Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fran├žais, and a Crowded Gallery

I was out and about all day yesterday. I left home about 8:30 a.m. for French class and didn't get back until around 7:30 p.m. with Dave.

French has been going better lately, heureusement. After a frustrating period when I felt like I was spinning my wheels, I'm starting to see more improvement. I'm sure I still wouldn't be able to talk about anything more complex than ordering coffee with the average French person, though.

I got a laugh from the class when I tried to come up with a word for medicine and I used fanid, which is what a pill is called in Morocco. I guess fanid must be Arabic and not French, because no one knew what the heck I was talking about.

Anyway, class lasted until 1 p.m., and then I grabbed a soup and sandwich from Pret before going on a photo walk through Marylebone, Bloomsbury and Soho. My goal was The Photographer's Gallery, which is having a retrospective of the work of Saul Leiter, a mid-century street and fashion photographer in New York. I'd heard it was a good show and indeed some of Leiter's pictures were interesting, especially his atmospheric color shots. The gallery, however, was incredibly crowded, which made my enjoyment of the show more difficult. I got out of there as quickly as I could and went walking for a couple of hours to take my own photos.

Afterwards I caught the tube down to Brixton to meet up with Dave and attend a birthday gathering for one of our friends from work. I met Dave by the David Bowie mural, where memorial gatherings are still going strong. Flowers are mounded up now even more than when I photographed it a couple of weeks ago.

The birthday was fun, but we gathered in a packed little pub where we couldn't even sit down. Dave and I beat a hasty retreat after a couple of beers. As we get older, I find, we are less and less tolerant of crowds.

We were happy to get back to Olga and the cozy comfort of our flat. Have I mentioned that we've started watching the Amazon series "Transparent"? It's terrific. We're binge-watching again -- nine episodes so far!

(Photo: Soho, yesterday.)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Status Quo

In my family we often joke about "maintaining the status quo." The joke comes from my great uncle, who used the phrase to express his essential intractability. Whenever anyone asked him to do anything -- certainly anything business- or money-related -- he would say he intended to maintain the status quo.

As you can imagine, not much ever changed in my great-uncle's world. At least, not if he could help it.

Despite the fact that I have uprooted my life several times, and made several major changes over the years, I have a streak of that same impulse. It rises in situations both large and small.

For example, yesterday Dave was talking about getting a delivery of manure for the garden, and immediately a million questions popped into my head: Where would we put it? Would it smell? Would it be in bags? How much would it cost? Would it adversely affect the soil and the existing plants? Would it change the Ph?

All of these questions flashed through my head so fast I didn't even have time to ask them. Basically a huge red stoplight went off in my brain.

They aren't unreasonable questions, but it's funny how they come with a side order of panic and immediate resistance. Why can't we just maintain the status quo?

I don't know why I think that way. My family programmed me to be very cautious. Overly cautious, I'd say. It's served me well in some ways -- I tend to be conservative with money and generally careful.

Case in point: When I went to West Africa in 1994, my friends and I debated going to Timbuktu, in Mali. You'd think the opportunity to go to Timbuktu would be a no-brainer. We were already relatively close, in Mopti, and all it meant was a voyage up the Niger River. But politically the area was unstable, with a simmering rebellion by the Tuareg ethnic group and travel advisories issued by our embassy, and I argued against it. My essentially cautious nature said no way!

Chances are, if we'd gone, we would have been fine. I knew other people who went. But at the same time, I don't regret our decision -- there was a risk, and I saw no reason to take it. (From what I've read, Timbuktu is even more unsafe now.)

It's funny how this aspect of my personality can rear its head. It truly is a gut feeling, or a metal stoplight, as I describe above, sometimes warranted and sometimes not.

I get that mental stoplight now when I think about trying to buy a house in London. I see all the problems that could come with it -- the century-old buildings, the insanely high prices, the insurance and other complications. Despite my conservative financial nature, I like renting, costly in the long-term though it may be. I am maintaining the status quo.

(Photo: Discarded boots on our street. People in London often leave shoes out on their garden walls for others to take. It's an interesting custom.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Library Light

My job may be occasionally tedious -- and I'm the first to admit it -- but here's something that makes it better. We have amazing natural light in the library. Big windows and a warm, pleasant space.

