Sunday, July 31, 2022

Brown Grass

All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go, to quote John Denver. I'm not standing outside anyone's door, though. I'm sitting on the couch with Olga snoring next to me. I thought she might get apprehensive when we got out the suitcases but she doesn't seem bothered in the least.

I took her to the cemetery yesterday. It was pretty warm and she wasn't exactly a bundle of energy but we had a leisurely walk through the parched landscape.

Look how dry that grass is!

I gave Olga a drink from one of the spigots. She seemed more excited about lying in the water than drinking it.

Otherwise, it's just been a matter of getting the house ready for someone to stay here. There are lots of little tasks -- washing Olga's pink blanket, for example. I didn't want Warren to have to live with that thing in its typically doggy condition! We also scrubbed the bathroom and the kitchen. I still have to change the bedsheets, but we did at least give the Russians' plants a good drink. (And of course all of ours, too.)

Next stop: Michigan!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Flying Things

I didn't leave the house yesterday, except to walk the dog, so you're getting more garden photos. I don't know why I haven't been motivated to go anywhere. Remember how I used to get out and walk all over the city? I just haven't felt the urge.

I blame Covid. The lockdowns taught us how to stay home!

Also, Dave and I are leaving for the states tomorrow at midday, so I want to enjoy the garden as much as possible before we go. I'm sure our friend Warren -- who's staying in our flat while we're gone -- will do a great job caring for everything, but still.

Yesterday I sat out on the back bench reading "A Dutiful Boy," Mohsin Zaidi's memoir about growing up gay in a Pakistani Muslim family. Can you imagine how challenging that must have been? I mean, everyone's coming-out story is challenging in its own way, but being raised in such a traditional culture -- where individualism and self-definition aren't seen as ultimately fulfilling goals the way they are in the West -- must have been hard. I really enjoyed the book.

In early afternoon I looked up and saw this little goldfinch (above). We have teasels growing all over the garden partly to feed the goldfinches, but this one was much more interested in our tamarisk tree, where it was nibbling something off the branches. Bugs, maybe?

The starlings were keeping busy with our blackberry vines. We're at peak blackberry season right now, and I'm glad the birds are getting some of them because there are waaaaay too many for me to eat alone. (I eat them on my cereal every morning and I ate a big bowl of them for dessert after lunch yesterday, but I've barely made a dent in the supply.)

It's a cliché to say that blackberries on the vine look like jewels, but they really do -- so black and shiny.

I think that's a young starling. Don't its tail feathers look a bit stubby?

Also, this huge hornet-mimic hoverfly was zipping around our rose bushes, sunning itself on the leaves.

Today's agenda will include packing and giving the Russians' plants a final water. Olga will stay here at home with Warren while we're away, and he'll keep up all her routines as much as possible. I'll try to give her an adventurous walk this afternoon.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Jungle Patio

The plants are growing particularly dense on the patio at this time of year. This is the view out the living room window. I love all those flowers and their color combinations.

Here's the view from the bedroom. Kind of crazy, right? Fortunately, we really don't use the patio for much except as a place to store plants. (And to set out the laundry rack on good drying days.)

Elvis has the Jungle Room; we have the Jungle Patio.

Here's the other side of the house. This is the sunniest wall in the garden, so anything that likes full sun winds up in this spot. That sunflower is the only one to prosper of the seeds I planted earlier this year. I've got some zinnias in that planter, too, as you can see.

Here are some of the individual plants blooming now:

The lobelia, looking like a swarm of pink moths...

...the bright orange canna lily...

...and the white datura, or jimsonweed. Can you believe these daturas were tiny sprouts only a month ago?

All this growth has been happening despite the fact that England is having the driest July in more than a century. We've had an average of .6 inches of rain across the country, about a quarter of what's typical. There's also no rain in the forecast. We are in drought conditions. Of course we water the garden plants, but things are dire out there. Yesterday I took more water to the sad street tree, for all the good it will do.

I'm still trying to maintain the Russians' plants as well. Mrs. Russia e-mailed that they're not due back until Aug. 26! Criminy! And speaking of the Russians, yesterday a delivery came for them -- a new toilet and toilet seat, now sitting in a box in our front hallway. I sent Mrs. Russia an e-mail saying it had arrived and she seemed perplexed -- she says they already got that delivery and weren't expecting another one. So someone may have to come and reclaim the toilet from us at some point. I think they should put it on their terrace with plants in it.

