Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lassie Finds My Hat

Yesterday morning, as I was walking Olga, we came to an intersection. Rather than turning right, which we always do at this particular corner, Olga was very insistent that we walk straight, along very busy Finchley Road. I never really like walking along Finchley Road, but I gave in. So we walked a few hundred feet and there, lying on the ground, was my hat.

Now, this is very weird, because I hadn't even realized my hat was missing. I had a vague idea that I hadn't seen it in a few days, but at this time of year I don't really need it so I didn't give it much thought. There's no question, though, that the hat lying on the sidewalk was mine -- because who else in my neighborhood has a beanie bearing the logo of the University of South Florida football team?

I haven't walked on Finchley Road for a very long time. I think I must have dropped it on the side street where Olga and I walk almost daily, and it made its own way around the corner -- in someone's hand, or via the wind, or something. It was a little the worse for wear -- torn open on the top, in fact --  as if it had been run over by countless cars. But I brought it home and washed it and sewed up the top seam, and it's as good as new. (Well, OK, not that good -- but as good as before I lost it.)

When I told Dave this story, he looked at Olga and said, "Good job, Lassie!"

I'd like to think Olga wanted to walk along Finchley Road because she somehow knew my hat was there. But honestly, that's just too crazy to believe. I think it was a happy coincidence.

At the risk of exhausting you with dog news, here's Olga on our neighborhood basketball court yesterday morning. We found two balls there -- both already punctured, thank goodness! She had fun chasing them around, and I let her bring the football home. In a sure sign that she is slowing down a bit in middle age, she has not yet torn it apart. It's sitting right in front of me, on the floor rug in our living room.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell about yesterday. I read, did laundry, poked around in the garden, took Olga to the West Heath. We're back to some fairly chilly, cloudy weather this weekend, so there will be no basking in the spring sunshine, unfortunately. In fact, I may need my hat!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Dreaded Red Blotch

These are our amaryllis(es) this year. They're coming along, but they don't look so great. Some of the flowers seem stunted and dry, and one bunch died outright.

These never quite got successfully launched.

I'm not an expert, but I think the plants have a fungus known as red blotch. See those red streaks on the flower stems (especially on the one above)? And the red patches on the leaves? They indicate red blotch.

From the reading I've done, our options at this point are to buy a systemic fungicide or discard the bulbs entirely and start over. Even though I'm not a fan of poisons, I hate to toss the plants -- we've had these bulbs five years and I always enjoy them, and properly cared for, they should last for decades. So I'm leaning toward the fungicide option. I still need to explore availability and cost, though.

Granted, these plants have been a little bit wonky from the very beginning -- often one bulb lags behind the others or produces stunted flowers. In retrospect, I think I've been seeing signs of red blotch for years -- slightly curled or misshapen leaves, for example. I just never recognized them as a serious problem. They may have had the fungus even when we first bought them. Argh!

Friday, April 21, 2017


I've been listening to "S-Town," the newest podcast from the producers of "This American Life" and "Serial." I just finished it last night, sitting on our bench in the back garden.

It was a very strange experience.

I'll be careful not to spoil any surprises. The podcast began as an investigation of a murder in small-town Alabama, reported to the producers in a letter from a disgruntled resident. He quips that he lives in "Shit-town," and he turns out to be quite a colorful character -- both genius and, possibly, lunatic. Soon, circumstances change and the podcast becomes something else entirely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but about halfway through I began experiencing nagging feelings of doubt about its journalistic purpose. The murder tip doesn't pan out, and we're left with an examination of one man's small-town life, in extremely intimate detail. And that man, for reasons that become apparent, doesn't fully participate in revealing all these details about himself. Is the show just high-brow reality programming, radio-style? Or is it something more -- an exploration of what it's like to be different in a remote, rural community?

As a former newspaper editor, I found myself questioning the story's raison d'etre. I think it succeeds, in the end, but if I'd put it together myself I'd have done two things differently. I'd have elided some of the intimate physical details about this man's past relationships, the reporting of which frankly seems like an unnecessary violation of privacy. And I'd have discussed -- somewhere along the line -- why the podcast remained relevant, despite the loss of its initial journalistic purpose. I understand wanting the listeners to determine that for themselves, but I think it would have helped us crystallize our view of the finished product. (Surely there were internal debates among the producers about whether to continue reporting, given the twists and turns in the story -- what were those like?)

