Thursday, April 30, 2020

Looking Out the Windows

Here's a view through our rain-streaked living room window of the Senetti (the purple flowers) I bought at the grocery store the other day, with some  primroses in front. Yes, we had another rainy day yesterday, though not as rainy as Tuesday. The plants are definitely happy for some moisture.

Olga and I went to the cemetery during a short dry spell in the morning. The cow parsley is blooming in the back corner near the butterfly garden. Olga pretended she was a cow and grazed on the grass. She loves eating grass -- her "salad," as we call it.

I may have blogged this before -- I can't remember. It's probably my favorite headstone in the entire cemetery. I love the modern, minimal design and the idea that these two women are eternal companions. I assumed they were actual, biological sisters, but I recently noticed that some nuns are buried nearby, so now I wonder if they could be sisters in that regard.

Someone used a weed-eater, or "strimmer" as the British call it, around some headstones, covering everything with a layer of shredded grass. You may remember this figurine from my post a couple of weeks ago.

Otherwise I've been trying to arrange to have our old patio furniture and some other debris collected by the council's solid waste department, a process that is proving to be somewhat challenging. (Their collection schedulers are apparently working from home, and we've been trading e-mails back and forth.) They don't want to collect an old glass shower door or a long pipe that used to run up the side of the house for, they say, "health and safety reasons." Which leaves me asking, how are we supposed to get rid of them?

This is why people dump things in the woods.

A friend invited me to a group on Facebook called "What do you see from your window?" People all over the world are posting photos of what they're seeing during lockdown. Here's mine:

I had to show off the amaryllis, of course. It's had 187 "likes" so far!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Sofa-Bound iPhone Catch-Up Post

Given that we finally had some much-needed rain, I spent the entire day indoors yesterday. On the couch. With the dog. Which means I have no news, other than another collection of backlogged iPhone photos!

First, someone added to the NHS poster-poem on Finchley Road. I think the addition is actually a subtraction.

At first I thought this was a big gay bulldozer, festooned with rainbows. But then I realized it's probably a tribute to the NHS. (Rainbows have become the symbol of gratitude in the coronavirus crisis -- as in, there's a rainbow after a storm.)

I'm always impressed with this wisteria, which I've photographed in years past. It was looking good again as usual.

And look at this nasturtium, blooming like crazy so early in the season!

I've been seeing a lot of signs reminding people to take our lockdown seriously. (In case you can't read it, this one says "Stay safe, stay home.")

I wonder what it means to "zeal your zest"? This place didn't endear itself to neighbors when it was allegedly the site of a large gathering the night before our lockdown was announced. People were too busy "zealing their zests" to be concerned, I guess.

I don't know if you can tell, but this little car has three wheels! I don't remember seeing anything like it before. It's called a Reliant Robin. Apparently it's made of fiberglass.

Proselytizing flowerpots and a stuffed lion make an intriguing front garden display.

I've heard of Sundance, but Raindance is a new one on me. Apparently it's kind of a big deal. Not enough to make someone want to keep this tote bag, though.

Fun with shadows!

And finally, a book I found abandoned on a bench in the cemetery. "The book is composed of five sections addressing key aspects of the most cited author in psychoanalytic literature after Freud," according to the Wiley Online Library. Kind of intense for light cemetery reading, don't you think? (I left it there.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


I stained more furniture yesterday -- can you believe it? I know you're thinking, "HOW much patio furniture has this guy got?!" But I'd been debating staining the new table, and I finally buckled down and did it. I used the same natural wood stain that I'd already applied to the bench and folding chairs. I also got stain on one of my favorite t-shirts, which annoyed me.

Then I went grocery shopping and acquired provisions for three days' worth of meals. I also bought a big pot of senetti, a bright purple daisy-like flower, because I am entirely susceptible to garden-related impulse buying. I regretted it when I had to schlep it home along with two bags of groceries.

During my shopping trip, the table had been drying in the garden. I folded it up and brought it inside, and in doing so managed to scrape the heck out of my leg. (Long and not-really-worth-it story.) I then decided to take Olga to the Heath, and while walking there I thought about that scrape -- I had neglected to wash it. What if I came down with something hideous like gangrene? It occurred to me that I had a bottle of lens cleaner in my camera bag -- and it's mostly isopropyl alcohol! So in a very Trumpian move, I sprayed lens cleaner on my leg and as far as I know it worked because it stung like crazy and I don't have gangrene.

Olga and I found some pink bluebells on the Heath. (So, pinkbells, I suppose.) They're really not that unusual. White ones are pretty common, too. Just some of nature's little variations.

