Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the end of 2013 ...

We keep our (very small) Christmas tree outside, on the patio table ... inside, it's just tempting fate with the Younger Cats (baubles, chain of shiny beads, variegated what-would-be-seen-as-kitty-toys).  So here's the star, silhouetted against the final sunset of 2013.  I was lucky: though 2013 was a crap year for very many people, for me there were some definite highlights (buying a new house! getting married - thank you, Supreme Court!) and the only real, if sustained low was in the spring, when various aspects of chairing ground me down into a low and exhausted state.  Curiously, it was teaching a Bread Loaf course on British Poetry that rescued me: a good reminder of the benefits of being shaken out of one's comfort zone.

For 2014?  I'd like some rain, please, here in NM, and in Los Angeles.  

This picture, as always on NYE. was taken at around 5 p.m., when sunset here coincides with the New year in England - an attempt at seasonal synchronicity.  So - whether it's already past, or yet to come -

HAPPY 2014, everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013


Handsome though Walter Gomez may be, no one could ever accuse him of being an over-active cat.  Give him a new, catnip flavored Christmas toy, and he'll spend five minutes getting quietly stoned, and then - flop.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

broken elephant

In Wimbledon Village, there's a grocery store called Bayley and Sage.  Going there is always something of a guilty pleasure - my father refuses to countenance its existence (he's a Waitrose man), since he thinks that everything is outrageously overpriced.  So it is, I guess - but there are a lot of things that aren't too easy to find anywhere else by way of treats (and they sell very good cheese, too).  So this time, inter alia, we stocked up on various cookies, including this gingerbread, decorated with an elephant that looks almost like a reverse henna tattoo.  Unfortunately, it cracked on the way back here, but I'm sure it'll still taste good, when I can summon up the courage to engage in such aesthetic desecration.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

back in the closet

We're home!  And the cats are so happy that we're back.  Let me re-phrase that: three of the cats are very happy that we've returned, and the feral orange fluffy Bitzi is - well, she quickly excavated a hiding place in the cupboard by my side of the bed, and is in there, glowering.  By contrast, Moth is leaping and bounding around, LucyFur (whilst continuing to claim Superiority over Kittens) is re-establishing her relationship with us, and Walter Gomez is happily sniffing our feet.  And other parts - as a special treat, he sat on the side of the bath with me in it, dipping his paws in the water, and linking my leg.  There was an interesting moment in London when we had to disabuse my mother: I'd thought that she was having an odd difficulty on Skype in pronouncing his name - it turns out that she thought his name was Walter Gropius ...

albuquerque, mexico (Dec 27th)

The flight from LHR to DFW was uneventful (apart from the screaming children, and the rather pregnant woman in considerable discomfort in the seat in front of us, trying to recline her seating as far as possible).  But at DFW it was an unwelcome surprise to find that no longer can those of us in possession of a green card go through immigration alongside American citizens: no, because of new machines, we have to line up with very, very, very many other foreigners, together with their imperfectly filled forms, lack of English ("French interpreter needed at Booth 12," etc).  The only people with relatively tight connections who were being allowed to jump the line were those with international flights.  All the same, I flourished my boarding pass for DFW>ABQ, all the while texting Alice, quickly through and at baggage claims, about What To Do Next.  Ah, said the TSA official - "Albuquerque - Mexico!" and ushered me into a rapid-process line.  Thank goodness for US geographical ignorance...

Unfortunately, even though I made that flight, my suitcase didn't ... it caught the next one ... by this stage, we were safely in the ABQ Sheraton, and as I went to collect it from the airport, I was barely, barely awake enough to roll it back, let alone to struggle with recalcitrant internet ...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

boxing day

two Boxing Day vignettes: my father eating his lunch (peeled fruit, a few chunks of cheese) as he writes an email (my mother resting upstairs; me baking chocolate chip cookies for tea; Alice on her way  over from our hotel); and a wall from Cannizaro Park, behind the hotel - sodden in a dank early morning mist, but, as ever, somewhere I've known for many many many decades, having been pushed round it in a pram.  And this had me wondering today (tiered gardens, balustrades, etc) whether this induced some kind of liking for Italianate gardens and architecture, way before I could have been aware that such things existed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

christmas 2013

Christmas at 20 Hillside ... my parents in their living room;

my father posing with a glass of champagne;

my mother extremely happy to find that my father has taken the trouble not just to buy her a new wooden spoon, but to saw and smooth down the handle so that it's usefully short;

and my father opening a present from the neighbors - rather clearly marked "FRAGILE - Please Keep This Way Up" - upside down.