Anyway, it's hard to explain all this if you haven't heard the show, and I don't mean to drag it down. I found it fascinating and I looked forward to every episode. (There are only 7 of them.) If you're at all interested in Southern culture, give it a listen.

(Photo: A church in Walthamstow, East London.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

E-Mail Calamity and Laura Nyro

We had a little incident at work yesterday in which a guy mistakenly sent an e-mail chain of medium sensitivity to, literally, the entire school. Or at least all the employees. It popped up in my e-mail box and I began reading it, thinking, "I don't think I was supposed to get this." And then, like any nosey reporter, I kept on reading right to the bottom.

Then a second e-mail arrived advising us that the previous e-mail contained "personal information" and should be deleted. Not only was it too late, in my case, but telling people that an e-mail contains something they shouldn't see is a sure-fire way to get them to read it. He should have just said "disregard my previous e-mail" and left it at that.

I did feel bad for the guy, though. It's such an easy mistake to make.

I don't think I've ever done it in a work context, but back in the mid-'90s, when the Internet was new, I once wrote an incredibly personal e-mail to a guy I knew. He and I had a fling at a journalism convention, and I wrote him about our time together, and then somehow sent the e-mail to everyone in my address book! Because the Internet was new, this wasn't many people -- maybe ten -- but I remember my mother was on the list. I was mortified. Several of the addresses were already out of date, including hers (thank God). I called the others up and asked them to delete the e-mail, and they said they did, but even then I was pretty certain they probably read it first.


In other news, I read an article in the Guardian pointing out that it's been 20 years since songwriter Laura Nyro died. Do you know her? I remember being shocked at the time because she was only 49. (Younger than I am now!) She wrote several songs that were big hits in the late '60s and early '70s for The Fifth Dimension, like "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Save the Country." I was an ardent fan of The Fifth Dimension in high school (despite the fact that they broke up in 1975 and everyone around me was listening to Devo and Billy Idol), so I knew her work well.

I remember trading computer messages with a copy editor at work about Nyro's sad, untimely death. This copy editor and I had a somewhat contentious working relationship, but this was one subject we bonded over. I expressed embarrassment about my infatuation with The Fifth Dimension. "Oh, but they made some great harmonies," she said.

(I still have about six Fifth Dimension albums in my iTunes.)

Nyro was an amazing pianist and singer herself. Her album "New York Tendaberry," from 1969, is one of my favorites.

(Photo: A cafe in Walthamstow, East London.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Flat Inspection

Yesterday after work Dave and I had to race home to meet someone from our landlord's property management company who came to inspect the condition of our flat. For some reason, this year, before renewing our lease, they wanted to take a look. We didn't mind, but it's strange that suddenly they've taken an interest.

Maybe it's because during our three years here, we've had to prevail upon them to replace both the dishwasher and the washing machine. They think we're The Who, smashing up the place.

Anyway, the inspector noted a few problems like potential damp corners near the back door, broken floor tiles in the bathroom (they were like that when we moved in, honest!) and a need to redecorate the living room (!). Our white living room wallpaper is peeling and bubbling a bit, it's true, but we don't really notice it. I doubt the landlord's going to go down that road.

Dave pointed out a problem with the electric oven -- when we turn it on, it sometimes turns off by itself in mid-bake. I think there's a faulty switch or connection somewhere. We've told them about it before but it's a very intermittent problem, usually easily corrected by turning the switch again. But the inspector seemed to think this is a potentially major issue. We'll see if anything changes there.

In between all this, the handsome and very chatty young Portuguese guy doing the inspection told us all about his dogs (a Yorkie and a Pomeranian), his partner and his flat in Vauxhall.

Very chatty. I think he liked us -- which hopefully bodes well for lease renewal!

In other news, I made an appointment next week with our new doctor to have a suspicious rough spot on my forehead checked out. When you have fair skin and you grew up in a very sunny place, skin issues are bound to arise and must be addressed. I couldn't get this spot to vanish with the cream I got from our old doc, so it's back to the experts. (And let me offer a word of advice -- never Google "skin spot that won't heal." Terrifying!)

(Photo: A huge rhododendron on Hampstead Heath.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Celebrity Poppy Rescue

Our plant rescue nursery persists!

