Monday, July 6, 2020

Catch a Butterfly or a Tennis Ball

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday, and I am happy to report that the anti-inflammatory medicine we're giving her seems to be working wonders. She was like a young dog again! No limping, no hesitancy, no dragging her heels. She had a great time and even after we got home she didn't seem to experience the stiffness she sometimes gets after a long walk.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and comfortable. I found quite a few interesting opportunities for photography, including this dragonfly. I saw it in mid-flight and thought, "that looks weird," and then realized why -- it was carrying a cabbage white butterfly. It landed on some weeds and I watched it gnaw that butterfly apart like a paper shredder. It was pretty amazing.

We left it alone and about half an hour later, passing the same spot, I found it having a little post-prandial rest. See the white dust on its body and wings? That's butterfly shrapnel.

I tried to get a video of Olga catching her tennis ball. If I bounce it hard on the ground she'll sometimes leap into the air to catch it as it comes down:

We had mixed results as you can see, but she got a little bit of air on that second attempt. She made two really good jumps when I had the camera off -- of course.

I also saw a couple of comma butterflies, the first ones this season. 

Unfortunately we also had a sad nature experience yesterday evening. We'd just finished Zooming with Dave's friend Annie in Michigan when I went into the garden and found a dead baby bird in one of the trugs Dave uses to collect rainwater. I guess it fell in and couldn't get out again. It was fledging but didn't have full-grown wings -- either a sparrow or a dunnock. I felt terrible, and we've covered the trug to keep that from happening again. I still feel a lead weight in my chest just thinking about it.

It was super-windy yesterday afternoon and all last night. The plants all seem to have survived but I wonder if the wind had something to do with that little bird winding up in the trug. Maybe it tried to land on the edge and got blown in?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Tin Tabernacle, and Reopening

This peculiar building, which I often pass on the bus in Kilburn, is made of corrugated sheets of metal and used to be a church. It's known as the "Tin Tabernacle" and dates back to 1863. In the 1920s it ceased being a place of worship, and was eventually taken over by the local chapter of the Sea Cadets, a sort of scouting organization. The interior was transformed to fit a nautical theme.

When Victorian England was booming, corrugated metal churches were apparently a thing. They could be erected quickly to serve a growing population, and the technology was relatively new. Apparently this is one of the last in London, but there are plenty of others around England.

As long as I've lived here, there's been a sign in the window saying they need £250,000. I think this dates back to a fund-raising campaign in 2010 meant to restore the building and update its electrical works. I have no idea whether than ever happened, but the Sea Cadets say on their web site that they now meet at St. Augustine's, a nearby church -- if that's any indication.

Yesterday was the big reopening day for our pubs and restaurants in the UK, and I went out on the high street around noon to see what was going on. The pub I consider our local, the Black Lion, still doesn't appear to be open. But many other places were, and people were sitting inside and out. I obviously didn't measure the space between them, but they seemed fairly close together.

I went into one restaurant where I've bought take-away fish in the past, and there were about 20 people inside. I was the only person wearing a mask. None of the servers and obviously none of the customers (who presumably were eating) were masked, and no one seemed at all concerned about maintaining any distance from me. So, on the plus side, they seem to be doing a good business, but on the minus side, I felt anxious and eager to get out of there.

Then I went to the grocery store, and again, I was one of just a few people who were masked. Masks have never caught on in this country, and they seem even less ubiquitous now.

We'll see how this goes! I hope our infection rates don't spike in the next few weeks.

I have a couple more Olga pics to share with you. The first is by Francisco, the dog walker, on one of their outings together...

...and then there's this one, which I took a few days ago on our walk along Billy Fury Way. Olga, who so often seems to be smiling and is even standing beneath smiley faces, appears more wary than anything.

We didn't do anything special for July 4. I heard a couple of pops and cracks last night, as some of my fellow Yanks apparently set off fireworks here and there. But with that awful man in the White House I am not particularly feeling any national pride. If we throw him out in November, then I'll celebrate!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Summer Colors

Yesterday was another quiet day at home. I finished a book, I walked the dog around the corner, I did some minor stuff in the garden. Ho-hum.

