Friday, September 30, 2016

A Stubborn Footstool

I took this picture on July 22, and now, more than two months later, that footstool is still sitting out in front of this house. Or at least it was about a week ago, when Olga and I last walked past. Clearly the trash collectors have decided it doesn't fit their criteria for collection.

Yesterday may have been the quietest day I've ever had in the library. The high school students were still gone on their school trips, and the middle school kids must have been busy doing their own thing, because I sat at my desk and read. Only at the end of the day did it occur to me that I should have seized the opportunity to weed some of the fiction shelves. We have a lot of decrepit paperbacks -- two whole shelves of donated Tom Clancy books, for example, including some not even written by Clancy himself -- that never get checked out. They really need to go. Maybe I'll work on that today.

The book I'm reading, "Garbage Land," about the world's waste management problems, is enough to make me never want to buy another packaged item ever again. If even biodegradables never disintegrate in the dry, mummifying environment of a landfill, and plastics never break down beyond micron-sized pellets that persist in the environment forever, and the market for recycled glass and plastic is so weak that those items often get discarded -- well, it's enough to produce despair in an ecology-minded reader.

I need a happy book. Maybe Tom Clancy. NOT.

I walked home from work and popped in to Homebase, our big-box home supplies retailer, and bought two new bird feeders (one designed especially for goldfinches) and some mildew cleaner for the bathroom. (The bird feeders were blessedly devoid of packaging, but the cleaner comes in a plastic bottle.) I also bought Dave a new plant -- a type of grass with tufts like squirrel tails that he seemed to really like. But the minute I brought it inside he began sneezing and complaining of allergies, so now it's sitting outside. Which is where it belongs anyway.

Dave wanted to order take-away for dinner last night, and we did. But talk about waste! The bag and the plastic containers, and the plastic silverware and napkins and wooden chopsticks -- argh! I usually wash the containers and re-use them, but we already have a cabinet stuffed with them. It all makes me crazy.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Book Binder

Yes, that is a man in a Scooby Doo suit. When I walked through the St. Paul's tube station yesterday, he was there raising money for some charity or other. I asked for a picture and gave him £2 in return. (By the way, this was shot on my new iPhone -- it's clear but definitely not as sharp as the big camera.) If I'd thought of it I'd have had him turn a bit to the side so you could see the black spots on his back.

What was I doing down by St. Paul's? Well, it's a long story. We've been trying to get five years' worth of student newspapers bound into volumes for the library archives. The binder we work with is located on Ludgate Hill, just a few steps from the cathedral. The papers have been stacked in the library for several weeks. I initially tried to get the binder to come to school and collect them -- allegedly they do delivery -- but that was proving to be a challenge. So instead I decided to just take them down there. I loaded them into an extra-large bag, lugged them via the tube, walked them past the cathedral and up a curving wooden staircase into a shop that could have come from Dickens -- a little room on the second floor of an old building, with stacked paper and binding glue and brushes in addition to more modern equipment, and windows open to the Autumn breeze. I showed the woman running the shop exactly what we needed and emerged, much lighter, onto the street, practically in the shadow of St. Paul's.

It was a fun outing. But the tube was crowded on the way back, and I had a college-age kid standing in front of me -- and every time the train started up he'd fall backwards, step on my toes and drive his backpack into my chest. It happened two or three times and I was about to tell him to HOLD THE HANDRAIL when the train starts, but then he got off. He was plugged into his music and never said a word to me. No "sorry" or "excuse me" -- nothing.

The woman next to me was reading a book called "Emergency Sex," which turns out to be more serious than it sounds. She was on the first chapter, "Condition Alpha." As you can tell, we were standing close enough that I could read over her shoulder.

Ah, urban life.

Back home, the crane flies have once again been coming indoors in the evenings. In what has become my late summer and early autumn ritual, I chase them down and put them back outside, if I can catch them. Dave thinks I'm crazy, but he's used to it by now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Debate

Dave and I watched the presidential debate last night. It's been several election cycles since I watched a debate, but I'd been reading about it all day and wanted to see it first-hand. So we pulled it up on YouTube and poured some wine.

Once again, I just want Trump's supporters to explain to me how they could possibly see him as a presidential figure. What I saw was bluster and bumbling confusion -- his now-famous "word salads" -- compared with Hillary's articulate, experienced presentation. How could anyone, even a right-winger, look at their performances, side by side, and choose Trump as the better candidate? I just do not get it.

Except, of course, that his supporters' minds were made up before they even tuned in. (As was mine, admittedly.) I'd like to say they're thinking about the Supreme Court, or the perceived efficiencies of a government in which a single party controlled both lawmaking branches. But I think that's probably being charitable. I think in reality, they just don't want Clinton because they have their own "salads" of sexism and crazy conspiracy theories spinning around in their brains -- a true Fox News alternate reality. Honestly, they wouldn't be voting for any Democrat. Hillary shouldn't take it too personally.

