Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pub Refurb

There's a big refurbishment going on at a pub I pass on my way to work each day. This is how it looked last week, when the colorful tiles caught my eye.

The entire building used to be painted black. Then workers began stripping the old paint, including an underlying blue layer, to reveal the red tiles underneath.

This is how it looks now. I'm not sure why that section on the left, under the window, was repainted gray -- maybe the tiles in that spot were too damaged to be exposed. All in all, though, I think it's an improvement! We've never gone to this pub, but perhaps a visit is called for.

In other news, that teacher I wrote about yesterday stunned me by returning his overdue books. Triumph! One of them is a really terrific photography book that I promptly checked out myself, and then lugged home, which proved to be a challenge because it weighs about 35 pounds. Walking was out of the question -- I had to take the tube!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tiny Bike

This little "Toy Story" bicycle with training wheels is parked outside our apartment complex, chained to a light pole. It cracks me up -- you don't often see such a tiny bike chained up outside. It's only about as high as a car tire.

I wish I could say that something exciting is happening around here at the moment, but that would be a lie. My head is swimming with issues related to our move. Now that we've submitted our references and they've been checked, we're waiting for our new landlord's final written approval. Then we can pay our deposit and two months' rent, which cleans us out financially, and sign our lease.

Meanwhile, I'm working with realtors hired by our landlords to show the apartment where we currently live. Just yesterday I had to drop off my keys so they could be duplicated, giving the realtors access for showings, and on Monday they're going to be here taking photos, which means I have to get the place spic-and-span and make sure Olga is out of the way.

At work, efforts continue apace to collect overdue materials before summer vacation starts. The current focus of my attention is a teacher who has had two books checked out for three years. I have e-mailed him and spoken to him in person, and he says he'll bring them from home, and then he never does. He couldn't even remember the title of one of them, which suggests to me that he hasn't seen them in some time. All I can do is appeal to his sense of fairness -- pointing out that no one else gets to use those books if he keeps them at his house -- but beyond that, what can I do? We have no fines, no methods of coercion.

It's his failure to address the problem that I find most frustrating. If the books are lost, just tell me that so I can mark them lost in the catalog and we can replace them. If they're not lost, bring them back. I'd even let him check them right out again -- we're pretty lenient with teachers -- as long as I could see that they still exist!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

No More Aphids!

Remember those aphids I wrote about, sucking the life out of our horseradish plant?

Well, last night I took a look at the plant, and I could not find a single aphid. What I did find, though, were a couple of these -- ladybug larvae.

I'm amazed that just ten days after I was vexed by the quantity of aphids afflicting our plant, nature has taken care of the problem. Now I'm wondering if there are too few aphids to keep the larvae alive! I mean, I did not see a single one.

At least I didn't have to go after the plant with soapy water again.

I don't know my larvae well enough to know whether this is a native UK ladybug or an invasive exotic ladybug. As usual, I'm going to let nature take its course!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Am Photographed and Spammed

In the years since I've started doing street photography, whenever I've had ethical debates with myself about the propriety of taking candid photos of other people, I've always wondered how I'd feel if someone took a street photo of me.

Now I know!

A few weeks ago, as I was photographing a shopfront in Soho, I saw from the corner of my eye a man taking my photo. I turned and gave him a knowing grin, but didn't say anything and just kept doing my thing.

Yesterday I got to wondering whether his photo of me might be on Flickr. So I began searching Flickr using terms like "photographer, Soho, London, camera."

I didn't find that particular photo. But I did find this.

Yes, that's me, captured by someone else (on film, no less!) almost 2 1/2 years ago. It was on a day I was out taking photos for a photography class -- the day I described here. I was completely unaware that anyone took my picture.

It was surreal, finding that photo on Flickr! I don't mind it -- I like that someone captured me in the act -- which is a good thing because it would be pretty hypocritical for me to raise an objection, wouldn't it?

In other news, for a couple of weeks now, I've been occasionally bothered by a strange burst of music when I'd load my blog page. I'd hear a few bars of this really bad pop song, with an annoying beat and a guy singing, "This is what you want, this is what you get..."

I was mystified about why this happened. I thought I'd contracted some sort of computer virus.

