Sunday, December 31, 2017

Boggy Heath and Mistle Thrush

I took Olga on a long walk to the Heath yesterday, alleviating my guilt at her relative lack of exercise over the past week. She ran and ran, and then slept all evening and into the night. Once again her nickname, "Hundred-Percent Dog," proved apt -- everything she does, whether walking on the Heath or chasing squirrels or sleeping, she is full-on, pedal-to-the-metal, 100% invested.

The Heath was a mess -- very muddy and wet, given our recent rain. I had to come home and wash my clothes, not to mention Olga. (Not really all that unusual after a dog walk, this being muddy England.)

Also, I saw a new (to me) type of bird:

It's called a mistle thrush. These two were hopping around in a wet field on Hampstead Heath Extension, harvesting earthworms.

Action shot!

Continuing our appliance drama, I was up until 1 a.m. this morning defrosting the freezer! It had become an iceberg, and I was aware that it needed work, but then Dave opened it last night to get some ice cream and we noticed that it wasn't quite functioning. The ice cream was soft. So, multiple hours and many wet towels and pans of warm water later, we have an effective freezer once again.

And finally, H & M did indeed return to their rightful home last night, where they can be known by their full guinea pig names without fear of Internet identification. They were cute and I came to enjoy their chirpy greetings when I fed them, but all the same, I'm glad to be free of the responsibility! (And, to be honest, the smell.) When Olga got up this morning, the first thing she did was look for them on the tabletop. I think she's sad they're gone, and whatever elaborate plot she was thinking up to eat them has been derailed!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Nuclear Option

The weather took a turn for the worse yesterday morning. Olga and I were walking about 8:30 a.m., prior to me heading out to meet Kevin and Brent again for some sightseeing, when it began raining pretty heavily. Olga and I sprinted home and then Kevin and I cancelled our sightseeing plans. (I think we all felt like we needed a day of rest anyway.)

I've been feeling guilty that Olga has been neglected this week while I've had visitors in town. (And her dog walker hasn't shown up -- I didn't realize they were taking this whole week off! I thought they were just taking the holidays themselves. Dave doesn't walk her, so she's pretty much been staying home.)

Finally, yesterday afternoon, when the rain had subsided and we even had hints of sunshine, I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery, where she had a good run. I don't think Dave understands how much she needs to be able to blow off energy. He enjoys staying home and lounging around on the couch, but I get stir-crazy if I have to do that for more than a day -- so I empathize with Olga's need to get out and about.

Dave called the flat's management company about our broken oven yesterday, and the conversation was pretty much a series of "no's" from them -- no, we don't have anyone who can fix it now; no, it's not an emergency; no, there's no supervisor for you to talk to. The only "yes" was, yes, you're going to have to live without an oven until your maintenance manager returns to work next week.

Dave was incensed by this and scared me to death by insisting that we move when our lease is up in July. I think that's throwing the baby out with the bath water. The Nuclear Option, you might say. Instead I plan to call again next week and impress upon them the urgency of some of our long-standing maintenance issues. I also told Dave we should just spend some money ourselves to solve certain small problems -- it would be cheaper than moving. I don't want to go anywhere. Even with all its faults, I love this flat.

Remember our garden cam? I haven't had it out since last spring, because in summer, when we're in the garden a lot, it only takes pictures of us and Olga. But I put it out again last week, for just a few nights, and caught this fox lurking behind our horseradish plant. He (or she) is looking at the windows of the upstairs flat -- maybe our neighbors, the Russians, were making some noise that made him/her wary.

The guinea pigs go home today, I believe -- thank God! They are stinking to high heaven and I can't change the cage myself, having no sawdust. Also, Olga is getting way too interested in them!

Hurry, Mrs. Kravitz!

(Top photo: Street art by Sell Out, Shoreditch, on Thursday.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

In the Shadow of the Tower

I was down in the tourist thick of things yesterday morning, meeting Kevin and Brent after they toured the Tower of London. People were out in droves, given that we had a bright blue sky and lots of sun, even though the temperatures were freaking COLD. (Puddles on the street were iced over when I set out from home.)

