Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Goblins, Real and Imagined

Happy Halloween, everybody! As I'm sure I've said in the past, Halloween isn't much of a thing in our house. Dave and I usually huddle in the back room in the dark, watching television, to discourage any prospective trick-or-treaters.

I haven't had a trick-or-treater come to the door in years and years. I couldn't tell you the last time -- maybe in the mid-'90s when I lived in Florida. I remember some kids came to my apartment in Venice and, trying to be a proponent of healthful eating, I gave them little boxes of raisins. When I told my friend Sue about this later, she was horrified. "They're going to key your car!" she said. But they never did. I wonder if they ever ate the raisins.

We've had some amazing weather over the past few days. I went out yesterday at lunchtime for a sunny walk around St. John's Wood with my camera. It was nice to feel the sun on my face on a workday! I may do it again today, if the weather cooperates.

As I lie here in bed writing, with Olga by my side, there's something in our garden making very strange Tarzan-jungle sounds. I think it's a bird -- it's too consistent to be a fox. Or maybe it's a goblin?

Speaking of goblins, the news has certainly been eventful -- charges in the Trump/Russia investigation (yay!) and an accusation of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey. (In case you missed it, the actor Anthony Rapp says Spacey put the moves on him at a party in the mid-'80s, when Rapp was 14 years old.) I'm annoyed at Spacey for using this charge as an opportunity to come out as gay. Gay men too often get branded as sexual deviants and pedophiles by the religious right, and Spacey has unfortunately bolstered that stereotype. Do I even need to say that it's wrong for any adult, gay or straight, to hit on a 14-year-old?

(Top: Pumpkins in St. John's Wood. Bottom: Pedestrians left, goblins down in West Hampstead.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Halloween Walk

Another day, another outing with the dog. This time I did muster the energy to go to Hampstead Heath, and Olga -- of course -- was practically exploding with energy. So we had fun.

(I don't know what's up with my health lately. I've been feeling very dragged-out and have a dry cough and some chest tightness. It's persisted at least since my cold from several weeks ago. I don't have a fever so I've been on the fence about whether to see the doctor -- I made an appointment and then cancelled it, and then made another. I might keep this one. I suppose chest ailments deserve attention, though I think it may just be congestion from the dry heat in our flat. I used to get that when I lived in New York, too.)

Anyway, on Sandy Heath Olga and I encountered a mob of people with their dogs dressed up in Halloween costumes! We didn't hang around to watch -- and I didn't have my camera so I didn't try to take any pictures -- but I belatedly realized it was the annual Halloween walk sponsored by All Dogs Matter. That's the organization where we adopted Olga, almost five years ago! If I'd realized that right away, I probably would have joined in, or at least talked to someone there to show them how well Olga's getting on.

I've never understood people who carve names or messages into trees. I don't think it happens often these days, and this looks like a pretty old carving. Do you think it's a reference to Lulu of "To Sir, With Love" fame?

Back home again, Dave and I Skyped with our friend David in New York, which was great because we hadn't talked to him in almost a year. (Time flies!) He's been thinking about going to Italy, and Dave and I have been talking about the same thing, so we toyed with the idea of a coordinated trip sometime next year. It might never happen but it would be fun if we can pull it off.

We finished the day by watching "The Shining" and an episode from the new season of "Stranger Things" -- appropriately Halloween-ish!

(Top photo: Some collapsing advertising posters on a message board around the corner from our flat.)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Owl and Fox

Olga and I went to Fortune Green not once but TWICE yesterday. (Basically, I couldn't face schlepping all the way to Hampstead Heath.)

Our morning walk took us on our standard route around the neighborhood and then on a wider loop along the Black Path (aka the Trash Path, though it looks better these days) and up Gondar Gardens, where the author Doris Lessing used to live. From Gondar Gardens it's just a block or so along the wonderfully named Agamemnon Road to Fortune Green. (There are also roads named for Achilles, Ulysses and Ajax in that little neighborhood -- they're known as the "Greek Streets.")

