Saturday, November 30, 2013


One very lovely thing about blending household goods, and living with them for a while, is that one person's familiar possessions become familiar to the other person, too: here's a yellow cloth embroidered with butterflies, from Alice's family past - which we've been using on the table in our front yard - imagine! having salad for lunch outdoors, on the last day of November! - though right at this moment it's sitting in a bowl in the sun on the kitchen countertop.  Many things, indeed, catch the sunlight: I turned round to find Walter Gomez in the sink ...

Friday, November 29, 2013

senior night

... or at the very least: senior afternoon.  Natalie, Alexis, and Sara - we'll miss you ... and thank you.  It's great to see our seniors come on court with their families at the start of the game - and also a scary reminder about how quickly college years come and go.  And also a chance to speculate as to whether there's a nursery, somewhere, that breeds roses of a precise cardinal and gold coloring.  Well, indeed, I think not.  Who knew?  There's a firm out there that does custom dyeing of roses in school colors.  At least USC is flower-plausible in its tints, as witnessed by endless flowerbeds of cardinal and gold pansies, etc. Weirder if, like some places, we had blue and yellow, say.  You'd have thought that a tasteful bouquet of irises might be put together in such cases - but no: the convention would seem to be dyed flowers.  USC beat Colorado 3-0, to take 3rd place in the Pac 12 - so we await Sunday's announcement of the seedings/brackets for the National Championships with some anticipation/trepidation - so much so that we then watched 3 more live Pac-12 matches live on TV this evening.  I guess that expensive Time Warner subscription is good for something ...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

deep fried turkey

When I was last back in England, my father expressed intense scepticism - nay, incredulity - that anyone would ever want either to deep-fry a turkey, or to eat such an object.  I promised to take him a photograph.  Unfortunately, I wasn't there for the actual immersion of the bird, but I can vouch that this (mustard-brined) beast was perhaps the best turkey I've ever eaten.  But then, it was cooked by our friend and colleague Devin, whom I'm quite convinced can do miraculous things in the realm of the culinary and the practical: even though it was dark, I was casting deep and admiring looks at his vegetable garden, which put our (lack of) efforts to shame.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It was over to UCLA tonight for volleyball (we won, emphatically), and just as we have Tommy Trojan (albeit with a dead bear hanging from his sword) wrapped up in protective cladding, just like that weird statue of Traveler, so do UCLA guard their statuary mascot, boarded up against marauding USC fans.  At least there's a modicum of wit about this.  I think - as I know I've observed before - that I'm very glad - I guess I should say Thankful, remembering the season - that I didn't grow up in the US - it allows me to approach all kinds of things from a vantage point half way between that of a tourist and an anthropologist, and to enjoy things that I'm sure, if I were a native, that I'd find far to uncool to take pleasure in.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


At least, I think it's a bee.  I need it to be a bee.  It's a new stencil that's appeared at the top of Parking Structure D, and it reminded me of being back in London nearly two weeks ago, where my father had spent nearly two days mending the boiler (he doesn't trust plumbers, probably with reason).  He seemed to think the problem was a bent fan - likely - caused (less likely?) by a bee having flown into it.  Probable cause or not, there was, indeed, a sad furry bee corpse, which sat in state in the kitchen for a couple of days, until my father respectfully buried it in the garden.  This, therefore, should be thought of as a bee memorial.

Monday, November 25, 2013

another year spins round on its axis

The pre-Thanksgiving days wouldn't be the same without recording the slightly surreal presence of the ferris wheel on campus as part of Conquest (aka, celebrate school spirit, and go out and beat the Bruins).  So yes, there's something definitely ritualistic and repetitious about this - but however much I ring the changes, try it by daylight, turn it into black and white, it still looks at its most magnificent, like a rotating firework mocking the stationary globe at the top of VKC, in all its neon glory.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


