Saturday, February 29, 2020

Jorge Comes to Call

I slept until almost 7 a.m. this morning! Fabulous! It felt so good to have a "lie-in," especially with the dismal weather outside.

We're supposed to be getting another named storm this weekend -- Jorge. If, like me, you're wondering how we got alphabetically from Dennis to Jorge so quickly, you'll be glad to know that we didn't. Apparently the Spanish weather service named this storm and they use a different naming system. Anyway, it could be very bad news for Wales and Northern England, where there's already a lot of flooding. We're getting some high winds here and spatters of rain but I think we'll be spared the worst of it.

I know you're all wondering how I resolved the Chivas Regal question. (How to drink it, I mean.) I had the bright idea to buy some sour mix and make whiskey sours -- but it turns out sour mix is not to be easily found in shops. I was told I'd have to order it online. Rather than go to all that trouble, and add the carbon burden of my whiskey sours to our planetary woes, I bought some ginger ale. I mixed the Chivas into that, in roughly the same proportion I would for a gin & tonic, and it's not bad!

We got word yesterday that most school trips over the next few weeks have indeed been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. So Dave won't be taking his students to Prague. It's a shame, particularly for the seniors who are losing their last chance to perform overseas before graduation, but we all understand why the school can't potentially put anyone in harm's way. It's a huge decision -- these trips are usually a highlight of the school year -- and I'm sure there are economic ramifications for the school.

Did you see that Clive Cussler died? He wasn't high literature, but I enjoyed a lot of his books. I read "Raise the Titanic!" in high school (back when no one knew where the Titanic's wreckage really was) and I remember reading "Sahara" while lying in bed with a virus in Ghana. He wrote some good thrillers. I wasn't even sure he was a real person -- I thought Clive Cussler might be a nom de plume or an amalgam of multiple people like Franklin W. Dixon.

Speaking of reading, I spent yesterday putting together a new blog on our school library's web page to track my Newbery reading project. I'll be posting all my reviews there. When it's publicly available I'll link to it so you can take a look. We were considering allowing comments, but apparently every time someone comments our system sends an e-mail blast to all the site administrators -- we learned that the hard way. So for now, no comments. When I say "Miss Hickory" is a tedious book, no one can dispute it!

(Photos: A rubbish bin at the cemetery with a dramatic shadow, and forsythia on our patio.)

Friday, February 28, 2020

Almost-March Snowfall

We had snow yesterday morning! Not very dramatic snow, granted -- just wet, clumpy stuff that fell to the ground and immediately melted. The temperatures were hovering right around freezing. Ultimately it was too warm for any frost, but it was still probably our wintriest day yet this year.

Because the snow was so transient I couldn't really get a decent picture, which is why I shot the video above. But here are some clumps on the leaves of my little foxgloves.

Olga wanted no part of it.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Chivas and Coronavirus

Mr. Slovakia finally responded to my Facebook message, and came over to pick up his lost ID card yesterday morning. He seems like a totally nice guy. He said he dropped it while running and didn't even initially realize he'd lost it. He brought us a bottle of Chivas Regal as a thank-you gift. I've never been a whiskey drinker, but maybe I'll start!

We're having more rain this morning. Olga went to the back door when she got up this morning, but when I opened it and she felt the rain she turned right around and headed for the couch.

Coronavirus is all over the news here, even though the UK hasn't had many cases (so far). This is usually a very heavy travel season for our students but right now everything is looking doubtful. Our school has canceled a few trips and I think more may be on the chopping block, including Dave's big annual excursion with the music students. They were supposed to head to Prague in a few weeks, but given the viral hot spots in continental Europe that may not happen.

It still seems to me that this is basically just a nasty flu. I don't mean to tempt fate, and I can see why out of an abundance of caution organizations like our school can't risk exposing people to it. But the vast majority of healthy people who contract it do recover, and some apparently don't even show symptoms. I'm more concerned about Dave than myself, because he takes immunosuppressive drugs for his Crohn's disease. He's going to talk to his doctor about whether that treatment needs to change in the short term, or if there are other medical steps he should be taking.

(You watch -- I'll be the one who gets sick, now.)

