Sunday, January 31, 2021

Totoro and Mexican Wrestling

Kudos to blog reader Mary (with a nudge from Mr. Pudding) for solving the mystery of the Chapel of Pilates yesterday. It turns out that building was once the Sunday School for an adjacent church, All Saints. The church itself is long gone, but the Sunday School remains, and I suppose you could even say it's still a place of instruction.

For today, how about another look at recent pictures from my trusty iPhone?

First, someone's Totoro doll lying on the dashboard of a car in Hampstead. Totoro is supposed to be a forest spirit, so I'm not sure how he feels about being trapped in an auto.

A beauty salon on Finchley Road. I'm not sure about the plural use of "hairs." I'm guessing whoever produced this sign is not a native English speaker.

Perhaps this discarded whiteboard is an artifact of someone's home-schooling in the era of Covid. I'm not sure why they threw it out, unless they accidentally wrote on it in permanent marker. Which happens. Nice elephant, though!

A little snow sculpture I found after our recent snowfall. At first, looking at it from this side, I thought it was a ghost with his ghostly arms outstretched. But then I realized that viewed from the other side it is obviously a dove holding an olive branch.

Sidewalk boobies.

Italian expressions of love in Cricklewood. (Along with a couple of severely pollarded trees.)

Some stenciled graffiti not far from our flat. I think it's a Mexican wrestling mask? Anyway, it's a nice clean stencil, compared to the messier coronavirus-related ones I found several days ago.

And finally -- lots of planters, left out on the sidewalk (mysteriously with a bicycle). Are they being given away? Believe it or not, I didn't take any. At our house, we're into simple terra cotta flowerpots.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

A Chapel of Pilates

I came across this odd little building when I was walking around St. John's Wood a couple of weeks ago. It looks like a former church or chapel, or perhaps a vicarage, doesn't it? Apparently it's now a pilates studio.

I tried to look up some information about it both through Google and in a couple of local history and architecture books, but I couldn't find anything. So who knows. Maybe it was just meant to look ecclesiastical. A fireplace on the side wall seems unlikely for a church, doesn't it?

There's a cross on the roof, but it's sort of nondescript.

I was back at work yesterday morning, and I spent the afternoon here at home trying to get this place organized. I've said this before, but living so intensely at home during a lockdown quickly makes a house pretty messy -- and it's even worse in winter, when we're indoors all the time. The floor always needs vacuuming. I do the dishes, and then before I hang up the wet dishcloth, there are more dishes. The bed, even when I make it, is perpetually unmade.

And the clutter! We have bags of stuff I want to take to a charity shop, but none of the shops are open, so it's all just sitting in a closet. And half of the potted plants from the patio are inside with us, jamming up the space even more.

In a fit of organization I took the Christmas lights off the avocado tree yesterday and put them away. But now, sitting here in the dark with the rain pattering outside, I miss them!

Have you seen the news about San Francisco changing the names of many of its schools? It's not a done deal, but they're thinking about it -- they want to eliminate the names of anyone or anything with connections to slavery or racism. While that seems a noteworthy goal, it unfortunately means virtually all of the founding fathers and other former presidents, not to mention Spanish missionaries, military fortifications like the Presidio and even, weirdly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Abraham Lincoln is targeted because, while he freed the slaves, he led the government at a time when Native Americans were being slaughtered out west.

Now, this seems pretty extreme. Even other liberal-minded people think it's going too far. Basically, they're facing the same problem I'm facing in making my list of problematic books -- where do you draw the line? What's tolerable as an artifact of history, versus intolerable as a perpetuation of a racist system? And if you expand the impeachable offenses to sexism and homophobia, well, that condemns practically everyone before about 1960. A zero-tolerance approach sounds good, but employ it too stridently and you quickly wind up with erasure, which carries its own risks.

Friday, January 29, 2021


Among the few flowers blooming in the garden right now are the hellebores. We have two of them, a pinkish one...

...and a white one. The white is new this year -- Mrs. Kravitz gave it to us last spring when it was part of a haul of free plants she obtained from our local garden center, which was closing due to Covid. We put it in the ground by the bench in the back of the garden, and it looks like it's happy there.

I stayed pretty busy in the library yesterday morning, putting away some holiday decorations, scanning research materials for students, updating my Newbery blog and having a Zoom meeting with all my fellow librarians (who are mostly working from home). My current Newbery book is "Rifles for Watie," a novel from the late 1950s about the Civil War years in the Kansas and Oklahoma territories. It's good so far and seems quite scholarly for a Newbery book, and yet it has enough homespun dialogue and language to capture the time and place. One character was described as "hungrier than a woodpecker with a headache," which I thought was pretty funny.

