Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Purple Tree and Good Teeth

I see this tree on my walks with Olga every morning. It's in a locked courtyard in a housing development off Finchley Road, and I can't get in to get a closer look, but after doing some online research I've concluded that it's a foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa). Pretty!

At first I thought it was a jacaranda, but I can't imagine a jacaranda would survive London winters outdoors.

This was the best I could do with my zoom lens against that white sky.

Yesterday's trip to the dentist went well. No cavities, no problems requiring further treatment. I saw a different dentist this time -- he said my gums are healthy, but they bled a bit when he cleaned them, so he gave me a lecture about flossing and suggested I come back in 3 months for another cleaning (!) which I am not doing. Isn't it perfectly reasonable to think that if someone takes a metal hook to your gums they're going to bleed? If my teeth and gums are basically healthy I'll stick to my regular schedule, thank you very much. (Besides, haven't the experts concluded that flossing is of dubious value?)

After the dentist I took the tube to Holborn for a photo walk. I started out making a loop around Lincoln's Inn Fields, up Red Lion Street and around Gray's Inn, eventually walking all the way up through Bloomsbury, St. Pancras and Camden to home. It took several hours but I needed a good long walk, and I got plenty of photos to keep the ol' blog afloat!

Last night Dave and I went to a friend's pop-up restaurant -- he's a chef and he puts on these events every once in a while. The food was good but this time we sat at a big communal table, which isn't my favorite experience. Everyone was nice and the young German woman who I talked to most of the evening was interesting enough, but still, carrying on a conversation with strangers for a couple of hours wears me down.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trash Tulips

Here I go, pulling things out of the trash again. This time, a perfectly fresh and new bouquet of tulips, which I spotted yesterday beneath some coffee grounds in the trash can of the staff lounge at work. Why?! I gathered them up, washed off the coffee grounds and put the flowers on my desk.

My coworkers and I speculated they were given to someone who would rather not receive the attentions of the giver. Maybe there was anger involved. And wouldn't those individuals be shocked to walk into the library and see that the cursed bouquet had risen, like Lazarus, to flourish on my desk?

I brought them home in the evening, though, so now that danger is past.

To be honest, there's probably no drama attached to them at all. They are probably the remnant of a bygone event at the school, or maybe someone just didn't want to bundle them up and carry them home for the long weekend.

Yes! We have a long weekend! Monday is a bank holiday in Britain. Woo hoo!

I'm off to the dentist this morning for my regular cleaning and checkup. I'm debating whether to tell them about the sensitivity I'm having in my back molar -- the one with the gold inlay. Every once in a while, especially when I drink something cold, that tooth buzzes like an electric wire. Sigh. I suppose I should speak up, just to make sure the inlay is sound, but I really don't want anyone to whisper the dreaded phrase "root canal."

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Dunnocks

Last night, as Dave and I were watching TV, we noticed two little brown birds swooping through the air over the patio, one hot on the tail of the other. They would perch on the fence, flit down to the ground, forage through the low garden growth for God-knows-what, and then pop back up to the fence. And then chase each other some more.

They moved so fast I have no idea whether one was consistently the chaser and one the chasee. I couldn't even get a picture of the two of them together.

I'm assuming that this was either a courtship dance or two male rivals duking it out. The birds are dunnocks, small brown and gray critters found almost exclusively in Europe (including the UK, Brexit or not).

Here's one perched on the fence, watching as Martin the mouse raids the peanut feeder.

Apparently they're quite adventurous birds. Females may mate with multiple males, and the males have a system to rid the females of a rival's sperm before mating with her. They also sometimes mate with multiple females. Dunnocks are the swingers of the bird world! (Check out this article if you're interested in the details.)

It's Wild Kingdom around here.

In other news, I was interested in the kerfuffle over Ann Coulter's speech at Berkeley -- the one that got rescheduled and then cancelled because of threats of violent protests. Although I personally loathe Ann Coulter and don't see much value in what she says, she ought to be able to speak, and protesters ought to be able to protest her appearance. It's the violence I don't get. The USA is a civilized society (supposedly) founded on the ideals of free speech, right? Why do people -- especially groups from off-campus -- feel the need to take things to a physical level? I don't fault the university for postponing the speech, and I don't fault Coulter in this dispute, even though she's politically abhorrent -- I fault the protesters for creating a dangerous environment.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Martin, John and Pink Dog Poop

A mish-mash, today, of pictures I've been meaning to blog...

