Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Olga Meets Mike Tyson

Dave has started collecting rainwater for our blueberry plant, which reportedly likes rain more than tap water. It has something to do with maintaining the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Dave set these colorful trugs next to the shed at the side of the house, where they collect water that spills off the shed roof -- and look photogenic in the meantime.

We had some drama yesterday! Olga went out for her walk with Francisco as usual, and a couple hours later Francisco called me. (When I get a call from the dog-walker I always know something alarming is up.) Well, it turns out that Olga and another dog were running after a ball and apparently collided with each other. The other dog turned and bit Olga, and took a chunk out of her ear!

Francisco, of course, was mortified, and he cleaned the ear and disinfected the bite. Then he called us, probably thinking we would be livid at the disfigurement of our dog. But honestly, dogs are dogs -- they get in scraps every once in a while, and frankly I'm just glad Olga didn't start it. (Apparently she did get the ball, though!)

The other dog's name is Rufus, but we've taken to calling him Mike Tyson. Apparently Rufus will now have to wear a muzzle on his walks.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Possessed Cat

The dahlias on the patio have finally burst into bloom, and don't they look good against the buddleia and the hydrangeas?

We had a pretty placid day around here yesterday. I went to the grocery store, and I walked Olga in the cemetery. It was intermittently gray and rainy, but in true British fashion, people were courageously attempting to barbecue at Fortune Green. (And I'm not complaining about rain because we still need more.) I read magazines. I Skyped with my stepmother in Florida.

You may remember that I mentioned my college friend Suzanne in my post a few days ago, about the book "Death Blew Out the Match." Well, I sent Suzanne that post, and we had a little exchange of texts, laughing about that book. We tried to remember exactly when we bought it, and Suzanne asked if it was at the same time that I got, as she put it, the "wet cat painting."

I had forgotten about this cat painting, which was legendary among some of my friends and also known as the "possessed cat." I bought it at a Goodwill and hung it in my college apartment, where it was the subject of much ridicule. I looked in my old photos and found a picture of it, hanging in my dining room in 1988:

(You can also see my own cat at the time, a calico named Howard, lying under the table.)

Here's a close-up of the painting:

It was a commercially produced, store-bought piece of art -- something you'd pick up at Sears or Montgomery Ward for about $25. In other words, not at all original. I wondered if I could get any information about it by Googling it.

So I uploaded the image to Google, and sure enough, there are a bunch of other pictures of the same painting online. Turns out it's by a Swiss artist named Fritz Rudolf Hug, who apparently was known for his impressionist paintings of wild animals. There's even one for sale on eBay, if you don't mind spending $900 -- yes, NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS. (Someone clearly doesn't know the difference between department store sofa art and an original painting. Unless they really are selling the original painting, which I doubt.)

Coincidentally, Hug died in 1989, not long after I took the pictures above.

Anyway, it was a fun trip down memory lane, and once again I marvel at the information available online. I would have loved to be able to Google this painting years ago, when I bought it, and learn more about it. The Internet, used correctly, really can make us all smarter and more aware!

As for the painting, I kept it for several years, and eventually gave it back to Goodwill, where hopefully it moved on to another good home.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pests and Achy Joints

I was intrigued when I came across this moth on our crocosmia Friday morning. I took some photos, loving that morning sun coming through the leaves, with the intention of identifying it later in the day. By the time I got around to looking it up, the moth was long gone -- and I realized it's the brown variety of a box-tree moth, an invasive species first reported in England in 2007 and now a serious pest of box hedges and topiaries.

Oops. Guess I shouldn't have let it get away!

We don't have any box, so what it was doing in our garden is anyone's guess. I photographed one last year, too -- the white variety.

Here's another garden pest -- aphids. The ones on our lupines are huge. Kind of a horror show, right? I knock them off every now and then, but in this case the flower spike is quite old and on its way out, so I've been lax.

We also have caterpillars of some type rolled up in the leaves of our fig tree. Sigh...

We don't spray pesticide, so these sorts of critters are bound to turn up, I suppose.  

