Thursday, January 31, 2019

Modern Art and E-Mail Spam

Olga and I came across this pile of rubbish outside a garage while we were walking yesterday morning. Doesn't that piece of plywood in front look like a modernist painting?

It's like something right off MoMA's walls. Unfortunately when I came home last night the rubbish was all gone -- so I'm afraid that artwork has probably been lost to oblivion.

You'll be glad to know my mission-review focus group went well yesterday. I have two more of these to lead in the next couple of weeks. I was afraid it would be like pulling teeth to get people to talk, but actually everyone seems willing to contribute and has something interesting to say, so my fears were unfounded.

I've been getting some really interesting spam e-mail in recent weeks. One was ostensibly from a 25-year-old named Jennifer who is "working really hard to turn into a boob model" and wanted my honest opinion of her photos, which she offered to pass along -- and who, by the way, has a home in Bordeaux (?) and also kindly offered to give me a private show. Then there was Constance, who said, "my figure is beautiful and horny. I prefer to do activities you're most likely too ashamed to even think of. My round a** is eagerly waiting for your battering, and my sharp tongue is ready to make your mind blow up!"

Does anyone really think that sounds sexy? Who falls for these things?

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, yesterday I got a Bible Trivia question, with a promise to send a new one every day. You can bet I unsubscribed from that right away.

I have a very old AOL e-mail address, which I've been using since 1994. I Googled it not too long ago and saw that it was available on lists of active e-mail addresses posted online for use by spammers. So there you go. I suppose I could change it, but trying to stay ahead of that game seems like a futile exercise. Besides, they're entertaining -- I write about interesting spam every once in a while.

Last night I met up with my friend Pam, who served with me in the Peace Corps a quarter century ago (!). She comes through London every now and then for work. We met up in Notting Hill at the normally flower-bedecked Churchill Arms pub (not so many flowers at this time of year) and had a great time catching up. She's the first of several Peace Corps friends who are going to be passing through this spring!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Eye Collector

The freezing weather has arrived. It's supposedly 30º F out there now, though I haven't been outside yet so I can't vouch for that. I don't see any snow -- I think that's supposed to come tomorrow.

I went out last night and covered Dave's Chinese banana tree (which is supposedly frost hardy) and the fig tree with fabric cloches, just to give them a little extra protection. I think the leaves of the banana will probably freeze no matter what, but it should come out again in the spring.

This banana is a new experiment -- Dave bought it late last year so we haven't overwintered it before. Its pot is too big to move so there's no bringing it inside. But it's on the patio -- as is the fig -- so it should stay a bit warmer, being in a paved environment and close to the house.

Today I have to lead my first focus group to discuss possible revisions to our school mission statement. Should be fun!

Meanwhile I'm wrestling with "Brexit Blues." The news is all Brexit, all the time, and it's getting me down. The arguing and posturing and endless negotiations -- the government is literally consumed by it at the moment -- and I keep thinking, "For what?!" Why is Britain doing this, endangering our economy and peace in Northern Ireland? What is to be gained, beyond some vague idea of reclaiming sovereignty?

The notion of returning to a previous state of greatness is very seductive but dangerous in politics. And it's impossible. The previous state of greatness -- whether it's the British Empire or post-War industrialized Britain or "Leave it to Beaver" America, to the extent that it ever existed at all -- was dependent on a global political and economic climate that has passed us by, and that largely ignored or exploited many of our own citizens in both countries. Voters who want to go backwards are deluding themselves and, I'm convinced, are more focused on reclaiming an earlier cultural and racial status quo than anything else. What is it that we want back again, exactly?

I wish we could look forward with as much enthusiasm, finding ways to preserve the values we cherish while still embracing an inevitably more integrated, globalized world.

(Photos: A blanket hanging from a balcony in Cricklewood, at the side of an optician's office -- hence the "eye collector" graffiti.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Reed

A few nights ago I dreamed that Crosby, Stills and Nash, and possibly Young, were visiting me. I lived in a sunny place in a gigantic beige stucco building with a parking lot, like the Eagles' Hotel California. I bought some new clothes to fit in better with the band -- mustard-colored pants and a long tunic shirt with a pattern of intersecting circles in green, red, yellow and orange. I wore little round purple John Lennon glasses. I was vaguely aware that I looked ridiculous because C,S,N and possibly Y were not dressed like that at all. But I felt so groovy.

