Friday, May 14, 2021


Well, big news from the CDC yesterday, huh? I must admit I didn't think we would be told we could set aside our masks quite so readily, but I'm happy to do it. (After I get my second shot, in a couple of weeks, and after we're given a similar green light here in the UK.) CDC guidelines don't apply here, but I'm sure they will influence the actions of other health authorities around the world -- and the government in the UK has already declared that children don't need to wear masks at school. So we're all on the way back to masklessness.

I think this is brilliant news. I am so ready to get rid of this freakin' mask.

We're all still wearing them at school -- students and staff -- and I think that will continue through the end of the school year in mid-June. As an independent school we can set our own guidelines, and it's just easier at this late date to maintain the policy for a few more weeks, until we break for summer. But next year, woo hoo! Provided, of course, that case numbers and virus mutations don't explode.

Just to make myself crazy, I looked at the Gateway Pundit web site to see what the right-wingers had to say about the CDC announcement. They've been grousing for ages about mask requirements, and you'd think they'd be happy, but they're mostly saying they're still going to avoid the vaccine and lie if challenged. They think the CDC is a globalist cabal and vaccines are a Communist plot that's going to alter our DNA or implant a microchip, with fatal results.

One guy wrote that his whole family got vaccines, "but they are brainwashed idiots. I love them and I will miss them, but they have to go so that we can destroy the globalist overlords and take over the world for Freedom! I tried to talk each and every one out of it, they told me to shut up and mind my own, so I have... There is nothing you can do to save them."

I mean, what do you do with that kind of thinking? Fortunately the unvaccinated people are mostly just putting themselves at risk, although the potential for mutations is higher in a population with a reservoir of vulnerable people.

Anyway, the CDC announcement really is a breath of fresh, unfiltered air.

In other news, I finally discarded our amaryllis bulbs. I hated to do it -- we've had them for ten years. But they're just not worth keeping now that the red blotch fungus is causing the blossoms to fail. Frankly, it's a relief to no longer have to think about how to treat them or overwinter them. They'd become a lot of work for a relatively short and increasingly unreliable period of reward.

I also threw out one of our cyclamens, which died on the front porch during our hard freeze. I should throw out struggling plants more often. It's very freeing.

Dave and I have been watching an excellent British police drama on Netflix called "Unforgotten." We just finished season 2, and the episodes are so riveting we often find ourselves hanging on to watch them one after another. "The Walking Dead," on the other hand, is not holding our interest. We're up to the Season 9 shows about the Whisperers, and as some of you already warned me, the show now feels like it has jumped the shark. Dave groans at the end of every episode. I want to struggle along until we finish the season, but I think he's ready to quit right now.

(Photos: Street art along the Regent's Canal, last Sunday.)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Lion Mask

On Sunday as I was coming back from Limehouse, this guy sat across from me on the tube. Gotta love that mask! I thought I was pretty sneaky in taking his picture, but it looks like he definitely caught on. Fortunately he didn't bite or scratch me.

And with that, here's the mid-month edition of Random Pictures on Steve's iPhone.

The Iceland supermarket on Finchley Road closed a few days ago. Here are the gutted remnants seen through the windows. I don't think I ever set foot in this store.

I suppose "Social Engineering Experiment" must refer to Covid?

In the window of a local charity shop. I'm not sure where one would wear this top, except maybe over a bathing suit. In Miami.

Dave and I passed this car while walking to work on several recent mornings. I don't think I've ever seen a car parked squarely ON the sidewalk, and as you can see, the parking inspectors repeatedly issued tickets. Whoever owns the car didn't seem in any rush to move it, though.

An interesting Deco-looking apartment building entrance in Vauxhall. Eccles makes me think of Eccles cakes, and also the old Hollies song Jennifer Eccles.

A sticker in Hampstead supporting Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a former human rights icon whose star has diminished over that country's policies toward the Rohingya. (And who was deposed in Myanmar's February 1 coup, which prompted this appeal.)

And finally, another interesting fashion plate -- the color-coordinated pink mask and blue hair are nice touches. She needs a better bag, though.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tiny Heads

This is the boat basin in Limehouse, in East London, where the Regent's Canal ends. This basin empties directly into the Thames.

There are walking paths around the basin, and during my walk on Sunday I found these overlooking the water:

Three tiny heads, installed beneath a railing and thus protected from foot traffic. They're only a couple of inches high and I'd have easily missed them, except that a French guy walking in front of me kneeled down to take some pictures. Les yeux d'un aigle!

They seem to be dated 2011, but I can't find any information about their creator. They're located in front of a bronze foundry where sculptures are cast, so I'm sure someone there is responsible. There's a good close-up image in this blog post about the canal, but no artist is identified.

A mystery!

I spent a lot of yesterday weeding more non-fiction. I've discovered some interesting things about our materials. For example, our Saudi Arabia section was woefully out of date -- we had several big books but all of them were at least 25 years old. So we bought some new ones and discarded what we had.

