Saturday, March 28, 2020

Applause and a Virtual Drink

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but when Dave and I were watching TV Thursday night, I became aware of a weird sound -- a kind of rhythmic tapping or banging. I paused the TV and said to Dave, "What am I hearing?" He couldn't hear it. I thought it might be the kids upstairs, but I went to the back door and opened it, and realized it was applause -- clapping hands. My neighbors on all sides were standing outside and cheering.

We learned later this was a coordinated demonstration of support for the National Health Service and its employees, who have been at the front lines of the coronavirus battle. We didn't know it was going to happen, or we would have cheered too.

And you know who else ought to get some cheers? The sanitation workers. They came yesterday morning and collected our trash, right on schedule. I thought, boy, are these guys unsung heroes. I saw a few fellow bloggers say the same in their posts later in the day. In this time of disruption and uncertainty it's comforting to see crucial routines continue.

I barely left the house yesterday. Olga and I sat out in the back garden, me with my mediocre Patricia Cornwell novel, Olga with her belly spots.

And then we went, again, to the cemetery. I think Olga's actually doing more walking with me than with her dog-walker. I suspect the walker just takes her to the Heath and lets her loll in the grass, whereas she and I are more actively moving around. She seemed a little worn out yesterday!

In the evening I participated in a "virtual happy hour" with my co-workers. We all poured ourselves a drink and got on Zoom and chatted for a while, to decompress and catch up on the news. It was pretty fun and kind of surreal at the same time! It was cool to get a little glimpse of everyone's home lives in the background -- their decor or their gardens and pets and babies. I've seen articles recently on how to video-conference wisely, including choosing suitable backdrops and dressing appropriately. I guess we're all doing it, right?

My happy hour drink was made with the blood-orange-and-fig infused gin I bought at Sainsbury's the other day, and it was not bad! Not too sweet, and really good with tonic and lime.

I have already lost my bet about Mrs. Kravitz and her plants. She did water them yesterday. I still think most of them are going to perish, though. Stay tuned!

Oh, and remember how I visited filmmaker Derek Jarman's former home in Dungeness last summer? Well, there's a public effort to buy the property and make it available for garden tours and workshops and as an artist's retreat. I've donated to it and I hope they reach their goal -- they're already so close. I'm not a huge fan of Jarman's weird, incomprehensible filmmaking but I recognize how important he was in the worlds of art and gay culture, and I loved reading "Modern Nature," the first volume of his published diaries. (Which was partly about his gardening in the hardscrabble shingle of Dungeness.) I would love to be able to see inside the cottage one of these days!

Friday, March 27, 2020


For me, yesterday was kind of like the movie "Groundhog Day." I was back at Sainsbury's in the morning, because of course I forgot some stuff when I went the day before. I like the orderly, crowd-controlled way we're all doing our shopping now. It's nice to stand in a well-spaced line and walk through aisles that aren't packed with people. Anyway, I got my eggs and potatoes and Dentastix and then decided to drop by Homebase on the way home.

Only...Homebase was closed. Apparently some time between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning they decided they weren't an essential retailer after all. Not only were they closed, but they were giving away all their seasonal plants in front of the store. I saw people leaving with carloads of primroses, pansies, and hanging baskets. Now that £1 I paid for a flat of primroses the day before looks like a rip-off! Everything's relative, right?

Anyway, I picked up another polyanthus and a flat of something called Arabis, or rock cress (above). I've never heard of it, but I like it. I also grabbed a pot of sad-looking daffodils that I figured no one else would want.

While I was doing all this, Dave was planting our little fig tree. You may remember I rescued it several years ago, and it's been living in a big pot on our patio, but it was getting increasingly root-bound and last year it didn't look as healthy as the year before. So we decided to put it in the ground.

While I potted up the Arabis, Dave took care of the fig and put the sad daffodils at its base. They'll come up fresh and new next spring.

Then Olga required a walk, so she and I went back to the cemetery. We heard the turaco again, and Olga had several good rolls in the sun.

I kicked off a cataloging project for work -- basically revising the Dewey Decimal numbers for books in our Lower School to make them simpler. I have to keep doing something for the school during this time, to justify my salary. I have a few other library-related tasks lurking in the wings.

