Sunday, February 17, 2019

Isle of Dogs

Somehow, in all my years of wandering around London, I've never explored the Isle of Dogs. This is the area south of Canary Wharf, hanging down into a loop of the Thames like a uvula. I've been to Canary Wharf many times, but I've never walked the island itself, so yesterday I decided to do some exploring there.

It seems debatable whether the Isle of Dogs really is an island. To me it looks more like a peninsula that's been bisected by various canals and boat basins. The origin of the name isn't clear, but it goes back hundreds of years -- apparently the earliest known reference is in the papers of Henry VIII, which mentioned the purchase of a hose for a ship docked there.

Canary Wharf itself is a hotbed of skyscrapers, cranes and construction, and the regions to the south -- although more settled -- are full of postwar estate housing. I believe London's so-called docklands were heavily bombed in World War II and maybe that's why there's very little that seems to come from an earlier time.

The Lotus, in the photo above, is a floating Chinese restaurant.

This woman was struggling to carry a massive amount of plastic wrap. Kind of metaphorical, really. I didn't hang around to see where she was going with it.

I did find a few pockets of older buildings, streets that had somehow escaped war damage and subsequent construction. But they were few and far between.

After walking around the various boat basins and past Millwall Park, I found myself at Island Gardens, at the island's southern tip. It's a small park that includes this cafe, with a brick mural of a teapot and cup on the side.

The park offers an amazing view across the Thames of Christopher Wren's Royal Naval College buildings in Greenwich, with Inigo Jones' Queen's House in the background as well as the hilltop where the Royal Observatory is located.

I then walked back up the east side of the island, which offered views of the O2 Arena (also known as the Millennium Dome) across the water. Remember when Dave and I climbed it with a friend many years ago? Those climbing tours must still be available -- I saw tiny people on the roof during my walk yesterday. (Well, OK, normal-sized people, but to me they looked tiny.)

Back at Canary Wharf, I popped into Starbucks for a hot chocolate before catching the tube for home.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

An Opportunity and a Memory

I should have used this picture Thursday for Valentine's Day, given the little hearts on the sign. Frankly, though, I didn't realize it WAS Valentine's Day until the day was about half over. As you may surmise, Dave and I are not very attentive to such things.

When I came home from work that night, I joked, "Where are my roses?" And he replied something unprintable that made me laugh, which was worth more than any roses.

Now we're on February Break, and we have all of next week to ourselves. It comes at a good time, because last week was madness. We had lots of classes in and out of the library for various purposes, and lots of books coming and going -- plus my reorganization of the fiction section.

A position recently opened up at school for a high school journalism teacher. I was asked whether I planned to apply, and I considered it, but ultimately decided against it. It would have been a lot more money, but also a lot more stress, and I have no teaching experience so it would have been a steep learning curve for me -- how to make lesson plans and grade students and that kind of thing. It would have meant overnight travel with student groups, which sounds like my idea of a nightmare, as well as the pressure of appointing the editors of the student paper and overseeing its production. Lots of working nights and weekends, in all likelihood. That's if I'd even gotten the job.

Yes, I have newspaper experience, but it was almost a decade ago. At the end of the day I think the kids are probably better served by someone whose experience is more recent and who knows something about teaching. I've honestly never envisioned myself a teacher. It's not a job that calls to me -- and I think it needs to be a calling for someone to do it well. Besides, Dave and I are lucky enough not to need more money. We're doing fine.

So, yeah. I'm staying put in the library, at least for now.

Can you see that cat sitting out of reach beyond the fence, taunting Olga? We pass this cat many mornings on our walk, and that's what it does -- it knows Olga can't get to it. She sure does try, though.

Today would have been my dad's 82nd birthday, if he were still with us. It's also the birthday of Mrs. Kirkland, who took care of me and my brother as children when our parents were at work -- a surrogate grandmother, really. Both of them are gone now but they always come to mind on this day.

This is my only picture of Mrs. Kirkland. I took it with my Magimatic camera in 1974 or so. She hated having her picture taken, so she held her paper bag of needlework (crocheting, probably) in front of her face.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Vapor Trails

Yesterday morning when I walked Olga at sunrise these amazing vapor trails were snaking all over the sky. London always has dramatic vapor trails. I suppose it's because we're in the center of an air traffic hub, with at least five commercial airports and who knows how many smaller or military ones in the vicinity.

