Wednesday, July 31, 2019


I took a little day trip yesterday to the city of Ely, about 14 miles northeast of Cambridge and a little more than an hour north of London by train. I've long wanted to see Ely (pronounced "EElee") because I've been told that my ancestors came from that part of England, hundreds of years ago. I think this was something my grandfather learned doing genealogical research, although I don't have any of the evidence at my fingertips now.

Ely is most famous as the site of a grand cathedral (above), parts of which date from about 1080. The cathedral was the focus of most of my visit, but I also had a chance to wander around the older parts of town and pop into a few charity shops. (I got a blue short-sleeved shirt covered with silhouettes of birds in flight -- £3.50!)

I was struck by the gargoyles on the outside of the cathedral building. Some were very weathered, while others were obviously more recent replacements.

Inside, the ceilings were magnificent. Ely cathedral is known for its unusual octagonal tower at the center of the building, where the nave and transepts come together. You can't really get a sense of the space encompassed by the photo above, but it's vast -- you're looking up into the tower in the center.

Here's a close-up of the ceiling of the tower, featuring John of Burwell's painted portrait of Jesus.

The ceilings of the nave are covered with Victorian-era paintings by Henry le Strange (what a great name!) and Thomas Gambier Parry. This is just a tiny piece of the whole.

In Bishop West's Chapel, there's an elaborately carved ceiling from the Renaissance.

And in the north and south transepts, the 15th-century ceilings include sculptures of flying angels. (You can see these ceilings at the left and right of the big interior shot above, to put them into context.)

There's a lot of beautiful stained glass, including this unusual window depicting World War II aircraft flying over the cathedral (left) and the moonlit ocean. It's not often you see airplanes in a stained glass window!

Obviously the airplane window is modern, but there's an excellent stained glass museum inside the cathedral featuring much older examples of the craft. This little round window is from the mid-1200's and depicts St. Vincent being consoled by angels.

And this window from the 1400's is part of a series depicting seasonal labors -- here's the job for November, slaughtering the animals before winter. (The pig looks suitably nervous.)

After touring the cathedral, I had lunch at the adjacent Minster Tavern. I just wanted a pint and a hamburger, but when I ordered, the server asked, "Do you want a double, triple, or quadruple burger?"

I said, "Can't I just get a single?"

"No, we only do doubles, triples or quadruples."

Good grief, what is this? America? I ordered a double and figured I could take a patty home for Olga if it was too big. But as it turned out, the patties were small and I managed the double just fine. I was also asked to choose from myriad specialty sauces, but successfully opted for just mustard and ketchup.

Perhaps inspired by my spartan lunch, I then went to take a quick look at the former home of Oliver Cromwell (above), the Puritan leader who helped overthrow the English monarchy in the 1600's. Visitors can go inside, but I didn't. (It's weird to see Oliver Cromwell's house with a Honda parked in front, isn't it? Although I suppose if Cromwell drove he'd choose something like a Honda.)

Ely's name comes from the eels living in the waterways and marshes around the city. (The city itself was built on a clay "island" surrounded by wetlands known as fens, which have since been drained for agriculture.) This 2005 sculpture of an eel by Peter Baker stands in a park near the River Great Ouse.

It began raining in the afternoon, so I spent an hour or so in a huge antique store near the river, browsing among shelves of books, china, knick-knacks, and stacks of furniture. I saw lots of amazing stuff but I bought nothing. We've got enough as it is.

I caught the train back to London around 3:45, happy to now have a sense of my ancestral home!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


For several years, we've been allowing wild ragwort to grow in our garden over the summer. The reason is that it's the food source for the cinnabar moth caterpillar, and cinnabar moths are apparently a species in decline in the UK. (I've personally never seen an adult cinnabar moth, though I have occasionally seen their caterpillars in parks and wild areas.)

We've never found any in our garden -- until yesterday! I was looking at some of our ragwort and saw these little orange critters crawling around. They're tiny compared to the caterpillars I've seen in the wild, but I'm pretty sure they're cinnabar moths.

