Tuesday, April 30, 2019

My Corner

Blogger John Gray of "Going Gently" recently asked his readers to send him photos of their "comfort corners," or areas of their home that provide "peace, relaxation, comfort and happiness." His request grew out of his fascination with other people's houses, and he asked each contributor for a short paragraph explaining their photo.

If you read John's blog you may have seen my photo (above) among his many responses. My "comfort corner" is basically that big brown couch -- technically not a corner. If I'm home, and I'm not out in the garden or doing housework, I'm probably there. Dave, meanwhile, routinely lounges in his adjacent recliner, and Olga will be fast asleep with one of us -- in this case, with Dave, on her favorite pink blanket.

I didn't put a whole lot of thought into the photo -- in fact, I took it and sent it to John on Sunday, about an hour before his submission deadline. But the more I looked it at, the more I liked it. It captures all the important elements of my day-to-day life -- Dave, Olga and the garden, along with odds and ends like my computer, the striped blanket my friend Cherie brought me from her trip to Mexico more than 20 years ago, and several of our favorite houseplants. (You can't see more of Dave because he hates having his picture taken!) Even Olga's beloved Kong toy is there, on the floor next to one of her tennis balls.

We didn't choose that couch. We bought it from the previous tenants of our flat, who we knew from work, and it was here waiting for us when we moved in almost five years ago. It's not one I'd select if I walked into a furniture store, but it's comfortable enough, and it's hard for the dog to get it visibly dirty. Every time I consider getting a new one, I think, "But why?"

So that's it -- my comfort corner!

And here, apropos of nothing, is a bonus -- just so you don't feel cheated by a lousy picture of my living room. Isn't this amazing wisteria? I passed it yesterday on my way to work. What a way to start the day!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Immersed in Green

The winds calmed down yesterday and I took Olga for a long walk on the Heath. The tender new leaves on all the trees cast bottle-green light on the forest floor below. It felt like walking through an aquarium.

We found lots of these little winged elm tree seeds, which are apparently called "samaras."

The comfrey was dense and leafy on Sandy Heath.

And although it wasn't particularly warm -- probably in the 50s -- a bee was buzzing on the wild geraniums.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Gusty and Lusty

We had some crazy, windy weather yesterday. The gusts on the patio bent over several plants and knocked one of my hollyhock seedlings (and its pot) right off the table. Nationwide winds were recorded at 60-70 mph, although we didn't get much rain -- just spatters. Apparently this was all due to Storm Hannah.

I took the dog to the cemetery in the morning, when it wasn't quite so windy, but otherwise we spent the day pretty much indoors. I finished "The Siege of Innocence," that old book Vivian sent me. I was surprised, actually, by how good it was -- a potboiler, but the author's vocabulary and writing style were quite sophisticated. It dealt with some unconventional subjects -- gay and transsexual characters, alcoholism, drug use, casual sex, kleptomania, you name it -- among an expatriate group in Paris and Venice in the '20s. But disappointingly it ultimately adhered to conventional mid-century norms, with the main character, Bruce (who throughout the book remained dully asexual despite advances from practically everybody) unconvincingly taking tentative steps toward a romance with a woman at the end. I can see why the reviews were meh.

Last night we continued our Mr. Ripley-themed weekend by watching "Purple Noon," a 1960 French movie starring the absurdly handsome Alain Delon. It was the first screen treatment of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels, with Delon playing Tom Ripley. Comparing it with the late '90s version was an interesting exercise -- the gay subtext was absent from "Purple Noon" (once again, those tiresome mid-century norms) with Ripley motivated entirely by money. But I loved the '50s European styles -- contemporaneous, this time, rather than retro -- and it was fun to watch!

(Photo: Tulse Hill, South London, last weekend.)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Night Light

One of our neighbors across the street installed a new motion-activated security light over their doorway. When it activates at night, our dining room and entrance hall are flooded with dramatic shadows. (Further evidence that Dave and I were smart to choose the room in the back of the house for our bedroom -- unlike the previous tenants, who slept in this one.)