At one point I saw the band slouching around on the lawn but I didn't interact with them. They were just hanging out, looking vaguely as they did on the cover of their first album. I thought, "Stephen Stills looks so young!" Because of course, in my dream, I was seeing them all as if it were 1969.

Stephen Stills, in fact, is 74 years old now. David Crosby is 77! And who ever thought that would happen?

How is it that I have entered a world where all my musical idols are senior citizens? Joan Baez is 78. Joni Mitchell is 75. Paul McCartney is 76. Melanie is a relatively youthful 71. It's shocking, honestly -- not that there's anything wrong with being a senior citizen, but these were all the rebellious youth, right?

Anyway, I have no idea what any of this means, except that deep in my head I'm still living in the past, and I'm continually surprised by the present.

The loveseat did disappear from the sidewalk yesterday morning, not long after we put it out. I assume the council collected it as promised. It's nice to have that gone -- and now the living room seems so spacious. A little too spacious, maybe. Weirdly spacious.

Dave thinks his cold is on the mend, thank goodness. He's going to work today after taking yesterday off. He went to the doctor but she said it was a virus and she couldn't really do anything -- still, she praised him for coming in, because he's on medication that suppresses his immune system (for the Crohn's) and they have to keep an eye on that kind of thing. I haven't contracted the cold, knock on wood. I thought I might be getting it yesterday, because I had a headache when I woke up, but in retrospect that could have been the wine I consumed at Cirque du Soleil the night before.

We're getting some arctic weather -- supposedly a low of 28º F tomorrow -- and possibly some snow tonight. (I know that's nothing compared to what's happening in parts of North America.) I'm trying to decide whether to muscle that fig tree into the garden shed. Ugh. I don't think it would die if we left it out, but I'm not sure I want to risk it.

(Photo: Yesterday on my walk to work.)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Cirque and Shard

I took this photo when I was down near London Bridge a couple of weeks ago -- it's the top of the Shard (right) with the moon and a pointy bit of sculpture. In case you're wondering.

I went to see Cirque du Soleil's "Totem" show last night at Royal Albert Hall. One of Dave's colleagues in the music department had box seats, through the generosity of some parents at the school, and invited us to attend. Dave stayed home because he's been battling a cold, but I went with several others from school and some of their kids.

I've never seen Cirque du Soleil before, and it was intriguing. I love the way it updates the traditional circus forms -- there are acrobats and clowns but they look nothing like the old Ringling Brothers model. The costumes are amazing, brightly colored and stretchy and spangly, and there were colored lights and video projections as well as thumpy music with indecipherable lyrics. We saw juggling with bright balls of light inside a clear plastic funnel, and aerialists -- professional gymnasts, really --  on rings and trapeze bars. There's something balletic about watching incredibly fit human beings flowing gracefully through a series of unbelievable poses. Not unlike going to see "Swan Lake" last week.

Some of the show seemed suspect from a political correctness point of view -- what was up with the Native Americans on roller skates, for example? And why does the clown speak Italian? I am not the first person to ask these questions.

Still, it was fabulous. I'd go again.

This morning Dave and I had to muscle our saggy, broken loveseat down the front steps and out to the street. Sadly, we are not as fit as gymnasts, but we managed. It's supposed to be picked up by the council later today, by pre-arrangement. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Totoro has been repaired and is back in his usual position on the walnut tree, keeping watch over our little garden.

I'm telling you, I am not a superstitious person, but things go wrong when Totoro is not at his forest-spirit post. On Friday, Dave came home from work to find that a pigeon had been massacred near the back steps. The grass was carpeted with feathers and in the middle of it all lay the poor pigeon's carcass. We decided to leave it there, figuring that something would come along and take it (perhaps the critter that killed it) and indeed that's what happened -- when we woke up yesterday morning, it was gone.

Dave thinks the culprit might have been a cat, but the damage seemed pretty severe. My money is on a fox. Olga was locked indoors at the time, so it couldn't have been her, but she must have had quite a show.

