Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Arctic Cacti

As you can see, the "beast from the east" is still with us, and apparently we got more snow overnight. When I went to bed there was only the mildest dusting, despite snowfall during the day -- as I expected, it didn't stick. But then we woke to this!

Definitely not what we're used to, and as I understand it, we'll be getting more. There's a weather system called Storm Emma -- for some reason The Guardian is obsessed with the fact that the Portuguese weather service named it -- due to arrive tomorrow and Friday, bringing "blizzards, gales and sleet."

I wonder if we'll get a snow day? We've never had one as long as Dave and I have worked here, but allegedly the school has called them in the past. I know the kids are clamoring for one.

In other news, while I was at my mom's in Florida I retrieved some of our family home movies to have them digitized. I also picked up two old cassette tapes, one of my brother talking about colors when he was baby, and one of me reading about cacti when I was 7 years old. These were recorded in 1973 or so, and I wasn't sure they'd even still work, much less be convertible to digital format.

But I gave them to the media guys at work, and they did their best -- et voila!

It's a bit garbled at the beginning. I'm talking about an illustration of a bunch of different cacti in my red New World encyclopedias, which my parents had just given me. I was entranced by that picture -- the whip-like ocotillo with the red flowers, the barrel cacti, the tall saguaro with the gray-and-pink gila monster lurking beneath. Things gradually become a bit more clear as the recording runs. My mom is there too. I don't expect you all to listen to it, really -- I'm putting it here on my blog mainly as a way to store and easily find it myself -- but feel free!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


We were warned yesterday that severe winter weather was headed our way. People are calling the storm "the beast from the east." The train companies told people to get home by 6 p.m., and the government weather office issued warnings for heavy snow (up to 15 centimeters!) and temperatures well below freezing.

I lugged the fig tree inside last night, not even trusting it to its normal protected place in our garden shed. (I'm still not sure I really need to protect that tree at all.)

And yet, this is what our garden looks like this morning. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.

The daffodils look a bit shocked, but I've seen daffodils survive snow before so I doubt they'll have too much trouble. It is cold out there -- something around 25Âș F, according to the online weather report.

And more snow is coming today and toward the end of the week -- but today's snow, at least, will come with temperatures right around freezing so I doubt it will even stick.

I'm not in PANIC MODE! At least, not yet.

Monday, February 26, 2018


While I was in Florida, Dave arranged a fantastic surprise for me -- he got our wonky kitchen and bathroom faucets replaced. Woo hoo! He hired a professional plumber, who gave us a beautiful shiny gooseneck in the kitchen and some small retro hot-and-cold taps in the bath. They look great, and they work like magic.

I'm so glad to have that sorted out. It allows us to move on to the next phase of our flat improvements -- the painting! We're scheduled to have painters here in just a few weeks, and believe me, this place needs it. I don't think it's been painted for at least a decade.

We're hoping that putting all this work into the flat ourselves will spur the landlord into action on the disgraceful carpeting in the front room. But we probably shouldn't hold our breath.

I stayed awake all day yesterday after landing at 8:30 a.m. London time. I did household tasks like bringing inside the dormant amaryllis, to wake them up for spring, vacuuming the house and washing some clothes. Then we went to dinner last night with our friends Chris and Linda, and despite my travel fatigue I held my own in a lively conversation ranging from guns to Brexit to Chris's latest medical issues (which have been dramatic, but he seems better now).

I got a good night's sleep last night, but I'm still a bit tired this morning. And I have to help give a staff training presentation at work today -- yeesh! Back to the grindstone.

(Photo: A dry cleaner in Maida Hill last night, near where we met Chris and Linda.)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Another Tabebuia, and Tigers in Space

My friend Sue and I went garage-sale shopping yesterday morning, driving around the trailer parks and tidy neighborhoods of Anna Maria, Cortez and Palma Sola. It was a beautiful morning, and I got a few little items -- an old book and a colorfully striped handmade ceramic dish signed "Tami, 1958, Camp Deerhead." Obviously someone's summer art project, and ideal for holding nuts or olives when we have people over for drinks or dinner. Who could resist?

(Camp Deerhead, according to my Internet research, was in Hancock, N.Y. And it's long gone.)