Today's our last school day before February Break -- we have all next week off. I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but Dave and I are going to Malta on Tuesday. I've always wanted to see Malta, and because it's relatively small I hope we can do it justice in a short visit. (We're only there three nights.) Olga will stay with Simone, who watched her over our Christmas holiday in Florida.

You will be glad to know I did get the indelible marker off the whiteboard at work. (I know these things probably keep you up at night.) I used commercial whiteboard cleaner and that worked fine. I thought no one had been able to get it clean, but the sad fact is I think no one had tried.

And just in case you'd like to see it:

Remember the ad I shot through the tube train door, the one I posted yesterday? Well, this is the whole thing. (It's still in the station after all, not removed as I erroneously said. I was looking at the wrong platform!)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Another iPhone Photo Parade

I know, I just did a random photo post a couple of days ago. But I have nothing to write about today, because, believe me, you don't want to hear about my cultural competency training. Plus I have lots of photos stacked up. So here goes!

First, signs of spring -- I mentioned the other day that the crocuses were coming up. These were in Hampstead Cemetery.

This is a block of flats on my walk to work. The entrance is kind of humdrum during the day but it looks pretty cool at night.

Here's another block of flats that Olga and I often pass on our way to and from the cemetery. I love that mod tiled entranceway and the door with the gold, wedge-shaped handle. (Muddy Olga was more interested in drinking rainwater from the saucers of the potted plants.)

Speaking of plants -- perhaps the saddest potted plant in the world, outside a kebab shop near the West Hampstead tube.

This sticker on a telephone switch box caught my eye, because there's a street near our neighborhood called Fairhazel Gardens. I wondered what it could mean. Turns out there's a singer who goes by the name Fairhazel -- I'm guessing it's his. (He's good, by the way, and I like his rather mesmerizing music video.)

This baby teething toy was abandoned at the cemetery in a random vase full of water. It's been there a while.

And this pillow was set out with the trash on my walk to work Tuesday. How can someone throw away THAT FACE?!

And speaking of faces, when I got on the tube to come home Tuesday night, this is what greeted me when I stepped into the tube car -- a giant face from a station advertisement peering in the opposite window. (I barely got this photo -- by the time I got out my phone and got the camera app turned on, the train began to move! And now the ad has been replaced, so that was my one shot.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Concertinas and Proust

Like me, you may wonder upon seeing this shopfront, "What's a concertina?" Well, I can tell you. It's a small hand-held accordion.  I don't think Mr. (or Ms.?) Crabb is still in business, though. I think it's an art gallery now. In any case, there's a little sign in the window saying "paintings."

I don't have much time to blog this morning. I have to get to work because the library closes early today, and my shift has been moved up a couple of hours. That's to make time for all-school cultural competency training this afternoon, where we explore all the various -isms and -phobias that plague our society at large. (I'm not being snarky about it, honestly. I think this training is probably a good thing.)

We've been reorganizing the fiction section, trying to make room for more books. Over time, any collection of books will grow more in some areas than others, and will need to be shifted to redistribute them more evenly on the shelves. Last week I spent a couple of days doing that, and in the process I weeded out more stuff.

Proust, for example. We had sad-looking early '70s paperback editions of all eight volumes of "Remembrance of Things Past." Most of them hadn't been checked out even once since being added to the collection in 1972!  Obviously Proust is a classic, but realistically, high school kids are not going to read all of that novel. (Just as they aren't going to read Samuel Richardson's "Clarissa," which you may remember I weeded last year. Incidentally, both "Remembrance" and "Clarissa" are among the ten longest novels ever written.) My solution was to buy a fresh new copy of the first volume of "Remembrance," which is called "Swann's Way" and is the one most people read if they read any Proust at all. I suspect no one will check it out either, but at least it takes up less shelf space. We can always get the rest should the need arise, but I suspect it will not, since no one's wanted it in the last half-century.

It sounds terrible, I know, getting rid of a classic. But the truth is, we need more room for Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and the stuff that kids really do read. Am I dumbing down the culture? I don't think so. I think I'm just being realistic.