I was so excited to see this! I put a wire plant support next to (but not touching) the ragwort so the dog won't brush against it and dislodge the caterpillars. Hopefully they'll live a few weeks and then pupate and become moths. Apparently birds don't like to eat them because they absorb toxins from the ragwort, but like all insects the vast majority still die for one reason or another before ever reaching adulthood. My fingers are crossed!

I also found this crab spider on our cosmos, feasting on a bee. These pale spiders lurk beneath flowers and grab unsuspecting insects that are drawn to the blossoms. It's hard to be a bug!

I had a very quiet day yesterday. I mostly sat in the garden and got caught up on magazines. I don't know about you, but I find little more oppressive than a stack of unread magazines. Books don't affect me the same way -- a book can sit on my shelves for years without being read, as long as I plan to get around to it one day. But I gotta stay on top of magazines, I suppose because their content is usually more timely.

Dave left yesterday morning for Heathrow, bound for the U.S. He's going to visit his parents in Michigan and also attend Drum Corps finals in Indianapolis. He'll be gone about two weeks. So it's just me and Olga holding down the fort. I have a few small trips I hope to make in and around London, and then I'll be going back to work around the time Dave comes back. The summer always passes too quickly.

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Lost Turaco

Thanks for all your comments and commiserations regarding me being locked out of the house (as related in my previous post). Some of you asked what happened to Olga, who I left tied to the porch railing in my narrative and never mentioned again. Don't worry -- the minute I got into the house, and while I was fuming at Dave, I went to the front door and let her inside. She wasn't on the porch for more than a few minutes.

Yesterday she and I went back to the cemetery, and this time I was careful to bring my keys!

Again, we saw lots of butterflies, including gatekeepers like the one above, and three Jersey tiger moths. The moths are mostly black when resting (as I showed in a photo a few days ago) but in flight they're bright orange, because of their colorful underwings. Amazing!

I've walked around Hampstead Cemetery dozens and dozens of times, but every time I go I see something new. I recently came across this headstone, which made me wonder about the reference to the HMS Eurydice. Turns out the sinking of the Eurydice was one of Britain's worst peacetime naval disasters -- it went down in a storm off the Isle of Wight in 1878, killing 317 people. I wonder if this particular sailor is actually in this grave, or if it's simply a memorial to his loss. (It's part of a larger headstone for many of his family members.)

Then I heard a very peculiar noise coming from a stand of trees. At first I thought it was a frog -- it sounded rather croaky -- but it seemed louder and more like a bird call. So I walked over with Olga and saw a flash of red and blue among the branches:


I've seen a lot of birds in the UK, but never one like this. Coincidentally I'd just finished T. C. Boyle's excellent novel about LSD experimentation, and the thought occurred to me that I was having an acid-trip-by-association! I thought maybe it was some sort of exotic pheasant or grouse, and once I got home I began Googling.

Turns out it's a Fischer's turaco, a bird native to East Africa. What it's doing running wild in West Hampstead is anyone's guess. It had a leg band, so it's definitely an escapee -- either a pet or a zoo specimen. I looked online for any recent references to a missing or lost turaco and found nothing. I sent a message to the International Turaco Society, and tried to call someone they'd identified online as a contact for news about lost turacos -- but it turns out that person had recently died and I guess no one else has picked up the reins. I called the London Zoo in Regent's Park and was told they're not missing any turacos. I put a public message on Facebook, and I renewed my Twitter account just to send an alert.

Of course, I didn't capture the turaco, so who knows if it's even still hanging around the cemetery. It must be very confused. Or maybe it's having the time of its life. Who knows?

Having spent the afternoon grappling with the turaco mystery, I had to quickly get dressed in order to meet my friend Colin for a concert in Hammersmith. We went to see k. d. lang, whose singing is magical -- I bought the tickets months ago and was so happy to see her again live. I last saw her in New York in June 2004, and I wrote in my journal afterwards, "She has a tremendous voice and yet she's one of those effortless singers -- she makes it seem so incredibly easy to hold strong, penetrating notes." I'm happy to report that's still true. She makes singing seem as easy as breathing. Which I'm sure it's not.

