Monday, December 31, 2012

Seashell Liberation

In the summer of 1979, when I was almost 13, my family took a trip to Sanibel Island. We rented a ramshackle cabin on the beach beneath some towering Australian pines, and went shell collecting every day, which is what you do on Sanibel. Among my souvenirs from that trip were four large, broken, sun-bleached shells -- three whelks and a horse conch.

When I got them home I put them on the windowsill in my room, and there they stayed until I moved to my own apartment in college. Then they moved with me, and indeed with every consecutive move those shells came along. Even to Manhattan.

Then I moved to England. Packing those big ol' seashells and taking them across the ocean to Europe just seemed a little crazy. They would be out of place there. I decided instead to put them back on the windowsill in my old room at my mom's house.

Mom, however, is trying to cut back on the vast accumulation of stuff in her house. So yesterday, when Dave and I drove down to Anna Maria Island to see my friends John and Sue, I brought the seashells with me. The four of us went to lunch and then to the Rod N' Reel Pier, where we had a beer and watched the fishermen and the birds (including a creature called a razorbill that's apparently caused quite a sensation among local bird-watchers). Then we walked out to the beach and, without any special ceremony, threw back those shells.

I think I've written before about my belief in returning natural objects to the sea, rather than throwing them away. It was satisfying to know that after 33 years, those shells soaked up the salt water, shed the dust they'd accumulated on my shelves and resumed the slow process of being ground down to beach sand.

(Photos: A vacant building on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa; a mural in Palmetto; Gary Sweetman's photography studio in Bradenton.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grouper, Grits, Kumquats and Strip Clubs

This is Nancy's on U.S. 41 in Lutz, right around the corner from my dad's house. I love this place. We came here for breakfast the other day and I got eggs with grits and a biscuit, an essential meal for any southern vacation.

Before I write anything substantive, let me complain about technical issues. I don't bring my computer to the states when I visit family, because I have an old Apple laptop at my mom's house. The problem is, this laptop is so old that web pages can take forever to load, and sometimes they don't quite work at all. Browsing the internet can be a painfully slow process involving the frequent apppearance of the Spinning Color Wheel of Death. So forgive me if you are a blogger and we regularly read each other's blogs and I don't seem to be around at the moment -- it's probably because my gerbil-powered computer won't allow me to leave comments. I'm still reading, I swear.

Dave and I have been doing a lot of running around the last few days. Yesterday, for example, we visited my college friend Karl and his partner Joey at their quiet suburban oasis in Brandon. Karl and I used to go flea-marketing together, collecting mid-century pottery, furniture and silly objets, so I was eager to show him a photo of our onion pot. In return, he introduced us to Sweet Brown, which left me practically in tears with laughter.

We went to lunch, where I got another required Florida food -- a grouper sandwich. Then I drove Dave through all the most beautiful parts of Tampa, including the industrial-and-stripper-bar wasteland of Adamo Drive and the sketchiest sections of Nebraska Avenue, in order to pay a spontaneous house call on another friend who unfortunately wasn't home. Oh well.

Finally, last night, Dave's parents drove up from Bradenton and had dinner with my dad and stepmother -- the first time any of our parents have met. It went well, although we unfortunately chose a restaurant with a pianist-singer (beneath a spinning disco ball!) which made talking a bit difficult. We had to speak up to be heard over the strains of "Close To You." I ordered what turned out to be a huge martini, so I was a little loopy and mistakenly ordered Lobster Newburg when I meant to order Lobster Thermidor, the special. And for dessert: kumquat pie! That was a first for me.

Grouper, grits, kumquats and strip clubs -- that's pretty much the essence of Tampa right there. If we'd smoked a cigar we'd really have had the complete local experience.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

More Neighborhood Birds

I went walking near my dad's house yesterday morning and came across this beautiful red-shouldered hawk! Twice he swooped down onto the grass beside the street, grabbed something and took it back up to a tree, where he tore it apart, ate it, and wiped his beak on the branch. He was very neat. I don't know what he was eating -- I'd guess lizards.

This little blue heron was hunched on an island in a pond near my mom's house, keeping an eye on the fish.

We often see bluebirds near my mom's. Growing up, I never saw them. Were we simply not paying attention? Mom says there are more of them nowadays, because people have put up nesting boxes.

This little tufted titmouse was singing away in a tree in front of my dad's house. Dad says he sees a lot of them -- maybe they nest nearby.

