Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Dead PCB

The washing machine guy came yesterday morning. He looked at our sputtering machine and tried unsuccessfully to run a few cycles. The machine started and stopped, started and stopped. "It needs a new PCB," he said confidently, adding that he would describe the situation to our management company and they may elect to simply buy a new machine. He couldn't immediately fix it but will get back in touch when a decision has been made.

A PCB, I later found out, is a "printed circuit board." So for want of a computer part that seems to sell online for something like £50, they're going to throw away an entire washing machine?


Well, it's not my machine and not my decision. But hopefully they'll choose to have it repaired rather than scrapped.

Meanwhile, I'll be hauling our laundry up to the laundromat, I suppose.

The good news is, I was able to productively use the time I spent waiting for the repairman by doing our income taxes! Woo hoo! So they're out of the way for another year. Being American, we have to file with Uncle Sam even though we don't live in the states and we pay taxes here in the UK. We don't have to pay Uncle Sam -- he just wants to know what's going on. So every year we send him a report.

It always feels great to have that done. I feel 30 pounds lighter.

(Photo: Forsythia in East London on Sunday.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Palladium

When Dave and I were riding the bus back from Heathrow last weekend, we passed this building in Shepherd's Bush. I was intrigued by the interesting architecture, the colorful paint job and all the posters on the front, so I went back yesterday morning for some photography.

Although it claims to be an "Australasian Bar," that was only in its most recent incarnation as Walkabout. It's really an old movie theater, the Palladium, though it hasn't shown a movie since 1981. Apparently it's been purchased by a developer who plans to turn the building into serviced apartments, while preserving its facade -- sort of like the old Queensway cinema, I guess.

Geez, everything is becoming swanky apartments -- pubs, theaters. It's crazy! And yet, ironically, London apartments are more expensive than ever!

After my brief stop in Shepherd's Bush I took the tube to East London for a photo walk in the Star Lane neighborhood of West Ham. The weather was gloriously sunny, although chilly until midday. I didn't even take that many photos -- it felt so free to keep the camera in the bag and just walk.

I got back home around noon and took Olga back to the Heath. She seemed to be raring to go, but then began dragging on the way there. She kept giving me looks like, "Are we really going all that way?" Could Olga be showing her age?

Anyway, once we got there she was fine, and she slept like a stone all last night. Dave got home yesterday, too, so now we're a family unit once again. We got dinner from Nando's, using my gift card from the South London health trust that used one of my photos on its web site (which apparently is not yet live). As fast-ish food goes, Nando's is pretty respectable -- it's basically baked (or grilled?) chicken with vegetable sides. I may be fooling myself, but I think it's healthier than the colonel.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lapis Lazuli

This is the kind of day we had around here yesterday -- a bit on the chilly side, but bright and blue and sunny.

I started the day modestly enough, doing stuff around the house. But when I tried to run a load of laundry, the machine began making a weird noise, and then stopped working altogether. It would try to start the next step of its cycle, shut off after a moment, try again, shut off again. It did this for about two hours.

So I called our landlord, and unplugged the machine. I just left the wet laundry in it because I could not yet deal and took the dog to the heath.

I think she had a terrible time, don't you?

Finally, upon our return in mid-afternoon, I mustered enough resolve to load the wet clothes into a plastic bag and re-wash them at the laundromat. Someone's scheduled to come and look at the machine tomorrow morning.

Last night's screening in my '70s-movie-fest: "American Gigolo." Marginal!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Alone Time

Is it terrible that I am LOVING having the house to myself while Dave is in Belgium?! Just me and Olga, hanging out, watching what we want on TV -- or maybe I read and don't watch anything at all. The heater set where I want it. Lots of space in the bed. Soup and peanut butter for dinner. Woo hoo!

The God's honest truth is that Dave is such a homebody I very rarely have any extended time to myself at home. I'm sure it will get old by the time he gets back tomorrow, but I'm digging it at the moment.

Above is another of my street finds -- I left this item behind, though. How long has it been since you've seen a portable short-wave radio and cassette player?! It looks like something I would have had in my Peace Corps years, a quarter of a century ago. It's probably about that old.

And here's an especially noble-looking photo of Olga, captured late one afternoon with the Olga cam.