So there's a place that they go to practice fabrication?  It must be quite busy at this time of year - all those deceased grandmothers, unspecified family crises, sudden bouts of flu or foodpoisoning, and the ubiquitous non-functioning printer.  To be fair, USC students - maybe I've just been lucky - seem to be far less extensive or inventive with their reasons for not coming to class than were Rutgers ones.  I think this has a great deal to do with the fact that far far fewer of them work off campus - no having to cover for someone else's Red Lobster shift out of anxiety for losing their own job; many more of them live on or very close to campus - far fewer car breakdowns (and the weather is better - no "I don't like to drive in the snow."  Which, in any case, was understandable).  And the fact that very few students seem to live at home means that they don't suddenly get saddled with looking after younger siblings, or grannie.  Come to think of it, these were all quite reasonable reasons for not turning up ... it's a good few years since I experienced the full range of inventive Oxford fabrications ... my friend opened the window and it rained on my paper ... I know I shouldn't have had a dog in my room, but he knocked the plug out of the wall and the computer crashed ... I couldn't get to class on time because the truck in front of me dumped a whole lot of manure on the road and we couldn't drive past.  Actually, this last was not an excuse ever used to me, but it was one that I remember being employed by a student from Worcester College who had a tutorial before me, on Fridays, with Dorothy Bednarowska.  And we were very angry that she believed him, when I'm sure that she wouldn't have believed any of the St Anne's girls.

I realized that I hadn't thought about that particular student for - oh, thirty seven or so years ... and decided to google him, just now, to see what became of him.  Perhaps that manure story was true.  He's now in the Cairngorms, breeding Highland Cattle - including a prize four year old bull owned by the Queen.  Truly, I couldn't have made that one up.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


... and so very handsome!  We spend a good deal of time looking out for our friend in the backyard.  At least - I think and presume that this is the same one that we've seen several times before, although I was by no means sure that I detected any yellow eartags today.  For consolation, when he's not around, I'be become addicted (thanks, Maeve ...) to the Cheetah Cam at Metro Richmond Zoo - - checking in on how the baby cheetahs are doing.  But it is such a wonderful privilege to have such an extraordinary wild creature as this as our neighbor ...

Friday, November 22, 2013

fifty years ago ...

Fifty years ago … I was upstairs in our house in Wimbledon, already in bed, reading – probably something like Jill Enjoys Her Ponies – when my mother came upstairs to tell me that Kennedy had been shot and killed.  I was vaguely shocked, I suppose – but not nearly as shocked as I’d been in January of 1963, when Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, had dropped dead.  I think it must have been about 7.30 in the evening, and my mother would have been listening to the radio (we didn’t have a TV, which means, alas, that neither she nor I have any memory of George Brown, the politician, who apparently came on screen later in the evening to talk about JFK in his customary state – one for which Private Eye coined the phrase “tired and emotional.”   Hic).

But why wasn’t I more shocked?  I think it must have been because the US hardly figured in my nine year old life.  I’d not been there; it wasn’t somewhere where people Went (that’s discounting the fact that my mother was here, at a Kenyon College summer school, in 1948, and among other souvenirs has a photo of Empson playing baseball there).  My sense of it was limited to Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America,” broadcast once a week on the BBC Home Service; a handful of books, mostly set in the West, mostly featuring horses – Green Grass of Wyoming, which immediately became the state I wanted to visit; and My Friend Flicka; and a photo book – I think sent to me one Christmas by a former business colleague of my father’s – featuring Tennessee Walking Horses.  They were very handsome, but not the kind of thing to have made me at all interested in the death of a far-away president.  For, in those days – and really, until I first visited the country in 1979 – the US seemed very far away indeed.

