Saturday, August 31, 2013


I've been waiting to get a clear shot of this storefront for months and months -- there are always cars parked in front. Finally, the other day, walking Olga early in the morning, I lucked out!

So I think I've mentioned that part of my job at the school library has to do with monitoring and organizing all the periodicals. Yesterday I was working on updating the list on the school's Web site of all our available magazines, which meant I had to visit the publications online to make sure our logins work. And of course, because it was basically unavoidable, I got to browse the content of the magazines.

I learned:

-- that hedgehogs sometimes spread themselves with foamy saliva that looks like bubble bath, and no one knows why.

-- that temporary tattoos have been designed for runners to monitor their lactate levels, which helps improve performance.

-- that there's a fun list of inventive songwriting rhymes that can (theoretically) turn any of us into Sammy Cahn. As the headline says, "'Mildewey, St. Louis, chop suey' -- it just needs a tune!"

Finally, I was excited to see that the newest issue of Harper's includes an article titled, "Wrong Answer: The Case Against Algebra II," with cover art of a room full of terrified schoolchildren. I can't wait to read this article. Algebra was the bane of my existence in school, and in fact I never studied any math higher than Algebra II. My parents are math instructors, but I hated math, with all its tiny rules and restrictions and its merciless precision. (I'm sure a psychologist could theorize about what kind of rebellion is going on there.) Give me the messy gray areas, the in-between zones, the feelings and opinions where rights and wrongs are debatable and murky. Far more interesting, in my book.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mind Noise

If this stencil is supposed to be someone recognizable, it has failed me. Or maybe I've failed it. I kind of like it, though.

The mindfulness group at work is meeting again this morning, but because they meet before school starts it's really too early for me to attend. (My workday doesn't begin until 9:15 a.m., about an hour and a half later.) We've kicked around the idea of having an afternoon group of some kind. I've said I will lead it, which basically involves just ringing a bell, but so far I've only heard one other person say they may be interested and we haven't worked out any details. For now I'm being mindful on my own!

Last night I lay awake playing conversations with students through my head, trying to imagine what to say to them in circumstances that require a disciplinary voice. As you can imagine, I'm not extraordinarily experienced in cracking down on unruly kids. I need to not rehearse, though, you know? If I do, I'll just sound rehearsed. This is the focus of a lot of my mental energy at the moment, not that the students where I work require an extraordinary amount of discipline. (On the contrary, they're remarkably composed.)

The folks who run our housing estate on behalf of the local government have installed benches in the little grassy yard in front of our apartment building. That sounds much nicer than it actually looks. The benches are these wooden things, sort of spindly, and they've been augmented by stray chairs brought down by other residents. We're starting to look like a used furniture store!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Not Blogging About Work

Oh, there are so many things I could write, but many of them have to do with work and I've sort of promised myself (and my coworkers!) that I won't blog about the job. I have nothing snarky or negative to report -- it would be more like my musings about what's gone well and what it's like to learn to interact with the kids -- but I suppose I should just let all that unfold within for now. Internet discretion is such a drag.

It makes blogging a bit tough, too, because such a large portion of my brain is occupied with work stuff at the moment. C'est la vie.

Did you see the article in a recent New Yorker about police property seizures? As is well known, police departments can seize money, cars, houses and other property that investigators believe was used in or gained via the commission of a crime. Drug money, grow houses, that sort of thing. What I didn't realize, and what this article made clear, is that some police departments are seizing the property of completely innocent people who are never charged with a crime (because there's no evidence) and who are subsequently unable to hire lawyers to get their stuff back. It is truly shocking.

In one memorably recounted incident, police in Detroit busted up a music event at a local museum because, they alleged, the proper permits weren't in place. All the guests, after being made to lie on the ground, were issued citations and forced to turn over their car keys and their vehicles were impounded. They then had to pay hundreds of dollars each to get them back again, or risk forfeiting them entirely.

Tactics like this, of course, earn police departments a pretty penny.

In some cases, like the one in Detroit, courts have ruled that the police have overstepped their bounds. (As I recall from the article, the police have appealed.) But other cases, particularly against individuals, have been less successfully challenged. It's really unbelievable. Go read that article.