One of the factors that helps me decide whether to discard a book is how recently it has been used. But it's a sliding scale, because in some sections, things just don't move much. For example, Canadian history -- for whatever reason, our students just don't do much about Canada, and if I chucked everything that hadn't been checked out in the last ten or fifteen years there'd be nothing left. American Indians, too -- you'd think an American school would study Native American culture more thoroughly, but our books on those subjects just don't get used much.

It's also interesting to see how research has changed. We date-stamp each book when it's checked out, and by skimming the stamps we can see when it's been used. A lot of the books are used pretty heavily all through the 1990s, but in the 2000s the stamps become less frequent, and after about 2010 many of them stop altogether. I'm sure that's because kids are going online for their information now -- although sometimes their teachers require them to use books as well, so we need to keep good sources on paper.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Emergency Mealybug Remediation

I had a really busy day at work yesterday, not only with normal checking in and checking out and re-shelving, but with continuing to weed our non-fiction collection. We have some ancient books about L'Ancien Regime and various other aspects of European history -- books at least as old as me -- and it's past time to update a lot of that material. So I worked on that all day, and on the walk home I told Dave I wanted to spend the afternoon relaxing in bed with a book that, for a change, I want to read. (As opposed to a Newbery medal winner that I'm reading more for work.)

But did that happen? No.

Because when I got home, I remembered that I had just noticed the night before that our jade plant was being attacked by some kind of white, fluffy insects. (Mealybugs, it turns out.) The recommended mealybug deterrent is a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, and we had neither cotton swabs nor alcohol on hand, so I had to make a quick run to the pharmacy around the corner. The jade plant is much happier now.

Once I'd done that, though, I wound up on a campaign of houseplant maintenance that ended with our avocado once again moved outdoors for the summer:

Last year we didn't think to move it outside until August, and it was so nice to have the extra space around our back door. So this year we got it out early. We thought we'd leave it on our rather weedy patio this time around.

I think this may be that tree's last year. It's starting to look scraggly and it's just too big for our living room. (I know, I said this last year, too.)

Boris Johnson has gone on TV and confirmed that restaurants and other venues will be able to open for indoor service on May 17, and next month we might even be able to HUG EACH OTHER! (This is assuming we see someone we want to hug, of course.) Also, crucially for me, the ban on international travel is being lifted, so I can fly to Florida as planned without annoying the government.

I tried a couple of times to call my mom on Mother's Day but she didn't answer her phone. My brother says this isn't unusual -- she never answers it these days. I'm not sure it even rings, to be honest. She may have it turned off. She never liked the phone much. But she lives in a unit with daily assistance so I know she's fine, and hopefully she got the flowers I sent her. My stepmother told me that she got hers.

(Top photo: Another scene along the Regent's Canal on Sunday.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Long Canal Walk

I woke up yesterday and thought, I could do some gardening today. Maybe weed out the flower beds, get the wildflower seeds in the ground. Or I could take Olga to Hampstead Heath again.

Or, I could do something completely different.

And that's the option I chose. I decided to walk the Regent's Canal, from Regent's Park all the way to Limehouse in East London. I did this once before, back in January 2012, when I started even farther to the west in Westbourne Grove. I think yesterday's walk was about nine miles.

It felt great to get out on a nice day and just walk for hours. Our temperatures finally warmed up over the weekend, and yesterday was t-shirt weather. I even got slightly sunburned!

You can't tell from this photo, but the canal towpath was actually quite busy, particularly as I got farther east. There were lots of people out moving around and soaking up the sun. I feel like we're all waking up after a long enforced hibernation.

As usual, there was interesting graffiti everywhere. Here, we have the eternal clash between religion and science...

...and the somewhat scarred but still beautiful remains of a mural near Camden Town.

This surprising find reminded me of the movie "Sharknado." These sharks by architect Jaimie Shorten are installed in a boat basin in north London, and although they look like they should be a fountain, I think they're just sculptural. Apparently there was originally a plan for them to sing. Or maybe that's a joke.

I found a Viking vessel moored in East London near Mile End, but fortunately no sign of sword-wielding, horned invaders.

I saw lots of baby waterfowl. I guess our recent chilly temperatures didn't dampen the birds' amorous springtime tendencies. This is a moorhen, and it seemed to me it was ranging hazardously far from its mother for such a little thing, but she didn't seem concerned. There were baby ducks, baby geese and baby coots too.

The canal finally emerges into a boat basin in Limehouse and then into the Thames, above, where you can see a pretty good crowd of diners enjoying the view from that waterfront restaurant. I believe this was the first time I'd seen the river in about a year, since my walk through lockdown London last May. It felt really good to not only stretch my legs but reconnect with the city and get away from my home turf.

I caught the tube home from Limehouse, and was back here about 2:30 p.m. -- so it was roughly a five-hour walk.

And then, of course, Olga wanted a walk too, so we went out for a quick spin around the neighborhood, which seemed to satisfy her. No rest for the weary!

