Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Feather and a Rainy Walk

I found this feather while walking to the grocery store last week. What kind of bird do you suppose it came from? I can't think of anything with spots like that, at least not in the wild. Maybe a turkey or pheasant but I don't think we have many of those wandering around West Hampstead!

My grandfather would say it was an auk. Whenever he was uncertain about the identity of a bird, or annoyed with a bird for doing a lot of loud squawking early in the morning or pooping on his car, he'd grumble and call it an auk.

Speaking of wildlife, I set up the garden cam again the other day. From half an hour of motion-activated video I got 19 seconds of footage of a beautiful fox -- out in the daytime, at almost noon! I'm surprised a fox would be slinking around our garden at that hour, especially since Olga is likely to be out. We'll check the camera again in about a week and see what else turns up.

So how's life in the age of coronavirus treating you? We're doing OK here. Dave had to go in to the hospital yesterday for a routine infusion of his Crohn's medication. I wasn't happy about that, fearing he'd be exposed to something, which could be catastrophic with his reduced immunity -- but he called his doctors and they told him to come in as usual. (I've asked whether he should suspend his medicines altogether and allow his immune system to strengthen, but the doctors tell him no, because that could re-activate the Crohn's -- and then he could wind up with coronavirus and a Crohn's flare.)

Anyway, he reported that he saw very few people at the hospital, so that's good. And I'm sure they're sanitizing the heck out of the place. So fingers crossed he should be fine.

Meanwhile, I went grocery shopping again. I got frustrated because I asked Dave for a grocery list, and he gave me one, but when I went to the store to collect everything I found I couldn't carry it all! I somehow schlepped almost everything home and now we should be good for three days or so.

We're still not wearing masks. The World Health Organization still asserts they're not really useful or necessary for the general public -- but now there are contradictory reports that they may do some good after all. So who knows. I just haven't quite crossed that bridge. I'm washing my hands like crazy, though. They look like appendages on a scaly red reptile.

Of course Olga and I took a walk yesterday afternoon. Being an island nation, the UK's weather is extremely variable, and although we started walking in sunshine, we got caught 15 minutes later in a downpour. You can see Olga waiting it out above. She went into obstinate mode and refused to move from that spot under the trees until it stopped.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Let's Keep Warm

Olga and I went to the Heath yesterday and had a long walk. Not many people were out. For one thing, the temperatures were in the low 40's -- not exactly comfortable spring weather!

I'm taking the position that going to the Heath conforms to the government's lockdown rules, as long as there aren't too many people around. After all, it is local. I figure it's my one outing for the day, and I'm only going once a week or so. Hopefully I won't be drone-shamed.

I could not believe how chilly it was. It even snowed a couple of times. What kind of crazy spring is this?

Here's a better look at the old pine on Sandy Heath that was damaged in our windstorms several weeks ago. I'm still not sure what's happening here. You can see one of the cables supporting the tree running off to the left, about a third of the way up from the ground. That cable connects to an adjacent tree and was there long before the wind damage, to counteract the pine's leaning.

Olga enjoyed the near-empty (and cold and windy) playing fields on Hampstead Heath Extension.

As usual, we passed through Golders Hill Park on our walk back toward home. The tulips are looking great! None of the tulips in our own garden bloomed this year, though a few of them sent up leaves. We've never done well with tulips.

After witnessing the crazy intermingling of kids on the playground last weekend, I was glad to see it's since been closed to enforce social distancing. The swings have been taken down and the equipment covered with netting. I mean, I'm sorry for the kids, but it's better for everyone.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stepping Stones

Yesterday I got to work on using some of the pottery chips I've collected on my walks with Olga. My idea was to incorporate them into stepping stones for the garden.

Of course this turned out to be a more complicated project than one would expect. I read online that I needed a bag of quick-setting concrete, which I located at Homebase and lugged home a couple of days ago. I wasn't sure I got the right kind, but it was the only quick-setting variety of prepared concrete they had.

Turns out it was a bit too rocky to be ideal. But we made it work. I roped Dave into helping me mix it, because he's done some building a repair work with his dad and I'd never touched wet concrete in my life.