I also discovered yesterday that one of our roses has a pretty severe-looking case of rust, which is a fungal disease. I took off a lot of the diseased and dying leaves but I may have to spray fungicide to get that under control. I hate to do it, because I want mushrooms and other naturally-occurring fungus in the ground, but now that the landlord has told me these rose bushes are decades old I feel a sense of responsibility to keep them healthy.

On a happier note, here's a short series of videos sent to me by our dog-walker, Francisco, showing Olga out with her pals. It's fun to see her interacting with him and with the other dogs, which of course I never get to see in real life.

I took her to the vet yesterday for her routine shots, and I mentioned to the vet that she sometimes seems stiff and reluctant to walk. The vet checked her out and said Olga has some arthritis in several joints. So we're going to try to give her low doses of anti-inflammatory medication to see if that improves how she feels. (She's already on glucosamine, which seemed to help a lot initially, but its benefits have faded somewhat in the last week or two.)

Though seeing patients during the pandemic, our vet asks the humans to stay outside while the pet is taken in for examination. So I found myself hanging around the front of the building in the rain while Olga got looked over. Fortunately I had an umbrella!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Death Blew Out the Match

The once-viney tree down the street, although looking a little weary in this week's sunny heat, has produced fruit from its blossoms earlier in the season. All this time I've been thinking it's an ornamental cherry tree, but those don't look like cherries, do they? Could they be crabapples?

Clearly I am not an expert on certain fruit trees. Growing up in Florida, we always just had oranges and grapefruit. Apples and cherries are not my thing.

Today is supposed to be cool and cloudy -- maybe even rainy -- which will be a refreshing change. The sunny weather and reopening after our lockdown have combined to create a sort of temporary insanity in the UK population. The beaches have been swamped with people, and we've had civil unrest in several areas when police tried to break up nighttime street parties or unauthorized music events. In Notting Hill, on the very streets where I walked just a few days ago, there were disturbances. Even on our street, someone's been bashing out car windows this week -- we received a police notice about one such incident and then noticed another broken window the very next morning. (Fortunately we don't have a car!)

Maybe rain would calm everyone down.

I just finished a very old mystery novel. There's a whole story behind why I read it.

When I was in college, my friend Suzanne and I used to scour local thrift stores in and around Tampa for interesting stuff -- vintage clothes, old dishes and, yes, bizarre old books. One time we found one called "Death Blew Out the Match," from 1935, and we loved the melodramatic title. Suzanne bought it and kept it on her shelf for years. (Her copy looked like the one above, the hardcover edition.) She may still have it, for all I know.

The thing is, though, neither of us ever read it. For some reason, a few months ago, more than thirty years after the fact, I got to wondering about this book. I remembered it only because we joked about it so often. What was the plot like? Was it any good? I decided to find a copy of my own, and satisfy my curiosity.

I found one on Abe Books, a paperback version with a creepy cover (above) from Anson Bond publishers, and at $15 it wasn't all that cheap. But I sprung for it anyway. Turns out it's an abridged version -- Anson Bond published a series called "Bonded Mysteries" that pledged to offer "the best available two dollar mystery novels" in a shortened, 25-cent format.

Normally I wouldn't opt for an abridged book, but oh well. When my copy arrived, I noticed that a previous owner -- initials "EFD" -- proclaimed it "good" with a pencilled note on the title page. Evidently they liked it so much they wrote the title on the cover a second time!

Anyway, I read it over a couple of days, and it was pretty entertaining. Of course, having been published 85 years ago, it was bound to contain at least one uncomfortable racial stereotype -- the Chinese servant character Wing Lo was described as having "inscrutable, unblinking Oriental eyes, that saw everything and told nothing." And even though it supposedly took place in New England, the accents seemed more West Virginia. But overall it was a fun read, and now I can say I've read it. For what that's worth.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Pink Car and Pink Wine

By British standards, it's hot out there -- 88º F (or 31º C) yesterday afternoon. Which doesn't sound that hot, at least not to an old Florida boy like me, but it definitely feels it. I guess the fact that none of us in the UK have air conditioning is part of the reason.

I didn't exert myself but I did run some errands -- including going to the post office twice. Which is ridiculous, since I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've used the post office in the last year. It was all due to bad planning on my part.

