Monday, February 19, 2018


Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk down to the lake and sit out with my coffee and my camera. I watched the ducks and anhingas come and go, and the light went from gray and misty to bright and golden. It was a beautiful day, cool and clear, as days often are at this time of year in Florida.

You can't quite tell, but that's a wood duck in the picture above:

Is there a prettier type of duck? If there is, I've never seen it. I wish it had been closer but they're pretty shy. That picture doesn't begin to do them justice.

Then I went and visited Maybelline, my dad and stepmother's dog. She's still crazy energetic when I first walk into her fenced yard, and she still tackles like a linebacker. She's just playing, but she's pretty rough. I got some dramatic scratches on my forearms from her paws.

It's even hard to get her to stay still long enough for a picture!

My stepmother is trying to find a new home for Maybelline. She feels like she can't give the dog the attention she needs, which is probably true. Maybelline spends a lot of her time in a good-sized fenced yard and though she's treated well, she's just too strong for my stepmother and she's obviously hungry for human contact. She leaps into my lap every time I visit! I'd take her back to England but Dave would kill me -- and God knows Olga would never forgive me. Besides, Maybelline doesn't have much experience with living indoors. I think she needs a big space where she can run around and work off all that excess energy.

So this may be the last time I get to play with Maybelline. My scratched-up arms aren't sorry, but the rest of me is.

This is also a great time of the year to be in Florida because many of the tropical trees are blooming. The neighbor's tabebuia is waving bright yellow blossoms against the sky, and I wouldn't be surprised if the jacarandas and kapoks are out, too. (We're a bit too far north for kapoks here, but we do have jacarandas, particularly in some of Tampa's older neighborhoods.)

Last night my stepmother made beef stroganoff, one of my favorite dishes, and my stepsister and her husband and son came over. We drank a bizarre electric-blue sparkling wine my stepmother found at the grocery store. It looks like Windex, but it tastes pretty good!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mouse Sock

Here I am in Florida, where I got a surprisingly good night's sleep, despite the five-hour time difference. It's 5:41 a.m. here, as I write this, and it's weird to think that right now Dave is probably poking around in the garden in broad daylight, moving toward lunchtime. Air travel always amazes me.

My flight was uneventful. We left a bit late because of "unscheduled maintenance," whatever that means -- it sounds important so I'm not complaining. I killed time at the Starbucks in Gatwick airport, which had a surprisingly hip '80s alt-music soundtrack including Roxy Music, New Order, Depeche Mode and even Bronski Beat. I felt like I was in one of the nightclubs of my youth, except that it was, you know, Starbucks, peopled by stroller-pushing parents and occasional senior citizens. (Who may have grooved to that music themselves decades ago!)

It's funny how songs that seemed rather subversive when new have basically become Muzak.

On the plane I read all of "My Absolute Darling," which is a good but harrowing novel with possibly one of the most odious parental characters ever created in fiction -- a paranoid, abusive, controlling mansplainer. I was quickly propelled right through all of its 417 pages. And then I watched "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," which I'd meant to catch in a theater, about the relationship between aging Oscar winner Gloria Grahame and a much younger man in the late '70s and early '80s. It was pretty good, and the acting was impressive, but I didn't get a good sense of why Jamie Bell's character was so in love with Annette Bening's Grahame -- it seemed to me that she didn't have much to offer him, aside from the residual glitter of her glamorous distant past.

My stepsister and her husband picked me up at the airport and brought me back to Lutz, north of Tampa, where I'm staying a few nights at my stepmother's house. It's strange to be here just days after Feb. 16, which would have been my dad's 81st birthday. If he were still with us we'd be having cake and presents now, no doubt.

(Photo: A lost sock in London, which seems Florida-appropriate even though I am not quite in the land of Mickey and Minnie. I haven't had a chance to take any photos here yet!)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mind the Gap

Olga and I went to check out the collapsed house yesterday morning. As you can see, it's not so much a presence as an absence -- a hole in the street. There are people still living in the house to the right -- when I was there, there were lights in the windows -- but I'm guessing they're probably a bit nervous about their foundations.

