Thursday, March 21, 2019

Decca and a Sombrero

This building, which I pass on my walk to work every morning, is the old Decca recording studio in West Hampstead. This is where The Moody Blues recorded some of their best-known albums, including "Days of Future Passed" and "In Search of the Lost Chord," where David Bowie recorded his first single, and where The Zombies recorded "She's Not There." The Beatles auditioned for Decca here in 1962, only to be rejected. (They also played at the Railroad Tavern, a pub just barely visible to the right.)

I've mentioned nearby Billy Fury Way several times on this blog -- a somewhat forbidding path running from West End Lane to Finchley Road along the railroad tracks. Occasionally I walk Olga there. Well, it is so named because English '60s rocker Billy Fury also recorded here at Decca.

It's kind of cool to pass the building (now home to the English National Opera) and think of all the history that occurred there. Those Moody Blues albums, in particular, are favorites of mine.

I spent yesterday at work wrapping more books. Fortunately they're all done now -- all 140 or so. I wonder which luckless 8th Grader is going to wind up with that book bearing an image of Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the dark lords of Brexit?

Here's my latest scavenged find -- a sombrero-shaped chip bowl complete with compartments for salsa and guac! Someone left it on top of their rubbish bin on the street, clearly hoping to find it a home. It looks like it's never even been used. Is it tacky? Absolutely! And probably politically incorrect as well. But I couldn't resist!

Dave merely groaned.

Last night I planted our sweet pea seeds. And did I mention that I got packets of poppy and cosmos seeds from a magazine subscription at work? So I need to get the cosmos planted as well. I have one more empty seed tray just waiting for them. The poppies, fortunately, can just be scattered directly on the ground.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Yellow Violet

This is what's known as a "dog's tooth violet." Kind of a confusing name, since it's not violet and doesn't bear an immediate resemblance to a dog's tooth.

I bought it at the grocery store the other day and it's already been ravaged by the squirrels -- so even though this particular blossom is a bit past its prime, I thought I'd better photograph it. Who knows how long this plant is going to last? The squirrels love anything bulbous, and the dog's tooth violet comes from bulbs. I should have known better.

We've had some action on the seedling front! So far, two hollyhocks and one burdock have germinated. I don't see any activity from anything else, but it's only been 11 days.

This is how I spent part of my workday yesterday. Remember how, in years past, we've wrapped books for a library activity we call "Blind Date with a Book"? We've usually done it for the 8th Graders on Valentine's Day. Well, this year Valentine's Day came and went and the teachers didn't mention it, so we thought they'd moved on to something new. But no -- they merely delayed it until now.

Because the romantic connection is no longer as obvious, we've dropped the Blind Date concept. But the kids will still choose a wrapped book (obviously not knowing what it is) and when they unwrap it, they can either keep it or exchange it for one unwrapped by a previous student. In this way, we'll hopefully get kids reading new things.

So yeah, yesterday I wrapped books. Like, dozens of books. We're using newspaper and I tried to at least make it interesting by centering some kind of image on the front of each package. (The dog, by the way, is Snoop the staffy -- read his sad/happy story here.)

Last night I had another surreal customer service experience. I went to the grocery store to pick up some trash bags. But when I looked at the shelf, they didn't have the tall white kitchen bags we usually buy -- only very large ones or tiny ones for our food-composting caddy. I called Dave (who usually does the shopping) and he verified they weren't the right ones. So I asked someone at the store where the other bags were.

"Oh, those are the only ones we stock," he said. "We've never had any others."

I flashed back to my recent experience at the cleaners, where I was told that I couldn't get my shirts laundered despite having done it there for the past five years. Don't you love it when they tell you not only that your product or service isn't available, but that it's never been available?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring String

For years now I've noticed bits of white and red twine tied to blooming trees in springtime. I never quite knew where this tradition came from or what it meant. I think I remember seeing it in New York, too.

The bits of "spring string" in these two photos are fastened to a magnolia on my walk to work. Here's another on a different tree from 2014.

Apparently it's a tradition from the southern Balkans. In Bulgaria, the ornaments are called "martenitsi" and according to the ever-dependable Wikipedia, they often take the form of two dolls. Simpler woven bracelets and ornaments are common too. Sometimes they come with beads, as you can see above.

