Sunday, December 10, 2023

Drums and Mus

Some sunlight and blue sky yesterday afternoon, after a rainy morning. Olga and I went to the cemetery, where she romped through the mud.

But before I get to that, let me tell you about the morning. The new TV arrived! Woo hoo! So I removed the old one, along with the Freeview box that we no longer use, and rolled up several cables that no longer have to be connected to anything because all our TV now comes over WiFi. We have finally joined the modern world.

Then I installed the new one, and we set it up, and it looks wonderful -- at least from the standpoint of cleanliness in the living room. Getting rid of that snarl of wires beneath the TV stand (and cleaning the newly exposed floor) makes a world of difference. We got the monitor up and running and more or less programmed, and last night we watched a couple of shows. The picture is going to take some getting used to. It seems quite dark in certain scenes. We found ways to adjust it, but it's apparently a complaint some people have about this particular Samsung television.

I also mopped the rest of the flat, getting rid of that post-renovation dust, and watered the orchids and did some other stuff. And then, after lunch...the cemetery. On the way, Olga and I came across a Christmas market going on in West End Green and a troupe of drummers banging out a rhythm on the adjacent sidewalk. Olga wasn't sure what to make of it. (WARNING: If you watch the video below, you might want to turn your volume down as the drummers were quite loud!)

As you'll also see in the video, Olga had fun in the cemetery, chasing squirrels up trees and then barking randomly when she lost them among the branches.

Muddy undercarriage!

All in all it was a good day, and I feel like I'm getting a handle on things around here once again.

Except, as we went to bed last night, Dave gestured to me, Olga and himself and said, "We three are not the only ones living in this apartment."

"What do you mean?" I said.

Turns out, he saw a mouse in the living room -- a tiny one scurrying along the baseboard. Sigh. I'm not surprised, because a few times I've had that weird sensation of seeing something move out of the corner of my eye and then, when I look, nothing is there. I've got to set some traps today.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

A Deep and Dark December

Here's a photo from my walk home last night -- a lost hat atop a fence in front of Snowman House, a council building near Abbey Road. As blogger Andrew mentioned in his comment on my previous post, it gets dark pretty early at this time of year. The photo above was taken at 5 p.m.

And here's a photo of Olga from our walk yesterday morning. Because there's a shadow you may think there's sunlight, but that was actually cast by a street lamp. At 7 a.m., the sky was pitch black.

So, yeah, we are in "a deep and dark December," as Simon & Garfunkel famously wrote -- just a few weeks from the solstice. By the time I walk to work, at 8 a.m., it's light out, so I do get a little bit of daylight on my walks. But even at midday the sun is often pretty weak, filtered through gray flannel clouds. Fortunately I don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder, at least not that I'm aware of. I may have Seasonal Annoyance Disorder, but that's a different thing.

The painter has finished in our flat, which means our bathroom renovation is finally, finally done! After six months! To be honest I'd gotten so used to living with that unpainted hallway wall that I'd stopped seeing it, but I appreciate having it completed. Now we'll see if any lingering dampness damages the paint, God forbid. Today I'm going to mop the floors to do away with any residual film of dust, but the guy was pretty clean and didn't leave behind anything obvious.

I spent yesterday hoisting boxes of books. We're trying something new in the library -- selling our discarded books. There are companies in the UK that will buy used books, usually for a pittance (anywhere from 8p to a pound or two apiece), and I found one that accepts old library books. So I scanned the ISBNs on all the books in several boxes of discards, and got an offer on about 50 of them. I packaged them up and they're to be picked up on Monday. Overall payment -- about £40. It's not a lot of money but it's better than nothing, which is obviously what we get when we pass them on to charity.

Oh, and Dave ordered a new TV last night, which should arrive today. We spent last night watching TV on one of our laptops, which we set up on a chair in front of the couch. There was a lot of squinting involved.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Guns and Televisions

You may have heard we had a shooting in East London a couple of days ago. This shooting made international news, even though there was one victim, and she was not famous. Why the big deal?

Well, it's because shootings are so rare in London. Guns are strictly controlled in the UK. Compare the numbers: there have been 97 homicides so far this year in London, of which 8 were shootings and 62 were stabbings. In Chicago, meanwhile, there have been 522 homicides as of October 31, and 2,110 shootings (obviously not all fatal). In New York, there have been 368 murders and 1,071 shootings as of Dec. 3 -- figures the city touts as good news because they're significantly lower than last year's.

It's not hard to see that gun control works. You can kill someone with a knife, but it's harder and it's nearly impossible to kill as many people or to kill bystanders inadvertently. I'll say it again: Gun control works.

OK, with that out of the way, let's talk about how our flat is continuing to fall apart around my ears. I was so proud of myself yesterday morning for getting our TV sound system mailed off for repair, and then I came home and found that the TV itself has now stopped working! I can only assume that in moving it around to disconnect the sound bar, I somehow caused the TV to fail. Dave has looked at it too, and we've tried different outlets and checked all connections. We can't turn it on at all. It's deader than a doornail.