She sang many of my favorites, including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and her entire "Ingenue" album, perhaps her best-known record. (Her tour is based on the 25th anniversary of its release.) She also covered Joni Mitchell's song "Help Me," and talked about how hard it is to break down and individualize a Joni song -- the words and music being so tightly intertwined. It was a great show!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Locked Out

Well, we had some domestic drama yesterday.

Rain was in the forecast, so I hadn't intended to take the dog on any long walks. But we got a break in mid-morning and she was getting antsy, so I decided to quickly walk her around the neighborhood. I grabbed my umbrella and Olga and set out.

Dave was home, so I wasn't especially careful about what I took with me, and only after I'd closed the front door did I realize I didn't have my house keys or my phone. (The door locks automatically when you close it.) I rang the doorbell, but he didn't answer. I figured he must be in the living room, at the back of the house, wearing his noise-cancelling headphones.

This gave me pause, but I decided to just walk the dog and then hopefully, by the time I got back, Dave would be able to hear the doorbell. So that's what I did. About half an hour later, I was back at the front door, ringing -- but no Dave. I rang and rang. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, Olga looking at me quizzically, like, "Why don't you just open the door like you always do?"

You can imagine how frustrating it was to know Dave was inside but unable to hear me. And of course, I couldn't even text him on the off chance that he'd see or hear my message.

Finally, seething with anger, I tied Olga to the front porch railing, walked to the side of the house, carried one of our heavy trash bins to the garden gate, climbed up on the bin and hoisted myself over the top of the gate. I got covered with dirt and drenched with rainwater from the shrubbery and the bin. I came to the back door where Dave could easily see me through the glass, looking as disheveled as Bigfoot. He opened it, completely confused. (And of course by this time he had his headphones off.)

I proceeded to stomp around, cursing and venting. I acknowledged right away that the situation wasn't all his fault, and said I was angry at myself too, but that it was infuriating to be unable to reach him when I needed him. I took a shower and put on clean clothes, and that calmed me down a bit. Then Dave and I talked. He was genuinely puzzled and hurt that I would blame him at all. After all, I'd forgotten my keys and my phone. This led to a whole conversation about the nature of anger and its expression. I told him I understood it wasn't rational, but anger isn't rational or intellectual. It's animal. I just had to let it out.

After a few hours, it all seemed kind of ridiculous, and we were able to laugh about it. Then last night, we were watching "Big Little Lies" when one of the characters said, "This is what families do -- we get angry with each other, then we get over it." I pointed at Dave, and said, "There you go!"

Anyway, next time I'll remember to bring my keys whether Dave is home or not.

In the process of hoisting the rubbish bin up the garden steps and positioning it next to the gate, I broke off a stalk of some kind of campanula that grows wild in our side alley. I put it in a vase on our kitchen windowsill (top). It's a nice flower but we almost never see it under normal circumstances, because we never use that part of the side alley. Looking at the blossoms close up, I'm amazed at how hairy they are.

While walking Olga on the high street, I saw this print in the window of our local Oxfam charity shop. I went back and bought it later in the day. It's called "Under the Water Lillies" by UK artist Becky Blair. Isn't it great?

So at least something good came from that ill-fated dog walk.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon reading "Outside Looking In," by T. C. Boyle, a novel about the early years of LSD experimentation under Timothy Leary at Harvard. It's an excellent book. I may finish it today. I'm not sure I'd recommend it to kids at school, but it's good for the adults!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Greenford to South Kenton

I had to get out of the house yesterday. We're in for a rainy weekend, so I knew there wouldn't be a whole lot of activity around here -- and I feel like I've been sitting around forever, given our recent heat wave and my travels to equally hot Florida. I needed a good, long walk.

So yesterday I did a 5.5-mile leg of the Capital Ring, from Greenford to South Kenton. It's been more than a month since I last walked part of the Ring, so I was long overdue.

The walk started at Greenford tube station and soon joined up with the Grand Union Canal, where I saw lots of birds, including some peacefully sleeping ducks.