I learned about them after I posted the photo above, taken on my walk near Canary Wharf several weeks ago, to Flickr. Someone immediately identified it as a martenitsa. Apparently they are worn until the wearer sees a first sign of spring -- like a blooming tree -- at which point they're taken off and tied to the tree as a sign of good fortune.

I am not an expert in any of this, mind you, having just learned about them myself. This is just what I could glean from the Interwebs. Pretty interesting, huh?

In what may be another sign of spring, I found a ripped-open fast-food bag at the back of our garden this morning, with bits of bread, lettuce and tomato spread out around it. Apparently a fox scored a snack from a local trash can and chose to enjoy it on our lawn! (Or was it Mrs. Kravitz, hurling her dinner leftovers over our fence in a purple rage?)

Yesterday I spent the day immersed in database usage statistics at work. Doesn't that sound exciting?!  I'm supposed to compile annual reports showing how much our databases have been used during the previous school year, but I confess I'd slacked off -- I knew I'd skipped at least one year, but it turns out I skipped two. (Perhaps it should give me pause that no one noticed!) So I got caught up on all that, which is a relief.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lungworts and Retirement

I know I talked about going on a photo walk this weekend, but the motivation just wasn't there. Yesterday was a nice day but I felt like I had so much to do at home, I'd better just stay here and do it!

I worked a bit in the garden, lightly trimming the bushes in the front of the house and cutting back the geraniums. Our lungworts are blooming, as you can see. They're in the same family as borage and forget-me-nots, which is why they look somewhat similar. We have a spotted variety (above) and a plain one (below). I'm seeing a few tentative forget-me-nots out there, too.

Then Dave and I took to the high street to run some errands. For Christmas I gave him a gift card to a cookware shop, so we redeemed that -- he wanted a new nonstick skillet, and we wound up getting three of various sizes. Of course that was more than the value of the gift card, but that's fine. This shows why retailers like gift cards -- not only do they get to sit on the money for a few months (I bought it in December), but card-holders always wind up buying more than the card will allow!

We visited a new pastry shop, where we got some desserts -- a smooth and glossy piece of caramel cake for Dave and chocolate pudding for me. We now have SIX bakeries on our high street, all doing some combination of breads, pastries and breakfasts. Frankly, we seem oversupplied. I don't know how they all stay in business.

Then we went to the grocery store where, on a whim, we picked up something called Eccles cakes -- "a Lancashire tradition," according to the package. We had no idea what they were, and when we asked the cashier she didn't know either. I guess she's not from Lancashire. Turns out they're miniature pies filled with currants and raisins. We had them with our afternoon tea and they were good. I'd buy them again.

I took Olga to the cemetery, where our walk was interrupted by gathering storm clouds of such darkness and magnitude that I decided we'd better hoof it home -- and it's a good thing we did because we got thunder and hail!

Finally -- and here's the day's major achievement, saved for the end -- I filed our American income taxes. Woo hoo! It's always such a relief to get that done. This year we actually had to pay a tiny amount ($24). It's the first year we've made more than the permitted exemption for foreign income, and because we paid off Dave's student loan back in 2017 we no longer have that interest to deduct, so we basically broke even. Maybe we need to set aside even more of our money in pre-tax retirement savings to avoid that situation in the future.

We were at a party recently where some of our coworkers were all talking about their retirement plans. One guy's moving to France, another to Palm Springs. They asked us what we intended to do, and we confessed that we hadn't really considered it. They're all older than we are, but not by much, and I suppose we do need to start thinking about our options. Good Lord.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Rhodies and Nature's Artwork

Spring is hovering just around the corner, and Olga and I found lots of stuff blooming on our walk yesterday, including daffodils, magnolias and this rhododendron on Hampstead Heath. The crocuses and snowdrops are pretty much finished.

I moved the geraniums back out to the patio from their overwintering spot inside the back door. I haven't seen any sign of life from the indoor seed trays, but it's only been a week so it's still early.

I found these channels carved in a dead log on the Heath. I think they're just from wood borers, but they look almost intentional, like pictures of butterflies or flowers, don't they?