Doesn't Olga look regal next to those red crocosmia and pink hydrangeas? She was on high alert, keeping an eye on some squirrels rustling around in a nearby bush. 

Our fox & cubs (or hawkweed) has finally bloomed. For some reason this year we only have a few in flower, at least so far, and the plants are very small. I think the dry spring held them back.

This is one of our roses, a bright orange single. It's always an eye-catcher, and this year it's one of the last to still have blossoms. All the other rose bushes are in a kind of resting phase, gearing up for (hopefully) another flush of flowers.

Remember how I rescued a sad lupine from the grocery store a couple of months ago? It has flourished, sending out new leaves and a big purple flower spike. I believe this is a variety called "Persian slipper."

I really need to motivate myself to get out and do something. It's easy to sit around the house, doing housework and reading, but it's also stultifying. I almost took a walk yesterday, but with rain off and on, it wasn't a great day for an excursion.

At one point, while reading on the couch, I looked over at Dave, and he was blankly staring at his phone, which was sitting on the armrest of his chair. I said, "What are you doing?"

"Watching my phone update," he said, and laughed. "Things are getting dire!"

Friday, July 3, 2020

A Peacock, Soot Sprites and a Theft

A peacock butterfly passed through the garden a few days ago, and I had time to run for the camera and get some shots. We haven't seen any since the beginning of April, and I'd wondered how they fared through the subsequent cold snap and then the warm, dry spring. Short answer -- they're still around!

I took Olga for a walk yesterday along Billy Fury Way and found dozens of bales of recent newspapers (the Evening Standard) discarded in the woods beside the railroad bridge. So annoying! There must have been a thousand newspapers or more. I suspect someone is dumping unwanted copies from the nearby Finchley Road & Frognal overground stop (where they are usually handed out to passengers, whose numbers have plummeted since Covid-19). I took pictures and wrote to the Standard's head of circulation, who wrote me back fairly promptly and said there would be an investigation. I mean, they're probably paying someone to distribute those papers, and I'm sure they don't want them dumped in the woods any more than I do.

I tried to report the mess to Camden Council as well, but there are no street addresses on Billy Fury Way, so I'm not sure my litter app understood my location correctly. But I tried.

I also found a new piece of chewing gum art by Ben Wilson along the path -- new to me, at least. Wilson often lies on the sidewalk when he paints his pieces; I find the idea of lying on filthy Billy Fury Way a little horrifying, but he's apparently managed it.

One thing about walking the dog -- it always gets me out and about, which during this pandemic is incredibly beneficial. I was chatting with some of my neighbors yesterday and they talked about how cooped up they've felt. I've felt that too, of course, but perhaps not to the same degree. Both neighbors are eager to get haircuts now that salons and barber shops are about to re-open (tomorrow). Dave hasn't made a hair appointment yet, surprisingly. I think he's getting used to having it long.

Speaking of coronavirus and reopening, my new cloth mask has arrived!

I don't know if you can really see the pattern, but it depicts the soot sprites from Hayao Miyazaki's movie "Spirited Away," which I love. The soot sprites, little round black creatures with eyes, eat star-shaped morsels of food -- also shown on the mask. (I just learned that these sprites have a name in Japanese, susuwatari. Here are some images in case you can't see what they look like.)

I'm not sure they match the lobsters on my shirt, but oh well.

Someone stole one of my dianthus plants off our front porch yesterday! I was so surprised I walked up and down the street to see if it somehow wound up outside someone else's front door. It seems like such an unlikely object for intentional theft -- it still had plenty of flowers, but it was getting a bit leggy and it was only in a plastic pot. Fortunately the thief did not take two other plants (including another dianthus) or a hanging basket that we also keep out there. Very bizarre.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Two Green Creatures

Yesterday I was deadheading roses when I came across this critter on one of the blossoms. I've never seen anything like it in our garden, and when I looked it up, I discovered it's a green weevil of some kind. Apparently they're not as evil as some weevils (rhyming!) but they do eat some plants. I didn't see roses on their list, which makes me think he fell onto the rose bush from one of the trees above.