Somehow, this all manages to look like a series of stills from a particularly British TV comedy show ... the appealing-to-the-upper-middle-class kind that doesn't have people whooping and falling flat on their backs when wearing paper hats.  Comedy almost always has some base in reality, or maybe it's the other way round.  We have retreated to our hotel room (early morning image follows below) to drink from the thoughtfully provided flask of sweet sherry - thus almost certainly falling headlong into another comedy stereotype.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

iSpy Birds

The British newspaper The News Chronicle - very much a working-class paper - used to put out a series of books called I-Spy ... in this case, Birds.  I also had I-Spy Horses and Ponies - of course - On the Road; On the Farm; The Unusual, Trees, and History  and probably others besides.  They cost between 6d and 1s, depending on how much color was in them, and one had to write down where one saw the object in question, and score points according to its rarity value.  "It will be a red-letter day when you reach your 1,500 - or even your 1,000 points."  A teacher or parent had to sign to authenticate, and then you had to send in the booklet (with a 3d stamp for its return) to "Big Chief I-SPY / NEWS CHRONICLE Wigwam / London E.C. 4."  I wish I'd remembered this when I wrote The Transatlantic Indian - proclaimed my membership of "THE GREAT TRIBE OF REDSKINS," which would also allow one to read messages in secret code printed in the News Chronicle.  These seem very, very distant times.

The robin is for Alice - a kind of public Christmas card - since she's so very taken with the English version of the bird.

Monday, December 23, 2013


... and this sad, abandoned, inside out umbrella on Wimbledon Common appeared even before today's wind and rain begin in earnest ...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

horse's head

There are very many horses and ponies in Wimbledon - heading off for, and heading back from, rides on the Common, coming from the stables behind the Dog and Fox - that used to be Hilcote - and from the stables at the top of Hillside - now the Ridgeway Stables, formerly - ah, the formality of long ago - the Ridgeway School of Equitation.  And there are people wearing riding boots having coffee in Paul's, and - well, lots of other horsey things, like this penny-in-the-slot (only I'm sure it's not a penny any more ...) equine offering rides outside the shops in Church Road.  No wonder that I grew up whinnying more mellifluously than I sing ...

Saturday, December 21, 2013


I feel as though I've spent much too much of the last forty-eight hours or so pondering about the weather - would it snow in the night (answer: no, not in Santa Fe - not more than a centimeter); would the roads be icy; would we run into Bad Weather on the drive down to Albuquerque?  Which we didn't, but as this image shows, it was a close-run thing, with clouds galloping up over the horizon.  When we landed in Dallas, there were thick clouds and mist and rain and hardly any visibility, and our flight to London is delayed (bad weather, worse weather, almost everywhere else) ... and as for the weather forecast in London: rain clouds, rain clouds, rain clouds.  It's so easy to become obsessed with stuff that one can do nothing about: I'm sure that this is because our Christmas travel has been so persistently on a collision course with bad weather over the last few years ...

Friday, December 20, 2013

small monster

This will suffice as my avatar for the day: a strange animal - a sort of lion - in a window in a store just off the Plaza in Santa Fe: half fierce, half apprehensive; half disheveled, half steadfast.  The sooner I can leave this semester behind me and get on a plane to London (snowstorms etc permitting), the better for my peace of mind.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

is it a bird? is it a plane?

