Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Gods Smile

We took Olga back to the vet last night for a quick post-surgical checkup. The doctor and nurse took off her remaining bandage and looked her over, and she seems to be healing well. Olga has always seemed oblivious to pain, charging heedlessly through thickets and brambles on our walks, and she's no different at the moment -- she acts like the huge lines of stitches on both haunches aren't there at all. (We're still giving her a daily dose of pain medicine.)

Best of all, her pathology reports were already back, and the lumps removed from her legs were benign. Dave and I were both expecting the worst -- I don't know why, except that I always have a tendency to think "worst case scenario" in situations like that, just to prepare myself. Needless to say, we're relieved our worries were unfounded.

I finished "Educated" by Tara Westover -- I definitely recommend it. It's a harrowing and not always pleasant book, but it's also a remarkable story that questions our concepts not only of education but of identity and family. You probably know the story: She was raised in Idaho by survivalists who traffic in scrap metal and herbal medicine and believe school is a government brain-washing plot, and who stockpile food and fuel, believing the End of Days is imminent. Yet she managed to extricate herself and become a rational human being with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Pretty amazing!

(Photo: The time of unusual fall leaves has begun!)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bronagh and No. 9

I'm typing this post without my glasses, just FYI. I hereby absolve myself from any typos and/or spelling errors. My glasses are in the next room but I can't be bothered to stand up and go get them. (Why is it a rule that whatever room you're in, your glasses are somewhere else?)

I remember when I first got my reading glasses, a couple of years ago, and the optician asked me whether I needed them to see the computer screen. "Oh, no!" I laughed. "My eyes aren't that bad! I just need them for close-up reading."

Well, now I need them for the computer screen. I probably need new glasses, in fact.

We had a crazy night here. The wind blew and blew. I thought it was all part of Storm Ali, our first named storm of the season, but on reading the news I think it might actually have been Storm Bronagh, the second one, which came hot on the heels of Ali. Anyway, it was so windy that for a couple of hours, between midnight and 2 a.m., I couldn't sleep. There's something about a strong wind that puts a person on edge, you know? Like maybe a tree or a helicopter are going to come crashing through the ceiling.

Those are also the "hot hours," when I am likely to wake up and feel overheated. I don't know why -- something about biorhythms, I suppose -- but I get incredibly hot between midnight and 3 a.m. Then I fall back asleep and I'm cool as a cucumber when I wake up in the morning, even with the same blankets and the same dog/heater sleeping next to me.

Anyway, I went out this morning and we didn't have any wind damage to speak of -- the cosmos were knocked over and one of the buddleias lost a branch, but otherwise things seemed pretty normal.

Olga seems fine. We took off one of her bandages because it was slipping away by itself, and I thought it would be better to get some air to the stitched wound. Fortunately she has shown no tendency at all to nibble or lick her stitches, so although I put a t-shirt on her yesterday when I went to work, I think today I'll let her go without one. She goes back to the vet tonight for a quick follow-up appointment.

(Photos: A house (I think?) on Gondar Gardens, not far from our flat. The creative house number is in the center of the wall, and on this day was festooned with some dead leaves and a feather.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018


I posted this photo of some colorful recycling and rubbish on Facebook, and my aunt called it "interesting." Is that what's known as "damning with faint praise," do you think? "Interesting" always seems to imply a kind of skepticism.

I remember hearing a story years and years ago about Queen Elizabeth II trying a hot dog and pronouncing it "interesting," but I have no idea whether it's really true. I just did an internet search and can't turn up any references to the episode, so maybe it never happened. (There is, however, a rather thorough piece about the likelihood that Prince William has ever eaten a hot dog.)

Anyway, I've buried the lead here, because I know you all want to hear about Olga and her surgery. As you can see, she came through fine, although she was seriously stoned when we picked her up last night. The first thing she did when she got home is go out in the back garden and lie in the grass.

As dark fell we finally coaxed her inside and since then, she's been sleeping heavily. She barely moved all night, from what I can tell, and she's snoring now.

The good news is, the vet said the x-rays showed no serious issues with her back legs. She has some spots that could be mildly arthritic, and causing her a bit of pain, and she gave us some pain medicine for whenever they flare up. No surgery is needed, though.

The bad news -- or the potential bad news -- involves the skin lumps. The doc removed them and sent them away for pathology, but apparently there's a chance that they're mast cell tumors, which can range from benign to very serious and even fatal. We caught them early, but I'll still be on edge about that until we get the pathology report next week. Apparently mast cell tumors are more common in so-called bull breeds like Olga, and they often appear on a dog's hindquarters around the age of 8 or 9 -- which is the right time and the right place. We can only hope, if that's what these were, that they aren't a particularly aggressive type.

