Sunday, May 3, 2020

Azaleas and Asteroids

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday, just in time to catch the azaleas at Athlone House in peak bloom. We saw them back in 2017, but it's been hard to time our visits to catch them in subsequent years, so I'm glad we did this time.

Do you see the one in the background on the left -- the yellow one? That seems pretty unusual. I don't think yellow azaleas (or maybe it's a rhododendron) are all that common.

Anyway, we had a good long walk, with time for a back-scratch on a handy tree!

The Heath was about as crowded as I've ever seen it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, on a sunny Saturday after a rainy week, but I was, given our current crisis. The only way to maintain social distancing was to walk off the paths. This picture of crazy Olga is actually meant to show all the people on the path in the background -- there are at least 40 people in the shot. We stuck to the grass.

To make things more complicated, it seemed like every visitor was in a family of about five, with everyone running figure-eights around each other -- so they took up a lot of space. My walk was like playing the old video game Asteroids, in which unthinking objects hurtle towards you and you have to evade them -- except, of course, in Asteroids you shoot them.

I heard one woman tell her kids, "The street where we left our car is this way." Which is more evidence that our lockdown appears to be slipping. Remember how we're not supposed to drive anywhere to exercise? Still, I can understand that parents must have been desperate for something to do outdoors with the kids.

Next weekend is the first May bank holiday, which always attracts tons of people to the Heath. So it's just as well we visited this weekend instead of next -- if we have good weather it's likely to be madness. (And actually it should have been this weekend -- it's usually the first Monday in May. This year the British government switched it to Friday to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day.)

This photo is from my "London Shown to the Children" book, which is about 100 years old. It describes the Heath as normally "open, clean and deserted," but adds:

"On Bank Holidays Hampstead Heath is the Cockney's paradise, though its popularity has waned a little in recent years, since the revellers find it increasingly easy to go farther afield. But a great fair is still held here every Bank Holiday; marquees and merry-go-rounds are erected, swing-boats, and all manner of side-shows; and holiday-makers throng over the Heath, eating, and littering the helpless ground with paper bags and orange peel, and shouting, singing, swinging their wooden rattles, laughing, till the noise of their merry-making echoes for miles around."

Fortunately people are generally better about littering nowadays!

Anyway, Olga and I made our normal circuit of the Heath (skipping Parliament Hill, which I had a feeling might be crowded). On the way home, we passed this art studio in Hampstead, with a colorful "Stay Strong London" paper-flower display out front.

Last night we watched "Joker" with Joaquin Phoenix. I'm normally not a huge fan of comic-book movies, but since he won an Oscar for it, I figured we should give it a try -- and man, it is dark. It was really good and I hope I never see it again!


  1. I can't believe all those people sitting amongst the litter in that photo on the Heath! What fabulous colours those azaleas are.
    BTW.......a couple of weeks ago we were told that we could drive to go for a walk as long as the driving time wasn't longer than the walking time ! Hence I have driven to our normal walking place ( about 5 min drive) a few times now. I needed to go initially to see the bluebell wood, but they are nearly all over now.

  2. a) Wasn't that yellow shrub simply blooming gorse?
    b) The advice on driving to exercise was always unclear. At least one authority recently said it was okay to drive to exercise as long as the drive did not take longer than the exercise (Here I am echoing Frances).
    c) When are you going on your long, dog-free walk?

  3. Haven't seen Joker and don't know that I will (the darkness). Your photos are stunning. Those azaleas!!! My parents planted a bank of azaleas in front of our house when I was a kid. They weren't as impressive as those at Hampstead Heath, oviously, but they made a breathtaking display every year. And I love that old photo.

  4. Frances: Oh, I hadn't heard that about driving! The rules keep changing!

    YP: No, it was definitely an azalea or rhododendron. I saw it close up. I'm thinking the dog-free walk will be tomorrow, weather permitting!

    Mitchell: We had pink azaleas out front of our house in Florida, too. They were beautiful in the spring!

  5. The first thing I noticed in your top azalea photo (besides lovely Olga) was that all together the bushes looked like the shape of a giant fish. A very colourful fish. But perhaps I've been inside too long...

  6. Great azaleas, they are blooming here in the Washington DC area. I grew them when I lived in central Florida.

  7. Those azaleas are a true tonic for the eyes and soul! Wow!
    Yeah. Doesn't look like people are following orders, does it? Not cool.
    Humans are flock animals, I have come to suspect. Like chickens, like sheep. We feel more comfortable in large groups. Well, some of us.
    It's lovely to see Olga so happy. You are such a good dog dad.

  8. Damn Brother Steve, I Still Haven't Seen The Joke - Want To - That Scratching Tree, OUTSTANDING - Thanx So Much For The Olga Daily Outings - Well Done Human


  9. People need to get out sooner or later. How many will be smart enough to stay off the beaten trail like you?

  10. The azaleas are gorgeous. And that photo of "crazy" Olga is darling. Such a huge smile on her face! You stay safe and have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  11. Those azaleas are certainly colorful! I love the photo of Olga rolling around in the grass. She's so cute! My Ginger likes to do the same thing. And I hadn't thought about the video game Asteroids in years!! I used to love to play that when I was a kid.

  12. Those azaleas are gorgeous. I wish I could see them in person. I wonder how many pottery shards or glass bottles you've picked up date back to a long past bank holiday. Our governor has lifted restrictions on some retail outlets here starting next week. He said it wasn't fair that Walmart and Target were open because they sell groceries along with other items while businesses that sell clothing and household goods had to close. We'll see what happens. I think I'll skip The Joker. I've been searching out old comedies lately. Last night it was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and a few nights ago it was Noises Off.

