Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Current Events, with Cockroaches

Dave and I woke up this morning and got online and watched some snippets of the presidential debate (because of course we were asleep when it occurred). Christ! What chaos! I can't believe anybody got any truly productive information out of those exchanges, but I do think they demonstrated one thing -- "Sleepy Joe" isn't at all sleepy. America needed to see that.

All Trump basically did was lie and bluster and try to dominate. Which is his style of, well, everything.

From here on out, especially with Trump up there, they need to turn off each candidate's microphone while the other speaks.

And what's going on with Brexit, you may ask? (Probably not.) The short answer is, darned if I know. The UK is apparently trying to do something that is considered internationally illegal regarding trade, something about Northern Ireland blah blah blah, but I don't really understand it and despite the fact that we need to have a deal it looks like there's a very real possibility we won't.

Spell-check, incidentally, keeps trying to turn Brexit into "brevet," which is apparently “a former type of military commission conferred especially for outstanding service, by which an officer was promoted to a higher rank without the corresponding pay.” Sounds like a ripoff to me.

And there you have it -- my take on current events.

Dave and I saw this sign walking to work yesterday morning -- advertising a good debate remedy, come to think of it. I chuckled at the rhyme. "It's a two word poem!" I told him.

Oh -- one more current event. I read an astonishing story in The New York Times yesterday about a corporate security office within eBay that basically ran a terror operation against a blogger couple in New England. Apparently the bloggers reported on eBay in a way that the company officers didn't appreciate. The security personnel stalked them, sent them pizzas in the middle of the night, mailed them boxes of cockroaches, mailed pornography to their neighbors. They did all this, allegedly, with the knowledge of top bosses -- although of course the bosses deny it. It's amazing to think that employees of a major company would behave this way.

I am convinced there's something about the Internet that makes people crazy. For some reason, humans seem prone to read the worst possible intent into others' comments and online behavior. Those bloggers would write their posts and, according to the story, the top leaders of eBay would lose their minds. Get some perspective, people!

When I mentioned the cockroach-mailing to Dave, his face lit up. "You can do that?!" he said.

So if any of you get a box from Dave in the near future, don't open it.

(Top photo: A pizza place near Fortune Green, last weekend.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


I found this leaf in our garden. It came from a bergenia plant, and I'm not sure if it's an autumn leaf or just an old one. Look at that color!

Yesterday was noteworthy mainly because I mailed our ballots. Dave and I have officially participated in the Democratic process -- he in Michigan, I in Florida. I got tracking when I mailed them, so we can make sure they don't go awry on the way, although if they did I'm not sure what we could do about it. Hopefully they won't wind up in New Zealand like his birthday package from his parents! I've actually heard that ballots shouldn't be mailed with tracking because it can slow them down, but in this case we have more than a month so they have plenty of time. (Famous last words.) I figured if the post office has to account for them, that might increase their likelihood of getting there.

Speaking of New Zealand, blogger Robin posted about a fun web site called Antipodes Map. This web site (which doesn't seem to like Safari browsers, just FYI) will tell you what is directly antipodal to any location on the globe you choose -- in other words, what's on the exact opposite side of the planet.

In my case, if I burrowed through the core of the Earth starting in my back garden here in London -- and the landlords wouldn't like that -- I would pop out in the southern Pacific ocean southeast of New Zealand. The closest land would be a couple of small islands, one of which is called, appropriately, Antipodes Island. Here's what it looks like:

That's according to Google Maps, which allows a little virtual hike up a hilltop on Antipodes Island. Can you see the penguins by that big rock just left of center in the photo? Definitely otherworldly by my West Hampstead standards.

The interesting thing about Antipodes Map is that entering almost any location seems to produce an antipodal point that's underwater. Which I guess drives home the fact that so much of our planet's surface is ocean. I didn't hit land until I started with Tahiti, which produced an antipodal location in northern Sudan.

Anyway, it's a fun way to waste time on the Internet.