We've cancelled Olga's dog walks for the rest of the week, and next week too, so I'll be coming home for lunch to let her outside and check on her. So far she hasn't shown any inclination to nibble on her bandages, but if she does we're supposed to put an old t-shirt on the lower half of her body. She's going to hate that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ghost Light

Here's another household still life -- we can call it "Computer with Laundry and Crappy Drapes." I was going to bed the other night when I noticed the weird, cold light given off by the computer, and decided to take some shots. Our drapes, like our carpets, really are crappy. They belong to the landlord, and although we're trying to get the carpets replaced we've decided to ignore the drapes (or, as in the living room, take them down completely).

You've got to pick your battles.

I've had that brown blanket ever since I lived in Morocco in the early '90s. It's a brand called Mazafil, which is well-known in Morocco, and it's a great blanket.

Olga is off to the vet this morning -- I'm going to drop her at 8:15. My plan is to take her on her morning walk and then go straight there. That way I don't have to face denying her a customary end-of-walk treat. (She can't eat this morning before her surgery.) I know if I brought her home first and didn't give her a treat she'd hang around the kitchen, looking at me quizzically, and I can't stand those hungry eyes.

Dave and I saw "King of Thieves" over the weekend -- the movie about the Hatton Gardens jewelry heist. It's a good film, made all the more enjoyable by the performances of screen legends like Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent and Tom Courtenay. That burglary was a major event when it occurred over Easter weekend in 2015 -- in fact, I'm surprised I didn't write about it at the time, but apparently I didn't -- so it's interesting to see how a gang of criminal retirees pulled it off.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

No Dried Flowers

Well, we finally got rid of the wrong chair. The furniture company came yesterday afternoon and took it away. I'd tucked it into the corner of the living room, barricaded behind Dave's loveseat and a big houseplant so the dog wouldn't climb on it. (It had to be "pristine," the company warned us, or they wouldn't take it back.) Anyway, I'm glad to have it out of my life. Allegedly, the correct chair will be on its way to us in a little more than three months.

I've been trying to thin out our possessions a bit -- mostly taking stuff to charity shops that I've brought home from my walks with the dog. I'd found two stools that I took to the library yesterday, thinking kids could sit on them to use the computers. I don't think they're going to last long -- they already look a little wobbly, after just a day! Kids are tough on furniture.

We also had a big glass vase -- it must have been three feet high -- that I found one morning. I brought it home thinking I'd give it to the catering staff at work, because they sometimes need big vases for floral displays at events. But then Dave decided he liked it, and he kept threatening to put dried flowers in it. I hate dried flowers. I hate them with a passion. They are dusty and pointless. So I finally talked Dave out of keeping it and spirited it to Oxfam, hopefully putting an end to the dried-flower fantasy.

Before donating it, I wanted to wash it out, so I took it into the back garden yesterday while I was waiting for the chair-delivery people. (I figured washing something that size would be easiest with the garden hose.) A spider had built an elaborate web between the buddleia and the crocosmia on either side of the path onto the back lawn, so I found myself crawling under the web to get out to the grass. I had to crawl under that web about five times, which is hard when you're carrying a three-foot-high glass vase! I hope that spider appreciates my thoughtfulness.

Finally, last night, we took Olga to the vet. At last, we're going to get some x-rays of her back legs, to see what's happening with her joints, and we're going to have some small skin growths removed, too. That will all happen on Wednesday. I feel like we've been living long enough with a "wait-and-see" approach to her stiff hindquarters -- I just want to know what's going on there and if it needs to be treated.

We found this hideous mirrored nightstand on one of our walks over the weekend. Olga implored me to bring it home, but I said no.

(Top photo: A colorful house in St. John's Wood.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Upstairs Shelves

Yes, this is a terrible picture. A failed picture, really.

I took it almost 40 years ago, with my little point-and-shoot Magimatic camera and 126 cartridge film. It shows some bookshelves in my grandparents' house in Hyattsville, Maryland. I was trying to show the wonderful jumble on those shelves, with the books going every which way and rolled-up maps and random shreds of yellowed paper.

(By the way, don't ever store your books like this!)

I was reminded of this picture while reading Knausgaard. (I'm sorry I keep bleating on about this book but it's been quite thought-provoking. Fortunately I finished it yesterday, so this is the last you'll hear of him for the time being.) He describes cleaning out his grandmother's house following his father's death, and the chaos of stuff he encounters in every room. His grandmother's house was horrifically and disastrously messy -- my grandmother, by contrast, may not have been a meticulous housekeeper but she was basically clean.

I had to dig up this negative and scan it to get this image, having thrown out the print long ago. These shelves were on the second floor of the house, in a bedroom loft at the top of the stairs. It was mostly a storage area, where we kids slept when we visited. A huge box fan in the ceiling overhead drew fresh air through the house and served as the only air conditioning, aside from two strategically placed window units downstairs.

