Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween, but Don't Knock Here

The younger kids in our school went all-out with their autumn decor this year, giving us a wall of psychedelic pumpkins. I think they look better than the standard orange-and-black Halloween color scheme, don't you?

But there's plenty of that around, too:

There seem to be two schools of thought about Halloween in Britain. One is embodied by the traditionalists who eschew Halloween as an American import and argue that Britain should save its fall celebratory energy for Bonfire Night (which is coming up on Nov. 5). Rob Rinder, in the Evening Standard, moaned about Halloween in one of his recent columns and said trick-or-treaters in his neighborhood badger him not for candy but money. (Definitely not an American Halloween tradition!)

Others take it in stride. The family with this door is British -- I know because I heard them talking as they were leaving the house one day -- and they have kids, which is obviously what motivates most people to participate in Halloween at all. When I was at Chiswick House a couple of weekends ago I sat near a couple of young British moms (or "mums") who were talking about how to costume their children for the day.

In the Guardian, a writer recently compiled a list of do's and don'ts for trick-or-treating, for those uncertain how to proceed. There were some funny comments on the article from readers about their own experiences with Halloween:

"Yesterday I was in the park with the spaniels and two people appeared. Or rather, one person and a crocodile. Yes, here was a person in an inflatable crocodile suit, complete with tail swishing back and forth. It failed to freak me out but it scared the crap out of one of my dogs."

Anyway, as usual, Dave and I plan to keep our heads down tonight. I didn't buy any candy and we don't have a pumpkin. We haven't had a trick-or-treater since moving to London, and I doubt they'll start now. But just in case, we'll stick to our annual routine -- turn off the porch light and hide in the back of the house, watching television. (Pretty much our nightly routine, come to think of it!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Talmud

As many of you know, for about five years I was a Zen student in New York City. This was from 2004 until 2009 or so. I don't sit much (well, okay, at all) these days, but at the time I was quite serious about it, studying with a teacher and taking a Dharma name. I keep thinking I may go back to active practice someday, but in the meantime I stay in touch with the Zendo community through its e-mail exchange.

Yesterday, a woman I practiced with sent an e-mail message that I found so comforting. It's a passage from the Talmud:

Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world's grief.

Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.

I am certainly no Talmudic scholar, so I don't know the context of this verse. But given the horrifying incidents of the last few days, I thought it was a touching reminder that we must do our own small part, daily, to resist the evils of the world. We can't expect to stop them -- and that helps alleviate my personal frustration and sense of helplessness -- but we can't turn our backs either.

I suppose it's up to each of us to determine what form our resistance will take, whether it's voting or simply trying to act, with our "feet on the street," in kind, just and compassionate ways.

I briefly Googled* the verse to make sure it's authentic, and it seems to be -- a writer from a Jewish newspaper in San Diego cited it a few years ago when she was writing about the ills of the world. (And that was before Donald Trump got elected! Good Lord, is it really possible that man has been president NOT EVEN TWO YEARS YET?!)

So, anyway. Do not be daunted. The world's grief is enormous, but it is not entirely your (or my) burden -- we can address only our tiny piece, as seemingly insignificant as that cup in the photo at the top of the page. I found it lying in a parking lot while walking the dog. It stands out, doesn't it? With that beautiful bright purple color?

*(By the way, have you used Google yet today? There's a Halloween computer game in place of the Google doodle, and it's fun! I am not a computer gamer at all, but I got a kick out of it.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Barking, and an Unexpected Evening Outing

Yesterday started out pretty slow. The morning was gray and rainy, and although Olga kept acting like she wanted to go for a walk, the minute I put on my jacket and got her leash and opened the door, she backed away, horrified. So we spent the time on the couch. I finally finished that issue of The New Yorker I'd been slowly plowing through, and no, I still don't understand Bitcoin.

The day seemed weird because the clocks changed, and it's interesting how you really feel a time change of even one hour. It always seemed later than it actually was, with the sun farther along in the sky.

Finally, about 11 a.m., after the weather cleared, Olga and I went to the Heath. She was a maniac, running and running through the underbrush.