Monday, September 28, 2020


It's beginning to look autumnal on the Heath, with a few slightly yellowing trees and some tired-looking thickets of ferns. I love the color of these acorns.

It was feeling autumnal yesterday, too, with a chilly wind and gray skies. Olga had a great time going after squirrels and generally made a spectacle of herself:

I had the camera set wrong when I took this photo. It was a careless photographer mistake -- forgetting to change the settings from a previous picture. Here's what I originally wound up with:

Isn't it amazing that Lightroom could pull so much detail out of that underexposed image?

Other than that, I don't have much to report. I filled out my Florida election ballot, which I will mail today. I did some light trimming and deadheading in the garden. I harvested a few more vegetables:

I'm thinking this may be pretty much it. The bean vine and the pepper plants are looking pretty decrepit. I watered them yesterday, but I was thinking at the time, "What's the point?" It's not like they're going to produce another crop.

Dave and I have been watching a show on Netflix called "Borgen," which is basically a Danish version of "The West Wing." As unlikely as it sounds, it's not bad. It's a bit slower than "The West Wing" and of course there are subtitles, but Dave loves political dramas so we've latched onto it. (As if we can stand any more political drama!)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Historic Graves at Hampstead Cemetery

Wikimedia, which hosts Wikipedia and an online database of copyright-free media files, is running a competition this month in which it asks photographers to take pictures of historic monuments. I contributed a couple of photos a few weeks ago, and realized that many of the monuments in my area that had not yet been photographed are in Hampstead Cemetery.

So yesterday, on my daily outing with Olga, I brought the camera and filled some gaps in Wikimedia's monuments database. It was interesting to see which graves and headstones are considered most historically significant; I learned a lot about the cemetery and who's buried there.

Above, for example, is the rather nondescript tomb of Dr. Joseph Lister, who developed techniques to prevent infection during medical procedures and is often considered the father of modern surgery. (Listerine was named after him.) Someone left a few chestnuts on his grave, to show they'd visited; Olga thought they might be treats.

I bet I've walked past Lister's grave a hundred times but I had no idea that's who was buried there.

This one, the grave of Parliament member William Randal Cremer, is buried in foliage and in an area where you wouldn't see it unless you went looking. Cremer was a pacifist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1903 for his advocacy of international arbitration. (Apparently others weren't listening, as World War I broke out not too many years after his death in 1908.)

This, on the other hand, is a very conspicuous monument, probably the cemetery's largest. It was erected by an Italian chef to his wife, Martha Bianchi, who died in childbirth in 1936. On either side of the dark central doorway -- which simply leads to the back of the monument but surely must represent a passage to the beyond -- are relief panels showing the couple with their baby, on the left, and Martha Bianchi being escorted to heaven by angels, on the right.

As if the images above aren't sad enough, the Bianchi family endured further traumas in World War II. The whole harrowing story is here. In the end Cesare Bianchi wasn't even buried with his wife in their monumental plot.

I've photographed this monument before but I never knew the story behind it.

This is the monument of Ardath de Sales Stean, an American dancer who died in 1928 while crossing the Atlantic to England on the White Star liner Homeric. Newspaper accounts at the time said she died after an "operation," so whatever happened onboard the ship must have been sudden and unexpected. More here.

This is probably my favorite grave in Hampstead Cemetery. It's the tomb of Arthur Frankau and his wife Julia. The Frankaus were prosperous dry goods merchants who eventually got involved in marketing tobacco products, and Julia was a novelist who wrote under the pen name Frank Danby. Their son Gilbert also became a novelist, as did their granddaughter Pamela. I love the black granite, the mosaic sun and star, and the clean lines and railings.

Joseph Maas was apparently a renowned opera singer. A tenor, he died in 1886 at the age of 38, after he caught a cold that developed into rheumatic fever.

Here's the Egyptian-style tomb of James Wilson, known as Wilson Pasha, a British engineer who spent more than 40 years working for the Egyptian government.