Oh, and I mentioned the free plants from Homebase to Mrs. Kravitz. She leaped in her car and drove over there, and returned with what must be 100 plants:

I don't see how she's going to be able to use all those. (I take back what I said yesterday -- that it's impossible to have too many primroses.) If I were a betting man, I'd bet they're going to sit on her patio in their pots, unwatered and untouched, until they die and she throws them all out. I've seen it happen before.

Some people, when you say "free," go a little crazy.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Well, I'll say this much -- if we're all going to be confined mostly to our homes, it's helpful to have spectacular weather. Being outside is a joy right now, even just in the back garden. I actually have mild sunburn!

Yesterday I ventured to the big Sainsbury's on Finchley Road in search of provisions. I went earlyish, and I was in a well-spaced line waiting to get in before 10 a.m. (The store controlled the numbers of shoppers allowed inside.) When I was finally admitted, I was able to buy ground beef, a whole chicken, some fresh veggies and -- score -- a 9-pack of toilet paper! Woo hoo!

I also got a bottle of wine, although the normally widely varied selection was decimated and I seemed to have pretty much two options, a Spanish tempranillo and some kind of basic white. (I chose the tempranillo.) And purely on a whim I bought a bottle of blood-orange-and-fig flavored gin. Gotta stay entertained somehow.

I brought all the food home, and then went to Homebase, which because it sells home-repair supplies is classified as an "essential" retailer and thus not closed. (I guess if someone's toilet breaks they need to have a way to fix it.) I bought some batteries and a bag of concrete with which to make some stepping stones for the garden. (Lugging that home was a blast.)

I also rescued a flat of primroses that were passing their peak and were priced at 97p. They were a bit wilty yesterday, but I moved them to a planter and they're looking great this morning. Can a person ever have too many primroses? I say no.

Oh, and I rescued this campanula for the bathroom -- also half price.

All this did not preclude me walking the dog, who needs her exercise too. We went up to Fortune Green and walked through the cemetery, which I was happy to see is not closed. We had no trouble maintaining adequate distance from people, except on a few narrow pathways where you just have to pass a bit closer. In such situations I find myself breathing like I'm in a smoky room -- I squint my eyes, close my mouth and breathe shallowly through my nose, if I'm not holding my breath altogether. I'm not saying this helps. It's just my instinct to treat the air around other people as noxious.

Anyway, otherwise, this was the mood here at home!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The First Mow

I spent a lot of time in the garden yesterday, both working and relaxing. For one thing, I gave the lawn its first mowing of the year. It seems a little early, but the grass was very shaggy and the ground was dry enough, so why not? I think the natural world is slightly ahead of its usual spring timetable because we had such a mild winter.

The harmless little flying bugs that congregate in airborne clouds are out already. I have no idea what they are, but photographing them was an interesting challenge! We love watching them fly when the weather gets warm. I try to make our chemical-free garden a haven from the "insect apocalypse" facing the rest of Europe and the planet.

Here's a close-up. They're like little prop planes!

With Olga's dog-walker no longer able to come because of the lockdown, and us only allowed out once a day for exercise, I held off on walking her until the afternoon. We went up to the high street just to see what's going on. There were a surprising number of people out, all things considered, some carrying takeaway coffee, or sitting on benches with a companion. (I'm assuming they're sitting with people they live with, and not visiting with friends. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Some shops were open, even one or two that don't seem very essential. (Cookware, anyone?) But other establishments are boarded up.

We had some very dramatic sun-and-shadow photo opportunities.

Olga got a little stroppy. She knew something was different and wanted to go to the cemetery, but I didn't want to take a longer outing right away. I'm still not sure what I'm allowed to do and what I'm not under these new rules. So we stuck to the neighborhood and kept our distance from everybody.

Then I took a pair of clippers down to the once-viney tree and pruned the new sprouts of hops vine from around its base. I am going to kill that vine if it's the last thing I do.

I also had a chat with Mrs. Kravitz, she standing on her upstairs balcony and me in our side yard. She started badgering me again about replacing the fence. I pointed out that the landlord has just replaced the side gate and trimmed the tall cypresses in the front garden, both things she'd complained about. Nonetheless, she said she's going to write a cranky e-mail to our property managers. You do that, I thought. I'm staying out of it. (It's not like we all have bigger problems to worry about at the moment, right?!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Staining and Lockdown

I felt a burst of energy yesterday morning, and launched my project to reinvigorate our tired garden furniture. Olga was ready to help.

