Friday, November 30, 2018

Mining for Fractions

I've been getting deluged with sweet baked goods, as often happens around this time of year. People brought several desserts to Thanksgiving, like cupcakes (which Dave informs me were actually "Victoria sponge sandwiches" and not cupcakes at all) and pecan pie. And then my boss brought me pumpkin pie from her Thanksgiving dinner, and a box of macaroons that her houseguests gave her. And then we had "staff appreciation day" at work, when the parents bring in baked goods for the school employees -- which led to me walking away with chocolate chip cookies, brownies, blondies and some other goodies.

Of course it's all meant well and I am not complaining, exactly. I just need to pace myself! I'm trying to eat just a few sweet things per day as well as walk to (and sometimes from) work. I don't have a weight problem but I'm 52 and at this stage in life it creeps up on us!

Yesterday at school a fifth-grader kept coming to me for help with his math homework. Lord! There is literally not a single thing I am worse at than math. He's a funny kid, very earnest and friendly, and I wanted to be of some assistance but I also didn't want to steer him the wrong way. He's done this to me before, asking about long division. Who remembers how to do long division?! Get a calculator, kid!

Well, yesterday he wanted to know how to turn a fraction into a percentage. When he showed me his pencilled, scribbled calculations I felt that same old sense of panic that I used to get in math class. I could not tell him from memory how to solve his problem (see what I mean?), but I resorted to Google and got him an answer.

I also told him, "Nicholas, when it comes to math, you'd be better off talking to virtually any other adult in this building than me."

Maybe I shouldn't let on that I can't even do fifth grade math. They might fire me.

(In all honesty, if it were just me, I could probably do it. But when I'm giving advice to someone else there's an added layer of uncertainty, a responsibility, that makes me second-guess virtually everything I think I remember. Know what I mean?)

This is my next book. It's a yard sale purchase I made in Anna Maria Island, Florida, some time back. It was published in 1928 and I bought it solely because I loved the look of it. It's kind of fun to rediscover old books that have been completely forgotten.

According to the flyleaf, it's "a virile and swiftly moving tale of Alaskan mining life." Apparently Elby Wagner was a miner himself.

Hmmmm. I'll let you know how it goes.

(Photos: A garage on Morocco Street in Bermondsey. Not sure why the horses are there -- my guess is they relate to the earlier use of that building, possibly as a stable. And yes, the building really is that crooked.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Debbie Downer Talks About Bugs

I just realized it's only 5:47, and I've been up drinking coffee and reading for a good half-hour already. Why am I up so early?!

I finished a devastating article yesterday in the New York Times magazine about the decline of insect life and its ramifications for the planet overall. It was so depressing that I hesitate to even mention it here. But it's well-written and I'm sure it's true, and if we don't talk about these issues, how will we ever change or reverse them?

I posted it to Facebook, and that led to an exchange with my old friend Kevin about how much less wildlife we see now in our hometown in Florida. "Remember when we were young that there were so many meadowlarks, quail, nightingales and red winged blackbirds in Land O' Lakes," he wrote. "I can't remember the last time I saw any of those in the area."

Granted, he visits but no longer lives there, and although I've visited Tampa and some areas nearby, I haven't been back to Land O' Lakes since my Mom sold our family home in 2015. Still, I was there long enough and often enough over the past several decades to see a definite decline. I often think of the quail, how common they were when I was a child and how rare now. I don't think I've seen a quail in the wild in Florida since the mid-'80s.

As for insects -- when I was a kid, each year at a certain time, hundreds of mayflies would land on my bedroom windows, which faced a lake. I think they were mating or molting or maybe even dying at the end of their life cycle. But at some point over the years that stopped happening, and I couldn't even say when. I just know I haven't seen those once-abundant mayflies in a long time, and whenever I asked my mom about them, she hadn't seen them either.

We saw fewer green tree frogs over the years, and fewer snakes. (My mom had a couple of cats, and I'm sure that didn't help.) I often just assumed I wasn't seeing these creatures because I no longer lived there, and wasn't visiting at the right times.

I have lived in cities for the last few decades, so my contact with wildlife has been much more limited. Dave and I always take pleasure in seeing the gnats and other little bugs flying around over our pesticide-free garden here in London on summer evenings, and as you know, I often blog our experiences with foxes, squirrels, ladybirds, butterflies and other critters.

But it turns out there really is a decline among almost every living creature in the natural world. We don't always notice because it's a relatively slow change, and highly variable by geographical location. But nothing on earth is prospering except humans -- and I'd say the clock is ticking even on that.

(Photo: A door in Bermondsey.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Photography and Truth

I came across this building while in Bermondsey a few weekends ago. I've photographed it before, but I couldn't resist shooting it again with that gorgeous light spilling across the facade.

