Monday, May 22, 2017

Peacock and Jaycon


Finally! Some butterflies! I took Olga on our West Heath/Sandy Heath/Hampstead Heath Extension walk yesterday, and we were out for several hours. We saw lots of insect life, including ladybirds, bees and yes, butterflies. I saw a red admiral, an orange one that flitted past too quickly for me to identify it, and this peacock (above).

You may remember that just last weekend I mentioned the dearth of insects at Wormwood Scrubs. Perhaps during the past week more of them took wing!


The dog had a great time. She's in bed now, still recovering. Dave is a bit concerned about her because sometimes after our long walks she goes through a period of very mild limping -- just a little hitch in her step, like she's sore from overexertion. Creeping middle age, I suppose. You'd never know it while we're on the walk, though -- she runs and runs like there's no tomorrow.


On Sandy Heath, I bent down to photograph some lichens just off the path. The pictures didn't really turn out, but while there I spotted this bottle lying amid the dead leaves on the forest floor. At first I thought it was just modern trash, but it's an unusual design and something about it seemed old-fashioned, so I brought it home. It says "Jaycon" and "Jaycon Regd" on one side, and "London" on the other. The unusual screw stopper says "Jaycon Table Waters."

So I did some research and it seems this bottle is, in fact, fairly old. The only Jaycon Table Waters I can find mention of online was "voluntarily wound up" as a company in 1973, but seems to have existed for a few decades before that. So who knows how long this bottle has been lying there?

Another addition to the kitchen windowsill...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Overly Sensitive


I could not get motivated to get out of the house yesterday. Olga kept looking at me imploringly, but it was intermittently rainy and neither one of us wanted to get caught in a downpour. So I read, finishing "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and a couple of magazines and newspapers.

(As I write, there's a big Eurasian jay perched on the fence near our peanut feeder. It keeps turning its head, appraising the feeder from different angles. Poor thing looks confused.)

Anyway, I also weeded the forget-me-nots out of the flower bed -- they're pretty much done for the year -- and tidied things up in the garden. I did all the laundry and cleaned the bathrooms -- which, with four of us using them, is a frequent and essential task. Then, in the evening, Dave made a four-course dinner for the nieces, who had been out all day around Borough Market and St. Paul's Cathedral.


Dave made leg of lamb. As I always say when he makes that dish: "Poor lamb. He wanted his leg."

To which Dave usually replies: "Yes, but I have thumbs."

Survival of the fittest, or at least the most dexterous -- I admire Dave's clarity on that issue, though for me, eating meat is still a struggle. As is putting down slug pellets (which we do sparingly) and anything else that will result in the death of a creature. I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday thinking about a slug that I put into the garden waste bag with the weeded forget-me-nots. Afterwards, I could only imagine it struggling, trying to get out. I even tried to liberate it from the bag but I couldn't find it again. Maybe it got out on its own.

I know -- I am insane. But I feel for creatures in a situation like that -- almost like a physical pain -- and the guilt just nags and nags at me. I am not bragging about my sensitivity. If anything, I think it may show genuine psychological impairment! (Why I only feel that way belatedly, and not when I'm putting the slug into the bag in the first place, is a question I can't answer. I suspect I'm just focused on the task at hand.)

I gotta get the dog to the Heath today. Poor thing has been deprived!

(Photos: An interesting, ornate building I found near London Bridge station, a week or two ago.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Another Big Spiky Flower


A few days ago I was showing off our foxglove, and today I want to turn our attention to another colorful spire rising in the garden -- our lupine.

You may remember this plant didn't do so well last year, primarily because of slugs. We'd planted it in a flower bed where it was closely surrounded by other plants, and some critter ate through the stem just as it was blooming. I built a splint for it, remember? And then it got eaten again, and that was that.