First of all, Martin the mouse is back! Dave spotted him on our peanut feeder a couple of evenings ago. He's very tiny and moves really fast, so getting a photo of him isn't the easiest thing. (And of course there's no way of knowing whether this is really Martin or any one of his or her no doubt many relatives. As far as we're concerned, they are all collectively named Martin.)

A random sticker I found in Newcastle. I've been unable to figure out whether John is someone I should know from popular culture...? In any case, he's apparently worth knowing, because he's a great guy!

Olga, looking sheepish on a carpet of flowers. She doesn't understand why I make her stop walking every once in a while and point a black metal box at her.

The orange azalea down the street is blooming. I really like this plant -- it's such an unusual color -- but it looks a bit twiggy and sparse so I hope it's healthy. The surrounding garden is pretty much doing its own thing!

I pass this tree stump on my way to work every morning. Did whoever cut it down make that pattern just to be decorative? Or does it better ensure the death of the tree? I wonder.

For some weeks now I've been noticing that someone's walking around the neighborhood spraying dog poop pink. This seemed very curious until I looked online and learned that it's actually a project by local government. Residents can request cans of pink chalk spray to "embarrass" dog owners into cleaning up after their pets. Frankly, I'm dubious about this plan's effectiveness. I don't think people who leave dog droppings behind are going to be easy to embarrass.

Finally, our amaryllises are blooming -- well, all except that poor shriveled one in the back. They still look stunted and weird, but at least we got some flowers. I bought an antifungal to treat them, and at the end of the season we're going to lift the bulbs are replant them. Hopefully next year's crop will look better!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Foosball and a Cold Snap

Here's another bit of interesting detritus that Olga and I found on one of our walks. People throw away the darndest things! It's because we all have way, way too much stuff -- far more than we need.

Interestingly, a few days after she and I came across this, I was talking to our friend Mark and he mentioned that he wanted a foosball table.

"Oh," I said, "I know where you can get one cheap!"

Of course it was long gone by that time, and I didn't really expect him to take it anyway. He complained that some foosball tables have three players in the last line rather than one, and how completely inappropriate that is. (Foosball nerds!) This one, at least, looks like a regulation table in that sense.

Thanks to those of you who chipped in with calming words about my basal cell carcinoma. I had no idea this was such a common thing! I'm glad I'm in such good company. I'm sure my skin carries all kinds of sun damage from my years in Florida and Morocco.

There's one picture in particular of me, taken in the late '70s during a vacation to the beach, that just makes me wince every time I see it. I'm smiling and happy and as tanned as George Hamilton. We used to use sunscreen, at least some of the time -- it was this horrible green/brown stuff from a tube that my dad used to call "goose poop" -- but clearly I was absorbing a lot of rays.

Our rescued foxglove is still hanging in there, even growing a bit. I think it's going to be fine, though I want to get it off the kitchen windowsill and into the ground. Maybe this weekend, after our cold snap is past. The celebrity poppies aren't looking so great, but I think two of them are still alive, at least. The sidewalk pavers did indeed strip out all the plants from the area where I rescued them -- so they'd have been toast if I'd left them there. Makes me feel like I accomplished something!

It's 38ยบ F this morning! Nature seems unconcerned, though. A blackbird is in the birdbath as I write, and a blue tit is on the feeder. I guess they're used to this sort of thing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wisteria and Carcinoma

It's wisteria season in London, with housefronts and garden walls suddenly draped in thick purple blossoms. I love this time of year, when those woody, twisted old vines come so brilliantly to life.

So remember how I mentioned that spot on my forehead that won't heal? I went to the doctor about it yesterday morning. She believes it's a basal cell carcinoma, which sounds scary but apparently isn't -- cancer, but non-metastatic and very slow-growing. She all but yawned while diagnosing me. I'm supposed to get a referral to a dermatologist within the next six weeks to have it removed, with either dry ice or topical medication. Personally, I hope they go for the former. I want it off now.

I'm a little surprised because I'm usually careful about sun. I always wear a hat when I'm out for any length of time. But I guess I collect a lot of sun on my forehead even when I'm out for short periods. It's a lot of acreage -- my own personal solar panel.

I stopped by Homebase after work to buy a new light bulb for the kitchen -- so that's one minor domestic crisis resolved. I give myself a pat on the back whenever I successfully buy a light bulb in this country. The vast array of options is truly bewildering.

