Saturday, April 30, 2016

Waffles and Chili

Dad continues to improve. My brother and I spent all Thursday night and Friday morning with him, until the rest of the family arrived in his hospital room, when we went home to sleep for a few hours. Dad was intermittently awake during the night, and he and I had lots of conversations -- and most of them even made sense, which is remarkable, given the seriousness of his surgery and the level of medication in his body.

Finally, about 10 a.m., my brother and I left and went to the restaurant whose sign is casting that distinctive shadow on the parking lot to the left. Those of you in the United States will no doubt recognize it. I ate a gigantic breakfast of grits, waffles, eggs and toast, and I have never been happier.

Last night we had a less successful meal. We went to Chili's, where I had -- of course -- a bowl of chili. It most closely resembled something Olga would eat. So I have learned to avoid that particular chain's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Oh, and speaking of French, I wrote a carefully composed note to my French teacher yesterday morning, telling him I would not be in class today and why. I was pretty proud of it -- I used my tenses and I think I did it correctly -- and I posted it on our class discussion page online. And then I immediately realized we don't have class today anyway because Monday is a bank holiday in England. Merde! So I erased my carefully composed message.

(Top photo: My stepmother's staghorn ferns, which are decades old.)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Good News from the Spaceship

I'm sitting here at 2:21 a.m. in my dad's hospital room, watching the NFL Draft with the sound off, which is the only way I can stand it -- and even then, only barely. My dad is mostly asleep, though he's restless, lying on a gigantic white plastic-framed bed that looks like a spaceship. Hospital beds are just immense now.

The good news is that his surgery went well -- about as well as possible, in fact. Afterwards they brought him to the ICU where we all met him, and once he'd awakened a bit, he feebly talked and joked with us (declaring, among other things, that Dilaudid is "powerful shit"). My brother and I spent the night in his room, while he mostly drifted and slept.

This hospital is nice, with shiny, clean public areas in tones of brown and dark blue, and gigantic, colorful photos of flowers on the walls. (There is not, however, a giant fish.) From all I can tell, the care has been excellent.

I could do without the NFL Draft, though. Seriously. What a mystifying, tedious experience. My siblings know all the players and have endless conversations pairing individual names and teams and speculating how one draft pick affects the others. All the rounds and numbers -- it's like a foreign language that everyone in the room except me can speak. How do they know all these players? How are they so famous?

I can't help but think that if humankind invested the collective time and energy spent on the NFL Draft, not to mention football in general, in developing alternative energy sources or managing climate change, we could transform the planet.

(Photo: My dad and stepmother's side patio. I think my stepmother uses the soap jugs for watering plants.)

Thursday, April 28, 2016


You may be looking at that photo, taken out a rain-spattered car window, and thinking, "Gee, that doesn't look like England."

And you'd be right. Because I'm in....Florida.

I know, I know. Dave is sick, and about to have surgery, and no doubt it seems like I chose the worst time in the world to suddenly fly across the ocean. But that's because I didn't really choose it. My dad's brain chose it.

I got a text from my stepsister late Tuesday night saying my dad was in the hospital. He'd been feeling numb on his left side for a while, but he wouldn't go to the doctor before his regularly scheduled appointment this week. Well, the doctor admitted him right away. A stroke was initially suspected, but we've subsequently learned that my dad has small lesions on his brain, including one that is surrounded by a fluid-filled cyst that is exerting pressure on his cerebellum and affecting his balance.

The nature of these lesions is not exactly clear. But surgery is required to remove the cyst, and that will occur this morning.

My dad is 79 years old, so brain surgery is not a minor thing. I talked it over with Dave, got online at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning and bought a ticket. I made arrangements with work, and now I've joined my stepmother, brother, stepbrother and stepsister to help see my dad through.

I'll then return to England on Sunday, arriving Monday morning, a few days in advance of Dave's surgery next week. He should be fine in my absence, as he's basically just in a holding pattern. I've asked some coworkers to look in on him.

When it rains, it pours -- and sometimes it just keeps on pouring.

Let's have a photo of Olga, perfectly lit on Tuesday by the afternoon sun, to cheer us up.

Yesterday on my flight I got a beef cottage pie for lunch. Among the listed ingredients: fish. I cannot begin to imagine why beef cottage pie would contain fish. Cowfish, maybe?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Walker

Months ago, while walking Olga, I saw this walker propped up outside a modest council flat in our neighborhood. I loved the tape wrapping and its well-used condition, which seemed to say something about being cheerful in the face of adversity -- making a utilitarian tool, a symbol of disability, into something colorful and even fun. But of course I didn't have my camera. No problem, I thought. If it's there one day, it's likely to be there again soon enough.