In the morning, I mailed Brobee to his new owner, a pal who recently lost a family member to Covid-19. I wrote a card telling her the whole story of how I rescued him, and fortunately this person is someone who will appreciate that tale. Hopefully he'll help provide some silly positivity at a terrible time.

And then, in the afternoon, my eBay auctions ended, and the old pharmaceutical bottles sold, and I had to get those in the mail. (Of course if I'd waited I could have mailed everything at once, but I forgot about the eBay thing.) So I packed them up and trudged back to the post office, and wound up spending £14 to mail bottles that Nigel in Wales paid me £6.85 for (including shipping).

I am the world's worst eBay seller. I seem to lose money on every transaction. Which is why I almost never bother with it. But in this case it allowed me to find a new home for those bottles, which was my overall goal.

My Bovril bottles didn't sell, but that's OK. I kind of like them.

I bought some fresh turbot for dinner from one of our local seafood restaurants that is doubling as a market until they can seat patrons again. I also bought some samphire, which goes so well with fish, and a fancy bottle of rosé Sancerre wine. We had a special light summer feast.

(Top photo: A pink car in Notting Hill, to go with my pink wine. Surely it belongs in that pink garage?)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Back to Portobello

Yesterday, feeling a bit doughy and in need of exercise, I took a long walk down to our old stomping grounds in Notting Hill. You may remember Dave and I lived in Notting Hill, off Portobello Road, for three years after we moved to London in 2011. I hadn't been down that way in a while so I went to see how the ol' neighborhood looks.

It was 87º F yesterday, with a bright sun -- a bit warm, but good walking weather and an opportunity to soak up lots of Vitamin D.

The graffiti above, on Portobello Road, memorializes the same three street artists who I mentioned in my post two days ago -- Lover, Trip and KBag.

While on a bridge over the Grand Union Canal in Ladbroke Grove, I saw this woman feeding bread to the swans. Talk about a waterfront apartment!

Portobello Road, a celebrated street of shops and an outdoor market that in normal times can be quite chaotic, was quiet but typically colorful. Many of the vendors seemed to be open as usual, and I saw gourmet mushrooms, produce and bric-a-brac for sale.

Beneath all those tags and a discolored sheet of Plexiglass, there's an artwork by Banksy. It's looking pretty bedraggled. I photographed it nine years ago (!) in better days.

You gotta love a restaurant with a name like this. I was tempted to buy lunch here, but I wasn't very hungry so I just kept walking; I wound up not eating at all.

When I got home I plotted my route online and it turns out I walked about 8.5 miles. It felt good to get some exercise. Now that I'm not walking to work every day, I feel like I'm sitting around a lot!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

It's a Jungle Out There

It's getting a little crazy out there in the garden. This inula grew from seed at the corner of our patio, and in past years it was fairly small, but now we have to squeeze past it! We have several other garden bottlenecks, too -- where plants have grown so big they're hard to get around. We'll need to start carrying a machete.

(The parent inula is in the background, behind the bamboo poles -- supports for our sweet peas -- and the banana tree. As you can see, it's immense. It grows to about eight feet high.)

The UK's coronavirus reopening continues apace. Boris has declared that we're now expected to maintain a distance of one meter or more, rather than two meters, from our fellow citizens. Of course this is mainly for economic reasons, because a lot of restaurants and other businesses said they could never survive with a two-meter social distancing rule. A host of establishments -- including restaurants, bars, pubs, hairdressers and museums -- will reopen as of July 4. Just as Dave is finally getting used to his shaggy hair!

Given Dave's immune-suppressing medication, I suspect we'll continue much as we already have been, staying home as much as possible. At least until we see how the reopening goes and whether (or should I say how much) the infection rates creep upward.

Tattoo parlors, unfortunately, will remain closed. Guess I have to wait to get my "I (heart) Boris" tattoo.

(In case you're new to this blog: Yes, that is a joke.)

