Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mind the Gap

Olga and I went to check out the collapsed house yesterday morning. As you can see, it's not so much a presence as an absence -- a hole in the street. There are people still living in the house to the right -- when I was there, there were lights in the windows -- but I'm guessing they're probably a bit nervous about their foundations.

Yesterday was our last day of school before February break. We're off all next week. I'm flying to Florida today to spend time with the family, and Dave is staying here in London, taking care of Olga and the garden and maybe the plumbing. I'll be coming to you next from the Sunshine State!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Plumbing and Renovation Gone Awry

In our quest to address some long-neglected problems in our flat, I scheduled a handyman to visit yesterday morning to do some minor repairs on our kitchen and bathroom faucets. Sometimes the kitchen tap won't turn on all the way -- something about the handle, I think -- and the bathroom tap drips. I'm sure this is just a matter of changing a washer or something, but neither Dave nor I even know where a washer is located in a faucet, much less what it's supposed to do -- so a handyman was our best option.

Anyway, the guy showed up, and tried to turn off the water supply so he could do the work. Turns out, our stopcock (the valve that controls water into the flat) is stuck. He couldn't budge it, and didn't want to push too hard for fear of breaking it. We even walked up and down in the street outside trying to find the main valve into the house, and although we found the valves for both of our neighbors, we couldn't find our own. (Now I know how to turn off Mrs. Kravitz's water, though!)

After we'd spent half an hour wandering around in the street like zombies I called everything off. I had to get to work. So I paid him for his time (because, after all, it wasn't his fault that our stopcock is stuck) and that was that. The faucet still drips. The kitchen tap is still wonky. And I guess we need to alert the landlords about the stopcock, because if a pipe breaks someday (God forbid) there is no way to turn off the water into this flat!

You probably don't remember (and why would you?) but a big fire flared up in our neighborhood a couple of years ago on Finchley Road. I photographed the scene at the time, and this (above) is what it looks like today. I don't know if there's any work going on behind that scaffold or not. The shopfronts are still closed tight. Here we are, almost two and a half years later!

But at least this building has remained standing. We had some neighborhood excitement on Monday when a house under renovation, not too far from ours, collapsed completely! Now there's just a big dark gap in the street like a missing tooth. Olga and I walk that way frequently -- I may take her over there this morning to check it out. The collapsed house sounds like it was in bad shape -- it hadn't been lived in for a decade -- but it was on sale a few years ago for £1.4 million. Can you imagine investing that much in a property only to have it fall down? Another reason why we rent, in this land of century-old houses!

(Top photo: A bathroom fixtures shop on Finchley Road.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bears, Dogs and an Untamed Horse

Well, I made the mistake of looking at The New York Times before writing this post, and now my brain is full of information about the latest school shooting and Reince Priebus' description of Donald Trump as a headstrong horse. And what can I say about any of it, really, except that America still needs to address its gun addiction and stop making excuses for its dimwitted, dangerous leader? And this whole thing about Trump's lawyer paying $130,000 in hush money to a porn star -- does anyone really believe those were the lawyer's own funds, as he insists? What lawyer does that?

Robert Mueller, your mandate is expanding.

I just can't believe that the same Congress that made such a stink about Bill Clinton is going to sit idly by while these revelations come tumbling forth. And what about all those evangelicals who support Trump? How can they justify that support now? WWJD indeed!

On the personal front, I'm happy to report that my back problems have improved greatly. I don't know whether it was the massage that made the difference or what, but I felt pretty much normal yesterday and I slept through the night both last night and Tuesday night -- a welcome change. Dave keeps telling me I should get a massage regularly, and maybe he's right. Now that I've found a massage place I like, that's not out of the question.

I got a request to say more about these little critters that live on our kitchen windowsill, visible in yesterday's photo. They're salt and pepper shakers, and there's not much of a story behind them, really. I saw them in a shop in the Brussels train station (of all places) several years ago and bought them. They weren't expensive. We don't actually put salt or pepper in them. They're just decorative.

I tried to figure out who produced them -- there's no visible manufacturer name -- but I had no luck. I did find, however, a pair for sale on eBay. First come, first served!

As I sit here on the couch in the pre-dawn darkness, drinking my morning coffee, I'm hearing a bird singing brightly outside. Another sign of the changing seasons!