Rather than go to the Tower myself -- I've already seen it --  I wandered around Shoreditch and Brick Lane and got lots and lots of photos of street art and street scenes. It was a very good photography morning. Then I met Kevin and Brent at Pret a Manger. I took the photo above while I was waiting for them -- it's a self portrait. Can you find me?

We walked over Tower Bridge, jostling the other tourists for prime photo locations. I had to take this virtually over the shoulder of a German couple who just would not move from the traffic island where they were taking selfies. Some kids rode by on bikes, one popping a well-timed theatrical wheelie.

Once on the South Bank, we walked along the river toward Borough Market, intending to eat lunch. We didn't get as far as the market, though, because again, it was freaking COLD. We ducked into a mediocre pub where we shared a table with a French family (I did not practice my French) and at least got warm again.

Then I had to take off for North London to meet Dave, so we could go to our friend Carolyn's house for dinner. She and her husband Mark live in Pinner, which is out in the 'burbs northwest of where we live. I met Dave at the Tube station there and we spent an enjoyable evening making chili and cornbread and envying their gigantic, marble-countered kitchen and modern bathrooms. Yes, we had apartment envy. But, of course, that's what you get when you move to the 'burbs -- more space and more modern accommodations.

Speaking of which, I did write a strongly-worded e-mail to our management company about our broken oven. But wouldn't you know, the maintenance manager is away from work until Jan. 3! So for now we're not baking or broiling anything chez nous.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Zoology at the British Museum

I met up with Kevin and Brent yesterday morning for a trip to the British Museum. It was a perfect morning to be inside -- wet and windy, with big melting clusters of snow swirling down. I was glad to get indoors and stay there.

As we walked all through the museum and I took pictures of some of the treasures, I found myself developing an animal theme. An animal lover could find plenty to admire in the plentiful artworks from every culture.

Above, for example, is the central panel of an Ethiopian painting by an unnamed artist commemorating the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. "It is in the style of European depictions of the Last Supper, with animals instead of biblical figures," according to the museum plaque next to it. "The theme of restoration of order from disorder, though ostensibly biblical in origin, obviously has political connotations, and this particular image was painted in a similar vein by a number of Ethiopian artists of the time."

The lion is the emperor, naturally.

And then there was the glazed brick lion from the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar II in ancient Babylon (605-562 B.C.).

And there were cattle from ancient Egypt...

...and rabbits, too.

Ancient Greece provided us with this pig. As much as the pig has contributed to human society over the centuries, you'd think we'd see more of them in statuary, wouldn't you? Poor overlooked pigs.

And finally, of course, there were dogs, in this case skinny ones in a bas-relief mural from ancient Assyria. We laughed because that dog appears to be doing what dogs always do -- sniffing the butt of another dog.

There were plenty more: An Egyptian cat with gold earrings, a Roman silver figure of a tiger, an Egyptian ram, a Greek marble bull, a horse in full bridle gear, a piece of a marble leopard, a coiled rattlesnake, a two-headed turquoise serpent from Mexico. It's interesting how all cultures developed reverence for animals, whether they were hunted or eaten, or were symbols of power and mysticism.

We had lunch in the museum restaurant. (Russian dumplings for me -- apparently there's a temporary exhibit on Russia at the moment. We didn't see that.) And then we walked to Covent Garden to wander the market and the narrow streets of the Seven Dials, lit up with fairy lights for Christmas. Today, more wandering is planned!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Boxing Day Walk Through Hampstead

Yesterday was Boxing Day, when most shops, offices and services are closed and people just hang around and recover from Christmas. Olga and I took a walk to Hampstead Heath for some vigorous squirrel-chasing.

We took a different route than usual through the village of Hampstead, and came across a fun holiday window painting of some snowmen eating pizza.

We also found author Daphne Du Maurier's former home. (It wasn't called Manderley -- it was called Cannon Cottage.) I subsequently did a bit of research and learned that Du Maurier grew up in Hampstead. I remember seeing a Du Maurier headstone in the Hampstead church cemetery, but I didn't realize it was her family.