I finished "The Man in the High Castle" -- the book -- yesterday. Actually, I finished it Thursday night, but I was so tired that I had to reread the last chapter yesterday morning on my way to work, just to clarify what happened in my mind. And even now I'm not sure I understand it. It's a very bizarre book, but it was interesting to see how it differs from the TV show. The whole Obergruppenf├╝hrer John Smith and family storyline, for example, isn't in the book at all. It's mostly a mystical exploration of the I Ching.

I also finished my latest podcast, "Missing Richard Simmons," about the disappearance of the normally not-publicity-shy Richard Simmons from the public eye a couple of years ago. Where did he go? That's the question at the heart of the podcast, which was very well put together but ultimately reaches a rather anticlimactic conclusion. Life is like that sometimes, I suppose.

Last night I watched "Saturday Night Fever," which I haven't seen in decades. While recently transcribing my old journals I came across a mention of it from when I first watched it, in July 1997: "I was actually shocked at how good it was! Of course, everything depends on your expectations -- I expected a really schlocky, terrible movie. But it was pretty good, with the exception of the clothes and dancing, which were hilarious. They both made and condemned the movie!" Now, having seen it again, I would say the clothes and dancing are the real reason to watch. But be prepared to cringe.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Potpourri of Mostly Insignificant Things

-- First, one significant thing: We now know the identity of the man behind the events on Westminster Bridge. We don't know much more than his name, but it's interesting that he's British born, thus laying to rest once again the myth of the murderous immigrant. From what I've read he sounds like a common criminal.

-- Remember the abandoned orchid that I rescued from Dave's office? (Actually, I'm not sure I ever wrote about it, so maybe not.) It had been left on a windowsill and was looking sad and withered when I brought it home last fall and rejuvenated it. Well, it has rewarded us with a blossom, albeit a slightly disfigured one. I'm not sure what happened to it but obviously the bud got injured somehow. We weren't even sure what color it would be!

-- Had some excitement yesterday morning. I was walking Olga when I found someone's wallet beneath a park bench on Sumatra Road. I looked inside and there was a tube fare card, a driver's license and a bank card. The license had a name and address on it, up in Willesden Green, just a few tube stops away. So I left for work a bit early and took the guy's wallet to his house. A woman there -- his wife? mother? -- was happy to get it back!

-- All the shed stuff is gone. Piece by piece I managed to dispose of it, as planned.

-- I found this in the school library a few days ago. Why?? Because, well, middle-school boys.

-- Our amaryllis (amaryllises? amarylli?) are way, way behind this year. Last year at this time they had long stalks and leaves. This year, only two of them have shown any sign of life so far, and they're just green nubs barely emerging from the bulbs. I think it's because they wintered in the dining room, which is cooler than the living room, where they used to be.

-- Remember when I attended London's March for Women back in January? I came across an online photo taken by another photographer that includes me! I'm about a third of the way from the right margin of the picture, wearing a green jacket and darker green hat. I was holding my camera above the crowd to try to get a wide shot, which is why my arms are up over my head. Funny!

-- I did wind up speaking some French in Luxembourg, mainly in the cafe where we had lunch. And I did OK, but I hit a wall pretty quickly. My brain just doesn't work fast enough for me to carry on much of a conversation. Still, I don't miss my French classes. I think this is as good as it's going to get.

-- The rest of this week is going to be quiet time chez nous. Dave left yesterday morning for Belgium and Luxembourg with his students, and he won't be back until Sunday. I'm trying to use the time to catch up on reading and other projects. Last night, for example, I finished my audio recording of the Arabian Nights for the 6th graders. It's nice to have that done!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Many Questions

I was hoping to wake this morning and learn the identity of the twisted individual who carried out Wednesday's terror attack in Westminster. I don't know why his identity even matters to me, but I'm curious to know about his background, his family, his upbringing. What kind of person could drive his car into groups of schoolchildren and tourists? What kind of mind could be so perverted by fanaticism or disease?

I was at work yesterday afternoon when I heard the news. It's particularly chilling to think that I was just at Parliament myself, chaperoning a school group, not even two weeks ago -- walking children through the same fenced yard where the police officer was stabbed and the assailant shot.

There is so much I just don't understand about the world. I don't understand religion, though I know religion isn't entirely the culprit, here. Maybe it's not the culprit at all. We still don't know.