We found a very autumnal scene with a red bicycle. And I've been meaning to tell you that the meat-bag litterbug seems to have stopped (or at least greatly scaled back) his or her (probably his) dumping. I haven't had to report any dumped meat wrappers for weeks now. I still find baled cardboard from the same offender, but that doesn't bother me as much and the recyclers pick it up pretty promptly.

At Fortune Green, there are some large wooden sculptures. There's an owl...

...and a fox.

When our morning walk was through, I cleaned and vacuumed. I paid special attention to the corner near the windows behind the avocado tree. It's kind of hard to get back in there because of our profusion of houseplants, but I pulled them out and cleaned the floors. We had a whole little ecosystem going on -- some aphids seem to have colonized our amaryllis, which are about to die back for the season, and we had a few spiders too. I am all about wildlife, but not in the house. Now the aphids are gone (or at least greatly reduced) and the webs have been scaled back. I did turn a blind eye to a few escaping spiders out of the kindness of my heart.

Then I worked on transcribing my journals for a while, and Dave and I decided to go out for lunch to a cafe on Mill Lane. I had a spinach omelet with baked beans and toast on the side. Fab! Baked beans are under-appreciated by Americans as an excellent breakfast/brunch food.

Then we picked up Olga and took her back to Fortune Green and to the cemetery. She encountered a squirrel along the fenced path and threw herself against the bars so violently that Dave got alarmed and put her back on her leash. (She was fine. She just gets excited.)

Someone went home very happy! Well, we all did, actually.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Librarians Gone Wild

I went out with my library colleagues last night after work. One of them organized a "Librarians Gone Wild" evening at a bar and restaurant near Farringdon. She investigated literary-themed restaurants and when she saw a picture of this table online, with its comforting womb-like enclosure of books, she immediately decided, "That's the place!"

Actually getting this table proved to be a bit of a challenge. She asked for it when she made her reservation and explained that we were librarians, but when we got to the restaurant the hostess was reluctant to give it to us. (Apparently it seats 10, and we were only six.) She seated us in two different places before the manager intervened and gave us the book table after all. Victory!

We had a great time, and eventually managed to both break a glass and spill wine on ourselves.

A casual evening out is an excellent bonding activity!

On the way home I snapped this picture of West Hampstead's rather forbidding Billy Fury Way, a footpath between West End Lane and Finchley Road. It's well-lit at night (as you can see on the left) but I would still do my best to avoid walking it after dark. And the mural, unfortunately, remains defaced after someone tagged it with graffiti earlier this year. One of the grittier corners of our little neighborhood!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Declawing Debate

I see that Denver is considering making it illegal to declaw cats. Some other American cities and regions (I remember West Hollywood being one) have already taken this step. The argument is that declawing is cruel, because the operation requires essentially removing the cat's fingertip -- not just the claw, but a small piece of bone as well.

I have a confession to make -- I had all three of my cats declawed. (Or, as Monty Python might say, my "ex-cats," since they're all "pushing up the daisies" at this point.) This was back in the '80s and early '90s, when I lived in Florida, and I don't recall there being much debate about the procedure. No one ever cautioned me against it, and I never felt any embarrassment at having had it done. It was fairly routine.

I remember the cats emerging from the operation with bandages on their front feet -- I only had their front claws, the sofa-shredders, removed -- and they had to use torn-up newspaper rather than cat litter for a few weeks. Then the bandages came off and they (and my furniture) were fine.

Would I have it done now? I don't know. I have to admit it was great not to have to worry about their destructive potential, and I honestly believe the cats didn't miss their claws at all. They lived exclusively indoors and would still make scratching and sharpening motions, as if their talons were still there.

My main concern about making it illegal is that some frustrated pet owners might feel unable to keep their cats. If they can't face the feline destructive impulse, they might get rid of the animal -- and frankly, I think having a cat declawed is more humane than sending it to the pound. I understand there are other methods of dealing with the scratching impulse -- posts and whatnot -- but let's face it: A cat is going to scratch where it wants to. Cats are known for their independent streak, and I would not have wanted to try to wrestle my cats into periodic claw-trimming sessions.

So, overall, while I think declawing should be discouraged, I'm not sure it should be prohibited outright. I'm afraid that might have even more serious consequences for cats.

