Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Test-Taking and More

I finally scheduled the test we have to take to get Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. I've been holding off because Dave has been in the middle of concerts and all sorts of band activity, and he didn't feel ready to commit to studying up on "Who was Queen Boudicca?" and "At what age can you get a driving license in the UK?" But I'm getting nervous that so much time is elapsing. Our visas expire in September, and everything has to be done by then! So last night we set June 23 as the test date. I scheduled my test, but Dave -- who has to register and schedule his own -- has been stymied so far by the spam-filter on his work e-mail. Long story, but I'll make sure it gets done.

I'm not too nervous about it. I'm usually a pretty good test-taker. But I've got some studying to do too, no question. I've read up on the history, but I'm fuzzy on some aspects of current government.

We're at that time of year when the garden is going gangbusters. Every day there's a new surprise. The nigella opened this week, and the purple spire of a wild foxglove appeared all by itself in our front flower bed. The roses are insane. Just a few weeks after I posted our first rose of the year, we must have 40 blossoms out there, studding the bushes like fireworks in the sky. Now, as I sit here typing in the cool, quiet early morning, the pigeons are cooing for their breakfast (I usually put out seed in the mornings) and Olga is keeping vigil for squirrels.

We've been watching "The Keepers" on Netflix, a documentary series about the unsolved 1969 murder of a nun in Baltimore, and some related coverups within the Catholic church. Fascinating!

(Photo: A self-portrait in Soho on Sunday.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Piccadilly, Then and Now

Here's another old postcard from my collection. This one was mailed to my grandparents from one of my great-uncles. Apparently he and his wife were in London visiting their daughter, who had either already moved to England permanently or would eventually do so.

From the caption, you'd think the Regent Palace Hotel was the big white building in the middle, wouldn't you? But no -- it's tucked down at the end of that little street at the right. It closed in 2006 after 91 years in business.

Even in 1948, the government was trying to inspire more people to be nurses! (And who signs a postcard to his brother "cordially"?)

Anyway, I went down to the West End on Sunday for a photo walk, and decided to check out the same scene for comparison's sake. Obviously the postcard photo was taken from a higher vantage point, but all in all, things haven't changed a whole lot. Just traffic patterns and advertisements! (This is a heavily landmarked area and all those buildings are protected.)

I had a good walk, from Green Park all through Soho, and then up Tottenham Court Road and through Regent's Park and St. John's Wood to home. It prepared me for yesterday, when we had some heavy rain in the afternoon and going out wasn't really an option. I stayed home and finished "The End of Eddy," Edouard Louis' compelling book about growing up gay in blue-collar rural France. Great book, but the guy pulled no punches. I wonder if anyone in his hometown is speaking to him now?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Camp Indian Head

As we're easing into summer, it seems like a good time to write about summer camp. I'm partly inspired by Mr. Pudding's recent accounts of being a camp counselor in Ohio in the mid-'70s. That's about when I was attending day camp in Florida, at Camp Indian Head, just north of Tampa.

I started at Camp Indian Head in 1971, when I would have been four years old. I think my mom had to work out a special deal to get me in that early, because the camp usually took kids who were five and above. Since I have a late birthday (November) she could reasonably argue that I was due to turn five soon enough. At any rate, I was accepted as the youngest Navajo. (Kids at CIH were divided into "tribes" by age and gender. The youngest boys were Navajos; the youngest girls, I think, were Cherokees. The oldest boys were Crow, the oldest girls, Iroquois. There were five tribes for each gender.)

All these Indian references -- not to mention the camp's logo, a chief in a feathery headdress -- would probably be called "cultural appropriation" these days, but back then, nobody thought ill of it. At least not that I ever heard.

At camp, we learned to swim and ride horses and did arts & crafts and studied wild Florida nature and jumped on an in-ground trampoline that was probably not the safest thing in the world. The older kids took photography and learned to shoot BB guns and use bows and arrows. (Fewer lawyers back then, apparently!)

We ate lunch in a screened-in cafeteria that served sandwiches in white wax-paper envelopes -- sometimes peanut butter with grape jelly, sometimes egg salad, sometimes bologna with mustard. After lunch we gathered in the auditorium, a vast, 3-walled building with a stage at one end. We sang camp songs right out of the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook, like "500 Miles" and "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "I Gave My Love a Cherry." Another favorite was "One Tin Soldier," typical of the pacifist vibe of the era. After the sing-along, we sat or laid quietly on benches lining the walls for a mandatory rest time.

Every Friday was awards day, when ribbons were distributed for distinction in any given activity. And there were the silver and gold sportsmanship awards, a paramount honor that came with a little plaque.

I still have 16 of those ribbons. I attended in 1971 and 1972, and then took a five-year break. I went back in 1977, '78 and '79, when I was in middle school.

I have nothing but fond memories of the two earliest years. After all, what kid isn't happy at that age? I even won the sportsmanship award one week in 1972. I was so happy and terrified when I was called up to the stage that I cried. (That's me at the top, holding the plaque.)

