Monday, March 31, 2014

Mother's Day Disappointment

Dave is back home, thank goodness, and the dog walker is coming today. Yay! I have assistance! I called in sick, so I can finally have a day just to rest. My chest cold seems to be breaking up, but unfortunately that entails a lot of coughing, and my sinuses are being very...productive. No one wants me sitting at the front desk in the library today.

I took Olga back to the park yesterday, and basically just sat in the grass while she ran around and played. Then I came home and finished the book I was reading, "The Cuckoo's Calling," by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling). I liked it a lot -- a kind of noirish murder mystery. I hope Rowling continues to write more adult fiction. I have not been disappointed yet.

We switched to British Summer Time (our Daylight Saving Time) yesterday. I didn't even realize it had happened until a neighbor told me that morning. It was also "Mothering Sunday," the British Mother's Day.

Last week I found this handmade Mother's Day card tucked into a fence near a school -- probably dropped by a child. I hope there weren't too many tears when the kid discovered she had lost Mummy's card.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dead Nettles and Gaudy Birdwatchers

Well, I didn't call the dog walker.

But ironically, when I walked Olga to the park yesterday, I saw the woman who runs the dog-walking business that we use. "Olga taking you for a walk, I see?" she said as she passed, subtly needling me about my lack of disciplinary control over my dog, who in her excitement to get to the park was pulling on her leash as usual.

The day was warm and sunny, and we found a patch of dead nettle blooming in the grass. I photographed the same wildflower in New Jersey a few years ago -- a transatlantic species, apparently.

All morning Olga was very reluctant to give up her Kong, even for the brief moment required for me to throw it. So she carried it around and chewed it while we lay together in the grass. We watched the man and little girl in the top photo fly their kite on the broad swath of lawn leading to the "Physical Energy" statue.

And we saw a pair of birdwatchers wearing colors rarely found in nature.

Then we came home and got into bed, where I read all afternoon before watching "Absolutely Fabulous" with a cheese plate and a glass of wine (or two) -- a glorious way to spend Saturday evening.

Here is today's silly Google Street View link. I found this while trying to figure out some of the filming locations for the movie "Beautiful Thing." The pub in the background appeared in the movie. Pretty sure those guys in front didn't, though.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

California Dreamin'

On my way to and from work each day, I pass a little shop in Maida Vale called the Boomerang Delicatessen. In the window is a long photo mural depicting, of all places, Los Angeles. (Shouldn't it be Sydney?)

In addition to the Hollywood sign and the bland glass skyscrapers of downtown L.A., there are lots of little shops and restaurants depicted in this mural. It's not really any one street, but a mishmash of images.

The cars look kind of '90s. Don't you think?

Anyway, it's a funny photo montage to come across in gray London, of all places. I wonder if the people who own the Boomerang have a special connection to California? I should ask them. (I've never even been in the shop.)

In other news, my cold is still with me. It's in my chest now, which is never fun. I am looking forward to a day of rest, in bed, and I am seriously considering calling the dog walker to deal with Olga.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Ex-Boyfriend

Yesterday on my way home from work I passed this oil painting, sitting forlornly out on the sidewalk, drawing curious glances from passersby.

I'm sure there must be a story here. Did the subject of the painting hate it and throw it away? Or maybe it's a former boyfriend or partner or significant other?

Whoever threw the painting out didn't abuse it in any way, so I guess they weren't that angry. Maybe they're hoping someone else will give it a home.

There are people who collect thrift-store art -- art that's so bad it's good -- and this might be a prime example. But I passed it up. I'll leave it for the connoisseurs of such things.

I think his name is Nico. Or maybe Gerardo.

(I hope the title of this post didn't have you thinking I'd be talking about any of my ex-boyfriends. What a bait-and-switch!)

My cold is still sticking with me. It's a very low-key cold. I'm not sniffling or sneezing, I just have a scratchy throat and my energy levels are lower. I haven't called in sick to work, though I have mixed feelings about the wisdom of sitting at the library circulation desk and doling out germs like Typhoid Mary. I wash my hands a lot and hope for the best!

I haven't heard much from Dave, though I know he and his students and coworkers got to the hotel in Paris, which is apparently near Euro-Disney. (Not a part of Paris I've ever wanted to visit, you know?) I told him to say hi to Mickey -- or is it Michel?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Good Light

This has been a rather chaotic morning. Dave took off for Paris for several days on a school band trip, and realized when he got to school that he forgot to pack a dress shirt. He asked me to bring him one, but I was stuck at home trying fruitlessly to round up a substitute for a middle school math teacher who called in sick.