And it was -- but only on days when I didn't have my camera. It was like the photography gods were playing cruel tricks on me. Over and over again, the dog and I walked past it on days when I was photographically unprepared. I carry my camera about 70 percent of the time, so as the weeks and months passed, the statistical probability of me continually not having it when encountering the walker began to seem truly outlandish.

(Walkers like this, by the way, are called "Zimmer Frames" here in England. Apparently this name comes from their manufacturer. The first time I heard someone refer to a Zimmer Frame I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I saw a photo: "Oh! You mean a walker!")

Anyway, finally, Olga and I came across the walker last week -- and I had my camera! Hallelujah! So I bent down to get a photo, and just as I clicked the shutter, Olga -- lurching after a cat, or maybe the ghost of a cat, or some hallucinated cat that only she could see -- pulled me off balance, causing me to fall against the front door of the flat in question. Mercifully it was locked, or at least latched, and didn't burst open -- but I'm sure I caused a resounding thud inside the apartment. I didn't wait to take a picture. I got the hell out of there before someone yelled at me.

Was I fated to never get a photo of this stupid walker?

At this point, feeling absurdly challenged by the universe, I began carrying the camera every day. And at long last, Olga and I again found the walker unattended yesterday morning. She did not pull me off balance, and I got my photos.

And that's the longest story about nothing you're likely to read today.

We have had very weird weather. Yesterday morning was biting cold -- like, wintry cold. Heavy coat weather, with cheek-slapping wind. And after I came home from work, a strange meteorological phenomenon occurred. It was like God was spitting spitballs at us: little chunks of snow, about the size of a pea. Not quite hail, but definitely not rain. They spattered on the patio and bounced around on the lawn, beneath the forget-me-nots, like little bits of styrofoam.

I've since learned that this is called graupel. At least, I think so. I am not a hail expert.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Itchy Spots, and Prince

I didn't mention that when Olga and I walked on the Heath on Sunday, she once again dropped her Kong toy into a deep, dark, leafy puddle. And once again I was forced to wade in and retrieve it, standing in the opaque water and feeling around with my hand.

I hate having to do that. I would never do it in Florida, where I grew up, because God only knows what could be living in a Floridian puddle. Here, at least, snakes are comparatively rare.

But after our walk, my ankles began itching, and sure enough I've been bitten -- on one leg particularly -- in five or six places. They could just be bites from mosquitoes or black gnats, or midges -- whatever those bugs are that gnaw on me in our back garden every year. But part of me wonders if I didn't pick something up in that puddle. I am resisting Googling "itchy spots bites puddle Hampstead Heath." I don't want to know.

In all the craziness of the past week or so, I also never mentioned Prince's death. I was not a huge fan. But I owned the "Purple Rain" album and there was a period in the early to mid-'80s when my girlfriend Barbara (this was a long time ago) and I spent many hours listening to it in her beige Dodge Omni. We went to see the "Purple Rain" movie -- a few times, I think -- and she adopted Apollonia's lacy gloves and dangly mismatched earrings. When I heard Prince had died, I thought immediately of Barbara and wrote to her on Facebook. It's strange to think we've lost another crucial element of the soundtrack of our lives.

I thought Ms. Moon said it best -- that like David Bowie, Prince "did not seem human. He transcended sex and race and gender and any sort of description. He was male/female. He was tiny, he was huge, he was a screamer, a whisperer, a musician who let loose the hounds of hell and the doves of peace."

His influence also reached into many corners of pop music in the '80s and afterwards. For example, most of us probably know that he wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor's huge hit. I just learned he also wrote "Manic Monday," which The Bangles made famous. And when Y2K rolled around, we literally partied like it was 1999, to that very song.

Oh, Lord. I feel old.

(Photo: Notting Hill, last week.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Olga with Deconstructed Spring Bouquet

Olga and I went to Hampstead Heath yesterday, where we encountered all kinds of spring flowers. There were bluebells -- although Olga was less interested in them than in nearby squirrels.

We found a tulip on the way, which Olga claimed as her own in true dog fashion immediately after I took this photo.

There was Scotch broom...

...and there was an apple tree blooming white, and something else covered with light yellow-green.

And of course, you can't have spring flowers without dirt!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Resting at Home

Good news! Dave has come home. He basically talked the hospital staff into releasing him -- they were reluctant because that blood protein level still isn't as low as they want it to be, but given that all other signs of infection are better and he's only on oral medications they agreed.

He was so relieved to get out of there. Not that the care wasn't good, but you know how hospitals are. He was never able to sleep very well and he had no privacy. He was especially irked by the nurses' penchant for knocking around and banging metal instruments and pans, even at 3 a.m.! Apparently there was a closet or something outside his room, and every time someone opened and closed that door they slammed it. He finally got up in the middle of the night and told them to stop it. (Evidence that, in his increasingly cantankerous state, it was probably better for him to come home.)

