Friday, March 5, 2021

A London Eye

I was walking home yesterday when I found this eye drawn on a sidewalk. I wish I'd seen it when it was fresh as it's very faint now, but it looks like that's supposed to be the London skyline reflected in the pupil. Pretty cool!

Just as I was sure that winter was done with us, we're getting more. Temperatures are supposed to get down to 30º F (-1º C) tonight and the same tomorrow night. No snow, fortunately, but the skies have been gray and I'm seeing mostly clouds in the immediate forecast (and rain later next week). We are not amused.

I brought in all the geraniums again, and I suppose we'll cover the banana and the tree fern over the weekend.

I am also sick of wondering about my Covid vaccine. Another co-worker younger than 50 with no underlying health conditions was invited to get hers, and I've still heard nothing. I'm feeling quite ornery about it. I want to wait my turn, and I don't begrudge others getting their shots, but I don't see why other doctors' offices seem to be processing their patients much more efficiently. I also have the irrational fear that if I inquire again they'll put me at the bottom of the list out of spite! So for now it's a waiting game.

Dave and I are still watching "The Expanse" and "The Walking Dead." I like "The Expanse," while Dave (who usually loves sci-fi) is less enthusiastic. It is a bit hard to follow at times but it's never dull. "The Walking Dead" is excellent and suspenseful but quite gory, as you'd expect from a show populated by flesh-eating zombies. (I was going to say it's a nail-biter!) The ensemble cast and the characterizations are excellent, and I can see why it has such appeal. We often watch it right before bed, which might not be the best idea because, yes, I have had zombie dreams.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Lemon Saroyan

I found this lemon in the back of the produce drawer in our refrigerator, and it seemed both repellent and weirdly intriguing.

It has nothing to do with this post, really. I just needed a picture and that was an eye-catcher. Or an eyeye-catcher, you could say. (You'll shortly see why.)

I've mentioned before that I went through a poetry-writing period when I was younger. During this time in the mid-1980s, when I was taking a poetry class at college and working in downtown Tampa, I would often walk to the downtown library on my lunch hour or after work and peruse the poetry shelves.

One of the books I discovered there was Aram Saroyan's eponymous book from 1968. It was printed in a typeface that suggested it came straight from a manual typewriter, and it was full of curious little minimalist poems, including his famous and controversial one-word poem "lighght." (No, that is not a typo.) Most of them stood alone on a stark white page, with a blank page facing, so that each turn produced only a word or a handful of words. Sometimes not even words -- just pieces of words or even a single modified letter. Flashes of language.

"Eyeye" was another. Two eyes, which makes sense -- but united into one image, like the world seen by two eyes. Read it aloud and you sound like a pirate.

I was thoroughly dumbfounded by this poetry. Saroyan, whose father was famous novelist and playwright William Saroyan, wrote what's known as "concrete" poetry, or poetry that is as much a visual work as a readable one. In fact, many of his poems can't be read at all. They're more like an experience.

Here's another example that I remember from that book:

At the time I thought this kind of work was silly, and I remember cynically presuming that Saroyan got published mainly because of his father's connections. But that poem lived in my brain. I never forgot it.

It brought to my mind the "-ly" suffix on adverbs like "slowly" or "chaotically." "Squarely" is an obvious interpretation. Perhaps it's a series of descriptions with a missing core -- "slowly" without the slow, "chaotically" without the chaos. The repetition emphasizes and multiplies the inherent absence. Or "squarely" with the square implied rather than stated -- or maybe it is stated, but differently. I've never read an "official" critical assessment; that's just my interpretation and I suppose someone else might get something else out of it.

Other Saroyan poems repeated the word "crickets" across or down the page, evoking the endless, repetitive sound of the insects. The poem "lighght" is simply that word, standing alone -- an intentional misspelling that makes us pause on the idea or image of light. If the word were spelled correctly it would "pass straight through you," as writer Ian Daly said. The misspelling makes it stick, but not too long -- it also retains a stark, instant quality.

