Monday, August 31, 2020

A Snug Bug and More Doll Carnage

It was chilly yesterday -- chilly enough that I found this little green bug sheltering in the bristles of one of our faded cardoon blossoms. Snug as a bug in a rug, as they say!

Later, when the sun came out, it crawled onto the surface for some sunbathing. It appears to be a young southern green shield bug (Nezara viridula). It's pretty, isn't it? Apparently they like beans and we have both a bean vine and sweet peas. They're both past their peak so the bug can have them.

I've been finding our recent cloudy, chilly weather somewhat frustrating. Remember those gazanias I planted a couple of weeks ago? Well, apparently gazanias won't open unless they're in direct sun. So the plants have grown all these big, beautiful buds and for the most part they've been staying tightly closed.

We finally had enough sun late yesterday morning that one of them bravely unfurled its petals.

For me, it was a quiet day. I made more progress in my reading and walked Olga in the cemetery.

She seems to be trying some new eye makeup. (I'm not sure whether that's mud or what. Sometimes it's better not to know.)

At the cemetery, we found that the doll display bas become even more decrepit. There are only two left, and they're mostly limbless.

So, what else is going on in the world? Every day I read the news with a sense of dread. I will say that although I understand the value of Black Lives Matter and the need to address continuing police violence against black people, I'm worried that the demonstrations -- particularly in Portland -- are becoming counterproductive. Trump is using them to energize his campaign, and we don't need to give that guy any fuel. Is it better to let things simmer down and then re-address the situation after the elections? Or does my white privilege allow me to make that suggestion? All I know is, the polls show the race is narrowing, which I find terrifying, and another four years of Trump aren't going to do the BLM movement (or any of us) any good.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Landscape With Yellow Wall

Olga and I discovered a new park yesterday -- or, more accurately, an "open space." It's a wide grassy path that runs between some houses near the Clitterhouse Playing Fields and an industrial area near Brent Cross. Called the Claremont Open Space, it is separated from all the industry by a bright yellow plywood wall. The path runs to adjacent Clarefield Park.

I wouldn't call it beautiful, but it was visually interesting. There were a few squirrels to keep the dog busy, and I found some abandoned shopping carts from Tesco, which I reported to them when I got home. (You know how obsessive I am about returning shopping carts.)

I threw Olga's Kong for her on the playing fields and we also walked through Basing Hill and Childs Hill parks.

The only reason we went up to that neck of the woods in the first place was related to work -- someone left a book from the Barnet borough libraries in our school book drop, and I tried to return it at the Childs Hill branch library. (That's the closest Barnet library to where we live, in the adjacent borough of Camden.) When I researched the library online, I couldn't quite tell if they had an external book drop (I knew they wouldn't be open), but on Google Street View I saw a white box next to the door that looked promising.

Turns out:

Oh well. What library doesn't have a book drop? Is that just an American thing?

I had to carry that stupid book for our whole walk. Maybe I should just mail it back to them. (Actually I might be able to return it to our local West Hampstead library. I bet they could get it back to Barnet.)

Olga and I also passed this peculiar house decorated with giant animal statues -- a polar bear guarding the door, a cow peeking out from the hedge. A regular menagerie!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Leaves and Flowers

It's only August (well, OK, almost September) and I'm already finding autumn leaves lying around! Of course that bottom one is totally fake, but I thought it made an interesting contrast. I feel like there's something wrong with a world where we have factories churning out fake autumn leaves, when nature will make plenty of them for us -- and better.

Some of you expressed skepticism yesterday about my wearing gloves at work. What's the point when the gloves get dirty anyway and I'm just spreading contamination with my gloves rather than my hands? I understand those questions, believe me. I think the idea is, the gloves protect books from my own germs. I then wash my gloved hands with soap and water between tasks (or sanitize them), to remove whatever contamination they may have picked up from other surfaces. It's not a perfect system, but it's what we've promised people.