I swear, I knock down one task and another one pops up in its place. It's exhausting.

Unlike the sound bar, though, the TV is quite old. We got it free when we moved here in 2011, and it was used even at that point. And we watch it EVERY night. It's given us a lot of hours of entertainment. So I think the solution will be to simply buy a new TV. (Why didn't all this happen BEFORE Black Friday?!)

Meanwhile the string-pull light switch in our half-bathroom is acting weird -- the light wouldn't come on yesterday evening, and then it came on all by itself in the middle of the night. I've got to report that to the management company.

And of course everything is chaos because the painter is here finishing the renovation of our big bathroom and hallway. His ladder is propped up in our entrance hall, and there's a fine film of dust on all our surfaces. He should be done today.

I'm a wreck. TGIF!

(Photo: Finchley Road, during my walk home from work last night.)

Thursday, December 7, 2023


Yesterday morning, bright and early, I got myself out the door to go to work. I gave myself plenty of time, so I could walk and listen to my "Q-Anon Anonymous" podcast (which analyzes and challenges the insane conspiracy theories of the far right, and which I love). I arrived at work refreshed and exercised and I was just putting my day in order when I got a phone call.

It was the contractor who's supposed to finish our bathroom renovation. Remember how we still had that unpainted wall in the hallway, the damp one that's had six months to dry out? Well, he was here to finally paint it. I had completely forgotten he was coming. He was supposed to arrive before I left for work but he got held up by traffic.

So I had to race home and let him in the flat, and then race back to work. More excitement than necessary on a Wednesday -- or any day, really.

But the good news is, he's now finishing the job, and it should be done by Friday.

I'm also getting more things fixed around here. The zipper on my winter jacket broke the other day, so I dug out my old winter jacket only to remember that it had a four- or five-inch tear across the back. (Probably something I did gardening, or swashbuckling through the brush on Hampstead Heath with Olga.) Months ago I'd considered throwing it out -- in fact I'd actually put it in the trash can -- but I pulled it out again on the slim chance I might need it. And here was that slim chance. I wore the torn one while I got the zipper on my normal jacket repaired, and then switched to that one and left the torn one to be sewn up. Long story short, I will soon have two functional jackets.

Also, the sound system on our TV died some time ago, and I finally arranged with Bose to send it back for repair. It's out of warranty and will cost £79 to fix, but I'd rather keep it working than buy a new one. The world does not need our Bose sound system in a landfill -- at least, not yet. (Meanwhile we've been using our TV with its inbuilt sound, which is tinny and unsatisfying.)

The one upside of having to come home yesterday morning is that it gave me a chance to grab the citrus tree. Yes, you all talked me into it, and if I get charged with a misdemeanor* it will be YOUR FAULT.

Seriously, the more I thought about the situation, the more certain I am that whoever owns that plant was inviting me (or someone) to take it. I can't see why else they'd have left it where they did. If they wanted to keep it warm they'd have moved it closer to the building, not closer to the street. (Or they'd have brought it inside.)

I'm definitely rationalizing, but anyway, it's done now. As Dave said, because he was sick of hearing me argue with myself about the ethics of the situation: "Whatever you do, make a decision and STICK TO IT."

So I have.

*By the way, did you know that someone charged with a misdemeanor is known as a "misdemeanant"? I've never heard this word, but I looked it up, because I knew I wouldn't be a felon and I wondered what the counterpart would be for a minor crime. There you have it!

(Top photo: In Chiswick, a couple of weekends ago.)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

I Am (Not) Straight

I've been writing a lot lately and you're probably sick of my whining and grumbling, so how about another post of miscellaneous photos? These have stacked up over the past several weeks, so -- enjoy!

First, this little Christmas/Thanksgiving cactus lives in our library. It's a cutting from one of mine, which in turn came from cuttings from the parent plant, which lives in the library! So this little one has come to live with its grandparent.

I was just impressed that it cranked out a flower, being so small.

I love this time of year because tree shadows become very dramatic.

Falling leaves can also make interesting impressions, in this case in the grime on someone's car.

This was the lid on our ice cream the other night. I pulled it off the carton, set it upside down on the counter, and saw that little face staring back at me! The tendency to see faces in inanimate objects is known as pareidolia. Psychologists suspect it's a side effect of our human ability to quickly recognize moods and danger from the faces of other people. In other words, we're highly sensitized to faces and, by extension, face-shaped objects.

Not your typical autumn leaf. Someone's craft project gone wrong, maybe?

Methinks thou doth protest too much!

I could not resist yet another picture of the ever-growing and -changing pile of garbage on the next street over. Garbage stacks up on this corner like nobody's business. I reported it to our local garbage collectors via the "Love Clean Streets" app -- which I can use to alert the garbage guys to refuse on the sidewalks -- but they didn't promptly collect it. They said it would be picked up on the regular collection day. So then I sent a picture to our local councillors and asked why this situation couldn't be handled better. Why don't the residents of this corner have a bin for their garbage?

(Which is what that graffiti on the wall behind the trash pile says -- "Buy some bins, filthy gits!")