So Dave took a cab back home and I met him on the street, shirt in hand. I never did find a sub -- the school will have to cover that teacher's absence internally.

On top of this, my cold is dragging me down down down.

It's times like this I appreciate the good light in our apartment. Somehow when you're in the middle of a frenzied morning, being able to look around at shadows and slanting sun is always encouraging! How did I ever live in New York City for ten years in apartments with no direct sunlight?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Alfa Romeo

As an antidote to yesterday's Debbie Downer of a post, how about a sunshine-yellow Alfa Romeo? This car was parked in my neighborhood on Saturday, and even though I'm not really a car person, it definitely caught my eye. In fact it inspired me to come home and watch "The Graduate" that afternoon. (Benjamin Braddock -- Dustin Hoffman's character -- drives a sporty red Alfa Romeo in the movie.)

It represents all the consumerism and unsustainable living I just railed against, I know. It's also a pretty color.

I'm battling a bit of a cold. Lots of people at work have been sick, and I fought a spacey feeling all day yesterday, and a tickle in my throat. My coworker told me I'm probably just exhausted. That's entirely possible, too.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the mystery of Bitcoins -- why they're worth anything at all, given that they're essentially invented currency. My friend Kevin responded by sending me this interesting NPR show about money, and how it's all invented. I mean, I know paper money is purely symbolic, and even gold isn't intrinsically valuable -- we've all merely agreed that it has value. It turns out that's the key to all money -- a simple consensus that it's worth something. So the question is, why do Bitcoins merit that consensus, given that they're not backed by any government or authority? I see more value in a sunshine yellow Alfa Romeo, and given that I'm not a car person, that's saying something.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

10 Billion

Yesterday at work I read an almost laughably bleak little book called "10 Billion," by Stephen Emmott. It's about the growing urgency of overpopulation, pollution and resource scarcity on Earth.

"Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face," Emmott writes. "And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow toward a global population of ten billion. In fact, I believe we can rightly call the situation we're in right now an emergency -- an unprecedented planetary emergency."

He goes on to lay out our problems in detail, from an anticipated lack of food and fresh water to the pollution created by our growing hunger for automobiles and plane travel, and the lack of any viable clean energy source. In the future, he said, more "fortunate" countries will heavily fortify themselves to protect against "climate migrants," hungry hordes of people from less lucky regions of the globe who have been driven out by climate change and starvation.

It's a very fast read, including lots of scary charts and photographs, and I kept waiting for the part where he'd tell us how to get out of this mess. He concludes that we could radically alter our behavior, having fewer children and consuming less, or we could engineer our way out of the problem -- but he doesn't think either is likely to happen. His conclusion?

"I think we're fucked."

I'd have been miffed, having invested my time in such a dolorous account with no prescription for cure, if I didn't basically agree. What saddens me is that long before we're fucked, so many other inhabitants of the planet will be fucked too: the polar bears, the gorillas, the rhinos.

On a related note, I came across a web site the other day called "Larger Family Life," founded by Tania Sullivan, who has 13 children. It includes a page in which Sullivan tries to debunk many aspects of the overpopulation debate, arguing that there's really plenty of room for all of us. Why, the entire population of the world could fit into Wales, if we were all willing to inhabit a 5x5-foot space! Such ridiculous statistics aside (and I didn't even try to check her math) she basically says restrictions on family size would be counterproductive because they would require some people who don't want children to have them. (Also ridiculous -- I cannot envision a circumstance in which there would be too few children. We may have to change our standards for pension systems and caring for the aged, but we are in absolutely no danger of underproducing.)

Where Emmott is the Eeyore of humanity's condition, Sullivan is the Piglet, almost blindly optimistic: "Forests regrow, the water will always be there unless the water cycle comes to an end, there are renewable energy sources available to us and there is plenty of room to grow as much food as we could ever possibly need for the entire world."

Oh, so that's why forests are being flattened in Brazil and Madagascar -- because we already have plenty of arable land? What about conservation and biodiversity? Is the entire planet ours to plow?

Sullivan makes one point with which I agree: Greed and unequal distribution of resources contribute to much of our human misery. But people being people, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

I do struggle with these subjects. I tend to side with Emmott -- I think we're fucked, unless we institute some immediate controls on population. In the unlikely event that we could coordinate such controls internationally, many people (like Sullivan, probably) would revolt on an unprecedented scale. Particularly many religious folks, for whom having lots of children is a divine requirement. So I expect that first, we'll have to endure some kind of calamitous social collapse.