You may remember that the sidewalks are being re-paved in our neighborhood (resulting in the destruction of the volunteer hellebore). Well, a few days ago I spotted some small poppy seedlings growing in a crack beneath a neighbor's garden wall. They'd obviously spread there naturally, and yesterday morning, while walking Olga, I gently extracted a few of them to save them from the pavers. I brought them home and potted them -- two of the five wilted because I didn't get enough root, but the others seem to be holding their own for now. We'll see whether they survive!

We had purple poppies in our front garden last year that appeared all by themselves. This year, I don't see a trace of them. The shrubbery has filled in and less sun is hitting the ground, and poppies like sun. Since those guys may not come back, I hope these new seedlings make it.

(They were growing in the sidewalk in front of the home of some of our famous neighbors. Dave joked that I was stealing celebrity poppies -- he threatened to commit the act to video -- but I think if they're just random volunteer seedlings growing in the cracks of a public sidewalk they're fair game, don't you? Especially when they're doomed to death by re-paving? I wasn't taking them out of the neighbors' garden.)

Meanwhile, our rescued orchid -- the one that produced a single malformed flower several weeks ago -- has opened a second bud. This one seems normal.

I know all this must seem incredibly inconsequential (and slightly insane) when the United States is about to go to war with Russia, Syria, North Korea and God knows who else -- but you know, I just have to deal with things on my own level. I can't stop North Korea, but I can save plants.

We spent yesterday here at home, walking Olga up to Fortune Green and around the cemetery. Also, I finally booked my flight to Florida for July, direct to Jacksonville. I'm committed!

(Top photo: A sunny sky, jet trail and building under construction, seen from our street.)

Monday, April 17, 2017


I mentioned the in yesterday's post that the bluebells are out on Hampstead Heath. Here's what they look like -- a blue carpet beneath the new, fresh green trees. We have bluebells in our garden, too, but for some reason ours don't seem quite as far along.

Bluebells come in a variety of colors, including white and pink, but most of them are purple. Here's a clump growing out in the middle of a field.

Olga loves them too!

I walked her on the Heath yesterday for about three hours, and then we came home and watched "The Towering Inferno." Dave spent the day planting in the garden. We have one more day of break -- today, a holiday known in the UK as "Easter Monday" -- and then we're back to work!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The New Pound

Olga is starting this Easter morning in a bit of gastric distress. She's out in the yard eating grass again. That dog -- I don't know what she gets into, but sometimes her stomach is tied in knots. I think it comes from drinking out of the birdbath, but just try to stop her!

We're having a low-key weekend around here. No rabbits, no jelly beans, no egg hunts. I did laundry yesterday and hung it out to dry in the intermittent sunshine. The photo above was my attempt to contrast the flowers on my shirt with the real vegetation in the garden.

That shirt, by the way, has a label from Structure, a store that I used to love and where I bought a lot of clothes as a younger man. But I bought it at a Salvation Army store in Tampa, and I consider it one of my prize thrift store purchases. Literally every time I wear it, I get a compliment. Don't you love clothes like that?

Dave and I went out for breakfast yesterday at a neighborhood cafe we've been wanting to try. It's a very no-frills breakfast-and-lunch place, popular with road workers and builders and other working guys. (And they were all guys, at least while we were there.) You can't get eggs florentine and it's not going to win any culinary prizes, but for plain ol' bacon and eggs it was great.

Then I took Olga to the West Heath. The bluebells are out in the woods, patches of purple on the shady forest floor. Olga ran and ran. She didn't get out much while I was in Newcastle -- her dog walker didn't come on Friday because it was a bank holiday -- so she really needed it. I'll probably take her out today, too.

While I was holed up in my hotel room in Newcastle on Thursday night, I finally had a chance to watch a movie I've been meaning to see -- an old TV dramatization, from 1981, based on the National Guard shootings at Kent State University about a decade earlier. I remember watching it when it was first broadcast, but I was never able to find it later on VHS, DVD or streaming video. Finally, browsing online, I came across a rather low-quality posted version. It wasn't bad, and I remembered quite a bit of it from the first time around. The cast included a very young Ellen Barkin.

