Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Turkey Cafe, and Solitude

This is one of the buildings in Leicester that caught my attention on Sunday. I guess it must be pretty well-known because one of my commenters yesterday asked if I'd seen it. Built in 1901, it's the Art Nouveau-style Turkey Cafe.

It even has its own Wikipedia page. It's a protected building and now serves as a restaurant, though it didn't seem to be open when we were there, so we didn't go in.

I love the mosaic turkey on the roof, made with Royal Doulton ceramic tiles.

Things are finally starting to settle down around here. Ever since Singapore my life has been in a bit of an uproar, with our visiting guest, our trip to Leicester and my efforts to finish as much Bleeding London as possible by today's deadline. Not to mention work. That too. I haven't had much time to read blogs (or even the news) so I must apologize to my blog pals. I promise I will catch up with all of you ASAP!

I read a terrific piece in Harper's this month about solitude -- a writing life lived singly -- and it really resonated with me. I lived almost my entire adult life as a single man, until age 42, and I appreciated author Fenton Johnson's take on the creative rewards of being alone. Don't get me wrong -- I treasure my relationship with Dave, and fortunately we have the kind of bond that allows each of us to do his own thing, so I am not bereft of solitude even now. In fact I'm arguably even more solitary than I was when I was single, no longer pulled by the social whirl and the romantic ebb and flow of various crushes and casual dates.

But I always enjoyed my singlehood, and Johnson's piece was thought-provoking in questioning the cultural tide that pulls us toward pairing up. Especially those of us who tend to be creative, cerebral types. I do need to continue to make quiet time for myself. Bleeding London serves that purpose now -- it gives me a chance to walk, all by myself, with just my thoughts and my camera and my creative impulses. Aloneness in general soothes me and makes me much less cranky. Some people find it a curse but I find it a refuge.

Dave feels the same way. I know he enjoys being alone at home, when he can fling ingredients in the kitchen or putter in the garden. (Why is "putter" a word exclusively reserved for gardens? Do people ever "putter" in the living room or the den?)

Speaking of which, Dave spent a lot of time in the garden yesterday. He finally put our pathetic lemon tree in the ground, or at least the remaining twiggy bits, in the hopes that it will somehow survive. (Odds are long.)

Is it my imagination or does that turkey have unrealistically huge feet?

Olga is enjoying having us at home this week. She got two outings yesterday -- a morning romp in the cemetery with me and an afternoon walk with her dog-walker. (We haven't cancelled the dog-walker, even though we're home all week. It's nice to farm that task out, especially when I'm hoofing it with the camera.)

It's super-windy out there this morning. The daffodils are taking a beating!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Visiting Richard III

Back from Leicester, and our friend David has taken off for Stansted Airport and the next leg of his trip through Europe. He's visiting Switzerland and Italy before returning to London next weekend.

Leicester was interesting, though I must say I don't really share in all the excitement over Richard III. I think it's amazing that they found his body after all this time, and seeing the new Visitor's Center -- which explains his life and death, the background of the Wars of the Roses, the location and excavation of his grave and exhibits the grave itself -- was fascinating. But would I have brought my own white roses to leave at his statue in the public square outside the cathedral?


Plenty of other people feel differently, though. Some visitors wrote him notes and left mementos. Legions of enthusiasts feel that he has been wronged by history, portrayed unjustly as an evil, scheming hunchback by the likes of Shakespeare, who had their own reasons for supporting his foes, the Tudors. The exhibits ask us to reconsider these portrayals.

David spent about a half-hour longer in the Visitor's Center than I did, so while he browsed I went wandering in town and found some interesting buildings and other subjects for photography. I'll share those with you over the next few days. Leicester has some beautiful architecture and seems like a pretty prosperous town.

We came back on the late-afternoon train and got home around 6:45 p.m. Yesterday we changed to British Summer Time (our equivalent of Daylight Saving Time), but I didn't even really notice. Thank goodness for phones that reset themselves!

And now, I have a ton of laundry and housecleaning to do, and I've got to get out and finish these last NW9 streets before tomorrow!

(Top photo: A ladybug on a very ornamental fence surrounding a war memorial in Leicester.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Found Rug

Despite a gray, cloudy sky, I successfully got in some walking yesterday and photographed 53 streets. Woo hoo! I think I'll almost finish NW9 by the end of the month. I need just one more good long day.