(Top photo: Mama, Papa and Baby bear outside a garage in Hampstead -- along with a rooster, for some reason.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Revisiting the Root Canal

Dave and I bought these tulips at the farmer's market on Saturday. We needed a bit of spring color around here, and now they're livening up the windowsill in the kitchen. I love the combination of daylight from outside, yellow light from our overhead fixture and the pink flowers in that picture.

Yesterday was part two of my root canal saga. I went back to the dentist to get the job finished and the tooth sealed with a filling. As it turned out, he didn't put on a crown right away -- he said he wants to wait six months and make sure the root canal is sound.

It was an easier visit than the previous one, but I still had to get more Novocain and wear that rubber dental dam, and he had to re-drill the channels in the tooth because, when he probed them, I still felt some pain in one -- he thought he might have left a bit of nerve behind there. Remember how he had equipment problems on my previous visit, with his drill initially not working quite right? Well, the same thing happened again.

"Do you think we need a new one?" he asked the hygienist.

"YES!" I replied from the chair.

Anyway, he eventually got it fired up and all went well. Now I have a "provisional" filling, which is not meant to last forever but apparently will go a few years if need be. He said he would reassess when I come back for my regular checkup.

On the walk home, I picked up a couple of CDs from the "free stuff" pile outside the library. One is by a group called Tortoise and it's an interesting sort of mellow electronic rock. The other is a collaborative album between Sergio Mendes and an assortment of hip-hop artists, and I'm digging that one too, surprisingly. I'm usually not much of a hip-hop fan, but knowing these classic Mendes songs, I can appreciate this new take on them.

At work yesterday I spent time organizing our archive of old yearbooks. (Part of our continuing effort to clean out the conference room.) I realized with horror that someone has been cutting pictures out of many of them. Argh! Who DOES that?! (I think we know who, actually, and he means well -- but I don't want to publicly point fingers so I'll say no more.) I separated out the damaged ones and I think we'll lock up the others to protect them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Massage, and Old Magazines

I got a massage last night after work, thinking it might help my back. I went to a Thai massage place recommended by some women at work -- apparently its owner is married (I think?) to another of our coworkers. Anyway, the massage was magical, and it was one of those intense deals where the masseuse (is that still a word?) climbed not only onto the table but onto my back, on her elbows and knees, using her body weight as pressure. She even offered to walk on my back, but I declined that -- all I could picture was George Jefferson walking on Mr. Bentley.

I'm so glad that I found a good massage place.

As I said, it felt great at the time, but unfortunately, the back still hurts. I'm going to try to pop in and see the doctor sometime this week, just to make sure nothing serious is going on. It may be one of those things where I've stressed it out and it will just take time to heal.

Last night I ran my camera bag through the washing machine. When I fell in the mud on Sunday it got splattered, and I tried vacuuming it and hand-cleaning it, and neither worked. The machine was the last resort. I did that once with my previous bag and it emerged a bit tattered, but this time I put it on a gentler setting and it seems to have been successful.

At work we have a huge stash of old magazines -- Newsweek from the 1940s to about 1960, and National Geographic from the '40s through the '70s, and American Heritage from the '50s until 2010. All these magazines are stored in our conference room, many in bound volumes, and although they look good in the cabinets they are completely useless to us as a school. They aren't indexed so no one could do research using them, unless they knew which issue to look for. We didn't want to throw them out, but we've never been sure what to do with them.

Then, a few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about a London man who's building a huge archive of old magazines and printed ephemera. Bingo! I e-mailed him to offer our magazines, and he called me right away and accepted. So I'll be loading those into boxes in coming days. I'm glad we found a home for them!

(Photo: Morning at the tennis club around the corner from our flat.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Some Days are Stones

Do you know the John Denver song "Some Days are Diamonds"? It's a lesser-known, mid-career single, but I always think of it when I have a bad day. The refrain is:

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone
Sometimes the cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

Yesterday was a stone.

The day began innocently enough. I worked in the garden, trimming the rambling roses and blackberry vines and tying them back to the fence so the bulbs and other plants below would get more light. I vacuumed the house. I did laundry and some other small tasks.

I'd thought about taking on another segment of the LOOP, but the next stretch is 10 miles, and my back has been bothering me so much lately that I didn't think I could (or should) walk that far. Instead I decided to take the dog to the Heath. She stayed inside almost all day Saturday so she needed to get out.