Olga is a little sluggish this morning -- I suspect she's eaten some sticks, or bits of Carnival detritus, while in the company of her dog-walker, which will be the subject of a phone call later. (It hasn't slowed her down much -- she saw two cats on her morning walk and nearly pulled my arm off trying to get at them.) Meanwhile the streets are much cleaner this morning, so we're pretty much back to normal.

(Photo: A storefront on Portobello Road. Seems appropriate in light of recent events in Syria.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Post-Carnival Street Sweeping

Neighborhood clean-up is continuing following the Notting Hill Carnival. On Monday night, street sweepers took care of the majority of trash along Westbourne Grove, which is part of the parade route and the place where the cans, bottles and napkins were probably deepest. (How they do it so quickly I'll never know.) But there's still a lot of debris along the side streets and tucked around lampposts.

This wouldn't be such a problem for me if it weren't for the fact that Olga tries to eat debris. Especially debris containing chicken bones.

Every day on our early-morning walk we see the window washer for the shopping area known as Turquoise Island, below our flat. We always chat with him and he gives Olga a pat. This morning he was saying that he thought the carnival cleanup had gone really well -- which is funny, because I feel like more trash has been left behind this year. But he's probably seen more carnivals than I have, so what do I know?

Syria. Oh, boy. This isn't going to be pretty. I understand the feeling that we need to do something, that a line has been crossed, but I'm not sure I agree with that feeling. Why shouldn't we allow internal conflicts in other nations to resolve themselves? Is it really our obligation to assist in this battle? Won't that merely heighten tensions and risks for ourselves and our allies in the Middle East? So far, I am not sold.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Return from Bath

We were men without a home yesterday. We checked out of our B&B about 11 a.m., and we had to wait for an evening train. So we stored our bags at the guest house and went back into central Bath to explore a bit more.

I took Dave and Olga down by the river, where I'd visited the day before. We had a pint in a pub and talked dogs with some of the locals. I'll say this for Olga -- she is a great conversation piece. Everyone wants to know her breed (we're not sure), her age (we're not sure) and whether she's had puppies (ditto).

Dave wasn't interested in any more sightseeing, so while he dog-sat I went to Bath Abbey. It's where King Edgar was supposedly crowned as monarch of a united England about a thousand years ago. There's a window commemorating his coronation.

After the Abbey we walked, and walked some more. We had lunch, we had coffee.

See our reflection in the teapot? Olga is giving Dave a big ol' wet kiss.

Anyway, we managed to kill the day, and we finally got on a train at 6 p.m. bound for London. The dog was so exhausted she fell asleep in our laps, and she's asleep even as I write this. I think it's going to take her a week to recover.

We got back to London shortly before 8 p.m., and the Notting Hill Carnival was still pounding its way through our neighborhood. The streets were rivers of people. The gutters were heaped with litter. Olga impressively braved the crowds without batting an eye, and we were relieved when we finally gained the sanctuary of our apartment, where the windows were vibrating to the thud of the bass from the music in the street below. (Not that much of a sanctuary.)

Fortunately, though, the mayhem didn't last much longer. The music stopped between 8:30 and 9 p.m. and when I looked out the window about 10 p.m., most of the people had dispersed. Street sweepers were left to cope with the mountains of Red Stripe cans and jerk chicken bones.

Mission Accomplished -- we survived another Carnival!

Monday, August 26, 2013

More Scenes from Bath

My lower back is killing me. Good Lord, it’s hard to even bend over this morning. Must be from all the walking around town.

And walk we did yesterday! First we went to the park, where Olga got to romp off-leash and chase her Kong toy. It was a gray, autumnal morning and we were surprised by a chilly rain shower. Dave had defiantly decided to bring neither his umbrella nor the hood to his new jacket, so we had to seek shelter under a big chestnut tree. Fortunately the rain didn’t last long.

From there we walked into town and found a café where we could have lattes and people-watch. Olga begged to sit in my lap. I think we created a monster by allowing her into Dave’s lap the other day – she’s now being quite insistent about climbing up onto one of us whenever we’re seated at a café or pub. It amuses everyone around us, though, so there’s that.

After lingering a while, Dave wanted to go back to the room, so he took the dog and I walked with my camera down to the River Avon.

I found a little charity shop where I bought nothing but had a good time going through racks of clothes. I even found a bit of graffiti! Leave it to me to sniff it out – I have a talent for that. (Basically, look for car parks, alleys and the back walls of buildings.)

