Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tudor Staffy, with Marigolds

I did not pick these marigolds. Instead, they were picked for me, by a super-destructive rampaging squirrel.

Just a few days ago I was admiring our big African marigold, which I bought for Dave earlier this summer. It's been a productive bloomer, and although it was damaged by snails in its original place on our front porch, I moved it to our patio table and it had regenerated beautifully and put on about ten flowers.

And then, yesterday morning -- squirrel.

Now the plant is about half its original size. But on the bright side, we have a nice bouquet for the living room.

I was pretty busy in the garden yesterday. I mowed the grass and did some trimming, and then lay on a blanket with Olga reading "Oliver Twist." (I was reading, not Olga.) That counts as being busy in the garden, right?

Our cardoons have opened into these gigantic seed-heads, which I don't remember seeing before. A few days ago I noticed big dandelion-like seeds floating around and I couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Yesterday I finally spotted the source.

I hope they don't take root, because cardoons are huge plants and volunteers might not be easy to accommodate.

Olga, meanwhile, had her follow-up vet appointment yesterday. It turns out she can't have her stitches removed yet, because she's been licking the sutured skin and it's inflamed. She's now on a course of antibiotics and has to wear an inflatable donut around her neck.

We think it looks very Tudor. As I said on Facebook, "Do you think Queen Elizabeth I wore those collars to keep her from gnawing on her stitches?"

Olga doesn't love it, but she seems resigned to it, and hopefully it's only for a few days. I removed it yesterday for a long walk to the Clitterhouse Playing Fields -- an open space where she could run free, but not be tempted to plunge through thickets of potentially stitch-ripping underbrush in pursuit of squirrels. She doesn't lick while she's walking.

This means we'll have to come home to let her out at lunchtime for at least another three workdays. She's due for another vet appointment on Wednesday evening, and hopefully after that she can shed the donut and resume daily outings with her dog walker.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Neil Armstrong

To follow up on yesterday's post, I found out why there were Barbie dolls in the science department. Apparently one of the teachers used to do physics experiments with his middle school students that involved throwing Barbies off the school roof wearing parachutes. This is according to another teacher, a woman, who said the practice has since stopped. It does seem a bit misogynist, doesn't it?

Well, there's certainly a lot of that going around these days.

I don't know the details about what's happening with the Kavanaugh nomination, because I am still choosing to protect my sanity by doing things other than reading the news. But I have skimmed the headlines -- because I can't stop absorbing all information -- and I'm glad the administration and Senate Republicans have decided to make room for an FBI investigation. These are serious issues, and Kavanaugh showed some worrying tendencies during the hearing.

Dave and I went last night to see a special invitation-only screening of "First Man," the biopic about Neil Armstrong and the first moon landing. (We got the invitation through some people at school.) It's an excellent movie, and harrowing in places. Whoever did the sound editing definitely deserves an Oscar -- you feel like you're inside those rattletrap spaceships, with all the noise and vibration and spinning and rolling. The movie does a wonderful job conveying how miraculous that moon landing was, considering our technological capabilities at the time. I mean, think about what televisions and cars were like in the late 1960s compared to now. And we sent men to the moon! It's incredible.

I once met Neil Armstrong, when I did a story for our college paper about an event focusing on the future of the space program. It was in October 1985, just a few months before the Challenger explosion changed everything, and my editors flew me to Tallahassee to cover the discussion. I came back with a rather lightweight story, and when my news editor read it, he said, "Well, that wasn't what I thought it would be." As in, "I flew you all the way to Tallahassee for that?!" Judge for yourself:

Maybe not my finest journalistic moment, but I don't see how I could have done any better. When you cover an event, it is what it is, you know? At least I got to meet Armstrong -- I even got his autograph, though I no longer have it.

Anyway, "First Man" is well worth it if you want a riveting movie!

(Top photo: Shopfronts in Cricklewood.)

Friday, September 28, 2018

Barbies and Drain Repair

One of my co-workers was putting together a book display yesterday, and to spice it up she retrieved this big box of Barbie dolls from, I think she said, the science department. Why there would be Barbies in the science department, I have no idea. They are certainly not an accurate representation of human anatomy. (Maybe that's the reason.)

Anyway, among the Barbie dolls we found...

...G.I. Joe (or someone like G.I. Joe) in a princess gown and a fur-trimmed duster. I swear I did not dress him this way, though I did have him lift his hemline to show us his shapely camo-painted calves.

As I was taking this photo, my boss kept saying, "Steve's going to put this online and get us fired." So let me just make it perfectly clear that I am not in any way being transphobic or discriminatory. On the contrary, I firmly believe all people, including G.I. Joe, should be able to determine their own path in life and that includes gender identity and expression and/or sartorial preferences, and they deserve our support.