This is a catbird, which isn't very distinctive-looking, but has an unusual call that sounds like a meowing feline. Apparently the Native Americans used to call them the Bird that Cries with Grief. I used to see and hear them when I lived in New Jersey, too.

Friday, December 28, 2012


This is what you get when a four-year-old dresses herself -- schizophrenic feet with multiple personalities!

The four-year-old is my friend Cherie's daughter. Dave and I met up with Cherie and her family for lunch yesterday at a Tampa pub -- which seemed really funny and yet somehow appropriate for two visiting Londoners. (Am I a Londoner or a Tampanian? I'm not really sure at this point.)

After visiting Cherie, Dave and I drove to my dad's, where we're staying for the next few days. My dad is a committed animal lover, and at one point he and my stepmother had about six dogs and about sixteen* cats. One by one, nearly all those animals have given up the ghost -- their last dogs recently died and they're down to just one of their old cats.

So my dad went to the pound and adopted Maybelline, who's playing with her plastic egg toy above. Maybelline is a bundle of energy, and she loves that egg. She chases it all over the yard. Doesn't she look proud to have finally caught it?

*Dad says they had eleven cats, not sixteen. But it sure seemed like sixteen!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Neighborhood Birds

I didn't bring my good camera on this Florida trip. It's too big and heavy, especially with its accompanying lenses. Dave thinks it's silly that I invested so much in a good camera and then don't like to carry it, but as I've mentioned before, I'm a believer in light traveling. I have a secondary camera with a just-adequate zoom lens, and that's what I've been using to photograph neighborhood birds.

The red-bellied woodpeckers have been flocking to our front-yard bird-feeder. It seems weird that they're called red-bellied when their heads are so much more apparently red, but there's also a red-headed woodpecker with an entirely red head.

The blue jays like the feeder too.

We saw several robins in a neighbor's yard. Not very dramatic.

But then we also saw another variety of woodpecker -- a pileated, which was quite dramatic. They're not rare, but they're big and imposing.

My mom said this is a phoebe. You couldn't prove it by me. It was a long way up in a tree.

I think this is a gnatcatcher. Again, not the best photo. I am not much of a bird photographer. The damn things keep moving around!

My brother and his family went home yesterday, leaving me, Dave and my mom with a relatively quiet afternoon. I spent the time reading and planning the next steps of our trip. Today we visit a friend in Tampa and move along to my dad's house.

Last night we watched the Kennedy Center Honors. It makes me feel incredibly old to see Dustin Hoffman and Led Zeppelin among the honorees. And how surreal to see footage of Led Zeppelin from the '70s, with their grimy hair and sweat-streaked skin-tight jeans, strutting and screeching on the stage -- and then see the three surviving Zeps sitting up in the box with the President in tuxedos! The Wilson sisters from Heart sang "Stairway to Heaven" and did a bang-up job, and Kid Rock did a lukewarm version of "Ramble On," which nonetheless reminded me how much I like that song.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Fatigue

When I was a kid, this building housed a Biff-Burger restaurant. Biff-Burger was a regional chain, and I never ate there, but I remember the sign -- it looked just like the one at the single remaining Biff-Burger restaurant, in St. Petersburg. Our local outlet closed some time in the '70s, and the building went through a variety of changes since then -- as you can see it most recently served as a used car dealership, but I think even that is defunct now.

So did you survive Christmas? Our day began quietly with a relatively modest exchange of presents. Dave spent the rest of the day in the kitchen making Christmas dinner, which thrilled my mom by taking it off her hands. He was happy as a clam to have something to do.

Then Dave and I, along with my brother and his family, went to my stepsister's house to have dinner with my Dad and his family. Things got a little crazy there. We had 13 people in attendance, and the gift exchange was a bit chaotic, with everyone talking at once and glitter flying from all the shredding wrapping paper. My six-year-old neice was like the Energizer rabbit, fueled by a combination of sugary food and sheer enthusiasm. I don't know how she managed, because I was exhausted by the end of the day!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Limpkin

This limpkin was standing on our dock yesterday morning, preening. Limpkins eat apple snails, and there was concern several years ago when a new, invasive variety of apple snail began replacing the native Florida snails. The new ones are huge -- fist-sized -- compared to the smaller native ones. Scientists were afraid the change would have a terrible effect on the limpkins. But apparently they've adapted, because my mom said she's seen them eating the bigger snails, and in fact we saw dozens of snail shells on the lakeshore. And we've seen or heard plenty of limpkins.

