Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Foosball and a Cold Snap

Here's another bit of interesting detritus that Olga and I found on one of our walks. People throw away the darndest things! It's because we all have way, way too much stuff -- far more than we need.

Interestingly, a few days after she and I came across this, I was talking to our friend Mark and he mentioned that he wanted a foosball table.

"Oh," I said, "I know where you can get one cheap!"

Of course it was long gone by that time, and I didn't really expect him to take it anyway. He complained that some foosball tables have three players in the last line rather than one, and how completely inappropriate that is. (Foosball nerds!) This one, at least, looks like a regulation table in that sense.

Thanks to those of you who chipped in with calming words about my basal cell carcinoma. I had no idea this was such a common thing! I'm glad I'm in such good company. I'm sure my skin carries all kinds of sun damage from my years in Florida and Morocco.

There's one picture in particular of me, taken in the late '70s during a vacation to the beach, that just makes me wince every time I see it. I'm smiling and happy and as tanned as George Hamilton. We used to use sunscreen, at least some of the time -- it was this horrible green/brown stuff from a tube that my dad used to call "goose poop" -- but clearly I was absorbing a lot of rays.

Our rescued foxglove is still hanging in there, even growing a bit. I think it's going to be fine, though I want to get it off the kitchen windowsill and into the ground. Maybe this weekend, after our cold snap is past. The celebrity poppies aren't looking so great, but I think two of them are still alive, at least. The sidewalk pavers did indeed strip out all the plants from the area where I rescued them -- so they'd have been toast if I'd left them there. Makes me feel like I accomplished something!

It's 38ยบ F this morning! Nature seems unconcerned, though. A blackbird is in the birdbath as I write, and a blue tit is on the feeder. I guess they're used to this sort of thing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wisteria and Carcinoma

It's wisteria season in London, with housefronts and garden walls suddenly draped in thick purple blossoms. I love this time of year, when those woody, twisted old vines come so brilliantly to life.

So remember how I mentioned that spot on my forehead that won't heal? I went to the doctor about it yesterday morning. She believes it's a basal cell carcinoma, which sounds scary but apparently isn't -- cancer, but non-metastatic and very slow-growing. She all but yawned while diagnosing me. I'm supposed to get a referral to a dermatologist within the next six weeks to have it removed, with either dry ice or topical medication. Personally, I hope they go for the former. I want it off now.

I'm a little surprised because I'm usually careful about sun. I always wear a hat when I'm out for any length of time. But I guess I collect a lot of sun on my forehead even when I'm out for short periods. It's a lot of acreage -- my own personal solar panel.

I stopped by Homebase after work to buy a new light bulb for the kitchen -- so that's one minor domestic crisis resolved. I give myself a pat on the back whenever I successfully buy a light bulb in this country. The vast array of options is truly bewildering.

We're having a bit of a cold snap today and tomorrow -- low temperatures just above freezing. We haven't done anything special for the plants. I think as long as we don't have frost we'll be fine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Electrical Works and Fierce Creatures

We must be having sunspots. Out of the blue, my computer and my camera aren't speaking to each other, so I can't download any pictures except from my iPhone. And our kitchen light blew out last night, so now we need a light bulb, and meanwhile I have to pack the dishwasher in the dark!

Modern problems. First-world problems, as they say.

Speaking of which, last night I was up late trying to restore all the artwork in my iTunes library. For some reason, when I got my new computer and moved my iTunes over, a lot of the album art didn't come with the music. I have no idea why this happened. Last night I ran an automated "fetch the artwork" function in iTunes, and that worked for a lot of the albums -- but not all. About 30 were left with no art, and some had the wrong art. So I fixed those manually. I realize this truly is a first-world problem, but I enjoy looking at album cover art -- don't you? One aspect of vinyl records that I truly miss (possibly the only one) is that they provided such a big canvas for artwork and liner notes.