I love the patterns and the way the light duplicates shadows already cast by the streetlights (like the giant vegetal stalk of our fiddle-leaf fig). Getting a picture was laughable -- when I noticed the light was on I'd run for the camera, but often by the time I got ready to take a shot it would snap off. Argh! Finally I was fast enough to catch one.

Anyway, the light doesn't bother us because we don't use this room much at night. (Or at all, to be honest.)

Last night Dave and I stayed home and watched "The Talented Mr. Ripley," which I hadn't seen in years. I loved it when it came out in 1999, and it is a good movie, but I think I was entranced by all that scenery of rustic Italy as much as anything!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Ladybugs (or Ladybirds)

Dave and I were out in the garden a few weeks ago, checking out our roses, when we saw that much of the fresh, new spring foliage was infested with aphids. This is a regular occurrence, so we weren't too concerned. We don't spray for aphids -- in fact we do almost no pest control (except resorting to slug pellets in desperate situations).

Anyway, when we looked again a few days ago, we noticed that nature was taking care of the problem by itself. The plants were loaded with ladybugs -- or as the British call them, ladybirds.

I think these are all harlequin ladybirds, the invasive variety from Asia. Apparently they come in many different patterns, and these are all common variations. I don't mean to be too sanguine about invasive species, because I know it's a major issue -- but honestly, I'm happy as long as they're eating the aphids!

Last night while walking home from work I popped into Waterstone's, a British chain of book shops. I had to pick up some gift cards as prizes for a competition at school. I noticed a display of "Bish Bash Bosh!" -- the vegan cookbook co-authored by fellow blogger Yorkshire Pudding's son Ian. So I bought a copy, autographed by the authors -- probably one of those 13,000 books they signed back in February! Dave and I are not vegan, but we eat vegetarian quite frequently, so we'll make use of it, I'm sure. Those neon-green page edges are quite eye-catching.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Blind Eagle

When Olga and I were in Mayfair last week, we walked past the former U.S. Embassy building on Grosvenor Square. The building was designed by acclaimed architect Eero Saarinen and opened in 1960. It served its purpose for more than 50 years, but after the African embassy bombings and 9/11, its appearance was marred by gigantic security bollards and barriers that separated it from the surrounding streets and the park.

Now the embassy has moved to a new location in Nine Elms, on the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall, where there's more space and a much larger safety perimeter.

The Saarinen structure, which is protected by preservation laws, was sold to the Qatari government and is slated to become a fancy hotel. It's under renovation now, and once the construction walls come down it will be nice to see it with no barriers once again.

Reviews on this building were mixed, but I've always liked it -- even though it's modern and rather boxy, it has good proportions and architectural patterns that make it interesting.

I was intrigued by the big eagle on the roof (which is part of the facade and thus has to stay put under preservation laws). Turns out it's made of aluminum and was sculpted by Theodore Roszak. Apparently the bird has been criticized for its aggressive, warlike stance -- and the diplomatic message that sends -- but it is very dynamic.

It wasn't until I trained my zoom lens on the eagle that I realized it has no face!

There's something troubling -- but weirdly appropriate at times -- about America being represented by a blind, featureless, aggressive bird, isn't there?

Incidentally, you may remember Donald Trump made a stink about the embassy's move to Nine Elms and the price we got for this old building. The conservative Daily Mail says it was indeed a bad deal, as Trump alleged, but as others have pointed out, there are pluses and minuses. We now have a new top-of-the-line, larger and more secure embassy. And there's no blind eagle on the roof!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Celebrity Flowerpot

I must still be in Spring Break mode. Yesterday I was halfway to work, wearing a nice paisley shirt and some khakis and thinking I looked quite spiffy, before I realized with horror that I was wearing my dog-walking shoes! They are black (which did not match my outfit) and coated with a rime of dried mud. But I kept going. I'd gone too far to turn around. My coworkers and I had a good laugh about it, but if anyone else noticed, they didn't say anything.

The wisteria is coming out around London now. I've blogged the house above before -- on almost exactly the same day! It's on the next street over and I always think it looks so nice -- the purple blossoms combined with that beautiful natural wood trim.