But yesterday I started doing research, and it turns out that others were experiencing an identical phenomenon on their blogs. (And their readers were experiencing it, too -- horrors!) Turns out that Sitemeter, the counter software I installed on my blog years ago to tell me how many visitors I was getting, has apparently started pushing MySpace ads onto the blogs it serves. Perhaps if I hadn't had pop-ups blocked, I'd have seen a video along with that annoying music.

Needless to say, I took Sitemeter off my blog. I don't really use it anymore anyway. A thousand apologies to any readers who were MySpaced. It's certainly not any official endorsement from me -- I've never used MySpace a day in my life!

(Photo: Someone's discarded duck embroidery, in an alley near our flat.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shadowland, With Monsters

When I took Olga out for her early morning walk on Sunday, the light was just right for long shadows, making twigs look monstrous and leaves look like spacecraft.

Speaking of monsters, Dave and I went to see "Godzilla" yesterday. We really enjoyed it. Of course it's completely silly -- in fact I think the new movie maintains the feeling you get when watching a good '50s sci-fi movie. That eye-rolling Oh come on!

And yet it works. It's fun. The effects are crazy.

Having said that, the previews for coming attractions were an endless parade of CGI. They were actually a bit exhausting. I like a good special-effects movie as much as the next person, but particularly in the summer, EVERY movie seems to rely on them.

With light like this, who needs special effects? Real life is fantastic enough!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Buttercups, and Down Under

Olga was waist-high in luxuriant grass and buttercups in the park yesterday. She was so happy she promptly flattened many of the buttercups with vigorous grass-rolling. Ah, summer!

(Well, almost.)

I just finished Germaine Greer's book "White Beech: The Rainforest Years," about her purchase of a piece of forest in Queensland, Australia, and her attempts to restore its disrupted ecosystem. At first, I found it difficult -- it's very detailed, and my background knowledge of Australian geography is fuzzy at best. There are long sections of unlikely-seeming dialogue between her and her botanist sister Jane about the taxonomy of plants, and with others about the tribal structure of regional aborigines.

I never heard so much about "eucalypts" in my life.

Here's a sample exchange:

     "Have you got Heritiera here?" Jane was changing the subject.
     "I don't think so. Why?"
     "I was reading this article about complex notophyll vine forest and it talked about Heritiera trifoliata as a key species."
     The species name gave the game away. "Argyrodendron must've had a name change. Damn."

It's hard for me to imagine being so invested in Argyrodendron that I would curse upon learning it had received a new scientific name.

Nonetheless, as I read, the book got more interesting -- perhaps I settled into its rhythms. I definitely gained a greater understanding of the terrain and ecology in Greer's corner of Queensland, and the horrors inflicted by humanity on the Australian wilderness.

By the end I found myself inwardly questioning the inexact science of naming and identifying plants and animals. You'd think when something gets a scientific name, that's that -- it's been named, and shall remain named henceforth. But no! Turns out these names change all the time, as organisms are collected, described, classified and reclassified by successive generations of scientists. It all begins to seem very arbitrary, and almost pointless. Just as Greer questions her ability to really own the forest community on the land she has purchased, I question humanity's ability to name and classify the subtle abundance of nature. The lines blur and overlap. When is something a species versus a simple variant? When some "macadamia nuts" are in the genus macadamia, and some not, is that nomenclature really correct -- or just the current thinking? Is anything in science really correct, or just the current thinking?

Nature, like most things, is full of gray areas, and yet humans have a bizarre and futile desire for precision.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Back to the Canal

Before yesterday, Olga and I hadn't visited the Grand Union Canal in months. We've made a habit of the park instead, and truthfully I've become a little wary of the canal since Olga became so ill last summer with what was eventually diagnosed as a campylobacter infection (we think from drinking the canal water, or maybe from eating goose poop on the banks).

But yesterday we braved the grassy shores once again, and had a good long walk that -- through my heroic intervention -- involved only occasional illicit snacks of goose excrement.

I'm still amazed at some of the boats. They're basically floating gardens.

Olga's presence unnerved the local geese...

...and the local cats.

But she had a great time.

We walked again past the area where the forest has been cleared for a rail transit project, as I mentioned last December. It looks very different these days.

These steps used to lead up into a densely vegetated area with mature trees. The mosaic at the base of the steps says, "Please Look After Our Wildlife Area." But as you can see, it's pretty much just denuded land at this point. The railroad tracks are just beyond that rise. Sad!