Otherwise, yesterday was pretty stressful. I was having no luck with the management company on getting the sewer drain fixed -- I called, I e-mailed -- until finally I kept going up the chain of command and the assistant to a regional director solved my problem. She contacted the landlord and learned that the landlord has coverage for drain blockages through British Gas (don't ask me what drains and gas have to do with each other, because I don't know). So I called British Gas and they sent someone yesterday evening and now the drain works fine and the neighbors will no longer be repulsed. And we didn't even have to pay anything.

My question is, why did it take TEN DAYS for someone at the management company to tell me how to handle that problem?

I also came home once again at lunch to let the dog out. We only have to live through one more workday without a dog walker -- today. Olga is scheduled to get her stitches out tomorrow and then resume her dog walks on Monday. I could not be happier!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dickens, and Some Unsavory Subjects

I've decided I'm going to read "Oliver Twist." Somehow I've never read it -- in fact I'd never read any Dickens until I tackled "A Tale of Two Cities" about eight years ago. I enjoyed that, and so far I'm enjoying Oliver too. Despite his typically verbose Victorian style, Dickens is a good writer. I've even toyed with the idea of trying to read all of Dickens, but that might be going overboard. The man wrote voluminously.

I've already mentioned my goal to get to "Barnaby Rudge," in order to read some less-famous Dickens and see how it compares. But I suppose before I do that I should broaden my experience with more famous Dickens, like "The Pickwick Papers" and "David Copperfield."

There's a lot of reading to be done.

In other news, just FYI, I have blocked exactly 999 pornographic Facebook accounts from my mom's feed of "suggested friends." I know this because last night -- while blocking more -- I counted them. (You may recall that several months ago my 81-year-old mom inadvisably friended a few unsavory people by accident, and even though we quickly de-friended them, it has forever changed her "suggested friend" algorithm. I've been trying to delete-and-block to shift it back to suggesting normal people. Sometimes it seems like it's working, and sometimes not.) I have removed but not blocked dozens and dozens of other "suggested friends," mostly from the Philippines, North Africa, Viet Nam, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, where my mom has never traveled and knows no one. Dave and my brother both think we should just delete her account and start over, but my mom doesn't want to do that.

It's probably silly that I'm so focused on trying to manage this ridiculously minor problem, but I suppose it feels like one of the few ways I can help take care of her from this great distance.

Finally, Dave and I are having more household maintenance drama. Our wastewater drain, which connects underground to the sewer at the street, appears to be blocked. Water is bubbling up into the area where we store our trash cans and flowing onto the sidewalk. It's not a pleasant situation. I reported it on the 17th and the maintenance company said they'd get moving on it, but since then nothing has happened and yesterday Mrs. Kravitz sent me some justifiably angry texts. So today I'm going to get on the phone and switch into high-pressure mode to get the situation resolved. Maybe I'll threaten to call the health authorities, because while it is very Dickensian to have raw wastewater flowing in the street, I'm pretty sure it breaks the law.

(Photo: Swans and peas in Cricklewood, early this month.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


There's a restaurant and/or bar in West Hampstead that specializes in pizza and "Caribbean cocktails," according to the shopfront. It's not a combination that appeals to me -- it makes me think of pineapple and rum & Coke and college dorm rooms. But maybe that's the demographic they're going for.

Anyway, outside in the morning I often see these paper umbrellas scattered around. A cocktail umbrella is quite beautiful, when you look at it closely. I picked this one up because it was one of the few that hadn't been mangled, and indeed, it's so delicate, it's amazing to think it survived a night on the sidewalk.

Lately I've been reading blogs on my downtime at work, but for some reason the school's Internet filters block some blogspot blogs, categorizing them as "mature." So I'm not able to get to all the links on my blogroll. It's very strange. What are you people writing about?!

I've also been reading the news, but I have to say, I almost can't stand it. And I'm a former journalist! I've probably written about this inner conflict before, but I've always believed it's essential to be informed in order to participate wisely in Democracy. Common sense, right? I was always proud of my role as a journalist. But so much of the news is so distressing these days -- yesterday, for example, I read an article about rhino horn smuggling complete with pictures of assassinated rhinos and I can't do a damn thing about it, and I really wonder why I need to torment myself. I've come to believe that unless I can take action it might be better to live in ignorance.

Wildlife stories I find especially upsetting, but politics is no better. I haven't been reading much about Kavanaugh. I already know I disagree with his outlook and the orange charlatan who nominated him and the slight Senate majority who will probably confirm him, or someone equally reprehensible. So why wallow in it?

Don't even get me started on the UK's national disaster, Brexit. Every Brexit story literally turns my stomach.

Dave says maybe I need a news break. And maybe I do. Or I need a news umbrella, made of something stronger than tissue paper, to protect me from all the news raining down.

We've been watching some good TV lately. I finally bought the Laura Dern HBO series "Enlightened" on Amazon. When we watched a few episodes several years ago I loved it, but I was never able to see the whole series (it only lasted two seasons before being prematurely canceled). So I caught up on all that and I'm sad there's no more. We finished the BBC series "Bodyguard," which was excellent, and we're almost done with "The Americans," and we're following "Ozark" and "This Is Us" and a quirky Netflix series called "The Good Place." And there's a new season of "Bojack Horseman," which might be my favorite thing on television!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Lime Lamborghini is Back

I've blogged this lime-green Lamborghini a couple of times before. I just can't help photographing it, it's so eye-catching. And I'm not even a car person.