I'm starting to think about when to put our foxgloves in the ground. They're already outside, growing in pots, so there's probably no disadvantage to planting them now. The question is, where will I find the space?! We have twelve of them -- six that I grew from seed and six that a co-worker gave me. I hope I can remember what's already in the ground so I don't mistakenly plant them on top of something else!

(Photos: Faces on a building in West Hampstead, last month.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Talking to Ray Bradbury

Ever since middle school, I've loved Ray Bradbury's book "The Martian Chronicles." It's a landmark collection of sci-fi short stories about man's colonization of the Red Planet. When I was in the 7th grade, my English teacher played our class a recording of Leonard Nimoy reading what became my favorite of the stories, "There Will Come Soft Rains," and I was hooked.

That's my copy above, a somewhat bedraggled hardback I bought in a used book store in Key West in 1990 or so. It's not a dated edition, but I'm guessing it's from the '60s or early '70s, with that tawdry cover.

As originally published in 1950, the book's action took place in the years between 1999 and 2026. In early 2000, I went to Barnes & Noble for a new copy to replace the one above. But I was annoyed to find that the newer edition, from 1997, shifted all the dates in the book ahead by 31 years. Thus, man's arrival on Mars was said to occur in 2030. That edition also eliminated one of the stories. (Wikipedia, which obviously wasn't available at the time, now details those revisions more fully.)

I felt so betrayed by the changes that I decided against replacing my original. At the time, I was writing for a newspaper in Sarasota, Fla., and I penned a column about the episode:

(Don't worry -- you don't have to read it. I'm kind of appalled at how long it is, actually.)

Basically, I argued that changing the dates violated the spirit of the book. There was poignancy in the fact that not only hadn't we made it to Mars by 1999, we'd even ceased manned flights to the moon. The book's messages of warning to humanity -- about the still-very-real danger that we could all but exterminate ourselves -- were still germane, even on the old timetable.

My column ran not only in our local paper but was sent out to other papers owned by the New York Times Company. A few days later, to my surprise, I got a message from an editor at a sister paper, who happened to know Bradbury. The editor told me that he'd sent Bradbury my column, and Bradbury, who was 79 at the time, wanted to talk to me. Gulp!

Several days later, Bradbury called me at my desk. He was very congenial but quite frank in his explanation of why the stories had been updated in the book's newer edition. He wanted people to continue looking toward the future, he said, rather than become discouraged that we hadn't progressed as quickly as he'd first envisioned.

He also said he'd eliminated the missing story because he felt it didn't really fit with the book. It was a story in which race played a significant element, and I suspected he removed it because its racial language and depictions were dated. He said there was "nothing politically correct" about the change. I remain skeptical even now, but who am I to say?

In any case, this episode was one of the most exciting of my journalism career. It's odd that although I called the publisher when I wrote the first piece to get an explanation for the revisions, I never thought to call Bradbury, a writer I idolized. He seemed as remote and untouchable as if he were on Mars himself, rather than simply living in L.A.

I was happy to talk to him, even belatedly -- one of my literary heroes! I still wish he and his editors had left the book alone, though.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Almost-March iPhone Photo Parade

I have more (hopefully) curious or interesting photos saved up on the ol' iPhone. Here's some of what I've been seeing in recent weeks.

First, this magnificent Lamborghini has been parked on our street. The last time I saw it, it wasn't even in a space -- just planted by the curb. I think if I owned a car this expensive I wouldn't be leaving it streetside in seedy London neighborhoods like mine!

This is a photo of a photo. When I went to the ABBA exhibit in mid-January, there were many old '70s images of the band exhibited on the walls. This guy was a friend or roadie, and I got a kick out of his shirt, which looks like he stenciled it in his garage.

Also from the ABBA exhibit -- Olga was one of the band's first record labels! Isn't my dog due royalties?!

A rubber mask found lying in the street one rainy morning, outside the pub. There was an elephant too. Guess someone had a wild party.

Lost footballs on a rooftop at a school in St. John's Wood (not the one where I work). Seems like they need to figure out a way to drain rainwater off that roof! The drains are probably clogged with all those leaves.

I encountered this woman walking her little dog through the Overground station, an umbrella in its mouth. This was the best picture I could get considering we were all on the move.

