Monday, October 14, 2019

An Autumn Bouquet


That dahlia in the foreground above was bright red when I first bought it several weeks ago. Now it's faded to a gentle orange as the flowers begin to fall away, petal by petal. It matches the orangey-red loosestrife leaves, the purple flowers in the background and the lingering lavender. Very autumnal!

Dave and I went to see the Downton Abbey movie yesterday. I liked it a lot, but I definitely had to suspend my critical thinking skills in order to swallow parts of the plot. It was beautifully filmed and especially fun to see all the characters again. We went using a gift card from one of Dave's students, given to us at the end of the last school year, so we didn't even have to buy our tickets. (Except that the card covered the cost of two tickets in June, and I guess they've gone up a bit -- after I used it there was still an unpaid balance of 20 pence, so I had to put that on my debit card! Ridiculous.)


I also took Olga to the cemetery when we had a break in the persistent rain. Here she is having a little nibble of some grass -- her salad, as I like to call it.

It's funny -- when we walk around the cemetery, I often don't even think about the fact that it IS a cemetery.  (Even with that profusion of crosses!) I think of it more like a park. I'm too busy looking at all the stuff that's alive to remember what's not. That would probably annoy some people.

Dave, Olga and I are taking off this afternoon on a little overnight adventure -- although it's another rainy day so the weather isn't optimal. I've kept it secret from Dave so he doesn't know what we're doing and I can't yet write about it here. I'll fill you all in tomorrow!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Along the Knotweed Trail


It rained all day yesterday, but that didn't stop Olga from wanting a morning walk. I swear, I don't know who this dog is -- normally Olga would sooner die than take a walk in the rain. She must really be feeling cabin fever!

We walked all the way over to Kilburn, and then Olga insisted on going into the tube station. At first I resisted, but then I figured we could just take the tube one stop back to West Hampstead -- so that's what we did. Olga loves a good tube ride.

Still refusing to go home, she took me down Billy Fury Way (above), where we saw these workers engaged in the Sisyphean task of removing Japanese knotweed along the train tracks. Knotweed is a terribly invasive species here in Britain, so everyone does their best to contain it. It looked to me like they were both chopping the stalks and spraying them with herbicides. I got out of there quickly -- I don't want to be exposed to that stuff.

For Olga, the rest of the day was comprised of this:


Sleeping, covered in her pink blanket. When I took that photo, her paw was the only visible part of her. Her snoring was audible, though.

I got a lot of reading done. I finished off another New Yorker, including an interesting article about a photographer who has spent the last few decades traveling around the perimeter of the Atlantic Ocean with a large-format camera on a tripod. He sets it up in locations so remote that, in some cases, virtually no one has ever been there -- and they're often locations that are destined to disappear, because of melting sea ice. He takes one picture, and then moves on.

What's interesting is, his pictures -- to me -- sometimes look like blurry accidents. There's white foamy water and mist and rocks, sometimes a black sky with a white splash of moon. I'm not sure I understand why the photos themselves are so significant. Maybe they're not -- maybe the art is in the making, the process of traveling to these remote outposts with clunky equipment at great effort and expense. Maybe the picture itself is secondary. It makes you think about the nature of art -- is it the doing, or the end product?

I also read "Octopussy," the James Bond book I posted several days back. "Octopussy" itself is really just a short story, and Bond is a peripheral character. (It bears absolutely NO resemblance, plot-wise, to the Roger Moore Bond movie of the same name.) Now I can say I've read Ian Fleming. It's smooth and fast-paced, as one would expect from such a popular writer.

Finally, I watched a movie I recorded weeks ago on our DVR -- "Fair Wind to Java," with Fred MacMurray and Vera Hruba Ralston, from 1953. It was one of those mid-century technicolor costume dramas I love, in which the Czechoslovakian Ralston had to pretend to be Indonesian -- mainly by wearing severe Spock-like eyebrows. I was more entertained than I thought I might be at the outset. Dave put on his noise-cancelling headphones and blocked it all out.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

I'm So Hip


The other day I read an article in The New Yorker about TikTok, and I decided to download the app and see what it's all about. Basically it's a video platform loaded with short, harmless snippets of people dancing, goofing off, performing tricks, stuff like that. It's like YouTube in microbursts. You don't choose what to watch -- instead you just scroll down and the app's algorithm delivers videos it thinks you might like.

It's kind of fun, but I find that my attention span is longer than the videos on offer. Sometimes I want to see more, but all I get is a few seconds. (And sometimes, of course, I don't want to see certain videos at all.) The super-brief format is a little jarring.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much I'll watch it. But having it on my phone makes me feel very hip. These kids today!

Olga has been funny about her walks this week. She didn't want to go out Thursday morning at all -- and it was a perfectly nice day. But yesterday, with a fine gray drizzle coming down and me already running late for work, she decided she not only wanted a walk but wanted a long walk, down the high street through the center of West Hampstead. (The tent is still there, by the way.) I made it to work on time, but only barely -- and I had to bring my cereal on the tube and eat it at my desk because I ran out of time for breakfast at home. (I added the milk once I was at work!)