Despite hints of coming autumn -- it's a cloudy 55º F this morning -- we do still have some flowers blooming in the garden. Some of the dahlias are still plugging away.

I'm not 100 percent sure what this is. It looks like a purple nicotiana -- maybe a dwarf variety, because it's only about six inches tall. I found two of these discarded on the sidewalk while I was out walking Olga. Someone had recently pulled them up and thrown them over their garden wall. I thought they might be weeds but they looked unusual, so I brought them home and stuck them in some soil, and this is what they've turned into. Hopefully they're not man-eating carnivorous triffids!

And finally, this is our newest orchid. We've never seen this one bloom before. I also retrieved it from some street trash several months ago. I love its dark purple-red color.

We have a three-day weekend here in England -- Monday is a bank holiday. Dave and I aren't doing anything special, but maybe I can get a good walk in or something. I also really want to finish the book I'm currently reading, "The Likeness," which I'm enjoying but feel like I've been reading forever. It's good to have goals, however modest!

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Borrowed Alligator

The trash collection is coming this morning, and I've just been running around throwing a few dying plants into our garden waste bag. We're at that time of year when some of the annuals are already giving up the ghost. The cosmos on the front porch, the petunia in the hanging basket. I'm going to let the marigolds go a bit longer but they're looking a little peaked too, particularly with all the rain we've had lately. Marigolds are sun-lovers but rain makes the flowers rot.

I think we've finally got the library more or less whipped into shape -- the furniture placed for appropriate social distancing, with signs up saying DO NOT MOVE THE FURNITURE, and caution tape across the bookcases to drive home the point that people shouldn't browse for their own books. It's very bizarre to see a library where the books are marked off-limits, but for now, that's our reality. People have to tell us what they want and we collect it with our "clean, gloved hands." (As my boss has specified.)

So not only am I wearing a mask all day but also latex gloves, which are miserable -- sweaty and constricting. But I am not going to be a baby about it. I promise.

This little alligator-in-the-sewer image came from my computer at work. It was originally used in a New York Times story back in February, and I loved it so much that I copied it onto my desktop. I guess I have that uniquely Floridian tendency to see all representations of alligators as the community property of people from my state. Hopefully, rather than suing me for copyright infringement, the Times will realize that I'm posting it here out of admiration for their excellent, clever newspaper, and they'll appreciate the free advertising.

I had to back up all the useful files on my work computer because it's being wiped clean and updated. So Sewer Gator can live here now. Good riddance to most of the rest of the junk I had stored on that machine.

(Top photo: Spotted on a dog walk -- My Little Pony trapped in a fence!)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Politics and Sugar

Someone has adorned the mural of John and Sugar on the High Street with a political message against Big Pharma. Of all the things Sugar could be thinking, "food," "ball," "sleep" or "treat" all seem much more likely.

Besides, it seems ill-timed. If we need anyone working for us at the moment, it's vaccine researchers and pharmaceutical companies. Right?

Thanks for educating me in yesterday's comments about Portmeirion china. I'd never heard of it before! You learn something new every day.

The library is slowly coming back together. I've got all the magazines cataloged and put away, and we've developed a system that should let people read them even during this period of viral caution. (Basically, we'll check them out like books, then quarantine them when they return before putting them back on the shelf.) I've got most of the books put away, too.

Today I need to send a reminder message to everyone about what they still have checked out. I also need to go through all our patrons and make sure the ones who have left the school are removed from the system and all their materials are turned in. That might be more challenging this year, since I suspect some people have returned to the states since we closed in March, perhaps rather unexpectedly.

Dave found this bottle of wine at the store a few days ago. We got a kick out of it because all his students call him "Mr. P." I told him he should display it in his classroom, but maybe that wouldn't be ideal, it being wine and all.

