Monday, July 16, 2018

A Backward Glance

I'm posting this updated garden photo both to show you how different it looks now compared to about a month ago, and to remind myself while I'm traveling what's going on at home. It always seems a mixed blessing to leave the garden in summer.

The purple flowers in front are loosestrife, which came into bloom a week or two ago, and you can see behind that our big hydrangea. The pink butterfly bush and blue globe thistles are to the right. The roses, behind the butterfly bush, are almost entirely done -- only one bush is still blooming.

Here's the front porch. I can't complain at all about our zinnias -- they're looking great! And on the right is an African marigold and a dianthus I bought in the early spring that has lasted far, far longer than I ever expected it to. (Did you know, by the way, that the name "marigold" derives from the Virgin Mary? I just read that online somewhere, and since it's on the Internet, it must be true.)

We have a friend who will tend the garden in our absence, so hopefully everything will continue to look good.

Back on June 6, I posted a picture of some random shoes scattered on a concrete step near the high street. Well, the shoe pile is not only still there -- it's GROWN! And there's still only one of each shoe. What is going on here?!

Ponder that mystery. Meanwhile, Dave and I are taking off in a matter of hours on our new adventure.

Someone asked if I will be blogging from Southeast Asia. I intend to, but I have no idea what our Internet connectivity is going to be like -- and obviously we'll be on a completely different timetable. So I can't tell you when a new post will appear. I hope to post daily as usual!

Sunday, July 15, 2018


This is a calendula that we bought from the herb man at the Jester Festival last weekend. (Yeah, I know, it looks a lot like that zinnia I posted about a week ago!) We got two of them -- I put one in the garden and one in a pot in case the garden specimen gets devoured by slugs. Hasn't happened yet, which is a good sign.

We have finally reached the point where all our July social and political obligations have been fulfilled. Now we're just biding our time until we take off tomorrow for Southeast Asia. It still doesn't seem real to me. I haven't even started to pack, but I'm thinking about what to pack -- so I suppose I've started mentally.

Yesterday I never left the house. With Olga already off at her kennel, I don't even have a dog to walk!

Speaking of Olga, her kennel has a webcam feature that allows us to check in on her at any time. When I set it up yesterday, this is what I saw:

Somehow, that's not very comforting. She looks like she's not sure why she's there. That's just her "bedroom," as they call it -- she supposedly also has access to a "private, fully covered exercise area," which I think is through that little doorway at the back. As you can see, she took her bed and her Kong with her.

I think I may have to take this app off my phone. Otherwise I will be compulsively checking on Olga the whole time we're gone.

It looks like a much smaller right-wing response to Friday's anti-Trump march did indeed take place in London yesterday, but it appeared to be less about Trump and more about supporting an English far-right leader who's currently in jail. Isn't it interesting that virtually all of the demonstrators seem to be white men?

Last night we finally watched the charming movie "Lady Bird," which I really liked.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

No to Trump -- and Brexit!

I went to the massive, MASSIVE anti-Trump protest in London yesterday. The crowds were YUGE, whether Trump wants to admit it or not, and it was heartening to see so many thousands of people who cared enough to make signs, march and protest.

In the morning, Dave and I went down to Parliament Square to see the "Trump Baby" blimp, with its tiny hands and Tweeting phone, hover over the crowds.

The blimp was minded by "Trump Babysitters" like this one, in the process of being interviewed. There were also pro-Europe flags and ant-Brexit fliers -- for many Londoners Trump and Brexit correctly go hand-in-hand as part of the same wrong-headed global movement.

Then we went back home, and a few hours later I set out for the main march along Regent Street and down to Trafalgar Square. It's roughly the same route followed by the much more glittery LGBTQ Pride parade the weekend before.

Before the marching began, we congregated along Portland Place, where there were speeches by several people (I have no idea who because we couldn't see them) saying something (I have no idea what because none of us could hear them). This dragged on for about an hour, which annoyed a lot of us, but finally we got moving around 3 p.m.

There were many, many creative signs:

I loved how blunt some of the signs were. For every clever slogan ("God Save the Queen from the Rotten Tangerine") and piece of careful artwork, there were signs that said "Piss Off" or "Fuck Off Nazi Punks." I saw one that said "Fuck Off Pee Brain." Somehow these were even more amusing than the clever ones.

And the turnout did not disappoint. Easily tens of thousands of people -- I couldn't even begin to guesstimate how many were there...

...but Trafalgar Square and the surrounding streets were full to overflowing. Surely this must be a record demonstration against any sitting foreign leader.