Here's what the plaque looks like these days. A little weathered, but I've kept it all this time.

My later years at camp were not so carefree. Middle school is a rough age for anyone, and I got bullied a bit for being more into books and stamp collecting than sports. (In one memorable incident, my chief antagonist -- who shall remain anonymous here but whose name is still legend among my relatives -- threw my shoes out the window of the bus that took us home each evening. One of my parents had to drive back to Busch Boulevard and rescue them from passing traffic.)

Undoubtedly my gayness was a factor in the bullying, though being ten or eleven years old, I didn't understand it then. One girl -- whose name I will also never forget -- called me a "faggot," and asked me if I knew what it meant. I confessed I had no idea. I asked my mother when I got home, which of course prompted an uncomfortable conversation.

Another memory: I was friends with a boy whose mother worked with my mother, and we used to give each other back rubs during rest time. This incensed the jock counselor who oversaw team sports. One day he made us stand in the middle of the auditorium for five or ten minutes hugging each other, in front of everyone -- I suppose to embarrass us into not trading harmless shoulder massages.

Not all my memories of those later years are negative. I had a favorite horse, Smokey Joe, and I collected award ribbons in subjects like photography (above). I still remember the photo counselor, a laid-back guy who supposedly used to shoot for Led Zeppelin. I got not one but two ribbons for "patience" in swimming, which mystifies me now -- maybe I amused myself by splashing around on my own, and stayed out of the counselor's hair, and she appreciated it.

Another counselor had an exotic pet he called a "honey bear," and I've never been clear on what this animal really was -- I think it was a kinkajou. It added an interesting element to the nature outings. (Kinkajous aren't natural in Florida, but whatever.)

Anyway, all in all, Camp Indian Head was certainly a growth experience. I never stayed there overnight, though many kids did, and I never did the "survival" training, in which older kids went out into the swamps and forests at the end of the summer to fend for themselves. Too bad -- if the economy ever really goes south, those skills might come in handy!

Alas, these days, Camp Indian Head is no more. The land was sold and subdivided in the 1980s, but the road that used to lead to the camp's entrance -- and now leads to a bunch of houses -- still bears the name.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cemetery Karaoke

We had beautiful weather yesterday. Olga and I seized the opportunity for a leisurely walk in the sunny cemetery. She's not quite used to the warmer season -- she didn't seem to want to walk too far, and she was moving a bit slowly. No squirrel-chasing! I gave her plenty of water from the taps along the cemetery pathways to help her beat the heat.

(It wasn't that hot -- mid-70s, maybe? She's just a drama queen.)

Otherwise, it was a low-key day. I read and transcribed some old journals and did laundry. I was thrilled that the yard-waste recycling people finally, finally collected our bags of old leaves and sticks and cuttings -- a month and a half after we paid for the service. (Apparently it took a while for the bureaucratic machinery to process our payment and deliver our bag tags, without which the bags languish uncollected.)

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday. Now that I read them, I don't know where I got the idea that freezing was what would happen. It sounds like surgery is the gold standard.

Someone had a cranking karaoke party last night in the building behind our flat. I woke around 2:45 a.m. and it was really blaring, a group of people singing an unidentifiable modern pop song at the top of their lungs with all the windows open. I debated calling the police, and I flashed back to a time in New York (almost ten years ago to the day) when I was faced with a similar situation. But ultimately, I never did anything. I went back to sleep. Let the kids have their fun.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Crazy Carcinoma Day

I went to the Royal Free Hospital yesterday to deal with that lingering spot on my forehead. Here's what I imagined would happen: I would walk into the clinic, be seen by a dermatologist who would quickly zap it with some liquid nitrogen, and I would leave.

That is not what happened.

Instead, I was told to get entirely undressed and put on a hospital gown. Then I was seen by a dermatologist who examined not only my forehead but everything else, too. (No other suspicious spots, thankfully.) Then the dermatologist, who agreed with my GP that I seemed to have a small basal cell carcinoma, said that I would have minor surgery, probably that same day, to remove the spot. I asked whether they could freeze it off, and she said freezing wouldn't allow them to get enough "margin" so surgery was required.

Then she said she wanted to confer with a colleague, and left the room. In came a medical photographer (!) who took photos of my spot with a variety of lenses. I signed a form saying they could use these photos not only for my records but also, I think, for instructional purposes.

The dermatologist returned with her colleague and a visiting doctor from China (!!). All three of them examined my spot. The colleague advanced the theory that it really was just a keratosis, and not a basal cell carcinoma at all. He suggested doing a "punch" biopsy, removing the lesion and testing it. If it's a keratosis, nothing more need be done. If it's a carcinoma, I'm supposed to go back for the minor surgery.

So that's what happened. Local anesthetic, and now I have two stitches and a star-shaped bandage on my forehead, and the lingering possibility that I'll have to go under the knife. I still don't really get why they couldn't freeze the thing off, because I'm pretty sure that's what happens in the states, but I'm not a dermatologist so what do I know?