So that's happy news for Christmas, right? (Maybe not if you're a snail.)

I hope everyone has a great day today, whether it's Christmas or not in your particular household!

Monday, December 24, 2012


The sun did in fact come up yesterday, as you can see above. We have a lake behind our family house, and it served as the perfect sky-mirror.

Yesterday was pretty much just a day of settling in. I went for a walk with my mom. I helped her take down the spider webs that in Florida appear almost daily around the upper reaches of everyone's ceiling, hustling as many of the tiny spiders outside as possible. Spider liberation day!

We went to Publix, the biggest, cleanest, classiest grocery store on the entire planet. Their slogan used to be -- and maybe still is -- "where shopping is a pleasure." And it's really true. I'm not normally a fan of grocery shopping, but I think if I lived near a Publix I would go uncomplainingly every day. Mom picked up her pre-ordered fresh turkey and we got pie ingredients so Dave can make pies. (Dave is not happy without some kitchen duties.)

When we got home I walked up to the highway and came across these sandhill cranes, traveling in a pair as usual and mirroring each other almost as perfectly as the lake mirrored the sunrise. They're big, gawky, slow-moving birds that tend to stand hair-raisingly close to roadways, houses, you name it. They mate for life, and sometimes you just see one flying around by itself, looking sort of lonely.

These two looked happy enough, but they were standing a little too close to U.S. 41 for their own good. I saw them flying away a few minutes later, though, so they made it out OK.

The goal of my walk was an antiques and bric-a-brac store that recently opened near our neighborhood. I checked it out, and I wanted to buy something just to help the place out, but I didn't even find anything worth a charity purchase. Certainly nothing worth hauling back to London.

As I got home, Mom's cat watched me suspiciously from the roof. She has two cats, and they're sort of wild. They don't like any of the rest of us. I'm not sure they even like Mom.

Finally, last night, my brother and his family arrived and I wrapped presents. It took a ridiculously long time for as few gifts as I have to give. I'm not sure what I was doing wrong! Anyway, it's nice to have that finished now. I'm ready, Christmas. Sock it to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Two More London Photos

Well, we made it to Florida, but I haven't had a chance to take any photos yet -- so you're getting two more London pictures from my walk through Leyton and Walthamstow.

Our flight was uneventful -- just really long. I plowed through a lot of "Vanity Fair" (I'm on page 640-something) and watched a very peculiar movie called "Ruby Sparks." It had its charms, but it's one of those movies that sets up an impossible premise and then fails to explain itself. One of the final lines was actually something like, "I don't really need to explain this." You know what? You do.

Anyway, we landed in Tampa yesterday evening and my mom picked us up at the airport. We came to her house and I haven't even seen daylight here yet. I managed to sleep until 5 a.m., which of course is really 10 a.m. according to my internal clock. My body is confused.

One thing we have noticed: moonlight. We never see moonlight or stars in London. But as we got out of my mom's car and made our way up the front walk, an incredible blue-white light patterned the yard. I'd forgotten what it looks like.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Another New Lens!

Dave got me another new lens for my camera! This one's a macro lens, for close-up photography. I practiced by shooting the empty cocoon left behind by our dear departed butterfly -- still clinging to a leaf on one of our amaryllis plants (a very dusty leaf, as you can see).

I keep thinking our amaryllis plants are going to shed the rest of their sad-looking leaves and go dormant. But one or two leaves on each plant are still green, so I'm still watering the plants. I've been told that they don't have to go dormant completely -- that in spring they'll send out new foliage and perhaps bloom even if they keep leaves all winter. We'll see!

As for the cocoon, sad to think it's probably long outlived its former inhabitant. I still think of that butterfly, flapping out into the chilly November afternoon on the day I set it free. I'm a sentimental mess, I know.

We're off today for Florida, as I've mentioned. We fly out of Gatwick around noon, and fortunately, packing wasn't nearly as much of a nightmare as I feared. Even with (small and inexpensive) Christmas gifts, I'm traveling pretty light.

