the former chancellor of the cathedral, Giles Fraser. Fraser backed the protesters occupying the churchyard and resigned last week when others at St. Paul's began considering ways to retake control of the yard and cathedral steps. (The protests closed the cathedral for several days, causing considerable financial losses.)

In any case, things were pretty peaceful when I was there. It was cool to check out the campsite and applaud the speakers, and there were lots of interesting and thought-provoking posters and leaflets throughout the site. The Hare Krishnas were even serving vegetarian food!

Some Facebook friends referred me to this interesting blog post about ways to support the Occupy movement "without sleeping in a park." I like to think I'm doing my part by spreading the word and these images, at the very least.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sandy Denny

In the mid-1980s I briefly experimented with radio production, volunteering at a community radio station in Tampa. I helped put together one episode of a radio show, and in my free moments I had a great time digging around in the station's collection of vinyl records.

Among the albums I came across a boxed set of recordings by British singer Sandy Denny. Back then, I knew Denny only as the author of her best-known song, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," which had been famously covered by Judy Collins. But I listened to some of the boxed set, and that put me on a path toward appreciating Denny as a singer and musician.

Denny was a lead singer for the folk-rock group Fairport Convention in the late 1960s, before embarking on a solo career that lasted until her death, at age 31, in 1978. I eventually bought one of her solo albums, "Rendezvous," as well as a "best of" anthology, and I enjoyed them both.

Now that I live in London -- Denny's home turf -- I thought I might try to find her grave. I did some research and found that she's buried in Putney Vale Cemetery, in southwest London near her former home in Wimbledon.

Putney Vale is not immediately accessible by tube, and it's located on a fairly well-traveled highway that -- at least on Google StreetView -- doesn't look particularly walkable. I decided I would have to take the bus.

I have been reluctant to use buses in London, mostly because I am intimidated by the spaghetti-noodle craziness of bus routes. (I avoided them in New York, too.) Whereas the tube and the New York subway have relatively few lines, buses seem to exist on a whole new level of complexity.

Anyway, yesterday morning I set out to conquer my unease about buses and pay my respects to Sandy Denny. The bus, it turns out, is not all that difficult, once you know which route to take -- easily determined on the web.

The bus dropped me off right smack in front of the cemetery's iron gates, and after about 20 minutes of wandering I found Denny's grave, a simple white headstone inscribed "The Lady," after one of her songs, above her married name. "Sandy Denny" is written beneath, almost like an afterthought, in parentheses.

I listened to some of her music, including the prescient "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," on my iPod as I stood at her grave, decorated with a single red, slightly bedraggled geranium. In Denny's case, her time was relatively short. I'd had a vague idea that she died of cancer, but it turns out that's not true -- she fell down some stairs in March 1978, and although she reportedly recovered enough to perform at least one more concert, she died from a brain hemorrhage the following month.

(Side note: I also found in Putney Vale the grave of Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line and its doomed RMS Titanic. Ismay was aboard the ship when it struck the iceberg that sank it, and famously made sure to procure a scarce lifeboat seat for himself.)

Surprisingly, there's no footage of Denny performing her most famous song on YouTube. (There are some of those photo mash-up faux videos, but I hate those.) So here's a live version, instead, of another song, "Late November," which is also on my iPod.

Friday, October 28, 2011


I've been thinking about the Occupy Wall Street movement -- all the people gathering in cities around the United States and elsewhere, protesting the economic insanity of our time.

I certainly sympathize with the cause. But I haven't been motivated to join the protests -- even though I'm unemployed, a fairly recent victim of downsizing, a cog in a declining industry, and I am deeply troubled by the flow of wealth upward to the highest rungs of our economic ladder. I'm definitely among the 99 percent!

I could easily go down to St. Paul's Cathedral, the site of the London protests, and lend my voice. (Under no circumstances would I camp out there, though -- not while I still have responsibilities in my comfortable home, to a partner and two geriatric dogs, one on medication.) I could at least take photos and bear witness to the events.