I don't understand why we as a society don't make more allowances for identifying and treating mentally ill people. (Anyone who's in a position to do such a thing is mentally ill -- regardless of his or her reasons.)

And though there's no way to know the attacker's background, I am afraid all the conflict in the Middle East over the last two decades has produced untold numbers of hardened, scarred people with PTSD and limitless frustration and anger. This is not a reason to isolate people from that region -- rather, it's a reason to help them reorganize their societies and improve their lives. The wealthier nations of Europe and the Americas need to be far more invested and involved in stabilizing conflicted parts of the globe, rather than sealing off our borders and retreating from the world. The resources for doing so should come from proportional taxation of the wealthier people in our societies, who have instead hijacked the political process to bolster their personal prosperity.

And on a purely practical note, I'm surprised that security bollards were never installed to protect the sidewalks along the length of that bridge -- although I've walked it many times and I must admit I never noticed their absence. Easy to see in retrospect, I suppose.

Anyway, school was already over by the time the event happened, but the rest of my day went on as usual. I stayed at work until my normal time, as did many students. Today we're working as usual too. Life goes on.

(Photo: Signs of religion in Cricklewood, a few weeks ago.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Owl

We had some excitement yesterday evening.

First, I came home from work to find that our nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz cut down the hawthorn tree in her back garden. Well, I'm sure she didn't cut it down herself, but she had it cut down. Workers were hauling branches out of her garden and packing them into a truck.

This surprised me, because she's been so protective of that hawthorn. In fact, she often complained about a large holly in our back garden that she felt was interfering with her tree's growth. (She also hates the holly because it drops berries on her trampoline). Dave and I had debated taking down the holly, but since we don't own the garden and tree removal is a major expense I've balked -- and now it looks like maybe we won't need to. At least not for the first reason.

Then, after it got dark, Dave and I were in the living room when I noticed a peculiar sound. At first, with the TV on, it sounded like a dog howling. Then I thought maybe it was a fox. But it was very regular, the same tone over and over. I went out in the garden and listened:

The name of my recording gives away the mystery. Yes, it was a tawny owl.

At first, I didn't know what kind of bird it was. A nightingale? They're a British thing, right? But no, I discovered online -- nightingales really sing, more like a mockingbird. This was just that single, low call, repeated again and again. So I suspected an owl.

I found this page of various British owl sounds (isn't the Internet wonderful?) and sure enough, the male tawny owl call matched.

I couldn't see him because he was in a huge, dark cedar in another neighbor's yard. But I have seen a tawny owl before, in Hyde Park.

I guess it can only be a good thing to have an owl in a garden that's plagued with digging rodents! I hope he hangs around!

(Photo: Fortune Green, about a week and a half ago.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Japanese Magnolias and Scheherazade

The pink magnolias -- or Japanese magnolias, or saucer magnolias, whatever you want to call them -- are blooming away now. They're one of my favorite trees. I still remember from my New York years the stunning display they produce every spring around the obelisk in Central Park.

Dave is happy because "Gardener's World," perhaps his favorite BBC TV show, is back on the air. It doesn't broadcast in the winter, when British gardeners evidently give up for a couple of months. Last night we watched a segment about daffodils, which are certainly out in profusion at the moment.

The squirrels dug up one of our primroses yesterday. *sigh*

Oh, and did I mention that our yellow hyacinths are blooming by the front steps -- the ones we got as a gift from friends last year? They've had several blossoms -- none as grand as last year's, when the florist forced the bulbs, but I'm told that's normal.

I've started a new project, creating an audiobook for kids at school. Some of the 6th Grade teachers are using a version of the Arabian Nights in their classes, and they came to the library seeking an audio version for students who don't speak English as a first language. That way the kids could follow along with both their eyes and ears, and could strengthen their English. Well, an audio version of this exact book apparently isn't available -- so I told them I'd make one. My speaking style is plain ol' Middle American English, free of any regional accent (except when I slip in a Southernism now and then, y'all), so I make a pretty good narrator.