I came home from work yesterday during lunch to let Olga out and give her her medicine. She's still not ready to resume her walks with the dog-walkers, but she seems like she's continuing to heal. She grabbed the Kong and leaped around, ready to play. It's a major pain for me to get on the tube, walk to the house, tend to her and scarf down a meal and then reverse the journey back to work, all inside one hour. I'll be glad when the dog-walkers can come back. I depend on those people.

We have a huge yucca plant by the back door, and just last week I was telling Dave I thought it might be one of our most successful houseplants. And then over the weekend, I discovered that its lower leaves are infested with scale, a tiny brown plant-sucking insect. Argh! I trimmed off the worst leaves, and got out a pan of water and mild dish soap and wiped down the rest. I don't have any illusions that I have eliminated the scale entirely, but I've knocked it back, at least.

Also, I think I've figured out a way to eliminate our vast oversupply of cinnamon. I've been sprinkling it into my morning coffee, and it's not bad. With six containers to work through, I'll be drinking spicy coffee through at least 2027!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dogs and Cats and Dinosaurs

It rained almost all weekend here, so I don't have much activity to report. Time for another mishmash of photos from my trusty iPhone, taken in recent weeks mainly while walking Olga!

First, some interesting packing tape on a box in a trash bin. Dogs and cats! (Or are they just dogs?) Regardless -- real good times indeed.

I call this "Suggestive Autumnal Still Life."

When Olga and I walked past this house, those cats were transfixed by her. They couldn't have cared less about me.

I loved this lost dinosaur wellie outside a house near Fortune Green. I want a pair! Unfortunately, by the standards of my feet, it was a size negative two.

Olga, sharing some very sage Buddhist advice...

...and soon afterwards, riding on the prow of a submarine. Or maybe beneath the prow. Which means she's swimming.

There's anarchy at the recently-renovated flat where all the beautiful flowers used to be.

And in the window of the minimalist antique store, which is also now closed and appears to be in mid-renovation, I found these ancient computer manuals. According to my very quick and possibly inaccurate Internet research, the Amstrad DMP 3000 was a dot-matrix printer from the mid-1980s, and Macintosh Performa computers were from the mid-'90s. Antiques in the computer world, at least!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Clean Tennis Balls

To celebrate Olga's clean bill of health, I washed her tennis ball collection.

I realize this is slightly insane, particularly in a world where many people don't have easy access to clean laundry.

But some of those balls were really filthy. She has a tendency to find them lying around in parks and on the heath, where they've been mouthed by countless other dogs, and somehow the cumulative grossness just became obvious to me yesterday morning.

I wish I'd taken a "before" shot, but I didn't. As you can see from the "after" shot above, running them through the washing machine worked really well! (I put it on the delicate synthetics cycle, which is the shortest wash cycle we have. And I guess tennis balls are pretty darn synthetic.)

I cleaned the rest of the house, too, top to bottom -- at least everything I could think of that needed cleaning. It's turning out to be a very rainy weekend, so opportunities for getting out and about are few. It seems like ages since I've taken a real photography walk, but I don't think it's happening this weekend!

In the afternoon I watched "Gone With the Wind," which I hadn't seen in ages. I've always loved that movie, even though so many aspects seem wrong now -- the romanticization (is that a word?) of slavery and Southern culture, Rhett's infantilizing treatment of Scarlett, the depiction of black characters as willing helpers rather than subjugated servants. It's still a great film, beautifully made, and it's amazing to think Olivia de Havilland is still alive! (She's 102.) She and the boy who played Beau are the only living cast members, from what I can tell.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Gods Smile

We took Olga back to the vet last night for a quick post-surgical checkup. The doctor and nurse took off her remaining bandage and looked her over, and she seems to be healing well. Olga has always seemed oblivious to pain, charging heedlessly through thickets and brambles on our walks, and she's no different at the moment -- she acts like the huge lines of stitches on both haunches aren't there at all. (We're still giving her a daily dose of pain medicine.)

Best of all, her pathology reports were already back, and the lumps removed from her legs were benign. Dave and I were both expecting the worst -- I don't know why, except that I always have a tendency to think "worst case scenario" in situations like that, just to prepare myself. Needless to say, we're relieved our worries were unfounded.

I finished "Educated" by Tara Westover -- I definitely recommend it. It's a harrowing and not always pleasant book, but it's also a remarkable story that questions our concepts not only of education but of identity and family. You probably know the story: She was raised in Idaho by survivalists who traffic in scrap metal and herbal medicine and believe school is a government brain-washing plot, and who stockpile food and fuel, believing the End of Days is imminent. Yet she managed to extricate herself and become a rational human being with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Pretty amazing!

