Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Day We Knew Would Come

Dave and I heard from our landlords yesterday that we will, indeed, have to move this summer. They're going to sell our flat.

As you know, I've been dreading this news for a while. We like our apartment and our neighborhood, and if it were entirely our decision we'd stay put. In fact, we thought we were safe because the apartment owners seem quite permanently ensconced in the United States. I'd been afraid they'd move back to London. I didn't count on them being so permanently ensconced that they wouldn't want to keep this place anymore.

Anyway, it's not a tragedy. In some ways it will be good. Dave and I have both chafed against living with an apartment full of other people's furniture -- it's not our style, you know? I have their pictures in the closets and their rug rolled up behind the wardrobe. The kitchen cabinets have their dishes pushed to the back. It will be nice to not have all their stuff around.

We could also find a place more suited to what we really need. Maybe a place with an outdoor garden for Olga! A place to plant the avocado tree and the horseradish!

We need to decide what we want to do next. I'm not sure we have time to buy -- we need preapproval for a mortgage, time to search and negotiate, and god forbid any deal we strike should fall through and leave us homeless. I'm inclined to move to another rental, and then look for a place to purchase at our leisure. (I'm also told buying is easier after we've been here a few more years, for bureaucratic immigration reasons.)

It's a good thing we'd planned not to travel much this summer!

(Photo: Shoreditch, London.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Palmetto Dreams

Yesterday turned out to be a challenge. When I had two jobs, there was enough work to keep me very busy during the day, and as a result I was able to block out a lot of the student hijinks going on around me in the library. Now that I'm back to just one job, I'm seeing more hijinks and feeling the need to intervene. I suppose that's better for the library but it's less pleasant for me!

And wow, did I ever sleep last night. I went to bed a little after 9 p.m., and I had a long series of dreams that took me twisting and winding along the shell marl coastal backroads of rural Florida. I didn't remember the plots when I woke up -- I never remember my dreams -- but there were a few flickering afterimages in my mind, like retinal ghosts.

Dave and I, trying to broaden our cultural horizons, watched the first episode of "Game of Thrones" on Sunday. I was immediately biased against the show because we have to buy it from iTunes for $4.99 per episode, which is just ridiculous. But we splurged on one just to see what's up. It's a bit too bloody and graphic for my taste. Even days later, I am haunted by the image of the boy being thrown off the tower. I just don't need unpleasant stuff like that in my life, do I?

I've finally finished putting my best photos from the Seychelles online. Should you be so inclined, you can see them here.

(Photo: Sitting in the rain in Paris, on Saturday.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Drag Queens of Paris

Reya and I saw these lovely ladies of street art while walking in the Marais on Saturday.

Reya's initial reaction to the pieces was negative -- the exaggerated make-up, the pouty expressions. But I argued that the "women" aren't women at all, but drag queens. They're so over-the-top.

Don't you think?

Somehow that makes them better. I'm reminded of the Suzanne Vega song "As Girls Go":

So beautiful
A damsel in distress
Not exactly natural
But stunning nonetheless

Yesterday was travel recovery time. I took Olga to the park and we had a long, long romp, but otherwise we all stayed home and relaxed. I couldn't even read, I was so tired from the day before -- the minute I picked up a book my eyelids began to droop. Hopefully after a good night's sleep I'll be a bit more energetic today!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Avec Reya à Paris

Reya and I enjoyed what can only be described as a very surreal day in Paris yesterday.

Oddities abounded at every turn. The street art followed us with strange and unsettling eyeballs. We encountered a giant thumb. We heard a busker softly play a sweet, melodic jazz version of "Hello Dolly" on a trumpet inside a subway car -- and then encountered a Gypsy orchestra on the platform. We wandered through courtyards within courtyards to find a hidden sundial. We found ourselves on a vast, windswept modernist plaza and inside a shopping mall with a Toys 'R' Us.

And of course we ate, and drank, and laughed. We had a terrific time.