There's another train strike planned for Saturday, and Dave and I have to get to the airport early Sunday morning for our flight to Detroit. Even though the strike will be over by then, normal service isn't expected to be restored until midday, so Dave arranged for a car to take us to Heathrow. These train strikes are a real problem, and now there's even talk of a general strike -- when basically ALL unionized workers walk out to show solidarity -- which hasn't happened in many years. As I understand it, the strikers want pay raises that are on pace with inflation, and of course inflation is relatively high right now.

Yesterday I helped Dave go through his clothes, and I went through mine, and I took two bags of donations to the Oxfam shop. Dave's sock drawer, in particular, was out of control. He likes whimsical socks but he had so many that we couldn't open or close the drawer, and he didn't use three quarters of them. Now we've got them back down to a reasonable level. (I included those in the charity bags, though I have no idea whether Oxfam wants used socks. They're nice socks, for what that's worth. I've never seen socks for sale in the shop but I think Oxfam sells some donated clothing to bulk buyers and that kind of thing, so maybe socks can go in with all that.)

I should have donated the Russians' toilet.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Field Hockey and the Holy Land

Here are the rest of the old photos that I picked up on my recent visit to Covent Garden market.

First, a girls' field hockey (I think?) team from Scotland, in a photo dated February 1949. "1st and 2nd XTs after double victory over Aberdeen Girls' High teams," it says on the back. All the girls are named, with the girl at far right in the top row identified as "self." When I put the picture on Flickr I'll list them all. It was taken by Star Photos of Perth.

This looks like it might have been taken in North Africa, like Egypt or Morocco -- somewhere around the Mediterranean, anyway. There's no info on the picture.

"Eric on Frank's motorcycle, taken about August 1949."

"Lilly W. at Gretford."

It's always interesting to see how people frame a photo. Why so much grass in this one? Maybe to show less of the house?

For that matter, why is Eric so far to the left in the previous photo?

This ghostly interior is intriguing. I suspect it's the inside of the book shop I showed in my previous old-picture post. I bought both pictures from the same person, and they're the same size, on the same type of paper and labeled "32" on the back in pencil -- though this one is more yellowed.

"Gary and his nanny at Southport. Not very good of either. I meant to send this weeks ago."

A photo dated 1968 in a cardboard folder, depicting a tour group in Jerusalem. Again, what is up with the framing? Those poor people on the far left -- one guy is represented only by his upper arm. But thank goodness we got the whole handbag of the woman on the right.

Just for fun, here's the cover of the folder:

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Different Brimstone

I am slowly, slowly chipping away at all the things I've been meaning to get done this summer. I'm about halfway through my reading stack, which isn't bad. (There's always more in the reading stack than can ever actually be read, right?) Yesterday I filed some claims with my insurance for work at the optician and the dentist, and I was proud of myself for getting that done. I thought it would be a tedious nightmare but it turned out to be incredibly easy.

I also sorted through my recently purchased rescued slides and chose some to get scanned, though I probably won't actually have it done until I get back from Michigan in mid-August.

Did you all see the news about Joni Mitchell appearing onstage at the Newport Folk Festival? She hasn't performed publicly since her brain aneurysm seven years ago, and her show was quite a triumph. I've watched several clips and they are remarkable. Perhaps the most poignant clip is the one of her singing "Both Sides Now," with Wynonna Judd sitting in the background, tearfully wiping her eyes. (Judd's mother Naomi died in April, and "Both Sides Now" is all about life and love and loss.) Joni also did a great job on "Summertime" and played an instrumental version of "Just Like This Train" on guitar. She's 78 and still rockin'!

Yesterday Dave and I were out in the garden -- he was watering and fertilizing -- and when he turned around, this bright yellow moth was sitting on the back of his sweater. I told him, "DON'T MOVE!" and ran to get the camera. It's a brimstone moth, which usually flies at night but for some reason was out and about yesterday morning. (Not to be confused with the brimstone butterfly, which I saw back in May but is obviously an entirely different critter.) Dave was very patient, standing still so I could get a picture. When I was done we have it a nudge and it flew up into a nearby tree.

Last night we started a new show, "Night Sky," with Sissy Spacek, on Amazon Prime. We've only seen one episode but it looks very promising. Apparently it's already been cancelled, though, because not enough people watched it after its release in late May and it's expensive to make. The one season we have is apparently all we're going to get. Why do I always discover things when they're already on their way out? This culture moves too fast for me.

