Sunday, March 31, 2019

Woolwich to Grove Park

Remember how I said I was going to start walking the Capital Ring, a 78-mile circular path around the city? Well, I began yesterday!

You may remember that I finished walking a much longer circuit, the London Outer Orbital Path or LOOP Walk, late last spring. That walk sits roughly at the outer boundaries of London's boroughs. The Capital Ring, on the other hand, is more urban, and divided into 15 segments. I did two of them yesterday, from Woolwich on the Thames in southeast London to the residential neighborhood of Grove Park -- about 11 miles.

The walk started along the Thames, where I found this degraded but still interesting mosaic (above) on the riverfront path.

The walk took me right past my friend Sally's front door, in Charlton. So I brought along a houseplant I've been meaning to give her -- a rooted cutting from my purple heart plant. Carrying it was a major pain but fortunately Sally's house was close to the walk's starting point, so I dropped it off early on. (Not before showing it the Thames!)

I grabbed a coffee and a piece of banana bread at a cafe in Charlton Park, where tons of people were out playing football. I passed Charlton House, built in 1612 and "one of the best examples of Jacobean architecture left in London," according to my map.

Along the route I saw lots of these tiny blue flowers -- I believe they're speedwell. I also saw bluebells, wood anemone and lots of other blossoms. It was smart to begin walking in spring!

In Castle Wood, part of Oxleas Woodlands, I passed Severndroog Castle, a weird triangular structure built to honor the land's prior owner, Commodore Sir William James. James worked for the British East India Company, and the castle was built by his widow after he died in 1784.

I didn't go inside, but there's a little cafe at the base.

I also passed Eltham Palace, where I went with Sally years ago, but it's not open on Saturdays so I couldn't actually visit.

More impressive blossoms!

The Oxleas Wood was full of chattering, screeching parakeets. They're beautiful but they sure make a racket.

I passed this cat, lying on a log sharpening its claws. It looks like it's restrained, but I think it's actually just lying inside that loop of twine. It was a very weird scenario. Cats are weird.

And speaking of weird -- isn't "Five Witches" a great name for a house?

By the time I got to Grove Park my feet were pretty sore -- I'm out of practice at walking such distances! The Capital Ring seems busier than the LOOP. I was often all alone on the LOOP but I was seldom alone on the Ring yesterday, with other walkers usually visible either in front of or behind me. It will be interesting to see whether that phenomenon holds true for the entire route.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

More on Climate, and Joni

I finished "The Uninhabitable Earth." I know it's a drag for you to come to my blog and be inundated by doomsday prophecies, but I have a few more thoughts on climate change that I didn't get into yesterday.

First, although I firmly believe the world is wildly overpopulated and growing more so, I am NOT saying we shouldn't have ANY more children. Obviously we need some children to continue managing our civilization. David Wallace-Wells, who wrote the book, fathered a child while he was working on it, and he argues that we must not withdraw from the future entirely, but continue to invest and engage in it. Having no children was absolutely the right decision for me, personally, for a variety of reasons -- but I understand that others want children and I think that's fine.

I do believe, however, that as a planet we should be talking much more actively about family planning and population control. Instead, there is deafening silence from our political leaders on this subject. Inevitably our population will be regulated, either methodically by us or chaotically by nature. It's our choice.

In terms of climate, here's what I think is going to happen in the short term. Within the two or three decades I hopefully have left to live, we're going to see more of what we're already seeing: Occasional devastating storms, floods, droughts, fires and other forms of climate disruption, some of them huge and costly in both life and property damage. We will see periodic inundations of our cities, like New Orleans during Katrina and New York during Sandy. (Next on the list, according to Wallace-Wells: Miami Beach.) We may see brownouts as utilities are rationed. We will see greater migrations of people from places where the climate is going to grow truly unbearable, in hotter parts of the world like India, Pakistan and parts of Africa. The degree of conflict we experience during these migrations is partly up to us, isn't it?

In between all that, we'll continue to enjoy our day-to-day lives, and one way or another, we'll adapt -- just as we have been for the past decade or more as climate change was already making itself felt. (And hopefully we'll elect better leaders who will at least try to address the problem.)