Above is my co-worker Eunice, who was sitting and reading yesterday with all that beautiful light around her -- from outside on the pole to the houndstooth patchwork of shadows on the floor. She was being watched over by the Venerable Bede, to the right, in the glass case next to the books.

And this is the view from my desk. Another coworker said, "It looks like Batman!"

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Crushed Bouquet

While walking a few days ago, Olga and I came upon this crushed but colorful bouquet of tulips and daffodils lying in the gutter. Of course I didn't have my camera.

So on the way to work, about a half-hour later, I passed by once again, camera in hand -- and realized the minute I tried to turn it on that I'd left the battery at home in the charger. So I had to go back home, get the battery, pass back by the bouquet and snap some photos -- and of course by that time I was late for work.

I just want you to know how much effort went into that picture.

When I looked at it later I realized that some of those flowers, the unopened daffodils lying closest to the curb, appeared salvageable. So the next morning Olga and I walked by again, and I figured if the bouquet was still there I'd take it home. But it wasn't, so maybe someone else had the same idea.

I'm a little late posting today because I wanted to include this photo. Our landlord sent a gardener yesterday morning, who removed our gigantic toppled bush and also pruned the hell out of the rest of the landscaping in the front. (Before photos here.)

I tried to have a chat with the gardener, but he was an older guy (Eastern European, maybe?) who didn't seem to speak much English, so I just let him do his thing. In the end, he cut a little more than I would have -- but things still look better than they did. And it's like a new haircut -- in a few weeks or months it will grow in a bit and look more natural.

I'm so relieved to have that bush out of there.

He did not touch the cypresses. Turns out we're in a conservation area, so those can't be pruned without special permission -- I suppose because they're trees. I told the managing agent I'm fine with leaving them the way they are and that in my opinion, Mrs. Kravitz can mind her own business!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Own Ode to a Haggis

I forgot to mention Burns Night! January 25 was the birthday of Scottish bard Robert Burns, and we did celebrate -- with a haggis! Dave went and bought one from our posh local butcher. It came in a tight plastic wrap, round and plump like a little grouse.

Haggis, according to Wikipedia, is "a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal's stomach."

As you can imagine, with my vegetarian tendencies, haggis has not been high on my list of things to try. But I did -- one bite. It is almost ridiculously rich, and very dark, with the soft texture of organ meat (though the grain gives it a bit of body). I can now officially say that I do not like it.

Dave, however, is a fan, and he's been working through it. Last night he had it for dinner with a fried egg on top. It is a very dense food. A little haggis goes a long way.

To properly mark Burns Night, we should have read Burns' "Address to a Haggis," but we didn't take things that far. (Though I would have enjoyed the poem much more than the haggis itself.) We should also have served whiskey, which perhaps would have made the haggis more palatable.

Speaking of eating animals, did you see the news about the cow that escaped from a slaughterhouse in New York City a few days ago? It wandered through the urban streets of Queens for a while before finally being corralled  by the police. They returned it to the owner, but it was subsequently taken in by an animal rescue organization and will live a life of leisure. I was glad the cow's courage was rewarded.

I also read a fascinating article and study yesterday about common household insects -- specifically which bugs are most common in American homes. A team of entomologists surveyed 50 houses around Raleigh, North Carolina, and catalogued the insects they found. The diversity was wider than you might expect! I can only imagine what we've got living with us here -- definitely spiders, flies and occasionally moths, because I see them. And I'm sure there's all manner of critters we don't see.

Finally, we finished "Making a Murderer" on Netflix last night. I won't give anything away, but I recommend the series. It will definitely make you question the fairness of the American justice system, particularly as it serves the poor and uneducated. We were aghast at the decisions made in the case, by juries, attorneys and judges -- but it does help to do some research on the side to find out more about the trial and evidence presented. I accept the fact that we didn't see or hear everything and thus may not know the full story.

(Photo: Some discarded carpeting on our street. Wouldn't you like to see the room that came from?!)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Limbo: The Carlton Tavern

Yesterday I took a lunchtime walk over to the Carlton Tavern, the pub that was illegally and despicably demolished last year by its Israeli owners on the eve of being landmarked as a historic structure. You may remember that the owners were subsequently ordered by local government to rebuild the 1920s-era pub "brick by brick."

I still doubt that will ever happen, but I applaud the decision. As you can see, there's no rebuilding on the site at the moment.