Yesterday was our last day of school before February break. We're off all next week. I'm flying to Florida today to spend time with the family, and Dave is staying here in London, taking care of Olga and the garden and maybe the plumbing. I'll be coming to you next from the Sunshine State!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Plumbing and Renovation Gone Awry

In our quest to address some long-neglected problems in our flat, I scheduled a handyman to visit yesterday morning to do some minor repairs on our kitchen and bathroom faucets. Sometimes the kitchen tap won't turn on all the way -- something about the handle, I think -- and the bathroom tap drips. I'm sure this is just a matter of changing a washer or something, but neither Dave nor I even know where a washer is located in a faucet, much less what it's supposed to do -- so a handyman was our best option.

Anyway, the guy showed up, and tried to turn off the water supply so he could do the work. Turns out, our stopcock (the valve that controls water into the flat) is stuck. He couldn't budge it, and didn't want to push too hard for fear of breaking it. We even walked up and down in the street outside trying to find the main valve into the house, and although we found the valves for both of our neighbors, we couldn't find our own. (Now I know how to turn off Mrs. Kravitz's water, though!)

After we'd spent half an hour wandering around in the street like zombies I called everything off. I had to get to work. So I paid him for his time (because, after all, it wasn't his fault that our stopcock is stuck) and that was that. The faucet still drips. The kitchen tap is still wonky. And I guess we need to alert the landlords about the stopcock, because if a pipe breaks someday (God forbid) there is no way to turn off the water into this flat!

You probably don't remember (and why would you?) but a big fire flared up in our neighborhood a couple of years ago on Finchley Road. I photographed the scene at the time, and this (above) is what it looks like today. I don't know if there's any work going on behind that scaffold or not. The shopfronts are still closed tight. Here we are, almost two and a half years later!

But at least this building has remained standing. We had some neighborhood excitement on Monday when a house under renovation, not too far from ours, collapsed completely! Now there's just a big dark gap in the street like a missing tooth. Olga and I walk that way frequently -- I may take her over there this morning to check it out. The collapsed house sounds like it was in bad shape -- it hadn't been lived in for a decade -- but it was on sale a few years ago for £1.4 million. Can you imagine investing that much in a property only to have it fall down? Another reason why we rent, in this land of century-old houses!

(Top photo: A bathroom fixtures shop on Finchley Road.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bears, Dogs and an Untamed Horse

Well, I made the mistake of looking at The New York Times before writing this post, and now my brain is full of information about the latest school shooting and Reince Priebus' description of Donald Trump as a headstrong horse. And what can I say about any of it, really, except that America still needs to address its gun addiction and stop making excuses for its dimwitted, dangerous leader? And this whole thing about Trump's lawyer paying $130,000 in hush money to a porn star -- does anyone really believe those were the lawyer's own funds, as he insists? What lawyer does that?

Robert Mueller, your mandate is expanding.

I just can't believe that the same Congress that made such a stink about Bill Clinton is going to sit idly by while these revelations come tumbling forth. And what about all those evangelicals who support Trump? How can they justify that support now? WWJD indeed!

On the personal front, I'm happy to report that my back problems have improved greatly. I don't know whether it was the massage that made the difference or what, but I felt pretty much normal yesterday and I slept through the night both last night and Tuesday night -- a welcome change. Dave keeps telling me I should get a massage regularly, and maybe he's right. Now that I've found a massage place I like, that's not out of the question.

I got a request to say more about these little critters that live on our kitchen windowsill, visible in yesterday's photo. They're salt and pepper shakers, and there's not much of a story behind them, really. I saw them in a shop in the Brussels train station (of all places) several years ago and bought them. They weren't expensive. We don't actually put salt or pepper in them. They're just decorative.

I tried to figure out who produced them -- there's no visible manufacturer name -- but I had no luck. I did find, however, a pair for sale on eBay. First come, first served!

As I sit here on the couch in the pre-dawn darkness, drinking my morning coffee, I'm hearing a bird singing brightly outside. Another sign of the changing seasons!

(Top photo: Mama, Papa and Baby bear outside a garage in Hampstead -- along with a rooster, for some reason.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Revisiting the Root Canal

Dave and I bought these tulips at the farmer's market on Saturday. We needed a bit of spring color around here, and now they're livening up the windowsill in the kitchen. I love the combination of daylight from outside, yellow light from our overhead fixture and the pink flowers in that picture.