I loved those upstairs rooms, with their mysterious boxes and drawers, their venetian blinds and chests of old blankets and stacks of ancient National Geographic and Opera News magazines. The rooms had a distinct old-paper smell, not at all unpleasant. It was fun to browse the bookshelves and see what we could find -- paperback copies of "Christy" by Catherine Marshall and "A Woman of Substance" by Barbara Taylor Bradford, tucked amid older books by Stefan Zweig and Norman Vincent Peale. In the photo I see two James Michener paperbacks; Kenneth Davis's "Soldier of Democracy," a biography of Dwight Eisenhower; a ruined copy of "Masada"; a children's book called "The Blue Birds of Happy Times Nest" that must have belonged to my mother and uncle when they were young; some ancient physics textbooks; the "Modern Handbook for Girls," which it's hard to imagine either my mother or grandmother ever reading; and a book of inspirational poetry called "It Can Be Done."

After my grandmother died in 1989, my mother and uncle sold her house. They took what they wanted but left behind a lot of the furnishings, and I suspect what's in that picture went with the house and is almost certainly long gone.

I only have one item from my grandparents' upstairs bookshelves, and it's actually from a different bookcase than the one in the picture. It's this incongruously hip paperback of cartoons from 1959.

They're mildly funny -- more interesting for their time-capsule quality than their humor. I think the book belonged to my uncle when he was a teenager. I should let him know I have it. He'd probably get a kick out of that.

Anyway, even though it's blurry and badly exposed, maybe the picture isn't entirely a failure. It definitely evokes memories of those haphazard shelves, and it popped into my head immediately as I read Knausgaard's account of his own grandmother's house.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Autumn on the Fjord

This is what our back-door garden looks like now -- a tangle of purple. We've got cosmos on the right, loosestrife in the middle and verbena in the back on the left. Dave always complains that we have way too many pink and purple flowers, with purple buddleia, pink persicaria and purple wild geraniums all growing in the same area -- but I kind of like the coordinated colors. We've got orange nasturtiums and geums in the same bed for contrast.

Another volunteer sunflower has bloomed, this one in a hanging basket up in a tree at the side of the garden. Definitely planted by a squirrel or dropped by a bird!

Most of the fox-and-cubs stopped blooming long ago, but this one stuck up a new flower just last week. It's blooming all by itself.

Coincidentally, as I was sitting on our garden bench reading Karl Ove Knausgaard yesterday, I came across a poem in his book by Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge. (Knausgaard was recounting a story about interviewing the elderly Hauge decades earlier for a student newspaper, and Hauge offered to read him a few poems.) Although its descriptions of the natural landscape seem distinctly Scandinavian, it also struck me, sitting in my garden on the verge of autumn, as so appropriate:

Time to Gather In 
These mild days of sun in September.
Time to gather in. There are still tufts
of cranberries in the wood, the rose-hips redden
along the stone dykes, nuts fall at a touch,
and clumps of blackberries gleam in thickets,
thrushes poke about for the last red currants
and the wasp sucks away at the sweet plums.
In the evenings I set my ladder aside and hang
up my basket in the shed. Meagre glaciers
already have a thin covering of new snow.
Lying in bed, I hear the throb of the brisling fishers
on their way out. All night, I know, they'll glide
with staring searchlights up and down the fjord.

(And that, my friends, may be the first time I've ever ended a blog post with the word fjord.)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Banana Bus

While walking to work this week, I crossed paths with a gigantic yellow bus likening itself to a Chiquita banana. You don't see that every day -- particularly in a city renowned for having bright red buses.

Well, it was eye-catching, I must admit. I wonder if the drivers on each shift wrangle among themselves over who's going to have to drive the banana?

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week, full of library minutiae like talking with my co-workers about future book displays and ordering supplies and new books and stuff like that.

I'm getting to a point in the year when I can tell who my problem kids are going to be -- the ones who never return anything, at least not on time. I've already had encounters with one high school student who has been chronically overdue for years and has lost several items. I suppose it was unrealistic to expect him to change over the summer -- but some kids do. It's surprising. Suddenly they hit a level of maturity where they get it, and we stop having trouble with them. Not this one, though. Not yet.

Dave and I don't have much on the agenda for this weekend, either. I hope to finish this Knausgaard book, so that I can start on "Educated" by Tara Westover, which I've heard is terrific. I do like the Knausgaard, though. I think I'll get the second one and keep going.