In the afternoon we watched a bit of TV and then went to another local pub, the Victoria Kitchen, and then back to the Garrick’s Head for dinner. I had stilton rarebit with pickled onions, and I had no complaints at all.

Special bonus photo, from the windowsill of a beauty shop!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Day in Bath

Olga and I started our morning yesterday at this graceful little bandshell. It's in a park just a short walk from our B&B, and it's a great place to take the dog for a romp.

We went back to the guesthouse, woke up Dave, and ate a far bigger breakfast than I ever eat -- but that was good, because it saved us from having to buy lunch later. Then the three of us set out to explore town. Central Bath is mostly built of beige sandstone, with graceful curved streets of Georgian houses.

In a public square near the main shopping district, we found this band performing various blues tunes.

Olga was not happy with the volume of the music. (Yes, that's Dave. She didn't jump into the lap of a complete stranger, though she probably would.)

After watching the crowds for a bit -- vendors carrying towering columns of mylar balloons, a Sikh bicyclist in a turquoise turban, three grizzled drunks reading a newspaper headlined "The 'Pervy' Cornflake" -- we continued walking through the shops. Dave bought a new jacket and I'm hoping I can finally get rid of (or at least hide) that hideous light blue one he sometimes wears.

Otherwise, I've been reading my novel, relaxing in bed and enjoying a couple of dog-friendly local pubs -- Garrick's Head and The Hop Pole. Fish & chips for dinner!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Olga the Adventurer

Well, we made it to Bath, dog and all!

Olga’s first trip on the train went quite smoothly, actually. She was popular on the tube, garnering pats on the head from nearby strangers, and she seemed excited but more or less comfortable in Paddington Station. When Dave walked away to collect our tickets and buy sandwiches, she did her best to keep an eye on him (above).

On the train itself, we had very little room, as you can imagine. Olga didn’t want to be on the floor -- and we didn’t want her there anyway, interfering with the feet of our fellow passengers – so she lay across our laps for the 1.5-hour journey. (A coworker told me this is how she travels with her dog as well, so I guess it’s the thing to do.)

Once she got settled she stayed pretty quiet, looking out the window and even snoozing. It’s not a whole lot different from sitting on the couch at home, except there’s less elbow and leg space, and I felt more self-conscious about all the little white hairs attaching themselves to the dark blue upholstered seats.

In Bath, we hopped a taxi to our B&B, which is run by a guy named Peter who took time to painstakingly explain our location and the various nearby landmarks for sightseeing. It's a spacious old house with paintings of what appear to be black-and-white movie actresses on the walls. (The product of Peter, one suspects.)

We went to our room and, exhausted, stayed there for the duration of the evening, drinking Sauvignon Blanc from the minibar and watching a terrible Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher movie. I ate these things called Twiglets (also from the minibar) which were one of the strangest snack foods I’ve ever experienced – like little tree twigs with bitter bark. I am not a fan.

This morning I took Olga out for a walk in the gray light of dawn, and she nibbled on the dewy grass of Bath. Now I’m having my coffee in one of the foofiest little cups I’ve ever used.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Off to Bath, Dog in Tow

Today is the day of our retreat from Notting Hill to escape the weekend Carnival festivities. After work we're taking Olga to Paddington Station and hopping a train to Bath, where we found a B&B that accommodates dogs. We've never had Olga on a train before, so this will be an adventure! We didn't even have to buy her a special ticket -- she just rides with us.

I plan to blog from Bath, so I'll let you know how that goes. We return to London Monday evening.

I'm off to work slightly early today to join the staff & faculty mindfulness group, which gets together to meditate before school. I'm not sure my normal schedule will allow me to attend regularly, since beginning next week I'll be starting work later in the morning (in order to close the library later in the afternoon, allowing kids more use of the facilities). But I want to try to attend at least once.

I'm actually looking forward to the later start time (9:15 a.m.) so I can get more done at home before I go to work. More thoughtful blogging, for example!

(Photo: A tunnel at the Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, East London.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Art is Still Trash

Remember the "Art is Trash" filing cabinet that I found in Islington a few weeks ago? Well, here's another street find by the same artist -- this time in our neighborhood. Funnily enough, this guy seems to be everywhere lately. Dave and I saw lots of his work in Barcelona, and now he has an exhibit in a gallery just a few blocks from our flat.