I don't want to seem too simplistic, and I know it's easy for me to say from my relatively unscathed perch in temperate England. But what else can we do?

And now for something completely different: Does anyone remember this Joni Mitchell ad for Gap? It came out in 1990. I got to thinking about it the other day and wondered if I could find it online, and voila -- there it was. I love this photo of Joni (by Herb Ritts) -- does she have guitar-player hands or what?

At the time, I tore the ad out of a magazine and laminated it. I took it with me when I moved to Morocco in 1992, and hung it on the wall over my bed as part of a collage (pictures and postcards from family and friends, paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe).

In fact, here's a picture of me with Joni clearly visible. (My legs were banged up from bicycling accidents -- I was an avid, and apparently not-too-careful, bicyclist at the time.) I am sitting on my "ponge," which is what many Moroccans traditionally use as a sofa and/or bed. I slept on that thing for two years! I'm holding a Berber butter churn, which I bought because I loved its submarine-like shape, but I wound up not keeping it -- it was way too heavy to bring back to the states. I gave it to a neighbor.

In fact, the only object in that photo that I still own, aside from a few of the pictures, is the little black kohl bottle you can only barely see peeking in from the left side of the frame. It's on my bedroom windowsill now.

That seems so long ago -- but we were talking about global warming even then!

(Top photo: London seen from Hampstead Heath.)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Flowering Quince and Climate Change

This big flowering quince bush is in Hampstead, on the way to Hampstead Heath. Here's the whole thing:

We have one in our garden that Dave planted several years ago, but it's nowhere near this big. (Which is a good thing, because it's right next to the camellia and I'm not sure there's room for both of them -- not the best planning on our part.) Anyway, ours gets a few flowers every year, but nothing like this.

So that's the happy news for the day. Now for the serious stuff...

I'm about 3/4 of the way through "The Uninhabitable Earth," David Wallace-Wells' tome about climate change and global collapse, and I'm having some interesting reactions to the book. Primarily, despite his barrage of frightening statistics, I'm having trouble really absorbing it on an emotional and psychological level. I don't doubt that global warming is occurring, and I don't doubt that things could get as bad as Wallace-Wells says they will. But I think I'm suffering from some typical human psychological adaptations that he names in the book -- primarily "anchoring," which means I read all his scary information but then look outside and everything seems fine, the garden is in bloom, the sky is blue, and I re-anchor in the non-threatening present moment. Or I think, well, all this terrible stuff could happen, but we also don't really know -- beyond the indisputable fact that we're causing harm, a lot of climate science is conjecture -- so couldn't the extremes just as easily not happen? Again, I'm not a denialist, at least not like certain Republicans. I realize the planet is warming, as we've seen with our intensifying floods and hurricanes and whatnot. But I'm not sure I'm living the reality as deeply as I should be.

And then what do we do with the information? Fortunately I already vote a climate-conscious ballot, which seems to be Wallace-Wells' main recommendation. He disparages other individual solutions like recycling, going vegan and campaigning against plastic as red herrings, distractions from the real issue. "The climate calculus is such that individual lifestyle choices do not add up to much, unless they are scaled by politics," he writes.

He's also weirdly focused on the fate of humanity to the exclusion of other creatures -- despite the sad picture of the dead bee on the book's cover. "None of (the book) concerns the tragic fate of the planet's animals, which has been written about so elegantly and poetically by others that, like our sea-level myopia, it threatens to occlude our picture of what global warming means for us, the human animal," he writes. I confess, I tend to respond more to the plight of the animals than humans. We brought all this on ourselves with our greed and rampant reproduction. The animals are blameless.

The book is full of shocking statistics. Did you know, for example, that Bitcoin, which involves energy-intensive currency management systems that I only barely understand, now produces as much carbon dioxide each year as a million transatlantic flights? (Step one: Let's get rid of Bitcoin!) Or that humanity is burning 80 percent more coal now than we were in the year 2000?

So much of the environmental degradation Wallace-Wells discusses has occurred only in the last two decades. It makes me wonder how different the world would be if Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000. Had that knife-edge vote tipped the other way, we would be in an entirely different place -- in many respects.