I'm not sure why I'm not more motivated -- I used to relish the idea of protesting injustice. In fact I feel a little ashamed of my lack of enthusiasm. I guess when it comes right down to it, I doubt the effectiveness of street protesting for such a broad cause. It's one thing to protest anti-choice measures or nuclear weapons, but an entire socioeconomic system run amok?

Maybe I'm just too old and too cynical. But I don't think the protests are worthless for their lack of focus, as some critics have charged. The fact that so many people (more motivated than I, he says shamefully) care enough to get out and participate shows the depth of dissatisfaction and anger and that, in itself, is an important message.

And for each of those protesters there are probably hundreds of others, like me, who believe in the cause but haven't put our feet on the street. Yet, anyway.

(Photo: The shadow from a vase of stargazer lilies in the kitchen.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quieter Days

Dave is off to Norfolk today through Sunday, working on a regional band gathering -- or something like that. So it's just me and the dogs for the next few days. My quiet days just got quieter! Fortunately I've always liked my alone time, so it's not a problem for me -- and it's a chance to go back to vegetarian stir-frys and pasta for a while.

I solved our dog treat problem! Background: Milk Bones, which our dogs know and love, are apparently not available in the U.K. So we've been buying Tesco dog treats -- dried, flat strips of pulverized chicken that look like a small ruler. Ernie, unfortunately, doesn't like them. So yesterday I found a package of 40 tiny pork cocktail sausages, also from Tesco, for £1.98, and both dogs love them. They really seem like treats, too -- something out of the ordinary that the dogs will appreciate.

I went to see Tilda Swinton's new movie, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," yesterday. It was profoundly disturbing, full of dark bloody images and despair. I've seen plenty of movies about troubled children, but this seemed so real. I felt like I was living the mother's hell right alongside her. Good movie, but I never want to see it again.

(Photo: Sunset in Ladbroke Grove.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ceramics 2

I watched the final episode of the BBC's series on British ceramics on Monday, and yesterday I went back to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the pieces mentioned in the show. The episode focused on studio potters of the late 19th and 20th centuries, beginning with the likes of Edmund Harry Elton and William de Morgan through Bernard Leach, Lucy Rie and still more modern artists.

I love the ceramics galleries at the V&A. I could wander there all day. The colors and exquisite designs of the pieces are just astonishing, from antiquity to modern pottery. I saw a Chinese wine pot from the mid-1600's that was so white and finely detailed, with two dragons prowling its cylindrical surface, that it could have been made yesterday. I found more pieces that especially struck my fancy, like Joyce Morgan's dish depicting a blowfish, and Michael Casson's abstract bowl. (And how great is it that all these pieces are online, so I can show you exactly what I'm talking about without resorting to my own substandard museum photography?!)

While I was in the museum it poured rain, but fortunately the storm had passed by the time I walked home in late afternoon. The sky was amazing, with dramatic clouds behind the Albert Memorial (top photo) and above the round pond in Kensington Gardens (above).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Here are some more photos of the Grand Union Canal, which as I mentioned yesterday runs near our apartment. The canal system in England is old and complicated, but as I understand it this is the Paddington Branch of a much larger canal that runs between London and Birmingham.

There's a pedestrian walkway along the canal -- once a towpath, I assume -- so it's walkable for long distances and used by a lot of runners and bicyclists.

Parts of the canal are quite urban, as you can see in the top photo of the area near Westbourne Green. Other areas show signs of industry, like this section west of Ladbroke Grove.

Houseboats are moored along the banks and motor slowly up and down the waterway. They're all this style of long, narrow boat, often painted some shade of red and piled with colorful potted plants. The foliage along the canal is starting to match the paint on the boats!

Waterbirds are everywhere -- herons, swans, geese, ducks, coots and moorhens. In that respect it's a bit like Florida! (What's that bird in the bottom photo -- anybody know?)

Monday, October 24, 2011


I saw a good British movie yesterday called "Tyrannosaur." Pretty intense and not exactly pleasant, as it deals with anger and abuse and regret, but beautifully made and definitely worth seeing. I'd read about it in one of the local papers and decided to check it out. I'm not familiar with the writer and director, Paddy Considine, but I'll watch for more of his films.

