Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Carpeting, Outside and In

The weekend's wind and rain ripped many of the red leaves off our Japanese maple and scattered them at its feet. We haven't had long to appreciate that bright color.

It's probably cliché to evoke Robert Frost at this time of year, but here goes:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

And while red leaves are carpeting our lawn, indoors we've started our Great Carpet Odyssey. Last night Dave and I cleared all the furniture out of the dining room, cramming it mostly into the front foyer and our bedroom. Books are lining the walls of the hallway. Everything is stacked everywhere. As I told Dave, it's like those scenes in "Dr. Zhivago" when Tonya and her family have been forced into just a few rooms of their mansion because the Bolsheviks have taken over the rest of the house.

This is in preparation for the handyman to come this morning and rip out the old dining room carpet and carry it away. Then, tomorrow, the new carpet gets installed -- insha'allah, as they say in the Muslim world. (It literally means "God willing," but in this case, it really means "assuming the carpet gets delivered and the workmen show up.")

Monday, November 12, 2018

Red Poppies

Yesterday was bright and sunny, an autumnal jewel of a day. Olga and I took a longish walk in the morning, and she patiently paused for me while I took photographic advantage of the shadows.

Then Dave and I were off to the Royal Free Hospital, where he had an examination scheduled. It's interesting that they chose yesterday, which was not only a Sunday but also Remembrance Day. The NHS works all the time, I suppose. We sat in the waiting room and watched the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with Theresa May and the other government and Commonwealth leaders laying their wreaths of poppies.

(By the way, this is an excellent gallery of photos from yesterday's ceremonies around the world. I find that image of poppies projected onto the Sydney Opera House especially beautiful and powerful. I'm glad Macron made a point of rejecting nationalism right in front of petulant Trump and conniving Putin.)

After Dave's name was called and he disappeared into the exam room, I walked to Starbucks and sat out on the sidewalk reading Derek Jarman's "Modern Nature," his journals from the late 1980s when he lived in Dungeness and tended a garden in the windy, salty environment. It's interesting reading, but it's also slow-going, I think because journals -- like collections of letters -- don't have the narrative drive of a novel. I've been reading this book for a couple of weeks and I'm only about a third of the way through. I like it, though -- his recollections of the Soho gay scene in the '60s and '70s, his references to his film and design work and the friends he loved and lost to AIDS, his descriptions of various plants and his efforts to grow them. He died from AIDS not too many years after the book's essays conclude.

Finally I went back to the hospital, collected Dave, and we came home. His exam went fine, and they seem to have some idea why he hasn't been feeling so great lately. This may lead to some treatment changes for his Crohn's -- he has a follow-up appointment in a week or two, so we'll see.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

No More Imaginary Moths

Well, yesterday wasn't quite as chaotic as I thought it might be -- the roofers didn't show up. I guess they don't work on Saturdays.

But the the moth guy did show up, around 11:30, at which point Dave, Olga and I were banished from the house for three hours. The exterminator, Greg, who had an Eastern European accent and who seemed as unconvinced as us that a treatment was even necessary, said he would be spraying by hand. I'd envisioned more of a "room fogger" approach, but apparently not. We just had to be gone until it dried.

So Dave went to a cafe on the high street to do some schoolwork, and Olga and I went to the Heath, which was beautifully autumnal. We even had sunshine, because yesterday's rain didn't materialize until the afternoon.

As usual, Olga was a squirrel-killing machine. (At least in her own mind.) She makes passers-by laugh, she is so maniacal. At one point she was leaping around the base of a tree, barking, and a guy walking past said, "Bark it down! It will fall from fear!"

After our long walk we got home to find the flat pretty much the same. I only saw one area where spraying was obvious, and there was no smell at all. I stayed out of the dining room, where the carpet is being replaced this week and where these erstwhile moths (and hence the spray) are supposedly concentrated.

My ever-considerate spouse bought me a bottle of wine at OddBins, even though he hasn't been drinking anything himself because of his Crohn's. So I was able to have a few glasses last night as we watched TV -- a Netflix show called "Safe," with Michael C. Hall, which is pretty good! We binged three episodes!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Urban Nature

I found this beautiful feather on the sidewalk last week. It's tiny -- maybe an inch long -- and I suspect it's from a tit but I'm not sure. The coloring is right, and tits are tiny birds.


And here are the most recent downloads from the garden cam. You'll notice that the time/date stamp on the first clip is wrong, but then I fixed it, so the rest should read correctly. Foxes, squirrels and Olga, basically.

We have a whole lot going on around here today, but fortunately none of it requires my attendance. So while the fumigators visit for the first moth treatment and the roofers pound away, Olga and I will be at the Heath. Or somewhere. It's going to be a bit dicey because it's supposed to rain, but I'm hoping we can fit our long walk in between bouts of precipitation.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Roof Repairs, and Outrageous Injustice

Here's what our humble abode looks like at the moment, all scaffolded up for roof repairs. As I said in an earlier post, Dave and I haven't been involved in arranging any of this work. It's been handled by our landlord and the owner of the upstairs flat. It's basically just happening to us.

