Monday, April 30, 2018


Dave and I took the bus yesterday afternoon through South Kilburn and saw that more of the old council estate there has been demolished. When I photographed the area last fall many of the buildings were already empty. Now they're coming down.

Here's a shot from last September from almost the same perspective, just for comparison's sake.

And here's a super-close up of the shot above, showing some of the graffiti on the inside of the demolished tower. I wonder if the demolition workers painted it? And yes, where is George? Hopefully not in that building.

This is part of a much larger regeneration scheme for the South Kilburn neighborhood. Brent Council has a web site with the details, but it looks like they're replacing the old high-rises with a mix of new low-rise housing, some affordable and some for private sale.

Anyway, Dave and I just happened to pass through on the way to lunch with our old neighbors Chris and Linda in Notting Hill. We met with them in our old 'hood and went to a strange and incredibly noisy little restaurant, part clothing boutique and part cafe, where I had French toast. We also had a chat with our old neighbor Joan, and saw Charlie, who still stands guard on her balcony at the ripe old age of 15.

Then Dave went home and I went back to Selfridge's on Oxford Street, where I exchanged the pants (trousers, to the Brits) I bought Saturday for a more comfortable pair. Still black, but cut straight-leg rather than slim. I think I'll be much more inclined to wear them!

Then I climbed back on the bus and came home.

This woman sat behind me on the bus. She talked into a pink sparkly phone the whole time, and kept repeating, "May, I told you. It's the best when you're drunk. I told you, May."

I wondered whether she was trying to remedy May's drunkenness, or enhance it. But then she got off the bus, so I'll never know.

Despite all this activity, Olga was not neglected. She got a good long walk in the morning. We paused for a photo beside some colorful posters (and someone's old duvet, apparently?) near the Thameslink station.

And here's a new shot from our garden cam -- a nocturnal visitor! (The date and time stamps are completely wrong. I've just never gotten around to setting them correctly.) I haven't seen a fox out there in a while, so I'm glad to have evidence that they're still coming around. I wish they'd eat the slugs!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Jacket

I was amused to come across this store yesterday in Marylebone. "Steve News" -- isn't that what my blog is, for better or for worse?

The Steve News of the day is a bit exciting. Remember that jacket I saw when I was Christmas shopping at Selfridge's back in December? The blue one with the purple sheen, the one I thought was so fantastic but couldn't imagine ever owning, the one I have thought about over and over ever since?

Reader, I bought it.

Yes, it is impractical -- possibly the most impractical thing I have ever bought. I will probably be able to wear it twice a year. But I love it so much. I'm holding it open in the photo so you can see the lining.

I took the bus down to Selfridge's and picked up a whole outfit, actually -- a white shirt and a pair of black pants to go with said jacket. The pants are a bit slim-fitting and though they look OK, they might drive me crazy (reminiscent of the masochistic torture pants). We shall see. I think I could get away with wearing the jacket with nice jeans, too.

In the afternoon I was in Marylebone (walking past Steve News) because our school's spring music concert was held at a church there. The concert went very well. Dave and the other music teachers have reason to be proud. (And no, I did not wear the jacket. I think it's more of an evening thing, for those extremely rare evenings when I'm not sitting on the couch with a snoring dog.)

I put sunflower seeds in one of the bird feeders, and now I'm remembering why sunflower seeds don't work so well. Pigeons galore! Flap-happy chaos around the feeder pole!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lots of Questions

Another picture taken earlier this week during our short erstwhile spring, which now appears to be in retreat. Here's what we're in for, according to

Those temps are in Fahrenheit, obviously. Despite living in the UK for almost seven years, I still haven't managed to learn temperatures in Celsius. If someone says to me, "It's going to be 18 degrees today," I have no concept of what that means. It could mean boiling hot or freezing cold. I'm like an old immigrant grandma, wearing her babushka and stubbornly unable to speak the local language.