I toyed with what to do about all the feathers on the grass. A rake? I even considered vacuuming them up, but that seemed truly insane. So right now they're all still there.

Anyway, I suppose nature is nature and bad things happen. Bad for the pigeon, that is. Good for whatever ate it.

Everything is relative.

I spent the morning doing every single thing I could think of that I've been meaning to do and hadn't yet done. The list is not exhausted, but I got a lot out of the way. I trimmed the maidenhair fern in the living room and repositioned the climbing rose in the back garden (and lost no blood, amazingly). I did laundry and vacuumed and cleaned the floors and watered all the orchids. (All but one are sending out new blossoms!)

Then I took Olga to the Heath, where some kind of foot race was going on. Every once in a while we'd pass groups of people cheering on runners, yelling "Good man!" or "Go, Nicole!" Olga and I just tried to stay out of the way.

I intentionally did not bring my camera, and it felt so good to be unencumbered. But I couldn't resist an iPhone photo of Olga with that gnarly log.

I also got rid of some dead patio plants and spent-looking houseplants, and we have a few more to discard in next week's yard-waste collection. I always try to keep everything alive through the winter, but the fact is, it's natural for some plants to die. I need to be better about simply letting them go and getting fresh, vigorous ones in the spring.

Last night Dave and I watched "Holy Hell," a Netflix documentary recently mentioned by another blogger. (I can't remember who!) It sounded intriguing -- about a pseudo-Buddhist religious cult incorporating ballet -- and we were not disappointed. Cults are so interesting -- I always come away wondering how people could possibly have fallen for it. But there's something in human nature that makes people want to belong, that craves love, and sometimes it's strong enough to make people set aside common sense.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Miscellaneous Stuff

Well, not much happened around here yesterday, so let's just look at some miscellaneous pictures.

First, some random stuff I found while walking Olga. (I didn't keep any of it!) Last weekend I came across this little shred of a demolished dog toy on Hampstead Heath. I recognized it right away because I found a whole one of the same style a couple of years ago.

And look at this -- a VCR! Haven't seen one of those in a while.

You can't tell what this is, in its zip-tied pink plastic House of Fraser bag, but it's a discarded toilet seat with a "find the surfer" theme. I guess somewhere among all those cartoon sharks there's a surfer. I didn't try to find him. I also wasn't even slightly tempted to keep the seat, although if it came from House of Fraser it's quite posh. I have my limits.

One of our neighbors down the street cleared a huge quantity of ivy off one of his/her trees and garden walls, and this neat little birdhouse appeared. Was it always there, buried beneath the vines? This neighbor has a cat, though, so I hope no birds move in.

Down the high street, opposite the post office, we're apparently getting a new chippie. This used to be an Asian restaurant, and I think it ran into legal or financial problems because until recently its windows were plastered with enforcement orders.

And inside the post office (where, incidentally, I went last weekend to mail a postcard to fellow blogger John Gray as part of his postcard challenge) I saw this guy, nervously awaiting his owner's return. Dogs are so expressive! And yes, John got my postcard almost immediately -- it's the sixteenth one down in this post, showing Olga with the Thames Barrier. I'm not sure how John's coping with so much mail!

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Frosty Foxglove and 'Swan Lake'

Well, the tree trimmers came and went yesterday, and we had no disasters. I persuaded them to save a big climbing rose that had clambered its way into a tree that we had trimmed. Right now it looks pretty gangly, drooping by itself over our wildflower garden, but my plan is to pull it higher into the tree or maybe onto the nearby fence. It's a very "sticky" rose, with lethal thorns -- they've torn several of my shirts and my jacket -- so that should be a fun exercise. But when it blooms in the summer it's beautiful, and the bees love it.

Above is our little snowdrop, growing in the lawn as it does every year. I put a tomato cage over it while the workers were here and asked them not to trample it. I'm sure they thought I was crazy, but it's kind of out in the open and it seems so vulnerable.

As you can see, we had some frost yesterday morning. This is one of our foxgloves.

Also, the apple tree (bush) was removed as planned. I have to admit the garden does look better without it. We might put something low-growing there but it's nice to have that space open, allowing more light to reach the roses.

