Friday, March 5, 2021

A London Eye


I was walking home yesterday when I found this eye drawn on a sidewalk. I wish I'd seen it when it was fresh as it's very faint now, but it looks like that's supposed to be the London skyline reflected in the pupil. Pretty cool!

Just as I was sure that winter was done with us, we're getting more. Temperatures are supposed to get down to 30º F (-1º C) tonight and the same tomorrow night. No snow, fortunately, but the skies have been gray and I'm seeing mostly clouds in the immediate forecast (and rain later next week). We are not amused.

I brought in all the geraniums again, and I suppose we'll cover the banana and the tree fern over the weekend.

I am also sick of wondering about my Covid vaccine. Another co-worker younger than 50 with no underlying health conditions was invited to get hers, and I've still heard nothing. I'm feeling quite ornery about it. I want to wait my turn, and I don't begrudge others getting their shots, but I don't see why other doctors' offices seem to be processing their patients much more efficiently. I also have the irrational fear that if I inquire again they'll put me at the bottom of the list out of spite! So for now it's a waiting game.

Dave and I are still watching "The Expanse" and "The Walking Dead." I like "The Expanse," while Dave (who usually loves sci-fi) is less enthusiastic. It is a bit hard to follow at times but it's never dull. "The Walking Dead" is excellent and suspenseful but quite gory, as you'd expect from a show populated by flesh-eating zombies. (I was going to say it's a nail-biter!) The ensemble cast and the characterizations are excellent, and I can see why it has such appeal. We often watch it right before bed, which might not be the best idea because, yes, I have had zombie dreams.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Lemon Saroyan


I found this lemon in the back of the produce drawer in our refrigerator, and it seemed both repellent and weirdly intriguing.

It has nothing to do with this post, really. I just needed a picture and that was an eye-catcher. Or an eyeye-catcher, you could say. (You'll shortly see why.)

I've mentioned before that I went through a poetry-writing period when I was younger. During this time in the mid-1980s, when I was taking a poetry class at college and working in downtown Tampa, I would often walk to the downtown library on my lunch hour or after work and peruse the poetry shelves.

One of the books I discovered there was Aram Saroyan's eponymous book from 1968. It was printed in a typeface that suggested it came straight from a manual typewriter, and it was full of curious little minimalist poems, including his famous and controversial one-word poem "lighght." (No, that is not a typo.) Most of them stood alone on a stark white page, with a blank page facing, so that each turn produced only a word or a handful of words. Sometimes not even words -- just pieces of words or even a single modified letter. Flashes of language.

"Eyeye" was another. Two eyes, which makes sense -- but united into one image, like the world seen by two eyes. Read it aloud and you sound like a pirate.

I was thoroughly dumbfounded by this poetry. Saroyan, whose father was famous novelist and playwright William Saroyan, wrote what's known as "concrete" poetry, or poetry that is as much a visual work as a readable one. In fact, many of his poems can't be read at all. They're more like an experience.

Here's another example that I remember from that book:


At the time I thought this kind of work was silly, and I remember cynically presuming that Saroyan got published mainly because of his father's connections. But that poem lived in my brain. I never forgot it.

It brought to my mind the "-ly" suffix on adverbs like "slowly" or "chaotically." "Squarely" is an obvious interpretation. Perhaps it's a series of descriptions with a missing core -- "slowly" without the slow, "chaotically" without the chaos. The repetition emphasizes and multiplies the inherent absence. Or "squarely" with the square implied rather than stated -- or maybe it is stated, but differently. I've never read an "official" critical assessment; that's just my interpretation and I suppose someone else might get something else out of it.

Other Saroyan poems repeated the word "crickets" across or down the page, evoking the endless, repetitive sound of the insects. The poem "lighght" is simply that word, standing alone -- an intentional misspelling that makes us pause on the idea or image of light. If the word were spelled correctly it would "pass straight through you," as writer Ian Daly said. The misspelling makes it stick, but not too long -- it also retains a stark, instant quality.

This week I went down an Internet rabbit hole reading about Saroyan and his minimalist poetry, which was republished in a collection 13 years ago. Some of the articles I read are linked in this post. The fact that I was thinking about it is evidence of its surprising durability and effectiveness, I suppose. It took me 35 years to realize it might not be silly after all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Blooming Trees


Not a lot of news here. Yesterday at midday, when I walked home from work, it was 43º F (6º C) and the sky was cloudy and gray. After our recent burst of springlike weather, winter seems to have returned.

The trees are still insisting it's spring, though.


My boss encouraged me to write to my doctor about the Covid-19 vaccine. She wrote hers, and was invited for the vaccine just days later -- and when her husband inquired he also got a shot pretty quickly. Granted, they're both older than me, but not by much.

So I sent an e-mail to my GP's practice and mentioned my age and the fact that I work in a school, and with students coming back on Monday I'd like to get the vaccine sooner rather than later. Someone wrote back and said I am in priority group 9 (which I suppose they're not vaccinating yet) but she would add me to the "reserve list" since I told them I could come in on short notice. I have no idea whether or not that will expedite things, but I guess it's worth a try.