I went grocery shopping yesterday and bought easily digestible things I thought would appeal to him -- soup, white bread, yogurt, stuff like that. Olga slept at his feet on the couch while we watched reruns of "The West Wing." Home sweet home!

He's scheduled for surgery in about a week, but at least in the meantime he can now rest and enjoy the garden -- the bluebells and daffodils and forget-me-nots, and the crabapples, which are about to bloom next door.

(Photo: Reflections in shop windows near Sloane Square, Chelsea.)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bring Me No Flowers

Here's one thing I've learned about certain (maybe all) NHS hospitals: They don't allow flowers.

Isn't it a tradition, a requirement even, to bring people flowers when they're in the hospital? I always thought so. But Dave's coworkers wanted to send him something, and they clued me in to the flower prohibition -- so they asked what they should send instead.

I talked to one of Dave's nurses and she confirmed that although cut flowers are prohibited, a plant in a pot is OK. That seemed strange to me, but I figured maybe they were trying to avoid the profusion of vases and messy water spillage that bouquets would bring.

So I told Dave's coworkers to send a plant, and yesterday, Dave got a beautiful live anthurium in a ridiculously large box. We unpacked it and put it on his bedside table, where he was able to enjoy it for about two hours before a different nurse came in and said plants weren't allowed either -- for infection control reasons.

So I brought the plant home. Sigh.

Hopefully it won't matter much, because Dave may soon be joining us here at home. Yesterday the doctors decided to keep him another night, even though he feels much better, has no temperature, is becoming an increasingly curmudgeonly patient and seems to be eating and drinking relatively normally. (For someone who's just lying in bed all day.) Apparently they're concerned about a protein level in his blood test that indicates his body is still under some stress -- even though his white blood cells are normal.

My hunch is that a cost-conscious American hospital would have kicked him out days ago. The British appear to be more civilized about this kind of thing.

We watched "Auntie Mame" on DVD over the last two nights, each of us with a pair of headphones plugged into my laptop with a cable splitter I checked out from the school library. I plan to stop by the hospital again today after French class -- which apparently really does begin this week.

(Photo: Despite the tiny sign on the fence reading "Please Do Not Feed the Pigeons," someone always feeds the pigeons on this street corner near our house.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cookies and a Drawing

Geez, is it really only Friday? Seems like it should be the weekend by now, for sure. This has been a long week.

The doctors said yesterday they expect to keep Dave in the hospital through the weekend, to allow his antibiotics to work more completely. They plan to operate to remove a scarred, infected part of his colon on May 3. In between I believe they're going to send him home on oral antibiotics, and he might even go back to work. I haven't quite figured out the paradox between the apparent urgency of his illness (multiple days in the hospital) and the less urgent approach to surgery (waiting ten days). This morning I hope to get to the hospital in time to talk to the doctors myself and get a clearer picture.

Yesterday at work, despite all my recent whip-cracking, I got cookies and a big "thank you for all you do" card from a group of 10th graders, even featuring a line drawing of me:

I thought that was a pretty awesome rendering! I can't be easy to draw. (Although not having hair probably simplifies things.) I have the card propped up on my desk so all the other kids can admire the handiwork. Maybe they'll be shamed into giving me more cookies. I could be on to something.

I'm finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with my Jack London biography. It's been a good read, and the guy certainly led an interesting life -- he went to England, Samoa and the South Pacific, Australia, Japan, and of course Alaska and the Yukon (where some of his most famous stories are based). This was in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, long before commercial air travel! Anyway, I'm about 75 pages from the end, so I ought to finish it this weekend. For someone who led such a short life (he died at 40) he generated a remarkable amount of material for a long biography.

(Top photo: A new cherry tree planted on our street. See what I'm trying to do there?)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cracking the Whip

Thanks for all your kind words about Dave's health. (Dave thanks you too.) We're still in a holding pattern, allowing the antibiotics to do their thing.

I worked a full day yesterday, after stopping by the hospital in the morning. The best news of the day is that I found a mode of public transport -- overground train -- that gets me from West Hampstead to the hospital in just two stops! It wasn't immediately evident to me, and I had been using a bus that takes a circuitous route "round the houses" (as the British say) to get from here to there. Or I walked, which is direct but hilly.

Now I know I can hop on the overground and be there in minutes. Woo hoo!

Work was uneventful. I tracked down a missing library textbook by searching some high school classrooms -- and I know it sounds minor but finding it was a huge triumph. That missing book has been nagging at me for weeks, and despite my polite (and less polite) entreaties and reminders, the student who checked it out wasn't lifting a finger to return it. So, problem solved. No textbooks for her for a while. (Insert cracking whip sound effects here.)