I met up with our pal Mike and his daughter, Sorren, who also marched, and we all went down to Greenwich for dinner. Dave came down by train to join us, and had a little dust-up with some drunk guys on the train who challenged him over a "Bollocks to Brexit" sticker on his shirt (which he got at the Trump Baby event in the morning). Apparently it turned into a big argument among several people on a train platform which, Dave said, the anti-Brexit group ultimately won. Scary!

I saw no sign of counterprotesters at all, though it's been reported that there will be some kind of right-wing demonstration today. I'm steering clear.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Peacock with Multiple Nightmares

Just as I got on the phone with my mother yesterday, to wish her a Happy 81st Birthday, this butterfly landed on our buddleia outside. It's a peacock, which we hadn't seen yet in the garden this year. So I asked Dave to run for my camera and I had to simultaneously take pictures and keep my mind on my phone conversation. Crazy timing!

Olga livened things up again yesterday by ATTACKING A CAT that wandered into our garden. I was sitting on the couch when I heard a tremendous feline growl and a lot of thrashing around near the back fence. I ran outside to find Olga atop a tortoiseshell cat with a bell on its neck. The cat got away, but Olga chased and caught it again, and shook it in her jaws. I pulled her off it and the cat ran under some bushes. After I secured Olga inside I tried to check on it but it wouldn't let me near, and it vanished a few minutes later. Outwardly it seemed fine. (Miraculously!)

That may be the first time Olga has ever touched a cat, and certainly the first time she's caught one. I hope it never happens again!

Here she is on her walk, looking all innocent, intrigued by this ridiculous pair of shoes we saw in a thrift shop window. She really is a good dog and very friendly -- she's just been presented with some very unusual opportunities within the past few days.

She's off to the kennel today where she will board during our trip.

Anyway, back to my mom. I've decided to visit Florida after all -- I was going to skip it this summer and wait until Christmas, but with Mom getting up there I feel strongly that I should go. So I'm flying back for a week in early August, not long after Dave and I get back from Vietnam.

The Great Orange One has arrived in England, with Melania by his side. There were protests in Regent's Park last night, but Dave and I decided not to go, because we had trouble getting specifics about when and where, and it seemed like Trump was unlikely to be there anyway. We're saving our energy for the big one today. Trump, meanwhile, has already sabotaged Theresa May's Brexit plans and is gunning on behalf of the right-wingers. He's essentially repaying his debt to Nigel Farage. The nightmare, honestly, never ends.

Finally, our upstairs neighbors are refinishing their staircase, which has created our own noise nightmare in our flat. We were driven out yesterday by the incessant, echoing grinding of the sander. We took ourselves -- including Olga -- to the pub for dinner. When we came back at 6:30 p.m. and the neighbor was still at it, we asked him to stop, and he did. But he'll resume this morning. We'll do our best to be gone.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Traumatized Pigeon, and Other News

It has been quite an active couple of days!

First of all, I gave bookseller John a print of my photo of him and Sugar, his poor departed dog. He pronounced it "a bonzer!" (Apparently that's a good thing -- an Australian term, which is curious because I'm 99 percent sure John isn't Australian.) He propped it up on his book table with some other items of Sugar memorabilia. Sugar's spirit lives on!

On Tuesday night, Dave and I had our friends Gordon and Donna over for dinner. We took the coffee table out into the garden and dined al fresco, enjoying the cool summer evening. Olga provided some excitement when an addled pigeon clumsily tumbled down and landed a few feet away -- she ATTACKED it and got a mouthful of feathers before I pulled her off. The pigeon fluttered away to a corner of the garden, and we concluded something was wrong with it (even before it encountered Olga's jaws). The dog didn't bother it again, and it was gone by morning.

Yesterday, Dave and I went to see "The Happy Prince," Rupert Everett's movie about the last years of Oscar Wilde. It was interesting, and certainly showed the darker sides of Wilde and his erstwhile love, Bosie. Everett's portrayal of Wilde was somewhat grating, but perhaps that's true to the writer's personality. Dave's unsympathetic review: "Were gay people back then really that annoying? No wonder they got arrested!"

Otherwise I've been doing a lot of reading and journal transcribing, which has entailed sitting on the couch and in the garden for hours at a time. (So, OK, not that active.) Things are going to get busier today and tomorrow, with Trump's visit to the UK. Dave and I plan to join anti-Trump demonstrations both days.

Meanwhile, the UK has had its own political chaos this week, with certain conservative members of Theresa May's cabinet -- notably Boris Johnson, London's former mayor -- resigning over Brexit differences. (This damned completely unnecessary Brexit!) I can't pretend to know what it all means, except more Tory infighting. And then England lost its World Cup match last night, which was a heartbreaker.

