London calling — again!

Well, after over seven weeks in Tel Aviv where winter reigned for much of the time and Covid-19 for a large part of it, I find myself back in London where we endured more than a week of real spring weather — sort of as if the world had been turned upside down, something about which we have been made painfully aware, what with climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and all the rest.

One listens to the news for a few minutes in the morning and it seems as if nothing much has changed — war (or is it just a special military operation?) in Ukraine, exploding figures for new Covid infections, garden parties in 10 Downing Street once more, babies and mothers dying unnecessarily in Shrewsbury, ordinary people being murdered on the streets of Israel’s cities (something that hardly gets a mention here in the UK), etc., etc.  So what’s new?

But spring is spring and we should be grateful for small mercies, which brings me back to Professor Lehrer again and makes me glad that I’m not a pigeon!

It’s quite amazing, though.  It seems there’s no escaping the war in Ukraine short of turning off the radio and TV, giving the newspapers and magazines a permanent miss and being determined not to use a smartphone, the weapon that has become the principal vehicle for the transmission of notifications on social media, in particular “fake news”, “alternative facts” and other falsehoods.  Looking at the images that appear on the television screen and elsewhere, all I can think of that life for the 4 million or so people who have fled their country to seek refuge elsewhere is a life in hell.  I find that this combination of round-the-clock news and the images that accompany it emotionally disturbing, to say the least, and I can’t even begin to comprehend what people are going through in this, Putin’s war.  The more I see and hear, the more I begin to think that this man is not just a run-of-the-mill bog-standard dictator but a combination of the worst of Stalin and Hitler and an individual who personifies the Russian paranoia of being surrounded by enemies better than anyone else.  Last week’s Economist newspaper contained a briefing that attempted to explain this and it made for chilling reading indeed—and is more than worth a cursory glance.

The New Russian Cult of War

One gets the feeling that a single wrong move of the part of any one involved in this conflict could bring about irreparable damage — disaster, in fact. Which, as you might have guessed, brings me back to Tom Lehrer — and although the song was written nearly 60 years ago and contains in its lyrics a couple of references to the time in which it was written, most of it is still relevant — even apt — to what is going on today.

What I find particularly scary is that with control of the media within Russia, so many Russian citizens appear to have little idea of what is really taking place and believe everything they’re told by the state-controlled media—as outlined in the Economist briefing. And all this reminds me of the lyrics of another Lehrer song that famously satirized the alleged amorality of the German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun who developed the V1 and V2 rockets that terrorised parts of southern England at the end of WWII. Over 1400 were launched at Britain, with more than 500 striking London, each one causing vast devastation, and killing  almost 3,000 people and injuring almost 7,000 more. Von Braun worked for Nazi Germany before turning his expertise in rocketry to serve the United States, his work satirised by Lehrer in the lyric “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”   (The story of the V2 was recounted in V2, a recent novel by that wonderful storyteller,  Robert Harris.).

Unlike the unfortunates who lost their lives in England nearly eight decades ago to V1s and V2s, the same cannot be said in regard to today’s Ukrainian citizens facing bombardment from Putin’s rockets, which far from not being his department is absolutely his department as they are aimed at, guided towards, and enventually destroy, civilian targets throughout the country.



So here I am again in a city I enjoy being in although I only really ventured out on my own for the first time a couple of days ago for although I was officially “cleared” of Covid three weeks ago, I have not yet  returned to a situation that I would regard as “normal”—whatever that might mean.

So what’s been going on now that I’m here?  Well, for a start, I’ve been enjoying the blossom on the trees and in the gardens and this year, it seems to be more colourful than usual.

Magnolia blossom, London NW3


Almond blossom, London NW3


Daffodils, London NW3


Daffodils, London NW3



One of my granddaughters loves pictures of squirrels — although why anybody thinks that these bushy-tailed rodents are “sweet” is beyond me as I regard them as vermin, rather in the same that I regard pigeons as winged vermin (as, apparently, do some others).

However, I [generally] do what’s requested of me or what I’m told and every now and then, I take the camera out and look out the windows to see if there are any around.  I watched these two one day last week as they gadded about but then I realised that perhaps as it was a warm spring day, it was more serious than the usual kind of joyful squirrel-play.

On my first walking day out a week ago, I ventured around the corner to Primrose Hill.  It was a misty morning and although I’ve been photographing Primrose Hill in various lighting conditions, at different seasons and at different times of the day, I don’t recollect ever having seen it like this before.