Last night I sat in the dining room with my computer and read the first three chapters, recording my reading using Garage Band. It's kind of fun, actually! I've never read the Arabian Nights, the stories of Scheherazade and Sinbad the Sailor. I don't remember what we read in 6th Grade, but it wasn't that. (Actually, I remember sitting in the back of the classroom and reading "Gone With the Wind," but that wasn't at the teacher's instruction!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Home Again

Back in London now, where Olga is no worse for wear and all is as it was. We flew back yesterday morning, after sleeping in a bit and having breakfast at our hotel. By coincidence, we were on the same flight with all the students from our school, so it was a bit like being official chaperones, even though we weren't! We did get a free ride from Heathrow back to central London on the school bus, so that was a plus.

As I said yesterday, Dave will be going back to Luxembourg and Belgium in a few days with all his high school students -- rather than just the handpicked few on this trip -- for another series of concerts. I'll be staying home, though, just me and the dog...

...and the @$%*# squirrels, which dug up two of our newly planted plants while we were gone! (I know it was squirrels, rather than foxes, because of the size of the holes and the nature of the destruction.)


(Photo: A shop window in Luxembourg.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bible Study at the Best Western

Here we are in Luxembourg -- a tiny little place, and an easily walkable city. This has already been a crazy trip.

We landed yesterday morning and took a taxi to the Hotel Mercure, which I'd reserved and paid for on Hotels.com. Imagine our surprise when we found the hotel locked and dark, with a note on the door apologizing for having to close for "technical reasons." The note directed us to a nearby Avis office, which also proved to be locked and dark. No one answered the phones.

We did what any sensible person would do -- we went next door to the Best Western and got a room. The clerk there said the Mercure closed suddenly on Wednesday. A dispute between owners and managers, or something like that. Police were involved.

Well, I got on the horn to Hotels.com and they have promised me a refund. They also sent me a £25 voucher for use on my next reservation. Then, several hours later, they helpfully called me and said, "Are you aware that the hotel you've reserved for tonight is closed?"

Thanks for that.

Once the accommodations were sorted, Dave and I went to a cafe where we ordered some soup and croques monsieur. We each got a sandwich -- and then we each got another sandwich. I'm not sure why that happened, but we ate them all. The TV carried nonstop news about Orly airport, while a guy nearby drank a mixture of orange juice and Campari in a tall, stemmed glass. It looked like a tequila sunrise without tequila.

Then Dave went off to the concert hall where that night's honor band concert would be held. He not only has students in the honor band, he and other teachers from our school are bringing all their music students back to Luxembourg later this week on their annual "Music Tour." So Dave wanted to see how the concert space sounds and functions.

I, meanwhile, went for a walk.

I strolled through the city's downtown to the bluffs above the River Alzette, where the old fortified walls, or "casemates," are (top). And I browsed the streets and descended from the bluffs into the "Grund," an old neighborhood along the river.

Finally, after a couple of hours, I wound up back at the hotel, where I edited my pictures and read for a while. Dave ditched me for dinner -- he wanted to stay at the concert hall, which annoyed me. But I wasn't hungry anyway (two sandwiches!) so I wound up just skipping dinner and buying a packet of peanuts on the way to the concert.

After the performance, which went really well, we chatted for a while with kids and parents from our school, and then bummed a ride back to our hotel -- where, of course, the kitchen was closed. So we had a beer, and then another beer. Peanuts and beer -- that was my dinner.

I told Dave that I'd found a bible in the nightstand in our room. "We can have bible study!" he joked. "Bible study at the Best Western," I said -- and he declared, "That's the title of your next blog post."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Curling Iron

I'm sitting in Terminal 3 of Heathrow airport at 6 a.m., sipping my Americano, having just eaten an almond croissant. There's a shop here called "Glorious Britain," and there's "World of Whiskies," and "Rolling Luggage" and "Sunglasses Boutique -- tax free." (How much tax is usually imposed on a pair of sunglasses, I wonder?)

I am not doing any shopping. In fact, I'm bleary-eyed from getting up at 4:30 a.m. and also from inspecting dog vomit in the middle of the night. (I'll spare you that story.)

Before we took a car to Heathrow this morning, we got the house ready for Warren, our friend and dog-sitter, who's coming over later today. I covered up the Olga cams so he doesn't think we're spying on him. Downside: We can't watch Olga from Luxembourg.

Oh well.