My objective on this visit was to see La Grande Arche de La Défense, the giant modern arch that looks out over the city from the skyscraper district of La Défense. I had never been out to this part of Paris, west of the city, and it is so different from the quaint, narrow streets of the old town. The arch (above) sits in a direct line with the Arc d'Triomphe and, beyond that, with Cleopatra's Needle in the Place de la Concorde.

As you can see, the weather wasn't all that great, with light rain spattering intermittently. So we ducked into Le Dome, a shopping center just off the plaza...

...where we found an occasionally unsettling video display for a local animal park. (Thus began our eyeball theme.)

We visited César's sculpture "Le Pouce," or The Thumb, which clearly mystified not only us but other passersby as well (top). Then we hopped back on the metro and headed back into town.

Reya had taken a photo days earlier of a bizarre display of plastic animals outside a shop just off the Seine. Because this is my kind of weirdness, I asked to see it, and she found it again. Who wants a family of giant plastic Paris?!

We had lunch in a little cafe called Le Gribouille. (According to Google that translates to "the Doodles," whatever that means. Doodles like drawings? I suspect it is in fact named after this singer.) Reya had salmon, and I had a cheese-and-lardons potato gratin -- so huge I could only eat half -- and we both enjoyed some crisp white wine. Then we searched out the sundial, off the placid, green Place de Vosges, before wandering through the Marais and enjoying the street art.

The eyeball theme again!

At some point in the Marais I checked the time, and was shocked to find it was 5:45 p.m. -- the day had flown! Reya and I walked a bit more and had a last-minute coffee at a cafe before I had to head back to Gare du Nord for my return train to London.

All in all, it was a terrific day. It was wonderful to reconnect with Reya, who is such a refreshing, positive presence. We can laugh about silly things and talk about deep ones. We have a rapport that I treasure.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Off to Paris

All went well yesterday with the job hand-off, and now I am back down to just one job! Woo hoo! I am looking forward to regaining my quiet evenings with Dave, uninterrupted by phone calls, or even the lingering possibility of phone calls. I already feel so much lighter. (And somewhat poorer -- that's the downside.)

Today I am off to Paris for a daylong visit with my longtime blog friend Reya. It promises to be an interesting trip. No one sees the world in quite the way Reya does!

I am catching a 6:18 a.m. Eurostar, and I look forward to riding on a luxurious train for a couple of hours, reading my book, getting coffee from the dining car. The world needs more trains.

(Photo: A springtime scene in Ladbroke Grove, last weekend.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Squirt Gun

Last night as I was walking home from work, I passed a six- or eight-foot high hedge near a large apartment building. I saw movement from the corner of my eye and glanced into the hedge in time to see two boys, probably about ten years old, hiding with a large squirt gun. "This could be a problem," I thought, looking away -- and was immediately hit with a blast of water just behind my left ear.

At least, I guess it was water.

My mind instantly weighed two options. One, I could keep walking and ignore them. Two, I could teach them a lesson.

I stalked over to the hedge and yelled in their suddenly terrified faces: "Do you want me to call the cops?! You're assaulting people!"

Those boys tore out of that hedge like their pants were on fire. I circled around the bushes and yelled at their backs, retreating across the lawn: "Do you want me to talk to your parents?!"

Of course, the cops would laugh in my face and I had no way of contacting their parents -- but the boys didn't know that. Dave would say I "went all New York on them." I am a nice guy, I swear -- but I am not going to take that from kids, especially not after working all day amid hundreds of them making mischief in a school library. It was a teachable moment, right?

The last I saw they were running down Edgware Road, a good two blocks away from me, and widening the gap as fast as their legs could carry them.

As I turned to resume my walk I saw that one of the boys dropped his hat in the hedge.

So here's my new hat! It's not really my style, though, I must admit. It's already in the bag for the charity shop.

