Monthly Archives: September 2009

Catching some Zs

Polish Food in South Ken

Polish Food in South Ken

Yesterday my most viewed picture on Flickr was “Polish Food”.  This picture was taken three years ago at a restaurant called Daquise which is close to the South Kensington Underground Station.  I’d seen the restaurant there on a number of occasions and just assumed it was French, it sounds French, right?

Simon and I had gone to one of the museums at South Ken, Science or Natural History or maybe the V&A and for some reason stopped to look at the menu.  Polish food sounded intriguing, so we went in.

Now I love Polish food.  If you look at the top of my plate there are some dumplings.  Those dumplings are meat pierogi – and look what they’re garnished with – meat! What’s not to love?

There’s been a substantial Polish community in London since World War II.  I didn’t know it, but there was quite a pocket of Poles in Tooting.  When the substantial Polish migration to the UK began after Poland joined the EU, apparently many Poles naturally were drawn to areas where there were already Polish community resources.  And in Tooting, that includes a Polish social club The White Eagle and I presume services in Polish at the Catholic church across the street judging by the throng of people I’ve seen on the sidewalk on the rare Sunday I’ve been up and about that way.

The White Eagle also has a Polish restaurant that anyone can go to, although you do have to walk through a strange bar with permanent 70s decor to get to it, faux wood panelling and all.  Although that’s probably not as weird as the fact that club shares premises with a genuine Spiritualist Church.  The food’s not quite as good as at Daquise, but it’s pretty close and it costs a lot less.  You can hire the hall at the club as a venue and it’s probably the biggest one in Tooting.  Salsa lessons on Tuesday nights (don’t hold me to that)…and there may not be anything quite so surreal as listening to salsa on a rainy Tuesday night and eating Polish food.

The best thing about the influx of Poles has been rise of Polish delis – the Polski Sklep.  There’s a tiny one between our house and Bill’s nursery and we stop in regularly to buy tasty, tasty polish bread…sourdoughs and brown breads with sunflower seeds.  Much better than the standard stuff and the best butter I’ve ever tasted.    I’ve never seen another native English speaker in that store.

The woman who runs (owns?) the shop is very friendly and sometimes gives Bill a lollipop or some other treat.   So much so, that he’s kinda come to expect it.  I keep thinking I need to teach him how to say thank you in Polish.

But since the Basic guide to Polish that I found on the Internet says:

Thank you



I frankly wouldn’t know where to begin.  The sheer numbers of Zs in Polish has always scared me off.

Unsportsmanlike conduct

When my brother and I were in Budapest in the summer of 2005 I got an email telling me that a high school friend Terry Adams had died. I told my brother and he said “Terry thought a lot of you. Every time I saw him he asked about you.” For the whole time that we were in Hungary seeing old churches and crossing old bridges and trying to avoid being overcharged for beer (not an easy task in Budapest), I kept thinking maybe my mom got it wrong. Maybe it was a different Terry Adams who’d died.

Although I knew he had been ill, gravely ill with liver failure.   I had emailed him at work when I heard he was in the hospital, but I don’t know if he ever got the message. It’s possible though, as he worked at a family business.

It’s hard to explain what was so cool about Terry. He was one of those guys that excel at “sports” played in the back of a bar, namely pool and cards. I don’t know how he was at darts but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was a consistent hitter of triple 20s.

One of my favorite memories is the time I beat Terry at pool. It was in the rec room of some University of New Orleans dormitory (we were down there for the national high scholl quiz bowl tournament, and we didn’t do well). I am generally a very bad pool player and he was great. But somehow I had a great moment and beat him. He was mad and blamed an uneven pool table and warped cues, but I didn’t care. I knew it was a fluke, but I didn’t care. I beat Terry.

I have lots of other memories of Terry, warm evenings playing cards, school trips. But perhaps the most vivid memory is the one where I tried to kill him.

Paula Morrisson Peek, Keli Heron, John Beuerlein, and me

Paula Morrisson Peek, Keli Heron, John Beuerlein, and me

(photo taken during the sports tournament, Paula uploaded this photo to Facebook yesterday and it brought it all back)

It was during the Law-Co-Hi Rook tournament. (Rook is a partnership bidding card game for 4, less complicated than Bridge, more complicated than Spades and how I happily passed many hours of my teenage life). Terry, an excellent card player, was partnered with another friend Derek, also excellent at cards and with a more stable temperament and demeanor which kept his hand well concealed. I was partnered with another quiz bowl friend, John.

