Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Iceland Two Ways

We had a chilly morning yesterday. There was frost in the garden when I looked out shortly after sunrise, and Olga acted like I was torturing her by making her go on a walk. She kept digging in her heels and trying to turn for home. Finally, after (ahem) essential bodily functions had occurred, I gave in and we went back.

She promptly got on the couch and hid almost entirely under her pink blanket. She wanted nothing to do with the cold.

Last night I went with Sally and Mike to see Björk in concert at the O2 Centre (also known as the Millennium Dome). Dave didn't come -- he's not very interested in Björk, and when I asked him to name a Björk song, he responded with a string of syllables that sounded like they came from the Swedish Chef.

But I've been a Björk fan since buying her album "Debut" back in 1994. It was widely advertised on posters in Spain when I traveled there with my friend Arthur that year -- in fact I remember being in a hotel room in Granada watching her video for "Violently Happy" on the TV. To this day it's one of my favorite Björk songs.

Anyway, her concert was a brightly colored, digitally enhanced spectacle. Photography was prohibited but I don't think Björk would mind me providing this 50-second teaser:

That's her in front, looking like a big white exotic bird or feather duster. Her voice hasn't changed a bit over the years.

She only played a few songs I knew: "Isobel," "Pagan Poetry," "Hidden Place" and a bit of "Venus as a Boy." I say that a bit reservedly, though, because although Björk doesn't sound like the Swedish Chef (and why would she -- she's Icelandic), she does have an accent and I often only understand every fourth or fifth word.

The concert, called "Cornucopia," focused on nature and the planet's ecology. A message about climate change scrolled across the screens in front of the stage, and later a video of Greta Thunberg speaking directly to the crowd. And of course everyone cheered the message, but I couldn't help thinking, here we are in this gigantic arena using untold kilowatts of electricity and drinking from our plastic cups. The message sounds good, and in fact it is essential, but acting is so much harder. It's not Björk's fault. It's just the way we live now.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Of Dubious Ecological Benefit

As I've mentioned before, one of my jobs in the library is to manage the lost & found. I usually try to keep an eye on items abandoned there and, if they're labeled with students' names, I contact the kids and try to reunite them with their property. Unfortunately, most stuff is anonymous and winds up sitting for ages until we throw it out or donate it to charity.

There's always an incredible quantity of unclaimed lost property in our school -- bins full of jackets, pairs of gym shoes, lunchboxes containing moldering food. It astonishes me. I wonder if kids are trying to get rid of jackets they don't like or lunches they don't want to eat?

I am especially frustrated by water bottles. So many kids (and possibly adults) lose their bottles and never find them again. I mean, these bottles are supposed to be an ecological benefit, eliminating the need for single-use plastic -- right? But that benefit seems wasted when the bottles themselves go unclaimed and eventually wind up in the trash or recycling.

At the moment, we only have five in the library...

...but here's the lost & found in the Middle School. You can't really tell from the picture, but there are nineteen water bottles/coffee travel cups/thermoses in and around that basket.

(See the one labeled "Dylan" at upper right? I realized right after I took this picture that I knew whose bottle it was. I took it back to my desk and sent the kid an e-mail yesterday. More proof that labeling works!)

Anyway, I posted this recent New Yorker cartoon beneath our lost-water-bottle shelf:

Monday, November 18, 2019

Back to Wormwood

I spent yesterday morning cleaning up the garden. I raked up the fallen walnut leaves, which have a wonderful spicy, aromatic smell. I wish I could describe it. I left behind the red leaves from the Japanese maple, because they look so nice on the lawn! Eventually they'll turn brown and I'll move them all to the side where they can compost.

Then I took Olga back to Wormwood Scrubs. I ran into some kids from school while waiting for the train, which was pretty funny -- introducing students to Olga. I think they liked her much more than they like me! She, of course, was mostly interested in the food they were carrying.

She and I had an extra-long walk, along the canal and through the woodsy areas of the park.

I discovered seedlings sprouting in the dry heads of the teasels, a phenomenon I don't remember ever seeing before. I'm not sure these plants will ever survive -- maybe they fall to the ground and take root? I wonder if this happened because it's been so damp. I kind of wish I'd taken a head home with me so I could try to root them for our garden.

Then we walked back along the canal and to the Willesden Junction train station, where we caught the train home. By that time Olga and I were both dragging! I have no idea how far we walked, but we don't normally do the canal twice. For once I wish I'd had a pedometer.

Last night Dave roasted a chicken and we Skyped with his mom before watching more of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Zip-Tied Elephant

Olga took me for a walk yesterday morning, all over Kilburn and Paddington Cemetery. I let her lead the way, and when I do that lately, we often wind up somewhere in that area. I think she likes finding chicken bones on Kilburn High Road (I don't let her eat them, but that doesn't mute her desperate desire) and she knows the cemetery contains squirrels.

We usually walk there along Iverson Road, which leads past the heavenly food-scented Saturday farmer's market and the Thameslink rail station. The past two times we've taken that route we've encountered some seriously disturbed people.

Two weeks ago, an older woman was walking a little dog and carrying a cup of coffee, and when the dog pulled and caused her to slosh her drink, she threw the paper cup to the sidewalk in a rage and began yelling at the dog and jerking it around. Another passerby and I both tried to calm her down, but she responded with a full-throated scream and made for her house, cursing all the way and dragging the poor dog behind her. It was actually pretty upsetting. I worry about that dog.

Then, yesterday, we saw a different woman with dark hair ranting at random people walking past. "I'm a professor of psychiatry!" she yelled. "So f*ck off!"

Well, okay then.

Olga and I passed houses with interesting mascots -- a one-eared pig on a couch (top photo), a zip-tied plush elephant.

