Thursday, April 9, 2020

John Prine, Black Beauty and Elvis

Man, did I sleep last night. I don't understand why I was so tired, since practically all I did yesterday was walk the dog and read. Seems like a lot of us are sleeping or napping more these days. I think the persistent anxiety of the age of coronavirus saps more of our energy than we know.

I bought John Prine's first album on iTunes yesterday and listened to it in the morning. I used to own it on CD, years ago, but I must have sold it back at some point. (Remember how we used to be able to buy and sell used CD's? Whole stores -- in fact, whole retail chains -- were devoted to them! I spent hours browsing used CD racks, not to mention used vinyl. Now you can't give a CD away.)

Anyway, it was nice to catch up with that album again. Prine remained a force in the music world for years, but to my ears he was never better than on that first record, singing "Sam Stone" and "Hello in There" and "Angel From Montgomery."

Then I took Olga to the cemetery.

Here were my cemetery clean-up items for the day -- a tubular metal frame of some sort (a chair, maybe) and a broken keyboard. Into the bin they went.

And since I have not much else to tell you about yesterday, let's catch up with some more iPhone photos!

You may remember the tree-in-a-bag that I occasionally pass on our dog walks. It has now leafed out and it's even blooming. Is it going to remain in that bag forever? Can it survive like that?

Here's another blooming tree. I took this just before our lockdown started -- hence all the traffic. But it seems very illustrative of our crazy time, with the masked bicyclist carrying a Union Jack bag. (To be fair, the bicyclist may have been masked against exhaust fumes rather than coronavirus -- hard to tell.)

The wood anemones are blooming in the cemetery.

This sign is posted at Fortune Green. People obey it to varying degrees.

I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up some of Dave's medication, and this was the front door.

On the bright side, though, people are celebrating spring! Here are some martenitsi I found on a bush on the high street.

I always thought Black Beauty was a horse. This made me wonder, though -- seriously -- how coronavirus is affecting sex workers. Surely their business must be down, and they can't easily fall back on unemployment, I imagine.

Then again, people have a lot more spare time at the moment.

A couple of trays set out on a bench on the high street, free for the taking. Again, I took this picture weeks ago -- I imagine now people are pretty wary about picking up objects. (I'm sure they'd be fine as long as they were washed.)

And finally, a box I saw in someone's recycling bag. I had no idea there's a brand of beer called "Elvis Juice." Here's the description on the box: "An American IPA with a bitter edge that will push your citrus tolerance to the brink and back. A caramel malt base supports a full frontal citrus overload: grapefruit peel piled on top of intense American aroma hops, rounded out with waves of crashing pine, orange and more grapefruit."

Even if Elvis loved grapefruit, which seems like a big if, I'm pretty sure he would not want waves of crashing pine in his beer. Waves of crashing peanut butter, maybe!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Return of the Peacock

The peacock butterfly was back again yesterday morning, flitting among our forget-me-nots. Doesn't it look amazing against all those blue flowers?

I ventured out to the grocery store again yesterday. I went back to the big Sainsbury's at the O2 Centre rather than our little neighborhood shops, where the aisles are very narrow. At the big store I have more selection and more space, though it's less convenient.

Grocery shopping has got to be one of the least pleasant aspects of this coronavirus situation. It's no fun even in the best of times, and now -- with the added specter of infection and the need to skirt everyone else as widely as possible -- it's even worse. But I got out with enough food for the next three days, plus two bottles of my favorite red zinfandel, which I haven't seen at Sainsbury's since this whole mess began. And pasta! Woo hoo!

Perhaps as a result of all the tension, I saw a man and a woman have a full-on shouting match near the checkout lanes. The Sainsbury's employees had to come and move them along. I couldn't tell what the fight was about -- they both had heavy accents of some type and I couldn't understand a word.

As I walked home with my bags, I took a closer look at the once-viney tree -- now blooming!

Here it is from across the street. Remember how the woman who lives in the nearest house told me she thought it self-seeded from the fruit tree in her front yard? (Despite the presence of support stakes that were clearly put in by the council when it was planted.) Well, you can see her tree too, in the rear -- and it's blooming white. Definitely not the same variety of tree. Whether that woman will notice or admit that is anyone's guess.

Anyway, it's not in full bloom yet, so you might get one more picture when it flowers completely. I cut a bunch of sprouting hops vines from around its base yesterday. Those things are persistent. I imagine them writhing and hissing like evil snakes.