And finally, here's Olga, passing the sad citrus tree I wrote about yesterday. You can't see the pot because it's too close to the wall, but the leaves are visible just to the right of Olga, below that dried hydrangea. My plant app says it's a mandarin orange (which Wikipedia notes is "tender and damaged easily by cold").

So, funny thing -- after I returned the tree, whoever owns it moved it closer to the wall, making it more accessible to passersby on the street. Do you think that's an invitation to take it?

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Citrus Tree

I'm going to tell an embarrassing story.

You know how I like to rescue plants, right? I often see houseplants in someone's trash bin or yard waste bag and I bring them home and adopt them. We've obtained a whole jungle full of plants that way.

Well, the other day, I took things a step too far.

A little citrus tree was sitting in a pot in the hedge of an apartment building down the street. It didn't seem to be attached to any particular apartment -- it was in the general green space around the building. I've had my eye on it for a while, wondering what its erstwhile owner would do when the weather got cold. (Citrus trees can tolerate a light freeze but anything else will damage or kill them.)

Basically, the owner did nothing. And last Thursday, when we were supposed to get freezing temperatures that night, I impulsively reached into the hedge, extracted the citrus tree and brought it home. This occasioned much hilarity from Dave, who went around telling everyone I was a plant thief.

For the next three nights, when we had heavy frost, I kept the tree indoors by our dining room window. But I hadn't really thought any of this through -- I was simply trying to protect it. What should happen next?

I could have just kept the tree. I am 98 percent sure no one would ever miss it. But I also knew if I did that, I'd feel guilty every time I looked at it. I had stolen it. Let's be honest.

I tried to knock on the door of the ground-floor apartment and tell them that I had the tree. I thought there was a good chance they might give it to me, or at least point me to the correct owner. But no one answered the door the few times I knocked.

Or, once the immediate danger of a freeze had passed, I could return the tree.

I stewed about this quandary. I hated to put the tree back where it would almost certainly be damaged if not die when temperatures dropped again, but there was a chance -- a tiny, tiny chance -- that its owner was actually missing it. Why did I assume that same owner wasn't capable of protecting it themselves? After all, it looked perfectly healthy.

So that's what I did. On Sunday I carried the tree back to the apartments -- in broad daylight, because although my behavior was morally ambiguous I'm not skulking around in the dark of night here -- and plunked it back in the hedge. We'll see what happens next.

Here's my newest Florida Memory postcard, and maybe the last one, assuming my mystery sender is doing this for a calendar year. It's a film still from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," a 1954 monster movie that was filmed at Wakulla Springs. As Florida photos go I think it's a bit of a bust, because it doesn't really show any scenery, but hey -- you can't look a gift horse (or monster) in the mouth.

(Top photo: Hostas and hydrangeas near our back garden bench.)

Monday, December 4, 2023

Cable Clips and a Bad Martini

I took this in St. John's Wood last night as I went out to dinner with Dave and a couple of his co-workers after their students' holiday concert. Only now, looking at the picture, am I realizing that car travel on St. John's Wood High Street apparently now goes from north to south, rather than south to north as it used to. Which means cars could have run me down from behind as I was standing in the middle of the street taking the photo. Fortunately there's not much traffic!

The concert generally went well, though there were a few slip ups. One of the drummers dropped his drumstick during a furious solo, and a sax player's instrument crashed to the ground when the lanyard holding it around his neck apparently failed. He was not happy.

Even though the performances were none of my doing, I celebrated with everyone else when it was over. I ordered a martini at the restaurant, and once again, I am reminded that a restaurant martini can be a disappointing thing. A martini should be, at most, one part vermouth to four or five parts gin -- in other words, nearly straight gin. The one I got last night was the wettest, most vermouth-heavy martini I've had since last May. I don't know why bartenders tend to overdo the vermouth, except maybe they're stingy with the gin for cost reasons.

Anyway, I ordered an extra shot of gin and threw it into the glass and that improved (but did not correct) the ratio.

For dinner I had an Asian salad with watermelon (better not think about the carbon footprint of that), blackened sea bass and mini mince pies for a Christmasy dessert.

See that little thing? That's called a cable clip. I spent yesterday morning doing something I should have done literally years ago -- taming our sprawling internet cable. It's a long phone cord that runs from our phone jack near the front door through the entire flat to our router, which is in the living room (where we spend most of our time). This cord has been loosely coiled and running across our floor for ages, but it was unsightly and a trip hazard. So I bought those little clips at our local Homebase (which is closing and selling stuff at fire-sale prices) and tacked the cord to the baseboards.

Now it's out of the way and more or less out of sight, but man, that was a tedious process. I thought it would be easy, but can you see how tiny those clips are compared to my fingertips? Now imagine trying to hold that tiny tack next to the floor and pounding it in with a hammer, especially in a confined or awkward place like an inner corner or behind a door. Infuriating!

Anyway, now it's done and I don't have to worry about the dog walker or a repairman or a guest tripping over the internet cable and breaking their face and then suing us. As a product of litigious American society, I worry about these things.