Well, we took it out of the ground and put it in a pot where it could stand alone, like garden royalty, untouchable by the peons and serfs. We put some slug pellets in the pot around the base, although I don't think any slugs have even been close enough to get killed. And this is the result! Not too shabby, although we live with the recognition that it could be devoured any day.

Dave and I have both had a crazy week -- Dave with concert preparations, me with inventory and day-to-day library stuff. We didn't even see the visiting nieces for 36 hours -- they got up after we left for work on Thursday and came home after we'd gone to bed, and yesterday morning, same thing. We finally caught up with them yesterday evening, when they came to Dave's end-of-the-year high school concert. (I say "Dave's" concert, but there were other teachers' students performing as well, and of course the kids were the ones in the spotlight!) The show turned out really well, and I'm not just saying that as a loyal spouse.

The nieces spent time down by South Bank and the Tower Bridge, which they kept calling London Bridge, until I pointed out to them that London Bridge was a different bridge entirely and very non-descript. (And that the old London Bridge is now in Arizona.) They seemed crestfallen, and I felt like a killjoy. But they can't very well go home with their bridges confused, now can they? They're thinking about going to Paris for a day or two, and I hope they carpe diem and do it. I wish I could go with them, but, alas...work.

Yesterday my coworkers and I were laughing about some of the terrible book covers in the library. This is my personal favorite:


Yes, it really is a book about an evil swimming pool. Or at least a pool at the center of a series of crimes. I haven't read it, and I doubt you will either.

We also have a copy of "The Jungle Book" that makes Mowgli look like a scary gigolo:


We're thinking we need to make a display of bad cover art. It amuses us, anyway.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peonies and Pussycats


I have to be at work early -- I'm switching shifts with my co-worker, who usually opens the library but has another obligation this morning -- so I don't have much blogging time. Hence, iPhone photos!

First, a construction site I pass on my walk to work each day. I've never heard of color-coordinating a construction site, but it kind of works, don't you think? Green wall, green crane. Blue boxes, blue netting. I dig it.


These stickers appeared on a pole near our tube station, in advance of the UK's "snap election" on June 8. Theresa May has called this vote in an effort to consolidate her party's power going into the Brexit negotiations. It's expected to strengthen the Conservatives' hand, given the relative weakness of the other parties -- including Labour, which has an unpopular leader at the moment. Some people fear that more Tory power will lead to "hard Brexit," or getting out even if negotiated deals are not in place to soften the blow. So basically the stickers, which probably come either from Labour or the Liberal Democrats, are reminding voters to think beyond the personalities and vote to throw some speed bumps in front of Brexit.

(The "I'M IN" sticker at the top is a remnant of the Remain campaign leading up to last June's Brexit referendum. Hard to believe it's already been almost a year since that travesty!)


These peonies are blooming in front of the house on our street that's under renovation -- the one where we rescued the acanthus. We're not rescuing the peonies -- I can't see myself asking to dig them up, because that would be both rude and insane -- but I did want to at least take their picture.


Spotted this soggy newspaper on the ground a few days ago. Remember comic strips? I haven't read comics in years, but I used to read them every day on my lunch hour. The paper where I worked in Florida carried two pages of daily comic strips. Now, I'm lucky to see just one strip -- in this case a recycled Doonesbury, appearing in The Guardian.


Also spotted on a neighborhood walk -- someone's groovy leopard-print glasses. Hope they found their way back to their owner.


And speaking of cats, here's one way to make an eye-catching poster for your outdoor music festival -- adorn it with a gigantic picture of your tabby! Best band names: "Methyl Ethel," "Clams Casino" and "King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard." The cat's name, if I'm reading the poster correctly, is Pierre.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Politics (Sorry) and a Foxglove


I went to an end-of-the-school-year work party last night, held in a spacious pub in Hampstead. Of course, after a couple of pints, we wound up talking politics. Fortunately my co-workers and I all appear to be on the same page when it comes to Brexit and Trump, so I didn't have to self-censor too much.