What's your favorite album cover? Here's one of mine from childhood -- the cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Tarkus." My dad and stepmother had that album and I was really into that mechanized killer armadillo. Kind of a Transformer before there were Transformers, you know? Inside the gatefold was a pictorial story in which the armadillo fought a lion with a scorpion's tail. I don't think I ever actually listened to the music.*

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath again yesterday. In fact, we did our Four Heaths walk, across all four parts of the Heath, and Olga was exhausted when we got home. She slept all evening and all night and she's sleeping now.

Meanwhile, all of nature is reproducing like mad. Pigeons seem to be nesting in the neighbor's climbing rose -- the one that looms over our patio in its most overgrown state. I've seen one clumsily flying up there clutching twigs in its beak, and disappearing into the foliage. Yesterday I refilled the bird feeder with mealworms, which I'd stopped using over the winter because the birds didn't eat them quickly enough -- and as I write, two starlings are squabbling over them. Everyone has babies to feed!

*Addendum: I just listened to it on iTunes. To enjoy it, you might have to be high.

(Photo: A vessel shaped like a coiled snake in the window of a pottery studio in Hampstead, seen on our walk yesterday. I've been passing this thing for years and always meant to photograph it. It looks like it cracked in the kiln, which is a shame, but it's still pretty cool!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lassie Finds My Hat

Yesterday morning, as I was walking Olga, we came to an intersection. Rather than turning right, which we always do at this particular corner, Olga was very insistent that we walk straight, along very busy Finchley Road. I never really like walking along Finchley Road, but I gave in. So we walked a few hundred feet and there, lying on the ground, was my hat.

Now, this is very weird, because I hadn't even realized my hat was missing. I had a vague idea that I hadn't seen it in a few days, but at this time of year I don't really need it so I didn't give it much thought. There's no question, though, that the hat lying on the sidewalk was mine -- because who else in my neighborhood has a beanie bearing the logo of the University of South Florida football team?

I haven't walked on Finchley Road for a very long time. I think I must have dropped it on the side street where Olga and I walk almost daily, and it made its own way around the corner -- in someone's hand, or via the wind, or something. It was a little the worse for wear -- torn open on the top, in fact --  as if it had been run over by countless cars. But I brought it home and washed it and sewed up the top seam, and it's as good as new. (Well, OK, not that good -- but as good as before I lost it.)

When I told Dave this story, he looked at Olga and said, "Good job, Lassie!"

I'd like to think Olga wanted to walk along Finchley Road because she somehow knew my hat was there. But honestly, that's just too crazy to believe. I think it was a happy coincidence.

At the risk of exhausting you with dog news, here's Olga on our neighborhood basketball court yesterday morning. We found two balls there -- both already punctured, thank goodness! She had fun chasing them around, and I let her bring the football home. In a sure sign that she is slowing down a bit in middle age, she has not yet torn it apart. It's sitting right in front of me, on the floor rug in our living room.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell about yesterday. I read, did laundry, poked around in the garden, took Olga to the West Heath. We're back to some fairly chilly, cloudy weather this weekend, so there will be no basking in the spring sunshine, unfortunately. In fact, I may need my hat!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Dreaded Red Blotch

These are our amaryllis(es) this year. They're coming along, but they don't look so great. Some of the flowers seem stunted and dry, and one bunch died outright.

These never quite got successfully launched.

I'm not an expert, but I think the plants have a fungus known as red blotch. See those red streaks on the flower stems (especially on the one above)? And the red patches on the leaves? They indicate red blotch.

From the reading I've done, our options at this point are to buy a systemic fungicide or discard the bulbs entirely and start over. Even though I'm not a fan of poisons, I hate to toss the plants -- we've had these bulbs five years and I always enjoy them, and properly cared for, they should last for decades. So I'm leaning toward the fungicide option. I still need to explore availability and cost, though.

Granted, these plants have been a little bit wonky from the very beginning -- often one bulb lags behind the others or produces stunted flowers. In retrospect, I think I've been seeing signs of red blotch for years -- slightly curled or misshapen leaves, for example. I just never recognized them as a serious problem. They may have had the fungus even when we first bought them. Argh!