I just hope I'm not around to see it. And I am sick with sorrow for all the creatures -- aside from humans -- who will be swept along with us, whose fates we have probably already sealed.

(Photo: Notting Hill, last weekend. Incongruously cheerful, I know.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Horseradish and 'That Girl'

Spring has arrived for our horseradish, which is sending up tiny little fresh green leaves -- a salad for this year's crop of herbivorous insects. They haven't made an appearance yet, but yesterday morning I did see a bee on the balcony, so buzzing things are taking to the air once again.

Despite the beautiful day, I spent yesterday morning inside, working on my income taxes. I am happy to say they are finished and filed. It's always such a relief to get that out of the way. (American citizens have to file income taxes in the U.S. even if they live overseas and make their living from a foreign source. Uncle Sam doesn't let go of any of us! But because I make relatively little and I already have taxes deducted here in England, I don't have to actually pay anything in the states.)

Then Dave and I went to brunch, because although I was the aforementioned White Tornado on Saturday, I did not make it to the grocery store and we had nothing in the fridge. A squeeze bottle of yellow mustard, half a bottle of tonic water and some horseradish. Not exactly adequate meal ingredients, even for one who enjoys the challenge of whipping up a meal with leftover odds and ends. (That's me, not Dave. He hates leftovers.)

Olga and I went back to the park for another romp, which left her crashed on the sofa all afternoon. And I Skyped with my dad and stepmother, who seem to be doing pretty well, all things considered.

I didn't get out for a photo walk -- I just couldn't muster the stamina. Instead I watched three episodes of "That Girl" on DVD, which says something about my mental energy level and ambition, while Dave wrote reports for school and tried to ignore the antics of Ann Marie and Donald.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I was a whirling White Tornado yesterday morning. (That is an allusion to an old advertisement, not to race!) After walking the dog, seeing Dave off to school, munching my cereal and catching up on some blog-reading, I went into a cleaning frenzy. Scrubbed the hall floors. Wiped down walls and baseboards. Dusted all the living room shelves. Did three loads of laundry. Vacuumed everything. Cleaned the bathroom.

An unfortunate side effect of the two-job situation (which I promise I will stop moaning about) is that things around here have been getting a little, well, grimy.

Olga watched me quizzically during my clean-a-thon, no doubt wondering when I was going to put down the sponge and pay attention to her.

When I finally took her to the park around 1 p.m., we came across her long-lost sibling! Or a dog that could be a sibling, anyway. Her name is Shay, and she is in front in the photo above. Her owner said she is about 10 (so maybe Olga's grandparent rather than sibling). I wanted to get a photo of the two of them together, but this was the best I could manage, because -- go figure -- they didn't like each other much. Maybe the similarity freaked them out!

Olga and I walked all the way around the Serpentine, shown in the top photo. The daffodils are out in force at this time of year.

Last night I went with our neighbors Chris and Linda to the Honor Band concert. (I realized that while I've been calling it European Honor Band, it actually included students from all over the world -- Brazil, Korea, Nigeria -- and a 120-member chorus. The full name was The AMIS High School Honor Band and Honor Mixed Choir Festival Concert. Forget the "European" part, which was my mistake.) It was a terrific concert, very smooth and professional, and Chris, Linda and I followed it up with a meal at our favorite pub. Dave didn't wander in until very late, after cleaning up and seeing everyone off, and now we both have a down day before work resumes tomorrow. (Well, tonight for me!)

You know what I don't understand? Bitcoins. I mean, can someone just make up a currency? What gives it any value? Why would anyone invest in it? I am mystified.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Poor, Poor Pigeons

Blogger has been playing a weird trick on my usual browser of choice, Safari. When I write a post, the toolbar that normally appears above the text, allowing me to add photos and adjust fonts, disappears. When I open Blogger using Google Chrome, the toolbar appears and works fine. Why do I think the corporate minds at Google are forcing me to use Chrome and abandon Safari? I suspect conspiracy.

(I'm not sure why Safari is my browser of choice, because by most accounts it's a substandard browser. My underdog-supporting nature, I suppose.)

Anyway, another crazy week has come to an end. Yay! Poor Dave is still firing on all four cylinders today as he finishes up the European Honor Band festival. Last night we went to a dinner for festival directors, held at the Waldorf hotel, and tonight I'll go to the concert with our neighbors Chris and Linda. But today, while Dave is at school working with students, I get to relax with Olga.

Our neighborhood pigeon woman has vanished. She has not been in her doorway since about Wednesday, and all her boxes are gone. I wonder what's going on? The pigeons collect in the mornings and wait around hopefully, but no one brings them food and eventually they disperse. I hope she's OK.