We live on the ground floor, with the green door. The white door leads to the upstairs, where the Russians live. Mrs. Kravitz lives in the house on the left. I don't even know the name of the woman who owns the house on the right -- the one connected to ours -- but I believe she has the whole structure. It's not divided into separate flats like ours is.

Here's another view, so you can see how extensive the scaffold is. It runs down the side of the house and also around the back. It went up pretty quickly -- I was impressed, considering the workmen had to navigate our jungle of a front garden. (We don't maintain the front -- that's the landlord's responsibility, probably in conjunction with the Russians.)

That big hole in the roadway, with the blue barriers, is a separate project entirely -- something to do with Thames Water. I have no idea what's happening there.

Once again, I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker yesterday, this one about a team of New York lawyers who moved to Oklahoma to represent poor women entangled in the criminal justice system. Apparently Oklahoma incarcerates women, particularly poor women, at above-average rates. The article mentioned the case of Tondalao Hall, a woman whose abusive male partner broke their infant son's leg and ribs. The man was sentenced to eight years of probation for inflicting the abuse. But Hall, who wasn't even home when the child was injured and who called a doctor when she saw that something was wrong, was charged with failing to protect her children -- and sentenced to THIRTY YEARS IN PRISON! Have you ever heard of a greater miscarriage of justice? The ACLU is fighting her case, but really -- it's perhaps the starkest example I've ever seen of a woman being made to pay for the crimes of a man. Appalling!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Red and Blue, Red and Yellow

The consensus seems to be that the election news is brighter than I initially believed yesterday. I thought it was sort of a "meh" result for the Democrats, but The New York Times called it a "rebuke" of Trump's policies -- maybe even a "stinging rebuke," though I can't remember their exact wording. Nate Cohn has a column (with a very hard-to-understand graphic) explaining why the election was better for the Democrats than it appears. I'm not sure I buy it, frankly -- I'd hoped for a much bigger and bluer wave -- but it's an interesting perspective.

At least Nancy Pelosi is now back to annoy the Republicans even more. This thrills me to my bones, knowing how much they complain about her.

Trump's behavior is going to be fun to watch. Now that he doesn't have to tiptoe around to pacify mid-term election voters, he's going to become even more autocratic. Jeff Sessions is just the first step.

Interesting times!

Look how red our Japanese maple has gone, seemingly overnight! Less than two weeks ago it was a dark bronze color. It really stands out at this time of year. Apparently it's a hemispheric phenomenon, as Lorianne in New England said hers just went bright red, too.

I went back to Starbuck's yesterday and collected my free coffee via my health insurance. This time, they had hot water. Yay!

Oh, and I rolled our carts of discarded library DVDs into the staff lounge at work, with "free" signs on them. I figured that would help us get rid of them, and it has -- several shelves' worth have disappeared. Less for us to throw away!

(Top photo: An autumn leaf  in Queen's Park, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Elections, and Scaffold Man

I woke up at 4 a.m. to read the American election results. Nationwide, they're not a total disaster. It's great that the Democrats won control of the House, as expected, and there were a few bright spots -- like the defeat of the far-right gubernatorial candidate in Kansas, of all places. Even in Florida, where I voted, it's terrific that a long-standing discriminatory law banning ex-felons from voting has been eliminated. That will have a significant effect in upcoming years and is another step toward true justice.

Of course I was sick to see the Democrats lose the governor's race and a Senate seat in Florida -- but frankly, I kind of expected it. I was just telling a co-worker yesterday that I thought those losses were likely. It's still Florida, y'all -- the "Gunshine State." I'm so used to voting on the losing end of statewide elections that I don't bat an eye anymore.

To the extent that it's all a referendum on Trump, the fact of the matter is, while he turns my stomach and those of a lot of urban, educated voters, many, many people do not care what he says or how he says it. If anything, they like his plain-spokenness and his bluster. They find him entertaining and they don't feel preached to or looked down upon. There are many ironies there, but that's how it is. The economy is up and he's pledged resistance to immigration, and many people respond to those issues. I just have to swallow the fact that I think differently.

So, onward. I hope having a Democratic House at least imposes some checks and balances.

I went back to the dentist yesterday evening to get my crown adjusted again. The good news is, it seems to have really helped. My tooth feels much better than it did. We'll see what happens over the long haul, but I am hopeful.

Oh, and Dave -- who stayed home from work yesterday morning for a doctor's appointment -- texted me to say the scaffold was going up around our house, enabling the roof work to proceed. He sent me this picture:

I was like, "Ummmm....is that really a picture of the scaffolding?"

Dave swears he was not photographing Hunky Scaffold Man, and in fact he said the guy's not all that hunky in real life. Whatever!

In all seriousness, I was glad Dave was home, because I worried about how Olga would respond to workmen clambering over the house and clanking around with those huge metal poles. Dave said she didn't like it, but I hope now that she's been introduced to the disruption she'll be comfortable here on her own.