Olga and I went to the cemetery in the afternoon. Her enthusiasm for these cemetery walks has definitely waned. Maybe she's bored and I need a new destination. We heard the turaco, and I had my good camera so I lingered hoping to get a new picture of it, but every time Olga and I got close it stopped calling so I could never pinpoint its location. Crafty!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


I call this photo, "Where's Waolgado?"

Another quiet day at home -- as if I even need to say that. Olga and I took a walk to the cemetery in the afternoon, and that was about it for excitement. Going there almost daily, I'm beginning to see patterns among the other visitors. For example, there are a couple of older guys who sit near the chapel -- each on a separate bench -- and quaff tall cans of beer while chatting. They are probably pub mates who can no longer go to their usual pub.

I also saw three teenage boys lounging in the park with their bicycles, and a couple of muscle-bound military-looking guys doing pullups on the exercise bars. (If the children's playground equipment is closed, why is the adult playground equipment still open?) One woman appeared to be meeting with her trainer, working out with him but wearing a mask. A father played football with a young boy. Over the weekend I was surprised to hear an ice cream truck making its rounds, chiming its silly music. I suspect much of this activity falls outside the government's expectations for the lockdown, but the exercise guidelines are very vague.

Dave and I watched the Queen on television on Sunday night, delivering her brief message about national resolve during this crisis. I'm glad she made an appearance, even though she said nothing particularly earth-shattering. After all, if you're going to have a Queen, shouldn't it be for moments like this? I bet the cameraman who filmed her was in a full-on spacesuit.

And now Boris is in intensive care, which I find frankly scary. I don't know why the virus shouldn't affect Boris badly, as it affects so many other people badly, but if someone in his position of power with access to excellent medical care still winds up in intensive care, that shows how insidious it is.

On to something happier -- our garden fox(es). I put out some chicken for them the other day. I thought they'd eat it right away, but they didn't find it until the second night. Here's a little video -- first you see a tiny mouse, almost invisible except for its bright little eye. Then a curious pigeon investigates the chicken, but decides against cannibalism. Finally a fox shows up and eats most of it. The fox looks like he has a bald patch in his fur -- he may have mange, which is a problem among London foxes.

Did you find Waolgado? Here's a close-up to help out.

The New York Times has an interesting column about well-known photographers working in the age of coronavirus -- how their work reflects the urban emptiness and isolation of the times. I especially liked a line about Instagram filling up with "quarantine content," including "pets surprised by their owners' sudden ubiquity." Dave and I often joke that Olga must wonder what the heck is going on -- why we're around all the time. We're interfering with her five hours of daily napping!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Hanging Gardens and Taxes

There was a lot of this going on yesterday. Olga and I barely left the house. I took her for a neighborhood walk in the morning, but otherwise we stuck to the garden. It was a beautiful day, sunny and relatively warm, and I sat out and read The New Yorker while Dave watered plants.

I always love the garden when the blue forget-me-nots come out. Here's a close-up:

We have some other interesting flowers at the moment, too.

Our snake's head fritillary is blooming. (Much smaller than the one I saw on the Heath a couple of weeks ago.)

And this is honesty, which you may remember I grew from seed last year. It's finally big enough to bloom. Woo hoo! Later it will (hopefully) form its characteristic windowpane-like seed pods.

Our candytuft is just beginning to flower.

Someone asked for a picture of our "hanging gardens," the plethora of hanging baskets we've wound up with this year. This photo shows no less than nine objects hanging from our trees: wind chimes, a gong, two bird feeders, a lantern, Totoro and three baskets (one in the background over the bench). There are two more on the patio and another on the other side of the yard (just visible above and to the right of Olga in the top photo).

Finally, I filed our US income taxes yesterday. What a relief! It's always such a chore pulling that together, even though we normally don't pay anything -- foreign income is excluded up to a point and we already pay taxes here in the UK. But as US citizens, we're required to file. Interestingly, our income in dollars actually went down last year, I suppose because the value of the pound has dropped.

At one point I tried to log in to a web site to retrieve a 1099-DIV, the form that reports the annual dividends (about $15) from my meager stock holdings. The site asked not only for my username and password, but the answer to a security question -- the "name, breed and color" of my current pet. Are you kidding me? OlgaStaffyWhite? OlgaStaffordshireTerrierWhite? OlgaStaffyWhiteandBrindle? OlgaStaffySpots? I have NO FREAKING IDEA what the answer to that question could be, although I must have provided it to them at some point. I tried unsuccessfully three times, got my account locked, sent them an annoyed e-mail and fortunately retrieved the dividend information some other way.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Stepping Stone Installation

We installed our new stepping stones yesterday morning, made with the chips of china I've collected while walking Olga. They turned out pretty well!

