Thursday, August 31, 2017

palm tree blossom

It may be crazily hot outside - hovering around 100 today - but it's certainly making things bloom.  This is the first one - of three - palm trees in our back yard that's burst into a thick spike of white flowers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

the saddest vending machine

I pass this every time I go to my office: it's on the first floor of Taper Hall and it is - if the word hasn't been colonized - sad.  Which would you rather have - a chilled and by now probably juiceless orange, or a bruised, and doubtless woolly and tasteless apple?  Just in case you fancy a less healthy - but probably meant to be "healthy" - choice, there are a couple of despondent tubs of additive-filled hummus on the shelf above.  And this on a campus where we not only have some good choices of places to eat, but a brand new Trader Joe's ...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


It's here!  The advance copies of Alice's wonderful new book have arrived!  There was this great big box on our front steps this evening - I think both of us thought, initially, that it might be Shoes, but it was so heavy that - well, I realized what it was!  Publication date is officially October 3rd, but let the celebrations begin!

Monday, August 28, 2017

dawn to dusk

Mondays - given my teaching schedule - are going to be long days this semester!  But today was bookended by gorgeous skies, from our front steps this morning, through to the spectacular, dreaming-spires view over the new University Village after class this evening - as seen from the top of the car park.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

heathrow, early morning

... that was about 22 hours ago and, truly, I think I'd better go to bed and to sleep if I'm to make any sense of, and at, rather too many commitments tomorrow.  My eyes are sore and dazed from spending about nine and a half hours of a ten and a half hour flight on my index ...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ridgway Stables

I've known these stables all my life. Literally.  They're sited in the old coaching stables at the back of the pub at the top of my parents' road - once the railway came to Wimbledon, the horses that pulled the horse-bus that met the trains and carried the passengers up Wimbledon Hill were stabled here.  I don't go back quite that far ... but my earliest memories, of living in Top Flat at 3 Ridgway, were rushing to the window when I heard hooves, watching the horses from the stables - at that time under the direction of Major Walker - heading down to what were then riding paddocks on Copse Hill, by the Atkinson Morley Hospital.  And once we moved back to Wimbledon, after a few years in the frozen north, they were, of course, just at the top of the road.

And now they're to close - as a riding school, anyway (a long story, involving landlords who keep pushing up rent, keep pushing up rent.  I'm devastated: these horses' expressions say it all.  I spent so much time here between the ages of 9 or 10, and 16 or 17 or so ... having formal riding lessons once a week (and it was only much, much later that I realised that this was far from financially easy on my parents), and then working at the stables before and after school - mucking out, hanging hay nets, filling feed buckets, throwing empty feed buckets back up into the hayloft, filling water buckets, grooming the ponies, cleaning and polishing tack, putting on bandages so certain horses didn't kick themselves in the night, changing their rugs in winter (to keep them warm), and so on - all for free rides, and - as I got older - the privilege of teaching younger children to keep their hands and their heels down.  It was the center of so many of my hopes and dreams and ambitions (and rivalries, but they weren't deep).  I so, so wanted to run a riding school When I Grew Up - at least until I was 14 or so.  Actually, I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, but the stables' vet - whom I also knew through the Pony Club, where he'd give lectures and judge competitions on horse care, and suchlike - dissuaded me in very forceful terms: no woman was strong enough to work with horses, he said: I'd have to be a small animals specialist.   [I just Googled him - he was struck off the veterinary register, in the end, because his ex-wife was a drug addict, and overdosed on pethidine which he'd failed to keep locked up.  Gosh.  Still, if it hadn't been for him, and his sexism ...].

Of course, in all my elaborate daily plans and budgeting and roster-construction for running my (imaginary) riding school, I completely ignored the idea of paying rent, or taxes, or dealing with landlords.  Really, I guess what I was training myself for was the organizational side of being a Department Chair, which is a majorly sobering thought.