I found this beautiful rug on my walk. I think it's Indian. It was in a very Indian neighborhood, at any rate. No, I did not take it home.

The overall scene wasn't quite as nice.

Today my visiting friend David and I are off to Leicester to visit the Richard III Visitor's Center. (It's kind of funny there even is such a thing, isn't it?) The English -- some of them, anyway -- are gaga over the rediscovery of the body of their last Plantaganet king, and have reinterred him with all sorts of solemnity and pomp. Crowds of people lined the streets to see his coffin brought to the cathedral where he is now entombed. A king who died more than 500 years ago, and who by many accounts was a child-kiling tyrant.

Should be an interesting outing!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lunch-Hour Photo Run

Yesterday was a beautiful day -- cool and clear and sunny. Of course, I was inside most of the time. But I went out at lunch and zipped up to Dollis Hill on the tube to photograph a handful of Bleeding London streets, and then zipped back to work again. I fit it all into my lunch hour, although I barely had time to cram a tuna sandwich into my gullet!

I wanted to get some photography done because, wouldn't you know, the next four days (at least) are supposed to be gray and somewhat rainy. I'm going to try to keep working on BL anyway. As long as the rain isn't coming down heavily.

The super-creative Girl Scout poster artist(s) at school are back at it! I guess we're supposed to turn out the lights for an hour tonight? 'It's a chance to celebrate our brilliant plant...from the desserts to the oceans." Awesome.

We haven't cancelled the dog walker for next week. Part of me thinks it might be kind of nice to just let him come as usual and take care of Olga during the day, freeing us up to do other things. And part of me thinks, "But we could save £60!" Surprisingly (for me), the former argument appears to be winning, so far.

(Top: A street in Dollis Hill, yesterday.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Break

The last day of school before Spring Break! Woo hoo!

Dave and I are off all next week. And having just returned from Singapore, we're going to stay home, which sounds pretty wonderful. We may take a day trip here or there, but right now we're just looking forward to spending time with the dog, working around the house and garden and relaxing.

We have some plans with our visiting friend David this weekend, but it looks like the weather's not going to be great. So I'm not sure how much we'll be able to do. It looks like my last days of shooting for Bleeding London (which ends Tuesday) are fated to be rainy ones.

Maybe I can stay inside and finally finish "The Moonstone." I've also picked two huge books to succeed it -- Gregory David Roberts' "Shantaram" and Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." So I have plenty of reading to do.

We were all abuzz yesterday about the shocking news that the co-pilot of the crashed German airliner appears to have deliberately downed the plane. I can't fathom what might have been going on inside that guy's head. I hope we get some answers, though.

(Photos: There's some tree-clearing going on at Hampstead Heath. I'm not sure why. Someone wasn't happy about it and painted a clear protest on the lumber.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sidewalk Chalk

When I was walking in Golders Green a couple of weeks ago, I found these abstractions on the sidewalk along one street.

Apparently some kids got crazy with pastels. I like the effort!

Our friend David took Dave and me out to dinner last night at a French restaurant in West Hampstead. We've been meaning to try it, on the recommendation of one of our coworkers, but unfortunately we found it underwhelming. Still, it was fun to go out and I'm sure Dave appreciated a mid-week break from cooking!

Now we're having a quiet, rainy morning. I'm the only one awake. As the light comes up, Olga is lying on her Union Jack dog bed near the heater, and a handful of blackbirds are singing brightly out on the street. I love this time of day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Short Takes, with Avocado and Amaryllis

-- All by itself, our avocado tree has decided to branch out! I did't pinch the top or otherwise encourage it in any way. It just did it by itself. I'm such a proud parent!

-- My French assessment yesterday wasn't as intimidating as I feared. After work I went down to the Alliance Française in Dorset Square, and was ushered into a little room with a Frenchman who asked me some basic questions. I answered, haltingly, but it was hard for me to access even words I know. I think I'm just very rusty. He put me in the "beginner" group, but not the bottom class. I'm the next level up. So that's something, I suppose. Class begins later next month!

-- For Easter, Dave bought me a chocolate...hedgehog?

-- I'm sure you heard about the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister and founder of modern Singapore. I read a newspaper while we were there that said he was "still" in the hospital in critical condition, and I thought, "Oh boy. If this guy dies while we're here it might really complicate things!" I was envisioning closed businesses and reduced services, that kind of thing. I'm not sure that happened, but in any event, he died the day after we left.