I read a terrifying article in The New Yorker (I promise I read other things too) about digital image manipulation -- how computers are getting so good at creating digital pictures and video that anyone will be able to do it. This goes way beyond Photoshop, although that was the first wave of the problem. It's more like CGI for the common man. It's terrifying because people have enough trouble sorting truth from myth with the written word -- imagine what will happen when some right-wing lunatic like Alex Jones or a propagandist like James O'Keefe develops the capability to create realistic CGI videos of the Obamas or other Democratic leaders, for example? We'll see them marching in pro-Communist rallies and giving Black Panther salutes and burning down churches and gleefully performing abortions, and people will believe it.

As a photographer, I get a little sick at the idea of computer-generated imagery. I still think of photos in a very old-school way -- that they are meant to capture fleeting moments realistically, as they really happened. "Seeing is believing," that kind of thing. "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words."

I fear the day when that won't be true -- when a picture won't be worth squat, or may only be destructive. Images are such powerful tools, and when used correctly and truthfully they're incredible storytellers. Stripping them of that power is heartbreaking to me. And yeah, you could say Photoshop has already made them unreliable, but not to the degree that they may become unreliable in the future. I guess it will all come down to where they're published, and learning to trust certain sources, just as we do now with news -- for better and for worse.

Lord! The world is so complicated.

Apropos of nothing, I found that little zebra on the sidewalk yesterday. Oh, and I finished my H. E. Bates book, "The Sleepless Moon." I like his writing, but man, I'm not sure I've ever read about so many uniformly unhappy people! (It was written long before Prozac.) Now I've just got to catch up on these New Yorkers!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

iPhone Pics, Late November Edition

Because I have to be at work early today, and I don't have time to cook up a proper blog post, here's another parade of iPhone randomness for your entertainment!

First, some colorful mats laid out on the gym floor at the school where I work.

Looks like it was someone's 18th birthday. I believe I would have deflated the balloon before throwing it away, but that's just me...

Dave and I had brunch in a restaurant where someone was offering these for sale. They're old bricks painted to look like books. The seller suggested they be used as doorstops or bookends. Kind of cool, and if I needed bookends I might pay £35 for a pair. I like the eclectic choice of titles.

This is a cool building near the theater where I saw "Hamilton" on the 21st. I just liked the curvy architecture and the lighting.

Someone apparently doesn't much care for this Russian World Cup footballer. Olga isn't very interested, either.

The pigeons were lined up on this rooftop with almost military precision. Maybe they really ARE plotting to take over the world...

This groovy garden gate belongs to a house up near Fortune Green. Points for creativity!

And finally, for Remembrance Day, someone set out this wreath of poppies along with an old photo at the memorial to war dead in Hampstead Cemetery. The soldier on the far right in the photo is marked, which suggests his name is on the stone above. Someone thought to honor him, specifically. Touching!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Too Much Gloom

Dave and I took the bus over to Notting Hill yesterday to have lunch with our friends Chris and Linda. Chris has been in the hospital having a pacemaker installed, and he's looking much more frail as a result. I think he'll be fine but he needs some recuperation time.

We went to a nearby pub where the food was so-so and talked about medical ills and the political ills of Brexit and by the time we were done I was quite ready to Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive, as Johnny Mercer famously wrote.

But then I came home and kept reading "The Sleepless Moon," in which nobody is particularly happy. So it was just one of those days! Dave and I ended the evening watching "The Romanoffs," which I really like so far -- the second episode was better than the first, I thought.

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends -- a woman I knew when I was a small child in Florida -- re-posted a meme crediting Trump with restoring the White House nativity scenes after the Obamas "banished" them. Of course, I could not let this balderdash stand. I sent her a link to a Snopes article refuting the ridiculous claim that the Obamas got rid of the nativity scenes. She actually seemed appreciative, thanking me for "the correction," but I doubt she took it to heart. People are going to believe what they want to believe. Still, I'm glad I said something, and I pointed out to her that anytime she sees things like that online, she can check their accuracy on Snopes. You can give a person a fish, or they can learn to fish on their own, right?

(Photo: Part of the not-at-all-gloomy Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. I only walked past, but one of these days I'll have to visit!)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Moth Man, and a Quixotic Crusade

Yesterday the "moth man" came for round two of our fumigation -- the last one, fortunately. Just like last time, we had to leave the flat and be gone for 2-3 hours. To make things more challenging, it was rainy and damp outside and Olga was not enthusiastic about walking anywhere.

So we ambled down to the High Street and went to brunch at the Alice House restaurant, where I had a kale-sweet potato-sausage hash. Olga curled up under the table on her towel and seemed quite happy just to be warm and dry. I ran a few errands nearby, picking up the next two volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard's memoirs at the bookstore and dropping off some cleaning -- and we managed to kill our two hours of time.

By then the weather had cleared up a bit, so while Dave went home I took Olga to the cemetery. She was a wild thing, happily chasing squirrels with abandon.