I didn't photograph the jazz festival after all. We couldn't work out a time for me to go that wouldn't have me making two trips to the school or hanging around for hours with nothing to do. And then Ruby seemed to be having trouble standing on Saturday night, because of a lingering infection on her hip, so I stayed home to take care of her. I bought some antibiotic cream, which paired with the antibiotics from the vet seemed to help a lot, and she's much better now.

I did get to go to dinner on Friday with Dave and the other teachers involved with the festival, so that was fun. And I took some good walks over the weekend -- one along the towpath beside the Grand Union Canal, which runs near our neighborhood and connects London to Birmingham and other points west, and one from Soho back to Notting Hill.

(Photo: A leaf on the path beside the canal, on Saturday. Things are looking more and more autumnal around here!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It's been many years since I've lived in such a sunny apartment. My place in New York was a north-facing cubicle with one window, and in Florida my condo faced north and my last rental apartment was surrounded by trees. I haven't lived in a place with windows on two walls since 1992.

So this south-facing apartment with windows on both sides and excellent cross-ventilation is pretty amazing. I never stop being intrigued by the sunlight, which throws mottled splotches, crescents and tiny rainbows, all coming and going, shifting and changing.

It's ironic that I would enjoy sunlight so much in London, reknowned for being dark and foggy! (Of course, that "fog" has improved substantially with the imposition of environmental controls and the phasing out of coal-burning industry.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011


The school where Dave works is hosting a student jazz festival this weekend, and I've agreed to photograph the students as they rehearse and perform. The organizers want the photos for their Web site. Unfortunately they're not paying me, but in a way that's good -- I'm not an event photographer and I can't guarantee the quality of my work, so this way there's no pressure! Assuming the pictures do turn out, they might help win points for Dave, which pays me indirectly. So I'm going to head over there later this afternoon with my camera.

Meanwhile, I've discovered a rerun of "Fat Albert" on television -- remember that cartoon, hosted in the '70s by Bill Cosby? I haven't seen it since then, so I'm watching just for nostalgia's sake. "Hey hey hey!"

I've also got lots of reading to do, and I have to be around to take Ruby out every few hours because she's on a prescription diuretic. I love her expression in the photo above -- like, "Why are you interrupting my nap with that stupid camera?" (That's what we call her "tired eyes" look.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

AOL Tales

The other day I got a funny e-mail from AOL. The subject line: "Thanks for being with AOL Mail since 1995."

Yes, it's true. I still use the same e-mail address that I've used since I first ventured online. While others have hopped from one provider to another for various reasons, I've stayed put.

To be honest, it's more out of laziness than anything else. I don't want to have to inform the world that I have a new e-mail address, so I just keep the old one.

But I've never had many complaints about AOL, or America Online, as it was known in the beginning. Sure, I paid for it, at least at first -- my dialup service fees were something like $23 a month, if I remember right. When I got a DSL connection, in 2004 or so, I tried to unsubscribe, like thousands of other Americans who no longer needed dialup. But AOL -- known at the time for tenaciously holding on to customers -- instead sold me a $4.99 monthly plan that allowed me to keep my e-mail account. (Sucker!)

That arrangement went away pretty quickly as AOL realized it couldn't compete with all the free e-mail providers. AOL became free too.

AOL does have a bit of an image problem. When I was job hunting in 2009, it was suggested that I might want to change my e-mail address, because @AOL brought to mind a grandma in Peoria, someone naive to the ways of the Web -- a digital newbie. So I signed up for a gmail account, but I never used it. I figured if someone is so painfully style-conscious that they're going to make assumptions about me based on my e-mail address, I might not want to work for them anyway.

AOL noted in its e-mail to me that a lot of things have changed since 1995, when "Toy Story" was released and eBay was founded. ("One of the first items sold is a broken laser pointer, bought for $14.83 by a self-proclaimed collector of broken laser pointers.")

