Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Grand Ma

I was organizing and archiving some old photos this week when I came across this short video, from November 2019. It's so short it's barely a video at all -- in fact the only reason it's not a still photo is that I couldn't fit that whole piece of text art, by Laure Prouvost, into a single frame. This was at the Notting Hill Gate tube station, and if I'd turned around, I'd have seen on the opposite wall, "Grand Ma loved being carried up the escalator into the naked light."

Poetic, right? Whimsical and yet poignant, given the use of the past tense.

We had another chaotic morning around here yesterday. The fence guys were back to finish the job, and it looks great from our perspective, though I have a real feeling that Mrs. Kravitz will complain whenever she returns from wherever she is. We also had a gigantic moving van parked two houses away (where the baseball players lived -- apparently they've moved), and there was a huge construction lorry noisily threading its way up the street, past the hole in the pavement created by Thames Water.

On the plus side, remember how I said we were going to throw out the shoddily made plant ladder? Well, the fence guys took it with them, along with all the wood debris from the old fence. So it's out of our hair. Of course this was a day after I'd arranged with (and pre-paid) the council to remove it, so now I'm writing to see if I can get a refund.

Oh, and I took my pre-flight Covid test. I had a video call with a technician who watched me unbox the kit, swab my nose, run the test and set the timer, and then I had to send them via e-mail a picture of the results along with my photo ID within half an hour. In return, they e-mailed me back a "fit to fly" certificate, which allegedly will allow me to board my plane to Florida tomorrow.

In the afternoon I finished a page-turner of a book, "People Like Her" by Ellery Lloyd, which I enjoyed a lot. It's a good suspenseful summer read, and it resonated with me because it's about an Instagram "influencer" and the ramifications of putting details about one's private life (in her case, not always truthful) online. I also recently enjoyed "A Children's Bible" by Lydia Millet, an apocalyptic tale about a world threatened by climate change in which a group of children essentially have to fend for themselves. I recommend both of them!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Serenity and Chaos

This is our garden Buddha. He was a present from a co-worker, who knew I attended that Buddhist retreat a couple of years ago. (Not to mention practicing Zen for several years in New York.) He looks like he's made of wood, but he's actually some kind of weather-resistant plastic or resin, and I believe at some point he was decapitated. You can see a ring around his neck where his head was reattached. But that's fine. As my great-grandmother would have said, "A galloping horse wouldn't notice."

I sort of like the repair job -- not only the line around his neck but the slightly forward tilt of his head, which may or may not have been his original posture. You know the Japanese art of repairing broken objects with gold, to celebrate their imperfections? Our Buddha has a golden necklace, sort of.

There's also a Buddhist expression you may have heard that says, "If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha!" I think it's meant to warn us against becoming attached to any one idea of what the Buddha or Buddhism is, as well as believing we understand that idea. Anyway, our little statue with his mortal wound reminds me of that saying.

Well, yesterday was crazy busy around here. Thames Water has been digging at the front of the house to connect us to the new water main, a job that seems more or less completed. (The hole has been filled in, anyway.)

And some guys showed up to repair the fence at the side of the house that has caused Mrs. Kravitz so much consternation.

Here they are, installing a couple of new fence panels and straightening a post that's behind me in this shot.

It's a little weird having the fence wide open. Mrs. Kravitz's dog was very curious about it, as was Olga, but weirdly neither of them crossed the line. They seem to know where their territory ends and the other's begins.

See that big hunk of concrete next to the yellow flowers? That was thrown behind the plants on our side, and that's what pushed the fence post outward and made the fence lean. So they repair guys removed it and will haul it away.

We didn't get too involved in the repair. I just let them do their thing. I think Mrs. Kravitz must be out of town, because I never saw her during the whole process and I'm sure she'd have things to say under normal circumstances.

Today they'll be back to finish the job, and we're taking Olga to the vet for her shots, and I have to get my Covid testing done for my flight to Florida in just TWO DAYS!

Monday, June 28, 2021


I bring you a report on the state of the garden. Here's the view out the back door, where the pink persicarias have faded and the yellow phlomis has arisen in their place. Compare the scene to this video, which I shot in April, and you can see how dense the growth has become.

Here's the area around the birdbath, which looks like the prehistoric lair of a small dinosaur. Can't you just imagine it poking its head out of that tangle of green? The teasels -- three on the left, three bunched together on the right -- are towering and preparing to bloom, and the burdock in the center has reached an insane size.

