Friday, December 13, 2019

Thoughts on a New Government

Yesterday was election day in Britain, with voters going to the polls (again) to choose a new government. This was Boris Johnson's gamble to break the deadlock over Brexit and move the country forward, and it seems to have worked -- the predictions coming out as I write show a decisive majority for Johnson and the Conservatives.

This makes it even more certain that Brexit will happen. In fact, in some ways, it was a second referendum on Brexit. Voters who chose to back the Tories were essentially echoing Johnson's mantra to "get Brexit done."

I think this is a horrible election result, as I'm dead-set against Brexit, but it's clearly what most people in Britain want. What they didn't want was our current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who is deeply unpopular and who makes even me -- a committed leftie liberal -- cringe. I'm convinced Labour would have performed much better under a different leader, and I'm surprised Corbyn has lasted as long as he has.

But even voters who are against Brexit have a degree of fatigue and, at this point, just want to get it over with.

This election result is bad news for the National Health Service, which is consistently underfunded by Tory governments, and for socialized medicine in general. We'll see to what degree the NHS is able to survive the coming changes. The people at the head of the Tory party generally want a less regulated, more free-market, lower-tax environment in Britain, and that, to me, suggests increased privatization of services like the NHS. Which means health care is likely to grow much more expensive.

This election is also bad news for the British union. Scottish voters chose to back their nationalist party even more strongly, and its leader is renewing her pledge to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence. I have a British friend who insists Parliament will never allow this to happen -- but after years of preaching devolution and self-determination, how can it say no, if that's what Scotland wants?

I'm not quite sure what the leadership changes will mean for Northern Ireland, but Brexit is definitely unsettling for the relatively peaceful recent conditions there.

In short, this is not a great outcome. If there's any positive message here, it's that we're likely to move even more quickly toward resolving Brexit -- which, admittedly, has been a nightmare and a huge drag on the country. The Tories appear to have a majority that's comfortable enough to allow the party to ignore its own extremists and get the job done.

(Photos: Street art in Soho, colorfully expressing the firm belief of some on the left that Boris is a mini-me of Donald Trump.)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Ghost Blob and Social Media

The hydrangeas near our patio have gone the most beautiful shade of yellow, with bits of red and purple still in the flowers and in patches on the leaves. I noticed them the other day when the sun was shining. That really brought out the color.

I believe yesterday was the busiest day I've ever had in the library. The high school is on a weird schedule this week, which gives students a lot of free time -- allegedly to study and meet with teachers at the end of term, but of course many of them spend it hanging out. We also have classes coming in to select books for the upcoming break, in addition to the usual stream of kids seeking computer chargers, headphones and calculators. At around noon I joked with my co-worker: "I've been so busy I haven't even had a chance to read the paper! It's an outrage!"

I also worked an early shift, because the library was closed for an event in the afternoon. I had to go in at 7:30 a.m., which meant Olga didn't get her morning walk. I asked Dave to do it, because he was staying home for a doctor's appointment, but he texted me later saying Olga refused to go. "Olga is a moody bitch," he said. "She walked about two feet and froze. Wouldn't go any further. Neighbors laughed at me. LOL" Maybe she objected because she usually walks with me. Who knows.

Anyway, I was done with work by 3:15, so that wasn't terrible.

For dinner I managed to finish off the last of my mom's baked sweet potato recipe from Thanksgiving -- the last of our holiday leftovers, I believe. (They were in the freezer for part of the time.) We still have some frozen holiday bread but we aren't in any rush to eat that.

I was eating breakfast a few days ago when I noticed this weird reflection on the closets in the dining room. It's sunlight coming through the window (hence the grid of shadows) and then reflecting off a big Plexiglass-covered picture on the other side of the room. Looks kind of supernatural, doesn't it? No wonder our ancestors believed in ghosts and spirits, with weird things like this happening. (Of course, they didn't have Plexiglass, so maybe things exactly like this weren't happening -- but surely they saw an occasional weird reflection.)

For years now, I've been in an e-mail group maintained by the Zen Buddhist center I used to attend in New York. I haven't been to the Zendo in about a decade, but I stayed in the group just to keep up on news about the organization and people I know there. Lately, though, I've been chafing at the quantity of e-mail I get -- a lot of it inconsequential. The other day, someone sent an e-mail marked "Test," and about 20 people responded with jokes and remarks, and I thought, "You know, I no longer need this in my life." So I unsubscribed. I feel weird about it, because the Zendo was a huge part of my life in New York, but we all move on, don't we?

Social Media in general creates a kind of forced connection -- you might friend someone on Facebook because you work with them or know them slightly, and then years later you're still bonded to them, even though you've both moved on to other jobs and cities and in the natural world you'd probably never speak to them again. It's not that you dislike them -- you're just not that close. You're erstwhile acquaintances at best. And I don't know about you, but I feel weird about the prospect of unfriending people. I don't want to seem rude or mean-spirited. So I'm Facebook "friends" with maybe 100 people I barely know anymore. It's bizarre. I've told Dave I feel like I'm fated to drag these people around for the rest of my life. He thinks it's funny that I feel weighed down by this, but I do. Do you ever "prune" your social media contacts? How do you manage it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wonders Big and Small

When Olga and I came down the front steps yesterday for our morning walk, we were greeted by this sky. I turned right around to get the camera, much to the consternation of the dog, who refused to climb the steps again. It's like she was saying, "Hey! I thought we were going for a walk?!"

I snapped a few photos, put the camera back in the house and we continued on our way. Down the street we passed another guy who was digging out his iPhone for some shots of his own.

"What a morning!" he said. I told him I'd just been taking pictures myself.