I also sent a rather, shall we say, forceful e-mail to a teacher asking for the return of a computer charger he'd had out for more than two months. Probably a little too forceful, truth be told, and I apologized for it later -- but hey, the charger came back! (More cracking whip sound effects.)

Ah, the life of the librarian.

The day was crisp and sunny and blue, so after work I walked about halfway to the hospital, taking photos as I went. I spent a quiet evening at Dave's bedside, both of us working companionably on our computers. Modern love!

(Photo: A forsythia hedge in Belsize Park, yesterday afternoon.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hospital Fish

I have a confession to make.

Yesterday, when I said our little family unit had been reunited, I wasn't quite telling the truth. We were briefly reunited after Dave's return on Sunday, but as of Monday, I was once again sleeping with Olga in our bed, next to an empty place where Dave should be. And Dave, well...

...Dave is in the hospital.

Don't worry. We are not in crisis mode. But there are some medical issues that must be dealt with.

Basically, and I'm saying this with Dave's permission, there's an infection and some related issues that may involve Crohn's Disease. These problems have arisen before -- back in 2010, when we lived in New Jersey, he spent a few days in the hospital for similar reasons. (I didn't write about it then, because I was on blogging hiatus, but I took this photo in his room.)

This time around, we spent four hours in the A&E ("Accident and Emergency," which is what the ER is called here) on Monday night, and Dave was admitted. He's getting antibiotics and we're waiting to see what further treatment may be needed.

Yesterday was madness for me. I had my own doctor's appointment in the morning -- the follow-up from my earlier appointment and blood tests, the conclusion being that I am absolutely fine. So there's that, at least.

Then I rejoined Dave and sat with him an hour or two, before going home to gather some stuff for him (like a laptop and some DVDs -- his shared hospital room has no TV), and went to work. I stayed through the afternoon, then went back to the hospital, and stayed until about 9 p.m.

I'll be back today, of course, and back at work, too. Never a dull moment!

(Photo: Hospital elevator lobby. Each floor has a different big photo. Surreal!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring on the Trash Path

Olga and I walked the Trash Path again on Sunday morning. With the coming of spring it's actually looking pretty good -- at least as good as it can ever look, given that it's right next to the railroad tracks and burdened with litter.

Olga with cherry blossoms and sunshine -- a rare sight!

Even the litter looks better when it comes with bluebells.

As we walked, Olga got all excited at the sight of the yellow Coles Express football I photographed earlier. We've walked past it lots of times, but for some reason, on Sunday it caught her eye, and she whined and pawed at the fence in an effort to get at it.

So I got a stick and retrieved it from behind the fence, and gave it to her.

She gnawed it to pieces in about two minutes -- which wasn't hard, since it had been sitting out in the sun and weather, probably for months, and was completely brittle. She didn't seem to mind.

By the way, Dave returned home on Sunday night from his school trip to Germany, so our little family unit is reunited once again. He and the students came back on a bus -- at one point he texted me that he was in the bus, which was on a train, which was in a tunnel under the English Channel.

"You're like a transportation turducken!" I told him.

I was proud of that one.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Since late last year I've occasionally been peppered with little e-mail prompts from fellow blogger Ms. Moon, reminding me that a Rolling Stones exhibit was due to open this month at the Saatchi Gallery in London. (Any of you who are familiar with Ms. Moon's blog will know she is a fan of the Stones, and particularly of Keith Richards.) "I can't help but want you to go and tell me all about it," she said.

I vowed to go over the weekend. I got a bit worried when I tried to get tickets on Saturday, and found the exhibit -- called "Exhibitionism" -- sold out all day. It was like trying to get tickets to a concert! (OK, maybe not quite that competitive.) Finally I snagged one for first thing Sunday morning.

I have to preface this post by admitting that I am not a huge Rolling Stones fan myself. I can't pass myself off as an expert. I mean, I get why they're a hugely influential and successful band. I don't doubt their artistry for one second. They're just not quite my sound. I have exactly four Rolling Stones songs on my iPod: "Paint it Black," "Sympathy for the Devil," "Waiting on a Friend" and "Memory Motel." (The latter because I once visited the motel in Montauk that allegedly inspired it.)

So as I write about the show, keep in mind that I don't have the perspective of a true aficionado.

Having said that, the exhibit was fascinating -- and HUGE! It's taken up the entire two-story Saatchi Gallery, which is not a small space, and features items such as handwritten song lyrics, original costumes, stage designs for the band's tours, album artwork, tape boxes and log books from recording sessions, and dozens of musical instruments (like the Gibson guitar Mick Jagger used to co-write "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and Keith's Fenders, which he praises for their versatility).