Afterwards, online click polls showed Trump winning (!), but of course, those don't mean anything. I went to Fortune magazine's click poll and voted twice, just to see if I could. All you have to do is clear your browser cookies each time and you can click each poll a dozen times, or a hundred. They're meaningless.

Oh, and Trump supporters have been giving Lester Holt grief for his moderation, but I think he did a good job. I didn't hear a single question or challenge that seemed inappropriate or biased. Allegations of bias are simply borne of frustration that Trump couldn't give a clear answer.

Anyway, I have done my part to prevent apocalypse -- I filled out my ballot yesterday and mailed it in. I am well and truly finished with this election. (And once again there was a medical marijuana question in Florida -- apparently the first one, a few years ago, failed. So I weighed in positively on that, too.)

As always, it's amazing how narrowly divided the population seems to be. I really want anyone considering voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein to remember that third-party voting is how we wound up with George W. Bush and the Iraq War. Every vote counts.

Finally, in a completely non-political vein, I also took two big bags of books to the charity bookshop yesterday. I feel much better having cleaned off our bookshelf. There's some more purging that needs to be done, but that was a good start. The house feels lighter!

(Photo: Bermondsey, a few weeks ago.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Russian Music

This is where Dave and I had dinner last night, with our friends Gordon and Donna, on the way to Cadogan Hall to see Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra. It's a cute little pub. We've had hit-or-miss experiences here, but last night it was good and we had the upstairs virtually to ourselves, so we could talk in a quiet environment.

The Mariinsky program consisted of three Prokofiev symphonies (yes, three) and a violin concerto. We stayed for the first two symphonies and the concerto, but by that time we'd hit the two-hour mark and I persuaded Dave that we needed to get home to the dog. So we scuttled out before the last symphony. I think the evening was a bit over-programmed. Fortunately, our tickets were free, through a connection at school.

They did play the "classical" symphony, which is probably Prokofiev's most famous. I remember studying it in college. I've always liked it, but I'm realizing as I hear more Prokofiev that it's not very representative of the rest of his work, which tends to be a lot more bizarre and less melodic.

I'm having quite the Accidental Autumn of Russian Music, between this performance and the one we saw at Royal Albert Hall several weeks ago, and the book I recently read on Shostakovich! (Not to mention our recent re-screening of "Doctor Zhivago," which may not represent Russian music but certainly Russian history and culture.)

Work is pretty low-key this week. The high school students are all away on school trips, so it's just the middle-schoolers in the library. They check out the bulk of our books, though, so there's still plenty to do.

Oh, and I got my ballot for the upcoming U.S. election! Woo hoo! I'm going to try to get that mailed off today.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Living in the Dark

Olga and I came across this lonely chair while walking to Gladstone Park on Saturday. In reality, it wasn't as nice as it looks in the picture -- the seat was cracked and flaking. But I saw at least one person sit in it and give it a try. I bet it didn't stay on the sidewalk long.

Yesterday was pretty mellow. I worked my way through two issues of The New Yorker, including an interesting article about a woman whose skin would "burn" when she was exposed to light -- even the tiniest, tiniest amount of light. Sunlight or bulbs, it didn't matter. She lived her life, more or less, in a blackened room listening to audiobooks. Eventually she wrote a book herself, the event that brought her to the pages of The New Yorker. The author of the article seemed to maintain a healthy skepticism about the woman's story, but he left it to the readers to make their own decision.

It reminded me of one of my coworkers, who prefers to work in her office with the lights off, illuminated only by the glow of the computer screen, dim light seeping through two internal windows, and occasionally a small round IKEA lamp. She's never said her skin burns when exposed to light -- I don't think that's her motivation -- but it's interesting that she prefers that environment. I think she just hates fluorescent tubes, which provide most of our overhead light in the library, and I understand that completely.

Anyway, back to yesterday -- I cleaned the house, including the shower, which I am loathe to do under the best of circumstances. Then I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery, where she got so tired and hot that she plunked down on her belly several times on the walk home. It wasn't particularly hot yesterday, but it was sunny. Sometimes she just wants contact with a cool patch of grass or smooth, shady sidewalk.

Last night we watched a documentary about the peculiar case of J. T. LeRoy, the writer who created a public persona as a teenaged survivor of drug addiction and sexual abuse -- and who wrote two books and made public appearances in that guise -- but then turned out to be a middle-aged woman named Laura Albert. It's a very strange tale. I never bought or read LeRoy's books, but I was dimly aware of "him" while working in New York. Now, though, when I see photos of LeRoy in public, with his blond wig and sunglasses, it seems laughable that anyone ever fell for such a ruse.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gladstone Park

I must confess, I wrote yesterday's post three or four months ago, and never posted it because I was afraid it was a bit...lame. But I saved it, fortunately, for a morning when I didn't have time to write -- because I hadn't done my French homework, for example -- and it's a good thing I did!