And to thank me (and presumably other customers) for sticking around, AOL sent a link to a printable paper doll. I thought, "Boy, I bet nobody will take the time to put that thing together." And then I promptly did. I printed it out (it's supposed to be blue, but for some reason mine came out black) and assembled it in about 20 minutes.

He looks vaguely prehistoric, which may not be the message AOL intended to send, but oh well. I like him anyway.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 1991

Here's one more selection from my old journals , 20 years ago today!


Today I have a nasty cold. I don't know where it came from -- it descended on me late last night and today I've had a sore throat and a nasty raw sinus. I think I've got a cough coming on, but no fever.

I've had a really busy weekend! Yesterday I went with Kevin and his friends John and Rick to some thrift stores, in search of accessories for our Halloween costumes. Mine is basically done, but no one else has been working on theirs, I think. I told you we're going as waitresses, right? It should be hilarious.

Then, last night, I went to see a very bizarre movie called "My Own Private Idaho" with Kevin and a whole flock of his friends. It was a strange movie and a strange night.

I went home today, did laundry, and visited with mom and JM. The weirdest thing I did today was cut papayas for Mrs. Pass. She came over to get mom to do it because she couldn't reach them, so I went over to help. It was interesting -- the trees are tall and woody, but they grow incredibly fast. In a year a papaya gets to be pretty big! I was up 8-9-10 feet or so, and I'd slice off these huge fruits bigger than a football. They came off the tree easily, green with a tinge of orange. Mrs. Pass said the possums were eating them -- she planned to get a gun and do the animals in. I held my tongue.

I saw a deer in Land O' Lakes today -- the first one I've ever seen there. When I turned on Wisteria Road from (highway) 41 it was grazing beside the road. It saw me and leaped into some underbrush. I couldn't believe it! Mom and I saw a raccoon that evening, too. There must be some hungry animals out there for some reason.

I finished my book -- "Wintering," by Diana Kappel-Smith -- it was tedious at first but I got very attached to it after a while. Now I'm watching "Against All Odds" because it's too early to go to bed, and it was either this or a "Dynasty" TV movie. It's an '80s kind of night!


I don't remember who went on that movie outing or why it was "a strange night."

Mrs. Pass was our next-door neighbor in Land O' Lakes, where I grew up. She was constantly grousing about animals eating her fruit, but to my knowledge she never shot any. She has since moved away, but my mom is still in touch with her.

Deer sightings in Land O' Lakes have become much more common, perhaps because of habitat loss and encroaching suburbs. I never saw deer there as a child, when they had more room to roam.

(Photo: My cat Angeles in my apartment around the time I wrote this journal entry. I got Angeles in 1985, when she was an adult stray who wandered up to my door. She died in 1993.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The other night I watched a BBC show about the history of ceramic arts in England. It discussed various potters and their work in different styles, going back hundreds of years. (I'm into this because I've done some wheel-throwing myself, though I was never very good at it!) The show, part of an ongoing series called "Handmade in Britain," featured remarkable pieces from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

So yesterday I went to the V&A to see them. I spent about two hours in the ceramics galleries, browsing shelves and shelves of plates, bowls, figurines, vases and other vessels from all over the world. I did find the pieces mentioned in the show -- though I had a terrible time finding John Dwight's figures of his young daughter in death and in resurrection, because they're located in a different part of the museum.

I also had a great time just browsing the galleries, which contain some really incredible stuff. One of my favorite pieces was Harry Parr's "Boy on a Toad." How bizarre is that?!

(Photo: I walked across Kensington Gardens to get to the museum. The day was bright and chilly, and jets were leaving some incredible, graceful trails in the sky.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mystery Dog

Yesterday was a busy day. I sorted out a persistent problem with our cable television, and I took Ruby to her (and our) first vet appointment in the UK.

We get our TV from Sky, and we've had problems with the picture and sound breaking up -- particularly on certain channels. There's nothing more maddening than looking forward to a show and then trying to watch it, live or recorded, only to have the picture break into a billion pixels and the sound stutter.