Last night Dave and I went with our friends Sally and Liz to see Matthew Bourne's version of "Swan Lake" at Sadler's Wells. It's a sort of gay fantasia built on Tchaikovsky's masterpiece. I first saw it on Broadway in December 1998, and in my journal I wrote that it was "an amazing show, beautiful and aggressive and even sexy. I could have watched the lead swan for hours, to the exclusion of everyone else. He was brilliant, and he truly became birdlike and soared, angry and male and stunningly sculpted."

This production seemed less polished, which makes sense for a smaller theater, I suppose, or maybe I'm just super-critical. But it was no less absorbing and thrilling and beautiful to watch, and the lead swan was no less sculpted. This time it was the prince whose stage presence most drew me in, and I finally got to see the whole show -- when I saw it in New York, some latecomers to the theater disrupted the seating in our section, causing the ushers to make several people move and me to miss a chunk at the beginning. I was so mad I wrote a letter of protest to the theater, arguing that they shouldn't have let the late people in. (It probably got thrown in the trash -- in any case, it was never acknowledged!)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Totoro's Broken Tail

Yesterday I went to a presentation by the managers of our workplace pension. I thought it might be a good idea to know how this thing works, even though I'm still (I think) quite far from retirement myself. The guy who did the presentation was from central casting -- very trimmed and conservative-looking, dark suit, all business, completely monotone. Despite the fact that I have a pretty good head for practical matters, I am flummoxed by some aspects of the plan (or "scheme," as they say in England). For one thing, there are something like 299 funds where I could choose to invest my money. Who on earth has the time to sort that out? I think I'm invested now in a sort of default mix, and I guess that's fine with me.

Seriously, the cynical part of me believes these "choices" are really just a way to convince people they need to consult with investment managers, thus boosting the profits of the financial services industry.

Some good came of the meeting, though. I am going to get registered on the web site and at least familiarize myself with how much money I have and how it's accumulating. I am not an investment dabbler -- I'm just going to let it sit there and do its thing.

Yesterday morning I looked out into the icy garden and saw that Totoro had fallen from his perch on the walnut tree. Not just fallen, but fallen and broken. Poor guy! I'll have to do some repair this weekend on our Shanghai souvenir. I blame the squirrels.

I just finished "Beartown," a novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. It's been getting buzz and it was pretty good, but I had a hard time getting into it at the beginning because so much of it centers on ice hockey. I know nothing about hockey and, being generally sports-phobic, I had an immediate and visceral dislike for the book. Once I got past the hockey and more into the lives of the characters (which took about 150 pages!) I felt better about it. Have any of you read it? What did you think? I don't think I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.

Today we have some tree-trimmers coming to take care of some things in the garden. Dave has been very insistent that we remove the apple tree in the rose bed -- it's not really a tree, more of a scraggly, unhealthy bush, and in fact I think it was cut down at some point in the past and regrew from the stump. He wants to use the space for something else and although I'm ambivalent about it, I've given in. They're also going to trim some trees at the back of the garden to make more sun for the wildflower bed. I confess I have anxiety about how it's all going to come out.

(Top photo: An intriguing garden in West Hampstead, through the temporary fence that encloses it.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Winter Lights

I went to see the Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf last night. I've done this a few times in Januaries past, and the weather is always miserable -- rain or wind or freezing cold or all three. True to form, last night it started snowing as I walked around! But it's still worth it to see the illuminated artworks.

Above is "Sasha Trees" by Adam Decolight, which looks very static in the picture but actually shimmers and changes color. Here's a video.

These irridescent pylons, called "Prismatica" by Raw Design, also involve movement -- they can be spun around, and there are chimes inside to provide an aural component.

"Two Hearts" by Stuart Langley uses the surrounding architecture and water as a canvas.

This is one of the Oge Collective's "Angels of Freedom." I cracked up at this little kid, who not only didn't reach the halo -- he kept pulling his hat over his face to hide from his mother's camera. Clearly not an angel. Or at least a mischievous one.

Another photographer was working the scene at the Heofon Light Maze, by Ben Busche of Brut Deluxe. I didn't go in the maze, but as you can see, plenty of people did. It kept changing colors, too.