I saw a coot diving for something bright orange and gulping it down. Initially I was alarmed, thinking the bird was eating plastic -- but then I realized it was a peach. (God only knows why a peach was in the canal.) Some chicks soon joined in.

I also saw a stately blue heron and a pair of moorhens with tiny, tiny babies. I wonder if it was their second brood of the season.

At Horsenden Hill I walked through a historic publicly owned farm, with a farmhouse dating from the 19th century and a nature trail based on the Gruffalo, a fictional character from a much-loved British children's book. (I'd never heard of the Gruffalo before I moved to England, but it's a huge thing here.)

I didn't find the Gruffalo, but I did find lots of interesting wildlife including marble white butterflies (above).

Atop nearby Horsenden Hill, which is about 275 feet high and has views over much of West London, I saw a pair of green woodpeckers flitting among the trees. The shot above was the best I could get. Green woodpeckers tend to be shy and hard to photograph, at least in my experience.

Not long afterwards, a fox ran across the path directly in front of me!

I stopped in the community of Sudbury Hill for lunch -- a quick sandwich and coffee from a takeaway shop. There was a large hotel and pub nearby called The Rising Sun. The building looks like it needs a spruce-up, but I liked the painted relief on the exterior wall.

From there I walked into Harrow-on-the-Hill, the location of the famous Harrow boys' school. It's a charming village with sloping streets, quaint buildings and shops that stock suits and straw boater hats and whatever else a life at Harrow demands.

Here's the school chapel. A lot of the buildings are ornate structures like this, with Gothic decorative elements.

Harrow school was founded in 1572 under a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I, which is why she's featured prominently on the "new" speech room (which is more than 100 years old!).

Harrow has great views over the city -- you can see Wembley Stadium on the right, and all of London stretched out behind it. (This is looking in a southeasterly direction.)

From there I walked across the school sports fields and past a nearby golf course. ("Stay close to the high chain-link fence and keep it on your right-hand side. It gives some protection from stray golf balls," my map helpfully informed me.)

At South Kenton station, I got on the tube for home, having avoided being clobbered by errant sports equipment. But I didn't want to go all the way into town in order to switch tube lines to get to West Hampstead -- so at the next stop, North Wembley, I had the bright idea to get off and walk to Wembley Park, which is on the same line as West Hampstead.

It wound up being more of a walk than I'd intended, but that was OK  -- I got to see some of the always-interesting neighborhoods around Wembley.

And now at least I've had some exercise!

Friday, July 26, 2019


There was a lot of this going on yesterday. All of us kept to a level of minimal activity, Dave working on music arrangements in the living room, me reading on the garden bench, Olga snoozing in the grass. (We cancelled her dog walker.) Thus we all survived our heat wave.

I don't think it got quite as hot as predicted. The hottest temperature I saw on my phone was 99º F, a bit shy of the anticipated 101º F. I'm not sure those extra few degrees would have made a whole lot of practical difference, but crossing the 100-degree mark would have seemed more significant.

Not that I'm complaining we didn't get there.

It was an eerie day, honestly. I'm sure I've experienced similar temperatures many times before, living in Florida and certainly during my Peace Corps years in Morocco. But feeling them in England was profoundly unsettling, at least for me.

In the afternoon I made a quick trip to school, to check on the library, empty the book-return bin and pile the incoming magazines in one place for easier processing in a few weeks. The building is air-conditioned, so it was a good day to visit, and I belatedly realized I should have brought my book and just stayed there.

But by late afternoon the temperatures had stopped climbing, and Olga began to get antsy. I took her to the cemetery, where she surprised me with far more energy than I expected. I brought a bowl and gave her water a couple of times along the way, and she chased squirrels and barked as usual. She's resilient, I'll give her that!

It was another good day for butterflies. We saw this Jersey tiger moth (above) lurking in the shadows of a shrub -- the second I've seen this year. (There was one in our garden early this week but it flew away before I could photograph it.)

And this gatekeeper was enjoying the nectar from a ragwort plant.

