Monday, July 16, 2018

The Great Wimbledon Common Nature Walk

Dateline: South-West London

As the country swelters and grass turns white with drought and SW19 winds up the tennis championships and the crowds in straw hats depart for another year, here's a taste of an altogether gentler Wimbledon pastime. A couple of weeks ago, they advertised a "Nature Walk" on Wimbledon Common. It was part of a weekend of nature-related activities, including some unexpected exhibits. 

I was relieved to hear that the pythons, one of whom was called Olivia and corn snakes don't live on the Common. They are rescued abandoned pets. Pets!! Who in their right mind...? Oh, OK, I never was in touch with the zeitgeist.
Then on to more bucolic ramblings among the giant hogweed. Everyone was instructed to look for insects. Well what a microcosmos is a patch of weeds - I had no idea.

There were bees and beetles and grasshoppers and caterpillars. That staple of the British countryside the stingy nettle (Britain's far gentler equivalent of poison ivy and the bane of small children who learn from an early age to look for dock leaves to rub on the sting. Or used to, anyway) is in fact home and nourishment to the caterpillars of the Peacock Blue butterfly. I'll never look at a nettle in the same way again. Kids were handed out butterfly nets.

And gambolled around like a scene from a Victorian children's book. They seemed to love it. It beats computer games any day. So nice they still encourage old-fashioned pursuits. Here's some willowherb.

 And there was I thinking Wimbledon Common didn't have any flowers. And the best thing about Wimbledon Common - there are NO TICKS!  You can stride through the long grass with impunity.  Eat your heart out, western New York!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Great South-West London Outdoors

Dateline: South-West London

  London is roasting in a heatwave. Just like the old (possibly spoof) newspaper headline that hubby likes to quote: 70 Degrees Again and No Relief in Sight. Except it's more like 80 degrees with a stiff breeze. Wimbledon tennis started yesterday and on my journey down Wimbledon Hill on the 93 bus, I've been watching incredulously hordes of red-faced perspiring people, all bedecked in sundresses and panama hats, struggling up the hill mopping their brows. Some bright spark (probably an 18-year-old fitness fanatic) put on a sign at Wimbledon station that it was 20 minutes' walk to the tennis. In your dreams. I hope they all got there with the minimum heart attack quotient. I have the best idea. I watch on television. Meanwhile, as an antidote to the heatwave, here's a flashback to an interesting corner of Wimbledon called Cannizaro Park, home to some magnificent rhododendrons.

The day I visited, some weeks ago, it was after a torrential rainstorm (remember rain). Most of the blooms were soggy and nearly spent, though this one had a way to go.

The vast rhododendron garden was a wilderness of dark, damp paths, old steps and memories. It belonged in a Gothic novel.

It took me a while to find it - I'd strayed into some bleak, bare, walled gardens that looked as though they'd seen better days - perhaps they've perked up now it's summer. I could see rhododendrons enticingly peeing over the top of the wall but there was no secret door under the ivy. I had to tramp all the way round. But it was worth it.

You could explore here forever.

And cheerfully get lost in the wilderness.

There was a Gothic-looking aviary, full of birds

And goodness knows what else you might find

in case you were wondering, the giant teapot is a work of modern art.

 In the background is Cannizaro House, named after a Sicilian Duke who once lived here. It's now the Hotel du Vin, probably doing well out of the tennis.

 Tennyson, Oscar Wilde and Henry James all stayed there. The whole lot was sold to the council in 1948 for 40,000 pounds. That wouldn't even buy a parking space these days.

Coming up: Close by, a different great outdoors experience. Watch this Space.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Update: Where are the Flags?

I'm gradually seeing a few more England flags. They're coming out of the woodwork as if they were too embarrassed to show their faces before. I even saw a house in south-west London with flags festooned all over it, like Christmas decorations. Maybe England fans are a little like spurned lovers - they're wary of taking the plunge again. Now we have to hope that all will be well tonight. All this talk about England needing to come second in  their group is daft. For one thing the Germans are out - with headlines in the tabloids like "Out Wiedersehen" and "Wurst Day Ever". (I have been trying to explain to the American family the deep meaning of this to the English. The USA,  hubby muses, has no experience of such a bitter and oft-recurring nemesis.) The first time Germany haven't progressed since 1938.   I hope it's not a bad omen for that country.   So the main fear is Brazil. But has it occurred to the Come Second-ers that England will have to face tough opposition at some point? Better to get it over with. Losing in the quarters is sad but losing in the final is catastrophic. And they could just as easily lose to someone else. This is a very unpredictable World Cup. And surely we remember Iceland? Oh and the USA back in the day.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Where Are the Flags?