This week I went down an Internet rabbit hole reading about Saroyan and his minimalist poetry, which was republished in a collection 13 years ago. Some of the articles I read are linked in this post. The fact that I was thinking about it is evidence of its surprising durability and effectiveness, I suppose. It took me 35 years to realize it might not be silly after all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Blooming Trees

Not a lot of news here. Yesterday at midday, when I walked home from work, it was 43º F (6º C) and the sky was cloudy and gray. After our recent burst of springlike weather, winter seems to have returned.

The trees are still insisting it's spring, though.

My boss encouraged me to write to my doctor about the Covid-19 vaccine. She wrote hers, and was invited for the vaccine just days later -- and when her husband inquired he also got a shot pretty quickly. Granted, they're both older than me, but not by much.

So I sent an e-mail to my GP's practice and mentioned my age and the fact that I work in a school, and with students coming back on Monday I'd like to get the vaccine sooner rather than later. Someone wrote back and said I am in priority group 9 (which I suppose they're not vaccinating yet) but she would add me to the "reserve list" since I told them I could come in on short notice. I have no idea whether or not that will expedite things, but I guess it's worth a try.

I have a few seedlings sprouting -- foxgloves and one of the corncockles. No sign of life yet from the honesty or the jimson weed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Bondage, Cannabis and Vladimir Putin

As you can see, our part of the world is slowly getting sunnier. The light is warmer and brighter, the shadows more striking.

You'll be glad to know my phone seems to be working fine after its creek-dunking and subsequent dry rice immersion. I'm not sure whether the rice made a difference or if it would have dried out on its own anyway. Guess there's no way to tell. I haven't used it for an extended period of time yet, but the basic apps seem to open and do what they need to do, even iTunes.

Speaking of iPhones, how about another round of random phone pictures from my walks around town?

I found this sticker on a street sign on Abbey Road. Tegamitype is a typography studio in Indonesia. I don't find anything as groovy as this design on their web site. Maybe it's an old sticker.

This was in the window of a closed hairdresser's salon in Childs Hill. It looks like a homemade bondage device. Maybe they put wigs on this head to style them? Alarming!

"Stoney Patch" is cannabis gummy candy. As the package says, "Sour & Sweet, then Stoned." These have made a splash in the news, with a copyright infringement lawsuit and bad reactions from kids who eat them thinking they're conventional sweets. One parent said of an incident at a London school, "A bunch of year 9s took some cannabis edibles and passed out, and there was a lot of throwing up at lunchtime."

I guess gummy candy doesn't exactly encourage moderation.

This is a kickboxing studio in South Hampstead called "Gav the Champ." I took a photo of its sign because I have a friend named Gav and I thought he'd be amused.

I'm glad the user of this wheelie bin has been verified.

Free videotapes set out with someone's trash. Anybody want the entire back catalog of "Friends"? (No, I did not rescue them.)

This image of Vladimir Putin was staring out at me from someone's recycling bag. Turns out it's a cardboard chocolate package from Russia featuring an image of Putin crying, based on a painting by Alexei Sergienko. "Kind-hearted man," the web site says. OK, then.

And finally...

Monday, March 1, 2021

Tree Relocation Followup Report

Last spring, Dave and I moved a young tree that we'd inadvertently planted in the wrong place. We relocated it from the front of the garden to the back corner. Well, it seems happy there, and this year it's blooming up a storm. I'm glad to see it has survived and is evidently prospering. We identified it at some point -- it's a Prunus, but I forget which kind.

(I can't believe that was just last year -- it seems much longer ago!)

Also flourishing this spring are the daffodils (or are they jonquils?) I rescued from Homebase last year when they were giving away their plants just before our first lockdown. At the time they were sad-looking and past their peak, but I knew if we planted them they'd come up again year after year fresh and new -- and indeed they have.

I had a pretty quiet day yesterday -- finished another Newbery book, "King of the Wind" by Marguerite Henry, which I remember reading and loving as a child. It's a fictional account of a real stallion known as the Godolphin Arabian who sired racehorses in England and the United States back in the 1700s. He's an ancestor of some of our more modern champions, including Man O' War and Seabiscuit. It was a good story. I have a vague memory of being somewhat confused when I read it back in grade school. Not only are some of the names are a bit wacky -- the Earl of Godolphin living in the Gog Magog Hills -- but I'm not sure I realized then what siring racehorses entails! (Henry doesn't go into any detail -- the horses merely retire to a distant part of the paddock for some discreet quiet time.)