Here's our furniture as it looked near the beginning of the project -- I'd sanded it by this time, just to remove grime on the wood and give it a smooth texture. But I hadn't yet applied the patio furniture stain I bought the other day.

Here's a before-and-after shot, showing the contrast between the old finish and the new.

The project was a fair amount of work, but it wasn't as awful as I was afraid it might be. I used a brush that was a tad too big and blocky, which gave me problems with sloppy drips, but I kept a paper towel (and my fingers) handy to mop them up.

A few hours later...

...ta-da! Much nicer looking furniture, now prepared for a summer of use and weather!

(Olga's help, by the way, turned out to be lounging nearby in the sun, staring at me.)

If I can get a smaller brush I'll go over them again just to hit all the nooks and crannies between the slats, because my big brush wasn't great for that. But who knows when I'll be able to get a smaller brush. As you've probably seen on the news, the UK is now in full lockdown, which means we're under orders to stay home. We can only shop for food or medicine, and take one form of exercise per day -- which means, in my case, walking the dog. (Olga's dog walkers will no longer be able to come every weekday.)

I suspect walking the dog is going to mean short walks in the neighborhood.

Of course I'm bummed, but at least I have a lot of reading material and a big garden. That's more than some people can say. And based on what I saw at the playgrounds over the weekend, I totally understand why lockdown is necessary.

This blog is about to get even less interesting!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Totoro and Turaco

I was photographing the forget-me-nots, which are coming out now in the garden, when I found this white feather clinging to one of them. Probably from a pigeon, but pretty nonetheless.

After I wrote yesterday about walking on the Heath, I saw that there was quite a backlash to people being out in public over the weekend. Apparently some of the beachfront towns were quite crowded, and lots of people turned up on some parts of the Heath -- so many that the city has warned it will be closed if people cannot maintain distance. (For the record, I was on the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension, which must not have been as crowded as the main Heath, because I felt able to keep to the six-foot rule.)

Kew Gardens, which had initially said it would remain open for people who needed fresh air, has now closed for the foreseeable future. And Boris has said the UK may enact a tighter lockdown if needed.

Yesterday, Olga and I went to the cemetery and to Fortune Green. Again, we were mostly able to steer clear of people, although at one point a boy and a young woman approached me to pet the dog -- I didn't say anything but they were well within my safety zone. And there were kids on the playground equipment! A lot of people are either entirely ignorant of the rules or they're just not policing themselves.

I finally finished that infernal book about Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Although considered a great beauty -- and steeped in scandal throughout her public life, including being caught up in the Profumo Affair -- she seemed thoroughly shallow and boring. The book itself felt hastily written and had no flair. Thumbs down!

I'm not sure I mentioned this at the time, but Totoro -- our Japanese forest spirit -- got gnawed down from his tree sometime last fall. (I say gnawed because I'm virtually certain squirrels were the culprits.) He was unharmed but the little bead that served as his bell-ringer was missing.

It never did turn up. A couple of weeks ago I found a green glass (I think?) bead lying on the ground in the cemetery, and I thought it would be a perfect replacement -- and it is. Although nominally a bell, Totoro never really rings, so it's just for appearance's sake. I've now rehung Totoro in the garden so he can keep watch over things.

Remember the turaco? After it disappeared last fall, I assumed we'd never see or hear it again. Being a tropical bird, it is way out of its home range of East Africa, flying around here in England. Imagine my surprise when Olga and I went to the cemetery yesterday and heard it! It's back!

I made the video above so you could hear it too. The bird doesn't really repeat its call so quickly -- I edited out the 10- or 12-second pauses between each one. Very "Tarzan" sounding, isn't it? (Here's a video of one in captivity making the same call.)

