Thursday, November 30, 2017

Grumble, grumble, grumble

I finally upgraded the software on my iPhone the other day. It's been nagging me to upgrade for weeks now, if not months, and I finally got sick of the nagging so I did it. But has that put an end to the nagging? NO. Now it wants me to install Apple Pay and to use the iCloud and I just want to tell my phone to LEAVE ME ALONE.

This is the same way I feel when the bank calls me to tell me more about Premium Banking. They want me to use their stupid app, which I have yet to download. They called a few days ago and began asking me all sorts of security questions, and I said, "But you called me. I should be asking you security questions." I told them I could do without their information.

I swear, I am becoming so grumpy.

In the holiday spirit, however, I joined the giving tree at work, in which we select a tag with a needy child's name on it and give them some small gifts. My child, Hasan, wanted a set of Sharpie markers and a certain book. Although I have doubts about the wisdom of giving a 7-year-old a set of permanent markers, I ordered everything on Amazon. So that's done.

As for my family, I've proposed to my brother that we skip gifts, and since I won't be in Florida I don't think I need to worry about anyone except my nieces -- I'll send them something. I'm not sure yet what to do about my mom. Maybe I'll just send cards and take everyone out when I visit in the spring.

I did buy one gift for Dave and me -- our now-annual donations to the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center. As long as Trump is in power, we're supporting the forces working against his insanity.

Adding to my overall grumpiness, when I walked to the tube yesterday morning, a veritable waterfall was rushing along West End Lane from what appeared to be a broken water main. I had to jump over it, and I didn't quite succeed, and my right shoe flooded with water. I walked around the rest of the day with a wet foot.

By the time I came home, the water had stopped flowing and construction crews had dug up the roadway (above). So maybe by this morning things will be back to normal. Urban hazards!

(Top photo: A pub in Southwark.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Simpsons Van

I found the Simpsons Sky TV van parked in front of our school a couple of weeks ago when I went to work. I've photographed it before, but this time I had a chance to take pictures all the way around.

The Sky TV guys were standing next to it at first...

...but then they obligingly moved out of the way. (They probably didn't want to be in the shot anyway.)

Sky is a cable network partly owned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox empire. Murdoch has been trying to take over all of Sky, which has caused regulatory concerns in the UK. (We had Sky when we first moved here but it was a nightmare and we cancelled it.)

I could stand a lot less of Rupert Murdoch in my life. Who doesn't like the Simpsons, though?

In other news, I'm encouraged by Prince Harry's engagement to Meghan Markle. It seems like pretty solid evidence that the world is moving forward when an English prince (albeit one unlikely to ever take the throne) can marry a biracial actress with the Queen's blessing. Thank goodness for progress.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I'm Late, I'm Late

Wow! I slept so late this morning -- for a school day, anyway. I woke up in the middle of the night and lay in bed sort of semi-awake, thinking about pollution and overpopulation and global warming and world politics and all sorts of fun middle-of-the-night things, and the next thing I knew it was 7 a.m.! Maybe I should meditate on global catastrophe more often? Fortunately I don't need to be at work until 9:15.

The British Gas inspector came yesterday morning for our annual safety survey. He checked out the boiler and the stove and the gas meter, and apparently everything is in good working order. And weirdly, while he was here, the E-On meter reader showed up (that's our electric company) so he also came in and read the meters. It was like Grand Central Station here, Olga wagging her tail enthusiastically at every new arrival.

I had to stay home until they were done, so I went in late yesterday, and it was great to have a few extra hours in the morning.

Today, though, I am out of time -- and I've got to walk the dog!

(Photo: A fencepost near Berrylands, South London, a few weeks ago.)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sunny Sunday Walk

I tried my best to stay home yesterday. I read all morning, relaxing on the couch, and it was fabulous. But around 10 a.m. the dog began staring me down, quivering with anticipation and jumping at every turn of the page. Well, you can't read under those circumstances, can you? The pressure is too great.

So I caved in and took her to the Heath, where, as you can see, we had a beautiful sunny walk. (You can barely see Olga out in that field.)

Every time I go to the Heath I see something new -- like these trees shaped just like a treble clef.

We also found a suspiciously black and hairy object nestled in the leaves. A bear? A badger?

No, just someone's old coat.