I've basically given up on reading any adult books until I plow through the remaining Newbery winners. I really want to get this reading project done, or almost done, by the time school gets out in June.

I took Olga to the cemetery and she seemed much more agile than she did Saturday. I guess the Metacam is kicking back in. A couple stopped to watch her gnaw apart her tennis ball, and the man said, "She has beautiful markings!" I never know what to say to that. Should I say "Thank you"? They're not my markings. I usually say something about how she's such a good dog, and she's a rescue, blah blah blah.

I also had a conversation with our upstairs neighbor about the plumbing. They're annoyed because our management company presented them with half of the bill for clearing the drains last week. They question the expense and want to know why they weren't presented with options and bids from different plumbers. I explained that the situation was an emergency -- we had raw sewage bubbling up in the alley and in our bathtub -- and that there was probably no time to seek multiple bids. They seemed unmoved, but they're upstairs and weren't living with the problem like we were. Anyway, it's not my problem -- they need to work it out with our landlord. Ah, the blessed freedom of being a renter!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Slow Heath Ramble

We took maybe the slowest walk I've ever experienced through Hampstead Heath yesterday. Our old girl Olga, who used to race beneath the trees in long running loops and leap over logs with abandon, now ambles at a more subdued pace. She still takes off after squirrels now and then, but increasingly, the squirrel has to be within ten feet and holding a sign that says "CHASE ME."

Age comes to us all, I guess, but part of the problem is also that I temporarily stopped giving Olga her anti-inflammatory medicine. It seemed to be making her sleepy and upsetting her stomach, so she had a drug holiday for a couple of weeks. Now it's time to go back on the Metacam, though, because she was very subdued yesterday and obviously stiff in the joints.

I tried to shorten the walk, but every time we came to a turn we usually take, Olga insisted we take it. She does not like to change the routine. We wound up walking our full loop.

The daffodils were blooming on Hampstead Heath Extension, where I had a bit of drama of my own. As I listened to the Moody Blues on iTunes, Olga splashed around in a muddy creek, and abandoned her tennis ball in the muck. (In addition to moving more slowly, she's much less diligent these days about hanging on to her tennis balls.) I bent over to pick it up, and my iPhone fell out of my jacket straight into the creek. Ugh!

I fished it out within just a few seconds, and after drying it off on my jeans I was relieved to find that it still worked. I took it out of its case to let it breathe, and because it seemed OK, I continued listening to my music as if nothing happened. Which was fine for about half an hour, and then suddenly the music stopped playing. So maybe some water got into it after all.

Now the phone is turned off and sitting in a tub of dry rice, where I'm supposed to leave it for 48 hours. In theory the rice leaches any dampness out of the phone. The other apps and data seemed to be working fine, but we'll see in the long run, I suppose!

Fortunately I'm not addicted to my phone. It can sit in that rice for days and that's fine with me.

There were lots of people out in Golders Hill Park, as you can see. Pandemic? What pandemic?

No crocuses were harmed in the making of this picture. Well, OK, maybe one or two.

In the evening, as Olga snored on the couch, Dave and I watched a long documentary on the BBC from a couple of years ago called "HyperNormalisation." It contends that politicians, banks and others in power have in recent decades built an artificial reality that they've sold to the population at large -- blaming various international players for things they didn't do to justify diplomatic or military actions, for example. We have traded truth for stability, even amidst falsehood.

It's an interesting film, but it sprawls and knits together events and occurrences that, to me, seem only barely connected, if at all. Some of its information isn't new -- in the run-up to George W. Bush's war in Iraq, for example, we all knew Bush's justifications were baloney. We were simply unable to do anything about it. We couldn't stop the conflict.

Anyway, the filmmakers contend this climate of falsehood since the Reagan years has helped lead to catastrophes like Trump and Brexit -- desperate actions by increasingly alienated voters who know they're being duped. I forget how I even came across this movie. I think it was mentioned in something I read. Again, not bad, but long and sprawling.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Clay Pipes

A couple of days ago, on my post about stooping, Ellen commented, "You are at war with yourself. One part of you loves to bring stuff home and the other part hates clutter."