I don't know about you, but this is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. Not only is it litter, but it's perfectly good clothing that has been needlessly abandoned beside a footpath where I walk the dog. This was only part of it -- there was another pile nearby.

I've read that in our era of "fast fashion," or cheap imported clothing available at low prices, things get worn and discarded so quickly that municipal waste disposal systems struggle to keep up. Apparently there are people out there who are so obsessed with themselves that if they're shown on Instagram wearing any given item, they then feel they have to throw it away. Studies have shown people buy twice as much clothing today as they did ten years ago.

Anyway, I have no idea what was going on with this particular assortment, but I picked it all up, put it in a trash bag, and brought it home...

...where I ran it through the washer, dried it and folded it. (Because I didn't have enough laundry to do this weekend -- ha!) Then I took it to Oxfam. There was nothing wrong with any of it -- no obvious holes, tears or stains, nothing inappropriately intimate. Some of it was in dubious taste, filmy zebra prints and that sort of thing, but to each his (or in this case her) own, right?

Anyway, hopefully it will now find a second life.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Lazy Change of Plans

OK, let me clear up one little misconception right away. I have been reliably informed that cranberry sauce is in fact readily available in England, despite what I said yesterday. Dave confirmed he bought it through Ocado (a grocery delivery service) and in fact they had several different kinds. I could have sworn we struggled to find it in years past but maybe I'm thinking of the American, jellied, can-shaped variety (which I love, BTW). At any rate, I certainly did not mean to speak ill of the wealth of opportunity and consumer choice here in Ye Olde Albion.

I barely left the house yesterday. I had grand plans to meet my boss and co-worker in Kensington, and while I was at it I was going to walk Olga in Hyde Park. But my boss texted in the morning and said my co-worker couldn't make it because she had an Ikea delivery scheduled, yadda yadda, and the weather wasn't great anyway. So we called it off.

I had already cancelled Olga's dog walker, but I rang them up pronto and they put her back on the schedule with no problem. Which meant I was off the hook.

I had more post-Thanksgiving cleaning -- laundry and dishes -- and it wasn't until about 2 p.m. that those poor machines finally got a rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading "The Sleepless Moon" by H. E. Bates, an old book I picked up in a charity shop for a couple of pounds, and settling our hotel plans for our Christmas visit to Florida. Dinner was turkey, of course!

(Photo: Near London Bridge station, last weekend.)

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Dishwasher is Still Running

Well, thank goodness that's over.

I feel that way about most holidays, even when I have a good time and everything goes according to plan -- as our Thanksgiving did yesterday. Dave cooked up a storm and we served our guests parsnip soup, lobster and scallops on puff pastry in a tarragon sauce, and a 12-pound traditional turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and even cranberry sauce, which is not the easiest thing to find in England. Oh, and dessert: a pavlova and pecan pie, both courtesy of our friend Chris, and cupcakes from our friend Lisa.

And wine, needless to say. The "cats in space" wine was very good and we didn't even open the ladybird wine, because all our visitors brought their own bottles and we couldn't get through everything without going into liver failure.

We forgot to serve the bread, so now we have a big ol' somewhat stale baguette for sandwiches, and Dave also forgot to make a green vegetable. But oh well. A lot of people don't like green vegetables anyway, right?

Afterwards there was a freaking mountain of dishes to deal with. I'm on the third dishwasher load now. I think one more will have them all done.

So, yes, a success. I'm so glad the oven didn't die, like it did last Christmas.

We had a good talk at dinner about the mythology of Thanksgiving -- how the story of the colonists and Native Americans sitting down together for a cooperative, friendly feast wasn't quite accurate, at least in its broader context. It helped that we had two history teachers at our table.

This morning I was snoozing in bed at 6:45, after having gotten up once in the night to empty and reload the dishwasher, when I was awakened by slamming and grinding sounds. At first I thought workers were finally taking down the scaffold around the house, although it seemed awfully early. So I got up to investigate and saw the recycling truck making its way down the street. Crap! We forgot to put out the recycling!

So I raced out there in my bare feet carrying our waste food caddy and handed it off to the guys manning the truck. After cooking so much we had more peelings and other food refuse than ever, and I sure didn't want that to sit around for another week. The rest of it can wait.

(Photos: Rude kids street art in Bermondsey.)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Cats in Space

"Hamilton" was, of course, really, really good. I was surprised by a couple of things. I didn't know it doesn't have dialogue -- I expected something along the lines of a traditional musical, with dialogue interspersed by songs. This is more like a rap opera -- no speaking at all. The story is entirely told within the lyrics, and some of the stage effects were magical. At one point the action runs backward, and when that happened, I thought, "OK, this really is a special show."