(Top photo: A chicken place in Queen's Park, on Sunday. I'm always intrigued when I see 'Southern' fried chicken advertised in England. Is it from Southampton?)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Immense Weight of Norman Rockwell

I just woke up from the strangest dream, in which I had cartoon characters tattooed on the calves of both my legs. Beavis and Butthead were on my outer left leg. I don't remember who the others were. Dave was somehow responsible for this, and in the dream I wasn't upset at all, though in real life it would certainly be a different story.

The roofers haven't yet erected their scaffold to begin the roof repairs on our house. We were told it would happen yesterday, but for whatever reason it didn't. I am so happy that I don't have to manage this project at all. We just come and go as usual and at some point we'll come home and there will be a scaffold.

I mailed the wayward birthday card yesterday -- the one that arrived at our house last week by mistake. The sender did respond to my Facebook message, and he seemed rather cautious, but when I explained how I tracked him down (first name on the card, last name on the accompanying check, and an unusual name overall) he was satisfied and he told me where to send it. It's another street very near ours with a completely different name, but the same house number. It makes me wonder how on earth they screwed this up -- did they look at a map and guess at the street? Very weird.

Even weirder, when I left the post office, I went to Starbucks to try to redeem my free coffee from my health insurance, and the barista said they had no hot water. How was this possible?! Something about a machine being broken, but they couldn't do an Americano (which is made with the espresso machine) or a filter coffee (which is made with a drip coffee maker). So it sounds like two machines were broken. Maybe I'll try again today if I get motivated.

Here are the chrysanthemums I carried home from Queen's Park on Sunday, along with some cyclamens I got at Homebase a few weeks ago. Aren't those nice-looking mums for £3.50?

Yesterday at work some fifth-grade boys, both library enthusiasts who have started their own book club (!), found an immense volume of Norman Rockwell paintings in a back corner. One of them discovered from the lack of date stamps that it had never been checked out, and when I showed him another stamp indicating the library got the book in 1975, he couldn't believe it. (I'm sure 1975 seems like prehistory to him.) He borrowed it just to proudly tell his friends: "We're the first people to check it out!" And then he flipped through a few pages and returned it, because I'm sure he wasn't interested in lugging home a 12x17-inch book that must weigh 20 pounds. Kids are funny.

(Top photo: Salusbury Road, Queen's Park, on Sunday.)

Monday, November 5, 2018

So Many Rules

For a long time I've been meaning to take Olga to Queen's Park, southwest of where we live, just to try something new. I didn't necessarily have it in mind when we set out on our walk yesterday, but when we found ourselves headed in that direction I decided to make it our goal.

Turns out, Queen's Park -- though perfectly nice as parks go -- isn't a great place for Olga. For one thing, there are a lot of rules. A placard by the gate lists them all. Dogs have to be on a lead, for example. Also, you can't quarrel, use profanity, play cards, or land a helicopter. So don't even think about it.

The dogs-on-leads rule means there are billions of incredibly fat, lazy squirrels lolling around, which of course drove Olga into a frenzy. In her mind's eye, they were spread-eagled on giant Ritz crackers, green olives in their mouths, a tray of hors d'oeuvres. She nearly pulled my arms off trying to get to them, and did her "insane dog" impression, in which she pants and groans and wheezes and slavers and becomes a general embarrassment.

Because of the insane dog, I only took a few pictures in the park, including the one of the bandstand, above. (Oh, and that's another park rule -- you can't "importune any person for the purpose of taking any photograph." I decided to risk importuning the bandstand.)

I asked another dog owner, walking a very properly behaved small furry thing, where I could let Olga run off-leash, and he directed us to nearby Tiverton Green.

That was a much, much better solution. She chased her tennis ball, fended off an incursion by a German Shepherd who wanted to take her ball, and also found an abandoned orange football to play with.

Afterwards we walked the high street through the Queen's Park neighborhood, where I got a coffee and a pastry at Starbucks. I thought I had a free coffee through my health insurance, but when I got to the counter I couldn't find the payment code on my insurance app -- the app recently updated and now nothing looks the same. So rather than annoy everyone by holding up the line, I paid for everything, and of course the moment I sat down I found the payment code with no problem.

(Oh, you can't be annoying in Queen's Park, either. It's expressly forbidden, according to the posted rules, to "behave to the annoyance of any person." That only applies in the park itself, though, not in Starbucks.)

Finally, as we began the long walk home, Olga dragged me into the Queens Park farmer's market, which was being held in a car park beside the high street. She smelled the oysters, I think, but we steered clear of those. I did buy a pot of beautiful chrysanthemums for the porch, and I felt very autumnal carrying them home.

In the afternoon I cleaned up the garden, pruning back the dead inulas, thistles and cardoon and raking up the fallen leaves. And I watched the Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera," which I checked out from the library, mainly because I wanted to see Kitty Carlisle in what might be her most famous acting role. Those Marx Brothers movies are still funny, even after 80 years.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Spotty Leaves and Freddie Mercury

Olga and I went for a long walk on the Heath yesterday. It was chilly but clear and pleasant, and as usual she was insane with squirrel-chasing energy. While she ran and ran, I spent my time photographing peculiar leaves.