Anyway, it is a thought-provoking book, and I have no doubt that humanity is headed for an indefinite and possibly endless period of climate-related struggle, with displaced refugees and competition for resources and conflict and war. (I continue to boil this down to the fact that there are too freaking many people.) The vast majority of the fallout from climate change will occur beyond my own life span, but we're seeing it already and even the next few decades should be interesting. Buckle up!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bathing Beauty II

Remember the bathing beauty down the street? The one in the front garden of one of our neighbors? Well, she's still there, having her apparently eternal soak. In the years since I last blogged about her, someone's touched up her lipstick and given her a new bathing cap -- but otherwise the elements appear to have taken their toll. Her hair has pretty much rotted away. And now she's being engulfed by her vegetal soap suds.

I forgot to tell you, we had a bit of local excitement the night before last. Dave and I were watching TV in the evening when we heard helicopters circling overhead and lots of police sirens. "Something's going on!" I told him. This went on for a while, and when I looked at the news the next day, I discovered this story. (Basically, two guys were seen tampering with a motorcycle on the street, and when challenged they ran up to a rooftop and stayed there about seven hours while police tried to talk them down. They may or may not have been armed.) It sounds like kind of a non-event, ultimately, but it sure made a lot of racket, and that street isn't even all that close to us.

Seedling report: Out of curiosity I excavated one of our inactive dahlia seeds. I wondered if it had sprouted but then not broken the surface of the soil. (I thought maybe I'd planted them too deeply, in which case I was going to remove some dirt and see if that helped.) Well, I couldn't even find the seed, so apparently it never germinated. I guess they were just duds. So, as it stands now, I've had success with two burdocks, three hollyhocks, four honesty and one dahlia. Considering I planted 200 seeds, that's not so great -- but as I've said all along I had no idea whether many of them were viable, since I collected them myself. Oh well.

(I'm not counting the cosmos, which I planted later. It's still too early for them to make an appearance.)

I'll leave the trays until April 9. Then they'll be a month old and if no more seeds have sprouted by then, they're not going to!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Rescue Orchids

I often pass this cat, watching the world go by, as I walk to work. Cats are so easily entertained!

The 8th Graders had their book-unwrapping events this week. As I suspected, they didn't even notice my fancy wrapping job. I saw several of them tear into their packages without so much as a glance at the paper. But I knew when I was wrapping I was positioning those pictures mostly to entertain myself.

Today I have to go in a bit early and talk to the same classes about photography. I do this every year, and then the students set out into the city for a day to take pictures. This year they're going to Highgate Cemetery, so I've added lots of cemetery shots to my presentation. I've developed quite a little sideline in cemetery photography, thanks to my many cemetery walks with Olga! (Finding pictures without her in them was more of a challenge.)

Dave and I have given up on the TV show "Billions." The characters just seem so empty. I can't identify with people whose only goal in life is to squeeze money out of the financial market like it's a sponge. It's such a purposeless existence.

These are our rescue orchids -- both blooming at the moment. As you can see, one is a deep solid purple, and one pale pink. I pulled them out of trash cans here and there. Lots of people throw away their orchids when the blooms fade, but of course they'll bloom again with a little care, as these have done.

On the seedling front, I have three more honesty plants and another hollyhock coming up. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Pink Tree

Olga and I passed this tree on Saturday morning on our walk, near the Black Path in West Hampstead. I took an iPhone picture and then went back later with my real camera.

Somehow I don't like this shot as much, despite that beautiful sky. I was a bit too far away, and besides, Olga's not in it!

The house on the right is the one that collapsed a year ago during renovations. It was later revealed that the house previously had been damaged by a delivery truck, contributing to the collapse. The owners, as I understand it, are now trying to get permission to move forward with restoration.

Someone asked in a recent comment what I thought would happen with Brexit. Honestly, I have no idea. We are in limbo while the government tries to sort itself out. I would love to see a second referendum, which I think is a perfectly reasonable proposition given what voters now know about the complexity and benefits (or lack thereof) of leaving the EU. (Of course, once again, Dave and I wouldn't be able to vote, which would make me crazy. I'll wish we had moved faster on our citizenship paperwork in that case!) To be candid, though, I'm not sure another referendum is very likely.