They lead from our steps into the garden, a strip of grass that always gets worn and muddy. I dug out a circle of soil and nested the stones into the ground. This was harder than it sounds -- below about half an inch of dirt were rocks, pebbles, construction debris and other compacted, hard stuff. I guess it's good because it gives support to that well-trodden area, but it was a pain to dig and even out.

I put the stone with the hunk o' glass nearest the step, with the glass off to the right side where it's unlikely to be in the way. Turns out it doesn't feel uneven at all, even if it does stick up a bit. My feet couldn't tell!

Just before I started the project, Dave suggested removing all the grass and putting in bark or plantings around the stones -- he argued that we'd only have to dig the area once. But that meant we'd have to delay their installation to order materials. I just wanted to get them in, and dammit, I had a plan. I was frankly quite cranky that he was changing things up at the last minute, after we'd talked about this for weeks. I'm not sure he understood my attachment to my agenda, but we went ahead and put the stones in. I suppose we can dig the area out more in the future if we want to, but after Dave saw how hard the soil is I think he may have changed his mind.

While we were working a peacock butterfly flew up and landed on a sunny patch of dirt. I only had a chance to get one shot before Olga charged up and scared it away. Doesn't it seem early for a butterfly? Still, I was so glad to see it, considering we had chilly temperatures in the 40s (F) just a few days ago.

Olga and I took our daily walk to the cemetery. Here was my rubbish clean-up find for the day -- a rusty stereo component of some sort. I have no idea exactly what it is. Anyway, it went into the bin. (Thank goodness there are big bins at the cemetery.)

Then I went grocery shopping, never my favorite task. I felt a bit crowded in our little neighborhood store, even though Waitrose was lining people up and controlling access. There's just not much space in that shop. But I was able to buy everything we needed, including eggs, and I could even have bought toilet paper if we'd needed any. It's nice to see evidence that people are calming down and we're leaving hoarding and panic-buying behind.

Oh, and we're on Spring break, for what it's worth. No schoolwork until April 14. That means more to Dave, with all of his distance learning and Zoom classes, than it does to me, just working on my little library projects. I'd originally planned to be in Florida now, in the alternate universe of non-COVID normalcy. But hey, a vacation is always nice!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Old Books and a Metal Thing

Olga and I took our regular outing to Fortune Green and the cemetery yesterday. It's looking quite colorful out there!

The cemetery has wooded areas around the edges that for some reason seem to attract random trash. Lately I've made it a mission on each visit to pick up some rubbish and put it in the bin. This time I found a stack of wet, moldering books, complete with snails attached. Several had to do with martial arts. I detached the snails and left them in the woods, and put the books in the bin.

Some people may think it's morbid to walk around a cemetery, but I think of it almost like a park. I really don't think of it as a place associated with death.

On every visit, I notice new things:

The primroses are still blooming in the grass, carpeting some areas with pale yellow and purple flowers.

Here's a find from the woods that I kept. I don't even know what it is -- some kind of heavy iron tool. A chisel or scraper, maybe? A hand-held garden hoe? Whatever it is, it's been out there a while.

Speaking of trash, can I just say that this coronavirus pandemic has created a whole new level of disgusting street debris? I can't tell you how many discarded masks, gloves and tissues I see lying around on the pavements. It's horrible. Get it together, people! Use the rubbish bin! (For the record, I do NOT pick up those items.)

Dave and I have been lamenting the closure of small local businesses while this virus thing plays itself out. Last night we were excited to learn that one of our favorite restaurants, though closed for in-house dining, is operating a take-away and delivery service. We ordered dinner from them. It was a treat, and I was so glad to funnel some money back into the community.

Friday, April 3, 2020

St. Petersburg in Postcards

I just read a book called "The Postcard," by Tony Abbott, that I really enjoyed. It's for younger readers, but I could barely put it down, even though I could tell where it was headed plot-wise. It's about a boy trying to solve a mystery about his own family, and part of the fun, for me, was its setting -- St. Petersburg, Florida -- and its depiction of that area's history. Old postcards figure prominently.

It inspired me to dig out my own old postcards from St. Pete. These are only a tiny fraction of the sum total. I have hundreds of postcards from all around Florida that I collected in my thirty-plus years of living there.