At Sky's suggestion, we'd already tried one fix that didn't work. Yesterday I contacted Sky and chatted online with one of their service reps, and we tried a few more solutions, each increasingly drastic. Finally he had me reinstall all the software in the cable box. This erased all our recorded shows (but a lot of them were unwatchable anyway, so I didn't care!) but seems to have solved the problem. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Yesterday afternoon, Ruby and I walked to the vet, about three blocks away. I was a little worried that even the walk would be too much for her, but she handled it with aplomb. The vet is very puzzled by her condition -- the huge accumulation of abdominal fluid paired with her relatively good overall health and demeanor. She said Ruby doesn't behave like a dog in heart failure, and that her heart sounds good. She wants to see the vet records from New Jersey, which I'm now trying to obtain. (Why didn't I think to bring them when we moved?) She said Ruby is a very interesting, mysterious case, and advanced various treatment possibilities -- even surgery, which sounds like a terrible idea to me.

For now we've got Ruby on diuretics to reduce the fluid and antibiotics for a persistent sore on her hip. We've got a followup appointment on Friday, but I'm going to postpone it unless I can get the records from New Jersey. The vet needs to see those before we do anything else.

(Photo: An alley in the St. James Park area near Pall Mall, Oct. 6.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 5, 1991

My friend Kevin recently introduced me to a blog called "A Geek's Journal 1976." The writer draws from his teenage journals and adds contemporary comments, and it's always funny to read about his Farrah Fawcett poster or his purchase of a Playboy magazine.

It got me thinking about my own journals. I've kept journals my whole life. Many of my childhood journals are either at home with my mom or with my brother. I lapsed during high school, and I destroyed some of my college journals, because I later found all the drama embarrassing. (Now I wish I still had them.) But I still have my journals from 1989 to about 2006, around the time I started this blog.

I decided to go back and see what I was doing 20 years ago. So I dug out my 1991 journal and found this. Special "decoder" footnotes follow.


Everything's going pretty well lately. Kevin and I are assembling our Guavaween costumes, which are going to be hilarious this year. We're going as waitresses, and I got these great waitress uniforms from Goodwill, some big plastic earrings, plastic beads, glasses, and we ordered name tags -- mine says "Irene." (We decided to keep our old woman names from last year.) This is going to be a trip. Oh, I got a wig of course, a really black one. I think it's actually supposed to be worn by a black woman, but oh well! All I need now are some support hose or something, and some menus, and a bunch of pencils to carry around with me. Hope nobody robs me for my tips! Actually, I am a little concerned about violence this time -- we'll see what happens -- but I think our costumes may invite trouble.

My Peace Corps recruiter has said I need more experience to volunteer. So I'm arranging to work at Tampa General Hospital to get health experience, and I'm going to get certified in CPR. She said that would show that I have an interest in health, and I could work with people on nutrition and sanitation. Sounds good to me -- I just want to go! I've arranged to attend a TGH volunteer orientation meeting Oct. 21, and I have to keep in touch with my recruiter every two weeks. Part of me still can't believe I'm doing this, but I have to do something. I have to take a risk if I'm ever going to grow beyond what I'm doing now.

Tonight I'm supposed to go to John & Sue's house for dinner. Arthur's coming too, and we're going to meet Michelle somewhere later on. It should be fun. Michelle just got back from Europe, so I'm sure she'll have all kinds of tales to relate about that trip. She called me two nights ago, and I asked her if she was in Liechtenstein or something -- that was the first time I'd heard from her in a year or so! I think she wants to meet us tonight at The Chatterbox, which will be interesting since Sue and I both hate that place. Oh well, it's a small concession to go there, since it's been months since I've seen Michelle. Arthur's no doubt going to be a complete putz, since he says he's broke. He'll probably drink water all night. He'll be in his martyr mode.

Last night I called JM and we went to a cool movie at Tampa Theater -- something about a little boy growing up in the south of France called "My Father's Glory." It was great! The scenery of the French countryside and Marseilles was beautiful.