We're having a bit of a cold snap today and tomorrow -- low temperatures just above freezing. We haven't done anything special for the plants. I think as long as we don't have frost we'll be fine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Electrical Works and Fierce Creatures

We must be having sunspots. Out of the blue, my computer and my camera aren't speaking to each other, so I can't download any pictures except from my iPhone. And our kitchen light blew out last night, so now we need a light bulb, and meanwhile I have to pack the dishwasher in the dark!

Modern problems. First-world problems, as they say.

Speaking of which, last night I was up late trying to restore all the artwork in my iTunes library. For some reason, when I got my new computer and moved my iTunes over, a lot of the album art didn't come with the music. I have no idea why this happened. Last night I ran an automated "fetch the artwork" function in iTunes, and that worked for a lot of the albums -- but not all. About 30 were left with no art, and some had the wrong art. So I fixed those manually. I realize this truly is a first-world problem, but I enjoy looking at album cover art -- don't you? One aspect of vinyl records that I truly miss (possibly the only one) is that they provided such a big canvas for artwork and liner notes.

What's your favorite album cover? Here's one of mine from childhood -- the cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Tarkus." My dad and stepmother had that album and I was really into that mechanized killer armadillo. Kind of a Transformer before there were Transformers, you know? Inside the gatefold was a pictorial story in which the armadillo fought a lion with a scorpion's tail. I don't think I ever actually listened to the music.*

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath again yesterday. In fact, we did our Four Heaths walk, across all four parts of the Heath, and Olga was exhausted when we got home. She slept all evening and all night and she's sleeping now.

Meanwhile, all of nature is reproducing like mad. Pigeons seem to be nesting in the neighbor's climbing rose -- the one that looms over our patio in its most overgrown state. I've seen one clumsily flying up there clutching twigs in its beak, and disappearing into the foliage. Yesterday I refilled the bird feeder with mealworms, which I'd stopped using over the winter because the birds didn't eat them quickly enough -- and as I write, two starlings are squabbling over them. Everyone has babies to feed!

*Addendum: I just listened to it on iTunes. To enjoy it, you might have to be high.

(Photo: A vessel shaped like a coiled snake in the window of a pottery studio in Hampstead, seen on our walk yesterday. I've been passing this thing for years and always meant to photograph it. It looks like it cracked in the kiln, which is a shame, but it's still pretty cool!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lassie Finds My Hat

Yesterday morning, as I was walking Olga, we came to an intersection. Rather than turning right, which we always do at this particular corner, Olga was very insistent that we walk straight, along very busy Finchley Road. I never really like walking along Finchley Road, but I gave in. So we walked a few hundred feet and there, lying on the ground, was my hat.

Now, this is very weird, because I hadn't even realized my hat was missing. I had a vague idea that I hadn't seen it in a few days, but at this time of year I don't really need it so I didn't give it much thought. There's no question, though, that the hat lying on the sidewalk was mine -- because who else in my neighborhood has a beanie bearing the logo of the University of South Florida football team?

I haven't walked on Finchley Road for a very long time. I think I must have dropped it on the side street where Olga and I walk almost daily, and it made its own way around the corner -- in someone's hand, or via the wind, or something. It was a little the worse for wear -- torn open on the top, in fact --  as if it had been run over by countless cars. But I brought it home and washed it and sewed up the top seam, and it's as good as new. (Well, OK, not that good -- but as good as before I lost it.)

When I told Dave this story, he looked at Olga and said, "Good job, Lassie!"

I'd like to think Olga wanted to walk along Finchley Road because she somehow knew my hat was there. But honestly, that's just too crazy to believe. I think it was a happy coincidence.

At the risk of exhausting you with dog news, here's Olga on our neighborhood basketball court yesterday morning. We found two balls there -- both already punctured, thank goodness! She had fun chasing them around, and I let her bring the football home. In a sure sign that she is slowing down a bit in middle age, she has not yet torn it apart. It's sitting right in front of me, on the floor rug in our living room.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell about yesterday. I read, did laundry, poked around in the garden, took Olga to the West Heath. We're back to some fairly chilly, cloudy weather this weekend, so there will be no basking in the spring sunshine, unfortunately. In fact, I may need my hat!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Dreaded Red Blotch

These are our amaryllis(es) this year. They're coming along, but they don't look so great. Some of the flowers seem stunted and dry, and one bunch died outright.

These never quite got successfully launched.