According to the sign, she lived in this cottage for two years in the 1930s. I believe she actually grew up in a much larger adjacent house.

We also saw a bright red elephant hiding behind the garden wall of a modernist house near the heath. In 2010 London hosted an "elephant parade," in which elephant sculptures decorated by different artists and sponsors were placed throughout the city. The Hampstead elephant appears to match this one, sponsored on behalf of an Indian cricket team and placed at the time in Trafalgar Square. How it came to retirement on a Hampstead patio is anyone's guess.

It was fun to see some new sights in a part of town where we walk all the time. Taking a slightly different turn here and there makes a big difference!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Minor Disaster

It sounds terrible and Scrooge-like, but I am mostly glad yesterday is over. You know what I mean? Not that it wasn't a good day -- I got some nice presents and spent time with an old friend and several newer friends, and had a good time overall. But I am a creature of routine, I guess, and I'm looking forward to getting back to simple joys like my morning cereal and walking the dog.

I think as we get older, particularly, routines become harder to shed. Part of the purpose of holidays is to shake us up and make us appreciate daily life -- the fatigue of celebration is followed by the comfort of a return to daily existence.

Actually, we had a small-scale disaster yesterday. As I mentioned, Dave and I were having four guests for dinner, and Dave had prepared an elaborate menu featuring ham baked with a homemade glaze, broiled parsnips and some other dishes. Just as I'd received a text from our guests saying they were on their way, and as Dave took the ham out of the pot where it had been boiling for hours (apparently this is how you prepare a raw ham) and turned on the oven prior to glazing the meat, the oven died. And I mean, dead. Cold as a bone. It wouldn't even turn on.

The oven has been acting up for a while, and we've written to the landlord several times about it for months. I even tried to call a repairman myself, but it's such a small job (a faulty switch, we think) that I couldn't get anyone to come. We'd even joked about the possibility of it dying on Christmas day, but we didn't think it would happen.

And it did.

Fortunately, thank God, the ham had been boiled. (Can you imagine the disaster if we'd opted for a turkey?!) So we changed course and served the sliced, boiled ham with various condiments and some side dishes including beans from a jar. Dave was mortified, and the meal certainly didn't measure up to his normal food preparation skills, but you gotta do what you gotta do, and our friends seemed fine with it.

Now, it's time to write that landlord a firm letter. She still hasn't done the promised carpet replacement and kitchen painting, and that's been in the works since April, at least. As Dave says, we pay too much rent for this.

On a positive note, I got some groovy gifts. Dave gave me a paisley scarf, a handheld metal detector (to help pinpoint finds made with the larger one), and a backpack camera bag that will hopefully be easier to carry and less likely to wear holes in my clothes than my current bag.

My friend Kevin, who I've known since junior high school at least...

...was impressively color-coordinated with his paper Christmas crown! (We all had crowns from our crackers, courtesy of our friend Michelle -- they're paper tubes that pull apart with a bang to reveal, inside, a toy, a crown and a (usually terrible) joke.) Anyway, Kevin gave me possibly the best present of the day, a t-shirt from our hometown. This doesn't sound like much, except that our hometown, Land O' Lakes, Fla., is a speck of a place north of Tampa, and Kevin found the shirt in a thrift shop in Virginia (or possibly North Carolina). I didn't know anyone made souvenir t-shirts from our land of humid suburbs and cow pastures.

Anyway, oven disaster aside, it was a good day. But I'm still glad it's over!

(Top photo: Stella McCartney's shop in Mayfair, decorated for the holidays.)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Christmas!

Well, here we are: Christmas. Finally! So first of all, let me do a very British thing and say "Happy Christmas" to everyone.

Have you ever wondered why, in America, we say "Merry Christmas," but for every other holiday we use the word happy? Happy Easter, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy New Year, Happy Fourth. I wonder why that is? And we don't say "merry" for any other purpose. Aside from "Merry Christmas," the word has practically disappeared from the language.

In Britain, my impression is that "Happy Christmas" used to be more common, but I see and hear "merry" quite a bit too. (Like on the sign above.)