(Photo: Maida Vale, March 4.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Two-Job Blues

This has been quite a morning. Three sick teachers and lots of phone calls. I have everyone covered with substitutes now, though, thankfully!

You know, when I resumed this sub coordinator job on top of my duties in the school library, I toyed with the possibility that I might be able to do both in perpetuity. It would certainly have given my income a healthy boost! But the schedule is seriously exhausting, and to be honest, I'm not sure I could maintain it in the long term. I never get to escape from school and relax, except on Friday nights and Saturdays.

It's fun to have a lot to juggle, for a change. I sometimes get kind of bored hanging around the library checking out the 50-zillionth computer charger of the day. (God forbid any high school student should ever want to check out an actual book, much less talk about books.) But the fun has a scary sort of pressurized edge.

I even toyed with quitting the library and going back to sub coordinating. There are some advantages -- more flexible free time, more opportunities for photography, I could be home with the dog, we could fire the dog walker. But the pay would be less, even once I subtract what we pay for dog care. Besides, as a full-timer in the library, I'm contributing to a pension fund and socking away a minuscule amount of savings. (I couldn't do that as a part-time sub coordinator.)

Still, this morning it was nice to sit at my dining room table, making sub calls, and watching tiny tits pecking around in the houseplants outside. I kind of miss this job. I miss my long days at home, my long photography walks, the canine companionship of Olga.

On a completely unrelated note, our avocado is going through some kind of crisis. The lower leaves have developed these unsightly brown, dead patches. I don't think it's related to repotting -- after all, I just did that less than two weeks ago. I think instead it's because we recently fertilized the plant, and apparently avocados are very sensitive to over-fertilizing. This morning I gave it a long, slow water in an attempt to dilute or flush some of the fertilizers in the soil (a trick I read online, so God knows if it really works). We'll see if that helps. Hopefully the problem isn't too much water!

(Top photo: Bolts on a building scaffold in Ladbroke Grove.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Goldfish Bowl

Not your ordinary goldfish bowl, but an elaborate Chinoiserie vase or urn including, painted on the inside, goldfish. This was sitting next to the "Scum Don't Read" wall for several days before it disappeared. I was tempted to retrieve it and try to fix it, but no, that would be crazy. All those little shards...

Dave is busy at school almost every night this week, hosting the European Honor Band gathering. He is exhausted. I, meanwhile, am keeping my head down, coming home and taking care of the dog, and spending my evenings reading quietly. Which has been wonderful, I must admit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kitchen at 7:47 a.m.

This is a sequel, of sorts, to my last portrait of our kitchen window -- from just about this time last year. Something about the amaryllis just makes me want to show them in context. As you can see, two are blooming and two more are on the way. A home run!

While walking home on Monday, I came across a section of street that was blocked off with police tape. I figured there had been some sort of accident, but there was no obvious wreckage or investigation. I didn't have time to give it much thought because I spotted one of my American coworkers playing catch with his son -- baseball gloves and all -- in the middle of the roadway. "Hey, you guys are taking up the whole street!" I yelled, playfully. They smiled and my coworker yelled, "Yeah, they close it for us every Monday!" I smiled back and continued on my way.

And then yesterday morning I read a woman had been run over by a truck. Yikes. Perhaps we should not have been so publicly light-hearted.

Following your comments yesterday and closer examination of the balcony shrubbery, I am sure a squirrel is responsible for our damaged plants. I have taken to closing the balcony curtain during the day so whatever goes on out there is not immediately visible to Olga inside. Hopefully that will prevent her from being driven squirrel-mad while we're at work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


This dandelion took root deep within the interior of the heather plant on our balcony, and somehow managed in that thicket to send up a flower. I never noticed before that dandelions have those funny curved petals, or stamens, or pistils, or whatever they are!

Speaking of our balcony, last week I noticed that our newly-sprouted clematis had been broken off at ground level. At the time, Dave and I blamed the wind and/or Olga. But then a day or two later we discovered that something had dug around in several of our potted plants, throwing dirt around on the balcony and leaving some of the plants a bit bedraggled. I diligently swept up the dirt, only to find yesterday that it had happened again -- and our butterfly bush had been gnawed within an inch of its life. What do you think? Squirrels?

(I hate to think of a squirrel on our balcony, mostly because I'm afraid it would send Olga into a frenzy. And we do have a glass door.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sunny Sunday, With More Grass-Rolling

Yesterday was a dream of a day -- pleasantly cool with a crystalline blue sky and blooming things everywhere. Olga and I walked to Wormwood Scrubs, the vast grassy park northwest of where we live. I didn't even have to wear a jacket!