Free curling iron, anyone? I found it on the street, perched atop someone's trash bin, but I couldn't make use of it, personally.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Sculpture, and My Beating Heart

Another shot of daffodil season -- this time in St. John's Wood, near the school where I work -- and a very mysterious sculpture. I can't find out anything online about this piece of art, located in the Boundary Road estate. It seems to be called "Ideas," by Leo somebody, if I'm reading the words around its base correctly. I'll try to take a closer look today.*

Our yellow daffodils are actually looking a bit tired, and our white ones are about to come out. They're always a couple weeks behind.

Have I mentioned that Dave and I are off to Luxembourg this weekend? There's an honor band concert there on Saturday night, so we're going to fly out early tomorrow, check out the (very small) country and go to the concert. Then we'll be back here on Sunday. Miss Olga will be cared for by one of Dave's coworkers, who's going to house-sit.

Yesterday evening we fulfilled a bit of medical bureaucracy, registering with a new doctor in our neighborhood. You may remember we've been going to our old doctor in Notting Hill every time we've gotten sick. Well, that situation became untenable, and there's an NHS clinic right around the corner in West Hampstead, so we switched. I gathered all the required paperwork and numbers and picture ID, and we both walked over there after work. We had to do a little health assessment that included getting our blood pressure taken -- mine was 99 over 77, with a pulse of 60 beats per minute. Dave's was 109 over 76, pulse 95 bpm. Why does my heart beat only 2/3 as much as Dave's? Am I dead?

* I went back on my lunch break. It seems to say "'Ideas' : Leon U : 1970."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Toys and Politics

When I walked Olga yesterday morning we came across this pile of small toys, sitting on someone's garden wall. They were all quite dirty, as if they'd just been dug out of a garden. Which I'm betting is what happened. Some kid probably moved and left them behind, and the new resident of that flat found them and put them out for others to take.

I didn't take any, though I was tempted by that giraffe.

I got the weirdest stack of mail on Tuesday -- about six identical envelopes from the investment company holding my 401K. They turned out to be proxy ballots for selecting the board of directors and making changes to some of the funds. Why I got six envelopes I'm not sure -- one for each fund, maybe? I tried to skim the documents but I couldn't make heads or tails of them, so I went online and voted the board recommendations. At the end of the day I have to hope these people know what they're doing, and aren't leading me down the Lehman Brothers path.

Speaking of voting, I'm glad to see the Dutch didn't go for their far-right candidate in their elections yesterday, though his party did apparently gain some seats in government. And the Scots, meanwhile, want another independence referendum. They don't want to be dragged along into Brexit, and I don't blame them.

It's funny -- when the first Scottish independence referendum was held, I was so happy when they stayed. Now I hope they vote to go, just to give the finger to this agonizing, unnecessary Brexit process. That comes from my own anger about Brexit, though -- deep down, I'm still not sure independence is economically the best thing for Scotland.

Meanwhile, Trump has been thwarted again by the courts for his racist travel ban. Good!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

No More Clark Gable

It's foggy out this morning -- the back of the garden is shrouded in white so I can't tell whether the marauding foxes visited our new plants again. Yesterday morning we found one dug up for the second time. We put it back in the ground, but surely every time it's unearthed its chances for survival grow slimmer.

There's lots of yellow out there now -- the daffodils, the mimosa/acacia tree that I walk past every day, and now the forsythia by our bedroom window too. And trees like the ones I posted Monday, like big pink clouds.

Dave and I finished the second season of "The Man in the High Castle." I've decided to read the book, by Philip K. Dick. I'm curious to see how much of the TV show is in the original work. It's a pretty complex show and the book is slim enough to be called a novella, so I'm thinking the TV folks have beefed it up. Which is fine -- I just want to compare.

Speaking of books, we're weeding the biography section in the library. We have a parent volunteer who was a librarian in a past life, and she's doing it for us -- she's been making good choices so far, though we have final approval. Jennifer Love Hewitt? Out! A gigantic, tiny-type, read-only-once, 40-year-old biography of Cromwell by Antonia Fraser? Out! Clark Gable? Out!

We have a lot of old biographies, especially of Hollywood types, that I think were probably donations at some point. The fact is, students are not likely to ever use them for research -- especially now that we have the Internet. And kids just aren't going to read huge tomes like Ms. Fraser's, as authoritative as she is. (I did save her book on Henry VIII's wives, and of course we have her classic "Mary, Queen of Scots" around somewhere.)