Anyway, it's all a mystery.

This morning, Dave and I are up early to start cooking. We have guests coming -- my high school friend Kevin and his husband Brent, who are visiting from the states, and Kevin's friend Michelle and her husband Rob, who live here. A full house!

Yesterday Olga and I took a walk up to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields, which were pretty much deserted on Christmas Eve afternoon. I did see one guy wearing a Santa hat and walking a staffy of his own. "Relatives!" I said as I walked past with Olga. He smiled but I'm not sure he knew what I was getting at.

Last night I subjected Dave to a series of vintage Rankin/Bass Christmas TV specials, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Little Drummer Boy." I bet I haven't seen that last one since I was a kid. They were tedious and entertaining and embarrassing all at the same time.  "Rudolph," especially, is quite insistent on reinforcing traditional gender roles -- but it was made in 1964, so I guess I can't expect too much. At least it celebrated individuality and nonconformity, within certain comfortable boundaries.

Anyway, it seemed like the kind of television we ought to be watching on Christmas Eve.

(Top photo: Homemade Christmas decorations in a local front garden. I think that snowman's nose lights up -- he's like a Rudolph/Frosty hybrid!)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Rodents, and a Lost Pineapple

Here are our guinea pig visitors. Let's call them by their first initials rather than their names, just to indulge my insane fear that my neighbor might Google their names in some combination that causes her to discover my blog. H is on the left -- "the blonde one," as Mrs. Kravitz's daughter called her. M is on the right.

Olga has expressed mild interest in their cage, sniffing the air each time she walks past, but she hasn't really figured out what's up on that table yet. I'm hoping we can get through six days without that happening, but if early indications are at all reliable, H and M are going to be much easier to smell by the 30th. (Mrs. Kravitz told us we wouldn't have to change their cage, but I'm thinking we might want to track down an emergency supply of sawdust, just in case.)

Both of them look perpetually terrified, but I think this is pretty natural for guinea pigs. They live with a dog at home, so I don't think Olga is freaking them out. If anything, it's probably me and Dave.

Their appetites don't seem to be affected, though. They sure can put away the vegetables!

Otherwise, all is well in the household. I took Olga on a long walk on the Heath yesterday, where I came across what might be one of my most unusual lost or abandoned property finds ever:

It boggles the mind that a pineapple shipped all the way from Hawaii or the Canary Islands or somewhere -- not to mention an orange and a kiwi fruit -- would be left under a tree for squirrels in London. In December. Doesn't that illustrate the insanity and waste of the modern world? How much fossil fuel was consumed to get that pineapple here for no reason whatsoever?

I didn't pick it up, but as I type this I'm wondering if the guinea pigs would have liked it!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hatton Cross to West Drayton

I finally had an opportunity to get back on the LOOP yesterday, walking about five miles from Hatton Cross, near Heathrow Airport, to West Drayton.

The walk did not begin auspiciously. I had some interesting views of incoming aircraft at Heathrow -- some of them were much bigger than this plane, which just happens to be the one I photographed. But as I turned onto the first part of the trail I faced a gigantic, squishy mud-bog which I had to traverse. I was tempted to turn back and wait for a drier day, but I decided to persevere. Fortunately my trusty Merrill walking shoes kept out the water.

I soon came to a fork in the path. My directions at this point were to "follow the small path which ambles through the trees and over a small sleeper bridge." As you can see, there were two bridges -- and I was completely bewildered by which one they meant. Usually the directions for the LOOP are quite clear, but not in this case. I initially chose the right-hand bridge, but before walking any further I read that I was supposed to eventually enter "a large open field." The right-hand path looked very woodsy and I could see hints of a field off to the left, so I changed my mind and went that way instead.

It was the right decision. Whew. (I'm subjecting you to all this detail in case another walker is reading this and needs a heads-up about what to do here. Go left!)

Crossing the field, part of Cranford Park, I came to the 16th century St. Dunstan's Church. The Berkeley family, which lived on this land for 300 years until the end of World War I, installed their coat of arms at the church's east end to claim ownership.