We had a moment of panic this week because we bought our plane tickets to go to Florida at Christmas, and we tried to make a reservation for Olga at her pet hotel -- and it's already booked up! So I was in a bit of a state wondering what we were going to do with her for those two weeks. I think we've found someone to care for her, though -- a woman we hired once in the past. Fingers crossed!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Rebuilding the Carlton Tavern (Finally)

You may remember the Carlton Tavern, a historic old pub which I wrote about after it was illegally demolished in 2015; I've given updates a few times since. The short version of this dramatic story is that the foreign owners wanted to redevelop the site and were turned down by the local council, which planned to consider the pub for historic preservation. So with no warning or permission the owners brought in backhoes and knocked most of the building down.

The council said, "Oh no you don't," and ordered them to rebuild it "brick by brick." As I understand it there were some appeals and legal machinations but in the end the council order stood, and now construction is underway.

I love how there's a big banner proclaiming that it's "coming back soon," like they're doing us all a favor. (I am tempted to type curse words here but I won't.)

You can still see traces of the original building behind the scaffolding. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on, but it seemed to me that a new exterior wall now exists on the east side of the structure, which had been reduced entirely to rubble. It also looks like some of the distinctive lettered tiles have been removed for replacement or restoration.

This process has taken an agonizingly long time, and of course, even if it's rebuilt that won't necessarily guarantee a return of the old pub. Will the same people run it? Will they have lease terms that allow them to make a go of the business? It will almost certainly be changed in atmosphere -- even if the builders hew closely to the old structure's architecture, it will be made of new materials, which can't help but affect its charm.

Still, it's a positive outcome overall. Westminster has shown that its building rules can't be flouted with impunity, and local residents can return to some semblance of their old watering hole. If there's a grand re-opening, I'll be going!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dead Plants and Stray Shopping Carts

This alley is near our flat. I pass it every time I go to the shops on the high street, and I always check on the mournful condition of those poor plants, which have been sitting outside that back door for months. (The dracaena has been there since early this year; the palm is a more recent addition.)

I considered trying to save them, but they're not really "trash" since they're not in a refuse area, and as a rule I don't steal even dying plants from outside people's doors. I do have some scruples.

Speaking of rescuing things, last night I was walking home from work and I passed a shopping cart sitting on the sidewalk. People who know me know this is one of my pet peeves. I just don't understand why anyone would wheel away a shopping cart and then abandon it willy-nilly. As I've written before, this obsession comes from my years as an employee at Scotty's hardware, in the mid-'80s, when I periodically was sent out to round up carts that had sometimes made their way deep into the surrounding neighborhood.

It's nagged at me ever since. From my journal in May 1999, when I lived in Sarasota, Fla.:

I forgot to mention the shopping cart fiasco. The last couple of weeks I've noticed several shopping carts congregating around the apartment complex. I can't imagine who would be declassé enough to bring home a shopping cart, but there you are. So on Sunday I took three Walgreen's carts back to the shopping center -- they'd been sitting out in the median on Treeline Drive. Then, yesterday, I saw several behind a dumpster. So last night I took those back, too -- 2 Publix and 2 Walgreen's...I felt kind of silly wrestling my way along Beneva Road with four shopping carts, but hey...I really think doing one good deed per day (at least!) is a good way to maintain my karma!

Twelve years ago, while blogging about another stray cart in New York, I mentioned an entertaining Web site called The Stray Shopping Cart Project. I'm glad to see the site is still up, though some of the images don't seem to work. The project classifies the many varieties of stray shopping carts based on where they're found and the likelihood that they'll be returned. The one I saw last night seemed to qualify as a simple B/1 "Open True."

In this case, I decided to return it to the store. It was a moderate distance and on the other side of a train line, which meant I'd have to drag the cart up and over a pedestrian bridge, but I had to go that way anyway and figured I could manage. So I set out, clattering down the sidewalk.

I got the cart up onto the bridge with no problem, and fortunately once I'd crossed a guy walking behind me offered to help lift it down. "I've helped a lot of people with baby push-chairs but never a shopping trolley," he said.

I told him I'd found it -- I didn't want him to think I'd taken it from the store myself. "Now you can cross that off your list!" I said.

Anyway, back at the store I pushed the cart into a line of carts in the parking lot. Usually there's a little key you insert into the plastic handle to get back a £1 coin you have to insert to use the cart in the first place. But in this case, the plastic coin holder was broken, so I didn't even get a pound back!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Big Blue Malibu Wave

One of the zinnias in our garden has always been a little different from the rest -- a sort of reddish color, rather than orange. Its most recent flowers have spots. Who knows what weird genetic stuff is going on there?

