Sunday, August 31, 2014

victorian bestsellers

This semester I'm teaching a graduate course on Victorian Bestsellers - not just fiction, but In Memoriam, and Samuel Smiles, and Mrs Beeton, and prints, and commodities (not Pears Soap, though we'll read about it, but - but what?  what's not over-done but was omnipresent??).  I'm asking, in other words, about commodification, and advertising, and spin-offs, as well as "high" and "low" and "mass" culture.

So of course, instead of spending the afternoon reading up theory, or even re-reading The Woman in White for Tuesday's class, I swallowed up masses of time designing a masthead for our class blog.  Or rather, designing two mastheads.  The first one didn't fit at all.  The second time, I obeyed to the letter the measurements given by WordPress, produced something much more linear - and that doesn't quite fit, either.  So here's the second version (I preferred the first, as it happens - much more of a collage, but there you go) in something more of its entirety.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

cat in the bag

Walter Gomez just loves being in things.  Having spent much of the afternoon in my bag, he's now in the basin in the downstairs bathroom.

Friday, August 29, 2014

happy ball

It's the end of Week One!  And the women's volleyball season is under way, and we beat Rider, Very Convincingly.  And this ball seems to have traveled down the street from somewhere, and was grinning outside a (childless) neighbor's house this morning just by where I'd parked my car, and seemed like a happy omen for what was, indeed, a good and intellectually thought-provoking day at the Visual Studies Research Institute conference - topped off by a dinner talking to an excellent assortment of visitors (including W. J. T. Mitchell, who has left me, especially after the dinner conversation, with too many ideas shooting in too many directions to pull together right now) and post-docs and graduates.  After a week dealing with - for example - the endless minutiae of hiring work-study students, this reminded me why it is, indeed, a privilege to have the job that I do.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

back to bicycles

I'm sure I'll get over this obsession soon, but here's a fine zebra-ish mudguard.  Just visible are some of the penguins that the bike is also wearing.  Today, in the center of campus, the campus police were doing a fine job in stopping people riding where they shouldn't be.  For those who got off their bike and apologized - once they had a whistle blown angrily at them - things went ok - but for those who tried to argue ("but I'm really, really late") - they were being sent to wheel their bike to the beginning of the no-riding section, and made to walk through the area again ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

not Edward Weston's cabbage leaf

It's a new semester, a new iteration of my Writing and Photography course, a new onrush of enthusiasm to remember the names of all 40 students by - oh, let's say the end of tomorrow; a new chance to look at some well-loved (and new) images - such as my favorite example of the extremely mundane turned, via photography, into something very beautiful, Edward Weston's cabbage leaf.  But this is another very welcome cabbage leaf - well, steamed collard leaf.  For the Farmers' Market is back on campus, and that means the falafel stall, where the product comes enlivened with a Senegalese peanut sauce, pickled radish, and, indeed, has a beautiful green wrapper.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

washi tape bicycle

#2 in the Bicycle Series - and I really am super-impressed by this use for washi tape.  I've always wanted to think of something to decorate with it - I love its beauty, its relative smallness, its potential - this person has actually done something with it ...

Monday, August 25, 2014

hawaiian bicycle

Everyone's back.  That means that bicycles are back.  And because it's the start of the academic year, campus security police are everywhere on their little Segue scooters, and are stopping people on two wheels - or on however many skateboards have - from mowing down pedestrians, which is very welcome.  I have a sense that there may be other bicycle pictures ahead this week: there seems to be a new move towards decorating mudguards and frames, which is most promising.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

the future

Here's the future - the two sons of my colleague Emily Anderson.  It's eerie to think that I'll have long retired before Dylan, on the left (and below), is old enough to go to college, and almost certainly I'll be well retired, too, before Owen, on the right, is being dropped off in fourteen or fifteen years time with his bags full of - well, what will the well-equipped college student have then?  A computer, I'm sure, but what else?  Let's hope books.  Given his mother, some running shoes.  And will his choice of majors be more or less the same as now, or something radically different?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

calm before the storm

I'm sure that I needn't spell out to any of you how very pleasant it was to have a quiet day at home / in garden ...