Olga celebrated spring with more enthusiastic grass-rolling, one of her favorite hobbies.

On the way to the Scrubs we passed this elaborately planted little park in North Kensington, next to the wonderfully named North Pole Road.

The trees are bursting with pink and white blossoms along nearby Bracewell Road. Drivers along North Pole Road were slowing their cars to get a better look.

Olga and I stayed out for about three hours. By the time we got home, she was worn out.

(Note the recently replanted avocado, much happier in its larger pot.)

I spent the afternoon Skyping with my mom, my brother and his family in Jacksonville, and catching up on more magazine reading. In Harper's this month: a fascinating article about life in modern South Africa, and an assessment of the legacy of poet e.e. cummings.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Olga Enjoys the Spring

It is well and truly spring here, with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s yesterday and today. Olga and I spent yesterday morning in the park, enjoying pink clouds of blossoms near the Albert Memorial and budding greenery everywhere else.

Midway through March, we must be in the "lamb" phase of the month.

I spent yesterday afternoon catching up on reading. I feel like I have very little quiet time to read. I have my lunch hour at work, but now that I'm walking to and fro I don't have my tube commute, and in the evenings Dave has the TV on and I'm on call. I'm on call in the mornings, too, and when I'm not working I'm blogging and getting ready to go to work.

I used to be able to read at my desk at work, during down periods, but with the two-job thing I have much less down time.

Anyway, yesterday I did manage to finish the book "Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery," tracing the lives and deaths of five young sex workers on Long Island. Written by Robert Kolker, an editor for New York magazine, it's a good read, though I must admit I had trouble keeping all the characters and their relationships straight. (Note to publisher: That useful list of characters and their connections that I discovered in the back of the book only after I finished it? Well, it ought to be in the front!)

I also tackled a couple of my New Yorker magazines, including the fascinating article by Andrew Solomon about the father of the Sandy Hook school shooter. I don't think I realized the extent to which the parents tried to get help for that kid. He had plenty of mental health evaluations, special educational opportunities, all the things a parent could possibly provide. But apparently his Asperger's diagnosis masked his other mental-health issues, or so his father believes.

Last night, Dave and I met our friends Keith and Gordon for dinner at Keith's house. Some time ago, Keith and Gordon invested jointly in several cases of Châteauneuf-du-Pape of varying vintages, and this was the second in a series of dinners focused on pairing that wine. (Dave cooked last time, so we're doing our part, too!) It was a fun evening, and Keith's beef wellington was great, but there was a lot of band conversation -- something I'm going to have to get used to this week, because Dave's music department is hosting European Honor Band, and there's going to be quite a social swirl.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Ugh. This has been such a week. Largely because of the two-job thing, I suppose, but also just busy in its own right.

When Dave and our coworker Gordon came into the library yesterday afternoon on their way out of school, I said to them, "Please tell me you're going to the Elgin." The Elgin is one of our local pubs, and if they answered in the affirmative it would mean I could join them when I got off work. They did, and I did.

So we had a good time at the Elgin, and we talked about work and Six Nations rugby and the missing plane. After Gordon and our other coworker Keith drifted away, Dave and I stayed for dinner -- a hamburger for me, duck leg for him. We finally left with my third beer only half-finished, and started to go into the tube station to go home -- but suddenly I couldn't abide the thought of descending into the ground to ride in an airless metal capsule stuffed with people. So I said to Dave, "I tell you what. You ride the tube, and I'll walk, and we'll see who gets home first."

I said it knowing he'd win. Dave readily agreed, and I struck out on foot, listening to my iPod -- or my Walk-Man, as I call it in my moments of early-onset Alzheimer's.

I walked briskly, the night cool, listening to the Fifth Dimension singing "Never My Love" -- a record I had when I was in high school 30-odd years ago. Even then it was an oldie. I have always liked very orchestrated pop music, with horn sections and strings and woodwinds and layered vocals. I grooved along listening to my ancient music and admired the streetlight shadows and the moonlight on Trellick Tower. I thought about how I was living the past and the present, enjoying both at once, and somewhere in that thought, it seemed, lay happiness. Not turning away from the past or the future, or rejecting any aspect of ourselves, but being both old and new, happening and already-happened, fresh and foundational at the same time.

Isn't there a theory in physics that says there is no linear time, that all times occur all at once, in parallel? That's how I felt. I was the past and the present and the future, listening to my 1970s music in 2014, simultaneously the person I was then, the person I am now and the person I am still becoming.

I felt together. I felt timeless. I felt integrated.