That is completely true. Yesterday, after cleaning out that dark space under the stairs, I submitted all the information needed to arrange a hazardous waste pickup by the council. In other words, I inched forward on getting some stuff out of the house.

But as I was walking home from work, I found this (above)! A box full of antique clay smoking pipes, lying on the sidewalk in the same place where I found the bottles and the wet books. Someone is definitely having a clear-out, but I couldn't believe they'd just throw these pipes away. When I saw the box on its side, the pipes strewn across the sidewalk, I actually exclaimed out loud, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"

Though not uncommon, clay pipes like this are quite old, going at least as far back as the Victorians and sometimes hundreds of years earlier. They featured long stems, and were inexpensive and made to be disposable. They're often found in the Thames by mudlarkers, but usually not on a sidewalk in West Hampstead!

It's much more common to find broken pieces of stem than it is to find a cup. I've found some stems myself, and years ago, my friend Sally gave me a cup that she bought from an antique dealer at Greenwich Market -- so I'd have at least one. Now look at them all!

I scooped the pipes back into the box and brought it home, so I could examine them more closely. The box was numbered -- 17 -- and there was a note inside: "17/ Pipes 13, 1/2 of 1882." Perhaps these are inventory or lot numbers, or is 1882 a year? Who knows.

Most commonly, clay pipes feature a simple cup with maybe some ribs or basic patterns around the outside. But some of the ones in this box are really unusual. Here's one that looks like a grinning man with a big nose.

This one has a stag's head, with a sun or a radiating eye above it...

...and this one has a sort of faux wood-grain texture.

This one may be my favorite, with images of giraffes on the cup. On one side of the stem it says "The Giraffe," and on the other is part of an address, "-ton Place, SE." The Giraffe was a pub on Penton Place in Kennington, in southeast London. I feel certain this pipe must have come from there.

Anyway, I have no idea what to do with them all. I can't even say for sure that they're all old or authentic -- people do make modern versions -- but I think they are. I wrote to the Museum of London asking them if they'd like to take a look. I don't know whether any of these are so unusual they're worthy of special preservation.

If not, maybe I can sell them on eBay or donate them to a pipe-collector's club. I just want them to wind up in the right hands, and not go out with the trash!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Under the Stairs

Yesterday was quite busy -- a full morning at the library, including a chatty Zoom meeting with my colleagues, and then an afternoon of tasks around the house.

I repotted our amaryllis bulbs in fresh soil, so they're all set for another year. I watered them and set them just inside the back door, where it should be warm and bright enough to get them sprouted. They only hibernated in the shed for about four weeks, but they were largely dormant in the dining room for several weeks before that so I think they're sufficiently rested.

I also repotted a hanging basket just outside the back door -- the one holding our red verbena. That thing has been going strong for several years now, and it needed a slightly bigger home.

But the biggest task...

...was cleaning out the space under the stairs. This area has remained largely unexplored by us in the almost seven years we've lived here. It's been chock full of random household items, cans of old paint, boxes of tile, curtain rods and other stuff, and for all I knew there were literally skeletons in there. We use a small space just inside the door to store tote bags, paper products and empty but potentially useful cardboard boxes, as well as our fan, but the inner reaches contained stuff either left behind by other tenants or belonging to the landlord.

Well, I pulled everything out, sorted the stuff worth saving from the stuff to be discarded, and vacuumed the entire space. There were things in there I didn't realize we had. For example:

Look at this groovy old floor scrubber thing! I don't even know what to call it. Here's a close-up:

I have never in my life seen anything like it. According to this web page, which is apparently run by someone who collects old vacuum cleaners, it's from 1961. It's not a vacuum, because there's no air suction -- it's just a scrubber or buffer. Those bristles are seriously stiff. I'd be scared to plug it in but with all its turquoise retro charm, I'm not going to get rid of it.

There are, however, two other vacuum cleaners in that space -- plus our two vacuum cleaners, which means, yes, we have FIVE floor-cleaning devices -- and I'd like to throw two of them out. So I've written the landlords and asked permission to do so. I have two boxes of old paint for the council to collect, and I've thrown away a bunch of mouse-nibbled junk. (There are no mice in there now, but there were in the past.) It makes me feel better knowing that space is no longer packed with debris.