-- There's also the terrible story of the crashed German airliner. Coming so soon after our own long flight, with our own group of student travelers, that was scary news. Every trip on an airplane is an act of faith, isn't it? (But then, so is every trip in a car. So is walking out the door in the morning.) I cannot imagine how frightening an eight-minute descent from 38,000 feet must have been. Eight minutes is a long time to know your plane is going down. Those poor people.

-- On a happier note, our amaryllis are about to bloom again. I am so impressed with these flowers. In the past year they were transplanted, moved to a new house, knocked around a bit and gnawed by slugs, but they're durable! I think this year we'll keep them on the doorsill of the French doors in the living room, rather than outside. That way the slugs won't get to them. I bought a special saucer for their pot last night at Homebase on the way home from my French test, so we don't need to move them to water them.

-- I mentioned that Bleeding London is about to end, but I didn't mean to suggest that I was going to stop taking pictures. These days, taking photos is one of my main modes of interaction with my world. I wouldn't know what to do without my camera at my side!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A French Twist

Re-entry after Singapore has not been as difficult as I feared -- at least, not so far. I slept soundly on Sunday night and again last night, and yesterday at work I was only mildly tired. Maybe we weren't gone long enough to hugely alter our biorhythms.

Have I mentioned that I'm taking a French class? Starting in April, on Saturdays, for three hours, I'll be at the Alliance Française learning how to progress beyond "Un cafe, s'il vous plait?"

We'll see how it goes. I'm supposed to meet an instructor there after work today to be "assessed" so they can fit me into the proper class. When I applied, I was asked to write a short paragraph in French introducing myself. Apparently I did well enough that they want to find out how much I can speak. But if my "assessment" is a conversation, it'll last about 30 seconds before I hit my limit. My problem is, I know a lot of words -- a byproduct of living two years in Morocco -- but I have no idea how to fit them together and I really have no idea about grammar and tenses and that kind of thing.

I'm also very, very rusty. I have used only basic "Cafe French" on our recent trips to Paris.

I would love to learn how to really speak it -- and now I'm in an environment where I can. There are French speakers all over the school, and we're close enough to France that anytime I want I could pop over there and practice. I'm not saying it will happen, but why not try? I can only get better.

Besides, now that Bleeding London is coming to a close (theoretically) I'll need another weekend hobby!

(Photo: Edgeware Road, North London)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to the Grind

We are safely back in Blighty, and man, is it cold here. It's no colder than when we left, but after four days of walking around in 90-degree heat and hazy humidity, a cold March spring is a bit of a shock. Then again, it's also refreshing, and Dave is much happier with this kind of weather.

The flight was very smooth, though I saw no grand pianos, no martini bars and no Lee Grant. We couldn't even go upstairs, which was reserved for business class. For all I know they had a swimming pool up there.

I read my remaining magazines and about half of "The Moonstone." It's going to take me forever to read that book, which is hugely thick and has print so tiny it looks like aphids crawling across the page. I've had to resort to a pair of my stepsister's old reading glasses to make heads or tails of it. I've taken to using these reading glasses now and then, when faced with small print, though usually I can still get away without them and I prefer not to use them. I want to keep my corneas limber for as many years as possible!

I also watched a fun movie, "Fuku-Chan of the Fukufuku Flats." It was a quirky, youthful comedy, a bit like a Japanese version of "Napoleon Dynamite." I don't know what its international distribution is like but if you get a chance to watch it, check it out.

Now Dave and I have a houseguest -- our friend David, who arrived in England last night from the U.S. A history buff, he'll be using our house as a home base while he attends events celebrating the reinterment of King Richard III in Leicester. (Remember, the English king whose body was recently found beneath a parking lot?) I'm going to tag along on one of his trips to Leicester this weekend. Meanwhile, it's back to work today for me and Dave!

(Photo: A guy waiting for the train in Colindale, north London. Love the hair!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Back to England!

I'm sitting at the airport gate in Singapore, waiting to board our A380 for home. It's a massive plane with two levels, according to Dave. He's been excited about it for weeks. I kind of hope there's a grand piano and a martini bar, like in "Airport '77," with Lee Grant cracking wise in furs and jewels. (But with a happier outcome overall.)

The flight home is 14 hours or thereabouts -- longer than the flight here. Headwinds, I suppose. Thank goodness I have a long novel and one more New Yorker to read!