I came home around lunchtime and in the afternoon a workman began power-washing Mrs. Kravitz's patio. The machine he was using sounded like it weighed six tons and was the size of a diesel truck engine. It went on for about two hours. I suppose I should be happy that she's such a tidy neighbor, but I was about to go crazy by the time he finally stopped at dusk.

Thursday, January 28, 2021


I had weird sinus headaches on Monday night and Tuesday morning, so out of an abundance of caution I didn't go to work yesterday. I wanted to be sure they weren't an early symptom of Covid. But they never turned into anything more substantial, fortunately, and I don't have any of the symptoms that would trigger the need for a Covid test (cough, fever, loss of taste or smell). So it's back in the saddle for me.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I finally got our amaryllis bulbs put away for the winter. I mean, winter's already half-over, right? I would have done it sooner but those bulbs just would not go dormant. I stopped watering them weeks ago and they stubbornly held on to a few remaining green leaves until this week. Anyway, I took them out of their pot, treated them for red blotch fungus (with a mild chlorine bleach bath) and put them in a box in the shed. I'll pot them up with fresh soil in a month or so.

I also took a little walk around the neighborhood, just to get outside, but I didn't take the camera. I took these photos on my walk on Tuesday. They show some beautiful old tiles on the outside of a former pub on Cricklewood Lane. Unfortunately the building itself isn't as attractive.

I've been working on a library project, listing all the books that have come under fire for containing racist or otherwise problematic content. I guess the plan is to attach a note in the catalog that will put some of those concerns into context. For example, the extensive use of the N-word in "Huckleberry Finn" -- we could just warn kids that the word is there as an antiquated term typical of the era (in what is otherwise considered to be an anti-slavery novel). Or "Gone With the Wind" -- we could tell the kids that it presents a heavily romanticized view of the Antebellum South, and is historically inaccurate in its depictions of slavery and Reconstruction.

As I've said before, I'm a little uncomfortable holding earlier works to the standards of our modern culture. But I'm also uncomfortable letting such issues go entirely unchallenged. Anyway, we're not quite sure yet what we're going to do with this information, but it's good to put it all in one place. I'm researching the criticisms online and linking back to sources where people can read more about them.

And now, off to get ready for work!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Game Over

Stay Vague
Control the Media
Save Myself

I took a walk yesterday around the neighborhood, just to get out of the house, and found some fun coronavirus-related street art on Blackberry Path around the rugby fields near the cemetery.

Happy New Tier

We don't get a huge amount of street art here in West Hampstead, so it was kind of interesting to find these stencils. I think the one above shows a person in a gas mask, but I'm not 100 percent sure. It probably needs to be on a smoother wall to be clear.

Game Over

I walked all the way up to Cricklewood, so I got a decent amount of exercise. Olga didn't go with me because she was with her dog-walker.

I finished two Newbery books: "Kira-Kira," which I loved, and "Last Stop on Market Street," which took about five minutes to read. (It's basically a picture book -- not typical for the Newbery Award.) This year's Newbery medalist was just announced, so now I'll add "When You Trap a Tiger" to my list. Two steps forward, one step back!

Dave surprised me by including Doom Bar ale in our grocery order, which was delivered yesterday evening. We never buy beer at the grocery store, but having been deprived of a pub outing for almost a year now, I'd been craving a pint and as it turns out, so had he. So we toasted with Doom Bar last night as we watched "Perry Mason." It's the little things, right?

I just realized it was almost exactly a year ago that I first (dismissively) mentioned coronavirus on my blog. Oh, how naive we were then.

Our recent snowfall has entirely melted.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Slip-Sliding Away

I took this photo of yesterday's sunrise out our dining room window. The buildings on the right-hand side in the distance are located near Paddington Station; the ones on the left, with the construction cranes, are way down on the Thames. It looks like there's been quite a bit of construction in that area since I last wrote about this view.

Yesterday morning was icy as heck. The snow melted just enough on Sunday afternoon to create a liquid slush that then froze solid overnight. I felt like I needed crampons on my walk to work. Fortunately I managed not to fall on my butt.

I've worked out a plan with my boss to come in only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As long as we're in lockdown and there are no students in the building, I'm certainly not needed on campus more than that. In fact it remains to be seen whether there will be enough for me to do even three days a week. Today I'll be working from home.

I mentioned the other day that our orchids are blooming. Here's what they look like -- the ones on our front windowsill, anyway. As you can see, we have several flowers, but we have even more flower stalks. In another month or so all those long, whiplike stems should be bearing blossoms. (I took this photo on Sunday morning just before our snowfall, hence, no snow on the street.)

Has anyone noticed that Blogger's quick-edit tools have returned? As I mentioned the other day, the little pencil on blog posts and the crossed tools that allow us to quickly edit items in our sidebars had disappeared. Well, I guess enough of us complained, because they're back again. Thank goodness. (You won't see these as a reader, only as a blogger.)