Friday, April 21, 2017


I've been listening to "S-Town," the newest podcast from the producers of "This American Life" and "Serial." I just finished it last night, sitting on our bench in the back garden.

It was a very strange experience.

I'll be careful not to spoil any surprises. The podcast began as an investigation of a murder in small-town Alabama, reported to the producers in a letter from a disgruntled resident. He quips that he lives in "Shit-town," and he turns out to be quite a colorful character -- both genius and, possibly, lunatic. Soon, circumstances change and the podcast becomes something else entirely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but about halfway through I began experiencing nagging feelings of doubt about its journalistic purpose. The murder tip doesn't pan out, and we're left with an examination of one man's small-town life, in extremely intimate detail. And that man, for reasons that become apparent, doesn't fully participate in revealing all these details about himself. Is the show just high-brow reality programming, radio-style? Or is it something more -- an exploration of what it's like to be different in a remote, rural community?

As a former newspaper editor, I found myself questioning the story's raison d'etre. I think it succeeds, in the end, but if I'd put it together myself I'd have done two things differently. I'd have elided some of the intimate physical details about this man's past relationships, the reporting of which frankly seems like an unnecessary violation of privacy. And I'd have discussed -- somewhere along the line -- why the podcast remained relevant, despite the loss of its initial journalistic purpose. I understand wanting the listeners to determine that for themselves, but I think it would have helped us crystallize our view of the finished product. (Surely there were internal debates among the producers about whether to continue reporting, given the twists and turns in the story -- what were those like?)

Anyway, it's hard to explain all this if you haven't heard the show, and I don't mean to drag it down. I found it fascinating and I looked forward to every episode. (There are only 7 of them.) If you're at all interested in Southern culture, give it a listen.

(Photo: A church in Walthamstow, East London.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

E-Mail Calamity and Laura Nyro

We had a little incident at work yesterday in which a guy mistakenly sent an e-mail chain of medium sensitivity to, literally, the entire school. Or at least all the employees. It popped up in my e-mail box and I began reading it, thinking, "I don't think I was supposed to get this." And then, like any nosey reporter, I kept on reading right to the bottom.

Then a second e-mail arrived advising us that the previous e-mail contained "personal information" and should be deleted. Not only was it too late, in my case, but telling people that an e-mail contains something they shouldn't see is a sure-fire way to get them to read it. He should have just said "disregard my previous e-mail" and left it at that.

I did feel bad for the guy, though. It's such an easy mistake to make.

I don't think I've ever done it in a work context, but back in the mid-'90s, when the Internet was new, I once wrote an incredibly personal e-mail to a guy I knew. He and I had a fling at a journalism convention, and I wrote him about our time together, and then somehow sent the e-mail to everyone in my address book! Because the Internet was new, this wasn't many people -- maybe ten -- but I remember my mother was on the list. I was mortified. Several of the addresses were already out of date, including hers (thank God). I called the others up and asked them to delete the e-mail, and they said they did, but even then I was pretty certain they probably read it first.


In other news, I read an article in the Guardian pointing out that it's been 20 years since songwriter Laura Nyro died. Do you know her? I remember being shocked at the time because she was only 49. (Younger than I am now!) She wrote several songs that were big hits in the late '60s and early '70s for The Fifth Dimension, like "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Save the Country." I was an ardent fan of The Fifth Dimension in high school (despite the fact that they broke up in 1975 and everyone around me was listening to Devo and Billy Idol), so I knew her work well.

I remember trading computer messages with a copy editor at work about Nyro's sad, untimely death. This copy editor and I had a somewhat contentious working relationship, but this was one subject we bonded over. I expressed embarrassment about my infatuation with The Fifth Dimension. "Oh, but they made some great harmonies," she said.

(I still have about six Fifth Dimension albums in my iTunes.)

Nyro was an amazing pianist and singer herself. Her album "New York Tendaberry," from 1969, is one of my favorites.

(Photo: A cafe in Walthamstow, East London.)