Next weekend I'm going to Atlanta with Paul and Karl and a friend of theirs named Lucas. We're going to some huge flea market thing, though I'm going mainly just for the trip. I don't really plan to buy unless I see some immensely rare piece of Cathay! Which is unlikely!


Guavaween is Tampa's big Halloween parade and celebration. I went with Kevin -- the same Kevin who introduced me to "A Geek's Journal 1976" -- two years in a row, both times in terrible drag. The first year we were old women, and the second year, well -- you can see the evidence up top. It's interesting that I thought going in drag might put me in danger, which seems unlikely in retrospect.

This was while I was in the process of signing up for the Peace Corps. John, Sue and Michelle are all college friends, and Arthur was a coworker who'd become a close friend.

JM is my brother. The Tampa Theater is a cinema in downtown Tampa that at the time showed foreign and indie films and old revivals.

Paul and Karl are college friends who I often joined on flea-marketing trips. I didn't want to buy anything in Atlanta because I was trying to downsize in preparation for Peace Corps. Lucas, who accompanied us on that trip, died of AIDS in the mid-'90s.

At the time I collected a '60s china pattern called Cathay, which looked like this:

I eventually assembled a ridiculously large set -- service for 12, I think -- but in the late '90s I whittled it down and finally gave the remainder to a thrift store in New York in 2004 or so. Adios, Cathay.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


It's "A Foggy Day in London Town," as the old song goes. We woke up this morning to find the sun struggling weakly through a light, steely mist. I think it will burn off before long, but perhaps it's another sign of seasonal change -- like the yellowing tree in the courtyard, which you can barely see to the left in the photo below.

I spent Friday wandering around Marylebone and Fitzrovia, where I wanted to find the base of the BT Tower, a huge '60s-era telecommunications tower that presides over that part of the London skyline. It may be a landmark, but at the base it's nothing much. I had a fun afternoon, though, and the weather was great. I got a cappuccino at Cafe Nero and sat out on a plaza off Tottenham Court Road, watching humanity wander past. I talked briefly to a woman who had the most peculiar-looking puppy -- she said it was a chow-chow, but it looked more like a black bear. Whenever she tried to lead it somewhere, it lay down obstinately.

I met Dave and his coworker Gordon for some beers at a pub in St. Johns Wood that evening. Then, yesterday, we stayed in and watched the sadly mediocre "Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith." Only halfway through the movie did I realize I'd already seen it. It's like George Lucas got tired of his initially brilliant saga and just wanted to bring it to an end, as limply and mechanically as possible.

Dave made an excellent dinner last night -- whole sea bream from a fishmonger in Portobello Road, with oyster mushrooms and a baked potato. Yum!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rooster Express, part 2

Here's an addendum to my recent post about ubiquitous fast-food chicken restaurants. I found these next-door neighbors on Harrow Road north of Notting Hill. Talk about competition! (To make things even more intense, Chicken Valley, pictured in my earlier post, is right down the street.)

And then there's nearby Carolina Chicken, which -- while violating my theory that red signs are required for chicken chains -- seems to similarly mimic a corporate giant by borrowing its typeface from Coca-Cola.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Short Updates

-- Ruby had a better day yesterday. She slept a lot, so maybe she really is just worn out. In between, she ate, drank, took three short walks, wagged her tail, did what we call her "Milk Bone dance," and unnecessarily climbed a set of stairs when my back was turned. I read that "sundowning," or evening confusion and agitation, may be caused (in people, anyway) by a change in circadian rhythms. Goodness knows Ruby's circadian rhythms have taken a beating in the past week! I cased out our local vet and a 24-hour vet clinic, just in case, but we hope the crisis is past.

-- Regarding the "What I'm Reading" box at right: Up to now, I've been listing my next book as soon as I finish the previous book. But in this case, I haven't even started "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" yet. So henceforth I'll just leave the box blank until I actually start the book, because otherwise it looks like I take forever to read something. (Like anyone cares!)