Also in Newcastle, I got my first new pound coin! It was in my change when I bought my bus ticket to see the Angel of the North. I meant to take a picture of it but of course I spent it before I had a chance. They're very shiny coins, at least at this new and fresh stage. Apparently they're much harder to counterfeit than the older coins, a ridiculous proportion of which (1 in 30) are said to be fakes. I don't know what metal the old ones are made of, but they're pretty heavy and make a rather distinctive "clack-clack" sound when they knock against each other. These new ones, on the other hand, are lighter and supposedly even include a hologram, but it wasn't obvious to me.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Newcastle and Gateshead

I made it back OK from Newcastle yesterday evening, coming home to find Dave and two of his coworkers immersed in a daylong curriculum planning exercise in our dining room. Happily, not long after I arrived, it morphed into a warm, welcoming chili dinner!

So let me share some of my Newcastle photos. I spent almost all morning wandering the town. I walked down by the riverfront, where the arched Millennium Gateshead Bridge echoes the shape of the older Tyne Bridge, just upstream. In between, there's the silvery slug-shaped Sage Gateshead concert hall.

There seems to be a lot of urban redevelopment going on in central Newcastle. That made for good photography -- you know how I love old, weather-beaten shopfronts.

I walked through the elegant university campus and into Leazes Park...

...where some of the pathways are inlaid with metal flowers.

Also in Leazes Park, I found a herd of urban cows! That white cow kept an eye on me the whole time while its companions grazed. Clearly it was the lookout cow. I kept my distance.

This is another view of the Sage Gateshead. I called it "slug-shaped" above, but from this angle it looks more barrel-shaped. It's a very interesting building -- the shape seems variable, depending on the angle, and the color reflects whatever's going on in the sky.

This is another interesting building on the Gateshead riverfront. It's now a modern art center, and if I'd had more time I would have visited. I told Dave when I got home that we have to go back to Newcastle at some point. I didn't get to do all that I wanted!

Just before I got on my 3 p.m. train, I was sitting in Starbucks when this group of young women walked by, clearly ready for a night on the town. I'm not sure how they manage in those heels!

Overall, I was very favorably impressed by Newcastle and Gateshead. I expected industrial grit, but the cities are quite artsy and youthful and vigorous. I'm serious when I say I need to go back!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Angel of the North

Here I am in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, practically next door to Scotland. One of my main reasons for coming up here yesterday was to visit the Angel of the North, Sir Antony Gormley's huge iron colossus at the southern edge of Gateshead, across the river from Newcastle.

The Angel was erected in 1998, and I remember reading about it back then, when I lived in Florida. It seemed like such a strange, otherworldly creation. (I'm intrigued by Gormley's work -- you may remember that I visited his sculpture installation at Crosby Beach near Liverpool last spring.)

Here are the practical facts: The Angel is built on top of eight reinforced concrete pilings sunk into bedrock, which are themselves topped with a concrete slab and plinth, all underground. Holes were dug 33 meters deep and fortified with sand and cement to support the foundation. Supposedly, even though the sculpture looks like it's supposed to take flight, it can actually tolerate winds of more than 100 mph.

It was cast in Teesside using a special type of steel that's supposed to develop a rusty patina. It stands 65 feet high, with a wing span of 175 feet, and weighs 208 tons. As you can see, it dwarfs its many visitors.

And let me just say, for a Thursday afternoon, I was surprised at how many people were visiting! I counted more than 30 when I got there about 1:30 p.m.

I posted a picture to Facebook and initially used the pronoun "she" to describe the Angel. But actually, it has no gender, at least as far as I can tell. So I edited my post. The Angel is an "it."

Getting to the Angel wasn't hard at all. There's a public bus (No. 21) from the Eldon Square area of central Newcastle to Chester-le-Street (which is a great name for a town, isn't it?) and it runs right past the Angel. It cost £2.50, and I paid the driver cash.

I walked back to Newcastle, which was a bit of a schlep but it allowed me to do some other photography and to visit the Shipley Art Gallery, a small museum featuring some stunning Japanese pottery, local art and artifacts pertaining to the history of Gateshead, a handful of paintings including a large Tintoretto and -- at least when I visited -- an exhibit on furniture and product design.

I also found these two Indian restaurants:

They were about a mile apart, I think. Are they related, or are they competitors? Very mysterious!