I intend to keep blogging from there, so stay tuned!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Purple Coat

Yesterday was a long day, which is why I'm not getting around to blogging until 8 a.m.! It was the last day of school before winter break, and after finding a few substitutes in the morning for teachers who had the bad taste to have a crisis on the last day of school, I had to visit school myself to run some job-related errands. I had to have the "bat phone" (the sub request phone) repaired, and had to pass it off to my boss so someone could cover the night before the first day of school in January, because Dave and I will still be returning from Florida at that point.

(Oh yeah -- I haven't mentioned that. British Airways oversold our return flight on Jan. 3, so they're sending us home on Jan. 6 in business class! Alas, I'll be back in London too late to be on call that first night before school starts.)

Anyway, I then had to kill a couple of hours, so I went for a long walk, even though it was raining and generally miserable. My photography teacher, back in January, emphasized that we should be open to taking pictures in all sorts of weather. So I tried.

I walked through Regent's Park, wondering what on earth I would find to photograph in such a bleak, empty landscape. Fortunately a woman showed up wearing a brilliant purple coat, so I shadowed her, walking up ahead, setting up a shot and waiting for her to wander through.

It won't win any prizes, but it's something.

After enduring rain-spattered pant legs and shrouding my camera in a scarf for a few hours, I arranged to meet Dave at the home of his coworker Lorraine, who was hosting the music department's holiday party. We hung out with his coworkers for a few hours, and then went off with Gordon to meet his wife and attend "A Ceremony of Carols" at the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, in the Smithfield area of central London. It included a performance by a small choir (maybe eight people?) and a harpist. Terrific! We sang a few familiar carols, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," though the latter threw Dave and me because it's sung with an entirely different melody here in England.

Afterwards, of course, the pub.

By the time we got home I was so happy to put down all my camera gear and relax.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Leyton Shopfronts

I did indeed get out of the house yesterday. I took a long walk from Leyton, in East London near the Olympic Park, north to Walthamstow. I found lots of great little shops along the way.

First, this literally Peculiar hair studio. One would think that might be a counterproductive name, but apparently God is looking out for them. I dig the woman with the big 'fro, and what about the giant strawberry? It's all very...well...peculiar!

I found several Romanian shops along this route. Apparently there's a Romanian enclave in that area.

I'm glad the folks at the Shop-Shop-a-Shop are thinking of me!

I have a soft spot for Chinese restaurants, especially with lackadaisical characters hanging around out front.


Looks like someone egged the window -- or maybe the owners figured they'd just get there first.

Now that is an attention-grabbing name.

I haven't a clue what the big sign is supposed to say, but I love the before-and-after shots. That woman on the lower left looks like Cindy Brady. And come to think of it, that might be Jan, upper right.

I have more, too, but I don't want to wear you out! I'll save some for another day!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FedEx Rage

I wrote a lengthy, detailed post about FedEx's second failed attempt to deliver a package to me yesterday, despite the fact that I was sitting quietly in my flat all day waiting for them. I was angry, angry, angry. Every other delivery person can find our apartment, but FedEx not only can't call me, ring the bell or leave a note letting me know they've come by -- they apparently can't even get to our front door. I only learn this hours later, when I check online tracking.

In the past few weeks, this has happened five times with two different FedEx packages.

When I mentioned this incident on Facebook, one of my friends wrote: "Here's the deal: the FedEx delivery man finds it far simpler to just take everything back and say that nobody was home than to actually go through the motions of delivering the packages. He probably spent the day in the pub. You need to speak to somebody higher up."

Which I suspect is true.


I deleted that post, because although it was cathartic to write, it seemed impossibly whiny and self-centered in light of the much bigger issues playing out around the world. I mean, things could be worse, right?

Besides, FedEx got in touch with me and promised to get my package delivered later this week. We'll see if they succeed.

Meanwhile, I am getting the heck out of the house today.

(Photo: Completely unrelated motorcycle guy on Portobello Road, Monday.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bint's Chickens

I came across this fun street art on Ladbroke Grove yesterday -- a big chicken decorated with fried eggs. Gotta love it. The artist is Bint, and I met her not too long ago while she was painting at another location. Yes, she is a she, relatively uncommon in the male-dominated world of graffiti and street art.

I found this seasonally appropriate ice-skating chicken (such talent!) last week.

And then there was this one -- even more seasonally appropriate.

I had hoped to get out today and do some exploring, but I'm stuck at home waiting for a couple of packages. For some reason FedEx just can't seem to get things delivered to our apartment. I think they come to the little gate at the back of the complex, which is always closed, and get stymied and drive away. God forbid they should circle the block and come in the huge, main gate on Portobello Road (which is always open) and then ring my buzzer.