I also found this very degraded top to an aluminum can, which I picked up for a closer look because it once had a pull-tab and was obviously quite old. I wanted to see what product the can held. There's no name, but whatever it was had an expiration date of Oct. 18, 1983 -- which means it was sold when I was in high school! Kind of mind-blowing.

On the walk home -- you gotta love someone with a juvenile sense of humor.

I made olga pose (again) next to these bright campanulas. We can't resist them. (Well, she probably could, but I can't.)

I finished the day by doing laundry and plowing through some online reading and more pages of my backlogged New Yorkers. I swear, that magazine causes me stress, arriving every Thursday and piling up the way it does! It's a monthly magazine in a weekly magazine's body.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Al Fresco

I got so much done yesterday! As you can see above, the scene of my work area. (Ignore that dead dog.)

I mentioned that Dave and I bought a new patio table, and we're getting rid of the old furniture. Well, the chairs above are from the old set. We've been debating whether to keep them -- they're in better condition than the table and the bench, and without them we'd have only two patio chairs, which wouldn't be great if we had people over.

So we decided to hang onto them, and I got out an old can of stain to restore their finish. (Color: "bramble." It appears to be the same stain whoever bought them used on them originally. Miraculously, it was still in our utility closet.)

Here's a comparison shot, just so you can see how weathered they looked before I began.

Behind the chairs, you'll see a row of five flowerpots. Those are our dahlias, which I finally replanted for the growing season. They've spent the winter as tubers resting in dry soil in our garden shed. They already had little pink sprouts coming out the top, even in the darkness!

In between these projects I read most of a New Yorker (I am so behind on my magazines) and took the dog, of course, to the cemetery. I met a couple of women there who are doing a survey of all the graves. One of them showed me a beautiful watercolor of one of the elaborate headstones, and they told me they plan to write a book. I'd buy it!

In the evening, Dave and I had a special dinner outside. We ordered from "Hide at Home," the takeaway service of Hide restaurant on Piccadilly, which you may remember we visited several months ago. We got the weekend set menu -- asparagus starter; duck with potatoes, greens and beetroot salad; and black forest gateau, all with a paired bottle of wine. We sat out and ate amid the cooing pigeons and the squawking parakeets and the chittering squirrels charging through the treetops, and appreciated the garden without the roar of overhead aircraft (a frequent pre-virus sound).

Once again, I marveled at how lucky we are.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


This is perhaps my favorite shopfront in London. It's just such a wreck. I first photographed it way back in 2011, sure that I was capturing a historic element of the city's retail scene that would no doubt be quickly gentrified into an espresso bar or yoga-wear shop. But no! Yesterday I revisited it and took some more photos, and when you compare them to the shot from nine years ago they look almost exactly the same.

A glance in the shop's front window isn't any more promising. Can you see how thick that layer of dust is, covering the sun-rotten books and the bizarre hand, with a googly-eyed creature on the pinky finger?

However, apparently this really is a functioning business, selling fishing tackle. It happened to be closed when I visited (I guess "try Saturday" doesn't work in the age of coronavirus), but there was a jumble of cardboard boxes stacked inside, appearing to contain stock newer than anything in the window. It looks like the kind of place where opening hours and the location of any particular item are known only to the proprietor -- a place where the world functions entirely according to his (and I'm sure it's his) whims.

I did not take the dog on this walk. It's hard to take pictures when I've got her dragging me hither and yon. But after a couple of hours of walking I was back home again, and I grabbed her and took her to the cemetery -- so she got her outing too.

Our neighbor, the older Eastern European lady who makes all her own clothes, was out and about in a shimmering blue quilted dress that was really something to behold. In the bright sunlight she looked positively incandescent. She's clearly made her own face mask, too -- don't you love the daisies? (I asked her for a picture and she happily obliged. Photos of some of her other outfits are at the top of this post and here.)

Big news -- I finished "City on Fire" yesterday! All 900 pages. Whew! I enjoyed the writing, but I gotta say, I think the book is just too long. Very few writers, no matter how good, can successfully bring a reader on such a sustained journey -- Tolstoy being possibly the only exception. "City on Fire" wasn't unsuccessful -- it's richly written and the plot has momentum, and were I the editor I'm honestly not sure what I would cut to make it shorter -- but I felt a kind of emotional distance from the characters, which I attribute to fatigue!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Teasels and a Muddy Snout

Apparently we're having the hottest April in 361 years -- our glorious recent weather has actually been warmer than Crete and Ibiza! It's also one of the driest Aprils on record. We've been watering in the garden almost every day. Fortunately I'm seeing forecasts that call for rain around the beginning of May, so that will be welcome.