Yesterday was part two of my root canal saga. I went back to the dentist to get the job finished and the tooth sealed with a filling. As it turned out, he didn't put on a crown right away -- he said he wants to wait six months and make sure the root canal is sound.

It was an easier visit than the previous one, but I still had to get more Novocain and wear that rubber dental dam, and he had to re-drill the channels in the tooth because, when he probed them, I still felt some pain in one -- he thought he might have left a bit of nerve behind there. Remember how he had equipment problems on my previous visit, with his drill initially not working quite right? Well, the same thing happened again.

"Do you think we need a new one?" he asked the hygienist.

"YES!" I replied from the chair.

Anyway, he eventually got it fired up and all went well. Now I have a "provisional" filling, which is not meant to last forever but apparently will go a few years if need be. He said he would reassess when I come back for my regular checkup.

On the walk home, I picked up a couple of CDs from the "free stuff" pile outside the library. One is by a group called Tortoise and it's an interesting sort of mellow electronic rock. The other is a collaborative album between Sergio Mendes and an assortment of hip-hop artists, and I'm digging that one too, surprisingly. I'm usually not much of a hip-hop fan, but knowing these classic Mendes songs, I can appreciate this new take on them.

At work yesterday I spent time organizing our archive of old yearbooks. (Part of our continuing effort to clean out the conference room.) I realized with horror that someone has been cutting pictures out of many of them. Argh! Who DOES that?! (I think we know who, actually, and he means well -- but I don't want to publicly point fingers so I'll say no more.) I separated out the damaged ones and I think we'll lock up the others to protect them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Massage, and Old Magazines

I got a massage last night after work, thinking it might help my back. I went to a Thai massage place recommended by some women at work -- apparently its owner is married (I think?) to another of our coworkers. Anyway, the massage was magical, and it was one of those intense deals where the masseuse (is that still a word?) climbed not only onto the table but onto my back, on her elbows and knees, using her body weight as pressure. She even offered to walk on my back, but I declined that -- all I could picture was George Jefferson walking on Mr. Bentley.

I'm so glad that I found a good massage place.

As I said, it felt great at the time, but unfortunately, the back still hurts. I'm going to try to pop in and see the doctor sometime this week, just to make sure nothing serious is going on. It may be one of those things where I've stressed it out and it will just take time to heal.

Last night I ran my camera bag through the washing machine. When I fell in the mud on Sunday it got splattered, and I tried vacuuming it and hand-cleaning it, and neither worked. The machine was the last resort. I did that once with my previous bag and it emerged a bit tattered, but this time I put it on a gentler setting and it seems to have been successful.

At work we have a huge stash of old magazines -- Newsweek from the 1940s to about 1960, and National Geographic from the '40s through the '70s, and American Heritage from the '50s until 2010. All these magazines are stored in our conference room, many in bound volumes, and although they look good in the cabinets they are completely useless to us as a school. They aren't indexed so no one could do research using them, unless they knew which issue to look for. We didn't want to throw them out, but we've never been sure what to do with them.

Then, a few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about a London man who's building a huge archive of old magazines and printed ephemera. Bingo! I e-mailed him to offer our magazines, and he called me right away and accepted. So I'll be loading those into boxes in coming days. I'm glad we found a home for them!

(Photo: Morning at the tennis club around the corner from our flat.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Some Days are Stones

Do you know the John Denver song "Some Days are Diamonds"? It's a lesser-known, mid-career single, but I always think of it when I have a bad day. The refrain is:

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone
Sometimes the cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

Yesterday was a stone.

The day began innocently enough. I worked in the garden, trimming the rambling roses and blackberry vines and tying them back to the fence so the bulbs and other plants below would get more light. I vacuumed the house. I did laundry and some other small tasks.

I'd thought about taking on another segment of the LOOP, but the next stretch is 10 miles, and my back has been bothering me so much lately that I didn't think I could (or should) walk that far. Instead I decided to take the dog to the Heath. She stayed inside almost all day Saturday so she needed to get out.

