Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kilburn Grange Park

I took Olga to a new park yesterday, Kilburn Grange, which is south and west of us. We never walk in that direction but it's not far away, and I don't know why I don't go there more -- especially when, like yesterday, I just can't face the long schlep to Hampstead Heath.

Olga was perfectly happy with the outing, even though Kilburn Grange is much smaller and more manicured than the wilderness of the Heath. We found a neatly laid out rose garden...

...and Olga could lie in the nearby grass and watch squirrels in the trees.

There was even a bit of graffiti to give the park an urban flavor! (That's busy Kilburn High Road right behind those buildings, definitely an urban venue.) We'll probably go here more often now that I've reminded myself it exists.

The afternoon was lightly rainy, as predicted. I got a lot of housework done, finished the book I was reading and even took a nap, which is unheard of for me. It felt great!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Americans vs. Europeans, and Nightclubbing Too

Scenes of vulpine misbehavior in the garden this morning: an overturned bird bath, an overturned potted fern, suspicious smelly spots among the flowers. Olga got up before Dave or me -- which never happens -- and basically pulled me out of bed. She must have heard the critters. I didn't see them until after I'd let her out and she streaked to the back corner of the garden. I went with her to see what was so interesting, and there was a fox atop the garden wall a few houses down, staring back at me. So I brought Olga back inside. I'm not sure the fox will dare come back across our property now that it's seen both me and the dog out and about.

I read an interesting column in The New York Times yesterday by Roger Cohen in which he discusses the differences between American and European social structure. Americans, writes Cohen -- citing a Pew research study and a new book, "The United States of Excess," by Roger Paarlberg -- value individualism and chafe against any perceived restrictions on their freedoms, including taxes, regulations and incentives to conserve resources. Europeans, meanwhile, have a more collective approach, seeing government as beneficial and resource management as a social obligation.

That difference helps explain a lot -- the out-of-control gun culture in America that results in thousands of deaths a year (in more and more spectacular fashion!), the obesity epidemic, the lack of well-used public spaces, the crumbling roads, bridges and schools. I once lived in a part of Florida populated mainly by retirees, some of whom chafed at the idea that they should have to pay taxes to fund local schools. They didn't have children in those schools -- their own kids were grown and gone. Why, they asked, should they have to pay for them? (Can you imagine asking such a question?)

This American go-your-own-way psyche is mystifying to many British and Europeans. Obviously not all Americans feel this way. I'm American, and I don't get it. But there is a strain of ornery individualism there that I am convinced comes straight from the Pilgrims, perpetuated by life on a sparsely populated frontier.

Cohen and Paarlberg aren't the first people to point out these differences, but it was interesting to read them so succinctly described.

On another subject entirely, I read an article in The Week about the demise of nightclubs in England. Apparently there are 1,733 commercial nightclubs today, compared to 3,144 in 2005. The reason? Today's young people don't want to endure the miseries of standing in line to dance in overcrowded, overloud spaces and pay for overpriced, weak drinks when they could hang out and meet each other online, listening to their own carefully selected music. The Guardian points out that other factors -- such as an increase in the popularity of live music and larger dance-music festivals -- has changed clubbing culture.

I have mixed feelings about this. I always had a ball when I went nightclubbing as a young person, although admittedly it sounds like hell to me now. I hope today's young people aren't ceding too much of their lives to computers and virtual connections. On the other hand, connections made in bars and nightclubs are seldom long-term, valuable ones -- so maybe this evolution is a step forward after all.

(Photo: Second-hand furniture in Kilburn, in June.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

All About Pylons

I sat down to blog this morning and instead went on a half-hour tangent reading about the history of the TV show "Land of the Lost," which shows how easily the Internet can distract us. I was trying to remember the word I've heard in England for high-transmission power line towers like the one above -- I believe it's "pylon." And the word pylon reminded me of "Land of the Lost," because those little supernatural structures holding the colored crystals that controlled the time portals in that oh-so-'70s show were called pylons.

So there you have my train of thought. It's scary in my brain. Scary as a Sleestak!

I am off to work early this morning because I'm once again singing in the faculty choir. We are doing a much more loosely prepared song this year to welcome the students. Last year, you may remember, we had several rehearsals. This year we've only had two, and I missed one of them. Fortunately I already know the song, "Lean On Me," so I'm not too worried. ("Lean On Me" is one of my least favorite songs, right up there with "Stand By Me," and I frequently confuse the two. But there you go. Needless to say, I didn't pick it.)

The squirrels still haven't figured out our squirrel feeder. We propped open the lid, and yesterday morning one sat on the open lid and sniffed at the nuts inside -- and then scurried away, startled by a nearby pigeon. I couldn't believe it. The pigeons love the squirrel feeder.