I'm not watching any of the Republican convention. I didn't watch the Democratic one either. I much prefer reading about the salient moments in the paper the next day. I think the last convention I watched was the 1988 Democratic convention, when Dukakis got the nomination and Ann Richards made her famous "silver foot" speech. I do remember having a sense that I was seeing history being made, and that was exciting, but I guess I can do without that now!

I read about the appearance of the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple who brandished a couple of guns outside their house as protesters marched past. They sound like genuinely reprehensible people, litigious and cruel. Did you hear about the beehives they smashed up, belonging to the synagogue next door? And the fight they had with their neighborhood association to prevent unmarried (read: gay) couples from living in the neighborhood? All I can say is, WOW.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

iPhone Roundup with Necrophilia

It's been blowing like crazy all night. Somehow all the plants have remained standing, so I don't have to run out and rescue the avocado or the canna lilies again. Apparently, we've had two named storms within the past week -- Ellen and Francis. It's very unusual to have such severe weather in August. I thought we were just having wind and rain!

Anyway, I have to do some reading for a meeting this morning at work. (Which of course I haven't done yet.) So let me catch you up on some accumulated iPhone photos!

First, I found this sticker on a discarded piece of paneling on the high street. It doesn't really make me want to get one of Anita's tattoos.

This bowl was in the window of one of our local charity shops. I need another bowl like I need a hole in the head, but I like the passionflower motif.

Olga and I pass this bench every day on our dog walks. This might be the first time I've seen someone sleeping on it! Olga was unfazed.

Here's another self-portrait in shop window, this one a silhouette with that cool vase I showed you a few weeks ago. 

I was surprised to see this wheel cover on a Toyota (not a Land Rover) on our street. Colorado?! It's a British model Toyota with the steering wheel on the right, so who knows. I guess someone is well-traveled and yearning to breathe free in the wide-open spaces. As long as they stay on the correct side of the road.

Olga and I found some very bad amateur art being given away (I guess) on the corner. We didn't take any of it. Olga, again, was unimpressed.

Someone dropped some cans of paint on our street, with far-reaching consequences. Argh!

We collected lots of rainwater in our makeshift rain barrels during storm Ellen! It's good for the plants.

A rather surprising word to come across on the pavement. This is from a game called "Cards Against Humanity," which I have never played, but I've heard is pretty fun. Certainly looks intriguing, in a repulsive kind of way.

This is the site of an old pub on Finchley Road that has been demolished. (I don't think I even have a photo of it -- it wasn't a very auspicious-looking place.) I have no idea what's going in here, next to the Finchley Road and Frognal Overground station. Right now it's just a big pit. I took this through the security fence around the edges.

And finally, can I make a rule (or at least a sincere plea) that people should remove all their little sticky page-marking tabs before they return their library books? Because otherwise, guess who gets that job?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Cocktails with the Harts

Yesterday was the first full day back at work for all the faculty and staff. (Yes, I started last week, but I report to work a few days earlier than most teachers, in order to get the library ready.) Dave and I got to walk to work together, which I'm not sure we've ever done before. Until this year I've worked a much later shift, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but now it's been decided that everyone must leave campus when the school day ends. Since there won't be any students using the library in the late afternoon, my shift is now congruent with Dave's -- we start and end together. And since we're not risking the tube, we'll be walking together a lot. Kind of fun!

As we walked, we wound up talking about what a disaster Donald Trump is, which is a common theme of many of our discussions. Thank god we have the same political perspective. My maternal grandparents were apparently politically opposed -- my grandfather a Republican, my grandmother a Democrat. Is such a marriage even conceivable now, in these highly polarized times?

Anyway, work was uneventful -- more furniture-moving and book re-shelving. I haven't even begun to tackle the mountains of magazines which arrived over the summer. Normally I'd log them in on a spreadsheet (so we can make sure all the issues we've paid for have arrived) and then I'd put the newest ones on a display rack in the center of the library for our patrons to peruse. But this year, when we're already going through a complex process to check in and quarantine library books to make sure they're Covid-free before they're borrowed again, we're not even making the magazines available. They're just going into boxes. Kind of sad. We didn't renew our newspapers at all, though we already make The New York Times available to everyone digitally through a group subscription.

