Sunday, May 26, 2019

My Imaginary Beret

I put the pedal to the metal and pushed myself to finish "Prozac Nation" yesterday. I got a bit bogged down in it last week. Somewhere around 120 pages in, it started to seem very long. At first I felt sympathy for Elizabeth Wurtzel, who faced some dramatic family challenges not of her own making. But eventually she came to seem like one of those friends we all had in high school or college who could only talk about themselves and their problems. You just want to say, "Get out of your own head!"

Of course, she probably would have agreed with that advice. The problem was, she couldn't.

I'm not sure the book gives us a fully rounded picture of her life at the time. While it dwells on her problems, her substance abuse and her breakdowns and her truncated relationships and crazy ranting, it never really explains her successes. She wound up at Harvard and then managed to stay there, even designing a special curriculum so she could take classes and simultaneously live in London (!). She got a summer job at the Dallas Morning News, where she evidently pleased her editors enough that they wanted her back the next year -- even though she failed to file at least a couple of her stories. She wrote an essay about her father and it wound up published in Seventeen magazine. Who is this woman? How was she so connected? She must have been doing something right.

At one point, she said she comes from a family of people who communicate too much -- who never stop talking. That's what it felt like reading the book. It was relentless. Or, as characterized by the New York Times writer who read it for the paper's Generation X project recently, "exhausting."

Anyway, I powered through the book, and I did some minor stuff around the house -- laundry, plant-watering, that kind of thing.

I was trying to take it easy all day, owing to my bout of post-viral fatigue, but I felt guilty for not exercising the dog. So in the afternoon I took her to Fortune Green and the cemetery.

At the park I was throwing her tennis ball when a little boy, about seven or eight years old, came up and asked if he could pet her. I said sure, but of course, Olga was indifferent. She just wanted the ball.

He proceeded to ask all sorts of questions about where she came from and her name and whether she knew any tricks, and I was thinking, "Kid, didn't you get the 'Stranger Danger' memo?" But I answered him, and showed him Olga's ability to sit on command and present her paws for a shake, and even let him throw the ball for her.

"Are you French?" he asked me at one point.

Why do people in England think I'm French?

Anyway, he ran off as quickly as he appeared, yelling "Bye!" I have no idea where his adults were.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Little of Everything

Well, I survived yesterday at work. And as you can tell (by my posting at 9 a.m.) I slept in this morning, which felt pretty amazing and very necessary. So begins my plan for a weekend of rest!

You probably saw the news that Theresa May is stepping down at the beginning of June. It looks like Boris Johnson may be the UK's next prime minister, although the jury's still out on that. I have conflicted feelings about Johnson. Superficially he resembles Donald Trump in his blustery blond buffoonery, but he's much smarter and considerably more capable than Trump. I don't agree with all his politics, particularly with regard to leaving the EU, but he might not be a complete disaster as a leader. I don't see any other likely options.

I will always feel a bit sorry for May. She got dealt a bad hand and Brexit basically consumed her. She's not blameless -- she made some truly terrible decisions, mainly the snap election that cost the Tories their majority in Parliament not too long ago -- but I admire her for sticking to her guns and trying to make her Brexit plan work. The fact is, Parliament can't agree on a plan because there's no consensus on what the UK wants from Brexit.

I saw this critter on the bird feeder Thursday evening. I don't know how he got up there, considering the feeder is hanging from a pole, and there's no way he climbed that pole. I'm thinking he jumped from a nearby bush or tree, which is pretty resourceful. We've seen him jump from the feeder to a bush, so I suppose there's no reason he couldn't do the reverse.

Remember how a squirrel ravaged our sage plant and broke off its flower stalks? Well, Dave put the largest stalk in some water on the kitchen windowsill, and it has continued living and growing there -- and a few days ago it bloomed! I'm surprised it had the energy after having been broken off the main plant. Impressive!

We got word a few days ago that my step-grandmother died in Florida. She was one day shy of 96 years old. It's sad news, but no one can say she didn't have a long life, and she'd been in ill health for some time. I mainly saw her at family dinners and events, where she was a jocular presence, always laughing and telling stories about her childhood in Arkansas and her life as a military wife with seven kids.

Not long ago she gave me this Roseville art pottery bowl in the "Donatello" pattern, from the 1920s. She knew I had a couple of other Roseville vases from my maternal grandmother, so she thought it would go well with those. It's nice to have a keepsake from her. I won't be able to get back to Florida for the funeral, but I'll miss her just the same.

(Top photo: A phone repairman (I think?) in our neighborhood. No, that's not my shadow on the ground. It's from a stoplight.)