In the end, it was good to get out of the house. I suppose that's partly what dogs are for -- to keep us moving!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Crowded Train, and Oysterband

Well, we made it back to London in one piece, with no missing baggage or missing dogs or any other mishaps.

We got moving late yesterday morning, checked out of our hotel and arrived at the Cambridge station in plenty of time for our 11:18 a.m. train to London King's Cross.

The train was incredibly crowded -- people were standing up and down the aisles. Dave took this picture of me sitting on the floor of the car reading The New Yorker. I was down there to keep the dog calm amid all the feet, but she did fine, actually. The guy behind me eventually sat down too.

We got back home and unpacked, and I ran laundry and raked up all the leaves in the back garden. I also discovered with horror that the aphids infesting our amaryllis had somehow spread to a little orchid we keep on the kitchen windowsill. It had been looking anemic for some time, and that's why! So I got out the spray and took it out in the garden and sprayed it, and then moved the amaryllis out to the garden shed, where they will overwinter. I thoroughly cleaned the area on the back doorsill where they'd been sitting.

I don't know how these darn aphids got inside. I haven't seen them on any other houseplants -- fingers crossed.

I moved the leafless fig tree into the shed, too. It's cold and frosty here now, and the more tender plants need some protection.

Then, last night, I went out with our friends Sally and Mike, their daughter Sorren and Sally's brother-in-law Steve to see Oysterband, a British folk-rock band, performing in a big church in Islington. (We met first at a pub called The Famous Cock, which you just can't resist laughing about, can you?)

I'd never heard this band before -- they're on their 40th anniversary tour, so with such staying power it's a safe bet they'd be pretty good. (Sally got me the ticket ages ago.) And they were very good. I joked with Dave before the show that I'd probably be hearing a lot of music with accordions and fiddles, and indeed that's what it was, broadly speaking. I could hear the roots of American Southern and Appalachian music in what they played -- some of it sounded like music you could square dance to.

We did no square dancing, however, and at the end of the evening I hopped on the Overground from Islington only to find that during the show it had somehow mysteriously ceased running for part of its length. I was forced to take a bus to get all the way home. But I lived.

(Top photo: A barber shop in Cambridge.)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

More Cambridge

We began yesterday by sleeping in and then eating at our hotel. Our rate includes a full English breakfast, but I opted for cereal -- old habits die hard!

Then we walked into town and went to Jesus Green, where Olga had a great time chasing her tennis ball. This is one of the pathways across the green leading into town.

We walked toward the downtown market area and passed through a small park called Christ's Pieces, where this small rose garden had been established in memory of Lady Diana. I tried to pose with Olga, but of course she was distracted.

A lot of religious naming has gone on in this town -- as you can see, this small street is called Christ's Lane. We stopped for coffee at a Starbucks along this street, and I sat outside with Olga while Dave went for the coffee.

Olga walked toward an Arabic-speaking man at an adjacent table, and got no closer than about four feet when the man muttered "Excuse me" to me, and waved her back with his hand, sneering. He was sitting with a pile of taped-together luggage and speaking volubly on his phone. I try to be considerate of the fact that some people don't like dogs, and I know from my time in Morocco that dogs are not looked kindly upon by some Muslims -- but still, that sneering expression really annoyed me. I pulled her back but said, "She won't hurt you, and she's not that close to you."

Was I culturally insensitive? Probably.

And then Dave emerged with the coffee and no sooner did he sit down than workers with a jackhammer started up in front of an adjacent shop. We beat it out of there.

We went to the town's outdoor market, where I found this very peculiar sculpture. It was erected in honor of a guy named Walter "Snowy" Farr, who apparently used to dress in eccentric costumes and raise money for charity in this area. Here's a page about him and the sculpture. That is not Snowy Farr in my picture -- it's just some guy who insisted on standing there while I took it.

I found an interesting book of photography by Lynne Cohen at a used-book vendor's table. The photos all depict stark, rather peculiar interiors. It's very weird.

We walked a bit more and then ducked into a restaurant called The Senate, near King's College, for lunch. We were so happy to find a place where Olga was welcomed inside, because it would have been awfully chilly to sit out for our entire meal. We ate, and then Dave and I took turns visiting the gothic King's College chapel across the street.

The chapel was begun in 1446 and completed about a hundred years later, with stained glass windows dating to 1531. It's a huge, soaring space with an ornate ceiling and, on a sunny day, an ethereal glow from all that glass. Evensong services are still held there, and Dave and I might have attended one if not for Olga. Oh well -- I'm just glad we got to see the interior.