... no: it's a wind sculpture or two bolted to the roof rack of the car in front of us as we drove into Santa Fe today, acting, indeed, as an unmissable advertisement for someone who crafts and sells the things (I think that one of them swivels round in the breeze outside Harry's Roadhouse - I posted a picture of it a year or two back).  I've seen some strange things on the road in New Mexico over the years, and this is right up there with them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

skeleton walker

... seen on a traffic light post on Guadaloupe, and a definite improvement on the normal stick man.  It's very like the skeleton flamingos that I bought for Hallowe'en.  At the same time, I guess it might be a commentary on how long it can take for the lights to change, even after one's pushed the button.  Not that this would be a guarantee that cars would stop, in any case - crazed pre-holiday driving everywhere in Santa Fe today ...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

december in new mexico

... under wintry sky, and with some snow still on the ground - but a beautiful clear day for the drive from Winslow.  Even if this is a version of a sunset picture that I've posted many times before, I'm sure, nothing beats the first sunset back here, and the quiet.  Only when we get here do I fully take on board how noisy LA is - ambient traffic roar, all the time.  Nothing beats the fact, either, that our lovely neighbors had left us some homemade tamales and a bottle of wine in the fridge ...

Monday, December 16, 2013

christmas lights

Eight and a half hours from Los Angeles, and it's chilly outside, and the cats and I are warm in our overnight stop at La Posada, Winslow - which as ever is splendid, inside and out, with both traditional and quirky Christmas decorations - farolitos, and strings of lights, and a rather pink and feathery tree in the dining room - which I'm sure the kitties would love to get their paws on, if only they could.  It most certainly feels more like the festive season now that it's not 75 degrees and sunny outside ...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

the old way in

The good thing about going in to work on a Sunday morning is that there's very little traffic, and so when one's stopped at lights, it's easy to wind down the window and take uninterrupted pictures.  The bad thing about going in to work on a Sunday morning ... I still, very many mornings, take the old route down Hoover Street, though in a perverse way, then track a way to work that isn't identical to the one that I usually followed when I lived there ... This is just at the top of Hoover: down the road is our old house, now looking as though it could very much do with some care and attention, at least to its foliage - the plants (where they haven't actually been ripped out) are looking sadly desiccated, and the inhabitant is, herself, a mystery.  Is she, indeed, living there?  Why are the curtains - upstairs and down - always drawn, no matter what time of the day it is?  It's just a year since we were sprucing this up in all kinds of ways to put it on the market, so I take its shabbiness personally - we loved that house, and it doesn't look loved at all, any more.  Why, therefore, I persist in driving past it in some kind of ghoulish voyeurism is a slight mystery to me ...

end of the season

Outside the Galen Center this evening, full of hope and expectation - but in the end, we lost to Washington, 16-14 in the fifth set.  So that's it: USC volleyball over until August.  It's been a great season - impossible, really, to convey quite how much pleasure that team gives us, and the sense of home that's conveyed by being inside the Galen Center.  That being said, I really don't mind if I don't hear the USC fight song again until Commencement ... it's pretty effectively ear-wormed.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

winter on campus

This is just about as bleak and wintery as it gets.  Which, all things considered, is not very.  I am still in a state of bemused horror that Christmas is approaching at speed, and we've had an alleged week of the winter break (today only had two committee meetings, and three one-on-one meetings in it - not bad), and I received notification of what times I'll be teaching next Fall.  Oy!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

not downton abbey

It's hardly worth pointing out the obvious: that the setting of PBS's SoCal studio is a remarkably incongruous place in which to be discussing Downton Abbey.  All the same ... they set up the studio to make us look as though we were sitting in some elegant drawing room with DA through the window behind us - as compellingly fake as my face with an extraordinary amount of studio make up on top of it.  

This was a very different experience from a BBC broadcast - to my dismay, there was nothing remotely that could be thought of as analytic or critical discussion - I felt slightly as though I was selling my soul to an extended PBS trailer, in which all we were invited to do was to say Yes!  Gosh!  It was just like that in 1919, or whenever.  So all my intended comments had no space to be uttered, with the exception of my eulogy to the episode with the electric toaster - a stand-alone moment that will be slotted in during the run of the series 4.  Indeed, I was as bland as a blancmange, and slunk away depressed that I'd said nothing remotely pithy or interesting.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

holiday party time

... I don't know who prepared the decorations for this, but they certainly made the door unmissable.  I'm shocked that The Holidays have leaped up so quickly - from it being The Semester That Went On For Ever, it's turned into Christmas is in Two Weeks Time - and what am I going to do about that?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

waiting to pick up mail

Presumably this is an image of someone waiting for the post office to open - it's always a good idea to take something to read.  I was there ten minutes before the doors were unlocked, and was the 11th in line ... but if the USPS attempts to deliver a registered packet, one needs to go and pick it up and find what it is.  

