Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Mrs. Moore

I found out yesterday evening through Facebook that one of my mom's closest friends died about two weeks ago. My mom is probably unaware, just as I think she's still unaware of her own brother's death last fall. We don't know how much she understands, given her dementia, and I don't think my brother has made an effort to tell her. We both feel there's no point except to potentially upset her.

Besides, the arc of this friendship is complicated. My mom met Mrs. Moore (as my brother and I knew her) in the '60s when my parents moved to the suburbs north of Tampa and Mom joined a Presbyterian church that Mrs. Moore attended. They were both roughly the same age -- about 30 at that point -- and they were part of a group of educated women who found commonality in each others' efforts to balance raising a family with maintaining a professional life.

Mrs. Moore had a wry sense of humor that my mom enjoyed, though she could also be brusque and had a teacher's efficiency. I remember being very little, maybe seven or eight years old, and saying to her (as kids do), "Want to see my room?" And she replied, "Not really."

Anyway, after my parents divorced they sometimes traveled together. (Mrs. Moore's husband wasn't a big fan of traveling.) They went to North Carolina when I was young and brought back preserved autumn leaves for me and my brother that we both still have. After we were grown they went to Nova Scotia and to the Southwest, and they traveled within Florida on birding trips. Mrs. Moore was big on bird photography and my mom was once quite into birding.

(Disclaimer: Mom had another friend named Mrs. King who she also traveled with, and it's possible I'm mixing up who went on some of these trips.)

Anyway, they got along fine for many years, working in their church and going out to dinner. And then, as the political life of the USA became more extreme, their friendship became tense. Mrs. Moore began edging rightward in her beliefs -- or perhaps just expressed those beliefs more readily -- while my mom remained a stalwart Democrat. They got into political arguments that never seemed to stop. My mom found talking with Mrs. Moore taxing. "She's gone crazy," Mom often said.

Shortly before my mom moved to Jacksonville in 2015, she and Mrs. Moore stopped talking altogether. Mom never expressed any disappointment about this situation, though I found it tragic that such a long friendship should end so bitterly. I guess people do change, and older people can get quite cranky (as I already know from personal experience), and their relationship simply ran dry. I friended Mrs. Moore on Facebook just to keep in touch, and that's how I saw the post about her death.

Have you ever seen the Stephen Sondheim show "Merrily We Roll Along"? It was a flop when it was first produced on Broadway in the early '80s but it's seen something of a resurgence over the years and was recently restaged in New York. It's one of my favorite musicals. It starts with a cocktail party confrontation between aged, resentful old friends, and travels back in time until we see the same friends in their idealistic youth, open and generous with each other and ready to take on the world. It's a heart-wrenching, truthful depiction of the way time can gradually pull people apart.

That's how I think of my mom and Mrs. Moore. When they were young, energetic and flexible in their thinking, their friendship worked. As they grew older and more calcified, it didn't. I find that so sad. I'd always hoped they might start talking again at some point, but it wasn't to be.

(Photo: The window of a building under renovation in Teddington, last Sunday.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Syon Lion

Here's another shot from my walk along the Thames Path on Sunday. I had a good view of Syon House, the home of the Duke of Northumberland, across the river. I'd seen it before from the other side, when I walked the Capital Ring a couple of years ago -- that path runs through Syon Park.

What I'd never noticed is that the house has a proud-looking lion perched on the roof:

From the park side you can't really see it, but it's very apparent from the river.

Here's a super zoomed-in version:

Apparently this lion once stood on the roof of Northumberland House, a Jacobean mansion in The Strand in Westminster, overlooking what is now Trafalgar Square. That building was the city home of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, and when it was demolished in 1874 the lion -- the family symbol -- was moved here.

Dave and I have sorted out our summer vacation plans. We'd talked about traveling to Europe or the USA, but we don't want to leave Olga alone. (I feel guilty enough leaving her for a week in February to go to Florida!) Now that she's getting older she seems less independent and more vulnerable than she used to. So we decided to stay in England and take her with us. We rented a cottage for a week on the beach in Pevensey Bay, near Eastbourne. It looks like quite a swanky little place with a wall of windows that opens entirely onto the water, and pets are welcome. Woo hoo!

This doesn't preclude either of us from traveling to the states on our own -- we just won't do it at the same time. That way, someone is always here with the dog.

In other news, I've been in touch with the landlords about some of our maintenance issues -- mainly the dampness in the hallway, which I think comes from a seeping leak in our shower pipes -- and they're going to come by on Thursday evening to take a look. As much as I'd love a new shower or refitted bathroom, I'm dreading any decision to do a large renovation. In fact I'm not sure we'd stay put if they decide to do that. It might be time for us to move on to greener pastures! Our lease runs until July and I'd hoped to stay here at least one more year -- to enjoy the garden after our tree-trimming -- but anyway, we'll see what they say.

