Wednesday, June 7, 2023


I was awakened again this morning by the chattering magpies outside our window. I initially thought the magpies were villains, raiding the nest of another bird, but I've come to suspect they may be victims themselves. I think there's a cat stalking those birds, because when I've gone out to disrupt the noise, I've heard an animal jump down and run off. This morning, just as I got outside, there was a skirmish and the magpie chattering stopped -- and now there's just ominous silence.

I hate this feeling. It wouldn't bother me if it were natural creatures meeting a natural death, but a stalking house cat is not nature. I don't think a fox is the culprit because a fox couldn't climb a tree to endanger a bird nest.

Olga seems to be under the weather. She didn't really want to eat last night, which for her is never a good sign, and this morning she's mostly sleeping. She doesn't have any outward signs of illness so let's hope it's a transient thing.

Did you hear that Astrud Gilberto died? She's the Brazilian singer whose breathy voice gave "The Girl from Ipanema" its musical allure. I've been a fan of that particular brand of '60s Bossa Nova for many years and I have several of Gilberto's albums, as well as those of her collaborators like Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim. She was an interesting talent -- her voice was light and somewhat tentative and not pitch-perfect, all factors that would seem to rule out a professional music career. But somehow, for her, it worked.

My interest in Gilberto was part of my long-standing infatuation with Brazil, or at least a mythical version of Brazil. I think I've mentioned that I had Brazilian pen pals in high school and college -- three girls, Teresa, Frima and Flavia -- and I was interested in bright, colorful graphics and artwork that had a sort of Tropicalia sensibility. When I was a senior in high school I remember going to see the risible "Blame it on Rio" in the cinema, just for the scenery of the city. (I later came to love "Black Orpheus," which is much better both cinematically and visually, as well as the Amy Irving film "Bossa Nova," where the main character lives in a breezy apartment overlooking one of Rio's beaches, perhaps Ipanema itself.)

I've still never been to Brazil. It's probably nothing like I've long imagined it. Anyway, thanks to Astrud Gilberto for helping provide a soundtrack to my South American dreams.

(Photos: A sculpture near the London Eye, and valerian outside one of our neighbor's houses.)

Tuesday, June 6, 2023


This is the backside of the Homebase store where I bought my garden plants over the weekend. This store is supposed to be demolished, along with a nearby grocery store, parking lot and mall, to make room for a massive housing redevelopment scheme, but that's all still in the planning stages. I'm not sure why the graffiti bees are sad, because supposedly there will be a lot more green space under the new plan, but overall it's a contentious project.

I slept like a rock last night and it was fabulous. The night before I didn't sleep well at all -- I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and didn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours -- so I guess I had some catching up to do.

And now I have no idea what to write because there just isn't much going on. Or rather, there's a lot going on but it's all boring, at least for blog purposes -- just end-of-the-year tasks at work. I sent a bunch of e-mails yesterday in a last-ditch effort to get kids (especially graduating seniors) to clear their accounts and turn their books in. Supposedly they don't get yearbooks otherwise, so I held that possibility over their heads, though I'm not sure that rule is ever actually applied. It may be an empty threat.

You know, I like a paper book when I'm reading, but it's times like this that make me think, "Wouldn't it be terrific if all this was done electronically?" Why do I have to beg errant teenagers to turn in their yellowed, battered, dog-eared paperback copies of "The Handmaid's Tale" when, if they had an e-book, the system would simply end their access? We have e-books, so that's not a huge leap. They just don't get used as much as the paper ones. (I don't think -- to be honest I know nothing about the circulation stats for e-books, because that's my boss's domain.)

The same goes for magazines. Why do I spend so much time processing paper magazines -- unwrapping them, putting them in the binders, taking them out when the next issue arrives and circulating them to staff members who signed up to read them, filing them in the past-issue boxes until the boxes fill up, then recycling the oldest issues? Why don't people just read them electronically? I ask myself this question about my own New Yorker subscription. As I've said before, it seems ridiculous that I get a paper copy in the mail every week when I could just go online.

THINGS. Why are we still passing around OBJECTS?

Yes, I know, I'm talking myself out of a job. In this position I feel a bit like I did when I worked in newspapers -- like I'm surfing and the wave of coming technology is about to swamp me, but by golly I'm going to surf as long as I can.