Last night I found Newcastle's "gayborhood" and had a drink at a pub there, reading my New Yorker, before finding dinner in the city center. (Bangers and mash -- not a very unusual choice, really.) Today, more exploring the city before I catch my train back to London in the early afternoon!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Queer Art

Early this week I found myself walking around humming "Centerfold," the J. Geils Band tune. It's one of my regular earworms, and somehow it got stuck in my head again, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. (I haven't heard it in years, and it's not in my iTunes library.) And then I read, to my surprise, that J. Geils himself had just died. It was a strange moment of synchronicity -- but then I wondered if I'd heard the song being played somewhere in the background as an homage to Geils. Maybe that's what put it in my head in the first place? Very mysterious.

Yesterday I went to the Tate Britain to see "Queer British Art 1861-1967," apparently the first exhibit dedicated entirely to LGBTQ art in Britain. It was quite extensive and included works by well-known artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Francis Bacon, and lesser known (at least to me) ones like Simeon Solomon, Henry Scott Tuke, Dora Carrington and Keith Vaughan. It even included the door to Oscar Wilde's prison cell, which was both fascinating and chilling to see -- a reminder that it's only been a few decades since gay sex was decriminalized in the UK, and that it's still criminal in many parts of the world.

After the exhibit I went walking across the Vauxhall Bridge, and for the first time noticed the huge sculpted figures on its support columns. Clearly I've never looked closely at this bridge before! I need to go back and do some more photography there, but here's an iPhone view:

That's Alfred Drury's sculpture of "Fine Art," seen from atop the bridge. The allegorical figures, which include Agriculture, Architecture and others, are much easier to see when you're on shore, but they were too distant to photograph from there with my phone. I got a cup of Starbucks coffee and sat on a bench beneath the fortress-like MI6 building (Britain's version of the CIA), and enjoyed a few minutes of sunshine.

Today I'm off to Newcastle. Coming to you tomorrow from Northumberland!

(Top photo: A man painting in Walthamstow, on Monday.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death (Almost) in the Afternoon

Yesterday we were invited to the home of some colleagues from work, Carolyn and Mark. They live in Northwood, far northwest London, on a street that I (coincidentally) photographed for Bleeding London several years ago. When Carolyn gave us directions, I thought, "I know that area!" So finding the house wasn't too difficult.

They have small daughters who love Olga, so we brought her along, after receiving assurances that their cat would be safely stashed behind closed doors on the third floor. The girls played with Olga in the back yard, throwing the Kong over and over, and everything went smoothly until, of course, the cat got out. Next thing I knew, Buddy and Olga were face-to-face on the grass, giving each other the Death Stare from about four feet apart. Olga launched herself and my entire life flashed before my eyes, as I thought, "My dog is going to kill this cat right in front of these young girls!"

Fortunately, Buddy moved fast -- faster, Carolyn said, than she's ever seen him move -- and made it through a hole in their backyard fence, thereby averting bloodshed. The cat hadn't returned by the time we left last night. I think he was probably watching from a safe distance to make sure that Olga was gone first.

That was more excitement than any of us counted on -- especially Buddy.

Otherwise, it was a good visit. I consumed two vodka martinis over the course of the afternoon, and though I am normally a gin man, I must say, I do see the appeal of the vodka. Dave and Mark cooked a gargantuan slab of beef, and we -- joined by our friend Keith -- had an excellent meal before coming home bleary-eyed on the Tube.

(Photo: Dave and Olga walking in Northwood.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hay and Sunshine

We're at the peak of blooming tree season, it seems. Any walk around London leads past billowing clouds of pink and white. Yesterday morning I took Olga to Gladstone Park, and we found these cherry trees growing in a tight pair, one seeming to bend over the other protectively.

Getting Olga to the park helped alleviate my guilt about not taking her anywhere at all the day before. We had a long walk, and then her dog-walker showed up in the afternoon and took her for another long walk.

She's still in bed as I write this.

I spent the afternoon on my own outing, a photo walk through Walthamstow and Snaresbrook, in far northeast London. I hadn't been to that area in a while and I got some interesting shots. This was the most curious shop I found -- a place that specializes in providing hay bales for parties. Can they really make their overhead? Maybe that's why they're closed.

I walked past the William Morris Gallery, which looks like it would be an interesting place for a future visit -- but I didn't go in. Not this time.

I eventually wound up in the Epping Forest, a large, linked collection of wooded tracts that snake from Leyton up into Essex. I was in an area called the Leyton Flats, where there were lots of people out picnicking, bicycling and boating.