Overnight we had rain and thunder, and this morning it's 68º F. What a change!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Egg Slicer

Today is going to be a scorcher. Here's a screen grab of the Weather Channel's web site, so you can see for yourself:

Ugh! And this is in a country where no one has air conditioning. Including us.

I'm dreading it, though I hope it will only be bad for a few hours in the afternoon, and maybe if I go sit in the shade with a book I can survive. Tomorrow, bizarrely, the high temps are supposed to be back down in the 70's.

Meanwhile, to get our minds off the heat, how about some more recent random photos from my iPhone?

First, a shot I took a few weeks ago (top) of Olga posing with some roses on one of our walks.

My essential blogging tools, pictured in some bright morning sunlight at my stepmother's house in Florida.

An impressive stand of echinacea at the Hampstead Cemetery. Our echinacea barely came up this year -- just a few sad little sprigs. I'm not sure why. It's in a pot to protect it from the slugs, and maybe it's become potbound.

Self-portrait in a broken mirror on an early morning walk with Olga. (I was making her stand still, which is why she has that "What did I do? Am I in trouble?" look on her face.)

An interesting matchbox. Are there other animals in the series, I wonder?

Remember the Croatian sausage poster in the shop window? Well, someone has broken the glass, and now the poster -- which has become sadly faded -- appears to be the only thing keeping out the weather.

Every charity shop in our neighborhood has a sign on the door asking people NOT to leave bags of donated clothes outside when the shop is closed. And yet people do, and the bags invariably get torn open and the contents strewn all over the sidewalk. That's what happened to these clothes, which I found discarded in the bottom of a phone booth on the high street -- someone had clearly gone through the bag there and left behind what they didn't want. (The only thing no one does in a British phone booth is make a phone call.) So I brought them home, washed them, dried them, and took them back to the shop when it was open.

Dave and I went out with our co-worker Colin last night to a new neighborhood bar. Against my better judgment, I tried one of their specialty cocktails -- mainly because it was called a Floradora, which was the name of a nightclub that figures prominently in Frank Sinatra's 1967 movie "Tony Rome," filmed in Miami. It contained gin, pomegranate juice, lime and ginger ale, and in my opinion it was too sweet and needed more gin.

Finally, here's another example of an innocuous everyday item that I almost unwittingly have owned for decades -- an Ekco egg slicer. I got it when I worked at Scotty's hardware in Florida, almost 35 years ago, when we had a clearance sale for items that were being discontinued. I think I bought it for 50 cents. It's actually a handy little gadget, and I got to use it again Tuesday when I made egg salad sandwiches. I've moved 14 times since I bought this silly thing, and it's come with me every time!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Searching for Burnets

Yesterday morning I walked up to Hampstead Cemetery to see if I could find some six-spot burnets in the butterfly garden.

I'd seen them there in years past, but when I looked earlier this month I didn't see much of anything. I was concerned that something had happened to drive them away.

I guess it was just too early, though, because I saw several yesterday, flying among the thistles and the purple knapweed. Burnets are one of my favorite insects -- a day-flying moth with bright red spots on a black background, and a red underwing that makes it very colorful in flight.

Look at this one's little curled proboscis!

It turned out to be a good day for butterflies in general. I also saw...

... a small copper...

...and a meadow brown.

There were several types of hoverflies and bees feasting on all the flowers.

And then I came home, and Dave and I spotted this pair of small whites in flagrante on our rose bushes. We did not disturb them.

And then this peacock fluttered into the garden yesterday evening and spent lots of time on one of our buddleias, or butterfly bushes. It actually flew into the house at one point, through an open window, but I was able to shoo it outside again. It went right back to the buddleia, probably very relieved.

So Boris Johnson is going to be the UK's new prime minister. I probably should be upset about this, but honestly, I'm not. I don't agree with him politically, but his election has long seemed inevitable, and although he is somewhat Trumpian in his views I maintain that he is smarter and more politically savvy than Trump. I mostly just want to move ahead and get this godawful Brexit mess over with, in the least damaging way possible -- since at this point there doesn't seem to be any way out of it. Boris's solutions may be harmful, but only time will tell. We'll see where this takes us!