For several years, Dave and I have kept an old iron fireplace surround on our patio. We found it behind the back garden shed when we moved in to this flat, and we thought it might add some visual interest to the garden. We also intended to use it as a trellis for a clematis we had at the time. But the clematis died and the white paint on the mantel gradually flaked off to reveal a sickly green shade beneath, and to top it all off, it was propped against the fence directly beneath the location of the pigeon nest. I didn't want to provide the foxes with an easy staircase to the pigeons. So we removed the mantel -- for now it's leaning against the house while we debate what to do with it. Dave has suggested throwing it out but maybe we should just put it back behind the shed, since it is technically the landlord's.

In its place, we have this new garden ornament. As I was walking the dog yesterday morning I passed the house of one of our celebrity neighbors. There was a skip in the driveway with all sorts of discarded garden stuff in it, and this pot was protruding from the front. I thought, "I can use that!" So I grabbed it. I like its weathered look, though it doesn't have a drainage hole so I'm not sure how practical it will be (probably one of the reasons it was in the skip).

Still, it will make a fun story, and I like to think our celebrity neighbor wouldn't mind, as concerned as she is with climate change and other planetary issues. Re-use is a good thing, right?

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Pam Grier

As I was standing in Brixton waiting for a bus on Sunday morning, I noticed a nearby cinema on Coldharbour Lane bearing giant-sized images of movie legends like Bette Davis, Sidney Poitier and Rudolph Valentino. Among them was this fabulous portrait of Pam Grier, of "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown" fame, taken at Watts Towers in L.A. in 1972.

Did you ever see Quentin Tarantino's film "Jackie Brown"? Grier was in that too.

Anyway, I couldn't resist a picture, and then I finally got on the bus and rode south through Tulse Hill toward Crystal Palace. Lo and behold, what should I see from the bus windows but this:

Is that a coincidence or what?!

Clearly the universe was trying to tell me that it was time to watch "Jackie Brown" again. So that's what we did last night. Dave had never seen it, and although I saw it in the cinema, that was 22 years ago (!) -- so it was time. It's just as good as I remembered, with terrific music. (I have the soundtrack among my iTunes.) Dave acted like he was going to die, being subjected to another movie suggestion from me, but in the end even he liked it.

Our Spring Break comes to an end today. Back to work as usual.We've done about all we can do in the garden, at least for the moment. Yesterday afternoon I took Olga to Wormwood Scrubs for a walk -- she dragged a little in the heat, once again, but then she found a disgusting muddy mire to wallow in, and that seemed to take care of the problem.

Doesn't she look proud of herself? Needless to say she got a bath later, but she was a spectacle on the train ride home.

I'm amazed she could find any mud, because it is dry out there. We haven't had rain in ages. I think that's going to change this week -- another sign that it's time to go back at work!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Crystal Palace to Balham

I walked another segment of the Capital Ring yesterday, from Crystal Palace to Balham in South London. I'm guessing I went six or seven miles.

The weather was spectacular. I couldn't have asked for a better day. I even felt the need to wear sunscreen!

I came across a groovy blue Ford Galaxie 500 parked on a side street -- from what I can tell online it looks like an early '60s model. And here's the weird thing...

...it's from Oklahoma!

Wouldn't you love to know how a Galaxie from Oklahoma wound up in London?

I found more squawky parakeets in Biggin Hill Wood. These two were nesting or mating or something, I think. They seemed very cozy with each other.

I passed Norwood Grove, a house built in the 1840s that is now owned by Croydon Council. It sits on a hill with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.

And I visited the Rookery Gardens, a formal garden built on the site of a guesthouse where Queen Victoria reportedly stayed to "take the waters" at the three springs at Streatham Spa. There were fountains and pergolas and plantings of tulips, and this arch carved into a gigantic set of shrubs. (I didn't see where that path went!)

I found the grooviest, most psychedelic pub in the world in Streatham.

This gives a whole new meaning to the term "banana seat."

Somebody had a rough night.

Finally, winding through the residential neighborhoods near Tooting Bec Common, I passed this amazing Moorish building. Turns out it's a water-pumping station, built in 1888! Oh for the days when our public utilities were willing and able to put so much effort into a structure!