This picture may look scary, but she's just in mid-bark. I wanted to show how dirty she was, but lately, whenever I pause to point a camera at her she gets annoyed and starts barking at me.

Here's the live-action version:

And normally, she is not a barky dog.

Dave and I did re-watch the 1976 version of "A Star Is Born" and it's not my imagination -- it's a far better movie than the new one. The characters seem deeper, the relationship more real and some of the pacing is better. I've always thought Kris Kristofferson was a weird casting choice for that movie -- he can't even really sing! But otherwise it definitely takes flight where the new one, for me, did not. I think maybe the new one suffers from too much involvement by Bradley Cooper -- not that he isn't capable, but any time one person is doing everything, they're bound to be stretched. The '76 film had two stars whose only job was to act and sing; a director who helped on the screenplay but was otherwise only a director; two top-notch screenwriters (Joan Didion!); and top-notch music supervision and songwriting (Paul Williams, Alan & Marilyn Bergman). The new one is all Cooper, Cooper, Cooper. Dude was busy.

Also, although I criticized Gaga's voice in yesterday's post, I think in retrospect the issue may be more the songs than her singing, because she does an excellent version of "La Vie en Rose." And as we all know, modern pop music is crap.

Anyway, enough about that.

The unexpected excitement of the day came in late evening, after Dave had put a chicken in the oven and I was relaxing with a glass of wine. He said he wasn't feeling well, and hadn't been feeling well all day -- Crohn's issues, and I won't trouble you with the specific symptoms but there were some. So I had him call the NHS ask-a-nurse hotline and he was advised to go to the A&E (the British equivalent of the ER). He hopped in a cab to the Royal Free Hospital and I followed about half an hour later, when the chicken was adequately baked and I could turn off the oven without it becoming a bacteria farm. They checked him out at the hospital, did a blood test and fortunately let him come home again a few hours later, when we finally ate our still-hot but somewhat overcooked chicken. He's got to follow up with his gastroenterologists, and of course, to make things really interesting, he's supposed to leave for Madrid on Thursday on a school trip. Sheesh!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Autumn Deepens

Here's our fall garden, with the birdbath full of leaves and all the colors slowly running to yellow and gold. We haven't tried to clean it up much -- it still looks too nice, and supposedly, leaving some plants to go to seed (like the teasel, the tall brown plant to the right of Olga) is good for the birds. I haven't seen a bird on that teasel, but maybe I'm just not looking at the right time. We have one bright pink rose, still standing out like a stoplight.

"Who, me?"
British Summer Time ended this morning, so our clocks have fallen back. As I told Dave last night, "That just means I'll wake up at 4:30 rather than 5:30," and I was pretty much correct. But at least I could lie in bed and not worry about having to be anywhere.

It's also COLD. It's 40º F this morning! (That's 5º for you Celsius people.)

Yesterday Dave and I went to see "A Star Is Born" with my free cinema ticket from my health insurance. (I'm realizing that until I get Dave exercising and earning his own cinema tickets, this benefit is actually going to cost us money, because although I get in free he has to pay, and if I didn't have a free ticket we might not be going to the movies at all.) Anyway, I thought it was so-so. It seemed a bit long (never a good sign) and somehow the characters and the relationships never quite took flight. Also, while I like Lady Gaga as a person and I think she did a great job as an actress, I'm not crazy about her voice. It seems too high up in her head. Obviously I'm no expert on this and a lot of people love how she sings, but I just kept thinking, she's not Streisand.

I think Dave and I are going to rent the 1976 version today and watch it for comparison's sake. I've never seen the Judy Garland version, or the even earlier one, so maybe when Dave goes out of town later this week I'll watch those. (I think Dave will be done with "A Star Is Born" after today!)

We went to dinner last night at a vegan restaurant in Primrose Hill called Manna. It was an early birthday dinner for me, because Dave will be gone on my actual birthday, this coming Friday. He's got a school trip. Lousy timing, but oh well!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

In Which I Grouse About Everything

Yesterday was a very physical day at work. I boxed up the last of our discarded DVDs, hoisted those boxes and re-shelved a ton of books. I've said it before, but I'm always surprised at how much lifting and bending and crouching and kneeling and moving around my job requires -- so much so that I discovered yesterday I'd worn a hole in the knee of my pants! Oh may not be good for my pants, but it's probably good for me.