I also have to defrost our refrigerator. It has mysteriously stopped working twice now -- I've opened it up to find everything inside lukewarm -- and my theory is that's because the freezer coils are too iced over. I'm not sure whether I'll tackle that today or not. It's one of my least favorite household tasks, only slightly better than cleaning the oven or the shower.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Early Morning Phone Calls

Mass pandemonium this morning! Five teachers out, many substitutes unavailable because of the holidays. I'm afraid I'll have to go in and teach a class myself!

(No real risk of that.)

Anyway, while I wait for subs to call back I thought I'd manage a quick blog post. Dave and I spent a quiet day at home yesterday. He had a lot of work to do and I tackled "Vanity Fair." Then last night we went to dinner with Chris and Linda, our neighbors across the hall, at our local gastropub -- a last holiday hurrah of sorts before they vanish into deepest Surrey and we fly to the states.

Hopefully I'll get out and about with the camera today. That's the plan, anyway!

(Photo: Off to work! Notting Hill, last week.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Recalcitrant Heater

When I took Dave's knife to Kensington Church Walk the other day, I came across this nameless shop with a cluster of hats in the window. They were perched there like birds or butterflies, tiny impractical hats that would never keep your head warm or shield you from the sun. I think they're technically known as "fascinators."

I suppose if you're in the market for a fascinator, you'd know whose shop this is. I bet those little things cost more than our rent.

A fellow blogger mentioned yesterday being flummoxed by her modern television system, and that reminded me to tell you of my own latest alienation from modern technology. Dave and I have a heating system in our flat that warms the floors. It's controlled by a series of thermostats, one for each room. The landlords told us when we moved in that the system is a little complicated, but they left an instruction guide and I wasn't too worried about figuring it out.

Well, let me tell you, complicated is an understatement. Dave and I have both tried to figure out these ridiculous little thermostats, which have digital screens and 11 buttons each for things like "day," "minute," "hour," "mode" and "program," or marked with symbols like a sun or a suitcase. We have utterly failed. Last spring we finally figured out how to turn the system off, we think, but this fall we've been unable to turn it back on again. So if I bitch about the cold a lot, keep in mind that our fancy heaters are not really heating. (We do have a fireplace, so that helps, even if it makes me feel a bit Elizabethan.)

Dave and I went to see "The Hobbit" yesterday. We liked it, but not as much as the "Lord of the Rings" movies. "The Hobbit" is a lighter story, and it's maybe a bit too cutesy in places. It also lacks the grand, metaphorical epicness of the first trilogy, which beneath all the elves and dwarves seemed to really be about Europe's disintegration in the first half of the 1900s. (I've read that Tolkien disputed that, but come on.) So, I dunno -- I have mixed feelings about the prospect of two more "Hobbit" movies to come!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Red-Hot Reindeer

I'm not going to write much about what's happened in Connecticut. I just can't. I'm sure I have nothing to say that hasn't already been said, and it's too horrible. I'll just reiterate that we have to do a better job identifying and responding to the needs of people with mental illness or other conditions which make these nightmares possible. We need better gun control, too -- but ultimately we have to take better care of each other.

Dave and I were preparing to go to a Christmas party when we first saw the news. I tried to participate in the dialogue occurring on Facebook, and honestly I just couldn't think of anything to say that would encapsulate the horror and shock I felt. I still can't.

One of Dave's coworkers had a few of us over last night for special holiday "martinis," which really weren't martinis at all but sweet red drinks made with Goldschl├Ąger, cranberry juice and goji berry liqueur. They were certainly festive-looking, but drinks based on appearance are sort of aiming for the wrong criteria, you know? They were really sweet. We tried to think up a name for them and Dave came up with "Ruby Reindeer," which seemed to stick. I suggested "Red-Hot Reindeer," because they tasted just like those little candies known as Red Hots...but Dave's name prevailed. We all dressed up in suits and tuxes and nibbled hors d'oeuvres -- it was quite posh.

I did manage to make my way back to the knife store yesterday morning to pick up Dave's newly sharpened kitchen knife. I should have gone the day before, because although yesterday was slightly warmer it was raining like crazy! Ah, winter.