Anyway, the point is, the weather's not looking so great. I'm trying to keep in mind that "April-showers-bring-May-flowers" cliché.

Speaking of which, my wildflower bed is doing a whole lot of nothing. I've put four packages of seeds on it, and I have some tiny, tiny sprouts, but they're not really growing. Is it just too chilly out there? Maybe I didn't prepare the soil enough. But I keep thinking, they're WILDflowers. How much preparation do they need?

And what is Kim Jong-un up to, anyway? How did he go from being a swaggering tyrant threatening to blow us all off the planet to a cuddly, smiling peacemaker? Once again I feel, as I have so often felt over the last two years, like I'm navigating the Twilight Zone.

I'm sad about Bill Cosby -- not that he was convicted, because I believe those women and he should have been convicted. But I'm sad that someone I looked up to for so many years, someone I thought had his heart and morals in the right place, turned out to be such a hypocrite. I mean, we all make mistakes and we're fallible beings, but his behavior goes beyond mistake-making. I've admired Bill Cosby since the days of "Fat Albert," and I hate to have to let that go.

And now apparently Trump is coming to England. One of my colleagues has an apartment near the U.S. Embassy and she has pledged to have a party for anyone who comes and protests his visit. I would protest anyway, but who can resist the added enticement of a party?

I made an appointment to go back to the dentist in about a month to have my temporarily-filled tooth crowned. As I lay in bed last night I thought about how absurd this whole procedure has been -- if you count my last few checkups with my previous dentist, when I began complaining about pain in that molar, it all adds up to seven appointments to get this tooth fixed. Does that not seem completely insane? To get the tooth crowned I need two, and I needed two for the root canal, plus the initial consultation with the new dentist after two failures by the previous dentist to find anything wrong. SEVEN appointments. And actually eight, because I had to pop in a month and a half ago for that extra round of antibiotics.


Friday, April 27, 2018

iPhone Photo Parade

Well, the weather is yucky today and I have nothing much to say, so how about some random iPhone photos?

First, a peculiar piece of metal with magnetic white squares stuck to it, apparently left out for the trash man. I have no earthly idea what it could be.

Dave and I found this poster on the way to Homebase one morning. I thought it had something to do with a religious cult, but then I found out Baby Blue Aura is a band.

At Homebase we found...hedgehog kibble? Who knew?

(We didn't buy any. I'm sure we don't have any hedgehogs in our garden, and with Olga around we wouldn't want to attract them even if we could. As I understand it the only population of wild hedgehogs in London is in Regent's Park.)

I found a fiver while walking Olga! Woo hoo!

Remember the "free zone" near the library, where someone would set out peculiar stuff for others to take? Well, it's disappeared, and this sign was left in its wake. Apparently the free zone has come to an end, at least at that location. (I haven't seen it surface anywhere else.)

Thames Water has been doing repairs to a water main on the high street. The project seems like it's been going on and on for weeks, though I'd be hard pressed to say exactly when it began, and the hole is gigantic. The road is already a traffic nightmare through here, and the construction has closed off a handy pedestrian crosswalk, so here's hoping the work ends soon.

I found more old carvings in a tree trunk on Hampstead Heath. Looks like Chenille and Ken, maybe? I'm not sure why there are two years mentioned -- maybe they dated for six years, or maybe they weren't there at the same time!

An old-fashioned wooden sign on a garage near Wormwood Scrubs...

...and finally, another sign that I found on my way home from work last night. The other side was blank. Strangely ambiguous! I wonder if anyone congregated?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plugged In, Part 2

Remember that artwork I posted a few weeks ago, the stencil of the electrical sockets on a dirty wall? Well, I found a cleaner version that shows the full piece, with the wires running from one plug to another. So this is what it's really meant to look like. Circle of life? Futility of purpose? I have no idea.