Did you see that someone paid to have a "white lives matter" banner flown over a football game in Lancashire? I just do not know what's wrong with people. It's caused outrage among the team members and the public, and police are investigating. Seems to me whatever advertising company agreed to fly that banner ought to bear some of the liability. There's a strange intersection in Britain between some football fans and right-wing ultra-nationalist politics, not to mention petty thuggery. Sometimes political demonstrations take place under the sponsorship of "football lads" or some equally innocuous term, and what it really means is potentially violent and often drunk right-wingers. It's very strange. In America we have plenty of right-wing lunatics but they don't make sports part of their group identity.

Anyway, let's look at a few more garden pics.

Here's a hoverfly on a dahlia. The dahlia blossoms are interesting because they start out an intense, deep pink but slowly fade to a lighter color. Dave and I continue to debate whether they're pink or orange.

Some little black bug on one of our geraniums.

A close-up of our bear's breeches (acanthus). The flowers look like molluscs, don't they?

Land o' pansies!

And finally, a colorful little iridescent fly on our Chinese lantern.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Graffiti and Coffee

I noticed on Saturday that several graffiti painters were redecorating the walls of the basketball court at a nearby housing estate. The walls have been covered with graffiti for years -- I think it's permitted there, although I'm not sure of the terms -- and they were tagged and re-tagged and were looking pretty ratty overall. So the painters gave the wall a new coat of pink paint and put up some new pieces.

I went back yesterday to photograph them, but the gates to the court were locked. (The court is closed because of the coronavirus.) I saw the estate's maintenance man working nearby and asked him if he could open them so I could take some pictures.

"No, if I did that, I'd be sacked!" he said.

Well, we wouldn't want that. So I just took pictures through the fence.

Above is a memorial to three graffiti writers who were killed by a train a couple of years ago while painting along some railroad tracks in South London. It used to look like this, but now it's been freshened up. Trip, K-Bag and Lover were the tags the three used, and now those tags run all the way around the court.

I stuck my iPhone through the fence for a pano shot. Anyway, you get the idea!

I don't mind graffiti in this context -- it brightens up the urban environment. I think it's an asset, more properly termed street art, I suppose.

I'm reading a book called "The Devil's Cup," a sort of travelogue about the history of coffee. As an enthusiastic coffee consumer myself, I'm enjoying tracing its gradual rise from the wilds of Africa through the Arabian peninsula and into Europe. I'm struck by how much alcohol Europeans drank in the 16th and 17th centuries -- the book says beer thickened with eggs and poured over bread was a common breakfast, and there were beer breaks throughout the day, too (beer being much safer to drink than dirty water). "The average Northern European, including women and children, drank three liters of beer a day," the book says. When coffee made an appearance, Europe began to sober up -- and look what happened! The Enlightenment!

All hail caffeine.

For Dave's birthday, I went out yesterday afternoon to a local bakery and bought a couple of big slices of cake -- salted caramel and red velvet -- and some birthday candles, which I deployed after dinner to my own appalling musical accompaniment. I also got him an extra present at the florist -- a canna lily, which we often see touted on gardening shows and will make a nice addition to the garden. We'll put it in a pot so we can move it to a protected location in the winter.

Monday, June 22, 2020

'Star Wars' on the High Street

I stayed close to home yesterday. The most adventurous rambling I did was up and down our high street (our main shopping street).

The local pub, the Black Lion, is still boarded up but decorated with some fun paintings -- a rainbow for the NHS, a fist for Black Lives Matter, and a black lion and some lion-ish footprints.

The front door has a "Star Wars" theme, for some reason.

Supposedly pubs will be opening in a couple of weeks, in early July. We'll see how that works out. I don't think Dave and I will be going any time soon, given that he is still staying within the four walls of this house.

A little further down the street, our charity shops are still closed. But that doesn't stop people from maddeningly dumping bags and piles of clothing outside their front doors. This particular store hasn't been open since March and I'm sure that stuff on the street, which appeared within the last day or two, is just going to get thrown away. People make me crazy.

Today is Dave's birthday. He already got his main present -- the tree fern -- so our celebrations are probably going to be pretty understated. I'm going to take him to dinner (or have a restaurant bring dinner here) at some point, but we have a ton of food in the fridge and we need to get that eaten first. (I went grocery shopping a few days ago, and Dave ordered a load of food to be delivered from Ocado. We're suddenly as overstocked as end-of-the-world survivalists -- we can hunker down here for the next week without starving!)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Big Ball of String

Yesterday was a day of peculiar events.