I mowed the lawn yesterday, and I can barely squeeze the mower through this area, with red persicaria on the left and another giant burdock and, beyond that, a teasel on the right.

The growth is just as dense on and around the patio -- which is under there somewhere. That gigantic inula in the foreground grew there of its own accord. It comes up every year and I don't have the heart to kill it, but it is in a rather inconvenient place. My foxglove seedlings are on the right. I need to do something with those.

Remember that set of garden shelves we bought -- the "plant ladder"? Well, it's a badly designed, badly built piece of junk. Within weeks it began falling apart, some of the shelves collapsed, and it got so bad I was afraid to put pots on it because of the weight. The screws holding the shelves together are so flimsy they've snapped in several places. We decided to throw it out. So the side of the house, which is our sunniest spot, is once again free from furniture and honestly I think it looks much better that way.

(Well, except the small shelves in the foreground, which are holding pots of jimsonweed (datura) seeds. Only one of those seeds sprouted, and you can see it growing in the grey pot surrounded by pottery shards to keep the squirrels at bay. We also have a lettuce plant there that Dave bought at the grocery store -- I've never seen lettuce sold with the root ball attached, but we planted this one after we ate the leaves and it's giving us another harvest!)

Here's the little wildflower garden, where the seeds I planted have grown to a respectable size. (Some of them, anyway. I don't think any of the cornflowers made it -- the slugs liked them too much.)

Our first dahlias are beginning to bloom!

And finally, the corncockle, which you may remember I grew from seed, is several feet high and producing flowers of its own. Success!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Home Again

Yesterday was our last on the Isle of Wight, and we really only had the morning free. We had a leisurely breakfast at our hotel and then I took Olga down to the beach for another walk along the seafront.

It must have been low tide because the water was much farther out and Olga didn't even try to wade. She was happy to bark and chase her tennis ball.

Then Dave and I gathered up all our stuff, called a taxi and began the same multi-transportational process that we used to get to the island to get back home again: taxi to hovercraft, hovercraft to bus, bus to train.

From the hovercraft dock on the Isle of Wight we had a good view of Portsmouth across the Solent, showing the Spinnaker Tower.

Once in London we took a taxi to get home, which was expensive but we were exhausted juggling bags and dog. The traffic was terrible, probably owing to several big demonstrations that were going on around town.

And then we were back, watering the plants and marveling at how much things had grown during our few days away. Olga ensconced herself on the couch and promptly fell into a deep sleep that has pretty much continued uninterrupted. She was exhausted.

Although she enjoys trips, I think they also wear her out -- she doesn't sleep well, being always in a heightened state of anxiety, in unfamiliar surroundings and on an unfamiliar schedule. Now she's catching up. And so are we!

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Needles

Yesterday I had a bit of an adventure. I bought a £10 all-day pass on the local bus service, and I set out for the other side of the island to see The Needles.

They're a series of interesting chalk formations projecting into the sea, surrounded by high bluffs and chalk cliffs that make for excellent walking. Dave and Olga weren't particularly into this idea -- well, Olga might have been into it, but the walk would have been too far for her -- so they stayed back at the hotel and I went on my own.

I managed to snag my favorite seat on every double-decker bus -- the front left side of the top deck -- which gave me an excellent view of the passing countryside. The west side of the island seems more quaint and more rural than the area where we're staying. There were lots of little villages and farms.

Here's a sample of what the ride was like. There are three short videos here -- one of the bus coming into the village of Brightstone; one of the bus approaching Freshwater Bay, where I got off to begin my walk along the cliffs, which you can see in the video; and one of a "chine," a forested gorge, in this case next to Alum Bay.

In the middle video, approaching Freshwater Bay, the land to the right up and over the hills is Afton Down, the site of the famous Isle of Wight music festival in 1970. (Fellow blogger Mr. Pudding recently wrote about attending this festival along with more than half a million of his closest friends.)

When I got off the bus in Freshwater Bay, I began walking up the cliffs, and was surprised to see cows grazing. You'd think the cliffs might be a hazard for them but I guess they know enough to steer clear. While I can't begin to approach the level of quality bovine photography we've come to know from Mr. Pudding, I did take a few pictures (top).

The weather was initially cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining. This 1897 monument to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived near Freshwater Bay, stands atop the headland overlooking the ocean.

After about three miles of walking I reached the end of the cliffs and found The Needles:

By the time I got there, as you can see, the sun had come out. The lighthouse at the tip of The Needles dates from 1859 and Wikipedia says it's still active.