(Top photo: A hoverfly on our orange crocosmia.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


You may remember that last summer, I took a few odds and ends to an antique dealer to be appraised, and he wound up buying a couple of things from me. Well, I noticed not too long ago that the same dealer was holding another series of appraisal days -- this time in the suburb of Wallington, in South London -- so yesterday morning I gathered up a few remaining items that I forgot the first time around and boarded a train.

Specifically, I wanted to show him that mysterious silver wine jug thingamajig that I found on the street many years ago, and also the remaining five bottles of my found bottle bonanza. (I already sold the others through eBay and gave several to friends.) I knew these were not extremely valuable items -- after all, I found them after someone threw them out -- but I thought he might go for them if he was looking for stock for his shop or something like that. Besides, it gave me an excuse to see another part of London, and something to do besides sitting around the house.

It turns out the silver thingamajig is actually a stand for a bottle of soda water, and as I suspected, it's not really silver but silverplate. Now that I know what to look for, I see lots of photos of similar ones online. He called it "ordinary" and said I might be able to get £10 for it somewhere. The bottles might sell for slightly more, he said. But he didn't want any of it himself. "It's not my type of thing," he said.

So now he's dead to me.

No, I'm kidding -- it's fine. I just brought it all home again. At least I now know what that silver thing is.

I also had an opportunity to walk a little bit around the high street in Wallington, where I photographed the Whispering Moon pub, above.

Yesterday morning, before I set out, I took this photo out the back door. Let's play "find the fox"! Can you see it?

Otherwise, I spent yesterday reading the news, catching up on blogs and cleaning up around the house. There's never any shortage of things to do around here. Dave and I are planning to leave for Michigan in less than a week, and our friend Warren -- who's going to dog-sit Olga -- is going to visit again tomorrow so we can familiarize him with feeding her and watering the plants. Not that any of those tasks are very hard. (I'm not going to ask him to climb the ladder and water the Russians' plants. If he can spray them from below, that's fine, but otherwise they'll have to fend for themselves until I return ten days later. I still don't even know when the Russians are coming back!)

Monday, July 25, 2022

Purple Pigeon

I took Olga to the cemetery for a walk yesterday, and saw an unusual pigeon perched on a headstone. At first I thought it was just an odd color. Then I pulled out my zoom lens and saw this, and thought, "Oh no! Is that BLOOD?"

But I think it's actually blackberry juice. This pigeon has apparently been feasting.

Soon it flew to a birdbath and did its best to get cleaned up. By the time it took off -- obviously uninjured and unimpaired in any way -- it had managed to make itself only slightly more presentable. I have a feeling it will be purple for a while.

Olga, meanwhile, found her own brand of excitement:

She discovered an abandoned football. Weirdly, it had no outer covering at all -- it was just a mass of threads surrounding an inflatable rubber core.

She was very proud of herself.

We played with it for a while -- nothing turns this old dog into a puppy again faster than a football. But eventually she got tired and I managed to wrest it away from her and throw it in a rubbish bin. She seemed content to let it go at that point. We didn't need to add that filthy thing to our stash of dog toys.

I just finished Sarah Krasnostein's book "The Trauma Cleaner," which I LOVED. You may remember I read her book "The Believer" a couple of months ago. "The Trauma Cleaner" is non-fiction, about a transgender woman in Australia who has led quite an unconventional life -- first as an abused child, then a young husband and father, eventually a sex worker, funeral director and wife, and, now, the owner of a cleaning service that specializes in heavy-duty jobs like crime scenes and hoards. The book explores the existences of people who are living at the margins -- disconnected from family or any other support, unable for whatever reason to manage their lives, and the potential costs of overcoming societal shaming and oppression in order to move forward. I think Krasnostein might be my new favorite author.

Also, I spoke of my affinity for true crime stories in my post yesterday, when I mentioned "Only Murders in the Building." Dave and I watched another brief documentary series on Netflix called "The Puppet Master," about a British con man who manages to entrap and exploit numerous women, some for more than a decade. It's a mind-blowing story.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Saving the Slides

I was back on the tube yesterday morning, heading down to Greenwich to pick up the rest of those slides. I had to stop in Canary Wharf, where I changed trains, to take a photo in this highly reflective sculpture on the main plaza outside the tube station. It's a pretty cool effect, isn't it? You can see what a beautiful day it was.

I made my way to The Junk Shop and counted up the remaining slides. There were about 240 of them. They were originally priced at 25p apiece, but I took them to the proprietor and made a deal to buy all of them for £40, which comes to about 16p per slide. I'm sure he got them from an estate sale for practically nothing, but hey, the guy's got to make some money.