Having said that, I just discovered this morning, while writing this, that declawing for non-medical reasons has been illegal in the UK since 2006. But the British feel differently about their cats -- many Brits also find it cruel to keep them indoors, for example, whereas in America (certainly in cities) that's the norm. I'm still shocked at how common it is to allow cats to wander in London, with all the cars and roads out there.

Dave is allergic to cats, so it's just as well that for the foreseeable future, we'll be sticking to dogs and avoiding these issues entirely.

(Photo: A leaf on a piece of shelf fungus on Hampstead Heath, last weekend.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gold Heart and Yellow Chair

I am not feeling so great. I don't know if it's a holdover from the cold I had a few weeks ago or what, but I still feel slightly congested and tired. I was hoping to do another walk on the LOOP this weekend, but that may not be smart. I may take it easy.

Tuesday evening I came home from work to find Mrs. Kravitz's trash cans lined up on the sidewalk in front of our house. It looked like she moved them to get in and out of her side return -- the alleyway beside her house -- so I figured some temporary back-garden project was going on and I left them. They were still there yesterday morning, and they were still there when I came home from work yesterday evening. So then I got annoyed and lined them up in front of her house. Is that passive-aggressive? Probably. But would you put your trash cans in front of your neighbor's house for more than a day, without saying anything, while leaving the front of your own house pristine? Who does that?!

I found a terrific yellow wooden chair yesterday while walking the dog. It had been set out for the trash collection and was dirty -- looked like it had been sitting in someone's garage for a couple of years -- but I brought it home and then texted Dave, who had already gone to work and would return home before me: "Don't make any judgments about my yellow chair until I've had a chance to clean it up!" He wrote back: "Ha!" and no doubt rolled his eyes. Well, I did clean it up last night, and it looks pretty good. Fashionably distressed, I would say. It's now brightening up our front room!

(Top photo: A heart-shaped mylar balloon mysteriously tied to a fence in Petts Wood, a couple of weeks ago.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Greece 2000

I transcribed my journal entry last night from my trip to the Greek islands, in May 2000. I went with my friend Liz and we had a fabulous time visiting Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini and Crete, as well as Delphi on the Greek mainland. It was an amazing vacation, made all the more spectacular because I was at a pivotal time in my life -- I'd just accepted the new job that would take me from Florida to New York City. In fact, I had to call my boss from Mykonos to resign my old position!

Unfortunately, this was also the trip where, on our next-to-last day, a taxi driver drove away with my bag in the trunk of his car, never to be seen again. So I lost all my clothing, my camera, my pictures and my souvenirs. Fortunately, I had my passport, cash and plane ticket in a money belt on my body, and I flew home the next day completely empty-handed except for a bag containing three jars of Greek honey that I bought for some friends.

Liz later mailed me copies of all her photos, which is the only reason I remember anything at all. To date, losing that bag remains my most severe travel mishap!

Liz's photo above shows me on Santorini. I believe it was the day we hiked to the ruins of the ancient city of Fira, overlooking the Aegean Sea and the modern towns below. It must have been windy up there -- I'm holding onto my hat!

True to form, I did manage to save my favorite form of ephemera, my beer labels. (I think I had them tucked into our Lonely Planet guidebook when my bag went missing, and I was reading the book at the time, so they survived too.)

Anyway, when I got back to Florida I wrote a marathon journal entry, in which I recorded all the details of the trip -- the restaurants where we ate, the bars we visited, our night disco-ing with Norwegian visitors Roland and Kristina on Naxos, and our night disco-ing with Australians Troy and Andrew in Hania, Crete. Not to mention my night making out with adorable German florist Dirk on a dance floor in Mykonos. It was a crazy time!

We also hiked the Samaria Gorge in Crete, a 10-mile trek through pine forests and meadows studded with wild thyme. On Mykonos we wandered whitewashed streets draped with bougainvillea, and saw pink pelicans and canvas windmills. On Naxos, we visited a pottery studio and were lured by a deceptively friendly older couple into their home -- ultimately, it turned out, so they could sell us embroidery. (Liz bought a few items to be nice, as I recall.) On Crete we stayed in an old house built by the Venetians 800 years earlier -- at least, according to the landlady.