I'm experiencing an odd sort of disassociation about Trump. It's almost like this isn't really happening. We don't really have an incompetent egoist in the White House, hacking his way through the federal government and our treasured Constitutional legacies with a machete in his short-fingered hands. Do we?

Well, yes, we do, but it's still hard to believe.

I've concluded that I, personally, have to just let it play out, however it will. There's nothing more to be done. Maybe I'm still in denial, but I doubt this character will last four years, and though he'll inflict some damage in the meantime, I have to have faith that the government is stronger than he is.

Every few days, in addition to the real news, I take a look at Breitbart to see what the right-wingers are saying, especially in the reader comments. Interestingly, they have no real pro-Trump message. All they can do is whine about the liberal media and invoke outrage at the idea that Hillary would be any better. (They're still spending incredible amounts of time and energy grousing about the criminal, corrupt Clintons. I think Clinton-hating is a genuine psychiatric disorder among these people.)

I have seen right-wing rumbles that Trump needs to stop listening to his "liberal Manhattan family." There is discontent with Jared Kushner and Ivanka -- rooted in anti-Semitism, I suspect.


It's all so exhausting that, on a day-to-day basis, I think about it only as much as I can stand. There is reason for hope, though. Trump is so clueless that his incompetence will bog him down. He may prove to be quite ineffective.

In other news, as you can see, one of our foxgloves (not the rescued one) is blooming quite well already. Dave's nieces had a great time exploring London yesterday, traipsing around Westminster. They didn't get home until nearly 10 p.m. last night! More of the same for them today, I'm sure.

Once again I worked on library inventory in the afternoon, scanning and scanning books on the shelf. I think I can finish the fiction section today. Then it's just a matter of a few small sections here and there, and we'll be done. The antidote to my organization-man thinking about the library, as I expressed yesterday, is to remember that the library and the librarians are there for the people, not for the books. Right?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Biggest Slug Ever


Dave's nieces arrived just fine, thank goodness. After their plane took off from Chicago I had all sorts of nightmare visions of them getting to London and being unable to figure out the Heathrow Express or not having any money or losing their passports, and not having working phones, thus being unable to text or call us. Fortunately, as is often true with nightmare scenarios, none of that happened. Dave met them at Paddington without a hitch.

They got ribbed at passport control by the UK border guard, who told them that saying they're "on vacation" is inappropriate, because "vacation" comes from "vacate" which means leaving, and they'd just arrived! Instead they're "on holiday," he told them.

It's probably a standard line he uses for every American who passes his desk.

Last night we went to the Black Lion, our neighborhood pub, where we bought them dinner and a pint, though I had a creeping fear that their parents would frown at us buying them beers. (Even though they're in college, and of legal drinking age in Britain, and they assured me these were hardly their first beers.) "Are you kidding?" Dave said. "My family would demand that they drink."


I have to show you this crazy garden slug I found yesterday morning. It was so huge I actually ran to get my grandfather's old General Electric engineering ruler for comparison! That slug is coming up on five inches long. It's practically a snake! I let it go on its way because it was in the alley at the side of the house and not really near any vulnerable plants. (Though I hear slugs and snails can travel remarkable distances fairly quickly, so I may regret that decision.)

Work was crazy busy yesterday. We have lots of students doing year-end projects of one kind or another, and for those projects, of course, they need books. In many cases their classes are meeting in the library, too. And I'm coming to that time of year when I'm trying to prevail upon people to bring back overdue materials and return everything before summer -- and instead these kids are checking things out. It's like holding back the tides!

I suspect that deep down, many librarians would be happiest if no one ever checked anything out, or ever touched the shelves, or ever read the books, dog-earing the pages and cracking the spines. The irony! This is why librarians are often depicted as cranky. There's an inherent conflict between our organized personalities and the public disorder of the job. (Especially in a school!)