I got home five or ten minutes after Dave. I jumped on the bed with Olga and scratched her pink, speckled belly as she furiously licked my face.

(Photo: House fronts near the Grand Union Canal, earlier this week.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Green Hat

I've got nothing for you today in terms of narrative; I have been running and running at work and my brain hasn't had room to process anything else. But I can give you this photo of a guy with an eye-catching green hat!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Missing Plane

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's completely captivated by the story of the missing airplane. Dave makes fun of me because I'm so riveted by it. I have to check the updates a couple of times a day to see if it's been found.

I mean, how can a modern jetliner full of people just disappear, in an age of satellite communication and radar? It's mind-boggling. I would have thought that planes carry some kind of tracking device that can't be switched off -- a GPS locator -- and to think that merely turning off a transponder essentially renders a plane invisible is incredible.

I have no doubt the plane has crashed. If not, we would have heard something by now. But where it could be is a mystery indeed. It is a very bizarre story, with all the mystique of the Flying Dutchman.

Then there's the issue of the guys flying on stolen passports. I never would have imagined it would be so easy, anywhere, to board a plane with a stolen passport. The fraudulent passengers appear to be victims like everyone else, and indeed a plane between Malaysia and China doesn't seem to be a ripe target for terrorism. But who knows?

What do you think is going on?

(Photo: Kensington High Street, on March 1.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short Takes, With Amaryllis

-- Our kitchen-window amaryllis plants are just about ready to burst into bloom. Well, two of them, anyway. A third is still dormant, and a fourth has a small green bud coming up from the base (photo below).

-- Remember the Wayward Biology Textbook from the school library? Well, yesterday that same girl had the nerve to try to check out a textbook again. I said no. We told her to borrow one from a friend. I actually got quite indignant (inwardly) that she even asked, though why I had such an emotional response I can't say. I'm taking that job way too seriously.

-- As I think I've mentioned before, Dave and I are watching "House of Cards" on Netflix. We like it, but I must admit I struggle to figure out some of what's going on. The subplot involving the computer hacker and the newspaper editor was never very clear to me. I feel like my grandmother, who used to say 35 years ago that she didn't understand modern TV shows. At the time my brother and I thought that was hilarious, but now I sympathize!

-- Did you all hear about the Attack Cat of Portland, Oregon? That cat was angry.

-- Finally, I was sorry to hear about the death of one of my former colleagues at a central Florida newspaper where I started my career. I distinctly remember a story he wrote about a street crime near the town of Lake Wales, in eastern Polk County. He quoted a woman who had been standing in her yard "scalding the hair off a possum and preparing the meat for dinner" when gunshots were fired nearby. (Here is the AP version of the story, which ran in a nearby newspaper.) My friends and I laughed about that detail for years.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Dave and I have ironed out our vacation plans for Spring Break, in April. We've decided to go to the Seychelles, a cluster of tiny flyspeck islands in the Indian Ocean. Dave wanted a place where he wouldn't have to do anything -- just lie in a hammock in a warm place and maybe trudge to the beach to go snorkeling. I, on the other hand, wanted some activities, and these islands offer various sightseeing opportunities, such as the tiny capital city of Victoria, a valley of Coco de Mer palms (which grow only in the Seychelles) and lumbering giant tortoises.

I'm a bit conflicted about this trip, because of the ill health of some of my family members back in the states. But I've planned all along to go home to Florida in June, so it's not like I won't be there very soon -- and Dave, especially, needs a relaxing escape (he is in the middle of band hell this month, hosting a gathering of European honor band students and then traveling to France on a performance trip with his own band).

Our other option was the Maldives, southwest of India, but they seem a bit more built-up. (Their capital city, Malé, is a very strange-looking island -- basically a cluster of high-rises sticking up out of the ocean.) The Seychelles seemed more secluded. For the record, though, I have a coworker who went to the Maldives and she said it was fabulous. Apparently the key (as in so many places) is to get out of the capital, and there are spectacular resorts on outlying islands.

I'm not really a resort person, though. I'm more of a motel person. I found accommodation in the Seychelles that reminds me a lot of the modest little cabins my family used to rent on the beach in Florida.

Anyway, in other news, the two-job schedule is continuing to kick my butt. It's manageable but definitely busy. I was feeling a bit run-down myself yesterday (and who do I call when I call in sick -- myself?) -- but I feel much better today. At least, so far!