So thank you for indulging me by reading about a box of old office supplies. I owe you.

Yesterday, after French class, Olga and I set off on an adventure to Gladstone Park, to the northwest of us, near the neighborhoods of Dollis Hill and Neasden. I don't know why we never walk in that direction, but I'm glad we did, because I needed a change of scenery from Hampstead Heath. Olga didn't seem to care, as long as she had her Kong.

Even the walk there was interesting. We found a cache of French and Arabic books discarded on the street, and I picked up a copy of "All Quiet on the Western Front" ("A l'Ouest Rien de Nouveau"). I'm not sure I'm any more likely to read it in French than in English -- in fact, considerably less likely, probably -- but who knows. I might get inspired.

The park itself is about 90 acres, mostly of open grassland and sports fields. It's named after William Gladstone, a prime minister in the Victorian era.

I was extra-careful to keep Olga occupied so she wouldn't go after anyone's football -- and she didn't.

We walked a loop around the outside of the park before exploring some of the paths, lined with century-old plane trees. A railroad line runs through the middle of the park and must be crossed via a gigantic old footbridge, and part of the park -- with formal gardens and a duck pond -- sits atop a high hill with views of London to the south. (You can kind of get a sense of the height in that top picture.)

We watched this guy practicing his tightrope-walking skills...

...and by the time we walked home, Olga was so tired that she couldn't bring herself to carry this stuffed football that we found on the street. She left it behind.

She's pretty much been sleeping ever since!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Box of Staples

Life is ridiculous.

That was my thought when I recently came across this box of staples in the shoebox where I store office supplies. I have had this box of staples for, I kid you not, at least 30 years. Maybe more.

I'm pretty sure I was in high school when I bought it, at one of the now-defunct Eckerd drug stores in Florida. It probably went to college with me. I moved it to all the various apartments I occupied in Tampa, Winter Haven, Venice and Sarasota (at least eight). I took it to New York City in 2000. I brought it to London in 2011.

I moved this box of staples across the ocean.

I also Marie Kondo-ed my life dozens of times during those years (even before Marie Kondo came along) and these staples survived every bout of tidying and purging.

I'm telling you: ridiculous. And the box is still half full. I'll probably have it when I die.

It is something of a little time capsule. You won't be surprised to know that Swingline no longer manufactures its staples in the USA. According to Wikipedia, the factory moved from Long Island City, N.Y., to Mexico in 1999, a casualty of NAFTA.

I like the fact that the "convenient storage box" was considered a selling point.

My first thought on seeing the price tag was that $1.49 didn't seem like much of a bargain, even for 5,000 staples. But on Amazon, Swingline staples now sell for $3.66. So who knows?

(By the way, if you have absolutely nothing to do and want to catch a glimpse of an interesting culture, read all the enthusiastic comments on Amazon from users of Swingline staples. "Using premium staples is likely the lowest cost luxury in life," one wrote. Who knew staples could evoke such passion?!)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Another Kong Emergency

I’m lying in bed as I write this because, once again, Olga didn’t want to get up. She’s curled in the warm blanket by my feet. The dog dictates a disturbing amount of all our behavior.

Yesterday we came home from work and Olga, as usual, ran to get her Kong toy. (She always greets us with the toy in her mouth, as if we’ve arrived to play.) But she couldn’t find it, and neither could we. We looked under all the furniture, behind every door, out in the garden — nothing.

I can only figure that she carried it with her when the dog walker picked her up in the afternoon, and subsequently left it in the street, or she left it in the garden and another animal carried it off. (Could a fox even lift an XL Kong?)

We ordered three more, for emergency delivery today — because even though I vowed after the Heath Kong Thief Incident to always keep a spare on hand, we don’t have an extra. Fortunately, we do have tennis balls, and they’ll do in a pinch, though she destroys them within minutes.

To keep her amused yesterday, Dave plucked our one remaining hard, green apple off our apple tree and threw that for her. She chased it down and began eating it. Dave said, "Apple seeds aren't good for dogs, are they?" So we confiscated it, removed the seeds and gave it back to her, and darned if she didn't eat the whole thing.

In other news, after I wrote the other day about taking my noisy orange juice to English class in college, I got to thinking about my Freshman English instructor. I Googled her up (as we say in the American South). Turns out she died a few years ago — but she seems to have led an interesting life. I always liked her and still have a draft of the paper I wrote in her class, “Mrs. Moore: A Study of Character Development in ‘A Passage to India,’” with her notes in the margins.

Strange, the things we save. I kept it because I liked the book so much -- the paper itself was unremarkable. I don't remember what grade I got but it must have been OK.