I think what I love most about it is its improbability. Doesn't the idea of a rap-music stage production of Alexander Hamilton's life sound patently absurd? It's almost as crazy as "Springtime for Hitler," the show cooked up in "The Producers" to intentionally lose money. Add the fact that most of the cast members are people of color and you have a really interesting take on American revolutionary life.

I want to know what Alexander Hamilton would think. I suspect he'd love it.

One really interesting twist, given the London audience -- when King George III first appeared on stage, in his cape and crown, some people applauded! I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get that in America.

Otherwise, yesterday was busy. I worked all morning in the library, hoisting books, and I think I got everything done. Then Dave and I went out for lunch and collected our specially-ordered fresh turkey and some other Thanksgiving supplies. I bought these two bottles of wine:

How could I resist astronaut cats in space?! (The wine is called Felicette, named for the first cat sent into space, by France in 1963. Apparently Felicette only flew a 15-minute mission and came back alive.)

I called my mom to wish her Happy Thanksgiving and make sure I know how to make her traditional sweet potatoes, which we're going to try to replicate here. (Note to self, for future reference: bake, rather than boil, said sweet potatoes.) Dave did some cooking last night, making our parsnip soup (there was a major boil-over and a flooded stovetop, but I think he saved the soup) and the chicken/turkey stock for the gravy. Thanksgiving is like his dream day. Most of us might balk at the idea of spending a day in the kitchen, but not Dave! We're having four friends over for dinner -- plus Olga, of course.

(Top photo: Seeking sun in Bermondsey.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Mission Statement, and Hamilton

I took this picture in Cricklewood on Saturday, intrigued by the stark shopfront with its gothic door, boarded window and two pathetic houseplants. I only realized later that I'd photographed it before, when it looked very different.

I came home and joked to Dave last night that I was going to be fired. Why? Because I got an e-mail from the head of school on Monday and essentially ignored it. It was an invitation to sit on a committee to reconsider the mission of our school, and I thought it was an e-mail blast to everyone. (To be fair, the head of school sends lots of global e-mails, including at least one other on Monday.) But no -- the mission statement e-mail went only to select people. How I became one of the select I'm not sure, since I am normally so low on the organizational totem pole that I'm barely above ground.

Anyway, I saw her last night as I was leaving the building and she asked me, "Did you get my e-mail?" I may have hemmed and hawed a bit before confessing that I'd seen a couple from her but hadn't yet read them closely. She pointed out that one of them was especially to me, and you can bet that when I got home I read it right away.

So I guess now I'm reviewing the mission statement, unless I've already been kicked off the committee (before it even meets) for dereliction of duty. Criminy!

I'm not sure I'm the best person for this task, honestly -- I don't see myself as particularly good at organizational stuff -- but I guess all perspectives are needed and when you get asked, you participate. Right?

Today is just a half-day at school and we're off tomorrow and Friday for Thanksgiving. I've got a lot to do in the library -- I've got to re-shelve a few carts of books and empty out the rest of the DVD cabinet in preparation for its removal this weekend.

And tonight I'm finally going to see "Hamilton" on stage! I bought this ticket back in June, and I've been afraid I was going to forget it entirely, but fortunately I've kept it on my calendar and tonight's the night. So tomorrow I ought to be able to tell you what all the buzz is about. Unless I fall asleep.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Autumn Interlude

This street near Fortune Green -- the wonderfully named Agamemnon Road -- features a tree that was recently right on the cusp between yellow and light brown. I've said it before, but I love this Waterlogue app.

Monday, November 19, 2018


I took myself to the Tate Modern yesterday, mainly to finally see the new Blavatnik Building, which used to be known as the Switch House. It opened more than two years ago -- so it's not so new anymore -- but I'd never been. Time to remedy that!

The building has an eighth-floor viewing terrace that wraps around the top, and it's free to get in. From there visitors can get 360-degree views of the city, especially spectacular on a nice day like yesterday:

The viewing terrace is somewhat controversial, because right next door to the Tate is a complex of glass-walled condominiums. Some of the condo owners are incensed that Tate visitors use the terrace to peer into and even photograph their apartments. It's turned into a haves-and-have-nots dispute, with some championing free access to the viewing platform for the common man and others arguing for the privacy rights of the homeowners. But you know, when you buy an all-glass condo, what do you expect? That's what curtains are for!

Still, the museum has signs up saying "Please respect the privacy of our neighbors," and when I was there a guard was standing on that side of the platform, presumably to stop people taking pictures toward the condos. (I didn't try.)

After the terrace I explored some of the galleries, which as usual featured fascinating displays of modern art, including a group of photos by one of my favorite photographers, Stephen Shore. There's a special exhibit now of the work of Jenny Holzer, including a powerful text-art piece called "It Is Guns: Students Talk Sense." Phrases concerning gun violence, and specifically the shootings in Parkland, Florida, flash on a video screen in rapid succession. In the USA, the screens were mounted on trucks and driven around major cities. I bet that put the NRA's panties in a knot.