I wonder if it ever left? Did it hunker down and quietly overwinter here in London, or has it been sunning itself in the treetops of Tanzania before migrating back? Maybe it's not lost at all -- maybe it actually belongs to someone who lives nearby and they allow it to fly free. So many questions I would ask that turaco, if I could.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Social Distancing on the Heath

Mindful of maintaining my minimum of six feet of distance from other people, I took Olga to the Heath yesterday. It was a beautiful day, bright and cool, and even though there were quite a few people out, in an environment as open as the Heath it's not hard to keep more or less to yourself.

I read an article in The New York Times about walking -- whether it's a good idea from a public health standpoint. The consensus seems to be yes, as long as you maintain social distancing. After all, we still need our exercise, right? I especially liked the quote at the end: "It's probably going to be a beautiful spring, and we do need to save our own sanity."

I was surprised to see kids on the playground equipment, though -- especially in Golder's Hill Park, where there were mobs of them. That seems questionable.

I found some coltsfoot blooming on Sandy Heath.

Tiny sprouts of bracken are curling up from the forest floor, soon to become huge ferns.

The blackthorn is blooming, creating big clouds of white alongside the playing fields on Hampstead Heath Extension.

And check out this snake's head fritillary -- definitely one of the biggest and nicest I've seen! The ones in our garden don't look anything near this good. I don't understand how they grow in wild places without getting devoured by slugs.

Anyway, we had a great walk. It was nice to do something that hewed to our old routines, and allowed us (me & Olga) to enjoy the natural world. (Admittedly, Olga's method of enjoying nature is chasing it.)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Out and About

It's interesting walking around town and seeing how people are adapting to this coronavirus situation. Or NOT adapting. Yesterday morning Olga and I took a walk along the high street and a lot of people seemed to be going to work as usual (some wearing masks). I saw a couple of guys sitting in a cafe eating, a couple more at the counter in the kebab shop, several at the sidewalk tables outside Cafe Nero. There were workmen doing construction, and a man and woman sharing a cigarette.

I tried to maintain distance but it was hard with so many out. The official government advice to stay home hasn't sunk in, I guess. (Of course the same could be said of me walking the dog -- we probably do need to stay off the high street at busy times.)

Then we walked down Billy Fury Way and I saw no one except a lone Asian woman wearing a face mask.

Later in the day, Boris declared that all bars, restaurants, pubs and other entertainment venues would close as of yesterday evening. So I guess those people sitting in cafes won't be doing it any longer.

I went to Homebase, our local home improvement store, in the afternoon to pick up some supplies. I want to do a couple of projects -- I'm going to refinish our garden bench and our patio chairs, and I'm going to make mosaic stepping stones for the garden using all the pottery chips I've collected on my walks. Homebase was pretty dead, but again I was very aware of the handful of people at the checkout, and the distance between us. I kept trying to back away from the woman in front of me, and every time I backed up, she did too. It was like she had sensors in the back of her head telling her, "You have more room behind you!" I wanted to poke her and ask her to give me some space.

The garden center at Homebase was stocked to the rafters with plants. I hope someone's buying them. When I was there, I was the only one -- I picked up this polyanthus just to give it a home. I worry that in the event of a complete lockdown they'll all be left to wither, which would be just another sad aspect of a lockdown, a veritable sea of sadness.

When I got back I called my mom, who I haven't talked to since all this began. We had a very short conversation -- I'm not sure she's even fully aware of this virus situation -- and I simply explained to her that rather than visiting in April I'm going to come in June. (Insha'allah!) She just laughed, which is my mom's response to most things these days.

Oh, and I've suspended my Newbery Challenge. There's really no point if I can't display the books and talk about them with the kids. Time to catch up on my own reading!

Friday, March 20, 2020

At Least I Got Peanut Butter

Well, as it turns out, it's a good thing I stole borrowed those baked beans from the homeless. Because I went shopping yesterday and it was crazy -- and there were no baked beans.

Dave usually does the shopping, but we agreed I should do it so he won't be exposed to anyone. I went at 9:30 a.m., when it seemed a safe bet the store would still be fairly stocked, and he gave me a long list of stuff to get. But when I got there, the place was a madhouse, and I abandoned the list pretty quickly because about half of it wasn't available.

I'm sure we're all having peculiar shopping experiences, and what I went through may not be much different: bare shelves, no toilet paper, barely any meat, few frozen or canned foods. And yet, plenty of produce, dairy and prepared foods. I get it -- that people are stocking up on stuff they can freeze or store -- but it's still so weird. It's what we thought would happen with Brexit, and instead it's happening now.

