Saturday, November 18, 2017

Autumnal iPhone Photos

Here's another collection of random pictures from my phone. I confess that I'm using the phone camera more and more -- many of the pictures in my recent blog posts have been from the phone. It's just so much easier to carry than the big camera.

Someone lined up some horse chestnuts (or "conkers," as the British call them) atop this tombstone in the cemetery. They always look so shiny and clean, like jewels lying among the leaf litter on the forest floor.

I found this scrap of gift wrap lying on the sidewalk on my way to work. Yes, those are penises. As Dave said, "At least it's multicultural!"

Tube Ad of the Week! "Dave" is, improbably, the name of a TV Channel in Britain.

We have a bust of Andrew Mellon, our library's benefactor, in an alcove at work. Someone put this stocking cap on his head, and we've left it there. He probably gets cold just sitting in the corner looking dignified, poor guy.

The fig tree has gone entirely yellow for autumn. Soon the leaves will fall and I'll tuck it into the shed for a few months of hibernation.

Speaking of autumn leaves, I'm always amazed at how big the leaves of the London plane trees get. (I've blogged a similar shot before, I admit it.)

Some colorful spilled oil on the roadway, coordinating with a passerby's umbrella.

Finally, Olga and I found this huge headboard while walking the other day. Someone just left it (precariously) standing upright on the sidewalk. When I walked by yesterday, it had been moved and was leaning against a nearby fence. It looks like really nice wood. I hope someone claims it! (We do not need a headboard.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fallen Leaves and Drinking Games

This is what our garden looks like now. We've pretty much just let it go -- we saw Mrs. Kravitz out weeding and raking a few days ago, and she said something like, "What happened to your garden?!" We told her that in the fall, we let nature take its course.

I probably do need to rake those leaves at some point.

Wasn't the news from Australia encouraging? I'm so happy marriage equality passed there by referendum, and by such a solid margin!

On the other hand, I've been reading about the college students around the USA who have died recently from alcohol poisoning. I was just talking to my boss about this the other day -- she was saying that some students at the school where we work have needed hospital treatment because they've had too much to drink at parties. Maybe I'm naive (likely) but I never heard of this phenomenon when I was in school. I mean, people got drunk, sure, but I didn't know anyone who had to have their stomach pumped or who suffered any long-term effects.

The students in my dorm, in college, turned drunkenness into a game. We had a weekly "puke award" that hung on the door of whichever resident of our floor got the drunkest at the weekend. This was not only sanctioned by the RA, I think he might have started it. Can you imagine such a thing happening now? (For the record, I never won the "puke award.")

My boss said that in our day, we drank with mixers, but she thinks kids today (particularly girls) don't like to use much mixer because they're worried about extra calories. So they wind up drinking much stronger drinks. And fraternities, in particular, seem to use drinking as a rite of initiation that often goes wrong.

Anyway, I'm glad high school and college are behind me!

Apropos of nothing, the other day I was walking down the street past a woman and a little girl, and the girl, seeing a pigeon, started crowing at it like a rooster. "Cock-a-doodle-DOO!!" she yelled at the pigeon, over and over. The mother said, "Dear, that's not a chicken." But the girl just kept right on crowing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Florida Project

Dave and I actually went to see a movie last night. I know! Shocker! We save our rare cinema experiences for films we really, really want to see, and for me, that included Sean Baker's new movie "The Florida Project."

You all know I grew up in Central Florida and lived there until I was 33. So I know the state like the back of my hand, and having worked there as a journalist I'm familiar with the moths-to-a-flame quality it seems to have on people who are down and out, trying to start again, trying to scrape together a life with meager resources. "The Florida Project" is about a struggling single mom and her daughter living in a purple motel in the shadow of Disney World.

The film seemed a bit aimless at the beginning, but once I adjusted to its pace and its incredible sense of reality -- I felt like I was spying on the activities of real people, rather than watching anything scripted -- it came together. And the performances are terrific. I was awed. It wasn't a happy story, but it felt real and honest and, as I said, although my own experience of Florida was secure and comfortable, I've seen people living that way. The movie captures Florida's tawdriness and absurdity -- and even in that tortured theme-park landscape, its beauty -- really well, too.