With that we walked back to our hotel and had dinner -- partridge for me, and fish for Dave. This morning we'll be back on a train to London!

Friday, November 24, 2017


Here we are in Cambridge, ensconced in the Hotel Felix (above), where Olga can run around on the lawn and chase imaginary squirrels. (Haven't seen any real ones yet, though we did see a neighborhood cat. Fortunately Olga was on her leash at the time.)

We got here about noon yesterday, and promptly went out for lunch and a walk.

We found lunch in a pub -- a fish finger "butty," a kind of sandwich, for me, with accompanying green peas and sweet potato fries. Kind of Thanksgiving-ish, right?

Then we went walking along Trinity Street, which leads to many of the medieval colleges that make up Cambridge University -- St. John's, Trinity and King's among them. Above is the ornate archway over the entrance to St. John's. The entrance to Trinity makes mention of its founding by Edward III in 1337, though apparently that was an earlier institution called King's Hall; Trinity itself was founded in 1546 by Henry VIII.

Olga was very interested to know exactly where we were.

We crossed over the River Cam, and saw evidence of the obvious popularity of punting. Boatsmen with long poles were perpetually moving up and down the river. In fact we eventually found a pub called The Punter where we stopped for coffee.

The bridge above is known as the "Mathematical Bridge," built with all straight timbers.

These ducks were very intent on whatever's at the bottom of that river.

We walked through an area known as The Backs, across the river from the colleges. Olga got to chase her ball a bit and work off some more energy.

Coincidentally, I was watching a random episode of a show called "The Inspector Lynley Mysteries" last night, and it took place in Cambridge -- and this very location, with that same view of the chapel at King's College, featured prominently in the plot!

Visitors can enter the campuses of many of the colleges, but usually not with a dog. So we have been unable to visit the interior courtyards and structures like the chapel, unfortunately. Maybe we'll try to do so today, taking shifts with Olga.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Manson and Cassidy

What a strange week it's been! First, Charles Manson dies, and then Keith Partridge (or his alter-ego, David Cassidy). For those of us who grew up in the '70s, they're both momentous events.

Did you ever read "Helter Skelter," Vincent Bugliosi's book about the Manson murders and the ensuing trials? I read it in high school, or possibly college, and like "In Cold Blood" it scared me to death -- the idea that such deranged people could be wandering among us seemed unfathomable. It still seems unfathomable, even though a little more life experience has shown me it's unfortunately true.

Manson was clearly a nutcase, and his death seems cleansing. But I've always felt sorry for his followers, as terrible and incomprehensible as their crimes were. They seemed like vulnerable, unformed people who sadly fell into the clutches of both psychotropic drugs and a skillful, psychopathic manipulator. Every time one of them comes up for parole, part of me hopes they get it -- that second chance -- although at this point it may be too late for them to truly make a life outside prison.

As for Cassidy, he was a fixture of my childhood, even though I only remember watching "The Partridge Family" in reruns, years after its initial airing. I was more the Shaun Cassidy generation than the David. Still, having him die seems a scary reminder of our mortality, doesn't it?

Back in 2011, I snapped this photo of him from an old "Partridge Family" rerun on the television. I wanted that shirt.

We had some serious wind during the night, and the neighbor's wooden arbor -- which holds up the monster -- collapsed. I heard a loud thunk and knew something had blown over, but I wasn't sure what. I wonder if she'll get it braced up again, or if she'll just take the whole thing down? I hate having to prune our side of the monster, but it is a nice barrier between our properties and I'm not sure I want it to disappear entirely.

The wind made Olga a bit nervous. She got up in the middle of the night and came out to the living room, where she stayed vigilant on the couch. What a good watchdog!

Oh, it's Thanksgiving, isn't it?! It didn't occur to me until now. Dave and I are off work today and tomorrow for Thanksgiving break, and we're going to board a train for Cambridge a little later this morning. I'm not sure what we're doing for Thanksgiving dinner -- I guess we'll eat whatever the Cantabrigians serve us. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

(Top photo: Historic old tiles from the exterior wall of an Italian restaurant in Ewell. I feel certain it was probably once a pub.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nothing is Free

I recently joined our private health insurance plan through work, as I think I mentioned before. One of the percs of this plan is free cinema tickets, which we can get through the insurance company website. So the other day I went to register.