Apparently the owners have appealed both their rejected plan to build flats on the property and the order to rebuild the pub. They originally wanted their appeals heard in private, but the government has ruled that they should be given a public hearing. As I understand it, part of their argument against rebuilding the pub is that the historic detailing has been substantially destroyed! The chutzpah!

Anyway, it's a fascinating and tragic case. People in the community are still on a campaign to see the reconstruction through, and I say bravo. Because as unlikely as it sounds, what else would show developers all over the city that they can't simply do whatever they want?

Monday, January 25, 2016

January Floral Report

Yesterday I took the camera out into the back garden to show you what's going on there. You're welcome!

Despite the fact that it's January we have a surprising amount of activity. For example, blooming daffodils -- which I was photographing here when I got distracted by Olga, who was waiting for me to throw her Kong toy.

(I took her later to Fortune Green, and we threw it there. The grass in our back garden is more sparse in winter than it looks, and she really tears it up chasing the Kong.)

Remember how I wrote that we were going to let some of our potted plants expire in winter's freezing temperatures?  Well, never mind. Soon after I wrote that I moved them all back inside again. They've been treated for their pest problems and I'm hoping to pull them through the dark winter for another round of growth this summer.

Our hibiscus rewarded us with a mid-January blossom, despite the fact that it has almost no leaves.

This is winter aconite, or Eranthis hyemalis, which Dave planted.

And this is our first grape hyacinth of the season. These things spread like wildfire and they're everywhere in our garden. Soon our borders will be masses of purple.


...some plants are looking very wintry. The cardoon, which not long ago was blooming like the big thistly artichoke that it is, has been reduced to a dead brown husk.

And the purple asters are like rattling stars in a dark sky. Dave's planning to get out next month to trim away all this dead material and get the plants ready for spring.

There's not much going on in our animal kingdom. We haven't seen our foxes lately and the garden cam has clicked off photos only of pigeons and squirrels. (And us, walking past.)

We had lunch yesterday with former neighbors Chris and Linda in a pub in Notting Hill. Chris loves to talk about World War II and Dave found an online quiz with which to test his knowledge. Problem is, Chris turned each multiple choice question into an essay. Apparently there are no simple answers when it comes to World War II! He and Linda gave us some nice gifts -- Dave a book on beekeeping (yes, that might be our next adventure) and me a DVD about National Geographic photographers.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Saturday Vanishes

Well, I did manage to Skype with my mom yesterday, for two hours. We had a bit of Internet disruption on her end, but from what I could tell our connection in London worked fine. I think it's much better.

Mom is managing pretty well after selling our family house and relocating, but she admits to being a bit bored. As anyone who owns a house knows, they take tremendous amounts of time and energy to maintain -- and when those obligations are gone, a lot of time suddenly opens up. I tried to urge her to get in the car and go check out some local birdwatching spots or even the mall, just for a change of scenery.

Anyway, between Skyping and French class, not to mention watching three episodes of "Making a Murderer" in the evening, I saw the day entirely vanish. I did manage to walk the dog in the morning, on a not-very-adventurous circuit through the neighborhood. I owe her a better outing today.

At least I'm not getting snowed under, like all my friends on the East Coast of the U.S. -- although frankly I could use a snow day. I have a stack of unread New Yorkers and Harper's, a book I've only just begun, and lots of online reading to catch up on, not to mention French practice and my own ongoing journal transcribing project. Today is pretty much spoken for, too, so some of those things will have to wait.

(Photo: Mitcham, South London.)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Murder and Skype

Are any of you watching "Making a Murderer" on Netflix? It's a fascinating documentary. Dave and I started watching it a few nights ago and I plowed through three episodes last night alone. I've never listened to the podcast "Serial" (although I keep meaning to) and from what I can gather, this is somewhat similar. And while there is controversy about its objectivity, I think it's riveting.

Otherwise, it's been life as usual around here. Our Internet connection seems much better since we moved our router. We've been able to stream several TV shows without interruption and our WiFi signal seems much stronger. The true test will come today, when I try to Skype with my mom. (Last week we got disconnected after 20 minutes and no matter how hard we tried, we could not reconnect.)

The new router still hasn't arrived (and, unrelated, the bush is still reclining in our front garden) but I think we're making slow progress in all things.

Off to French class!