On the way there, we passed a couple sitting on a bench, their black spaniel at their feet. As we walked by, I heard the woman say to the dog: "Yeah, you didn't bark at that one, did you? You're not stupid."

It's so funny how everyone thinks Olga is fierce.

Anyway, I ran into a friend from work, and then passed Ricky Gervais on the sidewalk. It was definitely him. I am not making this up. I texted Dave to tell him the news, and then slipped my phone into my jacket pocket.

So far so good, right? Olga and I circumnavigated the Heath, and of course she got incredibly muddy because the Heath, like everywhere else in England at this time of year, is a mud bog. We were just about to leave when I put my hand in my pocket and realized my phone was no longer there.

Oh shit.

I debated what to do. I had walked miles, my back was killing me, and I thought the odds were slim that my phone would have lain undiscovered somewhere on the Heath all that time -- more than an hour had elapsed since I last used it and I had no idea where I'd dropped it. I stopped some passersby and used their phone to call mine -- but it went straight to voice mail.

And then, to add insult to injury, I slipped in the mud and wound up sprawled on my back, covered with sticky brown clay. The people I'd borrowed the phone from were still standing nearby to witness this spectacle. "It's going to be one of those days," I said to them as I gingerly picked my soggy self off the ground.

I decided to simply go home. But halfway there, I had a change of heart because I thought I figured out where I'd dropped the phone -- in a field, off a path, when I knelt down to take the picture above. I was on all fours, and I could easily imagine my phone slipping from my jacket at that moment. Because it wasn't a heavily traveled path I thought there was a chance the phone would still be in the grass.

So we went back to the Heath. (Olga was very confused.) I walked half my route again, revisited the field, and found nothing.

I was resigned to buying another phone.

This was the day's consolation prize -- some cool pottery shards for my collection.

Back home, I bathed the dog, changed my clothes, took some aspirin and called my phone on Skype. And lo and behold, a man answered. Turns out he was a police officer -- someone had handed in my phone at the Golders Green police station. He said I could come and pick it up right away. I hopped a bus and had my phone back within half an hour, having conveyed my thanks (via the police) to the person who turned it in.

(Turns out I didn't drop it in that field after all. It was found in a completely different spot, called Springett's Wood. Who knows how I lost it. Note to self: NEVER put phone in jacket pocket!)

I seriously think this happy ending was karmic payback for turning in that bag of passports and credit cards I found last fall.

And just like that, the stone became a diamond!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

First Daffodil, and Daffodil Shrapnel

I looked out in the garden yesterday morning and saw a bright spot of yellow -- our first daffodil of the season! How exciting! Winter really is edging into spring. (To paraphrase a George Winston album title.)

But then, to my dismay, I saw...

Those @*&# squirrels!

I gotta let Olga out into the garden more often to keep them at bay. I don't know why they like gnawing on daffodil buds, but they do -- as well as many, many of our other plants. Maybe they're extra-hungry at this time of year. They also ate all the flowers off our snowdrop. (Or maybe it was the pigeons. OK, I didn't see the culprit in action.)

The hellebore is looking pretty amazing. Our next-door neighbor's Polish gardener calls it a "Christmas rose."

And we have a crocus emerging in the bed by the back door. This area has been dug over so much by Dave, I'm thrilled to see there's still a bulb left undisturbed!

We had a quiet, domestic day yesterday. We went to the Bridge Cafe, near the tube station, for breakfast, followed by a wander through our weekly farmer's market. (We both agreed we don't go nearly enough. We bought local pork chops, organic pears and purple broccolini, among other things.)

On the way back home, we passed John selling his used books near the train station. I got an copy of a clever photo book by Slinkachu, an artist who installs tiny figures of people around London, posed in inventive scenarios, and photographs them. And then, motivated to buy books, we went to our local independent bookshop (Yes! We have one!) and picked up a copy of Gabriel Tallent's "My Absolute Darling" and Allen Hollinghurst's "The Sparsholt Affair." So now I'm set for reading material.