And finally, there's the beautiful terra cotta Celtic cross grave marker of Joan Moggridge, who was eight years old when she died in 1904. The listing notes nothing about Moggridge or her family; only that the memorial is "a fine example of its type."

These are not all the historically listed graves in the cemetery; there were several more. They made for a very interesting walk!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Dog Steps and Voting

I found these weathered cherubs on the side of the Hampstead Parish Church when Olga and I were walking back from the Heath last weekend. I keep meaning to take a look inside that church, and yet I've walked past it a hundred times and haven't done so. (Granted, I usually have the dog with me.) One of these days.

Some of you marveled in comments yesterday that even though I'd overslept and had 45 minutes to get out the door, I was writing a blog post. Let me tell you -- I can get ready for work fast. Not having hair is a huge plus. I can even skip showering if need be -- wash my face, get dressed and I'm ready to roll. I just sit behind a desk, so it's not like I get very dirty. On a normal morning I also have cereal and walk the dog, but if I'm rushed I can take the cereal with me (there's milk at work) and the dog can manage with a quick wander around the garden.

The contractor who damaged our bedroom wall came back yesterday to fix it. He apparently told Dave he knew about the damage when it occurred but "didn't want to come into our bedroom" without our permission. Dave found this unlikely, but at any rate it's fixed now.

Oh, and the big news is....I got my ballot! Woo hoo! So I'll be voting this weekend and mailing it out promptly on Monday. Of course, because it's Florida, there are six constitutional amendments as well as a raft of candidates to choose from -- including an amendment to make it harder to amend the state constitution! I need to look into those just a little bit more.

We got so chilly last night that we turned on the heat for the first time this season. We gave ourselves a blast for an hour or so, and did the same this morning. It felt nice and cozy, given that the weather was gray and rainy and very autumnal.

Remember the dog steps I found on the street several months ago? Well, I just want you to see that Olga does use them. They're a little small for her -- made ideally, I suppose, for a smaller dog -- and it took her a while to warm up to them. But now she seems to like them, at least more than having to jump up on the bed.

Friday, September 25, 2020

I'm Amazing!

Our canna lily has bloomed! I thought we might not see any flowers this year. Dave sent me a photo while I was at work, and I was so eager to get home and see it for myself. (This is not the tiny, bedraggled canna, but the other one.  The tiny one is still tiny, but less bedraggled now that I've moved it to a place where the pigeons don't peck at it.)

I managed to oversleep this morning, so I have 45 minutes to pull myself together and get out the door. I guess Olga won't be getting a walk this morning! That's OK -- Dave is staying home today for school-related planning meetings on Zoom, so he can take her out and keep her company. And of course her walker is coming around lunchtime.

Speaking of which, I have to relate the sad news that Francisco will no longer be Olga's regular walker. I'm not sure what happened, but he has apparently left the employ of the dog-walking business that we use. He and I texted a bit last night and he expressed sadness at not seeing Olga again, but he said he's still available for weekend walks and for boarding, so maybe we'll call him when we need that. (Fortunately, the guy who's taking over Olga's route was her walker for ages before the coronavirus crisis came along -- so at least she knows him.)

We had more rain yesterday, and still more is expected this morning. It's 47º F out there! Brrrr...

I found this note in a library book yesterday. Do you think a student wrote it to themselves, or was it a reminder from a parent or teacher? I wonder what the goal was -- maybe just to be amazing.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Just Some Garden Pics

We did indeed have more rain yesterday evening, which came as a welcome gift to the garden -- appreciating it in the photo above are the pink geranium, orange Peruvian lilies and purple asters. And there's more coming down now. It makes me want to breathe a sigh of relief.

An appreciation for rain is hard-wired into our animal being; we know it brings life and sustenance.

The purple heart plant is indoors, so it's not benefitting from the rain, but nonetheless it is blooming.

Here's another picture of our lone hollyhock -- because you can never have too many!

This is a type of salvia called "hot lips." It's been blooming for months now. It always makes me think of Hot Lips Houlihan.