(Photo: The time of unusual fall leaves has begun!)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bronagh and No. 9

I'm typing this post without my glasses, just FYI. I hereby absolve myself from any typos and/or spelling errors. My glasses are in the next room but I can't be bothered to stand up and go get them. (Why is it a rule that whatever room you're in, your glasses are somewhere else?)

I remember when I first got my reading glasses, a couple of years ago, and the optician asked me whether I needed them to see the computer screen. "Oh, no!" I laughed. "My eyes aren't that bad! I just need them for close-up reading."

Well, now I need them for the computer screen. I probably need new glasses, in fact.

We had a crazy night here. The wind blew and blew. I thought it was all part of Storm Ali, our first named storm of the season, but on reading the news I think it might actually have been Storm Bronagh, the second one, which came hot on the heels of Ali. Anyway, it was so windy that for a couple of hours, between midnight and 2 a.m., I couldn't sleep. There's something about a strong wind that puts a person on edge, you know? Like maybe a tree or a helicopter are going to come crashing through the ceiling.

Those are also the "hot hours," when I am likely to wake up and feel overheated. I don't know why -- something about biorhythms, I suppose -- but I get incredibly hot between midnight and 3 a.m. Then I fall back asleep and I'm cool as a cucumber when I wake up in the morning, even with the same blankets and the same dog/heater sleeping next to me.

Anyway, I went out this morning and we didn't have any wind damage to speak of -- the cosmos were knocked over and one of the buddleias lost a branch, but otherwise things seemed pretty normal.

Olga seems fine. We took off one of her bandages because it was slipping away by itself, and I thought it would be better to get some air to the stitched wound. Fortunately she has shown no tendency at all to nibble or lick her stitches, so although I put a t-shirt on her yesterday when I went to work, I think today I'll let her go without one. She goes back to the vet tonight for a quick follow-up appointment.

(Photos: A house (I think?) on Gondar Gardens, not far from our flat. The creative house number is in the center of the wall, and on this day was festooned with some dead leaves and a feather.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018


I posted this photo of some colorful recycling and rubbish on Facebook, and my aunt called it "interesting." Is that what's known as "damning with faint praise," do you think? "Interesting" always seems to imply a kind of skepticism.

I remember hearing a story years and years ago about Queen Elizabeth II trying a hot dog and pronouncing it "interesting," but I have no idea whether it's really true. I just did an internet search and can't turn up any references to the episode, so maybe it never happened. (There is, however, a rather thorough piece about the likelihood that Prince William has ever eaten a hot dog.)

Anyway, I've buried the lead here, because I know you all want to hear about Olga and her surgery. As you can see, she came through fine, although she was seriously stoned when we picked her up last night. The first thing she did when she got home is go out in the back garden and lie in the grass.

As dark fell we finally coaxed her inside and since then, she's been sleeping heavily. She barely moved all night, from what I can tell, and she's snoring now.

The good news is, the vet said the x-rays showed no serious issues with her back legs. She has some spots that could be mildly arthritic, and causing her a bit of pain, and she gave us some pain medicine for whenever they flare up. No surgery is needed, though.

The bad news -- or the potential bad news -- involves the skin lumps. The doc removed them and sent them away for pathology, but apparently there's a chance that they're mast cell tumors, which can range from benign to very serious and even fatal. We caught them early, but I'll still be on edge about that until we get the pathology report next week. Apparently mast cell tumors are more common in so-called bull breeds like Olga, and they often appear on a dog's hindquarters around the age of 8 or 9 -- which is the right time and the right place. We can only hope, if that's what these were, that they aren't a particularly aggressive type.

We've cancelled Olga's dog walks for the rest of the week, and next week too, so I'll be coming home for lunch to let her outside and check on her. So far she hasn't shown any inclination to nibble on her bandages, but if she does we're supposed to put an old t-shirt on the lower half of her body. She's going to hate that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ghost Light

Here's another household still life -- we can call it "Computer with Laundry and Crappy Drapes." I was going to bed the other night when I noticed the weird, cold light given off by the computer, and decided to take some shots. Our drapes, like our carpets, really are crappy. They belong to the landlord, and although we're trying to get the carpets replaced we've decided to ignore the drapes (or, as in the living room, take them down completely).

You've got to pick your battles.

I've had that brown blanket ever since I lived in Morocco in the early '90s. It's a brand called Mazafil, which is well-known in Morocco, and it's a great blanket.

Olga is off to the vet this morning -- I'm going to drop her at 8:15. My plan is to take her on her morning walk and then go straight there. That way I don't have to face denying her a customary end-of-walk treat. (She can't eat this morning before her surgery.) I know if I brought her home first and didn't give her a treat she'd hang around the kitchen, looking at me quizzically, and I can't stand those hungry eyes.