Dave and I bought a new patio table to replace the sagging, rotting specimen out there now. The old one was here when we moved into the flat, so I sent a note to the landlords telling them we intend to discard it. They wrote back saying it isn't their table; apparently it was purchased by a former tenant. So we're in the clear to throw it out. The new one is smaller and round, and hopefully slightly more mobile so we can take it out to the lawn and bring it in over winter.

I've been debating whether to stain it, like I did our other outdoor furniture. I haven't decided.

In other news, Dave and I got our coronavirus stimulus payments from Uncle Sam. So that's a welcome development. (It will more than pay for the table!) I wasn't sure we'd even get one, living overseas, but since we're citizens and we file taxes I guess we qualify. Woo hoo!

As usual, yesterday involved more reading and walking the dog. Olga and I finished our cemetery walk just as it was closing at 4 p.m. I had no idea it closed so early these days -- apparently it's a coronavirus schedule. There must have been about 80 people at Fortune Green when we walked through, lounging on blankets, having ice cream on the benches, playing football. Little kids were riding bikes and scooters. I did my best to steer clear of everyone.

I also made a quick shopping trip for some essentials -- ice cream, peppercorns and white wine!

In the garden, I planted the teasel seedlings I rescued from last year's pods. We have seven of them, including three in one pot that somehow all got planted together. (The pottery shards guard against digging squirrels.)

We also have these three teasels that grew up in the lawn all on their own. I'm going to let them mature, even though they're in kind of a funny place right in the middle of the grass. We have a few others that took root on their own in the flower beds. Goldfinches love teasels, and I like the flowers, but we're obviously going to have to monitor this situation or we may be taken over! (Sort of like the ragwort, which we allow to grow for the caterpillars, but that stuff reproduces like crazy so we have to keep it in check.)

Here's Olga at the cemetery. She dropped her Kong in a deep mud puddle underneath a water spigot and blackened her snout trying to retrieve it! As usual, all the dirt vanished on its own by the time we got home. She really does seem to have Teflon fur.

(Top photo: This building around the corner has been under renovation all six years we've lived here. Here it is in 2014 -- looks better now, but what's taking so long?)

Friday, April 24, 2020

A Path Forward, and the Horvaths

Another day, more lounging in the garden, more dog walks, more reading, more gardening. Like all of us, I am trapped in a monotonous loop. It seems ungrateful to complain given how much we do have -- outdoor space and fine weather, not to mention our health -- but I must admit I'm getting pretty sick of this lockdown situation.

Many other people are, too. When I take the dog out I see lots of people milling around, sitting on the park benches, on blankets in the grass, visiting and chatting. I am sure all those people don't live in the same household with each other. I was Zooming with my co-workers yesterday and we all agreed more people seem to be ignoring the restrictions.

And I'm just experiencing mild frustration. Imagine how people feel who have lost jobs and livelihoods. (Not to mention loved ones.)

On March 20 I said we'd be emerging from this situation in six weeks. Obviously that was wildly optimistic and we're still not there. But some world leaders -- the Germans, the Danish -- are talking about how to carefully open up the economy again, in ways that might be less dangerous but that will get people and goods moving. I think this is a good thing. We need a publicly stated plan. Otherwise, where are we going with all this? If people don't see light at the end of the tunnel I worry we're going to start seeing civil unrest.

I wonder, for example, if it would be OK to allow certain small businesses or shops to reopen -- bookstores, or florists, or dry cleaners. Perhaps businesses in more rural areas, where there's a sort of natural social distancing, could be given more latitude. (All this assumes people maintain social distancing in their own interactions, as well as hand-washing and other basic infection-control measures.)

What if restaurants that have outdoor seating can open those areas for table service, keeping distance between tables?

I just don't know what the answer is. I'm no epidemiologist. Inevitably, people are going to continue to get sick. This virus isn't going away. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to continue with our lives. It's a balance, and possibly one that shifts and fluctuates over time. In years to come, maybe we'll see periods of closure interspersed with periods of openness.

We went out and applauded the NHS again last night, along with all our neighbors. Of course those are the people who really have to be protected -- the ones on the front lines, helping to fight this thing while potentially exposing themselves.

In other news, our upstairs neighbors are installing pigeon-proofing spikes on their patio railings. I think they're annoyed with us because we have bird feeders which, along with all the garden songbirds we like, inevitably also attract pigeons. I'm not sure what to do about that. Pigeons are a fact of urban life, aren't they?

Here's "Throwback Thursday," one day late. ("Flashback Friday," maybe?)