I'm so glad I managed to write down the details of that journey -- especially since the travel journal I kept during the trip went missing with the rest of my bag. (I took solace in the fact that my handwriting is so spidery, no Greek person was likely to be able to read about my escapade with Dirk.) It was great to relive those memories last night!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dead Sleep and Morning Sleep

It's funny how every deciduous tree has its own method of turning color in the fall. Sometimes the leaves yellow from the outer edge. Sometimes they turn almost uniformly. And sometimes, as in this case, they change color in the center while maintaining patches and an outer fringe of green.

We're back in the trenches at work, after our weeklong break for a two-day vacation, a professional development day and two parent conference days. The kids were absent for all of that, but now they've returned, the little monsters angels. And I'm back at my desk, shelf-weeding suspended for the moment.

I've joined the health plan at work, something I never bothered to do when we moved here because I had the NHS to take care of me. But I've since realized that it can be faster to do certain medical procedures privately, so I now have insurance too. (Yes, it's emblematic of our unjust world that I am doubly insured when lots of people can't even get coverage. It's outrageous, honestly.) At least it saves the NHS some money if I pay for things myself via insurance.

A fringe benefit of our insurance plan is that we get "free" movie tickets every month or quarter or something. (I say "free," in quotes, because obviously we're paying for 'em somehow.) So maybe Dave and I will be going back to the theater now and then. I can't remember the last movie we saw at a cinema. It may have been "Rogue One" last December.

I read an interesting New Yorker article about sleep. Did you know that historically, humans didn't expect to sleep straight through the night, the way we do now? They saw sleep as periods of slumber broken by intermittent wakefulness -- "dead sleep" and then "morning sleep," with a bit of time in between. I thought that was pretty interesting. We're so concerned with getting a "good night's sleep," but apparently that doesn't need to mean unbroken sleep all night. I find that I often wake around 2:30 or so, enough to become aware and occasionally to get up for a drink of water or a quick walk through the flat -- to check things out and take random pictures of the houseplants -- and then I go back to sleep. I guess that's a fairly natural sleep rhythm.

(I'm joking about the houseplants. I only did that once!)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Smoking at the Open Cafe

About the most exciting thing that happened around here yesterday is I finally finished my book. And I finished most of a New Yorker, which was interesting (as usual) but included a dispiriting article about Mike Pence and his many connections to the same old cadre of Washington, D.C. string-pullers like the Koch brothers. Those people have their fingers in everything. I despair for the environment, the climate, the wilderness, when they're pouring millions into looking out for their own profits and business interests.

Their approach seems awfully short-sighted, doesn't it? Do profits mean anything when the world is aflame and being raked by ever-more-powerful hurricanes? I guess the Koch brothers don't care. They're going to be ensconced in some hurricane-proof fortress.

But anyway, let's not go down that rabbit hole. I took Olga to Fortune Green and the cemetery in the afternoon, and I watched a Channel 4 documentary about George Michael that was interesting -- Michael was working on the film when he died, and it reminded me of many things I'd forgotten about his career, like his long contract dispute with Sony records that paralyzed his productivity for a time in the '90s and the death of his boyfriend from AIDS.

I also typed up some more journal entries. I'm up to April 2000 and a trip I took to London and Paris with a friend -- my first visit to both places. Who knew when I was walking around London back then that I'd eventually be living here? Life is so strange.

I wrote about one memorable evening at a bar in Paris called the Open Cafe, which I happily discovered is still there. Apparently I was quite enamored with our chirpy Bohemian pigtailed waitress, in a purely platonic I'd-like-to-be-your-roommate kind of way. My friend and I drank like fish and decided to smoke cigarettes -- a "when in Rome" impulse -- and then went dancing, and I paid dearly the next morning. It's the only time I've ever smoked tobacco, aside from a few experimental months in college when I puffed but never inhaled, and I walked around Versailles the next day with a terrible hangover.

Ah, youth. I'm glad it's behind me!

(Photo: Our plant-filled living room, seen through two layers of windows from the bedroom.)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Jack-O-Lantern with Snake Venom

I was just telling someone the other day that I hadn't seen many Halloween decorations yet this year -- and then  suddenly, when I walked Olga to the Heath yesterday, I came across lots of them.