I'm not an expert, but I think the plants have a fungus known as red blotch. See those red streaks on the flower stems (especially on the one above)? And the red patches on the leaves? They indicate red blotch.

From the reading I've done, our options at this point are to buy a systemic fungicide or discard the bulbs entirely and start over. Even though I'm not a fan of poisons, I hate to toss the plants -- we've had these bulbs five years and I always enjoy them, and properly cared for, they should last for decades. So I'm leaning toward the fungicide option. I still need to explore availability and cost, though.

Granted, these plants have been a little bit wonky from the very beginning -- often one bulb lags behind the others or produces stunted flowers. In retrospect, I think I've been seeing signs of red blotch for years -- slightly curled or misshapen leaves, for example. I just never recognized them as a serious problem. They may have had the fungus even when we first bought them. Argh!

Friday, April 21, 2017


I've been listening to "S-Town," the newest podcast from the producers of "This American Life" and "Serial." I just finished it last night, sitting on our bench in the back garden.

It was a very strange experience.

I'll be careful not to spoil any surprises. The podcast began as an investigation of a murder in small-town Alabama, reported to the producers in a letter from a disgruntled resident. He quips that he lives in "Shit-town," and he turns out to be quite a colorful character -- both genius and, possibly, lunatic. Soon, circumstances change and the podcast becomes something else entirely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but about halfway through I began experiencing nagging feelings of doubt about its journalistic purpose. The murder tip doesn't pan out, and we're left with an examination of one man's small-town life, in extremely intimate detail. And that man, for reasons that become apparent, doesn't fully participate in revealing all these details about himself. Is the show just high-brow reality programming, radio-style? Or is it something more -- an exploration of what it's like to be different in a remote, rural community?

As a former newspaper editor, I found myself questioning the story's raison d'etre. I think it succeeds, in the end, but if I'd put it together myself I'd have done two things differently. I'd have elided some of the intimate physical details about this man's past relationships, the reporting of which frankly seems like an unnecessary violation of privacy. And I'd have discussed -- somewhere along the line -- why the podcast remained relevant, despite the loss of its initial journalistic purpose. I understand wanting the listeners to determine that for themselves, but I think it would have helped us crystallize our view of the finished product. (Surely there were internal debates among the producers about whether to continue reporting, given the twists and turns in the story -- what were those like?)

Anyway, it's hard to explain all this if you haven't heard the show, and I don't mean to drag it down. I found it fascinating and I looked forward to every episode. (There are only 7 of them.) If you're at all interested in Southern culture, give it a listen.

(Photo: A church in Walthamstow, East London.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

E-Mail Calamity and Laura Nyro

We had a little incident at work yesterday in which a guy mistakenly sent an e-mail chain of medium sensitivity to, literally, the entire school. Or at least all the employees. It popped up in my e-mail box and I began reading it, thinking, "I don't think I was supposed to get this." And then, like any nosey reporter, I kept on reading right to the bottom.

Then a second e-mail arrived advising us that the previous e-mail contained "personal information" and should be deleted. Not only was it too late, in my case, but telling people that an e-mail contains something they shouldn't see is a sure-fire way to get them to read it. He should have just said "disregard my previous e-mail" and left it at that.

I did feel bad for the guy, though. It's such an easy mistake to make.

I don't think I've ever done it in a work context, but back in the mid-'90s, when the Internet was new, I once wrote an incredibly personal e-mail to a guy I knew. He and I had a fling at a journalism convention, and I wrote him about our time together, and then somehow sent the e-mail to everyone in my address book! Because the Internet was new, this wasn't many people -- maybe ten -- but I remember my mother was on the list. I was mortified. Several of the addresses were already out of date, including hers (thank God). I called the others up and asked them to delete the e-mail, and they said they did, but even then I was pretty certain they probably read it first.


In other news, I read an article in the Guardian pointing out that it's been 20 years since songwriter Laura Nyro died. Do you know her? I remember being shocked at the time because she was only 49. (Younger than I am now!) She wrote several songs that were big hits in the late '60s and early '70s for The Fifth Dimension, like "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Save the Country." I was an ardent fan of The Fifth Dimension in high school (despite the fact that they broke up in 1975 and everyone around me was listening to Devo and Billy Idol), so I knew her work well.

I remember trading computer messages with a copy editor at work about Nyro's sad, untimely death. This copy editor and I had a somewhat contentious working relationship, but this was one subject we bonded over. I expressed embarrassment about my infatuation with The Fifth Dimension. "Oh, but they made some great harmonies," she said.