Still, I'm not as agile as Alain Robert, the 56-year-old Frenchman who this week climbed the exterior of a skyscraper in London -- with no harnesses or safety ropes or anything. I'm amazed he's still at it. Ten years ago he climbed The New York Times building, back when I worked there -- in fact I blogged about it. I'll never forget how surreal that was. That guy is a lunatic.

Oh, and did you see some bozo tried to steal the Magna Carta from Salisbury Cathedral -- the same one Dave and I just viewed on our recent visit? What was he going to do? Sell it on eBay?


I'm reading an interesting but completely bewildering article about cryptocurrency in The New Yorker. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, I do not understand this stuff at all. How can money untethered from government or nationality, money that doesn't even exist in the physical world, be worth anything? How is it possible that we're burning up incredible amounts of real energy to "mine" Bitcoin, which is essentially a big computer game? "This year, it is said, the Bitcoin network will use as much energy as the nation of Austria, and produce as much carbon dioxide as a million transatlantic flights," according to the article. And apparently this translates into real wealth somehow. I guess I'm an idiot, or maybe I'm just too old to get it, but it all sounds very improbable and unwise. Shouldn't we use our energy to, oh, save the rhinos? Or conserve it, or funnel it into the grid in a way that will lower everyone's bills, rather than burning it up on Bitcoin mining?

Sometimes I think humanity is losing touch with the real world. We're all on our devices, our children live in a land of video games, and we're inhabiting digital alternate universes. We're tied up in our own heads. It makes me want to walk Olga and dig in the garden.

So there. I do sound like Andy Rooney. Except not as funny.

(Photo: Near the Museum of London, earlier this month.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The DVD Purge

Yesterday and today are parent conference days at school, which means the teachers spend all day in meetings and the library has almost no customers. I spent all day yesterday discarding DVDs -- sitting at my desk, scanning each one, blacking out the bar code and the library stickers with a Sharpie and throwing them in a box. I must have deleted a couple hundred of them. And I have more to do today.

It's a little tedious but I don't mind it. I have no idea what we're going to do with all these old DVDs. I'm not sure charity shops want them. I guess I need to call around and ask.

I don't mind discarding the crap -- the remade "Charlie's Angels," for example -- but I hate throwing away cinematic classics like "Wild Strawberries." I have to continually remind myself that this weeding is not based on the quality of the movie. It's based on whether the movie gets used, and whether it's available electronically. Everything I'm discarding now hasn't been checked out at all within the last five years.

In fact, it's made me realize how heavily DVD use has declined. Some of the movies have stamps showing fairly regular checkouts until about 2012, when suddenly everything stops. The rise of video streaming!

I keep thinking, "Well, what happens if we no longer have access to streaming video, for whatever reason?" But I guess if that's the case something fairly apocalyptic will have happened and watching "About a Boy" or "Pretty Woman" won't be high on our priority list. We'll be too busy scrabbling around for food and water!

Despite the fact that I'd also love to get rid of our DVDs here at home, I brought home a couple of library discards for myself -- "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," with Maggie Smith; an Ansel Adams documentary; and the first season of "Rocky and Bullwinkle," which I'm sure I haven't watched in at least 40 years.

I've been walking to work this week, listening to the "Serial" podcast's latest season. It's pretty riveting, and as usual, so well-reported. This season focuses entirely on the criminal justice system in Middle America -- Cleveland, to be specific -- from arrests through conviction. It examines how police treat the people they're arresting, how they themselves are treated, how the courts function, how the attorneys argue and compromise, and how the judges mete out their version of justice. It's fascinating and, in places, downright frightening. It makes me happy to have (thus far) avoided any brushes with law enforcement, but then, I don't face the same desperate circumstances that some people do. I just sit around all day discarding DVDs!