And finally, the foxglove seeds have sprouted! That didn't take long, did it? They're tiny little things, even as plants, and clearly I'm going to have to do some thinning and repositioning as they grow.

It's nice to be able to turn to nature and appreciate the eternal rhythms of life during these crazy and stressful times.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Rain! (After a Whole Lot of Sun)

I woke up to the sound of rain this morning, which was such a relief. It's been bone dry here, and as Dave and I walked around our wilted garden yesterday evening with a watering hose, we lamented the lack of rain. I'm so glad we finally got some. I think the next few days may bring a little more.

Speaking of the lack of rain, I came across this on my walk home from work yesterday:

That is the same species as the once-viney tree -- this one growing on a different street. Look how green it is! Much healthier looking than ours. That seems to suggest the yellowing of our tree's leaves isn't due to autumn.

(Dave is so sick of hearing me talk about this tree. Yesterday he said, "I'm going to go cut it down!")

You may have heard that London had another anti-mask rally over the weekend. I just do not understand this perfect storm of anti-vaxxers, people who are anti-government, people who see child trafficking around every corner, Q-Anon supporters and others who show up at these events. Even Van Morrison is singing anti-mask songs! (Quite a slump from the brilliance of Astral Weeks.)

Wearing a mask seems like such an innocuous thing. They're not always very comfortable, and I think they do bother my sinuses, but in the grand scheme of things it's no big deal. It seems like a strange battle to fight, and why some people associate them with governmental tyranny or oppression is a mystery to me. Van Morrison is at a vulnerable age, but of course he can probably insulate himself with his wealth.

Finally, the New York Times had a fascinating story by a man whose mother, unbeknownst to him, was an accomplished lighting designer. His discovery of one of her lamps in the family attic led him to realize she did much more professionally than he ever knew. I've been meaning to link to it for days but I'm finally just remembering!

(Top photo: Hampstead, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Hollyhock and Some Rags

I woke up this morning with "Playground in My Mind" running through my head. "My name is Michael, I got a nickel, I got a nickel shiny and new..." Where this came from, I have no idea. It was a popular song when I was in elementary school, but I haven't heard it in many years, and haven't necessarily been missing it, either. It's as if my sleeping brain sent a jolt of neural electricity through whatever cells store that memory, and when I woke up, there it was. I was humming it as I made coffee, which is the very first thing I do once I'm vertical.

I'll probably be singing it all day. Lord.

I got a surprise yesterday when I went out into the garden and found a hollyhock in bloom (above)! I've been grousing about our hollyhocks all year, how they didn't flower and don't really grow, and then this late bloomer saved the day. As you can see, the plant is only about eight inches tall -- but I still feel a sense of triumph.

I also found a few last blackberries. I picked them and put them on my cereal. They weren't that good. They start tasting a bit, I don't know, flat as the weather turns colder.

Can you see that hole in my shorts, on my hip below my left pocket? I have holes like this in several of my shorts and pants, because that's where my camera bag rubs against me as I walk. I generally ignore them and wear the clothes anyway, but yesterday I realized these shorts also had a hole in the back! I think it just appeared within the last day or two, maybe as I walked Olga on the Heath, and as I wore them yesterday evening it gradually turned from the size of a quarter to the size of a dessert plate. It was quite funny by the time I took the shorts off and threw them away before going to bed. (I saved the buttons, because I'm thrifty that way.)

I bought those shorts in Florida, I think on the outlet mall shopping trip I mentioned here.

I do have a tendency to keep my clothes too long. Every time I go to throw something out, I think, "Well, I could wear it just one more time." And then it gets mixed up in the laundry and I wash it, and once I've washed it I think, "Well, it would be a shame to throw it away now that it's clean. I can wear it just one more time." And pretty soon it's five years later.

Remember that post I did years ago about some of my favorite clothes that were on their last legs? Well, I still have them all, and I still wear them all.