Otherwise, we spent the day indoors. I read and took a nap and Dave and I watched "Star Wars" and "Poltergeist," both of which we've seen at least 50 times. Sometimes you just want comfort food, you know?

Especially after this week. I have been nervous as a cat about the move, trying to get everything done and in the proper order, while making both our current and future landlords as happy as possible. At the same time I have to get the ball rolling for the renewal of our UK visas and my driver's license. I need to buy a ticket to visit my family in Florida, but I feel like I can't do that until the move is settled and I know when my visa situation will be ironed out -- the last thing I need is a ticket on a departing plane when my passport is unavailable.

So many things this summer are like dominoes. They all have to fall a certain way, and until the first one goes, the rest must remain standing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Artist's Window -- February 2007

A blast from the past this morning. I was looking through some old street photos that I took in New York years ago -- not long after I got my first digital camera -- and I came across this one. I took it on West 22nd Street in Chelsea, on Feb. 17, 2007.

I remember being intrigued by the artworks propped up in this person's window.

Can you dig the Realtor's "Rent" sign, painted with roaches, pigeons and rats? And who's the woman on the right -- do you think it's Marilyn or just a look-alike?

At any rate, I got to wondering whether this window still exists. So I got on Google Street View, and sure enough, this tenant is still firmly in place (at least as of September 2013):

Looks like maybe the artworks in the window have changed a bit, but Marilyn (or whoever she is) and the "Rent" sign are still there.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Efficiency and Gossip

Yesterday I had an incredibly efficient day. As in, I was incredibly efficient. I got a ton of stuff done that's been stacking up and it felt great -- various forms submitted for the apartment, summer reading lists compiled for the library, groundwork laid for our visa-renewal appointment, a refund of our council tax arranged.

In the evening I went out with some colleagues for a pint at the pub, which of course turned to three pints, as pub outings are often wont to do. I learned lots of fascinating gossipy things. By the time I wandered home Dave was already here, having come back from the 5th Grade Concert. I had a couple of peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches for dinner, thereby polishing off the last of our mountain of bananas.

(Thanks for all the hints on how to use and preserve bananas, by the way. I kept the freezing option in mind the whole time, in case we couldn't eat them in time. I'd say we were down to the wire.)

This morning, as I took Olga out for her walk, I saw a squirrel on the sidewalk just outside the front door. So I took Olga off her leash and opened the door, and she was off like a shot. The squirrel, of course, promptly ran up the side of the building -- probably to eat our balcony plants -- but Olga still got such a charge out of the chase that she had to make several laps of the apartment buildings to blow off steam.

(Photo: St. John's Wood. You may recognize that Westminster sign on the right.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sign Here, and Here, and Here

So, the good news is, we seem to have successfully negotiated for the new apartment. (I say seem because although our offer was accepted and we've put down a deposit, I won't feel like it's really ours until we move in.) Last night I spent a couple of hours slogging through the lease and filling out our tenancy application. It is truly terrifying how much money this involves, with deposits and moving costs. We'll be wiped out.

Of course, we'll get some of that money back eventually -- we hope -- but still. It makes my heart race. And I despair a little bit to think we've been here three years and we've essentially saved nothing, beyond contributions to our retirement funds.

This city -- good grief, it sucks the money out of you. It's worse than New York.

I realize we haven't exactly been roughing it, traveling and going to dinner and paying for a posh dog walker and whatnot. Under no circumstances will I give up my travel. But I suppose we need to think about how to put something more aside.

(Click that dog walker link, by the way. It's a funny story.)

I mentioned before that the new flat has a garden, and we're contractually responsible for routine maintenance. Apparently our responsibility has its limits, though. From the lease: "To avoid any doubt the tenant will not be under any obligation to pay for or to replace any house plant that has been left in the premises, if the house plant dies."

Well, that's a weight off my shoulders.

(Photo: Street sweeper, Notting Hill.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Promising Developments on the Housing Front

The apartment viewing went very well last night. The place we looked at is closer to work and seems to have everything we want. The rent is slightly more than I was hoping to pay, but I think we're just going to go for it. There's no reason not to, really.

If we're accepted and everything goes smoothly -- and I can't imagine why it shouldn't -- that will remove a huge burden from our shoulders. Olga will also be thrilled, because this new place has a huge back yard! Grass and trees and rose bushes! We'd even have to procure a lawn mower, which is something I never thought I would need in my lifetime.