It wasn't super-easy to see The Needles from the tip of the headland, which is an old military fortification of concrete battlements protecting the entrance to the Solent from naval attacks. I found just one viewpoint, offering the perspective above.

But after walking back to Alum Bay, on the other side of the headland, I could see them from another interesting angle.

At a small amusement park in Alum Bay, I stopped at a coffee shop named, for some reason, after Italian radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi. (Maybe there was a military communications station out there on the bluffs?) I heard some women in front of me have a conversation with the attendant about sandwiches, but I didn't really pay attention, and they left empty handed. When I got to the counter I saw a couple of boxed sandwiches in the pastry case, so I pointed at one and told the attendant, "I'll have that cheese sandwich."

"We're all out of cheese sandwiches, I'm afraid," he said.

Still pointing at the sandwich, which I could see with my own eyes, I said, "But...."

Turns out the "sandwich" in the box was actually just a picture of a sandwich, which I was seeing through the cellophane. It was merely a display item. Do I need glasses or what?! I laughed and said, "This is a crazy idea, but you might want to take the picture out of the display case so people don't keep trying to order cheese sandwiches!" He agreed and said he'd just been too busy. I had coffee and a brownie and by the time I left he had indeed removed the faux-sandwich from the case.

It was only about 2 p.m. so I decided to board the bus again and try to see Dimbola Lodge, the home of famous Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. (Apparently lots of artistic types used to hang out in this part of the Isle of Wight back in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria herself had a house on the north side of the island.)

On the bus, I sat next to a young man and woman and their elderly mother. They bantered about the scenery and as we passed this building (above) the woman said, "It looks like a thatched church."

The man said, "Well, it's definitely a church, and it's definitely thatched."

The woman, peering at the sign as we passed, said, "Why, it's called 'The Thatched Church'!" And she was right. Its real name is St. Agnes', but it's nicknamed The Thatched Church.

I got to Dimbola Lodge, and wouldn't you know, the museum closes at 3 p.m. Argh! So I had another coffee on the patio and read my New Yorker, because I now had two hours to kill before the next bus out of town. At least I can say I saw the outside of the house.

I walked down to the beach in Freshwater Bay, where there were more interesting chalk formations.

I liked this colorful mosaic in one of the beachfront shelters.

Finally, just before 5 p.m., I ventured back to the bus stop to get out of there. As I waited in the late-afternoon sun, I was treated to a long and loud argument between a young man and woman about how she refused to have sex with him blah blah blah. As he argued he smoked a large and very stinky spliff. Oh, brother.

Finally the bus arrived, and the arguing couple (thank God) didn't get on. I was back in Sandown at 7 p.m.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Sandown to Shanklin

Yesterday's weather turned out to be pretty nice. I'd heard rumors of clouds but they were high and thin, with the sun coming through quite confidently. After breakfast, Dave and I took Olga for a romp in a nearby grassy park, and then I walked her down to the beach. She doesn't seem sure what to make of salt water. She waded in enthusiastically, but after she tasted it she got right out again.

We threw her Kong on the beach and then I left Dave and Olga back at the hotel and took a walk along one of the coastal paths from Sandown, the town where we're staying, to Shanklin, the next town south. First I explored Sandown a bit, walking along the high street with its shops full of colorful beach stuff.

I walked down to the waterfront, where a shaggy guy was wearing shorts that almost exactly matched the landscaping.

Then I walked back up to the path, which runs along the cliff tops overlooking the beach, and headed south. This is looking toward Shanklin, just beyond that middle point.

And this is looking back toward Sandown, which has a big pier.

This is what the coastal path looked like. We're not talking about rustic walking conditions. I'd guess the distance was two or three miles.

Once in Shanklin I had a look around. It looks a lot like Sandown except perhaps less tatty. I grabbed a coffee at a cafe on the high street and walked the length of the business district, checking out the little shops. I bought a £4 shirt at the Salvation Army so I'd have something with buttons to wear to dinner -- we planned to go to a nice-ish restaurant, and I'd only brought a sweatshirt.

And then I turned around and headed back. Dave and I grabbed lunch at a beachfront sandwich shop and spent the afternoon in the room, resting and reading. For dinner we went to the Bandstand, which had been recommended by several people including our taxi driver when we arrived. I had excellent mussels and Dave had lamb. We couldn't go inside because we had the dog, so we ate out on the back deck overlooking a mini golf course full of dinosaurs. Kind of surreal.

