Saturday, September 23, 2017
Remember how Dave and I both got our Indefinite Leave to Remain this year? The process in which we had to pass the "Life in the UK" test and jump through some other bureaucratic hoops in order to stay in the country?
Well, that process created some incidental expenses (study guides, test registration, passport photos) which our employer agreed to reimburse. So a few weeks ago I filled out an expense report, attached my receipts and turned it all in to the finance office.
Several days later I got a pay stub saying my expenses (about £95) had been paid by bank transfer. But the money didn't show up in my account. Well, I figured, I'd wait until my paycheck came -- maybe it would be included in that. But it wasn't.
So yesterday I went to the finance office and learned that the payment should have shown up immediately. In checking the account number, the finance guy realized he sent the payment to a different account. I assumed it must have been our old Barclay's account, which we closed in July 2016. This filled me with dread because it meant I had to call Barclay's again, and dealing with them is always incredibly painful. I thought perhaps the account wasn't closed properly and now had my money sitting there.
So I called Barclay's last night, and it was painful -- but not as bad as it's been in the past -- and the old account is in fact closed and has no money in it.
So, the bottom line is, where did my £95 go?!
Of course this all came to light on a Friday, so now I've got to wait until Monday to pursue the mystery further.
Stay tuned as, in the coming week, we try to unravel the tangled threads of modern British banking...
(Photo: A discarded plastic castle / toy kitchen unit (?) outside a house in Hampstead. Every time I see things like this in the trash, I'm filled with despair. All that plastic headed to a landfill, where it will linger for a million years -- and for what?)
Friday, September 22, 2017
How's my cold, you ask? Well, I'm not sure. I feel like I'm past the phase of "active illness," but I am still congested as all get-out and coughing like crazy. So I don't know what's going on. Either I'm just clearing out my body after defeating the bug, or I'm courting a secondary infection.
I had planned to walk another segment of the London LOOP this weekend, but I'm not sure I'll be up for that. I won't rule it out yet, though. Let's see how today goes.
I think my Doris shorts are on their last legs. A big hole opened up in the soft, 23-year-old cloth the other day, and it wasn't along a seam. It was right over my thigh, showing a clear deterioration of the cotton. This is not a surprise, as old as they are and as much as I wear them, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give them up yet. Last night I sat down and sewed up the hole as best I could. My repair looks terrible -- like a four-legged brittle star crawling up my leg -- but it may prevent the fabric from tearing any more. Maybe I can get one more year out of them.
(Photo: A racing car and bicyclist at an auto yard near Erith, South London.)
Thursday, September 21, 2017
I've been thinking about North Korea.
Of course I've been thinking about it for weeks now, off and on, though some of that "thinking" has actually been simply living in denial and pretending the whole situation isn't happening.
That's pretty much been the world's approach to dealing with North Korea, hasn't it? Close it off, pretend it's not there. Dismiss it as a tiny, isolated rogue state run by an authoritarian desperado.
In my defense, the North Korea problem is so big, it's hard to see what I, as an individual, could do. Worrying about it all day doesn't serve much purpose.
But I'm beginning to think that the best way to approach North Korea, on an intergovernmental level, is to do exactly the opposite of what the United States and much of the Western world has been doing for decades now. And definitely the opposite of what Trump is doing. Threatening Kim Jong Un is only going to bring on more aggression -- and unfortunately Trump seems incapable of responding to aggression with anything but aggression of his own. They're like two seventh-grade boys in a playground dispute, lacking the maturity to put a stop to it before they come to blows.
I think the United States should open diplomatic relations with North Korea. Kim Jong Un is basically a child throwing a tantrum. He wants to be seen, to be recognized, to be respected. Hostility is the only vehicle he understands to attain that goal.
America's continuing efforts to isolate him, to pretend he's not there, to tighten the sanctions that make his people suffer, are counterproductive. That attitude just makes him angrier.
So I say, let's give in. Let's talk to the guy. At this point, what have we got to lose? Not talking to him seems to carry a much higher potential cost. The United States needs to better understand North Korea, and North Korea needs to understand Americans as well. (My thinking on this point was influenced by, among other things, this excellent recent article in The New Yorker, which highlights our decades-long lack of communication as central to our current problems.)
This is assuming North Korea would respond to a diplomatic overture from us. I think they would. I think it's exactly what they want.
Trump's threat to obliterate the nation is, to put it mildly, not helpful. America should open diplomatic dialogue ASAP and, over time, involve North Korea in international discussions aimed at peaceful coexistence. I'm not sure it's an entirely attainable goal -- Kim Jong Un wants to unify the Korean peninsula under his regime -- but it's better than the status quo.
I don't see how talking to them hurts the USA in any way, except that it could be said North Korea bullied us into it. And frankly, I don't care about that. We must admit that they are now a force to be reckoned with.
Is Kim Jong Un a tyrant? Has he abused the human rights of his own people? Yes, but America has diplomatic relations with plenty of other tyrants. That in itself is insufficient reason not to talk to North Korea.
Diplomacy is the only way to head off the lunacy and posturing that will only edge us closer to planetary annihilation. Unfortunately, Trump has shown little interest in diplomacy in general. So I'm not optimistic about where that leaves us.
(Photo: Shadows in our living room.)
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Last spring, sometime toward the end of the school year, a mysterious bag of beans wound up in the library lost and found. Contained in this nifty canvas pouch, the beans were clearly marketed at tourists visiting Massachusetts.