First, I'd noticed over the past few weeks some string lying on the sidewalk and street near our flat. It wasn't a small quantity of string, but one long piece that ran downhill for about a block and a half before slipping into a storm drain. It looked like a ball of twine had rolled downhill, unspooling as it went. I was envisioning animals getting tangled in it and people tripping and who knows what else, and of course no one was going to take ownership of this situation.

So, being my busybody self, I finally took some scissors and clipped the string, which was tangled in someone's rubbish bins (probably where it originated) at the top end, and rolled it all up. I then clipped it at the point where it disappeared into the storm drain, and the loose end shot into the drain with an energy that surprised me -- I think it must have been caught up in running stormwater somewhere below the street. (I told Dave I hoped it wasn't tied to anything important -- or alive!) I threw the collected twine in the trash.

And then, while walking the dog, I found a red wallet lying in the street. I really didn't want to have to deal with finding the owner and it didn't seem to have been there long, so I thought they might come back for it. Olga and I walked our normal route around the neighborhood, and when we got home half an hour later, the wallet was still lying there. So, grumbling, I picked it up and went on Facebook to find the owner.

"Why can't people hold onto their sh*t?!" I asked Dave.

The owner of the wallet turned out to be a teenager who lives down the street. He texted me back in the early afternoon -- probably about the time he finally rolled out of bed -- and collected his wallet soon afterwards.

I took Olga to the cemetery in the afternoon, where the insect life is humming. I saw ladybugs (top) and a grasshopper -- and look at that bright red mite just to the right of the grasshopper! It's tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin but it's so colorful it stands out. I tried to figure out what kind it is -- there are clover mites and velvet mites, both bright red, but honestly I can't tell them apart.

Our first dahlia blossom has appeared, and as you can see, we have many more on the way. All the dahlia plants are looking great -- I'm so happy with how well they've grown. Hard to believe they were just bare pots of soil two months ago! The flower seems more pink and less yellow than last year, at least so far.

Otherwise, we had a pretty placid day. I read a lot, or at least tried to, when our upstairs neighbors weren't sanding and pounding on their patio floorboards above my head. That guy is a home improvement maniac

Oh, and speaking of home, our landlords e-mailed me back and said they're renewing our lease. So we should be hearing from the management company with the new documents any day. Whew! What a relief!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Caterpillar and a Monster

When I was out walking last Monday, I came across this street art on a housing estate in Kilburn. Isn't that fantastic? I hope you can see it past the fence -- it's a long centipede with a ladybug, a bee and a grasshopper inside it.

I photographed it that day, but it was really hard to get the right exposure because the upper left part of the photos was so bright, with all that sky, and the lower right was so dark, beneath the trees. So I went back yesterday morning while walking Olga and took some more pictures, including this HDR shot (above), which basically layers three different exposures to get the most range.

Here's another angle (not HDR). I have no idea who the artist is.

The area across from this estate is woodland, which borders some railroad tracks. As is often the case, lots of household rubbish had been dumped in the woods, on the other side of a fence running along the street. As Olga and I walked past, I spotted this guy among the debris:

He was muddy and sodden, but basically intact. Later, through the magic of the Interwebs, I learned that he's a character named Brobee from a children's television show, "Yo Gabba Gabba."

Inspired by Sarah and Fresca, who have blogged about rescuing vintage stuffed animals, I thought, "I'm going to salvage this guy!" So I tucked him into a plastic bag and brought him home. I unstuffed him -- fortunately his back was handily sealed by velcro -- and found a plastic inner component that apparently once allowed him to make noises or speak. It didn't seem to work, and I threw it out. Let's keep things simple, shall we?

I ran him through the washing machine on "ready to wear," which seemed to be the shortest wash cycle. Unfortunately it also included a dryer cycle, which I hadn't intended, but it didn't seem to harm him except to slightly yellow his plastic eyes. He emerged clean and fluffy.

I ordered some new polyfill stuffing, and when that arrives he'll get re-stuffed. And then I have a plan for him.

See? It's not so hard to stay busy during lockdown!