The jack-o-lantern above was especially crazy. It may be hard to tell from the photo, but it's located in a sort of light well that leads down to a basement window. It's sitting down there, peering up at passersby on the pavement. I hope they light it at night!

And then there was this house, which had evidently been assailed by numerous destructive ghosts.

As I've said in past years, Halloween isn't as big in the UK as it is in the United States, but I have seen a handful of shops with Halloween signs in the windows. Then again, we live in an area of London with lots of North Americans, so we may see more of this kind of thing.

So, yes, despite the threat of storm Brian, I did get Olga to the Heath yesterday. The weather actually wasn't bad at all -- cool and very windy but intermittently sunny and blue-skied. I enjoyed it! (Apparently Brian wasn't as bad overall as initially feared.)

I got plenty of reading done, too. I've been reading an excellent book, "Want Not" by Jonathan Miles, and although I've enjoyed it I feel like I've been carrying it around too long and I really want to be done with it. I bought David Yaffe's new biography of Joni Mitchell and I'm eager to start that, but I also have to read a novel for an upcoming book event at work, and I suppose I have to get that out of the way first.

Last night Dave and I invited one of his coworkers, as well as that coworker's wife, over for dinner. It was fun, and they told us about renting their apartment from a musician who has become somewhat famous for recreationally injecting himself with snake venom (!). They say he's actually a great landlord! Dave made parsnip and apple soup, a shredded crab and watercress salad, mushroom and artichoke risotto, and apple crumble for dessert. I just now finished loading the dishwasher with the third and final load of dishes -- I did the second load at 2:30 a.m. or so -- and I finished handwashing all the stemware. I could use a snake venom booster myself! Whew!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

iPhone Photos: Autumn Edition

After my last iPhone photo post, a friend asked me why I specified that the photos were from my phone rather than my camera. "Are you not happy with them? They all look fine to me," he said. Calling them "only iPhone photos" does them a disservice, he thought.

It's not that I'm not happy with them -- in fact, if anything, I'm thrilled with the quality of my phone's camera. But I do think of them more like snapshots, and I group them together because they seem related to me -- things I've noticed while walking around, mainly on dog walks!

Like the pig above, which stands in front of a house on our street. Someone decorated it with fallen apples from a nearby tree, which always roll around in the road at this time of year.

Here's a colorful moving truck I found in my neighborhood. The M25, also known as the London Orbital Motorway, is a superhighway that circles the city. The style of the sign caught my eye -- I'm pretty sure it's an American interstate highway sign, not one that the British use. (Am I wrong about that, British drivers?)

More free stuff -- some chairs and some big plastic toys.

This is the playground where the "color box" used to stand. I photographed Olga there a couple of times. The big climbing structure with the colored plastic panels has been removed and the whole park is being renovated.

See the forlorn houseplant sitting on the pavement at the right? I rescued it from someone's trash can. That's the one I had to buy a pot for a couple of weeks ago. It lives in our dining room now, though it's still looking pretty sorry.

What we have here...is a failure to communicate.

Seriously, these street bins are emblematic of the struggles that London has with rubbish. They're always overflowing and  disgusting.

I passed this guy's barber shop on one of my walks. I've never before seen this spelling of that name. Almost all the vowels! I think he should change it to "Ieouan," just for good measure.

Found this in a book in the library. Why?!

The mysteries of the teenage sense of humor...

Also in the library -- the evening sun shining across the floor, just as I was locking up. This was a couple of weeks ago and now it's already darker when I close the library at 5 p.m.

And finally, two pairs of free shoes on a wall near our flat. I've found matched pairs of shoes here before. Maybe twins live there?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Dogs Reading and Starlet Blues

Apparently we're in for some stormy weather this weekend. There's something with the provocative label of a "weather bomb" brewing out in the Atlantic, and Brian (as the storm has been named) is supposed to strike the southwestern UK on Saturday with high winds and rain. The warning area includes London, although when I look at my local weather forecast it says the rain chance is only 20 percent, so who knows. Contradictory information! I could stand a day of staying inside and reading, to be honest.