I had the most bizarre dreams last night. I don't quite remember the plot, to the extent that there was one, but I was in a sprawling modern house and it was pouring rain outside, and there were boxes everywhere and I was trying to get things organized. Dave was there and so was my mother. Other things were happening too but I don't remember them all now.

Last night for dinner, Dave made some incredibly potent (but good) French onion soup with a lot of beef stock and red wine and cheese, and I'm blaming that.

Does my life feel chaotic? Not in my waking hours, but who knows what my subconscious mind would say. I did see a recent article in the New York Times about the need to deep-clean your house if you've been sheltering at home for weeks on end. I didn't read it, though. It sounds like it would feed all my most obsessive impulses. (One of my coworkers observed several weeks ago, not long after we entered lockdown, that she found herself cleaning constantly -- and it's true. When you're home all the time it's amazing how quickly the place gets grubby.)

I got a surprise in the mail on Tuesday. Remember how I sent Brobee to Sarah of Circles of Rain? Well, she sent me a hand-painted postcard back:

Isn't that awesome? She thanked me and said Brobee has moved in next to some of the stuffed bears she's saved. Her postcard, meanwhile, has taken up residence on our dining room mantel. It's nice to have my own Brobee souvenir.

Some of you asked about Olga's ear. It seems to be healing well and she gives no indication that it bothers her at all. Francisco tells me that Olga and Rufus ignored each other the next day, kind of like two people who'd recently had a really bad date. Rufus's owner told Francisco that Rufus seemed traumatized by the incident too! Rufus is apparently still wearing his muzzle but we all agreed this was just a freak encounter and he may eventually be de-muzzled if he behaves.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Hollyhocks and Horsetails

Yesterday was the most boring day imaginable, at least in terms of stuff to blog about. I almost didn't move off the couch, except to clean the bathroom and kill aphids on the lupines. (I caught up on all our magazines, though, which was something of an accomplishment.)

So, blog-wise, how about another bunch of random photos from the ol' iPhone?

First, some huge hollyhocks not far from our flat in West Hampstead. I continue to be mystified why some hollyhocks do so well on apparently neglected, streetside patches of dirt, and ours in our nurtured flowerbeds all have about four leaves.

Some groovy Dia de los Muertos-themed tape on a bicycle seat.

A sticker in Queen's Park. I could be a vegetarian -- in fact I was one for many years -- but I don't think I could do vegan. I like my dairy products too much.

An old rattan chair with a broken leg, discarded on a pedestrian path. Once again, people, put your rubbish in a rubbish bin!

There's an area in the cemetery where the horsetails grow like crazy. They're known for being tenacious, troublesome weeds, which is why they've survived on Earth since the Paleozoic era, I suppose.

Some beautiful wild mallow thriving in the garden of a house a few streets from ours. This stuff also grows like a weed around here, but it's a nice weed.

A very tall stick-man at Fortune Green...

....and a very long shadow, with cupcake cups, on Finchley Road.

These belong to a neighbor. They're really nice lilies. I'd like to grow some of these myself, but we have trouble with lilies -- they often get eaten by slugs or snails or lily beetles. We have a few but they're not thriving like these.

The clothes make the woman?

And finally, Olga, looking happy with some hydrangeas on one of our walks. (She's actually thinking, "Why are we stopping? Would you please put that annoying black rectangular thing away?!")

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Olga Meets Mike Tyson

Dave has started collecting rainwater for our blueberry plant, which reportedly likes rain more than tap water. It has something to do with maintaining the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Dave set these colorful trugs next to the shed at the side of the house, where they collect water that spills off the shed roof -- and look photogenic in the meantime.

We had some drama yesterday! Olga went out for her walk with Francisco as usual, and a couple hours later Francisco called me. (When I get a call from the dog-walker I always know something alarming is up.) Well, it turns out that Olga and another dog were running after a ball and apparently collided with each other. The other dog turned and bit Olga, and took a chunk out of her ear!

Francisco, of course, was mortified, and he cleaned the ear and disinfected the bite. Then he called us, probably thinking we would be livid at the disfigurement of our dog. But honestly, dogs are dogs -- they get in scraps every once in a while, and frankly I'm just glad Olga didn't start it. (Apparently she did get the ball, though!)