Our camassia lilies, which are new in our garden this year, are blooming. They're native to North America, so they make us feel right at home! Dave bought some camassia bulbs for one of his coworkers as a housewarming gift a couple of years ago, and when we saw them in her garden we decided to get some of our own. They got nibbled when they first came up, but whatever ate them didn't persist so they grew just fine. The biggest risk seems to be the dog breaking off the flower stalks.

And here's our latest gardening dilemma. It's an inula that sprouted between some paving stones on our patio, of all places. Inulas get very large -- at least as tall as I am, which is six feet or so -- so we've been debating whether to move it (which would entail pulling up the pavers on the patio), kill it or let it alone to do its thing. It's an excellent example of the right plant in the wrong place. Dismantling the patio seems extreme but if the inula survives there I think it will do its own damage, so...

...stay tuned on that one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Bright Cow, via Twitter

I've been experimenting again with Twitter. I know, I'm a decade behind, but I've learned that it's a good way to keep up on very local news and events. If you can "follow" a couple of people who are observant about what's going on in your neighborhood, you can learn a lot.

I've tried tweeting a bit -- I asked what those hay-covered cages are at the cemetery, for example -- but I didn't get any responses. Maybe because no one follows me? I tried to direct the questions to others using the @AccountName method, but maybe they still didn't see them. I did find out, though, that there was a wildlife habitats workshop at the cemetery a week or two before those cages showed up -- so I'm sure they're somehow related to that.

I also learned about the existence of this groovy cow (above) in a mews in West Hampstead. I've taken pictures there before, but that was before the cow showed up. I photographed it yesterday morning on my way to work.

I'm still ambivalent about Twitter (I deleted my seldom-used original account several years ago) and I don't think I'll be on it a whole lot, but I think it might come in handy here and there. And no, I'm not going to follow Donald Trump.

Speaking of things that make us cranky, I had the crankiest morning yesterday. It was just one of those days when everything annoyed me. We're coming up on lease renewal time for our flat, and I always get tense at about this time, imagining that we'll be evicted and have to go live somewhere else. So that was part of the problem...

...and then I snarled at a woman at work. I was trying to get coffee in the staff lounge, and a gaggle of people were standing around the machine, taking their time and chatting and not really getting coffee, so I was waiting for access. And another teacher swept in, pushed through the gaggle and set her cup on the machine. I stepped up to her and said, "I WAS WAITING" in a not very friendly voice. And then I felt terrible, thinking, "Oh, Lord, I need to work with this woman." So I walked it all back and apologized, and told her I was having a bad morning, and she let me get my coffee, and then I sent her an e-mail apologizing again and she came down to the library and we had a good laugh about it. So all's well that ended well.

But, just for the record, she did jump the queue.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Collecting Impulse

More adventures in home maintenance yesterday morning: We had to have a plumber in to clear an external drain where the upstairs neighbor's washing machine empties. The wash water comes down an outside wall through a pipe and into this ground drain, which had become blocked. Consequently the washing machine was emptying all over the concrete alleyway at the side of the house. (It was even flowing partly onto Mrs. Kravitz's patio, and I'm astonished she never raised a ruckus about it.)

Anyway, the plumber came, mucked around with the drain, and now we think it's working -- although there was still a damp area when I came home from work yesterday afternoon, so I'm not 100 percent convinced.

As my mother says, "Everything has to be done at least twice."

Yesterday, one of my blog commenters mentioned the apparent contradiction between my minimalist decorating sense (as shown in the link to pictures of my old New York apartment) and my tendency to pick things up, like the t-shirt I found.

It is absolutely true that I am a collector at heart. I always have been. As a child I collected stamps, leaves, beer cans, bottles, bottle caps, seashells, rocks, coins and stickers, among other things. And I didn't just accumulate them -- I curated them, looking up proper identifications and, in some cases, typing up records of where I found them and under what circumstances. I was an obsessive little kid.