After a few hours of walking, I stopped in the village of Wanstead and had coffee and carrot cake at Costa, watching the passersby from a table on the sidewalk. It's such a relief to have reached a time of year when sitting out is possible. Then I made my way back home.

Yesterday morning I potted our rescued, rooting foxglove. I dusted it with rooting powder and put it in special seed compost, and it's still looking perky this morning, which I consider a very hopeful sign. If we can keep it going for a while and get it to produce a few more roots, we can put it in the ground and I'm sure it will prosper.

I also sorted out my situation with British Airways. I called them up to buy a ticket to Florida with my credit from last summer's unused Copenhagen flights, and for some reason they balked because the credit stemmed from flights for two people and I only wanted a ticket for one. But then they said they could issue me a full refund instead! Hello?! Why wasn't this option made clear to me nine months ago? I have no idea. But supposedly I'm getting the Copenhagen money back and I can just go buy my own ticket for Florida -- an infinitely simpler solution.

Monday, April 10, 2017


I spent yesterday mostly here at home, reading what are probably two of the darkest explorations of human nature I've ever encountered -- Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust" and "Miss Lonelyhearts." They're noir novels from the 1930s filled with drunken louts, uneducated misfits and broken dreams. I enjoyed them a lot. West created vivid, unsettling images:

     The detective saw a big woman enter the park and start in his direction. He made a quick catalogue: legs like Indian clubs, breasts like balloons and a brow like a pigeon. Despite her short plaid skirt, red sweater, rabbit-skin jacket and knitted tam o' shanter, she looked like a police captain.
     He waited for her to speak first.
     "Miss Lonelyhearts? Oh, hello..."
     "Mrs. Doyle?" He stood up and took her arm. It felt like a thigh.

I took the dog for a long walk in the morning, but I never got around to taking her to the Heath, which was my intention. She didn't seem to mind. When the sun is out she seems perfectly happy to stay home.

Adding even more noir to my day, I watched "Citizen Kane," which I hadn't seen in years. It's still a great film, with striking visual elements -- all that smoke and slanting light -- and a young Agnes Moorehead and Ruth Warrick, who in their later years were fixtures on daytime television when I was a kid.

I Skyped with my mom in the afternoon and began making plans to go to Florida in July. I think I'll go straight to Jacksonville this time, where my mom and brother are based, rather than flying into Tampa. The flights will be less convenient but it'll mean a lot less driving. Dave will probably stay here to care for Olga and the garden. I'm trying to use the credit from British Airways for those Copenhagen flights I had to cancel last summer when my dad was so sick -- but doing so is proving to be a complicated process. Hoping to get it ironed out today.

(Top photo: Afternoon light in our bedroom.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Goldfinch

I don't want to get ahead of myself, here -- because it could all change in the blink of an eye -- but we are having an amazingly beautiful spring so far! I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery yesterday, and there were so many people and children and dogs out that it was hard to find space to throw the Kong.

We managed it a few times at the cemetery, but even there, we encountered four or five women and their various small furry yipping dogs. They all circled Olga like paparazzi around Kim Kardashian. Olga slunk away to a secluded spot and chewed on her Kong, preferring to keep her own company.

Dave and I had a busy morning in the garden. We planted the acanthus, back by the bench where we sit with our evening G&Ts. Dave dug a gigantic hole, more power to him, and we maneuvered the plant into place. I think it will like that spot. (It had better, because it's not going anywhere ever again.)

This was the big news of the day -- a goldfinch on the goldfinch feeder! You may remember that Dave saw two on the feeder back in February, but I hadn't seen any at all. Then this one showed up and not only could I watch it for a while, but I had the camera handy. Woo hoo!

As you can see in this extremely blown-up version of the shot above, the goldfinch has a banded leg. I guess it must be part of a research project.

Finally, here's our latest plant rescue effort. You may remember that last year a wild foxglove appeared at the side of the house, growing in a pavement crack. We left it alone and it reseeded itself, but its offspring was growing in a seam in a pipe coming from our upstairs neighbor's flat. Well, they're not going to want that foxglove lousing up their plumbing, and in fact I doubt it could have survived there anyway.

So I gingerly pulled the plant out, but only a tiny cluster of roots came with it. We put it in a glass on the kitchen windowsill, where I'm hoping it will grow more roots so we can put it in the garden somewhere. It might be a long shot.

