Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Courtauld Gallery

Yesterday, in my continuing quest to go places in London I've never visited, I went to the Courtauld Gallery. It's located in Somerset House, a large building dating to the 1700s that has been used for both governmental and arts purposes. It has a large central courtyard, once an extra-fancy parking lot but now adorned with "dancing fountains," and a terrace overlooking the River Thames.

I'd heard about the Courtauld for years, but I had no idea what to expect in terms of artworks.

It turns out that the gallery is best known for its stunning collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works, including Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere," above. There were paintings by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Sisley, Derain, Kandinsky and many others. I was definitely not disappointed!

Somerset House is also interesting architecturally!

After spending a couple of hours in the museum I took a long walk -- despite occasionally heavy rain -- north and west to Paddington, where I met my friend Pam for dinner. She's on one of her frequent visits to London for work. I love meeting up with her when she's in town -- I feel like it connects me to my previous life in the states. We ate at a cozy pub near Little Venice and then I made my way home, my sandals squishy from rainwater.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hoverfly on Hawkweed

I spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday watching and photographing this hoverfly as it prowled around on our hawkweed, licking up pollen. (Or nectar, or something.) It was actually pretty fascinating, and I wound up with 84 pictures! But only seven keepers.

Dave and I had our meeting with the HR office at school yesterday, and finished a lot of our paperwork for the Indefinite Leave to Remain. We also scheduled an appointment with the immigration authorities to make our application, right after I come back from Florida.

Otherwise, yesterday was a day of rest. I spent most of the afternoon on the couch, reading a biography of Tennessee Williams. (It made me remember seeing "Sweet Bird of Youth" at the Old Vic several years ago.) I like Williams' plays, although they seem to have a certain sameness -- the damaged female protagonist, the Southern eccentricity, a general atmosphere of booze and sweat and decay.

I read that Williams bought his house in Key West back in 1950 for $10,000. When he died in 1983, it was worth about $100,000. Well, I looked it up on Zillow, and that same house sold in 2012 for $1.15 million. I'm sure being previously owned by Tennessee Williams didn't hurt its value!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Zonk, Stop, Sole and Self

While I've been regaling you with tales of hold music and antique lawnmowers, Dave and I have been having a pretty quiet weekend. On Saturday I took Olga out for a long walk northward to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields, a large grassy tract where, as you could infer from the name, lots of kids play football. Fortunately Olga was tired enough by the time we got up there that she didn't go after anyone's ball. (I think she's growing out of that. She's more mellow these days.)

We also stopped to check out the graffiti at the Cricklewood Millennium Green (above), a small park with a big litter problem that's not depicted in this photo.

On Saturday night Dave and I went to dinner with our friend Chris, and the pub got so loud poor Dave could barely hear us. He just sat across the table and nodded now and then. I'm not sure he was absorbing any of the conversation, but I'm also not sure he minded all that much.

Yesterday I took Olga on a short-ish walk through the cemetery and Fortune Green. The butterfly garden at the cemetery -- a patch of wildflowers in a far corner -- is looking good and I think I need to go back there for some pictures. I saw a bright orange, jagged-winged comma butterfly in our own garden a few days ago, but it flew away before I had a chance to get the camera.

I also worked on our application form for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the U.K. The form is 88 pages!! Most of it seems like it doesn't really apply to us -- it has to do with people who own companies and are here for entrepreneurial reasons -- so I don't think we'll have to fill out all those blanks, fortunately. We're supposed to meet this morning with our HR director to make sure we're not missing anything major and our documentation is in order.

Our inquisitive neighbor, the one I have dubbed Mrs. Kravitz, had a couple of workmen in her back garden yesterday, hauling dozens of bags of gravel or something in and out. I'm dying to know what she's doing over there. (That turns the tables, doesn't it? I'm Mrs. Kravitz now!)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bad Hold Music, Part 2

Remember the other day when I called our local council office and then wrote about how terrible their hold music was? The Miami Vice electronic thump, the needless stopping and starting?

Well, I felt I really needed to share the experience.

Now, tell me that isn't abysmal hold music. But then, it's hard to tell, because we never hear the entire song. As you may have noticed, sometimes it goes just a few beats before starting over, and sometimes it gets all the way into a hint of melody. And then, boom. Restart.

My friend Kevin, who read my earlier post, clued me in to a recent segment on the NPR radio show "This American Life" about a man who became obsessed with learning the identity of the hold music he heard when he called his local hospital. The clip is here, and it's very interesting. It's the first 20 minutes or so of the show.

Kevin suspected that my council hold music might be the same as the music described in the radio segment, which -- as the default hold music for Cisco phone systems -- is apparently very widespread. Alas, although it is similarly synthesizer-heavy, it doesn't sound the same. Like the music in the segment, though, it probably is the default hold music for whatever company provides the council's phones, and it sounds like it also could have been written by a teenager in a garage.

Is there such a thing as good hold music? Well, I kind of like this variety, which for some reason makes me think of driving to a friend's house in Southern California for a champagne brunch with avocados. Or this one, which employs synthesizers to catchy effect.