The high-street grocers replaced their broken window and got a new Croatian sausage poster.

Do any of you watch the Netflix show "Schitt's Creek"? We're enjoying it a lot. We paused it several nights ago and happened to catch Moira in this pose, which seemed to capture her character perfectly.

When I was at the beach last week I happened to spy this rock, signed by someone named Angus. The chalk from the cliffs is easy to write with -- just like regular chalk -- and I guess any hard, dark surface makes a good blackboard!

Someone living in the nearby housing estate has this tree standing on their patio, in a bag. It's very strange, because they live in an apartment and seemingly have nowhere to plant it. I'm not sure what it's doing there. (And no, I am not going to save it. There are limits to my powers.)

Finally, Olga with primroses, on our walk on Saturday.

Monday, February 24, 2020

First Bumblebees

After another blustery morning the sun came out yesterday, and it seemed brighter and warmer than before. I took Olga to the cemetery in the afternoon, where we found this camellia in full bloom.

Look at the right-hand blossom -- a hovering bumblebee! That's the fourth one I've seen this week. He was crawling way up inside every flower, collecting pollen or nectar or whatever it is that bumblebees collect.

I guess we are just a few days away from March, but still -- February seems early for bumblebees. After all, we had a snow day on the first of March just a few years ago.

Here's a close-up.

Olga had a good time on her walk, which of course involved wandering through the daffodils at Fortune Green.

"What'd I do?!"

I also moved the maltese cross, so that's one more plant taken care of for spring. I put it in a pot until we decide where we want to replant it. I think we're pretty much caught up on our gardening for the time being, although of course it's a process and never really finished.

I spent the rest of the day reading "In the Woods" by Tana French, a really good mystery novel. I finished it up and got about halfway through my next Newbery, "Onion John" by Joseph Krumgold.

I did find the Slovakian guy on Facebook -- the one whose ID card I picked up Saturday. It's definitely him, and he lives in London. So I sent him a message offering to return it. Haven't heard back yet. I think it's a pretty important document, like a passport for EU citizens, and in this post-Brexit era he may need it! We'll see if he responds.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Wind in the Trees

Another day, another dog walk -- yesterday to the West Heath. The wind was whipping through the trees, which sighed and swayed. We saw quite a few downed limbs and even a few fallen trees, probably from storms Ciara and Dennis over the past few weekends.

It was a mostly uneventful walk, except that I found someone's Slovak national identity card near a footpath. I'm not sure what to do with it; I sent an e-mail to the embassy, asking if I should mail it to them. Perhaps they could return it if the guy who lost it applies for a new one. (Admittedly this would require an extraordinary degree of coordination beyond most bureaucracies, but it's worth a try.)

There's someone who could be the card owner on Facebook, but he appears to be in Slovakia now, so maybe he's already replaced his lost card. I was going to contact him but if I remember right, a Facebook message from someone who's not a friend gets sent into some weird Facebook neverland where it's not easy to find. Maybe I'll try anyway.

Here's the obligatory Olga-in-the-woods photo. We did not see many squirrels. I think they huddle somewhere when there's a lot of wind.

Dave repotted his hydrangea yesterday and we did a few more gardening odds and ends. I potted the amaryllis bulbs and treated them again for red-blotch fungus. Hopefully they'll have a better year, with fresh soil and fungus treatment; if not, I'm throwing them out. I have one more plant to move -- the maltese cross, which is being overtaken by a nearby bay tree. It was much smaller last year than the year before, and I'm sure that's because it's being shaded out.

More blustery, rainy weather is in today's forecast. I read yesterday that some parts of England have already had 141 percent of their average February rainfall. I don't think we're that wet here, but we're pretty damp.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Tree Relocation Project

A busy day in the garden yesterday, getting some problems sorted out.

First I walked Olga, and while wandering the neighborhood we passed a house with a rather spectacular Chinese lantern plant in the front garden. I've photographed this plant before -- it always bears a lot more lanterns than ours (which only produced one last year). What interested me is the way the lanterns have decomposed over the winter to reveal a small berry inside -- and no doubt a seed inside that. So I picked up two of them, thinking maybe I could plant them. We'll see.