(I still have about six Fifth Dimension albums in my iTunes.)

Nyro was an amazing pianist and singer herself. Her album "New York Tendaberry," from 1969, is one of my favorites.

(Photo: A cafe in Walthamstow, East London.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Flat Inspection

Yesterday after work Dave and I had to race home to meet someone from our landlord's property management company who came to inspect the condition of our flat. For some reason, this year, before renewing our lease, they wanted to take a look. We didn't mind, but it's strange that suddenly they've taken an interest.

Maybe it's because during our three years here, we've had to prevail upon them to replace both the dishwasher and the washing machine. They think we're The Who, smashing up the place.

Anyway, the inspector noted a few problems like potential damp corners near the back door, broken floor tiles in the bathroom (they were like that when we moved in, honest!) and a need to redecorate the living room (!). Our white living room wallpaper is peeling and bubbling a bit, it's true, but we don't really notice it. I doubt the landlord's going to go down that road.

Dave pointed out a problem with the electric oven -- when we turn it on, it sometimes turns off by itself in mid-bake. I think there's a faulty switch or connection somewhere. We've told them about it before but it's a very intermittent problem, usually easily corrected by turning the switch again. But the inspector seemed to think this is a potentially major issue. We'll see if anything changes there.

In between all this, the handsome and very chatty young Portuguese guy doing the inspection told us all about his dogs (a Yorkie and a Pomeranian), his partner and his flat in Vauxhall.

Very chatty. I think he liked us -- which hopefully bodes well for lease renewal!

In other news, I made an appointment next week with our new doctor to have a suspicious rough spot on my forehead checked out. When you have fair skin and you grew up in a very sunny place, skin issues are bound to arise and must be addressed. I couldn't get this spot to vanish with the cream I got from our old doc, so it's back to the experts. (And let me offer a word of advice -- never Google "skin spot that won't heal." Terrifying!)

(Photo: A huge rhododendron on Hampstead Heath.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Celebrity Poppy Rescue

Our plant rescue nursery persists!

You may remember that the sidewalks are being re-paved in our neighborhood (resulting in the destruction of the volunteer hellebore). Well, a few days ago I spotted some small poppy seedlings growing in a crack beneath a neighbor's garden wall. They'd obviously spread there naturally, and yesterday morning, while walking Olga, I gently extracted a few of them to save them from the pavers. I brought them home and potted them -- two of the five wilted because I didn't get enough root, but the others seem to be holding their own for now. We'll see whether they survive!

We had purple poppies in our front garden last year that appeared all by themselves. This year, I don't see a trace of them. The shrubbery has filled in and less sun is hitting the ground, and poppies like sun. Since those guys may not come back, I hope these new seedlings make it.

(They were growing in the sidewalk in front of the home of some of our famous neighbors. Dave joked that I was stealing celebrity poppies -- he threatened to commit the act to video -- but I think if they're just random volunteer seedlings growing in the cracks of a public sidewalk they're fair game, don't you? Especially when they're doomed to death by re-paving? I wasn't taking them out of the neighbors' garden.)

Meanwhile, our rescued orchid -- the one that produced a single malformed flower several weeks ago -- has opened a second bud. This one seems normal.

I know all this must seem incredibly inconsequential (and slightly insane) when the United States is about to go to war with Russia, Syria, North Korea and God knows who else -- but you know, I just have to deal with things on my own level. I can't stop North Korea, but I can save plants.

We spent yesterday here at home, walking Olga up to Fortune Green and around the cemetery. Also, I finally booked my flight to Florida for July, direct to Jacksonville. I'm committed!

(Top photo: A sunny sky, jet trail and building under construction, seen from our street.)

Monday, April 17, 2017


I mentioned the in yesterday's post that the bluebells are out on Hampstead Heath. Here's what they look like -- a blue carpet beneath the new, fresh green trees. We have bluebells in our garden, too, but for some reason ours don't seem quite as far along.

Bluebells come in a variety of colors, including white and pink, but most of them are purple. Here's a clump growing out in the middle of a field.

Olga loves them too!

I walked her on the Heath yesterday for about three hours, and then we came home and watched "The Towering Inferno." Dave spent the day planting in the garden. We have one more day of break -- today, a holiday known in the UK as "Easter Monday" -- and then we're back to work!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The New Pound

Olga is starting this Easter morning in a bit of gastric distress. She's out in the yard eating grass again. That dog -- I don't know what she gets into, but sometimes her stomach is tied in knots. I think it comes from drinking out of the birdbath, but just try to stop her!