Everything is complicated, right?

When I finally got to work, with a gauze pad and "plaster" (aka Band-Aid) over my star-shaped bandage and stitches, the kids were very concerned. It was nice to be asked whether I was OK. Made me feel appreciated! "Routine dermatology," I shrugged.

Here's the good news of the day -- the rescued fig tree finally, finally seems to be doing something. Tiny, tiny little nubs have appeared along the branches. I'm sure these are leaf buds. Stay tuned!

(Top photo: An ornate gate near the Royal Free Hospital.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nod and Smile

Well, the phone call with the bank turned out to be no big deal, once I stopped trying to complain and resist. I just agreed with everything and acted super-friendly and the whole ordeal was over in about five minutes. I suppose I should learn a lesson from this -- just roll with it!

So I have a new ATM card. Oh well.

I came home last night and found about 40 black ants, some with wings, crawling around the woodwork near the back door. I hated to do it, but I got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked them all up, and then took them outside and deposited them in the yard. I'm sure they'll die or be eaten out there, away from their nest (wherever it is), but I can't very well allow them to set up housekeeping in our baseboards, can I? I'm just wondering if they're termites. Once again, I'm glad I'm a renter.

I'm in a better mood today. For one thing, I'm finally getting that spot on my forehead taken care of -- the basal cell carcinoma my doctor diagnosed about a month ago. I have an appointment in the dermatology clinic of the Royal Free Hospital at 10 a.m. I'll be glad to get this resolved!

Olga never came to bed last night -- she stayed out in the living room. I think she was hearing foxes in the yard. (Or were they anteaters?!) I heard them yipping just before I went to bed, and when I got up this morning some objects near the back door had been shoved around, which makes me think Olga was dancing around there trying to get out. Always the hunter!

(Photo: A tiny black fly on Hampstead Heath Extension. I have no idea what kind it is.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Apparently I'm Cranky Again

Did anyone happen to read this article in the New York Times Magazine about Jared Kushner's real estate empire? Or, more specifically, the subdivision of his real estate empire that acts as landlord for low-income tenants in Baltimore, one of America's rougher rust-belt cities? It is a truly illuminating piece. Basically, his firm buys troubled apartment complexes and then harasses tenants who had already moved out to get them to pay for broken leases, even when they had permission from the management to leave early. It's Slum Landlord 101. I almost posted it to Facebook, with a caption saying, "Dear 46.1 percent of America: These are the people you elected because you believe they represent the interests of the working man." But then I decided that there's enough toxic arguing on Facebook and I just didn't want to add to the rancor.

Somehow on the blog it seems OK. By now, you all know what to expect from me, politically.

The nieces are leaving today. We said our goodbyes last night, after hearing about their trip to Paris and treating them to some authentic British television ("Gogglebox," which I've written about before, and "8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown," a game show played by comedians who are much more focused on being funny than on actually winning). They're asleep now, but by the time we come home from work they'll be in the air on their way back to North America.

Dave has a concert tonight, so I would normally be looking forward to a quiet night at home -- except that I have a phone appointment with someone from Barclays, our bank, who's supposed to fill me in about all the percs of our new account. (The account that I didn't even want.) They called me two nights ago and asked if everything was going well, and I complained about the fact that I was told our ATM cards wouldn't change, and then we subsequently received new ATM cards in the mail. They apologized and put me on hold for ten minutes, at which point I hung up. I'm not going to mention the ATM cards tonight. I just want to get through this damn phone call, which again, I did not initiate.

I want my bank to be a silent partner in my life, you know? I want them to hold my money and otherwise keep a low profile. *Sigh*

Oh, and remember how Dave and I had our DNA analyzed? I was recently talking to a co-worker at a party and learned the same test exists for dogs! Well, not the same test, exactly -- but a breed analysis, useful for determining the canine components of a mongrel dog. Of course, we ordered one for Olga, and after taking swabs of her inner cheeks (which she loved, and yes, I'm being sarcastic) we mailed it off yesterday. Olga is definitely a mix of something -- now we'll get to find out what.

(Photo: A parked Volkswagen in Hampstead, last weekend.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Nieces Return

Amid all of yesterday's tragic news, I'm happy to report that the nieces successfully made it to Paris and back. I have no idea what they did there because I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet -- they got home about 11:30 last night. I got up briefly to help them get in -- they were having trouble with the door lock -- but we didn't talk at all because I knew they were probably exhausted. We'll catch up this evening!

So, yeah -- Manchester. I read the news right after posting yesterday morning, and now I see we know who committed this atrocity. Every time something like this happens I wait for the identity of the perpetrator to be revealed, along with some clues about what could possibly have been going on in his (and it's always a his) mind. And then we get the identity, but no clues at all. That mind is always left without illumination, a black hole of evil intent, impossible to understand.

I mean, ISIS sends out its claims of responsibility, its word salads of "caliphate" and "crusader" and other terms better left behind in history books about the middle ages. But they don't help us understand either. That's just some organization imposing its worldview on a barbaric act.

