Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Black Cap


I've written before about the gradual disappearance of some of London's historic pubs. With real estate prices so high and development opportunities abundant -- especially for pub buildings, which are often quite ornate and stylish -- the pubs themselves often come under tremendous financial pressure.

Here's a pub that closed back in 2015. The Black Cap had the added distinction of being a well-known LGBTQ venue, featuring drag performers and cabaret acts. The pub was made an Asset of Community Value (ACV), a government designation that's supposed to help protect pubs from redevelopment, but sadly that distinction couldn't keep it open.

I'd been reading about this pub for a while but didn't know quite where it was until I happened to walk past it on Sunday.


This rather dandy-looking fellow is perched up by the roof. (Not the pigeon, though he's dandy too.)

Apparently The Black Cap's owners had applied to convert the two floors above the pub into flats, but their application was rejected. I gotta say, those look like they would be amazing flats, although one wonders about noise levels, especially with drag performances going on downstairs!

At least they didn't simply tear the place down.

There's now a public campaign to buy out the pub and keep it open. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rooster Express, Part 6


Longtime readers may remember that when Dave and I first moved to London in 2011, I was photographically infatuated by the rich variety of fried chicken restaurants. (Examples here, here, herehere and here.) These restaurants always have red and/or blue signage -- it's apparently an unspoken industry rule -- and their names often refer back to the southern USA.

Here's a good example with an unusually cumbersome name that I came across Sunday in Camden. I wonder if they had to pay by the letter for that sign?

And I wonder how "new" Tennesseeland differs from "old" Tennesseeland? Was there even an "old" Tennesseeland? Questions to ponder.

Anyway, what can I say about yesterday. It was Monday, and I was back at work. It may not seem like it but we're already on the downslope of the school year! (That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.)

I've tried to write a politically-themed post several times but I just don't have it in me. It brings me down and I know it would bring you down, too. Rest assured I'm thinking about it all, worrying about the stability of the American government and cringing every time I open The New York Times web site.

I'm pretty sure voters in the real Tennesseeland love Donald Trump, though.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Street Art and Old Books


Last Wednesday, when Dave and I took a taxi to get to St. Pancras train station for our trip to Broadstairs, we passed through Camden Town and saw lots of great street art. I realized it had been quite a while since I went walking in that area.

So yesterday I set out on what I intended to be a brief meander. The sky was gray, which is actually ideal for photographing street art -- you don't get distracting shadows on the walls. One of the murals I visited was this flaming spray can piece (above) by Irony.

I normally avoid the area around Camden Market because it's tourist hell and the sidewalks are packed. There are always various costumed characters (yesterday I saw The Mad Hatter) wandering around, looking to make a pound or two. But what makes the area so obnoxious to walk through can also make it fun if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.

So I walked for an hour or two through Camden and into Primrose Hill, where I became distracted by a secondary mission. I happened upon a bookshop with a bin of used books outside, and when I browsed through them I came across this volume (left). I love that cover -- those '50s graphics! "The Green Singers," from 1958, is set in Australia, and I had to have it -- and it was only £3! But of course I didn't have any cash on me, and I didn't want to try to make such a minor purchase with a debit card. (I may be wrong, but the shop didn't seem like the kind of place where they'd go for that.) So I schlepped through Primrose Hill and back to Camden Road to find an ATM, and then back to the bookshop.

In the end, success -- and I also got a second old book (right, below, just £2). I've never heard of either of these authors, but I liked the old-fashioned dust jackets so much. Apparently David Leslie wrote numerous books including some with homoerotic elements. (Score!) And Ralph Arnold's "Hands Across the Water," from 1947, is about trying to find a newly incarnated Tibetan lama in England.

So, who knows -- they might be rubbish. But maybe one of them will be another H. E. Bates -- an author I'd never heard of before I took the plunge on some thrift store books that I turned out to really like! I'll report back.

I walked from Primrose Hill up to Adelaide Road and caught the C11 bus for home. By this time it was past noon -- nothing like a good morning of urban exploration.

Dave and I spent the afternoon in the garden, continuing to prune and prepare for the new growing season. Yesterday I mentioned the crocuses coming up around town, and we found a few in our own flower beds. We also filled three lawn bags with leaves and trimmings. It's amazing how much debris a garden can accumulate.

Last night we went on a "Gogglebox" TV bender. Dave reheated his Sauce Bolognese, but added tomatoes to make it a more traditional red sauce. He was not impressed with his low-tomato-content initial attempt!

And apropos of nothing, here's the word of the day: "broigus." I saw it used in a headline in the Jewish News, which I happened to pick up for free on the high street yesterday morning. (See page 12.) Apparently it's a yiddish word meaning a fight -- in this case, between air passengers mid-flight! It's a great word -- I think I could find room for it in my vocabulary.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

En Plein Air


Olga may have seemed exhausted when we got back from Broadstairs, but after a good night's sleep she was raring to go. So we went to the Heath yesterday morning and took a long walk.

We came across this guy painting en plein air in Hampstead. He seemed to be finishing up -- I think he was cleaning his brushes.


The walk went well, and on the way home we found about a million crocuses in the Hampstead Church cemetery. Signs of spring!

Dave experimented for dinner and made a real Bolognese sauce for pasta. Apparently the red meat sauce all of us think of as Bolognese really isn't -- the authentic variety is paler, with less tomato and more veg and even a touch of milk. It wasn't bad, but I don't think either of us were a huge fan. I get why red sauce is so popular!