Afterwards, I walked south and east and then north again, through Bermondsey. It was a good day for pictures, although the sun was low and bright. I passed this place and popped in for coffee...

...because with a name like that, how could I not?!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

These Golden Days

We're coming down to the last of our seasonal leaves -- the hazel in the garden is bright yellow, its leaves fluttering down like butterflies, and the Japanese maple is almost completely bare, as is the walnut. When I took Olga to Fortune Green yesterday the ground was carpeted by the plane trees and the limes.

It's been a particularly golden fall. Yesterday morning, looking out at the garden, Dave said, "I don't remember there being so much yellow last year." Whether it's really different or we've simply forgotten is anyone's guess.

Olga had a little visit with the vet yesterday morning. We discovered two more lumps up near her shoulders -- small ones, but deeper than the superficial ones we recently had removed from her hind legs. The doctor felt them but said they're so small he's not sure he could even biopsy them, and given that Olga's last lumps were benign, he feels it's likely that these are too. We're going to just watch them and see if they get much bigger. I was worried they were lymphatic tumors of some kind, but the doc said he thinks they're just lipomas (fatty deposits). Why do we have such a lumpy dog?!

After the vet Olga and I had a nice walk through Cricklewood. Then we came home and I finished my Derek Jarman book. There's apparently another volume, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that -- it covers the years just before he died, and I feel certain it would be full of medical struggle.

On Friday night I went out to a bar in Soho with some colleagues -- a great place with a courtyard, perfect for an autumn evening. It's ostensibly an LGBTQ establishment, but either my gaydar is completely on the fritz or a lot of people there were pretty mainstream. Which doesn't mean they're not gay, I suppose, but one of the peculiarities of our sexually flexible and gender-fluid society is that gay seems much less distinct.

Anyway, after a few drinks, a friend and I peeled off and went to a gay pub nearby and joined the crowd on the sidewalk outside. We were talking about Trump when a British guy joined the conversation, and we were all complaining about the political state of things until the British guy got on a riff about convict labor in the USA and celebrities hiring private firefighters in Malibu. My friend, who's from California and who was also quite drunk, took umbrage -- I think he felt the British guy was mischaracterizing his home state and ignoring the travails of the common man. He got quite bristly and I was thinking, "Holy sh*t, we're going to be in a bar fight! In a gay bar!" The British guy -- who really had said and done nothing wrong -- moved away and I got us out of there and headed for home. Crisis averted!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Jarman on Gentrification and the Tube

As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been reading Derek Jarman's book "Modern Nature," taken from the journals he kept in 1989 and 1990 while living in Dungeness on England's south coast. It's an excellent book, though it took me some time to get into it. I'm finally almost done -- I think I'll polish it off this weekend. Here are three passages that struck a chord with me.

Nov 4, 1989:
     Jarman attends a Bonfire Night party, where the hosts have assembled an effigy to burn: "a Minoan snake goddess in the image of Imelda Marcos carrying a pair of golden shoes -- with a conical dress of driftwood and floral crimplene wired together with fireworks, high-waisted with a belt of gold streamers and breasts of hangers. A small face painted on a paper plate -- delicate as the moon, with an enigmatic smile. Arms outstretched, she stood ten feet tall and burnt like a torch."

Nov. 5, 1989:
     "One of the pluses of the sixties was a depressed inner city, where you could find a grand old Victorian room with dilapidated plumbing for a few bob a week. All this has gone in a tidal wave of mortgage that has throttled the life out of London. The same fate befell Manhattan. How can you describe what has been lost to those who've never known any different?
     As I approach fifty London is foreign -- all the nooks and corners of my student days sanitised, scrubbed, like the buildings, and overwhelmed with rubbish from the convenience food industry. And everywhere clothes shops -- as if everyone, knowing their time was ending had put on their best suit for the occasion."

Jan. 23, 1990:
     "Entered Tottenham Court Road tube this morning down the degrading piss stink passage beneath Centre Point to the besieged ticket machines.
     Cash in the pocket, loose change adrift -- I've never had a wallet or plastic. Unable to fill in forms. I cannot use a public phone without anxiety.
     I fuse in front of the bank of station names, then cross to the kiosk, buy a ticket from the sullen attendant, insert it in the automatic gate that throws it back in my face. There are no escalators any longer, so you spiral giddily down the rotting emergency stairs avoiding the pools of vomit and fungoid walls blistered with putrescence, past the mental decay of Paolozzi's pitiful attempt at mosaic, on to the central platform -- to the strains of some faded Utopian song of the sixties echoing in the corridors. A little death overtakes me as I reel breathless into the final carriage, where the patterned upholstery has disappeared into a slurry of gray dirt -- until liberated onto the streets of Lancaster Gate.
     What has happened to the underground? Crawling with rodent passengers, malevolent dead eyes, stench of damp winter clothes, limp papers, smudged tired fingers black with the world's problems."