Home again, Dave and I tackled the Problem of the Misplaced Tree.

Several years ago one of our neighbors emptied out a flower pot and discarded the entire root ball of plants. I picked it up -- it included some large clusters of bulbs and a twiggy thing, and I planted it all in the ground. I mainly wanted the bulbs (which turned out to be bluebells) and never knew what the twiggy thing was or what it would become.

Well, in the years since, it's become apparent that the twiggy thing is some kind of tree. It has red-bronze leaves in the summer, and this year, for the first time, it produced a flower (above). I'm thinking it's some kind of ornamental fruit tree. Unfortunately I planted it near the bird bath, right at the front of the garden, which is a terrible place for a tree. It would eventually shade the roses and block our view of much of the garden from the house.

So yesterday, Dave and I dug up the tree and moved it to the back of the garden, where it can live and grow in perpetuity. I didn't take the task lightly, knowing that it might kill the tree, but I think it had to be done. I wish we'd done it just a few weeks earlier, because now the tree is already budding, but who knew spring would come so quickly this year?!

This is the little tree in its new location, near the wildflower garden. Fingers crossed!

While transplanting the tree, I found this little piece of pottery in the root ball. It looks like the top of a pagoda or teapot, or maybe a drawer pull. I added it to my collection of little pottery bits.

After moving the tree, Dave and I filled the hole with some valerian and some daffodils. (All growing in the blue pot that used to house our horseradish, but the horseradish was barely hanging on at this point.) Now we have a big empty pot, and Dave plans to put a hydrangea in it.

Olga watched all this activity from the couch.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Time Travel with Madeleine

Yesterday was spent catching up on things and getting some rest. I made a quick trip to work so I could pick up a package (we have everything shipped there because someone's always around to securely receive it) and I checked in a few returned books.

The package contained a red glass vase that I ordered from an antique shop in Oklahoma. It's identical to one my grandmother used to own that my brother has now. I was reminded of it while watching the new Star Trek show, "Picard" -- one of the characters drinks out of one. Anyway, I always loved Grandmother's and now I'm glad to have my own. (They were made by Anchor Hocking decades ago but they're not expensive.)

In the afternoon, Dave and I went to the high street so he could use one of his Christmas presents, a gift card from the local cook shop. He wanted an oval gratin pan, but of course they didn't have one in stock. I like the idea of supporting local merchants, and I always try to do that, but this is the downside -- unlike the Internet, they sometimes don't have what you want! (And yet they did have an entire wall of reusable water bottles, which seemed excessive in such a small store.) Anyway, they're looking into whether they can order Dave's pan.

I've worked my way through all but two books from my February Break reading stack. I read "A Wrinkle in Time" and "When You Reach Me" on my overnight trip to the beach. I first read "A Wrinkle in Time" when I was in the fifth grade and loved it. A friend of my mom's loaned it to me, and I distinctly remember the cover (image at left, found online).

Our library copy looks entirely different, but of course I still enjoyed it. It's so interesting to re-read a childhood favorite as an adult. What was a very rich book as a kid seems a bit slim now, and there were elements I didn't detect before -- several religious references, for example. (Apparently L'Engle was quite religious herself, in a liberal New England way.) There's a very clear light vs. dark, good vs. evil, anti-authoritarian theme. I loved how she gave us just enough science to make time and space travel seem feasible, and I remembered some secondary characters, like Aunt Beast, quite clearly. Five stars!

"When You Reach Me" is a Newbery winner from several decades later that refers back to "A Wrinkle in Time," and even has a plot somewhat inspired by it. So it was fun to read it immediately afterwards. Also five stars!

We got more rain yesterday, two gusty storms that blew through in the afternoon. The garden is certainly not lacking moisture.

(Photo: A garage on Cinnamon Street in Wapping.)

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Foiled, Literally

I got back to London yesterday, after a rather exhausting, cold morning of beachcombing. Once again, I found nothing much -- just some foil packaging, some rusty nails and an aluminum can (the latter without the aid of the metal detector).

I picked it all up and took it back to the hotel, where I threw it in the trash along with Tuesday's finds.