I came across this photo yesterday, showing me (the blurry kid in front, obviously) sitting with some other kids during a dinner party my parents attended. It was held at the home of the Horvaths, who I believe they knew from the University of Maryland, where my dad was getting his Ph.D. in mathematics. I was about two years old, and I dimly remember this night because I quite dramatically fell down the stairs at the Horvaths' house! (I was always falling down stairs. Our own house didn't have stairs, and I wasn't the most coordinated kid, so it took me a while to get the hang of them.) I think this photo was taken pre-fall, but in any case, I didn't seriously injure myself. I screamed a lot, though, and the incident freaked me out enough to imprint itself on my memory!

Oddly, I don't think we were ever asked back to the Horvaths'.

I wonder where those other kids are now? I don't even know who they are. Horvath daughters, maybe.

(Top photo: Golders Green, on Sunday.)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Triumph, and Two Indiscreet Insects

Here's my big gardening success story for today. Remember how terrible our amaryllis looked last year? They had a type of fungus, and we didn't get a single successful blossom -- just a bunch of twisted leaves and dry flower buds. I read up on how to treat the problem, and last fall I soaked the bulbs briefly in a weak chlorine solution, stored them loose and dry over winter, then repotted them a few months ago with fresh soil and sprayed them with an anti-fungal agent.

Voila! Mission accomplished. I really thought I was going to have to throw out these bulbs, which we've had for eight years, so I'm glad I could get the situation back under control. I'll probably have to treat them each year from here on out. The fungus apparently never goes away entirely.

Here's another success story, of a different sort. We've tried several times to get groceries delivered, but we were never able to get a delivery slot -- demand is through the roof because no one wants to brave a grocery store. Then the online grocer we usually order from -- Ocado -- sent Dave a message saying they had slots set aside for long-term customers. So he grabbed one and stocked us up on staples. Our kitchen looks like Costco at the moment, but we won't need to buy bran flakes, tonic water, ginger ale, Dentastix and a lot of other stuff anytime soon. Which will make my shopping trips easier.

That's Dave's pineapple upside-down cake on the counter, BTW. He made it a few nights ago after we talked about ways to use our canned pineapple. Terrific!

Here's some of what's going on in the garden:

Our foam flowers are blooming. They're small and somewhat inconspicuous but I like them.

Fly sex! Do you suppose these are the same flies I posted yesterday? Maybe that was their first date. You gotta move fast when you're a fly.

The honesty attracted a cabbage white butterfly, which makes sense -- apparently it's in the brassica family, so it's related to cabbages and broccoli and other plants that cabbage whites like.

I think I mentioned before that our local council has a phone app that allows us to report litter problems. I love this app. On Tuesday I reported a discarded tent that had been lying beneath a tree on our street for weeks. It was gone within half an hour! Amazing, and kudos once again to the trash collectors, who are still working while the rest of us are cooling our heels.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Graffiti and Flowers

I loved the way these little flies were parked tête-à-tête, as if having a conference about some serious fly business. How to divvy up the dead mouse by the shed, maybe?

Yesterday I let Olga take me for a walk -- she chose the direction and the route. (Obviously I still held the leash!) We wound up on Billy Fury Way, probably West Hampstead's sketchiest pedestrian path, running along the railroad tracks. There's lots of litter, which is why Olga likes it, and in broad daylight I wasn't too concerned. But then we were approached by a scarecrow-thin guy who got right up in my personal space (well within two meters) and mumbled something. "What's that?" I asked, having not heard him, and he said, "Oh, sorry," and scampered away. I think he thought I was either buying or selling.

Ah, urban life.

We found some interesting portraits spray-painted on one of the railroad bridges.

Other than that little adventure, life was pretty sedate. I read all day, and Dave and I watched "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" in the evening. Ever since I heard last December about the death of Philip McKeon, who played Tommy in the TV show "Alice," I've had it in my head to watch the movie that inspired the show. (Even though McKeon isn't in it.) It's a good film.

Here's some of what's blooming now:

Our first rose appeared yesterday morning, and we have plenty more buds on the way. They seem to hit their peak about a month from now, as I recall.

Mrs. Kravitz gave me a flat of violas, part of her hoard of free plants. I put some in a hanging basket and planted the rest around our potted blueberry bush, and they're all going gangbusters.

Our camellia has lots of flowers and even more buds. I've never been crazy about this plant -- the white flowers turn brown very quickly. But it was here when we moved in, so c'est la vie. (Apparently I am channeling my inner Frenchman today.)

The honesty is still blooming, and the first little hints of its unique seed pods are appearing. By fall they'll be like round translucent windows, as you've no doubt seen in dried flower arrangements. (Dave keeps talking about bringing them inside, but I hate dried flowers. Besides, they'll re-seed themselves if we leave them in the garden over winter.)

Finally, the African daisies have bloomed within the past day or two.

I tried to make another film of our foxes, and I put out some food for them, but somehow the food got eaten by a culprit who wasn't captured on camera. Wily!