I must admit I never found my trips on the tube to be quite that bleak, but then again, Tottenham Court Road station has been recently rebuilt. We all do occasionally seem rodent-like in our teeming hordes, though!

(Photo: Hampstead Heath, last weekend.)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Parakeets and a Crime Scene

Two parakeets showed up in the garden yesterday morning, trying diligently to get into the finch feeders. But the holes on the feeders are so minuscule, I don't understand how tiny finches eat from them -- much less gigantic, lumbering parakeets. I suspect they flew away frustrated.

Apparently our UK government is on the brink of collapse over Brexit. I wouldn't mind too much, except I worry about who might come into power. No one on the immediate horizon seems all that desirable. I can't get over what a shambolic mess this is, and I don't blame Theresa May -- it was always going to be a shambolic mess because it's a terrible idea! In fact, if anything, I think May should get tremendous credit for trying to make this dog's dinner, ordered by a closely divided electorate, palatable. But I'm sure all the blame-casting will focus on her, with the Leavers beating their "leave" drums even harder rather than beating a retreat back into the EU, as we should.

I found this somewhat alarmist and yet not incorrect sticker on a streetlight while walking home from school a few nights ago. I have yet to see a pro-Leave sticker in London. We are a hotbed of Remainers.

I think Dave and I are both glad we haven't invested in property here. Prices are sliding and apparently buyers are holding off, waiting to see what will happen. Of course everything is still astronomical -- houses on our street have gone from something like £80,000 to more than a million pounds in the last few decades. Which is why, if we buy, it won't be in our current neighborhood, sadly. Even Brexit isn't going to make our street affordable.

We finished the TV show "Safe" on Netflix. I really liked it right up until the last episode, when I thought it slid into absurdity. It's still worth watching, though -- the performances are good. Now we're on to "The Romanoffs," on Amazon.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Before, During and After

This is possibly the least attractive photo I've ever published on my blog. It shows our old dining room carpet, complete with its odd discolorations and its random mysterious spots. You can see why we've been working almost since we moved in to get it replaced. (It also had some threadbare patches that don't show in this photo -- they're the reason the landlord was so convinced we had moths, but I think they were just the result of age.)

As I said, the handymen came Tuesday and ripped it out, leaving...

...the bare floor. As you can see, it's a very strange floor. One of my commenters asked why the dining room is carpeted at all, given that it could be the site of spills. Well, this is why. The floor around the edge of the room is beautiful old wood in a herringbone pattern, but for some reason in the center there's just particleboard -- and beneath that, the unfinished subfloor.

We entertained the idea of trying to refinish the wooden perimeter and carpeting just the center, which is the way our bedroom is carpeted. But it would take some work, and besides, in front of the non-functioning fireplace there's a concrete patch where the hearth used to be. I'm not sure how we'd fix that. And, you know, it's not our house.

Here's another view. The little trash can is there because I was pulling all the old staples out of the floor, from the old carpet padding -- which was some very weird ancient fibrous stuff like coir or sisal. God only knows how long it had been there.

Yesterday, on schedule, the new carpet arrived along with a single guy to install it. (For some reason I thought it would take more people to put in the carpet than remove the old one, but in fact, it was the opposite.)

And...ta-da! The finished result. Dave and I are both convinced it's not the color we chose, but we're fine with that. It looks so much better than the old one -- and feels so much better, even to Olga.

Last night we put all the furniture back where it belongs -- having driven out the Bolsheviks -- and our flat is intact once again. At least on the inside -- we still have scaffolding around the exterior, and who knows what's going on with that roofing project.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hospital Butterfly

Here's another photo mural from the elevator lobbies at the Royal Free Hospital. (You may remember, but probably not, that I blogged the fish a few years ago.) I took this during our visit on Sunday.

Part 1 of the Great Carpet Odyssey was completed successfully yesterday morning. The handyman (men, actually) showed up about 10:30 and removed the old stuff, including the padding underneath, in about 20 minutes. They left behind some of the fasteners, though -- I have to go in this morning and pull old staples out of the floor before the guys show up with the new rug later today. I was going to leave them but I don't want the new installers to balk at having to deal with them.

So, anyway, maybe tomorrow I'll have some photos to show you. I know you can't wait.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Carpeting, Outside and In

The weekend's wind and rain ripped many of the red leaves off our Japanese maple and scattered them at its feet. We haven't had long to appreciate that bright color.

It's probably cliché to evoke Robert Frost at this time of year, but here goes:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

And while red leaves are carpeting our lawn, indoors we've started our Great Carpet Odyssey. Last night Dave and I cleared all the furniture out of the dining room, cramming it mostly into the front foyer and our bedroom. Books are lining the walls of the hallway. Everything is stacked everywhere. As I told Dave, it's like those scenes in "Dr. Zhivago" when Tonya and her family have been forced into just a few rooms of their mansion because the Bolsheviks have taken over the rest of the house.