Here's another work that was impossible to capture in a still photo. It's called "Colour Moves," by Rombout Frieling Lab, and involves rapidly shifting colored light that makes the patterns on the walls appear to move. I took several pictures, and they're all entirely different colors. Here's a video.

This is the most poignant of all the works I saw -- "The Last Parade" by Alexander Reichstein. It's a site-specific video installation that projects silhouettes of endangered and threatened animals on a wall along a canal. The animals slowly fade out as they walk from left to right, an obvious metaphor for what's happening in nature. Here's a video.

(I found it oddly appropriate that this guy was just hanging out, smoking and talking on his phone, apparently oblivious to the art.)

Finally, also with an ecological message, here's one of Mürüde Mehmet's "Floating Islands," made of plastic debris in the form of plants and animals, and then brightly painted and lit with black lighting.

It's not always easy to get myself all the way to Canary Wharf after a long workday, but I'm always glad when I don't miss this annual exhibit!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

All Olga, All the Time

Since we dealt with relatively weighty topics yesterday, let's have a fun pictorial post about THE DOG! Because, after all, you don't get enough of those.

I took Olga walking on Sunday morning, as usual, and we found an abandoned foam ball near the "Black Path" that runs alongside the train tracks in West Hampstead. She promptly and enthusiastically tore it to pieces. (Don't worry -- I picked up the shrapnel.)

It didn't take long for her to find a second ball -- a tennis ball on the street outside the Alliance pub. She carried it to Fortune Green, where she promptly demolished it, too.

Then, as we walked past the gates to Hampstead Cemetery, she got very upset at one of the spherical metal braces that stop the gates from swinging open too far (kind of like a doorstop). Do you see it there, just past the bars on the right? She was convinced that sphere was yet another ball, and she barked and barked at it.

We found an interesting poster for an all-female music festival. Olga wants a pink vinyl dress, too.

Later in the afternoon we walked to Hampstead Heath. We found a small conifer planted where I don't remember a conifer a few weeks ago. I'm thinking it's someone's live Christmas tree. But maybe it's been there a while and I just never noticed it before.

The day was beautiful...

...and we both took full advantage of that rare winter sun!

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Plate

So here's a fairly terrible story about my family.

My maternal grandparents were not what you'd call progressive people. My grandfather, particularly, tended to be quite conservative. They weren't blatantly racist and they weren't cruel, at least in any obvious sense -- they were old-school Presbyterian churchgoers and I'm sure they tried, in their way, to treat people with the kindness that Jesus preached. But they also definitely believed that black people had their place. (This was illustrated in the language my grandfather used in a cache of letters to my mother from the '60s and '70s -- I wrote about them years ago, though not that troubling language. My mom later destroyed the letters.)

I remember having a discussion with my grandmother in the '80s in which she made some mildly derogatory reference to black people, and I argued that blacks were equal to whites in every way. She turned to my mother and said, "He's been brainwashed too, hasn't he?"

To be fair, I think their views were fairly typical for older, middle-class whites -- even educated ones -- in mid-20th Century America. And amid the tumult of the '60s, neither of them viewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a particularly positive light.

At some point in that decade, my grandfather was given an aluminum plate, a cheap commemorative souvenir, featuring a portrait of King. I don't know where he got it, but it was the kind of thing that might have been given away free at the supermarket or at a gas station or with a newspaper subscription. (I believe this was before King's assassination, but I'm not sure.) As a joke, he hung it in the basement, in a cold concrete corner furnished with a couple of old armchairs and the television. (Yes, to watch TV at their house you had to sit in the unfinished, unheated basement -- but that's another story.)

I can remember being a kid years later, in the '70s and '80s, and watching TV in that corner, with Dr. King gazing down on me.

Anyway, one day, a meter reader from a utility company -- a black man -- came to their house. He went down to the basement to check the meter (or the fuel oil level, or whatever he was there for) and when he came upstairs soon afterwards he was practically glowing. He shook my grandfather's hand and said, "You good people. You good people."

My grandfather was completely mystified until he later realized that the guy had seen the Dr. King commemorative plate -- the plate he'd hung in the basement as a joke.

I'd like to say that this was a transformational experience for my grandparents, but I'm not sure it was. The story became family folklore, and when I was old enough to understand it, I found it incredibly sad.