I cleaned up some of the garden yesterday evening -- threw away our dying autumnal cosmos, including the white one I rescued back in June, and cut down the nigella and the foxglove. I'm leaving the ragwort for now, even though it's going to seed, because it still has lots of yellow flowers and I saw a hoverfly on it just the day before yesterday. As long as it's benefitting wildlife, it can stay!

(Photos: A mosaic of St. George and the Dragon by Giorgio Barsanti, in Clapham.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hello, Siri

Well, my ancient iPhone finally died. It was bound to happen. The poor thing had been struggling for months, periodically losing contact with its SIM card -- and therefore its telephonic abilities. I'd have to reboot the phone in order for it to remember its identity. It was almost as if it had Alzheimer's Disease.

And then, the day before yesterday, I got the dreaded "No SIM card installed" message -- and I could never get the phone to work again. The reboots did no good. My phone's mind was gone, and any incoming texts and e-mails were drifting off into the ether.

I had hoped to get the phone to last ten years. That was my goal. It was already old enough to amuse people, but I wanted them to fall over with amazement when they saw that I had the last functioning iPhone 3G on the planet!

Oh well. It was not to be. It lasted almost seven years -- Dave helped me buy it at the end of 2009 -- and it survived a rather dicey unlocking and system re-installation by some guy on Edgware Road when we first moved to London in 2011. All things considered, I should be happy I got as much life out of it as I did.

Yesterday, Dave and I went to Vodaphone and I emerged with a brand-new iPhone. Finally, I have resources that the rest of the world has been enjoying for years, like Siri -- who I have not yet met -- and an operating system that is capable of running modern apps! I can browse Facebook and blog from my phone! I could play Pokemon Go and use Facetime! I have a functioning map program! I can store all my music and talk on a single device! The modern world is at my fingertips!

It comes at a price, of course. Especially when you add a few more pounds for monthly damage insurance and the protective case and screen protector -- which I did, because I'm a cautious sort, though I'm thinking about cancelling the insurance.

Last night, we got home and I spent the evening setting everything up -- installing all my music and favorite photos from my other phone, mostly of Olga. I spent about half an hour installing and activating Dave's special Eva Gabor ringtone, which I created myself a few years ago using her snippet at the end of "Green Acres": "Zis has been a Filmvays presentation, dahling."

So, anyway. I have a phone again. Same number as before.

In other news, Dave and I were planning to attend an event at Royal Festival Hall last night that included a digital photo display by members of the Royal Photographic Society. One of the chosen pictures was this one of Olga, and I was eager to see my dog's debut at Royal Festival Hall! But I belatedly realized the event was scheduled to last about three hours, and between having to get a phone and it being a school night, we decided not to go. Olga debuted without us.

(Top photo: The shop where I took our living room rug to be cleaned a few months ago, and which has the Welsh dragon in its doorway. Bottom photo: A poster on Finchley Road.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wood Nymph and Crone

Olga and I found this lovely lady reclining beneath a tree on West End Green yesterday morning. We quickly scurried away. She seemed to need privacy.

Nearby was her companion, a wizened visage with a missing ear. (It was lying on the ground next to him/her.)

We took neither of them home. Dave was thrilled.

Yesterday was a much busier day overall. I had plenty to do, and plenty to tell Dave at the end of it all. So, you know, every day is different. Most of it was inside baseball that would not make good blogging, though.

After work I met up with one of the French teachers, as I did a few weeks ago, to help her with her photo book while she helped me speak French. And another colleague brought me a bottle of wine as a thank-you for a little favor I've been doing for him each week. The barter system, alive and well!

Finally, a few days ago I saw a blog post by my friend Kenneth linking to Juice Newton's video for the song "The Sweetest Thing," and since then I cannot get that or "Queen of Hearts" out of my head. I hadn't heard either one in decades -- what ever happened to ol' Juice, anyway? I was in high school when she was at peak popularity, and we all heard her practically every week on "America's Top 40" with Casey Kasem. I certainly remember every note. When you learn something at a certain age, it never leaves you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Twilight, and Another Kapok Glass

That's our back garden at twilight. I sat out there a few nights ago after dinner with the remains of my glass of wine -- I'm trying to enjoy the garden as much as possible in these waning warm evenings -- and took photos toward the house because the light was so nice. I'm sure the neighbors wondered what the heck I was doing.

As you can (dimly) see, we still have a lot of green in the garden. We may be moving toward fall, but we're not there yet!

Yesterday's big news -- my long-awaited package from Canada finally came.

Can you stand hearing more about glasses from the Kapok Tree Inn? (If not, sorry in advance.) The one I ordered via eBay is on the left. The other two came from that thrift shop in Anna Maria Island. The guy who sold me that left-hand glass mailed it on August 9, and it just got here yesterday. Almost six weeks! But he sent it surface mail, so there you go. It's been on a boat all this time.