First, the website wanted me to take a health survey. It asked about things like my weight and my smoking and drinking and exercise habits -- all the expected stuff. It also asked about certain specific conditions and recent tests, and then assigned me an "age" based on my overall health.

Now, I think I'm a pretty healthy person. I don't overeat and I'm not overweight, I walk everywhere, and I drink in moderation and don't smoke at all. I don't have any long-term health issues as far as I know.

But this stupid survey assigned me an "age" of 54, which is three years older than I actually am, entirely because of my cholesterol levels. When I got my most recent blood test it detected higher than normal LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). This isn't unusual -- every time I've had a cholesterol test done, even in my youth, it's given a similar result. (My HDL and triglycerides, whatever those are, are fine.)

And yet, in my family, there's no history of heart disease. My mom also has high cholesterol and she's 80 -- although, granted, she was on statins for several years. I'm pretty sure I'm one of those people whose cholesterol level is genetically high with no ill-effects. (I read something about how an LDL reading alone isn't enough to predict heart disease -- for one thing, there are apparently various types of LDL, some more damaging than others.)

I just can't see doing more to reduce my dietary cholesterol. I don't eat fast food, I don't eat processed food (except three or four McVitie's chocolate-covered biscuits, which I have for dessert most nights, but dammit, I'm allowed something sinful), I don't eat a lot of meat or cheese. Dave cooks with butter but I don't see that stopping -- even if I crawled to his feet gasping and clutching my chest he'd slap a hunk of butter in the pan for our next meal.

And then I learned that I have to update the web site with weekly measurements of how far I walk and how much I exercise and that kind of thing to get my tickets. This really annoyed me, because I thought I was going to have to go buy a Fit Bit or something -- and if that's the case, what's the point of "free" tickets? But then Dave showed me that my phone records how much I walk, and has been since we bought it -- I had no idea.

I'll let you know if I ever successfully get to see a movie through this program. I'm not sure there are many movies I want to see this badly.

(Photo: Croydon, a couple of weeks ago.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I'm a 'Me Too' Bystander

In light of the "Me Too" phenomenon, I came across an interesting story in my old journals while I was transcribing them on Saturday. Here's part of the entry, from Oct. 6, 2000. Names have been changed!

I did have a really good talk with Simon a couple of nights ago. He told me a story about making a move on Jeff L. back when he supervised Jeff -- and how Simon was then scared he'd be fired. Poor Simon. Jeff, needless to say, rejected his advances.

What struck me about this is that I seemed to take it pretty casually -- the fact that a friend of mine had sexually harassed one of his employees. Obviously, in talking about it at the time, we both knew it was wrong. I was aware of the hazards of getting involved with anyone I worked with, and I was aware of sexual harassment in general. But isn't it curious that I apparently sympathized more with my harassing friend in this situation than with the harassed employee! "Poor Simon" indeed!

I suppose that reaction makes some sense, since I knew Simon better than Jeff. I obviously found the story scandalous enough to write it down. I have no idea now what "making a move" meant -- what Simon did, or where he did it.

As long as we're talking about "Me Too," though, let me just say there are things that bother me about it. Obviously in some circumstances a harasser's behavior was so outrageous that it's beyond the pale. It could never have been seen as acceptable, even in an era of less stringent rules about sexual behavior. Bill Cosby drugging women, for example, or an adult Kevin Spacey jumping on a 14-year-old -- in any recent era, even 30-plus years ago, that behavior would have been considered outrageous.

But there was a time -- before Simon and the story above -- when hitting on someone at work wasn't seen as such an affront. I worry that men who mildly approached women (or other men) decades ago are now being held accountable according to our evolved understanding of sexual harassment. And I worry that men who did relatively minor things, like touching someone inappropriately (and maybe just awkwardly) during a photo, are now being lumped into the same category with people like Cosby and Spacey (who, let's face it, are assailants, not just harassers).

Obviously, sexual harassment is a problem and the victims deserve our first consideration. But there are many gradations of being the target of someone's amorous advances, and there are evolving social standards of behavior over time. Has the "Me Too" phenomenon been able to adequately distinguish between them?

(Photo: A dewy geranium in our garden, Sunday morning.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Briglin in Dulwich

Yesterday was a busy day -- two social engagements, which for me is a lot!