The trash TV continued last night. We watched an absolutely appalling show called "Naked Attraction" in which a contestant chooses a prospective date based solely on their physical attributes -- and yes, everyone is NAKED! Why anyone would go on this show is beyond me. In this case, a woman chose from five men who stood behind screens that were raised in stages, first to their waist, then to their shoulders, then all the way, and at each stage she eliminated one of them. Ouch! Then we followed her on her date with the "winner" -- which ultimately didn't go that well, of course.

Sometimes I think Western civilization is definitely in decline.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

On the Isle

Well, we all made it to our hotel on the Isle of Wight, after a tube trip, a 1 1/2-hour train, a taxi, a hovercraft and another taxi. Whew!

I took the picture above during our lunch stop in Portsmouth, at a place called Clarence Pier that was very Coney Island. Lots of gaming arcades, snack and gift shops and other oceanfront "amusements." I had an uninspired sandwich of tuna mixed with kernels of sweet corn, which for some reason is the way British people serve tuna. It's a mysterious combination.

This was right before we hopped on the hovercraft, a very strange invention that does indeed float in mid-air several feet above the land and water surface. Riding on it was the high point of the trip for Dave, who took photos and videos and was quite enthralled by the mechanics of it all. I didn't much care how it worked as long as it got us there.

Olga made the trip just fine. She seemed to be in a state of excitement the whole time -- the good kind, in which she's energetic and enthusiastic. Maybe she was just as sick of sitting around the house as we were?

Here's our hotel room, which is very textured. Don't tell the management that Olga is on the bed.

So far we haven't done much. There are some coastal paths I hope to walk, and some of them will entail taking a bus. (The Isle of Wight is not small! It's 148 square miles!) It looks like we're going to have variable weather, so we'll see how that goes. I think Dave and Olga will hang out at the hotel if and when I take those longer walks.

I took this down at the beach yesterday -- the omnipresent community war memorial. Doesn't it bug you that the flags aren't quite symmetrical? The blue one on the left is apparently an environmental award signifying that the beach is clean and in good shape, which indeed it seems to be.

For dinner we had fish & chips in a beachside bar & grill and then watched trashy TV in bed. Vacation time it is!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Rooftop Birthday

Yesterday was Dave's birthday! Woo hoo! I got him a new computer bag because the one he's been using (since before we met 12 years ago) is now officially falling apart. It has these weird-looking white wires sticking out and looks very odd, and even Dave admits it has lived its best life. Now he can finally ease it into retirement.

Our day was pretty low-key, but in the evening I took him to the rooftop of the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane, where this was our view. We could see the towers of the City, the Shard, and beyond that Canary Wharf -- plus the London Eye and Parliament. So many cranes!

Here's a close-up of the skyline near the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets. The Victoria Tower is on the right, with the white twin towers of Westminster Abbey just below it; the octagonal Central Tower is between those two modern skyscrapers farther in the distance; and the Elizabeth Tower housing Big Ben is on the left, shrouded in dark scaffolding, just beyond the yellow crane.

And here's our view over Hyde Park, with a lush carpet of treetops spread at our feet. In this direction we could see the dome of Royal Albert Hall and the buildings around Knightsbridge.

The Dorchester Rooftop is a pop-up restaurant, where apparently invited chefs come through and work for a few weeks presenting their culinary vision. Our chef was Adriana Cavita, whose Mexican dishes were refreshing and delicious. We don't often get Mexican food in London so this was a nice departure from the norm.

I'm just glad the weather worked out. I've been suffering no end of anxiety because it's been so chilly and rainy lately. (When I made the reservation we were still in the middle of our sunny period.) Fortunately, the cloudy weather began to break up yesterday and by the time we sat out for our dinner we were seeing rays of sunshine across the treetops.

Today, we're off on an adventure with Olga. If all goes as expected, we'll be coming to you tomorrow from the Isle of Wight!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Squirrel Acrobatics

Our bird feeders are teeming right now, with blue tits and great tits and ravenous starlings and parakeets and even the occasional pigeon. As you can see, we also get periodic non-avian visitors.

I watched yesterday morning as this squirrel tried and tried to get into the suet ball feeder. It managed a nibble here and there.

I know -- I feel a little bad for it, too. We put in a squirrel feeder a few years ago and filled it with peanuts, and the squirrels absolutely demolished it within a very short time. And honestly, we don't want to encourage them too much, because although they're cute they dig up our potted plants.

Look who else was back yesterday:

Doesn't that seem like it would hurt?

I spent virtually all day on the couch reading. I finished Mary Miller's novel "The Last Days of California," about an evangelical family from the South making a road trip out west to witness the apocalypse. I liked it a lot -- a smooth and entertaining read. I also polished off another New Yorker.