The psychology is interesting. I see a shelf with nothing on it except two cans of pineapple. And I think, "Those are the last two cans of pineapple! I'd better grab them! We might want fruit!" Never mind that pineapple isn't on my list and we never buy it in a can.

The self-checkout was painfully slow, the machines apparently overburdened. They kept freezing up, and the store assistant had to come and, well, assist me. I felt all the eyes of the masked people in line behind me, and imagined them thinking, "What an idiot. He's clearly so old he has no idea how to scan his own groceries." I wanted to turn around and say, "It's the machines, I swear!"

In the end I emerged with about £80 worth of food, a mix of fresh stuff to eat now and non-perishable stuff to store. And two pots of dianthus (above), reduced to half price. I guess people aren't into buying flowers now.

I'm going to make a bold prediction -- in no more than six weeks, all of this will be winding down. The virus will naturally subside, we'll be getting back to normal and we'll be laughing at the hysteria. People will be wondering why they have 42 cases of toilet paper in their closets.

I have absolutely no expertise with which to make that prediction, but there it is. Just a hunch.

Anyway, aside from my grocery outing, I spent the day mostly inside. I'm reading "The Grit in the Pearl," a biography of Margaret, the Duchess of Argyll, whose portrait I've admired at the Tate Britain. I'm not enjoying it much, and I can't tell if that's because I don't like Margaret -- who seems vain, disinterested and even amoral -- or because the book itself isn't very engaging. It's a rather bare recitation of facts without much spark, at least so far. (I'm on page 83.) Fortunately it's not hugely long. Here's hoping it gets better.

One of my co-workers gave me this bottle of wine on Wednesday as we closed up the library. It's a great label, right? Very "we're-all-in-this-together." As we are.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Baked Beans

Well, we got through our final day of school shutdown preparations yesterday, and as of now we are officially closed. The British public schools are also closing (finally!) on Friday. As I walked Olga yesterday morning I watched streams of kids marching off to school in their uniforms, and thought, "This is INSANE. These kids should be staying home." I'm glad someone in power came to the same conclusion.

Yesterday was busy in the library but it was only a half-day of work for me, so not too terrible. I didn't work the desk -- I spent the day mostly re-shelving books and straightening things up. The place was a mess. It was like a swarm of locusts had come through.

I joked to my boss that we should just throw away whatever's still on the shelves, because clearly no one wants it. The fastest shelf-weeding in the world!

I had to bring home a trumpet, a drum pad and a French horn for Dave -- along with a big bag of books and some odds and ends. That was an ordeal! I had to take the tube just to be able to get it all back here -- but I did my best not to touch any surfaces with my hands. (The tube carriage was virtually empty.) I told Dave when I walked in the door he owed me a million dollars for hauling all that stuff. It's going to be interesting to see how well this works, teaching music over the Internet. (I bet our neighbors will love it.)

Here's a moral question for you.

Weeks ago, some students set up a box outside the library door for donations of non-perishable food to a homeless shelter. The box was still sitting there as school closed. I assume it's going to continue to sit there for the duration of the closure, as no one is around to transport the food. The box contained six cans of baked beans, which we are currently unable to buy in stores because of the all the hoarding going on.

(You can see where this is going.)

Yes, I did. I took the beans for me and Dave. But I "borrowed" them -- meaning, I will either return them if we wind up not needing them ourselves, or replace them if we do need them. I've been a little uncomfortable about the fact that we don't have much food laid in here at home if we have to self-quarantine. Surely whoever donated those beans wouldn't mind me making use of them, as long as I replace them in the end? Why should they just sit in a box in a dark school building?

I wish there was some toilet paper in that box, but no dice. The unavailability of toilet paper is the craziest side-effect of this whole coronavirus situation. The stores are even rationing it!

(Photos: Graffiti seen on my walk to school.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beauty and Risk

Last week I took a photo of some primroses in a flower bed on the high street, and ran it through my Waterlogue app. This is what emerged. It's a little scary how easy it is to produce impressive "art" with modern technology!