We're having a low-key weekend around here. No rabbits, no jelly beans, no egg hunts. I did laundry yesterday and hung it out to dry in the intermittent sunshine. The photo above was my attempt to contrast the flowers on my shirt with the real vegetation in the garden.

That shirt, by the way, has a label from Structure, a store that I used to love and where I bought a lot of clothes as a younger man. But I bought it at a Salvation Army store in Tampa, and I consider it one of my prize thrift store purchases. Literally every time I wear it, I get a compliment. Don't you love clothes like that?

Dave and I went out for breakfast yesterday at a neighborhood cafe we've been wanting to try. It's a very no-frills breakfast-and-lunch place, popular with road workers and builders and other working guys. (And they were all guys, at least while we were there.) You can't get eggs florentine and it's not going to win any culinary prizes, but for plain ol' bacon and eggs it was great.

Then I took Olga to the West Heath. The bluebells are out in the woods, patches of purple on the shady forest floor. Olga ran and ran. She didn't get out much while I was in Newcastle -- her dog walker didn't come on Friday because it was a bank holiday -- so she really needed it. I'll probably take her out today, too.

While I was holed up in my hotel room in Newcastle on Thursday night, I finally had a chance to watch a movie I've been meaning to see -- an old TV dramatization, from 1981, based on the National Guard shootings at Kent State University about a decade earlier. I remember watching it when it was first broadcast, but I was never able to find it later on VHS, DVD or streaming video. Finally, browsing online, I came across a rather low-quality posted version. It wasn't bad, and I remembered quite a bit of it from the first time around. The cast included a very young Ellen Barkin.

Also in Newcastle, I got my first new pound coin! It was in my change when I bought my bus ticket to see the Angel of the North. I meant to take a picture of it but of course I spent it before I had a chance. They're very shiny coins, at least at this new and fresh stage. Apparently they're much harder to counterfeit than the older coins, a ridiculous proportion of which (1 in 30) are said to be fakes. I don't know what metal the old ones are made of, but they're pretty heavy and make a rather distinctive "clack-clack" sound when they knock against each other. These new ones, on the other hand, are lighter and supposedly even include a hologram, but it wasn't obvious to me.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Newcastle and Gateshead

I made it back OK from Newcastle yesterday evening, coming home to find Dave and two of his coworkers immersed in a daylong curriculum planning exercise in our dining room. Happily, not long after I arrived, it morphed into a warm, welcoming chili dinner!

So let me share some of my Newcastle photos. I spent almost all morning wandering the town. I walked down by the riverfront, where the arched Millennium Gateshead Bridge echoes the shape of the older Tyne Bridge, just upstream. In between, there's the silvery slug-shaped Sage Gateshead concert hall.

There seems to be a lot of urban redevelopment going on in central Newcastle. That made for good photography -- you know how I love old, weather-beaten shopfronts.

I walked through the elegant university campus and into Leazes Park...

...where some of the pathways are inlaid with metal flowers.

Also in Leazes Park, I found a herd of urban cows! That white cow kept an eye on me the whole time while its companions grazed. Clearly it was the lookout cow. I kept my distance.

This is another view of the Sage Gateshead. I called it "slug-shaped" above, but from this angle it looks more barrel-shaped. It's a very interesting building -- the shape seems variable, depending on the angle, and the color reflects whatever's going on in the sky.

This is another interesting building on the Gateshead riverfront. It's now a modern art center, and if I'd had more time I would have visited. I told Dave when I got home that we have to go back to Newcastle at some point. I didn't get to do all that I wanted!

Just before I got on my 3 p.m. train, I was sitting in Starbucks when this group of young women walked by, clearly ready for a night on the town. I'm not sure how they manage in those heels!

Overall, I was very favorably impressed by Newcastle and Gateshead. I expected industrial grit, but the cities are quite artsy and youthful and vigorous. I'm serious when I say I need to go back!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Angel of the North

Here I am in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, practically next door to Scotland. One of my main reasons for coming up here yesterday was to visit the Angel of the North, Sir Antony Gormley's huge iron colossus at the southern edge of Gateshead, across the river from Newcastle.

The Angel was erected in 1998, and I remember reading about it back then, when I lived in Florida. It seemed like such a strange, otherworldly creation. (I'm intrigued by Gormley's work -- you may remember that I visited his sculpture installation at Crosby Beach near Liverpool last spring.)