Speaking of which, I finally finished putting my Barcelona photos on Flickr. Feel free to browse, if you'd like, but be warned -- there are 258 of them!

Last night I told Dave I was feeling very behind on things, so we didn't turn on the TV at all. I just sat and read, working my way through several magazines and blogs, and then wrote some e-mails and took care of things around the house. Finally I feel like that cloud has lifted.

I had a chance to read, among other things, the Rolling Stone issue featuring Dzokhar Tsarnaev on the cover -- the one some of the folks in Boston got so steamed about. It was a fascinating article. I don't think it glamorized him at all, but it did make me understand how utterly abandoned he was. His parents had a contentious relationship and had moved back to Russia, his sisters had essentially vanished after having apparently been paired off in arranged marriages, and he was trying (not very successfully) to work his way through college on his own. All he had, besides a pot habit, was his increasingly extremist brother. None of that excuses his actions, but it helps us understand how a kid who seemed so westernized could have turned so completely against his adopted society.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Messages from Hackney Wick

I have little to impart in the way of news this morning, so here are some messages from the walls and sidewalks of Hackney Wick.

I've only been working full-time for three days and already I'm having trouble managing my time! I haven't figured out how I'm going to keep reading everyone's blogs and writing my own, much less do all the housework that needs to be done, much less keep up with The New Yorker and reading an occasional book. Welcome to the real world, right?!

When I worked in newspapers I could do a certain amount of Internet reading from my desk at work. I'm not sure that will be the case here. (And in all honesty I suppose I shouldn't be reading blogs at work, but when I was a reporter and editor I told myself that it was important to know what people were talking about!)

I guess Dave and I could stop wasting a half-hour on "Green Acres" every night, for one thing. But we do get a kick out of that...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Olga's Crack-Dealing Doppelgänger

School has started, at least for teachers and staff. The kids don't arrive until next week. Yesterday was busy for me, regardless -- I created a display of books and films about London, and re-shelved most of the graphic novels and world languages sections. You know, I always thought of working in a library as a sort of intellectual job, one that involves lots of reading and knowledge. But the truth is, a lot of times you're handling books as objects. They have to be filed correctly, but otherwise they could be any kind of widget.

Having said that, I have already learned a lot, though. I'm digging it.

Last night I was reading the Evening Standard (or "Eeny Stannit," as it's known in a common Cockney transliteration), and I came across this story about people caught selling crack on CCTV in Soho. Check out the photo of the guy with the dog -- it could be Olga's brother! (Or maybe sister?) I couldn't believe how much it looks like her, except Olga has a bit more white in her coat.

We finished watching "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" last night, though I had to rent it again because the iTunes 24-hour time limit expired before we could finish it. The tyranny of Apple!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Oddities from a Lazy Sunday

This pretty much describes the mood around here yesterday. I'd taken Olga on a long morning walk so she was worn out. We were watching "Auntie Mame" when I took this photo -- the movie is playing on my computer in the background, hooked up to our television. We moved on to "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" after that. Sunday movies need to be very retro!

Remember how I mentioned that the neighborhood is putting up plywood barriers once again to protect against the crowds drawn by the Notting Hill Carnival (which is next weekend)? And how some of those plywood walls get re-used every year? Well, this poster, which I found on a barrier a few blocks from our flat, gives a good indication of just how old some of them are!

And here's an unusual find on the streets of London -- a big ol' American pickup truck. A Chevrolet Cheyenne, to be precise. Olga and I walked past it yesterday. I'd guess it's from the mid-70s, and it really is American -- it had Hoosier and Daytona 500 stickers in the back window.

Not to mention this "Spirit of '76" bumper sticker! Remember those? Ah, the bicentennial!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Post-Olympic Blackberry Picking

Can you see how many ripe blackberries are on that bush? It's crazy. I found them yesterday when I went to East London -- I walked across the park created for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and as you can see, the berries are growing in the shadow of the stadium and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. I stopped and picked a handful and ate them, but I didn't want to eat too many, because it was a former industrial area and god only knows what's in the soil.

They were good, though. I'll say that much.