(Top photo, completely unrelated: I often pass this vintage Citroen DS 21 on my walk to work. I always think it looks like a cowfish.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Houseplant Drama

I have very little to say today. I was exhausted when I got home from work last night, and fortunately no one called in sick, so Dave and I got to watch a couple of episodes of "The Good Wife" before falling into bed. We didn't even eat a real dinner -- I just had a peanut butter sandwich and some celery sticks. It felt good to let my system cleanse itself after the indulgence of the night before.

Our avocado is growing ever bigger in its new pot, even as it drops its older, edge-browned leaves. The new leaves are coming in fresh and green and without brown patches, so whatever went wrong after I repotted it appears to have subsided. (Fingers crossed!)

Our horseradish has been cursed with a heavy dose of aphids this spring. It got so bad that I diluted some dish soap in water and sprayed the plant, washing the aphids off the leaves with my fingers. I've done that twice now, and it seems to help a lot. The leaves are a bit misshapen because those bugs are sucking the life out of them. I did see a ladybug on the balcony the other day, so perhaps they're coming to the rescue. (I'm trying to minimize my aphid-washing to let other critters do their thing.)

(Photo: A dandelion in Wormwood Scrubs, last weekend.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Le Gavroche

I'm a bit bleary-eyed this morning. Last night Dave and I went with our friends Gordon, Donna and Keith to Le Gavroche, a well-known Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair. We've been trying to get a table there for a while, and finally -- after some maneuvering -- Gordon was able to get us in. We've had the reservation for weeks, if not months.

A Tuesday night (i.e. a school night) is not the best time for a multi-course meal with wine pairings, but we indulged anyway and of course it was terrific.

I got up in the middle of the night to drink water and take aspirin, and I suppose I'm ready for the workday. If it's anything like yesterday it will be crazy -- I had six people call in sick and ask for subs, and the library was busy as all get-out with people returning mountains of Spring Break reading material. Plus the kids hadn't seen their friends for weeks so they were all wound up.

Fortunately, the school has hired a new sub coordinator, and she is due to start on Monday. So I'll wrap up this week and then overlap a bit with her next week to help her train, and then I'm free of one of my two jobs!

(Photo: Notting Hill, this week. Dave really likes these bushes but we don't know what they're called. Anyone have any idea?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bottle Cap Art

Yesterday afternoon I had to meet someone for coffee in Maida Vale -- a friend of a friend who is in college studying journalism, and wanted to talk about the business. On the way home, walking through Notting Hill, I glanced down an alley and saw this colorful artwork.

These creations made of bottle caps decorated plywood sheets on the doors and windows of a building. I'm not sure who did them or why, but they were interesting!

I'm calling it "Bottle Cap Art," but as you can see there were other objects incorporated as well, including vinyl records and mirrors.

These two women decided to use the art as a backdrop for a long series of fashion-model-type photos. They posed, walked, vamped and carried on for a while, which was pretty amusing to watch.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Uneventful Easter

Well, this is it: The last day of Spring Break, or Easter Monday, as it's known here in the U.K. I suppose I should be sleeping in, but I've never been much of a sleeping-in person. Even Olga is still in bed, and she's usually up with the sun.

Easter was uneventful, as one would expect in a non-deity-worshipping household. In fact I wouldn't have even known it was Easter had I relied on first-hand experience -- I saw no sign of Easter observance in our neighborhood. The churches were not outwardly decorated in any particular way. They appeared, to me, as moribund as ever.

We watched a couple of episodes of "The Good Wife" (which we're just starting) and then "Back to the Future," which I haven't seen since I was about 18. Dave made lamb for dinner, and I suppressed my ethical conundrums about eating a poor defenseless lamb long enough to eat -- and it did taste pretty good, although lamb will never be my favorite meat.

Ironically, given that it was Easter, I finished Sam Harris's book "The End of Faith," a strongly worded argument against all organized religion. Harris sees religion as a force dragging us ever-backward, away from reason and scientific and social advancement, toward armed conflict and tribalism. And he's not just talking about fundamentalists -- he's talking about all religion, and in fact sees moderates as complicit in the problem by creating circumstances that tolerate the extremist fringes. I think he's essentially correct, though I must admit I got lost in some of his deeper philosophical discussions about ethics. (Maybe I was too worried about that lamb!)