I always wind up concluding that in addition to fanaticism, there's a degree of mental illness at work in incidents like this. Because what else could explain them but utter madness?

As I walked home from work yesterday evening I passed the apartment building above, Elgar House. I love our human tendency to celebrate beauty and genius. Even an act as simple as naming an apartment building after a famous composer shows our ability to create, and to recognize remarkable creations. It's interesting that our human species can be both so inspired, and so deluded.

Anyway, I have no answers. I'm not sure there are any.

I'm just going to keep inhabiting my little corner of the world, and enjoying my sunny days, and watching out for my loved ones as best I can. Because that's all I can do, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Nieces Go to Paris

We've had quite the night around here. Dave and I went to dinner with the visiting nieces yesterday -- once again at our local pub, the Black Lion -- and they talked about their desire to go to Paris. They've been kicking this idea around for a few days, but apparently by the time they got online and tried to buy tickets on the Eurostar, the prices had become insane. They were also having difficulties getting their credit card transaction to go through. So when we got home, I tried it myself -- and indeed, I was getting $800 and $900 fares for the two of them.

I wondered what their options were for flying, so I checked Travelocity. Long story short, they departed this morning at 3:30 for a 6 a.m. EasyJet plane, and will return this evening, at a fraction of the cost of Eurostar. It seems crazy that a plane would be so much cheaper, but it was -- less than half the cost, including airport transfers -- thus making their trip feasible, if fatiguing.

So that's where they are today. I'm having creeping parental worries about whether they'll lose their passports or miss their return flights or get lost or get mugged at the Gare du Nord -- which is silly, because these women are in college and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Besides, getting lost is part of the fun!

I'm still doing library inventory -- DVDs, which are a nightmare to work with because the bar codes are never in the same place from one to the next. In fact they're often inside the cases, which means I have to open each DVD to scan them. I have half a mind to just not inventory them. After all, they're old technology, right? Aren't we going to get rid of them soon, in all likelihood?

(Photo: Someone's sleeping spot in Elephant & Castle.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Peacock and Jaycon

Finally! Some butterflies! I took Olga on our West Heath/Sandy Heath/Hampstead Heath Extension walk yesterday, and we were out for several hours. We saw lots of insect life, including ladybirds, bees and yes, butterflies. I saw a red admiral, an orange one that flitted past too quickly for me to identify it, and this peacock (above).

You may remember that just last weekend I mentioned the dearth of insects at Wormwood Scrubs. Perhaps during the past week more of them took wing!

The dog had a great time. She's in bed now, still recovering. Dave is a bit concerned about her because sometimes after our long walks she goes through a period of very mild limping -- just a little hitch in her step, like she's sore from overexertion. Creeping middle age, I suppose. You'd never know it while we're on the walk, though -- she runs and runs like there's no tomorrow.

On Sandy Heath, I bent down to photograph some lichens just off the path. The pictures didn't really turn out, but while there I spotted this bottle lying amid the dead leaves on the forest floor. At first I thought it was just modern trash, but it's an unusual design and something about it seemed old-fashioned, so I brought it home. It says "Jaycon" and "Jaycon Regd" on one side, and "London" on the other. The unusual screw stopper says "Jaycon Table Waters."

So I did some research and it seems this bottle is, in fact, fairly old. The only Jaycon Table Waters I can find mention of online was "voluntarily wound up" as a company in 1973, but seems to have existed for a few decades before that. So who knows how long this bottle has been lying there?

Another addition to the kitchen windowsill...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Overly Sensitive

I could not get motivated to get out of the house yesterday. Olga kept looking at me imploringly, but it was intermittently rainy and neither one of us wanted to get caught in a downpour. So I read, finishing "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and a couple of magazines and newspapers.

(As I write, there's a big Eurasian jay perched on the fence near our peanut feeder. It keeps turning its head, appraising the feeder from different angles. Poor thing looks confused.)

Anyway, I also weeded the forget-me-nots out of the flower bed -- they're pretty much done for the year -- and tidied things up in the garden. I did all the laundry and cleaned the bathrooms -- which, with four of us using them, is a frequent and essential task. Then, in the evening, Dave made a four-course dinner for the nieces, who had been out all day around Borough Market and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Dave made leg of lamb. As I always say when he makes that dish: "Poor lamb. He wanted his leg."

To which Dave usually replies: "Yes, but I have thumbs."

Survival of the fittest, or at least the most dexterous -- I admire Dave's clarity on that issue, though for me, eating meat is still a struggle. As is putting down slug pellets (which we do sparingly) and anything else that will result in the death of a creature. I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday thinking about a slug that I put into the garden waste bag with the weeded forget-me-nots. Afterwards, I could only imagine it struggling, trying to get out. I even tried to liberate it from the bag but I couldn't find it again. Maybe it got out on its own.