Sunday, May 9, 2021


This lily, which I bought on impulse at Waitrose last year, is blooming once again. I have no idea what kind it is, but it's pretty, isn't it? It lives on the dining room windowsill with the orchids, and for some reason it is beset with a persistent case of aphids. I've showered it with water, sprayed it with bug spray, washed down the sticky windowsill and nearby surfaces, and still they return. But I'm getting flowers, so I'm winning.

(I would never use bug spray outdoors, but since this is an indoor plant living where there are no pollinators, I'm not as concerned. When it dies back in the fall the pot goes into the shed, and all I do is keep it mildly damp over winter.)

Dave and I finally watched the new Burns/Novick documentary about Hemingway. I really enjoyed it -- for a long time I called Hemingway my favorite writer and I've read most of his books, so it was interesting to hear how they came to be. His simple, minimalist, journalistic approach to writing always appealed to me. I think a lot of young people like his work because, after parsing Shakespeare and Milton and Dickens all the way through school, they find that he's a breath of fresh air.

Of course, there's also his bullying, his tolerance of animal suffering and his misogyny, among other negatives. The man's personal life was a train wreck. He seems the embodiment of a rather immature tendency to always be grasping for the next best thing, a sort of constant, debilitating hunger. Maybe that hunger helped drive his genius as much as it eventually killed him. I don't know how his wives tolerated him. Some of them didn't, and rightly so -- Martha Gellhorn, his third wife, emerges as a sort of hero in the Hemingway saga for remaining true to herself.

Still, "The Sun Also Rises" remains one of my favorite books. That interwar world of café-hopping expatriates in sun-drenched Spain seems so mythically beautiful -- a reminder that the world is out there, with all its joys and pains, to be lived in and experienced. I never read his nonfiction, though. Hunting in Africa and bullfighting are two topics that do not interest me at all. I couldn't even begin to fake it.

Watching the documentary proved to be a challenge. As far as I can tell it's not streaming here in the UK. We've been meaning for ages to buy a VPN, which basically routes our Internet through any foreign country we choose, and that way we can get access to American streaming services. I finally took the plunge and that's how we watched it. Now I don't have to deal with the frustration of reading reviews of productions that are streaming on American Netflix, for example, but are inaccessible here.

I took Olga to the cemetery in the afternoon. They've finally started removing that dead tree near the chapel. I don't know if this trunk is going to stay or if they just haven't taken it out yet -- I guess it will be good for woodpeckers if it remains.

On the way home we passed a real estate office, and I spotted these throw pillows on their couch -- do you recognize that pattern? It's honesty, which I'm always trying to grow in our garden. I was pretty proud of myself for getting a picture of the pillows and working Olga into the shot!

Dave went to get his second Covid vaccination yesterday afternoon. The doctor's office texted him on schedule to book the appointment. I asked him if he wanted me to go with him, and he said, "I think I can handle it, and besides, they wouldn't let you in anyway." So while he did that I took care of things here at home, and when he came back he was feeling invincible, proclaiming, "I am fucking bullet-proof!" (A very Hemingway attitude.)

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Street Work and Mystery Weeds

Well, let that be a lesson to me! I will never again write a hasty ten-minute blog post without fully considering how my words might be interpreted. You'll be happy to know that I am not having blurry vision this morning, nor seeing double, nor suffering debilitating chest pains or anything else that should cause alarm.

Seriously, thanks to those of you who urged me to seek medical attention, but I really did know that what I was experiencing was no big deal. Believe me, I harbor no macho resistance when it comes to seeking out medical care. In fact, as my brother will readily tell you, I have had a long-standing hypochondriac streak since childhood, when I could simultaneously dream up the mildest of symptoms and turn them into a fatal disease. Even today, when anything odd happens to my body, my first thought is often that I am dying.

But I didn't have that thought yesterday, which shows you how inconsequential my situation really was.

I think I probably do need to get an eye exam, if only to get a new pair of glasses. The reading glasses I use now I've had for five years (!) and they may need an update. Maybe I can get that taken care of over summer break.

This is the street in front of our house, where Thames Water has been working on a huge project for a couple of weeks now. I think they're replacing the water pipes, which, as you may remember, are prone to bursting. Every few feet they've opened a giant hole in the street and traffic is down to one lane, controlled by temporary stoplights.

Unfortunately this restricts all vehicles to a narrow lane very close to the curb, and large ones like garbage trucks have been whacking limbs off the street trees -- including the pathetic, sick once-viney tree, which has lost several. That poor thing can't catch a break.

Finally, here are a couple of mystery plants that have come up in the garden this year. I think this one is plain ol' borage or green alkanet, but I can't really tell. It will become obvious soon enough!

This one is practically out in the lawn. Again, it could be some kind of borage, or maybe even foxglove? It looks like a teasel, but the leaves are fuzzier than on our other teasels. (I keep hoping our foxgloves will naturally re-seed but they never do -- I think it's hard for seedlings to get a foothold in the dry, clayey soil of our garden.)

This morning, rain! Woo hoo!

(Top photo: My late-afternoon reflection in our living room windows.)