(Photo: Chiswick high street, on Saturday.)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Carpet Campaign

It's been a while since I've filled you in on our final enduring bone of contention with our landlord. You may remember that ever since we moved into this flat, more than four years ago, we've been living with very light-colored, somewhat stained and bedraggled wall-to-wall carpeting in the dining room. We hate this carpet. It has bald spots, mysterious blotches and dark stains around the edges of the room. I'd rather not show you pictures but trust me, it's bad.

Well, OK, here's one picture I've shown you before:

You can see some of the spots, but not the full horrid effect.

Anyway, a few months back we renewed our efforts to get the carpeting replaced. We sent photos -- as we'd done before -- and this time, lo and behold, the landlord seems to be listening.

Last week I got a computer-generated e-mail from the management company saying an appointment had been arranged for someone to come and take care of a reported "vermin" problem. At first I was really annoyed because I thought they were talking about our mice issue, and while we might in fact need someone to check that out if it persists, the fact is we hadn't reported it -- which would have meant that one of our neighbors did. My mind immediately flew to Mrs. Kravitz, who has complained about mouse issues of her own. "She's blaming her mice on us!" I fumed.

And then I called the management company and it's not mice they're worried about at all. It's carpet moths.

Apparently they think the bald spots in our rug were caused by moths, and they want to make sure we don't have an ongoing infestation before they install new carpet. So they sent a guy, and he looked around briefly but confided to Dave that he wasn't really sure what he was doing here, and then the manager called me yesterday and asked if I'd seen any moths. I said not recently -- which is true, though a pair of Dave's pants were damaged by moths shortly after we moved in. We discarded them, bought some moth-proofing sachets for the closets and that was that.

So, anyway, the upshot seems to be that a new carpet may, in fact, be on the way. If the landlord is concerned about moths, I'm not sure why she doesn't just avoid carpet with natural fibers. Moths only eat wool, don't they? They're not going to eat acrylic. I have no objection to artificial fibers in a rug.

(Top photo: A sign in Chiswick on Saturday. Bollocks indeed!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Quaint Bookshop, and Sally Field

When I was in Chiswick on Saturday I popped into this independent bookstore on the high street. I love this place. I stopped in there years ago and bought a copy of A. E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad," and I've often wondered since whether it was still in business. So I was glad to see that it is, and just as stuffed with old books and artwork as I remember.

This time, I browsed that little shelf to the left of the door -- the bargain books, basically -- and came away with one by Nancy Mitford and one by Radclyffe Hall. Hall's 1928 book "The Well of Loneliness," which I read years ago, is one of the bedrock books of LGBT literature. The one I just bought, "Adam's Breed," doesn't seem to have a gay theme but it looks interesting nonetheless.

I also picked up a book from the 1920s or 1930s called "London Shown to the Children." Every page features a photo of a London landmark with a short narrative description -- everything from Nelson's column and Parliament to the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum. I suppose if you lived elsewhere in Britain and you wanted your kids to have some familiarity with the capital, but you couldn't afford to take them there yourself, you'd give them this book.

Speaking of books, I'm enjoying Sally Field's autobiography, "In Pieces." It's interesting because it focuses almost entirely on her early years and her family -- I'm around 300 pages in and she's only up to "Sybil." I didn't know much about her early TV career, having never watched "Gidget" (it only ran for one season!) or "The Flying Nun," but I sought out episodes of both those shows on YouTube and got a quick cultural education.

Here's a screen grab from the "Gidget" episode I watched. Look at the size of that refrigerator!

As for "The Flying Nun," I really can't say much positive about that. And neither does Field, who never wanted to do the show and was basically talked into it by her stepfather and the producers. (I watched this episode, which is interesting only if you're into "Star Trek" -- it features a guest appearance by Celia Lovsky, the actress who played Vulcan leader T'Pau in an episode of the original series.)

I do remember "Sybil," which was a phenomenon when I was a kid. I remember talking about it with the girls down the street when it aired in 1976 -- trying to name and describe all of Sybil's 16 personalities. We were fascinated by the idea that one human being could embody so many distinct, unintegrated identities. I believe Sybil's story has been mostly discredited since then, at least in psychiatric circles, but it made for good TV. Ah, the '70s!