I spent time today talking with Julia, whom I've known for well over fifty years, and who's been running the stables for the last 35 of them (whilst doing other things as well, like an MA in English ...).  I'm feeling, as you'll imagine, very end-of-an-era ish.  End of an era?  End of a whole chunk of me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

unnoticed, or unremembered?

A very flying visit to Oxford, today, to meet with Daisy and George, the wonderful publicity/marketing team behind Flash! (2/3 of the team, anyway), and to record an Author's Video that will sooner or later go up on the OUP website, talking about the book.  So that was great fun.  But I refuse, still, to take obvious turistico photos in Oxford: I play a game with myself to find and photograph something that I swear that I've never noticed or seen before.  This is in New College Lane - and I must have passed it a hundred - five hundred - times.  But have I "seen" it before?  Or was it just that the light was striking it?  Or have I seen it, and loved its spirals, in the past, and completely forgotten it?  It's so strange being a living ghost.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

bedroom windowsill flowers

The windowsill of the bedroom that I first occupied in 1961 ... and the ritualistic, welcoming, flowers from the garden.

And - let me just say that US politics look very, very, very strange from this foreign vantage point. Strange, appalling, and everything that you know them to be.  Having been surrounded by English people since I arrived on Tuesday, it's hard to comprehend them  (But I did get a Trump joke into my talk on Dandelions! "this year Crayola “retired” their wax crayon color they called “Dandelion” – which spawned the probable Fake News items on the Internet claiming that this was at the request of the White House – too many children were using it to draw unflattering portraits of the orange-faced President."  It got a good laugh).

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

weird things in Lincoln

and no, I don't mean that it rained hard this morning, despite a perfectly cheerful weather forecast when I took off from LAX.  This group of people are *nothing to do* with the conference - they were just walking home - or somewhere - at the time that I was walking back from the drinks reception, held in ...

the Castle grounds (magnificent, including the tower in the walls that they used to hang people from), which included tours of the Domesday Book and the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forests (in other words, three crucial documents from British History I'd never seen before - and all three at once!), and of the Victorian prison;

which was built behind the C18th prison.  And here's a guide impersonating the C19th prison chaplain, in the Prisoners' Chapel - the only one of its kind left in the UK - with very carefully segregated pews.  And - not visible here, but under the pulpit - instead of an altar rail, a railing behind which the coffin of anyone due to be executed that week would be on show at the Sunday service.

Tomorrow, I get to give a keynote about Dandelions.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the sadness of the B&B coffee tray

English B&B / Guest Houses of a certain type, a certain vintage, have had the same coffee tray, the same little plastic sachets of Nescafe, the same tiny containers of unreal milk, the same squat white kettle, as long as I've known them.  They used to induce despair; now that's strangely blended with nostalgia.

Monday, August 21, 2017

the start of the semester

I'm sure that I should have gone to this ... it was a very - shall we say - full day, although (courtesy of lots of transatlantic flying last year) I'm finding the pink champagne in LAX's international 1st class lounge quite acceptable as a means of stress relief.  Oh - there was an eclipse?  I couldn't find any pretty little dimpled leaf shadows to photograph - only the view from my window, which was strangely, but not remarkably, lit.  Nonetheless, Alice and I are planning for April 8th 2024.  Texas, I think that will mean ...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

the caterpillar is growing

At least, going back to Santa Fe very briefly, I could check in with the caterpillar and see how she's doing (I may have failed to mention that we also encountered a friend of hers - don't know where they wriggled off to).  She's not cocooned yet - but she seems very well and healthy, and I look forward to her to becoming a Zephyr Bullseye Moth next summer.  I have a deep and dark suspicion that she's eating the Morning Glory leaves - I think she's meant to eat willow, but she showed no interest in the branch that I brought her a week or so back.  But she's so beautiful I'll forgive her.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

memo to my future self

Dear Future Self,

Of course you like coming back to Santa Fe - to enjoy the quiet, the coyote that trots by, the sunset, and to take the chance to water the remaining plants, and replenish the humming bird feeder.  But.  You really don't want to do so again because you're giving a keynote in another country in a few days' time, and you have left all the notes that you've carefully gathered this summer and that you need for completing the talk on your desk top, do you?  Particularly when it's Indian Market weekend in Santa Fe, which has a mesmerisingly bad effect on flight prices and car rental costs.