We can plant vegetables and have a bird feeder. We can sit out on a patio and have cocktails in the evening. We would have outdoor furniture.

OK, I'm getting ahead of myself -- it's not ours yet. Must remind self to stay dispassionate.

In other developments, as you can see, I've re-embedded the koi pond to the right and it seems to be working again. I'm not sure what happened, except that the new embed code was different from the old one.

The library couch rebellion is, in fact, ongoing. Yesterday the students plastered the school with fliers asking the whereabouts of the "missing" couch, and advising people to e-mail me. (No one did.) In the spirit of playful retaliation, I plastered their posters with a little flier of my own, saying "False Alarm!" and pointing out that the couch was not missing, but merely in happy retirement in the quiet area.

One of my coworkers gave me a hilarious pair of red devil-like horns that say "Evil Librarian." I intend to wear them all day today.

(Photo: Goodmayes, near Dagenham, East London. As I've said before, everyone loves their iPhone.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Short Takes

-- The couch rebellion yesterday turned out to be a non-event. Apparently some talkative kids piled onto the couch in the silent area early in the morning, before I even got to work, and one of the other librarians shooed them away. Otherwise, they seem to have accepted the furniture move, and the couch is now being used by entirely different kids who are actually studying. I also think the library really is quieter. So despite my misgivings, maybe this was a good change.

-- I saw the other day that Mary Stewart died. I know her as the author of "The Moon Spinners," which was made into a 1964 Disney movie with Hayley Mills, and which I saw as a child on the Wonderful World of Disney. (Sunday nights, remember?) I loved that movie, about a teenage girl who encounters mystery, romance and intrigue in the Greek isles -- specifically on Mykonos, if my memory serves me right. I eagerly read the book, too, at some point. Stewart published more than 15 novels and lived to be 97, so she did well for herself.

-- I asked Dave to buy some bananas when he went to the store over the weekend. He dutifully requested a bag from a vendor at Portobello market, but when he got home he discovered she'd given him two bags of very ripe bananas. So we've been eating them as fast as we can. Yesterday Dave made banana bread, and I thought I'd make more banana pudding, but our grocer is out of vanilla instant pudding at the moment. So we're toying with the idea of making Bananas Foster tonight. We still have nine darkening bananas on the counter!

-- Thanks to those of you who offered tips on aphid management. (This means you, Alabama Lurker!)

-- Do you all still see swimming fish in my "koi pond" to the right? It seems to have stopped working for me, on both my home and work computers. (Maybe I didn't feed them enough. Or maybe I fed them too much.) Mysterious.

(Photo: Upney, East London, on Sunday.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Barking and Dagenham

Yesterday was a dream of a day -- blue skies, ideal temperatures. I went walking through several neighborhoods in far east London, from Newbury Park through Dagenham and then to Barking. About 8.5 miles altogether, according to my handy online route calculator.

I've long wondered about Dagenham. Before we first moved to London in 2011, I did some research trying to determine which were London's roughest neighborhoods. (I figured it would be a good idea to know where not to search for housing.) Well, someone in an internet thread nominated Dagenham, along with Brixton and a few others.

So I've long had it in my head that Dagenham, the site of a greatly diminished Ford automobile factory, is a bit dicey. From what I saw yesterday, though, that isn't true at all. It's a pleasant, almost suburban area, with some detached housing and grassy front yards and other features that you don't see closer in to the city. I wasn't sure I'd find much to photograph, but I ended my walk very satisfied.

Of course, the weather was so nice that merely walking for its own sake would have been enough.

In London overall, poverty seems to be pretty well integrated into the rest of the population. There really are no South Bronx or Liberty City-type neighborhoods, where everyone is poor, housing is terrible and walking is dangerous. There are plenty of poor people -- don't get me wrong -- and some council estates certainly have bad reputations, but those estates and other small concentrations of relative poverty are often surrounded by middle class neighborhoods and homeowners. I think that integration makes London a healthier city than many in North America.

Anyway, I had lunch at the little cafe in the photo above, in Upney, between Barking and Dagenham. That was my view as I sat at my table. I loved the colors and the shadows on the tabletop, and the C reflected in the mirrors. I had a tuna sandwich and a coffee for £3.10, which is a pretty economical lunch!