This is in preparation for the handyman to come this morning and rip out the old dining room carpet and carry it away. Then, tomorrow, the new carpet gets installed -- insha'allah, as they say in the Muslim world. (It literally means "God willing," but in this case, it really means "assuming the carpet gets delivered and the workmen show up.")

Monday, November 12, 2018

Red Poppies

Yesterday was bright and sunny, an autumnal jewel of a day. Olga and I took a longish walk in the morning, and she patiently paused for me while I took photographic advantage of the shadows.

Then Dave and I were off to the Royal Free Hospital, where he had an examination scheduled. It's interesting that they chose yesterday, which was not only a Sunday but also Remembrance Day. The NHS works all the time, I suppose. We sat in the waiting room and watched the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with Theresa May and the other government and Commonwealth leaders laying their wreaths of poppies.

(By the way, this is an excellent gallery of photos from yesterday's ceremonies around the world. I find that image of poppies projected onto the Sydney Opera House especially beautiful and powerful. I'm glad Macron made a point of rejecting nationalism right in front of petulant Trump and conniving Putin.)

After Dave's name was called and he disappeared into the exam room, I walked to Starbucks and sat out on the sidewalk reading Derek Jarman's "Modern Nature," his journals from the late 1980s when he lived in Dungeness and tended a garden in the windy, salty environment. It's interesting reading, but it's also slow-going, I think because journals -- like collections of letters -- don't have the narrative drive of a novel. I've been reading this book for a couple of weeks and I'm only about a third of the way through. I like it, though -- his recollections of the Soho gay scene in the '60s and '70s, his references to his film and design work and the friends he loved and lost to AIDS, his descriptions of various plants and his efforts to grow them. He died from AIDS not too many years after the book's essays conclude.

Finally I went back to the hospital, collected Dave, and we came home. His exam went fine, and they seem to have some idea why he hasn't been feeling so great lately. This may lead to some treatment changes for his Crohn's -- he has a follow-up appointment in a week or two, so we'll see.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

No More Imaginary Moths

Well, yesterday wasn't quite as chaotic as I thought it might be -- the roofers didn't show up. I guess they don't work on Saturdays.

But the the moth guy did show up, around 11:30, at which point Dave, Olga and I were banished from the house for three hours. The exterminator, Greg, who had an Eastern European accent and who seemed as unconvinced as us that a treatment was even necessary, said he would be spraying by hand. I'd envisioned more of a "room fogger" approach, but apparently not. We just had to be gone until it dried.

So Dave went to a cafe on the high street to do some schoolwork, and Olga and I went to the Heath, which was beautifully autumnal. We even had sunshine, because yesterday's rain didn't materialize until the afternoon.

As usual, Olga was a squirrel-killing machine. (At least in her own mind.) She makes passers-by laugh, she is so maniacal. At one point she was leaping around the base of a tree, barking, and a guy walking past said, "Bark it down! It will fall from fear!"

After our long walk we got home to find the flat pretty much the same. I only saw one area where spraying was obvious, and there was no smell at all. I stayed out of the dining room, where the carpet is being replaced this week and where these erstwhile moths (and hence the spray) are supposedly concentrated.

My ever-considerate spouse bought me a bottle of wine at OddBins, even though he hasn't been drinking anything himself because of his Crohn's. So I was able to have a few glasses last night as we watched TV -- a Netflix show called "Safe," with Michael C. Hall, which is pretty good! We binged three episodes!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Urban Nature

I found this beautiful feather on the sidewalk last week. It's tiny -- maybe an inch long -- and I suspect it's from a tit but I'm not sure. The coloring is right, and tits are tiny birds.


And here are the most recent downloads from the garden cam. You'll notice that the time/date stamp on the first clip is wrong, but then I fixed it, so the rest should read correctly. Foxes, squirrels and Olga, basically.

We have a whole lot going on around here today, but fortunately none of it requires my attendance. So while the fumigators visit for the first moth treatment and the roofers pound away, Olga and I will be at the Heath. Or somewhere. It's going to be a bit dicey because it's supposed to rain, but I'm hoping we can fit our long walk in between bouts of precipitation.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Roof Repairs, and Outrageous Injustice

Here's what our humble abode looks like at the moment, all scaffolded up for roof repairs. As I said in an earlier post, Dave and I haven't been involved in arranging any of this work. It's been handled by our landlord and the owner of the upstairs flat. It's basically just happening to us.

We live on the ground floor, with the green door. The white door leads to the upstairs, where the Russians live. Mrs. Kravitz lives in the house on the left. I don't even know the name of the woman who owns the house on the right -- the one connected to ours -- but I believe she has the whole structure. It's not divided into separate flats like ours is.