Dave and I saw "King of Thieves" over the weekend -- the movie about the Hatton Gardens jewelry heist. It's a good film, made all the more enjoyable by the performances of screen legends like Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent and Tom Courtenay. That burglary was a major event when it occurred over Easter weekend in 2015 -- in fact, I'm surprised I didn't write about it at the time, but apparently I didn't -- so it's interesting to see how a gang of criminal retirees pulled it off.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

No Dried Flowers

Well, we finally got rid of the wrong chair. The furniture company came yesterday afternoon and took it away. I'd tucked it into the corner of the living room, barricaded behind Dave's loveseat and a big houseplant so the dog wouldn't climb on it. (It had to be "pristine," the company warned us, or they wouldn't take it back.) Anyway, I'm glad to have it out of my life. Allegedly, the correct chair will be on its way to us in a little more than three months.

I've been trying to thin out our possessions a bit -- mostly taking stuff to charity shops that I've brought home from my walks with the dog. I'd found two stools that I took to the library yesterday, thinking kids could sit on them to use the computers. I don't think they're going to last long -- they already look a little wobbly, after just a day! Kids are tough on furniture.

We also had a big glass vase -- it must have been three feet high -- that I found one morning. I brought it home thinking I'd give it to the catering staff at work, because they sometimes need big vases for floral displays at events. But then Dave decided he liked it, and he kept threatening to put dried flowers in it. I hate dried flowers. I hate them with a passion. They are dusty and pointless. So I finally talked Dave out of keeping it and spirited it to Oxfam, hopefully putting an end to the dried-flower fantasy.

Before donating it, I wanted to wash it out, so I took it into the back garden yesterday while I was waiting for the chair-delivery people. (I figured washing something that size would be easiest with the garden hose.) A spider had built an elaborate web between the buddleia and the crocosmia on either side of the path onto the back lawn, so I found myself crawling under the web to get out to the grass. I had to crawl under that web about five times, which is hard when you're carrying a three-foot-high glass vase! I hope that spider appreciates my thoughtfulness.

Finally, last night, we took Olga to the vet. At last, we're going to get some x-rays of her back legs, to see what's happening with her joints, and we're going to have some small skin growths removed, too. That will all happen on Wednesday. I feel like we've been living long enough with a "wait-and-see" approach to her stiff hindquarters -- I just want to know what's going on there and if it needs to be treated.

We found this hideous mirrored nightstand on one of our walks over the weekend. Olga implored me to bring it home, but I said no.

(Top photo: A colorful house in St. John's Wood.)

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Upstairs Shelves

Yes, this is a terrible picture. A failed picture, really.

I took it almost 40 years ago, with my little point-and-shoot Magimatic camera and 126 cartridge film. It shows some bookshelves in my grandparents' house in Hyattsville, Maryland. I was trying to show the wonderful jumble on those shelves, with the books going every which way and rolled-up maps and random shreds of yellowed paper.

(By the way, don't ever store your books like this!)

I was reminded of this picture while reading Knausgaard. (I'm sorry I keep bleating on about this book but it's been quite thought-provoking. Fortunately I finished it yesterday, so this is the last you'll hear of him for the time being.) He describes cleaning out his grandmother's house following his father's death, and the chaos of stuff he encounters in every room. His grandmother's house was horrifically and disastrously messy -- my grandmother, by contrast, may not have been a meticulous housekeeper but she was basically clean.

I had to dig up this negative and scan it to get this image, having thrown out the print long ago. These shelves were on the second floor of the house, in a bedroom loft at the top of the stairs. It was mostly a storage area, where we kids slept when we visited. A huge box fan in the ceiling overhead drew fresh air through the house and served as the only air conditioning, aside from two strategically placed window units downstairs.

I loved those upstairs rooms, with their mysterious boxes and drawers, their venetian blinds and chests of old blankets and stacks of ancient National Geographic and Opera News magazines. The rooms had a distinct old-paper smell, not at all unpleasant. It was fun to browse the bookshelves and see what we could find -- paperback copies of "Christy" by Catherine Marshall and "A Woman of Substance" by Barbara Taylor Bradford, tucked amid older books by Stefan Zweig and Norman Vincent Peale. In the photo I see two James Michener paperbacks; Kenneth Davis's "Soldier of Democracy," a biography of Dwight Eisenhower; a ruined copy of "Masada"; a children's book called "The Blue Birds of Happy Times Nest" that must have belonged to my mother and uncle when they were young; some ancient physics textbooks; the "Modern Handbook for Girls," which it's hard to imagine either my mother or grandmother ever reading; and a book of inspirational poetry called "It Can Be Done."

After my grandmother died in 1989, my mother and uncle sold her house. They took what they wanted but left behind a lot of the furnishings, and I suspect what's in that picture went with the house and is almost certainly long gone.

I only have one item from my grandparents' upstairs bookshelves, and it's actually from a different bookcase than the one in the picture. It's this incongruously hip paperback of cartoons from 1959.

They're mildly funny -- more interesting for their time-capsule quality than their humor. I think the book belonged to my uncle when he was a teenager. I should let him know I have it. He'd probably get a kick out of that.