Last night's concert was tremendous -- the best high school honor band concert I've seen. The students played Shostakovich, Grainger, Holst and others. I was very impressed. I was also slightly late getting there, because I took the subway and the school was located on the other side of the island -- fifteen stops from our hotel. I just didn't budget enough time. But I only missed the first ten minutes or so.

In the Singapore subway there are advertisements for proper behavior. (Don't bring your durians aboard, for one thing.) One of the ads cautions men against accosting women -- if they do they stand to be arrested for "outrage of modesty," which I think is a great term. It would be a good band name, wouldn't it?

They're calling our flight. Off to the friendly skies!

(Photo: A lotus flower in Gardens by the Bay, yesterday.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Surreal Landscape

This morning I went to Gardens by the Bay, a huge public garden near Singapore's downtown business district. It's what you might call a futuristic natural landscape,  with vast steel "supertrees" rising far above the actual tree canopy, and backed by the bizarre, nautical architecture of the gigantic Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino.

I took the subway to get there! My first adventure with public transport in Singapore! It was very easy (unlike China, the signs are in English) and very cheap. Interesting colorful murals in the station, too!

When I first got to the gardens -- where admission is free -- I walked the public paths and noticed some colorful birds. Eventually I found myself in the same area with several photographers toting massive lenses and pointing up at trees. A good sign that more impressive birds are about!

This spectacular bird is a blue-throated bee eater, or so I was told by another photographer who waylaid me and asked what I had seen. He was a pushy Australian (and I don't mean that as any kind of generalization about Australians -- just this particular Australian) who wound up giving me a long lecture not only about birds but also my camera settings and what I was doing wrong. I suppose he was trying to be helpful and, to his credit, he did show me some things about my own camera that I didn't know. But I was still annoyed, especially when he handed it back with all the settings changed, and it took me a while to put it right again.

This is not a great photo, but that's a collared kingfisher holding his breakfast, an unlucky lizard. That bird was brilliant blue, but I just couldn't get a shot that did his feathers justice.

Anyway, after wandering the gardens and enduring the heat, I paid to go into two vast greenhouse domes, one dedicated mainly to flowers and plants from cooler climates, and another containing a "cloud forest" and "the world's tallest indoor waterfall." Surprisingly the domes were air-conditioned, which seems like it wouldn't do the plants any favors, but it sure felt great to me!

The cynical side of me wondered if this is our future. After we turn our planet into an essentially human monoculture -- us and the species that immediately serve our needs -- will we hold our remaining wildlife inside glass domes?

Really, though -- cynicism aside -- they were interesting and contained lots of surprises. (African baobabs!)

I also paid to walk an aerial walkway through the "supertrees" and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant below. It was not a picturesque lunch.

Finally, I walked over to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and went up 56 floors to the observation deck, which offers an amazing view over downtown Singapore. The weather has been a bit hazy with all the heat and humidity, but it was still an interesting perspective. (A tip, though, in case you come here -- if you go to one of the restaurants on the roof, you don't need to pay for the observation deck. I wish I'd known!)

There's even a swimming pool up there -- but alas, not accessible to we peons on the observation deck.

Now I'm back at our own hotel, cooling off and preparing to go to the student honor band and orchestra concert that brought us all here in the first place. Tomorrow morning we fly back to London!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Further Adventures in Singapore

I am coming to you from the world-famous Raffles Hotel, a relic of the old British empire. It is virtually required of all Singapore visitors that they come to Raffles for a Singapore Sling, the cocktail allegedly created here. I have ordered mine but it hasn't arrived yet. I'm soaking in the ambience while I wait: the dark wood, slow ceiling fans, peanut shells on the floor and hordes of tourists.

On the advice of my library-procured guidebook ("dress standards apply, so no shorts and sandals please!") I wore long pants and a nice collared shirt. There are people in here in shorts and tank tops. Just sayin'.

Today has been another long day of walking. The goal was Little India (top), another fascinating neighborhood! But first I walked along Orchard Road, Singapore's equivalent of Rodeo Drive, to check out the scene:

Needless to say, I didn't buy anything.

Little India was incredibly colorful and reminded me so much, unsurprisingly, of India. The bright colors, the smells, the temples and sari-clad pedestrians.

The older architecture was beautiful.