As you've seen, I still have those tendencies -- on Sunday, in fact, I picked up these beautiful feathers while walking the dog at Wormwood Scrubs. (I think they're from a pheasant -- probably a pheasant who met a bad end. I've never seen a pheasant at the Scrubs but I guess they could be there.)

That's why blogging is such a good activity for me. It allows me to type up that same record, in narrative form. Basically you're reading an account of all my daily collecting, whether objects or experiences. And I don't have to keep the objects, having recorded them here. (I didn't keep the feathers.)

Which is where the minimalism comes in. See?

I also really, really hate any kind of waste. If I can give a discarded object a second life, I will.

Here's a very minimalist plant from our garden. It's a sage that Dave planted about ten days ago, and as you can see, it was completely stripped of leaves almost overnight by our voracious slugs. I pulled it out of the ground yesterday morning and put it in a pot, giving it some protection on the patio table -- talk about a second life! -- but I'm not sure it's even going to survive at this point.

What is up with our supercharged, weaponized slugs?!

(Top photo: Shoreditch, on Wednesday last week.)

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Day in the Sun

So yesterday, Olga and I walked past the twee bakery on the high street and I'll be darned if the dog bowl didn't have water in it! What are the odds? Did they read my blog yesterday?!

I swear that is the first time that's happened.

This (above) is how we spent our entire morning -- sitting on the bench in the garden, Olga comfortably atop her Union Jack dog bed. Dave was still out of town so we had the entire day to ourselves. I sat and read an entire issue of The New Yorker, and started my newest book, "The Woman in the Window," which is good so far. Olga snoozed in the sun.

Here's the obligatory annual photo of bluebells in the garden...

...and the bleeding hearts, aka dicentra, are blooming too. In fact, so much is suddenly blooming at the moment -- the aquilegia and the candytuft, our yellow wallflower, our white camellia. It's crazy out there. And I'm seeing bees and hoverflies and early butterflies, like cabbage whites and holly blues.

Speaking of dicentra -- and there really is a connection here -- I just learned that my old apartment in New York is on the market again. I was on Zillow looking at something else, and I tried some of my old addresses just out of curiosity, and found the listing. The apartment looks much swankier than it did when I lived there. They remodeled and expanded the kitchen and put it some fancy appliances. The bathroom, however, looks exactly the same.

(The dicentra connection is that there was a dicentra in the back garden of the apartment building, and I looked forward to it blooming every year.)

And finally, at the risk of seeming completely insane, I want to show you my newest t-shirt. New to me, that is. Yes, I found it, on one of my walks. It was discarded in a field with some other clothing that I did not rescue, because after all I was walking and besides, one has to be selective about these things. As you can see it got a bit faded from lying in the sun -- but I like that. Call it fashionably distressed. The logo is pretty small, in the center of the chest. I dig this shirt, and given the message, finding it seems appropriate!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pink Trees

It's pink tree season here in London -- the cherries are out and looking vibrant. Olga was especially impressed with this one. (OK, I was impressed and Olga was indifferent.)

And then there was this one, which we found in Hampstead on the way to the Heath. It had musical accompaniment from someone in a nearby house who was playing the flute. Not some middle-school kid, either -- someone who knew what they were doing, which gave the scene a very cultured air. I love it when spring comes and people open their windows and share their sounds with passersby.

We passed another house in Hampstead where electric guitar was pouring out of the windows. Good electric guitar. I thought, is that a record? Or maybe someone famous lives there, and they're practicing? Could I be passing the house of a '60s rock legend and have no idea?

It was a perfect day for walking, overall -- sunny and cool. And then we got quite a bit of rain in the night, and now, this morning, it's sunny and cool again! Ideal garden weather!

Speaking of which, I think the slugs are eating my wildflower sprouts. Argh! I thought, being wildflowers, they would be somewhat immune to pests. But apparently not our pests, which are seemingly bionic. I just went out to look at the seed patch and there were several little worm-like slugs crawling around on it, and some gnawed leaves on the sprouts. I also interrupted two earthworms mating, which was a puzzling sight. (Sorry about that, worms!)