(Photo: Balconies and windows of the apartment building across the street.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Curve Ball

Well, Colleen's visit didn't go quite as I expected. It started well, with our long walk in the sunny park on Saturday. But that night, just as Dave served dinner, Colleen began feeling unwell. Without going into details and violating confidences, I can say that we abandoned dinner and wound up having to seek medical treatment on Sunday morning -- which meant going to the hospital. Always such an adventure, especially in multicultural London! Fortunately, our visit lasted only a couple of hours and Colleen got some medicine, along with the reassurance of seeing a doctor.

By late Sunday morning she felt well enough to go to lunch with us at The Tabernacle, an outdoor cafe, where we brought Olga and sat in the sun. Then she caught her train to Winchester, where she's doing some work this week before flying back to the U.S. I told her to call us if she has any problems before she leaves, but I expect she'll be fine.

Good grief. You don't see a person for 20 years and then that happens. Life sure can throw some curveballs. I'm just glad everything worked out OK.

In other news, I finally uploaded all my China photos to Flickr. Here is the promised link, if you feel like killing some time and checking out the images that didn't make it to the blog.

The weather has been spectacular the last few days. It was warm enough yesterday to wear a t-shirt, which as always at this time of year -- after months of being buried in layers of clothing -- felt immensely freeing. We opened up the house to let it air out. Dave trimmed the balcony plants and readied them for their growing season. I washed towels and hung them on the balcony railing in the sunshine.

Ah, spring!

(Photo: Strip is a lingerie and underwear store in Notting Hill, lit very pinkly at night.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Walking a Tightrope

Some guy has recently started stringing up a sort of flat cable between two trees in our courtyard, and then walking it tightrope-style. No one seems to know who this guy is, or whether he even lives in our apartment complex. I suppose one of us should ask him. I hate to sound like Gladys Kravitz, but I'm worried he'll damage the trees.

Colleen and I went to Hyde Park with Olga yesterday, as planned, and spent four hours walking pretty much all the way around the park. We saw the Albert Memorial and the Italian Garden, and stopped at a cafe on the Serpentine for coffee and a sandwich. We let Olga run wild, chasing her Kong and the few squirrels that surfaced for the relatively warm early-spring weather.

At one point, Olga allowed her Kong to roll into the Serpentine, and because I have learned from experience that Kongs don't float (and they cost £18), I stepped immediately into the water, soaking my right shoe, to retrieve it. Then she did it again, and again. A crowd gathered. People laughed. A woman with the white cap of a Mennonite narrated to her small child: "Oh, look, the dog dropped its toy into the water again. Will the man go in after it?"

Yes, he will.

And then he will walk the toy over to the grass, away from the water, before giving it back to his overexcited dog.

I'm glad I'm every bit as entertaining as a tightrope walker, and probably a lot easier on trees.

I've been reading a lot about this Ukraine situation, and I've resisted weighing in, since I must admit I don't know much about that part of the world. But what I don't get is this -- if the people of the Crimea are mostly Russian, as I understand it, and Russia has military bases there, is it really all that outrageous to allow them to hold a referendum on whether to join Russia or stay with Ukraine? I mean, I hate to side with Vladimir Putin, God knows, but that just doesn't seem too crazy to me. I understand that in principal, one country shouldn't be able to intrude into the governance of another country and engineer a referendum -- and I suppose the danger is that the referendum would be manipulated or that this would just be a first step in Putin's generally expansionist approach to governing Russia. But still. If the Crimeans want to go, why shouldn't they?

(As U.S. officials have pointed out, Putin's support for self-determination in Crimea is inconsistent, given Russian opposition to secession efforts in the breakaway republics of the Caucasus.)

On a lighter note, I did repot our avocado tree yesterday, and it seems much happier. I literally breathe easier just looking at it in a bigger pot.

Also, I finally got around to ordering a copy of my friend Kenneth's new memoir, "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?" I worked with Kenneth at The New York Times, and I have long enjoyed his stories of being a young, gay kid growing up in Michigan and Arizona and longing for the bright lights of New York City -- a longing nurtured by reruns of campy '60s TV shows like "Family Affair." (I always wanted their apartment, too!) Knowing Kenneth and his funny, sometimes shocking forthrightness, it will make an interesting read. (I'm alarmed that people younger than me are even in a position to write a memoir, but that's another story.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Colleen Arrives, and Pietà Survives

Colleen arrived safe and sound yesterday evening. We'd agreed to meet at the Notting Hill Gate tube stop, which has four exits, so I was a bit concerned about where we would connect -- not to mention whether we'd recognize each other. Then I saw a woman leaning on the railing, reading a book and standing next to a suitcase. I thought, "Well, that might be her..." When she looked up I knew for sure, and she recognized me right away. Her first words to me were, "Steve, do you know how long it's been?!" Like she can't believe it either. I brought her back to the apartment to get settled and meet Dave and Olga, and then the three of us (sans poor Olga, obviously) went across the street for a pub dinner. It's been great to trade Peace Corps stories and catch up on our lives.