I'm still working on the first of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical books, "A Death in the Family." I like his writing and it is engaging to read, but at the same time I sometimes find myself wondering why I'm reading it. (Probably like you're wondering why you're reading my blog!) It's relatively plotless and devoid of earth-shaking events and revelations -- just day-to-day life, down to the most mundane tasks like preparing a cup of coffee or watching snow swirl outside the window. It's interesting to get a sense of what it was like to grow up in Norway in the 1980s, and there's some family drama going on, but nothing wildly extraordinary.

At one point in the book he describes drinking with some friends as a young teenager -- I think they were 14. It got me thinking about my own early experiments with alcohol.

I never drank -- never even touched the stuff -- until I was in college. That's probably unusual, but I had a close group of friends in high school for whom drinking wasn't a goal. When we went to movies or to the mall, scoring alcohol just wasn't on our agenda. Which was fortunate! I knew other people were drinking, and I was dimly aware of Friday-night parties out in the orange groves and that kind of thing, but I never went and don't remember really even wanting to go. I don't regret my high-school teetotalling at all. I'm sure it saved me a lot of grief.

In college, I moved into the dorms my freshman year and discovered that a guy I'd gone to high school with, Robert, lived right down the hall. He and I began hanging out, and one night we decided to break the alcohol barrier. Somehow we got some bourbon, and along with Robert's erstwhile girlfriend, Marje, who lived on the girls' side of our co-ed dorm, we mixed it with ginger ale and began sipping.

At first, nothing happened. We were just sitting and talking as usual. Then I said something -- I don't remember what -- and maybe it didn't make much sense because Marje looked at me and said, "Steve's drunk!" I was not, I said indignantly, and then I began laughing and couldn't stop. So, yeah, I guess I was.

It was all very innocent and we didn't drink too much. As I've written before, our dorm RA distributed a weekly honor known as the "puke award" to whoever got sick from drinking on any given weekend, but I never won it, and I don't remember ever getting sick in college. As I recall my first hangover came the following summer, after I went on an afternoon canoeing trip with friends on the Alafia River and we drank multiple cans of Busch Beer. I came home, got into bed and woke up later feeling terrible -- dehydrated, I'm sure, and after all it was lousy beer.

All freshmen drink crazy stuff. I had a girlfriend, Lori, who loved Asti Spumante, and I remember going to sit with her and Robert and Marje under the trees on our spacious campus at night with a bottle or two of that sweet, fizzy wine. She'd also had some training as a bartender, so I used to look through her bartender's guides and then, when we went out to a local bar like Coconut Joe's or Ruby Tuesday, I'd order peculiar cocktails like mai-tais. I remember one called a Malibu wave, basically a margarita with blue curaçao -- and yes, it was bright blue. I'm sure the bartenders correctly clocked me as a complete dork.

The first time I drank enough to be sick, I think, was when I visited Miami Beach with my friends Sue and Arthur in the late 1980s, after I'd graduated. For some inconceivable reason I did two vodka shots in our hotel room, which proved to be a bad start to the evening. And even then, I never got truly wasted -- to this day I've never blacked out or been unable to remember where I've been or what I've been doing.

Despite the "Animal House" culture of college in the '80s, I don't remember ever hearing about people being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning or that kind of thing. I'm sure it happened and none of us knew.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Three Cat Morning

There's really not much to say about today's post...

...except that this is sometimes what our morning walks look like.

Don't worry. No cat were harmed in the production of this blog.


You've seen GoPro video of Olga stalking this cat behind the door. (She does it every single day.) Well, here's what it looks like from my perspective. There's about 40 seconds of stalking before there's any action.

In other news, Dave and I made plans to go to Salisbury for our October break. Woo hoo! We wanted to go somewhere relatively close where we could take the dog, and this seems to fit the bill. Hopefully all the Novichok will be cleaned up by then.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Inflatable Pool

I shot this on our walk back home after seeing "Blackkklansman" Saturday night. It would be better with a person walking through that alley -- if I'd thought about it I'd have had Dave walk down there and back again. Maybe I'll go back with my camera some evening soon. This was shot on an iPhone, which once again leaves me impressed at the quality of the phone camera.

Speaking of "Blackkklansman," I forgot to tell you the best part of the story -- I used my health insurance points and got a FREE MOVIE TICKET! Finally, I'm figuring out how to make that insurance rewards program pay off.

Yesterday Olga and I took a walk in the morning behind that new apartment complex where several balconies burned in a fire back in July. (The affected balconies, by the way, are now shrouded in scaffolding and presumably being repaired.) The development is on a wedge of land between two train lines, the tube and the London Overground, and although the buildings seem nice, the windows are dirty and I think that must come from those trains. We walked all the way to the back, where behind a gate there's a little triangle of land that looks like this:

There are a couple of benches, so clearly people are supposed to be able to go in there and sit, but the weeds are so high that it's hard to imagine walking around. It's probably great for bugs and critters, though. Maybe it's meant to be a wildlife garden? The inflatable pool looks like a resident's afterthought, and it was empty when I was there.