Anyway, Field has some harrowing stories to tell about her dysfunctional family, her mother's alcoholism and the roaming hands of her stepfather, but she seems to have maintained a remarkably level head through it all. I've long admired her as an actress so it's interesting to read about her roots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Mid-October Garden

The garden is well on the wane by this time of year, but we've still got a fair amount of activity out there. This zinnia, for example, just bloomed -- it's probably going to be our last one. Most of the zinnia plants are looking pretty rough around the edges, and even this blossom looks a bit gnarled.

The inulas are completely done, their yellow petals and green stems having turned brown and their flowers gone to seed.

But the verbenas are still plugging away... are the cosmos. And there's still some insect life, as you can see. There's a bee on that central flower, and right next to it is a crab spider, lying in wait for a smaller, more manageable insect than that gigantic bee to consume.

Here's a closeup of the spider. Autumn is spider season, and the garden spiders have been out in force for several weeks, their webs suspended everywhere. Maybe that's how spiders came to be synonymous with Halloween?

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Blue Dome

Another goal of my walk through Chiswick on Saturday was to see the Russian Orthodox Church there, and specifically its beautiful blue dome. I usually see it while speeding past on the Great West Road on the way to Heathrow, and I'd never photographed it. I've been waiting for fall, because I thought it would look good against a blue sky and framed by autumn leaves.

The exterior of the church, which has a mouthful of a name (Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the Royal Martyrs) is actually not all that interesting architecturally, aside from the dome.  I didn't go inside.

The Royal Martyrs, in case you were wondering, is a reference to the Russian royal family killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. There's a cross erected in their memory in the church courtyard.

Yesterday Dave and I went to lunch with our friend Chris at a favorite pub in Notting Hill. I had a pint and then Chris insisted on ordering a bottle of wine, and of course Dave isn't drinking these days because of his Crohn's. So Chris and I wound up splitting the bottle ourselves, and let me just tell you, that was the booziest lunch I've had in a long time. We argued about Brexit, as usual. Chris is a leaver, but he went the day before to the huge People's Vote march, a massive demonstration in favor of putting the Brexit deal to a second vote. So he was primed to talk about it. I may be imagining things, but he seems to have grown more sheepish about Brexit as it's become apparent that Britain is giving itself the shaft.

(I considered going to that march myself, but since I can't yet vote here, it seemed inappropriate somehow!)

About the only other interesting thing I did yesterday is plant some cyclamens in the pots on the front porch. The zinnias that inhabited those pots had faded and gone scraggly, so I dumped them. To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn).

Here's a short video showing Olga having an exciting encounter on our morning walk yesterday morning! You gotta admire her enthusiasm. She's all in.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Chiswick House

We had some amazing fall weather yesterday -- cool but clear and blue and sunny. And best of all, I didn't have to walk the dog! We're arranging to board her with yet another dog-sitter over the Christmas holidays, when we'll be in the states, and the dog-sitter wanted to meet her and walk her yesterday -- a sort of trial run. So while Olga was off on her "audition," I had some spare time. Seize the day!

I decided to go to Chiswick, an area of West London where I haven't visited in a while. I'd never been to Chiswick House, a neo-Palladian stately home from the mid-1700s, so I made that my goal.

I toured the house, which has high, ornate ceilings and an impressive dome, as well as rooms covered in red and blue velvet. There's also some original furniture -- how weird to look at a chair from the 1700s and think about the people who must have sat in it, hundreds of years ago, in their powdered wigs and fancy cloaks! There are some paintings, too, mostly by artists I didn't know but a few by Hogarth and Rubens, for example.

But I really enjoyed the gardens, which are laid out along formal, classical lines yet left as wild forest on much of the estate. There are structures like this obelisk, pond and temple, meant to accentuate the landscape...

...and there's an Italian garden and a big greenhouse, which seemed to be locked when I was there. I couldn't figure out how to get in. (It looks like it contains mostly camellias and geraniums.)