Here's what the haul looks like. (The viewer was already mine.) I looked through them all yesterday and there are some nice shots. From what I can tell, the date range is 1968 through 1985 or so. I'll make a post eventually to show you the best ones.

It may seem weird to buy a complete stranger's old photos. But to me, a good photo is an irreplaceable treasure, a bit of aesthetic time traveling. If I can save and share a handful of such images, that seems worthwhile -- and a way to respect the creativity of the original photographer by helping their forgotten work to live on.

I was also happy to reunite the handful of slides I bought Friday with the rest of them. It seemed a shame to break them up. After all, part of their story is in the context of all the other images.

I spent yesterday afternoon catching up on blogs and reading. Last night Dave and I started a new TV show, "Only Murders in the Building," with Steve Martin and Martin Short. Sally told me about it and it seems promising -- about three obsessed listeners of true-crime podcasts who find themselves doing some amateur sleuthing of their own. Being a fan of true-crime podcasts myself, I'm intrigued!

Saturday, July 23, 2022


I went down to Greenwich yesterday to meet up with my friend Sally and explore the Greenwich Market. It turned out not to be a great day for antiques -- Sally had said she thought Friday was the day for that kind of thing, but I guess it varies for certain dealers. I did find a handful of interesting old postcards and stuff, though, and that was my goal.

It was good to see Sally again -- I haven't seen her since last September, which seems hard to believe. We had a lot to catch up on! After browsing the market and grabbing lunch at a food cart (BBQ pork sandwich for me, brisket sandwich for Sally) we went and sat on a bench overlooking the Thames to eat. Then we hit a junk shop (creatively named "The Junk Shop") and walked around a bit before I started my trek back to North London.

Here's something I picked up at Greenwich Market, where it was practically free (as it should have been, given that it's a broken piece of pottery). I later found similar pieces online but nothing with this exact design. I think it was made back in the Victorian era as a souvenir for visitors to Wales. Anyway, I added it to my bowl of interesting pottery shards.

I also bought a handful of old photographic slides. I didn't have time to go through all the ones in the shop, since Sally was there. The few I got are pretty interesting, and I may go back today and get the rest. You know how I am about rescuing old photos from the dustbin of history. Future blog fodder!

A couple of days ago I took a bunch of our big houseplants outside for their annual rinse, and I left them there for several days hoping it would rain, as predicted. The rain never quite materialized, at least not in any quantity, so I brought them back in again yesterday -- all except the avocado (at right) which is living outdoors for the summer. At least now their leaves have been freed of a year's worth of dust.

You can see how patchy our grass looks because of the dry weather. Fortunately we're not lawn fanatics!

Friday, July 22, 2022

It Was All a Dream

Time for a post of random photos that have lately been accumulating in my iPhone -- mostly taken while walking the dog.

First, I found broken pieces of something littering the ground on the next street over. I couldn't tell what they were so, just out of curiosity, I picked them up, brought them home and put them together. Voila! A refrigerator magnet, which I did not keep or try to repair (although I do love Greece).

Every walk on the high street involves Olga staring longingly into the butcher shop.

There's still a surprising amount of anti-mask propaganda lying around, even though almost no one in the UK wears a mask anywhere anymore.

Free shoes!

Free guitar!

The window of a photo printing shop in St. John's Wood. Covid does seem that way sometimes -- except that it's not over and for some people it continues to be a nightmare.

Sir Paul says hi. Or peace. Or something.

In my family, my brother is known as JM, so I thought this graffiti on our street was pretty funny. I SWEAR I DID NOT WRITE IT!

Dustin Hoffman was here...?

And finally, it's blackberry season again! This was my first handful picked from the vines in our garden. I've been adding them to my cereal each morning, as I do every year. Dave doesn't like them -- he calls them "acid bombs" -- but I enjoy their tartness.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Armchair Traveling With Postcards

Let's take a break from the weather and check out some of the old postcards I picked up recently at the antique market in Covent Garden.

First, one that I clearly had to buy, given that it's from my home state -- Florida! Or "The Everglade State," as it is rather mysteriously called on this card. (I've never heard anyone use the nickname "The Everglade State," which, by the way, is wrong, because it's Everglades, plural. I guess "The Sunshine State" eventually eclipsed it as a nickname. There's nothing confusing about sunshine.)

Anyway, this seems like an all-purpose card that could be sold anywhere in Florida, with no specific location given for that picture. The image is credited to the Burgert Brothers, who were well-known photographers in Tampa. Fortunately, their entire archive is now online through the Hillsborough County Public Library, and I was able to find the original photo, which was taken on First Street in Fort Myers -- where there are still lots of palm trees.