Here's Olga at the cemetery, in a rare moment when she wasn't racing after squirrels and barking.

We found a beautiful hollyhock that has managed to hang on late into the season. (I did see an insect buzzing around one of our garden flowers yesterday, so I guess despite the chill and damp, there are still pollinators out and about.)

We came across this bag, lying in a hedge near the West Hampstead library. I thought, "I hope there's not a foot in there!" (I didn't look.)

When we finally got home, Dave and I went out to look at our TV dish, which -- as you may remember -- the tree-trimmers knocked askew more than a week ago, leaving us without a signal. I stood on a chair and was able to reposition the receiver enough to recover the signal. We duct-taped it in place, proving Dave correct in his practical Michigan belief that almost anything can be repaired with duct tape. I'm so glad that's fixed and we don't have to call a repair person.

Dave had scheduled a cleaning service to come and clean our oven. This is one of the few household jobs (along with tree trimming!) that neither of us feels able or motivated to do properly. The guy showed up and did an amazing job -- we now have an oven so clean we can, well, cook in it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and doing little household chores, topped off with an evening martini. We started watching "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" on Amazon, and after Dave fell asleep I followed it up with "Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?,"  a 1969 mystery/horror movie that I read about recently on someone's blog. It wasn't exactly good, but Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon in starring roles made it worth watching. An excellent and productive Saturday all around.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Late-ish Post

I'm posting a bit late this morning! Dave, Olga and I all had a lie-in. It seems none of us wanted to get up, and it's so gray and damp and chilly outside, there's barely any reason to.

Dave thinks he figured out how the plastic lid got in the egg frittata. When he took some leftover potatoes out of the fridge, he removed the lid and tossed it aside onto the counter. Only it didn't land on the counter -- it landed in the baking dish for the frittata, which he was mixing in a big bowl nearby. He then poured the contents of the bowl into the baking dish without looking, et voila -- plastic lid frittata.

I'm loving Shaun Bythell's book "The Diary of a Bookseller." He expresses really well the frustrations of dealing with customers and their many demands -- frustrations that I share in the library. Customers who say they want something and then, when you find it for them, change their mind; customers who want to tell your their life story ("I am going to get a mask and paint 'I DON'T CARE' on the forehead and put it on when such occasions arise in the future," Bythell writes); customers who say, "I want a specific book but I don't know what it's called or who wrote it or what it's about."

My particular pet peeve is, because I sit at a big desk out in the open, and sometimes I'm not directly engaged with anyone standing in front of me, people assume I'm doing nothing and come up and start talking to me about any old thing -- when in fact I'm often doing something on my computer and they're breaking my concentration. My co-worker and I agree that the interruptions are the hardest part of the job. It's hard to maintain focus on any task.

Anyway, I don't want to sound like too much of a crank, but I'm identifying with Bythell -- even though he said booksellers don't like librarians because we fill up books with stamps and cover them with stickers and plastic laminate, thus all but destroying them for the book trade.

I guess the thing about book people is, we'd all rather just be reading. Unfortunately we have to make a living.

(Photo: A display of vintage luggage in a Starbucks at Dulles Airport in Virginia. I thought it was pretty inventive!)

Friday, November 15, 2019

Autumn Scenes with Kitchen Mishap

Our Japanese maple is turning more and more red, and carpeting the grass with its discarded leaves. I realize this is similar to a picture I showed you just a few days ago, but I couldn't resist -- I love the color of this tree and how it matches the yellowing hostas. So autumnal!

Dave discovered Totoro, who usually hangs from the walnut tree, lying in the grass the other day. I went out yesterday morning and managed to find the little bead that goes with him, then cleaned him up and left him on the kitchen drainboard to dry. My guess is squirrels pulled him down. At least this time he didn't break.

I replaced the browning dahlia on the front porch with two cyclamens. I'm sure they're going to get ravaged by squirrels but they've got a better chance on the front porch than the back patio. Squirrels love cyclamens. The rudbeckia still looks pretty good, too.

Now here's a rhetorical question. If someone named Dave was making you dinner and pulled a strangely-shaped egg frittata out of the oven, and upon closer examination realized...

...that he had baked the plastic lid of a food storage container into the frittata...

...would you still eat it?

The plastic seemed fine, and the frittata tasted OK, so we did. I have a general rule that when someone cooks for me, I eat whatever they produce. But I was perfectly aware that in this case I was probably also ingesting residual chemicals.

Dave and I laughed so hard when we discovered the lid in the food. He's mystified about how it happened, because he insists he stirred the frittata in the dish before he baked it, and you'd think a big flat slab of plastic floating in the egg would have been fairly obvious.

"Well, you've got your blog post now!" he told me.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


I sometimes get up in the middle of the night and wander around the house. It's not that anything's bothering me or that I'm uncomfortable -- it's just my sleep cycle. I often wake up about 3 a.m. and walk around, get a drink of water, and go back to bed.

Anyway, I got up early Wednesday morning and found the living room bathed in moonlight. It was a full moon and the light seemed bright enough to photograph. So I got out the camera, set it on "bulb" (which allows me to hold open the shutter as long as I want) and tried some shots.

My hand-held pictures didn't work at all. I have a pretty steady hand, if I do say so myself, but even when I think I'm not moving, I am. I don't have a tripod, so I looked around for a surface where I could rest the camera. I wound up using the back of Dave's recliner, which isn't ideal because it's puffy and upholstered as opposed to hard and flat -- but it did the trick. I held the shutter open for eight to ten seconds, on ISO 8000.

I love how bright the red lights from the digital clock, TV box and power strip seem, as well as the green light on the left, from Dave's charging computer. There's something so peaceful about a quiet, dark house in the wee hours of the morning. (I was going to write "silent," but I'm sure there was actually a lot of snoring in the next room -- both canine and human.)