Last night our neighbors Chris and Linda came over, and we broke the news about our moving. I think they're actually quite upset about it. It's nice to be missed, but we'll see them even after we relocate, I'm sure.

And now I'm off to work, to deal with the couch rebellion.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


As I mentioned before, our horseradish is riddled with aphids this year. I'm not sure why -- I don't remember seeing so many in years past. I've twice sprayed the leaves with a mild solution of soapy water, which cut down their numbers significantly and at least allowed the plant to leaf out completely. (The aphids appeared nearly the same instant we got new growth this spring, and threatened to suck all the life out of it before it had a chance to reach maturity.)

As you no doubt remember, my policy toward the horseradish is to let it do its thing. It is a veritable hive of insect and invertebrate life all summer, and I just let those communities balance themselves. I've seen ladybugs near the plant this spring, so I assume they're working on the aphids.

I've also seen a few snails, which appeared and disappeared quickly. I assume something ate them -- a bird, perhaps.

I'm trying to avoid resorting to the soapy water again. But geez, we have a lot of aphids.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Couch Rebellion

The pendulum has swung on our weather, which has gone from chilly to about as Spring-like as possible. Our high is supposed to be 75ºF today -- just about perfect! The critters are out and about, too. While walking Olga this morning, I saw a fox perched on a low garden wall, watching us. Olga, for some reason, never detected its presence. I wish I'd had my camera.

Speaking of critters, our neighbor Joan confirmed that the marauding animal that damaged our balcony plants several weeks ago is, indeed, a squirrel. Apparently it climbs up and down the brickwork on the buildings, even all the way up to us on the sixth floor. I've seen it near the ground but I didn't know it came up this high. Daredevil!

Yesterday, I ate my lunch in a little park near school -- beside a gaggle of Filipino nannies -- and then went walking for an hour or so up toward Kilburn. I got some good photos and had a great day out in the sunshine. Gotta stock up on that Vitamin D!

The latest drama in the library involves some comfy blue-upholstered furniture that we got about six months ago -- commodious in scale, with thick cushions and pillows. The students love it, but as it turns out, they love it too much -- one of the armchairs has already been broken and the students pile onto the surviving couch and chair with abandon, talking loudly all the while. We had groups of 20 to 30 kids crowding around this seating area at various times of the day. Yesterday, the librarians agreed to move the couch into the silent room and the surviving chair into the quiet room, and we put some admittedly inferior seating in its place in the main library space. I've been warned by students that a rebellion is brewing. Next week should be interesting.

I feel bad for the kids, because they do need more places to hang out and talk. We have literally killed their joy. The consensus, though, is that the library should not be that place, and unfortunately the school can't accommodate the furniture elsewhere.

Dave and I have made some slight progress on the apartment hunt -- we have an appointment to view the one we're interested in this coming Tuesday. Keep your fingers crossed!

(Photo: Kilburn Market, yesterday.)

Friday, May 16, 2014

People on the Streets

I mentioned several days ago that I walked down Portobello Road and then around Piccadilly Circus photographing people. Here are the results.

I look for people who have an interesting appearance for some reason -- maybe their posture or their clothing or their hair. I try to be selective.

The colorful hair thing is very popular here in Britain -- brilliant reds and blues and purples. Hey, why the heck not?!

This woman was looking quite fashionable, with her $895 pink Gucci bag. People sure do love their iPhones, don't they?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Six Minor Things That Bug Me

1. I do not like it when people walk slowly and block the sidewalk. I've already harped about this ad nauseam, even trying to talk myself out of it, but to no avail. It is my single biggest pet peeve. I realize this says things about my personality and I probably ought to continue to work on it.

2. On a related note, bicyclists on sidewalks scare me. If you are on a bike, you need to be in the street, unless you are six years old. Then you are forgiven.

3. I don't like extra fabric in pants. Specifically, in a pair of khakis, I don't like layers of extra "trimmings" around the inside of the waistband -- those folds of white and baby blue cotton that serve no readily apparent purpose.

4. On a related note, I can't stand those little pockets-within-pockets that are sometimes found in khakis. I've been told that this little internal pocket, sewn into the bottom of the standard front pants pocket, is supposed to keep coins from clanking around. Problem is, I can't get my change out of my pocket because it's trapped in that freaking clank-prevention device.