I know -- I am insane. But I feel for creatures in a situation like that -- almost like a physical pain -- and the guilt just nags and nags at me. I am not bragging about my sensitivity. If anything, I think it may show genuine psychological impairment! (Why I only feel that way belatedly, and not when I'm putting the slug into the bag in the first place, is a question I can't answer. I suspect I'm just focused on the task at hand.)

I gotta get the dog to the Heath today. Poor thing has been deprived!

(Photos: An interesting, ornate building I found near London Bridge station, a week or two ago.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Another Big Spiky Flower

A few days ago I was showing off our foxglove, and today I want to turn our attention to another colorful spire rising in the garden -- our lupine.

You may remember this plant didn't do so well last year, primarily because of slugs. We'd planted it in a flower bed where it was closely surrounded by other plants, and some critter ate through the stem just as it was blooming. I built a splint for it, remember? And then it got eaten again, and that was that.

Well, we took it out of the ground and put it in a pot where it could stand alone, like garden royalty, untouchable by the peons and serfs. We put some slug pellets in the pot around the base, although I don't think any slugs have even been close enough to get killed. And this is the result! Not too shabby, although we live with the recognition that it could be devoured any day.

Dave and I have both had a crazy week -- Dave with concert preparations, me with inventory and day-to-day library stuff. We didn't even see the visiting nieces for 36 hours -- they got up after we left for work on Thursday and came home after we'd gone to bed, and yesterday morning, same thing. We finally caught up with them yesterday evening, when they came to Dave's end-of-the-year high school concert. (I say "Dave's" concert, but there were other teachers' students performing as well, and of course the kids were the ones in the spotlight!) The show turned out really well, and I'm not just saying that as a loyal spouse.

The nieces spent time down by South Bank and the Tower Bridge, which they kept calling London Bridge, until I pointed out to them that London Bridge was a different bridge entirely and very non-descript. (And that the old London Bridge is now in Arizona.) They seemed crestfallen, and I felt like a killjoy. But they can't very well go home with their bridges confused, now can they? They're thinking about going to Paris for a day or two, and I hope they carpe diem and do it. I wish I could go with them, but,

Yesterday my coworkers and I were laughing about some of the terrible book covers in the library. This is my personal favorite:

Yes, it really is a book about an evil swimming pool. Or at least a pool at the center of a series of crimes. I haven't read it, and I doubt you will either.

We also have a copy of "The Jungle Book" that makes Mowgli look like a scary gigolo:

We're thinking we need to make a display of bad cover art. It amuses us, anyway.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peonies and Pussycats

I have to be at work early -- I'm switching shifts with my co-worker, who usually opens the library but has another obligation this morning -- so I don't have much blogging time. Hence, iPhone photos!

First, a construction site I pass on my walk to work each day. I've never heard of color-coordinating a construction site, but it kind of works, don't you think? Green wall, green crane. Blue boxes, blue netting. I dig it.

These stickers appeared on a pole near our tube station, in advance of the UK's "snap election" on June 8. Theresa May has called this vote in an effort to consolidate her party's power going into the Brexit negotiations. It's expected to strengthen the Conservatives' hand, given the relative weakness of the other parties -- including Labour, which has an unpopular leader at the moment. Some people fear that more Tory power will lead to "hard Brexit," or getting out even if negotiated deals are not in place to soften the blow. So basically the stickers, which probably come either from Labour or the Liberal Democrats, are reminding voters to think beyond the personalities and vote to throw some speed bumps in front of Brexit.

(The "I'M IN" sticker at the top is a remnant of the Remain campaign leading up to last June's Brexit referendum. Hard to believe it's already been almost a year since that travesty!)

These peonies are blooming in front of the house on our street that's under renovation -- the one where we rescued the acanthus. We're not rescuing the peonies -- I can't see myself asking to dig them up, because that would be both rude and insane -- but I did want to at least take their picture.

Spotted this soggy newspaper on the ground a few days ago. Remember comic strips? I haven't read comics in years, but I used to read them every day on my lunch hour. The paper where I worked in Florida carried two pages of daily comic strips. Now, I'm lucky to see just one strip -- in this case a recycled Doonesbury, appearing in The Guardian.

Also spotted on a neighborhood walk -- someone's groovy leopard-print glasses. Hope they found their way back to their owner.

And speaking of cats, here's one way to make an eye-catching poster for your outdoor music festival -- adorn it with a gigantic picture of your tabby! Best band names: "Methyl Ethel," "Clams Casino" and "King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard." The cat's name, if I'm reading the poster correctly, is Pierre.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Politics (Sorry) and a Foxglove

I went to an end-of-the-school-year work party last night, held in a spacious pub in Hampstead. Of course, after a couple of pints, we wound up talking politics. Fortunately my co-workers and I all appear to be on the same page when it comes to Brexit and Trump, so I didn't have to self-censor too much.

I'm experiencing an odd sort of disassociation about Trump. It's almost like this isn't really happening. We don't really have an incompetent egoist in the White House, hacking his way through the federal government and our treasured Constitutional legacies with a machete in his short-fingered hands. Do we?