A football for Olga! I don't see how she could do any more damage to this one.

I eventually came to the Grand Union Canal, the same canal where I used to walk Olga when we lived in Notting Hill. The stacks of the Nestle coffee factory were neatly reflected in the water. Almost all of the rest of the path followed the canal's right-hand side.

I stopped in the Hayes and Harlington area for a quick bite at this cute cafe -- an excellent vegetarian English breakfast. (A contradiction in terms, I know, but I delude myself that fried potatoes and mushrooms are healthier than fried bacon.) As I took this photo, a man jumped out of a nearby van and unsmilingly quizzed me about what I was doing. I try to be patient with people, I really do, but it annoys the hell out of me when perfect strangers demand that I explain myself for taking a photo -- especially grumpy strangers with no obvious connection to the subject of the picture. "Just a hobby," I said, and walked away.

Anyway, it was a fun walk, despite its wet and rainy beginning, and I'm glad I got in at least one more jaunt before the year's end. (I may manage a bit more walking next week -- we'll see.)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Guinea Pigs and a Black Turtleneck

Yesterday was a whirl of domesticity -- cleaning and vacuuming, changing the bedsheets, raking the yard, trimming dead stalks out of the flowerbeds. The house seems presentable and more or less holiday-ready now.

We're going to have even more added excitement for Christmas. In addition to our friends coming over on Christmas Day for dinner, we're going to babysit Mrs. Kravitz's two guinea pigs while she and her family spend a week overseas. They come in a sturdy cage that can sit on a tabletop, and I'm hoping if they're elevated out of sight they won't drive Olga crazy -- God forbid she should think they're squirrels, even though they basically are. Worst case scenario, we need to close them up in the dining room. (Well, okay, there are worse scenarios than that, but let's not go there.)

How did we get roped into this, you may ask? Mrs. Kravitz stopped me yesterday as I was on the way to the laundry with our sheets. She asked, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to win some neighbor points. Which it will be, unless Olga makes a snack of the guinea pigs (okay, I went there) or they die on their own of fright. Mrs. Kravitz said to me, "I thought guinea pigs were only supposed to live two years, but these are already three years old now!" Red danger lights began flashing in my mind, but by this time, we were committed. (According to Google, they live four to eight years.)

Last night, Dave and I got our annual dose of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and then, as if on cue, we began hearing distant music. I thought it was coming from upstairs, but as I walked through the flat to trace the sound, I realized it was out in the street -- and it turned out to be a mob of carolers, walking down the street and singing in front of houses for a donation. Dave and I gave them £5 and they sang "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." They mangled the words to the latter, but we didn't mind. 

As I was working on my endless journal transcribing project, I came across this old flyer, which I glued into the journal in early 2001. I remember doing this with my co-workers at The New York Times. It was an art school project of the daughter of another colleague, as I recall, so we all trooped down to Chelsea in our black turtlenecks to be photographed. I don't think the book ever came about. At least, I never saw it. Funny the random things we get involved with during the course of our lives!

(Top photo: Chinatown, on Tuesday.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Here's our rescued foxglove plant, chilling in the garden beneath a layer of frost and fallen leaves, waiting for its opportunity to bloom next spring. We had several very cold days not too long ago, but yesterday was downright warmish. I was able to go to dinner with Dave last night in just a sportcoat, with no hat and no scarf.

But first, I wound up having to run a very peculiar errand. I'd counted on having the day free, and I was just sitting on the couch reading around 1:30 p.m. when my boss texted and asked if I was around. A question like that, from a boss, almost always leads to work, and I texted back with some trepidation. But it turns out she simply needed someone to witness a contract between her and her landlord. So I walked over to her place -- she doesn't live far away -- and together with her husband we visited her landlord, who also lived nearby.

The landlord, named Felicity, turned out to be a hoot. She's a 78-year-old woman who grew up in the house my boss rents. She greeted us wearing a black dress, pearl earrings and a furry leopard-print jacket, having just had a Christmas ham delivered from Waitrose. The ham was sitting just inside her front door.