First, Dave and I had brunch with some friends at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, on the South Bank of the Thames. It's an ideal brunch spot, with St. Paul's directly across the river and the Tate Modern right next door. Very scenic!

Then I hopped a train and then a bus to Dulwich to meet up with blog pal Linda Sue, who's enjoying an extended stay in London. She's been here a couple of months and it's embarrassing that we haven't met up before now, but we finally got our act together.

When we planned the day, Linda Sue said something like, "Hopefully the sun will be shining!" I scoffed at that, because we've had pretty gray days recently, and of course that misty rain on Saturday. And then, like magic, the sun came out! Yesterday's weather was chilly but glorious.

Linda Sue found a Mid-Century Modern furniture and housewares show in Dulwich, in far south London, and that's where we met up. I walked in saying I wasn't going to buy anything, and walked out with a pillow and a vase. The pillow is very psychedelic -- an abstract pattern of green, orange, red and even a bit of purple, printed on cotton velvet. It reminds me somehow of Jefferson Airplane. The vase is a neutral design of abstract flowers -- they look like Queen Anne's lace when it begins to fold up in Autumn -- produced by Briglin Pottery, which operated in London between 1948 and 1990. Neither item was very expensive, so I was quite happy with my finds!

Afterwards Linda Sue and I walked through the autumn afternoon to a pub and talked about life and the sad state of political affairs in the United States and, with Brexit, in the UK. A pint made things better, at least momentarily.

I came home, had dinner with Dave and, continuing the retro theme of the day, watched an episode of "The Saint" while Dave did some work on his computer. Now, back to the daily grind!

(Top photo: An autumn tree in Dulwich. Bottom, the furniture show.)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sitting Down, Journals and Joni

Yesterday the weather was "soft," as the Irish allegedly say, with mist that eventually turned into a gentle rain. I took Olga on our West Heath walk before the rain really got going, and she seemed to enjoy it, but she did this peculiar thing that she does sometimes when it's rainy or damp -- she sat down.

She did it over and over, in between chasing squirrels and running after her Kong and her tennis ball. Whenever the action paused, she'd take a seat. This is a dog who almost never sits down while on a walk.

I am at a loss to explain this behavior, unless she's just keeping her rear end warm. It's very strange.

When we weren't walking I was transcribing my journals and reading my Joni biography. The journals continue to be pretty darned entertaining. I'm at a point in the fall of 2000 when things were ending with a longtime friend/love interest, who I memorably described in one entry as unfeeling and "a styrofoam cut-out of a man." I was also casually dating a 22-year-old Bosnian Muslim and angsting over a fling with a Brazilian bank employee who helped me set up my new account in Manhattan. (He went on to become a friend.) Let's just say it was an eventful period.

The Joni book is fascinating. Initially, as I read it, I lamented leading such a tame life compared to La Joni, but in rereading those journals I see things weren't so tame after all! Memory can be quite selective.

The book takes a fine-grained approach to her albums and songs, explaining the genesis of many of them and recounting certain memorable lyrics. I'm learning a lot I didn't know. For example, I'd never heard that the song "Hejira," from the 1976 album of the same name, alludes to Camus:

I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones

Apparently Camus, in his notebooks, wrote: "What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country...we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being."

I love both his description of travel, which strikes me as absolutely truthful, and Joni's adaptation of it.

It's going to be interesting to see how the book maintains its momentum, now that I'm finishing the part of her life when she did most of her best known (certainly to me) work. At this point she's recorded and released "Hejira" and she's moving on to records that I just never really clicked with. At some point I owned them all -- "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" and "Mingus" and "Wild Things Run Fast," but they never really spoke to me.

Also, the book motivated me last night to rent "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's movie documenting the final concert by The Band in 1976. Joni appears in the film, and I managed to hang on until those parts -- but I have to say, and I know this is sacrilege in the music world, that I didn't enjoy the movie at all. In fact I turned it off after Joni sang "Coyote." I'm generally not a blues fan or a country fan and The Band, for all their undoubtedly excellent musicianship, are heavy on bluesy stuff -- at least, to my uneducated ear. They're just not my thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Autumnal iPhone Photos

Here's another collection of random pictures from my phone. I confess that I'm using the phone camera more and more -- many of the pictures in my recent blog posts have been from the phone. It's just so much easier to carry than the big camera.