I have a few seedlings sprouting -- foxgloves and one of the corncockles. No sign of life yet from the honesty or the jimson weed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Bondage, Cannabis and Vladimir Putin


As you can see, our part of the world is slowly getting sunnier. The light is warmer and brighter, the shadows more striking.

You'll be glad to know my phone seems to be working fine after its creek-dunking and subsequent dry rice immersion. I'm not sure whether the rice made a difference or if it would have dried out on its own anyway. Guess there's no way to tell. I haven't used it for an extended period of time yet, but the basic apps seem to open and do what they need to do, even iTunes.

Speaking of iPhones, how about another round of random phone pictures from my walks around town?


I found this sticker on a street sign on Abbey Road. Tegamitype is a typography studio in Indonesia. I don't find anything as groovy as this design on their web site. Maybe it's an old sticker.


This was in the window of a closed hairdresser's salon in Childs Hill. It looks like a homemade bondage device. Maybe they put wigs on this head to style them? Alarming!


"Stoney Patch" is cannabis gummy candy. As the package says, "Sour & Sweet, then Stoned." These have made a splash in the news, with a copyright infringement lawsuit and bad reactions from kids who eat them thinking they're conventional sweets. One parent said of an incident at a London school, "A bunch of year 9s took some cannabis edibles and passed out, and there was a lot of throwing up at lunchtime."

I guess gummy candy doesn't exactly encourage moderation.


This is a kickboxing studio in South Hampstead called "Gav the Champ." I took a photo of its sign because I have a friend named Gav and I thought he'd be amused.


I'm glad the user of this wheelie bin has been verified.


Free videotapes set out with someone's trash. Anybody want the entire back catalog of "Friends"? (No, I did not rescue them.)


This image of Vladimir Putin was staring out at me from someone's recycling bag. Turns out it's a cardboard chocolate package from Russia featuring an image of Putin crying, based on a painting by Alexei Sergienko. "Kind-hearted man," the web site says. OK, then.

And finally...

Monday, March 1, 2021

Tree Relocation Followup Report


Last spring, Dave and I moved a young tree that we'd inadvertently planted in the wrong place. We relocated it from the front of the garden to the back corner. Well, it seems happy there, and this year it's blooming up a storm. I'm glad to see it has survived and is evidently prospering. We identified it at some point -- it's a Prunus, but I forget which kind.

(I can't believe that was just last year -- it seems much longer ago!)


Also flourishing this spring are the daffodils (or are they jonquils?) I rescued from Homebase last year when they were giving away their plants just before our first lockdown. At the time they were sad-looking and past their peak, but I knew if we planted them they'd come up again year after year fresh and new -- and indeed they have.

I had a pretty quiet day yesterday -- finished another Newbery book, "King of the Wind" by Marguerite Henry, which I remember reading and loving as a child. It's a fictional account of a real stallion known as the Godolphin Arabian who sired racehorses in England and the United States back in the 1700s. He's an ancestor of some of our more modern champions, including Man O' War and Seabiscuit. It was a good story. I have a vague memory of being somewhat confused when I read it back in grade school. Not only are some of the names are a bit wacky -- the Earl of Godolphin living in the Gog Magog Hills -- but I'm not sure I realized then what siring racehorses entails! (Henry doesn't go into any detail -- the horses merely retire to a distant part of the paddock for some discreet quiet time.)

I've basically given up on reading any adult books until I plow through the remaining Newbery winners. I really want to get this reading project done, or almost done, by the time school gets out in June.

I took Olga to the cemetery and she seemed much more agile than she did Saturday. I guess the Metacam is kicking back in. A couple stopped to watch her gnaw apart her tennis ball, and the man said, "She has beautiful markings!" I never know what to say to that. Should I say "Thank you"? They're not my markings. I usually say something about how she's such a good dog, and she's a rescue, blah blah blah.

I also had a conversation with our upstairs neighbor about the plumbing. They're annoyed because our management company presented them with half of the bill for clearing the drains last week. They question the expense and want to know why they weren't presented with options and bids from different plumbers. I explained that the situation was an emergency -- we had raw sewage bubbling up in the alley and in our bathtub -- and that there was probably no time to seek multiple bids. They seemed unmoved, but they're upstairs and weren't living with the problem like we were. Anyway, it's not my problem -- they need to work it out with our landlord. Ah, the blessed freedom of being a renter!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Slow Heath Ramble


We took maybe the slowest walk I've ever experienced through Hampstead Heath yesterday. Our old girl Olga, who used to race beneath the trees in long running loops and leap over logs with abandon, now ambles at a more subdued pace. She still takes off after squirrels now and then, but increasingly, the squirrel has to be within ten feet and holding a sign that says "CHASE ME."