On the way there, we passed a couple sitting on a bench, their black spaniel at their feet. As we walked by, I heard the woman say to the dog: "Yeah, you didn't bark at that one, did you? You're not stupid."

It's so funny how everyone thinks Olga is fierce.

Anyway, I ran into a friend from work, and then passed Ricky Gervais on the sidewalk. It was definitely him. I am not making this up. I texted Dave to tell him the news, and then slipped my phone into my jacket pocket.

So far so good, right? Olga and I circumnavigated the Heath, and of course she got incredibly muddy because the Heath, like everywhere else in England at this time of year, is a mud bog. We were just about to leave when I put my hand in my pocket and realized my phone was no longer there.

Oh shit.

I debated what to do. I had walked miles, my back was killing me, and I thought the odds were slim that my phone would have lain undiscovered somewhere on the Heath all that time -- more than an hour had elapsed since I last used it and I had no idea where I'd dropped it. I stopped some passersby and used their phone to call mine -- but it went straight to voice mail.

And then, to add insult to injury, I slipped in the mud and wound up sprawled on my back, covered with sticky brown clay. The people I'd borrowed the phone from were still standing nearby to witness this spectacle. "It's going to be one of those days," I said to them as I gingerly picked my soggy self off the ground.

I decided to simply go home. But halfway there, I had a change of heart because I thought I figured out where I'd dropped the phone -- in a field, off a path, when I knelt down to take the picture above. I was on all fours, and I could easily imagine my phone slipping from my jacket at that moment. Because it wasn't a heavily traveled path I thought there was a chance the phone would still be in the grass.

So we went back to the Heath. (Olga was very confused.) I walked half my route again, revisited the field, and found nothing.

I was resigned to buying another phone.

This was the day's consolation prize -- some cool pottery shards for my collection.

Back home, I bathed the dog, changed my clothes, took some aspirin and called my phone on Skype. And lo and behold, a man answered. Turns out he was a police officer -- someone had handed in my phone at the Golders Green police station. He said I could come and pick it up right away. I hopped a bus and had my phone back within half an hour, having conveyed my thanks (via the police) to the person who turned it in.

(Turns out I didn't drop it in that field after all. It was found in a completely different spot, called Springett's Wood. Who knows how I lost it. Note to self: NEVER put phone in jacket pocket!)

I seriously think this happy ending was karmic payback for turning in that bag of passports and credit cards I found last fall.

And just like that, the stone became a diamond!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

First Daffodil, and Daffodil Shrapnel

I looked out in the garden yesterday morning and saw a bright spot of yellow -- our first daffodil of the season! How exciting! Winter really is edging into spring. (To paraphrase a George Winston album title.)

But then, to my dismay, I saw...

Those @*&# squirrels!

I gotta let Olga out into the garden more often to keep them at bay. I don't know why they like gnawing on daffodil buds, but they do -- as well as many, many of our other plants. Maybe they're extra-hungry at this time of year. They also ate all the flowers off our snowdrop. (Or maybe it was the pigeons. OK, I didn't see the culprit in action.)

The hellebore is looking pretty amazing. Our next-door neighbor's Polish gardener calls it a "Christmas rose."

And we have a crocus emerging in the bed by the back door. This area has been dug over so much by Dave, I'm thrilled to see there's still a bulb left undisturbed!

We had a quiet, domestic day yesterday. We went to the Bridge Cafe, near the tube station, for breakfast, followed by a wander through our weekly farmer's market. (We both agreed we don't go nearly enough. We bought local pork chops, organic pears and purple broccolini, among other things.)

On the way back home, we passed John selling his used books near the train station. I got an copy of a clever photo book by Slinkachu, an artist who installs tiny figures of people around London, posed in inventive scenarios, and photographs them. And then, motivated to buy books, we went to our local independent bookshop (Yes! We have one!) and picked up a copy of Gabriel Tallent's "My Absolute Darling" and Allen Hollinghurst's "The Sparsholt Affair." So now I'm set for reading material.

It was a very rainy afternoon, so we stayed inside. In bed, in fact. It was fabulous, but I feel like my sleep cycle has been out of whack all week and today I'm looking forward to getting out and doing something active and getting tired!