I was talking to our Brexiteer friend Chris the other day, and he said he believes voters didn't understand how complex the process of leaving would be. (He didn't say he himself didn't understand it, but that seemed implied.) "The government has made a complete hash of it," he said. If Chris is wavering, that suggests to me that many people must be.

And then we have Trump. The Mueller report didn't reveal any intent to collude with Russia, and somehow I'm not surprised by that. Frankly, I think most of Trump's crew are too stupid to knowingly do something that calculated. I do think they blundered into a situation where they used information from Russia (via Wikileaks) to their advantage, and as reliable news outlets have continually reminded us, Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction. Frankly I'd like to see the USA just move forward, hold its nose and get through the next year and a half before kicking Trump out in the next election -- but of course now Trump is promising all sorts of revenge investigations against his enemies, which will probably consume the rest of his term.

I'm just going about my daily life, trying to stay sane. So...isn't that a pretty pink tree?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Sunny Spring Walk

Olga and I took a long walk on Hampstead Heath yesterday, where the tips of the branches on the chestnut trees are unfurling like feather dusters. Maybe they're horse chestnuts. In any case, I'm glad to see those fresh green leaves.

It was the first sunny day we've seen in a while. For the past week or so we've been socked in by clouds and gray skies. I was worrying that my garden seedlings weren't getting enough sun on their windowsill!

"I lost myself, let me be you"

Speaking of seedlings, we've had a bit more activity. Another burdock and one of the honesty seeds have sprouted. Still only one dahlia, and no hogweed, foxglove, lavender or zinnia. I'll give them at least another week.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Brexiting with Dina

Yesterday wound up being VERY busy. Another old friend was passing through London -- my pal Dina, from the Peace Corps. I last saw Dina in 1992 -- even earlier than my friend Carolyn, who visited a few weeks ago. I wasn't sure I'd even recognize her when we met up at the British Library. But of course I did, right away, and we went to lunch (with her 80-year-old mother, who was traveling with her) and had a great time catching up on our lives.

We went to a restaurant near King's Cross where I ordered pulled pork -- and when it came, that's all it was. A bowl of pulled pork. No bun, no fries, a minuscule serving of cole slaw. It would have been a very weird lunch, except that Dina's mom didn't want her hamburger bun so I wound up with it. At least then I could make a sandwich.

After lunch I took them to Trafalgar Square to see the big Brexit march. I really didn't want to miss this event, and we even marched for a little while -- but the crowds were so big that the procession was moving very slowly, and I was a little concerned that if we got down toward Parliament we'd be gridlocked and unable to get out. So I mostly just took pictures.

There were lots of interesting characters out and about!

And also lots of everyday people, showing their desire for a new vote on Brexit. News reports say there were about a million people there -- one of the largest demonstrations in London's history.

The costumes and signs were very creative!

We peeled off the march and went back to the National Gallery, where we had coffee in the cafe. Dina and her mom decided to check out the museum and I came home, exhausted!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Rose Window

Yesterday a math teacher came to my desk between classes and said she needed a librarian's research skills. (I'm not a trained librarian but I am an ex-journalist, which seems like it ought to count.) Apparently she was planning a class activity that required her to know the dimensions of the rose window at Westminster Abbey -- only she couldn't find its size mentioned anywhere. Would I help?

Given how famous Westminster Abbey is, you'd think this would be easily Googled, right? I thought I'd have the answer in ten minutes, max. Well, let me tell you, it took me about an hour of scanning web pages and reading library books before I found any reliable mention of the window's size. I tried architecture books. I tried travel guides. Everyone talks about when it was built and rebuilt and by whom, blah blah blah, but nowhere -- even on the Abbey's web site -- could I find any mention of how big it is.

Finally, online, I found the scanned back of an old postcard in an archive in San Diego (!) that said it was "100 feet round," which I took to mean circumference. And then I found an object for sale in Westminster Abbey's online gift shop based on the window, and the description said the real thing was 32 feet across. The math works out, so I went with those measurements.

Good grief.

If you take to Google yourself and find the answer faster than me, don't tell me.