We saw it at the Everyman Baker Street cinema, which has this groovy mural of some '60s models on the stairway. (I later learned, via the interwebs -- God bless Google! -- that it's an image from a 1966 French film called "Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" The actual photo includes a light bulb in front of all the models' faces, which makes the placement of the chandelier at right especially appropriate.) And there's also a groovy mural of the Beatles in the lobby seating area (top). It's a refreshing change from the Sherlock Holmes motif adopted by every other business on Baker Street.

We had dinner there -- a bunless hot dog for Dave, because he's being gluten-free these days, and a pizza margherita for me, with two lemonades and some popcorn. The downside -- the price for dinner and tickets was £58 (about $76)! I just can't get over how much movies cost in London.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mid-Week News

Well, I've been having a busy couple of days. We had an author come and speak in the library on Monday night about her new book, which I just read. It was an interesting talk and it made me appreciate the book even more. (In fact, I bought her other novel, too.) I've rethought my criticism from the other day -- the story has stayed with me and I've thought about it a lot, so obviously I was more invested in it than I realized!

The act of writing a novel -- conceiving a storyline big enough to sustain a book, inventing believable characters, piecing it all together,  and then ripping it apart again at the behest of an editor, and rewriting it sometimes several times  -- still boggles my mind. I don't know how people do it.

Anyway, Dave and I went to dinner beforehand with my coworkers, and that was fun, too.

Some of you asked about my health after my medical appointments from a few weeks ago. As far as I know, I'm fine. My blood tests showed only slightly elevated cholesterol, which I always have, and I never heard anything about the X-ray so I'm assuming that was clear, too. (The doctor said they'd call me "straight away" if anything looked suspicious.) Meanwhile, my cough has subsided, which is the best indication that all is well.

I haven't been walking to work enough over the past week, mostly because the weather has been cold and/or miserable. But I walked home last night and I'm going to do my best to keep it up -- especially since we had a faculty/staff appreciation event at school yesterday that involved literally tables-full of baked goods. (The parents bake for us, which is a nice gesture.) Gotta walk off those brownies!

(Photo: A barber shop in Ewell, south London. I wonder if they have to take Homer Simpson into the shop every night? And isn't it weird that a barber uses a figure of a bald man to promote his business?)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Morning Walk, For Posterity

Just when you thought it was safe -- more Olga-cam!

This video, made with our GoPro camera, shows a normal morning walk around our neighborhood. We leave the house, walk around the corner to busy Finchley Road, and then walk down an adjacent street, through a housing estate, along a pedestrian path to the high street, and then back home again.

Along the way we encounter various piles of trash (there are perpetually piles of trash lying around -- one of the curses of living in a big city, I suppose), we see two guys pushing a car onto a flatbed truck, we spar with a cat beneath a door, we drink from a dog bowl outside a bakery, we chase pigeons outside Tesco, we think about going into Sainsbury's, and we look for our nemesis through a hole in a gate.

Do you think you can stand the excitement?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Muddy Scrubs

After a whirlwind round of housecleaning and laundry, I took Olga back to Wormwood Scrubs late yesterday morning. She was more excited to get outside than I've ever seen her -- she was whimpering on the train and she wanted to run all the way from the train station to the Scrubs. I don't know what got into her, except that she stayed inside all the previous day while I was out walking across South London in the rain. Maybe she'd just built up a head of steam.

Look at her hiding behind that tree! You'd never know she was there, would you?

The Scrubs were really beautiful yesterday -- still very autumnal, though the trees have lost most of their leaves and we're definitely moving into winter mode.

At one point, while exploring some trails in the northwest corner of the park, I came across an area behind some thick brambles where there were several piles of shoes. Men's shoes, women's shoes, trainers, work boots and sandals -- a full assortment. It looked like they'd been brought in bags and dumped. I couldn't tell if someone lived back in there, or they'd been stolen, or both -- but it creeped me out, to be honest.

I could have used some new shoes by the time that walk was over, though. It sure is muddy out there at this time of year! (Or, as I put it to Dave, showing my age: "Holy mud bog, Batman!")