On a lighter note, it's blackberry season! We have tons of ripening berries on our vines, and I picked this first handful a few days ago.

I just learned that Tab Hunter died last Sunday. I read his fascinating autobiography a little more than ten years ago -- all about being every girl's heartthrob while secretly gay in very closeted '50s Hollywood. Tab was a looker when he was young!

(Top photo: Streetlight shadows in Kennington, South London.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Other Lives, Another Time

I thought you might like to take a look at a few of the old postcards I picked up the other day at Greenwich Market. I love old postcards because they're usually pretty inexpensive, and the ones that have been sent often tell a story, or at least a small fragment of a story. These were £1 each!

July 1950: "Dear Rosemary, Just a line letting you know we are still going along OK. Having a run around Eastbourne today but weather very squally. Love to all, Mum & Dad."

(Sounds pretty miserable! Mailed from Eastbourne to Laindon, Essex. Dave and I made a quick jaunt to Eastbourne ourselves just a few years ago.)

May 22, 1907: "My Dear Sarah, Ethel and I got home quite safe about 11:30. Oh dear, we had a slow journey. It took us two hours to come from Hudd. to Brad. It was awful stopping between every station. My brother met us. They thought we were going to stay a bit longer, if we had not come by that train they would have given us up. I hope you had a pleasant day at Hope. Bank. Ethel will write letter. Annie"

(Huddersfield to Bradford is 15 miles by car, according to Google, and apparently today's most direct trains take a little more than half an hour. The card was mailed from Silsden, not far from the town of Ilkley, the location of the pictured church -- both are north of Bradford nearer what is now the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I have no idea what "Hope. Bank." could be.)

Sept. 25, 1973: "Just missed seeing you go by a second -- you were just getting into the taxi. Do hope you have enjoyed your holiday and that the weather has been better than it is here. Comfortable in hotel and glad to get away from things. Love from us both, Mary and Douglas."

(Mailed from Bournemouth to Brighton. The pictured pub still exists, outside the village of Hinton between those two cities.)

Aug. 9, 1966: "We are having a nice time. Weather has been lovely. Hope you have a nice holiday. See you when you come home. Lots of love, Mary"

(That Mary -- so wild and witty! Mailed from Castle Douglas, not far from Dumfries, to Pinwherry, a village in Ayreshire, Scotland. It also bears a stamp dated 1977 from the "Postcards and Postmarks Library" in Skegness, where it apparently wound up at some point.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Butterflies and Other Garden Wildlife

I've mentioned the warm, dry weather we've been having. While it's hard on the plants, apparently it's very good for butterflies. We've seen lots of butterflies in the garden so far this year, including cabbage whites, common blues, red admirals, small tortoiseshells (like the one above), and...

...commas, like this one. Many of these butterflies are attracted to our buddleia, or butterfly bush, which the butterflies (appropriately) love. The buddleia has a fraught reputation in Britain for being a vigorous weed, and it's true it can seed itself into remarkably small crevices in walls and pavements, and especially on vacant land and beside railroad lines. (We dead-head ours, and I'm not even sure they're the type to re-seed -- we bought them as garden hybrids.) But for attracting insects, buddleia is great.

This is a close-up of one of our zinnias. I thought that little flower-like structure in the center -- a flower within a flower! -- was especially interesting. Flowers are so bizarre when you see them up close, aren't they?

(Just above the flowerlet, you can see an uncurling petal -- and there's a bug, almost out of sight, clinging to the back of it. Thus, this photo conforms to the "wildlife" parameters of my post!)

Also on the buddleia, I found this crab spider feasting on a bee. Apparently the spiders lurk until an unsuspecting insect lands nearby, and then they seize their prey with those crab-like front legs. Nature, she fierce!

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Sea of Holes

Olga and I discovered this private mail outlet with its crazy (I should say dotty) front window yesterday. Doesn't it look like an art installation by Yayoi Kusama?  I love the way Olga's spots fit right in with all the rest.

We're still a bit sun-baked here, and will be for the foreseeable future. There's no rain in sight. Lots of dramatic shadows, though!

Yesterday Dave and I went to the Jester Festival, an annual summer event in West Hampstead. It's basically a collection of carnival rides and games, a musical stage, some vendors and food stalls. We took Olga and browsed the tables of a guy selling a huge variety of herbs -- we picked up some calendula, sunflowers, a castor bean plant and some others.

One of the carnival games had all these stuffed animal prizes suspended nearby. Dave said, "Doesn't it look like a tiger butcher?"