Friday, May 24, 2019


Dear God, will this week ever end?! I'm still struggling with some secondary health complaints related to my fever on Monday and Tuesday, mainly fatigue. I need a few days to rest. Fortunately we're going into a three-day weekend so I'll have a chance -- assuming I survive work today!

Some of you asked about Dave and Olga. Dave's health has been looking up the last few days -- he's supposed to begin new medication next week -- and Olga was OK until this morning, when her stomach began gurgling again. (No doubt she ate more sticks on yesterday's walk. She'll be fine.)

The roses in our garden are almost all blooming. We've seen a flower on nearly every bush. These are just a few of them.

I never thought of myself as a rose person, but having these bushes (all already in place when we moved in) has been surprisingly enjoyable. They're dependable and tough, and they don't require a great deal of care -- just an annual pruning and occasional feeding.

Dave and I were sitting in the living room yesterday evening, looking out at the garden and all the shimmering insects flying in the summery air, and it struck me again how pleasant England can be. (When it's not cold and raining.) Our high temperatures today will be around 72º F. And those insects I mentioned? None of them bite or sting -- at least, not without provocation. So unlike my native Florida! It still blows my mind to live in a place where we don't need screens on the windows.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Strolling in a Field of Purple

I've been meaning to take a picture of these two little garden statues at a flat down the street for days and days. I'm glad I finally remembered yesterday to keep my camera with me. Don't you love that campanula? We had one many years ago on our balcony in Notting Hill, but it rarely if ever looked this good.

I was back at work yesterday, cajoling overdue books from kids (we have just a few weeks of school left!) and rearranging our travel section. I went through that section about four years ago and ordered updated travel guides, but of course that was four years ago -- now some of the older ones I kept are really old. Yesterday I discarded four guides to Italy from 2010 and 2011. Another update is needed, I think.

I also got rid of some big coffee table books that people gave us over the years. They never got used. No one wants to check out a 20-pound, 30-year-old pictorial book about Melbourne or Boston -- not when current pictures are available online. I think coffee table books in general aren't very practical for a library.

Speaking of books, I thought you might want to see what John's memorial looks like now. Many more people have left flowers and notes about how they met him, the kind words and experiences they shared, that kind of thing. Apparently he was known to some as "Spider," perhaps because of his tattoos, one of which was a spider web. (Or did he get the tattoo because of his nickname?)

I liked this photo that someone left of him and Sugar.

And speaking of staffies, here's what's going on in our own house at the moment:

Someone's being a pillow hog!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wild Kingdom

Well, I seem to be on the mend. My fever was way down yesterday, even without aspirin -- it only got to about 99.2º F in the late afternoon, when fevers are usually at their highest, and that's not even really a fever. I also felt much better. I was able to read and spend some time outside, as opposed to Monday, when I could only lie on the sofa and watch back-to-back movies ("The Core," "Moonstruck" and "Working Girl.")

I also ate both lunch (peanut butter sandwich) and dinner (rice and scrambled eggs), in addition to my normal morning cereal. So today I'm headed back to work.

What a peculiar little virus. A roaring fever for one day, no other symptoms to speak of, and then BOOM -- gone.

We had a bit of excitement in the morning when I found this creature (above) crawling across my blanket on the sofa. You can't tell from the photo, but it's ENORMOUS, at least as British spiders go. Probably two or three inches long. I'm not an arachnophobe but it gave even me the willies.

Dave and I picked up the entire blanket and shook it outside, depositing the rather stunned spider in the garden. I think it's a wolf spider, and although I wouldn't want to harm it, I also don't want to live with it. Hopefully we haven't consigned it to death in the cruel outdoors, but after all, that's where it belongs.

And then, a few hours later, I was reading on the sofa when I heard a persistent buzzing. This usually means a bee is trapped behind a window in our house somewhere, so I got up to find it and free it. Instead, I found these two bees, locked either in passionate embrace or mortal combat, on our back patio. I tend to think it was the former -- I watched them for a while and then, when I went out a few minutes later, they were separated but lying near each other. When I moved closer, they both flew away, clutching tiny cigarettes.

Bee mating is not something I understand -- I thought there was a queen involved? And the male bee dies afterwards? Maybe that larger bee above is a queen. I have no idea.

(Top photo: Our shirts drying in the bedroom. A lot of my clothes do tend toward the blue end of the spectrum.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Surprise Party Flu

Well, we are a barrel of laughs around here.

Remember that surprise birthday party we went to on Saturday, where the guest of honor was sick? Well, I think I've come down with whatever she had.