There's a room that reproduces a recording studio, and visitors can "mix" Stones songs to elevate or diminish the different tracks. I reduced "Angie" down to just Mick's voice, for example, effectively hearing it a cappella -- and then reduced it just to Keith's guitar. Pretty cool!

There's a gallery that reproduces the atmosphere backstage at a concert. There are loads of photos and tour posters, a section on Stones-themed movies and various video presentations. There's the barber chair Mick uses when he gets made up before a show. There's a section on musicians who have worked with the Stones over the years, like Billy Preston.

Of course, photography was strictly prohibited, so you're not seeing pictures of any of this. And for that I apologize. I certainly would have taken them if I'd been able. The only "photo zone" seemed to be this hallway, at the exit, where people were snapping selfies against the wildly graphic wall.

(Incidentally, I'd always believed the Stones "mouth" logo was based on Mick's mouth -- but the designer says that's not quite true, at least not consciously. It probably is the best-known rock logo out there, isn't it? Just about anyone on the planet, seeing that mouth, knows to whom it refers.)

The finale of the exhibit is a brief 3-D film of a recent concert performance -- and seeing those guys up there on stage, strutting their stuff and working the crowd, well, it really did bring tears to my eyes. I felt like I was there.

The Stones are one of the foundational elements of our pop culture, aren't they? Other acts come and go, rise and fall on the charts, but these guys have been doing it -- and well -- for longer than I've been alive. And the point was consistently made in the exhibit that they've lasted because they are perfectionists who won't settle for mediocrity. They do it, and do it, and do it again until they're certain they have it right.

I wish I could have channeled all that I saw straight to Ms. Moon's brain, but unfortunately this post, inadequate as it is, will have to do!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Giraffe Killer

I came across this little dog on our local high street the other day. She looked so possessive and proud of her stuffed toy, I asked the owner if I could take a picture. "She loves her toy," the owner confirmed.

I didn't think to ask the dog's name. Bad reporter!

Yesterday morning I set out for French class, like a dutiful student, and when I got to the Alliance Francaise I entered a largely empty and quiet building. You guessed it -- classes start next week! So I had the day to myself after all.

I went back home and tried to do all the little things that have been nagging at me. For example, last week, a clumsy pigeon thunked into our living room window, leaving a smudge of pigeon dandruff on the glass. (The pigeon was fine.) So I cleaned that up.

I vacuumed. I did laundry. I took the found clothing to Oxfam. I took all our bedclothes to the cleaners, as Olga has been climbing on the bed after her daytime walks and things were beginning to feel a bit gritty. I trimmed the old blossoms off the amaryllis, making room for the two coming stalks of flowers. I read my Jack London biography, which is quite good.

In the afternoon I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery, where we haven't been in a while. It looks like they're on a massive cleanup effort at the cemetery, removing most of the brush that has grown up around some older headstones. I've looked online to see if there's any mention of this work and the rationale behind it, but I don't see any. Personally, I love the overgrowth, which gives the cemetery a secluded, mysterious air and no doubt is wonderful for wildlife. I don't know why they're stripping it all out. This area, which I photographed a year and a half ago, is almost entirely cleared now, and these are old graves -- I may be wrong, but I doubt anyone is clamoring to visit them. Why not leave them to the birds and critters?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Street Art Tour

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I helped lead a group of eighth-grade students on a street photography expedition in East London. I first did this last year, at the invitation of some of the eighth-grade teachers who know of my enthusiasm for photography, when we were fortunate to have a bright sunny day. This year, we weren't so lucky in the weather department -- but we did have the added benefit of a more organized itinerary. We took a street art tour with a professional guide, who talked about the artists and their work.

Before we even left school I talked to the kids about how to compose photographs, and I emphasized that although light is the essential ingredient for photography, it's perfectly possible to take good photos in the rain!

We saw lots of street art, some of it very big...

...and some of it much smaller. (That's not a personal message to any of you, by the way.)

I think the kids got a kick out of the artists' sense of humor, and our guide, Daphne, was interesting and very knowledgeable.

The students were also on the lookout for good street photography opportunities, and occasionally we saw some interesting characters...

...although it seemed to me that most of the kids were photographing each other. Which is to be expected.

The rain held off all morning, but just before lunch it began to really pour. We turned the kids loose for an hour to get their own food and I and my two fellow chaperones ducked into a bizarre little restaurant that only served three styles of grilled cheese sandwiches. I had a mac n' cheese sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like. It may be the first time I've eaten pasta on bread. (No different from eating spaghetti with garlic bread, I suppose.)