Here's another view, so you can see how extensive the scaffold is. It runs down the side of the house and also around the back. It went up pretty quickly -- I was impressed, considering the workmen had to navigate our jungle of a front garden. (We don't maintain the front -- that's the landlord's responsibility, probably in conjunction with the Russians.)

That big hole in the roadway, with the blue barriers, is a separate project entirely -- something to do with Thames Water. I have no idea what's happening there.

Once again, I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker yesterday, this one about a team of New York lawyers who moved to Oklahoma to represent poor women entangled in the criminal justice system. Apparently Oklahoma incarcerates women, particularly poor women, at above-average rates. The article mentioned the case of Tondalao Hall, a woman whose abusive male partner broke their infant son's leg and ribs. The man was sentenced to eight years of probation for inflicting the abuse. But Hall, who wasn't even home when the child was injured and who called a doctor when she saw that something was wrong, was charged with failing to protect her children -- and sentenced to THIRTY YEARS IN PRISON! Have you ever heard of a greater miscarriage of justice? The ACLU is fighting her case, but really -- it's perhaps the starkest example I've ever seen of a woman being made to pay for the crimes of a man. Appalling!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Red and Blue, Red and Yellow

The consensus seems to be that the election news is brighter than I initially believed yesterday. I thought it was sort of a "meh" result for the Democrats, but The New York Times called it a "rebuke" of Trump's policies -- maybe even a "stinging rebuke," though I can't remember their exact wording. Nate Cohn has a column (with a very hard-to-understand graphic) explaining why the election was better for the Democrats than it appears. I'm not sure I buy it, frankly -- I'd hoped for a much bigger and bluer wave -- but it's an interesting perspective.

At least Nancy Pelosi is now back to annoy the Republicans even more. This thrills me to my bones, knowing how much they complain about her.

Trump's behavior is going to be fun to watch. Now that he doesn't have to tiptoe around to pacify mid-term election voters, he's going to become even more autocratic. Jeff Sessions is just the first step.

Interesting times!

Look how red our Japanese maple has gone, seemingly overnight! Less than two weeks ago it was a dark bronze color. It really stands out at this time of year. Apparently it's a hemispheric phenomenon, as Lorianne in New England said hers just went bright red, too.

I went back to Starbuck's yesterday and collected my free coffee via my health insurance. This time, they had hot water. Yay!

Oh, and I rolled our carts of discarded library DVDs into the staff lounge at work, with "free" signs on them. I figured that would help us get rid of them, and it has -- several shelves' worth have disappeared. Less for us to throw away!

(Top photo: An autumn leaf  in Queen's Park, on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Elections, and Scaffold Man

I woke up at 4 a.m. to read the American election results. Nationwide, they're not a total disaster. It's great that the Democrats won control of the House, as expected, and there were a few bright spots -- like the defeat of the far-right gubernatorial candidate in Kansas, of all places. Even in Florida, where I voted, it's terrific that a long-standing discriminatory law banning ex-felons from voting has been eliminated. That will have a significant effect in upcoming years and is another step toward true justice.

Of course I was sick to see the Democrats lose the governor's race and a Senate seat in Florida -- but frankly, I kind of expected it. I was just telling a co-worker yesterday that I thought those losses were likely. It's still Florida, y'all -- the "Gunshine State." I'm so used to voting on the losing end of statewide elections that I don't bat an eye anymore.

To the extent that it's all a referendum on Trump, the fact of the matter is, while he turns my stomach and those of a lot of urban, educated voters, many, many people do not care what he says or how he says it. If anything, they like his plain-spokenness and his bluster. They find him entertaining and they don't feel preached to or looked down upon. There are many ironies there, but that's how it is. The economy is up and he's pledged resistance to immigration, and many people respond to those issues. I just have to swallow the fact that I think differently.

So, onward. I hope having a Democratic House at least imposes some checks and balances.

I went back to the dentist yesterday evening to get my crown adjusted again. The good news is, it seems to have really helped. My tooth feels much better than it did. We'll see what happens over the long haul, but I am hopeful.

Oh, and Dave -- who stayed home from work yesterday morning for a doctor's appointment -- texted me to say the scaffold was going up around our house, enabling the roof work to proceed. He sent me this picture:

I was like, " that really a picture of the scaffolding?"

Dave swears he was not photographing Hunky Scaffold Man, and in fact he said the guy's not all that hunky in real life. Whatever!

In all seriousness, I was glad Dave was home, because I worried about how Olga would respond to workmen clambering over the house and clanking around with those huge metal poles. Dave said she didn't like it, but I hope now that she's been introduced to the disruption she'll be comfortable here on her own.

(Top photo: A chicken place in Queen's Park, on Sunday. I'm always intrigued when I see 'Southern' fried chicken advertised in England. Is it from Southampton?)