We also did more garden cleanup. I raked the parking space in front of our house, which was full of last autumn's piled-up blown leaves and tiny bits of street litter. (Technically the parking space is the responsibility of the upstairs neighbors, who actually park there, but we own a rake and they don't, so I didn't mind doing it. Probably should have done it weeks ago, in fact.) Dave pruned our buddleia and some other plants, hopefully getting everything ready to bush out again in a few weeks.

Last night we watched "Beginners," with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. It's an earlier movie by Mike Mills, the same guy who wrote and directed "20th Century Women," which Dave and I saw last week in the theater. "Beginners" is excellent. I loved it. If you haven't seen it, download it and check it out!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Broadstairs Proper


Yesterday was our day to explore the town of Broadstairs itself. After a light breakfast at our hotel, and a romp with the Kong on the windy, chilly beach, we all took a taxi into town. (Dave was very emphatic about not walking.)

We got dropped off at the bottom of the high street, where the town meets the water at Viking Bay. There's a wide arc of beach guarded by a line of colorful bathing cabanas -- one sign referred to them as "chalets," which sounds oddly alpine.


We promptly found a pub named after Charles Dickens, who summered in Broadstairs and wrote "David Copperfield" there. In fact the big house on a cliff overlooking the bay where Dickens lived is now known as Bleak House, though apparently the namesake novel is actually set in Hertfordshire.


It was a bit too early to eat again, so we walked through town to the train station, passing some intriguing artwork along the way (the result of a local contest among children to decorate some vacant shopfronts).


Olga found her favorite shop. It was all we could do to keep her out of there. I hope the proprietors appreciate our dedication, because otherwise she would have been doing full-body rolls in the meat case.


We wandered back down to the bay -- Bleak House is the castle-like brown structure at left. There's also a Dickens museum in town, but we didn't go.

Instead we went back to the Dickens pub, where had pints and a sausage sandwich (in my case) and Olga sat on my lap because she was a bit shivery on the chilly pavement.

We finally caught our train at 2 p.m., and I finished the second of my "Blind Date with a Book" novels on the way back to London. Dave read too, as did a pink-haired girl with a nose ring across the aisle -- she was engrossed in a book of Tennyson's poems. (There'll always be an England.)

We got home and Olga promptly fell into a deep, snorey sleep on the couch. She was happy to be back in familiar surroundings -- as were we all!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Shell Grotto


Yesterday Dave, Olga and I walked along the seaside cliffs to Margate, the next town along the coast to the northwest of us. It took a couple of hours to walk there and back -- I don't know how far it is, but surely a few miles at least. We looked down from the clifftops upon the mysterious blue maps and abstractions left in the sand and seaweed by the retreating tide.


Olga got about as much exercise as a dog could stand, I think. She enjoyed chasing her Kong in all the grassy areas along the way. (It's basically one big park.) And once again, we had a sunny day!


I figured we needed a destination in Margate, and while checking out the town on Google Maps beforehand I saw an intriguing landmark called "The Shell Grotto." Turns out this is an underground passageway and chamber covered with 4.6 million seashells in various patterns. What saves it from being a merely kitschy tourist attraction is that it's really old and mysterious -- apparently it was re-discovered in 1838 and opened to the public, but its origins are murky.


Is it a medieval devotional chamber? A Renaissance curiosity? A Roman relic?

My guess is, it was some wealthy guy's garden decoration, but who knows? Apparently carbon dating is expensive -- and it's unreliable unless they test several portions, because the grotto has been repaired and restored over the centuries -- so that hasn't been done. But it is historically listed and I love weird stuff like this, so I got a kick out of it. Dave stayed up in the cafe with Olga, watching an over-energetic boy break not one, not two but three items in the gift shop, which his poor beleaguered mother then had to buy.


We walked back along the cliffs, wearing the dog (and Dave) out even more. When we got back to the room, Dave declared, "No more walking!" But we did manage to stagger out to a nearby pub, the Captain Digby, for an evening pint before dinner. Unfortunately Olga wasn't allowed inside so we spent a chilly half-hour at a picnic table in the "beer garden" (aka the parking lot). That brisk ocean air!

Today we're going to check out the town of Broadstairs before getting on our train for home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Olga at the Beach


The beach is a new experience for Olga. All that sand! And weird, fishy-smelling sea things!

Kelp, we learned, must be peed upon. By dogs, at least.


We also learned that chasing the Kong toy on the beach leads to a Kong covered with sand. Which of course mean's Olga's lips and nose become covered, too.

Not that this particularly bothers her.

She doesn't show much enthusiasm for the water itself. She'll approach the retreating waves and then back up when they surge forward again, hesitant to even wet her toes. My fears that she would leap into the ocean and be swept away by a rogue current appear to be unfounded.


We are in an area of Kent famous for its chalky cliffs. The porous nature of the stone leads to some very unusual, Swiss Cheesy beach rocks. (I kept this one.) There are also scattered seashells of limpets and mussels and periwinkles.


Here's our hotel. We're on a bluff atop the cliffs, and there are steps down to the sea nearby. (Not the famous "Broad Stairs" of Broadstairs, which apparently really was named after a set of steps. Technically, we're in Kingsgate, just north of Broadstairs on an inlet called Botany Bay.)

Our journey here went smoothly yesterday. Before we left home, I put my Valentine's Day tulips on the windowsill in the alcove next to the front door:


I figured if we're not home to enjoy them, at least our neighbors can!

The train trip was a little more than an hour, and Olga handled it admirably. Once off the train, we walked to the hotel, which was a bit of a schlep but allowed us to both exercise the dog and see the town.

I did a terrible job packing -- forgot my toothbrush and deodorant and Olga's dog towel! We can make do without the latter, but even two nights without the former would be unacceptable. I suppose I'll have to pop into a neighborhood shop today...