Dateline: South-west London

I am disappointed. Here I am in London as the World Cup's starting and I haven't seen an England flag. Well just one, flying out of a solitary van window but that's it.  Nowhere between Putney and Marble Arch can a single patriot be found. Shame.

Not like it used to be when whole streets would be decked out and I'd point them out proudly to American hubby.  I used to joke how the US was indifferent to the World Cup but I remember driving over the border into Canada and every car on the QEW was flying the colours of its driver's ethnic origin. Is this some new fiendish political correctness? Or a wish not to jinx England's hopes? Or, heaven forbid, sheer apathy? Have I missed something? Well I for one (even though hubby has more actual English blood than I have) am not too proud to yell, "God for Harry, England and St George!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Update: In the Doghouse

  An American friend saw my suggestion (see below) about the alligator sign and proposed something even more effective - namely importing a few live alligators from Florida to stock the Wimbledon Common ponds to keep dogs away from the nesting birds.

  Alas that might be counter-productive.
  This morning I risked walking down to my favourite pond.  I say "risked" in the same way that I risk sitting in the quiet carriage on the train. The risk is that I inevitably get frustrated with someone talking on their mobile. Better sit in an ordinary carriage and accept that I can't do anything. But this morning I was feeling up for a fight. At first things were deceptively peaceful. Moorhens paddled around the waterlilies, a swan family glided languidly across the water. But it didn't last. Along came the first dog walker.   "Can't you read?" I asked .  She pulled her earphone out,  "What?".
  "The signs",  I said, "the signs all round this pond telling you to keep your dog on a lead".
  "Oh he's fine," she said soothingly. "No he's not! " I yelled pathetically after her.
  The next were a group with several large dogs running around They expressed ignorance of the sign and told me not to be so rude. Then there was a smart lady all got up in designer country gear. I shouldn't really have taken her on.  Her dog was so tiny he was what we call alligator bait in Florida. The swans would have made short shrift of him. I should have taken a deep breath and turned away. But my blood was up. "Lead!" I said curtly, pointing to the sign. The word seemed to trigger something primaeval in her.  "Don't you shout  'lead' at me!"
  "The sign", I said, "right there!"
  "Shut up you stupid old  #*!@#$%!!",  she screeched. (It was the "old" that really rankled).
  As I walked up the path, I could hear her shrieking after me, "Lead! Lead! Lead!"
  Well I should have learned my lesson by now. I've had similar encounters on our beach in Florida. There are certain classes of people you don't mess with: the SAS, urban cyclists - and dog walkers.
  But there was a nice man. A lovely man with a lovely dog with a red bandanna. As he approached the pond, he clipped a lead on his dog. I could have hugged him, "Thank you so much for doing that!" He understood and smiled.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

In Defence of Prince George

My American friends just love the little lad, "Awwww that George is so cute!" so I feel justified in rushing to his defence over yesterday's drama on the Buckingham Palace balcony. The media have gone to town on how his cousin "stole the show",  "shushing" him by clapping her hand over his mouth during the National Anthem. Well, am I the only one who saw the whole thing in context?  George did not start it.  He was not the first to be horsing around, making silly faces when the Anthem began. Oh dear,  I am really becoming an old fogey but in my day, such disrespect would have merited instant retribution of the swift and clean sort.    Too bad the Royals are so nice and modern.  Such a gesture in front of the world's television cameras would have done wonders for the fightback against political correctness. But I'm clearly not in touch with the zeitgeist. Everyone else seems to think it was sweet. Who am I to judge?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Wimbledon Common: Home to Educationally Challenged Dog Walkers

 Dateline: South-West London

 Wimbledon Common is a glorious open space - nothing like a manicured park with rose gardens and mulched borders but a microcosm of the English countryside - hills and heathland and marsh and bog and forest, where muddy paths criss-cross among wild rosebushes, blackberries and brambles. If you walk far enough from the main road you can imagine yourself in the middle of nowhere and not in South-West London.

Fortunately back in the 1860s, it was saved for the hoi polloi from the rapacious clutches of the Lord of the Manor, Earl Spencer no less, who had tried to sneak in an Act of Parliament so he could put up a mansion for himself and flog off the rest for a building site. At the moment, it's safe and a paradise for walkers, runners, riders and dog-owners.

