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.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Don't Read This While Eating

Well, our plumbing is fully functional again, thank goodness. But the day was not without its drama.

The plumber showed up yesterday morning, having scheduled an appointment to "jet" the drains. But to my surprise, he came without a jet. Instead, he had the same plunging rod that the other plumber brought on Tuesday. I was mystified about why someone would arrive with the exact same tool that failed to do the job two days earlier, but I let him out into the garden to attempt to clear the blockage. He pulled up the manhole covers and got to plunging, and plunged so vigorously that we got foul splashback (for lack of a better word) in our bathtub and flying out of our toilet.

You can imagine how happy I was about that.

After about an hour he left, unsuccessful. I contacted our property management company with pictures of the now-filthy bathrooms and they said someone would come Friday to finish the job. Dave and I both politely but firmly insisted that was unacceptable -- that we'd been without a functioning shower since Sunday, that this plumber for some reason showed up with the wrong equipment, and that they had to find someone to take care of the problem immediately. To our surprise, they did. A new crew arrived in early afternoon, this time with a van to jet the drains.

As you can see, it was quite a sophisticated operation. They used not only a jet -- basically a forced-water nozzle on a long hose -- but also a camera, to check the integrity of the pipes. You can't really tell in the photo above, but there's an image of the inside of our sewer lines on the screen of what I privately dubbed the "shit computer."

Anyway, they discovered that our drainage system is "weird," to use their word. The plunging didn't work because some of our pipes run backwards, toward the garden rather than the street, before making a U-turn toward the sewer. The plumbers were plunging in the wrong direction.

Finally everything was opened up and cleaned out, and the verdict is that fat was blocking the drain. Apparently this is a common thing. Who knows where it came from. The clogged area serves our bathrooms but also the kitchen and laundry room upstairs, so of course I suspect the neighbors. I sent them a note explaining what happened and transmitting a reminder from the plumbers not to put cooking fat down the sink.

I spent the afternoon scrubbing and sanitizing both bathrooms and then Dave and I both had showers. Even the dog got a bath. Ah, to be clean again!

In other news, Dave was invited to get his Covid-19 vaccination. Woo hoo! He's scheduled to go in this afternoon. Still no word on mine, but his is more important, given his Crohn's disease.

Finally, I optimistically bought a ticket to fly to Tampa in July. I'm assuming I'll be fully vaccinated by then, so I should be able to visit my family at long last. It was surprisingly cheap -- about £750 -- and I still have about £400 left on a voucher to use with British Airways on another future flight.

(Top photo: A street in Hendon, on Monday.)

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fish and Flop

Yesterday was another day of mostly reading. I had to catch up on my New Yorkers, because after turning my back momentarily to live my life, I suddenly had FIVE of them sitting on the hall table. Those things proliferate faster than rabbits or field mice.

But they are interesting. I was especially intrigued by this article about a young woman who's trying to help the Catholic Church map all of its real estate holdings. Believe it or not, this has apparently never been done -- at least not to the extent she wants to do it, using mapping software that can express all kinds of information spatially. When she approached the Vatican with the idea they basically looked up from their ancient yellowed parchments, held a candle aloft and wondered what on earth she was talking about. But they seem to be coming around, and she thinks making them aware of their vast properties can help with goals like conservation and stewardship.

I sent the story to my brother, because he's a city planner and knows all about GIS (the mapping and data software) and its applications. He'll be into it.

Speaking of which, he wrote me to say everyone at my mom's retirement community has been vaccinated for Covid-19, so he believes he'll be able to visit her more easily now. Even though he lives only a few miles away, he's been restricted in how much he can see her. And I haven't been home since September 2019, so I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get back and visit this summer. I'm tempted to buy a ticket now, to use my British Airways credit and get a visit on the calendar, with the understanding that coronavirus is unpredictable and any plans could go belly-up at any moment. I'd kind of like to get at least one vaccination under my belt first.