This snapdragon has sprouted on its own in a crack on our front porch. I had a pot of yellow snapdragons out there a couple of years ago and one of them set seed, so this was a nice surprise. I was afraid the Russians would pull it out, not knowing what it was, but they've left it alone and now it's pretty obvious so I think it's safe. I even try to water it now and then, though getting water into that crack is a challenge.

Speaking of which, we haven't had rain in quite a while and the ground is pretty hard out there. I'm seeing showers in the forecast for this weekend. We'll see!

Monday, June 5, 2023

A Whole Lotta Gardening

Here's a shot of our garden after I mowed the lawn yesterday. The roses are blooming up a storm, as are the peonies:

What's not to love about a peony? And we're getting lots of flowers this year, too. We only had a handful last year but I think the heavy rain we got early this spring helped set more blossoms. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

I took the photos above with my big camera. Here's one taken with my phone from the back of the garden:

The phone tends to make greens slightly more electric looking, but I can't complain about the picture. I took all the pictures in yesterday's post from my walk along the Thames with my phone, too. It was the first time I used just my phone on one of my walks, and it sure was nice not to be burdened with the camera and lens bag.

You can see I left our daisy patch unmowed again. I might just leave it all summer, or I might mow it down next week. Depends how I feel.

And here's the state of my seeds:

I have two daturas in the tray on the left -- which is plenty. I have a smattering of foxgloves in the tray in the middle. And I have nine sunflowers on the right, which is probably too many but I'll figure something out.

I tackled several garden projects this weekend. I went to Homebase and picked up some petunias for our hanging baskets, and got those planted and hung up. I also got some gazanias, which I planted in shallow bowls for the patio, and something called a gaillardia that was on the damaged-plant shelf and priced down to £1.75. Oh, and another foxglove for our patio planter, and some larger pots for two of our indoor dracaenas. I carried all this home in my arms and got to the bottom of our street before I had to call Dave to come and help me lug it the rest of the way.

I was exhausted after all that, plus my normal indoor housekeeping.

I noticed that Homebase is still trying to unload its stock of royal zebras. The price is now £4 lower than it was when I bought King Zack a year and a half ago!

Yesterday was the year-end band concert for Dave's students, so I went to that and had dinner afterwards with Dave and some of his colleagues. One of his closest co-workers, Gordon, is retiring, and we'll be sad to see him leave the school -- but we're friends with him and his wife Donna so we'll still see them around. Gordon, an ardent cricketer, got a molded chocolate dessert that looked exactly like a cricket ball, which was pretty impressive. The restaurant is close to Lord's Cricket Ground so I'm guessing they sell a lot of those!

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Westminster to Tower Bridge

Part of my "motivational speech" yesterday was to get more exercise. So I got back on the Thames Path -- which I hadn't walked in almost two months! I picked up where I left off in Westminster and walked to Tower Bridge along the South Bank.

I wasn't that excited about this portion of the walk, to be honest, because I've seen this stretch of river many times and I thought it would be same-old, same-old. But I should know that in an ever-changing city like London there are always new sights and experiences.

That's Westminster tube station, above, where I got out to start my walk. The station is right across the street from the Houses of Parliament.

I crossed Westminster Bridge and walked eastward past multiple bridges, the National Theatre and other landmarks, like this Victorian-era monument to the former London, Chatham and Dover Railway near Blackfriars.

This mural of the river by Jimmy C stands beneath one of the bridges...

...and this seemingly handmade wooden plaque pays tribute to the river from underneath another bridge. Those clay shards are pieces of smoking pipes from hundreds of years ago -- they're very common and easily found on the shores of the Thames.

I walked beneath the Millennium Bridge, once dubbed the "Wobbly Bridge" because when it first opened it needed to be stabilized. That's St. Paul's Cathedral across the river.

Here's an "immersive dining experience" I think I'd rather not have.

Saint Olave looked down on the path from his perch at the corner of St. Olaf House. Is he sitting on a skateboard?

Finally, the walk took me over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, where the moat is once again planted with wildflowers, making it look like an impressionist painting. I caught the tube at Tower Hill and came home, where I embarked on a long day of gardening. More about that tomorrow!