We've been in this flat for nine years, which is longer than I've lived anywhere except my childhood home. I'd like to make it an even ten!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Teddington to Mortlake

Despite gray skies and intermittently drizzly weather, I got motivated yesterday morning and took another walk along the Thames Path. You may recall that I've finished the north shore path, so I'm now beginning the south. I would have thought the logical way to do that would be to simply hop across the river more or less from where I finished, in East London, and walk back to the west. But no -- the trail guides produced by Transport for London have me starting all the way to the west again, and walking eastward.

So it was back to Teddington, where I saw the giant lock and weir last September when I was walking along the north bank.

The big anglerfish above, made of recyclable plastics, stands on the grounds of an arts center in Teddington.

The path along the south shore is much woodsier than the north shore. This obelisk stands seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It marks the westward boundary of the jurisdiction of the Port of London Authority, which oversees navigation on the Thames. 

The path is woodsy because it passes through a conservation area known as the Ham Lands. They were named for Ham House, a 17th Century mansion "containing a unique collection of cabinets and artwork," according to the web site. I was just lucky enough to see it covered with scaffolding, its statuary wrapped in a white tarp. I did not go inside.

On I walked to Richmond, where I got a coffee and sat overlooking these boats. They look like they need some maintenance. They're very...fertilized. Maybe the boat owners simply abandon them over the winter and then scrub them up for use in the spring and summer?

I saw plenty of birds but fortunately, no obviously sick ones.

The path wound beneath the bluffs and bridges at Richmond and on toward Chiswick. I saw these detectorists across the river, exploring the tidal mud flats near Isleworth.

(Blogger does not like the word "detectorist," but from what I can tell it is indeed a real word.)

This is what the path looked like east of Richmond -- a raised, narrow causeway with mud flats and swamps on either side, including what the TFL guide poetically called "tide-washed willows." 

I walked around the perimeter of Kew Gardens, and had a good view of Kew Palace -- the smallest of the royal palaces and the former home of Kings George II and George III -- and glimpses of the greenhouses and other structures. I passed beneath the Kew Railway Bridge, built in 1869. 

Finally I arrived in Mortlake, across the river from Chiswick, having walked 6.8 miles altogether. I caught the train from there back to Waterloo station.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

A Dirty Badger

I finished "Three Men in a Boat" yesterday. It was fun and light and relatively pointless. I struggled with the lack of narrative arc -- as I told someone a few days ago, it's not the kind of book you read to find out what happens at the end. There's nothing driving the plot. It's just a series of silly, cleverly worded misadventures.

I am not going to continue on with "Three Men on a Bummel," which I hear isn't as good.

Anyway, I'm glad to be done with it so I can catch up on my stack of five New Yorkers and then, hopefully, begin another book. This is how life works, right? We finish one thing in order to begin the next thing.

Speaking of books, I took Olga to the cemetery yesterday where we found this Kate Atkinson novel lying on a bench. It was quite damp and had seen better days, so I didn't take it. I'm unfamiliar with this one.

We also came across the lost glove in the top photo, perched on a fence waiting for its owner. Doesn't it look like someone making shadow puppets?

Olga took a moment (I didn't force her, I swear -- except that I did) to pose on the organ-shaped grave of 
Charles and Hannah Barritt.

And on the way home, we found a rather smudged toy badger, set out on a garden wall. Olga had to investigate to see if it was real. It looks like another dog's lost toy -- but I suppose it could have been a child's toy. They're fairly filthy too.

Last night Dave and I went out for dinner, which we hadn't done in ages. We went to our local, the Black Lion, which has been through an extensive renovation. Apparently they had to move around some walls to create a new emergency exit, among other things. It's not a very cozy pub -- lots of hard, shiny surfaces -- but my meal of cod on a chickpea and tomato stew was good and the place was busy. It looked like they were going to have live music but we got out of there before that started!

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Church and Kerwin

Some sad events yesterday!

First, this church, which is located just a few blocks from the school where I work, was gutted by a fire that started late Thursday night. The news accounts say it's destroyed, but as I understand it there were structural engineers there yesterday assessing the strength of the walls, so perhaps the shell of the building can be saved. It's Grade II* listed and more than 170 years old, and its loss is significant.

I stopped by after work to check out the scene and take some photos. I'd never been inside, but Dave had -- the music department faculty at our school considered holding concerts there but ultimately decided our band was too large for the space. The choral music teacher held some rehearsals there, though.

There are benches outside along the street where I used to see people sitting in nice weather. Such a shame. Apparently the investigators are still determining the fire's cause.

Then more bad news -- the death of Lance Kerwin, one of my most significant early-teen celebrity crushes! He was a popular young actor in the late '70s, boyish looking but in fact six years older than me. I vividly remember his show "James at 16," especially a scene when he disrobed in a sleeping bag with a girl. Scandalous! The show only lasted a year or so, and I both identified with and subtly pined for the teenage James. Kerwin went on to star in "Salem's Lot," the Stephen King vampire drama, and I remember reading the whole book one night when I was about 14, and looking at the picture section in the middle, and thinking, "Gosh, he's so cute."