-- Dave and I went to a pub Monday where he got a minced beef pie. They asked if he wanted gravy or "green liquor," and when we asked what "green liquor" is, the proprietor said it's an East London sauce made traditionally from, I kid you not, jellied eels. (But this version, she assured us, was vegetarian. Dave opted for it, or rather I opted for it on Dave's behalf.) We looked up the recipe online, and sure enough it calls for cooking a tub of jellied eels in stock. The "green" comes from parsley. Sadly, it turned out the pub was out of green liquor, so after all that he got gravy anyway.

-- From the pub we went on to the cinema to see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." It's one of those espionage movies that's just way too complicated. We couldn't make heads or tails of it. (And we'd only had one pint at the pub, so I doubt that was to blame!)

-- I'm trying something new in my evening gin & tonic: sloe gin. I always thought sloe gin was a brand of gin, but it's not. It's a drink unto itself, creating by soaking sloes, fruits of the wild blackthorn that are otherwise inedible, in gin or some other base alcohol. I bought Gordon's sloe gin, which uses plain old gin as the base. I drink it with tonic, just like usual gin, and it's pretty good. It's pink and tastes a bit like cranberries.

-- I never mentioned it before now, but I was sorry to hear about the death a few weeks ago of Bob Arihood, who kept a photo blog about New York's East Village called Neither More Nor Less. Arihood died last week, quite unexpectedly. His blog is one of several I read to keep up with New York and the neighborhood I most enjoyed.

-- Jumping back to New York and my previous entry about former disco drug den the Limelight, I learned some even more alarming news yesterday. Part of the Limelight is about to become an IHOP. Seriously, the world is ending.

(Photo: Shad Thames, Oct. 2)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Turn for the Worse

Ruby's health, as it turns out, may not be as stable as we first believed when she arrived on Friday. Despite her big belly and heart problems, she was mostly OK through the weekend, even eating most of a lamb bone. But when I took her for a walk yesterday morning, she collapsed on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure whether she lost consciousness -- if she did, she came back within moments -- but she couldn't stand for several minutes. Finally she did, and walked back to the apartment under her own power.

She slept all morning, which is typical, but in the afternoon she began acting a little strange -- restless and a bit disoriented. She ambled aimlessly around the apartment, panting. Then, in the evening, she had another episode, collapsing and appearing dazed. We sat with her for about an hour, thinking she might die right then and there. But she finally relaxed and fell asleep, and we brought her to bed when we turned in. I'd check on her whenever I woke in the night just to make sure she was still breathing. She slept very soundly.

This morning she seems more like herself. She got up, went outside, wagged her tail and ate breakfast as usual. She doesn't seem to be breathing with any difficulty. (That's Ruby in the foreground above, with Ernie looking at the camera.)

We're not sure what to expect. She could still be recovering from her transatlantic adventure -- maybe it weakened her more than we realized. I also walked her and Ernie around the neighborhood the first two days they were here, and maybe that was just too much too soon.

In any case, we're going to let her rest a bit more. Dave thinks she may be "sundowning," or having confusion and agitation in the evenings. We'll see what happens tonight. We don't believe there's any point in stressing her out with a visit to a vet -- we already know nothing can be done about her condition. If she continues to get agitated or have fainting spells, we may need to make a decision -- but I hope we can forestall that as long as possible.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Straw Fox

When I went walking with Sally and Liz last week, we came across this huge straw fox perched on the Southbank Centre, part of the arts center's 60th anniversary celebration of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The festival, held on the same site on the south bank of the Thames, was at the time conceived as a post-war mark of progress for a battered nation.

The fox is an outgrowth of a tradition at a farm in Cheshire, where each year people build a huge straw sculpture. Southbank Centre arranged to have this year's sculpture transported to London, and there are explanatory murals and photographs nearby showing how that feat was achieved.

"As we learn to become more careful with our resources, what better animal is there to represent wily resilience than an Urban Fox? These creatures have long been considered to be a uniquely British phenomenon," reads a display adjacent to the fox.