(Photo: An alley in Shoreditch on Saturday.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adela Reaumurella

Olga and I went to Wormwood Scrubs yesterday, and we encountered an unusual cluster of insects hovering and swarming around a nondescript blackberry bush. They were like nothing I'd ever seen before, metallic and irridescent, with long, white antennae that seemed to stay more or less vertical as they flew. They'd take to the air when the sun shone, and resettle on the foliage whenever the sun slipped behind a cloud.

At first I thought they were some type of fly, but after I got home and did some research I determined they are Adela reaumurella, which is actually a moth. Isn't that a great Latin name? So poetic!

I know everyone is clamoring to see Olga in her new red harness. I still prefer the pink, but since that wasn't an option, I can live with this. She is clearly pleased with it.

Last night Dave and I went with some of his coworkers to dinner and to see the National Youth Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. One of Dave's students was playing in the orchestra, which performed a contemporary work by Thomas Adès called "Asyla" -- which included a movement based on the pounding rhythms of a London nightclub -- as well as Richard Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben." I found the Adès piece more interesting, though it was one of those dissonant, chirpy, clangy experiences that definitely isn't for everyone.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Did Not Eat the Worm

Our weather is a tad schizophrenic at the moment. Thursday was so warm I went without a jacket, but yesterday had a chilly edge. It was about 50ºF when I went walking in Shoreditch to renew my stock of London photography. I had a great walk and caught up with some street art, which I've been pretty much ignoring in recent months.

When I came back to Notting Hill I dropped by the florist near our flat to ask what happened to the homeless woman who lived on the doorstep there. (You may remember that I wrote about her in mid-February and she vanished about a month after that.) Turns out her name is Sarah, and she was picked up by Social Services because, as the florist put it, "she was getting really bad." (Whatever that means.) They said they think she's in the hospital now. At least she's hopefully being well cared for.

In return for this information, I bought three stems of delphinium for the insane price of £21.

Dave and I then ran some errands, including going to a local pet store for an emergency supply of hypoallergenic food for Olga. I belatedly realized yesterday that her food supply has dwindled and here we are, in the middle of a long holiday weekend. Our usual supplier -- the vet -- is closed until Tuesday! Yikes! The pet shop we visited didn't have her usual food but we cobbled together some options to keep her fed into next week, and also bought her a new harness (red, because they were out of the pink). Everything together came to the insane price of £85.

I am all for supporting local businesses, I really am. And I understand how they might cost a bit more. But clearly we can't really afford our local businesses.

Finally, I met up last night with my friend Jennifer, from my newspaper days in Florida, who's visiting London. We all had drinks back at our flat, and while she was here the dementia-afflicted magazine man stopped by and asked us for a magazine. All we had handy was a New Yorker, which I hadn't even read except for Ian Frazier's fascinating piece on horseshoe crabs -- but I gave it to him anyway. Then the three of us went to dinner at the pub across the street, where the manager -- who knows me and Dave -- gave us each a free tequila shot, which seems like a weird thing to dole out in a British pub. I have never done a tequila shot in my life, but now I can say I have. I probably never will again.

(Photo: Taking a smoke break outside Liverpool Street Station near Shoreditch, yesterday morning.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rolling in Petals at the End of the World

Olga was literally "in the pink" yesterday at the park. The cherry trees are dropping their blossoms and she had a great time rolling around in them.

My own recent "in the pink" experience -- my sunburn -- has faded. It was never very severe and not at all painful; I had no peeling and certainly no blisters. Knock on wood, I've never been sunburned badly enough to blister.

Apparently it's Easter weekend! Who knew?! Today and Monday are bank holidays in the U.K., so everything is closed. Just one more reason to hang out and take things slow before school resumes on Tuesday.