 It seems that every pooch in south London gets taken to the Common for its daily exercise.  Mostly I love seeing the dogs but there is a small problem with the owners. Blame it on the shortcomings of the local expensive private schools but they appear never to have learned to read. Or they are afflicted with short sight. At this time of year there are signs around the ponds, asking dog owners to keep their dogs out of the water to protect the baby birds. There are also signs to keep dogs on a lead around a small patch of heathland where they're trying to encourage nesting skylarks.    I've never seen a single dog owner take the slightest bit of notice of these signs. I met one on the bus with an extremely muddy dog, "Yes", she laughed to all and sundry, "he's been in the pond. He loves it!"  Another, this morning, strode merrily right through the skylark habitat.  When I've remonstrated with them, I've been put sharply in my place.  Once I went in despair to the Rangers' office and the nice girl there threw up her hands. It seems there is nothing they can do. The dog walkers are a powerful lobby with few natural predators.    They are convinced they are right and no measly sign is going to change that. (Never mind there are a thousand other acres for their dogs to run around in.)  Personally I think they should make the signs much bigger and include dire threats. They could take their cue from Florida.

But then it wouldn't be very British.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

On Strawberries and Wombles

Well hello again and the blog apologises for an absence even longer than Melania Trump's, still being occupied by pressing family matters.  Here in London, the Great English Summer is upon us and my goodness,  how good it is to get proper English strawberries that actually taste of something. I looked at the packet I bought in Waitrose yesterday and observed that it came from Sussex. Just down the road then. A whole lot better than getting them refrigerated from California. OK, western New York does grow its own strawberries but they don't taste anything like British ones.
  I have been enjoying some ambles on Wimbledon Common, which is the home of the Wombles.

For the benefit of my American friends, these chaps live underground on the Common and only come out at night, when they pick up rubbish left behind by slobby picnickers. Their services are more needed than ever. Sad that the other day I spoke to a small child who had never heard of the Wombles, which were big in the 1970s, generating a TV series, films, songs and so on. The original books were by Elisabeth Beresford. The Wombles had names like Orinoco and Uncle Bulgaria. I recently walked past an Orinoco Street in Wimbledon.  Presumably future generations will puzzle over the name. I think it's high time for a Womble revival.

More on the fabled Common coming up. Watch this space.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bring on the Bridesmaids

My American friends all sent me off back to Blighty with some variation on, "Don't forget your hat for the wedding!"  Sadly I could only retort with the lame old chestnut, "Oh yes, that wedding. We did get invited but we don't really feel like going." 
I'm not going to add to the vast array of comment, except on one thing. I had been concerned, that, unlike with previous Royal weddings,  we hadn't had an announcement about who the bridesmaids and pages were going to be. As I remember, that would normally come some weeks before the event, throwing a bone to the avid Royal-watchers waiting impatiently for the Big Day. But this time, nothing. It got me worried. I was very alarmed that the American connection would prevail and there would be an American-style wedding, with adult bridesmaids in grotesque, skimpy dresses, sashaying up the aisle, smirking, one by one in advance of the bride like a fashion parade and then lining up beside the couple with the same number of "groomsmen" on the other side. Not just one happy couple but six or eight, or even more. But now, at last, the news is out and I'm vastly relieved to see that they are doing it British-style, with a lot of small bridesmaids and pages.

That's the proper British way and kinder to less-than-svelte girlfriends of the bride, who would otherwise have to be crammed into glorified corsets and individually gawped at by the congregation as they pass. You can't go wrong with small children, who look sweet no matter what they're wearing. Speaking of which,  I've noticed, in some uneducated quarters of the British media,  the creeping Americanism of calling child bridesmaids "flower girls". They are not. They are bridesmaids, OK? American weddings might have one little girl scattering rose petals and a little boy in a suit carrying the ring on a cushion. They are the flower girl and ring bearer and they should stay where they are - in America.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Pleasures of Modern London Part One

Include Morris dancing on the green

or rather the concrete outside Wimbledon station in the London suburbs. That's what I love about London - you never know what you might see next. But it seems many things have changed since I went away. Every time I come back to London, I feel more and more like a foreigner. For example,  I have nothing against bus drivers, except the ones that drive off just as you puff up to the stop.  But suddenly, now,  everyone getting off the bus is thanking the driver. Which is a nice development except that now, as well as lugging your shopping, dinging the bell, etc, you have to remember to shout, "Thank you driver!" That didn't tend to happen back in the day. But you have to do it in case the drivers keep a blacklist of ungrateful passengers,  smart enough to identify them as they puff up to the bus stop.
Another thing. Why is everyone suddenly saying "Oh Bless!" This is bad enough when I mention my dear old mother. I only have to say that she did something perfectly normal, like having a cup of tea,  to get an "Oh Bless her!" from all and sundry. Well I know people are trying to be kind. With the emphasis on the trying. But the other day I was on the phone to an office about some mundane bureaucratic thing. I mentioned to the receptionist that I had been trying to get hold of one of her colleagues without any response.   "Oh Bless!" she said.  Oh !@#$% more like. Enough of this fad, thank you!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