Last night we went to dinner with our pals Chris and Linda, at a crazy place in Kensington with a very elaborate rooftop garden. There were trees and a pond and flamingoes walking around -- all on top of an old department store building. Surreal!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Traveling with Postcards, Part 2

A couple of years ago I posted some interesting old postcards from my collection. I have a couple hundred, picked up at flea markets and antique shops here and there. I haven't bought any in years, but I still get a kick out of looking through them.

Here are a few more.

First, quite a curiosity -- an old photo of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, mailed in 1905 from (of all places) Trujillo, Peru. I can't read the message. I'm not even sure what language it's in. It was mailed back to Aubusson, France.

This unmailed card has a French caption reading simply "Village -- Vieille Place du Planet." ("Old place on the planet.") No idea where it's from -- Provence, maybe? Apparently it's a rather generic village scene.

Okefenokee Swamp Park, Waycross, Ga. -- August, 1965. Is it my imagination or are those people awfully well dressed to be out on a swamp in a boat?

"Had a 2-hour stay here today. Very warm and humid in here," wrote someone named Chester to a couple in Hawthorne, N.J. "I had shower Sunday and Monday at Charolett and Albany, Georgia. Saw plenty of pecan groves and tapping pine trees for gum. Trip to date very enjoyable. Breakfast this a.m. 88¢ and lunch $1. This is the beginning of 3 rivers, including Swanee."

An unmailed postcard of Gays Restaurant, Clearwater, Fla. The caption: "Your finest restaurant away from home. All foods prepared and supervised under the personal attention of Mildred and Myrtle Gay -- owners and operators."

This one was mailed in 1911 (I think) from Hyères, southeastern France, with a simple message for Mademoiselle Marcelle Goffier: "Milles baisers de ton frere." ("A thousand kisses from your brother.")

Also from 1911, and mailed fron New Haven, Conn. to East Orange, N.J.: "We past by this place Monday on the way home from the fair. -- Chas"

And this one, mailed in 1908 from South London to a Mr. Witham at St. Andrew's in Harrogate -- which appears to have been (and still is) a rehabilitation center for police officers. It may get the prize for fitting the most news about multiple individuals onto one card.

"Dear Sam, glad to hear that you are making a little progress. Vie came down and took Edna out on Sunday afternoon, so we heard latest report. Lucy and myself went to St. George's Harvest. It was splendid. Ella minded Babs and the house. Mother is looking a little better. All the remainder are well. Have you had any football yet? With love from Edna, Lucy and Jack."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mystery Device

Someone discarded this device on our street, and I was genuinely perplexed about what it could be. I could tell it was Korean, but beyond that, I was at a a loss.

A coffee maker? Or maybe a medical device of some kind?

There weren't many clues. But then I Googled the few Western characters I could find, and came up with the answer. (The SCS-35 model number, to the left of the silver dial in the top and middle photos, gave it away.)

It's an ice-crushing machine.

Random! And it didn't stay on the side of the road for long -- just long enough for a bird to poop on it. Then someone carried it away. Waste not, want not!

In other news, I stayed home from work yesterday. I woke up with that terrible, someone's-sandpapered-my-airways feeling, like if I coughed it would hurt like crazy. So I tried not to cough, but that's like trying to hold back a wave in the ocean. I figured I didn't need to be sitting at my desk in my super-congested state, snuffling and hacking and snorting and wincing, so I stayed home on the couch. It was exactly what the doctor ordered (or would have, if I'd been to the doctor). This morning I feel better, so I plan to go in today.

I did manage, despite my plague, to rescue one more plant from the renovating neighbor's house -- a potful of pink valerian, shown here in bloom. Between that and the acanthus, I think I got the last two viable plants there!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Acanthus Rescue

Remember how I rescued the discarded fig tree? (Or attempted to rescue it, I should say -- we still have it but it's not showing any leaves yet, so I'm not sure whether it pulled through its ordeal or not.)

Along the same lines, here's another plant rescue story.

I've mentioned the house down the street with the lions -- the one that was recently vacated and is now under renovation. The lions, you will recall, were adopted by a neighbor. And since I last wrote about it, the old bicycle out front has been discarded, and I've been keeping an eye on the large potted acanthus beneath the big front window. I've always liked that plant.

Early this week I was sorry to see that it had been pruned within an inch of its life, which seemed a sign that it was going in the trash. So I asked the workmen if I could have it.