We used an old frying pan lined with aluminum foil as a mold. Dave poured in the concrete and I frantically plugged the chips of pottery into the top, trying to space them evenly and get as many in as possible before the concrete set.

"Is there food in those bowls?"

Here are the finished products. I think they'll get much lighter after they fully dry. They're not quite what I had in mind, but considering I've never done anything like this before I suppose they're OK. If I had it to do over again I'd buy smoother concrete (more sand, less gravel) and I'd get a variety that doesn't set quite as quickly.

I'm not sure how well they're going to wear, but it's all a big experiment anyway. I only used a tiny fraction of all the chips I have. I suppose if these don't work out I can toss them and try again.

Mrs. Kravitz went back to Homebase yesterday morning and came home with another carload of free plants! Her patio is literally covered with them. She gave me one of her sadder-looking primroses, which I have attempted to revive. I walked Olga to Homebase and picked up two more plants myself -- a crown imperial fritillaria and a pink spider azalea (which is labeled as a houseplant, so maybe it needs to be grown indoors). I'm not sure why there are still plants to give away at this point. Surely the store is just about empty?

Dave and I finally watched "Marriage Story" on Netflix last night. It's been sitting in our queue for weeks and weeks. I really enjoyed it -- and the acting was excellent, as confirmed by the Academy Award nominations it received. (And Laura Dern's win.)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Applause and a Virtual Drink

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but when Dave and I were watching TV Thursday night, I became aware of a weird sound -- a kind of rhythmic tapping or banging. I paused the TV and said to Dave, "What am I hearing?" He couldn't hear it. I thought it might be the kids upstairs, but I went to the back door and opened it, and realized it was applause -- clapping hands. My neighbors on all sides were standing outside and cheering.

We learned later this was a coordinated demonstration of support for the National Health Service and its employees, who have been at the front lines of the coronavirus battle. We didn't know it was going to happen, or we would have cheered too.

And you know who else ought to get some cheers? The sanitation workers. They came yesterday morning and collected our trash, right on schedule. I thought, boy, are these guys unsung heroes. I saw a few fellow bloggers say the same in their posts later in the day. In this time of disruption and uncertainty it's comforting to see crucial routines continue.

I barely left the house yesterday. Olga and I sat out in the back garden, me with my mediocre Patricia Cornwell novel, Olga with her belly spots.

And then we went, again, to the cemetery. I think Olga's actually doing more walking with me than with her dog-walker. I suspect the walker just takes her to the Heath and lets her loll in the grass, whereas she and I are more actively moving around. She seemed a little worn out yesterday!

In the evening I participated in a "virtual happy hour" with my co-workers. We all poured ourselves a drink and got on Zoom and chatted for a while, to decompress and catch up on the news. It was pretty fun and kind of surreal at the same time! It was cool to get a little glimpse of everyone's home lives in the background -- their decor or their gardens and pets and babies. I've seen articles recently on how to video-conference wisely, including choosing suitable backdrops and dressing appropriately. I guess we're all doing it, right?

My happy hour drink was made with the blood-orange-and-fig infused gin I bought at Sainsbury's the other day, and it was not bad! Not too sweet, and really good with tonic and lime.

I have already lost my bet about Mrs. Kravitz and her plants. She did water them yesterday. I still think most of them are going to perish, though. Stay tuned!

Oh, and remember how I visited filmmaker Derek Jarman's former home in Dungeness last summer? Well, there's a public effort to buy the property and make it available for garden tours and workshops and as an artist's retreat. I've donated to it and I hope they reach their goal -- they're already so close. I'm not a huge fan of Jarman's weird, incomprehensible filmmaking but I recognize how important he was in the worlds of art and gay culture, and I loved reading "Modern Nature," the first volume of his published diaries. (Which was partly about his gardening in the hardscrabble shingle of Dungeness.) I would love to be able to see inside the cottage one of these days!