Library madness continued yesterday -- a steady stream of customers. I seriously think I may be the one person in the entire school who has contact with the most other people. Parents come with their kids and see each other and wander around the building and collect belongings and those in music classes have to pick up instruments. But virtually everyone comes to the library, and winds up at my desk.

As I told one mother, it will be a freaking miracle if I don't contract this virus, based on my number of contacts alone. We were joking -- gallows humor -- but I do worry a little about it. I even took to wearing latex gloves yesterday, not only to protect me but to protect everyone from me. I mean, what if I'm one of these people who has it but isn't symptomatic? I could be Typhoid Mary sitting there.

Anyway, here are the numbers to back me up. Last Monday and Tuesday -- normal school days -- we logged 231 circulations, including 87 involving equipment (computer or phone chargers, calculators or headphones). But over the last two days, we logged 1,233 circulations -- more than five times as many as the previous week -- and they were all books, except for 32 board games.

(I'm unclear on whether "circulations," as logged by our library system, means just checkouts or both checkouts and check-ins, but never mind. We haven't checked in much this week at all.)

Obviously that doesn't mean I've dealt with 1,233 people, because one person often checks out a big stack of items. But still. I've certainly seen dozens of people, and probably more than 100.

Here's the original primrose photo, just for comparison's sake.

Anyway, I have one more day of library duty, and today I'm splitting my shift with a co-worker so I don't have to go in until 11:30 a.m.

The world has always been full of risk, though. I came across this little item online yesterday evening, a list of the things that killed people in London back in 1721:

Apparently these "bills of mortality" were published regularly in newspapers nationwide. They began as a way to keep track of plague deaths, and then continued in this form in subsequent years. They focused solely on Church of England burials in London, so they're not a comprehensive snapshot of the country as a whole, but they're still interesting. Look at all those bizarre maladies!

Here is a fascinating blog post from the University of Nottingham that explains some of the terminology. I doubt dying from "Rising of the Lights" was as nice as it sounds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Considering we're all supposed to restrict contact with each other, it's ironic that yesterday seemed like one of my busiest days ever in the library. The school is having families come to collect belongings and laptops through Wednesday, and though they're scheduled in shifts to avoid having the entire population of the school show up at once, it seems that EVERY SINGLE PERSON visits the library. And I wind up face-to-face with them (albeit across my desk) and passing hundreds of objects back and forth. I'm not complaining, and I still think my chances of infection are slim -- I wash my hands like crazy -- but it IS funny. (Not funny ha-ha. Funny strange.)

I think there's a fear that we may be closed not just for the next few weeks but possibly far longer -- maybe even through the summer. Or that the UK will go into lockdown, in which movement is restricted and people are essentially required to stay home. Parents are checking out STACKS of books. (We removed restrictions on the number of books people can have, like we do for longer break periods.)

One parent asked me via e-mail to reserve 25 books in the Warrior Cats series for her son. This is a massive (and massively popular) series by multiple authors writing under a pseudonym, about tribes of feral cats. But Mom didn't tell me which ones her son had already read. I went back into his checkout history and did my best to figure it out. She later clarified and we set aside a pile, but the whole exercise took me a good half-hour at least.

This is all SO weird. When I go outside I half-expect to see zombies walking around.

Oh, and remember all the books we painstakingly wrapped for the 8th Graders? Well, that event got canceled. So my co-workers unwrapped them all again yesterday morning. I'm glad they did it before I got there because I would have wept.

This is my new t-shirt! It says "ERA YES" bracketed by the words "A man of quality is not threatened by a woman of equality." I ordered it from here, when I saw the most recent cover of Ms. magazine, which touts the continuing progress of the Equal Rights Amendment. It's always been a complete mystery to me why the ERA hasn't been fully ratified and incorporated into the Constitution -- well, I mean, I understand there's conservative, misogynist opposition, but the amendment itself seems so common-sense.

Anyway, this turned out to be the most expensive t-shirt I've ever bought. The shirt itself was $22.50, which is already a bit on the high side. But then the shipping to the UK was $41.70! And then I had to pay a customs duty when it arrived here -- about £21 (or $26). Altogether that comes to NINETY DOLLARS.

Seriously, I need my head examined. I should have just donated a hundred bucks to the Feminist Majority and left it at that.