I ended the walk in Balham, when the path crossed right near a tube station. I had to get home to help Dave get ready for a visitor last night -- his old college fraternity brother Randy, who was passing through London. (He told funny stories about introducing himself to British people by saying enthusiastically, "I'm Randy!" In England, of course, "randy" has a meaning that could be quite startling to some people.) We hung out in the back garden and went to the local pub for dinner, and he endeared himself to Olga by playing Kong with her. By the end of the evening she was resting her head on his lap, clearly smitten.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


I spent virtually all of yesterday in the back garden, reading. I caught up on all my back issues of The New Yorker (yes! I read the dinosaur article!) and started the novel that Vivian sent me. So far I'm only about ten pages in, so it's too early to say if it's good, so bad that it's good, or just bad.

This was my view from our garden bench -- treetops, including the brilliant pink crabapples belonging to our neighbors. I love those trees. I think they're actually two doors down from us. They sure stand out, and they're a joy every year.

Here's the same view through the bottom of my water glass. Just for fun.

In the afternoon, having been home all day, I took Olga for a walk to the cemetery. I wanted to give her a day to take it easy, but she started getting a little squirrelly, and the cemetery's not far. I put minimal effort into the outing -- I didn't even change out of my pajama shorts and my "Honey Badger Don't Give a Sh*t" t-shirt, which I'm sure no one even understands anymore, relating as it does to a YouTube phenomenon from eight years ago. (Or maybe they do -- that video has had more than 90 million views!)

Anyway, Olga did OK at the cemetery, but she's still moving a bit slowly. I think maybe it's the heat. Our weather's not hot, exactly -- certainly not by the Florida standards of my upbringing -- but today we're supposed to hit 75ยบ F, which is pretty warm. Olga is not a warm-weather dog.

Some of you asked about the bright blue or purple flowers in one of the pictures I posted yesterday. I did some Internet research and I believe they're called Senetti -- a special Japanese hybrid of cineraria. Supposedly they're good for plantings in early spring because they like cool temperatures.

Last night Dave met an old friend in a pub in Kensington. I decided to stay home and watch a movie that he doesn't like -- so I watched "Love Story," with Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. It is actually a fairly terrible movie, but I've seen it many times. It's like comfort food to me. I was only three or four when it came out, but I can still remember the ripple-effect on our culture because it was such a phenomenon. And weirdly, as I discovered when I read about it on IMDB afterwards, yesterday was Ryan O'Neal's 78th birthday!

It's perhaps the best example of a movie in which the most famous line -- "Love means never having to say you're sorry" -- is a complete untruth.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Back to Hyde Park

Dave had to meet with some colleagues yesterday to help with a work-related project. His meeting was in Queensway, near the northwest corner of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. So I went with him and brought Olga along on the tube for a visit to the park.

Hyde Park was our regular stomping ground when we lived in Notting Hill, so perhaps she remembers it from her puppyish years. She seemed pretty comfortable rolling in the grass with Kensington Palace in the background.

The leaves on the horse chestnuts are an unbelievably fresh, light green.

I definitely noticed a difference in Olga's stamina. When we used to visit Hyde Park we'd make a loop all the way around, and she would chase squirrels like a crazy dog, running wide circles around me at top speed. This time, we walked maybe two-thirds of that distance, and she trudged along and was even a bit grudging about it. She seemed to want to lie down more often. I think our lady Olga is showing her age.

(Granted, we didn't see any squirrels -- if we had I'm sure she'd have taken off after them. Plus it was a warm day.)

We stopped for some water and a bite to eat (vegan wrap) at a food stand on the Serpentine, and watched the swans nibbling underwater. Then we made our way across the grass and sat for a while under a tree near a huge group of twentysomethings -- mostly women -- flying rainbow flags. I figured Olga and I definitely fit in at any queer gathering!

Moving on, we noticed that someone added a pair of glasses to one of the figures on the Joy of Life Fountain.

Finally, we left the park and walked through Mayfair, toward the Bond Street tube stop. Olga dutifully posed next to some of the careful plantings in this very chi-chi neighborhood.

After taking the tube home, this is how Olga spent the rest of the afternoon and evening. She's still snoring away on the couch as I write. We'll take it easy today!