  13. I'm so glad you and Olga took a walk at the Heath even if it did mean avoiding people like a game of Asteroids. I understand the need and desire to get out of the house, but I wish everyone was more conscious of the need also to maintain distancing. Love seeing those azaleas. Good to be reminded of the beauty of our planet.

  14. So that's a heath. Good to know. The azaleas are crazy good! Just amazing.

  15. I love that photo of Olga rolling on the grass. She knows how to have a good time. I live in a place (Western Oregon) where azaleas and rhododendrons grow really well. We have a lot of pink azaleas on our yard, and they are blooming so well this year. The yellow and orange ones are very rare, but I do see them here. Our college colors are orange and black and I figure because of that I'd see a lot of the orange azaleas around here, but I don't. So...I've come to the conclusion that they're hard to come by or maybe they are more difficult to grow? I don't know...but when you see one, it's a treat!

  16. avoiding JOKER, avoiding everything dark at the moment, enough on our plate with the most insane politics here in the old US of A- the shortage of flour and garlic...we are still in stay the fuck at home mode until at least the end of May, That is four months of STFAH for us...Surprising how little I miss the old run around days. Olga , my god that girl is cute!! London is so lax about the virus- not sure why or if we are overly reacting. Anyway, stay well, you are young and healthy . I would worry about Dave though and possibly bringing home a hitch hiker covid. I am overly cautious, leaning toward paranoia and grandmother ish ness. Love the photos as usual!

  17. The Cockney's paradise! that made me laugh. There is a very snobby view of the cockney in the tone. I don't know about littering then but it is pretty bad nowadays. Every single verge, kerb, and any old piece of ground is covered. The world is people's rubbish bin. (Well the thoughtless littering kind of people.) And, as you pointed out the other day, there is a lot of corona virus rubbish now too. So much so that I think the govt should mention it in their briefings!

  18. Those azaleas are amazing. Reminds me of the bouganvillea of Phoenix and also Mexico. We had good weather in the states over the weekend and huge crowds of people outside, many unmasked and not paying attention to social distancing. It seems the world is full of ignorant people these days. But Olga enjoyed the Heath anyway.

  19. Beautiful azaleas! Have you ever visited Exbury gardens in Hampshire known for their display of Azaleas and perhaps rhododendrons. We went many years ago and felt it was well worth the trip.
    Far too many people not obeying rules for face masks and safe distancing. CT wants to begin gradual reopening on May 20 while saying that our part of the state (southeast) will not peak until mid June!
    I plan to continue my hermitic lifestyle for quite awhile yet. Thank goodness we have a garden.

  20. It's interesting to see that old photo with all the litter! Do you REALLY think we're better now, given the stuff you find on your walks?!

    The azaleas are gorgeous. I don't know that I've ever seen one in person. We have rhododendrons that have masses of flowers like that, but now I need to find out if we have azaleas here also.

  21. Mary: Ha! They are vaguely fish-shaped. Did you ever read the children's book "Swimmy," in which all the little fish group together in the shape of a big fish to scare away predators? One of my favorite books as a child.

    Travel: Hello! Yeah, the good thing about azaleas is they grow in quite a wide range of climates.

    Ms Moon: We certainly are social animals, even the most anti-social of us!

    Padre: She LOVES scratching on trees. I once made a GoPro movie with Olga at Fryent Country Park where she scratched on a tree while wearing the GoPro camera. It's somewhere back in my earlier posts!

    Red: I think that's what we're all going to have to do -- resume our lives as best we can but maintain space between us and avoid shaking hands and that kind of thing.

    Edna: Olga is always very photogenic!

    Jennifer: Asteroids was one of my favorite video games! That and Space Invaders.

    Sharon: That's true! Probably a lot of the Heath debris comes from those earlier holiday festivities!

    Robin: There really IS a lot of beauty out there, still. We're just so consumed by all the dire news that it's hard to remember to look out for it!

    Colette: A heath is just an open area of land, usually on poor acid soils. Hampstead Heath is actually very wooded, and I'm not sure how poor the soils are, so I wonder if it even technically fits the definition of a heath.

    Dee: We actually have an orange one in our garden. The yellow is new to me, though! I visited Portland many years ago and loved it.

    Linda Sue: I try very hard to take in only as much news as possible without getting overwhelmed and frustrated. My attitude toward the virus is that we have to be careful, but we can't be insane about it. We still have to live our lives.

    Sarah: That passage IS quite snobby! (And badly written!) I see a lot of litter on streets but not usually on the Heath or in parks. Of course, people are probably cleaning it up. I think a lot of street litter comes from rubbish bags that get torn open and that kind of thing.

    Catalyst: I think a lot of people are just reaching the end of their tether. They're thinking, "The heck with it. If I get it, I get it."

    Cheryl: I haven't been to Exbury, no! I'll have to check it out. There are so many beautiful public or publicly accessible gardens in England. They'll keep us busy for years! (Except that we don't have a car, which makes getting to them harder.)

    Jenny-O: Yeah, actually, maybe we're not better now. I've found a lot of debris on the Heath after big gatherings. (I'm thinking of the wizard staff, which I mentioned long ago in a blog post!) But routinely I don't see much trash there. Maybe it's too cold for azaleas where you are. I think rhodies take colder temperatures.

  22. those are some outstanding azaleas! and yes, the yellow has to be a rhodie. I think.