Have you seen Radio Garden? It's an amazing web site that allows us to listen to radio stations all over the world. I think that link will take you to London, but you can choose any dot on the globe and hear live broadcasts -- yesterday I was listening to stations in Tampa, my hometown, as well as randomly selected snippets from Kathmandu, Easter Island, New Zealand, France, Morocco, Namibia and elsewhere. It's really incredible. Talk about a small world.

I went out and staked up all our daffodils, which were flattened by our inclement weather. When I thought about it, I realized they collapse every year, and I did some research on why that is. Apparently the bulbs are planted too shallowly. We didn't plant them -- they were here when we moved in -- and although we could dig them up and plant them deeper, that sounds like an awful lot of work. I think I'll just keep staking them up every spring.

(Top photo: A fishy sculpture on a fence in Golders Green.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Hops Goddess and Tulip Update

Remember Dionysus, whose portrait I posted a couple of weeks ago? Well, when I walked past the same pub in Cricklewood on Monday, I took a photo of his female counterpart. I have no idea who she could be -- when I look up goddesses of beer or alcohol I don't get any obvious answers -- but she's depicted with hops vines, if that's any indication. There's an Egyptian goddess of beer called Nephthys, a Sumerian goddess of beer called Ninkasi, and a Mesopotamian goddess of beer named Siris. I don't know of any specific equivalents in the Greek or Roman pantheons.

Then again, she may not be a goddess at all, and Dionysus may not, in fact, be Dionysus. Maybe they're just allegorical figures or generic faces. Who knows.

Yesterday was pretty low-key. After my marathon walk on Monday I rested my tired dogs and spent a lot of time reading. I finished "Hitty: Her First Hundred Years," which I really enjoyed. It was much better than I expected and I can see why it's a favorite for many people. Some of those older Newbery winners are so stale they're barely readable, but Hitty still pulls her weight. Next up: "Island of the Blue Dolphins," which was one of my personal favorites as a child.

Dave and I worked in the garden -- he cut down all the buddleias, and quite dramatically, too. I'm actually a little afraid for them, but they're tough as nails so I suspect they'll be fine. Pruning always makes me queasy. The last big cleanup job will be trimming the hydrangeas, and I'm going to leave that to Dave as well, because he's the hydrangea expert.

One of our geraniums, overwintering in the bedroom, has already started putting out flowers. It's obviously a bit confused.

Oh! I buried the lede again. We're having plumbing issues -- our bathtub and one of our toilets feed into an underground drain at the side of the house that seems to have become clogged. When we flush the toilet, water (to employ an obvious euphemism) comes up in the bathtub, and the shower is unusable. (We have a second toilet that still works fine, thank goodness, and the kitchen is unaffected.)

We called our management company and they put me on the defensive right away, warning us that we might be charged if they found evidence we've been flushing inappropriate stuff (latex gloves or wet wipes were their examples) down the toilet. I assured them we have not -- we never even buy wet wipes -- but I believe our upstairs neighbors also feed into the same drain, and God only knows what they might be doing.

Anyway, the management company sent a plumber yesterday, and he took the access cover off the drain and plunged away with a rod-like device, trying to release the clog. From the living room I could hear him grunting and sighing with the effort, and when I went out to ask him how it was going, he said, "Not good, mate." Turns out he was unable to solve the problem, so now someone is coming tomorrow to "jet" the drains clean. I have no idea what this involves.

Meanwhile, we're taking sponge baths.

Here's the state of our tulip bouquet. As some of you promised, they are indeed flopping picturesquely. I never knew that tulips continue to grow in the vase, but here's the evidence!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Journey to Sunny Hill

Yesterday I finally, finally took myself on a long-overdue photo walk. How long have I been moaning about not feeling motivated and being sick of my neighborhood blah blah blah? It's been a while! It felt so good to get out and see some new sights.

I didn't want to use public transport, given our lockdown, so I was somewhat constrained in my choice of destinations. I decided to walk to Sunny Hill Park, a pleasant-sounding place north of Hendon that I found on a map.