(Top photo: Graceful shadows on my walk to work yesterday morning.)

Monday, March 16, 2020

Springtime with Infection Control Mask

Another day at home. I had planned to do our income taxes, but I never got motivated. I'll get them done this week, hopefully.

I did, however, officially postpone my Florida trip until late June. British Airways was very reasonable about it -- they didn't charge me anything to move my flight dates. They understand this is an unprecedented situation.

Olga got two walks -- one in the morning, when we came across the springtime-colored infection control mask lying on the pavement above, and one in the afternoon, when we went back to the cemetery. On the morning walk I also found a couple more old milk bottles for my burgeoning collection -- both Express Dairy, but of shapes and styles unlike those I already had. I'm up to seven bottles now, all different.

Oh, and speaking of Olga, some of you wondered about that red rubber thing lying in the grass in one of my pictures a few posts back. No, it is not some kind of sex toy. It's a Kong, Olga's preferred dog toy of choice. In fact, that one she found while walking in the cemetery several weeks ago, where it had been abandoned by some ungrateful cur. I'm not sure why Kongs are shaped that way, except the conical design helps them bounce unpredictably when thrown, which dogs seem to like.

I'm going back to work this morning to help out around the library, getting the place in order and helping with last-minute checkouts. I'll probably work through Wednesday.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

More Primroses and Harper Lee

Olga and I visited the cemetery yesterday, where the primroses are blooming among the headstones. I don't know if these are wild or escapees from someone's planting years ago, but they come back every spring.

The Ravenous Camellia Monster has demonstrated that he's not just ravenous for camellias. He's also coming around and digging through our flower pots. Can you see the dirt on his nose? We go through this every spring, and it's so exhausting. I don't know whether the squirrels are burying nuts or digging them up, or just looking for grubs and slugs and other snicky-snacks, but they wreak havoc on our plants. (They've already been digging around the foxgloves I planted Friday.)

We've learned that there will be no classes at school next week. I think I still have to work, though -- students will be coming in to collect belongings and take care of business before switching to online learning the following week, so I expect I'll be needed to take care of library stuff. I haven't yet heard otherwise, anyway. After a week of online learning we'll have Spring Break, and then the powers-that-be will re-evaluate to see whether we can return.

Aside from our trip to the cemetery, we stayed home again yesterday. One side benefit of social distancing is that I get lots of reading done. I'm working on a book called "Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee," about a murdered fraudster in Alabama and the efforts of author Harper Lee to write a true-crime book about his case. It's no spoiler to say she didn't succeed. The book provides not only an interesting look at the fraudster but also at Lee and her debilitating struggle with the runaway success of "To Kill A Mockingbird." Truman Capote, of course, plays a supporting role. I'm really enjoying it.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Ravenous Camellia Monster Returns

Remember the Ravenous Camellia Monster? Well, it's back, gnawing up my neighbor's pink camellia blossoms. I've been finding shredded petals near the garden fence, and yesterday I caught it in the act. I can't be sure it's the same Camellia Monster, of course.

The handymen finished their work yesterday on our new garden gate area. There's some fresh cement over there that we have to avoid for the next few days, but that's fine -- we rarely use our side alley anyway. Now we have a gate that locks and newly rebuilt (and much safer) steps.

I did some minor trimming in the front garden to neaten up their work. (They left a lot of scraps lying around.) I also planted three of our foxgloves there -- we had some growing wild in the center of the garden a couple of years ago, but they disappeared when the bushes got too overgrown. Now that the jungle has been tamed, maybe the foxgloves can prosper once again?

I planted the rest of our foxgloves -- nine of them -- in the back garden. It's SO GREAT to have them all in the ground. They looked like they were suffering a little bit in their pots, with their lower leaves yellowing, as you can see. They've come a long way since I planted them as seeds last July.