On a heavier note, I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine yesterday about a longtime environmental activist who says we humans have to stop deluding ourselves that we can stop or slow our current ecological crisis. He no longer believes we can turn the tide on global warming or mass extinctions. What we have to do now, he believes, is learn to live with what we've created:

“What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad?”

It's a fascinating article, and perhaps it resonated with me because of my basic cynicism about the future of the planet. Other environmentalists criticize this guy's approach, saying he's given up -- but he says the only hope he has abandoned is false hope. Sounds reasonable to me. Maybe I'm a "crazy collapsitarian."

There is still beauty, though. Look at that dog! Look at those petals!

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Olga arrived home last night, and promptly did what she always does when she comes home from the kennel -- ate a big bowl of food and fell fast asleep. We always joke that they must not feed her there! I suspect that when she's away from home she neither eats nor sleeps completely normally, being in a less familiar environment.

While Olga came back safe and sound, her trademark pink harness did not. Apparently it got filthy on one of her walks (easy to imagine), the kennel staff removed it, and it somehow got thrown away. That's the story, anyway. The guy who brought her home offered to pay for it, but we'd already intended to get her a new one, so I told him not to worry about it. I can walk her for now using her collar, but I do think she probably needs a harness -- she's been known to wiggle out of that collar in moments of great excitement ("Cat! CAT!") and I wouldn't want her streaking away from me and into London traffic.

As for me, I stayed awake all day yesterday, despite having slept only about 20 minutes on our flights. (I can't sleep on airplanes, and I've never understood how anyone can -- though I can see how it might be easier for people who aren't 6'2.) I did laundry, which I have been looking forward to for days. I hate carrying around a bag full of clothes steeped in salt water, sweat and sunblock.

Dave made boeuf bourguignon, and we watched some Star Trek.

Someone asked about the beach glass -- here's the only piece I kept, the sloped and cracked neck of a bottle. All the glass I found was basic green or brown bottle glass, in varying shades, and I left most of it behind on the beach, piled beneath a tree for whoever wants it. I really try to bring back a minimum of stuff whenever I travel. I don't want to load up the house with souvenirs.

I kept these shells, too. They're just like shells I would have bought as a kid in those baskets of assorted shells from cheap Florida gift shops -- like Stuckey's, maybe -- and so different from shells we'd find on any beach in the Sunshine State. They seem exotic, even now.

Today means more laundry, and catching up in blogland and finishing the book I'm now reading, "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier (who, by the way, is not a man). Olga and I will probably also renew our acquaintance with the park.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back Home Again

I am back in London, where the WiFi is blessedly fast. Woo hoo! Our flights back home were uneventful -- we passed through Abu Dhabi once again, and this time we made our connection. It made for a long day of flying (about 12 hours) but we endured.

Yesterday Dave and I sat on the patio at our hotel in the Seychelles and talked about how, for the most part, we had been spared rain. Almost as soon as we said it a series of little rainstorms developed around us, including this one across the bay. We still only got spattered with a few drops.

I felt a bit stir-crazy just sitting around all day waiting for our 5:30 p.m. taxi, so while Dave read I took a walk to a neighboring beach. I found four or five little shells (devoid of hermit crabs, I swear) and some beach glass. Isn't it funny how a beach can take a broken bottle, wear away the sharp edges and turn it into something desirable?

Dave and I also spent part of yesterday talking about the things that most surprised us about the Seychelles. One is the complete absence of sea gulls, at least from what we saw. Have you ever seen a beach environment with no sea gulls? Instead they have long-tailed tropicbirds (left), the closest thing I could find to a gull. Much more elegant, and better behaved, too.

I was also surprised by the predominance of French. I expected the Seychellois people to speak English, the Seychelles having been an English colony for more than 100 years. But the earliest settlers were French, and the French influence never waned.

Olga comes home this afternoon, and then it's back to our London routines!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Big City, and a Mild Burn

Today we went to Victoria, the bustling capital of Seychelles. I say that only slightly jokingly, because despite its small size, it really is busy with cars and people. It took me a good five minutes to get that photo above, waiting for a break in the traffic.