And last night, Dave and I went to the theater! Well, sort of. One of our co-workers was in a one-man play about a Victorian botanist who has a supernatural experience in the forest. It was very strange and because of inadequate sound I could only hear about every third word, but I think I got the gist of it. The production was "staged" (if I can use that term when there's no stage) in the round on the floor of a church in Waterloo, and it's the first time post-pandemic I've been in a room full of people to watch a live performance.

I was mostly entertained by this gentle greyhound, lying next to us on the floor:

Only in England could you take your dog to the theater! Dave said there was another one nearby, a little yappy thing, but I didn't see it. I heard barking at one point and I thought it was part of the production, but Dave thought it was the little dog. Who knows?

Before the show, we went to a dim-sum restaurant where I had, among other things, a bowl of sticky rice with black beans, edamame, mushrooms and several unidentified tubular objects. We called them "duck tracheas" but I think they were actually pieces of lotus, and despite their somewhat chewy texture they were pretty tasty.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Exploring the Meadow

Olga and I took a walk through the cemetery yesterday, where the grass is higher than ever. Gigantic dandelions are standing fluffy and tall, and wildflowers like cow vetch, meadow pea and buttercups are everywhere.

I know what some of those wildflowers are because I finally downloaded one of those nifty plant-identifier apps onto my phone. We have a very strange, leafy plant growing on the patio and I wanted to find out what it was, so that was my motivation. (Turns out it's coltsfoot.) Anyway, this app is really good and so far it's taught me a lot about various plants.

For example, there's something in our garden with a purple flower spike and I've never been sure what it is:

Those of you familiar with British weeds may recognize this as betony, woundwort or hedge nettle. I had no idea, although I've heard people complain about betony and what a terrible weed it can be. The app finally sorted that out for me. (We don't mind the betony; the bees like it.)

Anyway, back to the cemetery:

Although many of the plants in the butterfly garden -- the scabious, the knapweed -- are not yet blooming, the walking thistles are. I saw this odd-looking fly buzzing around them. It looks like a robber fly, but I'm not sure.

I'm still not seeing many butterflies -- I think it's been too chilly this spring.

The leaves of the meadow buttercup can be pretty impressive.

Olga rolled in the long grass and got her fur thoroughly damp.

In the evening we were in the mood for a lightweight movie, so we watched "Wet Hot American Summer," which I never saw when it came out way back in 2001. It stars several well-known former "Saturday Night Live" comics, like Janeane Garofalo, as well as a very young Bradley Cooper, and it was a hoot.

The night before we binged all of Netflix's "Halston," about the fashion designer, which we also liked. The only thing I remember about Halston is his cologne, but I wasn't really paying any attention to fashion back in the late '70s and early '80s -- at least not beyond Left Bank terrycloth shirts and Ocean Pacific shorts, which was about as sophisticated as I got in my early and mid-teens. (I'm no better now, but I have at least moved on to different brands.)

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Big Baby

Yesterday this starling and her large, demanding baby were hanging around our bird feeders. The baby could already fly and, although it was a bit clumsy, it seemed to be doing pretty well for itself. It's probably not going to be getting food from Mom (or it could be Dad, I suppose) much longer.

Olga and I took a little neighborhood walk, but it was relatively damp out and she wasn't too interested in venturing farther. See that building in the background, above? It's a former Council office building that's being torn down. Until recently it had people living in it, as guardians, but they've all moved out and now a plywood wall (known here as a "hoarding") has gone up around it and the windows have been removed. The building site and adjacent land to the right of that brick wall is being redeveloped for housing.

I sorted out all my Covid testing for my upcoming flights. One of my co-workers referred me to a site that supplies basically all the tests needed to get in and out of the UK; I double-checked to make sure they meet government and airline requirements and it appears they do. So I ordered and scheduled my departure test, which I have to take within 72 hours of my outbound flight, as well as my return-to-the-UK test, which I'll take in Florida right before I leave, and my two PCRs that I have to take upon my return to this country. What a rigmarole!

The tests add £300 to the cost of my trip. But now that I'm not renting a car (thanks to my stepsister's loaner) and because I got a good deal on my initial airfare, I don't feel too bad about it. It is what it is.

No slugs on my wildflower seedlings this morning! Yay! I'll be happy if I get just a few to bloom. I'm pretty sure the cornflowers have all been eaten, but there are others that don't seem as palatable -- I don't even know what they are yet. Time will tell!