I'm finding Barbara Kingsolver's book so much more enjoyable than anything else I've read recently.  I've been a lifelong reader, but after some of my recent reading experiences I was beginning to doubt my ability to sit down and concentrate on a novel -- my mind would wander and I'd force myself ahead, but it felt like work. This one, "Unsheltered," doesn't feel that way at all. It's smooth sailing. So refreshing!

Our bin locks arrived! We deployed them on Friday evening -- perfect timing, because the trash was collected that morning -- and here's what they look like. It's completely ridiculous that we have to go this far but I see no other solution to our neighbor's persistent usurpation of our bins. I have to say, they do give me peace of mind. I haven't heard a peep from her. I'll let you know if I do.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned those advertisements on London buses challenging the Michael Jackson documentary "Leaving Neverland"? Well, apparently they were crowdfunded, and now they've been taken down after complaints from a charity supporting survivors of abuse. Sounds like a good call.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Poison, Lillie Langtry and The Saint

Here are this week's iPhone pictures, mostly from my walks to work.

First, I noticed long ago that this wall on our street bore traces of old graffiti. But I could never read it until Thursday, when, for some reason, the light and the moisture on the wall and maybe other factors all conspired to render it clearly: "Poison." A tag? A threat? Who knows.

Amid dreamy reflections and behind a dirty florist's window, maybe the ugliest planter ever in the history of the world!

I've never lived in a place where people throw away so many chairs. We have three rescued chairs in our flat. I couldn't take these on too, but maybe someone else will.

Olga and I came across this forsythia on our walk yesterday. Olga's saying, "What's the big deal? We have one of these on our patio!" This one's bigger, though. I thought it was pretty impressive.

The Lillie Langtry pub got a fancy new sign several weeks ago. Here's the old one.

I blogged before about the murals painted by children in 1978 on Abbey Road. I pass them every day when I walk to work. But somehow I never noticed until this week that they include the logo from one of my favorite vintage British TV shows, "The Saint." Simon Templar!

One of our favorite old pubs in St. John's Wood is being renovated into something else -- the pub itself having closed several months ago -- and it's surrounded by this plywood wall. I thought it was funny how the wall skirts this old phone box. I'm not sure it's even operational anymore, but it's probably still owned by the utility and thus must be kept publicly accessible? (Just a guess.)

Finally, some interesting modern art! Except it's not -- I actually have no idea what these pipes are for, but I think they have something to do with utilities or construction. For ages this parking lot (British: car park) was torn up and diggers were working here. Now, abstraction!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Haircut and Media Report

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk at work when a colleague came up behind me and said, "Did you get a haircut?"

Now, I basically have no hair. I am genetically bald on top (and have been since my early 20's) and I shave the rest of my head every two weeks or so. Although my Blogger profile photo is 13 years old -- it was taken during my 40th birthday trip to Key West with my friend Sue -- my hairline still looks just like that. So, needless to say, this was an odd question.

"Are you kidding?" I said to my colleague.

But he insists he wasn't. He said my hair looked different.

Maybe my stubble is getting grayer. That's a possibility.

I finally finished reading "The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle" yesterday. This was a head-spinner of a book. I wouldn't say it's good, exactly, but it's very imaginative and complex. It's a gothic murder mystery in a gloomy British great house, involving supernatural elements that allow the protagonist to travel back and forth along the timeline and inhabit the bodies of eight different odious characters, all witnesses. By the end you've got so much information to juggle from so many nefarious sources that you're basically overflowing. My overall impression is that the book is about 100 pages too long.

Next up: Barbara Kingsolver's newest, "Unsheltered."

When it comes to TV, Dave and I just finished watching "Catastrophe," which we loved. Every episode is laugh-out-loud hilarious. We've just started "Billions," which I haven't quite warmed to yet -- I'm not sure I can identify with the motivations of hedge-fund billionaires, but it has a promising cast so I'll keep you posted. And I'm torturing Dave with "Banana," a sister show to "Cucumber," which we've already finished -- both by the creator of "Queer as Folk." Dave is not a fan, but they're just one-season shows and I like them.

Aside from consuming media, I haven't been doing much of interest. Work-wise, March seems like a long grind, with not a lot special happening. I haven't been in a great mood. This morning, the wind is howling outside once again.

(Photo: A sticker on a lamppost near our tube station.)