Someone lined up some horse chestnuts (or "conkers," as the British call them) atop this tombstone in the cemetery. They always look so shiny and clean, like jewels lying among the leaf litter on the forest floor.

I found this scrap of gift wrap lying on the sidewalk on my way to work. Yes, those are penises. As Dave said, "At least it's multicultural!"

Tube Ad of the Week! "Dave" is, improbably, the name of a TV Channel in Britain.

We have a bust of Andrew Mellon, our library's benefactor, in an alcove at work. Someone put this stocking cap on his head, and we've left it there. He probably gets cold just sitting in the corner looking dignified, poor guy.

The fig tree has gone entirely yellow for autumn. Soon the leaves will fall and I'll tuck it into the shed for a few months of hibernation.

Speaking of autumn leaves, I'm always amazed at how big the leaves of the London plane trees get. (I've blogged a similar shot before, I admit it.)

Some colorful spilled oil on the roadway, coordinating with a passerby's umbrella.

Finally, Olga and I found this huge headboard while walking the other day. Someone just left it (precariously) standing upright on the sidewalk. When I walked by yesterday, it had been moved and was leaning against a nearby fence. It looks like really nice wood. I hope someone claims it! (We do not need a headboard.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fallen Leaves and Drinking Games

This is what our garden looks like now. We've pretty much just let it go -- we saw Mrs. Kravitz out weeding and raking a few days ago, and she said something like, "What happened to your garden?!" We told her that in the fall, we let nature take its course.

I probably do need to rake those leaves at some point.

Wasn't the news from Australia encouraging? I'm so happy marriage equality passed there by referendum, and by such a solid margin!

On the other hand, I've been reading about the college students around the USA who have died recently from alcohol poisoning. I was just talking to my boss about this the other day -- she was saying that some students at the school where we work have needed hospital treatment because they've had too much to drink at parties. Maybe I'm naive (likely) but I never heard of this phenomenon when I was in school. I mean, people got drunk, sure, but I didn't know anyone who had to have their stomach pumped or who suffered any long-term effects.

The students in my dorm, in college, turned drunkenness into a game. We had a weekly "puke award" that hung on the door of whichever resident of our floor got the drunkest at the weekend. This was not only sanctioned by the RA, I think he might have started it. Can you imagine such a thing happening now? (For the record, I never won the "puke award.")

My boss said that in our day, we drank with mixers, but she thinks kids today (particularly girls) don't like to use much mixer because they're worried about extra calories. So they wind up drinking much stronger drinks. And fraternities, in particular, seem to use drinking as a rite of initiation that often goes wrong.

Anyway, I'm glad high school and college are behind me!

Apropos of nothing, the other day I was walking down the street past a woman and a little girl, and the girl, seeing a pigeon, started crowing at it like a rooster. "Cock-a-doodle-DOO!!" she yelled at the pigeon, over and over. The mother said, "Dear, that's not a chicken." But the girl just kept right on crowing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Florida Project

Dave and I actually went to see a movie last night. I know! Shocker! We save our rare cinema experiences for films we really, really want to see, and for me, that included Sean Baker's new movie "The Florida Project."

You all know I grew up in Central Florida and lived there until I was 33. So I know the state like the back of my hand, and having worked there as a journalist I'm familiar with the moths-to-a-flame quality it seems to have on people who are down and out, trying to start again, trying to scrape together a life with meager resources. "The Florida Project" is about a struggling single mom and her daughter living in a purple motel in the shadow of Disney World.

The film seemed a bit aimless at the beginning, but once I adjusted to its pace and its incredible sense of reality -- I felt like I was spying on the activities of real people, rather than watching anything scripted -- it came together. And the performances are terrific. I was awed. It wasn't a happy story, but it felt real and honest and, as I said, although my own experience of Florida was secure and comfortable, I've seen people living that way. The movie captures Florida's tawdriness and absurdity -- and even in that tortured theme-park landscape, its beauty -- really well, too.

We saw it at the Everyman Baker Street cinema, which has this groovy mural of some '60s models on the stairway. (I later learned, via the interwebs -- God bless Google! -- that it's an image from a 1966 French film called "Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" The actual photo includes a light bulb in front of all the models' faces, which makes the placement of the chandelier at right especially appropriate.) And there's also a groovy mural of the Beatles in the lobby seating area (top). It's a refreshing change from the Sherlock Holmes motif adopted by every other business on Baker Street.