Friday, March 27, 2020


For me, yesterday was kind of like the movie "Groundhog Day." I was back at Sainsbury's in the morning, because of course I forgot some stuff when I went the day before. I like the orderly, crowd-controlled way we're all doing our shopping now. It's nice to stand in a well-spaced line and walk through aisles that aren't packed with people. Anyway, I got my eggs and potatoes and Dentastix and then decided to drop by Homebase on the way home.

Only...Homebase was closed. Apparently some time between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning they decided they weren't an essential retailer after all. Not only were they closed, but they were giving away all their seasonal plants in front of the store. I saw people leaving with carloads of primroses, pansies, and hanging baskets. Now that £1 I paid for a flat of primroses the day before looks like a rip-off! Everything's relative, right?

Anyway, I picked up another polyanthus and a flat of something called Arabis, or rock cress (above). I've never heard of it, but I like it. I also grabbed a pot of sad-looking daffodils that I figured no one else would want.

While I was doing all this, Dave was planting our little fig tree. You may remember I rescued it several years ago, and it's been living in a big pot on our patio, but it was getting increasingly root-bound and last year it didn't look as healthy as the year before. So we decided to put it in the ground.

While I potted up the Arabis, Dave took care of the fig and put the sad daffodils at its base. They'll come up fresh and new next spring.

Then Olga required a walk, so she and I went back to the cemetery. We heard the turaco again, and Olga had several good rolls in the sun.

I kicked off a cataloging project for work -- basically revising the Dewey Decimal numbers for books in our Lower School to make them simpler. I have to keep doing something for the school during this time, to justify my salary. I have a few other library-related tasks lurking in the wings.

Oh, and I mentioned the free plants from Homebase to Mrs. Kravitz. She leaped in her car and drove over there, and returned with what must be 100 plants:

I don't see how she's going to be able to use all those. (I take back what I said yesterday -- that it's impossible to have too many primroses.) If I were a betting man, I'd bet they're going to sit on her patio in their pots, unwatered and untouched, until they die and she throws them all out. I've seen it happen before.

Some people, when you say "free," go a little crazy.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Well, I'll say this much -- if we're all going to be confined mostly to our homes, it's helpful to have spectacular weather. Being outside is a joy right now, even just in the back garden. I actually have mild sunburn!

Yesterday I ventured to the big Sainsbury's on Finchley Road in search of provisions. I went earlyish, and I was in a well-spaced line waiting to get in before 10 a.m. (The store controlled the numbers of shoppers allowed inside.) When I was finally admitted, I was able to buy ground beef, a whole chicken, some fresh veggies and -- score -- a 9-pack of toilet paper! Woo hoo!

I also got a bottle of wine, although the normally widely varied selection was decimated and I seemed to have pretty much two options, a Spanish tempranillo and some kind of basic white. (I chose the tempranillo.) And purely on a whim I bought a bottle of blood-orange-and-fig flavored gin. Gotta stay entertained somehow.

I brought all the food home, and then went to Homebase, which because it sells home-repair supplies is classified as an "essential" retailer and thus not closed. (I guess if someone's toilet breaks they need to have a way to fix it.) I bought some batteries and a bag of concrete with which to make some stepping stones for the garden. (Lugging that home was a blast.)

I also rescued a flat of primroses that were passing their peak and were priced at 97p. They were a bit wilty yesterday, but I moved them to a planter and they're looking great this morning. Can a person ever have too many primroses? I say no.

Oh, and I rescued this campanula for the bathroom -- also half price.

All this did not preclude me walking the dog, who needs her exercise too. We went up to Fortune Green and walked through the cemetery, which I was happy to see is not closed. We had no trouble maintaining adequate distance from people, except on a few narrow pathways where you just have to pass a bit closer. In such situations I find myself breathing like I'm in a smoky room -- I squint my eyes, close my mouth and breathe shallowly through my nose, if I'm not holding my breath altogether. I'm not saying this helps. It's just my instinct to treat the air around other people as noxious.

Anyway, otherwise, this was the mood here at home!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The First Mow

I spent a lot of time in the garden yesterday, both working and relaxing. For one thing, I gave the lawn its first mowing of the year. It seems a little early, but the grass was very shaggy and the ground was dry enough, so why not? I think the natural world is slightly ahead of its usual spring timetable because we had such a mild winter.