I went to the post office and mailed my small collection of vintage milk bottles to the woman who bought them on eBay, Vivian from Grimsby.

Once again, I lost money on this auction. I truly am a terrible eBayer. I charged £10 for shipping, but it turns out that sending six bottles to Grimsby (with tracking) costs £17! Argh! But the point, I suppose, is that the bottles have a new home with someone who will value them -- and I have clearer windowsills.

Dave and I have taken to watching "Hart to Hart" in the early evenings, with a glass of wine. It makes me feel approximately 90 years old, and yet it's oddly comforting. Kind of like green bean casserole or a Kraft pizza in a box.

(Top photo: Renovations on a building near Fortune Green.)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Yet Another Mud Bath

Olga and I were back on the Heath yesterday, where the chestnuts are taking on brownish tinges and it was a cool 66º F (18.9º C) at midday. More indications that we are indeed moving toward fall.

I found this striking teasel growing on Sandy Heath. We have a huge teasel in our back garden, but it doesn't look that great -- the wind bent it over at some point and all the teasel heads grew sideways. Plus they're white teasels, which I find inferior to the purple ones. I've never even photographed it. This plant is a much better example. (We're keeping ours for the goldfinches, though. They love the seeds.)

We have about ten smaller ones coming up here and there in the garden, so next year we should have quite a teasel show.

Anyway, back to our walk. Of course, there was the inevitable mud bath...

...with spectacular results.

"She looks like a new breed of dog!" one woman exclaimed afterwards, and indeed, several people took a long second look trying to figure out whether that blue-black mud was her natural coloring.

"She's beautiful!" said another passerby to me, as she simultaneously held a conversation on her cell phone. I felt like saying, "Are you freakin' kidding me?" But then again, she was distracted.

Before any of you worry about her health, let me just reassure you that Olga doesn't suffer at all from these dips in the muddy ponds. She's a dog. She's made for this kind of stuff. We just give her a good bath when she gets home and she never shows any ill effects.

Last night we finished the second season of Netflix's "Dear John," about Betty Broderick, a California woman who broke into her ex-husband's home and shot him and his new wife dead back in the 1980's. I thought Christian Slater and Amanda Peet did a great job in the main roles, and overall I found the show very compelling. Dave wasn't a fan at first but he came around after a few episodes.

And today, back to work for both of us!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Rupert Brooke and Coneflowers

A fairly quiet day yesterday. I got caught up on some blogs and other reading, as well as mowing the lawn and doing some laundry. It's ridiculous that after only two days of work I felt so worn out, but I was glad to have a day to rest.

In the afternoon, Dave and I walked Olga to the cemetery, where we found this World War I soldier's grave covered with dry, brown flowers. That's a sonnet by the ridiculously handsome Rupert Brooke on the headstone, which you can read in its entirety here. (It's sonnet number three.)

We heard the turaco, so it's still around, but we didn't see it.

The coneflowers in the cemetery are already past their peak. Our garden also seems to be on the wane -- the dahlias' blooms have diminished, the cardoon flowers and thistles are all brown, the crocosmia has come and gone. We are moving into fall.

Olga looks positively fat in this picture, but I think it's just the way she's lying on the ground, cooling her belly in the puddle. She hasn't gained weight, at least not a significant amount. (I'm anticipating reader comments, here!)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Self-Portrait with Fancy Lamp

Olga and I paused on our early-morning walk Thursday for another self-portrait in the window of Roche Bobois, the fancy French furniture store on Finchley Road. This window is always good for photos, with the unusual and colorful furnishings inside, the lines in the ceiling and the reflections across the street. In good light it's especially nice.