Even better than my sale finds, though, was this huge pink tree. Turns out it's another type of tabebuia, like the yellow one I blogged last Monday. Isn't it amazing?

Here was another amazing find -- a collection of plates in a consignment shop in Bradenton. Yes, those are leopards and tigers -- in outer space!

Even though they are spectacularly perplexing and tacky, I did not buy them. They're too tacky even for me. I know Dave will be disappointed.

I stayed with John and Sue through lunch -- we sat on the Rod N' Reel Pier and watched the schools of mullet flash beneath the green waves. A guy next to us caught a sheepshead, and I'm sure he'll eat it, but I still felt terrible for it and I would have flipped it back into the water if I could figure out how to do it unnoticed! (And without causing an international incident.)

Then I got on the road back to Tampa, and began my journey home. The traffic was terrible. It took me more than two hours to get from Anna Maria to my stepsister's house, just in time to hurriedly shave and change clothes and then get back on the road to the airport. I was there in plenty of time for my flight, but I'm a believer in early airport arrival and even three hours ahead of time, I was a little stressed. Absurd, I know.

I got a massage in the terminal and then sat watching the sunset. The flight went well and I watched two movies, "Battle of the Sexes" and "Goodbye Christopher Robin," and I enjoyed them both. And then, on the London end, getting from Gatwick into the city was hell because the express train isn't running -- track work. It took almost three hours and a combination of bus, rail and tube to get home.

Back to work tomorrow, hopefully not too jet-lagged!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Wild Bill and the Champagne Chairs

Is this not a quintessential Florida scene? That's a street at the mobile home park where Dave's parents spend the winter. The guy on the bicycle is known as Wild Bill, and he rides around and around the neighborhood -- I bet I saw him ten times yesterday. He is as tanned as a briefcase.

I went out to breakfast with Dave's parents yesterday, and ate two eggs and a huge pancake that pretty much killed my enthusiasm for food for the rest of the day. (It was good, though, and well worth the sacrifice!) Then I walked around the neighborhood and took some photos, encountering Wild Bill numerous times, and finally returned to the in-laws' and watched Olympic curling on TV. I don't understand curling at all, and the three of us tried to make sense of it -- it seems a little like shuffleboard on ice with big rocks -- but honestly we were all pretty bewildered.

I was amused to see that Dave's parents not only saved my champagne-cork-cage-chair (say that three times fast!) from 2013, as well as its companion from 2017, but have crafted some more of their own! They've got a regular used-furniture store going now.

I left their place shortly after a light, post-pancake, cheese-and-crackers lunch, and drove north to the tip of Anna Maria Island to stay my final night in Florida with my college friends John and Sue. We had pizza for dinner and went for beers on the local pier and at a neighborhood bar we've been frequenting since we were just out of school. The place hasn't changed one bit in 30 years -- except it's been dusted a few times. Possibly.

By the way, apropos of nothing, when I mentioned flowering trees the other day I said jacarandas bloom about now. But when I drove into Tampa I didn't see any, and doing some research I've learned they bloom later in the spring. So, a correction! My bad!

I'll be headed back to London tonight on an evening flight.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Hairy Dogs and One Big Rodent

I had a long, leisurely drive yesterday from Jacksonville to Orlando to Bradenton, where I stayed last night with Dave's parents. It was a longer drive than I would have liked, honestly, but I hit some traffic and made some detours -- for photos, naturally!

North of Orlando, an area I don't know very well, I decided to explore the tiny communities of Lake Helen and Cassadaga. Lake Helen had some beautiful old homes (above).

I've been curious about Cassadaga for years. It has a reputation as a New Agey place full of spiritualists and mediums -- apparently this goes back to the 1870s, when a spiritualist camp began there. I had friends who went there on road trips from college back in the '80s, but being a skeptic, I'd never been. I can report that there's still an abundance of palm readers and psychics and crystals.

From there I drove to Orlando, where my friends Lynn and Glen live in an older neighborhood that I have always envied. (Yes, Orlando existed long before The Mouse -- although The Mouse transformed it from a sleepy Central Florida citrus town into the entertainment behemoth it is today.)

I met Lynn at her house, where I cuddled (not that I had a choice) with her three yellow labs, Ember, Persimmon and Rupert. Persimmon in particular was in my lap immediately. They were very sweet dogs and they covered me in dog hair.

Then we went to lunch at a neighborhood cafe and walked around Lake Davis, where the groovy little deco apartments above are located. I've long loved those apartments. They look tiny, but they're so stylish!

I hopped back in the car and headed south, where I hit masses of traffic on I-4 around Disney World.

If that looks like hell, that's because IT IS!

(Not bad for a picture shot from a moving car through a windshield, though. The Mickey Mouse electricity pole is a well-known highway landmark.)

Finally, after creeping along for a while, I escaped the clutches of The Mouse and found myself in Polk County, where I used to live. I took a little detour north of Lake Alfred on some roads that I used to cycle when I lived near there circa 1990, just to see if I recognized anything along the route. I didn't.

I drove through Polk City and on into Lakeland, where I got back on the Interstate. But traffic continued to be a nightmare, and it was 4:30 p.m., and I was approaching Tampa. I did not want to get stuck in Tampa during rush hour. So I got off the highway in Plant City and headed south on rural roads through eastern Hillsborough County.

They took me past phosphate mines and farmland to the tiny community of Duette, in eastern Manatee County. (You're getting quite a geography lesson here!) From there I turned west and drove into Bradenton, arriving at the in-laws' around 6:30 p.m.

We promptly went to dinner at a popular restaurant on the beach, where I had to gently defend our claim of a stool at the bar against a woman who seemed shocked that we would want to sit there before moving to a table for dinner. (She seemed to think she should have priority because she was eating at the bar. Dave's dad and I were already standing, but his mom uses a cane and I wasn't about to give up her seat.) Very weird.

Here I am, already getting into arguments with the locals!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Predator and Prey

It wouldn't be a trip to Florida without a picture of an alligator. So there you go. This guy/girl -- not particularly large -- was sunning him/herself on a log at my mom's retirement community. Apparently every once in a while these gators show up, and take up residence in the pond, and eventually get big and have to be removed. Until then it's a gator paradise, with lots of turtles and other snack foods swimming around.

My mom takes a walk every morning, and she always passes the residents' art gallery. It's now exhibiting a collection of whimsical fabric animals made by Leni Mittelacher, who is 94 and has had some gallery shows in the past. I loved this bird feathered with clothing tags.

Yesterday was a day for getting things done. My mom never registered with a GP when she moved to Jacksonville several years ago, so I took her to a local practitioner recommended by my brother and we signed her up. Now, if she gets sick, at least she can just get in a car and drive a short distance to a specific place without hemming and hawing about finding a new doctor. As one of the nurses told us, "You're being proactive!"

Then we went to Target and bought a whole mess of cleaning supplies, and I spent the afternoon cleaning her apartment. I went top to bottom through the bathroom, bedroom, living room and kitchen. She has the limiest water I have ever seen -- it leaves heavy white calcification on the fixtures and on her granite countertop -- and darned if I know how to get it off that stone, because the anti-lime cleaners say you can't use them on stonework. But I de-limed everything else, even the coffee pot. (Hopefully we won't die when we make coffee this morning.)

Last night we joined my brother and nieces for pizza and watched David Attenborough's "Planet Earth" series. Those wildlife shows -- though amazingly filmed -- always depress me. I think of all those animals out there struggling to survive not only with each other but against the ever-encroaching human influences of agriculture, poaching, habitat destruction, fence-building and so on. They're like that gator in the pond -- fine for now, but headed for a reckoning.

Today I depart Jacksonville and head south again!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Harley and the Castaways

My mom, brother and I spent the day together yesterday, with two agenda items in mind. I wanted to revisit Castaway Island, a city park we visited last July but couldn't really see because the nature trail was closed. And my brother wanted to take us to one of his favorite eateries, in Fernandina Beach.

I was hoping to see some more cool birds at Castaway Island -- you may remember last summer I saw a roseate spoonbill there. But this time, we didn't see much -- a lone palm warbler, a distant osprey hunting for fish, swarms of odd little swoopy birds in midair above us. I guess midday on a warm afternoon is not the best time to birdwatch.

On the way there, we drove past this shopfront.

"OK, we just passed a shop decorated with a mural of three monkeys riding on a shark," I said to the family before demanding that my brother turn the car around. What's with the cross on the door? Is it a church? While I get the three monkeys -- hear, see and speak no evil -- I am mystified about the shark. Could it be...Satan?

We took a car ferry across the St. Johns River, which was a novel experience, and drove up Amelia Island. In Fernandina Beach we admired the Lesesne House, which was built in 1860 and has been occupied by the same family since immediately after the Civil War. As I told my family, the house is nice -- but the trees make the picture!

We had lunch at Tasty's, a burger place that has been fashioned out of an old Gulf Oil gas station. I had a Carolina burger with bacon and barbecue sauce, and sweet potato fries. (I made up for it at dinner with a kale salad!) My brother loves their burgers, and I gotta agree -- they are good.

We also ran into this big guy ambling up Centre Street, the main drag through Fernandina, where he was attracting so much attention you'd think he was Brad Pitt. His name is Harley. He's a rescued Great Dane and he came up to at least my waist. He had a head like a football. A whole lotta dog!

I asked his owner if I could take a picture, and he said yes. He added that he was in the process of building a wide skateboard with big rubber wheels, so Harley could pull him along the beach.

"That would be the picture!" I said. "When you get that done, let me know!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Segways and Kress

Another beautiful day in paradise! After breakfast with my stepmother and nephew, I spent the late morning yesterday in downtown Tampa, where I met up with my friend Cherie for lunch. It's always great to visit the old hometown.

I spotted a Segway tour rolling past the old Tampa Bay Hotel (above). I didn't know people still rode those things! I thought that fad ended about the time George W. Bush fell off his.

Way back in 1985 or so, I used to work in this building. It was my first official newspaper job -- I was a part-time clerk in a tiny 3-reporter news bureau, located somewhere on the left-hand corner of that tower, facing the Hillsborough River. Sixth floor, maybe? I thought it was the height of glamor to be working in a downtown skyscraper -- even though it is, at best, a rather bland mid-rise building.

It looks like it's about to become student housing -- according to that banner on the right.

Anyway, it was fun to walk around and experiment photographically with the strong light and shadows and reflections.

This is a beautiful old Tampa edifice -- the colorfully-tiled Kress building. It's been vacant as long as I can remember. I don't know why the powers-that-be can't restore it and get some tenants in there.

After meeting up with Cherie I drove north through some of Tampa's older neighborhoods (above) before getting on the highway and driving four hours up to Jacksonville. I wound up taking a new route, partly by accident because I made a wrong turn. But hey -- that's how you discover new things, right?

I stopped for some photos of sights along the way -- like this colorful hardware shop in the tiny town of Bostwick. It's not often I get the opportunity to be in my own pictures!

Monday, February 19, 2018


Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk down to the lake and sit out with my coffee and my camera. I watched the ducks and anhingas come and go, and the light went from gray and misty to bright and golden. It was a beautiful day, cool and clear, as days often are at this time of year in Florida.

You can't quite tell, but that's a wood duck in the picture above:

Is there a prettier type of duck? If there is, I've never seen it. I wish it had been closer but they're pretty shy. That picture doesn't begin to do them justice.

Then I went and visited Maybelline, my dad and stepmother's dog. She's still crazy energetic when I first walk into her fenced yard, and she still tackles like a linebacker. She's just playing, but she's pretty rough. I got some dramatic scratches on my forearms from her paws.

It's even hard to get her to stay still long enough for a picture!

My stepmother is trying to find a new home for Maybelline. She feels like she can't give the dog the attention she needs, which is probably true. Maybelline spends a lot of her time in a good-sized fenced yard and though she's treated well, she's just too strong for my stepmother and she's obviously hungry for human contact. She leaps into my lap every time I visit! I'd take her back to England but Dave would kill me -- and God knows Olga would never forgive me. Besides, Maybelline doesn't have much experience with living indoors. I think she needs a big space where she can run around and work off all that excess energy.

So this may be the last time I get to play with Maybelline. My scratched-up arms aren't sorry, but the rest of me is.

This is also a great time of the year to be in Florida because many of the tropical trees are blooming. The neighbor's tabebuia is waving bright yellow blossoms against the sky, and I wouldn't be surprised if the jacarandas and kapoks are out, too. (We're a bit too far north for kapoks here, but we do have jacarandas, particularly in some of Tampa's older neighborhoods.)

Last night my stepmother made beef stroganoff, one of my favorite dishes, and my stepsister and her husband and son came over. We drank a bizarre electric-blue sparkling wine my stepmother found at the grocery store. It looks like Windex, but it tastes pretty good!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mouse Sock

Here I am in Florida, where I got a surprisingly good night's sleep, despite the five-hour time difference. It's 5:41 a.m. here, as I write this, and it's weird to think that right now Dave is probably poking around in the garden in broad daylight, moving toward lunchtime. Air travel always amazes me.

My flight was uneventful. We left a bit late because of "unscheduled maintenance," whatever that means -- it sounds important so I'm not complaining. I killed time at the Starbucks in Gatwick airport, which had a surprisingly hip '80s alt-music soundtrack including Roxy Music, New Order, Depeche Mode and even Bronski Beat. I felt like I was in one of the nightclubs of my youth, except that it was, you know, Starbucks, peopled by stroller-pushing parents and occasional senior citizens. (Who may have grooved to that music themselves decades ago!)

It's funny how songs that seemed rather subversive when new have basically become Muzak.

On the plane I read all of "My Absolute Darling," which is a good but harrowing novel with possibly one of the most odious parental characters ever created in fiction -- a paranoid, abusive, controlling mansplainer. I was quickly propelled right through all of its 417 pages. And then I watched "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," which I'd meant to catch in a theater, about the relationship between aging Oscar winner Gloria Grahame and a much younger man in the late '70s and early '80s. It was pretty good, and the acting was impressive, but I didn't get a good sense of why Jamie Bell's character was so in love with Annette Bening's Grahame -- it seemed to me that she didn't have much to offer him, aside from the residual glitter of her glamorous distant past.

My stepsister and her husband picked me up at the airport and brought me back to Lutz, north of Tampa, where I'm staying a few nights at my stepmother's house. It's strange to be here just days after Feb. 16, which would have been my dad's 81st birthday. If he were still with us we'd be having cake and presents now, no doubt.

(Photo: A lost sock in London, which seems Florida-appropriate even though I am not quite in the land of Mickey and Minnie. I haven't had a chance to take any photos here yet!)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mind the Gap

Olga and I went to check out the collapsed house yesterday morning. As you can see, it's not so much a presence as an absence -- a hole in the street. There are people still living in the house to the right -- when I was there, there were lights in the windows -- but I'm guessing they're probably a bit nervous about their foundations.

Yesterday was our last day of school before February break. We're off all next week. I'm flying to Florida today to spend time with the family, and Dave is staying here in London, taking care of Olga and the garden and maybe the plumbing. I'll be coming to you next from the Sunshine State!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Plumbing and Renovation Gone Awry

In our quest to address some long-neglected problems in our flat, I scheduled a handyman to visit yesterday morning to do some minor repairs on our kitchen and bathroom faucets. Sometimes the kitchen tap won't turn on all the way -- something about the handle, I think -- and the bathroom tap drips. I'm sure this is just a matter of changing a washer or something, but neither Dave nor I even know where a washer is located in a faucet, much less what it's supposed to do -- so a handyman was our best option.

Anyway, the guy showed up, and tried to turn off the water supply so he could do the work. Turns out, our stopcock (the valve that controls water into the flat) is stuck. He couldn't budge it, and didn't want to push too hard for fear of breaking it. We even walked up and down in the street outside trying to find the main valve into the house, and although we found the valves for both of our neighbors, we couldn't find our own. (Now I know how to turn off Mrs. Kravitz's water, though!)

After we'd spent half an hour wandering around in the street like zombies I called everything off. I had to get to work. So I paid him for his time (because, after all, it wasn't his fault that our stopcock is stuck) and that was that. The faucet still drips. The kitchen tap is still wonky. And I guess we need to alert the landlords about the stopcock, because if a pipe breaks someday (God forbid) there is no way to turn off the water into this flat!

You probably don't remember (and why would you?) but a big fire flared up in our neighborhood a couple of years ago on Finchley Road. I photographed the scene at the time, and this (above) is what it looks like today. I don't know if there's any work going on behind that scaffold or not. The shopfronts are still closed tight. Here we are, almost two and a half years later!

But at least this building has remained standing. We had some neighborhood excitement on Monday when a house under renovation, not too far from ours, collapsed completely! Now there's just a big dark gap in the street like a missing tooth. Olga and I walk that way frequently -- I may take her over there this morning to check it out. The collapsed house sounds like it was in bad shape -- it hadn't been lived in for a decade -- but it was on sale a few years ago for £1.4 million. Can you imagine investing that much in a property only to have it fall down? Another reason why we rent, in this land of century-old houses!

(Top photo: A bathroom fixtures shop on Finchley Road.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bears, Dogs and an Untamed Horse

Well, I made the mistake of looking at The New York Times before writing this post, and now my brain is full of information about the latest school shooting and Reince Priebus' description of Donald Trump as a headstrong horse. And what can I say about any of it, really, except that America still needs to address its gun addiction and stop making excuses for its dimwitted, dangerous leader? And this whole thing about Trump's lawyer paying $130,000 in hush money to a porn star -- does anyone really believe those were the lawyer's own funds, as he insists? What lawyer does that?

Robert Mueller, your mandate is expanding.

I just can't believe that the same Congress that made such a stink about Bill Clinton is going to sit idly by while these revelations come tumbling forth. And what about all those evangelicals who support Trump? How can they justify that support now? WWJD indeed!

On the personal front, I'm happy to report that my back problems have improved greatly. I don't know whether it was the massage that made the difference or what, but I felt pretty much normal yesterday and I slept through the night both last night and Tuesday night -- a welcome change. Dave keeps telling me I should get a massage regularly, and maybe he's right. Now that I've found a massage place I like, that's not out of the question.

I got a request to say more about these little critters that live on our kitchen windowsill, visible in yesterday's photo. They're salt and pepper shakers, and there's not much of a story behind them, really. I saw them in a shop in the Brussels train station (of all places) several years ago and bought them. They weren't expensive. We don't actually put salt or pepper in them. They're just decorative.

I tried to figure out who produced them -- there's no visible manufacturer name -- but I had no luck. I did find, however, a pair for sale on eBay. First come, first served!

As I sit here on the couch in the pre-dawn darkness, drinking my morning coffee, I'm hearing a bird singing brightly outside. Another sign of the changing seasons!

(Top photo: Mama, Papa and Baby bear outside a garage in Hampstead -- along with a rooster, for some reason.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Revisiting the Root Canal

Dave and I bought these tulips at the farmer's market on Saturday. We needed a bit of spring color around here, and now they're livening up the windowsill in the kitchen. I love the combination of daylight from outside, yellow light from our overhead fixture and the pink flowers in that picture.

Yesterday was part two of my root canal saga. I went back to the dentist to get the job finished and the tooth sealed with a filling. As it turned out, he didn't put on a crown right away -- he said he wants to wait six months and make sure the root canal is sound.

It was an easier visit than the previous one, but I still had to get more Novocain and wear that rubber dental dam, and he had to re-drill the channels in the tooth because, when he probed them, I still felt some pain in one -- he thought he might have left a bit of nerve behind there. Remember how he had equipment problems on my previous visit, with his drill initially not working quite right? Well, the same thing happened again.

"Do you think we need a new one?" he asked the hygienist.

"YES!" I replied from the chair.

Anyway, he eventually got it fired up and all went well. Now I have a "provisional" filling, which is not meant to last forever but apparently will go a few years if need be. He said he would reassess when I come back for my regular checkup.

On the walk home, I picked up a couple of CDs from the "free stuff" pile outside the library. One is by a group called Tortoise and it's an interesting sort of mellow electronic rock. The other is a collaborative album between Sergio Mendes and an assortment of hip-hop artists, and I'm digging that one too, surprisingly. I'm usually not much of a hip-hop fan, but knowing these classic Mendes songs, I can appreciate this new take on them.

At work yesterday I spent time organizing our archive of old yearbooks. (Part of our continuing effort to clean out the conference room.) I realized with horror that someone has been cutting pictures out of many of them. Argh! Who DOES that?! (I think we know who, actually, and he means well -- but I don't want to publicly point fingers so I'll say no more.) I separated out the damaged ones and I think we'll lock up the others to protect them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Massage, and Old Magazines

I got a massage last night after work, thinking it might help my back. I went to a Thai massage place recommended by some women at work -- apparently its owner is married (I think?) to another of our coworkers. Anyway, the massage was magical, and it was one of those intense deals where the masseuse (is that still a word?) climbed not only onto the table but onto my back, on her elbows and knees, using her body weight as pressure. She even offered to walk on my back, but I declined that -- all I could picture was George Jefferson walking on Mr. Bentley.

I'm so glad that I found a good massage place.

As I said, it felt great at the time, but unfortunately, the back still hurts. I'm going to try to pop in and see the doctor sometime this week, just to make sure nothing serious is going on. It may be one of those things where I've stressed it out and it will just take time to heal.

Last night I ran my camera bag through the washing machine. When I fell in the mud on Sunday it got splattered, and I tried vacuuming it and hand-cleaning it, and neither worked. The machine was the last resort. I did that once with my previous bag and it emerged a bit tattered, but this time I put it on a gentler setting and it seems to have been successful.

At work we have a huge stash of old magazines -- Newsweek from the 1940s to about 1960, and National Geographic from the '40s through the '70s, and American Heritage from the '50s until 2010. All these magazines are stored in our conference room, many in bound volumes, and although they look good in the cabinets they are completely useless to us as a school. They aren't indexed so no one could do research using them, unless they knew which issue to look for. We didn't want to throw them out, but we've never been sure what to do with them.

Then, a few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about a London man who's building a huge archive of old magazines and printed ephemera. Bingo! I e-mailed him to offer our magazines, and he called me right away and accepted. So I'll be loading those into boxes in coming days. I'm glad we found a home for them!

(Photo: Morning at the tennis club around the corner from our flat.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Some Days are Stones

Do you know the John Denver song "Some Days are Diamonds"? It's a lesser-known, mid-career single, but I always think of it when I have a bad day. The refrain is:

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone
Sometimes the cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

Yesterday was a stone.

The day began innocently enough. I worked in the garden, trimming the rambling roses and blackberry vines and tying them back to the fence so the bulbs and other plants below would get more light. I vacuumed the house. I did laundry and some other small tasks.

I'd thought about taking on another segment of the LOOP, but the next stretch is 10 miles, and my back has been bothering me so much lately that I didn't think I could (or should) walk that far. Instead I decided to take the dog to the Heath. She stayed inside almost all day Saturday so she needed to get out.

On the way there, we passed a couple sitting on a bench, their black spaniel at their feet. As we walked by, I heard the woman say to the dog: "Yeah, you didn't bark at that one, did you? You're not stupid."

It's so funny how everyone thinks Olga is fierce.

Anyway, I ran into a friend from work, and then passed Ricky Gervais on the sidewalk. It was definitely him. I am not making this up. I texted Dave to tell him the news, and then slipped my phone into my jacket pocket.

So far so good, right? Olga and I circumnavigated the Heath, and of course she got incredibly muddy because the Heath, like everywhere else in England at this time of year, is a mud bog. We were just about to leave when I put my hand in my pocket and realized my phone was no longer there.

Oh shit.

I debated what to do. I had walked miles, my back was killing me, and I thought the odds were slim that my phone would have lain undiscovered somewhere on the Heath all that time -- more than an hour had elapsed since I last used it and I had no idea where I'd dropped it. I stopped some passersby and used their phone to call mine -- but it went straight to voice mail.

And then, to add insult to injury, I slipped in the mud and wound up sprawled on my back, covered with sticky brown clay. The people I'd borrowed the phone from were still standing nearby to witness this spectacle. "It's going to be one of those days," I said to them as I gingerly picked my soggy self off the ground.

I decided to simply go home. But halfway there, I had a change of heart because I thought I figured out where I'd dropped the phone -- in a field, off a path, when I knelt down to take the picture above. I was on all fours, and I could easily imagine my phone slipping from my jacket at that moment. Because it wasn't a heavily traveled path I thought there was a chance the phone would still be in the grass.

So we went back to the Heath. (Olga was very confused.) I walked half my route again, revisited the field, and found nothing.

I was resigned to buying another phone.

This was the day's consolation prize -- some cool pottery shards for my collection.

Back home, I bathed the dog, changed my clothes, took some aspirin and called my phone on Skype. And lo and behold, a man answered. Turns out he was a police officer -- someone had handed in my phone at the Golders Green police station. He said I could come and pick it up right away. I hopped a bus and had my phone back within half an hour, having conveyed my thanks (via the police) to the person who turned it in.

(Turns out I didn't drop it in that field after all. It was found in a completely different spot, called Springett's Wood. Who knows how I lost it. Note to self: NEVER put phone in jacket pocket!)

I seriously think this happy ending was karmic payback for turning in that bag of passports and credit cards I found last fall.

And just like that, the stone became a diamond!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

First Daffodil, and Daffodil Shrapnel

I looked out in the garden yesterday morning and saw a bright spot of yellow -- our first daffodil of the season! How exciting! Winter really is edging into spring. (To paraphrase a George Winston album title.)

But then, to my dismay, I saw...

Those @*&# squirrels!

I gotta let Olga out into the garden more often to keep them at bay. I don't know why they like gnawing on daffodil buds, but they do -- as well as many, many of our other plants. Maybe they're extra-hungry at this time of year. They also ate all the flowers off our snowdrop. (Or maybe it was the pigeons. OK, I didn't see the culprit in action.)

The hellebore is looking pretty amazing. Our next-door neighbor's Polish gardener calls it a "Christmas rose."

And we have a crocus emerging in the bed by the back door. This area has been dug over so much by Dave, I'm thrilled to see there's still a bulb left undisturbed!

We had a quiet, domestic day yesterday. We went to the Bridge Cafe, near the tube station, for breakfast, followed by a wander through our weekly farmer's market. (We both agreed we don't go nearly enough. We bought local pork chops, organic pears and purple broccolini, among other things.)

On the way back home, we passed John selling his used books near the train station. I got an copy of a clever photo book by Slinkachu, an artist who installs tiny figures of people around London, posed in inventive scenarios, and photographs them. And then, motivated to buy books, we went to our local independent bookshop (Yes! We have one!) and picked up a copy of Gabriel Tallent's "My Absolute Darling" and Allen Hollinghurst's "The Sparsholt Affair." So now I'm set for reading material.

It was a very rainy afternoon, so we stayed inside. In bed, in fact. It was fabulous, but I feel like my sleep cycle has been out of whack all week and today I'm looking forward to getting out and doing something active and getting tired!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Storage Cabinet Time Machine

We've spent the last two days cleaning out the library. I've mostly been weeding the fiction section, but yesterday morning, my boss and I dug into the storage cabinets in the conference room. This seems to be where stuff goes when no one knows what else to do with it.

We found stacks and stacks of old photo print kits, once used in teaching -- pictures of Nazi Germany and stuff like that. Back before the Internet, those kits were necessary, but now of course all those resources are online and no one's touched them for years.

Similarly, there was a huge bag of old slides. Most were pictures of artworks, used for art history classes. (Those of us who are of a certain age will remember sitting through those slide shows, trying to differentiate Chagall from Picasso.)

But in among the art history slides -- which we threw away, because again, they're useless now -- I found this little vinyl pouch. Inside were five old slides of London. (The package says 4, but someone must have stuck an extra one in there.) Three are marked "Ministry of Public Building and Works" and two bear the name "Walton Sound & Film Services Ltd.", then a private film studio in London. The slides aren't dated, but the pouch is priced at seven shillings, which means it has to be pre-1971, the year decimalization did away with shillings in Britain.

The slides are color, but the colors have deteriorated so badly over the years that I can only reproduce most of them in black and white. This is the exception -- a slightly warped-looking image of Kew Palace.

Here's the Petticoat Lane market, in London's east end. (I was just there a few weeks ago!) I can't immediately identify those buildings -- I wonder if they're there anymore?

And what about all these people? Where would they be now? Let's assume this was taken in 1970 -- almost 50 years ago. (I think it's older than that, maybe even by a decade, but let's just assume.) The boy at lower left would be 60-ish now. Many of the others are almost certainly long gone.

Here's a photo of the "Yeoman Gaoler of the Tower," at the Tower of London.

The other two photos are essentially timeless. There's this one, of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, with a ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens.

And there's this interior view of Westminster Abbey.

So there you have it -- rescued from the trash! Hopefully whoever owns the copyright to these photos, if anyone at this point, won't mind that I've put them online.