(Top photo: The steeple of a church in Marylebone, near the entrance to Regent's Park.)

Thursday, February 25, 2021


Here's an update on the book rescue project I mentioned yesterday. They're all in pretty bad condition, honestly. I threw away Augustus Smith -- that book was so wet that when I went to work yesterday it hadn't dried out yet, and it was looking very warped and smelling moldy. Into the trash!

I haven't thrown away the Cathedrals book, but I still might. I keep asking myself whether anyone would really want to read it, with the cover looking like that. I think I have saved the ballooning book, but only barely. It's got some warping too. Maybe if I stick it in a bookcase it will be pressed flat over time.

Yesterday The New York Times ran an article about collecting free stuff in the city, and how this is a peak time for those who are into such activities. (They call it "stooping" -- townhouses in New York have front stoops, the steps leading up to the door, and that's where people leave free stuff. It's also where New Yorkers hold their equivalent of yard sales, which are known, naturally, as "stoop sales.") Apparently, with so many people staying home and cleaning up their apartments, and with others moving because their jobs have vanished or gone virtual or whatever, there are lots of castoffs available.

In fact, there are Instagram feeds devoted entirely to stooping. (In a cursory check I found one for free stuff in London, but it's full of debris like half-full Stella beer bottles and lost shopping carts. Not quite the same thing.)

I'm amused to find that my penchant for picking up free stuff is apparently shared by lots of other people -- and some of them are serious about it, furnishing their entire apartment that way. I would be hesitant to sleep on even a clean found mattress (but would it be any worse than a hotel bed?) and I'm not even sure I'd like a found couch. Bedbugs!

Anyway, I don't need to bring more found stuff home. I have enough trouble managing the stuff we have. Yesterday Dave was trying to find his box of disposable face masks, in order to go to the grocery store, and I could not for the life of me remember where I'd put them. I looked all over, fruitlessly, and eventually he just left with a mask he'd already worn.

I did eventually find them, but in the process of rummaging through closets I realized we have a lot of junk and I am starting a clean-out ASAP. I really wish I could take stuff to a thrift store, but they're all still closed for our lockdown, so I'll hold onto the donations for the time being. I particularly need to arrange a hazardous waste pickup from the council -- we have a closet full of paint, varnish, furniture stain and other stuff, much of which was there when we moved in and probably isn't even useful anymore. I'd like to get rid of it all. God only knows what's in there.

(Photos: Smiley-face graffiti in Billy Fury Way, West Hampstead. The top photo has been run through the Waterlogue app; the original is below.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Ballooning Across Africa

Yesterday was the most beautiful, balmy spring day -- blue skies, sunshine and a high temperature of 58º F (14º C). When I came home from work around lunchtime, I put on shorts and went out to sit on our garden bench. First time I've done that in a while.

The garden was alive with birds. Along with all the usual culprits -- blackbirds, pigeons, tits and dunnocks -- I saw a couple of goldfinches. It was such a pleasure to sit and watch them.

Thanks for all your concern yesterday about my "pink belt"! Some of you shared my initial worry that it's shingles, but I am now certain it's not. There's no pain, there are no blisters, and it appears on both sides of my body. (Shingles usually appears only on one side of the midline, or the spine.) It's just a red band, mildly itchy and slightly puffy.

I think it's something called polymorphic light eruption, which can happen to pale people like me. Basically, our bodies have an immune response to the UV radiation in sunlight. Apparently this occurs in northern climates where people go without sun exposure for months during winter, and then bare their formerly protected skin to sun in the spring -- which is exactly what I did. It doesn't take much exposure to create a rash.

I've never been a big sunbather, but when I lived in Florida, obviously my body was conditioned to the sun. Here, I've apparently lost some of that conditioning. (Even when I lived in Florida I remember getting hives after walking on a sunny beach one day!)

Anyway, enough about my temperamental skin. 

Yesterday, walking to work, I came upon a pile of sodden trash bags and other debris sitting on the sidewalk (in the same place where I found the bottles last May). As I've said, it wasn't a rainy day, so I think this stuff got wet some time ago. Someone must be cleaning out a leaky storage shed. Included were several books, some of which were beyond repair, like this one about Hampstead's history.

But these three, although damp, didn't look too bad -- so I picked them up and took them to work. I cleaned them up and I'm drying them out.