Well, yes, we do, but it's still hard to believe.

I've concluded that I, personally, have to just let it play out, however it will. There's nothing more to be done. Maybe I'm still in denial, but I doubt this character will last four years, and though he'll inflict some damage in the meantime, I have to have faith that the government is stronger than he is.

Every few days, in addition to the real news, I take a look at Breitbart to see what the right-wingers are saying, especially in the reader comments. Interestingly, they have no real pro-Trump message. All they can do is whine about the liberal media and invoke outrage at the idea that Hillary would be any better. (They're still spending incredible amounts of time and energy grousing about the criminal, corrupt Clintons. I think Clinton-hating is a genuine psychiatric disorder among these people.)

I have seen right-wing rumbles that Trump needs to stop listening to his "liberal Manhattan family." There is discontent with Jared Kushner and Ivanka -- rooted in anti-Semitism, I suspect.

It's all so exhausting that, on a day-to-day basis, I think about it only as much as I can stand. There is reason for hope, though. Trump is so clueless that his incompetence will bog him down. He may prove to be quite ineffective.

In other news, as you can see, one of our foxgloves (not the rescued one) is blooming quite well already. Dave's nieces had a great time exploring London yesterday, traipsing around Westminster. They didn't get home until nearly 10 p.m. last night! More of the same for them today, I'm sure.

Once again I worked on library inventory in the afternoon, scanning and scanning books on the shelf. I think I can finish the fiction section today. Then it's just a matter of a few small sections here and there, and we'll be done. The antidote to my organization-man thinking about the library, as I expressed yesterday, is to remember that the library and the librarians are there for the people, not for the books. Right?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Biggest Slug Ever

Dave's nieces arrived just fine, thank goodness. After their plane took off from Chicago I had all sorts of nightmare visions of them getting to London and being unable to figure out the Heathrow Express or not having any money or losing their passports, and not having working phones, thus being unable to text or call us. Fortunately, as is often true with nightmare scenarios, none of that happened. Dave met them at Paddington without a hitch.

They got ribbed at passport control by the UK border guard, who told them that saying they're "on vacation" is inappropriate, because "vacation" comes from "vacate" which means leaving, and they'd just arrived! Instead they're "on holiday," he told them.

It's probably a standard line he uses for every American who passes his desk.

Last night we went to the Black Lion, our neighborhood pub, where we bought them dinner and a pint, though I had a creeping fear that their parents would frown at us buying them beers. (Even though they're in college, and of legal drinking age in Britain, and they assured me these were hardly their first beers.) "Are you kidding?" Dave said. "My family would demand that they drink."

I have to show you this crazy garden slug I found yesterday morning. It was so huge I actually ran to get my grandfather's old General Electric engineering ruler for comparison! That slug is coming up on five inches long. It's practically a snake! I let it go on its way because it was in the alley at the side of the house and not really near any vulnerable plants. (Though I hear slugs and snails can travel remarkable distances fairly quickly, so I may regret that decision.)

Work was crazy busy yesterday. We have lots of students doing year-end projects of one kind or another, and for those projects, of course, they need books. In many cases their classes are meeting in the library, too. And I'm coming to that time of year when I'm trying to prevail upon people to bring back overdue materials and return everything before summer -- and instead these kids are checking things out. It's like holding back the tides!

I suspect that deep down, many librarians would be happiest if no one ever checked anything out, or ever touched the shelves, or ever read the books, dog-earing the pages and cracking the spines. The irony! This is why librarians are often depicted as cranky. There's an inherent conflict between our organized personalities and the public disorder of the job. (Especially in a school!)

(Top photo: Near London Bridge station, a few weekends ago.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Today is going to be an adventure. (The next ten days, for that matter.) Two of Dave's college-age nieces are coming for a visit. He's going to meet up with them today around lunch -- at Paddington Station, where they'll be on a train from Heathrow -- and they'll be staying with us. Dave doesn't know them well and I've never met them, but we certainly wanted to give them the opportunity to travel and see London -- so when they asked, we said "Sure!"

I hope they're somewhat self-sufficient travelers. We'll be working on the weekdays during their visit, so it will be up to them to get out and about. We can help them with plans and go places with them on weekends.

I hope Olga is prepared for some severe disruption of her routine! I'm sure she'll love it. Four more hands to pet her!

I've got to clean up the guest room (aka the dining room) this morning and get things ready...

(Photo: An MG parked outside some houses near Willesden Junction, on the way to Wormwood Scrubs on Sunday.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Grassy Scrubs

I gave the dog her promised walk yesterday, taking her to Wormwood Scrubs. We have to walk through a gritty neighborhood of rail yards, on bridges that span an octopus of tracks, in order to get to the park. But once we get there it's green grass all the way.

I thought I might find some interesting insects or butterflies at the Scrubs, as I have in the past, but I guess it's still too early. Maybe the cold snaps we've had in recent weeks put the insect world back to sleep. We've also had very little rain, and maybe that's slowed things down, too.