Monday, September 21, 2020

A Cup of Acorns

Another Sunday, another walk with Olga on Hampstead Heath. I felt a strong need to get out in some fresh air, away from the news and my own dread. And it worked. We had a terrific walk and saw some interesting stuff.

Someone (or something?) turned this notch in the branches of a tree into a perfect cup for acorns.

This musk mallow provided a burst of purple color in an otherwise dry, brownish field.

Along one path I saw dozens of ground-nesting bees -- at least, I think they're bees -- popping in and out of little holes. They each seemed to have a hole to themselves, rather than all living together in a single hive, so I think they're solitary or mining bees. They didn't seem threatening. Can you see this one in flight, and the several holes in the soil at right?

Anyway, it was a good walk. Someone had a lot of fun.

I took some more water down to the once-viney tree, but I also did some reading about crabapples, and supposedly they're tough, drought-tolerant trees that thrive in full sun. So I can't imagine any reason why this one, an established tree that's been there for several years, would be dying. There are some fungi that can cause crabapples to lose their leaves, but they don't kill the tree -- and of course autumn is approaching, so maybe the tree's yellowing is just seasonal change. That's what Dave keeps saying: "I think it's just fall!"

We've had a few more Covid cases pop up among our students at school. So there are several large groups of kids and teachers who are all at home, self-isolating for two weeks. Maybe this is how the school year is going to go -- with revolving groups of kids and faculty out at any given time.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Tornado of Thoughts

A busy morning at home yesterday. I did some trimming in the garden and brought in a couple of our pink roses, which are still producing a second flush of blooms. I put one in the living room next to a stalk of Peruvian lily that's already been on our windowsill for about two weeks -- that stuff just lasts and lasts. I put the other in the kitchen:

I swept the house with our new vacuum cleaner, which seems positively super-powered after the tired whine of our old machine. I did laundry. I cleaned the dining room windowsill and washed down and watered all the orchids.

Of course, all this cleaning and organizing is probably a psychological reaction to YET ANOTHER piece of terrible news that I can't control -- the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the specter of Donald Trump appointing another Supreme Court justice. I am trying to be philosophical about it. There are a lot of people in America, largely but not exclusively religious, who want the changes another conservative justice could bring -- especially an end to legalized abortion. Of course I think it's abhorrent that we would do away with a woman's right to choose her reproductive destiny, to force her to submit her body and her privacy to laws largely written by men. But part of me says, well, this is Democracy. This is our system. I don't mean to be too sanguine -- I think we have to continue to fight the pro-choice battle as long as we can. But an angrier voice inside me says, "FINE. You want more abortion restrictions? Go for it. See how miserable you make your neighbors and daughters and nieces. See how many women you kill."

I just do not get some religious people. I grew up going to church every week, and I think church served a purpose in my life when I was young -- it helped me develop a moral center, it taught me to be kind and to consider the needs of others. But my family always considered religion as a sort of social glue, to be taken in a metaphorical sense. All those stories in the Bible -- the virgin birth and the loaves and fishes, the faith healing, the good Samaritan -- didn't really happen. They're vehicles meant to teach us how to live kinder, more productive lives.

The literalists who blindly believe every word in the Bible to be true, the extremists who twist religion into a tool of persecution (apparently completely unaware that that's what they're doing) -- well, as I said, I don't understand them. And of course there are the Mitch McConnells, the political opportunists who have no shame and no principles, and say and do whatever they can to win their battles. Republicans, sadly, are much better at playing that game than modern Democrats are.

As you can tell, my head is swirling.

Let's talk about the once-viney tree. Remember how I took it some water several days ago? This is what it looks like -- kind of pathetic, right? Yellowed and shriveled. I've been afraid that it might be dying, and I will feel terrible if that happens, even though I'm sure my removal of the vines wouldn't cause it to die. If it does expire, something else must be going on, and I have some theories but who knows. I still feel weirdly responsible.