Anyway, off to work!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Refreshing My Memory

After writing a few days ago about blackface and, tangentially, the "slave auctions" that occurred at my Florida high school in the early '80s, I began to doubt my own memory. Did we really buy and sell our own classmates?

I dug my old yearbooks out of the box in the closet where they are stored, and looked for photographic evidence of the auctions and "Slave Day." I found none. (And also, in case you're wondering, no evidence of anyone in blackface on that or any other occasion, although I was pretty sure that never happened.)

So that concerned me a bit. I sent a message to one of my high school friends on Facebook and asked what he remembered. Fortunately, his memory matched mine, although he also couldn't remember who sponsored the auctions or how they worked. So I wrote to one of my former teachers, thinking it would be interesting to get an adult perspective.

She replied that she did, indeed, remember the auctions, which she believed were a fund raiser for Student Council.

"Back then I didn’t see it as awful as I might today -- it seemed like a mild event to raise cash and make people laugh," she wrote. "Most of the 'slaves' did things like carry books for their owners, bring lunch, etc. These were usually popular people, so buyers got street creds (I thought) for making fun of their slave, but I never saw cruel or debasing behavior. However, I was pretty young then, and I recall (a colleague) regularly speaking out against this event, as a reminder of the slavery past in the South."

The event imposed social pressure on some students, who wanted to 'buy' their boyfriend or girlfriend but didn't have the money, she said. And although it was a successful money-maker, she said it ended not long after I graduated in 1984, after continued complaints from some teachers.

So that was very interesting -- hearing that there was some resistance to the idea at the time, which I obviously didn't know.

I'm glad to hear that my memory is accurate. I wish I knew what the handful of black students at the school thought of that fundraiser. Unfortunately, I don't know them well enough to ask.

Oh, and like me, my teacher said she doesn't remember anyone at our school ever doing blackface. So at least that's something.

(Photo: A sandwich shop in Islington, with some kind of old ghost sign beneath the more modern ones, early January.)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Taking Apart a Zinnia

Our butter-colored crocuses are coming up in the flower bed by the back door, adding some color to the otherwise sere wintry landscape. Olga and I saw purple ones on our walks Saturday and yesterday. It's nice to see the world coming back to life!

Yesterday was busy -- I cleaned the house top to bottom in the morning, and then did a bit of organizing. I got Dave to help me thin out his sock drawer, which was stuffed so full of socks that it wouldn't close. (His students know that he loves colorful socks, so they -- as well as I and members of his family -- give him socks as a gift. Consequently, TOO MANY SOCKS! And some were pretty old, so we got rid of those.)

We also cleaned off our bookshelves, which were loaded down with stuff we are simply not going to read again. I've got two bags of books to go to the Oxfam shop.

I took Olga to the cemetery -- it was even lightly raining at the time and she still wanted to go, which shows how fired up she was for a walk. Of course this entailed lots of mud and, when we got home, a dog bath. (If we say "bath" she goes straight to the tub after a muddy walk. She doesn't like it, but she knows it's inevitable and I'm sure she feels better afterwards!)

I also harvested seeds from a zinnia that I saved from last year -- one of the weird, streaky flowers.

This is what I started with. It's been decorating our end table all autumn and winter (despite the fact that I have an absolute phobia about dried flowers). I pulled the blossom apart and was left with a crazy amount of material -- and no obvious seeds.

So then I had to Google "where are a zinnia's seeds?"

It turns out they're the small, dark arrow-shaped bits at the end of these petals. I suspected they might be seeds -- I remember from planting last year's seed pack that zinnia seeds are very funky-looking.

This is what I wound up with. I have no idea whether they'll grow. They seem very dry, even withered, and I'm not sure the flower was fertile. But I'll give it a go.

Overall, I have a ridiculous quantity of seeds to deal with this year -- things I collected last fall from our garden or in the wild. Besides the zinnia I have sweet pea, honesty, burdock, cow parsley, foxglove, field poppy and something I think is hollyhock but I'm not sure. I've ordered compartmented seed trays from Amazon so I can start them on the windowsill in a few weeks. We'll see what grows!