Friday, August 22, 2014

a week ago, Carmen; this week ...

A week ago - well, ten days ago - we were at Carmen in Santa Fe, set on the Mexican border, with excellent multi-screen video projections showing (among other things) bull-fighting, and I realized that I didn't know how far bull-fighting is a part of communities there - as opposed to Old Spain.  This restaurant on Hoover Street seems to go some way towards answering that question, complete with mural of a dashing toreador.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Our next door neighbors, having re-done their front wall and their front yard, have now planted some neat little bushes in front of it.  After a day like today (synopsis: my department administrator is off for another five weeks subsequent to her knee replacement; I'm doing all my teaching for the year this semester - on the unfounded, in the end, belief that we'd have a search and my time would be eaten up with that in the spring - so let's just say that there's a lot going on) - after a day like today, it's great to come home to some peaceful order, even if I can't claim it as my very own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

back to school

Campus was completely over-stuffed with families dropping off their offspring for the start of the new semester - it was Move-In Day.  So there were large wheelie-bins (would that they'd existed in my day) full of - well, mostly it looked like pillows, and other home comforts - being trundled off to dorm rooms, and parents and siblings (as above) releasing their own family members into the welcoming bosom of the Trojan Family.  And lots of balloons.  I can't get over how much families are now involved ... with all due respect to my mother, I couldn't wait to hop out of her car (a rather risqué Triumph Herald convertible) and set off for my own independent adventure.  About the only thing that I brought from home (other than my French Art Nouveau bicycle poster) was a toasting fork: I had a lot of strange and out of date ideas involving Oxford college rooms, gas fires (and yes, in those days one still had to put 10p in the meter to keep them going) and - and what?  Crumpets?  That didn't really ever happen: the store opposite the college gates kept me going in chocolate digestive biscuits, instead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

the problem with the chile farm

I was delighted to return home to find that the three different chiles that I planted in the window box outside our kitchen have flourished, and are now ripe.  These are lemon chiles - a deceptively delicate name.  I picked one.  I nibbled the end off it, and thought that it tasted sweet and delicious.  I was about to bake some chicken with it.  I cut a small, delicate slice, and offered it up to Alice - pretty much on the palm of my hand, as though I was giving a carrot to a pony.  She took it up, chewed - and Spat It Out.  And reached for water.  These may be pretty little chiles, but they seem to be shockingly hot.  I could imagine putting a sliver in a martini, but that's about it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

from plenty to desolation

...or: today's drive: amaranth, just after dawn, in the pollinator's garden (aka - bees - enjoy!) at La Posada, and into drought-ridden California.  These dust storms off I-40, coming into Barstow, are pure 1930s Dustbowl.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

on the road, again (again)


Back towards LA, the semester, and all that brings with it.  We usually have a very well worn driving pattern of who drives which part of the route, but for whatever reason this was disrupted and reversed today - which left me free to take photographs of sky, rocks, and - here - Laguna Pueblo.    I love the way that it would be hard to date these two images - especially the black and white one (even though I've tried to modify the color in the second, the effect of the car windows is, all the same, to make it seem strangely aged, like some 70s Instagram filter ...)

Saturday, August 16, 2014


The worst thing about going to the Farmers' Market in Santa Fe the day before one starts driving back is that it's reached its peak for wonderful produce, but I'm just not going to be able to eat/cook very much before tomorrow ... there'll be the customary vegetable frittata with goats' cheese and green chile for the road, and there were some stunning tomatoes for dinner, but the car's going to be too full tomorrow for me to have thought of loading it up with bags of squash (and yes, I know there are Farmers' Markets in LA, but I'm devoted to this one ...).

Friday, August 15, 2014

flamingo among the flowers

Maybe I could sell this image to a manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles?  I think it would be rewardingly fiendish.