I spent most of the day reading and doing miscellaneous stuff around the house. In the evening I went to a special 50th anniversary screening of the animated Beatles movie "Yellow Submarine," at the Curzon cinema in Mayfair. As a child, when I watched "Yellow Submarine" on television, I wasn't all that impressed with it. I remember it being a bit boring. But as an adult, I can appreciate that the thin plot isn't the point of the film -- it's all about the explosion, the paisley unfurling, of psychedelic artwork in brilliant color, and seeing it on the big screen (with a gin & tonic) made it especially magical. It is a beautifully groovy movie!

In fact, the scenes in the Sea of Holes look a bit like that top photo -- maybe Olga and I could have slipped through one of those shadowy dots into Pepperland?!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

London Pride 2018

London's LGBTQ (and whatever other letters go there) Pride Parade was yesterday, and as usual I headed into town to see the action. I got off the tube at Oxford Street and walked my way down Regent Street and through Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square.

I met plenty of interesting celebrants along the way!

I couldn't see much of the parade itself -- the crowd was three or four or more people deep all along the route. I watched for a while, but mostly walked among the crowds. And there were lots of crowds.

Pride is just such a fun event. Everyone is glittery and colorful and the sun was out and it was just happiness, happiness, happiness everywhere. (And alcohol, too. This spangly guy was enjoying a G&T in a can, and good for him.)

This man was standing on the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus, sharing his, um, enthusiasm with the world.

One of the best things about Pride is how mixed it is. You get every race, every age, every ability, every body type and everyone isn't just getting along but truly loving each other.

And as we all know, Love Trumps Hate.

I saw one guy wearing a blonde wig and a shirt that said, "Harry, why wasn't it me?" (Harry prefers brunettes, obviously. I'm sure that was the only reason.) Alas, I wasn't fast enough to get his picture.

And then, to top off this fabulous day, England won its football match yesterday afternoon, bringing us ever closer to World Cup victory. This is getting serious, folks! Even I am paying attention.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sweet Sugar

That's my stepmother's preferred mode of transportation, in the photo above. She cruised into town for a visit on that Viking ship, and Dave and I traveled down to Greenwich yesterday afternoon to spend a few hours with her. Who knew the Thames was deep enough to accommodate a cruise ship?!

We met her at the dock and went to the Gipsy Moth, a pub near the Cutty Sark, for a pint. Then we visited the Greenwich Market, where we browsed the antiques and I picked up an assortment of old postcards. (One message, from Amsterdam, 1967: "Have been to the Holshuysen-Stoeltie Diamond Exhibition and admired some wonderful rings. All I need now is a millionaire!")

She seems to be doing well and it was good to see her and catch up on the latest family news from Florida.

Meanwhile, in our garden, remember those pathetic seedlings I painstakingly started in seed trays and transplanted into pots? Well, they're finally producing flowers. We have about 20 zinnia plants and 12 cosmos, and we could have had a lot more cosmos if I'd potted them all. They're vigorous little devils. (I gave the rest to Mrs. Kravitz, and the last time I checked, they were still sitting in her back garden growing in the seed tray -- they seemed happy enough.) Anyway, that's our first zinnia flower, above. I haven't noticed buds on the cosmos yet.

I saw John, our local sidewalk used-book seller, yesterday and he was at his table without Sugar, his trusty three-legged staffy. Sugar is always with John, so I knew something was up. I asked him about her, and sure enough, he said she'd died -- apparently her arthritis got so severe she had trouble moving around and one day she collapsed on the sidewalk. He took her to the local veterinary charity, where they told him it was time to "say his goodbyes." Poor Sugar! (You may remember I photographed them just a few weeks ago.) She was more than 10 years old, but I still feel bad. The last time I saw them, Sugar -- who'd never paid much attention to me before -- came up to me, nuzzled my hand and wagged her tail.

Dave and I went to a local photo shop yesterday evening to get passport photos for our Vietnam trip. While I was there, I had that last picture of Sugar and John printed. I'll give it to John the next time I see him.

Friday, July 6, 2018


Remember the other day, when I mentioned finding a pile of Beanie Babies, trolls and other toys on a bench?

Well, at the time, I didn't disturb them. Eventually the Beanie Babies and many of the other toys vanished. The trolls, however, hung around for days, seemingly unwanted. They were getting scattered and unkempt -- even more unkempt than trolls usually look.

Clearly they had been wanted, at some point, because several of them had been named. (And dated, I assume when they were acquired.)