"Take home the taste of Olde Boston," read the bag. On the opposite side, above a simple recipe, it continued: "This recipe for truly authentic Boston baked beans will remind you of the wonderful time you enjoyed in Olde Boston. For a great meal just follow these easy directions."
How these beans crossed the Atlantic ocean only to wind up abandoned in the school library, I'm not sure. But when all the students departed for the summer and it became clear no one was going to claim them, I took them home.
A few weeks ago, while uncharacteristically trying to clean off the kitchen counter, Dave decided to make them. But when he looked at the recipe, he realized that it called for molasses, and that is not an easy thing to acquire in England. At least, not that we could find. He ordered some from Amazon, and we waited a few more days for that to arrive.
Finally, last weekend, Dave was ready to begin cooking.
This is what was inside the canvas pouch -- a garden-variety grocery store bag of navy beans. Never mind that these cost something like $1, while enclosing them in canvas elevates the price to $8. Everybody knows tourists buy silly things at exorbitant prices.
Dave cooked up the beans, which took an astonishing six hours. (Not including soaking time!) As I told him, even if we didn't pay for the beans themselves, they were hardly free -- between the cost of the molasses and salt pork, and the power required to run the oven for that much time!
Still, they were yummy. I was most impressed. I haven't been to "Olde Boston" in about 10 years, but I guess this counts as a virtual trip. All courtesy of some careless student!
(By the way, although "Olde Boston" in this case refers to Boston, Mass., there is a Boston in Lincolnshire, England; the American city was named for it. I guess we could call it "Reallye Olde Boston." And I ate my Boston Baked Beans in the English style -- on toast!)
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Since I was trapped indoors yesterday, mostly reading, I don't have much to blog about! So here are some more recent photos from the ol' iPhone.
First, the shadows are lengthening on my morning walks with Olga!
This strange, 2001-like monolith appeared on Finchley Road. I have no idea what it could be. I thought it was some kind of parking meter, but I don't think there's parking along this stretch of road, so that seems unlikely. Stay tuned!
A rather sad collection of free stuff on a bench outside the West Hampstead library...
I love that someone wrote graffiti outside the train station as "The Fare Evader." Not particularly skillful graffiti, though.
This medallion is on the exterior wall of a local auto supply store, but I have no idea what it refers to. I've tried Googling and come up with nothing. I'm not sure how long this shop has sold auto supplies -- it may have been something else in an earlier life. Any ideas? (*See addendum below)
I do know what this stands for -- the Zoological Society of London. Also known (at least by me) as the Sloth Car! When I was taking the photo a woman walked up and unlocked the doors. "I bet this car gets a lot of attention," I told her, and she agreed!
Finally, Dave bought a loaf of Warburton's bread recently that was the tiniest bread loaf I've ever seen. The slices were scarcely bigger than the palm of my hand. (I have biggish hands, but not gigantic.) I used it to make tiny sandwiches, which is pretty much all you can do with tiny bread.
*Addendum: The intrepid Jenny O solved this mystery! The LCS wreath is the mark of the London Cooperative Society, an organization that linked independent grocers, department stores and other retailers across the city between 1920 and 1981. Thanks, Jenny!
Monday, September 18, 2017
I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday. Even though I've had this cold, I was feeling OK and I thought the walk would do us good.
We saw some asters in bloom (top). They're a late-summer flower and they're still abundant. I've been seeing fewer bees and butterflies -- another sign of the season changing -- although yesterday I saw a pair of red admirals on our butterfly bush.
Anyway, Olga was feeling super-energetic. I know I always talk about her running and running on the Heath, but in order to show you what this is actually like, I created the following video. Be warned that it's very quiet at the beginning -- all you can hear is the click of her dog tags as she's running in the underbrush -- and then I call out to her twice. (I just don't want that part to startle you!)
She's such a goofball.
Unfortunately, I don't think that walk actually did me any favors. I feel pretty terrible this morning and I called in sick. Maybe if I stay in bed all day (while someone else walks Olga!) I'll get over the hump with this cold.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Well, my cold has settled into my nose. Mild, but super-annoying. I took the dog for a couple of walks yesterday but otherwise stayed on the couch reading and watching movies. We watched the cinematic equivalent of comfort food -- old favorites "The Shawshank Redemption" for Dave and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" for me. Dave made me promise not to shout all the audience responses during "Rocky," but I did it in my head.
Anyway, I want to show you some of our local street signs, featuring fingers conveniently pointing the way to a nearby destination -- a larger street, maybe, or a public building.
Aren't these great? I tried to do some research to get some history about them, but I wasn't very successful -- so I don't know how old they are or if they are still maintained when, for example, a tile is broken or goes missing. I would guess they date back 100 years or so, which seems to be the age of much of the housing stock in this area.
I also can't remember whether I've seen them in other parts of London, or whether they're just a Hampstead (and West Hampstead) thing. There used to be a Borough of Hampstead, before it was consolidated into Camden in the mid-'60s, and maybe the fingers were a consistent feature of street signs in the old borough. That's all speculation; I just don't remember seeing them elsewhere in town.
Sadly, some of them have seen some damage.
To make things even more interesting, the design of the hands can vary from sign to sign. Some tiles feature a bigger hand with a more open palm. I don't have any pictures of those, but there's one here.
Anyway, just one of the curiosities of my London neighborhood!