After my grandmother died in 1989, the plate went who-knows-where. It might have been sold with the house, or maybe some other relative has it now. I have no idea. But I got to thinking about it some time last year, and I went on eBay and found one that is virtually identical. (They're quite inexpensive, by the way -- again, I think tons of them were made.)

I bought it and hung it in our house, in a prominent place in the front hallway. Of course I don't pretend that this in any way makes up for the actions of my ancestors, who -- several generations before my grandparents' time -- fought for the Confederacy and even owned slaves. (I try to put my money where my mouth is by donating to charities fighting racism, like the Southern Poverty Law Center.) But I hope it helps demonstrate the arduous and slow changes in our still-racist society. I truly do believe we are gradually bending toward justice.

"Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools."
-- Martin Luther King, 1967
A plaque at Maygrove Peace Park, West Hampstead

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mirrors and Chandeliers

Last night, Dave and I went to an odd restaurant called Brunswick House in Vauxhall. It had been recommended by someone at school, and it was a very peculiar experience.

First of all, the place is full of old chandeliers, many of which have price tags hanging from them. I suppose if you want a cool old chandelier for your house you can buy one here, along with your pork chop dinner. The gigantic gilded mirrors that line the walls also appear to bear price tags. The one with the heron or crane painted on it, above, hung over our table in the bar. (It has a SOLD sticker, lower left.)

Evidently the place is part-restaurant, part-salvage yard. Or maybe those are all old price tags from when they bought the stuff? I have no idea.

I ordered a martini in the bar, very dry, and I got something that was instead quite sweet and didn't taste at all like a martini. Either the bartender was using a bizarre variety of gin or he was putting in sweet vermouth. It wasn't entirely disagreeable, once I abandoned the idea that it was a martini, and I wound up having two. (They were also tiny.)

Then we went into the dining room, where I got fish and Dave got lamb. I was so excited to see "mustard greens" on the menu! I've probably only had mustard greens a couple of times since I left the South many years ago. So of course I ordered them...

...and this is what came. Y'all, those are not mustard greens. That is cabbage. With mustard on it.

I had a little chat with the waitress about what "mustard greens" mean to an American, but I ate the cabbage. I don't know whether they're trying to be funny or have genuinely never heard of actual mustard greens.

My fish was good, and I thought Dave's lamb was good (although he was less enthusiastic, and said his potatoes were too hard). For dessert Dave got yummy banana bread with toffee (or something) as a sauce, and I got a gluey, tasteless slice of pumpkin cheesecake in which no hint of pumpkin could be detected. I didn't even eat it.

So, yeah, definitely a hit-or-miss night out!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Nasturtium Origami

We've had a couple of cold nights, the first truly cold ones of the year. Some of the plants have been nipped, like these nasturtiums, which until now have been growing and even blooming in the bed outside our back door. The cold caused their leaves to go limp at the edges and left a pattern of ice crystals along the veins.

They look like jewelry, or fancy candy, or game pieces. Don't they?

And then we have our camellia...

...which for some reason has decided to put out a couple of blossoms. This bush usually doesn't bloom for a couple more months, but I think I remember seeing some early flowers last year, too, so maybe it's not that unusual. I'm not sure how they're going to react to frost!

Last night I went out with some co-workers to a pub near our office called Crocker's Folly. It's in a beautiful old building, but it's in a very weird location on a back street in a residential neighborhood -- hence the "folly." (Apparently it was built in the Victorian era by a speculator who'd heard a train station would be erected nearby, and instead, the station went elsewhere.) It's an incredible place, with patterned windows and ceilings and lots of marble inside. We celebrated our quiz team victory!

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Barrage of Quiz Night Trivia

Last night was Quiz Night at the school where I work, where teams of teachers and parents compete to answer trivia questions correctly. The evening was run by a professional quiz master, with multiple sets of questions and about 12 teams (I think?) competing. Play took about three hours.

I organized a team largely made up of people from my department. And despite being down one team member -- who called in sick at the last minute -- we WON!