Yesterday evening, I finally put our Christmas lights on the avocado tree. It was a surprisingly awkward process. Christmas lights really aren't made for trees with big leafy branches.

You can barely see Olga in the shadows on the couch, looking quizzically at the camera.

And just to prove that I really will blog about anything, check out this little piece of plastic confetti I found in the library. I've seen plenty of star-shaped confetti, but never a piece etched with more little iridescent stars. To us, in the modern world, it's pretty mundane, but wouldn't our ancestors have found it amazing?

Easily amused, I know.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Minimalist Christmas

Olga and I passed this Santa in Hampstead on Sunday. At least someone is decorating for the holidays -- although I must say this seems like a slightly perfunctory display. Nothing like the nearby house that was decorated so thoroughly for Halloween. Oddly, that house has no Christmas or winter holiday decorations at all. I guess I expect people who decorate for one holiday to do it for all of them, which is probably unreasonable.

I have done pretty much nothing for Christmas around here. It seems kind of pointless, since we'll be out of the country then anyway. I haven't even strung our lights on the avocado tree like I did last year -- though I might still get motivated to do at least that.

(Looking at that linked picture, I see that I'd brought the geraniums in by this time last year. They're still outside, too -- but we haven't had any severe cold snaps so they're fine. I figure, keep 'em outside as long as possible.)

As for presents, I only have my nieces to worry about. I'll probably send them Amazon cards. I'm sure they'd both like the freedom to choose their own gift, especially the one in middle school. Oh, and of course I have to get some things for Dave. I don't typically exchange gifts with my brother and stepfamily, at least not when I'm not visiting Florida for Christmas. I sent my mom an enlarged photo of me with Dave and Olga at the dog pub on my birthday, and a handmade (not by me) card -- but I think that's enough. She doesn't need or want more stuff!

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Highway Builders

Well, I survived the robotics competition. And unlike the last time I judged it, I'm not nagged by a sense of doubt about who got awards and who didn't. This time, all my top contenders got some kind of recognition. The contest is organized so each team can get only one award, which distributes them pretty well across all the top teams.

It was a long day, though -- from about 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. I needed that G&T when I got home!

I was judging research projects -- each team was tasked with considering a problem affecting their school or community and devising innovative solutions. The results ranged from proposed construction of double-decker highways to relieve traffic congestion (Robert Moses, eat your heart out) to tabletop noise sensors reminding students to talk more softly in the cafeteria. (Very big to very small, and very general to very specific, in other words.)

I'm always intrigued by what the kids come up with. Practicality isn't always the order of the day!

Last night, Dave and I settled down to watch some TV. We thought we might try "The Irishman," Martin Scorsese's latest venture, but it's three and a half hours long! So that was a no. We wound up starting a documentary series, "The Devil Next Door," about the prosecution of John Demjanjuk, who was accused in the 1980s of being a sadistic Nazi concentration camp guard decades before. It's pretty good so far.

(Photo: A shop in Cricklewood. Those people kept checking out something in the doorway of the building next door -- maybe someone was asleep there.)

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Literary Goal

Olga and I went back to the Heath yesterday, where I was surprised to see some trees that still have plenty of leaves. I think those are oaks. So much for what I said yesterday about all the trees having lost their leaves by now.

Most of them have, though!

I found this sign on a small evergreen. Christmas is an existential threat for certain types of trees. I'm glad someone is looking out for this one.

Today I'll be at school all day judging a robotics tournament. I did this several years ago, too. They always need judges so I'm happy to pitch in, although, reading my blog post from back then, I see that I second-guessed myself a lot in scoring the competing teams. I suppose a certain amount of doubt is to be expected, right? I'm going to do my best not to stress about it.

Did I mention that I'm reading "David Copperfield"? I'm about 100 pages in. After enjoying "Oliver Twist" so much last year, I thought I'd take on another Dickens, and I like this one a lot too. If I do one Dickens per year, having already read three, I'll finish off his entire oeuvre -- at least all his novels -- right about the time I turn 65!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Stuffed Rats, a Creepy Bunny and a Disco Ball

Autumn is breathing its last gasp as we prepare to head into winter. The trees have shed almost all their leaves and the days seem ridiculously short. I walk the dog in the dark in the morning and I come home in the dark after work.

Still, I'm managing some iPhone photos here and there -- like this doodle on a wall on Cricklewood Broadway.

Nearby is a house that seems to be named Manhattan.

This bizarre drawing is on a light pole in a housing estate off Maygrove Road. It reminds me of the creepy bunny from "Donnie Darko."

A pest control van was parked near school the other day, and its dashboard was packed with stuffed toy rats. Someone loves their job!

As I mentioned, the trees on our street have dropped most of their leaves -- this one mostly on a car parked beneath it.

I'm not sure I would call this a disco ball -- to my mind, a disco ball needs to be made of mirrors -- but the box is still a fun piece of sidewalk rubbish.

Another autumnal tree. I took this just a few days ago and already about half these leaves are gone!

More than a year ago I posted a photo of a closed pub in St. John's Wood where many of us from work used to go. (Someone had scrawled "oh no" on the plywood surrounding it.) Well, the pub has been renovated and it's reopening as this place. Some people in the neighborhood are freaked out about it, calling it a shisha bar -- but even if it does serve shisha (and the new owners say it won't), I don't see why that would be a less appealing neighbor than a pub. I don't smoke shisha, though, so admittedly, I probably wouldn't visit much.

Finally, this sign recently went up on a street in South Hampstead. Sad news about the fox cub that was killed, but I'm glad people are trying to look out for the survivors. From what I understand, death by car is a common fate for foxes in London.