Saturday, June 30, 2018


In the long evening of an English summer, in a very English garden, a foxglove.  Despite the slow cadences of that sentence, no metaphors here: sometimes a foxglove is just a foxglove.

At which point, of course, I thought I'd better check.  Fox gloves - or folks' gloves; fairy gloves.  HUH?  I always thought that Reynard was meant to slip them on over his russet paws - at least, that's what I imagined when I very first heard the name, and I wish I hadn't just disabused myself of the image.  Digitalis: good ingredient for heart medicine.  That seems apt.  Poisonous if taken in excess.  OK, I'll remember not to chew any foxglove bells absentmindedly.  According to the Victorian language of flowers: foxgloves mean "insincerity."  Oh.  I won't be making any bouquets of them.

Sometimes a foxglove is just a foxglove.

Friday, June 29, 2018


This is the aviary in Cannizaro Park.  I could tell you an untrue story, and say that this is where I use to be taken to look at the birds when I was still in my pram and than my pushchair - and indeed, the little grassy spot where I first walked (I was a late walker, so I can remember that momentous day) is just round the corner.  But the birds, then, were very suburban budgerigars, with the occasional quasi-exotic canary; that aviary was rebuilt in, I think, 1976 in the form of Pisa Cathedral (why?) and stocked with abandoned finches and cockatiels and others.  It's much classier now, though I'm fondly nostalgic of the old un-architectural glory that I knew.

In other news, (a) I'd underestimated how badly English midsummer pollen still gets to me, and (b) none of you want to know about the one-body problem, when ailing humans need one person - genuinely need the one, same person - on different sides of the Atlantic, simultaneously.  I was deeply grateful to be able to get out for a walk, today, even if the nearest bench to the aviary was occupied by two men who seemed to be drinking cider from large flagons in Sainsbury's plastic bags, singing along to 70s hits on the radio.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

a very English man-hut

Here's my father, mending a hose sprinkler at his work bench.  This is, indeed, a man-hut par excellence, also known as my parents' garage.  There hasn't been space to put a car in here for a very, very long time.  And that thing on his head that looks like a pastry chef's headgear?  That's his made-to-fit sun hat!  Yes, it is made out of a large white paper envelope.  He's very proud of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

5 weeks meets 95 and 94 ...

Having been summoned back to London by my father - not as a death's door emergency, but as a "you'd probably better come sooner rather than later" call (which, as we all know, means that "sooner" definitely means better than speculating on "later") I was pleasantly surprised to find my mother downstairs - and then, within ten minutes of my arrival, the neighbors brining round their new baby, Rose, for show and tell.  (The story's a bit more complicated than that, since they are both doctors, and therefore were casting an expert eye over my mother under the guise/disguise of a social visit.  And one of them specializes in breast oncology - so of course was exactly the person I most wanted to talk to from another (and very encouraging) point of view.)  But.  It's been very surreal hurrying back at what's - let's say - not an optimum time ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

the ever-eloquent sidewalks of Silver Lake

Right now, I could think of a whole lot of contexts in which one might pose this existential question ... so feel free to adopt the query to whatever ends you wish.

Monday, June 25, 2018

a more distanced cactus view (and this won't be a whole week of cacti ...)

So much for my thinking that it would be a fairly vegetative week here, looking after A, and reading/taking notes/yard watering and cultivating.  Yes, I tried for some of that this morning - and then an email arrived from my father suggesting that I should go back to England - if not, exactly, asap - because as my father put it, that would probably be too late - but sooner rather than later, since my mother is weakening.  Not that this hasn't been apparent, from afar, for the last couple of weeks, but I'd been deeply hoping that I wouldn't have to return at any of the truly trough-like, dismal points in Alice's chemo.  However ... however, and we are truly blessed to have good friends who can step into my shoes and be here overnight for the nights I'm away.  Once I'm back in Wimbledon, I know, cacti will seem like very far-away plants indeed.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

closely studying a cactus

I suspect that this next week or ten days will be rather stationary: time to appreciate the natural details right outside my back door.  Maybe the whole week should be spent on one cactus (a large prickly pear cactus, but I can't promise to eat the fruit: the last time I approached it I found it was protecting itself with very thin, hard, sharp spines that stuck straight into my fingers and remained there, invisible.) . Given that much of my current reading engages with (very British-inflected) close descriptions and analysis of very small patches of nature, I give you - Los Feliz Backyard Exhibit A.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