(Photo: The docklands, in July.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gift Horse

This is Hans Haacke's sculpture "Gift Horse," which has stood in Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery, since March. The skeletal horse has a live stock ticker tied to its front leg, supposedly questioning relationships between art and commerce and the role of money and power in modern London.

(This is the same spot where the big blue chicken stood last year.)

Our venus flytrap has sent up a long stalk with a bud at the top. I never realized that venus flytraps bloom -- and apparently many growers cut off the bloom because it takes a lot of energy from the plant. But I want to see what it looks like, so we're leaving it. It's taking forever to turn into a flower, and it's true that the plant isn't looking so great these days. I say, let it run its course!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stupid Squirrels and Transit Strikes

It's a gray, rainy morning here. I'm not looking forward to walking the dog. In fact, when we get outside, she may just turn right around and come back in, which occasionally happens in bad weather.

Did I mention that Dave recently bought a squirrel feeder? It's a little wooden box atop a platform, with a plexiglass window. The box is filled with nuts and, theoretically at least, the squirrels sit on the platform, lift the lid and eat the nuts. Our squirrels, however, don't seem to get it. They often ignore it completely, though I did see one a few days ago sitting ON the lid and sniffing around before scurrying away. We've begun propping the lid open to clue them in, but all that does is attract big, lumbering, flapping pigeons, and tiny tits that fly away with entire nuts as big as their heads.

Apparently our squirrels are challenged in the realm of problem-solving.

I saw one of my French teacher pals at school yesterday, and I could not bring myself to try to speak French to her. Why am I so hesitant? She's a teacher. It's not like she never hears bad French, and I really do need to practice! I also need to do some serious studying. I feel like I'm forgetting so much, and our next classes don't begin for a few weeks.

We were supposed to have another substantial tube strike this week -- there was lots of drama in the newspapers about it -- but it was called off at the last minute. As I've said many times before, I'm generally a labor supporter, but I think the transit unions create a lot of ill will with these strike threats. They're shooting themselves in the foot. (Feet?)

(Photo: A sidewalk chalk artist in Trafalgar Square, on Saturday.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Second Portrait

Here's one more shot of our red-hot pokers, which are almost at the end of their season. They really do stand out in a garden, don't they? That bright orange is pretty incredible. You can just imagine them growing by the thousands in the valleys of the Drakensbergs in South Africa, their home turf.

As promised, here's the second portrait Martin painted of me. This is the larger one, apparently -- I still haven't seen the original, only a small copy. I told Martin I thought I looked pensive and maybe even sad, which he said he hadn't intended. I guess my expression is open to interpretation! I love the way the jacket vanishes into the dark background.

Finally, here's the latest picture of our avocado, which has been growing like crazy this summer. Remember how it looked in June, when I repotted it? Dave's already talking about moving it again, but we can't get a bigger terra cotta pot -- at least not from our normal supplier -- so I'm not sure what the next step will be. I think it can go another year or so in that pot. We're in no rush.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Wizard Staff

Olga and I made it to Hampstead Heath yesterday morning, before the rain began. We found several peculiar mountains of trash just like this one, atop Parliament Hill. Is this merely a sign that the Heath was incredibly crowded during Saturday's beautiful weather, or was there some special event that generated such debris? (Mostly cans, bottles and food wrappers, from what I could tell. The aftermath of a massive, drunken picnic.)

Included in the trash were stacks of beer cans taped together to form a single long cylinder. I'd never seen this phenomenon before:

With the help of Google I learned that this is called a "Wizard Staff," and is the relic of a drinking game whereby people tape their empties together, drinking only from the topmost, full can. This way, they progressively build a staff while becoming a very Wise Wizard. (This dude -- and I'm about 90 percent sure it probably was a dude -- drank NINE large beers, which must have made him very wise indeed.)

Anyway, anthropological observations of picnicking aside...

...Olga and I had lots of fun walking, as usual. And then the rain came, by which time we were safe and dry at home. Dave and I watched a movie called "Chef" with Jon Favreau that we liked a lot, and then Dave took Olga out in the damp yard to play Kong while I cleaned the house, and Olga raced in to prance with muddy feet all over the newly cleaned, pristine white bedspread.

I could have killed her. But out of an abundance of patience, I only yelled at her to GET DOWN. (I wished I'd been sampling from my own Wizard Staff right about then.) I let the mud dry and vacuumed the bedspread last night before bed, which got the worst of it -- at least the loose bits -- before we went to sleep.

Ah, life with a dog.