McDonalds? Not Today Thank You

  And speaking of McDonalds, the other day I bought a newspaper at the station and the newsagent thrust into my hand a block of vouchers for money off at the fabled Golden Arches gourmet eateries.  I'm not one to turn down a free lunch and I have to confess to enjoying the occasional Big Mac but I couldn't imagine getting through all of it. So, I thought to myself, I'll do a good deed. I'll pass the vouchers on to someone else. On the station platform, I approached likely looking people - mostly those with children in tow - and offered them the vouchers. Well you'd think I was offering a controlled substance. "Oh no, thank you!" said the first mum. And the next. So, I said to myself, I'll go for the granddads. They like giving the kids treats. "We don't eat that sort of thing", said the granddad sitting on the bench. There was one more mother to try. She had two little boys. They must, I thought, love McDonalds. She looked at me pityingly, "Sorry but we try to eat healthy food."  And far from looking upset at her reaction, the little boy sided with her. "You could always", he confided to me, "Throw it in the bin". Which is what, sadly, I ended up doing. Nice try McDonalds. And another sign that this isn't the Britain I grew up in. I wonder what the reaction would be in America. I suppose it would depend on where you were.

OK the tulips, from a week or two back, are nothing to do with the story but they are in McDonalds colours.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Springtime in London

The blog is on a family visit to London for a few weeks, so once again apologies for the erratic service. Keep watching this space.
At last we have some decent weather here - the British spring has been much later than usual.

But there have been pretty sights, including some magnificent magnolias.

These are different fom the tall monsters you get in the southern US and quite often get blighted by frost - but not this year. Since I've been here there's been cold and rain but not a lot of frost.

It's been good to hear British blackbirds singing. They really know how to hold a tune, unlike American ones, which sound like rusty hinges.  The last couple of days have been seriously warm and Brits not quite sure what to do about them. Amusingly, the tubes and trains are displaying signs, "In this hot (sic) weather, make sure you carry a bottle of water." How we ever survived in the old days without ubiquitous bottles of water, I can't imagine.
  I have noticed one thing though - the return of people bringing nasty smelling food onto the trains. There was a plague of this when I last lived in London and then things got better. Now a new generation have to be taught manners.  And food has got much smellier. It's not just McDonalds and fish and chips any more. There's always something to make travel on public transport more pleasurable. But I shouldn't complain. In rural western New York there is no public transport - or none that I've noticed.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Florida's Little Pleasures

I can't help it - my mind keeps dancing back to Florida and our beloved Golden Beach, now undoubtedly sweltering in glorious spring temperatures. The winter orchid tree in the front

will be giving way to the spring one at the back

which already had a few flowers before we left at the end of February.  I had been feeling nostalgic when I saw  this exciting story from up the road in Nokomis. Yes, once again, a giant alligator found its way into somebody's swimming pool.  That's the sort of thing that happens in Florida, which can be edgy where wildlife is concerned. I still remember that bobcat sauntering towards me at our beach access. The alligator was more ammunition for hubby, who has a long list of reasons why we should not join the countless residents who dig up their back gardens to install, as he puts it,  a glorified bathtub so they can stand in it when the weather gets hot. "Another reason not to have a pool", he said smugly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Brits and the Bottle Machine

  In Blighty, they are thinking about something really revolutionary. This is the introduction of bottle gobbling machines in supermarkets to recycle your beer bottles and other stuff and get some money back. Well hello, Britain must be the last country in the world not to have these. Back in western New York we have been experiencing them for a whole, so herewith a few helpful hints.
1) It takes a huge mental effort finally to resolve to stop on your hurried dash out of the door and lift the  overflowing box of bottles from the floor to the car. But it is worth it.
2) It's one of life's minor pleasures to feed your bottles one at a time into the machine and hear them being digested with loud smashes, clanks and crunches and I swear it - burps and then see the cents piling up on the little screen.
3) You can also take perverse enjoyment in feeding the wrong sort of bottle in and seeing if the machine can be fooled. Usually it can't.
4) You must remember not only to take your paper voucher out of the machine but also to present it at the till to get your money back. That's where the system starts to break down and presumably where they count on making their money.
5) There are legions of Americans who make an industry out of working out how you can purchase your bottles in a state with low deposit fees and then recycle them in a state where you get more money back. Of course you have to factor in transporting your bottles over state lines, though I'll bet there are some people who fill up pickup trucks specially for this. Judging by the number of customers  I get stuck behind at the supermarket checkout, who produce armfuls of fiddly, time-consuming coupons cut from obscure magazines to save money, I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Britain can't get bottle machines soon enough. It will be a whole new leisure activity and family time too. You know how kids just love feeding ducks? This is much better.