I couldn't stand the thought of all these plastic objects going in the trash -- and besides, aren't they collectible? Maybe? I put them in a plastic bag and brought them home. When I showed them to Dave, he said:


So I knew I couldn't keep them around the house for long.

Dave said this one reminded him of Donald Trump.

After I cleaned them up a bit, I put them back in the bag and took them to a Children's Society thrift shop. I figured if anyone would know what to do with them, they might. Surely they'll at least get more exposure (so to speak; they're almost all already naked) there than they would on an isolated park bench.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

We'll Bring Dinner

Well, our Fourth of July passed without incident. I did hear fireworks last night, from some American neighbors (I'm guessing?), but we made no attempt at any celebration of our own. In fact, we took dinner to a friend in South London who had a heart attack last week -- he had quadruple bypass surgery but seems in good spirits. You should have seen me and Dave, climbing into a cab with a huge pot of vegetable/lentil curry and a wrapped blueberry cobbler and ferrying it across town. (The car, incidentally, cost £30, probably more than the food.) We sat out on his back deck with him, his visiting mother and two of his friends (one of whom grew up in, of all places, my hometown of Tampa!) and enjoyed the soft evening air.

We even got a smidgen of rain last night, enough to dampen the garden, but there's no more on the horizon for the next ten days.

Speaking of the garden, I did a ton of work out there yesterday. We had some more repotting to do, so after a trip to Homebase I repotted five plants and planted one more in the ground. (Digging! Ugh!)

We had some excitement in West Hampstead on Tuesday morning when a huge fire burned some balconies on a brand-new apartment building near the tube station. I was working in the garden and kept hearing sirens -- I wondered what could be happening. Then Dave and I walked to the tube an hour or so later, and the fire crews were still mopping things up. I don't understand why balconies would burn that fiercely. What on earth are those things made of?

(Photos: Getting some sun on a railway bridge near Chalk Farm on Tuesday; a painted panel near the bridge.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Gates

Writing about the Mastaba yesterday made me think of another Christo artwork that I once saw, "The Gates," which he and Jeanne-Claude installed in New York's Central Park. Consisting of roughly 7,500 bright orange, curtained gates across the winding park pathways, the installation lasted for two weeks in the latter half of February 2005.

I lived in New York at the time, and worked near Times Square. As I recall, I zipped up to the park on my lunch hour one day to see The Gates shortly before they were dismantled. I took a roll of film, including these shots.

It was an interesting work. Clearly I enjoyed it enough to photograph it, but I also remember thinking that pictures couldn't really do it justice. I think the enormity of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's projects are a critical part of their impact.

Also, there was an aural element: The curtains made swishing, flapping sounds as you walked beneath them, which photos can't convey.

There were volunteers stationed around the park to keep an eye on things and answer questions from visitors. I talked to one of them, and she gave me a swatch of the specially made heavy nylon fabric that curtained each gate. I still have it:

I think the response that many of us have to Christo's art is, "WHY?" And maybe that's the response we're supposed to have -- that sense of wonder, the consideration of what it means to indulge in large-scale whimsy. Implicit in the question is the answer: "Why not?"

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I cancelled Olga's dog walker yesterday so she and I could go on a special adventure. I took her on the tube down to Hyde Park so we could see the Mastaba at the Serpentine.

The Mastaba is a gigantic structure by Christo, who with his late partner Jeanne-Claude is known for installing large-scale environmental artworks. They surrounded Florida islands with hot pink fabric and hung an orange curtain across a Colorado canyon, for example. This is Christo's first major outdoor public work in the UK.

It consists of 7,506 stacked 55-gallon drums, like those used for oil (but these were newly made for this project). It's about 66 feet high and sits on an elaborate platform and scaffold, held in place with 32 anchors. You can read more here about the Mastaba, its construction and the environmental factors that were considered before its installation.

Apparently a mastaba is a type of ancient Mesopotamian bench, with this shape.

Olga wasn't all that taken with it. She was more concerned with cooling off in the water and I was distracted trying to prevent her tennis ball from drifting off into oblivion in the lake.

The Mastaba is certainly a very colorful presence. But despite its size, at least one art reviewer was underwhelmed, calling it "a gigantic bath toy afloat on tepid waters."

I used to take Olga to Hyde Park all the time back when we lived in Notting Hill. I looked for some sign that she recognized it, but it's hard to tell -- we haven't been there for years, and we entered from the east side rather than our usual west, so that could have confused her. Still, we had a great time walking around under clear sunny skies, visiting the Albert Memorial, having a cheese toastie by the lake (well, I did, anyway) and later hearing a busker sing "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," which for some reason seemed a perfect song for a summer day.