Then we reconvened and headed back to school. The students found it hilarious when one of their teachers was serenaded on the tube by a very drunk, but apparently harmless, old man singing "Tonight's the Night." Urban adventures!

We got back just in time for the school day to end. I completed my regular shift in the library, but by the time I left at 5 p.m. I was exhausted! I came home, cleaned up the house a bit, watched the final episode of "Brideshead Revisited" and went to bed.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Unprepared in Little Venice

I'm off today to help lead a group of eighth-graders on a photography expedition through East London. You may remember I did this last year, too. It's a pretty fun outing!

But I'm feeling a bit slammed for time. I've got to get all the trash out for collection this morning (my life is ruled by trash!), get the dog walked, get cleaned up and ready for work and then, first thing upon my arrival at school, I need to make a presentation to the kids about photography. And have I put this presentation together? Only in the barest of terms.

My unpreparedness is the partly result of meeting up with my friend Pam last night for dinner. Pam, who I've known since my days in the Peace Corps 20-plus years ago, lives in the states but works occasionally in London, so when she passes through we usually try to get together. We met near Little Venice, where the Grand Union Canal, Regent's Canal and Paddington Basin come together. (Photo above.) We walked from there to the Victoria, a pub nearer to Hyde Park, and had dinner and a great talk. It's always fun to catch up with Pam.

Olga and I noticed on our walk yesterday morning that all the crocus blooms are already gone from West End Green. They don't last long!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Recycling Only

Back to Notting Hill today, to get my teeth cleaned. I'm not anticipating much excitement. I hope I'm right.

Meanwhile, Dave is off to Germany on a school trip, so I'll be fending for myself for the next several evenings. Olga and I will no doubt crash on the couch and watch some good movies. A few nights ago we started watching the BBC miniseries "The Night Manager," based on a John Le Carre novel, and although I really liked it, Dave wasn't convinced. So maybe I'll finish that.

I also need to finish "Brideshead Revisited," which Dave lost interest in around Episode 8. As I've said before, and I mean this in the best possible way: Unless a movie or TV show features photon torpedoes or laser guns, it's a hard sell for Dave. He admits it readily. (Somehow "Downton Abbey" trumped this requirement, and I'm not sure why, but I suspect the presence of Maggie Smith -- with her verbal laser gun -- made the difference.)

Last night I took out the trash and found our recycling bin full of garbage. So I moved the garbage to the correct bin, got a Sharpie marker and wrote on the top of the recycling bins "RECYCLING ONLY." I still don't know which neighbor is responsible for the rubbish-mixing, and I doubt this will help, but at least it will convey the message that some of us care! It will probably also make the neighbors hate me, which I didn't really think about until after I'd done it...

(Photo: Portobello Road, on Tuesday.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Garden Cocktails, and the Voyeur Motel

When Dave and I came home from work yesterday, the sky was sunny and blue, and the evening was warm enough to open the windows and air out the house. We made tonics and went to sit on our back garden bench. Yay, spring! (Olga could not understand why we weren't playing Kong with her.)

In fact, it was a beautiful day overall. I went to Ladbroke Grove to get blood drawn for my follow-up doctor's appointment -- my "health check," as they call it, when they review my cholesterol levels and that sort of thing. Of course, Dave made a big shrimp salad for dinner the night before, so my cholesterol was probably through the roof.

It's funny: I scheduled the blood draw as quickly as I could after leaving my doctor's office last Thursday -- in fact, I called while standing on the sidewalk outside his door -- and the quickest the lab could fit me in was yesterday at 11:55 a.m. And yet, when I showed up, no one was there. The waiting room was a ghost town. "Lots of people have missed their appointments," said the attendant.

I bet if I'd simply walked over there from the doctor last Thursday they could have fit me in right away. If they allow that sort of spontaneity. Who knows how these things work?

Anyway, the day was so beautiful that after the blood draw, I went walking along Portobello Road with my camera, taking a circuitous route back to the tube. I got a handful of pretty good photos, I think, but I wasn't super-inspired. I photographed that area so much when we lived there that I'm sort of burned out on it!

On another subject entirely, have you read the New Yorker article about the Colorado man who bought a motel back in the 1960s expressly so he could spy on his guests? He cut holes in the ceilings of the rooms so he could peer down on them, in the name of pseudo-scientific "research" as well as his own gratification. This went on for decades. It's a fascinating piece, one of the best things I've read in the magazine in a while -- and it's written so well (by Gay Talese) that you come away feeling some shocked understanding, if not quite sympathy, for the voyeur, as alarming (and criminal) as his behavior was. Talese gets beyond the repugnance of the acts in order to explore his motives. (Of course there are tons of ethical questions here, as addressed by others.)