Someone definitely needed a bath when we got back home. And Olga did, too.

Last night we finally watched "Grace and Frankie" on Netflix. In fact, we watched three episodes. It's not at all what I expected -- I thought it would be much more sit-com like (I guess I'm thinking of "Kate and Allie" and "Will and Grace" and all those other sorts of shows). "Grace and Frankie" seems more sophisticated and we really like it so far.

We need some new things to watch on TV. We've finished "Stranger Things 2," and we're caught up on the new "Star Trek." We were watching "Designated Survivor" but that show, in its second season, seems to have run off the rails a bit. We're still working our way through "The Sopranos" and I'm still watching "The Wire" when Dave's gone to bed (defying conventional wisdom, he doesn't particularly like it).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Banstead Downs to Berrylands

I completed most of two more segments of the LOOP walk yesterday. It wasn't the best day for walking -- gray and rainy -- but I had to seize the moment because the train station where the walk began, at Banstead, doesn't have service on Sundays. So it was Saturday or nothing, and because I have some busy weekends coming up, it was pretty much now or December.

I began walking on Banstead Downs, where I had to navigate a golf course (the golfers were out yesterday too, despite the rain, and one of their balls landed worryingly close to me) before walking through a suburban neighborhood to Nonsuch Park (above).

There was some kind of foot race going on in the park, with a lot of cheering and people running a path that seemed to circle a field. Apparently the park is known for its "Park Runs," and I suppose this was one.

Nonsuch Park is home to Nonsuch Palace, or what's left of it -- which is, precisely, nothing. Henry VIII began building Nonsuch Palace in 1538, and it was supposed to be without equal in Europe. But he died nine years later, before its completion, and it passed through several owners, apparently growing less and less grand with every passing year. Finally, in the late 1600s, it was torn down and sold off piecemeal for building materials, to pay off the gambling debts of Lady Castlemaine.

There are stone markers along a path in the park showing the former position of the palace and the floor plan. The area was excavated by archaeologists in 1959.

Henry VIII also had a banqueting house in the park -- somewhere in the area of this raised platform, now planted with trees. I'm not sure whether this is an actual remnant of the banqueting house or something else entirely.

Anyway, from here the path passed out of Nonsuch Park and into the town of Ewell, where I walked along the high street and eventually stopped for lunch.

I ate at a cafe in the extremely groovy Bourne Hall Museum and Library, which opened in 1970 and looks vaguely like Space Mountain at Disney World. I was there, eating my cheese-and-onion toastie, just in time for a local official wearing a gold chain of office to show up and pose for some pictures with uniformed flag-bearers and volunteers manning a table for the Poppy Appeal. Yesterday was Remembrance Day, and I wore my own poppy all through my walk.

The path led out of Bourne Park and along the Hogsmill River, which apparently was used by painter John Everett Millais as the site for Ophelia's untimely drowning in his famous painting. The path followed the river and although by this time it had mostly stopped raining, the going was muddy and occasionally difficult.

At one point, I'd been slogging along and came to a bridge I was supposed to cross, only to find...

...this unwelcome surprise. So I had to double back and cross at a point farther upstream, then walk down the other side of the river. (I happened to pass another group of LOOP walkers on the way, so I warned them about the bridge being out, saving them the same slog.)

The path continued on through woods and beside athletic fields through the community of Old Malden. At one point the map gave me a choice of walking through a neighborhood or continuing along the river -- and I tried to continue along the river, but if there was any path to do so I couldn't find it. I wound up hoofing it through the neighborhood.

Some parts of the river showed an obvious degree of human impact. There are four balls in that trash!

Anyway, this LOOP segment continued onward all the way to Kingston, but I bailed a bit early in Berrylands, where there was a train station. I was muddy and exhausted, and I'd strayed off the path at one point (the map said "cross the wooden footbridge," and I did so, but it turned out to be the wrong wooden footbridge) so I wound up walking a bit farther than expected. I'll go back to Berrylands -- where happily, I believe there is train service on Sundays -- and pick up the path another day!