Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Book Binder

Yes, that is a man in a Scooby Doo suit. When I walked through the St. Paul's tube station yesterday, he was there raising money for some charity or other. I asked for a picture and gave him £2 in return. (By the way, this was shot on my new iPhone -- it's clear but definitely not as sharp as the big camera.) If I'd thought of it I'd have had him turn a bit to the side so you could see the black spots on his back.

What was I doing down by St. Paul's? Well, it's a long story. We've been trying to get five years' worth of student newspapers bound into volumes for the library archives. The binder we work with is located on Ludgate Hill, just a few steps from the cathedral. The papers have been stacked in the library for several weeks. I initially tried to get the binder to come to school and collect them -- allegedly they do delivery -- but that was proving to be a challenge. So instead I decided to just take them down there. I loaded them into an extra-large bag, lugged them via the tube, walked them past the cathedral and up a curving wooden staircase into a shop that could have come from Dickens -- a little room on the second floor of an old building, with stacked paper and binding glue and brushes in addition to more modern equipment, and windows open to the Autumn breeze. I showed the woman running the shop exactly what we needed and emerged, much lighter, onto the street, practically in the shadow of St. Paul's.

It was a fun outing. But the tube was crowded on the way back, and I had a college-age kid standing in front of me -- and every time the train started up he'd fall backwards, step on my toes and drive his backpack into my chest. It happened two or three times and I was about to tell him to HOLD THE HANDRAIL when the train starts, but then he got off. He was plugged into his music and never said a word to me. No "sorry" or "excuse me" -- nothing.

The woman next to me was reading a book called "Emergency Sex," which turns out to be more serious than it sounds. She was on the first chapter, "Condition Alpha." As you can tell, we were standing close enough that I could read over her shoulder.

Ah, urban life.

Back home, the crane flies have once again been coming indoors in the evenings. In what has become my late summer and early autumn ritual, I chase them down and put them back outside, if I can catch them. Dave thinks I'm crazy, but he's used to it by now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Debate

Dave and I watched the presidential debate last night. It's been several election cycles since I watched a debate, but I'd been reading about it all day and wanted to see it first-hand. So we pulled it up on YouTube and poured some wine.

Once again, I just want Trump's supporters to explain to me how they could possibly see him as a presidential figure. What I saw was bluster and bumbling confusion -- his now-famous "word salads" -- compared with Hillary's articulate, experienced presentation. How could anyone, even a right-winger, look at their performances, side by side, and choose Trump as the better candidate? I just do not get it.

Except, of course, that his supporters' minds were made up before they even tuned in. (As was mine, admittedly.) I'd like to say they're thinking about the Supreme Court, or the perceived efficiencies of a government in which a single party controlled both lawmaking branches. But I think that's probably being charitable. I think in reality, they just don't want Clinton because they have their own "salads" of sexism and crazy conspiracy theories spinning around in their brains -- a true Fox News alternate reality. Honestly, they wouldn't be voting for any Democrat. Hillary shouldn't take it too personally.

Afterwards, online click polls showed Trump winning (!), but of course, those don't mean anything. I went to Fortune magazine's click poll and voted twice, just to see if I could. All you have to do is clear your browser cookies each time and you can click each poll a dozen times, or a hundred. They're meaningless.

Oh, and Trump supporters have been giving Lester Holt grief for his moderation, but I think he did a good job. I didn't hear a single question or challenge that seemed inappropriate or biased. Allegations of bias are simply borne of frustration that Trump couldn't give a clear answer.

Anyway, I have done my part to prevent apocalypse -- I filled out my ballot yesterday and mailed it in. I am well and truly finished with this election. (And once again there was a medical marijuana question in Florida -- apparently the first one, a few years ago, failed. So I weighed in positively on that, too.)

As always, it's amazing how narrowly divided the population seems to be. I really want anyone considering voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein to remember that third-party voting is how we wound up with George W. Bush and the Iraq War. Every vote counts.

Finally, in a completely non-political vein, I also took two big bags of books to the charity bookshop yesterday. I feel much better having cleaned off our bookshelf. There's some more purging that needs to be done, but that was a good start. The house feels lighter!

(Photo: Bermondsey, a few weeks ago.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Russian Music

This is where Dave and I had dinner last night, with our friends Gordon and Donna, on the way to Cadogan Hall to see Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra. It's a cute little pub. We've had hit-or-miss experiences here, but last night it was good and we had the upstairs virtually to ourselves, so we could talk in a quiet environment.