Anyway, even though it's blurry and badly exposed, maybe the picture isn't entirely a failure. It definitely evokes memories of those haphazard shelves, and it popped into my head immediately as I read Knausgaard's account of his own grandmother's house.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Autumn on the Fjord

This is what our back-door garden looks like now -- a tangle of purple. We've got cosmos on the right, loosestrife in the middle and verbena in the back on the left. Dave always complains that we have way too many pink and purple flowers, with purple buddleia, pink persicaria and purple wild geraniums all growing in the same area -- but I kind of like the coordinated colors. We've got orange nasturtiums and geums in the same bed for contrast.

Another volunteer sunflower has bloomed, this one in a hanging basket up in a tree at the side of the garden. Definitely planted by a squirrel or dropped by a bird!

Most of the fox-and-cubs stopped blooming long ago, but this one stuck up a new flower just last week. It's blooming all by itself.

Coincidentally, as I was sitting on our garden bench reading Karl Ove Knausgaard yesterday, I came across a poem in his book by Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge. (Knausgaard was recounting a story about interviewing the elderly Hauge decades earlier for a student newspaper, and Hauge offered to read him a few poems.) Although its descriptions of the natural landscape seem distinctly Scandinavian, it also struck me, sitting in my garden on the verge of autumn, as so appropriate:

Time to Gather In 
These mild days of sun in September.
Time to gather in. There are still tufts
of cranberries in the wood, the rose-hips redden
along the stone dykes, nuts fall at a touch,
and clumps of blackberries gleam in thickets,
thrushes poke about for the last red currants
and the wasp sucks away at the sweet plums.
In the evenings I set my ladder aside and hang
up my basket in the shed. Meagre glaciers
already have a thin covering of new snow.
Lying in bed, I hear the throb of the brisling fishers
on their way out. All night, I know, they'll glide
with staring searchlights up and down the fjord.

(And that, my friends, may be the first time I've ever ended a blog post with the word fjord.)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Banana Bus

While walking to work this week, I crossed paths with a gigantic yellow bus likening itself to a Chiquita banana. You don't see that every day -- particularly in a city renowned for having bright red buses.

Well, it was eye-catching, I must admit. I wonder if the drivers on each shift wrangle among themselves over who's going to have to drive the banana?

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week, full of library minutiae like talking with my co-workers about future book displays and ordering supplies and new books and stuff like that.

I'm getting to a point in the year when I can tell who my problem kids are going to be -- the ones who never return anything, at least not on time. I've already had encounters with one high school student who has been chronically overdue for years and has lost several items. I suppose it was unrealistic to expect him to change over the summer -- but some kids do. It's surprising. Suddenly they hit a level of maturity where they get it, and we stop having trouble with them. Not this one, though. Not yet.

Dave and I don't have much on the agenda for this weekend, either. I hope to finish this Knausgaard book, so that I can start on "Educated" by Tara Westover, which I've heard is terrific. I do like the Knausgaard, though. I think I'll get the second one and keep going.

We had a moment of panic this week because we bought our plane tickets to go to Florida at Christmas, and we tried to make a reservation for Olga at her pet hotel -- and it's already booked up! So I was in a bit of a state wondering what we were going to do with her for those two weeks. I think we've found someone to care for her, though -- a woman we hired once in the past. Fingers crossed!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Rebuilding the Carlton Tavern (Finally)

You may remember the Carlton Tavern, a historic old pub which I wrote about after it was illegally demolished in 2015; I've given updates a few times since. The short version of this dramatic story is that the foreign owners wanted to redevelop the site and were turned down by the local council, which planned to consider the pub for historic preservation. So with no warning or permission the owners brought in backhoes and knocked most of the building down.

The council said, "Oh no you don't," and ordered them to rebuild it "brick by brick." As I understand it there were some appeals and legal machinations but in the end the council order stood, and now construction is underway.

I love how there's a big banner proclaiming that it's "coming back soon," like they're doing us all a favor. (I am tempted to type curse words here but I won't.)

You can still see traces of the original building behind the scaffolding. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on, but it seemed to me that a new exterior wall now exists on the east side of the structure, which had been reduced entirely to rubble. It also looks like some of the distinctive lettered tiles have been removed for replacement or restoration.

This process has taken an agonizingly long time, and of course, even if it's rebuilt that won't necessarily guarantee a return of the old pub. Will the same people run it? Will they have lease terms that allow them to make a go of the business? It will almost certainly be changed in atmosphere -- even if the builders hew closely to the old structure's architecture, it will be made of new materials, which can't help but affect its charm.

Still, it's a positive outcome overall. Westminster has shown that its building rules can't be flouted with impunity, and local residents can return to some semblance of their old watering hole. If there's a grand re-opening, I'll be going!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dead Plants and Stray Shopping Carts

This alley is near our flat. I pass it every time I go to the shops on the high street, and I always check on the mournful condition of those poor plants, which have been sitting outside that back door for months. (The dracaena has been there since early this year; the palm is a more recent addition.)