A small packet.  A small intriguing packet.  A small intriguing packet from China.  So eventually I emerged, clutching it, walked back to my car past this wall decoration - and tore it open, through its layers of plastic packaging.  And inside ... one small, but elegant roll of Japanese packaging tape that I'd ordered a while back through Amazon - with some others that came through a less tortuous route.  That all seemed to involve a lot of effort, on every side.

Monday, December 9, 2013


the semester will end, sometime - for now, I'll just try and make do with grabbing occasional quiet corners of campus that offer a moment of visual rest ...

Sunday, December 8, 2013


We seem to be developing a very large collection of non-flowering orchids.  Let's hope that they're just temporarily resting.  My mother is extremely good at making them flourish, and flower, but every time that we ask her about the secrets of her success, a response involving benign neglect doesn't seem quite right (myself, I think it's a combination of good light and over-cranked-up central heating back in Wimbledon).  So here are some of them, gathering in the kitchen - the only one flowering was given us as a house warming present very recently by a neighbor.  Since we've been here nearly ten months, we suspect him of wanting to bond over another neighbor - and not necessarily in a good way ...

watching downton abbey

Presumably the fact that I had once watched half of the first episode of Downton Abbey made me feel qualified to say Yes! Of course I'll talk on PBS about its historical value.  So - before this week's filming - I'm engaged (so is LucyFur, that round tabby on the right) in a mammoth binge-watching session.  Of course I've read the obligatory put-downers (Simon Schama, James Fenton), who of course  are right in their critiques of the series' pandering to an enjoyment in snobbery and an indulgence in over-acting - but (simultaneously watching critically and in a state of absorption), it's been a very soothing way to end a semester.  Watching nine episodes back to back made me feel as though someone should have waited on me at dinner.  More tomorrow ... and let's hope for lots more misty English countryside, and no more completely artificial attempts to represent the Somme.  Oh yes, and by the way - yes, I've got the message that "things are changing" in English society.  

Friday, December 6, 2013


For the second day running, I forgot to put a card into my camera.  Huh?  Suffice it to say that it's the last week of the semester.  So ... no more cheerleaders, etc.  Instead - here's the new carpet for my study, its edges being flattened by heavy photo books.  So good to have a use for things I don't currently have time to read or consult ...

a view from the back of the court

I was terrifically pleased with a whole series of pictures that I took of cheerleaders at half time in the USC/New Hampshire 1st round NCAA tournament game (a game that can best be called a Slaughter of the Wildcats) - and then I realised there was no memory card in my camera, so I had to grab a couple with my iPhone.  More, perhaps, tomorrow, from Round 2.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

dame muchas flores

This is absolutely my least favorite piece of street art in Los Angeles ... but I pass it every day en route to USC, and so it was bound to make its way here at some point.  I was arguing in class today that kitsch is the antithesis to aura - in the Benjaminian sense - but looking at this, I'm not so sure - it's so appallingly kitschy it has an unpleasant aura all of its own that may go so far as to transcend kitsch ...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


This is pretty much how I feel: wilting, and frayed round the edges.  The fact that these tulip petals are cardinal and gold is, I promise you, entirely accidental.  But it's apt.

off color

Let's just say that the last time that I had to rush out of class - twice - to be ill, and then had to lie down on my office floor, was during my first month teaching at Bristol, many years ago, and that - for the life of a junior professor was lonely and stressful - had involved an unwise amount and combination of red wine and whiskey the night before.  Nothing like that on this occasion, I promise ... but I felt just as dreadful.  And I have no idea what caused it - bug? food poisoning?  At least, unlike last time, my department chair didn't walk in to the office to find me lying supine - one of the more embarrassing moments of my working life, and one never again mentioned between us.  Doubtless (let's hope) he thought I was suffering from some unmentionable Female Problem.

Monday, December 2, 2013

chopped herbs

You could be forgiven for thinking that I've been spending a good deal of time at the kitchen counter this weekend ... these herbs (fennel, fennel seed, sage, garlic) are being chopped up prior to being blended with olive oil, smeared all through a shoulder of pork, tied up with string, and roasted for eight hours (we had some 1st year post-docs to dinner).  And very good it tasted, too.