That newest glass is just like the one I got when I visited the Kapok Tree in the '80s. Afterwards, when I lived in the dorms at USF, I used to take it to my morning English class filled to the brim with orange juice. I remember one of my fellow students joking about my "morning screwdriver," but I swear, it really was just orange juice. The ice cubes used to clank around a lot. I bet the instructor was annoyed.

Anyway, aside from the arrival of that package -- and some dog-walking shoes I ordered that seem awfully tight and will hopefully stretch out -- nothing interesting happened yesterday.

I sometimes worry when I come home and Dave asks, "How was your day?" and I can't think of anything to say. Do I need a more challenging job? I think about all the work I used to do when I lived in New York -- serving on my co-op board and as an officer of a professional organization, as well as working at the Times and going to the Zendo. Is it bad that things are more mellow now?

Then, again, some days are like that, aren't they? Just routine. And I did practice my French, so there's that!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Super Heroes and a Flower-Dog

When I went down to Clapham on Saturday to photograph the tube cats in yesterday's post, I ran into this bunch near Clapham Common. They were casually walking across the street as if nothing were amiss.

"Are you going to a party?" I asked.

"We ARE the party," replied Zorro/Batman. They paused for a quick photo and then continued on across the park.

Olga and I had our own party in the park yesterday. We went to Hampstead Heath and took a long walk, even though I didn't feel like walking and in fact felt very light-headed. I think I was just tired. (I slept like a rock last night!) I powered through, and Olga appreciated it -- she ran and ran, and indulged her Flower Child instincts in a patch of asters.

The chestnut trees (or horse chestnuts -- I'm never sure) are changing, their green leaves going curled and dry. They're always the first trees in the forest to start looking like fall.

I finished "Hillbilly Elegy." It was an interesting book, but it didn't answer all my questions. Although the author critically evaluates the behavior and feelings of his "hillbilly" family members and neighbors, and discusses why they act politically out of anger and frustration, he didn't get into why he apparently remains conservative, and religious to boot. I would have thought he, as a Yale Law grad living in San Francisco, might have re-evaluated his own political feelings. He has moderated them, but I'm still vague on how much. He's critical of the ways that government treats extended families, and he's critical of the welfare state, which he believes fosters a culture of dependency and exploitation. I'm assuming that's where his objections lie.

Anyway, now I'm starting a book about garbage, and the disposal thereof. You know how obsessed I am with our garbage and trying to discard things responsibly. I suspect it's going to tell me that everything -- recyclables and non-recyclables -- gets poured all together in a big truck and buried. That's always been my suspicion!

Have you heard the kerfuffle about the Great British Bake-Off, which is abandoning the BBC in favor of another channel offering more profitable terms? The comedians who host it, Mel and Sue, have quit in protest. It remains to be seen what will happen with judges Paul and Mary -- it certainly won't be the same show if they jump ship. But bravo to Mel and Sue for backing the BBC!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

CATS in Clapham

A friend posted an article on Facebook last week about a crazy transformation of the advertising spaces in the Clapham Common tube station. They've been taken over, temporarily, by cats.

This is courtesy of the Citizens Advertising Takeover Service, or CATS, which raised money through Kickstarter to purchase the station's advertising space for two weeks and shower commuters with images of cuddly felines. Allegedly, many of the animals pictured are in the custody of animal-welfare charities and need homes.

The idea, according to a blog post by one of the people behind the effort, is to make people and companies think differently about advertising -- to consider the social good and positive messaging that can come from ads.

"Back in February we asked ourselves to 'imagine a world where friends and experiences were more valuable than stuff you can buy,' " wrote James Turner. They wanted an eye-catching demonstration of this ideal, something with the power to go viral on the Internet. Hence, CATS.

"We want agencies and brands to be mindful of the power they wield and to use it to encourage positive values in society," Turner wrote. "Things like empathy and tolerance, community and togetherness deserve to be at the heart of our culture."

Apparently it's going gangbusters. A Google search turns up lots of photos of these advertisements online, and one of the station workers chatted with me and said many visitors came especially for the cats. He marveled that these gates, previously emblazoned with ads from British Airways, were now getting so much attention!

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Well, French class starts again this morning. On y va! I spent the week brushing up with Duolingo and I'm going to try to spend some time with my notes before I walk in the door. As much as I've complained about it, I'm actually sort of looking forward to class. No pain, no gain, right?

Otherwise, we're destined for a quiet weekend around here. Which is fine with me.