The other dog's name is Rufus, but we've taken to calling him Mike Tyson. Apparently Rufus will now have to wear a muzzle on his walks.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Possessed Cat

The dahlias on the patio have finally burst into bloom, and don't they look good against the buddleia and the hydrangeas?

We had a pretty placid day around here yesterday. I went to the grocery store, and I walked Olga in the cemetery. It was intermittently gray and rainy, but in true British fashion, people were courageously attempting to barbecue at Fortune Green. (And I'm not complaining about rain because we still need more.) I read magazines. I Skyped with my stepmother in Florida.

You may remember that I mentioned my college friend Suzanne in my post a few days ago, about the book "Death Blew Out the Match." Well, I sent Suzanne that post, and we had a little exchange of texts, laughing about that book. We tried to remember exactly when we bought it, and Suzanne asked if it was at the same time that I got, as she put it, the "wet cat painting."

I had forgotten about this cat painting, which was legendary among some of my friends and also known as the "possessed cat." I bought it at a Goodwill and hung it in my college apartment, where it was the subject of much ridicule. I looked in my old photos and found a picture of it, hanging in my dining room in 1988:

(You can also see my own cat at the time, a calico named Howard, lying under the table.)

Here's a close-up of the painting:

It was a commercially produced, store-bought piece of art -- something you'd pick up at Sears or Montgomery Ward for about $25. In other words, not at all original. I wondered if I could get any information about it by Googling it.

So I uploaded the image to Google, and sure enough, there are a bunch of other pictures of the same painting online. Turns out it's by a Swiss artist named Fritz Rudolf Hug, who apparently was known for his impressionist paintings of wild animals. There's even one for sale on eBay, if you don't mind spending $900 -- yes, NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS. (Someone clearly doesn't know the difference between department store sofa art and an original painting. Unless they really are selling the original painting, which I doubt.)

Coincidentally, Hug died in 1989, not long after I took the pictures above.

Anyway, it was a fun trip down memory lane, and once again I marvel at the information available online. I would have loved to be able to Google this painting years ago, when I bought it, and learn more about it. The Internet, used correctly, really can make us all smarter and more aware!

As for the painting, I kept it for several years, and eventually gave it back to Goodwill, where hopefully it moved on to another good home.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pests and Achy Joints

I was intrigued when I came across this moth on our crocosmia Friday morning. I took some photos, loving that morning sun coming through the leaves, with the intention of identifying it later in the day. By the time I got around to looking it up, the moth was long gone -- and I realized it's the brown variety of a box-tree moth, an invasive species first reported in England in 2007 and now a serious pest of box hedges and topiaries.

Oops. Guess I shouldn't have let it get away!

We don't have any box, so what it was doing in our garden is anyone's guess. I photographed one last year, too -- the white variety.

Here's another garden pest -- aphids. The ones on our lupines are huge. Kind of a horror show, right? I knock them off every now and then, but in this case the flower spike is quite old and on its way out, so I've been lax.

We also have caterpillars of some type rolled up in the leaves of our fig tree. Sigh...

We don't spray pesticide, so these sorts of critters are bound to turn up, I suppose.  

I also discovered yesterday that one of our roses has a pretty severe-looking case of rust, which is a fungal disease. I took off a lot of the diseased and dying leaves but I may have to spray fungicide to get that under control. I hate to do it, because I want mushrooms and other naturally-occurring fungus in the ground, but now that the landlord has told me these rose bushes are decades old I feel a sense of responsibility to keep them healthy.

On a happier note, here's a short series of videos sent to me by our dog-walker, Francisco, showing Olga out with her pals. It's fun to see her interacting with him and with the other dogs, which of course I never get to see in real life.

I took her to the vet yesterday for her routine shots, and I mentioned to the vet that she sometimes seems stiff and reluctant to walk. The vet checked her out and said Olga has some arthritis in several joints. So we're going to try to give her low doses of anti-inflammatory medication to see if that improves how she feels. (She's already on glucosamine, which seemed to help a lot initially, but its benefits have faded somewhat in the last week or two.)