We librarians had our annual group picture taken. I didn't mention it this year, did I? Well, we always do a photo with some kind of theme -- remember a few years ago, when we had our tie-dyeing party and were photographed wearing the results?

This year, the theme included our pets!

Three of the four of us have dogs, and at some point last year someone came up with the bright idea of Tweeting (on the library's account) pictures of our dogs "reading," just to be silly. I swear I did not originate this idea, but I did go along with it. I took a picture of Olga lying rather disinterestedly next to a book (ironically a book I didn't like very much, "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes).

A few weeks ago, we decided to incorporate our pet pictures into our group photo. We had them printed at the school -- which gave the teacher in the robotics lab a chance to experiment with his new, large-scale printer -- and then we held them in front of us for the final image. (I'm just showing you me, and not the whole group, because I'm not sure my colleagues would want to be blogged!)

We were originally going to wear t-shirts with the pictures ironed onto the front of them, but we had technical problems with the iron-on materials and had to go to Plan B.

Anyway, the group photo is always a fun little team-building exercise.

On a completely unrelated subject, I forgot to tell you a story about my Jane Fonda outing with Dave on Sunday. We were sitting in the audience waiting for the show to start when a man and woman sat down behind us. The woman, who sounded American, proceeded to regale the man with tales of acting and her cancelled TV show -- "they say they only want shows with the potential to be as popular as 'Game of Thrones,'" she told him -- and her plans to stay in Europe most of the coming year filming something or other. I looked at Dave and whispered, "I am dying to turn around." Who could this person be?

I developed some theories, and then stood up to "remove my jacket" while discreetly stealing a glance. I am disappointed to say I had no idea who she was. She didn't look familiar at all. Kind of generic, actually. Twentysomething. Long, brown hair.

I sat back down and told Dave I didn't have a clue as to her identity.

"That's because it's all lies," he said -- rather caustically, I thought.

(Top photo: Yellow trees near a tennis court in West Wickham, London.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Autumn Garden

The garden is taking on autumnal hues these days. The loosestrife has lost all its bright purple flowers, and its tiny leaves have turned crimson and yellow.

The inulas are still towering over the other plants, but all their blossoms have dropped away and been replaced by bristly seedheads. (Well, not quite all -- I see one yellow flower out there still.) Their leaves are turning yellow and brown, too.

The teasels look entirely dead. We've left them up because supposedly birds like to feast on the seeds, but I haven't seen a single bird touch these spiny cones.

The cardoon is, likewise, entirely brown now. Did it really bloom at the end of October a couple of years ago?!

The nasturtiums are looking tired, but they're still cranking out flowers. The roses have a few last blossoms too, their pink, yellow and red softening the otherwise decrepit-looking flowerbed.

And the hydrangea flowers are beginning to blotch and fade, but still add a touch of color -- especially when paired with the plant's purpling leaves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

West Wickham to Hamsey Green

I walked my sixth segment of the LOOP yesterday -- which means I've done a quarter of the entire 150-mile path! Woo hoo! If I keep up my current pace I'll be finished in April or so.

Of course, who knows what winter and the holidays will bring. Not ideal walking circumstances. I may get slower.

Yesterday's walk took me ten miles through rolling hills and woodlands, past lots of horse farms and cow pastures. At one point I found myself walking through a pasture, right next to wary cows, which is never my favorite situation. But they didn't bother me -- just stared and stared.

The walk began near the 700-year-old Domesday oaks of West Wickham Common, which have been so pollarded they're barely visible beneath a mound of underbrush. I walked through neighborhoods and woodlands toward the Addington Hills, where there was said to be a hilltop terrace looking out over the city.

Along the way I encountered some parakeets in the trees...

...and a rather parakeet-colored tree marking signifying something or other.

Finally, I reached the terrace, and indeed the view was pretty impressive, although downtown was partly hidden by the highlands just east of Crystal Palace. You can see the Crystal Palace broadcasting tower on the left, the top of The Shard in the center, and the tops of the City buildings on the right. (I cleaned this photo up a bit -- the actual view was much hazier than this.)