"Everyone remembers locking eyes with a fox in a garden or street. Urban Fox recreates that moment of wildness on a grand scale, so for a fleeting instant you are not sure who owns this space."

Personally, I think this fox is a little creepy. But then, urban foxes can be a bit creepy. I took Ernie and Ruby out for a walk the morning after they arrived, before the sun came up, and one ran across the parking lot right in front of us, watching us warily, as silent as a ghost. (Fortunately, the dogs, being old and somewhat blind and deaf, were none the wiser.)

I saw two in the courtyard this morning, too, making their high-pitched barks and squeals. A little creepy, but also pretty amazing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rooster Express

There's apparently an unwritten rule of marketing that says when you open a fast-food chicken restaurant in London, you must give it a red and white sign. Blue accents are permitted.

I love the names -- although my brother recently found a place in Tennessee called "Chicken Blast." (Which, incidentally, illustrates that the red-sign rule does not apply in the American South.) I can't top that one yet.

This place (below) might be going a bit overboard on the blue. Call the poultry police! (I couldn't get my own photo because a construction barrier was in the way -- thanks, Google Streetview!)

Of course, I think we all know who set the standard for red-and-white signage.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I've been spending a lot of time lately over at Sleepless in Southie, a blog by a young gay guy in Boston. I don't remember how I first stumbled onto his blog, but I've become quite addicted, and so far I've paged back through about 330 of his 445 pages of content. It's not often that I find myself motivated to read someone's entire blog.

It's not a lot of reading -- like many Tumblr blogs, it's mostly pictorial -- but it's a fun combination of gay culture, pop culture and brief posts about real-life issues like work and romance. (A word of caution to my readers -- this means you, Mom! -- those who click over must be prepared for frank discussions of gay sexuality.)

Anyway, I'm mentioning this because his blog has taught or reminded me about so much. For example, the story of Hibiscus.

You've all seen the photo below, right? It's a famous image from a 1967 anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon, by photographer Bernie Boston. It was published in Life magazine, among other places.

As a teenager, looking through my Life photography anthology, I always liked this image. I was a committed hippie sympathizer, and besides, that blond guy looked kind of cute. So when I stumbled onto the back story about the photo and the blond guy on Sleepless in Southie, I was fascinated.

It turns out his name was George Harris. At the time of the picture he was a teenager, but just a few years later in San Francisco he became a drag queen who went by the name of Hibiscus, part of a psychedelic drag act known as The Cockettes. He flourished in the counterculture scenes of San Francisco and New York until the early 1980s, when he died of AIDS. He was one of the first AIDS deaths in the country, dying before the disorder even had a name.

The New York Times Magazine ran an article several years ago about this photo and Harris. I think I read it at the time, but I'd forgotten it. So kudos to Sleepless for refreshing my memory.

Sleepless has also taught or reminded me:
-- that Alicia Bridges, who sang the '70s disco hit "I Love the Nightlife," is a lesbian.
-- that Mae West recorded a cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire."
-- that Karen Carpenter made a disco album.
-- that Track Palin, Sarah Palin's son, lived in Portage, Mich., in 2006 in order to meet hockey scouts. (Dave taught high school in Portage before moving to New York and meeting me!)
-- about popular Internet videos like Randall's "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger" and the Grey Gardens-ish Royce and Marilyn.
-- that one of Carol Channing's grandparents was black.
-- about gay author John Rechy, whose work I now plan to read.
-- about avant-garde New York performer Klaus Nomi.

Not to mention pop music and television -- this guy follows singers and shows that are utterly alien to me. (He has a special thing for Mariah Carey, but I have heard of her -- I'm not that pathetic!)

Also, he has the stereotypical gay fascination with Judy Garland, "Mommy Dearest" and other cultural touchstones. Once again I'm marveling that many gay men, even gay men of a younger generation who were 20 years away from being born when Judy Garland died, have such common interests. Fascinating!

(Top photo: Soho, London, on Thursday.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Last night, we toasted the arrival of the dogs with pink champagne! (After we gave them a bath, which was the first order of business.)