The Beatles even filmed a video in the gardens back in the '60s for their song "Paperback Writer." It's on YouTube! It features some half-hearted lip-synching and poor Ringo, drumless, has absolutely nothing to do.

Anyway, I had lunch at the cafe, which had a quirky menu. I was psyched to try the vegan beetroot and peanut butter burger -- Dave is always mocking me for eating vegetables with peanut butter, and here was a burger after my own heart! But for some reason it wasn't available that day. I had to make do with a kind of halloumi wrap. I got a courgette (zucchini) and lime cake for dessert, and spent much of my time defending it from fearless pigeons who would swoop down and try to seize pieces of it from the table. (I was eating outside, obviously.)

Afterwards I took a long walk to the Thames (kind of accidentally; I took a wrong turn) and then along Chiswick High Street and took some photos. I didn't get back home until about 4 p.m.

And lest you think Olga suffered without me, here she is on her "audition," in a picture sent by the dog-sitter. Apparently she passed with flying colors, though the sitter said she kept stealing tennis balls (and apparently sticks) from the other dogs. That's our girl! So she's all set to board over Christmas. (Her regular daily dog-walker, unfortunately, doesn't offer overnight boarding, and the "luxury pet hotel" where she stayed while we were in Vietnam is full for the holidays. Crisis!)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Autumnal Photo Parade

Here are some more random photos from recent weeks, this time with a distinctly autumnal flavor!

I spotted this Lamborghini on my walk home from work. I'm not sure whether it's getting towed or merely transported. It's not quite the same as the lime-green Lamborghini I often see near school. My brother would probably be able to tell us the exact year and model of both of these cars, but all I can say is they stand out!

While walking in the cemetery with Olga I came across this gravestone decorated with chestnuts. We saw this same phenomenon, on the same gravestone, last year. Someone must be sending a message to a departed loved one.

Free shoes! Hardly my style, though.

A very cool wine label from a recent bottle of South African red. It would make a great poster.

A warning ad near West End Green. London has had a rash of moped crime in recent years, in which thieves zip past on a (usually stolen) moped or motorbike and grab people's iPhones from their hands, or even expensive watches from their wrists. It became such a common problem that the police developed tactics specifically to fight it, and last I saw, moped crime numbers were down. Still, it's a good idea not to carry your phone in the open on a London street. I keep mine in my pocket.

Remember that big burdock plant at the cemetery? Well, it's gone to seed. I should really pick a couple and try to grow them. Burdock makes an interesting plant. The spiny adhesive seeds inspired the creation of Velcro, or so I've read.

Finally, a rather creepy artificial critter at the cemetery, obviously well-weathered. The cemetery has plenty of real critters, so I'm not sure why someone felt the need to import this one!

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Litany of Complaints

My tooth is bothering me again. Ugh! I know! Just when I thought I had that problem solved, after the root canal I got in the spring, I may need to head back to the dentist. The tooth and jaw are achy and I suspect it's because the crown still isn't fitting correctly. I'm on the fence about it but I suppose ignoring it will only make it worse.

Also, Olga's stitched areas on her legs, from her recent surgery, were seriously red and inflamed last night. It looks like she'd been running through some brush with the dog walker, because her belly was scratched up, too. I'm hoping it's a temporary thing, like maybe she ran through a patch of nettles, and she's not going to need more veterinary attention.

And I need to mail Dave's ballot, which he just finished filling in last night. Hell will freeze over before he gets it to the post office himself.

And that's basically my life this morning. Clearly I am in a cranky mood.

Some of you asked to see the results of our library bookmark competition. Here they are. I realize you can't grasp all the detail but you can at least see the variety. Not bad for a bunch of 5th and 6th graders, right?

We ultimately chose just two winners -- the pink one in the top row, which you probably can't really see but which has a girl superhero character blasting off beneath the words "Power of Reading," and the flowered one also in the top row, which says, "Reading is like walking in an undiscovered garden." But because we're so wishy-washy and many of the entries were so creative, we decided to copy and distribute 11 of them. Yesterday I made 50 copies each, so we're definitely stocked up on bookmarks for the foreseeable future!