We only won by one point, but hey, victory is victory. And the beautiful thing is that all seven of us contributed something to the final score -- we all knew at least one answer that the others didn't. I, for example, knew Tom Cruise's real last name (Mapother -- a lingering shred of knowledge from my college years, when I had a celebrity crush on him) and I correctly identified Bulgaria by its shape alone. I would never have known the name of the rectangular bay that separates Norfolk from Lincolnshire, but one of my British teammates named it right away as The Wash. Another teammate was good on obscure pop music tracks and another on sports.

It's all about the team, y'all. And having at least one British person is essential when quizzing in this country -- we had two.

We fell down on a question about movies that had won Best Picture Oscars since 1970 whose titles featured the first or middle name of their lead characters. We got "Rocky" and "Forrest Gump" but we missed "Annie Hall" and "Driving Miss Daisy," among others. I added "Norma Rae" to the list but it turns out "Norma Rae" only got nominated for that award -- it didn't win. (You'd think I would have known that having recently read the biography of Sally Field, who did win for Best Actress.)

And what's the only Asian country bisected by the Equator? If you said Malaysia, like me, you'd be wrong. It's Indonesia.

Anyway, it was a fun night! Today we get to gloat a little.

(Photo: A discarded chair near our flat. I hope it hasn't recently been in anyone's house looking like that! I'm thinking it came from a garage.)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Leafy Forecourt

While walking Olga over the weekend I snapped a picture of the entrance to a block of flats on Finchley Road. I envisioned giving the photo the Waterlogue treatment, and indeed it makes a nice watercolor. Here's the original:

My neighbor with the bright light hasn't had it on the past few mornings -- or evenings either. Maybe someone else protested. (Or do they read my blog? Surely not.)

I got word that my high school graduating class is holding its 35th reunion this year. I probably won't go -- it's at the end of April, which isn't a great time for travel, given that we're still in school. I went to my 20th and I had a blast, but that was in the days just before Facebook. I don't feel the same need to see everyone again now that I'm in touch with them through social media, you know? I might go to my 50th, assuming I live that long.

Yesterday I finished going through all the library patrons in our computer system and removing those who no longer attend the school. If this seems like an endless task to those of you who read about it here before, imagine how it feels to me! But I took a long break between the first and last halves of the list. Overall I probably took 100 people out of the system -- some of whom had been invited to attend the school but never actually came. Why they got imported as library patrons I have no idea.

Dave and I watched most of "Bird Box" on Netflix last night. I had to see what was motivating all these crazy YouTubers to try to drive blindfolded and whatnot. It's an entertaining movie, I suppose, but far-fetched. We still have to finish it, so don't give away the ending!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Meeting at London Bridge

I had a Royal Photographic Society meeting last night near London Bridge. Naturally I brought along the camera and, with a couple of hours to kill between work and the meeting, wandered around taking some night shots of London. (That's Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast in the photo above, which was taken from London Bridge.)

I haven't done anything with the RPS in a while, partly because I fell out of contact with them. I maintained my membership but last spring I stopped getting their e-mail newsletters and other electronic notifications. A few weeks ago I got word of this meeting by snail mail, in a letter that said I'd "opted not to receive e-mails." That was news to me! Turns out I got automatically removed from the e-mail list because of the EU's new data protection laws. Doh!

So I rectified that and hopefully now I'll be more involved and aware.

A speaker at last night's meeting talked about his successful street photography and showed us a series of pictures. He was interesting, and his pictures were great, but man, did he go on. He must have shown us 100 images, or it felt like that, anyway. Someone needed an editor. I don't want to look at that many pictures from even the best photographer in the world, especially on a work night when I'm tired and I've had wine and the time is approaching 10 p.m.

Dave called in sick to work today. He's feeling really fatigued again. I think he needs to go back to the doctor and have another chat about managing his Crohn's.

Meanwhile, the British government is in rebellion over Brexit and no one knows what's going to happen there. I feel sorry for Theresa May, who has tried valiantly to negotiate a way through the hellish terrain on this completely unnecessary trek. She gets points for persistence and determination, and I don't see anyone else in government -- certainly not the weasel-like Jeremy Corbyn -- who I would prefer as prime minister. Apparently most Leavers just don't believe the country will come to harm if we drop out of the EU with no deal at all. It's sort of like Trump's supporters who blindly support him despite all evidence of his buffoonery. We are in a place where reason and evidence mean nothing, and I fear we're driving over a cliff.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

I was lying in bed this morning (wondering what on earth I was going to blog about) when I decided to get up and get a drink of water. It was about 4:30 and not quite time to get up. Olga and Dave were both snoring away.