The park is now being transformed into a huge public space known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, criss-crossed with greenways -- pedestrian and bicycle paths. I walked one of the greenways from Stratford to Hackney Wick, a bohemian neighborhood known for its exuberant street art.

Quite by coincidence, I wound up there during the first full day of Hackney Wicked 2013, an art festival that showcases local artists. There are lots of open studios and galleries to tour, as well as music, food and the inevitable and ever-present street art. I didn't even realize it was festival time, so that was a happy accident.

I stopped in to a couple of the galleries -- where I was sorely tempted by a Malarky canvas, but £300 is a bigger hit to my wallet than I was prepared to allow -- and strolled through the streets checking out the artwork. A cold, windy rain blew up in the afternoon so I headed home after a couple of hours. (I was wearing only a t-shirt and I was chilly -- in August! This crazy English weather.)

Anyway, it was a fun day out!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Not The Only Messiah

We had a last-minute change of plans yesterday and I wound up going to work -- so I've broken the post-vacation barrier and now I'm on the full-time treadmill! It was actually good to get out of the house and have something to occupy my mind. I think I'll like being busy after several weeks of vacation and a couple of years of working (and not) at home.

So, I mentioned baby names the other day, and some of you commented about the recent news story involving the baby named Messiah. I'm sure we all thought that was an incredibly unusual name to give a child, right? Well, I read yesterday that last year, an astonishing 762 baby boys were named Messiah in the United States -- making it about as popular as Scott or Jay! What the heck is going on out there?!

The same column cites a couple who tried to change their family name to ChristIsKing, while naming their son JesusIsLord and their daughter Rejoice.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on people's personal lives, but you know what? That is just plain crazy. That is fanaticism.

Which leads me to Egypt, a scary situation if ever there was one. It's frustrating to read the articles about the mayhem there, just as it's frustrating to read about Syria -- because all the possible outcomes seem so terrible. And what should our role be, if any? Do we stand by and watch as civil war erupts? A friend posted a column on Facebook that I think succinctly explains the roots of the conflict in Egypt, but there just don't seem to be many short-term solutions. Long-term, I think we need to do exactly as the column suggests -- better integrate the world's poor into an economic system that benefits them. Above all, and this is me talking, we need to control our population -- because creating billions more American-style consumers isn't going to benefit us or the planet, as we've seen from the mayhem created by burgeoning wealth in China. That's merely guaranteed that there won't be any rhinos left.

OK, enough of that. I'm not solving any international problems here. I just think there are too darn many of us and that's the bottom line. There's a school of economic thought that says continual growth is essential -- that if we're not growing, we're dying -- but what's the end point of that kind of thinking? Some economists bemoan the shrinking birth rates in certain countries, but I am hard pressed to see any kind of negative side to that trend.

On a brighter note, Dave and I have started watching "24" on Netflix. I know we are years behind on this, but I've never seen it. It's a fun show, though already wildly inconceivable, and we're only seven episodes in!

(Photo: Plumbago on our balcony.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wild Kingdom

It's time for a critter update!

First of all, our avocado plant -- granted, not really a critter. It's grown quite a bit since last September, despite sunburned leaves a few months ago. I pinched the top bud a while back to get it to branch, but so far, it has steadfastly refused to do so. I'm just going to let it grow however it wants to! Fulfill your inner nature, little avocado seed.

I mentioned some time ago that we had more caterpillars, presumably from Cabbage White butterflies, on our horseradish plant. But after eating voraciously, the caterpillars suddenly vanished. There was no evidence that they had pupated. I was mystified, so I examined the plant carefully yesterday, and found this last lone caterpillar.

As you can see, he doesn't look right. That's because he's been parasitized by another insect, perhaps a braconid wasp. That's the big ol' wasp egg growing out of the caterpillar. He's not long for this world. My guess is that's what happened to his compatriots too.

But we have a new crop of tiny, tiny green caterpillars munching minuscule holes in the fresh, new horseradish leaves. So the cycle of life goes on -- that plant is such a caterpillar magnet.

As I was photographing the caterpillars, a bee blundered noisily into a spider web hidden in one of our flowerpots. I didn't even know we had a spider, so I was happy to find her, though I don't think she's the same variety as Pat. The spider bit the bee, then vanished until the bee stopped struggling, when she reemerged and feasted.