Don't say I never show you the hidden corners of West Hampstead.

I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing and archiving photos -- which takes a surprisingly long time -- and walking Olga to the cemetery and back. Then we watched "National Lampoon's European Vacation," which I hadn't seen in years. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen it. Dave's sister and brother-in-law mentioned it on their recent stay, when we took Olga down to Westminster, and then when I posted the photos a friend mentioned it on Facebook. I took that as a cosmic hint that I was meant to see it. The humor seems so innocent, even the somewhat bawdy parts -- but it's definitely good for a laugh. (To think Chevy Chase is 74 years old now -- how did that happen?!)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Heath Tutorial

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday, the first time we'd been to the main part of the heath since June. Dog heaven!

I don't think I've ever explained this, but Hampstead Heath is divided into four adjacent parcels of land. The largest part (map here) is southeast of Spaniards Road and Hampstead Lane, and includes Parliament Hill, which overlooks the city, as well as the swimming ponds (where I never swim) and Kenwood House (a historic home and art museum where Dave and I went a few years ago). Then, north and west of Spaniards Road, there are three smaller parcels: West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension.

Olga and I routinely walk either the main Heath or the three other parcels, and lately we seem to have been focusing more on the latter. So it was nice to get back to the main Heath itself. I just love seeing Olga running free in all that open forest.

I know, you've seen this photo before -- or one like it. But I can't resist. That's atop Parliament Hill.

I noticed that the skyline is changing. See that big building going up in the center of the frame? I think it's 22 Bishopsgate, but I'm not sure. And there are apparently several more high-rises in the works in central London, so in ten years or so, things will look very different. (Unless Brexit tanks the economy!)

I also found this intriguing bottle cap. Turns out Lucky Buddha is a brand of beer, and the bottles themselves are even more intriguing. I need one for my windowsill bottle collection!

Last night, Dave and I went to see "Blackkklansman." I wish I could say I loved it. It's certainly thought-provoking, and I don't disagree with the message at all -- that racism and race violence are alive and well in the United States, especially under Trump. But parts of it seemed a bit clunky, and apparently the real story has been significantly souped up for the film. I guess that's routine for Hollywood, but it seems a bit dangerous when you're trying to make a point with a "true story." God knows we do have a racism problem, and the truth is scary enough.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Wrong Chair

Almost since we've moved to England, Dave has wanted a La-Z-Boy recliner. He had one in the states that he loved, but it was too worn out to move here, and although we bought a recliner when we first arrived it was a sorry approximation of the real thing.

The need has become particularly acute because the loveseat where Dave sits every night is falling apart. There's basically no support below the cushion. Dave is so tall that it doesn't make a difference for him, but Gary, Dave's brother-in-law, sat in Dave's "spot" during his visit and disappeared into the loveseat like Lily Tomlin playing Edith Ann.

You may remember that Dave's 50th birthday was in June. So I decided to order him a La-Z-Boy, specially made. We got it from a furniture company in Peterborough, and before I ordered it I had Dave choose what he wanted -- the type of chair and the color. I placed the order online at the end of May. And we waited. And waited.

Finally, this week, I was notified that the chair was ready for delivery. Dave joyously anticipated putting his feet up as he had in his old recliner. The van pulled up yesterday morning, the delivery guys hoisted the chair into place in our living room, and Dave sat down -- and he was unable to recline. There was no reclining handle, no mechanism that we could find. The footrest seemed welded to the body of the chair.

I got on the phone to the company and learned with horror that we had ordered a standard armchair, not a reclining armchair. I looked at the information Dave sent me, and yes, that's what he accidentally specified, and I didn't catch the problem. I guess we both thought all La-Z-Boys were recliners. Hence the name, right?

Well, no.

Fortunately, the furniture company is working with us, and we're going to exchange the chair. We have to pay a little more -- the recliners are slightly more expensive -- and we also have to pay another delivery fee, as well as a fee to have the incorrect one collected next week and taken away. Worst of all, we have to wait another 15 weeks for the recliner to be ready.

This is the longest, most drawn-out birthday Dave has ever had -- not in a good way!

Jenny-O asked to see a close-up of our embroidery from Vietnam, which you all saw in a photo of our front hallway a few days ago. We liked it because we saw many scenes like this while traveling through the country -- right down to the pink lotuses in the paddies and the workers with their conical hats. We bought it in a shop where women were gathered working on various pieces of embroidery -- I assume one of them made it, but who knows. Anyway, it's a nice souvenir linked to specific memories we have of the country.

(Top photo: A charity shop in Cricklewood. I showed you a close-up photo of its window in the post linked above.)