Get a load of the card's caption:

"Florida offers in bountiful measure glorious vistas of tropical jungle and violet sea, sky blue lakes and limpid streams, crystal clear springs, shining beaches and palm-crowned keys, orchards and gardens, historical shrines and pleasure palaces, sports and recreations for everyone and the blissful privilege of relaxing and resting in the health giving warmth of Florida's golden sunshine."

Whew! Some Chamber of Commerce ad man really went overboard. Of course he failed to mention the stifling heat, gigantic mosquitoes and cockroaches, rattlesnakes and moccasins, and ravenous alligators.

Back to England, now. The "First and Last House" is at Land's End in Cornwall, the very southwestern tip of the country. It's so named because it's the first house you encounter if you're traveling east into England and the last if you're headed west, out to sea. (Not that anyone actually does this at that specific point.) Apparently it still exists as a tourist attraction.

The card was mailed from Penzance to Redhill, Surrey, in 1955:

"We are spending the day at Land's End. It is glorious and you can see for miles. We are thoroughly enjoying it. Eileen has just taken a snap of us outside here. We have passed through Truro and Penzance. The weather is grand. We are off to some pottery works. -- Lily"

Finally, an old street scene. At first I thought I'd have trouble figuring out this location, but then I noticed the name of the town in very faint lettering over the roadway at the bottom of the image: Brading, Isle of Wight.

Here's the same location in July 2021. It looks remarkably similar.

There's no date on the card, but I'm thinking maybe 1910s or '20s? Someone has written on the back of the unmailed card, "Home of Sarah Warne and William Arnold." I don't know if they mean that specific house in the picture, or Brading in general. According to Ancestry, Warne and Arnold were both born in the 1870s, were married and had a daughter.

I'm always intrigued by old postcards. I'm meeting my friend Sally at Greenwich Market tomorrow -- maybe I'll find a few more!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Mona Lisa Dog Butt

I call this photo "Dog Butt with Dahlias." It's every bit as mysterious and enigmatic as the Mona Lisa, wouldn't you say? That is a dog butt worthy of Leonardo.

That was my view as I sat in the garden yesterday morning finishing "The Tender Bar." Olga was not put off by our heat wave. As usual, she moved between the shade and the sun -- perhaps the only difference was that while she usually favors the sun, yesterday she stuck mostly to the shade. I doused her with cool water from the hose in the early afternoon and though she didn't seem to appreciate it at the time, she did stop panting.

We have now emerged from our two day blast-furnace into something resembling a normal summer. It's 66º F (19º C) as I sit down to write this morning. But we do have some damage. Our garden, which normally feels like a cool oasis, is parched and wilted, a sort of dusty, tired green despite our repeated watering. A hydrangea that Dave moved just before the heat wave (bad timing) looks like it's been blowtorched. The hanging basket of pansies on the front porch has collapsed into a smoldering ruin.

That was my phone at 1:15 p.m. yesterday, and that's as hot as it got where we are, though apparently some areas got just above 104º F (40º C). See how the forecast shows rain on Wednesday and Friday? Well, as it stands now, we have a 50-70 percent chance of rain late this afternoon, and I am certain it won't be anywhere near as much as we need. That rain prediction on Friday has disappeared. (How did we go from an 80 percent chance to nothing? Beats me.)

We got a smattering of rain yesterday evening when the heat broke, just enough to dampen the leaves of the plants, but not enough to measure. I took more water down to the sorry street tree and was happy to see that someone else had also watered it. It's still going to take a miracle for that thing to pull through.

As planned, we went to the movies again yesterday afternoon. We saw "Elvis," which I found surprisingly good and even touching, despite the fact that it's directed by Baz Luhrmann whose flashy movies I almost never like, and the fact that I've never been an Elvis fan myself. Best of all -- it was 2 hours and 40 minutes long, which meant with trailers and advertisements we were in that air conditioned cinema for more than three hours. Heaven!

We certainly had a better day than people in some parts of London, where there were disastrous fires fueled by sun-crisped vegetation, melting roadways and heat-buckling surfaces. An article I saw online said we can expect these sorts of temperatures every three years or so. The new normal.

In the evening, as Dave and I did a final round of watering, I saw my first Jersey tiger moth of the summer, fluttering around our patio.

And like Olga, our pink dahlia wasn't put off too much by the heat. It still managed to crank out its first flower of the season.