I came out to the kitchen and noticed a lot of light spilling across the living room floor. I thought, "Wow, there must be a full moon!" But when I came to the back door, I realized what I was seeing wasn't the moon at all. It was the light from a neighbors' distant window!

They have a globe-shaped ceiling fixture that clearly contains an approximately 3,000-watt bulb -- bright enough to illuminate our bird feeders and the plants in our back garden. This is a good example of something I wouldn't even have noticed when our next-door neighbor's gigantic Leyland cypress tree was intact. But now that the tree is gone, that light comes right at us.

As you can see, they were the only lit window in the whole neighborhood. Everyone else was sensibly asleep, or at least wandering around in a dark house.

The moon, by the way, is waxing gibbous at about 60 percent at the moment, and as I write this I'm not sure it's even above the horizon. I don't see it, but perhaps I am temporarily blinded by my neighbor's chandelier. (Looking now at a moonrise/moonset timetable, I see that it slipped below the horizon at 1:14 a.m.)

Getting that picture was no easy task. I had to shoot manually and I don't have a tripod, so I had to hold the camera as super-still as possible with a very high ISO and slow exposure (3.2 seconds) while standing outside the back door with my bare feet on the patio. Brrrr!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Moon Street, a Film Crew and a Big Green Cat

I was feeling a bit cooped up yesterday morning. The sky was gray and although I briefly walked the dog, I'd resigned myself to spending the day more or less inside. But as the morning wore on the sun came out weakly, and I decided to take a walk through Islington.

I started at King's Cross and walked east on Pentonville Road and north through Barnsbury. One of my goals was Cloudesley Square, a neat little neighborhood of white townhouses surrounding a square with a church in the middle. Unfortunately what I took to be the front of the church is under construction and covered with scaffolding -- so here it is from the back.

I came across this street art of Tina Turner, which is pretty cool. I especially love the little hand-written message above the art itself: "Why did Obama go?"

I found a tiny street called Moon Street -- this is pretty much all of it. Doesn't that sound like a great address? I'd love to be able to tell someone I lived at 9 Moon Street in London. It's very Harry Potterish. (And it has the added benefit of sharing a name with Ms. Moon.)

As I walked north near Upper Street, I passed this peculiar group. The man and woman in front (not recognizable to me) were being followed by a film crew including a cameraman and someone carrying a long microphone boom. Then there's that guy in a high-vis vest with a blanket on his head (?) and the guy walking dogs and wearing headphones. It's not a great shot -- I only had time for one -- but you get the point.

For lunch, I stopped at a Starbucks near the Highbury and Islington overground station. I wouldn't normally go to lunch at Starbucks but we have gift cards given to us by Dave's students, so I'm trying to use them. The cashier was a young man, I would guess of Eritrean or Ethiopian descent, who heard my accent and asked if I was on holiday. When he heard I'm originally from Florida he said, "Seriously, man. Why would you move here from Florida?"

Florida's mythology still carries a lot of weight.

(Side note: Dave and I just watched a four-part British TV show called "Dale Winton's Florida Fly-Drive," in which the well-known British TV host travels around Florida, from St. Augustine to Miami to St. Petersburg and even Weeki Wachee. He was a funny guy, quite camp, and I got a kick out of seeing Florida through his eyes. I was shocked to read just now that he died last April -- I had no idea when we were watching the show that he was no longer with us. I probably saw news of his death at the time but didn't know who he was.)

Anyway, back to my walk. I couldn't resist photographing a shop whose URL is ""!

I walked north through Holloway and finished up in Archway, passing a rendition of Dick Whittington's Cat covered in sempervivum plants -- they're called house leeks here in England, but in the states I knew them as hen-and-bitties or hen-and-chicks. Pretty creative!

All in all, it was an excellent day out. As usual, I felt much better engaging with the city and getting some exercise!