But yes, indubitably, even if you will have to get up early to fly back to Los Angeles again, it's great to have a quiet evening in which to write, notes by one's side.  And at least I can gather up various other forgotten objects - a tee-shirt in the drier, some granola, two pencil cases ...

with curiosity as to whether you'll take this advice to heart,

Current Self.

the awesomeness of late summer (for Aug. 18th)

Such awesomeness shouldn't actually include a lengthy internet outage - but had I been able to post this yesterday evening, you'd have seen how extraordinary the pink African lilies and the plumbago at the back of our house look in the early morning sun.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

erecting a statue ...

At a time when the rest of the country (not even the "rest" - including the Hollywood Forever Cemetery) is taking down - quite rightly - offensive monuments, USC is putting up what at least is a well-meaning attempt at a statue in the spirit of diversity and equality.  Meant to be a counterpart to Tommy Trojan, our long-standing Trojan warrior forever Fighting On outside the main administrative building, this is Hecuba.  As a very informative article in today's LA Times tells us (this must be the first positive piece from them about USC in weeks ...), this Queen of Troy is deliberately a model of resilience (let's say resistance, even).  Our President, Max Nikias, was passionately involved in the decisions about the sculpture all the way through its making: "On the cylindrical base of the 20-foot statue, Nikias wanted six women representing Hecuba’s daughters, modeled after women of Native American, Mayan, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, African American, Middle Eastern and Caucasian descent, connected by an unfurling ribbon that read Arts, Humanities, Science, Technology, Medicine, and Social Sciences. Hecuba’s face would be a blending of ancestry."  Speaking with all the authority that comes with being a member of the University's Public Art Committee (a committee with startlingly little authority ...)  I've seen a great deal worse, and it's a remarkably, if sadly, appropriate week for this to be unveiled at the opening of our new University Village today.  And no, I didn't go to the opening ceremony ... but I couldn't resist going and seeing this later ...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

fall semester

Fall semester demands, I think, that there should be some evidence of Fall - here is a large, dessicated leaf from campus, which otherwise is full - as yesterday, but, indeed, even fuller - of students moving in, accompanied by embarrassed looking adults wearing t-shirts saying USC DAD, or embarrassing their offspring by taking photos of them in front of Tommy Trojan - I haven't yet ventured across the street to see what, we're told, is TT's "female counterpart," and I'm rather procrastinating on going to investigate that particular piece of statuary ...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Life, this little sticker on the bottom of a small, mushroom-like fire hydrant - at least I assume it's a fire hydrant - on the USC campus tells us, is full of bumps.  I was going to write about the weirdness of this sticker being there at all - was it part of a treasure hunt?  low-level (very low level) disruptive and depression (or realism) inducing platitudes for freshers?  But that was before the bumps - the realisation that I must have left two pencil cases in New Mexico (they contain not just pens and pencils and paintbrushes and highlighters and and and, but leads, and gadgets to download images from photocards, and spare energy sticks for recharging electronics, and and and).  So I couldn't download this image - had to take a picture with my iPhone - and couldn't usefully stick the card in the back of my home computer, because I've forgotten its access code, and, trying to relaunch it, Apple tells me it will take up to a day to reset.  And and and.  And somehow I've left Chapter Two of Flash!, marked up for proofs, in NM, too.  And and and.   I know these are privileged 1st world problems, and the horrible President is far worse than all of this.  But.  I don't like getting apposite homilies relayed by mysterious campus messages that now, I fear, were specifically targeted at me ...

Monday, August 14, 2017

the pleasures of La Posada

The second leg of the drive back to LA is always shockingly long (and, today, included some terrible drivers on the road).  But we're back safe and sound - and it's terrific, as ever, starting the day in La Posada, Winslow - even if Moth and LucyFur (and so, us as well) were woken at 4 a.m. by cat fights outside our window ...