The harmless little flying bugs that congregate in airborne clouds are out already. I have no idea what they are, but photographing them was an interesting challenge! We love watching them fly when the weather gets warm. I try to make our chemical-free garden a haven from the "insect apocalypse" facing the rest of Europe and the planet.

Here's a close-up. They're like little prop planes!

With Olga's dog-walker no longer able to come because of the lockdown, and us only allowed out once a day for exercise, I held off on walking her until the afternoon. We went up to the high street just to see what's going on. There were a surprising number of people out, all things considered, some carrying takeaway coffee, or sitting on benches with a companion. (I'm assuming they're sitting with people they live with, and not visiting with friends. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Some shops were open, even one or two that don't seem very essential. (Cookware, anyone?) But other establishments are boarded up.

We had some very dramatic sun-and-shadow photo opportunities.

Olga got a little stroppy. She knew something was different and wanted to go to the cemetery, but I didn't want to take a longer outing right away. I'm still not sure what I'm allowed to do and what I'm not under these new rules. So we stuck to the neighborhood and kept our distance from everybody.

Then I took a pair of clippers down to the once-viney tree and pruned the new sprouts of hops vine from around its base. I am going to kill that vine if it's the last thing I do.

I also had a chat with Mrs. Kravitz, she standing on her upstairs balcony and me in our side yard. She started badgering me again about replacing the fence. I pointed out that the landlord has just replaced the side gate and trimmed the tall cypresses in the front garden, both things she'd complained about. Nonetheless, she said she's going to write a cranky e-mail to our property managers. You do that, I thought. I'm staying out of it. (It's not like we all have bigger problems to worry about at the moment, right?!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Staining and Lockdown

I felt a burst of energy yesterday morning, and launched my project to reinvigorate our tired garden furniture. Olga was ready to help.

Here's our furniture as it looked near the beginning of the project -- I'd sanded it by this time, just to remove grime on the wood and give it a smooth texture. But I hadn't yet applied the patio furniture stain I bought the other day.

Here's a before-and-after shot, showing the contrast between the old finish and the new.

The project was a fair amount of work, but it wasn't as awful as I was afraid it might be. I used a brush that was a tad too big and blocky, which gave me problems with sloppy drips, but I kept a paper towel (and my fingers) handy to mop them up.

A few hours later...

...ta-da! Much nicer looking furniture, now prepared for a summer of use and weather!

(Olga's help, by the way, turned out to be lounging nearby in the sun, staring at me.)

If I can get a smaller brush I'll go over them again just to hit all the nooks and crannies between the slats, because my big brush wasn't great for that. But who knows when I'll be able to get a smaller brush. As you've probably seen on the news, the UK is now in full lockdown, which means we're under orders to stay home. We can only shop for food or medicine, and take one form of exercise per day -- which means, in my case, walking the dog. (Olga's dog walkers will no longer be able to come every weekday.)

I suspect walking the dog is going to mean short walks in the neighborhood.

Of course I'm bummed, but at least I have a lot of reading material and a big garden. That's more than some people can say. And based on what I saw at the playgrounds over the weekend, I totally understand why lockdown is necessary.

This blog is about to get even less interesting!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Totoro and Turaco

I was photographing the forget-me-nots, which are coming out now in the garden, when I found this white feather clinging to one of them. Probably from a pigeon, but pretty nonetheless.

After I wrote yesterday about walking on the Heath, I saw that there was quite a backlash to people being out in public over the weekend. Apparently some of the beachfront towns were quite crowded, and lots of people turned up on some parts of the Heath -- so many that the city has warned it will be closed if people cannot maintain distance. (For the record, I was on the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension, which must not have been as crowded as the main Heath, because I felt able to keep to the six-foot rule.)

Kew Gardens, which had initially said it would remain open for people who needed fresh air, has now closed for the foreseeable future. And Boris has said the UK may enact a tighter lockdown if needed.