I passed this bizarre, naturally sculpted tree trunk in the Bramley Bank Nature Reserve...

...and this certainly sculpted-by-human-hands horse (dog? dragon?) in Puplet Wood. Some of the places I passed had great British-sounding names, like Threehalfpenny Wood, Baker Boy Lane and Mossyhill Shaw.

Mossyhill Shaw is supposed to be a great place to see butterflies, but apparently not at this time of year. I did, however, spot some bizarrely Dalmatian-like leaves lying on the ground. I have no idea what causes this -- some kind of tree disease, I suppose? Maybe like Black Spot on roses.

This segment ended at a bus stop near some horse farms, and you'd think -- being seemingly out in the middle of nowhere -- it would be devoid of people. But no! The neighborhood school let out just as I was ending my trek, and I rode a public bus with approximately 500 uniformed teenagers until I got to the train station at Sanderstead, Croydon, where I caught the train home. This is where my experience working in a school came in handy -- the kids didn't faze me at all!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Weird Sun

The light was so strange yesterday afternoon. At broad midday, about 1 p.m., it seemed more like sunset -- the sun was orange, the land shadowy, the sky a cloudy, sickly yellow-gray. I said to Dave, "Is the world ending?!"

At times, it seemed really dark outside -- way too dark for early afternoon -- but there was no rain. When the sun did shine, it came in intermittent red-gold bursts.

Wabi, Sabi and Bobby were not amused. Wide-eyed with fright, in fact.

Apparently this had to do with Hurricane Ophelia, the weather oddity that swept up from Africa and dragged with it a lot of Saharan dust and particles from fires in the Iberian peninsula. All that debris in the air filtered out light from the blue end of the spectrum, leaving us basking in a red-yellow glow.

It was very creepy.

Earlier in the day, everything was normal enough. The tree crew came bright and early, just after 8 a.m., and took down the spindly holly and trimmed the rest of the shrubbery in the garden. There's a lot more light out there as a result, peculiar though it was in the afternoon, and hopefully our plants will get an added boost next season. (And hopefully we won some points from Mrs. Kravitz, our holly-hating neighbor.)

I was concerned about the tree guys stomping all over the flower beds and dragging branches across them, but they did a great job and nothing seems to have any permanent damage. We didn't solve all the tree problems -- there's also a walnut tree that's leaning toward the house and needs some trimming of its own at some point. But the landlord can handle that. I think we've already been quite generous to pay for what we have.

Dave and I have gone on a Jane Fonda movie kick (well, to be completely honest, I have, and I'm dragging a grumbling Dave along with me). Last night we watched "On Golden Pond," which reminded me that I had a huge crush on Doug McKeon back when we were both 14-year-olds, and tonight we're going to tackle "Barefoot in the Park." I have a need to show Dave these movies, even though he's not particularly a movie fan and doesn't particularly want to see them. Is that selfishness on my part? Or am I right to want to share with him meaningful artifacts of my life? I can't decide.

Monday, October 16, 2017

More Olga Action Cam, and Jane Fonda

Here's Olga's second outing with her Action Cam -- this time to Hampstead Heath, where she chased her tennis ball, went for a swim and hunted squirrels. Woo hoo!

Making and editing that video was only part of yesterday's busy day. Last night Dave and I went to see "An Evening with Jane Fonda" at the Savoy Theatre. TV host Graham Norton and Jane (who turns 80 on December 21, following my mother by about six months) sat together on the stage and chatted for a while, and then took questions from the audience -- and it was a terrific evening.

As I've written before (back when I saw her on Broadway in 2009) I've been an admirer of Jane Fonda since the '70s. I read her memoirs when they came out about ten years ago, and some of what she talked about last night she'd also discussed in the book. (She told several Katharine Hepburn stories, for example, mimicking Hepburn's distinctive quavery voice.)

She said several times that she believes she is in a continual process of "giving birth to herself," discovering her truths and readdressing what went before. "My life is my art," she said at one point, and I like that idea -- that by living you are creating, and constantly changing and evolving as well.