Is this more than you ever wanted to know about hold music? Probably.

(Photo: Pink geraniums at an apartment building in St. John's Wood.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Panther

Good news! Dave and I both passed our "Life in the U.K." tests. The proctors didn't tell us how many questions we missed, or which ones -- it's permissible to miss a few -- but I know I got at least one wrong. It had to do with whether smoking in the wrong place is a criminal or civil offense. (Actual answer: Criminal!) If I'd thought about it a little more I would have realized that the police are involved, which would have been a clue.

Anyway, having that behind us is a relief. We went out to lunch for a little celebration, and we had passport photos taken for our application for UK residency. Now we have to finish gathering some additional paperwork, and then we can schedule a meeting with the immigration authorities. That will happen later this summer, hopefully.

Remember how I called our local council to get a tax statement mailed that would prove our residency? Well, they e-mailed it to me instead, which defeated the purpose entirely. (It has to come via snail mail to prove we live at the street address we claim, which I explained to them, but oh well.) I'm also still wrestling with our bank to collect official bank statements, which I need on paper and apparently am not permitted to print and submit myself. They need to come in the mail, too. Sigh.

So, bureaucracy aside, let's talk about the Panther.

This (above) is the Panther. It's an ancient manual lawn mower, the kind with a cylindrical rotary blade, propped against the shed in our back garden. It belongs to our landlord, I assume, and who knows how long it's been back there. We've never tried to move it, much less use it, so it's pretty much just garden decor.

It's kind of cool, and the other day I got to wondering how old it is. Turns out there's a whole page devoted to the Panther at a web site called The Old Lawnmower Club. (I am not making this up.) I concluded that our model was made in the 1950s or '60s, but that's kind of a guesstimate -- I don't know enough about mower technology to evaluate ours relative to the descriptions from the club.

(Side note: There is also a British Lawn Mower Museum in Merseyside. Who knew? Fortunately, that question was not on the "Life in the U.K." test.)

We also have a large, mysterious metal drum-like device lying near the lawn mower. Dave says it's an attachment meant to flatten the lawn and roll out any lumps and bumps. I have no alternate explanation, so I'm assuming he's correct! We haven't moved this object either. This and the Panther are simply giving our garden some antique charm.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Piano, and Hawkweed

Dave and I finally, finally got around to renting "La La Land" last night. I really enjoyed it -- a colorful, fun homage to old Hollywood, and yet without the traditionally sappy Hollywood ending. It was well-made and entertaining. It was not, however, a Best Picture, no matter what Faye Dunaway says. The Academy made the right call by giving that award to "Moonlight," a much more substantial film.

Anyway, "La La Land" reminded me that I had this photo of a discarded piano -- or part of a piano, anyway -- to use on the ol' blog. I found it while walking Olga the other day. I'm surprised someone hasn't harvested all that metal from the interior. Aren't those wires copper?

In the garden, the fox & cubs -- a.k.a. hawkweed -- is blooming once again. I always enjoy these flowers, and this year we have more of them than ever before. Woo hoo!

Today Dave and I are off to take our "Life in the U.K." tests. My head is full of information about the Beveridge Report and the Butler Act and Queen Boudicca of the Iceni and the Cavaliers and Roundheads. I studied all day yesterday and Dave ran practice tests with an app that he purchased. Fingers crossed!

It was much cooler yesterday -- a high of about 72ºF. Now that's more like it!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walnut Husks and The Sneezer

The squirrels are going through their annual obsession with the walnut tree in our back garden. They scamper around in this tree all day, gnawing open the walnuts and dropping the green husks to the ground, and they would drive me crazy if I were one of those people who insist on a neat lawn. I do go out and pick up the larger pieces of shrapnel now and then, but for the most part, I ignore the situation.

Our heat wave continued yesterday. At 3 p.m. the temperature was 90º F. There were additional warnings about air pollution being carried up from France by southerly winds -- in which case it must have been la pollution, according to Google Translate. I didn't notice things being any more polluted than usual, and I even walked to Homebase in the morning along Finchley Road, which -- busy as it is -- has got to be an epicenter for air pollution in North London.

I went to buy compost, because we had lots of plants that needed repotting. While I was there I picked up these amazing petunias -- they're called "Night Sky." Aren't they great?

Let me tell you -- walking home with a box of petunias and a 50-liter bag of compost, along with a few other odds and ends, was definitely a challenge.

I spent some time in the garden in the afternoon, despite the heat. Almost everything is now in its new pot, including an overwatered aloe that I found in someone's trash a few days ago. It may or may not survive.

This is such a funny time of year because everyone's windows are open and we all learn a lot more about each other. There's a guy who lives in one of the apartments behind us who has the most explosive sneeze I've ever heard. Naturally, we call him "The Sneezer." He's like the neighborhood foghorn or factory whistle -- the background sound we all subconsciously know and acknowledge.

Today it's supposed to be cooler, thank God. And it's also Dave's birthday!