(Top photo: Near London Bridge station, a few weekends ago.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Visitors


Today is going to be an adventure. (The next ten days, for that matter.) Two of Dave's college-age nieces are coming for a visit. He's going to meet up with them today around lunch -- at Paddington Station, where they'll be on a train from Heathrow -- and they'll be staying with us. Dave doesn't know them well and I've never met them, but we certainly wanted to give them the opportunity to travel and see London -- so when they asked, we said "Sure!"

I hope they're somewhat self-sufficient travelers. We'll be working on the weekdays during their visit, so it will be up to them to get out and about. We can help them with plans and go places with them on weekends.

I hope Olga is prepared for some severe disruption of her routine! I'm sure she'll love it. Four more hands to pet her!

I've got to clean up the guest room (aka the dining room) this morning and get things ready...

(Photo: An MG parked outside some houses near Willesden Junction, on the way to Wormwood Scrubs on Sunday.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Grassy Scrubs


I gave the dog her promised walk yesterday, taking her to Wormwood Scrubs. We have to walk through a gritty neighborhood of rail yards, on bridges that span an octopus of tracks, in order to get to the park. But once we get there it's green grass all the way.

I thought I might find some interesting insects or butterflies at the Scrubs, as I have in the past, but I guess it's still too early. Maybe the cold snaps we've had in recent weeks put the insect world back to sleep. We've also had very little rain, and maybe that's slowed things down, too.


The grass is high, though, which is fortunate for Olga, the grass-loving dog.

Anyway, we did lots of walking, and while we did that, Dave spent some time in the garden. By late afternoon everyone was tired and the house looked like this:


I sat amid the snoring and read "Lies My Teacher Told Me," a fascinating book about the failures of American History education -- the heroizing of Christopher Columbus, the Eurocentric perspective on the spread of knowledge and culture throughout the world, the apologetic treatment of the racist South in the Civil War, the failure to acknowledge class struggle. The author analyzed about a dozen popular history textbooks, and the conclusion seems to be that textbook authors and publishers deliberately distort history because they want to sell books to school districts that would bristle at anything too self-searching or accusatory. (Texas, in particular, is a huge textbook market, and many Texas school districts aren't going to like a serious examination of America's racial and ethnic biases.) His analysis occurred back in the early '90s, but he says in a foreword that things aren't a whole lot better today.

I Skyped with my mom, and we had some good laughs as I told her about my recent travails with the bank and the yard waste recycling. She's taking a class at her senior center about Thomas Merton, the Catholic writer, monk and spiritual seeker who wrote "The Seven Story Mountain." I once tried to read that book and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But Mom says she doesn't have to read his books for the class, so she's off the hook. I guess it's more of a lecture.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eurovision Song Contest


Last night Dave and I went to a friend's house in South London to watch the final round of Eurovision, the annual song contest in which musical representatives from more than 40 countries try to outperform and outproduce each other.

I always love Eurovision. It's so glitzy and sparkly and ridiculous and entertaining. This year was no exception and I actually voted for the first time (which you can do via phone). My vote went to Romania for their catchy yet bizarre fusion of rap and yodeling. I mean, how could I NOT vote for that?!

Sweden was really good, truthfully probably the best pop song of the evening. (Sweden won just two years ago, which I suspect worked against them in this year's voting.) Bulgaria scored really highly, which I don't quite get, except that the performer just turned 17 and probably got the vote of lots of teenage girls. Moldova put on a fun show with a nonsensical song by a group with maybe the best name of the evening: Sunstroke Project.

The winner, in the end, was Portugal, with a slow ballad that's almost a torch song, performed by a bearded whippet named Salvador Sobral. Portugal has never won before, which probably boosted his chances -- although the song is beautiful, it's hard to imagine it on the radio. When Sobral performed it as a duet (beginning at 4:00 here) with his sister at the end of the night, I liked it even more.

So, anyway, we had fun. And today I really need to take the poor dog for a long walk, because I spent all day yesterday cleaning and reading at home.