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Isn't she beautiful?  Four feet, or thereabouts, of bull snake.  We were packing up the cars this morning, and there she was, winding her way across the concrete garage apron. having eaten, I hope (though she doesn't look very bulgy) all of our mice and pack rats.   She just licked up ants and no-see-ums on her way.  Fascinating to see that on a fairly flat surface, she really does use her muscles and wind, whereas on rough ground and grass, she goes much straighter and faster (just in case you were thinking of developing a snake racing track).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

humming bird feeder - both ends of the day ...

It's been a busy day out at the feeder - from the grey misty light first thing this morning, through to this evenings's semi-golden sunset.  Perhaps because of the cloudy and damp start, they've been far less challenged by bees today - even so, it never ceases to amaze me how much energy is expended by the Rufous humming bird - busier chasing all the other hummers away than it actually is feeding.  And why (given the distinctive sound of the Rufous) are they called "humming" birds, anyway, rather than buzzing birds???

Friday, August 11, 2017

not quite leaking

Not quite leaking ... to La Choza for what will be our last real New Mexican meal for a while - and housed in the "covered patio" - which offered respite from the heavy driving thunderous rain (except where it was seeping in across the floor).  I suppose there may be something preferable there to the pollo adovado blue corn enchiladas, and a smoke and fire margarita, but it's hard to imagine what that could possibly be.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

rare caterpillar

So: we have this on our patio today, under the portales - first walking around the terrace, then climbing up under a window.  I do a little Googling, and find that this is, indeed, not a walking Christmas tree nor strange sea slug, but a caterpillar of the Zephyr Bullseye Moth and, apparently, very rare.  Said moth is absolutely stunning, so I want to give this caterpillar the best chance of making it.  So far as I can see, it lives on pinon trees, so I went and cut it a branch of pinon tree (it seemed very unimpressed).  It's also, of course, very good at self defense - each one of those little spikes is armed with toxin, and you wouldn't want to stroke it.  Apparently the pain wears off after a quarter of an hour or so.  But I feel very protective of her ... I wish I knew where she really wants and needs to be ...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


We have been promising ourselves new blinds for ever: this summer we actually did something about it (even my father, sniffing suspiciously at this apparent extravagance during our last Skype session, visibly relented when he heard that these had not only been in place since 1992, but that they, in all their metallic faded non-glory, were sticking and jamming and crinkling and generally stopping working).  So here, in my study (and the living room) are sleek new blinds, that you can semi-see out through in daytime (but if I were to expose for that, then I'd lose the pretty sky), whilst no one can see in - at night, they are a very fetching mid-grey that is just a shade lighter than Moth's coat.  The other rooms - wooden slats.  We feel very proud of ourselves for having got round to this, and of how they look.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chama to Antonito - by steam train

For years, I've wanted to take the Cuimbres-Toltec Scenic Railroad that runs from Chama to Antonito, and today - a long and beautiful drive to get there and back, plus six or so hours on the narrow gauge railway, and worth every exceptional minute.

Here's the other train coming up the mountain - I was standing at the cross-over point;

our train blowing off sediment from the water;

people leaning out of the windows to take pictures;

Alice taking a picture in a tunnel;

many, many wildflowers (here, in a stockyard);


looking back down the track;

couplings between cars;

and a painted old station house in Sublette.

Monday, August 7, 2017

morning morning glory

The mornings are still beautiful - but there's something about them: the season is imperceptibly changing.  It's not just the angle of the sun in the sky, and not just the fact that, because of the monsoon season, there's a residual smell of moisture, a slight heaviness in the air.  Or rather, it's all of these - nowhere near fall yet, but one knows that it's coming.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

dinner party under the full moon

Probably our last outdoor dinner party of the summer, here in New Mexico - not just because of the obvious reason that we'll be heading back to LA soon, but it's getting quite cold by the end of an evening ... so great to entertain old friends under the wild full moon sky, and a lot of pink fizz was drunk by all ...