In photo news, Lonely Planet used a couple of my pictures in a feature about buildings that look like faces. (For free, natch, but I did give permission.) I also allowed a health-care authority in South London to use one of my pictures on their web site (which isn't live yet). I gave it to them for free, but they've now offered to give me a £25 restaurant voucher, so that's a nice little unexpected reward.

(Photo: Restocking a pub in West Hampstead, a few days ago.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Deconstructing a Cadillac

Yesterday was not a good lunch day in our cafeteria at work. Mushroom stroganoff -- which tastes good, but looks like a pool of lumpy brown goo. Dave, ever erudite in his assessments, said when I sat down at our lunch table: "That looks like a big pile of sick." The alternative to the stroganoff was a shiny, viscous-looking hamburger that I couldn't bear to look at, much less consume.

Normally our lunches are pretty good. The stars just weren't aligned yesterday.

I think I've solved my problem about what to do with the items from our garden shed that are too large for the trash bin but too small to call the council to take away. When I walk Olga in the morning, I'll take one item with me each day, and I'll put it in a dumpster along the way. It's not really the correct thing to do, I suppose, but I figure just one item a day won't get anyone's hackles up, especially when spread among different dumpsters ("skips" to you British readers). We'll be rid of it all in a week or two.

When I told Dave my plan, he likened it to the Johnny Cash song about the man who works in a Cadillac factory and takes a part home each day in his lunchbox to build himself a car. I'm simply reversing the process!

(Photo: A party supply shop I passed on my walk home from work yesterday evening. I photographed the devil here a couple of years ago.)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Urban Spring

Olga took me on a long, mysterious walk yesterday morning. She followed her inner compass, or scents on the wind or voices in her head or something, to an area near Child's Hill where we haven't been before. I just let her lead the way, and darned if she didn't find a park!

Because I'd been negligent and left the Kong at home, she monopolized another dog owner's game of tennis-ball-fetch with his labrador, Spidey. (The guy was very nice about it, and fortunately had multiple tennis balls with him.)

And we saw all sorts of signs of spring, like pink trees (above)...

And flowers...

And bunny rabbits. Well, spray-painted ones, anyway.

I had a busy weekend, doing some spring cleaning. On Saturday I cleaned out and organized our garden shed, and threw away a big bag of stuff. (Nothing chemically dangerous -- I got rid of all that a few summers ago!) We have some awkward items like broken long-handled tools that won't fit in the trash bins, and I haven't yet figured out what to do with those.

I also found a huge bag of peanuts we bought for the squirrels and birds. The peanuts look OK -- maybe a little buggy, but probably still suitable for wildlife consumption.

Then I purged our kitchen pantry drawer, where I found two bags of flour that expired in 2010! We moved to England in 2011, and we didn't haul any expired flour across the ocean, so this is a bit of a mystery. I think they were given to us years ago by the parent of one of Dave's students when she cleaned out her pantry in preparation for returning to the U.S. They must have already been expired at that point. Anyway, they went in the trash, along with a rusty can of condensed milk that I know we've had at least five years. I'm not a strict adherent to expiration dates, but 2010 is beyond the pale.

The foxes left our garden alone last night. Maybe after all that digging they realized there are no bones there. Or maybe having Olga streak into the darkness after them gave them a fright!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fox Damage

Success! I gave away the glass-topped table yesterday morning. A guy named Simon contacted me via Freecycle and sent his phone number, which told me that he was the real deal and not just an e-mail collector. So I made arrangements with him.

This table was not small -- the oval glass top was 4.3 feet by 2.8 feet. It was too large for me to carry easily by myself. I posted the measurements in the ad, but nonetheless, the optimistic Simon showed up with his wife (I guess) in a Smart car! It was interesting to see them wrestling to fit that table into what is essentially a golf cart, but somehow they managed. The wife had to take a bus home.

Dave, meanwhile, spent the whole day in the garden, planting his new acquisitions -- a couple of foxgloves, some lavender and hydrangeas. He put bone meal in the holes to nourish the plants. Well, a four-legged vulpine critter visiting in the night was sure interested in that bone meal. Olga woke us at 4 a.m. in a state of red alert, and when I let her out she streaked across the garden, chasing something. When dawn arrived, we saw that the garden had been transformed into a miniature version of a World War II bomb site.

To quote Dave: "Bastards!"