I'd asked Dave to tidy up the bathroom and vacuum before Colleen and I got home, and last night as I was going to bed I realized he took the opportunity to hide the plaster Pietà in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. I put it back on the windowsill. It's art, dammit!

(On a tangent: We have lived in this apartment for almost three years, and we found this cabinet under the sink just a few weeks ago! From the outside it doesn't quite look like a cabinet -- the doors are tiny and have no handles, and I thought they were just panels concealing plumbing. Then Dave opened them and voila! A basket of cleaning supplies and more storage space! It's like one of those crazy dreams where you suddenly discover a whole new room in your house...)

On the agenda for today: Walk in the park with the dog and check out the Portobello Road market. I also intend to repot our poor root-bound avocado tree -- I finally stopped at the ridiculously overpriced housewares store at Notting Hill Gate and bought a big new pot for it.

Our amaryllis are greeting spring on slightly different schedules -- two of them have sent up buds on long shoots, and a third seems to be launching a tiny bud at the base. The fourth hasn't done a thing yet. Considering how little we do for those amaryllis I'm impressed that they survive at all.

(Photo: King's Road, near Parson's Green, last Saturday.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cat in the Sunshine

An old friend is coming to visit this weekend -- a woman I met in the Peace Corps who I have not seen, I suddenly realized last night, in 20 years. (How is that even possible?!) Many of my Peace Corps friends I've managed to see in the years since, but not Colleen. So this will be a real trip down memory lane!

She's been to London before, thank goodness, so I don't think I'll have to confront the possibility of going to the London Eye or the Tower of London again.

She's going to stay with us for two nights, so I've been washing the guest room sheets -- Olga loves to frolic on the guest bed -- and trying to neaten the place up, on top of my crazy two-job schedule. I must say I kind of like this two-job thing, though. It keeps me busy, but I function well under a bit of pressure.

I've also maintained my habit of walking to work, which has been both a good form of exercise and a money-saver. I wish I'd started it earlier last fall. Every week I'm saving £28 (or $47) on tube transport. I'm wearing out my shoes, I suppose, and possibly my hips, but that's a pretty slow process -- if that's the only downside I think I'm still coming out ahead!

Last night Dave made Aunt Jemima pancakes for dinner -- complete with eggs, bacon and genuine faux maple syrup. We found a grocery store that carries Aunt Jemima products, so we could finally make some American-style pancakes. Woo hoo! (In England, "pancakes" often connote a more crepe-like food, served with jam. To me, that is just not a pancake.)

Really, is there anything better than breakfast-for-dinner?

(Photo: A cat enjoying the spring-like sunshine on my walk to work Wednesday.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Freddie Mercury's House

As I mentioned a few days ago, on Saturday -- with some help from my coworker -- I came across Freddie Mercury's house in Kensington. Freddy has been dead for more than 20 years, but the house is apparently still a place of pilgrimage for Queen fans. Pedro from Brazil, in the photo above, was stopping by to pay his respects when I visited with my camera.

The entrance has been neatened up over the years. A photo from another blogger shows what it looked like more than 10 years ago, the brick wall awash in chaotic graffiti. Now several large sheets of plexiglass have been affixed to the wall, so admirers can slip notes and whatnot behind them without resorting to vandalism.

It's interesting how popular Freddie remains. The notes came from fans all over the world, all of whom apparently made the pilgrimage down this quiet side street.

(Fact: If you type "Fred" into Google, it prompts with Fred Meyer, Fredericks of Hollywood, and Freddie Mercury, in that order.)

Pedro told me that Freddie is still very popular in Brazil, partly because Queen played the huge "Rock in Rio" concert back in 1985. This cracked me up, because in the mid-80s I had several pen pals in Rio de Janeiro, and one of them sent me a "Rock in Rio" t-shirt! I wore it for years. (It was very '80s -- black with yellow sleeves, as I recall.)

There were also a few oddities behind the plexiglass: photos, flowers, trinkets, and one poor guy's UK passport open to the title page. (I'm guessing it's there as the result of some post-pub-outing prank, but who knows.)

The house itself is only barely visible over the top of the wall.

Personally, I've never been a huge Queen fan, though I like "Bohemian Rhapsody" as much as the next person. When I watch Freddie perform the magical "Barcelona" with Montserrat Caballé, I can appreciate his sense of showmanship.