(Photo: Thornton Heath, South London.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Moonlit Living Room

I woke up in the wee hours of Thursday morning and came out to the living room to sit for a while. The moon was almost full and very bright, and I decided to try to take some photos that would capture the moonlight.

Reflected light is very dim, no matter how bright it appears to our own eyes, so I put the camera on an interior windowsill where it wouldn't move and held open the shutter for an extended period of time. What I wound up with, after several tries, was this.

At first I couldn't figure out where all that red color was coming from. Then I remembered the digital clock that sits on top of our TV table -- it has a red dial! The room doesn't look red to the naked eye, but the camera picked it up.

The bright square outside is the window of a neighboring building, which is some distance away. It may appear to be the source of the light slanting on the walls, but that really was from the moon.

Anyway, it was a fun experiment!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hand of Fatima

Thanks for all your encouraging words yesterday. I had a much better day at work and our router cable finally arrived, so I've been able to extend the router into the living room and boost our WiFi signal. So far it appears to be working much better, though we still have a new router on the way that hopefully will improve things even more.

I knew life would be looking up when I found this on the sidewalk while walking Olga yesterday morning...

...a bright blue, plastic Hand of Fatima. Begone, evil eye!

I'm not sure why yesterday was better at work. I'm trying to be more Zen about my day, allowing it to unfold as it will, reminding myself to breathe and be kind to people in the process (rather than being annoyed that the SAME KID wants to check out a computer charger AGAIN). A bit of mindfulness really does help.

In the evening, Dave and I went to the pub with two of his coworkers and that was a boost, too -- the warmth of a pleasant pub on a cold, dark night. I get why the pub culture developed in this part of the world.

(Top photo: Another ghost sign, on my walk to work yesterday morning.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Well, this is an interesting turn of events. We don’t seem to have Internet this morning. I’m writing this post offline in the hopes that I can post it later — from work, if not from home.

Who knows what’s going on. Our household technology, as I’ve written before, is crap. Supposedly we have a new router en route from our Internet supplier that will fix all these problems. And a few weeks ago I bought a cable on Amazon so we could bring the router deeper into the house, putting it in a more central location -- but the cable was "lost in the post" (as the seller insisted) and they have sent me another, which has yet to arrive. Oh, brother.

Have you heard of Blue Monday? It’s supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Fortunately we’re already past it — it was this week. I don’t remember ever hearing about it before, but this year I saw Blue Monday mentioned in headlines and wondered what on earth it meant.

Dave filled me in: Apparently someone decided that a Monday in chilly, dark January, immediately after the debt-inducing Christmas season, was bound to be the ultimate in depression. While I consider it a good sign that I didn't independently recognize it as such, I must admit I've been going through some doldrums of my own.

(I did pay my credit card bill yesterday, and that wasn’t pretty, with a lot of our Florida expenses on it. But that's not really a cause for alarm. It was expected.)

Things just feel awfully messy around here. Our front landscaping, our Internet. Our mold problem, the recurrence of which had me scrubbing the living room wall at 6 a.m. yesterday morning. Work has been stultifying. French class is adding some pressure to my life, because I feel like I should be working harder and doing better than I am. My purple heart cutting seems to be dying rather than rooting, probably because it's getting limited sunlight.

Oh, and I was preparing to go see Lumiere London last night when I realized that it’s already over! Sunday night was its last — which is why I could find no trace of it while lugging around Dave’s stock pot on Monday evening. Apparently it only lasted four nights.

So we grind on through the dark winter...

(Photo: Old tile on shopfronts in Tooting Bec, south London.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stained Glass, and a Stock Pot

These stained glass windows are located in the library where I work. Aren't they amazing? They aren't actually installed as windows -- they're in protected cases backed by special lighting. They're taller than I am.

This window depicts Joan of Arc and the one below depicts the Venerable Bede. They are the work of Luke Dampney, who created them between 1920 and 1930 for All Saints Church in Plymouth, which has since been demolished. Dampney's windows were salvaged and preserved in the London Stained Glass Repository, which was created by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers & Painters of Glass and English Heritage to save creations like these from "redundant" churches.

They were installed in the library as a memorial to a family from our school who died in the Lockerbie airliner bombing of 1988.

I think it's pretty amazing to have these in our workplace, though like anything we tend to stop seeing them after a while. I took photos the other day to remind myself that they're there. They make especially good photo material at this time of year, when London is so dark!