(Photo: Some interesting bottle caps I found on a recent walk. I think the one on the left is from a Tiger beer; I'm not sure about the smiley face.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Oriental Poppy


Among Dave's new flowers this year is a bright red oriental poppy. The plant has already grown much larger than the poppies we've had in the past, and it sent up a big stalk with a fuzzy bud at the end. A few days ago, the bud's outer covering broke and the flower began to emerge.


While bustling around the garden just a few minutes after taking that top photo, I accidentally knocked the pod covering off. Here's the revealed flower.


It's very Georgia O'Keeffe, isn't it?


By the next day or so, the blossom had flattened out and looked like this. The petals are still hanging on as I write, despite some light rain. It's quite a spectacular flower, and we have at least two more buds coming!

Speaking of poppies, it looks like my celebrity poppy rescue failed. The plants look deader than a doornail. Oh well. It was worth a try.

In the department of petty annoyances, remember my recent conversation with Barclays bank? How they wanted to give us an "upgraded" account and I resisted, partly because I didn't want a new ATM card and all the complications that go with reorganizing our bills to use a new card number? And how the bank representative assured me I wouldn't get a new card unless I asked for one, and supposedly put a note on my account stating that I did not want a new card, thus talking me into the upgrade?

Well, guess what arrived in the mail yesterday. Yep -- new ATM cards.

As my friend Tabatha from Alabama used to say, in what may be the most useful expression ever: "You gotta laugh to keep from cryin.'"

Friday, May 12, 2017

All About My DNA


Remember how Dave and I took the Ancestry DNA tests? Well the results are in! Mine didn't contain any surprises -- as I suspected, I am about as British as can be -- but I was surprised by the specificity with which the test could analyze my background. And Dave got a little surprise from his.

As you can see, 90 percent of my DNA comes from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia (probably Vikings) and Western Europe (Saxons and Normans, no doubt). The other 10 percent is divided among "low confidence regions" -- which I assume means the amounts of DNA I carry from those areas are so small that the results are suspect. They include single-digit percentages from the Iberian Peninsula and Finland/Russia, and traces of less than one percent from Eastern Europe, Italy/Greece and Africa (dating back to the time of Lucy, I'm guessing, although the test pinpoints West Africa, which seems curious).

I'd thought it possible that I might have some Native American DNA, considering that both my Mom's and Dad's families have been in North America for centuries. But I have zero. And apparently there was no canoodling with servants of other backgrounds -- at least not within several hundred years, and not that resulted in a child leading to me.


What IS interesting is that the test linked me to "genetic communities" of Ancestry DNA members in Eastern North Carolina. This is completely, utterly accurate -- my maternal grandmother's ancestors are from this very region. (She was born near Fayetteville.) It's not surprising that I would share DNA with people from that area.


It also linked me to "genetic communities" in western North Carolina and along the Illinois/Missouri border. (Interesting that these separate areas share common DNA!) Again, this makes sense. My father's family moved from the Carolinas/Tennessee to the Arkansas Ozarks many generations ago, and he himself was born in St. Louis, and had family there.

I am fascinated that even though I took the test here in the UK, my DNA is specific enough that it pinpoints my American roots!

Dave's DNA, on the other hand, is much less British. His ancestry is 32 percent Western European (probably German -- he has a German surname), 29 percent Scandinavian, 27 percent Eastern European, 6 percent European Jewish (!) and "low confidence" traces from elsewhere in Europe and West Asia. The Jewish thing is a cool surprise -- his parents are devout Lutherans! His "genetic communities" include Eastern Europeans (his Mom has Czech ancestry) and Germans in the USA's Midwest -- again, completely accurate, given his roots in Michigan.

All in all, pretty fascinating!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Society


When I was in Vauxhall on Sunday morning, I happened to pass this person on the sidewalk. She was trying to call an Uber but not having much luck, and some guy was chatting with her but she didn't seem very receptive. I circled back, thinking I had to get some pictures, but the street was small and pretty much empty, and there was no way to do it candidly.