One good thing about being here in Los Angeles during the whole summer - which I never have before, and Alice not for a long time - is that one sees quite different garden flowers from what one normally does.  Today, lots and lots of alliums (allia?), both white and blue, making me inwardly vow to put swathes of them in the garden ...

Friday, June 22, 2018


There's been quite a lot of that around here today ... although LucyFur may, indeed, have one eye slightly open to check out what I'm up to.  Alice has been resting somewhat more convincingly.  I haven't joined in with this somnolence yet ...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

best feet forward

No one wants to spend the longest day of the year in a chemo suite - still less do they want to be detained there for an age whilst someone checks on the implications of an earlier blood draw figure.  But Alice was brave and steadfast (and yes, she would tell you, meditation really helps), and there was nothing amiss, in the long run, with the blood reading, and the other news was encouraging - and we were finally, finally home by 8.15.  Given that I'd started the day by getting up at 4.30 a.m. to attend - via Skype - a symposium at the Courtauld, it was a very, very long longest day indeed ... For those of you on Alice's bulletin mailing list, a proper bulletin will follow in the morning.  Meanwhile, you'll have to make do with her shoes - probably the most cheerful things in the room, apart from the quite wonderful nurses.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

nothing says Arizona like ...

when driving to and from Santa Fe, I've been buying gas at the same Chevron station in Kingman for years: it has a clean restroom, and some quirky souvenirs.  I've meant for years to take a picture of these "grass" flipflops, and at last have done so.  I should have asked if anyone ever buys any.  Given that the temperature was 106, and the surrounding desert was beyond dry, any suggestion of grass, however plastic, is deeply ironic...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

an eldorado hollyhock

I've been hoping for years that one of my hollyhock seeds would actually take, and bloom.  Today, I located, at long last, one very short, but perfectly formed plant.  I am impressed.  I thought that it would be a tranquil image in the midst of a few very non-tranquil few days - I'm currently halfway back to LA, and was detranquillized, whilst posting it, by news crossing my screen of a fire burning in Griffith Park, by the observatory - maybe a mile west of us.  Thankfully rapid response and little wind means that it seems to be under control - but my nerves (and doubtless Alice's nerves) could have done without that.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Here for a midsummer second

Yes, it's our parched back yard in Santa Fe.  I flew out today to pick up my car from Albuquerque airport - mercifully the battery (it's a hybrid) wasn't yet flat - and have come to pick up all the books and papers and clothes that I drove out earlier in the summer, little suspecting that our plans would be so upended ... I set off back in the morning; Alice has chemo again on Thursday.  It's almost unbearably tantalizing to be here for such a tiny burst of time ...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

looking at you

Here are a pair of green eyeballs on Sunset, and a dark June sky in not-so-sunny Los Angeles.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

a katydid

... by our front door this afternoon: so very beautiful and intelligent-looking.  Katydids are one of those mysterious - to me - creatures that exist in American fiction: I was googling "grasshoppers" to try and identify this particular 2 inches of emerald green loveliness, and found this instead.  I'm not quite sure what kind of katydid it might be - a male treetop bush katydid, maybe? - there are (who knew) many similar varieties.  They might, indeed, eat citrus fruit, but I don't think that one constitutes a plague.  On the other hand, Alice is reading Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires - her biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who experienced plagues of locusts on the American plains (and that caused me to remember not just the large ones that we had to dissect at school, well pickled in formaldehyde, but being on a train going through Rajasthan on one occasion, through a dark cloud of locusts, and - although the guards told us to shut all the windows - how some large and pale pink-green ones made their way into the corridor and the toilet ...).  This katydid was small and delicate by comparison.