I bought a bracelet of brown glass prayer beads from a toothless old man selling miscellaneous stuff on the sidewalk. He tried to charge me 25 Singapore dollars, and I paid 15 ($11), which is still insane -- but he looked like he could use the money. He launched into a rambling story about learning the guitar, and how we never stop learning no matter how old we get. I agreed!

From there I walked back into the center of town via a huge housing complex called Rochor Centre. My challenge here was to photograph all four of the massive towers, each painted a different color, in the same frame. Without a wide-angle lens it was darn near impossible, but I managed!

This was another heavily Chinese part of town. I really felt like I was back in China. I wandered through a huge open-air market where I had lunch:

This is "Taiwan Eight Treasure Grass Jelly Beancurd," according to the menu. Again, I am a bit unsure what it entailed. The "jelly" was two kinds of tea-flavored (I think?) gelatin, and there were two kinds of beans, pumpkin and peanuts on top. The beancurd was sweet and, again, jelly-like. I was skeptical but it was really good, and since it's served cold, it was very refreshing on a hot day.

Afterward I enjoyed the craziness of the crowded market. Is there a Chinese religious holiday of some sort right now? The doorway of the temple was packed with people holding incense and flowers and looking skyward as they chanted, or recited, or prayed. I didn't take pictures (there was a "no photography" sign) but I did photograph the old women selling flowers and incense nearby.

After that, back to the hotel for a much-needed shower and rehydration. It is very warm here, though not blistering hot. I'd say maybe in the high 80s? Even though I've been drinking the tap water (which seems fine), and thus am not dependent on the availability of bottled, it's been hard to stay hydrated with all my walking.

My Singapore Sling has arrived! It's a pink gin-and-fruit concoction with a wedge of pineapple and a maraschino cherry perched on the rim. I was prepared to hate it, frankly -- not being a huge fan of sweet drinks -- but it's not half bad! Raffles, alas, does not offer WiFi to non-guests of the hotel. So I will have to wait until I get back to my own roost to post this.

Addendum: I wound up having two Singapore Slings, for the astonishing price of 66 Singapore dollars, or $48 U.S.! That's OK. I was prepared for it to be expensive. And the entire time I was there, that cash register never stopped churning out receipts. Whoever owns Raffles is raking it in!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Singapore: A Day in Pictures

Today was my first day to really get out and explore in Singapore. Dave and his students went to rehearsals bright and early -- about 7 a.m. -- and I lingered in the hotel another hour or so before setting out myself. I decided to go to Chinatown first, mainly because it's close to our hotel.

Apparently a large number of Singapore residents are of Chinese extraction.

Chinatown is a vibrant area, but I was there so early things were only just beginning to open!

I did come across a colorful Hindu temple with some gentle-looking cows perched on the corners. Indians also make up a substantial community in Singapore.

It is a very colorful town!

After wandering in Chinatown I walked into the business district across the river and caught the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus. I thought it would be a good way to get to know the city and see the main neighborhoods.

I mostly stayed on the bus, but when it came to the Botanical Gardens, I decided to get off for a wander. I'm so glad I did. In addition to amazing tropical plants -- palms, orchids, ginger -- and a preserved area of rainforest, I came across this bright fuchsia dragonfly!

I got back on the bus and went back into the center of the city for a walk along the waterfront. By this time, it was about 2 p.m. and I hadn't had lunch. Last night, Dave, his coworker Lorraine and I wound up having Mexican food for dinner, which just seemed completely bizarre in Singapore -- so this time I wanted something local.

I found a little waterfront cafe and ordered a dish off the menu by looking at a picture. I'm still not 100 percent sure what was in it:

But it was really good. Spicy and noodly, with a boiled egg and croutons and hot peppers and a little edible green kumquat-like fruit -- fascinating!

I walked back along the Singapore River to the hotel. Across the street from our hotel is this Chinese temple. I like how authentic it looks, with its traffic cones and wayward desk chair sitting outside. It is not a tourist temple!

Last night, we found our Mexican food at a riverfront mall that, frankly, reminded me of Orlando. It seemed new and kind of spiritless, and I worried that all of Singapore would be that way. Today showed me that it is not. There's lots of concrete and glass, but there are also lots of interesting sights. More to come tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

That was a LONG Flight

I have arrived in Singapore! I have no idea what time it is back home, but here it's 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. We left London at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night. Somehow an entire day vanished in the space of 12 hours. I know clocks involve arbitrary counting on the part of humanity and that I haven't actually lost any time off my life, but it's still strange and unsettling!