I finished Demi Moore's book yesterday. That woman was raised by wolves! Her parents were unbelievable -- the alcoholism, the fighting, the rootless wandering from place to place. I've heard of plenty of people with a bad family situation, but I think hers might take the cake. She writes about dating Emilio Estevez in the '80s (a relationship I'd forgotten entirely, if I ever knew about it) and how eye-opening it was for her to spend time with his family because they interacted, talked about things, had relatively stable relationships. I did enjoy her recollections of the movies she made. I guess she saw the book as an opportunity to tell her story in her way, rather than allowing the tabloids to tell it for her -- and I can see how she'd want that.

(Photo: A van on Abbey Road in St. John's Wood.)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Blueberry Overload



I put out the garden cam yesterday morning before work, to see if I could catch any of the local foxes traipsing through our patio. I haven't seen the foxes in a while, but I'm sure they're still out there. Occasionally Olga will sit bolt upright in bed, having heard some minute sound, which probably means fox.

Last night I set out a boiled egg, which we haven't done for a while, to entice the foxes for a close-up.

Unfortunately I chose a spot for the camera that wasn't very good. I angled it too far up, so it wasn't focused on the ground, and the movement of blowing foliage in the garden set it off frequently. And then it rained last night, and the foxes didn't eat the egg. Even a fox has better things to do than slink around in the rain, I suppose.

Oh well. You can enjoy a minute of blowing leaves and birdsong in the video above. I retrieved the uneaten egg, so I'll try for a fox video again today or tonight.

Dave's food-hoarding instincts have been kicking in this week. A few days ago I opened the refrigerator and we had six containers of blueberries, all past or on the verge of expiration. I told him, "Maybe you'd better make a pie -- we'll never eat all these blueberries otherwise!" He liked that idea, so he made a crumble -- which was fabulous, of course.

For dinner this week he's made cottage pie, and spaghetti, and baked salmon, and baked chicken, and goulash -- and now we've got a boatload of leftovers. I told him last night, "Don't buy any more food!" Dave isn't a fan of leftovers, but they're inevitable when he's cooking for only two people. So he's on a grocery ban until we eat what we've got.

He bought a package of fresh basil to use in the goulash, but he forgot to put it in -- and then he made spaghetti so he could use the basil, but he forgot to put it in again. And now it's in the compost bin. Oh well.

I shouldn't tease him about his shopping or cooking -- after all he's feeding me better than I could feed myself. I am eternally grateful for that!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Viney Tree


Last fall, I found this pepper plant atop someone's discarded rubbish while walking the dog. I brought it home and put it in a pot, and we nursed it through the winter on the dining room windowsill. In spring we moved it out to the patio, and it has rewarded us with peppers. I'm not sure they're edible peppers -- maybe just ornamental -- and in any case I'm not a huge fan of hot peppers in general. But I love the way they look, and it's fun to taunt the squirrels with something they don't dare touch.

Remember my missing Amazon book, "The Story of Harold"? Well, I contacted the seller. Someone named Mary wrote back a peculiar note which said, "Apparently the process does not continue as normal. I want to help you immediately." She asked me to confirm my address and whether I wanted a refund or another copy of the book. I chose the book, which I may regret. Mary said she would ship one immediately.

Stay tuned!


Also, you may remember that I've been on a campaign to save a vine-covered tree on our street. Here's the poor cherry tree, sagging under the weight of a massive, strangling hops vine. (Of course just as I arrived to take pictures, a woman was trying to park beneath the tree -- I explained to her what I was doing so she wouldn't think I was behaving suspiciously! The vines were snagging on the car as she backed into the space -- she got out and checked for damage. So I guess they're more than just an aesthetic problem.)

Anyway, I wrote to the local council, which owns the tree, and I spoke to the woman who lives in the nearest house. She said it's not her vine, she wouldn't mind its removal, and she offered to write the council as well.

I heard back from one of the tree officers a few days ago, and he said he has "prompted the contractors to remove the ivy from the tree" later in the winter when it has died back a bit.

I still have half a mind to just go at it with my gardening shears, but the woman who lives nearby seemed hesitant about that idea. "What if something goes wrong?" she said. I'm not sure what she's envisioning -- the collapse of the tree? But it is true that removing that vine would be difficult with a car parked in that space, and I certainly wouldn't want to damage anyone's car. So it's probably best to wait for the council to handle it.

"Hopefully we will not have to remove the tree completely in order to remove the ivy," wrote the tree officer.

Didn't someone once say, during the Vietnam War, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it"?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

From Florida to California


You all seemed to enjoy my parents' old slides when I posted a selection a week ago. So let me do a followup with some more images from the same slide trays, which cover pretty much the whole decade of the '60s.