Victoria is located on the other side of the island of Mahé from where we're staying, at Anse Soleil. Getting over there is an adventure, as we have to traverse a mountain range! We hired a taxi for the day and saw some spectacular scenery from the mountain peaks, as well as the ruins of an old Capucin Mission created in the mid-1800s to educate the children of freed slaves.

We had a creole lunch at a restaurant called Marie Antoinette, toured the local market (full of fish and mysterious produce) and visited the somewhat dusty little Natural History Museum.

Have I mentioned that it is freaking HOT here? If I have one complaint about our hotel, it's that it is a long way from everything. Even walking out to the main road, to the small settlement of Baie Lazare, means an arduous journey up and down some steep hills. I've done it twice now, including yesterday, when I photographed this colorful little building that houses the library and a crafts center.

Dave likes the remoteness. He's definitely getting his wish for a place where there is little to do but relax. I think I like a bit more connectedness, but if I'm willing to sweat it out I can explore a bit.

Of course, there's also the water, a cooler recreational option. Here's one of those aforementioned crabs, hanging on for dear life amid the onslaught of a crashing wave. I went snorkeling yesterday morning and had another miraculous aquarium-swimming experience, though it was tempered by a touch of sunburn. I am so careful about sunblock, and I even wore a shirt -- but I did not count on the elastic in my swimsuit going a bit slack so that the suit rode down, exposing what might be politely called my lower lower back to the sun. I now have a two-inch strip of sunburn that looks, from behind, like a pink belt. (Does anyone else have itchy sunburn? It doesn't hurt. It just itches like crazy.)

Here's one of those fruit bats I mentioned. They are very large. They look like circling buzzards. Apparently some restaurants serve them, and Dave kept talking about trying one, but I argued against it for ecological reasons. (There seem to be a ton of them, so I'm not sure my concerns are sound. Eating a bat just feels wrong.)

Finally, here's a little shop I found with the amusing name of G. Fock Yune. (There's also an R. Fock Yune a little bit down the road -- a relative, according to our taxi driver.)

We are headed back to London tomorrow. I'll re-enter the blog world more fully once we get home!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From the Seychelles, Live!

Believe it or not, we have arrived at a hotel with WiFi. At least, some semblance of WiFi. If I told you how long it took to load these pictures we could debate whether I am truly connected or not -- but they did get there, eventually.

The Seychelles are almost absurdly beautiful. They're like everyone's stereotypical idea of a tropical paradise, with turquoise water, colorful birds, copious sunshine broken by brief, refreshing rainstorms, exotic flowers and plants and plentiful relaxation. Nothing in the Seychelles happens quickly, as any Seychellois person will tell you.

Getting here turned out to be a challenge. Our flight left late from London, so by the time we arrived in Abu Dhabi we'd missed our connection. The airline put us up in a hotel (for a few hours, because by this time it was the middle of the night) and when we set out to find some food, all we could come up with was...

…McDonald's. But I must say, that was a darn good Big Mac. It's all about the special sauce, isn't it?

The next morning we were on the first flight out, and our arrival in the Seychelles went smoothly. We landed on Mahé, which is the main island, and got a brief tour of the capital, Victoria (which seems to be about eight square blocks) courtesy of our taxi driver. He then took us to the jetty for the ferry to Praslin, the location of our first hotel.

Praslin is a quieter island, with idyllic beaches like Anse Lazio, where the thatched lifeguard stand provided a place for some local romance. (The lifeguard himself is on the right, and he did seem to be paying attention.)

The wildlife is amazing. This orange bird is a Madagascar fody, and they're very common, flitting around in their bright breeding plumage. I think the little brown bird in front may be the female. Only the males turn orange, apparently.

We've seen lots of other amazing birds, and huge fruit bats that circle through the skies in afternoon and evening. We snorkeled on a reef, and yes, it was like an aquarium, to use a tired but truthful analogy.