I felt OK when I first got up yesterday morning, but then, while walking the dog, I felt my stomach do a little flip that definitely didn't seem right. I ate breakfast and walked to work as usual, but by the time I got there, I was feeling tingly and achy, and it just got worse and worse. Finally, at the demand of my co-workers, I went home just before lunchtime. I spent yesterday afternoon inert on the couch with a fever that reached almost 102º F.

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether this is due to the surprise party. It might be something totally unrelated. Maybe I would have gotten sick anyway.

To make things even more interesting, Dave started feeling ill on Sunday night -- more of his Crohn's-related intestinal complaints, or so we think. So we're both flat-out on our backs and staying home from work.

Even Olga is sick! I think she ate sticks on her walk yesterday. Her belly is gurgling away. We're a mess!

In other news, as I was walking along Abbey Road yesterday morning, I passed a trash bin outside an apartment complex that was smoking. It looked to me like a cardboard box in the bin was doing a slow burn. No one was around, so I wasn't sure what to do. It looked like a very minor fire, but I didn't want to leave it entirely unchecked. So I called the Fire Department and reported it. The dispatcher said they'd check it out, and I didn't wait around to see what happened.

I was shocked to learn that John, the guy who sells books outside the Thameslink train station in West Hampstead, apparently died on Sunday morning. There's an article in the paper about him -- no cause was specified but it's not thought to have been suspicious.

It must have happened very suddenly -- his stall is still set up, where people have left flowers and candles in memoriam.

I photographed John a couple of times and he was always a friendly guy. Now, at least, he has joined his beloved three-legged dog Sugar, who died last year and who has her own memorial plaque above his book stall.

John was a nice guy, but he'd obviously lived a rough life. I usually waved to him across the street while walking to the tube, and I sometimes stopped and bought a book or gave him a bit of money. (He'd ask if he was really broke.) I confess I also avoided looking his way occasionally, because I didn't want to give him something every time. Which was probably a shitty thing to do. After Sugar died, he gave me her leash and collar for Olga.

Once he passed me on the street and called out "Monsieur! Monsieur!" I thought, "Does John think I'm French?!" Maybe my American accent was as bewildering to him as his Glaswegian was to me. Anyway, West Hampstead won't seem the same without John, a true local character.

(Top photo: A quiet square in Mayfair.)

Monday, May 20, 2019

There Goes a Tenner

I took Olga to the Heath yesterday. I can definitely tell she's getting older. Not too many years ago she would drag me there. I could barely walk through the streets of Hampstead fast enough to keep up with her. Now she takes her time, sniffing all along the way, and her stamina isn't what it was. I shortened the walk a bit yesterday, spending more time in the woods (which she loves because that's where the squirrels are) and skipping Parliament Hill and some of the more open spaces. She didn't seem to mind at all.

This may be the new normal. She was two or three years old when we got her at the beginning of 2013, so now she's at least eight. Time waits for no staffy.

We saw this European Union flag flying from someone's balcony in Hampstead -- a little pro-EU message as Britain heads into European elections. Why are we having EU elections, you may ask, when we're about to leave the EU? A valid question. Basically it was a requirement for staying in a little longer to get our ducks in a row before we depart. (I say "our" even though I personally can't vote here in the UK -- not yet, anyway.)

It seems the danger in these elections is that voters may send a bunch of far-right politicians to the European Parliament, politicians who are openly hostile to the EU, thereby continuing to dismantle it from within. Britain is certainly guilty of that, having sent Nigel Farage back time and again. God forbid we should actually try to make the system work. I'm sure Russia has its sticky fingers in these races.

But on a positive note, look at what I found lying on the ground on the Heath! Now that's a good day.

It reminded me of the Kate Bush song "There Goes a Tenner," about a gaggle of criminals blowing up a safe. The crime goes wrong and money is left scattered at the scene.

I planted a few more seedlings yesterday, and we're going to give some others to our friend Lisa, who just got a new apartment with a garden. Slowly but surely I'm working my way through all of them. I'm not sure what to do with the four dahlias I have -- they're in smallish pots, where they obviously can't stay, but they get devoured by slugs in the garden. (As we know from prior experience!) Guess I need bigger pots to keep them on the patio.

I'm reading Elizabeth Wurtzel's book "Prozac Nation." I remember all the clamor when it came out 25 years ago (!) but I never read it, and when I found a copy in the library I thought I'd give it a try. She strikes me as bright but awfully self-involved, which I seem to remember is the main criticism of the book. The New York Times recently did a series of articles about Generation X, looking back at some of the forces that shaped our culture, and this tome was mentioned. Even though I'm just barely an Xer (having been born in 1966, two years after the Boomer generation ended) I suppose I ought to have some familiarity with it, right?