In other news, I'm beginning to think nearly all my seeds are a bust. It's been two weeks since I planted them, and I still only have four seedlings -- one dahlia, one burdock and two hollyhocks. I knew the wild seeds I gathered were a shot in the dark, and that zinnia I saved was dicey, but I expected all the packaged dahlias to come up. Weird! I hope to get the cosmos planted this morning. Maybe I'll have better luck with those.

(Photo: A sculpture in Golders Hill Park. Look at those magnolias!)

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Resurrection

The big news of the day is that our Chinese lantern plant is not dead, as we had feared. I'm not sure I ever wrote about this, but we've had terrible luck growing Chinese lanterns. We lost two plants in two consecutive years -- one we planted at the wrong time and one got demolished by slugs (or something). Our third attempt seemed to flourish until last August or September, when it abruptly turned yellow and then brown and wilted away.

I knew they died back in the fall, but August seemed too early. Still, we left the pot alone all winter to see what would happen. I was already thinking about what else I could plant there, but lo and behold, yesterday I found lots of little sprigs coming up. Not only isn't the Chinese lantern dead, it seems to have grown underground all winter. It's much bigger now. Hopefully we'll get some lanterns this year.

I finished "Unsheltered" yesterday. I've heard people criticize Barbara Kingsolver for being preachy about economic issues and climate change, but I didn't find that to be a problem at all. Of course, I agree with her 100 percent. Maybe if I didn't I'd feel differently. I'm now tackling David Wallace-Wells' "The Uninhabitable Earth," which delves deeply into climate change and is probably going to be a downer, to put it mildly.

(Photo: Creative cable storage on our high street.)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Decca and a Sombrero

This building, which I pass on my walk to work every morning, is the old Decca recording studio in West Hampstead. This is where The Moody Blues recorded some of their best-known albums, including "Days of Future Passed" and "In Search of the Lost Chord," where David Bowie recorded his first single, and where The Zombies recorded "She's Not There." The Beatles auditioned for Decca here in 1962, only to be rejected. (They also played at the Railroad Tavern, a pub just barely visible to the right.)

I've mentioned nearby Billy Fury Way several times on this blog -- a somewhat forbidding path running from West End Lane to Finchley Road along the railroad tracks. Occasionally I walk Olga there. Well, it is so named because English '60s rocker Billy Fury also recorded here at Decca.

It's kind of cool to pass the building (now home to the English National Opera) and think of all the history that occurred there. Those Moody Blues albums, in particular, are favorites of mine.

I spent yesterday at work wrapping more books. Fortunately they're all done now -- all 140 or so. I wonder which luckless 8th Grader is going to wind up with that book bearing an image of Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the dark lords of Brexit?

Here's my latest scavenged find -- a sombrero-shaped chip bowl complete with compartments for salsa and guac! Someone left it on top of their rubbish bin on the street, clearly hoping to find it a home. It looks like it's never even been used. Is it tacky? Absolutely! And probably politically incorrect as well. But I couldn't resist!

Dave merely groaned.

Last night I planted our sweet pea seeds. And did I mention that I got packets of poppy and cosmos seeds from a magazine subscription at work? So I need to get the cosmos planted as well. I have one more empty seed tray just waiting for them. The poppies, fortunately, can just be scattered directly on the ground.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Yellow Violet

This is what's known as a "dog's tooth violet." Kind of a confusing name, since it's not violet and doesn't bear an immediate resemblance to a dog's tooth.

I bought it at the grocery store the other day and it's already been ravaged by the squirrels -- so even though this particular blossom is a bit past its prime, I thought I'd better photograph it. Who knows how long this plant is going to last? The squirrels love anything bulbous, and the dog's tooth violet comes from bulbs. I should have known better.

We've had some action on the seedling front! So far, two hollyhocks and one burdock have germinated. I don't see any activity from anything else, but it's only been 11 days.

This is how I spent part of my workday yesterday. Remember how, in years past, we've wrapped books for a library activity we call "Blind Date with a Book"? We've usually done it for the 8th Graders on Valentine's Day. Well, this year Valentine's Day came and went and the teachers didn't mention it, so we thought they'd moved on to something new. But no -- they merely delayed it until now.