Readers who've been following FTBL from the start might remember a very, very early picture of a plastic flamingo poking its head out through the snow.  We passed it on our walk today: this setting is true testimony to how wet it's been this summer - even in Eldorado, which continues its remarkable evasion of the thunderstorms that circle round and about us.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

more sunset, more serenity

This was going to involve further commentary about the plethora of buddhas in Santa Fe (this one was at my hairdresser's) - but yet more conducive to serene contemplation on the eve of the semester was the sunset view from our front door this evening.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


This seems a good state for which to aim before the semester starts up ... she's actually reclining in the entrance hall of Alice's acupuncture clinic (the Southwest Acupuncture School in Santa Fe, which is an admirable place) - I love waiting there - a huge carp pond with waterfall; paper cranes hanging down the stairwell, banners, and, in a niche, this figure.

(serenity, I should add, is not everything, and is not to be equated with passivity - I can't look at a picture of a policeman with a machine gun in Missouri and think that serenity is the best way to respond to that).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

annual sunflowers

It's the annual sunflower shot.  They're particularly spectacular this year, because of the rain.  They make me very cheerful, as we go for our walk around the 'hood.  And really, there's not a whole lot more to say about them than that, but it wouldn't be August without commemorating their flowering.


No! not a selfie - but there we were, in the parking lot of the Santa Fe opera, enjoying our chicken-rolled-with-goats-cheese-and-the-first-hatch-chile-of-the-season, when another couple of women asked if we wanted them to take our picture.  So ... for once ... for a rare once ... this isn't one of my own photos.  As for Carmen, I thought it super-enjoyable, set on the Mexican border around 1960, and with the smugglers as drug runners.  Camped up, not really tragic, but with some truly inventive stage settings and very effective back projection: it was a Carmen that managed to duck all the cliches (still, I look back to Peter Brook's version, which I saw in Rome in - maybe - 1982? - as the best that I could ever hope to see, turned bleak and tragic and grey-sepia, with not a hint of comedy).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

the welcome home

There is no delicate way of putting this: Walter Gomez is a foot fetishist: a cat who mews piteously outside the bathroom door until you let him in to lick the shower water off your toes; a cat who was so very, very happy that I was home so that he could nuzzle and roll on my feet.  I was very glad to see him, too, but managed to desist from replicating the favor ...

the cyclamen patch (for 08/09)

If you were to look at my parents' garage roof from the road, you'd probably think: ah, the poor old dears - they can't manage to get the weeds off any longer.  There's a messy looking patch that's visible, with grass stalks and some dandelion leaves.  If, however, you look out of the bathroom window (this, at about 5.50 a.m., before we headed off to Heathrow), you see this particular wildlife sanctuary in all its glory, full of wild cyclamen.

Friday, August 8, 2014

another kind of installation

If my camera battery hadn't gone flat on me, this might have been Katharina Fritsch's Hahn/Cock, bright and blue and huge, on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square: a neatly angled shot, with Nelson looking as though he's riding on the rooster's back.  But it didn't turn out that way.  Instead, the one picture I managed to take was of newly installed spikes along a broad window ledge outside an office building in Covent Garden.  I'd read about these homeless-people-sleeping-deterrents, but hadn't realized they were quite so aggressively solid.  As I was taking it, a very officious-looking woman wearing a tight orange dress flounced out of the front door and said "Do you MIND?" in the most English of ways - I can only imagine how she'd begin to act with an actual homeless human, rather than someone documenting their former habitat.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Here's the installation at the Tower of London, Paul Cummins's Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - commemorating World War One, with 888, 246 poppies being staked into the ground between now and Armistice Day, each one representing a life lost in the British Military. It's a great flowing sea of red, that truly (I find, going on line) needs to be seen from the air: the moat looks as though it's completely, deeply stained with blood.  What was clear, apart from the horrible beauty, was how many conversations it was engendering among the crowd who was there - not just the one I heard in which a woman was wondering how they were going to mow the grass (has she ever seen how and where poppies actually grow?); but the parents explaining to their children the scale of war, and all those people who never came home.