Then again, maybe it's not dying at all. Maybe this is just the color it wears at this time of year, and we couldn't see it before, with the tree so shrouded in vines. Or maybe now that it's exposed to so much sunlight its leaves develop a more coppery tone. They still seem somewhat green, and they're pliable, not dry and dead.

And as Dave pointed out, the tree did develop flowers and fruit -- which seems like a good sign.

I'd write the council tree officer and ask, but I don't want to inadvertently prompt them to replace the tree. So maybe I'll just watch and wait, do my little part by taking it some water now and then, and see what happens. Kind of like what I'm doing with coronavirus, and the Supreme Court, and the election, and Brexit, and climate change, and mass extinction, all the other stomach-churning events going on in the world right now. I can do my little part, but I can't stop the inevitable.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Mali No More

I got an e-mail from Ancestry the other day, saying they'd updated my DNA profile (again). Apparently they do this occasionally as they collect more and more DNA data, allowing them to narrow down their results and be more specific. It's not hugely different from my original profile -- I'm still overwhelmingly British -- but now they've broken Britain into distinct DNA groups for England, Scotland and Wales. So now I can see how much of my ancestry comes from each of those places. I'm not surprised I have a fair amount of Scottish blood, my family being traditionally Presbyterian.

Norway is something new -- my previous profiles, including the last year's update, didn't specify any Norwegian ancestry, although they did pick up some Swedish blood. Again, I suspect this has something to do with ancient Vikings. I don't know of any Scandinavian relatives in my traceable past.

What's now missing, sadly, is the tiny smidgen of African DNA in my first two profiles. The first profile said "West Africa," the second specifically Mali. But Mali is entirely gone now. Apparently I have no Malian roots after all.

Here's a closeup of the regions that feature my English DNA -- as you can see, they go beyond England into parts of France, the Low Countries and even Switzerland.

And interestingly, apparently my Scottish DNA is shared with some people in Brittany, in western France. I think I remember reading that the Celts did make their way to that part of continental Europe.

Here's Dave's updated DNA map:

Again, not hugely different -- mostly Germany and Central and Eastern Europe. As before, his "genetic community" is correctly identified as the Midwestern USA, and mine is correctly identified as North Carolina and Missouri. That's where our descendants settled when they came to North America.

So, pretty interesting! I'm not at all surprised that I apparently have no African blood after all -- I thought maybe it was some genetic root going way back into prehistory, but it was always a tiny, tiny amount, apparently within the margin of error. I'm just not very exotic!

Friday, September 18, 2020

It Had to Happen

Well, we got some sobering news yesterday -- apparently a fellow teacher at our school has come down with Covid-19. Of course it was only a matter of time before this occurred in a community the size of ours, but I expected our first confirmed Covid case since reopening to be a student, not a faculty member. At any rate, the school has taken steps to quarantine people who had the closest contact with that person. Dave is unnerved and plans to limit his time on campus today.

I'll go to work as usual, but this is a good reminder to be as careful as possible -- and that this can happen to any of us.

Meanwhile, for now, how about some more iPhone pictures? I found the petunias above on the way to Hampstead Heath one day.

I guess this is a brand of paving stone?

This is a thorn apple, or jimsonweed as it's known in the USA. I found it growing along a fence on our neighborhood council housing estate. It's beautiful, isn't it? Unfortunately they mowed the lawn a few days later and the jimsonweed is no more, unless it comes up from the root. I'd like to have it in our garden, though it is poisonous.

Found this sign on a dog walk. I promise I have taken nothing from this yard! (It is piled with stuff, though.)

This gladiolus was growing nearby, at the base of a street tree.

This artwork is on the side of our school, above one of our playgrounds. Isn't it great? It depicts the green parakeets we see all over London. I don't know what that orange number one is about -- maybe that's the number of the playground. (We have several.)

Someone left this hat in the lost & found at school. Surprise!

And finally, a sign posted outside the ATM at our bank on the high street. I found it funny at the time, but now it seems a bit foreboding!