So I asked her if I could take her photo. She told me to wait until she was finished calling for a car. I helped her figure out the street address, and then the guy following her around began following me around, begging for change. I gave him some, much to her annoyance, and he went away.

She said her name was Society, and she didn't know that guy at all.


She seemed to be on her way back home after a long night out, and I loved the combination of glamour and fatigue that she projected. She was very kind in allowing me to photograph her. Her brown bag contained at least one wig.

I appreciated your comments yesterday about my crankiness (which is better today, thank you). I think a lot of it was fallout from having to deal with the bank. But as several of you said, the current political situation certainly affects all our moods. In fact, when I read that slogan on the cream container about "sharing our values," I took it as a veiled nationalistic reference, though I'm sure it wasn't meant that way. I think it probably just meant the farmers treat the cows well. My personal Brexit trauma gave it a darker cast!

(Admittedly, any time someone makes a reference to "values," I get squirmy -- not because I don't have them or believe in them, but because the word has been misused to justify all kinds of homophobia and xenophobia.)

And how do we feel about Trump's dismissal of James Comey? I don't think Comey's decisions a la Hillary were great, but his firing seems clearly motivated by politics. What's most troubling to me is that Trump is so blind to justice that he thinks it's permissible to fire the man heading an investigation against him. Shades of Nixon, indeed!

I worked more on library inventory yesterday, and got quite a bit done. I may even be able to finish non-fiction today. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why Am I So Cranky?


This morning, as I was making my coffee, I realized we're basically out of milk. There were about three drops in the bottom of the carton. I put those three drops in my coffee and scrounged around in the refrigerator until I came up with an expired container of single cream -- which fortunately wasn't too expired -- and I used some of that, too. Morning crisis averted.

When I opened the cream, I noticed that the package, underneath the Waitrose brand name, bore a statement that said, "Produced with care by farmers who share our values." Something about that statement annoyed me. How does Waitrose know my values? I could be an axe murderer -- all I did is buy their cream. There was no values test at the cash register. Or do they mean their values, in which case, why do I care?

Not only that, but aren't the cows doing the producing?

Maybe I am just especially prickly this morning. Yesterday I had to get in touch with our bank, Barclays, because out of the blue they sent us a letter saying they were upgrading us to a new kind of account. They made it sound fabulous, of course, involving rewards like free coffee at a certain chain of pastry stores, but I was wary. Does this new account come with fees? A minimum balance? They said they were going to send me a new ATM card, in which case, would I have to re-authorize all the billing that goes through my existing ATM card? Gawd!

So I called Barclays on my lunch break, and at first I couldn't even get past their security questions, which are so specific that unless you're staring at a statement, you can't answer them. Which made me even angrier, because I didn't want to have to make this call in the first place, and I'm afraid I gave the guy on the phone an earful. I called back in the evening, statement in hand, much calmer, and ironically, in the end, the bank eased my concerns and I assented to the upgrade anyway.

At work we're doing library inventory, which means scanning the barcode on each and every book. It may sound tedious, and it's complicated by a laptop computer that occasionally drops its connection with the school wi-fi. Shifting the books on the shelves can be hard and dusty work. But I like the task -- it lets me stand quietly in the stacks and think about things while the bar-code reader mindlessly beeps-beeps-beeps over each volume.

(Photo: A big ol' blooming bush, which Dave tells me is called "California lilac," near St. Pancras.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

First Rose, and Other News


Well, thank goodness for France -- or grâce à dieu, I should say. In the face of populist lunacy, they came through with a vote for reason. Now let's hope Macron proves up to the task! The British press has been quite alarmist about how he's scheming to take banking jobs away from London, but can we blame him? The UK created Brexit -- no one else!