Felicity seemed very proper, and her house was quite spacious, with soaring ceilings and chandeliers and fireplaces. There were gilt mirrors on the wall, and china and glassware somewhat haphazardly laid out on tabletops alongside old photos, framed and unframed. It was like she'd emptied out a china cabinet -- and maybe she had, looking for Christmas serving pieces.

As we sat at her table signing and making small talk, she asked me, "Have you always been bald?" Well, since I was a very young man, I said. "It's not the result of a medical condition?" she asked. No, I assured her, it was not.

And then the paperwork was done and she insisted we all stay for a drink. She chose some mismatched glasses from a corner cabinet and brought out some Bombay Sapphire and tonic water -- she had quite a selection of booze on a tray in the corner -- and proceeded to regale us with tales of the Blitz and how the neighborhood was damaged ("Exeter Road was on fire from end to end"), and what it was like to duck into a bomb shelter in her back garden, and of her friendship with the Venezuelan ambassador.

We had another gin & tonic, and she asked about my wife. I told her my partner is a he, not a she. She said, "Oh, men who live with men are always so precise. Aren't they? And always so artistic."

Lacking the energy to counter the old stereotypes, I told her, yes, we are.

My boss complimented Felicity's curtains, heavy green brocade with a valance at the top. They cut out any hint of daylight -- by this time, I couldn't tell whether it was light or dark outside. "Do you know, those curtains have been hanging in that window since 1947," she said. And she complained about some mysterious black smudges on her otherwise pristine white ceiling, apparently the result of a pigeon flying down the chimney and around the living room. She and her upstairs tenant, who she called "the Commander," had to chase it out a window.

All the while, her little Yorkshire terrier, Sammy, scrambled around our feet, begging for a belly rub.

I could go on and on. Suffice to say, it turned out to be a surprisingly fun afternoon!

And then Dave and I went to dinner last night at a restaurant called The Square, which we enjoyed, having indulged in yet another gin & tonic at a nearby bar in Mayfair. We got the tasting menu with wine pairings, and although I remember the delectable red snapper course and the juicy venison, I barely remember the cab ride home.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

High Fashion Beneath the Disco Balls

This was my Christmas shopping destination on Monday -- Selfridge's, on Oxford Street. I am not really a shopping person, but I love this store. It's full of swanky designer clothing of the type that I don't often see, and it's always fun to browse through the Gucci denim with embroidered appliqu├ęs and the bright, floral-print Paul Smith and Ted Baker shirts.

I expected the outing to be dreadful, but instead, I found myself having fun. Yes, okay, it's consumerist and crowded and a little insane, but so what?

For one thing, the main escalators are bedecked with giant disco balls and there's a DJ on a balcony spinning Christmas tunes. Who doesn't love a disco ball? They make everything better. I even made a video to help you to simulate the full experience.

I did find a few things for Dave, though he's not really a floral-print kind of guy.

This is not for Dave. It's for me! Isn't it an amazing jacket -- not only the blue print but the way the light gives the fabric a purple sheen? And the lining is a silky green and brown botanical print. It probably costs a month's rent -- I didn't even look, because although I truly do love it, I know I couldn't afford it and besides, where would I wear it?

Anyway, feeling incredibly self-indulgent at the end of my store-wandering, I even took Dave's purchases to the gift-wrapping counter. But there was an hour-long wait for the finished packages, so instead I got a gift box, which does the job nicely.

And now it's nice to know that there are a few things under the tree for Dave. (There should be a few more arriving in the mail, insha'allah.)

As I mentioned, I also had a dentist's appointment Monday. He looked around my mouth and prodded my gums with that little hook thing and took two X-rays, one on each side, and pronounced me in excellent oral health. Then he cleaned and polished and the entire exam seemed, frankly, a bit perfunctory -- but at least there's nothing glaringly, obviously wrong. I was concerned about my sensitive back tooth, the one that gives me an unpleasant zing every time I drink cold water, but he said it seems fine. So, on we go!