I started out in the morning and walked up to Golders Green, where I took some street shots of the interesting shops (above).

I revisited Brent Park, on Dollis Brook, to see if the deteriorating pavilions look any better in winter than they did last August. Answer: no.

As I moved up into Hendon, I found an old tiled butcher's sign on a shopfront. There was no butcher nearby, so I assume this is an old sign -- which read Lavender Butcher -- from a bygone era. It doesn't look that old, but it's hard to tell with tile.

Sunny Hill Park, it turns out, is quite hilly. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's located in an area with cheerful street names like Sunny Gardens, Sunningfields Crescent and Greyhound Hill. It wasn't very sunny, which in England in February isn't surprising, but it had some intriguing graffiti.

It also offered some impressive views. This is Wembley Stadium, 3.5 miles away as the crow flies. (People have complained about the architecture of Wembley, but it is the most immediately identifiable landmark on the skyline of Northwest London.)

I decided to keep walking north, up into the Mill Hill area, seen here from a terrace in Sunny Hill Park. I got as far as the Arrandene Open Space, and I thought a quick walk through the woods might be fun before I retook to the city streets and headed home. But the paths were a sludge of mud and I turned around quickly. It was a day better suited to paved surfaces.

I walked back down through Hendon, where the monument to the local war dead sits on a traffic island in the middle of busy Watford Way. I walked south through Hendon Park and cut over to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields, where I sometimes walk Olga. The crocuses were blooming away, having just emerged from our recent winter snowfall.

Altogether I walked 13 miles (or 26,000 steps according to my iPhone health app). So much time had passed since I'd had a long walk that I'd begun to doubt whether I could do it again, so I'm glad to see I can. I've still got all this week off work, so I'm already planning my next one!

Monday, February 15, 2021

Fern Takes a Shower

This picture is actually from a few weeks back -- our buddleia and walnut tree silhouetted against a winter sunset. It's time for us to cut that buddleia back. The garden is due for its February haircut, particularly after our freeze.

Today it's rainy and temperatures are downright balmy, predicted to reach 58º F (14.4º C)! Quite a dramatic change from just a day or two ago. In fact yesterday we moved the tree fern back outside:

Here's the thing about tree ferns -- they make terrible houseplants. Not only are they huge but they need to be kept damp, and indoors, that's a challenge. You have to water the trunk, which inevitably leaves water all over the floor, and as you can see our fern's lower fronds were beginning to yellow, a sure sign that despite our ministrations it wasn't happy. I'm glad to get it back out of the house.

In retrospect, I think we didn't even need to bring it indoors. I've seen other tree ferns around town that are planted in the ground and went uncovered during the freeze -- including Mrs. Kravitz's next door. They must be hardier than I thought. So it's outside to stay, unless we get a really severe blizzard -- and even then we may just cover it.

(Look at our sad Chinese banana in the background -- poor thing! It will bounce back, though.)

Olga and I walked to the cemetery yesterday and saw this curious scene on West End Green. Can you see the yellow police tape blocking off a section of the far sidewalk? Apparently a chunk of masonry fell off that old apartment building and crashed to the sidewalk -- you can see bits of it by the doorway. The mounted officers were there, I believe, to make sure no one walked through the area. When Olga and I passed by again later the officers on horseback had been replaced by a police car with lights twirling. I'm not sure what the ultimate plan is, because they obviously can't have police standing guard there forever.

I came across a woman at the cemetery with a long camera lens, pointing up at the trees. She was taking pictures of goldfinches, like this one, and chaffinches as well. It's uplifting to see colorful birds as the weather warms.

Despite our Heath walk on Saturday and my brief cemetery outing, I'm feeling a bit stir-crazy. Since I'm not walking to work this week, I need to get out and get some exercise and maybe explore some new areas (within the parameters of our lockdown). So that's the plan for today, rainy or not.