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Waiter

Another quiet day at home yesterday. I finished the second Knausgaard book (long!) and caught up on some New Yorkers. Of course Dave and I also did some gardening -- planted our new teasels and heuchera, potted some more seedlings. I'm enjoying our new aquilegia (above)!

The forget-me-nots on the patio remind me of the title of a book we have in the school library, Grace Lin's "Starry River of the Sky." Don't they look like a starry river, flowing across the patio stones?

We had an episode involving the cosmos seedlings and a squirrel, which dug out the pot when we briefly had our backs turned. I replanted the seedlings and covered the soil with gravel, hoping that would deter future excavation. I don't think the larger seedling is damaged. The smaller one has never looked right and I'll be amazed if it survives.

This is a kalanchoe that I found last year in pretty dire condition in a trash can at the cemetery. I brought it home and rehabilitated it -- and it's rewarded us with flowers.

Someone asked what we had for dinner Wednesday at The Ledbury. We had the tasting menu, which is too complicated to explain -- eight small courses plus a few extra tidbits. One of them was a "warm Bantam's egg" with celeriac, dried ham and mushrooms. Well, I started the evening with a martini and then had a glass of wine or two, so by the time it arrived several courses in, I was a bit, shall we say, uninhibited.

"Oh!" I said to the very proper (and possibly French) waiter, as he set down my plate. "Is this the duck egg?"

It may be my imagination, but a brief shadow seemed to sweep over his face before he said coolly, "It is a hen's egg."

When he went away, Dave and I laughed and laughed. I felt like such a rube -- like the guy in that legendary Polaner All-Fruit commercial who says, "Please pass the jelly!"

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Grove Park to Crystal Palace

I walked another segment of the Capital Ring yesterday, the 8.5 miles from Grove Park to Crystal Palace, in South London. The route was mostly suburban, passing through neighborhoods studded with brightly blooming cherry trees...

...and curious home decorations.

For a while, the route followed the Downham Woodland Walk, a forested path that wound between back garden fences for about a mile "and covers one of the remaining parts of the Great North Wood," according to my map. The woodland was full of blooming bluebells and cow parsley, and I came across these teacup-shaped seats beside the trail.

After passing through more suburbia (above), I wound up in Beckenham Place Park, where my map said to "follow the signs toward the house up some steep steps." Problem is, Beckenham Place Park is undergoing some kind of massive renovation project and there were fences and graded earth everywhere -- and no signs. And of course I couldn't get the map to load on my iPhone because I was in a remote area with weak service. I eventually had to ask someone how to find Beckenham House Mansion, which contains a cafe, a curious little record shop and -- thankfully -- bathrooms.

And then, more suburbia, with the Crystal Palace radio tower in the distance.

In the neighborhood of Penge (I've been saying "Pengy" but I think it's actually pronounced "Penj") the route led to a train station footbridge that I found unexpectedly closed. So I had to take a little detour past this curious shop. I don't know if you can tell, but there's a footstool, a guitar and a mannequin dressed as a king or knight in that window. And no car parts, as far as I could tell.

The detour led me into part of Penge that I would have otherwise missed, and I was glad, because I found lots of interesting street art. Then I gradually wound my way to Crystal Palace Park, famous for its Victorian dinosaur sculptures from the 1850s.

In fact, there's a mural on the park information center featuring the dinosaurs.

Longtime blog readers may remember (probably not) that I visited them way back in 2012. They're not very scientifically accurate -- they were created not long after dinosaur fossils were first discovered, and people hadn't quite worked out what the creatures looked like.

The statues are on an island in the middle of a fenced pond. I'm not sure why those people were standing out in the middle of the display. I'm pretty sure they weren't supposed to be there.

Anyway, the walk ended here, at the train station next to the park. I zipped back home in mid-afternoon in time to get cleaned up and take Dave out to dinner for the tenth anniversary of our first date! Yes, in April 2009 we started going out. It's hard to believe now -- it seems much longer ago than that (and I mean that in a good way). We went to The Ledbury in Notting Hill, and I hadn't eaten lunch on my walk, so I was hungry. Our meal was amazing!