I'm telling you, it's a rough world out there on our balcony!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not A Lot Of News

I went to Soho yesterday to see "Frances Ha," the new-ish film by Noah Baumbach that seems to have garnered pretty positive reviews, at least the ones I've read. It was good -- fun and smart in a talky, twentysomething, New Yorky way. While there, I noticed an unusually large number of guys walking around in blue plaid kilts, apparently gearing up for the England vs. Scotland football game last night at Wembley.

It was good to get out of the house. I thought I'd give Olga some time by herself, so she can continue to get used to it before I start work on Monday. Her dog-walker comes today for the first time, so we'll see how that goes.

Otherwise, I vacuumed. I washed the sheets. Not much going on in this corner of the world!

(Photo: Soho, yesterday.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Alfie and Poppy and Michael and Freya

I read a fascinating article yesterday about baby names in England. What do you think was the most popular name for baby boys born in London in 2012?

Not Michael. Not William or Charles or Philip or George.

No -- it was Muhammad. A total of 768 boys were given that name, 102 more than the second-most popular name, Daniel, with 666. And Mohammed, which is only marginally different, was the fourth most popular name, with 611.

That's just in London, but in some other parts of England, including Yorkshire and the West Midlands, Muhammad and Mohammed both rank in the top 10. In all of England and Wales, Muhammad is the 19th most popular boy's name, Mohammed is the 26th, and Mohammad is 60th. If we lumped them together as spelling variations of the same name, they would place higher -- but we would also have to combine other similar names listed separately, like Charlie and Charles, so the list would be rejiggered a bit.

Isn't that interesting? It certainly surprised me. The lists come from the UK Statistics Authority, which reports to Parliament; the data are available here in spreadsheet form.

Harry was the most popular boy's name in all of England and Wales -- there were 7,168 Harrys. The others in the top five were Oliver, Jack, Charlie and Jacob. We are apparently becoming not only a more diverse but also less formal society, because James, Henry and Charles are farther down on the list. David, Nathan, Michael, Matthew and Ryan are all sinking in popularity.

Among girl's names, there is no obvious parallel to Muhammad. When I lived in Morocco I knew lots of girls named Aisha and Khadija, which are common Muslim names, but Aisha charted at number 87 and Khadija didn't make the list. The top girl's name by far in England and Wales, and in every region of the country including London, was Amelia -- with Amelie and Emilia also charting at lower positions. Olivia, Jessica, Emily and Lily round out the top five nationwide.

There are other surprises. I have never heard of naming girls Isla (8 on the list), Poppy (13) or Freya (19). Alfie is surprisingly popular for boys, at seventh place nationwide.

What's it all about, Alfie?

(Photo: Satellite dishes on the Grand Union Canal, last week.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Upside

I was with Olga in Kensington Gardens a few days ago when these stormy clouds began gathering to the west. I thought we ought to head for shelter so we made our way toward Queen Caroline's Temple, playing with the Kong toy as we walked. When we got there I threw the Kong, and it flew into a huge thicket of blackberry bushes from which even Olga, in all her enthusiasm, couldn't extract it. I climbed in gingerly, and as passersby gave me (or at least my lower half, which is all that was visible) curious looks, I rooted around for the Kong. (They cost £18 each, so I wasn't about to give it up!) Finally I found it, much to Olga's relief, and then it never rained anyway.

Upside: I got to snack on some blackberries that I found deep inside the thicket. Yum!

Fortunately, there usually is an upside to such arduous tasks. Dave surprised me Saturday morning by announcing, when he woke up, "I'm going to mop the floor today."

I said, "Who are you, and what have you done with Dave?"

It's true that the floor needed it -- a sort of dark urban film covers everything here, especially in areas where we don't walk. He read online that a vinegar/water solution was perfect for cleaning floors, so he went out and bought a pail, some vinegar and some soft cleaning cloths and we got down on our hands and knees and washed the entire floor in the kitchen and living and dining areas.

Upside: It looks a million times better. Kudos to Dave for taking the initiative, because I'm not sure I would have done it any time soon.