Friday, June 19, 2020

A Rainy Day, and J. K. Rowling

Yesterday's rain was the ideal type for the garden -- long, steady, soaking. Some of our plants got a bit weighed down by the water, like the delphinium above, so I went out during a pause and staked a few of them. Otherwise I didn't leave the house all day.

Olga, however, got her walk as usual. When Francisco brought her back he called into the house from the doorway, "She's a little bit wet!" Which turned out to be an understatement -- she was wet and dirty. But that's fine. I gave her a bath and all was well.

Some starlings on the bird feeders had a big noisy squabble in the afternoon.

Remember those antique bottles I found in the trash on my way to work several weeks ago? Well, I put six of them in a little row on our windowsill, but the rest have been wrapped up and sitting in the dining room all this time, and I finally decided I need to move them along. So I listed them on eBay! I haven't sold anything on eBay for years -- maybe even decades -- but it seemed a good way to find them a new home and ensure they won't simply get discarded again. I listed both the medicine bottles (above) and the Bovril bottles. I set the starting bid at £1 because I simply want to find them a home, not make a killer profit -- and someone already bid on the medicine bottles!

I also bit the bullet and went on Amazon and bought some masks to wear when I go shopping. The mayor of London has said we should wear them in shops now that more of them are reopening. The national government has still said basically nothing, but I guess I have my head in the sand given that all over the world people are adopting them and I may as well get on the bus. (Block that metaphor!)

Bravo to the Supreme Court for pulling the USA back from the brink of insanity! The ruling protecting LGBT people under existing anti-discrimination laws was, of course, fabulous, and the DACA ruling makes me so happy because it's a big ol' finger in Trump's eye. Checks and balances, baby! Many Americans have believed for years (wrongly) that federal laws already protected LGBT people from discrimination, so this makes their mistaken assumption official.

Speaking of LGBT issues, J. K. Rowling has been in the doghouse lately for voicing her concerns about transgender issues. Some people seem to think Rowling, who is generally quite progressive, has gone to the dark side by expressing skepticism about trans cultural orthodoxy. I honestly think a lot of the hostility aimed at her comes from people who haven't read anything but Twitter. Rowling herself wrote a long essay about her beliefs that I found quite compelling.

I absolutely support transgender people -- the right of anyone to live, free from discrimination, as the gender they believe themselves to be. I think Rowling does, too. But among other things, she's worried about young people who may want to transition before they're really ready -- and as a gay man, I completely understand that concern. I think a lot of young gay boys (and probably girls) go through developmental periods when they identify with the opposite sex -- I know I did. That might manifest as a desire to transition rather than coming to terms with what it means to be gay, and the social baggage that goes with that. (Not that there isn't also social baggage with being transgender!)

I also get her concerns about women. As she said, "one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class." It makes sense to me that some women would question whether women who used to be men really understand women's perspectives, their lived experiences and their political and social goals.

Anyway, it's a super complicated issue, and I don't have the answers. But the bottom line is, I don't believe Rowling is the enemy. Read her essay, if you're at all interested. (I think her concern about changing rooms is a bit of a red herring.)

Finally, I was sorry to hear that Vera Lynn died yesterday. Just a few weeks ago, around the time of VE Day, I was marveling that she was still alive!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Tree Ferns, Hedgehogs and Statues

It poured rain yesterday and it rained all night, too. The garden is sighing with relief! And I know Dave's new precipitation-loving tree fern is probably very happy.

Speaking of which, here's a photo I took in November 2004 in New Zealand, showing tree ferns growing in the wild. Aren't they beautiful? Like little palm trees. This was a park on the North Island, somewhere north of Waihi. When I bought Dave's fern I got to thinking about the photo, and I wanted to show it to Dave, so I dug it out of my "archives."

From my trip journal at the time: "Stopped at Waihi Beach and an old gold-mining town where I saw a parrot called an Eastern Rosella burst up through the tree ferns in a flash of color."

Here in London, the rain was so intense yesterday afternoon -- we had thunder and a little bit of hail, even -- that I cancelled Olga's dog walk. She stayed inside on the couch. I think we'll send her out today, now that we're having a steadier rain without the sound and light show. It won't kill her to get wet.