And finally, on Monday night, we met some friends for a visit to the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, near Smithfield market, to hear a small choral group perform music by Benjamin Britten with harp and organ accompaniment. We've done this a few times before (most recently in 2013, I think) and I always enjoy it. Something about hearing those high, crystalline vocal notes in that setting, amid all that medieval stone and stained glass, is truly special.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Salvaged Ornaments

Remember when I found the Madagascar key chain (or whatever it is) on my way to work a couple of weeks ago? Well, I did turn it into a Christmas ornament. It worked out pretty well!

And I got to thinking...I had several other little items hanging around that I'd found here and there. Wouldn't they make good ornaments, too?

Like the little enamel globe bead (I guess?) that I found in the library...

...or the miniature rugby ball from Fiji that I also found in the library...

...or the evil-eye charm I found on another walk to work ages ago?

There you have it! Who needs to buy fancy-schmantzy ornaments?!

I had a busy day yesterday -- dentist, then Christmas shopping, then an evening music performance. I'm going to save all that for tomorrow's post, though, because I haven't gone through my pictures yet. Stay tuned! (Don't worry -- there are no pictures from my dental visit.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Dubious Path

Olga was in the mood to try something new on our walk yesterday, so we explored Billy Fury Way, the footpath that connects Finchley Road with West End Lane in West Hampstead.

I've mentioned this path before, specifically when the mural that marks the head of the path got defaced. (It still hasn't been restored.)

But I rarely walk this way. For one thing, I live on the other side of the railroad tracks (to the right in the picture above), so if I'm going to go from West End Lane to Finchley Road I just use Lymington Road, which is not only easier but also a lot more pleasant.

And that's the other reason I don't use Billy Fury Way: It's not very inviting, and at times seems downright sketchy. Suspicious characters hang out along the path drinking, and there are mountains of discarded cans and bottles in several spots along its length.

Olga and I didn't meet anyone -- which is the advantage to walking early in the morning -- but even she didn't seem too impressed. I think we've finished our Billy Fury flirtation for the foreseeable future!

We did, however, find some French graffiti, adding an element of continental culture to our walk. "Pikachu has a message for you friends...'I never go back to my Pokeball because it's better to smoke outside! -- Message from the Ministry of the Environment.'"

I'm guessing someone was smoking as they wrote that. Or had smoked very recently.

In the afternoon, Dave and I went to see the new "Star Wars" movie. It's super flashy and fun, and it retains the epic scale and pseudo-Eastern philosophies of the franchise, but it also seems a bit...Disneyfied. I was pleasantly surprised by Laura Dern's appearance -- I had no idea she was in the film, and she's one of my favorite actresses. (Loved the purple hair! Keep the look, Laura!) And it was poignant to see Mark Hamill and, especially, Carrie Fisher again.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snow Boulders

Yesterday Olga and I went to Hampstead Heath and found the fields littered with huge snowballs. They looked like the remains of some Iron Age monument, a scattered miniature Stonehenge.

What was going on here, I'm not sure. I'm guessing people rolled these snowballs, and maybe some are even the remains of snowmen whose more delicate upper bodies have melted away. Your guess is as good as mine!

I also saw a rabbit, which must be a rarity on Hampstead Heath because of all the dogs. I'm not sure I've ever seen one there. Fortunately, Olga did not see it.

We walked a good long time and came home just as it was beginning to rain. Our timing really was perfect. I hurriedly bathed the dog and cleaned up the house, because we had some people coming over -- Dave's friend Catherine and her husband, Tom. They arrived for a late lunch around 2:30 p.m., and stayed until 6:30, when they had to skedaddle to see a performance of Handel's "Messiah" at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I wonder if they stayed awake. We all had a fair amount of wine, and the "Messiah" isn't exactly short.

Dave made coq au vin in a white wine sauce, and vichyssoise, and his famous dried-fig-and-walnut dessert using brandy butter that one of his students brought him from Harrod's. Olga, exhausted from her walk, slept through most of the meal -- which was ideal, actually, because otherwise she would have been begging from all of us.

And here's yesterday's pottery shard, found on the Heath and added to my little collection.