Friday, September 7, 2018

Crispy Zinnias and E. B. White

Some of the zinnia flowers are looking very autumnal these days, drying out and turning brown. And yet the plants are still putting out new blossoms, smaller but just as colorful as the first ones. They're doing their best to set seeds, but I'm trying to keep them deadheaded so they continue blooming.

We've been getting some weird stuff through the book drop at work. The other day someone gave us a first edition of E. B. White's book "The Second Tree from the Corner," a collection of pieces he wrote for The New Yorker between 1935 and 1954. I don't think it's particularly valuable (based on what I see on eBay) and perhaps surprisingly, I already have my own copy. White is one of my favorite writers of all time, and I don't mean "Charlotte's Web," although that's a great book -- his writing for adults was amazing. We'll probably put it in one of the conference room bookcases, where our few antiquarian books are located.

And then, yesterday, someone returned a book from the East Riding of Yorkshire school library system. Why on earth did it come to us? I suppose the borrower thought as long as it went back to a school they'd done their part. I looked up the address of the East Yorkshire school libraries office, tucked the book in an envelope and mailed it to them. It had been checked out in 2010 and was probably declared lost long ago, but it was in good condition, so maybe they can still use it.

What did you think of the mysterious column in the Times declaring a cabal of resisters within the Trump administration? I found it weirdly comforting, knowing that there are senior people within the administration trying to protect us all from the Orange Menace. But as a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, should we really feel better that there's an internal coup in the White House? And this person clearly values aspects of the Republican agenda (deregulation, more military spending, tax "reform") that I personally question, so we can't lose sight of the fact that we need to clean the whole hornet's nest out of office.

(What would E. B. White, a great internationalist, have thought of Trump? His assessment would be entertaining and eloquent and probably damning.)

I've been walking to and from work to get some exercise and to rack up points using my health insurance app, so I can get some free Starbucks coffees and movie tickets. (Obviously not really free, since I'm paying for the insurance.) I haven't really mastered the system, though. For a long time it wouldn't give me any points until I completed my annual health questionnaire, which I never seemed to have time to do. (I finally did it yesterday.) I've also found that when I do earn a coffee, I seem to have only a few days to redeem it before the reward vanishes entirely. That's the problem with these reward schemes -- I don't want to be ruled by my health insurance app. I'd rather just go buy a coffee when I want one!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

iPhone Photo Parade

I have nothing of substance to write today, so it's time for more photos from the ol' iPhone!

The other day Dave put the television on pause and we were treated to this scary/hilarious expression on the face of a sports coach. (No, we weren't watching sports. I think it was a commercial.)

Here's another example of interesting morning light in our front hallway. (And now you know our house number!) The embroidery on the wall we bought in Vietnam -- it shows workers harvesting rice.

Olga was sorry that the Dog Lounge was closed when we passed early on Saturday morning. (Although she doesn't look sorry, and come to think of it, she doesn't really like maybe she was actually thrilled!)

The window of a charity shop in Cricklewood. It's never open when I'm over that way but it looks like an intriguing place.

A broken chair, set out for trash collection. By the way, do you see the "small electrical appliances" bin? The council collects them for recycling. I don't remember ever seeing that in the states, although maybe it's done now. Pretty cool, huh?

This was a pub in St. John's Wood where my colleagues used to assemble on Fridays after work. Sadly, it has closed and I believe it's due to be turned into flats (but I'm not sure about that). Anyway, someone clearly isn't happy with the changes.

Olga and I pass this tree with HUGE leaves on our morning walks. I think it's a catalpa? I tried to include my hand for scale.

And finally, the back cover of a math textbook we were discarding in the library. I just liked the artwork. I'm not sure what peacocks have to do with math, but I guess the poor artist had to come up with something.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Autumn Tableau

Yesterday morning the sunlight was falling so nicely across our hall table that I couldn't resist taking some pictures. Then I began thinking about the collection of stuff on the tabletop -- each of those items has a story behind it.

First of all, the lilies -- I found them while I was walking the dog. And no, they weren't growing in anyone's garden. They were lying abandoned on the public bench at the top of the street, amid unwrapped florist's paper. Who knows what happened? Maybe someone got flowers and didn't want them. Maybe a thief took them from the recipient's doorstep not knowing what they were, and left them behind after unwrapping them and discovering nothing of value. In any case, no one was around to claim them so I brought them home. We've had them more than a week and they're reaching the end of their time.

I made that pencil cup in pottery class in the late 1990's. Yes, I went through a pottery-making period. I was never very good at it, as all my poor friends who were burdened with my creations will attest.

The orange ball radio I've had since childhood. I wrote about it here.