We found a couple of pumpkins sitting outside someone's garden gate. I couldn't tell if they were being given away or meant as decoration -- but you'd think if they were decorative, someone would have removed the stickers.  Olga was trying to figure them out. I think she thought they were footballs. We left them there.

After our walk, Dave and I went to see "Bohemian Rhapsody," the new movie about Queen and Freddie Mercury. (You may remember I came across Freddie's house in Kensington several years ago.) It's a good movie. I was never a huge Queen fan, but I had their greatest hits album at some point, and I had the single of "Killer Queen" when I was a kid -- someone gave it to me. Anyway, the film is rather obviously Hollywoodized in a few places and the prosthetic teeth that Rami Malek wears seem WAY too big, but aside from that, it gets two thumbs up from us.

A large part of the film's ending focuses on Queen's performance at Live Aid, which occurred in July 1985. You know, I remember all the buzz about that event, but I don't think I watched it at the time. I was in college, had just moved into my first apartment with a roommate, and I guess I was just too busy. I did buy a 12-inch single of "We Are the World," so I did my part!

This morning, Olga is not moving very fast. I think she's still recovering, chasing squirrels in her twitchy dog dreams.

Saturday, November 3, 2018


This mylar balloon is caught in some trees near our house. It's been there for days and days. I'm sure it's a remnant of some child's birthday party and I have to wonder how it will ever come down.

Speaking of birthdays, yesterday was mine. I have officially been on the planet for 52 years. I didn't mention it yesterday because there wasn't much to tell, and there still isn't. I got a postcard from my step-mother, who's traveling in Portugal, and my co-workers gave me a little gathering with a card and a flourless chocolate cake. Oh, and my boss's boss gave me a coaster for drinks, shaped like an old floppy disk. Dave already took me to dinner, so that's that!

I did make myself a rare martini, which was fabulous, and we watched "Clueless," because if you're going to drink a martini and watch a movie you can't watch something that requires any thought.

Oh, and I heard from 90 people on Facebook, which is pretty great. I am terrible about wishing people happy birthday on Facebook, and yet every year when my birthday comes around and I get so many messages, I am touched! It makes me realize how many great people I know and how many paths I've traveled. Say all you want about the evils of Facebook -- and in many cases you wouldn't be wrong -- but it does birthdays well.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Chest Pains, Moths and Lost Mail

Suddenly we've had lots of activity around here.

Most excitingly, I was at work on Tuesday afternoon when I began having sharp chest pains. They felt very internal, slightly to the left of my breastbone and radiating both to my front and my back. They weren't super-intense and didn't have the elephant-sitting-on-your-chest feeling that heart attacks supposedly have, so I didn't do anything immediately. But when I went home I told Dave, and we called the NHS ask-a-nurse line. The nurse ran me through a list of questions and told me I should consult with a doctor within six hours, then contacted my doctor's office and got a doctor on the phone (!). He told me it sounded like "musculo-skeletal" injury and told me to come and see him in the morning.

So, on Wednesday morning, he examined me and said everything seemed fine. (The pain had largely disappeared by then, but it was uncomfortable enough that I couldn't lie on my side in bed the previous night.) He sent me for an ECG and blood work, which I did yesterday morning at the Royal Free Hospital. The ECG still has to be read by a cardiologist but the technician said it looked normal to her.

Good grief! Maybe hoisting all those boxes of discarded DVDs didn't do me any favors?

On top of this, an exterminator is coming on the 10th to give our flat a "moth treatment" because, even though we've seen no evidence of moths in the rugs, the landlord insists on it before she replaces the dining room carpet. It's actually going to be two treatments, two weeks apart, and we have to be out of the flat for five hours or so each time. I hate the idea of poison in the house so I am not amused. I'd rather live with moths -- but we really do need a new carpet.

Finally, we've just learned there's going to be roof work on our building, which will necessitate erecting a scaffold all around the house for a week. That starts on Monday. Hopefully it won't affect us much since we're on the bottom floor, but at minimum it seems like it might make things a bit darker.

Oh, and I'll be back at the dentist on Tuesday to determine why my back molar is still giving me pain, despite a root canal and a crown.

Never a dull moment!

Yesterday we got an envelope in the mail addressed to someone we've never heard of. It was obviously a letter of some sort but it had no return address. I was stymied about what to do, so I opened it, and it turned out to be a birthday card for a 16-year-old nephew with a check inside. I tracked down the sender on Facebook and sent a message letting him know we have it instead of the nephew (who I suppose lived here at some point in the past). I offered to return it or forward it, depending on what he wants. We'll see if he responds. Why don't people put return addresses on their mail?

(Photo: Chiswick House, a couple of weekends ago.)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

More Pics from the Ol' Phone

This is not our Chinese lantern plant. I wish! No, it belongs to a neighbor, and just like every year, it is bedecked with beautiful orange lantern-like seed pods. Our lantern plant -- our third attempt at growing one, I should add -- seems to have spontaneously died. It was doing well until shortly after we returned from Vietnam, when it turned yellow and withered away. I thought it was dying back for fall until I saw the neighbor's, still lush and be-lanterned. I have no idea why Dave and I are so terrible at growing this particular plant -- especially when it's supposed to be so easy!