Yesterday, Olga and I went to the cemetery and to Fortune Green. Again, we were mostly able to steer clear of people, although at one point a boy and a young woman approached me to pet the dog -- I didn't say anything but they were well within my safety zone. And there were kids on the playground equipment! A lot of people are either entirely ignorant of the rules or they're just not policing themselves.

I finally finished that infernal book about Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Although considered a great beauty -- and steeped in scandal throughout her public life, including being caught up in the Profumo Affair -- she seemed thoroughly shallow and boring. The book itself felt hastily written and had no flair. Thumbs down!

I'm not sure I mentioned this at the time, but Totoro -- our Japanese forest spirit -- got gnawed down from his tree sometime last fall. (I say gnawed because I'm virtually certain squirrels were the culprits.) He was unharmed but the little bead that served as his bell-ringer was missing.

It never did turn up. A couple of weeks ago I found a green glass (I think?) bead lying on the ground in the cemetery, and I thought it would be a perfect replacement -- and it is. Although nominally a bell, Totoro never really rings, so it's just for appearance's sake. I've now rehung Totoro in the garden so he can keep watch over things.

Remember the turaco? After it disappeared last fall, I assumed we'd never see or hear it again. Being a tropical bird, it is way out of its home range of East Africa, flying around here in England. Imagine my surprise when Olga and I went to the cemetery yesterday and heard it! It's back!

I made the video above so you could hear it too. The bird doesn't really repeat its call so quickly -- I edited out the 10- or 12-second pauses between each one. Very "Tarzan" sounding, isn't it? (Here's a video of one in captivity making the same call.)

I wonder if it ever left? Did it hunker down and quietly overwinter here in London, or has it been sunning itself in the treetops of Tanzania before migrating back? Maybe it's not lost at all -- maybe it actually belongs to someone who lives nearby and they allow it to fly free. So many questions I would ask that turaco, if I could.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Social Distancing on the Heath

Mindful of maintaining my minimum of six feet of distance from other people, I took Olga to the Heath yesterday. It was a beautiful day, bright and cool, and even though there were quite a few people out, in an environment as open as the Heath it's not hard to keep more or less to yourself.

I read an article in The New York Times about walking -- whether it's a good idea from a public health standpoint. The consensus seems to be yes, as long as you maintain social distancing. After all, we still need our exercise, right? I especially liked the quote at the end: "It's probably going to be a beautiful spring, and we do need to save our own sanity."

I was surprised to see kids on the playground equipment, though -- especially in Golder's Hill Park, where there were mobs of them. That seems questionable.

I found some coltsfoot blooming on Sandy Heath.

Tiny sprouts of bracken are curling up from the forest floor, soon to become huge ferns.

The blackthorn is blooming, creating big clouds of white alongside the playing fields on Hampstead Heath Extension.

And check out this snake's head fritillary -- definitely one of the biggest and nicest I've seen! The ones in our garden don't look anything near this good. I don't understand how they grow in wild places without getting devoured by slugs.

Anyway, we had a great walk. It was nice to do something that hewed to our old routines, and allowed us (me & Olga) to enjoy the natural world. (Admittedly, Olga's method of enjoying nature is chasing it.)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Out and About

It's interesting walking around town and seeing how people are adapting to this coronavirus situation. Or NOT adapting. Yesterday morning Olga and I took a walk along the high street and a lot of people seemed to be going to work as usual (some wearing masks). I saw a couple of guys sitting in a cafe eating, a couple more at the counter in the kebab shop, several at the sidewalk tables outside Cafe Nero. There were workmen doing construction, and a man and woman sharing a cigarette.

I tried to maintain distance but it was hard with so many out. The official government advice to stay home hasn't sunk in, I guess. (Of course the same could be said of me walking the dog -- we probably do need to stay off the high street at busy times.)

Then we walked down Billy Fury Way and I saw no one except a lone Asian woman wearing a face mask.

Later in the day, Boris declared that all bars, restaurants, pubs and other entertainment venues would close as of yesterday evening. So I guess those people sitting in cafes won't be doing it any longer.