I considered trying to save them, but they're not really "trash" since they're not in a refuse area, and as a rule I don't steal even dying plants from outside people's doors. I do have some scruples.

Speaking of rescuing things, last night I was walking home from work and I passed a shopping cart sitting on the sidewalk. People who know me know this is one of my pet peeves. I just don't understand why anyone would wheel away a shopping cart and then abandon it willy-nilly. As I've written before, this obsession comes from my years as an employee at Scotty's hardware, in the mid-'80s, when I periodically was sent out to round up carts that had sometimes made their way deep into the surrounding neighborhood.

It's nagged at me ever since. From my journal in May 1999, when I lived in Sarasota, Fla.:

I forgot to mention the shopping cart fiasco. The last couple of weeks I've noticed several shopping carts congregating around the apartment complex. I can't imagine who would be declassé enough to bring home a shopping cart, but there you are. So on Sunday I took three Walgreen's carts back to the shopping center -- they'd been sitting out in the median on Treeline Drive. Then, yesterday, I saw several behind a dumpster. So last night I took those back, too -- 2 Publix and 2 Walgreen's...I felt kind of silly wrestling my way along Beneva Road with four shopping carts, but hey...I really think doing one good deed per day (at least!) is a good way to maintain my karma!

Twelve years ago, while blogging about another stray cart in New York, I mentioned an entertaining Web site called The Stray Shopping Cart Project. I'm glad to see the site is still up, though some of the images don't seem to work. The project classifies the many varieties of stray shopping carts based on where they're found and the likelihood that they'll be returned. The one I saw last night seemed to qualify as a simple B/1 "Open True."

In this case, I decided to return it to the store. It was a moderate distance and on the other side of a train line, which meant I'd have to drag the cart up and over a pedestrian bridge, but I had to go that way anyway and figured I could manage. So I set out, clattering down the sidewalk.

I got the cart up onto the bridge with no problem, and fortunately once I'd crossed a guy walking behind me offered to help lift it down. "I've helped a lot of people with baby push-chairs but never a shopping trolley," he said.

I told him I'd found it -- I didn't want him to think I'd taken it from the store myself. "Now you can cross that off your list!" I said.

Anyway, back at the store I pushed the cart into a line of carts in the parking lot. Usually there's a little key you insert into the plastic handle to get back a £1 coin you have to insert to use the cart in the first place. But in this case, the plastic coin holder was broken, so I didn't even get a pound back!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Big Blue Malibu Wave

One of the zinnias in our garden has always been a little different from the rest -- a sort of reddish color, rather than orange. Its most recent flowers have spots. Who knows what weird genetic stuff is going on there?

I'm still working on the first of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical books, "A Death in the Family." I like his writing and it is engaging to read, but at the same time I sometimes find myself wondering why I'm reading it. (Probably like you're wondering why you're reading my blog!) It's relatively plotless and devoid of earth-shaking events and revelations -- just day-to-day life, down to the most mundane tasks like preparing a cup of coffee or watching snow swirl outside the window. It's interesting to get a sense of what it was like to grow up in Norway in the 1980s, and there's some family drama going on, but nothing wildly extraordinary.

At one point in the book he describes drinking with some friends as a young teenager -- I think they were 14. It got me thinking about my own early experiments with alcohol.

I never drank -- never even touched the stuff -- until I was in college. That's probably unusual, but I had a close group of friends in high school for whom drinking wasn't a goal. When we went to movies or to the mall, scoring alcohol just wasn't on our agenda. Which was fortunate! I knew other people were drinking, and I was dimly aware of Friday-night parties out in the orange groves and that kind of thing, but I never went and don't remember really even wanting to go. I don't regret my high-school teetotalling at all. I'm sure it saved me a lot of grief.

In college, I moved into the dorms my freshman year and discovered that a guy I'd gone to high school with, Robert, lived right down the hall. He and I began hanging out, and one night we decided to break the alcohol barrier. Somehow we got some bourbon, and along with Robert's erstwhile girlfriend, Marje, who lived on the girls' side of our co-ed dorm, we mixed it with ginger ale and began sipping.

At first, nothing happened. We were just sitting and talking as usual. Then I said something -- I don't remember what -- and maybe it didn't make much sense because Marje looked at me and said, "Steve's drunk!" I was not, I said indignantly, and then I began laughing and couldn't stop. So, yeah, I guess I was.

It was all very innocent and we didn't drink too much. As I've written before, our dorm RA distributed a weekly honor known as the "puke award" to whoever got sick from drinking on any given weekend, but I never won it, and I don't remember ever getting sick in college. As I recall my first hangover came the following summer, after I went on an afternoon canoeing trip with friends on the Alafia River and we drank multiple cans of Busch Beer. I came home, got into bed and woke up later feeling terrible -- dehydrated, I'm sure, and after all it was lousy beer.