Fortunately, I'd already taken her on a long walk in the morning. We went to the cemetery, where we found...

...wildlife cameras set up along several of the paths. They're part of a London Zoological Society survey of hedgehogs, called the "London Hog Watch." I didn't know hedgehogs were even present in our part of London, but the survey's twitter feed has nighttime videos of them near Hampstead Heath, so that's exciting! I'd be surprised if any are in the cemetery, though, given how many dogs walk there. (Of course, the same could be said about the Heath. Maybe hedgehogs are more enterprising than I think.)

In other news, Oxford University is finally moving to take down a statue of Cecil Rhodes on the front of one of its buildings. That's a good decision. I agree with one of the local politicians who said it should go into a museum, where it can serve as a discussion point in larger conversations about apartheid and racism. I wish that had happened with Bristol's statue of Edward Colston, instead of its being torn down and thrown into the River Avon -- although apparently the city has retrieved it and it may eventually be museum-bound. To my mind, simply destroying these objects is an erasure of the past, and dishonors the victims of racist crimes as well as the perpetrators. Removing but preserving the statues helps us consider the fact that these men were once held in high regard, and ponder what that says about society at the time and how it is changing.

(I wonder if the Rhodes Scholarship program will also change its name?)

There are some imperialist paintings in Parliament that are also the subject of a similar discussion, and I hope they meet the same fate. (Removal but preservation.)

You've probably seen on the news that London's mayor has covered statues in Parliament Square -- including Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi -- with sheet metal to protect them from protesters on both the right and the left. Right-wingers are particularly concerned that the Churchill statue will be torn down, and held a violent, alcohol-fueled demonstration around it on Saturday. Churchill is several orders of magnitude above Edward Colston in terms of national importance, and he also seems less personally complicit in the brutalities engaged in by Rhodes and Colston, so I doubt that statue will come down anytime soon. (Nor should it, in my opinion, although I'm certainly not allied with the right-wing demonstrators either.)

These symbols are very potent, aren't they? Like the Confederate monuments in the American South. I'm glad we're re-evaluating their place in modern society.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Hurry Up and Sleep

We're at that time of year when my sleep is suffering -- the daylight comes so early and departs so late. Sunrise this morning was at 4:43 a.m., and sunset is 9:21 p.m. Every year I mention this and people say, "You should get some heavy blackout drapes." And I say, "Yeah, that's a good idea." And then I don't do it.

I'm not sure it would bother me, except that the dog goes on RED ALERT as soon as she sees daylight. She basically lies in bed and stares at us, and if either of us so much as twitches her tail begins frantically thumping the mattress. Which, of course, makes us open our eyes, which leads to more frantic thumping. She just can't wait to get out of bed and come out to the living room so that she can do this:

That's her next to me right now. Snoring.

We've put her on glucosamine supplements for her joints, and it seems to have helped a lot. She hasn't been reluctant to go on her morning walks, as she was for a while. Of course, the weather's better now too, so that might be a factor.

You know how every year around this time I get stressed out about renewing the lease for our flat? Well, this year is turning out to be even more interesting than usual. Our lease expires in early July, and although the managing agent asked us months ago if we wanted to renew (and we said yes), we've heard nothing since. I wrote on Monday and asked what was up, and the agent said they haven't been able to get a response from the landlords about renewing. They suggested I write the landlords directly, and I did so, but I haven't had a response either. So we don't know what is going on. Normally I'd suspect they were traveling, but that seems unlikely at the moment.

Apparently even without a lease we'd need three months' notice before being forced to move, under new protections for renters during the coronavirus epidemic. So that's something. But I'd much rather have a lease and know we're settled for another year.

I just can't read our landlords. When they visited in January they seemed so comfortable about our staying. "It should feel like your home," one of them told me, and we discussed several improvements to the property. But they've also behaved a bit oddly in recent years, asking for a clause in the lease that would allow them to break it early, and coming for that inspection.

So who knows. Dave and I are resigned to the possibility that we may be asked to move. We'd hate to leave our garden -- where we've invested so much time and effort -- but many of our plants are in pots and could come with us. And honestly, moving would solve some problems. We could finally ditch our antiquated bathrooms and kitchen, not to mention Mrs. Kravitz!