It was a very rainy afternoon, so we stayed inside. In bed, in fact. It was fabulous, but I feel like my sleep cycle has been out of whack all week and today I'm looking forward to getting out and doing something active and getting tired!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Storage Cabinet Time Machine

We've spent the last two days cleaning out the library. I've mostly been weeding the fiction section, but yesterday morning, my boss and I dug into the storage cabinets in the conference room. This seems to be where stuff goes when no one knows what else to do with it.

We found stacks and stacks of old photo print kits, once used in teaching -- pictures of Nazi Germany and stuff like that. Back before the Internet, those kits were necessary, but now of course all those resources are online and no one's touched them for years.

Similarly, there was a huge bag of old slides. Most were pictures of artworks, used for art history classes. (Those of us who are of a certain age will remember sitting through those slide shows, trying to differentiate Chagall from Picasso.)

But in among the art history slides -- which we threw away, because again, they're useless now -- I found this little vinyl pouch. Inside were five old slides of London. (The package says 4, but someone must have stuck an extra one in there.) Three are marked "Ministry of Public Building and Works" and two bear the name "Walton Sound & Film Services Ltd.", then a private film studio in London. The slides aren't dated, but the pouch is priced at seven shillings, which means it has to be pre-1971, the year decimalization did away with shillings in Britain.

The slides are color, but the colors have deteriorated so badly over the years that I can only reproduce most of them in black and white. This is the exception -- a slightly warped-looking image of Kew Palace.

Here's the Petticoat Lane market, in London's east end. (I was just there a few weeks ago!) I can't immediately identify those buildings -- I wonder if they're there anymore?

And what about all these people? Where would they be now? Let's assume this was taken in 1970 -- almost 50 years ago. (I think it's older than that, maybe even by a decade, but let's just assume.) The boy at lower left would be 60-ish now. Many of the others are almost certainly long gone.

Here's a photo of the "Yeoman Gaoler of the Tower," at the Tower of London.

The other two photos are essentially timeless. There's this one, of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, with a ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens.

And there's this interior view of Westminster Abbey.

So there you have it -- rescued from the trash! Hopefully whoever owns the copyright to these photos, if anyone at this point, won't mind that I've put them online.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Whip-Its and Back Strain

I've found two or three of these emptied boxes of laughing gas canisters and balloons lying around together recently. It's residue left behind after someone has binged on the nitrous oxide contained in the canisters. They're sold as "whipped cream chargers," for cream squirters, but apparently people abuse the gas and I wonder what percentage ever see a container of whipped cream. The pressurized canisters are emptied into balloons first, from which the gas is inhaled.

I learned all this from The Sun so it must be true.

The things we do to amuse ourselves. "We" in the global sense, of course, since I personally have never inhaled nitrous oxide. (I wondered if I would get some when I got my root canal, but no -- I got plain old novocaine. Which is probably better from a dental patient's point of view.) Anyway, the balloons make for a colorful, if slightly sad, photo.

I spent all day yesterday weeding the fiction section, and I'll be back at it today. There are no classes over this two-day period -- and thus, no students -- because parents and teachers are meeting for their biannual conferences. So I'm just trying to keep myself busy, debating, for example, whether students still read Horatio Hornblower novels. (The evidence points to "no." Even when I got one for Christmas, as a kid, I thought they looked boring. I'm sure to modern kids they seem completely prehistoric.) And if they aren't being read, do we need seven of them?

I figured out why my back has been hurting -- I lugged the fig tree across the back garden on Tuesday night to put it back in the shed in preparation for our cold temperatures. Back strain! It seems much better today, fortunately.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Patio Plant Tour

Here you have evidence of the sad condition of some of our patio plants. I mean, it's winter, so they're supposed to look bad, but some of these are genuinely dead and some seem to have mutated into something else entirely.

On the chair at the top is our lobelia, with some love-in-a-mist also growing in the pot. I'm sure it will come up again -- and hopefully this year we can keep the slugs off it! It's just a matter of time.

On the table, top left corner, is a sedum almost crowded out of its pot by some moss. Next to that is a mystery plant -- it's the pot that holds our crown imperial fritillaria, which barely came up last year and may well be dead. The pot has been colonized by something else that looks like a plant (rather than a weed) so we're going to see what it becomes. Same for the pot next to it, which has a volunteer something-or-other in it. I have no idea what's supposed to be in that pot, but whatever it was it's apparently dead.