Speaking of Brexit, I found this article interesting, about voters in Hartlepool, in northern England, and why they're shying away from Labour and supporting the twin evils (in my opinion) of UKIP and leaving the EU. One pro-Remain voter said: "I know I’m going to get strung up for this, but I don’t think the majority of people in Hartlepool knew what they were voting for. It was primarily immigration and that’s what makes it so sad because we’re going to pay the price now." Which tidily sums it up.

We've been pretty mellow around here recently. I went to a combined birthday party for three friends from work on Saturday night. They held it at a pub near St. Paul's cathedral, which was really smart -- that part of the city, on the weekend evenings, is completely dead, so it was the ideal place to gather a large group. We basically took the place over.

I also finally heard back from the NHS about my dermatology appointment. May 26 is the appointed day. In a rare moment of vanity, I told Dave we need to get our passport photos taken for our new documentation before that date, so I don't have a huge mark on my face!

And I've been trying to figure out the new system for recycling yard waste. When the borough of Camden started collecting trash every two weeks, at the beginning of April, they also went to a paid system for collecting grass clippings, hedge trimmings and the like. So Dave and I paid, and we heard nothing. I put a bag out for collection on Friday, our trash day, and it went nowhere. So yesterday I called the borough, and it turns out we were supposed to receive yellow tags that we put on the waste bags, showing that we've paid our fee -- and the bags themselves go out on Saturday. Supposedly the tags are now on their way in the mail.


Here's our first rose of the season -- or roses, I should say. There were two other close contenders, light pink and magenta. I love how dark and glossy and new the roses' leaves are at this time of year, before they get mottled by black spot and exsanguinated by aphids. (We try hard not to spray anything in the garden for pests. We just let nature take its course. I did treat our amaryllis(es?) for fungus, as promised, but they're in a pot and not really out in the environment.)

(Top photo: Colorful doors in Camden, a few weeks ago.)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Elephant & Castle, Revisited


Almost six years ago, right after Dave and I moved to London, I visited the neighborhood known as Elephant & Castle, at the end of the Bakerloo tube line. According to my blog post from that time, I found a "downtrodden mall" and lots of elephants here and there.

I went back yesterday, as I took a photo walk from Vauxhall through Lambeth to London Bridge. The "downtrodden mall" is even more downtrodden these days, though quite colorful. This area has been slated for redevelopment for years, and the mall is going to be demolished, so whoever owns it is probably doing minimal upkeep. They're not trying to remove those weird white streaks along the outer walls, for example.


The best thing about the place is the big red elephant on a pedestal that stands outside the front door. Apparently this creature pre-existed the shopping center itself, which was built in 1965 as Europe's first indoor mall. The elephant came from an old pub, and photographic evidence suggests it was first installed inside.

When the shopping centre eventually comes down, it goes without saying that someone needs to save this elephant.


There are colorful elephants in the mall itself, along with some quirky little family businesses, a Tesco and a few other chains. Many of the shops are vacant. It's probably hard to rent space in a commercial building whose days are numbered.


I had brunch -- one of several possible variations on an English breakfast -- in a very colorful little cafe called the Sundial. (You can see me reflected in that mirrored column in the middle of the room.) I sat near two people, at two different tables, who were having extensive conversations with themselves. They were definitely not on the phone.

I loved this place.


I suspect the ol' Shopping Centre is more lively on a weekday, rather than a Sunday, but it nonetheless has a tired air. I'm glad I got a chance to visit before it vanishes for good.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My Iran-Contra Affair


About a month ago I shared with you a 1987 article I wrote for my college newspaper, about an appearance at the school by the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. That little walk down memory lane got me wondering whether I had any more obscure articles of historical interest.

Here's another contender -- a story I wrote about attending the Iran-Contra hearings in Washington in the summer of 1987. Iran-Contra, you may remember, was an undercover program by the minions of then-President Ronald Reagan to sell arms to Iran in order to fund the anti-communist Contra guerillas in Nicaragua, in violation of several American laws. When the program was revealed, Congress held hearings to determine the extent of the conspiracy and Reagan's role.