Friday, June 15, 2018

a university under wraps

Given the apparently rudderless, leaderless state of USC at the moment (for whatever is happening behind the scenes, not faculty, not staff, not administrators seem to know), there's surely some kind of a metaphor to be found in the shrouded state of the library today.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

June morning walk

Up early for a walk this morning, before it got too hot ... Usually I'm reluctant to take a walk first thing in the morning - it's normally my very best working/thinking time - but this summer, I'm working (not that it's much of an effort so far) at breaking, or at least compromising, what I think are my usual habits and rhythms.  It's good to know that I can, indeed, be more flexible than I thought (and yes, I returned and did an excellent morning's work ...). 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

rake, flowers

From  yard, outside the door to my study: a rake.  A rather beaten-up looking geranium.  A fuschia.  I start every day with the aim of hurling myself energetically at gardening (after all, I have the time and space and potential for regular watering this summer).  Every day, I seem to count myself to have achieved something if I have, indeed, watered, and dead-headed some flowers.  Once again, I'm hoping, sincerely, for something more ambitious tomorrow.  Read this as allegory, if you wish.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Here's a rare unicorn on the streets of Los Feliz - more precisely, let into a house door on Griffith Park Boulevard, along which I took an energetic and extremely hot walk this afternoon.

Monday, June 11, 2018

early morning cats

Early morning, coming upstairs - at this time of the year, the sun comes straight through the right hand living room window, and, shining through the balustrade at the top of the stairs, makes a pretty silhouette out of the iron work.  Of course, if two cats are hurrying along the landing, too, anxious to be fed - they're live on screen, too ...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

shaded avocado

Today was the day that I constructed a shady tent for my young avocado tree.  I've had her fifteen months now: last summer and fall's sun took their toll on her delicate leaves, and by the end of the leaf-dormant winter they'd darkened and fallen off.  But a new bunch sprouted, and I know better this year, and I'm mimicking the kind of leaf cover that a juvenile tree would have in nature, growing up under parental shade.  Yes, that is an old Frog and the Peach umbrella from New Brunswick on top of the post, offering shelter from the straight-overhead sun ... (as for avocado fruits themselves ... edible ones should start to appear - oh, four or five years from now ...).

Saturday, June 9, 2018


I've been reading Agnes Strickland's The Use  of Sight (1822) today: a nature-educational-homily aimed at children, teaching them to pay better, and more curious attention to the world around them.  “What a variety of interesting objects may be seen in a common walk, would we but exercise our thinking powers and look around us; would we but exercise the habit of observation, and take notice of all that is to be seen!  Not a cloud, not a leaf, not an insect, not a pebble, nor a flower, but might become the source of some interesting inquiries.”   Harriet complains to her father that their maid, or governess - it's not quite clear who - takes them on the same boring walk everyday, down the London Road (given that these are classically picturesque rural surroundings, London's some way off).  Largely rural, that is - there's a canal with coal barges; a working quarry with fossils that illustrate the truth of the Biblical deluge.  Then there are useful plants, and spiders ... the moral is, one just has to look, and think ...

There's little chance of boredom here, even if we do take more or less the same walk most days, at the moment.  This is a street or so away from our house: a mallow that's just come into flower. Harriet would have nothing to complain about ...