Yesterday I ran some errands on the high street. A new-ish bakery moved in a few months ago, down by the Thameslink station, and I've decided I don't like that place at all. It's just a little too twee. Dave and I went there once and I think we concluded it was fancy looking and a bit expensive and just not very impressive. Plus they have a dog bowl out front that never has any water in it. It's always dry as a bone. Olga sticks her nose in it every time she passes and comes up with nothing. Somehow I find that incredibly annoying.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bootcamp and a Tulip

Another spectacular day, weather-wise, although I spent most of it indoors in "Google Bootcamp" training at work. We learned about all the various gizmos Google offers, from spreadsheets to web-page building to file transfers and sharing. It was actually quite fascinating, and I immediately realized several applications for these programs that ought to simplify what I've been doing up to now.

I even thought of a way to send my brother those audio files of us as children that I had digitized, via Google Docs. And I had already used Google Slides to make the slideshow that I used last week to talk to the eighth graders about street photography and street art. It's all very handy stuff!

I got the results of my lumbar MRI -- according to the experts, my "vertebral alignment is fairly well preserved," but "there are mild degenerative changes seen of the lower two levels." These include a "mild central disc protrusion causing impingement of the thecal sac" on one vertebra, and "a mild diffuse disc bulge with associated disc deydration" on another. What this means, I have no idea, but I think I basically have a 50-year-old back.

As I said, my pain had mostly gone away even by the time I had the scan, so I think whatever was bothering me earlier this year was transient. The doctor recommended physical therapy if necessary, but I consider the matter closed unless I start hurting again.

Remember our ragged, slug-damaged tulips? Well, we have successfully coaxed a flower out of one of them. I think we may get another bloom, too -- but then it looks like that will be it for the tulips this year. I'm happy just to get one!

Also, did I mention that I re-seeded the wildflower bed? You may remember I planted it at the beginning of April, when the weather was still pretty cold and wet, and I tried walking the seeds into the ground but probably wound up with many of them stuck to my shoes. In any case, I haven't seen a whole lot of sprouts. So I put another packet of seeds down, as well as some verbena seeds. Maybe now that the ground is warmer and the sun brighter, we'll see more activity!

(Top photo: Near the West Hampstead tube station, yesterday.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Goings-On in the Garden

We've been working a bit in the garden, and now that spring has finally decided to arrive (we've turned off the heat, and I'm wearing shorts!), I wanted to show you what things look like out there.

I had to mow the lawn a few days ago for the first time this season. It always amazes me how quickly the grass grows back once the early-spring rains stop and the yard dries out and gets less muddy.

See that flower bed at lower right? Dave created that last weekend -- he expanded the existing bed and gave it a bit of a curve. In that space he planted foxgloves and a hydrangea that he moved, and I put in some nasturtium and snapdragon seeds.

The Solomon's seal is coming up, and I put a little garden fence around it to keep the dog out. She always breaks off a bunch of those stalks, but this year (so far) she hasn't. The fence is surprisingly effective!

Remember the foxglove sprout I rescued from the side alley, where it was growing in a pipe joint? I rooted it and planted it last year, and it's now huge. I hate to count my chickens before they're hatched, but it should bloom this year. Stay tuned!

This is a close-up of the central bed. Look at all those forget-me-nots! And we don't plant them -- they just self-seed, every year. I love them.

Our poor horseradish plant has been virtually overrun in its blue pot. There are a few daffodils in there, and a big clump of valerian seeded itself there, and there are violets as well. The horseradish hasn't even appeared yet -- it's just a few tiny sprouts poking above the ground. The daffodils and violets will fade as the horseradish grows, so I think it should be fine. Everything I've ever heard about horseradish emphasizes how indestructible and vigorous it is.