John was a good player, solid and dependable, he understands the distribution. But he didn’t take the risks. (He’s a doctor now in Knoxville, the kind of guy you’d want for a doctor). Anyway, maybe this sounds conceited, but the only competition I was worried about in that tournament was Derek and Terry.

Well, we met in the tournament before the finals as it happens. As I remember, John and I weren’t winning, I could see how the game was going, but we were still a threat. Terry began taunting me, trying to get me to throw my game. It worked.

I snapped. I lunged across the great octagonal library table – and it was only its great width that kept me from reaching him and wrapping my hands around his throat in a single great movement. He just laughed as the teachers rushed over to break up the “fight”.

I was ejected from the tournament for “bad sportsmanship” – and of course that meant my partner had to go, too. I explained that to John that we were losing anyway, but he didn’t buy it (I don’t blame him!)

Anyway, I realise that those stories are maybe a little unflattering on Terry (and maybe on me, too), but that was ok – that was what was cool about him. He was funny and clever and he knew how to punch your buttons, but in the end you knew that was just how he played the game. And it was fun. And I feel sick that I lost touch with him.

He died young, barely in his 30s, and left a wife and two kids behind.

Messing with the condiments

Yesterday’s top pic on Flickr was this one. It was taken on Saturday at H’s Cafe our local greasy spoon. Bill’ has a new fascination with the condiment tray at the caff, I can well remember playing with the sugar dispenser when I was a child. It seemed such a fabulous contraption, I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have one at home. In a way I still can’t, although we don’t use sugar much. We usually have toast for breakfast or don’t add sugar, and neither Simon nor I take sugar with our tea or coffee.

The folks at H’s Cafe are incredibly tolerant of the toddler. He’s broken several glasses and despite our best (ok, admittedly often lacklustre) efforts – he’s managed to make a terrible mess with ketchup or spilled drinks on a number of occasions. They always greet us cheerfully and never seem to mind the chaos we leave behind us.

Memento Mori

While I was on maternity leave, I went into the nearby cemetery almost every day.  Pushing the stroller over the bumpy roads seemed to calm the boy and at least we got out.   I always took my camera and was ever on the lookout for interesting floral tributes.  Flower arrangements heavily reliant on Oasis foam and florists’ wire and turned into the shape of a cat or an angel or the inexplicably common (but not very photogenic) floral chair.  I had already been taking pictures of these things for some time, but during that period I managed to collect quite a few.

I haven’t been in the cemetery quite so much and when I have been there usually wasn’t a good selection of tributes. Either nothing at all, or nothing very original.  I wasn’t sure if it was just my bad luck or if there if these things had gone out of fashion, some kind of cultural victim of the credit crunch perhaps.

But yesterday I nipped into the cemetery and found I was in luck.   There was a fabulous floral tribute based on the London Ambulance Service Crest.  The occupational floral tributes is perhaps one of my favourite themes, and this one was a particularly fine example – well executed and with the inclusion of fake gems.

Sometimes I think that this a morbid fascination – and I suppose it is.  But on the other hand, these are works of a temporary nature and represent one of the really important moments in our lives (for the bereaved and of course for the deceased), and despite being made by professionals they have a kind of folk art feel.  And maybe they are folk art if you think about it as a collaborative commissioning process.  Anyway, I tell myself I’m capturing and celebrating an aspect of culture that’s little appreciated.

Or, maybe I’m just ghoulish.

Open Day

As we snake our way through one of the toniest neighbourhoods in London in a shortcut we use to get to Richmond Park, we pass a lovely Church of England churchyard.  Picturesque steeple, a nursery, and an impressive looking fellowship hall or venue or whatever they call it, built of stacked stone and glass and with the coolest building ornament ever.

Classier than your average yard deer or concrete critter

Classier than your average yard deer or concrete critter

On our regular drive-bys, I’ve noticed two things:  the church seems popular for posh weddings, and being within walking distance of Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association, the church has a nice little money spinner in charging £20 ($32+) a day for parking during the tennis.

Where the other .05% worship

Where the other .05% worship

They’ve had banners up for weeks advertising their open day and I kept making a mental note every time I passed, that we must check it out.  Curious, I was.

And curious no longer.  For last week (and yes, I’m late to blogging it) we stopped in to St Mary’s open day.  I’m not sure what I was expecting really.  Maybe some singing or some egg and spoon races or balloons.   But what we got was an open church and that’s about it.  Our timing was a bit odd though, I have to admit.  On the Saturday they were running it in a split shift to accommodate a posh wedding in the middle of the day.  We just squeezed in shortly before earliest guests arrived in their finery.