There was, of course, a different (non-equine) America that also crossed my radar – one that was rather sniffed at back in Wimbledon.  This was an America of consumerism and Cars that were Too Large.  Peanut butter was condemned (by my mother) as being “too American,” (and therefore, in some inexplicable way, a Bad Thing); as was rock ‘n roll.  Little did I guess …

Thursday, November 21, 2013


It's that time of the year again, when all targettable parts of USC's campus mascots are wrapped up against the depredations of UCLA.  Traveler - or his simulacrum - looks rather improved in this sub-Christo like state.  He reminds me of myself yesterday, when I walked away from my (very successful) PT session with a large bag of ice strapped to me with cling film - as my wonderful PT person said to me, I could "feel like an athlete," like that.  Dream on, of course ... (this was not PT for my still-bruised nose, but for Shoulder Impingement, caused by Muscular Tension, caused by ... let's just say: only two weeks and one day until the end of the semester ...)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

an Illegal

It was announced to day that Los Angeles is proposing to increase the number of cats that one can legally have within a household to 5 - to 5, that is, from 3.  We have four cats.  One of them, therefore, is illegal.  I don't think we should operate according to the principle of last in, first out.  I think that the illegal cat is Bitzi, originally known as DandyLion; the still-feral-after-five-years-and-counting cat; the GO AWAY DON'T TOUCH ME cat, whom I had to corral, disgruntled, under a table for the purpose of this shot.  It would be wonderful if she'd let herself be loved, but that's not happening any time soon. So, I guess, we'd better pretend, for now, that she doesn't really exist - I think it would be in accordance with her wishes ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I've felt fairly on top of things this semester - pushed hard, to be sure, because I'm teaching a full load this semester, and tacking my course releases - as chair - next, but keeping up.  That was until today, when quite apart from the fact that I haven't touched teaching prep for tomorrow yet, emails, some of them urgent, were coming into my inbox thicker and faster than I could possibly deal with them.  A true and accurate image would show this slurry of correspondence - but it would also break all kinds of confidences, I'm sure - so instead, here's a picture of a nostalgic pile of files on my desk.  For yes, I do, on occasion, print things out and stash them away, finding some kind of security in dead trees.

Monday, November 18, 2013

street view

Today was a day in which we looked at Photobooks in my Writing and Photography class - using actual books, with students dividing up into groups to look at a whole range of examples - mostly ones that had something to do with offering a particular view or set of views of America - everything from Robert Frank's The Americans to Humans of New York.  And one example was Doug Rickard's A New American Picture - made up of pictures from Google Street View - most of them illustrating run down corners of cities, and of course taken without any sense of composition, without choosing whether there'd be a person in the frame, or not - indeed, robotically.  As Rickard says: “These cameras, these robotic machinery type pictures were taken, anonymously, without any sort of engagement and the fact I was hijacking this created a vision and a point of view and a dynamic within the photographs that couldn’t have happened any other way, so I knew there was going to be baked into there a unique, almost subversive, antagonistic type of reality.”

So, I wondered - what kind of image would I get of 22 Cranbrook Avenue, Leeds - the address to which my grandfather sent that postcard in WW1, the address at which my father was born very nearly 90 years ago?  I've only seen the house once, when we drove round on a very dark, dank December day in 1975, just after my (maternal) grandmother's funeral, and it looked dark and gloomy itself.  The sky's a bit lighter in this image, but not much ... I'm happy to see that #22 now looks very well loved, with plants in the front yard - indeed, the house itself, with red moulded tiles under the downstairs window, looks somewhat more aspirational from the get-go than some of its neighbors. And its front door definitely is a worthwhile improvement.  But what really pleased me about this screenshot is the serendipity of the two figures - a postman delivering the mail, and a woman walking down the street behind the parked cars - like Rickard's chosen images, this is, indeed, an inhabited environment.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

a wimbledon windowsill

Back home in LA, it's strange to think that I was looking at this windowsill this morning: from left to right, a Chinese vase that belonged to my grandmother, and came down theough her side of the family; a bowl of uncertain (to me) provenance; a box that I bought (with paper in it) at the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers; a bust of Wellington that's long been in my mother's family; a lacquer box that I bought in India; and a vase given my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary.  Plenty of opportunities to write family history through the biography of Things, here ...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

london in late fall

This is the snicket that I used to walk down on the way to school, until I was 11.  "Snicket," because my mother comes from the Dewsbury/Ossett area of Yorkshire, and she was the one to take me down and back in my first - how long?  First months there, at least.  Had it been my father to take me - but of course he was always at work - it would have been a "ginnel," because he's from Leeds, all of 12 miles away.  Linguistically, England is a very localized place.  But it never used to have a sign on it - these have newly sprouted.