(Top photo: The back of a church in Salisbury. I loved those carefully lined-up watering cans.)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sleep Deprivation and Bookmarks

I don't think I've ever seen Olga sleep as much or as soundly as she has since our return from Salisbury. She's lying next to me now, snoring away, and she was practically immobile both last night and the night before. We humans like to travel with our pets, and I think given a choice dogs would always opt to go rather than stay home. But I also think it stresses them out. Animals like routine most of all -- being in a familiar place on a familiar schedule.

One of my commenters mentioned that Dave looked tired in the picture I posted yesterday. Truthfully, none of us slept particularly well on our trip. It wasn't the hotel's fault -- it was just being in a strange place in a slightly-too-small bed with a 50-pound Staffy. Dave and I have also been in recovery mode!

My workplace routine was broken up yesterday by a special project -- judging a bookmark contest. My library colleagues solicited bookmark designs from the middle school students, and though the 7th and 8th graders were way too cool to participate at all, the 5th and 6th graders submitted about 30 entries. So we had to select winners for each grade.

We wound up picking several, because we couldn't choose just one, and ranking them from first through third place, with a couple of runners-up as well. The designs featured super heroes and spaceships and bookshelves and teddy bears and even, in one case, American Sign Language. One boy wrote an inspirational quote: "Never expect the unexpected." We can't stop laughing about that one. It seems like it should mean something, but it really doesn't.

(Photo: A shop in Salisbury.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Foggy Day with Mags

A heavy, dewy mist settled over Salisbury yesterday, obscuring the tower of the cathedral. It made for some interesting photos and an atmospheric walk through the "water meadows," a system of man-made channels surrounding pastures and farmland.

But I'm getting ahead of myself -- because before Dave and I took that walk, we had breakfast at our hotel. And just as we sat down to eat, who should show up but Margaret Thatcher! Again!

(Not the REAL Margaret Thatcher, obviously. See yesterday's post if you're confused.)

With impeccable hair and timing she appeared just as we were about to get food, and wound up talking to (at?) us for another half an hour, at least. This time we mostly steered clear of politics, thank God. We heard about innocuous subjects like breeds of chickens (which she knows from her family's farm) and extinct varieties of pheasant. (Ditto.) We heard more about her husband's CBE and her illustrious family.

The conversation was more pleasant than yesterday, but I still wanted her to go away.

Finally we stood, leashed up Olga and went back to our room to freshen up. Then we set out across a nearby park to get to the path into town through the water meadows.

We enjoyed the foggy morning, the sheep in the fields, the old mill beside the river and the dew-soaked spider webs on the bridge. And then Dave looked behind us, and who should be following but Mags! She was stalking us!

We tried to walk faster but she finally caught up with us -- "You can't get away from this crazy Welsh woman!" she said. I guess this time we gave off positively hostile vibes because she eventually kept walking, bound for communion at the cathedral.

After Mags departed we were able to relax once again. We wandered the park and found little knitted artworks decorating some of the benches, such as this tea set, complete with knitted cookies! (It was fastened to the bench with a subtly placed zip tie.)

We walked into town and settled into a Cafe Nero for coffee:

We found a prime window seat with wonderful people-watching opportunities. We got a kick out of listening to the ladies sitting beside Dave, who were complaining about the results of "Strictly Come Dancing" and making their own amusing comments about passing pedestrians. ("His mother loves him," they said about one man.)

Finally we collected our bags from our hotel, ate some take-out Thai food at an unpretentious pub near the train station, and caught our train back to London. Traveling went smoothly and we were home by about 4:30 p.m. I think Olga was happier to get home than any of us. She spent the entire evening asleep on the couch, under her pink blanket.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Cathedral Dog

Dave and I had breakfast at our hotel yesterday, with Olga at our feet -- we couldn't bring her into the dining room, but we were allowed to sit with her in the lounge. As we ate, a sixtyish woman in a sparkly blue beaded top and perfectly coiffed hair came in, sat right down at the next table and began chatting with us.

