Friday, July 25, 2014

Well, That Was Awkward

This was the scene at the local fire station when I took Olga for her morning walk several days ago. The sign on the easel out front reads "Closed due to pension theft!" Kind of disconcerting, eh? Supposedly during such strikes firefighters will still respond to "serious fires" in homes, but not rubbish or grass fires, automated alarms and that kind of thing. Apparently this was just one in a long, long string of strikes by the London Fire Brigade to protest government plans to raise retirement age and increase firefighters' pension contributions.

Oh, my. Can't we all just get along?

I've been working on photographing my local streets for the Bleeding London project. I was out this morning with Olga in one area and we went yesterday to another neighborhood nearby. She's become so used to me taking pictures while we walk that she'll just stand next to me while I fiddle with the camera. I can drop her leash and she won't go anywhere. She's very patient.

Yesterday we went to the West Heath, a part of Hampstead Heath that I had not visited before. It's very woodsy and I could not help but notice that there were lots of single men wandering around. Sure enough, turns out it's a very popular spot for gay cruising. Not being on the market myself, I wasn't all that interested, but it's funny that Olga and I stumbled into the middle of the action. Maybe we'll just stick to the main parts of the Heath from now on!

Of course, Olga was oblivious to all that. There was mud, which made her happy. (Not me, so much.)

The neighborhood around the West Heath tends to be very upscale, at least where we walked. I found the home of Aldous Huxley and his clan, and took some pictures here and there, but overall I find that wealthy neighborhoods are much harder to photograph than more heavily trafficked commercial and middle class residential areas. I suppose it's because any distinctive or unusual features tend to be hidden behind walls and hedges.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Olga's Ball Bonanza

As we cleaned up the yard on Tuesday, Olga stayed outside with us, lolling on the grass and keeping an eye on things. Every once in a while she would disappear behind a bush, beneath some ivy or behind our built-in brick barbecue grill and emerge with a new toy!

The previous occupants of this flat had a dog -- and probably several earlier occupants before them. There were lots of stray balls out there.

Some were plain old tennis balls, to be carried around and protectively slept with (or on) until the time came to demolish them.

One was an especially groovy little football. In fact, as you can see, it bore the words "Groovy Baby!" next to a picture of a disco dancing couple. Olga punctured and partly shredded it before I had a chance to take a photo, so you're seeing only the damaged version.

Gotta love the peace sign, smiley face and lava lamp!

Unfortunately, this groovy little ball lasted only about half an hour before it was gnawed into enough pieces that it needed to go into the trash can.

(Olga's soccer ball, on the other hand, lasted several days after she found it on our walk last week. But it finally went into the trash as well, having been pulled almost entirely inside out.)

Another backyard find was a fun little hard plastic red ball that lit up, blinking, when shaken. What a great idea for throwing around at night! Unfortunately, as you can see, Olga gnawed through it as well, exposing the plastic innards and the blinking light. It went out with the trash, still visibly blinking frantically through the plastic trash bag.

We also found a solid yellow ball with a waffled surface that lasted only about 20 minutes. I didn't even have a chance to take its picture.

Olga sure had fun excavating our yard for traces of pets past!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Garden D-Day

The gardener came yesterday to whip our Tarzan-worthy English jungle into shape. Before he arrived I got to work on early-morning weeding, and I uncovered numerous snails and slugs like the critter above. (I relocated this one and several others to shady parts of the garden that stood to remain undisturbed, but I'm sure there will be some heavy duty Darwinism going on over the next few weeks!)

Dave and I have been joking about our garden being incredibly inhospitable. If a plant has painful thorns or sticky sap or proliferates wildly, we have it. Even our iris plants are known as stinking iris. "I hate them," said our gardener helpfully.

The plant I called green alkanet in my previous garden post may actually be borage -- they look so similar I can't really tell. In any case, everyone hates it. We have it in spades! I've removed tons, saving only a token two plants (for the blue flowers).

And the asters! I said before that we had only a few, but that's because I didn't recognize the millions of them that weren't blooming. They provoked a domestic debate. I wanted to save some of them, because I really want to preserve the wild nature of parts of the garden, cultivating wildflowers and native bugs and whatnot. (Snails, even!) Dave has a much neater approach to gardening -- he wants to trim and weed and edge. We compromised on the asters -- I saved a patch about two feet square, and we pulled all the others.

I also saved our largest blackberry bush but we yanked out tons of others. A ridiculous quantity, actually. And we saved our wild geranium.

The little orange flower above was a casualty. We had only one, and I'm not sure what it was -- I thought it was a garden volunteer from previous years, but the gardener seemed to think it was a weed. It was growing out in the open on the lawn, and though I asked him to try to save it, it was trampled in short order. Probably not a realistic request on my part. Maybe it will come back.