Someone wrote on the back of this one (above): "It is warm to-day. Mabel and they will have a band concert in the park. They have 4 concerts a week." It's undated and was never mailed.

This one was mailed in 1955. "Dear Irma: I arrived here Weds. Have a nice room. I wonder where you are. Let me hear from you." The sender, Alice, added her contact information in Lakeland and mailed it to Irma in St. Petersburg, but it was forwarded on to Connecticut -- which I guess explains where Irma was.

The Gandy Bridge appears frequently in "The Postcard." Can you imagine sputtering across that bridge at night in a Model T? (Or whatever those cars are.) Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

The caption on this unmailed card: "St. Petersburg is famous for its green benches that line the streets and parks. The green bench has become a symbol of the hospitality and friendliness of this city offering the residents and tourists a place to sit, rest, enjoy the weather, make acquaintances and watch the passers-by."

When I was young, St. Pete was working hard to shed the image of the green benches and become a more modern, youthful, energetic city. I don't know if any green benches are still around these days.

The Pier is another prominent landmark featured in "The Postcard." This is the old pier, which was torn down and replaced with a modern inverted-pyramid structure that I knew as a kid. That, in turn, was demolished recently and something new is arising in its place. (I see from the web site that the new pier is supposed to have a grand opening on May 30. Wonder if that's going to happen? I'm guessing not.)

In "The Postcard," an old hotel is about to be demolished and the main character, a boy named Jason, explores the derelict building. The descriptions of the hotel reminded me of the Hotel Soreno, which really was demolished in 1992. In fact, its implosion was filmed by Warner Brothers and used in the film "Lethal Weapon 3."

This card was mailed from St. Pete to Paterson, N.J. in September 1945: "Arrived home safe and today is our hottest day, before the rains kept it cool. It feels good to be home again. I love it here. Love, Betty"

Sunken Gardens also features prominently in "The Postcard." I remember TV ads for Sunken Gardens when I was a kid, but somehow I have never been. I think I'll go next time I'm in Florida. It's still around.

This card, depicting "a young couple strolling leisurely through romantic Sunken Gardens," was mailed to Earl in New Jersey in January 1972: "Hope you are feeling much better by this time. We had a good trip down and we are enjoying the beautiful Florida sunshine. We both have colds right now but hope they will be better soon. It is nice here. We are near a park and lake. Ruth & Walter"

I wonder what on earth a "tourist meeting" is? It looks dreary as hell.

Mailed to Connecticut in September 1947: "Home sweet home. Arrived here Thursday just after the big blow, and it was some blow, not much damage done in this town BUT the East Coast sure did get it. Am very busy getting settled down again. In haste, BLB"

The "big blow" was the 1947 Fort Lauderdale hurricane. The card was mailed on Friday, Sept. 19, just a day or two after the storm passed over the state.

The Vinoy Park Hotel was a derelict wreck when I grew up in Tampa. Unlike many old hotels, though, it got a second act -- it is now the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort. This card was never mailed.

This motel is actually on St. Petersburg Beach, which is totally different from the city of St. Petersburg, but I couldn't resist including it because I am a sucker for a mid-century motel. It was mailed in June 1955, to Edward in Tennessee: "We are staying here. I will be here 2 weeks from to-day, till July 7. So come on here if you come by car. If you come by bus call me and I will meet you. Love, Ruby"

An unmailed postcard dated 1959 from the Plaza Inn Motel, which apparently had "decorator-inspired interiors" (whatever that means) as well as this "spacious pool." I've never understood motels with the pool in the parking lot. I bet it just bakes.

And finally, a house that reminds me a bit of Jason's grandmother's in "The Postcard," with its jalousie-windowed Florida room. This two-bedroom 1954 model was built by the Sirmons Construction Company, and cost just $11,000 including lot. (Probably no air conditioning, though.)

Mailed in January 1955 to (again) New Jersey, the card's hand-written message sounds like it came straight from the Chamber of Commerce: "How grand to enjoy the warm sunshine. The beautiful fruit trees, loaded with fruit and the flowers. The layout of this house is tops, you would like it. Regards, Adam"

I'm guessing Abbott, the author of "The Postcard," had a personal connection to St. Petersburg. Maybe his own grandmother lived there, in a house like this one. He wrote with obvious affection for the city, even though he apparently lives in Connecticut himself.

Anyway, I think I'll buy "The Postcard" for my nieces. They might get a kick out of it.