We're going to throw out that huge corkscrew plant. Neither of us like it, and Dave bought it on a whim and we've had it a couple of years and it looks like hell.

Then there are a couple of tiny succulents that are dormant now, including one in a pot that I need to repair -- the squirrels managed to break it and my niece painted it, so I want to keep it. (Damn squirrels!)

The bottom right is yarrow, which will be fine. It just needs a trim and it will come up again. Left of that is a sedum that the squirrels have dug through, but I think it's still alive. Left of that, I have no earthly idea. And finally, left of that, a hanging basket with the remains of one trailing nasturtium -- that whole thing needs to be dumped.

On the ground at the upper end of the table is a pot containing another mystery plant as well as some pink valerian. It will be fine. I rescued that plant from one of the neighbors.

As I mentioned, we're having a chilly week here, so spring suddenly seems a long way off. Just a few days ago it seemed right around the corner! But there's frost on the cars this morning, and tomorrow's forecast calls for a low of 29ยบ F.

Yesterday I was struck by a backache at work. It was very strange -- I don't usually have back problems, and although I was moving around some boxes of books, that seemed unlikely to be the cause. I was afraid I was coming down with the flu, but that hasn't happened, thank goodness. Hopefully it's just one of the transient aches and pains of a 51-year-old!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yep, it's Wednesday

This is one of my colleagues at work, a former faculty member who now teaches as a substitute. He was sitting on the couch in the library reading and I couldn't resist leaping up from my desk like a madman to take this picture. I showed it to him but I'm not sure he saw the humor in it.

Last night I finished a book by Alan Hollinghurst, "The Spell," about a group of gay men living or staying as guests at a country house in southern England. I really like Hollinghurst's writing and I loved some of his other novels (which always have a gay theme), but I was less enthusiastic about this one. For one thing, I disliked almost all the characters. They seemed incredibly shallow and emptily hedonistic -- even the older (and therefore, one would hope, wiser) one. I think it was supposed to be somewhat comedic, but it didn't strike me that way.

Found this walking the dog a few days ago -- a shopping basket containing what appear to be lacy underthings. Disturbing! I didn't look at all closely -- no more so than this, actually.

And last night, on my way home from work, I passed this lying on the sidewalk. It made me think of Ms. Moon and her chickens, so I thought I would blog it to share it with her. It looks like a collaborative project between someone who knew how to color within lines and someone who hasn't yet mastered the technique.

And there you have it -- that's all that's happening in the middle of this cold wintry week!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Peculiar Cars

This van has long mystified me. It's parked in a road not far from our house, and seems to be for a restaurant, based on the "mezze and grills" -- by why are we saying "bye bye" to London? And why is Big Ben running with shopping bags? (Delivering food, one assumes...?)

And above all, why can we also "find the right property" and apparently take a nap?

It's all very mysterious. But it is eye-catching.

And then, not far away, this parked taxi was advocating on behalf of a sanctuary for farmed animals. I am all for it -- goodness knows farmed catfish (or salmon, or whatever that is) don't get much respect as individuals.

Speaking of which, Dave's little experiment with being vegan has slid off the rails a bit. Yesterday morning he texted me: "I'm eating a f---ing hot dog! Tastes so good!" And last night he made chicken breasts for dinner. You may remember he was trying veganism as a way to soothe his Crohn's symptoms, but I think he found that it hasn't made much difference. I told him, let's be vegetarian most of the time, but allow ourselves a little meat now and then. (Sorry, farmed salmon. We're killing fewer of you, at least.)

It's all about balance, right?

We're having what could be the coldest week of the winter so far. With temperatures projected to dip into the 20s (Fahrenheit, obviously) tomorrow, I put the fig tree back in the shed. It's been out on the patio for the past few weeks with no ill effects, but I think that's a little too cold to risk it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

An Emu, and Other Surprises

Olga and I made up for her lack of walking on Saturday by taking two long outings yesterday.

First, in the morning, we walked up through Childs Hill and Cricklewood, north of where we live. While we were walking along Cricklewood Lane, a man with at least two bright metal teeth called out to me from a shiny black car: "Excuse me! That's a beautiful dog!"