We had dinner there -- a bunless hot dog for Dave, because he's being gluten-free these days, and a pizza margherita for me, with two lemonades and some popcorn. The downside -- the price for dinner and tickets was £58 (about $76)! I just can't get over how much movies cost in London.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mid-Week News

Well, I've been having a busy couple of days. We had an author come and speak in the library on Monday night about her new book, which I just read. It was an interesting talk and it made me appreciate the book even more. (In fact, I bought her other novel, too.) I've rethought my criticism from the other day -- the story has stayed with me and I've thought about it a lot, so obviously I was more invested in it than I realized!

The act of writing a novel -- conceiving a storyline big enough to sustain a book, inventing believable characters, piecing it all together,  and then ripping it apart again at the behest of an editor, and rewriting it sometimes several times  -- still boggles my mind. I don't know how people do it.

Anyway, Dave and I went to dinner beforehand with my coworkers, and that was fun, too.

Some of you asked about my health after my medical appointments from a few weeks ago. As far as I know, I'm fine. My blood tests showed only slightly elevated cholesterol, which I always have, and I never heard anything about the X-ray so I'm assuming that was clear, too. (The doctor said they'd call me "straight away" if anything looked suspicious.) Meanwhile, my cough has subsided, which is the best indication that all is well.

I haven't been walking to work enough over the past week, mostly because the weather has been cold and/or miserable. But I walked home last night and I'm going to do my best to keep it up -- especially since we had a faculty/staff appreciation event at school yesterday that involved literally tables-full of baked goods. (The parents bake for us, which is a nice gesture.) Gotta walk off those brownies!

(Photo: A barber shop in Ewell, south London. I wonder if they have to take Homer Simpson into the shop every night? And isn't it weird that a barber uses a figure of a bald man to promote his business?)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Morning Walk, For Posterity

Just when you thought it was safe -- more Olga-cam!

This video, made with our GoPro camera, shows a normal morning walk around our neighborhood. We leave the house, walk around the corner to busy Finchley Road, and then walk down an adjacent street, through a housing estate, along a pedestrian path to the high street, and then back home again.

Along the way we encounter various piles of trash (there are perpetually piles of trash lying around -- one of the curses of living in a big city, I suppose), we see two guys pushing a car onto a flatbed truck, we spar with a cat beneath a door, we drink from a dog bowl outside a bakery, we chase pigeons outside Tesco, we think about going into Sainsbury's, and we look for our nemesis through a hole in a gate.

Do you think you can stand the excitement?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Muddy Scrubs

After a whirlwind round of housecleaning and laundry, I took Olga back to Wormwood Scrubs late yesterday morning. She was more excited to get outside than I've ever seen her -- she was whimpering on the train and she wanted to run all the way from the train station to the Scrubs. I don't know what got into her, except that she stayed inside all the previous day while I was out walking across South London in the rain. Maybe she'd just built up a head of steam.

Look at her hiding behind that tree! You'd never know she was there, would you?

The Scrubs were really beautiful yesterday -- still very autumnal, though the trees have lost most of their leaves and we're definitely moving into winter mode.

At one point, while exploring some trails in the northwest corner of the park, I came across an area behind some thick brambles where there were several piles of shoes. Men's shoes, women's shoes, trainers, work boots and sandals -- a full assortment. It looked like they'd been brought in bags and dumped. I couldn't tell if someone lived back in there, or they'd been stolen, or both -- but it creeped me out, to be honest.

I could have used some new shoes by the time that walk was over, though. It sure is muddy out there at this time of year! (Or, as I put it to Dave, showing my age: "Holy mud bog, Batman!")

Someone definitely needed a bath when we got back home. And Olga did, too.

Last night we finally watched "Grace and Frankie" on Netflix. In fact, we watched three episodes. It's not at all what I expected -- I thought it would be much more sit-com like (I guess I'm thinking of "Kate and Allie" and "Will and Grace" and all those other sorts of shows). "Grace and Frankie" seems more sophisticated and we really like it so far.

We need some new things to watch on TV. We've finished "Stranger Things 2," and we're caught up on the new "Star Trek." We were watching "Designated Survivor" but that show, in its second season, seems to have run off the rails a bit. We're still working our way through "The Sopranos" and I'm still watching "The Wire" when Dave's gone to bed (defying conventional wisdom, he doesn't particularly like it).