Or more like chatting at us. Within a few minutes we'd learned all about her husband's CBE and her visits to Buckingham Palace (three of them), and the ills of the National Health Service where she works because it is stretched to the limit by immigrants, and her firm belief that hard work and sacrifice were essential for success. (She and her siblings had inherited a farm in Wales.) She didn't come right out and say she was a Brexiteer and a Trump supporter, but both were strongly implied. My subtle attempts to suggest an alternative viewpoint were ignored.

Dave and I couldn't reveal our thoughts to each other, of course, but after about half an hour of this right-wing haranguing we broke away. "What a repulsive woman!" he exclaimed when we got back to the room. I hope to God we don't see her again.

Speaking of God, we went to the cathedral yesterday. By most everyone's standard it's the main reason to visit Salisbury. We walked over in the misty rain and planned to do our sightseeing in shifts, while one of us stayed outside to mind the dog.

But no! DOGS ARE ALLOWED INSIDE THE CATHEDRAL! I couldn't believe it.

I'm not sure Olga appreciated the religious significance, but she was very interested in the loaf of bread on the autumn harvest display.

The cathedral was built over a 38-year period (quite quickly, really) in the 1200s, with the tall tower and spire added a few hundred years later. It features an original copy of the Magna Carta, beautifully written out by hand and kept in a special octagonal chamber. Nearby, displayed on a table, was the body of a dessicated rat found inside a skull in one of the tombs. Wild!

The photo above shows a medieval screen that used to divide the cathedral, and you can see the large cloisters in the photo at the top.

Afterwards we went outside and threw the Kong on the cathedral grounds, to work off some of Olga's energy.

We explored the town and saw a few of the landmarks that featured in the Novichok case -- the restaurant where the victims ate, the park where they were found on a bench. We also saw...

..."Fudgehenge," which is as close as we're going to get to Stonehenge on this visit. (It's only eight miles away, but we've been there before.) Dave bought some fudge at this shop, so Fudgehenge appears to be an effective marketing gimmick.

We had lunch in town and then made our way back to the room, where Dave took a nap and I finished my book and caught up with life on Facebook (as much as one ever can). We didn't run into Margaret Thatcher again, but there's always this morning!

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Demon on the Way to Starbucks

We made it to Salisbury, where fall seems more advanced than in London, and temperatures seem considerably cooler. I didn't bring my jacket, which I may regret, but at least I have a good sweater.

We got here early yesterday afternoon after a smooth train ride and checked into our hotel, on the banks of the River Avon and a stone's throw from the famous Salisbury cathedral. We can see the cathedral's steeple towering above the trees, tall enough to require a red aircraft beacon on the top. We set out for a walk to find lunch.

We crossed the river and passed the cathedral, which we'll see in more detail today. I was amused by this gargoyle, with a lizard or demon or something chewing on his neck. He's saying, "Here's what happens when you don't go to church!"

We had lunch in this pub, ironically named considering it bills itself as a "charming 15th Century quality catering inn, beautifully restored." The comfy interior was full of dark beams and low ceilings, the perfect atmosphere for a chilly, damp afternoon. Olga lounged under our table and had a sausage of her own, which seemed to make her happy.

Afterwards we took a brief walk through the town and went to Starbucks, where there was a randomly capitalized sign on the counter: "We Have run out of Change. Card or Exact Cash Payments only. Sorry for the Inconvenience." The words were followed by a frowny face emoji. One would think if they made only a few cash transactions they would then have change, but maybe everyone pays by card these days. (I had a free drink through my health insurance, so I didn't pay anything at all!)

Walking back across the river, we admired the lush gardens on both banks. The river isn't a single stream here, but multiple smaller streams swirling around islands and through marshes.

Here we are back at our hotel, where we remained for the rest of the evening. We have a ground-floor room on a wide lawn where the dog can run. Dinner in the restaurant was a bit overpriced, and when I ordered a martini the waiter seemed skeptical. He rustled one up but it had lemon rinds and a black olive in it -- not garnishes I would have chosen, but maybe that's how they do things in Salisbury?

The hotel has carpeting that would make Jefferson Airplane proud. Here's the junction of two hallways and our bedroom. Psychedelic!