And then his acting career more or less fizzled and he went on to have addiction issues and became an evangelical youth pastor. His more recent photos suggest that his adult life was pretty difficult, but I will always remember him as the sandy-haired James who wanted to be a photographer and made my tween gay heart go pitter-pat.

It's always a shock when your contemporaries die, though as I said, Kerwin was older than me -- technically a Baby Boomer, while I am Generation X. (He says, smugly.) I was similarly surprised when Adam Rich died a few weeks ago. He was even younger -- and more of a little brother figure to most of us in TV land -- but he also had addictions and other problems.

So, yeah, a sad day all around!

Friday, January 27, 2023

Riparian Selfishness

This was the scene on Finchley Road as I walked home in the evening half-light a couple of nights ago. We've been having some drizzly weather, and I put the tender outdoor plants back outside yesterday morning so they could get a drink (and I could clean the floor). But now I see that we might have frost tonight, so I suppose I'll have to bring them in again. Argh!

After that, though, there's no frost in the near future forecast.

I've finally been reading "Three Men in a Boat," as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I can see why it's amusing, but it's not exactly pulling me in. I'm finding that it takes some persistence on my part to push ahead (a bit like the persistence required to rowboat up the Thames, come to think of it).

The theme of the book is basically the comedy inherent in trying to do a simple task and having it become, through unforeseen circumstance, incredibly complex. Someone tries to hang a picture and they don't have the right equipment or nails and they have to run to the store and then they hit their thumb and must visit the doctor -- that kind of thing. A bit like me trying to fix Olga's steps and tearing my pants and having to patch them. Or me putting the plants out only to have to immediately bring them in again. I mean, these things do happen.

Anyway, I came across one passage I thought was particularly funny, if rather dark. It's about private property owners along the river who put up signs warning away trespassers:

The selfishness of the riparian proprietor grows with every year. If these men had their way they would close the river Thames altogether. They actually do this along the minor tributary streams and in the backwaters. They drive posts into the bed of the stream, and draw chains from bank to bank, and nail huge notice-boards on every tree. The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up, until I have killed him, and then I would bury him, and put the board up over the grave as a tombstone.

I mentioned these feelings of mine to Harris, and he said he had them worse than that. He said he not only felt he wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris, but he answered:

"Not a bit of it. Serve 'em all jolly well right, and I'd go and sing comic songs on the ruins."

I was vexed to hear Harris go on in this bloodthirsty strain. We never ought to allow our instincts of justice to degenerate into mere vindictiveness. It was a long while before I could get Harris to take a more Christian view of the subject, but I succeeded at last, and he promised me that he would spare the friends and relations at all events, and would not sing comic songs on the ruins.

I kind of feel that way myself when I come across a No Trespassing sign, especially if I'm on a public footpath or waterway. I think it's the Floridian in me, raised with the philosophy that all beaches should be open to the public (as they legally are in Florida, at least to the mean waterline, if memory serves). In Britain, there's a strong belief in maintaining public footpaths and rights-of-way, and any attempt by private property owners to block those paths is met with resistance.

Anyway, I'm undecided about whether to continue on to "Three Men on the Bummel" when I'm done with the boating. (It's the second half of the volume I'm reading, but technically a separate book, I believe.) We'll see how persistent I feel!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Bouquet of Images

Today, I've got another collection of random photos from recent weeks. These are mostly things I see on my walks around town -- often discarded items like the wilted bouquet above, which I found in a bin at Fortune Green. (The same bin, in fact, where I found the orchid.)

And here's a perfectly good chair, apparently free for the taking. It disappeared not long after I took this photo so I guess someone seized the opportunity.

Settee? Daybed? Whatever it's called, it's looking a little tired -- but then, I took this picture on a particularly frosty morning, and the upholstery is covered with gray ice. It must have been wild when it was new.

Just some nice shadows thrown by a streetlight onto this car. I gotta have some shadows to live up to my blog name!

This stuffed toy has been sitting on this grave at Hampstead Cemetery for ages. I'm always intrigued when I find toys or whimsical items left on very old graves -- particularly when it's a grave occupied by adults, as seems to be the case here. The most recent occupant died in 1959, 64 years ago. Makes me wonder who left it and why.

I've seen a couple stickers by "Witness" pop up around Hampstead, featuring similar spattery-looking portraits.

This cup belongs to my boss -- in fact she painted it, but she wasn't happy with how it turned out. So I've adopted it, because it's a good size. The coffee from the coffee machine at work is so strong it bothers my stomach, but if I put it in a larger mug I can water it down a bit and that makes it palatable! Plus, I think her paint job is pretty good. 

And finally, spotted in a shop window on my walk home last night: For the truly brown-thumbed person in your life, a potted plant that requires no care, except perhaps occasional vacuuming!