I'm reading an interesting book, "Hillbilly Elegy," by J.D. Vance. It's a memoir about a Kentucky family moving to Ohio and their quest for upward mobility, and the ways that they do, and don't, achieve it. The book has been getting some publicity for providing insight into the seemingly irrational political behavior of the small-town white working class -- such as their continual rejection of spread-the-wealth Democrats at the polls. To oversimplify, it boils down to a lack of belief in the consequences of their own actions. The white working class, the author believes, has been both coddled and alienated to such a degree that they don't believe their choices matter -- so they make bad ones in their personal lives and resort to a sort of visceral anger at the ballot box. It's a fairly easy read; I'm going to finish it this weekend and donate it to the library.

(Photo: Peckham. I don't know what that business is on the right -- a bisexual pacifist drumming circle, maybe?)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pam and the Courier

This picture was an experiment. I was siting in the dark living room a few nights ago when I noticed light from outside  -- a security light at the apartments beyond our back garden wall, I think -- casting shadows from the leaves of our yucca plant. I got out the camera. The light was super low so I had to set a long exposure at high ISO, which is why the image is grainy. And it was too dark to focus, so I had to stand up, turn on the light, focus the camera, turn off the light and return to exactly the same spot where I'd been to take the picture.

In post-processing I made it black and white, which makes sense for a picture of nighttime shadows. Here's the color version:

Domestic lighting has a red and yellow tint, which is why the picture skews toward those colors. (I could have altered the white balance, but I kind of like it that way!)

Anyway, enough about that.

We've had an interesting night of thunderstorms. We rarely get thunder and lightning in London, but we had it all last night! That may be why Olga is still in bed. She is not amused.

I got my passport shipped off to the embassy for renewal. They send a courier to collect it, which is wonderful, but I must have been the last person on the courier's list yesterday. By the time I left work at 5 p.m., he/she still hadn't materialized, and I had to run and meet a friend -- so I left my documents with the guards at the front desk at school. That worked. I returned later and picked up my receipt.

I was meeting my friend Pam, who I know from my years in the Peace Corps. She's in town from the states on business. We went to a little pub in Maida Vale and sat out at a table on the sidewalk, among the flower boxes, enjoying our pints in the warm evening. We caught up on all the news, from my dramatic summer to Trump and Brexit. I will miss these long, gentle evenings when the darkness of winter finally descends!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ecology and Edward Snowden

More dreams last night. This time they were about the house where I grew up -- the one my mom sold about a year ago. In the dream, we took down a wall in my dad's old darkroom -- which existed in real life, carved out of the garage -- and found another room behind it, much larger, with lots of windows. Through the glass I could see a tree crew cutting down the gigantic rubber tree that grew outside. (This makes sense, because we really did cut that tree down when I was young.)

A dream analyst might say that was about the hidden aspects of my dad's life or personality -- and loss, as well, given the destruction of the tree. Who knows? I'm not a huge believer in dream analysis but it was an interesting dream.

Speaking of cutting things down, remember how I questioned the destruction of trees and brush in Hampstead Cemetery? Apparently the same thing is happening all over London. There's been a governmental decree that London boroughs should examine their cemetery policies to ensure that there continue to be available burial spaces -- and in some cemeteries this has led not only to reusing existing plots, but to widespread clearing. (Or, one might argue, destruction of habitat for birds and wildlife.) I think it's deplorable. Why are we devoting valuable land, at the expense of ecology, to an outdated practice like burial?

The UK is already "among the most nature-depleted countries in the world," according to a recent report by conservation organizations that found one in ten of our wildlife species is threatened with extinction. (Apparently modern, intensive farming methods are the main culprit. But I'm sure cemetery clearing doesn't help.)

I am not going to go on an overpopulation rant. But you know how I feel.

In other news, I saw that some people are campaigning for Obama to give a presidential pardon to Edward Snowden. I'm of mixed feelings about that. I do think Snowden's case needs to be addressed somehow, legally, and he needs to be offered an arrangement that will allow him to return to the United States. Is an outright pardon the way to go? Or a plea deal offering clemency? I don't know enough about the relative costs and social benefits of his actions to say. But Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky arguing that a pardon should be considered carries a lot of weight with me!

(Photo: Rotherhithe, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Edwardian Hotel, and Tomatoes

Man, I had a bizarre night. I had some crazy dreams, and a long awareness that I wasn't very deeply asleep -- that I was creeping along that border between sleeping and waking. I can't even remember what any of the dreams were about. I just remember coming out of that twilight and thinking, "Whoah."

Dave made steak for dinner last night -- my inner erstwhile vegetarian winced, but it was really good. I seem to remember reading that red meat can cause weird dreams. I'm going with that theory.

Plus, it was hot. Yesterday was a day of record heat for this time of year, and I set up our fan (which I thought I had put away for the season) to keep the air circulating all night. But still, the bedroom felt a bit airless and Olga is like a mobile furnace.