Because the romantic connection is no longer as obvious, we've dropped the Blind Date concept. But the kids will still choose a wrapped book (obviously not knowing what it is) and when they unwrap it, they can either keep it or exchange it for one unwrapped by a previous student. In this way, we'll hopefully get kids reading new things.

So yeah, yesterday I wrapped books. Like, dozens of books. We're using newspaper and I tried to at least make it interesting by centering some kind of image on the front of each package. (The dog, by the way, is Snoop the staffy -- read his sad/happy story here.)

Last night I had another surreal customer service experience. I went to the grocery store to pick up some trash bags. But when I looked at the shelf, they didn't have the tall white kitchen bags we usually buy -- only very large ones or tiny ones for our food-composting caddy. I called Dave (who usually does the shopping) and he verified they weren't the right ones. So I asked someone at the store where the other bags were.

"Oh, those are the only ones we stock," he said. "We've never had any others."

I flashed back to my recent experience at the cleaners, where I was told that I couldn't get my shirts laundered despite having done it there for the past five years. Don't you love it when they tell you not only that your product or service isn't available, but that it's never been available?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring String

For years now I've noticed bits of white and red twine tied to blooming trees in springtime. I never quite knew where this tradition came from or what it meant. I think I remember seeing it in New York, too.

The bits of "spring string" in these two photos are fastened to a magnolia on my walk to work. Here's another on a different tree from 2014.

Apparently it's a tradition from the southern Balkans. In Bulgaria, the ornaments are called "martenitsi" and according to the ever-dependable Wikipedia, they often take the form of two dolls. Simpler woven bracelets and ornaments are common too. Sometimes they come with beads, as you can see above.

I learned about them after I posted the photo above, taken on my walk near Canary Wharf several weeks ago, to Flickr. Someone immediately identified it as a martenitsa. Apparently they are worn until the wearer sees a first sign of spring -- like a blooming tree -- at which point they're taken off and tied to the tree as a sign of good fortune.

I am not an expert in any of this, mind you, having just learned about them myself. This is just what I could glean from the Interwebs. Pretty interesting, huh?

In what may be another sign of spring, I found a ripped-open fast-food bag at the back of our garden this morning, with bits of bread, lettuce and tomato spread out around it. Apparently a fox scored a snack from a local trash can and chose to enjoy it on our lawn! (Or was it Mrs. Kravitz, hurling her dinner leftovers over our fence in a purple rage?)

Yesterday I spent the day immersed in database usage statistics at work. Doesn't that sound exciting?!  I'm supposed to compile annual reports showing how much our databases have been used during the previous school year, but I confess I'd slacked off -- I knew I'd skipped at least one year, but it turns out I skipped two. (Perhaps it should give me pause that no one noticed!) So I got caught up on all that, which is a relief.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lungworts and Retirement

I know I talked about going on a photo walk this weekend, but the motivation just wasn't there. Yesterday was a nice day but I felt like I had so much to do at home, I'd better just stay here and do it!

I worked a bit in the garden, lightly trimming the bushes in the front of the house and cutting back the geraniums. Our lungworts are blooming, as you can see. They're in the same family as borage and forget-me-nots, which is why they look somewhat similar. We have a spotted variety (above) and a plain one (below). I'm seeing a few tentative forget-me-nots out there, too.

Then Dave and I took to the high street to run some errands. For Christmas I gave him a gift card to a cookware shop, so we redeemed that -- he wanted a new nonstick skillet, and we wound up getting three of various sizes. Of course that was more than the value of the gift card, but that's fine. This shows why retailers like gift cards -- not only do they get to sit on the money for a few months (I bought it in December), but card-holders always wind up buying more than the card will allow!

We visited a new pastry shop, where we got some desserts -- a smooth and glossy piece of caramel cake for Dave and chocolate pudding for me. We now have SIX bakeries on our high street, all doing some combination of breads, pastries and breakfasts. Frankly, we seem oversupplied. I don't know how they all stay in business.