Of course she discussed the movies she'd made -- "Klute" and "On Golden Pond" and "Coming Home," about which she intimately described the filming of the famous sex scene. But she really came alive when she talked about politics -- about how part of the blame for Trump falls squarely on the neo-liberalism of the Democratic party, which has abandoned the working classes. Hillary Clinton didn't even visit several of the traditionally democratic working class states that she ultimately lost, Fonda pointed out. She said she liked Clinton and supported her, but blamed that turn away from the party's roots for its losses (and the gains of Trump and the Tea Party, which stepped into the gap).

Many working class people, she said, have lost crucial elements of their own identities -- the union jobs, the sense of belonging that those organizational ties brought, the feeling of being part of something greater than themselves. That's why the NRA has become so powerful, she said -- it has offered those people a place in a greater vision, a greater whole.

She also took a question from a woman who is Vietnamese, and who -- it turned out -- met Fonda and was photographed with her as a child during Fonda's anti-war visit to Hanoi in the early 1970s. (That visit still causes a lot of grumbling and eye-rolling among conservatives, including Dave's dad, but Fonda remains proud of it. Her mistake, she said, was being photographed atop an anti-aircraft gun, which wasn't loaded or being used at the time, but sent a false message that she was essentially gunning for her own countrymen.) Fonda and the woman had a bit of a moment remembering the circumstances of their meeting, and Fonda told the woman to visit her backstage after the show.

It was a fascinating evening! And during all this, Olga stayed home and slept off her adventures on the Heath, no doubt dreaming of squirrels.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Purging the Plastic, and a Dirty Coin

Well, now I know I'm crazy. It's 6:05 a.m. and I've just been cleaning out the kitchen cabinet where we store all our leftover containers. I just couldn't stand it anymore! We save containers from take-away food delivery, because they're usually really solid plastic and they can be reused. But we must have had about 500 of them! (OK, I'm exaggerating -- more like 35, and for some reason way more lids than bodies.) Some of those things I know we moved from Notting Hill 3 1/2 years ago.

I put all but ten of them in the recycling bin. But now I'm thinking I might put them in a bag and stick them up in one of our "forgotten" high-up hallway cabinets, with the inflatable bed and the cheese board and the crepe pan and the fondue set that we still haven't used. I just can't stand to throw away that much plastic.

What prompted this so early in the morning was the simple task of putting away the dishes from the dishwasher, which is usually the first thing I do when I get up. I opened that cabinet, came face-to-face with that wall of plastic and thought, "Uh-uh. This has to stop now."

I Skyped with my mom yesterday, for the first time in ages. I haven't been able to reach her since before Hurricane Irma -- she went into a taciturn mode where, if she responded to my e-mails at all, it was with a handful of words or a single ambiguous sentence. And she forgot our previously scheduled Skype call. I was getting concerned, but my brother assured me she was fine, and sure enough she is. She says the schedule at the retirement center where she lives keeps her busy. Which is good.

Anyway, I heard about her evacuation to that Bible College in Georgia and her trip to a lighthouse and maritime museum in St. Augustine. The side of her face has a dramatic bruise because she fell while walking with some friends to a diner near her apartment, but other than the bruising, fortunately, she was OK.

Did I mention that I took my metal detector up to West End Green last weekend? I thought I'd try it in a public place -- somewhere other than our garden, where, as you may remember, my finds weren't all that stellar. I didn't want to dig on the green -- after all, it is a park -- but I wanted to take readings and see what the detector picked up. Well, I can see this detecting is going to be a challenge. There's so much metal junk in that park that it beeped every two inches! There's no way I could reasonably discern a coin from a bottle cap or a pull tab. I guess I need to practice in a less rubbish-congested space.

I thought I might find a coin or something, just on the surface of the soil. But no. And then, walking Olga yesterday, I found a 2p coin (above) lying in the dirt -- using only my eyes. So my record is actually better without the detector than with it!

Tomorrow Dave and I have a tree crew coming to take down that spindly holly tree in our garden and do some trimming. I'm seriously thinking of leaving so I don't have to watch. I think it will stress me out, having those guys dragging branches through the garden and stepping on our plants. It might be better to come back later, when the damage has been done.

(Photo: Hampstead Heath, on Oct. 1.)