A coworker at school told me about the article last week, and as I read it I mentioned it to my boss, who's also been reading it, and we had a lively discussion. A sure sign of good journalism -- when it prompts water-cooler conversations! (I was then a little annoyed when my boss assigned me a task in the afternoon that prevented me from finishing the article, even though I had less than a page to go. Argh!)

Another subject of work discussion: This gizmo at Time magazine, which shows you what your name would be if you were born today. This is based solely on the popularity of your name -- for example, my name, Stephen, was the 26th most popular boys' name in 1966, the year of my birth. Today I would be named Carter, which is the 26th most popular name. In 1910 I'd have been named Elmer. (God forbid!)

Of course, this assumes that our parents chose our names based solely on their ranking, which I'm pretty sure is a flawed conclusion. But still -- it's fun.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Well, I'm glad so many of you don't think I'm completely bonkers for rescuing clothes from the woods. Sometimes I wonder myself!

I forgot to tell you, during yesterday's tales of rubbish picking, that the ugly coffee table has been taken away -- presumably by the garbage collectors, but one never knows. Over the weekend, Olga and I walked up Gondar Gardens, the street where Doris Lessing used to live, and noticed that it was gone.

(Do you suppose it was Doris Lessing's table? Did I miss an incredible eBay opportunity here?)

The cuttings from my beloved bird's foot cactus are putting out tiny sprouts. So it looks like both it and the purple heart, which I reported on about a month ago, have successfully taken root. The purple heart, in fact, is looking downright prosperous, with three shoots and many leaves. Woo hoo!

(Top photo: Marylebone, after French class two weeks ago.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Finding Clothes in the Woods

Last week, all I heard from people at work, from about Wednesday forward, was how horrible the weather was going to be over the weekend. I assume this came from the forecast, though I never looked it up myself. I'm happy to report that instead, it was sunny and beautiful both days!

The sun created some interesting patterns in our back garden, and it provided the perfect atmosphere for walking on the Heath with Olga. I took her back yesterday and we had a bit of excitement.

(Let me just say in advance that I realize this post will make me seem completely insane, but, well, it is what it is.)

When I walked Olga on Sandy Heath on Saturday, I found some discarded plastic bags that had been recently thrown from the roadside into the woods. You know how fascinated I am by rubbish, so of course the dog and I had a closer look.

They turned out to be mostly empty, but some had been torn open to reveal clothing -- two pairs of shoes, three shirts, some gloves, a winter coat and several sweaters (or "jumpers," as they say in England), among other things. The sweaters were still folded, as if they'd been taken straight from someone's drawer.

Well, I left everything there and kept walking the dog. But during the night on Saturday I kept thinking what a shame it was that those perfectly good clothes, which had obviously been there just a day or two, were left to rot in the woods. So yesterday, I took a bag with me, and Olga and I revisited the same spot. I decided to collect anything that seemed useful and take it to charity.

I didn't take everything, because some items really were trash -- old and worn, or stretched out. (And nobody wants used socks, after all -- ugh.) But I took two perfectly good dress shirts and a white printed t-shirt. I brought them home, washed and dried them, and I'll take them up to Oxfam later this week.

I also salvaged these very bizarre shoes -- Reeboks, as it turns out. Size 11 1/2. They've seen some wear but they're so unusual, they might be thrift store gold!

So yes, I'm crazy. I just can't stand waste, not to mention fly-tipping. If there were a public trash receptacle somewhere nearby I'd have picked up the rest, put it in a garbage bag and left it for collection. In fact, that might be a future project...

Sunday, April 10, 2016


The forsythia bush outside our bedroom window has come into bloom. This bush had been severely pruned when we first moved in here, two years ago, and it barely bloomed last year. But this year it's looking much better.

When I'm lying in bed in the afternoon, reading, as I was yesterday, this is the view I have out the window. A bright yellow reminder of spring!

(We don't normally store a measuring cup on the windowsill -- it was sitting there because we'd used it to fill the squirrel feeder.)

I didn't get nearly as much reading done yesterday as I'd hoped. I spent the morning editing and archiving photos, which took a couple of hours. And then I took Olga to the Heath, where she had a long romp.

Last night, Dave and I went to Pollen Street Social, a restaurant we've wanted to try for a while. We've seen the chef on Saturday Kitchen, a popular BBC cooking show, and the food was fantastic.  (Tiny little cucumber cupcakes, and langoustine with fresh peas, and fresh spring lamb, and a goat cheese sorbet that danced between savory and sweet.) We were not disappointed. But after eight courses with wine pairings, it was all we could do to roll ourselves toward an open taxi and, a short time later, fall into bed!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Boy and His Dog

As I was walking near Regents Park last weekend, I passed this kid and his dog. They were standing together outside a shop, and the boy began kissing and hugging the dog as I approached.