All freshmen drink crazy stuff. I had a girlfriend, Lori, who loved Asti Spumante, and I remember going to sit with her and Robert and Marje under the trees on our spacious campus at night with a bottle or two of that sweet, fizzy wine. She'd also had some training as a bartender, so I used to look through her bartender's guides and then, when we went out to a local bar like Coconut Joe's or Ruby Tuesday, I'd order peculiar cocktails like mai-tais. I remember one called a Malibu wave, basically a margarita with blue curaçao -- and yes, it was bright blue. I'm sure the bartenders correctly clocked me as a complete dork.

The first time I drank enough to be sick, I think, was when I visited Miami Beach with my friends Sue and Arthur in the late 1980s, after I'd graduated. For some inconceivable reason I did two vodka shots in our hotel room, which proved to be a bad start to the evening. And even then, I never got truly wasted -- to this day I've never blacked out or been unable to remember where I've been or what I've been doing.

Despite the "Animal House" culture of college in the '80s, I don't remember ever hearing about people being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning or that kind of thing. I'm sure it happened and none of us knew.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Three Cat Morning

There's really not much to say about today's post...

...except that this is sometimes what our morning walks look like.

Don't worry. No cat were harmed in the production of this blog.


You've seen GoPro video of Olga stalking this cat behind the door. (She does it every single day.) Well, here's what it looks like from my perspective. There's about 40 seconds of stalking before there's any action.

In other news, Dave and I made plans to go to Salisbury for our October break. Woo hoo! We wanted to go somewhere relatively close where we could take the dog, and this seems to fit the bill. Hopefully all the Novichok will be cleaned up by then.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Inflatable Pool

I shot this on our walk back home after seeing "Blackkklansman" Saturday night. It would be better with a person walking through that alley -- if I'd thought about it I'd have had Dave walk down there and back again. Maybe I'll go back with my camera some evening soon. This was shot on an iPhone, which once again leaves me impressed at the quality of the phone camera.

Speaking of "Blackkklansman," I forgot to tell you the best part of the story -- I used my health insurance points and got a FREE MOVIE TICKET! Finally, I'm figuring out how to make that insurance rewards program pay off.

Yesterday Olga and I took a walk in the morning behind that new apartment complex where several balconies burned in a fire back in July. (The affected balconies, by the way, are now shrouded in scaffolding and presumably being repaired.) The development is on a wedge of land between two train lines, the tube and the London Overground, and although the buildings seem nice, the windows are dirty and I think that must come from those trains. We walked all the way to the back, where behind a gate there's a little triangle of land that looks like this:

There are a couple of benches, so clearly people are supposed to be able to go in there and sit, but the weeds are so high that it's hard to imagine walking around. It's probably great for bugs and critters, though. Maybe it's meant to be a wildlife garden? The inflatable pool looks like a resident's afterthought, and it was empty when I was there.

Don't say I never show you the hidden corners of West Hampstead.

I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing and archiving photos -- which takes a surprisingly long time -- and walking Olga to the cemetery and back. Then we watched "National Lampoon's European Vacation," which I hadn't seen in years. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen it. Dave's sister and brother-in-law mentioned it on their recent stay, when we took Olga down to Westminster, and then when I posted the photos a friend mentioned it on Facebook. I took that as a cosmic hint that I was meant to see it. The humor seems so innocent, even the somewhat bawdy parts -- but it's definitely good for a laugh. (To think Chevy Chase is 74 years old now -- how did that happen?!)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Heath Tutorial

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday, the first time we'd been to the main part of the heath since June. Dog heaven!

I don't think I've ever explained this, but Hampstead Heath is divided into four adjacent parcels of land. The largest part (map here) is southeast of Spaniards Road and Hampstead Lane, and includes Parliament Hill, which overlooks the city, as well as the swimming ponds (where I never swim) and Kenwood House (a historic home and art museum where Dave and I went a few years ago). Then, north and west of Spaniards Road, there are three smaller parcels: West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension.

Olga and I routinely walk either the main Heath or the three other parcels, and lately we seem to have been focusing more on the latter. So it was nice to get back to the main Heath itself. I just love seeing Olga running free in all that open forest.

I know, you've seen this photo before -- or one like it. But I can't resist. That's atop Parliament Hill.

I noticed that the skyline is changing. See that big building going up in the center of the frame? I think it's 22 Bishopsgate, but I'm not sure. And there are apparently several more high-rises in the works in central London, so in ten years or so, things will look very different. (Unless Brexit tanks the economy!)

I also found this intriguing bottle cap. Turns out Lucky Buddha is a brand of beer, and the bottles themselves are even more intriguing. I need one for my windowsill bottle collection!

Last night, Dave and I went to see "Blackkklansman." I wish I could say I loved it. It's certainly thought-provoking, and I don't disagree with the message at all -- that racism and race violence are alive and well in the United States, especially under Trump. But parts of it seemed a bit clunky, and apparently the real story has been significantly souped up for the film. I guess that's routine for Hollywood, but it seems a bit dangerous when you're trying to make a point with a "true story." God knows we do have a racism problem, and the truth is scary enough.