We'll see if it comes up in the spring, and if not, we'll get a fourth one. I am GOING to have lanterns, dammit.

An office near Fortune Green closed some time ago and was remodeled into another office. Simultaneously, these office chairs appeared, discarded by the side of the road. Coincidence?

A picture of nothing. I just liked the orangey glow of that streetlight.

The promotional posters on the vacant shop on Finchley Road keep changing. There's a whole world of entertainment going on out there I know nothing about!

Perhaps the world's ugliest loveseat, left on Priory Road for the trash collectors. Beige vinyl and green-stained trim? Hmmmm...

A nearby pub is having a Halloween party tomorrow night with a drag queen! This is surprising only because it just doesn't seem like a drag queen kind of pub. I guess drag culture really has permeated the mainstream -- or, as one of my friends suggested, maybe it's the name of a band.

Cute doodles on the side of a discarded box, set out for the recyclers.

A fall leaf atop a metal manhole cover -- don't you love that colorful stem?

By the way, we had no trick-or-treaters last night. Whew!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween, but Don't Knock Here

The younger kids in our school went all-out with their autumn decor this year, giving us a wall of psychedelic pumpkins. I think they look better than the standard orange-and-black Halloween color scheme, don't you?

But there's plenty of that around, too:

There seem to be two schools of thought about Halloween in Britain. One is embodied by the traditionalists who eschew Halloween as an American import and argue that Britain should save its fall celebratory energy for Bonfire Night (which is coming up on Nov. 5). Rob Rinder, in the Evening Standard, moaned about Halloween in one of his recent columns and said trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood badger him not for candy but money. (Definitely not an American Halloween tradition!)

Others take it in stride. The family with this door is British -- I know because I heard them talking as they were leaving the house one day -- and they have kids, which is obviously what motivates most people to participate in Halloween at all. When I was at Chiswick House a couple of weekends ago I sat near a couple of young British moms (or "mums") who were talking about how to costume their children for the day.

In the Guardian, a writer recently compiled a list of do's and don'ts for trick-or-treating, for those uncertain how to proceed. There were some funny comments on the article from readers about their own experiences with Halloween:

"Yesterday I was in the park with the spaniels and two people appeared. Or rather, one person and a crocodile. Yes, here was a person in an inflatable crocodile suit, complete with tail swishing back and forth. It failed to freak me out but it scared the crap out of one of my dogs."

Anyway, as usual, Dave and I plan to keep our heads down tonight. I didn't buy any candy and we don't have a pumpkin. We haven't had a trick-or-treater since moving to London, and I doubt they'll start now. But just in case, we'll stick to our annual routine -- turn off the porch light and hide in the back of the house, watching television. (Pretty much our nightly routine, come to think of it!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Talmud

As many of you know, for about five years I was a Zen student in New York City. This was from 2004 until 2009 or so. I don't sit much (well, okay, at all) these days, but at the time I was quite serious about it, studying with a teacher and taking a Dharma name. I keep thinking I may go back to active practice someday, but in the meantime I stay in touch with the Zendo community through its e-mail exchange.

Yesterday, a woman I practiced with sent an e-mail message that I found so comforting. It's a passage from the Talmud:

Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world's grief.

Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.

I am certainly no Talmudic scholar, so I don't know the context of this verse. But given the horrifying incidents of the last few days, I thought it was a touching reminder that we must do our own small part, daily, to resist the evils of the world. We can't expect to stop them -- and that helps alleviate my personal frustration and sense of helplessness -- but we can't turn our backs either.

I suppose it's up to each of us to determine what form our resistance will take, whether it's voting or simply trying to act, with our "feet on the street," in kind, just and compassionate ways.

I briefly Googled* the verse to make sure it's authentic, and it seems to be -- a writer from a Jewish newspaper in San Diego cited it a few years ago when she was writing about the ills of the world. (And that was before Donald Trump got elected! Good Lord, is it really possible that man has been president NOT EVEN TWO YEARS YET?!)

So, anyway. Do not be daunted. The world's grief is enormous, but it is not entirely your (or my) burden -- we can address only our tiny piece, as seemingly insignificant as that cup in the photo at the top of the page. I found it lying in a parking lot while walking the dog. It stands out, doesn't it? With that beautiful bright purple color?

*(By the way, have you used Google yet today? There's a Halloween computer game in place of the Google doodle, and it's fun! I am not a computer gamer at all, but I got a kick out of it.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Barking, and an Unexpected Evening Outing

Yesterday started out pretty slow. The morning was gray and rainy, and although Olga kept acting like she wanted to go for a walk, the minute I put on my jacket and got her leash and opened the door, she backed away, horrified. So we spent the time on the couch. I finally finished that issue of The New Yorker I'd been slowly plowing through, and no, I still don't understand Bitcoin.