I'm still not sure about metal detecting -- it seems like a lot of work for very little gain. But all was not lost, because it is a beautiful stretch of beach, beneath chalk cliffs. (It's not far from the famous white cliffs of Dover.) I compensated for my disappointing finds with some rewarding photography.

I found some fun graffiti scratched into the chalk. I'm sure this is against someone's rules, but fortunately the rock is pretty soft, so I imagine it wears away before too long.

And I saw some wildlife -- mainly starlings and sparrows.

It's interesting how the chalk gets eroded into unusual pillars and arches.

Finally, after breakfast, I checked out of my hotel and walked back to central Broadstairs. Along the way I passed the North Foreland Lighthouse, built in 1732 and altered to its current appearance in 1860.

It was a lengthy walk back into town, but scenic, and except for the fact that I was carrying my metal detector (which isn't heavy, but it is unwieldy) I enjoyed it. I caught the noon train for London and got back about 2 p.m. Dave was home but I wasn't reunited with Olga until 4:30, when she returned from her outing with the dog walker.

These are my only souvenirs from the trip -- two strangely shaped pieces of flint, each about the size of my fist. Aren't they cool? Like nature's own Henry Moore sculpture!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Broadstairs Detectorist

Remember how I said it seemed the only place I could use my metal detector was on the beach?

Well, I've come to the beach.

I took the train to Broadstairs yesterday, where Dave and I visited a few years ago. I'm shacked up at the same little hotel, in fact -- me and my metal detector. This time around, Dave, not wanting to be part of this thrilling opportunity to encounter riches beyond measure, stayed back in London with Olga.

When I first got into town yesterday around 1:30 p.m., I had lunch at the little cafe above (a vegetarian English breakfast, actually). I then walked 30 minutes or so to Botany Bay, the area where I'm staying.

I should preface all this by saying I experimented with the metal detector on Monday afternoon in our garden. I'm still trying to learn which settings to use and which tones to listen for. This was the one object I found -- I'm not sure but I think it's a folded chip of aluminum. So exciting -- NOT.

I thought sure on the beach I'd have better luck. I mean, so many people gather there -- granted, not at this time of year -- and aren't coins and jewelry routinely spilling from their hands and pockets?

Apparently not, because this is all I found after two hours of beach detecting. I scanned with my detector for so long that my right arm became weak with muscle fatigue. I could barely hold my camera to take this picture. (That's an old rusty nail at lower right.)

I thought I might at least find a penny or two, to offset the cost of this £150 trip. As I told Dave, though, all joking of riches aside, I don't expect this to be any kind of profit-making venture.

The detector is still a bit of a mystery to me. Sometimes it beeps and I can't find any cause. It doesn't seem impossible that some of the beach rocks may have iron in them -- would that cause it to react? Or am I just overlooking my real target?

Anyway, I'm going to go out this morning and try some more before I head back to London. I'll let you know how it goes. I think I may be the world's worst detectorist.

At least it's kind of fun. It gives me an excuse to walk the beach!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


I took a photo walk yesterday through the neighborhood of Wapping, east of the city on the Thames. It's one of the few places in London I'd never visited -- mostly, it seems, a collection of mid-century apartment buildings and housing estates.

That's the Shadwell Basin, above, looking westward toward Central London.

I think Wapping was heavily bombed in World War II, like much of London's so-called docklands area, which is why so much of the construction is post-war. There are a few older churches and some big warehouses by the river that have been converted into flats and offices.

I was reading my pal Sarah's blog a few days ago, when she mentioned the arrival of her new cat, Oliver. She joked that he "has his own wharf" and posted a picture of the building above. I didn't even know where it was -- and then yesterday, completely coincidentally, I found myself right outside!

I wonder if Oliver's Wharf is named for Oliver Twist? I also noticed a pub named after the Artful Dodger, and a Gulliver's Wharf. Lots of literary references in Wapping.

I walked along the Thames Path, looking out across the water to Rotherhithe and, beyond that, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

It is surprisingly hard to get a good picture of a duck. They're always moving -- particularly when, like this one, they associate humans with food and keep trying to get closer and closer.

Anyway, it was a good walk. I got to work out some of my post-Dennis cabin fever!