manchester pride (for 08/07)

Here's a good thing to do with Victorian architecture - stick a rainbow flag on top of it.  This is Waterhouse's magnificent Town Hall in Manchester - which now also has a mosaic rainbow flag permanently embedded in the pavement outside its front door.  Wow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

variegated northern Victoriana / modern

One lady gazing in sultry fashion from the wall of the magnificent tiled tearoom in Leeds City Art Gallery;

two women having lunch, and allowing me to indulge my inner Martin Parr;

and Robert Peel (and another solemn Victorian lady, reading an improving book), under the big Manchester Eye that towers over Princes Square, and came as quite a surprise.

Monday, August 4, 2014

leeds arcades

You'd have thought that I'd have realized before now that Leeds has a lot of shopping arcades - magnificent Victorian ones.  I knew this in abstract terms, knew this as a factor in Leeds' revival as a shopping metropolis, at some level - but I'd not properly internalized their urban, architectural splendid presence.  This is the stranger since they figure (it turns out) in my family history.  My paternal grandmother used to work in a haberdasher's in one arcade - at Miss Salt's - opposite what used to be Marshall and Snelgrove, then the most upmarket store (where my maternal side of the family used, by coincidence, to shop.  Or not really by coincidence - Leeds was everyone's metropolitan center).  It was when changing Miss Salt's books, in the lunch hour, at the Leeds Institute's Lending Library that my grandmother met my grandfather, who was a clerk there.  So I guess that (the First World War intervening, just a little), my father's origins belong rather closely to the local topography.

Passing through - Manchester tomorrow.  Alice's first taste of the north, and, despite my mother's anxious prognostications, she finds that she can, mostly, understand people when they speak.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

a sheep at Wimbledon Station

oh, my goodness: isn't she adorable?  Her name is Sophie, and she was collecting money for cancer patients at Wimbledon Station this afternoon (she certainly did well out of us).  Her sister, or for all I know girlfriend, Amy, is apparently usually the one to pose for money in this way (and Sophie borrowed her tiara for this shot), but she wasn't around because she was off in London filming with Kate Winslet (that seems a very LA excuse for a sheep not to be present, to me …).  I asked her minder - shepherd? - how he brought her there: oh, he said, she just gets in the back of the car.  Of course.

This is what I thought I was going to post today - a painted shed and garden just by West Dulwich station - more rus in urbe, but Sophie, necessarily, wins out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

the parakeets of Wimbledon

My mother (understandably) has the greatest difficulty in believing that there are parakeets that periodically swoop through their garden in Wimbledon.  I hope that this will count as photographic evidence.  For a long time I've worried that the problem is that her eyes just don't pick up fast moving flying objects very well - but I have another hypothesis now.  These birds do a very good job of masquerading as leaves.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Alexandra Rose Day - 100 years ago ...

I'm two weeks late with this - but I didn't know about this photo, then.  The placard tells us that this was July 11th 1914.  The First World War was just around the corner, and indeed, life was about to change - but these young women didn't know it.  At the head of the donkey is my maternal grandmother - Doris Jaggar, as she then was - and two of her four sisters are also present.  They're selling artificial wild roses in aid of Dewsbury General Infirmary.  This was the third Alexandra Rose Day (Princess Alexandra Day, it seemed still to be called), when these artificial roses, made by the disabled, were sold to gain money for charity.  Princess Alexandra was married in 1863 - she arrived in England in 1862 - and she didn't want a big procession and so on to celebrate the golden jubilee of her arrival: she opted for this instead.

I hope that Dewsbury Infirmary benefited from this.  Another one of the sisters - not there; she was studying medicine at the Sorbonne! - was to open its Physical Therapy department, later on.  But that was after she'd had to abandon her medical training and go off and nurse: she tended the wounded in Salonika.

One thing that's so prominent in the UK, compared with the US - and, given dates, this makes all the sense in the world - is the omnipresent commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.