The Mariinsky program consisted of three Prokofiev symphonies (yes, three) and a violin concerto. We stayed for the first two symphonies and the concerto, but by that time we'd hit the two-hour mark and I persuaded Dave that we needed to get home to the dog. So we scuttled out before the last symphony. I think the evening was a bit over-programmed. Fortunately, our tickets were free, through a connection at school.

They did play the "classical" symphony, which is probably Prokofiev's most famous. I remember studying it in college. I've always liked it, but I'm realizing as I hear more Prokofiev that it's not very representative of the rest of his work, which tends to be a lot more bizarre and less melodic.

I'm having quite the Accidental Autumn of Russian Music, between this performance and the one we saw at Royal Albert Hall several weeks ago, and the book I recently read on Shostakovich! (Not to mention our recent re-screening of "Doctor Zhivago," which may not represent Russian music but certainly Russian history and culture.)

Work is pretty low-key this week. The high school students are all away on school trips, so it's just the middle-schoolers in the library. They check out the bulk of our books, though, so there's still plenty to do.

Oh, and I got my ballot for the upcoming U.S. election! Woo hoo! I'm going to try to get that mailed off today.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Living in the Dark

Olga and I came across this lonely chair while walking to Gladstone Park on Saturday. In reality, it wasn't as nice as it looks in the picture -- the seat was cracked and flaking. But I saw at least one person sit in it and give it a try. I bet it didn't stay on the sidewalk long.

Yesterday was pretty mellow. I worked my way through two issues of The New Yorker, including an interesting article about a woman whose skin would "burn" when she was exposed to light -- even the tiniest, tiniest amount of light. Sunlight or bulbs, it didn't matter. She lived her life, more or less, in a blackened room listening to audiobooks. Eventually she wrote a book herself, the event that brought her to the pages of The New Yorker. The author of the article seemed to maintain a healthy skepticism about the woman's story, but he left it to the readers to make their own decision.

It reminded me of one of my coworkers, who prefers to work in her office with the lights off, illuminated only by the glow of the computer screen, dim light seeping through two internal windows, and occasionally a small round IKEA lamp. She's never said her skin burns when exposed to light -- I don't think that's her motivation -- but it's interesting that she prefers that environment. I think she just hates fluorescent tubes, which provide most of our overhead light in the library, and I understand that completely.

Anyway, back to yesterday -- I cleaned the house, including the shower, which I am loathe to do under the best of circumstances. Then I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery, where she got so tired and hot that she plunked down on her belly several times on the walk home. It wasn't particularly hot yesterday, but it was sunny. Sometimes she just wants contact with a cool patch of grass or smooth, shady sidewalk.

Last night we watched a documentary about the peculiar case of J. T. LeRoy, the writer who created a public persona as a teenaged survivor of drug addiction and sexual abuse -- and who wrote two books and made public appearances in that guise -- but then turned out to be a middle-aged woman named Laura Albert. It's a very strange tale. I never bought or read LeRoy's books, but I was dimly aware of "him" while working in New York. Now, though, when I see photos of LeRoy in public, with his blond wig and sunglasses, it seems laughable that anyone ever fell for such a ruse.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gladstone Park

I must confess, I wrote yesterday's post three or four months ago, and never posted it because I was afraid it was a bit...lame. But I saved it, fortunately, for a morning when I didn't have time to write -- because I hadn't done my French homework, for example -- and it's a good thing I did!

So thank you for indulging me by reading about a box of old office supplies. I owe you.

Yesterday, after French class, Olga and I set off on an adventure to Gladstone Park, to the northwest of us, near the neighborhoods of Dollis Hill and Neasden. I don't know why we never walk in that direction, but I'm glad we did, because I needed a change of scenery from Hampstead Heath. Olga didn't seem to care, as long as she had her Kong.

Even the walk there was interesting. We found a cache of French and Arabic books discarded on the street, and I picked up a copy of "All Quiet on the Western Front" ("A l'Ouest Rien de Nouveau"). I'm not sure I'm any more likely to read it in French than in English -- in fact, considerably less likely, probably -- but who knows. I might get inspired.