Speaking of Olga, I got our weekend trip to Oxford sorted out. In early October we'll be going here, and taking Olga with us. Looks pretty fab, doesn't it? I stumbled onto that hotel online and it spoke to me instantly. I can just see the dog running wild over all those fields. We've tried to reserve a nice room in the main house, but although the place advertises itself as pet-friendly, I'm not sure the management is going to allow a dog in that room -- I have a feeling we may be banished to the outer reaches of the estate.

I realized yesterday that I need to get my passport renewed pronto. I felt like I had lots of time because it doesn't expire until next May. I was going to do it all after Christmas. But apparently I need more than six months of passport validity for some of the countries we're visiting on our cruise in December. So I'm going to be working on that today and getting it sent off tomorrow. I won't need it for Oxford (obviously) and it should be back in plenty of time for Copenhagen at the end of November. Lord, the bureaucracy.

I can't resist inflicting another tomato photo on all of you. Aren't they pretty? We ate these last night -- well, not the green ones, which fell off the bush prematurely, but the red ones. They're not the best tomatoes -- a bit mealy -- but they're ours! (Dave thinks they're mealy because they're roma tomatoes, which are sauce tomatoes. I think they're mealy because we don't know what we're doing. Could be either or both.)

(Top photo: Rotherhithe/Bermondsey, on Sunday.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Get Well, Hillary

Poor Hillary Clinton. She must be exhausted. I hate the fact that just because she got sick, the right-wingers will harp on about how physically unfit she is to be president. It's almost as if they conjured this situation from thin air, muttering dark suspicions about her health until she really was ill. A presidential campaign could make anyone sick.

I wish she'd been more forthcoming late last week, when she first got the news that she had pneumonia, but I totally get why she wasn't. The Clintons have been so hammered by their opposition for so many years that they're hyper-defensive. Who wouldn't be, in that situation? Unfortunately, their desire to control the narrative often seems to backfire.

I told Dave we should send her a get-well note. I could probably do it through Facebook, but then the Democrats would come after me for donations for the next 40 years.

I wasn't feeling so great myself yesterday. I had to take some Tums at work, and then after lunch I put my head down on the table in my boss's office and dozed off. It's a good thing I'm not running for president, because wouldn't that photo have been entertaining on the front page!

I often experience significant fatigue right after lunch, but I usually fight through it. (This is partly why I hate having an hour-long lunch break. I'd rather just eat and get right back to work, so I can stay active.) Anyway, there's been some flu-like bug going around and many of my co-workers have been afflicted. If that's what struck me it was very mild.

Our tomato plant has suddenly dumped about six ripe tomatoes in our laps. It looks like more are on the way, as long as relatively warm weather holds. We're farmers!

(Photo: Rotherhithe, on Sunday.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Perfect Antidote

Yesterday turned into a beautiful day -- cool and clear and sunny. Dave and I met our friends Susi and Greg, who I know through the Royal Photographic Society, for brunch near Canada Water. I've wanted to photograph this cafe with its colorful furniture for a while, and having brunch there gave me the perfect excuse!

After brunch we went walking through Rotherhithe and along the river. There were kayakers out on the water.

Susi took us to see the remains of a Banksy work near Bermondsey. There's not much left of it these days, but it once depicted a boy hooking a syringe on his fishing line.

We also stopped off to see Antony Donaldson's fountain in Shad Thames. (Donaldson, you may remember, is also responsible for Hitchcock's head.) I took more detailed pictures here about five years ago -- the fountain is now fenced off and there are plans to move it to make way for controversial new construction.

On our way back to the tube we passed Jacob the dray horse in Queen Elizabeth Street. Jacob is a representation of the horses that used to haul beer to London from breweries in Shad Thames.

Dave and I got home about 2 p.m., and our friend Carolyn was due to come over with her small daughters Zoe and Ella at 3 p.m. We did a quick cleanup before their arrival, and then they stayed for a few hours, throwing Olga's Kong toy and plastering us with stickers.

So overall, Sunday wound up being the perfect antidote to dreary Saturday, with lots of sunshine and social time!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Crimes of the Heart

Yesterday was a bit melancholy. Every time I looked up from the couch it was raining, and then just when it would seem to stop and Olga would look at me with hopeful eyes, it would start again. She wound up snoring away the afternoon while I read and watched a movie. It's amazing how much that dog can sleep when there's no other apparent alternative.

I rented "Crimes of the Heart," with Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek, which I loved back when it came out in the mid-'80s. I saw it in the theater with my friend Suzanne and we ran around repeating lines for months:

"She works out in the garden wearing the lime-green gloves of a dead woman."

"I'll snatch you bald-headed!"

And of course, the ever-useful "I don't know...I'm just havin' a bad day." (This from a character who's dragging a chandelier from a rope around her neck. It's a long story.) I have to credit Ms. Moon for reminding me to watch this movie again in one of her recent posts.