We continue to be bewildered by the ever-evolving Covid-19 vaccination schedules in the UK. Dave and I used to be at tier 5 and 6 on the priority list, but apparently the list has been subdivided more. Now I'm on tier 9, and Dave, I believe, is on tier 6 as someone being treated for an autoimmune disease (Crohn's). Neither of us have heard a peep about vaccinations, but that's to be expected as they're still working on the highest priority groups. Boris says everyone in the first four groups (basically people 70 and older, and those with serious illnesses or disorders) should be vaccinated by mid-February. I'm sure I'm looking at spring, at least, and possibly even later.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Whoa! Snow!

We turned into a Winter Wonderland yesterday morning -- and quite suddenly, too. I'd just finished watering the orchids and was vacuuming the house when I noticed snow coming down outside. And it kept coming, and coming.

I'd heard it might snow but I didn't expect this. I thought we'd get flurries like we've already had a few times this winter.

Here's some action footage of the garden and the patio, including our poor beleaguered primroses valiantly blooming in the winter chill.

It diminished in the early afternoon and I tried to take Olga for a walk, but she wanted no part of it. I did get her to go out into the back garden a few times, and she'd run through the snow and nip at it with her teeth. She clearly found it very confusing.

Our upstairs neighbors, the Russians, made a pretty respectable snowman in their parking space in front of the house. I think that's about the biggest snowman I've ever seen on our street! (If there's one thing Russians know, it's snow.)

Anyway, since Olga wouldn't go out, we wound up staying indoors all day. I finished Patrick Ness's book "Release," which was billed as a sort of gay version of Judy Blume's "Forever" -- remember that book? It was quite scandalous when I was in high school. I remember checking it out of the library and feeling like I needed to keep it hidden. Anyway, "Release" was interesting -- it featured two plotlines, one about a gay teenager coping with his already quite active love life and his conservative Christian family, and another about a girl who'd been murdered and was now wandering the town as a spirit. Just as he was struggling for release from his constricting home environment, she was struggling for release from this life. I'm not sure that second plotline was entirely successful -- I found it very weird and I was always happy to get back to the main story. But it did give the book added dimension, I suppose.

Here's something interesting I learned yesterday about English grammar. (Aren't you excited?)

Dave, writing a lesson plan, asked me whether he should use the indefinite article "a" or "an" in front of the noun "1-4-5 chord progression." I told him I'd always learned that "an" is used in front of a word beginning with a vowel -- but even though 1 or "one" begins with a vowel, it clearly didn't sound correct to say "an 1-4-5 chord progression." I got to thinking that actually, there are many words beginning with a vowel that call for "a" -- a university, a uvula, a one-time surprise, a eunuch.

Well, I did some research, and it turns out that the use of "a" versus "an" depends more on the sound of the following word than on its spelling. University and eunuch sound like they begin with a Y -- a consonant. So they take an "a"! Likewise, "1-4-5 chord progression" sounds like it begins with a W -- a consonant. So it takes an "a" as well. (On the flipside, "historic" can take "an" because the H is sometimes silent, although that usage is a bit old-fashioned: "an historic victory.")

I found this fascinating (as you can tell, since I've burdened you with two paragraphs of explanation). I would have known to choose the correct article, but before yesterday I couldn't have told you why.

In more sobering coronavirus news, it now looks like the British government might lengthen our lockdown and keep schools closed through Easter. Apparently there's some evidence that our new virus variant is, in fact, more dangerous as well as more contagious, and infection rates aren't diminishing fast enough. Argh!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

So It Goes

As I've mentioned, Olga went through a period a week or two ago where she seemed a little more lethargic than usual. She was still eating well but she just didn't seem to have much get-up-and-go. She was ambivalent about going on walks, for example, which is unusual for her.

So yesterday we took her to the vet for a checkup. She hadn't been in a while and I figured it couldn't hurt. The vet said she seems to be in good health. She did say Olga's joints seem a bit stiff, which we already knew -- she's already taking Metacam, an anti-inflammatory medicine. The vet said we could add another painkiller to Olga's regimen but between my making the vet appointment and our visit, Olga seemed to feel much better -- we went on our normal morning walk yesterday, for example -- so for now we're going to leave everything as is and continue to add paracetamol as needed. I mainly wanted to make sure she wasn't having any kind of adverse reaction to her Metacam.

In the afternoon we went to the cemetery, where we found a patch of daffodils already in bloom. To Olga, they were just another obstacle.

We saw lots of parakeets swooping around. They seemed very taken with the bark on this old dead tree. They must have been eating insects out of the cracks. This tree seems a bit hazardous to me -- it's right next to the chapel and if it falls it looks like it could damage the building. But I guess if the birds are using it as a food source that's a reason to let it stand.

The top photo, by the way, shows a mark on another tree in the cemetery. I don't know what it means but the tree looks like an old one. Hopefully the intention is to preserve it or get it pruned or otherwise looked after by an arborist.