I thanked him, and hearing my accent, he asked where I was from. And then, apropos of nothing, he asked if I knew of a massage place nearby. No, I said, but I pointed him toward Cricklewood Broadway, figuring if there was one, it would be there among all the other shops.

Then he very kindly offered to sell me cocaine, but I politely declined, it being only 8 a.m. (Among many other reasons.) I didn't want to offend him, so I was all smiles, saying "Oh, no, but thank you so much!" As if he'd offered me a cupcake.

And then I got the heck out of there.

In the afternoon, Olga and I went to Hampstead Heath, where these photos were taken. As usual, Olga had a great time chasing critters and leaping over logs. (There seem to be quite a few fallen trees on the West Heath these days -- I wonder if the windstorms last month did some damage? Or have they been there all along, and I'm seeing them more clearly now that the undergrowth has died back?)

It is wet and muddy out there, people! A good portion of our walk involved slogging along paths like this one.

Weirdly, I came across this creature in Golders Hill Park. (It was in an enclosure, not just wandering around, but still...) Google confirms that it is apparently an emu.

While the dog and I were walking, Dave worked on the garden, pruning the roses and the buddleia and getting a few other things ready for spring. Some of our plants are already budding, and the daffodils are well on their way to blooming. I saw my first daffodil of the season, in fact, walking Olga yesterday morning -- and crocuses, too. Spring is coming!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Cabbage That Wasn't

Dave bought a cabbage last week and has been mulling over how to cook it. His initial plan was to make kimchi, but I wasn't too keen -- I've had kimchi in restaurants and the pickled, spicy combo is not my favorite. Besides, he was looking for a main course, and it's kind of a side dish, isn't it? I suggested we make it into a stir-fry or stuff it somehow, but after seemingly inexhaustible deliberations Dave decided to make cabbage soup.

And then he opened the plastic around the cabbage and discovered -- it was a cauliflower! It turns out when cauliflower leaves are kept intact and the whole head is wrapped in plastic, it does look a heck of a lot like a cabbage. (As we recently learned, they're basically the same plant.)

Yes, indeed, this man received training as a professional chef from the French Culinary Institute. I'm going to tease him about this forever.

To his credit, though, he pivoted and made an excellent cauliflower-and-garbanzo-bean soup last night.

I got some small things done yesterday, like repotting the rosemary in its new, larger flowerpot. I also got online and bought tickets for a trip to Budapest during Spring Break in April. Woo hoo! It's good to have a plan! I took the hotel recommendation of blogger Allison and booked a very promising-looking place overlooking the Danube, with a view of the Parliament building that she pronounced "incredibly beautiful at dawn and at night." Let's hear it for the Blogger travel network!

It was pretty rainy all day so Olga and I only took a single, long walk in the morning. We found some interesting graffiti along the train tracks. (We were on a trackside walkway, not on the tracks themselves!) Only after I uploaded the topmost photo into my computer did I notice that Dave, perhaps on some medication-induced nocturnal rambling of which I was completely unaware, had visited there before us.

Here's Olga on the pedestrian walkway over the train tracks, wondering once again why I'm stopping and calling her name and pointing that black box at her. So patient! Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative today and we can get out for a longer walk in a place with some squirrels.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

TV Update

I discovered last night that there's a second season of "Search Party" available on iTunes, so Dave and I gleefully watched a few episodes. I love that show! Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, you've got to buy the season to see it, because it's not on Amazon or Netflix -- at least, not here in the UK. We made the sacrifice. (This is the modern Nancy Drew fable in which a gang of millennials get in over their heads while searching for a missing friend -- very entertaining!)

We've also started watching "High Maintenance," which I read about in The New Yorker, and it's pretty amusing -- a series of individual stories connected only by a single character, a pot dealer in Brooklyn. And we like Netflix's "Black Mirror," a sort of modern (and quite sophisticated) "Twilight Zone," and we like "Grace and Frankie."

We started a show called "The Good Doctor," about an autistic surgeon, but I'm on the fence about that one. The actors are good but the storylines seem frankly a bit silly. We pretty much abandoned "Designated Survivor" for the same reason, and Dave isn't thrilled about the new "Star Trek," though I like it.