Here are the practical facts: The Angel is built on top of eight reinforced concrete pilings sunk into bedrock, which are themselves topped with a concrete slab and plinth, all underground. Holes were dug 33 meters deep and fortified with sand and cement to support the foundation. Supposedly, even though the sculpture looks like it's supposed to take flight, it can actually tolerate winds of more than 100 mph.

It was cast in Teesside using a special type of steel that's supposed to develop a rusty patina. It stands 65 feet high, with a wing span of 175 feet, and weighs 208 tons. As you can see, it dwarfs its many visitors.

And let me just say, for a Thursday afternoon, I was surprised at how many people were visiting! I counted more than 30 when I got there about 1:30 p.m.

I posted a picture to Facebook and initially used the pronoun "she" to describe the Angel. But actually, it has no gender, at least as far as I can tell. So I edited my post. The Angel is an "it."

Getting to the Angel wasn't hard at all. There's a public bus (No. 21) from the Eldon Square area of central Newcastle to Chester-le-Street (which is a great name for a town, isn't it?) and it runs right past the Angel. It cost £2.50, and I paid the driver cash.

I walked back to Newcastle, which was a bit of a schlep but it allowed me to do some other photography and to visit the Shipley Art Gallery, a small museum featuring some stunning Japanese pottery, local art and artifacts pertaining to the history of Gateshead, a handful of paintings including a large Tintoretto and -- at least when I visited -- an exhibit on furniture and product design.

I also found these two Indian restaurants:

They were about a mile apart, I think. Are they related, or are they competitors? Very mysterious!

Last night I found Newcastle's "gayborhood" and had a drink at a pub there, reading my New Yorker, before finding dinner in the city center. (Bangers and mash -- not a very unusual choice, really.) Today, more exploring the city before I catch my train back to London in the early afternoon!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Queer Art

Early this week I found myself walking around humming "Centerfold," the J. Geils Band tune. It's one of my regular earworms, and somehow it got stuck in my head again, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. (I haven't heard it in years, and it's not in my iTunes library.) And then I read, to my surprise, that J. Geils himself had just died. It was a strange moment of synchronicity -- but then I wondered if I'd heard the song being played somewhere in the background as an homage to Geils. Maybe that's what put it in my head in the first place? Very mysterious.

Yesterday I went to the Tate Britain to see "Queer British Art 1861-1967," apparently the first exhibit dedicated entirely to LGBTQ art in Britain. It was quite extensive and included works by well-known artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Francis Bacon, and lesser known (at least to me) ones like Simeon Solomon, Henry Scott Tuke, Dora Carrington and Keith Vaughan. It even included the door to Oscar Wilde's prison cell, which was both fascinating and chilling to see -- a reminder that it's only been a few decades since gay sex was decriminalized in the UK, and that it's still criminal in many parts of the world.

After the exhibit I went walking across the Vauxhall Bridge, and for the first time noticed the huge sculpted figures on its support columns. Clearly I've never looked closely at this bridge before! I need to go back and do some more photography there, but here's an iPhone view:

That's Alfred Drury's sculpture of "Fine Art," seen from atop the bridge. The allegorical figures, which include Agriculture, Architecture and others, are much easier to see when you're on shore, but they were too distant to photograph from there with my phone. I got a cup of Starbucks coffee and sat on a bench beneath the fortress-like MI6 building (Britain's version of the CIA), and enjoyed a few minutes of sunshine.

Today I'm off to Newcastle. Coming to you tomorrow from Northumberland!

(Top photo: A man painting in Walthamstow, on Monday.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death (Almost) in the Afternoon

Yesterday we were invited to the home of some colleagues from work, Carolyn and Mark. They live in Northwood, far northwest London, on a street that I (coincidentally) photographed for Bleeding London several years ago. When Carolyn gave us directions, I thought, "I know that area!" So finding the house wasn't too difficult.

They have small daughters who love Olga, so we brought her along, after receiving assurances that their cat would be safely stashed behind closed doors on the third floor. The girls played with Olga in the back yard, throwing the Kong over and over, and everything went smoothly until, of course, the cat got out. Next thing I knew, Buddy and Olga were face-to-face on the grass, giving each other the Death Stare from about four feet apart. Olga launched herself and my entire life flashed before my eyes, as I thought, "My dog is going to kill this cat right in front of these young girls!"