Age comes to us all, I guess, but part of the problem is also that I temporarily stopped giving Olga her anti-inflammatory medicine. It seemed to be making her sleepy and upsetting her stomach, so she had a drug holiday for a couple of weeks. Now it's time to go back on the Metacam, though, because she was very subdued yesterday and obviously stiff in the joints.


I tried to shorten the walk, but every time we came to a turn we usually take, Olga insisted we take it. She does not like to change the routine. We wound up walking our full loop.

The daffodils were blooming on Hampstead Heath Extension, where I had a bit of drama of my own. As I listened to the Moody Blues on iTunes, Olga splashed around in a muddy creek, and abandoned her tennis ball in the muck. (In addition to moving more slowly, she's much less diligent these days about hanging on to her tennis balls.) I bent over to pick it up, and my iPhone fell out of my jacket straight into the creek. Ugh!

I fished it out within just a few seconds, and after drying it off on my jeans I was relieved to find that it still worked. I took it out of its case to let it breathe, and because it seemed OK, I continued listening to my music as if nothing happened. Which was fine for about half an hour, and then suddenly the music stopped playing. So maybe some water got into it after all.

Now the phone is turned off and sitting in a tub of dry rice, where I'm supposed to leave it for 48 hours. In theory the rice leaches any dampness out of the phone. The other apps and data seemed to be working fine, but we'll see in the long run, I suppose!

Fortunately I'm not addicted to my phone. It can sit in that rice for days and that's fine with me.


There were lots of people out in Golders Hill Park, as you can see. Pandemic? What pandemic?


No crocuses were harmed in the making of this picture. Well, OK, maybe one or two.

In the evening, as Olga snored on the couch, Dave and I watched a long documentary on the BBC from a couple of years ago called "HyperNormalisation." It contends that politicians, banks and others in power have in recent decades built an artificial reality that they've sold to the population at large -- blaming various international players for things they didn't do to justify diplomatic or military actions, for example. We have traded truth for stability, even amidst falsehood.

It's an interesting film, but it sprawls and knits together events and occurrences that, to me, seem only barely connected, if at all. Some of its information isn't new -- in the run-up to George W. Bush's war in Iraq, for example, we all knew Bush's justifications were baloney. We were simply unable to do anything about it. We couldn't stop the conflict.

Anyway, the filmmakers contend this climate of falsehood since the Reagan years has helped lead to catastrophes like Trump and Brexit -- desperate actions by increasingly alienated voters who know they're being duped. I forget how I even came across this movie. I think it was mentioned in something I read. Again, not bad, but long and sprawling.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Clay Pipes


A couple of days ago, on my post about stooping, Ellen commented, "You are at war with yourself. One part of you loves to bring stuff home and the other part hates clutter."

That is completely true. Yesterday, after cleaning out that dark space under the stairs, I submitted all the information needed to arrange a hazardous waste pickup by the council. In other words, I inched forward on getting some stuff out of the house.

But as I was walking home from work, I found this (above)! A box full of antique clay smoking pipes, lying on the sidewalk in the same place where I found the bottles and the wet books. Someone is definitely having a clear-out, but I couldn't believe they'd just throw these pipes away. When I saw the box on its side, the pipes strewn across the sidewalk, I actually exclaimed out loud, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"

Though not uncommon, clay pipes like this are quite old, going at least as far back as the Victorians and sometimes hundreds of years earlier. They featured long stems, and were inexpensive and made to be disposable. They're often found in the Thames by mudlarkers, but usually not on a sidewalk in West Hampstead!

It's much more common to find broken pieces of stem than it is to find a cup. I've found some stems myself, and years ago, my friend Sally gave me a cup that she bought from an antique dealer at Greenwich Market -- so I'd have at least one. Now look at them all!

I scooped the pipes back into the box and brought it home, so I could examine them more closely. The box was numbered -- 17 -- and there was a note inside: "17/ Pipes 13, 1/2 of 1882." Perhaps these are inventory or lot numbers, or is 1882 a year? Who knows.


Most commonly, clay pipes feature a simple cup with maybe some ribs or basic patterns around the outside. But some of the ones in this box are really unusual. Here's one that looks like a grinning man with a big nose.


This one has a stag's head, with a sun or a radiating eye above it...


...and this one has a sort of faux wood-grain texture.


This one may be my favorite, with images of giraffes on the cup. On one side of the stem it says "The Giraffe," and on the other is part of an address, "-ton Place, SE." The Giraffe was a pub on Penton Place in Kennington, in southeast London. I feel certain this pipe must have come from there.

Anyway, I have no idea what to do with them all. I can't even say for sure that they're all old or authentic -- people do make modern versions -- but I think they are. I wrote to the Museum of London asking them if they'd like to take a look. I don't know whether any of these are so unusual they're worthy of special preservation.

If not, maybe I can sell them on eBay or donate them to a pipe-collector's club. I just want them to wind up in the right hands, and not go out with the trash!