The cover of the book on cathedrals doesn't look great, but the inside is fine.

I hate to discard old books. I always think, "What if this is the last one?" (Not the case with these three, which are all readily available online for about £3 each.)

I have no idea what I'll do with them, assuming they don't go straight into the trash can (which they will if they're too warped or damaged after they dry). I don't particularly want to read about cathedrals and I don't care about the life of Augustus Smith, who was governor of the Isles of Scilly back in the Victorian era. But "Throw Out Two Hands" looks interesting -- a book about some guys who took a hot-air balloon across Central Africa in 1960. It has good reviews and includes pictures. I might actually read that one.

(Top photo: Detail of a fence in Marylebone, last Friday.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

My New Pink Belt

Here's the back garden, after our recent trimming and pruning and with the daffodils going full steam. We also have some white daffodils that appear later in the season -- usually about a month behind the yellow ones.

Things seem to be bouncing back from the freeze. The hydrangeas, like the big one at left next to the fence, still need trimming, but as I've said before I'm leaving them to Dave. He's the hydrangea expert. The hebe bush at far right has also grown into a monster.

Speaking of daffodils, the daffodil hospital on our kitchen windowsill is quite well-attended these days -- practically every time Olga goes into the garden she breaks one off. The little ones on the left came from Fortune Green, where someone left them strewn on the grass. Maybe a child picked them and left them behind. (I know I keep showing you this windowsill, but I can't help it -- it does look cheerful, doesn't it?)

I'm back at work this week, and we received word yesterday that all our students will return to school on March 8. I'll be glad to get back to semi-normal, although pubs, restaurants and shops will apparently remain closed into April. I'd be happier if I could get my vaccination sometime soon.

Speaking of medical stuff, I have the strangest condition -- a strip of skin across my lower back that has become red and itchy and inflamed. It looks like a belt of sunburn, but it doesn't quite feel like sunburn. It's more itchy than painful. I guess I may have exposed that skin to sunlight when I was bent over working in the garden on Sunday, but the sun didn't bother me anywhere else -- not on my arms or hands or head. And besides, it's February in England! Hardly the sunniest of circumstances! At first I thought it was shingles, but it's on both sides of my spine and there are no blisters. I haven't changed laundry soap or anything like that. I've concluded that it's dermatitis or a photoallergy caused by sun exposure in an area that hasn't seen sun in a long time. Weird!

Monday, February 22, 2021

Crocuses and Birdsong

I spent a couple of hours yesterday out in the garden, cutting back old, dead growth and weeding parts of the flower bed. We have two lavender plants that had become entwined with some kind of creeping grass. The plants themselves look terrible and I seriously considered ripping them out altogether, but lavender always looks bad at this time of year. So I restrained myself and managed, with patience, to trim them and remove most of the grass.

We have so many crocuses this year! I counted seven purple flowers out in the lawn. That may not sound like a lot, but it's more than I ever remember seeing before. We also have some yellow and beige ones in our flower bed by the back door.

Indoors, our little cactus has given us two blossoms once again...

...and another orchid has opened.

Remember all those foxglove seeds I planted last fall? Well, as I said a few days ago, they all died over the winter. So I dumped all those trays and began again yesterday. I planted foxgloves as well as some honesty, a few corncockle and the seeds of the jimsonweed I found last summer. I'm not sure those jimsonweed seeds are fully mature so they may not germinate. They're an experiment.

I also brought the trays indoors to give them some protection, which is what I should have done last fall. Live and learn.

Outdoors I scattered the rest of the corncockle and some poppy seeds, and planted my one pod of sweet peas, which seem small and underdeveloped. Our sweet peas may have come to the end of the line. We just didn't get any good seeds last year.

I decided not to plant the lupine seeds. The parent plants survived OK over the winter so there's no reason to grow more. I also have several seed packets that came free with our library subscription to Gardener's World magazine, and I'm going to take them to school and give them to someone else. If I planted all that stuff I'd have 500 seedlings and there's only so much I can manage.