Speaking of darkness, I went out last night after work to see some of Lumiere London, a festival of lighted sculptures and art installations that has been installed in and around Westminster.

You may remember that I went last week to see some similar artworks in Canary Wharf -- part of a different event with about the same theme. (It's pretty brilliant to do these light installations at this time of year, when everything is dark and people need a reason to get out and about.)

I made the mistake, though, of trying to combine an outing to see Lumiere (which my spell-check insists on trying to correct to "lumber") London with a major errand.

Dave has been wanting a big stock pot. He's talked about it for years. So I decided to get him one for Christmas, and I went to our standard kitchen retailer down in Soho. (We were so busy with travel and wedding stuff over the holidays that we never had a chance to get each other gifts!)

I bought this one, a 35.5-liter stainless steel behemoth that weighs something like 20 pounds. I guess I had imagined carrying it in a big bag that I could easily grasp, but as it turned out the shop didn't have a bag big enough, so I had to hold the pot (wrapped in the largest available bag) by the handles.

As you can imagine, that got old fast. I didn't try to see any of Lumiere London after all!

Instead I trudged straight to the tube, where I expected to be questioned by security staff at any minute about what I might be carrying in that immense pot. Surprisingly, no one questioned me, though I did get quizzical looks from fellow passengers as I schlepped it home.

Maybe I'll try Lumiere London again tonight. Meanwhile, enjoy our stained glass -- also a festival of light.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snowy Heath

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath late yesterday morning. The snow was melting and heavy drips were falling all around us, but quite a bit was still on the ground.

It was super-muddy, as I expected, and also icy. The paths were slippery and I fell once, though I caught myself before going down all the way and thus spared my clothes. (Then I had to find a clean-ish puddle to wash my muddy hand!)

I said yesterday that Olga didn't like the snow -- but actually, once she was out and about, she had a blast. She got filthy and required a serious bath when we got back home.

We came across some bright and athletic-looking whippets or Italian greyhounds. The one in pink was named Pickles, but I didn't get the names of the other two. Dave (who did not accompany us, but saw my pictures) said afterwards that Olga clearly wants a fancy winter coat too -- but it looks to me like she's more interested in cadging a treat from the greyhounds' owner!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Winter Wonderland

Well, maybe I'm overstating things a bit! Yes, this is our first snowfall of the season. It was already melting at sunrise, and I expect it won't last much longer.

Olga doesn't like it. She nibbled at the icy grass, but came inside pretty quickly.

This was our entertainment yesterday afternoon. I'd never seen "The Blob," a movie tailor-made in 1958 for the teenaged drive-in theater crowd, and I got a kick out of it (though Steve McQueen playing a teenager when he was nearly 30 wasn't very convincing). We got 17 minutes into the film before Dave said, "Jesus Christ, this movie is slow." But by the end we were having a great time making fun of it -- and have you heard the groovy theme music? (Be sure to hold out for the vocals at 1:08.)

Aside from French class -- which went fine, though I am very rusty after just a few weeks off -- I barely went outside all day. I owe Olga a serious walk today, though I'm sure the heath will be mud-o-rama.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

An Illustrated Guide to Our Landscaping

I don't have much for you today. I'm about to skedaddle out the front door to French class. (And what's French for "skedaddle," anyway?)

I talked to our flat's managing agent yesterday about the front garden, and they said they'd sent my photos to a gardener for a price quote. As soon as the landlord approves the quote the work can begin. I have a feeling we'll be living with our fallen bush and overgrown shrubbery for a few more weeks, at least.

By request:

Here's the front of our house. (Nice recycling bin, huh?) Our flat is on the bottom. There's another family upstairs, and I believe they own that unit -- how they fit into the question of front garden maintenance I'm not sure. Anyway, as you can see, the bushes are quite overgrown and could use some pruning and shaping.

These tall, pointy Italian cypresses are the trees that bother the neighbor (who lives to the left). As you can see, they're not particularly close to her window, but whatever.

I've pretty much washed my hands of this whole situation. They aren't our bushes, and we're not responsible for them. I have to just let the landlord, the agent, the gardener and the neighbor sort out what happens.

(This is far more than you wanted to know about our landscaping, isn't it?!)

(Top photo: Police box mural in Streatham, South London.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sculpting with Light

I'm kind of embarrassed about that last post.