The day seemed weird because the clocks changed, and it's interesting how you really feel a time change of even one hour. It always seemed later than it actually was, with the sun farther along in the sky.

Finally, about 11 a.m., after the weather cleared, Olga and I went to the Heath. She was a maniac, running and running through the underbrush.

This picture may look scary, but she's just in mid-bark. I wanted to show how dirty she was, but lately, whenever I pause to point a camera at her she gets annoyed and starts barking at me.

Here's the live-action version:

And normally, she is not a barky dog.

Dave and I did re-watch the 1976 version of "A Star Is Born" and it's not my imagination -- it's a far better movie than the new one. The characters seem deeper, the relationship more real and some of the pacing is better. I've always thought Kris Kristofferson was a weird casting choice for that movie -- he can't even really sing! But otherwise it definitely takes flight where the new one, for me, did not. I think maybe the new one suffers from too much involvement by Bradley Cooper -- not that he isn't capable, but any time one person is doing everything, they're bound to be stretched. The '76 film had two stars whose only job was to act and sing; a director who helped on the screenplay but was otherwise only a director; two top-notch screenwriters (Joan Didion!); and top-notch music supervision and songwriting (Paul Williams, Alan & Marilyn Bergman). The new one is all Cooper, Cooper, Cooper. Dude was busy.

Also, although I criticized Gaga's voice in yesterday's post, I think in retrospect the issue may be more the songs than her singing, because she does an excellent version of "La Vie en Rose." And as we all know, modern pop music is crap.

Anyway, enough about that.

The unexpected excitement of the day came in late evening, after Dave had put a chicken in the oven and I was relaxing with a glass of wine. He said he wasn't feeling well, and hadn't been feeling well all day -- Crohn's issues, and I won't trouble you with the specific symptoms but there were some. So I had him call the NHS ask-a-nurse hotline and he was advised to go to the A&E (the British equivalent of the ER). He hopped in a cab to the Royal Free Hospital and I followed about half an hour later, when the chicken was adequately baked and I could turn off the oven without it becoming a bacteria farm. They checked him out at the hospital, did a blood test and fortunately let him come home again a few hours later, when we finally ate our still-hot but somewhat overcooked chicken. He's got to follow up with his gastroenterologists, and of course, to make things really interesting, he's supposed to leave for Madrid on Thursday on a school trip. Sheesh!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Autumn Deepens

Here's our fall garden, with the birdbath full of leaves and all the colors slowly running to yellow and gold. We haven't tried to clean it up much -- it still looks too nice, and supposedly, leaving some plants to go to seed (like the teasel, the tall brown plant to the right of Olga) is good for the birds. I haven't seen a bird on that teasel, but maybe I'm just not looking at the right time. We have one bright pink rose, still standing out like a stoplight.

"Who, me?"
British Summer Time ended this morning, so our clocks have fallen back. As I told Dave last night, "That just means I'll wake up at 4:30 rather than 5:30," and I was pretty much correct. But at least I could lie in bed and not worry about having to be anywhere.

It's also COLD. It's 40º F this morning! (That's 5º for you Celsius people.)

Yesterday Dave and I went to see "A Star Is Born" with my free cinema ticket from my health insurance. (I'm realizing that until I get Dave exercising and earning his own cinema tickets, this benefit is actually going to cost us money, because although I get in free he has to pay, and if I didn't have a free ticket we might not be going to the movies at all.) Anyway, I thought it was so-so. It seemed a bit long (never a good sign) and somehow the characters and the relationships never quite took flight. Also, while I like Lady Gaga as a person and I think she did a great job as an actress, I'm not crazy about her voice. It seems too high up in her head. Obviously I'm no expert on this and a lot of people love how she sings, but I just kept thinking, she's not Streisand.

I think Dave and I are going to rent the 1976 version today and watch it for comparison's sake. I've never seen the Judy Garland version, or the even earlier one, so maybe when Dave goes out of town later this week I'll watch those. (I think Dave will be done with "A Star Is Born" after today!)

We went to dinner last night at a vegan restaurant in Primrose Hill called Manna. It was an early birthday dinner for me, because Dave will be gone on my actual birthday, this coming Friday. He's got a school trip. Lousy timing, but oh well!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

In Which I Grouse About Everything

Yesterday was a very physical day at work. I boxed up the last of our discarded DVDs, hoisted those boxes and re-shelved a ton of books. I've said it before, but I'm always surprised at how much lifting and bending and crouching and kneeling and moving around my job requires -- so much so that I discovered yesterday I'd worn a hole in the knee of my pants! Oh well...it may not be good for my pants, but it's probably good for me.

Still, I'm not as agile as Alain Robert, the 56-year-old Frenchman who this week climbed the exterior of a skyscraper in London -- with no harnesses or safety ropes or anything. I'm amazed he's still at it. Ten years ago he climbed The New York Times building, back when I worked there -- in fact I blogged about it. I'll never forget how surreal that was. That guy is a lunatic.

Oh, and did you see some bozo tried to steal the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral -- the same one Dave and I just viewed on our recent visit? What was he going to do? Sell it on eBay?