And of course, we've seen lots of giant tortoises. Literally dozens of them. They love having their necks scratched.

Yesterday Dave and I went to the Valle de Mai, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of the Coco de Mer palm. These palms only grow in the Seychelles, mainly on Praslin, and they live an incredibly long time for a tropical tree -- something like 800 years. They're best known for their curvy and suggestive seeds, which weigh several kilos and are the largest in the plant kingdom.

Our guide at the Valle de Mai introduced himself as Sean, "just like Sean Connery -- but I can't act."

Dave quipped, "Well, you look just like him."

We've seen lots of geckos and lizards, too. And crabs! This place is simply crawling with crabs. The good kind.

We left Praslin yesterday and came back to Mahé, where we will spend the rest of our trip, being forced to witness sunsets like these:

Yes, they really look like that. Virtually every night.

Oh, and there's going to be a lot of this going on.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back to Thamesmead

When we were in South London on Saturday, our bus swept past this stop. I was sitting on the upper deck and I had the surreal sensation of being enveloped in a pink cloud. I saw the dirt pile out the window, the bleak industrial landscape, and imagined how the bus stop must look, with that lone pink tree standing sentinel.

I could not get that image out of my head.

So yesterday, after I took Olga to the park and as I prepared to run errands to get ready for our departure for the Seychelles today, I decided I had to go back to South London and get a picture of that tree, that bus stop. It haunted me. And I couldn't wait, because the tree would stop blooming soon -- it was now or never.

So that was my afternoon yesterday -- a tube ride, another tube ride and then a bus ride back to North Greenwich, and I am so happy with the results. I love that picture. I didn't count on the beautiful, windswept shape of the tree, which makes it all the better.

As long as I was down there, I thought I'd go on to Thamesmead, as was my original plan on Saturday. So I did, getting off the bus and wandering through a landscape of urban Brutalist architecture interspersed with big, grassy park spaces.

No one ever told me there would be horses wandering around Thamesmead. But there are. That was a surprise.

I didn't try to find specific movie locations for either "A Clockwork Orange" or "Beautiful Thing," both of which were filmed here. But I got a general sense of the settings, seeing the buildings up close and wandering through their maze-like courtyards, labyrinthine outdoor corridors and forbidding ground-level car parks.

I actually like the architecture, though the buildings are showing their age.

This morning Dave and I have to pack and get ourselves out of here. The dog is already at her boarding quarters. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to blog from the Seychelles but I'll try. If not, I'll catch you up when we return in about a week!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

South London Lunch

Yesterday we went down to South London to meet Sally and Mike for lunch. We invited along Anna, one of Dave's coworkers from the music department, and her husband Lawrence, who funnily enough just bought a house a few doors away from Sally and Mike. We figured they should all meet!

We had a good pub lunch and then made our way to Anna and Loz's house, where we saw all their planned improvements.

I admire anyone who enters the real estate market here in London and emerges unscathed with a proper house. Dave and I have talked about trying to buy, but it seems like a much scarier process than it is in the states. For example, one can make an offer on a house and have it accepted by the buyer, and still lose the house to another purchaser who offers a higher price at any point before closing. Besides, property prices here are insane, and getting more insane all the time.

Anyway, my original plan had been to leave lunch and go to Thamesmead, a '60s planned community along the river, to do some photography. Almost from its inception Thamesmead was considered a forbidding environment, representative of all the bleakness that a London council estate can embody. Parts of "A Clockwork Orange" were filmed there, for example.

But we didn't leave Anna's until 5 p.m., so I ditched that idea. Instead we walked to the top of a hill at an old quarry near their house in Charlton, from which we had expansive views over Canary Wharf (above) and the Thames Barrier (top).

Another resident of the street where Sally, Mike, Anna and Loz live is Herbie the Love Bug -- or at least his blue cousin.

I may try my Thamesmead outing again today, though with all we have to do before our trip tomorrow, it would probably make more sense to stay home.