(Photo: A cafe in Crystal Palace, last weekend.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ice on the Pond

It was really cold yesterday. I went over to Kensington Church Walk to get Dave's good kitchen knife sharpened, and took a detour through Holland Park on the way home. The ponds in the park were iced over, and virtually no one was out. I saw a few lone individuals sitting bundled up in the cafe or on benches, or wandering along the leaf-strewn paths through the woods.

It seemed to match the mood of the wintry day that virtually everyone I saw was solitary.

The glorious peacocks in the Japanese garden seemed utterly unfazed, though. I disturbed the one above in the middle of a long and arduous personal grooming session. It's hard to look good, I tell you.

You can see how people might have trouble believing in evolution. Look at that bird. Could that really happen through natural selection and hybridizing? That little spray of perfect feathers on his head, those big turquoise eyes on his long sparkling tail? Really?

I mean, I believe it. I do. It's just amazing.

These magpies were taking a noisy bath in an unfrozen corner of one of the ponds. They seemed to be doing a dance with each other. I couldn't tell whether they were arguing or being amorous. It seems awfully early in the season for amorousness.

Anyway, only a few hours after I got back home the woman from the knife shop called to tell me Dave's knife was ready. I couldn't face going back again for it yesterday, so I'll go get it this morning. I think today is going to be a bit warmer.

I've been making progress in "Vanity Fair." I've set a goal of 50 pages a day, and for the last few days I've been hitting my mark. Last night, while Dave was away at his final concert of the season, I watched the '50s British espionage movie "The 39 Steps," which I liked even though some of it was patently ridiculous. I guess that's usually the way with spy movies, isn't it?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holidays and Hedgehogs

I am a believer in keeping Christmas simple -- and this year I have gone to extremes in that regard. Here in London, our Christmas is about as simple as the wall above. (I photographed it Sunday in the South London neighborhood of Brockley, purely because of its Christmasey coloring.)

As I've already said, we decided against a tree, since we're flying to Tampa on the 22nd. Having a tree seems pointless. I haven't even tried to do anything fancy with wreaths or boughs of greenery. I learned my lesson last year.

In fact, this is the extent of my decorating:

I found that ornament on the street, brought it home and hung it from our living room cabinet. There you have it -- Christmas!

I've already given Dave his present, an iPad, because he needed a new computer so badly that I thought early gift-giving was in order. I've also bought some very basic, inexpensive gifts for our families. We have a few holiday gatherings to attend, which will be fun. And that's about it!

Instead of focusing on Christmas, I prefer to think about oddball trivia:

-- I've mentioned the British TV show "Embarrassing Bodies," in which doctors treat all sorts of medical maladies. Yesterday they happened to mention the largest kidney stone ever measured: 17 centimeters across! They described it as "the size of a small hedgehog," which cracked me up. (So far in life I have been mercifully spared a kidney stone.)

-- I am being peppered with Internet spam, both in blog comments (which Blogger screens quite effectively) and in e-mail. Yesterday I got a spam e-mail with the curious subject line, "Parrotnose invites you to see her private vids." thanks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Portobello People

I took my camera out on Portobello Road yesterday and walked up and down a few times, stalking the interesting characters. This lady, for example, was quite stylish with her heeled boots, up-do and leopard bag. Faux leopard is all the rage these days, isn't it? I see it everywhere.

This woman sort of had a Christmas-colored theme.

I wouldn't say I got riveting photos. It was so cold that nobody was really hanging out and doing anything outdoors -- they were just hustling along, trying to get inside again.

Except this guy, standing outside a pub. I think he was insulated by more than his big furry hat. Chemically insulated, you might say. His hat did get me paying attention to people's headgear, though.

When I got back to the apartment, my hands were so cold I could barely feel them. I ran them under warm water, which initially felt good and then became incredibly painful. I need some of those fingerless gloves! (I think I've said that before.)

This woman was selling used clothing. Brrrrr! Now that looks like a cold job.

I also spent part of yesterday trying to make some headway in "Vanity Fair." I'm only on page 89, which means I have roughly 720 pages to go! It is not a small book. It's interesting -- I just need to focus and spend some time on it.

Last night I watched "Blithe Spirit," David Lean's 1945 movie version of Noel Coward's play, with Rex Harrison. It was great, though like all Noel Coward plays, it was clever to the point of glibness. No one has any emotional depth. I suspect Coward would have scoffed at emotional depth. He was much more interested in martinis.