The upshot of all our hours of work (the gardener was here all day, and Dave and I worked pretty consistently all day as well) is that we have much more open space and sunlight. The gardener took three carloads of vegetation to the recycling center. And he's coming back next Monday to finish things up!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Short Street

I experimented yesterday with the Bleeding London project, shooting photos on a couple of streets in our neighborhood. Bleeding London, as you may recall from yesterday's post, is a Royal Photographic Society project to photograph every street in London between March and October 2014.

Here are my results from Kingdon Road, a tiny (maybe a block long?) street not far from our flat.

I often say there's always something to photograph. This project puts that notion to the test.

I mean, not every photo can be a prize-winner. I'm not sure which of these I'll enter in the Bleeding London competition. (If any -- maybe I'll go back and shoot Kingdon Road another time!)

The challenge is a lot of fun!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Airline Travel and Spam

I've deliberately avoided writing about any of the terrible news we've been hearing lately -- the conflict in Gaza, the airline crash in the Ukraine. But let me just ask -- was anyone else surprised to hear that there are surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down a passenger jet at cruising altitude? I would have thought 33,000 feet was entirely too high for a ground-based missile to reach, but apparently not. It raises questions about the security of airline travel all over the world. What's to stop enterprising terrorists from taking a missile launcher out to sea on a ship, for example, and striking at an overhead flight path?

And how do airlines cope with global trouble spots in general? Some were apparently already avoiding Ukrainian airspace while others were not. Do airlines fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran? Before this incident I would have felt relatively safe flying over those countries, believing all the conflict to be "down there" while I'm "up here," but clearly that's a false sense of security.

Anyway, it's pretty mind-boggling.

Of course, none of this will keep me from getting on a plane in about a week and going back to the states. We have to fly. That's just modern life. We can't curl up in a ball of avoidance, can we?

In other news, I have been getting the strangest spam e-mail lately. Every day I get multiple e-mails about Dr. Oz endorsing Forskolin. I had to look up Forskolin to see what it even is -- some extract of the coleus plant that's supposed to treat all manner of ills. How anyone making or selling Forskolin got my e-mail address I will never know. Attention, Forskolin marketers: I DO NOT WANT ANY.

And in still other news, a photo acquaintance from Flickr has turned me on to a cool project by the Royal Photographic Society to photograph every street in London between March and October. I've contributed a couple of pictures to the competition, and I will no doubt upload more. It's an interesting challenge to pick a street and go find something photo-worthy -- there's always something.

(Photo: Catching some rays at Camden Market, on Friday.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are at the height of summer now. It's sunny nearly every day, with temperatures in the low 80s. I'm even getting a bit of a tan from all my walking, and when we sit inside in the evenings, the sun streams through the back windows and bastes us like Butterball turkeys.

I went down to Tottenham Court Road on Friday to buy a new USB cable for my camera, and I walked back to West Hampstead via Camden Town, about five miles. I got lots of photos and I was like wilted lettuce by the time I got home -- limp and dehydrated. But I learned more about how roads and neighborhoods in this part of the city connect, so that's a good thing. I have a clearer mental map.

Yesterday Dave and I went to the weekly farmer's market near the West Hampstead rail station. We bought two fresh mackerel which we cooked last night using a propane torch -- an amazingly easy and fast technique. Mackerel are such beautiful fish. They look like they're wearing silvery tinfoil zebra skin, like an aquatic Lady Gaga.

We also got tomatoes, which were not as good as I expected, and cherries which Dave turned into an amazing pie. And some other stuff. It's so fun being part of a new community, buying locally and learning about the area businesses and people. I feel like we're extending our roots little by little.

(Photo: The Exmouth Arms, a pub near Euston Station.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The New Table, and Assorted Other Pics

Olga, clearly channeling Vanna White, wanted to show you our new dining room set. Aren't those groovy chairs? I think we scored with that purchase, though I still prefer my Dad's table (which is now our desk).

Olga scored in a different way when we went for a walk on Wednesday. She found a brand new, unattended yellow soccer ball on one of the footpaths near the cemetery. Needless to say, she had it punctured and shredded in no time. No crying children were involved.

This has been my daily breakfast this week -- with blackberries from our back yard! We hired a gardener to come next Tuesday to weed, prune and clear some brush, but I made it clear that I want our main blackberry bush to stay. I get the biggest kick out of picking my own berries, though they are super tart -- I gave one to Dave and he promptly spit it out. He's used to those ninny supermarket berries.

The robins love our slightly tilted birdbath. We've seen pigeons in it, too. We have huge pigeons that roost in the trees at the back of the garden. As Dave said, "They're like turkeys!"

This wonderful mosaic dragon greets customers at the entrance to a dry cleaner's around the corner. I asked the proprietor and she said it's many decades old, dating from the time her shop was a grocery. Apparently it's a Welsh dragon -- I suppose the shop owners back then were Welsh. The shop also has original stained glass windows and other features. Pretty amazing!