The grass is high, though, which is fortunate for Olga, the grass-loving dog.

Anyway, we did lots of walking, and while we did that, Dave spent some time in the garden. By late afternoon everyone was tired and the house looked like this:

I sat amid the snoring and read "Lies My Teacher Told Me," a fascinating book about the failures of American History education -- the heroizing of Christopher Columbus, the Eurocentric perspective on the spread of knowledge and culture throughout the world, the apologetic treatment of the racist South in the Civil War, the failure to acknowledge class struggle. The author analyzed about a dozen popular history textbooks, and the conclusion seems to be that textbook authors and publishers deliberately distort history because they want to sell books to school districts that would bristle at anything too self-searching or accusatory. (Texas, in particular, is a huge textbook market, and many Texas school districts aren't going to like a serious examination of America's racial and ethnic biases.) His analysis occurred back in the early '90s, but he says in a foreword that things aren't a whole lot better today.

I Skyped with my mom, and we had some good laughs as I told her about my recent travails with the bank and the yard waste recycling. She's taking a class at her senior center about Thomas Merton, the Catholic writer, monk and spiritual seeker who wrote "The Seven Story Mountain." I once tried to read that book and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. But Mom says she doesn't have to read his books for the class, so she's off the hook. I guess it's more of a lecture.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eurovision Song Contest

Last night Dave and I went to a friend's house in South London to watch the final round of Eurovision, the annual song contest in which musical representatives from more than 40 countries try to outperform and outproduce each other.

I always love Eurovision. It's so glitzy and sparkly and ridiculous and entertaining. This year was no exception and I actually voted for the first time (which you can do via phone). My vote went to Romania for their catchy yet bizarre fusion of rap and yodeling. I mean, how could I NOT vote for that?!

Sweden was really good, truthfully probably the best pop song of the evening. (Sweden won just two years ago, which I suspect worked against them in this year's voting.) Bulgaria scored really highly, which I don't quite get, except that the performer just turned 17 and probably got the vote of lots of teenage girls. Moldova put on a fun show with a nonsensical song by a group with maybe the best name of the evening: Sunstroke Project.

The winner, in the end, was Portugal, with a slow ballad that's almost a torch song, performed by a bearded whippet named Salvador Sobral. Portugal has never won before, which probably boosted his chances -- although the song is beautiful, it's hard to imagine it on the radio. When Sobral performed it as a duet (beginning at 4:00 here) with his sister at the end of the night, I liked it even more.

So, anyway, we had fun. And today I really need to take the poor dog for a long walk, because I spent all day yesterday cleaning and reading at home.

(Photo: Some interesting bottle caps I found on a recent walk. I think the one on the left is from a Tiger beer; I'm not sure about the smiley face.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Oriental Poppy

Among Dave's new flowers this year is a bright red oriental poppy. The plant has already grown much larger than the poppies we've had in the past, and it sent up a big stalk with a fuzzy bud at the end. A few days ago, the bud's outer covering broke and the flower began to emerge.

While bustling around the garden just a few minutes after taking that top photo, I accidentally knocked the pod covering off. Here's the revealed flower.

It's very Georgia O'Keeffe, isn't it?

By the next day or so, the blossom had flattened out and looked like this. The petals are still hanging on as I write, despite some light rain. It's quite a spectacular flower, and we have at least two more buds coming!

Speaking of poppies, it looks like my celebrity poppy rescue failed. The plants look deader than a doornail. Oh well. It was worth a try.

In the department of petty annoyances, remember my recent conversation with Barclays bank? How they wanted to give us an "upgraded" account and I resisted, partly because I didn't want a new ATM card and all the complications that go with reorganizing our bills to use a new card number? And how the bank representative assured me I wouldn't get a new card unless I asked for one, and supposedly put a note on my account stating that I did not want a new card, thus talking me into the upgrade?

Well, guess what arrived in the mail yesterday. Yep -- new ATM cards.

As my friend Tabatha from Alabama used to say, in what may be the most useful expression ever: "You gotta laugh to keep from cryin.'"

Friday, May 12, 2017

All About My DNA

Remember how Dave and I took the Ancestry DNA tests? Well the results are in! Mine didn't contain any surprises -- as I suspected, I am about as British as can be -- but I was surprised by the specificity with which the test could analyze my background. And Dave got a little surprise from his.

As you can see, 90 percent of my DNA comes from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia (probably Vikings) and Western Europe (Saxons and Normans, no doubt). The other 10 percent is divided among "low confidence regions" -- which I assume means the amounts of DNA I carry from those areas are so small that the results are suspect. They include single-digit percentages from the Iberian Peninsula and Finland/Russia, and traces of less than one percent from Eastern Europe, Italy/Greece and Africa (dating back to the time of Lucy, I'm guessing, although the test pinpoints West Africa, which seems curious).

I'd thought it possible that I might have some Native American DNA, considering that both my Mom's and Dad's families have been in North America for centuries. But I have zero. And apparently there was no canoodling with servants of other backgrounds -- at least not within several hundred years, and not that resulted in a child leading to me.