OK, so here's what I forgot about a full-time job -- it takes a lot of time! I know I'm behind on reading everyone's blogs and responding to comments but I'll try to catch up this weekend. Normally at work I can read blogs during slow periods at my desk, but I haven't had any slow periods the last few days -- haven't been sitting at my desk at all, in fact. There's just too much to do out on the floor of the library. I re-shelved again all day yesterday, and I've got about two-thirds of everything put away.

I'm amazed I forgot to mention this in my last post, but CAN YOU BELIEVE the news about Steve Bannon's arrest?! That was the most exciting thing I've heard all month. When Dave told me about it I exclaimed "YES!" and shot my arms into the air. That man is a scoundrel of the first order and it's about time he got his comeuppance.

I've been having some interesting conversations with my credit card company. It's a long story and not very interesting, but basically they owe me money, which they say they sent me but I never received. There's nothing worse than hanging on the phone with a bank's customer service department for an hour -- even when they're helpful and things go smoothly it's agony.

The weather was super-windy yesterday. Some of our plants kept blowing over, including the avocado, which is still living in the back yard. (I know, I know -- the pot's too small.) We even had a plant blow off the windowsill in the library. I repotted it as best I can -- we'll see if it survives.

As Dave and I were watching TV in the evening, a cat suddenly jumped into the room through the open window! Olga was curled up on the couch asleep, so fortunately she didn't see it. I made a quick motion with my arm and shooed it away. It was a fluffy white cat that I think belongs to the family two doors down, and it probably has no idea that it almost became a staffy hors d'oeuvre.

Friday, August 21, 2020

A Chunk of Wall

There was a big, old, rambling apartment building on Abbey Road that I used to pass every day on my walk to work. Imagine my surprise when I went by yesterday and found that it had all been torn down, except for a portion of the front wall -- the only part they're saving, it looks like. (I'm not sure why they're keeping this part of the wall, unless it has some historical significance.) Here's what the building looked like in January.

Work yesterday went fine. The library really is a mess. Workers have been using it as a staging ground for some minor construction going on elsewhere in the building, so all the furniture is shoved out of the way and they're carrying construction materials to and fro. Apparently a ton of books have already come back from our very busy days in March -- I re-shelved about three cartloads of them and have several more still to go. I chatted with some co-workers, and it was good to see people again, or at least the upper half of their faces.

It's entertaining to see what kinds of masks people have. One of the social studies teachers has one that I swear looks like a Shakespearean codpiece -- a funny bulbous velvet thing.

Other changes on my walk to work:

The Diamond Laundry, which I photographed a couple of times, has vanished -- which seems surprising, given that people must still need to wash clothes even in the time of Covid-19.

And Mina's Cafe, where I photographed Dave many years ago, is gone too. I think that "Great Bite" sign is even older -- something that was underneath the Mina's sign, maybe?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Several Types of Recovery

When I took my walk up to Hendon a few weeks ago, I passed this restaurant in Childs Hill. I had no idea we had a Uyghur restaurant in the area. I couldn't even say what Uyghurs eat. (According to this restaurant review, kebabs, pilaf, dumplings and noodles, among other things. I guess the restaurant moved since that article was written.)

Well, today's the day -- my first back at school since March! The kids aren't returning yet, so for the next ten days it will probably just be me and a couple of co-workers in the library trying to straighten things up for the coming year. We have a lot of straightening up to do. The school's closure last spring was so rushed and (at least in the library) crazy, and there's been construction during the summer to make the place more resistant to infection transmission -- so there's a lot to recover from.

I'm not nervous about going back, strangely. In fact I'm looking forward to it. I never thought I'd be glad to see the end of summer vacation, but after all, we've basically been home for the last five months. It wasn't all free time -- we were working remotely during the spring -- but being unable to travel and even take day trips, I still feel like I've been trapped on the couch (and in a straightjacket) all that time.

It poured rain yesterday -- more rain than I've seen in weeks and weeks. I tried to look up how much we got but my normal weather website's rain gauge is out of order, and others were strangely reticent when it comes to what's happened in the past. All I could find were future forecasts. Anyway, it was a lot -- and it was also a bit chilly -- 66º F (19º C) at 4:30 p.m. I was very happy.