So that's where we are on TV, having finished most of our other shows. I even managed to finish "The Wire" and "The OA," neither of which Dave liked, so my viewing time was restricted to periods when I was watching TV by myself -- a rarity!

Otherwise, there's not much happening around here. We're wrapping books again at work -- it's time for our annual "Blind Date with a Book" event with the 8th graders, in which they choose a wrapped book from a shelf, not knowing what it will be, and (ideally) read it over February break. I have so far managed to pawn most of the wrapping off on volunteer parents and a substitute teacher -- I usually can't even bring myself to wrap Dave's Christmas presents. But I did help spruce up the wrapped books with heart-shaped stickers.

I don't get all the outrage about the Republican memo regarding the Trump-Russia investigation. Isn't it clearly a partisan hack job simply meant to advance the Republicans' position and defend Trump? In what way is it so damaging? I didn't understand the controversy before its release, and I don't understand it now. It seems many voters are reacting to it with a shrug, which is essentially my response.

(Photo: Some Queen Elizabeth II and Batman mashup street art in Shoreditch.)

Friday, February 2, 2018


I'm tired this morning after a strangely unsatisfying night's sleep. I'm usually a pretty good sleeper, but last night I woke up at 2 a.m. or so and couldn't get back to sleep for a couple of hours. I wasn't worried, or in pain, or anything like that -- in fact, I was just bored.

I eventually got up and cleaned the kitchen windowsill, which I know sounds insane, but if you're going to be awake you may as well make the most of it. I'd put all the little tchotchkes on the windowsill through the dishwasher, because we had a light load last night -- so since it was empty I wiped down the windowsill itself with cleanser. I probably would have vacuumed if Dave weren't asleep himself.

Isn't this fascinating? This is my life. I really need to take a trip or something.

In all seriousness, I'm thinking about what to do for Spring Break in April. If we can get dog care sorted out, we might go somewhere for a few nights. Budapest? Malta? And then we've got summer -- Dave will be in the states at a conference for part of the time, but we ought to get something planned then, too. I haven't traveled internationally since Luxembourg, last March. (I'm not counting Florida, because that's going home -- that's different from a vacation.) With Dave's illness we haven't really had the opportunity, but he's feeling better these days, and I am ready to get out and see the world.

I had to stop at Homebase last night and buy another flowerpot -- fortunately not one so large I had to carry it home on my head. This one is for our rosemary, which has outgrown its current pot, which got broken anyway in one of our recent windstorms. We're going to do a general garden tidy-up this weekend and (a bit optimistically, since it's only the beginning of February) get ready for spring.

(Photo: A monument to the Emancipation of Slaves, from 1835, near Parliament.)

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Another random assortment of pictures, taken here and there over the past few weeks.

First, someone's commentary about Internet memes -- scrawled in a decidedly low-tech manner on a waste container for "dry mixed" recyclables.

This is surely one of the oldest fiction books in the library where I work. It's still in good shape, and it's been checked out dozens of times going all the way back to early 1968! It's older than Dave, and only slightly younger than me -- and it ain't dead yet. Someone borrowed it just the other day.

As usual, I've been finding pairs of shoes set out on the street for passersby to take -- both his...

...and hers. (At least, I think these are hers, though they look chunky enough to support a good-sized drag queen.)

The kids at school produced a colorful mural of the London skyline, displayed in the lobby.

And speaking of art, maybe this could qualify as a piece of found sculpture -- Olga and I came across it on one of our walks. I am genuinely stumped about what it could be. I'm thinking it's the remains of a stereo component, but I'm open to suggestions.

Everyday monsters -- a devil cat...

...and a playground Nessie!

And finally, more debris being offered free to passersby in front of the West Hampstead library. I'm not sure who's been putting this stuff out, but every few days it seems there's a new collection -- and it's been going on for months and months. (I've photographed this phenomenon before.) Someone must have a serious hoarding habit that they're trying to break! (I usually pass these displays by, but I must confess I picked up the leather-bound Road Atlas of Great Britain at lower right. I'm a sucker for old maps!)