Members of the congregation were friendly and on hand to answer any questions and they seemed quite tolerant of the young master rummaging through a stack of the previous week’s order-of-service leaflets and scattering them among the aisles.

We were intercepted by a young man (twelvish?) in an old man’s hat (Bear Bryant stylee) who wanted to know if we had any questions or if we wanted to go up into the bell tower.  Bell tower?  Oh, really?  Hell, yeah.  Though of course I didn’t say that, it being a church and all.

We had the toddler in tow so bell tower may not have been the best idea.  Bill did manage the steps to the gallery, and then the steep half-ladder/half-steps to the bell-pulling area.  But we decided that climbing the ladder up to the next level would not be wise.

Not for toddlers

Not for toddlers

Simon managed to snarfle trip up into the tower with our tour guide’s mother.  So I stayed with Bill and our young tourguide who provided an antique hand bell for Bill to play with.  The youngster was astonished when I told him that I’d played in the handbell choir at church when I was younger.  (Do I look so unchurched?)  He explained in great detail why you must not touch the bells (essentially your nasty, dirty finger grease degrades them)  and then opened up a case of brand new bells within nasty, dirty, greasy toddler-hand reach.  And of course, the shiny array of bells proved irresistable.  And only then did he bring out the bag of white gloves so beloved by handbell choirs*.

We were warned against touching any of the bell ropes.  Which, of course, also proved a temptation.  And apparently they proved irresistable to Simon, too.  I saw a bell pull quiver and later my husband reported that he’d been the cause, resulting in an admonishment from the volunteering parishioner: “One does not touch the church bells without permission.”

Our tour of the bell tower thus ended, our young guide showed us round the sanctuary, highlights including a moth-eaten donkey no doubt used in many a Nativity play and a flag from the HMS Inflexible, which were informed that no one was allowed to touch unless they were connected with the church as he bunched and groped the ancient cloth.

We had a brief interlude with a genuinely informative fellow (the vicar?) who told us about the beams painted in a folk English style (truly amazing) and about how the architect of the church (whose name I can’t remember, but who later apparently became a famous Victorian architect) rebuilt it as one of his first commissions.  Apparently one of the only specifications of the job was that he increase seating capacity in the building.  The interior seems vast, much bigger than you’d guess from the road, but apparently it doesn’t seat many more than its predecessor and fewer than you’d reckon from looking around.

We took a stroll through the cemetery, accompanied by our young guide who told us how dangerous it was to climb on the monuments and then proceeded to show just what a risky endeavour it was.

Dont try this

Don't try this

And, of course, the toddler – not having a full understanding of the concept of risk, just wanted to climb up, too.

The cemetery is home to some truly impressive Victorian monuments, including the tomb of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the engineer who built the London sewer system.   The state of his grave sadly mirrors the condition of his civil works.  And although he has a monument on the Embankment, it’s a shame to see his final resting place so decrepit.

No thanks to Thames Water

No thanks to Thames Water

We could see the wedding guest beginning to file in so we decided to take our leave, but not before the young man showed us an abandoned bucket of wallpaper paste (?) and advised us it was sticky and would not be wise to get it on your hands and then proceeded to dip his fingers in the goo.


*bringing back memories of how I refused the church-issued knit handbell gloves in favor of some of my grandmother’s genuine white fashion gloves from the 50s and 60s left in a drawer long after they’d slipped from vogue and her death or how my brother went through a phase of altering all gloves he came into contact with into fingerless things – including most of my grandmother’s stash, mother’s leather gloves, and a good proportion of First United Methodist’s handbell supply leading to his eviction from the youth choir.

Yesterday’s Top Pic: Big Antler Deer

Big Antler Deer

Big Antler Deer

My most viewed picture on Flickr yesterday was Big Antler Deer.  This was taken over three years ago with my first digital camera – a little Pentax Optio with shockingly low megapixels.   As you can see, not so good for the wildlife pictures.  But it did amazing floral macros.

I was able to get amazingly close to this deer – obviously – as that camera had a rubbish zoom.   I found the antlers on this thing amazing.  I guess other people do, too – as it’s had a high number of views for such a crap photo.  These days I wouldn’t even consider uploading this picture – it would be a failed photo in my view.

(See my other Richmond Park photos here)

Are you laughing now?

I hope we’re still laughing in our orange on Sunday morning.

Dreading the process of trying to figure out how to watch the Tennessee-Florida game on Internet tv (it’s always a trauma, it changes every football season, and I always start too late) and sadly, I’m kinda dreading what the game will reveal about this season’s Volunteers.

Still – Go Vols!