The park itself is about 90 acres, mostly of open grassland and sports fields. It's named after William Gladstone, a prime minister in the Victorian era.

I was extra-careful to keep Olga occupied so she wouldn't go after anyone's football -- and she didn't.

We walked a loop around the outside of the park before exploring some of the paths, lined with century-old plane trees. A railroad line runs through the middle of the park and must be crossed via a gigantic old footbridge, and part of the park -- with formal gardens and a duck pond -- sits atop a high hill with views of London to the south. (You can kind of get a sense of the height in that top picture.)

We watched this guy practicing his tightrope-walking skills...

...and by the time we walked home, Olga was so tired that she couldn't bring herself to carry this stuffed football that we found on the street. She left it behind.

She's pretty much been sleeping ever since!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Box of Staples

Life is ridiculous.

That was my thought when I recently came across this box of staples in the shoebox where I store office supplies. I have had this box of staples for, I kid you not, at least 30 years. Maybe more.

I'm pretty sure I was in high school when I bought it, at one of the now-defunct Eckerd drug stores in Florida. It probably went to college with me. I moved it to all the various apartments I occupied in Tampa, Winter Haven, Venice and Sarasota (at least eight). I took it to New York City in 2000. I brought it to London in 2011.

I moved this box of staples across the ocean.

I also Marie Kondo-ed my life dozens of times during those years (even before Marie Kondo came along) and these staples survived every bout of tidying and purging.

I'm telling you: ridiculous. And the box is still half full. I'll probably have it when I die.

It is something of a little time capsule. You won't be surprised to know that Swingline no longer manufactures its staples in the USA. According to Wikipedia, the factory moved from Long Island City, N.Y., to Mexico in 1999, a casualty of NAFTA.

I like the fact that the "convenient storage box" was considered a selling point.

My first thought on seeing the price tag was that $1.49 didn't seem like much of a bargain, even for 5,000 staples. But on Amazon, Swingline staples now sell for $3.66. So who knows?

(By the way, if you have absolutely nothing to do and want to catch a glimpse of an interesting culture, read all the enthusiastic comments on Amazon from users of Swingline staples. "Using premium staples is likely the lowest cost luxury in life," one wrote. Who knew staples could evoke such passion?!)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Another Kong Emergency

I’m lying in bed as I write this because, once again, Olga didn’t want to get up. She’s curled in the warm blanket by my feet. The dog dictates a disturbing amount of all our behavior.

Yesterday we came home from work and Olga, as usual, ran to get her Kong toy. (She always greets us with the toy in her mouth, as if we’ve arrived to play.) But she couldn’t find it, and neither could we. We looked under all the furniture, behind every door, out in the garden — nothing.

I can only figure that she carried it with her when the dog walker picked her up in the afternoon, and subsequently left it in the street, or she left it in the garden and another animal carried it off. (Could a fox even lift an XL Kong?)

We ordered three more, for emergency delivery today — because even though I vowed after the Heath Kong Thief Incident to always keep a spare on hand, we don’t have an extra. Fortunately, we do have tennis balls, and they’ll do in a pinch, though she destroys them within minutes.

To keep her amused yesterday, Dave plucked our one remaining hard, green apple off our apple tree and threw that for her. She chased it down and began eating it. Dave said, "Apple seeds aren't good for dogs, are they?" So we confiscated it, removed the seeds and gave it back to her, and darned if she didn't eat the whole thing.

In other news, after I wrote the other day about taking my noisy orange juice to English class in college, I got to thinking about my Freshman English instructor. I Googled her up (as we say in the American South). Turns out she died a few years ago — but she seems to have led an interesting life. I always liked her and still have a draft of the paper I wrote in her class, “Mrs. Moore: A Study of Character Development in ‘A Passage to India,’” with her notes in the margins.

Strange, the things we save. I kept it because I liked the book so much -- the paper itself was unremarkable. I don't remember what grade I got but it must have been OK.

I cleaned up some of the garden yesterday evening -- threw away our dying autumnal cosmos, including the white one I rescued back in June, and cut down the nigella and the foxglove. I'm leaving the ragwort for now, even though it's going to seed, because it still has lots of yellow flowers and I saw a hoverfly on it just the day before yesterday. As long as it's benefitting wildlife, it can stay!

(Photos: A mosaic of St. George and the Dragon by Giorgio Barsanti, in Clapham.)