I'm reading an interesting but completely bewildering article about cryptocurrency in The New Yorker. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I do not understand this stuff at all. How can money untethered from government or nationality, money that doesn't even exist in the physical world, be worth anything? How is it possible that we're burning up incredible amounts of real energy to "mine" Bitcoin, which is essentially a big computer game? "This year, it is said, the Bitcoin network will use as much energy as the nation of Austria, and produce as much carbon dioxide as a million transatlantic flights," according to the article. And apparently this translates into real wealth somehow. I guess I'm an idiot, or maybe I'm just too old to get it, but it all sounds very improbable and unwise. Shouldn't we use our energy to, oh, save the rhinos? Or conserve it, or funnel it into the grid in a way that will lower everyone's bills, rather than burning it up on Bitcoin mining?

Sometimes I think humanity is losing touch with the real world. We're all on our devices, our children live in a land of video games, and we're inhabiting digital alternate universes. We're tied up in our own heads. It makes me want to walk Olga and dig in the garden.

So there. I do sound like Andy Rooney. Except not as funny.

(Photo: Near the Museum of London, earlier this month.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The DVD Purge

Yesterday and today are parent conference days at school, which means the teachers spend all day in meetings and the library has almost no customers. I spent all day yesterday discarding DVDs -- sitting at my desk, scanning each one, blacking out the bar code and the library stickers with a Sharpie and throwing them in a box. I must have deleted a couple hundred of them. And I have more to do today.

It's a little tedious but I don't mind it. I have no idea what we're going to do with all these old DVDs. I'm not sure charity shops want them. I guess I need to call around and ask.

I don't mind discarding the crap -- the remade "Charlie's Angels," for example -- but I hate throwing away cinematic classics like "Wild Strawberries." I have to continually remind myself that this weeding is not based on the quality of the movie. It's based on whether the movie gets used, and whether it's available electronically. Everything I'm discarding now hasn't been checked out at all within the last five years.

In fact, it's made me realize how heavily DVD use has declined. Some of the movies have stamps showing fairly regular checkouts until about 2012, when suddenly everything stops. The rise of video streaming!

I keep thinking, "Well, what happens if we no longer have access to streaming video, for whatever reason?" But I guess if that's the case something fairly apocalyptic will have happened and watching "About a Boy" or "Pretty Woman" won't be high on our priority list. We'll be too busy scrabbling around for food and water!

Despite the fact that I'd also love to get rid of our DVDs here at home, I brought home a couple of library discards for myself -- "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," with Maggie Smith; an Ansel Adams documentary; and the first season of "Rocky and Bullwinkle," which I'm sure I haven't watched in at least 40 years.

I've been walking to work this week, listening to the "Serial" podcast's latest season. It's pretty riveting, and as usual, so well-reported. This season focuses entirely on the criminal justice system in Middle America -- Cleveland, to be specific -- from arrests through conviction. It examines how police treat the people they're arresting, how they themselves are treated, how the courts function, how the attorneys argue and compromise, and how the judges mete out their version of justice. It's fascinating and, in places, downright frightening. It makes me happy to have (thus far) avoided any brushes with law enforcement, but then, I don't face the same desperate circumstances that some people do. I just sit around all day discarding DVDs!

(Photo: Chiswick high street, on Saturday.)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Carpet Campaign

It's been a while since I've filled you in on our final enduring bone of contention with our landlord. You may remember that ever since we moved into this flat, more than four years ago, we've been living with very light-colored, somewhat stained and bedraggled wall-to-wall carpeting in the dining room. We hate this carpet. It has bald spots, mysterious blotches and dark stains around the edges of the room. I'd rather not show you pictures but trust me, it's bad.

Well, OK, here's one picture I've shown you before:

You can see some of the spots, but not the full horrid effect.

Anyway, a few months back we renewed our efforts to get the carpeting replaced. We sent photos -- as we'd done before -- and this time, lo and behold, the landlord seems to be listening.

Last week I got a computer-generated e-mail from the management company saying an appointment had been arranged for someone to come and take care of a reported "vermin" problem. At first I was really annoyed because I thought they were talking about our mice issue, and while we might in fact need someone to check that out if it persists, the fact is we hadn't reported it -- which would have meant that one of our neighbors did. My mind immediately flew to Mrs. Kravitz, who has complained about mouse issues of her own. "She's blaming her mice on us!" I fumed.

And then I called the management company and it's not mice they're worried about at all. It's carpet moths.

Apparently they think the bald spots in our rug were caused by moths, and they want to make sure we don't have an ongoing infestation before they install new carpet. So they sent a guy, and he looked around briefly but confided to Dave that he wasn't really sure what he was doing here, and then the manager called me yesterday and asked if I'd seen any moths. I said not recently -- which is true, though a pair of Dave's pants were damaged by moths shortly after we moved in. We discarded them, bought some moth-proofing sachets for the closets and that was that.

So, anyway, the upshot seems to be that a new carpet may, in fact, be on the way. If the landlord is concerned about moths, I'm not sure why she doesn't just avoid carpet with natural fibers. Moths only eat wool, don't they? They're not going to eat acrylic. I have no objection to artificial fibers in a rug.