Here's a video featuring a couple of sights along my walk. I stumbled across a ceremony in progress near Southwark Cathedral that turned out to be a remembrance of the eight victims of a terrorist attack in 2017 near that location. I then passed the HMS Belfast, a military vessel that's now permanently anchored in the Thames and serves as a floating museum -- I've never visited, because I'm not really into military stuff, but I took a panning shot of the exterior. And finally, you'll see the view from Tower Bridge as well as the bridge itself.

Not only did I walk and garden yesterday, but I also read about 75 pages of "The Magic Kingdom," so I feel like it was a day well spent!

Saturday, June 3, 2023

A Motivational Speech

I seem to have worked out my logging-in issues, thanks to some of your comments. I deleted cookies for the affected sites and that seemed to work. I didn't have to log in to Blogger this morning, so it looks like my computer once again remembers my identity. Whew!

I'm feeling very done with this school year -- very depleted. And we still have two weeks to go! We get out later than many American schools. Next week I have to focus in earnest on getting all the overdue stuff back, or extending it over the summer if that's what people want. There are also a lot of end-of-year events and parties to attend, and it's all rather head-spinning. Dave's end-of-year band concert is tomorrow, for example.

I'm a little dismayed because I've had Barbara Kingsolver's book "Demon Copperhead" on hold for ages, and I had finally gotten hold of it when a parent who's immediately after me in the hold queue came in asking about it. I confessed that I had it, but truth be told I have too much to read this summer anyway -- so I gave it to her. I'll just wait until fall for that one.

Barbara Kingsolver never writes a bad book, you know? I've read almost everything she's written and I've never been disappointed.

Anyway, instead of Kingsolver I'll finally be reading Jonathan Franzen's huge "Crossroads" tome, as well as Michiko Kakutani's book on the death of truth and one of our school library's controversial novels, "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl." But first I need to focus more on "The Magic Kingdom," which I have let languish this past week. I've been slacking on my blog-reading, too, and I need to get some exercise! Focus, Reed, focus!

(Photos: John is watching, and so is Nicolas Cage, apparently.)

Friday, June 2, 2023


I updated my computer two nights ago and it is now giving me FITS. Every time I close the browser, I get logged out of everything. I don't want to have to log in to Blogger every frickin' time I make a comment or write a post, and I don't want to log in to the New York Times every time I want to read the paper. Why won't it keep me logged in as it did before?


I'm sure it's something in settings. I'll experiment.

Ah, technology.

Here's a look at some of our orchids, which are blooming up a storm now.

Although they're blooming well, a few of them don't seem to be doing all that well long-term. Some of the plants have only one or two leaves, and they've definitely struggled with scale (a common plant pest, which I've been combatting in various ways) and some other problems.

So who knows what the future holds? A few of them are six or seven years old, and some are rescues I pulled from the trash years ago, so maybe they've simply lived their lives. We'll see how they bounce back when the blooms fade and the plants can focus on their own survival rather than on reproduction.

At least we got flowers out of this one (above) which is my favorite and which hasn't bloomed the last couple of years.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Vibe, a Nonce and a Sexist Pub

I haven't done a post of random photos in a while, and I have some stacked up. So here goes.

First, this is the scene at a major intersection in Swiss Cottage that I cross on my walk to work. How on earth can construction people make sense of all those sidewalk notes?

I took this picture for my brother, who loves vintage '80s cars. This is a Honda Accord EX that is often parked around the corner from our flat. What year is it, JM?

A very springtime lost sock.

Wishful thinking in the struggle for a parking space.

I saw this while walking the dog. It seemed an upbeat message for a routine morning!

This peculiar sticker is on a pole in St. John's Wood. It bears the name of a couple of AIDS organizations along with a message, in Italian, saying: "But it wasn't just from the '80s." So I guess it's AIDS awareness? Or maybe specifically AIDS-related pneumonia, since it's an image of lungs?

Graffiti on a phone booth. "Nonce" is one of those British words that I never really saw in the United States. Basically, it means sex offender or pedophile.

I'm wondering what would make someone write a message slurring the father of any random stranger who happened to pass by?

This poster of a woman in wildly impractical clothing was in the men's loo at a pub where we stopped recently. It seems pretty retrograde -- and also Texan, or maybe Australian.

There was also a sign near the bar that said, "Men: No shirt, no shoes, no service. Women: No shirt, free drinks."

And finally, a horse chestnut tree near our flat in full bloom. It's hard to get a decent picture of it because there are always a lot of cars and signs and debris on that corner, but this isn't too bad.