It was hard to tell who was protecting who!

We're having a rainy morning and I'm enjoying my brief break from French class. I think I'm going to lie around and read. I have several issues of The New Yorker to get through, as well as a few other magazines, a big biography of Jack London (which I'm not sure why I'm reading, since I've never been a fan) and my unending journal transcription project. Plenty to do!

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Polygraph Test

My outing to the doctor is turning out to be several outings. I have to go next Tuesday to a hospital in Ladbroke Grove to have blood drawn, and then the following week I have a follow-up visit with my doctor to get the results. I'm virtually certain that when I registered with my doctor four or five years ago, they drew blood right there in the office -- but my memory could be faulty. So anyway, I'm not sure why this extra trip is necessary, but I suppose it's a small price to pay for not paying.

In between all this, I'm going to get my teeth cleaned next Thursday. (Why not get everything done, after all?) I can't believe it's already time. In fact, looking back at the post about my last dental visit, I see that it's way past time. I had it in my head that the dentist told me to come back in two years, but according to that post, she said nine months. Oops! (See what I mean about a faulty memory?)

She's probably going to scold me for waiting so long.

Dave and I watched an episode of "The Good Wife" last night that involved an employee having to take a polygraph test. It reminded me of the one time I had to take one -- when I got hired as a cashier by Scotty's Hardware in Florida back in the mid-1980s. It was part of the hiring process. I was in college and just coming out at the time, and I remember being terrified that they were going to ask me if I was gay. Why I thought this would be of the least interest to Scotty's Hardware, I don't know, and of course all they cared about was whether I'd ever stolen anything from a previous employer.  Fortunately, I had not -- and thus began my illustrious yearlong (and theft-free) career as a hardware store cashier.

Oh, and thanks for your comments on my previous post. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one experiencing peculiarities with Blogger!

(Photo: A statue of railway engineer Robert Stephenson at Euston Station, London.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Back Ups and Check Ups

Is it my imagination or has Blogger been acting weird lately? I'm having trouble uploading photos and for some reason, my cursor has disappeared entirely when I'm writing posts. I never know where I am on the page. I suppose it could have something to do with my browser (Safari) or my internet connection (bad, but better than it was before we moved the router into the living room).

Just the other day someone was telling me my pictures wouldn't load when they viewed my blog. Once again: Weird.

It's a bit disconcerting to think that all this time I spend blogging could be wiped out in one failure of Google's servers. Flickr, where I store my photos, has recently freaked out some members by locking them out of their accounts and assigning them new logins, where -- surprise! -- their pictures are all gone. (I'm sure the pictures are still out there somewhere, but still, what a shock!) Presumably there are redundancies built in to all these systems, but sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't get one of those blog books made to keep my posts the old-fashioned way. (Probably more than one blog book at this point.)

But no. I'm trying to get away from paper, after all.

I should at least back up the blog electronically, but the last time I did that, the "export" option was uncomfortably close to the "delete blog" option, and I was terrified I would mistakenly delete it. Maybe that's no longer true. I'll check it out.

Olga and I, once again, are still in bed. I don't have to go in to work until later because I have a doctor's appointment. I went through a spell last week where I wasn't feeling so hot, and although things seem to have improved slightly this week, I figured I should get checked out. I haven't been to the doctor in a while -- I think it's been four years since I've had any kind of blood test -- so it's time. At least it buys me an easy morning!

(Photos: Entertaining neighborhood rubbish bins.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Another Floral Update

Our amaryllis have finally come into bloom. Looking good! We have two more flower stalks coming up, too. It looks like that second plant from the left may not bloom at all this year -- but as I said before, everyone needs a rest now and then.

The white daffodils in our garden are blooming now, too. They appear later than the yellow ones, for some reason.

And finally, the blue forget-me-nots are blooming around the roses. I think these are technically weeds, like the grape hyacinths, as we have them all over the garden and even growing between the cracks of our patio stones. But I like them all the same.

I did decide to sign up again for French. The next term is only ten more weeks, and it seemed a shame to stop now. I had to push myself and forge ahead. Although I make it sound like such work, it really is fun, too -- and after this term there's a summer break, so I can rest and synthesize (or maybe forget!) all I've learned.

Also, I learned that our old apartment in Notting Hill definitely never sold, despite the fact that we were asked to leave two years ago by the landlords so they could put it on the market. (Which they did, at least for a while.) I chatted with them on Facebook yesterday, and promised to put the word out among new teachers so perhaps they can gain a new tenant. Apparently the place has been empty since we left, except for periodic visits from their friends (which explains the forwarded mail). I didn't ask why the change of heart about selling -- not really my business. But curious!