I went to Homebase, our local home improvement store, in the afternoon to pick up some supplies. I want to do a couple of projects -- I'm going to refinish our garden bench and our patio chairs, and I'm going to make mosaic stepping stones for the garden using all the pottery chips I've collected on my walks. Homebase was pretty dead, but again I was very aware of the handful of people at the checkout, and the distance between us. I kept trying to back away from the woman in front of me, and every time I backed up, she did too. It was like she had sensors in the back of her head telling her, "You have more room behind you!" I wanted to poke her and ask her to give me some space.

The garden center at Homebase was stocked to the rafters with plants. I hope someone's buying them. When I was there, I was the only one -- I picked up this polyanthus just to give it a home. I worry that in the event of a complete lockdown they'll all be left to wither, which would be just another sad aspect of a lockdown, a veritable sea of sadness.

When I got back I called my mom, who I haven't talked to since all this began. We had a very short conversation -- I'm not sure she's even fully aware of this virus situation -- and I simply explained to her that rather than visiting in April I'm going to come in June. (Insha'allah!) She just laughed, which is my mom's response to most things these days.

Oh, and I've suspended my Newbery Challenge. There's really no point if I can't display the books and talk about them with the kids. Time to catch up on my own reading!

Friday, March 20, 2020

At Least I Got Peanut Butter

Well, as it turns out, it's a good thing I stole borrowed those baked beans from the homeless. Because I went shopping yesterday and it was crazy -- and there were no baked beans.

Dave usually does the shopping, but we agreed I should do it so he won't be exposed to anyone. I went at 9:30 a.m., when it seemed a safe bet the store would still be fairly stocked, and he gave me a long list of stuff to get. But when I got there, the place was a madhouse, and I abandoned the list pretty quickly because about half of it wasn't available.

I'm sure we're all having peculiar shopping experiences, and what I went through may not be much different: bare shelves, no toilet paper, barely any meat, few frozen or canned foods. And yet, plenty of produce, dairy and prepared foods. I get it -- that people are stocking up on stuff they can freeze or store -- but it's still so weird. It's what we thought would happen with Brexit, and instead it's happening now.

The psychology is interesting. I see a shelf with nothing on it except two cans of pineapple. And I think, "Those are the last two cans of pineapple! I'd better grab them! We might want fruit!" Never mind that pineapple isn't on my list and we never buy it in a can.

The self-checkout was painfully slow, the machines apparently overburdened. They kept freezing up, and the store assistant had to come and, well, assist me. I felt all the eyes of the masked people in line behind me, and imagined them thinking, "What an idiot. He's clearly so old he has no idea how to scan his own groceries." I wanted to turn around and say, "It's the machines, I swear!"

In the end I emerged with about £80 worth of food, a mix of fresh stuff to eat now and non-perishable stuff to store. And two pots of dianthus (above), reduced to half price. I guess people aren't into buying flowers now.

I'm going to make a bold prediction -- in no more than six weeks, all of this will be winding down. The virus will naturally subside, we'll be getting back to normal and we'll be laughing at the hysteria. People will be wondering why they have 42 cases of toilet paper in their closets.

I have absolutely no expertise with which to make that prediction, but there it is. Just a hunch.

Anyway, aside from my grocery outing, I spent the day mostly inside. I'm reading "The Grit in the Pearl," a biography of Margaret, the Duchess of Argyll, whose portrait I've admired at the Tate Britain. I'm not enjoying it much, and I can't tell if that's because I don't like Margaret -- who seems vain, disinterested and even amoral -- or because the book itself isn't very engaging. It's a rather bare recitation of facts without much spark, at least so far. (I'm on page 83.) Fortunately it's not hugely long. Here's hoping it gets better.

One of my co-workers gave me this bottle of wine on Wednesday as we closed up the library. It's a great label, right? Very "we're-all-in-this-together." As we are.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Baked Beans

Well, we got through our final day of school shutdown preparations yesterday, and as of now we are officially closed. The British public schools are also closing (finally!) on Friday. As I walked Olga yesterday morning I watched streams of kids marching off to school in their uniforms, and thought, "This is INSANE. These kids should be staying home." I'm glad someone in power came to the same conclusion.