Friday, June 8, 2018

on the subject of vacuum cleaners

Inevitably, this was the week when our trusty vacuum cleaner decided to give up the ghost - its inner belt went; some outside plastic fractured.  I located a Dyson store way over in North Hollywood (which is really more like West Burbank); luckily a friend could spend a couple of hours with Alice, so that I could head over there.   The store/repair joint was sleek but workmanlike, and had a strange installation - see above - of half-stripped machines.  It seemed that repairs on the one that I wheeled up the carpark would cost about $35 less than a brand new one... The helpful men who worked there were impressed by the old vacuum that I'd taken in (it must have been 17 years old, and has done very well) - "that's one of the earliest models!  Wow!"  I was sorry to bid her farewell.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

back yard wildlife

Image 1: we sure know how to have fun.  That figure in the background is Alice, accompanying me on a tour of the (empty) rat traps in the crawl spaces under our house - maybe all the rat man's blocking up of dubious holes has works (this was shortly before the drain guy arrived to clear a blocked drain - no rodents to blame).  On the other hand ... Image 2: our own personal rat catcher.  Here's a bobcat walking up the steps outside my study window this evening!  Alas - the wire mesh on the window stops this being a clear shot ... she was on the point of leaping up the ivy covered bank; patrolled the top of the yard a couple of times, and was last seen heading back into Griffith Park.  She's very welcome to every single rat and rock squirrel that she can find out there.   I was so happy - the first bobcat I've seen in our yard for an age.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

the junction boxes of Los Angeles, # something or the other

Smiling, or scowling, or looking pensive?  This ambiguous expression (and what is she sniffing?  it looks like a lotus flower, but that doesn't seem likely or suitable) graces a junction box on Hyperion, between Gelson's and PostalWorks (which is where I was heading).  It's part of my never ending fascination with the different ways in which these flat, blank, mid-sized surfaces are decorated in these parts.  

It is, of course, a Shepard Fairey screen print (only the best, on junction boxes round here): Natural Springs (2015), supposedly representing a young woman who's frustrated by the destruction that's been wrought to the environment by the hunt for fossil fuels.  Ummm - I'm not sure that that's an instantly grabbable point?  It looks very much like the posters that were for sale in the GUM department store, just off Moscow's Red Square, in 1975 (I think I have one, curled up tight in a roll, somewhere, unless it tore itself into oblivion ages back).  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

on the way to the polling station

I was super-proud of Alice walking down to cast her vote today, given that she was not feeling her best - and there was the added bonus of these palms, topped with wisteria blossom.  Both of them - despite being mauve and green - had the distinction of looking like exotic shades of grey, on a grey morning.

Monday, June 4, 2018

a caring cat

Maybe we could hire Moth out as a therapy cat?  Only she's needed here right now.  As ever, she's extraordinarily empathic: she knows that things aren't quite right, somehow, and is making amends the best way that she knows - by sitting.  The mat is to stop her sharp little claws from digging into Alice ...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

not a santa fe hollyhock

It's true - I associate hollyhocks ever so much with Santa Fe and summer.  But these ones are growing just around the corner from us on Effingham Place, and make me think - I should plant some here this summer.  We encountered them - or, given their vibrancy, perhaps it's more true to say that they encountered us - on our early morning walk.

And that had me thinking - hollyhock?  Holy hock?  What's their name's origin?  (for they are a type of malva.  We hope that one side-benefit of being here this summer will be seeing our malva-bush bloom, because we've missed it ever since we planted it).  Says the OED : "< holy adj. + hock n.1 mallow: evidently of hagiological origin; compare the Welsh name hocys bendigaid, which appears to translate a medieval Latin *malva benedicta. Another name was caulis Sancti Cuthberti, ‘Seynt Cutberts-cole’: see Alphita 61 s.v. Euiscus, 110 s.v. Malua.  The guess that ‘the hollyhock was doubtless so called from being brought from the Holy Land’ has been offered in ignorance of the history of the word."  OK, so it's a Blessed Malva.  Somehow that's predictable - though still very beautiful.  I've always loved them.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

not a Venetian lion

Not, indeed, that we were going to Venice, anyway - but this makes me vaguely nostalgic for all of those leonine faces and manes.  From which it's apparent that we were walking round the 'hood this morning - and, therefore, that Alice felt mobile and unfatigued enough to tackle the local hilly streets.  This seems to be one of the few corners without flowers: really, I should come out with some kind of identification guide, and learn what things are beyond roses and ivy.  I am, of course, making up all kinds of notional projects suitable for spending the summer here, in LA (as in: learning to identify plants; clear out the garage, etc) as though I had months and months stretching in front of me - not ten weeks before the semester starts again ...