Instead of complaining about our neighbor, again, I should be bridging the gap between us. Shouldn't I? Perhaps I should talk to her about the trash cans, even.

But first things first. I took my photos of our collapsed bush yesterday morning, and I also knocked on the neighbor's door and talked to her about which bushes she's unhappy with. Turns out she's targeted the tall Italian cypresses in front of the house, which she says are blocking light to her front window. (For the record, her window is about 10-12 feet away across two alleys between our houses.)

So I photographed those too, and sent the pictures to the landlord's agent. I said that I couldn't see how the cypresses could be pruned without ruining them, but I'm leaving it all in the agent's hands. At the end of the day, they are not our shrubs. (I did say that the rest of the front garden needs some pruning, which is true. Maybe if they tidy it up, that will be enough to please the neighbor.)

Last night, after work, I had a Royal Photographic Society meeting. But it didn't begin until 6:30 near Baker Street, and I got off work at 5 p.m. There's an exhibit of light-based sculptures and artworks at Canary Wharf right now, so I decided to hop on the tube and go check it out. I knew the schedule would be tight but I thought I could do it.

What I failed to remember is that Canary Wharf is a huge banking and business center, and everyone gets off work at 5 p.m. or soon after. So the tube station was immobilized by crowds of people trying to get home. It took me much longer than I expected to get out of there, and I was late for my meeting.

The sculptures were cool, though -- at least the few that I was able to see. The one at the top, "Fantastic Planet" by Amanda Parer, consists of a huge inflatable humanoid figure crouching as if "it has just landed and is quietly and gently exploring our fantastic planet." (According to the exhibit's web page.)

When I visited, it was sitting back on its haunches a bit, as the evening was very windy.

And this one, "bit.fall" by Julius Popp, creates a waterfall of words taken from live newsfeeds. It was mesmerizing to watch! See it in action in my video here.

As I said, I was late for the RPS meeting, but as it turned out that wasn't a big deal. I was there long enough to see a few people and have some quick conversations. We had a little mini-photo exhibit and competition based on London open spaces, and I entered this photo (top) of Olga, but it didn't win. One guy immediately recognized it as mine, though, based on our famous dog!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Neighbor

We're still trying to deal with our landlord and the collapsed bush. I think I mentioned that while the bush is no longer blocking our front door, it's now lying on its side across the landscaping at the front of the house, which is not a satisfactory situation. It's too big for us to remove ourselves, and besides, the front garden is the landlord's domain.

So this morning, during the 1/2 hour of sunlight I experience while at home on a weekday, I need to take pictures of the bush and send them to the managing agent, at his request. Maybe then he can get it resolved.

He's also asked me to photograph a tree or bush that our neighbor has complained about -- something about it blocking her window. I'm not sure which tree or bush he means. Our neighbor doesn't like one of the trees in the back yard because a branch overhangs her property -- she's complained to us about it before -- so I'm going with that one. But I can't see how she could possibly argue that it interferes with her window. It's 25 feet from her house.

We've tried to like this neighbor, but she's the same woman who uses our garbage cans and then expects us to do 100 percent of their care taking -- moving them back into the alley after the garbage men come, that kind of thing. She's hyper-attentive to all of Dave's gardening, often critically, and she's been known to suggest that we mow our lawn. (We're not super-meticulous but we never let it get crazy.) Basically, she's Gladys Kravitz. Why is she all up in our business?

I have the terrible feeling that she's targeted some other bush on our property, and I'm going to make clear to the managing agent that we want to be consulted before they make any changes.

In other news, my French classes start again on Saturday. I wish I could say I'm looking forward to them, but frankly, I'm kind of dreading them. If I'm ever going to learn this language I need to keep plowing ahead, though!

(Photo: A cactus in the fogged-up window of a florist's shop, West Hampstead.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Bowie Mural

At lunch yesterday I hopped on the tube and made a quick trip to Brixton, in South London, to check out the scene at the David Bowie mural near Brixton station. Bowie spent part of his childhood in Brixton, before moving with his family farther south near Bromley when he was six. The mural has become a focal point of public mourning in London. (You may have even seen it on the news.)

There'd been a memorial gathering for him the night before, so I knew I'd find masses of flowers, and I wasn't disappointed.