The rain didn't deter the gardeners next door, who were out with their noisy power tools in the afternoon. I would have thought running them in the rain would be a safety hazard.

Oh, speaking of the garden, remember that sad canna lily I ordered? Well, this (above) is what it looks like now. STILL SAD, right?! I had it sitting next to the bird feeder, where you may remember it was overturned a month ago. Well, I belatedly realized that the pigeons were also feasting upon it and tearing it apart. So I moved the pot onto the patio where I'm hoping it will recover. This plant is cursed!

I picked the last of our blackberries yesterday -- undersized and tart -- and put them on my cereal. That's it for the year. How quickly the season passes!

Olga went out with her dog-walker as usual, but she was not happy, having to go in the rain. When she got back home we gave her a bath and she retreated beneath the pink blanket to recover. Such a drama queen. 

My return to school today and Dave's return next week will mean a big adjustment for Olga. She'll be back to spending weekday mornings alone. She may appreciate the additional nap time!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gibraltar, 1994

Me, in front of the Royal Calpe

On March 22, 1994, while I was traveling through Spain with my friend Arthur, we spent a day in Gibraltar, a British colony surrounding the big rock overlooking the straits between Spain and Africa. Just for the heck of it, here's my journal account of that day, with a couple of my photos.


"A bit of Olde England," we said as we sat in the Royal Calpe on Main Street, eating our fish & chips and drinking a big glass of dark Guinness. Surrounded by wood and red upholstery, leather and beer lamps, we had all we could want from a British pub. (What is a Calpe*, anyway? That name was everywhere in Gibraltar...)

Gibraltar itself was really sort of a tawdry place. At first glance it looked quaint, with its streets jammed wall-to-wall with little shops and eateries. But if you examined the merchandise you realized it was really a bunch of cheap Chinese junk -- little plastic figurines and such. It was like Stuckey's. It was neat to hear all the proper English, as well as a melange of other languages like oddly stilted Spanish (spoken with a British accent, I suppose) and Arabic. But both of us decided we didn't like the town at all.

The upper parts of the rock were quite different. Upper Gibraltar is a nature reserve, since I suppose there's not much more that could be done with it! It's a land of sheer, high, white cliffs and thousands of huge seagulls -- and very tame Barbary apes. They're so used to being fed by tourists they don't do much more than loll around and get fat! We didn't feed them, but we watched everyone else do so.

A Barbary ape

We took a cable car to the top of the rock, where there's an observation platform. It was a hazy day, so we couldn't really get a good view of Africa, but you could just make out the dark outline of hills near Tangier. We climbed around some old ruined buildings up there -- maybe old military installations? Then we descended on a paved road that cut switchbacks along the west side of the rock. We walked, but laughed at all the tourists who were destroying their brakes, or paying an arm and a leg for taxis.

The beauty of the nature was nice to see -- there were tons of wildflowers, yellow daisies and white iris, lavender and lots of others I didn't know. I was glad to be able to crush up some lavender and give it to Arthur to smell.

We also walked around St. Michael's Cave, which was no doubt once very grand. It too seemed a little tacky now, with colored lights and piped-in music -- the "Moonlight Sonata" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra." (That 2001 theme -- isn't that what it's called?) But it was full of neat stalactites and stalagmites, rising like stacks of mushrooms and hanging like folds of draperies. There was a funny plaque in there that said QEII visited in 1954.

Some of my Gibraltar stamps, which I still have

It was an expensive day. I ate lunch plus apple pie, rode the cable car, bought a set of stamps and wrote and mailed Mom and JM a postcard. That alone cost me 3,000 pesetas. God!

But it was fun, and I like being able to say now that I visited Gibraltar. How many people can say that?

*Calpe is an ancient name for the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules.