Friday, August 31, 2018

Girls Night Out

Nobody seems to want to get out of bed this morning. Dave's alarm went off several times before he staggered to the bathroom, and Olga and I are still lying here, even though it's 6:37 a.m. and I need to be at school in an hour. I'm singing in the faculty choir at our opening assembly -- as I do pretty much every year -- and I have to be in early for our last rehearsal.

This year we're singing "Stand By Me," which is at least an easy song -- two verses, and we all pretty much know it by heart.

I'm having a terrible time keeping to my work schedule in general this week. I had to take my cereal to work yesterday in a plastic take-away box and eat it there because I ran out of time at home. (And we were out of milk!) I think it's partly because Dave and I have had such a busy week, with our visitors and whatnot, and partly just adapting to a schedule again after our leisurely summer.

Yesterday on my way to work I found this picture face-down on the ground. It doesn't seem very old, but it's interesting that it's black-and-white. You don't often see black-and-white prints these days, do you? I wonder what the story is here -- are they sisters? Friends? It looks like a party of some sort, with the one woman in the center holding what appears to be a Smirnoff Ice bottle. (That would date the photo to some time after 1999.)

And why was it discarded? Did someone have a falling-out? Maybe one of the women was secretly -- or not secretly -- in love with one of the others and it all ended badly. Or maybe they're just work pals with little personal involvement and so the picture didn't have much worth. Or maybe someone just dropped it and didn't mean to discard it at all.

So many possibilities. Feel like writing a short story?

(Top photo: A chicken restaurant in Kennington, following the model that all British fried chicken outlets must have American-sounding names.)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Sunflower, and Tsarist Photography

Here's our volunteer sunflower in all its blooming glory. It's very small, not much bigger than a field daisy. But it's still a nice addition to our almost-September garden.

Wow, is it nice to have our house back. Chris and Gary were the perfect guests, but there's nothing like being able to sit on the couch with Dave and not "make conversation." Getting back into our routines last night, making dinner and watching TV, felt wonderfully comfortable. That makes it sound like Dave and I don't talk, which isn't true at all, but you know what I mean. Entertaining, as much as I enjoy it from time to time, adds a layer of artifice to home life, doesn't it?

Dave ordered sushi for dinner so he wouldn't have to cook, but I was insistent on eating our leftovers, so I cobbled together one of my peculiar "clean out the fridge" meals -- a fried egg over lentils and vegetables, with a side salad. And watermelon for dessert. I bought a tiny watermelon at Tesco last week that's no bigger than a cantaloupe and it's good -- and practically seedless.

Today, on my way to work, I'm going to take the sheets and towels from our visitors up to the laundry and drop them off. I can pick them up tonight, all clean and folded, and believe me it's totally worth it.

Have you seen today's Google doodle, which honors a Russian photographer named Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky? I'd never heard of him before. He pioneered color photography in Russia during the time of the last Tsars, and I found it fascinating to page through his photos on the web site of the U.S. Library of Congress. (Donald Trump hasn't gotten around to dismantling it yet.) Talk about a window onto another age -- peasant girls in colorful skirts and head scarves, the emir of Bukhara in his embroidered blue silk coat, miners with horses and wagons, a woman from Samarkand in a head-to-toe blue burqa. Click "view all" on the linked page above to browse through the online gallery.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


As I sit here with my coffee in the gray light of dawn, it's raining steadily outside. I don't think there's any nicer sound than an early morning rain, before the world wakes. I appreciate it all the more after our hot, dry summer.

Dave's sister Chris and her husband Gary leave this morning for Southampton and their cruise around Britain. Dave cooked for them last night -- fish en papillote and Eton mess -- and we watched the debut of the new season of "The Great British Bake-Off" so they could absorb some British television culture. (Is it a deliberately anti-Brexit statement that a French woman is participating in Bake-off this year? Hmmmm...)

I was just looking at the primary election results. Joe Arpaio is out in Arizona -- yay! And although I didn't vote for Andrew Gillum for Florida governor, it was really a toss-up in my mind between him and Gwen Graham, so I'm happy with his victory too. Onward to November!

(Photo: Trafalgar Square on Monday.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Olga Goes to Trafalgar Square

Dave and I took Chris and Gary down into Westminster yesterday morning to do some sightseeing, and we brought Olga along too. It seemed like a good idea since we'd be doing so much walking. Why not exercise the dog?

We started at Buckingham Palace, where the changing of the guard was scheduled to take place. I knew it would be a mob scene, so Olga and I spent most of the ceremony exploring the quieter parts of Green Park:

I did watch a little bit, though -- as much as I could see from a distance. I saw the guards' red-jacketed shoulders and the tops of their bearskin hats, and I heard the brass band playing "Isn't She Lovely." (It's always interesting to see what music gets chosen to accompany the changing of the guard. Last time I went, in 2012, it was apparently "We Are the Champions" -- maybe because of the Olympics.)

Then we walked through St. James Park, where Olga was panting and straining with excitement, acting like a slavering mad dog. I thought she was going to burst a blood vessel. She was just overstimulated.

By the time we got to Trafalgar Square, she'd calmed down. She'd never been to Trafalgar Square before!

We checked out some of the chalk artists and their work. This guy had a whole narrative about losing his family and coming to Britain in 2011 for a better life. Olga was intrigued, maybe because she's a rescue dog and she knows the value of opportunity.

From Trafalgar we walked down Whitehall to the Palace of Westminster and over the bridge, which always offers a great view, although the palace is covered with scaffolding for its ongoing restoration. On the South Bank we found a riverside cafe where we had salads and some rosé wine and watched the passing parade of people. (And there were MILLIONS of people.) No, we did not eat a meaty bagel, but I can never resist weird graffiti.

We dropped Olga off at home and I think she's been sound asleep ever since. Then we all went out to dinner at St. John, a restaurant specializing in "nose-to-tail" cooking, or using all parts of an animal. This is where, back in 2011, I had a salad made of duck hearts. I didn't get anything so exotic this time around -- a beetroot salad with anchovies and smoked eel for dinner. (Tastes like fish.)

We successfully avoided the madness of the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend, though on Sunday we could faintly hear the thumping music even from three miles away. I don't know whether it was the wind direction or cloud cover or all the moisture in the air from the rain, but it was amazing how clearly the sound carried even into our back garden in West Hampstead. We normally don't hear Carnival at all.

Now I've got to get motivated for work -- our first day back with students!

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Rainy Walk for Peanuts

The rain came pouring down late yesterday morning, not long after Dave's sister and her husband arrived on our doorstep, toting their heavy suitcases and wrestling with jet lag. We managed to get to the local pub, with the aid of four umbrellas, and there we caught up on all the family news. I suppose rain really is the most appropriate weather with which to greet any visitor to England.

Chris and Gary are visiting for their 25th wedding anniversary, and in a few days they'll set out on a cruise around the British Isles. They'll go to various ports in England, France, Scotland and Ireland. Apparently Virgin Atlantic even gave them a free bottle of champagne on their flight, which is pretty darn impressive in this era of airline belt-tightening.

After lunch, they went home with Dave and I set out on an ambitious walk to Homebase. If I ever decide again to walk to Homebase in the rain, please stop me, OK? It was pretty darn miserable. By the time I arrived, the lower half of my body looked like it had been through a carwash. I did get there, though, and I picked up a bag of peanuts for the birds (which was my goal), and then I went to Waterstones book shop to try to buy the first book in Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical series. I've been reading about these books, collectively called "My Struggle," for years, and I haven't read any of them, so I thought I'd take the plunge. A multivolume autobiography sounds tedious and self-indulgent to me, but everyone says it's brilliant -- and I suppose it's no more self-indulgent than a blog.

Anyway, I had to order the Knausgaard book because it was out of stock, but I picked up a couple of others -- Derek Jarman's "Modern Nature," in which he writes about his life and his garden on the English coast in the years before he died of AIDS in 1994, and "I'm Your Man," a biography of Leonard Cohen.

Not that I am lacking for anything to read. I still have stacks of books I haven't gotten to yet. Book stores are dangerous places. It was great to go in and hold the books, though, and have a little chat with the guy at the counter about Leonard Cohen -- all experiences I miss when I order from Amazon.

Back at home we watched a bit of John Mulaney's stand-up show in which he compared Donald Trump (without ever naming him, which was clever) to a horse running loose in a hospital. It's a brilliant joke. The show, "Kid Gorgeous," is on Netflix and if you haven't seen it, it's worth watching. I'm normally not a huge fan of standup but I got a kick out of it:

"This guy being the president, it's like there's a horse loose in a hospital. I think eventually everything's going to be OK, but I have no idea what's going to happen next. And neither do any of you, and neither do your parents, because there's a horse loose in the hospital. That's never happened before! No one knows what the horse is going to do next, least of all the horse. He's never been in the hospital before, he's just as confused as you are."

(Photo: Wild geranium leaves on Hampstead Heath, Saturday.) 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Lost Collar

I did take Olga to the Heath yesterday, as promised. I'm pretty sure we haven't been there since late June, which is crazy. Dave and I got busy with traveling over the summer, and I've also been concerned about Olga and her stiff back legs -- sometimes when we walk her a long way she has trouble getting up and moving around later. But she did fine on this walk and had a great time, and she didn't seem too stiff last night, so I don't think we need to rein in her activity much. We just need to check in with the vet about how to ease her aches and pains when needed.

The Heath is looking a bit autumnal, with the chestnut trees turning yellowish, their leaves browning at the edges.

There was time for a dip in the duckweed pond on Sandy Heath.

And then we had a bit of excitement when Olga lost her collar. I realized as we were walking across one of the football fields on Hampstead Heath Extension that her dog tags weren't jangling as usual -- because they were gone! I knew she had her collar when we crossed onto the extension, because I put her leash on to cross the road. So we retraced our steps along the paths, but found nothing. She races around in the woods as we walk, so -- losing hope -- I began peering into the underbrush every ten feet or so. By some miracle, I spied the collar on the bank of a dry ditch where she'd been chasing squirrels.

I was glad because she's had that collar since we got her in 2013, and the dog tags have my and Dave's contact information on them. I'd rather not have them just roaming around out there.

In other news, the mystery bud in our garden does indeed appear to be a miniature sunflower, probably planted by birds or squirrels from the birdseed we put out. I've got to go get some more birdseed today, in fact. Those birds can really put it away!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Algerian Porn and Donald Trump

I've just spent an hour clearing more Algerian pornography off my 81-year-old mom's Facebook account. So far I've reported and blocked something like 300 obscene profiles, all suggested by Facebook as friends, and I've tried to add information to my mom's profile so that Facebook can better connect her with people she really knows. And yet the porn keeps coming. Dave thinks we should delete her account entirely and I'm beginning to feel the same way. She honestly doesn't use it much and I'm not sure it's worth all this effort, but why shouldn't she be able to use Facebook like the rest of the world?

If she wanted Algerian pornography I wouldn't care. But she doesn't. Trust me on this.

I've even complained to Facebook via its Facebook page (very meta!) but I haven't heard a response yet. And although I'm calling it Algerian porn, the people posting these images claim to be based in many other countries as well, from the Philippines to Thailand to Bangladesh to Egypt. I'm sure most of them aren't real people at all.

It would be laughable if it weren't so frustrating. My mother has been to none of these countries and she knows no one there. Why is this so hard for Facebook to figure out?

Also laughably frustrating: Is this whole situation with Donald Trump paying off Stormy Daniels going to simply blow over like every other Trump-related outrage? They used to call Reagan the Teflon president, but Trump has him out-Teflonned. Dave and I have been watching a BBC show in which Ed Balls, who is a British politician, travels around the United States exploring the roots of Trump's popularity. It's a fascinating show and many of Trump's supporters seem to agree that he's a blustery embarrassment. But they also want him in office, either because he'll "do things differently" or they've become so cynical that they've given up believing any politician will truly represent their interests. They want a bull in the china shop. They want entertainment. Criminy!

As Roger Cohen writes in the failing New York Times, Trump's supporters "have known all along that he's a needy narcissist, a womanizer, a lowlife, a liar, a braggart and a generally miserable human being." But they still support him, regardless of the latest revelations. "So the real question is," Cohen writes, "what does it mean to be an American today? Who are we, goddamit? What have we become?"

(That may be the first time I've seen "goddamit" used in a New York Times op-ed column, by the way. I would have spelled it with two m's, but that's just me. There seems to be quite a bit of debate about this on grammar web sites.)

Meanwhile, here in London, we're feeling downright autumnal. This morning's pre-dawn temperatures were in the low 50's (Fahrenheit, obviously) and our high today is supposed to be 67º F. Sounds like a good day to take the dog to the Heath!

(Photo: A long-vacant shop near Fortune Green, a week ago or so. I think it's been vacant as long as we've lived here, actually.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Desk, Explained

This chippy is right up the street from our flat, and despite the fact that it was apparently named in "Courvoisiers book of the best fish & chip shop" (?) we've never been there. One of these days we'll have to go.

You can see Olga's reflection in the left-hand door. She's probably looking at me and thinking, "AGAIN with the stopping!"

My boss tweeted this picture of me at my newly truncated desk at work. Perhaps this will help those of you having trouble picturing what I was saying about my desk being cut in half. The desk used to be a half-circle. Now it's a quarter-circle, and all that space to the right of me that used to be taken up by desk is now open floor. We're going to get a table or something for that area.

Apparently our general philosophy these days is to move away from built-in furniture and toward more portable items and "flexible space." I hope my quarter-circle gets to stay, though, because I like it, and I'd really rather not work at some rolling stand-up pedestal. Besides, the book return -- which you can't see in the picture above -- is built into the desk at the far left.

Anyway, it's been a crazy week of preparation, but I think we're pretty much ready for students to return. I still have today (an orientation day for new students) to get a few more things done before school officially begins on Tuesday. Monday, fortunately, is a holiday, and Dave's sister and her husband are arriving for a visit beginning on Sunday.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Shoes on a Record Player

I'm off to work early today for some job training. So please enjoy another collection of recent iPhone photos!

First, a piece of street art I found walking Olga a few weeks ago. I wish I'd seen it before the rain washed out some of the color, but it looks like a collection of shoes on a record player...? Fancy footwork, indeed!

This is a pretty sterile-looking patio, but it's truly remarkable when you consider that it used to look like this. I think the owner did a major renovation. Let's hope the previous resident moves back in!

Wild jungle cats are roaming our street...

...and here's another wild animal, checking out the mounds of litter along the railroad tracks in West Hampstead. I always thought aluminum cans were desirable for recyclers. They used to pay for them, though I don't know if that's still the case. Why do they wind up discarded by the truckload?

My current favorite Brexit sticker, spotted in West Hampstead.

Remember the red chairs? Well, they disappeared pretty quickly, but in their place appeared this black couch and an old refrigerator. Sigh. Our street is plagued by homeless furniture.

Olga was quite interested in these gigantic sunflowers not far from our flat, even though they're just a bit past their prime.

And finally, I came across this discarded beer can. It struck me as a pretty funny name for a beer, even one "fresh hopped like a summer mowed lawn," as I think the can says. A beer after mowing the lawn always tastes good, but I'm not sure I want it to taste like the lawn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Fox Stencils Update

When I was walking Olga several days ago, we came across this fox stencil outside Sainsbury's in Kilburn. Remember when we first moved to London and I was finding these stencils all over the place? Many of them have since been painted over, but this one is still hanging around.

Here's a photo I took in July 2012 of the same stencil. It looked a bit pink back then -- I don't know whether it's faded now or if the color was simply an effect of direct sunlight.

In West Hampstead, one of the buildings just off the high street used to have an identical fox stenciled on its side. Here it is in July 2014:

But then someone painted the building. To their credit, they added a new fox to the wall after the paint job, but it's just not the same:

The old stencil was sharp and energetic, but this new one is just kind of blobby and sad.

So Manafort and Cohen have fallen, and both on the same day. Could this be the beginning of the end of Trump? Dare we hope?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

White Privilege, or How I Wasn't Arrested

I finished "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race," the summer community read for faculty and staff at the school where I work. Despite the stark title, Reni Eddo-Lodge's book is essentially one long attempt to talk to white people about race. I found it refreshingly candid, compelling and honest. Although the author (perhaps obviously, a black woman) said she is often met with defensiveness when she raises issues of white privilege, I couldn't find much to argue with in her assertions about the way race pervades so many areas of all our lives, with white people being mostly blind to it and blacks being all too aware.

The book is focused on black life in Britain --- which was also a fascinating perspective, since so much that I've read about race focuses on the black experience in America. But of course it still made me consider my own life as an American and the opportunities I've had as a white man.

Undoubtedly there have been occasions when I've had it easier than someone of color. The most obvious example, to me, involves an escapade when I was in college, back in the 1980s. I've thought about it often in recent years following the birth of "Black Lives Matter." I and some friends drank a little too much beer one night and teepeed the house of a university administrator in a Tampa suburb. We also soaped his car. Then we stupidly and drunkenly drove to a nearby park and played on the swingset until the police pulled up. One of my friends lived in this small suburb, and the police -- who had been called by one of the administrator's neighbors -- made us return to the administrator's house and clean everything up, and then escorted us home. We were not arrested; I honestly have no idea whether a report was even made. Can you imagine how that would have been handled if we'd been four black kids, especially if none of us had lived in that small suburb? I'm betting we'd have all been in jail -- at best.

I'm sure I've benefitted in other ways, personally and professionally, from white privilege. For example, when I was a reporter, how many of my sources felt more comfortable with me because I was white? How often have I walked down city streets or around department stores or into fine restaurants and subconsciously felt the security of belonging, rather than the skeptical eye of others who felt I didn't belong? One of the nagging truths about white privilege is that those of us who enjoy it don't even see it. To us, it's simply the way the world works. We neglect to consider that not everyone shares the same reality.

Eddo-Lodge addresses the tendency of some to dismiss the barriers of race as issues of income or upbringing or opportunity. Class and race, she argues, are indelibly intertwined, in our world in which the "haves" -- and especially the elite leaders of the "haves" -- are still overwhelmingly so much whiter than the "have nots."

She also takes on feminism for failing to adequately address the needs of black women, or even properly listen to their concerns about the "intersectionality" of racism and sexism. I thought she was a bit hard on feminists, frankly, but then I spoke to one of my colleagues -- a white woman who counts herself a feminist and has studied feminism -- who said she believes Eddo-Lodge is absolutely right.

So, what do I know? I'm a white guy. I try to be woke, but I'm sure my life is padded in countless ways I haven't even considered, in addition to the many that I have. Eddo-Lodge says she's not trying to insinuate that every white person has it easy -- but the playing field is certainly not level.

I do know that, as I said, I could find very little to argue with in this book. I found it a fascinating read, and a good starting place for considering ways to take action, which I suppose means (in addition to voting responsibly) addressing inequalities as they arise both in our immediate environment and the wider world, and considering every opportunity to be more inclusive and aware.

(Photo: Completely unrelated to the text, a chip shop in Kilburn, northwest London.)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Dog in a Pub

This is the mystery bud. It's on a plant that grew in a pot on our patio table, and we have no idea what it is. I think it's a sunflower -- the plant is tall and skinny, about a foot high, and it could have come from some wayward birdseed distributed by a squirrel. (If so, it will be the first positive thing the squirrels did in our garden.)

We're watching it to see what happens. I'll report back!

Yesterday we met our friends Chris and Linda at the Black Lion pub for Sunday lunch. We sat out on the back patio, and we got there at noon, just as they were opening. So we had the whole patio to ourselves for the first half hour or so. I let Olga off her lead and she explored while we sat. She loves going to pubs, especially since she inevitably gets a few morsels of our food -- in this case several pieces of pork belly and some boneless chicken.

From the patio we had a pretty good view of that apartment building that burned in July. What a mess! Fortunately no one was hurt.

Anyway, today is going to be a busy day at work -- lots of beginning-the-year orientation stuff. I better get in gear!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Suddenly Susan

This building is located not far from our flat, on a route along the high street that I often walk with Olga. As we passed the other morning, I got to looking at that face more closely. Who is it supposed to be?

The building itself is otherwise nondescript and doesn't offer any clues. I tried searching online and couldn't find anything, although I did learn that several houses across the street -- where the West Hampstead Library is now -- were destroyed by a bomb in World War II, killing ten people at a wedding party.

I also learned that Olivia Newton-John lived in a house on this road in 1965!

Could it be Pan, or some nameless satyr? Why would someone put a satyr on a building?

I think it looks like Susan Boyle. With horns. That's my vote.

Yesterday Dave and I went to a lunchtime open house given by one of our coworkers, and I wore the West Virginia Penitentiary t-shirt that I bought at Goodwill in Jacksonville a week ago. Would you believe someone at the party and his family had actually been there? Apparently they were in West Virginia visiting family and looking for something to do and the penitentiary gives tours. What are the odds?

We haven't seen any more mice since a few days after our return from Vietnam. Our upstairs neighbor is involved in what appears to be a massive project refinishing his entry stairs and front door -- there's been endless sanding -- and I imagine that's driven any remaining mice elsewhere. (Along with our return home.) Maybe we've finally conquered the domestic wildlife.

(Can you have domestic wildlife? Or is that an oxymoron?)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Cat that Shat

Back in the '90s and aughts, before Olga was a twinkle in anyone's eye, I had cats. This was before Dave, when I lived in Florida and then in New York, and my cats were named Howard and Armenia, after two busy parallel streets in South Tampa.

Well, Howard died a very old cat in the spring of 2004. That left Armenia, who was about half Howard's age, all alone. I decided later that year to adopt a kitten to give Armenia some company.

The plan went disastrously wrong. Armenia, always a bit high strung and feisty, hated that kitten. And the kitten, being young and energetic and insane like all kittens, was in Armenia's face all the time. Georgia (as I named her) chased Armenia, pounced on her, ate her food and pestered her incessantly. Most adult cats would simply lay the smackdown on the kitten and thus establish dominance, but Armenia, for some reason, could never bring herself to do so.

Georgia quickly came to rule the roost, and Armenia basically had a nervous breakdown. She stopped using the litter box and -- to put it delicately -- began relieving her bowels on my couch. And not just once, either. She did it over and over and over again.

(Fortunately, she continued peeing in the litter box. Why she could do that and not poop there, I have no idea. Cats!)

The couch (which of course was WHITE) remained relatively unscathed because after the first two times, I wrapped it in a layer of Hefty bags topped by towels and a bedsheet. It wasn't particularly pleasant to sit on -- even with me promptly doing laundry whenever needed -- but I figured it was all temporary, just an adjustment while Armenia worked through her kitten hatred and her revenge pooping.

But no. Armenia never adapted to the kitten. After several weeks, I returned Georgia to her original owners (who thankfully wanted her back anyway) and spent the next several months trying to get PTSD-stricken Armenia reacquainted with her litter box.

During this trying time, I joked that I was going to write a children's book called "The Cat that Shat." In a Seussian vein, of course. I even made a playful stab at it, which I faithfully recorded in my journal at the time:

The cat sat
Not thin and not fat.
Just the right size, this cat.

Suddenly wild,
It leapt and flew like a bat.
And then, it shat.

It hopped on the couch,
Went into a crouch
And out came its lunch.

Who needs litter?
Boxes don't matter
With a fine couch to splatter!

So the cat that shat
Sought more food like a rat,
Saying, "I'll have some of that!"

Thus fueling the engine,
She hissed and she spat,
Ran to the sofa,
Uncoiled her sphincter

"It'll make millions!" I wrote optimistically.

At the peak of the crisis, I was seriously afraid I might have to put Armenia to sleep. I lived in a studio apartment and I could not cope with a busy urban life, a full-time job and an incontinent cat.

But fortunately, "The Cat that Shat" has a happy ending! Over a period of months, Armenia gradually calmed down, her PTSD subsided, she renewed her relationship with her litter box and I was able to take all the protective layers off the couch except the bedsheet (just in case). She lived another four years before dying at age 14 in November 2009. (The couch lasted a few more years, until 2011, when we ditched it to move to London.)

So what do you think of my foray into children's literature? Should I hire an illustrator?

(Photo: Armenia by my side on the sheet-covered couch, May 2007.)

Friday, August 17, 2018


Six years ago, in August 2012, I walked past this pair of shopfronts up in Cricklewood. I liked Hair by San-Monique, with its retro beauty shop look and coordinating pink flowers and front door, so I took the photo above.

Well, I came across the same shops again the other day, and was saddened to see they now look like this:

Apparently that whole strip of storefronts has been emptied in preparation for demolition and rebuilding. Some residents aren't happy about it. Too bad San-Monique is no more. According to that linked newspaper article, it had been there for 50 years!

I finally figured out how to edit and splice together the fox videos I wrote about yesterday. I had to buy a video conversion program to change the format before I could edit them in iMovie, and weirdly, the conversion stripped out the date and time stamps.

So here's an edited version, for my truly dedicated fox fans, that shows more fox and less dead air! There are four clips, taken between 9:45 p.m. Wednesday and 4:30 a.m. Thursday, in that video.

I tried to film the fox again last night in a different part of the garden and got nada. I guess he/she isn't always around.

Work was fine yesterday. It's good to see everybody again, and I got to meet our new middle school librarian. Weirdly, my desk, which used to be a gigantic semicircular Starship Enterprise kind of thing, has been cut in half, and fifty percent of it was taken away and demolished. The bosses want to create more flexible space, I guess. I'm not convinced this is a good idea, because we stored a lot of stuff behind that desk and my colleagues did occasionally sit there, behind the now-demolished portion. But I'm rolling with it!

We had some drama when the workers were tearing the old desk apart and a piece of it crashed down on one guy's head. He had a gash that required medical attention, so we called the school nurses and eventually sent him to the hospital. The desk strikes back!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

More Nosy Foxes

Yesterday I got the bright idea to finally figure out the clock and video functions on our automated garden cam. So now, when I get nighttime photos of the foxes and other wildlife, they will be correctly time-stamped -- and I can make videos of the critters walking around. Woo hoo!

I even got a few video clips last night -- but for some reason I can't make them load into iMovie so I can edit them. Here's one:


If I can ever figure out how to splice them together and get rid of the dead time, we'll have an interesting little movie. They are .avi clips but iMovie won't recognize them. I have no idea why. Technology -- argh!

Meanwhile, above you'll find another bug-and-flower photo for a splash of color -- a hoverfly on one of our zinnias.

I spent yesterday mostly reading, a book called "Why I No Longer Talk to White People About Race" by Reni Eddo-Lodge. It's our "community read" for work, meaning all the faculty and staff are reading it and we'll be discussing it in the next week or so. It's good and very interesting, making me think about the ways in which many of the world's roadways are paved for me, a white man, while others find them rocky and even impassable. I may write more about this after I've finished the book and given it some more thought.

I am off to work today. It seems a bit strange and surreal for summer to be over, but our Japanese anemones are blooming -- they're the garden alarm clocks for back-to-school time!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


This business, a fitness studio in West Hampstead, has one of the most perfectly reflective windows I've seen in a while. Olga and I got a nice portrait out of it the other day when we walked past!

I haven't had too much trouble with jet lag after my Florida trip -- at least, not yet. Despite my overnight flight -- where I dozed but didn't really sleep much -- I stayed awake all day yesterday and then got a good solid night's sleep last night. I feel pretty normal this morning. After Vietnam, making the short hop to Florida seems like going next door to borrow a cup of sugar.

I did some laundry, cleaned the house a bit, and took the dog on her morning walk. She insisted on going down to Billy Fury Way and walking its graffitied length, and I noticed that a big derelict pub next to the overground station on Finchley Road has been demolished. I'm not sure when that happened. I turn my back for a second and the neighborhood changes! Anyway, it feels good to get back to routines, especially with work beginning tomorrow. Hard to believe it's that time already.

Did you see the essay by Stephen Miller's uncle in Politico? It directly addresses a question I've wondered about many times myself -- how could someone descended from immigrants and refugees be so hostile to immigration? "I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country," writes Miller's uncle, David Glosser. It's an excellent piece. I wonder if Miller will respond to it.

There was also a fascinating article in The New Yorker (I know, I say that all the time) about the Dutch criminal underground, and one crime family in particular. If, like me, you think Amsterdam is a land of quaint canals, bicycles and scrupulously law-abiding citizens, well -- think again. Like any large city it has its murderers, drug runners and other criminal elements!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Back Home Again

Well, I'm back in London safe and sound. I barely had a chance to set my bag down before Dave was excitedly giving me a tour of the garden, showing me what's happened in my absence. On the plus side, remember those cosmos seeds I planted in the spring? We finally have our first flower!

And our milk parsley, part of the wildflower garden, is blooming too.

On the minus side, the squirrels completely demolished one of the calendulas -- it was gnawed down to a raw stem sticking out of the ground. Who knows why those critters do what they do.

Here's Olga's reaction to my being home: "Play with me!"

Before I left Jacksonville yesterday, my brother and I made our obligatory pilgrimage to Waffle House. One of our waitresses -- her name was Jerkisha -- wore a sparkly rhinestone choker with her uniform, which gave my waffle a bit of blingy glamor. I appreciated that.

My flights were uneventful, except that the Danish men's flag football team was on my plane from Miami to Heathrow, having apparently won third place in an international tournament. They were carrying a huge trophy (apparently you can carry on a huge trophy, just FYI) and I must say they improved the scenery on the plane quite a bit.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bugs and Snakes

Mom and I took our walk again yesterday morning. We saw lots of interesting insects, like the lubber grasshopper above. They're all over the place at this time of year, flopping around in the woods like big clumsy drunkards.

We saw this eastern amberwing dragonfly, which cocked its twitchy head to keep both eyes on me...

...and this tiny orange butterfly, which I think is known as a pearl crescent.

But yesterday's most exciting insect sighting was...

...a hummingbird moth, which I don't think I've ever seen before. Sorry the picture is so terrible -- we saw it on the way back from lunch and all I had with me was my iPhone, and that little moth was not slowing down. (A reminder, once again, why I should ALWAYS CARRY MY CAMERA even though it weighs almost as much as Olga.)

In flight, this amazing little creature really does look like a tiny hummingbird -- maybe two inches long.

And finally -- because I'm in Florida and I couldn't leave without bringing you a picture of at least one snake -- Mom and I watched this black racer climb a maple tree. This is another sight that I'm not sure I've ever seen, though I know snakes DO climb trees. It went almost to the top before executing a somewhat hasty turnaround and descent. Maybe it was looking for a lubber grasshopper?

I'll be taking off today to return to London. It's been a good visit, and we got a lot done, but now I have to get ready to go back to work on Thursday!

Oh, and remember my Goodwill finds from yesterday's post? Well, I went back for the West Virginia Penitentiary shirt. I just couldn't let that one get past me. Maybe if I wear it while walking Olga we'll look intimidating?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Camera Geeks and Seacamp

Why do so many older guys love to talk about cameras?

I love taking pictures, but I am completely indifferent to the technology. The beauty of photography for me is in choosing and framing the images. Yes, I know how to set the camera and get the shot, but I've never understood these guys who want to sit around and talk about F-stops and camera speeds and megapixels and essentially reduce all of photography to numbers.

And then they want to talk about camera gear, lenses and tripods and filters and how much they spent for each item, which also makes my eyes roll back in my head.

Last night, Mom and I went down to the dock on Julington Creek, a tributary of the St. John's River, to watch the sunset. We found that some of her neighbors, an older man and his wife, had colonized the end of the dock with a tripod and were taking pictures. Of course I pulled out my own camera, and the man proceeded to quiz me about how I was shooting, on what settings, etc. He was nice enough but LORD.

It was a good hour for that golden evening light. I got several shots of my mom as she sat chatting with the neighbors. The sunlight really was that color. I haven't adjusted it at all.

We hung around the house most of the day yesterday. In fact, after we took our morning walk and sat on her balcony hoping the hummingbird would return (it didn't) and had lunch, I decided I had to get out of there. So I announced that we were going to Goodwill and then to Starbucks.

My mom is not at all a thrift store person, but she tagged along obligingly. I had to make my Goodwill sweep pretty quickly, but I did find a couple of prizes. I got a nice shirt for work and also this:

It's a t-shirt from an educational center in the Florida Keys that I attended in the eighth grade!

In fact, here's a really terrible picture of me at Seacamp in 1980, hoisting a conch shell that I'd found while snorkeling. If I remember correctly it had something living in it -- a crab, maybe. I didn't try to take it home.

Anyway, I was pretty psyched by that t-shirt. I also found one from the West Virginia Penitentiary that gave us a good laugh -- even the people browsing near us thought it was a hoot. I kind of wish I'd bought it too. It would have given me a reputation in London.

After Goodwill and Starbucks we came home and watched a funny Tina Fey and Amy Pohler movie called "Sisters." Watching it with Mom was kind of mind-blowing -- there were a fair number of penis jokes and that sort of thing -- but she laughed up a storm so, hey, no harm done. It's not like she doesn't know how the world works.

Speaking of which, I think her Algerian pornography problem on Facebook may be getting slightly better. I've been reporting and blocking dozens of accounts that have been recommended to her as "friends," and I'm hoping the Facebook algorithm is beginning to recognize that those are not the kind of friends she wants.