Though seeing patients during the pandemic, our vet asks the humans to stay outside while the pet is taken in for examination. So I found myself hanging around the front of the building in the rain while Olga got looked over. Fortunately I had an umbrella!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Death Blew Out the Match

The once-viney tree down the street, although looking a little weary in this week's sunny heat, has produced fruit from its blossoms earlier in the season. All this time I've been thinking it's an ornamental cherry tree, but those don't look like cherries, do they? Could they be crabapples?

Clearly I am not an expert on certain fruit trees. Growing up in Florida, we always just had oranges and grapefruit. Apples and cherries are not my thing.

Today is supposed to be cool and cloudy -- maybe even rainy -- which will be a refreshing change. The sunny weather and reopening after our lockdown have combined to create a sort of temporary insanity in the UK population. The beaches have been swamped with people, and we've had civil unrest in several areas when police tried to break up nighttime street parties or unauthorized music events. In Notting Hill, on the very streets where I walked just a few days ago, there were disturbances. Even on our street, someone's been bashing out car windows this week -- we received a police notice about one such incident and then noticed another broken window the very next morning. (Fortunately we don't have a car!)

Maybe rain would calm everyone down.

I just finished a very old mystery novel. There's a whole story behind why I read it.

When I was in college, my friend Suzanne and I used to scour local thrift stores in and around Tampa for interesting stuff -- vintage clothes, old dishes and, yes, bizarre old books. One time we found one called "Death Blew Out the Match," from 1935, and we loved the melodramatic title. Suzanne bought it and kept it on her shelf for years. (Her copy looked like the one above, the hardcover edition.) She may still have it, for all I know.

The thing is, though, neither of us ever read it. For some reason, a few months ago, more than thirty years after the fact, I got to wondering about this book. I remembered it only because we joked about it so often. What was the plot like? Was it any good? I decided to find a copy of my own, and satisfy my curiosity.

I found one on Abe Books, a paperback version with a creepy cover (above) from Anson Bond publishers, and at $15 it wasn't all that cheap. But I sprung for it anyway. Turns out it's an abridged version -- Anson Bond published a series called "Bonded Mysteries" that pledged to offer "the best available two dollar mystery novels" in a shortened, 25-cent format.

Normally I wouldn't opt for an abridged book, but oh well. When my copy arrived, I noticed that a previous owner -- initials "EFD" -- proclaimed it "good" with a pencilled note on the title page. Evidently they liked it so much they wrote the title on the cover a second time!

Anyway, I read it over a couple of days, and it was pretty entertaining. Of course, having been published 85 years ago, it was bound to contain at least one uncomfortable racial stereotype -- the Chinese servant character Wing Lo was described as having "inscrutable, unblinking Oriental eyes, that saw everything and told nothing." And even though it supposedly took place in New England, the accents seemed more West Virginia. But overall it was a fun read, and now I can say I've read it. For what that's worth.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Pink Car and Pink Wine

By British standards, it's hot out there -- 88º F (or 31º C) yesterday afternoon. Which doesn't sound that hot, at least not to an old Florida boy like me, but it definitely feels it. I guess the fact that none of us in the UK have air conditioning is part of the reason.

I didn't exert myself but I did run some errands -- including going to the post office twice. Which is ridiculous, since I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've used the post office in the last year. It was all due to bad planning on my part.

In the morning, I mailed Brobee to his new owner, a pal who recently lost a family member to Covid-19. I wrote a card telling her the whole story of how I rescued him, and fortunately this person is someone who will appreciate that tale. Hopefully he'll help provide some silly positivity at a terrible time.

And then, in the afternoon, my eBay auctions ended, and the old pharmaceutical bottles sold, and I had to get those in the mail. (Of course if I'd waited I could have mailed everything at once, but I forgot about the eBay thing.) So I packed them up and trudged back to the post office, and wound up spending £14 to mail bottles that Nigel in Wales paid me £6.85 for (including shipping).

I am the world's worst eBay seller. I seem to lose money on every transaction. Which is why I almost never bother with it. But in this case it allowed me to find a new home for those bottles, which was my overall goal.

My Bovril bottles didn't sell, but that's OK. I kind of like them.