Steve Reed · Dawn Chorus

Finally, to continue the springtime theme of this post, here's the dawn chorus as heard this morning in our garden. Noisy little birds!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Rush and Tulips

I haven't yet mentioned the death of Rush Limbaugh, but it's been percolating in my brain now for several days. Yesterday The New York Times ran four opinion pieces about Limbaugh, and it seems everyone has a viewpoint on his legacy. Here's mine.

As you can imagine, I was not a fan. The few times I listened to Limbaugh, his combative, swaggering, name-calling style turned me off right away. I think he did more to debase political discourse in the USA than possibly any other person. He not only drove the news media to be more outspoken and outlandish, he also pushed national leaders and ordinary citizens toward a brand of politics that was based on insults and grievances. That was basically his appeal -- he cast aside society's expectation that people should be polite and treat each other with respect. We're all suffering for it.

My friend Sue once said that Limbaugh was popular because "he gives people permission to be assholes." I thought that was a very astute observation. Growing up in the '70s, we'd all been drilled in tolerance and open-mindedness and "Free to Be, You and Me," and while that kind of thinking appeals to me, some people chafe against it -- especially those who feel angry or threatened by a perceived loss of entitled social status (i.e. straight white men). It's hard work to be tolerant, after all. Sometimes you have to push yourself, hold your judgement in check, extend some effort. Limbaugh punctured that expectation of tolerance. He told people it was OK to scoff at their neighbors and call them names and ridicule their views.

We're still dealing with the fallout. Our political culture today is poisoned by a lack of civility and respect on both sides -- but let's face it, the conservatives have mastered the art.

I'm not rejoicing at his death, but I'm certainly not sad. I do believe in a kind of karma, and while I don't know much about Limbaugh and his personal life, it seems to me -- with his four wives, drug addictions and blustering persona -- that he wasn't particularly happy. Whether that drove his on-air anger or vice versa, who knows?

Unfortunately, his death doesn't mean we're done with him. His on-air talk radio and TV imitators are still out there, stirring the pot. Oh for the days of Paul Harvey!

Here's a last portrait of our tulips, which are now in the garden waste recycling bag.

Yesterday was pretty quiet. I mostly rested after my long walk on Friday, finishing "Island of the Blue Dolphins" -- which I was happy to discover I still love -- and taking Olga to the cemetery for her daily outing.

I moved a bunch of our plants outside, mostly geraniums that were sheltering indoors for the winter, and I cleaned around the back door. It feels so good to have that space clean and open again. The temperatures for the foreseeable future are supposed to be in the 40s F at night and up to 60º during the day, so not exactly balmy, but not frigid either. The plants should be fine unless we get another Arctic blast, which is always possible.

(Top photo: Marylebone high street, on Friday.)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The End

My friend Colin and I set out on a long walk yesterday, with this as our destination. It's the sculpture currently inhabiting the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, "The End" by Heather Phillipson. Or, as I rather unimaginatively call it, "The Big Ice Cream Sundae." More about it here.

I remember reading about it when it was installed last summer, but of course I hadn't had a chance to actually see it. So when Colin and I were concocting plans for our walk, it seemed as good a goal as any.

(Apparently, under our current lockdown rules, we're allowed to walk with one other person from another household for exercise. So as far as I can tell, we violated none of the restrictions. In case you're wondering.)

The fun and yet creepy sculpture features a fly and a drone perched on the top. There's a camera under the drone that sends a live-streamed image of the steps below to this website (click on "The End" and then on the white arrow). Usually there's not a lot to see there, given that we're in lockdown and there aren't many people wandering around Trafalgar Square. There's also an eight-minute audio piece (click on "/ Volta") that I confess I didn't get all the way through, but seems to be about the coronavirus rebooting the world and all of us too.

Colin was concerned about walking all the way down to Trafalgar and back -- he didn't think he'd make it -- and as it turned out, we had to jump on the tube on our return trip because I had to be home by 2 p.m. to get a grocery delivery. (Dave was busy getting his vaccine, which, by the way, went uneventfully.) So we wound up walking eight or nine miles, rather than the 12 or so it would have been if we'd walked the full distance.

We saw some other interesting stuff too, like...

...colorful shopfronts...

...a nearly deserted Leicester Square...

...lots of workmen in neon high-viz uniforms...

...and a kid skateboarding in a chimpanzee mask.

These are weird days, people. Weird, weird days.