Speaking of plants, I found this tag on my walk Monday, attached to a plant box discarded in the street near Queen's Park. The nursery label on the box said "basil," but let's assume it really did contain "rosemerry!" Perhaps it was a gift from a child. What is that creature? A parrot?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Walk with a Blowfish

Yesterday turned out to be sunny and warm, so I set out in late morning with my camera. I had a vague idea I might go to the historic Kensal Green Cemetery, where I haven't been in several years, and I headed in that direction, westward through Brondesbury Park, Queen's Park and Kensal Rise. Of course I came across some interesting shops and other street scenes.

As it turned out, though, the cemetery is closed to casual visitors because of coronavirus. According to a sign on the gates I could have gone in to "visit a grave," although how they would know I was visiting a specific grave as opposed to just meandering about I'm not sure. I considered visiting Harold Pinter, or at least saying I was doing that if asked, but I decided to skip it altogether. When I'm walking Olga I spend enough of my time in cemeteries!

Olga didn't go with me, by the way. She was out with her dog-walker on the Heath. This would have been too far for her, even in her younger years! I walked all the way to Scrubs Lane before turning around.

I had lunch in Queen's Park after buying some small avocado-and-egg and salmon sandwiches at a nearby shop. That park, although beautiful, is a pain in the neck. It's fenced and I always find myself wandering the perimeter trying to find an access point. I don't really understand why a fence is necessary if it's a public park. Fortune Green, Hampstead Heath, Gladstone Park -- none of them have fences.

Anyway, I sat beneath a tree and had my lunch, and then wandered homeward, where I finished "The Italian Boy," the book about the body-snatchers in 1830s England. It was a good read -- a fascinating glimpse into a sordid time.

I've been offering to cut Dave's hair -- with all the barber shops closed, he's looking pretty shaggy these days. I told him he looks like a member of the Moody Blues. But for some strange reason he's reluctant to let me at it. Maybe he worries he'll wind up looking like me! (Once again I'm happy that I shave my own head. Coronavirus hasn't changed my look one bit.) A lot of Londoners have very '70s locks at the moment -- one of the upstairs neighbor kids has a head of hair like a young Robby Benson. Will the virus prompt new long-standing fashion trends, or will people streak to the barber the minute the doors open?

Monday, June 15, 2020

Tall Spiky Flowers

Here's another new flower that's blooming in our garden at the moment. This is a hybrid foxglove called "Firebird" that I picked up at the supermarket several weeks ago. It's unusual because of its red hues -- foxgloves are usually purple, pink or white. It's apparently a cross with a species of foxglove native to the Canary Islands, and its flowers and leaves both look quite different from our standard foxgloves.

As long as we're talking about tall, pointy flowers, here's our bear's breeches (acanthus). You may remember it bloomed last year for the first time since we rescued it, and it only had one flower spike. Well, this year it's got at least five. So things are looking up for the acanthus.

I spent yesterday mostly reading and doing stuff around the house. I mowed the lawn, which always makes the garden look a million times better.

Dave and I started a new show on Netflix called "Reckoning," a mystery involving a serial killer which looks OK. We're also watching "Snowpiercer," about a dystopian future in which the surviving humans circle the world -- now a frozen wasteland immersed in a new Ice Age -- on an immense, perpetually moving train. It's a weird idea and if it sounds like a comic book, that's because it is -- it's based on a French graphic novel from 1982. I like it so far, and Jennifer Connelly is great as the train's chilly guest-relations coordinator.

Dave got a birthday card from my stepmother in which she sent us a bunch of old pictures. Among them was this note:

I think I wrote that in mid-1973, when my mom, brother and I went to Washington, D.C. to visit my grandparents. I would have been six. Talk about a run-on sentence! I remember my brother falling on the driveway -- I hope Mom sent Dad a more explanatory note, because if he only got mine he must have been alarmed! I have no idea what garden I was talking about. We occasionally planted radish seeds or marigolds and it could have been something like that. Anyway, Dave and I got a kick out of this blast from the past!