Fortunately, Buddy moved fast -- faster, Carolyn said, than she's ever seen him move -- and made it through a hole in their backyard fence, thereby averting bloodshed. The cat hadn't returned by the time we left last night. I think he was probably watching from a safe distance to make sure that Olga was gone first.

That was more excitement than any of us counted on -- especially Buddy.

Otherwise, it was a good visit. I consumed two vodka martinis over the course of the afternoon, and though I am normally a gin man, I must say, I do see the appeal of the vodka. Dave and Mark cooked a gargantuan slab of beef, and we -- joined by our friend Keith -- had an excellent meal before coming home bleary-eyed on the Tube.

(Photo: Dave and Olga walking in Northwood.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hay and Sunshine

We're at the peak of blooming tree season, it seems. Any walk around London leads past billowing clouds of pink and white. Yesterday morning I took Olga to Gladstone Park, and we found these cherry trees growing in a tight pair, one seeming to bend over the other protectively.

Getting Olga to the park helped alleviate my guilt about not taking her anywhere at all the day before. We had a long walk, and then her dog-walker showed up in the afternoon and took her for another long walk.

She's still in bed as I write this.

I spent the afternoon on my own outing, a photo walk through Walthamstow and Snaresbrook, in far northeast London. I hadn't been to that area in a while and I got some interesting shots. This was the most curious shop I found -- a place that specializes in providing hay bales for parties. Can they really make their overhead? Maybe that's why they're closed.

I walked past the William Morris Gallery, which looks like it would be an interesting place for a future visit -- but I didn't go in. Not this time.

I eventually wound up in the Epping Forest, a large, linked collection of wooded tracts that snake from Leyton up into Essex. I was in an area called the Leyton Flats, where there were lots of people out picnicking, bicycling and boating.

After a few hours of walking, I stopped in the village of Wanstead and had coffee and carrot cake at Costa, watching the passersby from a table on the sidewalk. It's such a relief to have reached a time of year when sitting out is possible. Then I made my way back home.

Yesterday morning I potted our rescued, rooting foxglove. I dusted it with rooting powder and put it in special seed compost, and it's still looking perky this morning, which I consider a very hopeful sign. If we can keep it going for a while and get it to produce a few more roots, we can put it in the ground and I'm sure it will prosper.

I also sorted out my situation with British Airways. I called them up to buy a ticket to Florida with my credit from last summer's unused Copenhagen flights, and for some reason they balked because the credit stemmed from flights for two people and I only wanted a ticket for one. But then they said they could issue me a full refund instead! Hello?! Why wasn't this option made clear to me nine months ago? I have no idea. But supposedly I'm getting the Copenhagen money back and I can just go buy my own ticket for Florida -- an infinitely simpler solution.

Monday, April 10, 2017


I spent yesterday mostly here at home, reading what are probably two of the darkest explorations of human nature I've ever encountered -- Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust" and "Miss Lonelyhearts." They're noir novels from the 1930s filled with drunken louts, uneducated misfits and broken dreams. I enjoyed them a lot. West created vivid, unsettling images:

     The detective saw a big woman enter the park and start in his direction. He made a quick catalogue: legs like Indian clubs, breasts like balloons and a brow like a pigeon. Despite her short plaid skirt, red sweater, rabbit-skin jacket and knitted tam o' shanter, she looked like a police captain.
     He waited for her to speak first.
     "Miss Lonelyhearts? Oh, hello..."
     "Mrs. Doyle?" He stood up and took her arm. It felt like a thigh.

I took the dog for a long walk in the morning, but I never got around to taking her to the Heath, which was my intention. She didn't seem to mind. When the sun is out she seems perfectly happy to stay home.

Adding even more noir to my day, I watched "Citizen Kane," which I hadn't seen in years. It's still a great film, with striking visual elements -- all that smoke and slanting light -- and a young Agnes Moorehead and Ruth Warrick, who in their later years were fixtures on daytime television when I was a kid.

I Skyped with my mom in the afternoon and began making plans to go to Florida in July. I think I'll go straight to Jacksonville this time, where my mom and brother are based, rather than flying into Tampa. The flights will be less convenient but it'll mean a lot less driving. Dave will probably stay here to care for Olga and the garden. I'm trying to use the credit from British Airways for those Copenhagen flights I had to cancel last summer when my dad was so sick -- but doing so is proving to be a complicated process. Hoping to get it ironed out today.

(Top photo: Afternoon light in our bedroom.)