Yesterday was busy in the library but it was only a half-day of work for me, so not too terrible. I didn't work the desk -- I spent the day mostly re-shelving books and straightening things up. The place was a mess. It was like a swarm of locusts had come through.

I joked to my boss that we should just throw away whatever's still on the shelves, because clearly no one wants it. The fastest shelf-weeding in the world!

I had to bring home a trumpet, a drum pad and a French horn for Dave -- along with a big bag of books and some odds and ends. That was an ordeal! I had to take the tube just to be able to get it all back here -- but I did my best not to touch any surfaces with my hands. (The tube carriage was virtually empty.) I told Dave when I walked in the door he owed me a million dollars for hauling all that stuff. It's going to be interesting to see how well this works, teaching music over the Internet. (I bet our neighbors will love it.)

Here's a moral question for you.

Weeks ago, some students set up a box outside the library door for donations of non-perishable food to a homeless shelter. The box was still sitting there as school closed. I assume it's going to continue to sit there for the duration of the closure, as no one is around to transport the food. The box contained six cans of baked beans, which we are currently unable to buy in stores because of the all the hoarding going on.

(You can see where this is going.)

Yes, I did. I took the beans for me and Dave. But I "borrowed" them -- meaning, I will either return them if we wind up not needing them ourselves, or replace them if we do need them. I've been a little uncomfortable about the fact that we don't have much food laid in here at home if we have to self-quarantine. Surely whoever donated those beans wouldn't mind me making use of them, as long as I replace them in the end? Why should they just sit in a box in a dark school building?

I wish there was some toilet paper in that box, but no dice. The unavailability of toilet paper is the craziest side-effect of this whole coronavirus situation. The stores are even rationing it!

(Photos: Graffiti seen on my walk to school.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beauty and Risk

Last week I took a photo of some primroses in a flower bed on the high street, and ran it through my Waterlogue app. This is what emerged. It's a little scary how easy it is to produce impressive "art" with modern technology!

Library madness continued yesterday -- a steady stream of customers. I seriously think I may be the one person in the entire school who has contact with the most other people. Parents come with their kids and see each other and wander around the building and collect belongings and those in music classes have to pick up instruments. But virtually everyone comes to the library, and winds up at my desk.

As I told one mother, it will be a freaking miracle if I don't contract this virus, based on my number of contacts alone. We were joking -- gallows humor -- but I do worry a little about it. I even took to wearing latex gloves yesterday, not only to protect me but to protect everyone from me. I mean, what if I'm one of these people who has it but isn't symptomatic? I could be Typhoid Mary sitting there.

Anyway, here are the numbers to back me up. Last Monday and Tuesday -- normal school days -- we logged 231 circulations, including 87 involving equipment (computer or phone chargers, calculators or headphones). But over the last two days, we logged 1,233 circulations -- more than five times as many as the previous week -- and they were all books, except for 32 board games.

(I'm unclear on whether "circulations," as logged by our library system, means just checkouts or both checkouts and check-ins, but never mind. We haven't checked in much this week at all.)

Obviously that doesn't mean I've dealt with 1,233 people, because one person often checks out a big stack of items. But still. I've certainly seen dozens of people, and probably more than 100.

Here's the original primrose photo, just for comparison's sake.

Anyway, I have one more day of library duty, and today I'm splitting my shift with a co-worker so I don't have to go in until 11:30 a.m.

The world has always been full of risk, though. I came across this little item online yesterday evening, a list of the things that killed people in London back in 1721:

Apparently these "bills of mortality" were published regularly in newspapers nationwide. They began as a way to keep track of plague deaths, and then continued in this form in subsequent years. They focused solely on Church of England burials in London, so they're not a comprehensive snapshot of the country as a whole, but they're still interesting. Look at all those bizarre maladies!

Here is a fascinating blog post from the University of Nottingham that explains some of the terminology. I doubt dying from "Rising of the Lights" was as nice as it sounds.