What IS interesting is that the test linked me to "genetic communities" of Ancestry DNA members in Eastern North Carolina. This is completely, utterly accurate -- my maternal grandmother's ancestors are from this very region. (She was born near Fayetteville.) It's not surprising that I would share DNA with people from that area.

It also linked me to "genetic communities" in western North Carolina and along the Illinois/Missouri border. (Interesting that these separate areas share common DNA!) Again, this makes sense. My father's family moved from the Carolinas/Tennessee to the Arkansas Ozarks many generations ago, and he himself was born in St. Louis, and had family there.

I am fascinated that even though I took the test here in the UK, my DNA is specific enough that it pinpoints my American roots!

Dave's DNA, on the other hand, is much less British. His ancestry is 32 percent Western European (probably German -- he has a German surname), 29 percent Scandinavian, 27 percent Eastern European, 6 percent European Jewish (!) and "low confidence" traces from elsewhere in Europe and West Asia. The Jewish thing is a cool surprise -- his parents are devout Lutherans! His "genetic communities" include Eastern Europeans (his Mom has Czech ancestry) and Germans in the USA's Midwest -- again, completely accurate, given his roots in Michigan.

All in all, pretty fascinating!

Thursday, May 11, 2017


When I was in Vauxhall on Sunday morning, I happened to pass this person on the sidewalk. She was trying to call an Uber but not having much luck, and some guy was chatting with her but she didn't seem very receptive. I circled back, thinking I had to get some pictures, but the street was small and pretty much empty, and there was no way to do it candidly.

So I asked her if I could take her photo. She told me to wait until she was finished calling for a car. I helped her figure out the street address, and then the guy following her around began following me around, begging for change. I gave him some, much to her annoyance, and he went away.

She said her name was Society, and she didn't know that guy at all.

She seemed to be on her way back home after a long night out, and I loved the combination of glamour and fatigue that she projected. She was very kind in allowing me to photograph her. Her brown bag contained at least one wig.

I appreciated your comments yesterday about my crankiness (which is better today, thank you). I think a lot of it was fallout from having to deal with the bank. But as several of you said, the current political situation certainly affects all our moods. In fact, when I read that slogan on the cream container about "sharing our values," I took it as a veiled nationalistic reference, though I'm sure it wasn't meant that way. I think it probably just meant the farmers treat the cows well. My personal Brexit trauma gave it a darker cast!

(Admittedly, any time someone makes a reference to "values," I get squirmy -- not because I don't have them or believe in them, but because the word has been misused to justify all kinds of homophobia and xenophobia.)

And how do we feel about Trump's dismissal of James Comey? I don't think Comey's decisions a la Hillary were great, but his firing seems clearly motivated by politics. What's most troubling to me is that Trump is so blind to justice that he thinks it's permissible to fire the man heading an investigation against him. Shades of Nixon, indeed!

I worked more on library inventory yesterday, and got quite a bit done. I may even be able to finish non-fiction today. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why Am I So Cranky?

This morning, as I was making my coffee, I realized we're basically out of milk. There were about three drops in the bottom of the carton. I put those three drops in my coffee and scrounged around in the refrigerator until I came up with an expired container of single cream -- which fortunately wasn't too expired -- and I used some of that, too. Morning crisis averted.

When I opened the cream, I noticed that the package, underneath the Waitrose brand name, bore a statement that said, "Produced with care by farmers who share our values." Something about that statement annoyed me. How does Waitrose know my values? I could be an axe murderer -- all I did is buy their cream. There was no values test at the cash register. Or do they mean their values, in which case, why do I care?

Not only that, but aren't the cows doing the producing?

Maybe I am just especially prickly this morning. Yesterday I had to get in touch with our bank, Barclays, because out of the blue they sent us a letter saying they were upgrading us to a new kind of account. They made it sound fabulous, of course, involving rewards like free coffee at a certain chain of pastry stores, but I was wary. Does this new account come with fees? A minimum balance? They said they were going to send me a new ATM card, in which case, would I have to re-authorize all the billing that goes through my existing ATM card? Gawd!

So I called Barclays on my lunch break, and at first I couldn't even get past their security questions, which are so specific that unless you're staring at a statement, you can't answer them. Which made me even angrier, because I didn't want to have to make this call in the first place, and I'm afraid I gave the guy on the phone an earful. I called back in the evening, statement in hand, much calmer, and ironically, in the end, the bank eased my concerns and I assented to the upgrade anyway.

At work we're doing library inventory, which means scanning the barcode on each and every book. It may sound tedious, and it's complicated by a laptop computer that occasionally drops its connection with the school wi-fi. Shifting the books on the shelves can be hard and dusty work. But I like the task -- it lets me stand quietly in the stacks and think about things while the bar-code reader mindlessly beeps-beeps-beeps over each volume.

(Photo: A big ol' blooming bush, which Dave tells me is called "California lilac," near St. Pancras.)