This morning, we'll be replanting. We also have slugs already attacking our sea kale and our teasels. Didn't someone once say that gardening is a continual process of pleasure and heartbreak? If not, I'm saying it now.

(Top photo: A launderette in Pimlico.)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pink Camellias and Green Garages

I've been so lazy about carrying my camera lately. All I have from this week are iPhone photos! And that's also pretty much all I have for this post, because there's just not much news around here. Work, work, work.

I did go to a wine tasting event last night at a colleague's house. A guy brought around a selection of 10 different wines -- 4 whites, 4 reds, 2 sparkling -- and we sampled them all. I ordered three bottles, and then we drank the remainder of the samples. It was quite fun!

But anyway...on to the photos...like this one of the colorfully lit exterior of Cadogan Hall on Thursday night.

Workers are still renovating that big ol' house I pass on the way to school. But the scaffolding has come down and it's looking closer and closer to completion. (And when I look back to its appearance a few years ago, it's obvious how much has been done!)

I like that pot of daffodils in this otherwise rather forlorn doorway. I've got to get some high-res shots of this with my real camera.

The pink camellia is blooming brightly outside the synagogue.

This is a neighbor's garage. I've long been intrigued by this building. I think it's all those shades of green. Again, I need to get my real camera on it.

Conspiracy theories at the ATM machine!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Musical Night Out

Last night I went with my ex-blogger friend Sally and her family to Cadogan Hall to see Seth Lakeman, a folk-rock singer from Southwest England. I'd never heard of him before this show, but Sally was enthusiastic about him and I trust her judgement. I knew she wouldn't inflict Justin Bieber on me!

Indeed, Seth was terrific -- he sings, plays guitar and fiddle and various other instruments and had a amazing backup band. His music seemed very heavily flavored by the wild, windy reaches of Devon and Cornwall -- but at times I felt like I could hear traces of Appalachia, too. Which I suppose makes sense, since settlers of Appalachian America came from the British Isles. Here is an old video of a song he performed again last night about the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster of 1981 -- which, as a clueless American unfamiliar with certain aspects of British history, I had to read up on afterwards.

Seth's opening act was Wildwood Kin, a trio of three young women who are excellent musicians in their own right.

Overall, it was a fun and educational evening!

Sally is great for widening my cultural circles. I also went with her to Sigur R├│s a couple of years ago. I always tell her, "Thank goodness for you, because otherwise I'd never go hear any popular music!"

(Photo: The rail yards near Wormwood Scrubs, a couple of weeks ago.)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Billy Fury and Other News

-- Our local mural of Billy Fury got slammed with an ugly tag last week. (A couple of them, actually. The green one showed up after the blue and white one.) It looks like someone's already tried to clean it off, because at first we couldn't see his eye through the white paint. Hopefully the mural can be restored. It was successfully repaired after the golden eyes incident, but that was minor compared to this. I don't understand the wanton destruction, but for some graffiti writers, destruction is the name of the game.

-- Many questions were raised about whether the tree I posted yesterday is a mimosa (as I'd claimed) or an acacia. Turns out the question is one of nomenclature. It's a different species from the tree with pink flowers known as a mimosa in the United States, which admittedly was probably the type I dug up from my grandmother's yard. And it is a type of acacia -- Acacia dealbata, I think. But here, at least, that tree is commonly called a golden mimosa. We're all correct!

-- Yesterday an 8th grader asked me for a book recommendation. I gave him "Slaughterhouse Five." And then I spent all night worrying that it's too mature and complex for him. Which is probably true. I may try to suggest something else when I see him today. The risks and hazards of librarianship!

-- While walking Olga in the misty dampness of yesterday morning, I found these books stacked in a trash dumpster. Some of them were brand new and apparently unread! Initially I left them there, not wanting to lug them along while walking the dog. But when I walked to work about half an hour later I brought a plastic bag, collected them and took them with me. At lunchtime, I took them to the Oxfam charity bookshop. I do not understand why people throw things like this in the trash. As we have established, waste makes me crazy.

-- Yesterday, for International Women's Day, students put up a display featuring balloons bearing the names of historically significant women. These two balloons somehow wound up in the library lost-and-found bin. I took them back to the display, after subtly correcting the grievous misspelling of Eleanor Roosevelt's name!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


I came across this mimosa tree on my walk to work yesterday morning. I've seen several of them in bloom around town, but this one may be the most vibrant.