I bought some fresh turbot for dinner from one of our local seafood restaurants that is doubling as a market until they can seat patrons again. I also bought some samphire, which goes so well with fish, and a fancy bottle of rosé Sancerre wine. We had a special light summer feast.

(Top photo: A pink car in Notting Hill, to go with my pink wine. Surely it belongs in that pink garage?)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Back to Portobello

Yesterday, feeling a bit doughy and in need of exercise, I took a long walk down to our old stomping grounds in Notting Hill. You may remember Dave and I lived in Notting Hill, off Portobello Road, for three years after we moved to London in 2011. I hadn't been down that way in a while so I went to see how the ol' neighborhood looks.

It was 87º F yesterday, with a bright sun -- a bit warm, but good walking weather and an opportunity to soak up lots of Vitamin D.

The graffiti above, on Portobello Road, memorializes the same three street artists who I mentioned in my post two days ago -- Lover, Trip and KBag.

While on a bridge over the Grand Union Canal in Ladbroke Grove, I saw this woman feeding bread to the swans. Talk about a waterfront apartment!

Portobello Road, a celebrated street of shops and an outdoor market that in normal times can be quite chaotic, was quiet but typically colorful. Many of the vendors seemed to be open as usual, and I saw gourmet mushrooms, produce and bric-a-brac for sale.

Beneath all those tags and a discolored sheet of Plexiglass, there's an artwork by Banksy. It's looking pretty bedraggled. I photographed it nine years ago (!) in better days.

You gotta love a restaurant with a name like this. I was tempted to buy lunch here, but I wasn't very hungry so I just kept walking; I wound up not eating at all.

When I got home I plotted my route online and it turns out I walked about 8.5 miles. It felt good to get some exercise. Now that I'm not walking to work every day, I feel like I'm sitting around a lot!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

It's a Jungle Out There

It's getting a little crazy out there in the garden. This inula grew from seed at the corner of our patio, and in past years it was fairly small, but now we have to squeeze past it! We have several other garden bottlenecks, too -- where plants have grown so big they're hard to get around. We'll need to start carrying a machete.

(The parent inula is in the background, behind the bamboo poles -- supports for our sweet peas -- and the banana tree. As you can see, it's immense. It grows to about eight feet high.)

The UK's coronavirus reopening continues apace. Boris has declared that we're now expected to maintain a distance of one meter or more, rather than two meters, from our fellow citizens. Of course this is mainly for economic reasons, because a lot of restaurants and other businesses said they could never survive with a two-meter social distancing rule. A host of establishments -- including restaurants, bars, pubs, hairdressers and museums -- will reopen as of July 4. Just as Dave is finally getting used to his shaggy hair!

Given Dave's immune-suppressing medication, I suspect we'll continue much as we already have been, staying home as much as possible. At least until we see how the reopening goes and whether (or should I say how much) the infection rates creep upward.

Tattoo parlors, unfortunately, will remain closed. Guess I have to wait to get my "I (heart) Boris" tattoo.

(In case you're new to this blog: Yes, that is a joke.)

Did you see that someone paid to have a "white lives matter" banner flown over a football game in Lancashire? I just do not know what's wrong with people. It's caused outrage among the team members and the public, and police are investigating. Seems to me whatever advertising company agreed to fly that banner ought to bear some of the liability. There's a strange intersection in Britain between some football fans and right-wing ultra-nationalist politics, not to mention petty thuggery. Sometimes political demonstrations take place under the sponsorship of "football lads" or some equally innocuous term, and what it really means is potentially violent and often drunk right-wingers. It's very strange. In America we have plenty of right-wing lunatics but they don't make sports part of their group identity.

Anyway, let's look at a few more garden pics.

Here's a hoverfly on a dahlia. The dahlia blossoms are interesting because they start out an intense, deep pink but slowly fade to a lighter color. Dave and I continue to debate whether they're pink or orange.

Some little black bug on one of our geraniums.

A close-up of our bear's breeches (acanthus). The flowers look like molluscs, don't they?

Land o' pansies!

And finally, a colorful little iridescent fly on our Chinese lantern.