(Top photo: A sign in Chiswick on Saturday. Bollocks indeed!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Quaint Bookshop, and Sally Field

When I was in Chiswick on Saturday I popped into this independent bookstore on the high street. I love this place. I stopped in there years ago and bought a copy of A. E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad," and I've often wondered since whether it was still in business. So I was glad to see that it is, and just as stuffed with old books and artwork as I remember.

This time, I browsed that little shelf to the left of the door -- the bargain books, basically -- and came away with one by Nancy Mitford and one by Radclyffe Hall. Hall's 1928 book "The Well of Loneliness," which I read years ago, is one of the bedrock books of LGBT literature. The one I just bought, "Adam's Breed," doesn't seem to have a gay theme but it looks interesting nonetheless.

I also picked up a book from the 1920s or 1930s called "London Shown to the Children." Every page features a photo of a London landmark with a short narrative description -- everything from Nelson's column and Parliament to the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum. I suppose if you lived elsewhere in Britain and you wanted your kids to have some familiarity with the capital, but you couldn't afford to take them there yourself, you'd give them this book.

Speaking of books, I'm enjoying Sally Field's autobiography, "In Pieces." It's interesting because it focuses almost entirely on her early years and her family -- I'm around 300 pages in and she's only up to "Sybil." I didn't know much about her early TV career, having never watched "Gidget" (it only ran for one season!) or "The Flying Nun," but I sought out episodes of both those shows on YouTube and got a quick cultural education.

Here's a screen grab from the "Gidget" episode I watched. Look at the size of that refrigerator!

As for "The Flying Nun," I really can't say much positive about that. And neither does Field, who never wanted to do the show and was basically talked into it by her stepfather and the producers. (I watched this episode, which is interesting only if you're into "Star Trek" -- it features a guest appearance by Celia Lovsky, the actress who played Vulcan leader T'Pau in an episode of the original series.)

I do remember "Sybil," which was a phenomenon when I was a kid. I remember talking about it with the girls down the street when it aired in 1976 -- trying to name and describe all of Sybil's 16 personalities. We were fascinated by the idea that one human being could embody so many distinct, unintegrated identities. I believe Sybil's story has been mostly discredited since then, at least in psychiatric circles, but it made for good TV. Ah, the '70s!

Anyway, Field has some harrowing stories to tell about her dysfunctional family, her mother's alcoholism and the roaming hands of her stepfather, but she seems to have maintained a remarkably level head through it all. I've long admired her as an actress so it's interesting to read about her roots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Mid-October Garden

The garden is well on the wane by this time of year, but we've still got a fair amount of activity out there. This zinnia, for example, just bloomed -- it's probably going to be our last one. Most of the zinnia plants are looking pretty rough around the edges, and even this blossom looks a bit gnarled.

The inulas are completely done, their yellow petals and green stems having turned brown and their flowers gone to seed.

But the verbenas are still plugging away...

...as are the cosmos. And there's still some insect life, as you can see. There's a bee on that central flower, and right next to it is a ghost spider, lying in wait for a smaller, more manageable insect than that gigantic bee to consume.

Here's a closeup of the spider. Autumn is spider season, and the garden spiders have been out in force for several weeks, their webs suspended everywhere. Maybe that's how spiders came to be synonymous with Halloween?

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Blue Dome

Another goal of my walk through Chiswick on Saturday was to see the Russian Orthodox Church there, and specifically its beautiful blue dome. I usually see it while speeding past on the Great West Road on the way to Heathrow, and I'd never photographed it. I've been waiting for fall, because I thought it would look good against a blue sky and framed by autumn leaves.

The exterior of the church, which has a mouthful of a name (Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the Royal Martyrs) is actually not all that interesting architecturally, aside from the dome.  I didn't go inside.

The Royal Martyrs, in case you were wondering, is a reference to the Russian royal family killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. There's a cross erected in their memory in the church courtyard.

Yesterday Dave and I went to lunch with our friend Chris at a favorite pub in Notting Hill. I had a pint and then Chris insisted on ordering a bottle of wine, and of course Dave isn't drinking these days because of his Crohn's. So Chris and I wound up splitting the bottle ourselves, and let me just tell you, that was the booziest lunch I've had in a long time. We argued about Brexit, as usual. Chris is a leaver, but he went the day before to the huge People's Vote march, a massive demonstration in favor of putting the Brexit deal to a second vote. So he was primed to talk about it. I may be imagining things, but he seems to have grown more sheepish about Brexit as it's become apparent that Britain is giving itself the shaft.

(I considered going to that march myself, but since I can't yet vote here, it seemed inappropriate somehow!)

About the only other interesting thing I did yesterday is plant some cyclamens in the pots on the front porch. The zinnias that inhabited those pots had faded and gone scraggly, so I dumped them. To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn).

Here's a short video showing Olga having an exciting encounter on our morning walk yesterday morning! You gotta admire her enthusiasm. She's all in.