Then we went to the grocery store where, on a whim, we picked up something called Eccles cakes -- "a Lancashire tradition," according to the package. We had no idea what they were, and when we asked the cashier she didn't know either. I guess she's not from Lancashire. Turns out they're miniature pies filled with currants and raisins. We had them with our afternoon tea and they were good. I'd buy them again.

I took Olga to the cemetery, where our walk was interrupted by gathering storm clouds of such darkness and magnitude that I decided we'd better hoof it home -- and it's a good thing we did because we got thunder and hail!

Finally -- and here's the day's major achievement, saved for the end -- I filed our American income taxes. Woo hoo! It's always such a relief to get that done. This year we actually had to pay a tiny amount ($24). It's the first year we've made more than the permitted exemption for foreign income, and because we paid off Dave's student loan back in 2017 we no longer have that interest to deduct, so we basically broke even. Maybe we need to set aside even more of our money in pre-tax retirement savings to avoid that situation in the future.

We were at a party recently where some of our coworkers were all talking about their retirement plans. One guy's moving to France, another to Palm Springs. They asked us what we intended to do, and we confessed that we hadn't really considered it. They're all older than we are, but not by much, and I suppose we do need to start thinking about our options. Good Lord.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Rhodies and Nature's Artwork

Spring is hovering just around the corner, and Olga and I found lots of stuff blooming on our walk yesterday, including daffodils, magnolias and this rhododendron on Hampstead Heath. The crocuses and snowdrops are pretty much finished.

I moved the geraniums back out to the patio from their overwintering spot inside the back door. I haven't seen any sign of life from the indoor seed trays, but it's only been a week so it's still early.

I found these channels carved in a dead log on the Heath. I think they're just from wood borers, but they look almost intentional, like pictures of butterflies or flowers, don't they?

I'm finding Barbara Kingsolver's book so much more enjoyable than anything else I've read recently.  I've been a lifelong reader, but after some of my recent reading experiences I was beginning to doubt my ability to sit down and concentrate on a novel -- my mind would wander and I'd force myself ahead, but it felt like work. This one, "Unsheltered," doesn't feel that way at all. It's smooth sailing. So refreshing!

Our bin locks arrived! We deployed them on Friday evening -- perfect timing, because the trash was collected that morning -- and here's what they look like. It's completely ridiculous that we have to go this far but I see no other solution to our neighbor's persistent usurpation of our bins. I have to say, they do give me peace of mind. I haven't heard a peep from her. I'll let you know if I do.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned those advertisements on London buses challenging the Michael Jackson documentary "Leaving Neverland"? Well, apparently they were crowdfunded, and now they've been taken down after complaints from a charity supporting survivors of abuse. Sounds like a good call.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Poison, Lillie Langtry and The Saint

Here are this week's iPhone pictures, mostly from my walks to work.

First, I noticed long ago that this wall on our street bore traces of old graffiti. But I could never read it until Thursday, when, for some reason, the light and the moisture on the wall and maybe other factors all conspired to render it clearly: "Poison." A tag? A threat? Who knows.

Amid dreamy reflections and behind a dirty florist's window, maybe the ugliest planter ever in the history of the world!

I've never lived in a place where people throw away so many chairs. We have three rescued chairs in our flat. I couldn't take these on too, but maybe someone else will.

Olga and I came across this forsythia on our walk yesterday. Olga's saying, "What's the big deal? We have one of these on our patio!" This one's bigger, though. I thought it was pretty impressive.

The Lillie Langtry pub got a fancy new sign several weeks ago. Here's the old one.

I blogged before about the murals painted by children in 1978 on Abbey Road. I pass them every day when I walk to work. But somehow I never noticed until this week that they include the logo from one of my favorite vintage British TV shows, "The Saint." Simon Templar!

One of our favorite old pubs in St. John's Wood is being renovated into something else -- the pub itself having closed several months ago -- and it's surrounded by this plywood wall. I thought it was funny how the wall skirts this old phone box. I'm not sure it's even operational anymore, but it's probably still owned by the utility and thus must be kept publicly accessible? (Just a guess.)

Finally, some interesting modern art! Except it's not -- I actually have no idea what these pipes are for, but I think they have something to do with utilities or construction. For ages this parking lot (British: car park) was torn up and diggers were working here. Now, abstraction!