Here's the ice rink outside the Natural History Museum.  I was passing en route to the Science Museum, with a Tony Ray-Jones exhibition curated by Martin Parr - plus some early Parr.  Like the snicket, this was full of nostalgia: Britain in the 60s, full of monstrous large beige handbags, and women with perms in headscarfs, and people smoking, everywhere.

But the Science Museum itself was nothing like it had been in the 60s, though the powerful big turbines and pumps and general celebration of the Industrial Revolution was still there on the ground floor.  There was an installation of bicycles hanging from the ceiling;

a demonstration of different strange fabrics used in the making of clothes;

and a Transparent Man full of implanted artificial body parts.  Indeed, the whole emphasis was extremely high-tech (apart from the alchemy exhibit) ...

Friday, November 15, 2013

london parks

I do so very much enjoy being back - however briefly - in a city that's in my DNA and that's full of friends to see - and that, when one walks through it (on this occasion, from the Guildhall in the general direction of Covent Garden) is full of surprises that one's never seen before ...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

homecoming II

This poster - a Times newspaper freebie, I think - was waiting for me on my pillow - the Tiger looks remarkably like B the b-cat.  And here are the flowers on the window sill, looking mighty good and floral for a November garden.  Time to sleep - there wasn't much opportunity on the plane - a nearby child screamed every time we lurched over an air-bump ...


Tents are mushrooming all over campus.  When I told Barb, in the office, that I wouldn't be in on Thursday or Friday, she said - Oh! You'll miss Homecoming!  True, but as I pointed out to her, I had an appointment with another version of home, 6,000 miles to the east of Los Angeles ...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Time was, when I first arrived on campus, that I visually couldn't get enough of the Reflecting Pool.  It wouldn't be true to say that I now take it for granted - I consciously appreciate it every time that I walk past it.  But this evening's clear cold fall light (or so I took it to be - actually, when I got into my car, the temperature read 73 ... sorry, New Jerseyans ...) certainly made me stop in my tracks with admiration.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Armistice Day

Ninety five years ago today, the First World War came to an end.  Eighty four years ago - to the day - the writer of this postcard died.  This was my grandfather - my father's father, who died when my father was four (and Don, his elder brother, seven), of pneumonia: his lungs were weakened - or so I was always told - by the gassing he'd received during WW1.  But was it in this battle?  Which battle was this?  I think it may have been part of the failed offensive in Champagne - but that's the result of only a cursory on-line newspaper search.  It wasn't one of the Big Battles, I don't think - which makes this postcard the more poignant (I've selected it from several that I possess, and which are very dear to me).  "D.G.." it reads - Dear Gladys - his girlfriend, my grandmother - "Just a line to inform you I have come thro' the night safely.  No doubt you have read about it in the papers.  'Twas awful.  Hope all are in the best of health as it leaves your devoted J. [Joe].  Love and x."  The understatement of wartime correspondence (of course, anything more revealing would have been censored).  And the other side?  A French postcard of a very demure nurse.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

kicks for kids

Of course it was a volleyball Sunday, or I wouldn't have been on campus.  But since I was, I went over to my office to fetch various bundles of paper, and that meant that I encountered the Kids for Kicks program.  I'd never heard of it before ... but it's a weekly soccer program run by USC students for kids with special needs (with lots of free nutritional bars and so on as well).  I'd never thought about the fact that if one's in a wheelchair and has some kind of foot mobility, then one can kick one of these large scale balls ... sometimes I think that we ought to have a day - a half-day? - when students get to tell us, the faculty, about all the different causes and activities that they're involved in, because (unless they do a photo-documentary project for my course and one finds out, say, that they like hurling themselves dangerously off buildings as their choice of extreme sport) it's so rare that we get to know what they do when they're not in class ...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

cabbage leaf

Every year I get surprised by the beauty of ornamental cabbage as pot plants - these may be a thing in Britain now, too, but they were such a novelty to me when I was first here that I remember exclaiming about them with utter delight to my mystified, cabbage-jaded realtor.  These leaves look as though they're auditioning for a place in some William Morris wallpaper.