Behind the radio and the pencil cup is a framed autumn leaf that my mom brought me from North Carolina way back in the late 1970s. She bought it at a shop, and it had been preserved somehow -- I think glycerin was involved? -- so that it retained its color and some flexibility. In the 40 years since, it has remained amazingly durable and only recently started to fade. Here's a scan, with the colors slightly enhanced to show how it looked when I first received it:

Pretty cool, huh? That leaf is older than Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga, to pick a few people at random.

The photos are of me, my brother and my mom, and were taken, developed and printed by my dad back in the 1970s. The packet of lavender seeds was included with a new pair of pants that Dave recently bought online. (Odd, but we'll plant them!) The little blue doll, which looks like a potato with pigtails and an embroidered face, we found on the street -- obviously someone's handmade creation. We tried to get Olga to play with it but she wasn't interested.

The badger card came from York. You've seen it before here. And finally, the tablecloth is a piece of wax cloth -- a sort of batik, at least in its original, authentic form -- that I bought in Ghana back in 1994.

That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about our hall tabletop! (And this is only half of it!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Cosmos, and Librarian Problems

This is one of our cosmos. As you can see, they're finally budding and blooming -- this is probably the most productive of the several plants we have. I think I planted them in compost that was too rich -- they grew huge, almost as tall as I am (about 6 feet), and produced tons of foliage but they haven't been great about flowering. They are pretty, though.

I had a busy weekend. Aside from filming Saturday's outing with the dog and documenting the faces of Cricklewood, I mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, did laundry, paid bills and trimmed the garden. Whew! (Dave was working on music for his band students, so he was busy too.)

Speaking of Saturday, I got a special request -- OK, it was from Dave -- to upload my "director's cut" of Olga's GoPro video. This is a longer version of the one I posted Sunday, with different music and some ambient audio (barking!). If you feel inspired you can watch it here, but don't feel obligated because as I said earlier, it's 11-something minutes long and that's a lot of dog for most people.

I didn't finish all the reading I'd hoped -- in fact I'm still working my way through my third New Yorker and I haven't even started the Knausgaard book. I don't know why I have so much trouble sitting down and reading. Every time I do, a voice nags at the back of my brain: "Don't you have something more important to do?" Which is terrible! I love reading! Why do I feel it should be my last priority?!

Yesterday was a bear of a day at work. A parent called to complain -- not angrily, but just out of concern -- about a book we'd checked out to her fifth-grade son. Apparently the book contained too many references to drug smuggling and other crime for her taste. (Amazon says it's for readers 11 and over, so he's right on the cusp in terms of age.) Anyway, one of the librarians met with her and worked out a plan to give the kid more wholesome books.

Then we realized that the notebook we use to schedule library space for classes -- which I make up at the beginning of every school year, using specially printed pages gridded to show every class block from August into June -- was wrong. Apparently the school calendar I'd based it on was incorrect. Argh! So I had to remake it last night, which wasted half a ream of paper and kept me at work about 45 minutes past my normal time.

As Queen Victoria said, probably apocryphally: "We are not amused."

Monday, September 3, 2018

Faces of Cricklewood

As I walked Olga along Cricklewood high street on Saturday morning, I happened to glance up at one of the shopfronts and notice that it had faces carved into the corners -- above the walls dividing one shop from the next. I've walked that street a million times but I'd never noticed this before.

It's common in Victorian architecture to have carved ornamentation, and I've seen many faces in other areas, but as I walked along I began paying attention to the incredible diversity of Cricklewood's faces. Each and every one is different.

I went back yesterday morning with my camera (and Olga) and took pictures of 67 of them -- nearly the entire street. I'm sure I didn't get them all, but I got a representative assortment.

(By the way, if I ever again get the bright idea to try to walk the dog and take pictures at the same time, talk me out of it. It always turns into a nightmare of Olga pulling at me while I'm trying to aim and focus, and then I get mad and she gets sulky. I've learned this lesson before, but I always seem to forget. Anyway, she consoled herself by furtively eating mysterious bits of food she found along the street -- God knows what, but it hasn't killed her yet.)

As I said, the faces are very diverse. Some have crowns, some have hats, some appear more lion than human, some have wings coming out of their heads. Some are more skillfully carved than others. There are women...

...and what appear to be people of different races.

Because it's such an intensely developed commercial area, a lot of the faces are covered by wires and pipes and have signs planted in their foreheads.

I'm tempted to go back and double-check to make sure I've got all the good ones, and then put a book together for a colleague of mine who's running a volunteer library in the area. Wouldn't it be cool for them to have on display?

Pigeon photo bomb!

I especially love all the colors. It's very common in London to see building ornamentation painted right down the middle, with the owners of the buildings on either side responsible for each half. That leads to some interesting combinations, especially with all the signage and CCTV cameras and whatnot!