The flight was uneventful but, yes, very long. I read three New Yorkers, worked on "The Moonstone" -- a massive Victorian novel by Wilkie Collins that I brought mainly because it's huge and I figured it would help me kill time -- and watched "Birdman." I was not overwhelmed by "Birdman." Granted, I had crappy airline headphones and could only hear about every fourth word, but still -- it seemed awfully self-indulgent. Maybe I need to see it again, but I am still firmly in the "Boyhood" camp for best picture. For what it's worth at this point.

I also checked on the flight map from time to time, tracing our progress over Bucharest, Baku, the Caspian Sea, peninsular India, the Andaman Islands and Kulala Lumpur (which I tried in vain to see from the airplane windows, it being daylight by then).

This brief message was printed on our immigration landing cards, and the cabin crew announced it several times over the PA prior to landing. They do not mess around in Singapore. Not a problem for me, obviously, but it made me wonder what one is supposed to do if one is, in fact, smuggling and is already on the plane about to land. It's not like they can turn around!

We had an extremely groovy bus from the airport to our hotel. Doesn't it look kind of like a '70s conversion van, one of those things with shag-carpeted ceilings?

Singapore seems beautiful so far. We drove a superhighway lined with bougainvillea and mimosa trees, and saw plenty of otherworldly modern architecture downtown. There is not a speck of litter, and in fact littering apparently carries heavy penalties. (Not as heavy as drug smuggling!) Almost immediately after checking in, night fell and so I do not yet have any photos. That will have to wait until tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Departure

"Wait a minute," you may be saying to yourself. "Didn't he say something a few weeks ago about going to Singapore?"

Yes, I did. And today is the day. We leave this afternoon immediately after work, spend 14 hours in the air and then turn around and come home on Sunday. It's going to be quite a whirlwind. Dave and another teacher are going with some of their music students, attending an international honor band and orchestra event. I, on the other hand, have paid my own way and am merely tagging along as a tourist. While Dave is in rehearsals I will be wandering.

I don't have the slightest idea what to expect. I have no mental image of Singapore in my mind at all. I did check out a guidebook from the library, so I'll be reading up a bit on the plane.

Olga, meanwhile, will stay in the company of one of our friends who is going to house-sit. We had arranged for dog boarding, but when the opportunity arose for someone to stay over, we grabbed it. It's so great to be able to leave her in a familiar environment. It will lessen her stress considerably.

On Sunday morning, finally, after weeks of waiting with buds tightly knotted, our camellia decided to bloom. As you can see it's a simple white blossom, but I think the bush will be pretty spectacular once all the buds open. There are about a million of them.

Oh, and some of you asked about my cold. It is entirely gone, fortunately! It vanished late last week.

Last night, Dave and I watched Neil Simon's "California Suite," one of my longtime favorite movies. I first saw it with my church youth group in 1977, when I was 10, and I'm sure the group leaders must have panicked at some of the humor -- the hooker (unconscious after drinking a bottle of tequila) in the married man's bed, the actress married to the closeted gay antiques dealer, the quarreling divorcees, the somewhat racist slapstick comedy of the black characters. It is definitely a flawed movie. But I love it anyway, and as a child it fueled many a dream of someday moving to California, which I once badly wanted to do. I've probably seen it 50 times, and we had a great time watching it again last night. Maggie Smith: "Oh! Sidney! I saw your privates!"

(Top photo: Queensbury Road, in Kingsbury, North London, on Saturday. Coincidentally, my grandparents lived on a street with the same name in Maryland.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Strange Structures in the Woods

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday for our weekly outing. As usual, she had a great time. On the way, she gets so excited that she's practically a sled dog, dragging me along and panting heavily with the exertion. (Of course, I have no sled.) I can only imagine how great it must feel when I finally take the leash off and she can run free.

Anyway, we've been seeing these odd constructions in the woods for at least the past few weeks. I can't remember when we first saw them.

They're like houses or shanties, except that they're so tiny and open they could never really serve as a shelter. Maybe they're simply someone's sculptures.

Old ones fall apart, new ones appear...

They're a bit like dinosaur skeletons, a big spine with lots of ribs.

Olga decided to check one out but she didn't understand it either. (These photos depict three different structures.)

Maybe they're racks of walking sticks, and we're supposed to take one that fits us?