First, this very Florida image of Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring. My great-grandparents lived in that area, and my dad and mom visited fairly frequently. Dad took this slide in 1962, but I'm guessing Highlands Hammock hasn't changed much in the years since. I love the vertical lines and muted colors. It almost looks like a black-and-white abstraction.


Here's Dad playing the fearless fisherman on the lake where we lived in Pasco County, in December 1966. We used to catch and eat fish out of that lake -- perch, catfish and, as you can see, bass.


This was from one of my parents' trips out west, in 1963. My dad never seemed to tire of the Grand Canyon, even though he was afraid of heights and could never comfortably bring himself to get close to the edge.


My mom and paternal grandmother at Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California, in 1965. This was possibly a Boy Scout camp -- my grandfather was big into scouting -- but I'm just guessing. An amphitheater, maybe?


My grandmother on my Aunt Jean's back porch in Riverside, Ca., in 1965. I love the light in this photo.


My parents had a navy blue 1965 Mustang. Remember my mom's pink Nash Metropolitan, from the previous photo lineup? Well, I believe they sold that car partly in order to buy this one. This photo must have been taken when it was brand new -- also in Southern California, in my grandmother's driveway.


My mom playing ping-pong in my aunt's backyard in 1965. This isn't very characteristic of Mom, who isn't that into games, but she seemed to be enjoying herself!


My grandmother with someone's dog. It may be my aunt and uncle's, or maybe it was hers -- though she usually had Boston terriers. I think the dog's name was Smokey, from the notes on the slide box. Don't you love her cat-eye glasses?


And finally, me on my swingset in early 1970. I think my parents bought this swingset partly to keep me amused while they focused attention on my brother, who was born that June. He and I both played on it in later years, along with various other neighborhood kids. As I've mentioned before, my memory of this swingset isn't entirely pleasant -- I got stung twice by a paper wasp that built a nest in it!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

L'Enfant, Harold and Octopussy


I took this picture in November 2010, which I believe was the last time I visited Washington, D.C. I came across it the other day while combing through my photo archives for something else. As far as I can tell, I never used it -- never put it on Flickr, never blogged it. I guess I wasn't that crazy about it. But when I found it again, I thought, "Hey, that's a little slice of history! I should blog it after all!"

So here you go.

L'Enfant, the restaurant in the picture, no longer exists -- at least not at this location. The building is now occupied by a place called Lucky Buns. But they kept the little Eiffel Tower on the roof, which I'm sure is what made me take the photo in the first place.

In other news, remember that mysterious book of Edward Gorey stickers I got in the mail a few weeks ago? Well, I think I've solved the mystery. It's not a particularly happy story, but here goes.

About a month ago, on Sept. 6, I ordered a rare paperback book on Amazon from a third-party seller. The book, called "The Story of Harold," is a 1970s novel about a bisexual children's book author -- and it was written under a pseudonym by George Selden, the famous children's book author responsible for "A Cricket in Times Square" and "Tucker's Countryside," among others. (Write what you know, as the experts say!) I was a fan of Selden's books as a kid and I've been looking forward to reading his adventurous attempt to write for adults.

Problem is, it never arrived. I was told it should be here by October 8, and I've been patiently waiting. I went online yesterday and, looking more closely at the order, realized that "The Story of Harold" is illustrated by Edward Gorey!

This cannot be a coincidence, right?!

I'm not sure what happened, but I suspect the Gorey sticker book was somehow substituted for my order. This is a problem, because "The Story of Harold" cost me £36 (you can debate the wisdom of my spending that much on a paperback, but never mind) and the Gorey sticker book retails at about £5. Also, the sticker book came from an English bookseller, and I ordered the Selden book from a seller in the United States.

To make matters even more interesting, "The Story of Harold" is still listed on Amazon by the same seller, at the price I paid!

Methinks something fishy is going on. I wrote the seller yesterday, asking for an explanation. We shall see what happens.


Speaking of old books, here's another gem that recently came to light on the shelves in our library. One of the other librarians wanted to weed it, along with several other Ian Fleming books. I said, "NO! They're James Bond!" I mean, classics, right? So back on the shelf they all went -- but not before I scanned this cover. It's a 1966 book, first checked out from our library in 1975. (The rest are all more modern paperbacks.)

I've never read an Ian Fleming book, I must admit -- maybe I should make that a goal. They're probably wildly sexist and inappropriate. But for better or worse, I do think they fall under the heading of culturally significant.

Last night, as I walked to the tube station from school, it started pouring rain -- and of course I didn't have my umbrella. Fortunately, when I got to the station, I saw this sticking out of the trash:


Yes, I'm aware it's an umbrella suitable for an 8-year-old girl, and it's also broken. But you know what? I don't care. I used it to get home, and I'm sure I looked ridiculous -- but I was more or less dry! I may just take it to school, where we can save it for future precipitation-related emergencies.