"We trimmed it rather harshly," one admitted. But he said sure, take it away.

So Dave and I picked it up last night, and carried it in its rotten, rusty metal pot back to our garden. That's it above -- Dave tipped it on its side so we could check out the roots on the bottom, which had grown through the deteriorated metal pot and into the ground.

We're not sure where we're going to put this plant, which is huge -- far bigger than any flowerpots we have. It's probably going in the ground. From what we've read it's quite robust so I think it will pull through. Fingers crossed! (My money is on the fig pulling through, too -- stay tuned!)

In other news, I've made a plan for a little overnight trip next week, when Dave and I are on spring break. I'm going to run up to Newcastle, in far northern England. I've never spent any time there, and thanks to the £25 voucher I got in compensation for our hotel snafu in Luxembourg, I was able to procure a promising hotel room for just £10! How could I say no?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Get Well Already

My cold is hanging on, thanks for asking. It's still not very severe -- I don't have a fever and I don't feel too bad -- but my nose is stuffy and itchy and I have a cough. It seems to evolve each day, migrating in intensity from my throat to my nose to my chest. Hopefully it will soon depart.

I'm still going to work, because as I said it's not much of a cold. Most people looking at me wouldn't know I'm sick. I figure if I keep my hands washed (and fortunately we have a sink in the back of the library for just that purpose) I won't spread it around. Insha'allah, as the Muslims say.

(Insha'allah, by the way, is one of the handiest expressions ever invented. I heard it used a hundred times a day when I lived in Morocco. It means "God willing," and can be applied to virtually any situation. It can be an expression of hope or intention, or a response to an invitation or request -- and it commits one to nothing. It's right up there with y'all in terms of useful words.)

Some of you pointed out that in yesterday's post I focused heavily on blue and purple flowers. That was kind of accidental -- we really do have other colors too. The daffodils have largely faded but we have yellow forsythia and primroses in several colors, including yellow and red. Our white candytuft is blooming now, and I'm continually fighting a pigeon who likes to eat the flowers. Every once in a while I look out the glass doors and there he is, pecking away. I didn't have this problem in previous years!

Dave and I need to renew our visas again this year, and because we'll be coming up on six years in the UK, we apparently need to apply for what's called "Indefinite Leave to Remain." It's essentially a green card that lets us stay and work indefinitely. It's a bit of a hurdle because it includes a test based on life in the UK, and I'm told that this test -- even if one reads the Guardian and toured Parliament and paid attention in history class -- is a challenge. My boss, who's taken it, said they ask obscure things like how many people are on the supreme court in Northern Ireland. Good Lord! So I bought the test prep books, which hopefully are being mailed as we speak, and Dave and I will be studying up. I'm kind of looking forward to it, actually. I love geeky stuff like that.

(Photo: Daisy Parsons (1890-1957), a suffragette depicted in a mural at the Hermit Road Recreation Ground in East London.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Goings-On in the Garden

Here are just a few shots of the garden, which is looking very springy these days.

First of all, the light blue forget-me-nots, which are plentiful around the roses. They're one of my favorite spring flowers. (Olga is oblivious.) Behind them you can see our newly planted sea kale, which we previously kept in a pot in an effort to keep slugs from devouring it. It didn't prosper there -- apparently it needs lots of root space -- so we're trying it in the ground again.

Our snake's head fritillary has re-emerged, much to my surprise and happiness. Remember how the squirrels decimated it last year and even ate some of the bulbs? I thought sure it was a goner. This year they haven't bothered it, knock on wood.

Our four amaryllis bulbs have all sprouted, but for some reason the stalks don't seem to be growing much. They are a few weeks behind this year, so we'll see what happens...

And finally, violets have taken root in our horseradish pot, entirely of their own accord. The horseradish has also sprouted, as you can see at left behind the daffodil leaf. Dave was talking about trying to harvest some of the horseradish over the winter, but we held back, partly to preserve the violets. I'm glad, though the horseradish itself may be outgrowing its pot -- it wasn't quite as vigorous last year as in years past.

And finally, no early spring garden report would be complete without the grape hyacinths, which have carpeted the area beneath our hazel tree. They spread like crazy, even growing up in the concrete cracks on our patio. They and the forget-me-nots just take care of themselves, coming and going each year with no intervention from us!