5. I don't like to be automatically served condiments in little packets. Like on airlines -- I never use the salt and pepper packets that come in my meal, but I also hate to throw them away. It seems so wasteful. So I bring them home, and put them in a drawer in the kitchen, where they stack up and sit for months until finally, in a fit of tidiness, I throw them away. It's so crazy. I want to select my condiments rather than get them automatically.

6. On a related note, I think Keurig coffee makers are evil. The little plastic pods containing the coffee grounds are so wasteful! I drink three cups of coffee a day, which, if I used a Keurig, would add 21 plastic capsules to the landfill in just a week. Why, when I can brew coffee in my French press and be left with nothing but biodegradable coffee grounds?

(Top photo: I also dislike it when people throw things away that they could give to charity. Lampshades, for example -- although, granted, that is not a very attractive lampshade.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Double Rainbow

This was the scene yesterday evening after a sunshower, when the sky was still gray but the light from the sun was golden. My lens actually wasn't wide enough to capture the whole thing! I didn't get quite as emotional as the guy in the famous video, but I enjoyed the view.

So, about that prom picture -- I'd post it but I haven't had a chance to scan a copy. So let me instead link you to this one, which shows me and several friends at my junior prom in 1983. These days, we all get a huge laugh out of this photo. (That's me at bottom right.) I'm still in touch with everyone except the two girls in the back center -- I have no idea where they are.

Not much else to report today. The dog is begging me to go outside, so I better get moving before we have a catastrophe!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Blooming Things, Prom and CPR

It's 47ºF outside this morning! I'm not sure why we're having such wintry temperatures all of a sudden. I am back to wearing a jacket and scarf and hat every day. Ah, England.

Things are blooming, though, as you can see. This tree near our flat sent out dramatic showers of yellow blossoms (above), and our own clematis vine is flowering for the first time (below). Dave bought it last summer, but it got broken off two or three times at ground level before it had a chance to get very tall -- we blamed the wind, but it may have been Olga, or perhaps the balcony squirrel -- and we never got a bloom.

We put up a special prom-season book display in the school library yesterday, including the prom pictures of all the librarians. We thought the kids would get a laugh from them. Unfortunately, few of the kids even noticed the display -- at least, while I was there. I have a feeling that when it does catch their eye there will be much amusement! Apparently, after I left my desk yesterday afternoon, one student did mention to Dave that it was curious seeing me both with hair and with a girl. "Why didn't he take a boy to prom?" the kid asked, and Dave had to explain that not so many years ago that was unheard of -- especially in Pasco County, Florida.

It's nice how times have changed, isn't it? Although I have a feeling same-sex prom dates are still pretty rare in Pasco County.

I left work a bit early because I had to go for CPR and first aid training -- a job requirement. It was a four-hour class, and I dreaded it, but it actually turned out to be quite interesting. I last took CPR in 1992, as I was preparing to go into the Peace Corps, and it's somewhat different now. The ratio of compressions to breaths has changed (30 compressions for every 2 breaths, rather than 15), and they say mouth-to-mouth isn't even necessary if you're uncomfortable with it. I also learned that my hand placement for the Heimlich Maneuver wasn't quite right -- I'd previously learned to put my hands below the choking person's rib cage, but yesterday the instructors advised belly-button level.

God knows I hope I never have to actually use any of my life-saving skills. But I guess it's a good idea to have them.

Back to flowers -- our campanula is going gangbusters, too. I love that one little yellow oxalis that sprouted in the pot!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ruin Lust

It was freezing yesterday. The official low temperature was 50 degrees, but to me it felt colder. I took Olga for a longer-than-usual early morning walk, all the way up to Golborne Road, and about halfway through my hands got so cold that I had to alternate putting them in my pockets. Olga, of course, wanted to stop and sniff and examine every tree, post and plastic bag, so the walk seemed to take forever.

A little later, Dave and I walked over to our friend Keith's house for brunch. He made something called a strata, a layered dish of eggs, bread and cheese. Filling, to say the least, and we got huge portions. I wasn't hungry the rest of the day!

When we left Keith's, Dave came home to do some schoolwork and I set out to do some photography in the West End. I walked from Marble Arch along Oxford Street and then down through Soho and Piccadilly. I tried to concentrate on people photos, some of which I'll share later this week. At Green Park, I hopped back on the tube.