We haven't heard yet whether we'll be back at school on Monday. Coincidentally, I've been having a respiratory issue unrelated to COVID, and I was supposed to see a doctor that day. But now my doctors have essentially closed the office to walk-in appointments and all previously scheduled appointments will be done by telephone. They're understandably concerned about COVID exposure, probably both to themselves and their other patients. So we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, I walked to work both ways last week in order to stay off the Tube, and yesterday I was home all day. (I didn't shake the handymen's hands, and they politely declined our offer of tea!) I worry about all the small businesses and restaurants that rely on foot traffic -- Dave and I talked last night about what we could do to safely continue participating in the local economy. I understand the concept of "flattening the curve" -- delaying infections so we all take on this virus more gradually, without overwhelming the medical establishment. But shouldn't those of us without significant risk factors somewhat balance the self-isolation? We have to sustain our communities, too. (Then again, Dave does have risk factors -- being on immune-suppressing drugs for his Crohn's -- so I have to behave cautiously on his behalf.)

This is such a weird time to be alive.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Mostly Minor Trim

Some maintenance guys from our management company have been doing exterior work on our flat, repairing the front steps, putting in a new garden gate and trimming the front garden. This is the garden now -- much less bushy than it was previously.

The biggest change is the tall cypresses, which they lopped off about halfway up the trunk. Apparently this is an accepted method of trimming them, although it seems brutal. It will make Mrs. Kravitz happy -- she's been complaining about their height. (Maybe it will make up for the fact that we're not putting in a new side fence, which she also wants.)

See those sticks with the little white flags on them? Those are markers I put in to alert the gardeners to plants we want to save. I was afraid they were going to weed everything and inadvertently pull up the valerian and other good stuff. As it turns out, they didn't weed at all -- at least, not yet. I think they're coming back today to do a little more work on our side alley.

And as it turns out, we'll be home, because we've had a last-minute change of plans to our workday. One of our students' parents has tested positive for Covid-19. As a result, school is closed today for a "deep clean," even though the parent hadn't recently been on campus. (Obviously his kids have been.)

I'm going to use the opportunity to plant our foxgloves and do some other stuff in the garden.

Just for fun, Dave and I rented and watched "Contagion" last night -- Steven Soderbergh's 2011 movie about a mutant virus that causes a disastrous pandemic. We saw it in the theater when it came out, and I remember liking it. Thankfully, our real-world virus is nowhere near as deadly as the one in the film, which wipes out huge numbers of people in grisly fashion!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

New Leaves and Wrapped Books

The once-viney tree down the block, which I liberated from its vines over the winter, is now putting out leaves. No flowers yet, but it's a cherry tree so there should be some eventually. I am so happy to see how well it's doing. Every time I look at it I feel lighter, freer, clearer.

While I was taking this photo, the woman who lives in the house adjacent to the tree pulled up in her car. She is still convinced the once-viney tree is a seedling from the cherry tree in her yard -- despite the fact that it was clearly planted by the council as a street tree, with support stakes, and is an entirely different type of cherry than hers. She said this the last time I talked to her, too. I gently suggested that we compare them again when they both leaf out, but to my eyes, they already look different. I am bewildered by her obtuseness.

Olga and I had some excitement on her walk yesterday morning. Of course, I couldn't explain to her that the cat was behind a window and therefore completely inaccessible. Olga was willing to give it a go.

Remember in years past how we've wrapped books for an 8th Grade event called "Blind Date with a Book," in which the kids choose pre-selected books from a cart not knowing what they are? It's supposed to help broaden their reading interests. Well, we're doing it again this year, so yesterday, a library volunteer and I spent the whole morning wrapping books in newspaper. Again, I tried to make them interesting using photos, and we had some little heart stickers to fancy them up.

Yes, those are coronaviruses around the pink shield in the middle. (Festive-looking if you don't think about it.) And doesn't that ad center-left, for a dental product, look very '70s? Right down to the hair. Are they trying to be retro? I wonder...

Speaking of coronavirus, you've probably seen that Trump is suspending most travel to the U.S. from continental Europe. The UK isn't part of that ban, but this still seems to put my April 4 Florida trip further in doubt. Also, my mom's retirement center has banned anyone from visiting who has flown within the past 14 days -- so if I went, I wouldn't be able to see her, which is the main reason to go. (As I told my co-workers, I could always sit outside her window and talk to her on the phone, but that seems kind of pointless. My brother probably isn't crazy about me flying and then staying with his family, either, although he hasn't said that.)

Even though I planned to see this trip through, the world seems to be telling me to postpone. Stay tuned!