Apropos of nothing, this is my Oyster card, the fare card for the tube and bus system, which I got back in 2011 when we moved to London. It's amazing how well it's held up considering I use it pretty much every day. Isn't it ironic that I'm carrying around a memento of the royal wedding? I bear no ill will toward the royals but I wouldn't call myself a huge fan, either.

Anyway, back to yesterday -- I read the newspaper and then my book about Shostakovich and World War II in Russia. It's a good book but I hadn't touched it in more than a week, so it's taking me a while to read. I don't think I'm as interested in Shostakovich as I thought I might be, but this is no fault of the author. Also, I knew millions died in Russia under Stalin, but the book details just how paranoid and murderous he was -- even before the Nazis arrived. I think even Donald Trump couldn't run a nation off the rails as thoroughly as Stalin. (Hopefully that theory won't be tested.)

Finally, I'm trying to get Dave to warm up to the idea of going up to Oxford for October break. We could take Olga and spend a few nights. I found a hotel that looks pretty amazing and takes pets, and I'm going to see if I can work a deal. Dave, the eternal homebody, wasn't thrilled when I proposed the idea, but I think he might eventually go for it.

(Top photo: Graffiti in Peckham, last weekend. I tried to learn who Bertie Bangs is and all I could come up with is a funeral notice on page 31 of this publication from last September. But apparently he is greatly missed.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Montague Arms

At first glance, this looks like your average local pub. It's off Queen's Road between Peckham and New Cross, and what caught my eye were all the signs: live music, craft beers, comedy, American hot dogs, "steampunk" and...taxidermy?

Hmmmm. Maybe not so average.

It turns out that the Montague Arms was apparently well-known until a few years ago for its eccentric decor, including nautical items and Victorian-era stuffed animals. Unfortunately the pub closed in early 2012 and the original collection of memorabilia, including antique bicycles and diving gear and the mounted heads of a zebra and oryx, went to auction.

The pub has since reopened under new ownership and they've clearly tried to maintain tradition -- as can be seen through one of the windows. According to its web site, the new owners scoured the country for wonderful and weird decor "so the macabre and the steampunk are back but with slightly less clutter."

It all looks very quirky and I'd love to stop in sometime when I'm down that way. Unfortunately, when I walked past last Sunday morning, it wasn't really a pub-going hour and the place was closed.

In other news, Dave and I went last night to our school's annual trustees' reception. You may remember we do this every year. This year's event was held at the Inner Temple in a grand room lined with paintings and stained glass windows. We went afterward to Raymond Blanc's brasserie in Chancery Lane, where I had excellent moules frites. Posh!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Je n'ai pas oublié, vraiment

I've resumed walking to or from work a couple times a week to get some exercise. It feels pretty good, in this mild weather. The walk takes about half an hour, and my only complaint is that it's not particularly scenic, at least not after you've done it 100 times. I've even stopped routinely lugging the camera bag with me -- the ratio of pictures to shoulder discomfort isn't worth it.

I got back on Duolingo yesterday to refresh my knowledge of French before our classes start next week. I haven't practiced all summer, so all my indicators -- showing how thoroughly I've learned various categories of words -- have slowly weakened. (The web site assumes you're forgetting if you're not practicing there.) I have to regain all my lost ground. Kind of a pain to work through a million repetitions of "Je suis un homme" in order to prove that I know what I'm talking about.

We tried our homegrown tomato last night. We wanted to really taste it, in isolation, so Dave made a tiny tomato salad with olive oil, salt and pepper. I must say, it wasn't bad, and there is something cool about eating food that came from your own dirt, in your own garden. Especially when you look at all those little seeds and think, "I could plant those and have more tomatoes!" Circle of life and all that.

We didn't plant any seeds, though. We ate them.

Speaking of circle of life, we're at the point in the garden where things are definitely dying back. The nigella is a stalk of round, dry pods, the ragwort has gone brown and shabby, the foxglove is a dead finger pointing skyward. We're considering a big fall cleanup. On the other hand, it all looks very autumnal, so maybe we'll leave it and enjoy the seasonal mood.

(Top photo: Peckham, on Sunday.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Produce 2

It looks like we might get some tomatoes after all! They're finally starting to ripen. I tried to get Dave to pick the one above last night, but he said it needs another day or two on the vine. I hope it doesn't prove too tempting to birds or slugs or other garden critters.

So far, we have three that are turning red. None of them would win a beauty contest, but at this point I just want one that's edible. (Without resorting to the Garden Consolation Prize of fried green tomatoes.)

Meanwhile, you may remember we also have an apple tree in the garden. I never mention it because we don't eat the apples, which are hard and sour. This year we barely got any blossoms in the spring, and consequently there were only one or two apples. And yesterday we spied one of them atop our neighbor's pergola, gnawed by tiny rodent teeth.

At least someone's enjoying them.