My final destination was the Tate Britain, to see the exhibit "Ruin Lust." It's a survey of works from the late 18th century onward that incorporate ruins, both real and imaginary, and examines why artists find ruins so interesting.

It asked viewers to consider what constitutes a ruin. They're not just classical marble piles like the Parthenon or the Roman Forum. Some artists found ruins in natural settings, among driftwood or tree stumps. Mining slag heaps are ruins of a sort. Modern housing blocks flattened by implosion, Nazi bunkers on a French beach, a paper factory bombed in World War II -- all are ruins. Some artists look at the environments of our modern lives and see them as future ruins.

To quote from the exhibit brochure: "Ruins are curious objects of desire: they seduce us with decay and destruction. The ruin may remind us of a glorious past now lying in pieces, or point to the future collapse of our present culture. Certain ruins are preserved as memorials, others demolished or rebuilt. For centuries artists have been attracted to ruins, seeing new ideals of beauty in their desolation, as well as sublime warnings from the past."

It got me thinking about my own photography, and what attracts me to certain subjects: Piles of discarded furniture, closed shops and restaurants, old signs, damage and decay. I always see an inherent poignancy in such subjects, a sadness that accompanies the passage of time, a sense of loss and someone's dreams coming to nought.

Perhaps those same sensations prompted Turner to paint Tintern Abbey. Apparently he and I share a certain degree of Ruin Lust!

(Photos: All taken in Wood Green and Tottenham on May 4.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Chicken Feathers

Here's a post especially for the chicken enthusiasts among us.

You know who you are.

I found these artworks in Shoreditch when I went walking there a few weekends ago. They're about as tall as I am.

You gotta love some good chicken street art...

...especially when it's made with real feathers!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Magic of an Apology

Our weather is being wildly unpredictable again. It rained for most of this week, and then yesterday -- when I lugged my umbrella to work in an abundance of caution -- it was sunny and breezy. I got my hopes up for the weekend and some photography, but this morning it's rainy again. As a vendor on Portobello Road said as we walked past and Olga gave him a damp, plaintive look: "It's a terrible wet morning for a beautiful dog, isn't it?!"

Remember how I went ballistic at work on Thursday? The back story on the incident: A high school boy got "pantsed," or had his shorts pulled down, in the middle of the library. That's what prompted him to yell the f-word, which I heard. (I didn't see the pantsing because the kids were out of my line of vision.)

Well, yesterday morning I was dreading work. I walked in ruminating about how hard it is to discipline the kids and how underpaid I am relative to my angst. Then, during the course of the day, two of the kids involved apologized to me! It's amazing how an apology, an acknowledgement from them that they were at least aware that their behavior was lacking, made me feel much better.

At first I thought their apologies were spontaneous, but then another teacher confessed that she had demanded them. (She'd been standing in the hallway when I threw the kids out of the library.) Still, they turned my day around.

I am continually growing and learning in this job, even if it's not always pleasant!

(Photo: Lordship Lane, Tottenham.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pub Quiz Failures

We re-assembled our winning Pub Quiz team for another go last night, but this time we were not as successful, alas. We came in something like fifth place, out of maybe a dozen teams. Not terrible and embarrassing, but also not victorious.

I was particularly peeved by the question, "What is the only English word that ends in -mt?"

We all racked our brains but all we could come up with was verklemt, which is both misspelled and not English. I told my fellow players, "I bet it's a British past tense that in America would be spelled with an -med." But then I couldn't think what it could possibly be.

Spoiler alert: It's dreamt. So I was correct -- because in my part of the world, we say dreamed, do we not?

I did figure out the only anagram of the word impressive, so I can give myself a pat on the back for that one.

I went ballistic in the library yesterday. Some kids were horsing around and one of them yelled an obscenity -- "What the f*ck?!" -- so I threw the whole group out into the hall. Dave says it's good for them to see the adults get angry, so they know we're emotionally invested -- but I always feel stupid afterwards. The constant need to be a disciplinarian is by far the least pleasant part of my job.

We think we may have a line on a new apartment -- one being vacated by a coworker. I've made a call about it and we're waiting to hear back from the leasing agent. If it works out it would be terrific, because the current occupant also has some not-dreadful furniture that we could buy. Stay tuned!

(Photo: Lordship Lane, Tottenham.)