Yesterday, I had to go buy socks. I am not a shopper, as a rule, but I got onto the tube and went to the mall in Shepherd's Bush. I found some basic footie socks (or "trainer liners," as they're called here) in Marks & Spencer, and then decided to amble around the mall and see what else was there. I found mostly lots of clothes that I could never imagine myself wearing. And why is everything in the mall so shiny? The floors, the walls, everything is glass and marble and glint and glare.

Anyway, I popped into Banana Republic, which is one of my usual stops when I absolutely have to buy new clothes, and I did find a cool shirt with kind of a purple Indian batik pattern on sale for £15. I bought it. I need new work clothes, right? Upside to exploring the shiny mall!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Randomness

So I did sit yesterday morning, and it felt great. I got back to being my old cranky self in the afternoon, of course, because sitting is never a magical instantaneous cure for anything -- in fact, as I recall, the teachers say you should sit with no objective in mind other than to sit. Still, I'm gad I did, and I plan to continue.

The plywood walls are going up around the neighborhood to protect shrubbery, lawns and storefronts from the upcoming Notting Hill Carnival -- in fact these very walls, which I photographed last year, are up on our housing estate once again. In a possibly unrelated development, our local giraffe graffiti has gained a colorful new shirt.

Dave is going back to work today. I'm still free until next Monday, though, so maybe I'll get out and do something fun on my own. For one thing, I'm going to finish the book I'm reading now, "Rules of the Wild" by Francesca Marciano, which I really like. It's basically a soap opera, but an intelligent one, about expats living in Kenya. It's been so long since I've read a book that's really drawn me in -- so many of my recent reads have been work. I was beginning to doubt my ability to enjoy reading, which was scary. Guess I was just choosing bad books!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rage on the Stairs

I've been feeling like I need to get back to Buddhism and sitting. I sometimes can't believe how idle my practice has become -- and to think I used to sit every day! It definitely helps me feel less hardened, less hurried, more open, more gentle. Sometimes nowadays I feel downright flinty, without any apparent cause, except my own manufactured sense of urgency. Why, for example, do I feel a need to pull the dog away from sniffing a spot on the sidewalk, so that we can "keep walking." Why not just let her sniff? Why am I in such a hurry?

Why brush past people on the escalator, roll my eyes in annoyance at people wrestling with strollers and suitcases on the sidewalk? The other day I was climbing the stairs out of the tube with Dave, and we were blocked by a young woman looking down at a mobile device, climbing each step at a snail's pace as she texted. "Oh, she's texting," I said quite loudly to Dave as we went around her. "She's oblivious."

I got ridiculously angry. I could taste it. It was like every bit of anger I ever had at the world surged through me -- a feeling akin to road rage. The woman gave no sign that she heard me.

Later, after I'd cooled down, I thought, OK, she shouldn't be texting on the stairs -- but did she deserve to be attacked, albeit indirectly? And would I have said anything out loud if she were a man, more imposing and potentially threatening? I hate to admit it, but I doubt it.

The whole incident made me feel small. It's just one example of the occasional manifestation of my human "beginningless anger," as the Zen Buddhists put it.

Returning to sitting, breathing and focusing, at least occasionally, sounds like a good idea. There's a mindfulness group for staff and faculty at school -- maybe I'll join that. Meanwhile, I am going to go sit right now. Well, as soon as I finish my coffee.

Dave and I watched "Five Easy Pieces" last night, in memory of Karen Black. Only about half an hour into the movie did I realize I'd already seen it. I think I got it from Netflix when I lived in New York. I remembered a couple of the scenes, and one of Rayette's lines, when she's talking about the fate of a favorite cat she left with a friend: "He was squashed flat as a tortilla in front of their mobile home." But I'd forgotten the overall plot, and Dave hadn't seen it, so watching it again was worthwhile.

(Photo: I came across these two women while walking Olga yesterday. On their way to a wedding, perhaps?)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cabinet, with Buttocks

When I went walking in Islington a couple of weeks ago, I came upon this cabinet sitting at the curb amid some bags of garbage.

It was apparently the project of a street artist who signs his or her work "Art is Trash." I'm guessing he or she came upon the cabinet after it had been put out on the street, and turned it into an artwork. Coincidentally, I saw several pieces by this same artist in Barcelona soon afterwards.

Don't you love that eye? I would have taken this cabinet home, but I had no way to carry it. Maybe someone else rescued it. Or maybe Art really is, ultimately, Trash!