When I was a young teenager, I went through a period when I was very into plants. Once, on a family trip to my grandmother's house in Maryland, I dug up a baby mimosa tree just an inch or two high. I think I took it from her yard, but I can't really remember. I put it in a pot and when we drove back to Florida, I brought it with us. It rode on the floor of the back seat, and I remember being very concerned about its well-being during the trip. When we got home to Florida, I planted it in the front yard. Of course, it promptly died.

So it goes, to quote Kurt Vonnegut.

I never got any takers on Freecycle for our free glass-topped coffee table. Instead I just got a bunch of people who pretended to be interested in order to fish for my e-mail address. Annoying! I'm going to list it one more time, and then it goes out with the trash. (Remember, it's not even really ours -- it belonged to the previous tenants of this flat.) Since I first listed it, I've cleaned it up, brought it indoors and taken a better picture. I also tried to buy the proper bolts to put it together, thinking that if it were assembled it would interest people more, but Homebase didn't carry them and I'm not going to invest a lot of effort in finding the right size just to give them away. At least I can advise whoever takes it (if anyone takes it) what size to get. I would think the tabletop alone would be worth something -- it's big and undamaged and it weighs a ton. We'll see!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Houses of Parliament

Yesterday I helped chaperone a group of 8th graders on a field trip to the Houses of Parliament. I'd never before been inside Westminster Palace, so I was excited about the opportunity, and it was very interesting to see in real life so much of what I've seen on television.

The tour guide gave us a history lesson as well as walking us through the building, so it wasn't just a matter of seeing the architecture but understanding the development and context of British democracy. For example, we heard all about the Magna Carta, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the Gunpowder Plot, the execution of King Charles I and the rise of Oliver Cromwell, and then his eventual execution and the ascendance of William and Mary. (Several hundred years are collapsed into that sentence.)

We also heard about all the elaborate traditions involved in the opening of parliament by the monarch -- like the messenger sent from the House of Lords to summon MPs. No monarch has entered the House of Commons since 1642, and to assert its superiority the door is traditionally slammed in the messenger's face. He has to knock three times before MPs will come to hear the monarch's opening address in the Lords. There's a visible dent in the door where the messenger always knocks with his staff.

You can't take photos in most places in Westminster Palace, so I didn't even bother bringing my big camera. I just took my iPhone. It looks about like you'd expect -- very ornate and gilded. The floors were quite elaborate!

Virtually the entire structure was destroyed in a fire in 1834, so most of what we see now as Westminster Palace really isn't that old. (Relatively speaking.)

We saw the House of Lords and the House of Commons, both smaller than they seem on television. We were not allowed to sit on the benches.

Afterwards, we took the students for a walk through Parliament Square (where we ate lunch -- I grabbed a sandwich and coffee from a nearby Cafe Nero) and then through St. James Park (above) and Green Park. Fortunately the weather cooperated, and the kids were very well-behaved so no disciplinary intervention was required on my part! (Another chaperone was with me as well.)

An interesting day and a nice break from the library!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Daffodil Time

They're everywhere at this time of year -- bright yellow daffodils. (Maybe some of them are jonquils. Is there a difference? I'm not sure.)

These were in Fortune Green, where I took Olga yesterday for a mud-splattered Kong-chasing session...

...and these were on Hampstead Heath, during our mud-splattered walk on Saturday...

...and these are in our own back garden.

At this time of year, when most things are wet and brown and muddy and dormant, it's hard not to love a daffodil.

We spent yesterday mostly inside. The forecast called for rain, but it turned out to be a bizarre mix of rain and sunshine that varied literally from minute to minute. As I mentioned, I did take the dog out, but that was the most exercise I got.

I finished "The Green Singers," one of the old books I bought a few weeks ago, and it was good! I'm not sure I'd call it "homoerotic" -- that would be overselling it, and after all it was published in 1958 -- but it definitely had gay overtones. My library colleague carefully covered it with plastic to preserve the dust jacket, and I'm happy to add it to my shelves.

We also watched some movies. In an effort to find something action-y that Dave would like, I chose "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," which I'm sure I saw at some point in the '80s but didn't remember at all. Now I see why. What a dismal movie. One long, agonizing bout of screaming and stomach-churning chaos and juvenile gross-out gags. Truly, truly terrible.