The Blog Apologises...

... for intermittent service due to travel and family reasons. In the meantime

A little late for Palm Sunday, a reminder of Florida is in order. Yes I think those really are coconuts. Better not to stand underneath.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Someone Else For Dinner

We were in the kitchen this evening when hubby called out, "Look!"

The cheeky white tail deer nibbled a bit at the fallen maple tree branch, then sauntered off. But not before having a good look through the window. And to think I said only yesterday that we hadn't seen many deer this winter.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The More it Snows (Again)

We were complacent if we thought Spring was on the way. All week it's snowed on and off

We've had two power cuts, a frozen drain, a flood and dozens of fallen branches. Did we leave Florida for this? Is it payback for lounging in warmth for most of the winter? But when the sun comes out..

You would almost pay to come here

With a free art show. Ice crystal fantasy.

A touch of Jackson Pollock 

 And guess who's

Coming to dinner!

 I put up the feeder again and from nowhere they were there. How did they ever get through the winter without us? 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Goodbye Florida Sunset..And Hello Winter

We must be crazy. This is what we left. A beautiful, warm, Golden Beach sunset.

And back in western New York, after a false dawn, a couple of vaguely mild days without a flake of snow on the ground, on Friday morning .... 

 This happened

All that snow on the hanging baskets - that was just overnight

They had warned in the weather forecast that the snow wouldn't be normal snow. It would be extremely heavy and wet and snow shovelling could be dangerous - might bring on heart attacks and so on. Well the trees were certainly bent out of shape.

 With all that weight. And huge branches came off the maple trees all morning.

And the arborvitae by the drive - the bits of them that survived the deer onslaught - were bent right over like triumphal; arches

Even our 4WD got stuck at the end of the drive, in all the heavy snow the plough dumped and I had to dig it out. They were right in the weather forecast.  Plus we had no electricity and no telephone.  I trudged up the hill to try and get a mobile phone signal. We hardly ever get one at the house but this sometimes works. Except not today.

The lane was pretty though.

Coming back, I noticed the variegated dogwood bush was squashed flat by the snow.

But this afternoon we looked out of the window and discovered a kind neighbour had come and ploughed the drive and disappeared before we could even thank him. That's western New Yorkers for you.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cars in the Sun

First a car show of a different kind. This is the view when the drawbridge off the island goes up. Not quite Tower Bridge but we do have three of them. It's a common occurrence - usually to let some tiny sailing boat through on the intracoastal waterway - but the cause of much aggravation. It means you can never be quite sure how long it will take to get to an appointment. The other day we were stuck even after the bridge went down again as there had been some sort of accident on the other side. The woman in the queue in front of us started getting claustrophobic, exited her car and yelled at us all to reverse or  "We'll never get out!" So we did and it took a very long time, especially as the person behind us was a timid reverser. I sympathise with that.  And all that is even without the everyday traffic accidents during "Snowbird Season", an alarming combination of out-of-towners who get lost and people who shouldn't be driving in the first place. Every day holds a horror story of the driver who screeched across four lanes at the last minute right in front of us.

But back to a much more pleasurable car experience, the ubiquitous car show. Florida in dry season of course being the ideal place to show off your wheels. This was at the local classic car dealer's. I have mixed feelings about pickup trucks but would have taken this little Corvair home.

And of course, being Florida, here was a dressed-up golf cart.

 People wistfully wandering around inspecting engines.

 And wow! A Lotus Elan! And one of the real classics too. (With no insult intended to my little Elan S2 back in Blighty. That's Norfolk mustard too. )

This "Galloping Ghost" had some history, apparently.

And this one some nostalgia

Love the colour but wouldn't have dared try to park it.

There was lots of this sort of jokey stuff

Including bird nesting boxes (aka bird houses in American) made out of old number plates

 And this, for which no comment is necessary

They like their furry dice here too

Note the election bumper sticker..

 "I'm all shook up", he says. And he's yours for 699 dollars. Or Nearest Offer. (Or is that the price of the car?)

A 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster. Yours for a snip.

And of course a cute Thunderbird

And a Batmobile

Note the poodle trim

Did she just give him the push?

 Fill it up for you Madam?  Except the Americans say "Fill it".

C'mon, let's get out on the open road!

Aw shucks, we'll have to wait for the bridge.

Alas the blog's Florida sojourn is nearly over. Departure for the frozen north is imminent.  Watch this space!