The hearings ended on Aug. 6, and according to this timeline I must have attended in late July, because I was there for testimony by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese.

It's kind of a funny article, because it doesn't deal at all with the substance of the hearings. It's just a "color piece" about what it was like to be there. I was obviously far more impressed by the architecture of the Russell Senate Office Building than any of Meese's remarks.

The first three paragraphs are nonsensical, for which I apologize, and in fact you could pretty much skip them. Also, excuse my youthfully snarky, dismissive attitude about some things -- like the Clarksville protesters, who were no doubt there for a good reason.

This is the only time I can think of during my entire newspaper career when my name appeared in a headline!



So there you have it. Another little moment in history!

(Photo: Apropos of nothing, an old Saab in Camden.)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lime Lamborghini Redux


I'd like to write a meaty, newsy post this morning, but I can't bring myself to write about (or even think about) politics or the state of our western democracies. So here are some iPhone photos from the past week or two.

First, the Lime Lamborghini was back yesterday morning as I walked to work, and attracting attention from passers-by.


Down the street, the front garden of one of our neighbors is flourishing. They always have a great-looking garden. See those big white peonies? Dave planted a couple of peonies too, last weekend, so maybe we'll have our own soon.


The caretakers of the sports fields near the cemetery have stripped away all the grass. First they sprayed it with something that turned it entirely yellow and now it's all been plowed under. I suppose they're re-sodding? (That's a cricket ball lying in the trench in the foreground.)


Olga and I found interesting shadows on our walk yesterday morning.


We also found a cat! Cats are a reliable presence in this little housing estate, and they always give Olga a charge. (And she does the same for them.) Right after I took this picture it jumped into the walled garden right behind it and then over that wooden fence, none the worse for wear.


Olga and I found this chalk drawing of "Daddy" on the way to Hampstead Heath last weekend. I think he looks suspiciously like me, but I can guarantee you I have not fathered any children.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Grumpy Old Man


When did "May the Fourth Be With You" become a thing? I walked into our cafeteria yesterday at lunch and everything was decked out in Star Wars paraphernalia -- gold and black streamers on the walls, Artoo Detoo hovering over the vegetable curry. It seemed very weird. I figured another movie was coming out or something, but then someone told me that it was Star Wars Day, because of the date.

I swear I have never heard of this before. Or if I have, I blocked it out. I like Star Wars, but I don't see why it needs its own holiday.

I haven't heard a thing yet from my doctor regarding my basal cell carcinoma. It's been almost two weeks since I visited her and she said I'd have a referral to a dermatologist within six weeks. I wouldn't be too concerned, except that I have a feeling once I get the referral letter the appointment itself will be far into the future, and I'd really rather not walk around with this thing on my forehead longer than I have to. By the time I get any attention it'll look like a coconut!

Oh, and remember those Ancestry DNA tests that Dave and I took at the beginning of March? Still no results on those, either. Ancestry initially said 6-8 weeks, and as of today we've passed the 8-week mark (based on when they arrived at Ancestry after being mailed). But they also belatedly notified us that things may take slightly longer because of "high demand." I think it's because of Dave's alien DNA. They've probably never seen anything like it.


I posted this on Facebook, so apologies to those of you who have already seen it. But yes, I did in fact manage to drop my cereal in the kitchen yesterday morning. My hands were wet and I just didn't get a good grip on the bowl, et voila. When that bowl hit the floor -- and miraculously did not break -- the dog came running at top speed. I took the easy way out and let her lick up the milk before cleaning up the rest. Is that bad?

She wasn't at all interested in the bran flakes.

Oh, and I saved the blackberries -- before Olga got near them. Washed 'em off and ate 'em on my replacement cereal. They're too expensive to throw out!

(Top photo: Lunch break, Kentish Town.)