Friday, November 8, 2013

gothic windows

Ruskin would not just be turning in his grave if he knew what USC was building, but turning, rotating, spinning wildly.  This new building - a new Annenberg center - is aiming at the Gothic, I suppose, but in a heavily industrialized way, making a mockery of every last Ruskinian endorsement of human imperfection embodied in architectural form.

new yard, new oranges

I knew that I'd miss the orange tree at our last house - it wasn't until after we'd moved here that I realized that there's a more than adequate substitute in the yard here ...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

cats and balloons

Something about the combination of claws and inflated rubber doesn't seem like a very good idea, to me (actually, to the best of my knowledge, there's only been one accident so far, when Moth tried to carry one in her mouth.  And being Moth, this didn't much deter her investigations).  But what does one so with a host of inflated balloons?  One could, of course, pop them oneself, although my nerves don't particularly relish the thought of all those bangs.  Or one could put them outside (where?).  Or ...?  One never really thinks through such things in advance ...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

petals on a dry blue plate

One wedding present came beautifully wrapped with a rose tied up in the ribbon - a sweetly smelling rose which, even if it wilted almost immediately, yielded a plate of very pretty petals (and from this annotation to the photo, you'll gather that I have no problem in smelling things with my nose.  That's a good thing).

Monday, November 4, 2013

paving paradise

and putting up many parking lots, assuredly.  This extraordinary edifice faces the 5 Freeway - we passed it driving back to LA this mornings.  These pictures miss the full effects of the long walls flanking the road.  This was once the Samson Tire and Rubber Company plant, the biggest manufacturing facility under one roof west of the Mississippi - building began early in 1929, about 8 months before the depression.

The company was started by Adolph Schleicher in 1918, in Compton - "Samson" to symbolize strength and endurance, which meant that the building was designed with a Samson and Delilah motif, and modeled after the 7th Century B.C. Assyrian palace of King Sargon II - a 23-acre palace, just the same size as the tire plant. This cost $8million and was designed by Morgan, Walls and Clements.  The top of the 1,750 foot concrete wall is crenulated and decorated with heraldic griffins and bas-reliefs of Babylonian princes that are carved into the stone-like concrete walls between massive pillars and towers - the whole design is based on Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian civilizations.  

After Schleicher's death, this became Uniroyal Tire in 1962; was closed in 1978 and soon afterwards placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which helped to save this movie set of a factory.  Then in 1990 it became The Citadel, LA's first factory outlet center ... one day I'll head back, and take some more pictures, especially at this season, when it's made super-ridiculous by the huge mock red bow topping it.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

laguna beach

Even if my aching nose is in less than perfect form, it's not prevented me from enjoying the beauties of Laguna Beach ... we brought our bouquets with us (freesias and lilies from TJ's, rosemary and lavender from our garden), and here they are looking pretty good on our balcony.  And then, there's the classic, stock tourist photo sunset shot ... amazing that we're just 55 miles away from home ...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

a day to remember

... and so, after Alice and I were - umm, yes, married, in a very quiet and lovely ceremony at home - and the B cat made an appearance, though not to us, and we drove off in the late afternoon sun to Laguna Beach for a couple of nights, I walked straight into a plate glass window by the door at the hotel and broke my nose.  Yes, dear reader, I WAS sober at the time.  The paramedics were all very kind and cheerful, Mission Hospital in Laguna has some very lovely nursing staff,  and I coaxed some delightfully strong painkillers out of them, but this was emphatically not how we'd planned on spending the evening  ... however, it is now beautifully soothing to have the sound of the waves outside.


Here are some jugs in our kitchen, getting ready for water.  Or Pimms.  Or whatever ... We are delighted that our out of town guests have managed to find their slow, slow, way out of the mess that was LAX today ...