Friday, June 1, 2018

a summer view

Let's just say - this isn't the summer that we'd planned.  About ten days ago Alice was diagnosed with breast cancer, and whereas we thought for almost a week that this might be a relatively simple matter, it turned out, last Friday, that she would need six sessions of chemo, followed by surgery of some kind, followed by radiation treatment ...that takes us pretty much through 2018.  The ultimate prognosis is really good - so no reason not to be optimistic - but it'll be a long summer here in Los Angeles.

So this is the view from the chemo unit at the top of USC's hospital.  If one has to be there, it's a pretty nice view.


Like nothing else in the past nine and a half years, this has raised questions about what I do and don't write about in this blog.  I could have chosen to say nothing about it - and yet, of course, it's been preoccupying - and how else to explain, anyway, that I'm not where I thought I would be (file under: New Mexico, Rome, London, etc.)  I should say that I talked with Alice about what to do, and we're following my suggestion: to write about it today, and then, probably, not very much.  What I'm now going to do is to post today's bulletin that I sent round Alice's close friends when we got home this evening - and to say: if you want to be on the bulletin list, and you're not on it already, PM or email me, and I'll add you. Otherwise, you will totally be spared all the details.


Hi everyone,

We're back after a long day at Keck Medical Center of USC: everything began at 8.30 a.m.; we were home by 5.45.  Alice is doing ever so well - it'll surprise none of you that she managed to be upbeat and cheerful throughout, although she's of course somewhat fatigued by now (and watching Rachel Maddow and eating crackers).

The new chemo unit, in a new Keck Building, is wonderful - shiny and clean and with huge windows: they have solid cubicles (no curtains) with walls to about eight feet off the ground: imitation wood and decorated clear glass panels above that, and lots of power outlets - presumably for medical stuff, but it comes in very handy for charging a day's supply of devices and phones (Alice got through a fair chunk of Amy Chozick's Chasing Hillary).  Best of all were the huge windows overlooking the San Gabriels (and smaller hills before them).  The staff were terrific: two Filipina nurses, who were upbeat and sensible; and a gay guy from West Hollywood, who was great fun.  All of them are experienced and know their stuff very very well.

So four separate lots of chemo drugs were dripped into Alice, and we trust that they are hard at work poisoning the bad cells and stopping new ones from developing.  She had absolutely no adverse reaction to anything (which was, of course, a huge relief).  She found out that the blood work she had done earlier this week was excellent; all other markers (blood pressure, etc) stayed equally enviable.  She's come home with a very large patch which will inject Niaquin into her in 26 hours time to help her regrow some white blood cells.

It's not quite clear what to expect next other than fatigue; probable nausea for three days (though she was pumped full of an anti-emetic first, and has anti-nausea pills to take); and then equal probable reactions in something like five to ten days time - such a vague timetable that it comes down to saying - everyone reacts differently, but most likely she'll be feeling fairly lousy for the next two weeks.  Her next appointment is on June 21st: she should be feeling at her best for the week preceding that.

I know Alice would want me to thank you all for all your messages of love and support - they've been truly great to get.  Emails to her are always welcome! but (she says, and I endorse ...) don't expect a rapid reply ... We've said - every morning after 10 a.m. I'll be prepared to answer any queries about whether she's up to phone calls, or visitors, or - well, whatever - we don't know yet.  No visitors with even the mildest suspicious hint of anything infectious, of course (though we have a collection of surgical masks worthy of a planeload of Japanese tourists) ... 

More when there's more - though probably rarely at as much length as this!