The mural is about two and a half years old, painted by the street artist James Cochran, also known as "Jimmy C."

When I first got there, I could barely see it! There was quite a crowd.

In addition to flowers, photos, notes and candles people left a few small oddities -- a small garden gnome, a bottle of pear cider.

One woman was trying to drum up customers for a walking tour to Bowie's nearby childhood home. She didn't have any takers, at least not in the few minutes I was there.

I've thought more about what I wrote yesterday -- the fact that even though I don't know a lot of Bowie's music, he meant something to me in terms of freedom and courage. One of my commenters made the point that "some artists are not in your life for their art" -- in other words, their mere presence, the ripples they cause, the discussions they prompt, are enough. I think there's a lot of truth to that. (Not that I don't recognize Bowie's art resonates with many, many people.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie

I was shocked to hear yesterday morning about David Bowie's death. Like most people, I hadn't even known he was ill, and losing such an eternally youthful, adventurous artist at 69 seems untimely.

I must confess, I was never a huge Bowie fan. I never owned any of his albums. While I liked some of his more popular songs -- "Modern Love," "China Girl," "Changes" -- enough to sing along when they came on the radio, the only single I ever bought was "Space Oddity," the haunting extraterrestrial tale of Major Tom. (And that primarily because I really liked Peter Schilling's early-80s Cold War adaptation.)

I laughed yesterday when I read in one of his obituaries that his grade-school music instructors declared he had an "adequate" voice. That's about right.

Bowie's most valuable cultural contributions came from breaking rules. His gender-bending, make-up wearing, wild costumes and frank declarations of sexual freedom must have been mind-blowing at the time. When I was young he was one of just a handful of people I knew to be avowedly bisexual (Elton John was another). I specifically remember an interview in which Bowie said, "I like men. I like black girls." For a gay kid like me, more accustomed to the suburban smoothness of Barry Manilow and the Carpenters, that outspokenness made him something of a role model.

I think I might have been into Bowie if I'd heard more of him, and if I'd been more musically adventurous myself. But the experimental, performance-art aspect of much of his music didn't lend itself to radio airplay -- at least not without sacrificing a lot of the effect. To this day I don't think I've ever listened to a Bowie album in its entirety. Maybe I should.

(Photo: Orange Saab, South Hampstead.)

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Name in Lights

One of the more surreal experiences I've had lately came about ten days ago while riding the bus into London from Gatwick Airport. I looked out the window and saw myself. It freaked me out, until I realized a nanosecond later that I was seeing the offices of the Member of Parliament who shares my name.

Mr. Pudding had told me about this particular Steve Reed so I knew he was out there (and thank god he's Labour), but still -- the storefront gave me a jolt.

Yesterday I went back down to Streatham, Croydon and Mitcham, in far south London, and took a long photo walk, with the objective of photographing my namesake's signage.

I saw lots of other interesting sights too, of course, such as further indications of the passing of Christmas. It was a great day to be outside, sunny and pleasant for walking. I think we're supposed to get a cold snap this week, so I'm glad I seized the opportunity.

I saw some streets with intriguing names -- Therapia Lane, Headcorn Road -- but I was also glad I was no longer doing Bleeding London and didn't have to photograph them all.

I also saw one upsetting thing: A guy who left his dog tied near a shop came outside after the dog started barking. The dog, tail wagging furiously, jumped up to greet him -- and the man smacked the dog, hard, on the head. The dog cowered and it was all I could do not to say to the man, "Your dog is just happy to see you!" Which probably would have gotten me killed.

We are once again at that time of year where the sun is so low on the horizon that it shines right into my lens. Always a photographic challenge!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Old Christmas Trees

We're at that time of year when the old Christmas trees have been jettisoned, put out with the trash or in many cases simply piled onto the curb.

They turn up in a lot of strange places here in London, and sometimes they tend to linger for weeks, looking melancholy.

Olga found a whole bunch of them at West End Green yesterday morning. Whether this is an authorized recycling location, I'm not sure -- there is no enclosure like there is at Fortune Green just up the road. And why do people wrap their old trees in plastic and tape? That seems problematic for the recyclers.

We had a great day here yesterday. I got quite a bit done around the house and then took Olga on a long, muddy walk to Hampstead Heath Extension. She had a blast chasing squirrels, as usual. I'm always amazed at how much energy that dog has.