Primrose Hill, London NW3

And while on the way there, I observed something that seemed to represent optimum use of a balcony — chairs, bike, drying area, repository for plants, etc.

Optimum balcony use. London NW3

We Rent Everything/Anything. Belsize Park, London NW3

Then, last weekend I accompanied some friends for a walk along the Grand Union Canal, which runs between London and Birmingham.  We didn’t walk all the way to the Midlands but stuck to a strip in and around Paddington, where there were all sorts on interesting things on view.

My eye, as some of you may have already noticed is drawn to signs — street signs, road signs and the like.  So one of the first things that I chanced to see was the sign below, to which my cynical self, probably from watching too much news on the TV, equated with young Russian soldiers sent by Mr. Putin to besiege and capture the Ukrainian capital.

Having reached the canal, we encountered these two gentlemen preparing to sunbathe and generally have a good time.  I managed to count four bottles of wine and as I didn’t spot any guests, I could only presume that it was all for two and two for all.

And then we found ourselves in an area called “Little Venice” although it really beats me as to why …

… because it didn’t conjure up in my mind anything resembling Venice other than the canal, of course.

It was certainly missing some of the glamour of the Grand Canal.

A couple of days ago, I ventured into town to visit the National Gallery, ostensibly to view Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, which left me somewhat underwhelmed.  However, in the adjoining room were four pictures of Venice by Canaletto, which more than made up for the disappointment of the Blue Boy.  The amount of detail that Canaletto manages to get into his paintings always astounds me.  It has whetted by appetite to view the Canalettos that are currently being exhibited — for 6 months — at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, (Canaletto’s Venice Revisited)part of the collection from Woburn Abbey, which formed the largest single commission that the artist had ever received.  It’s a show that “reassesses Canaletto at the height of his career, and looks beyond the broad views for which he is renowned by examining t closely the features that bring his Venice to life.”  Something to look forward to, indeed.


And while at the National Gallery, I thought that this was definitely photographable although I was later tapped on the shoulder and informed that I am not permitted to take a photograph with children in it.

And on exiting the gallery, I passed this bust and wondered who he might be … but I was not left wondering for long for the plaque told me that it is John Paul Getty Jr himself.  It was commissioned by the National Gallery to acknowledge his £50 million donation. Not bad!

On and beside the canal, there were all sorts of activities (besides drinking four bottles of wine directly from the bottles, of course).  This pair adjusted their poses several times over the 10-15 minutes I was observing them …

… and this lot were obviously enjoying their brunch (the person on the right was steering the vessel).


Zero horsepower!


How many cricket bats would one willow produce?


The permanent residents

And then there were the things that just caught my eye.  For instance, en route to the canal we passed this edifice, constructed to memorialise Hotmail, which was launched in 1996 and acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million.  Also not bad for the founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith the founders of Hotmail!


The Hotmail box contrasted with one on England’s Lane, NW3, which was obvious rather cold as it’s wearing a designer tea cosy or pillbox (postbox???) hat.

And while on the subject of postboxes, one frustrated resident on Primrose Gardens NW3 was obviously so exasperated with the postman (or does it have to be postperson these days?) that he had to leave strict instructions.

Signs of the times, England’s Lane. NW3

And to finish up with a couple of signs that I photographed on the Tube en route to The National Gallery.

Sometimes I wonder how brainless people can be—for instance, the designer of this sign.  This one prompted the following question to enter my cynical mind:  How is one to know whether, when, and how staring is intrusive and sexually harassing. I write this because until I saw this sign directly opposite me as the Tube jangled down to Leicester Square,  I had just assumed that my staring was brought about by the fact that sitting on the Tube simply causes boredom.  Now I learn that I could be reported to Transport for London’s Sexual Harassment Line just for staring, with goodness knows what punishment to be meted out to me as a result.

The second sign, on the way home, was equally thoughtless (or so I thought) and it prompted me to think that if not all disabilities are visible, then what would I see when I look up and the person I’m looking at had an invisible disability!  Right?!

Meanwhile, Horatio keeps his [one] eye on events.

Admiral Lord Nelson (in stone). Trafalgar Square, London.

And the sun during the spring “heatwave” was affecting his eyes! (with thanks to Nira Querfurth)

Finally, just as I started this post this morning and was writing about spring, I looked out the window and this is what I saw — snow!


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