One of my seed trays! As I mentioned, I got some free packs of cosmos and zinnia seeds from a magazine at work, and I found a packet of echinacea seeds in a returned library book. So I planted them all. The cosmos and zinnia are doing well (there's another tray besides this one), but as you can see, the echinacea didn't sprout at all. The seeds were several years old (packed for 2012) and I guess they were no longer viable.

Oh -- I think the sweet pea seeds I saved from our plants last year have sprouted, too. I haven't seen any activity from the hogweed and it's too early to tell about the poppies.

I've put some of the outdoor pots in "plant jail" -- just as if they were DEA or mob informants, this is for their own protection! They contain planted seeds, and the wire mesh keeps out the squirrels. I'll remove the mesh once the seeds sprout and have a fighting chance. This pot contains nasturtiums. Again, stay tuned!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Field Trip to Shoreditch

Yesterday I helped chaperone a group of students on a field trip to explore street art and street photography in Shoreditch, East London.

I've done this for the last few years around this time. It's a good springtime activity and it gets the kids out of the classroom and lets them have some creative fun. Before we go, I give them a slide show about how to compose photographs and showing them the work of some famous street photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier.

The walk is guided by a street-art expert, who tells the kids about the artworks and the artists who create them. Giving them a focus -- the graffiti and murals -- helps avoid a situation where they're just wandering around whining, "I can't find anything to take a picture of!"

We got lucky yesterday with amazing weather and some good opportunities for street photos. There are definitely varying degrees of interest among the kids, but you'd expect that, right? They're not all going to be into it. All I know is, I had a great day, we didn't lose any students and it was nice to be out of the library for a change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Me and My MRI

You may remember I was having pretty severe lower back problems a couple of months ago. My back was aching in ways I had never experienced before -- a combination of dull ache when I was motionless and sharp, stabbing pain when I moved, accompanied by an overall feeling of unwellness. As far as I know, I hadn't injured it at all, so I was mystified about the source of the problem.

In late March I went to a doctor and got a referral to get an MRI. My insurance declined to cover it (of course), but the doctor knew a clinic that did them relatively inexpensively, so on Monday I had it done on my own dime.

I had a CAT scan about 33 years ago, when I was having some severe headaches in college. (They weren't from drinking, I swear!) But I'd never had an MRI. They're not the most fun -- lying inside a surprisingly small tube, surrounded by a huge piece of machinery that buzzed and clanked and beeped. I don't know yet what was revealed, if anything -- the clinic gave me a CD containing images from the scan, but my computer can't open the files so I haven't seen them. A separate set of images were sent to a radiologist for interpretation, and at some point a report will be sent to my doctor.

My guess is it won't show anything of note. (Here's hoping, anyway.) Since just before I got the referral the pain has been much better. I suspect whatever was bothering me has mostly healed up on its own. I still get twinges, but nothing like before.

Anyway, I will report back, if I learn anything more.

Dave and I have been watching the new "Lost in Space" on Netflix. In January we went through a brief flirtation with the old '60s series in reruns -- until we just couldn't stand it any more because it was so bad. The new one, on the other hand, is really good. There's a darkness to the characters that the earlier show didn't even begin to explore, the women finally have more to do than serve coffee, and the robot is fantastic. It's a very effective reboot!

(Photo: A fire hydrant cover in a sidewalk in Hampstead.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our Exotic Garden

We had a bit of excitement at the bird feeder on Sunday when these two parrots showed up. Dave said they were back yesterday, too. In just a few weeks we've gone from the frozen north to the tropics without leaving our living room!

(I think they're officially known as rose-ringed parakeets.)

They danced around on the feeder for a while. I would have thought they'd have trouble getting to the seed, as big as their heads are, but they got in there easily enough.

They even fed each other!

(Here's a closeup of the shot above...)

They weren't always graceful. In true parrot fashion they seemed a bit clownish. But they sure brightened our day!