And speaking of trees falling, apparently the winds of Storm Christoph last week knocked over an old willow tree that Dave and I often pass on our walks to and from work. I didn't take that route last week so I didn't notice the damage, and apparently now the beloved tree has been removed. The council says they'll plant something else but it's a shame to lose the venerable old willow. "So it goes," to use Kurt Vonnegut's memorable phrase.

When we got back from the cemetery I had a long Skype call with my stepmother in Florida, who I hadn't spoken with in a while. It was good to catch up with her, though she already knows what's going on with us because she reads my blog. It was mainly a matter of me learning about her activities. She's thinking ahead to cruises she's going to take once the coronavirus situation is past. We all need things to look forward to!

In fact Dave and I need to make some travel plans, too. We have several credits with airlines and tour companies that need to be used. We're holding off until we get the vaccine, but I've been amazed at how many people are still flying internationally. Dave has many students who join his distance learning classes from the USA, the Caribbean and even Brazil, where they decamped with their families over the holidays and have decided to remain while our lockdown is in place. It sort of annoys me that other people are enjoying exotic vacations while we're barely leaving our garden. Am I a chump for being such a rule-follower?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Space Dogs and Missing Fish

I took this picture on my way home from work yesterday. I was trying to photograph the crazy "space dog" seat covers inside this car, but I wound up with a kind of surreal reflected street scene as well. I like it!

Yesterday was pretty low-key. I went to work as planned, and in addition to preparing books for the seventh graders to pick up, retrieving books from the sixth grade classrooms and going downstairs to make new shelf labels for the Lower School library, I helped the other librarians (working remotely) to compile lists of our e-books of various genres still available to students during the lockdown. Doesn't that all sound exciting? A day in the life.

I noticed that the school aquariums are mysteriously empty. Where did the fish go?! I wonder if we have an aquarium service person like Jennifer's husband Gregg who maintains those tanks. The fish have probably been spirited away to a temporary home while the school building is vacant.

I also posted my newest Newbery review. I've read 38 of those books so far -- so, still 61 to go, counting this year's winner, which I believe will be announced on Monday. Cripes! I'd hoped to finish this project by the end of this school year, but realistically it's probably going to be fall. I shouldn't have stopped during last year's lockdown and summer break. I wanted to wait until I was working face-to-face with the kids again, so I could talk to them about the books, but honestly, they're not all that interested in this little endeavor of mine. At this point it's more for me than for them!

A note about Blogger -- have any of you noticed that the quick-edit tools on our sidebars and posts have disappeared? There used to be a little pencil symbol that, when clicked, took us into edit mode and allowed us to make changes. Those little pencils are gone, at least on my blog. Now I have to go to the dashboard and edit that way. No big deal, but it's a weird change, and funny how it just happened with no warning. I wonder if it has something to do with Flash no longer being supported by Adobe and Chrome.

Dave and I watched "The Matrix" last night. I don't think I'd seen it since it was in theaters, 20-odd years ago. It still holds up pretty well! Remember how Neo and his fellow escapees had to pick up a ringing telephone to be transported back out of the Matrix? Well, that was the only obvious anachronism -- the phones were often public booths on the street or desktop models with big ol' clunky receivers. Funny!

Friday, January 22, 2021


When I was walking on Mill Lane several days ago I came across this groovy (but unfortunately damaged) bicycle. Shame about that front wheel. And what's with the slab of styrofoam tucked into the spokes near the chain?

It certainly has personality, with its well-worn lizard seat...

...and flowers reminiscent (once again) of Scooby Doo.

I see that Joe Biden is already moving quickly to get a grip on the coronavirus in the USA. It's great to see Dr. Fauci back at the lectern, vowing to "let the science speak."

Meanwhile, apparently we're having a terrible time here in the UK. Deaths are still higher than ever and the National Health Service is struggling. Our government's biggest mistake, I think, was trying to reopen around the holidays -- we should have simply kept the November lockdown going. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but I feel like we could have predicted this surge and I suspect commerce won over common sense.

I went in to work yesterday but there weren't any people around so it didn't feel risky. I like going in, because it gives me a reason to walk in the morning and gets me out of the house, but I'm going to work from home at least two days a week. It looks like we're not going to be able to check out library materials to our entire school community, as we had hoped, but some students have to come back for supplies and we've worked out a system that allows them to pick up a few books while they're there. (And I don't have to interact with them at all.)

Even with all the discouraging coronavirus news, the inauguration has made me feel like life is moving forward in a positive way. Of course the UK is its own country with its own leaders, but having someone responsible at the helm in the USA puts the pieces in place for global progress. We're no longer stymied by childish obstinacy. It's a good feeling.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Morning in America

Well, folks -- the nightmare is over. There were times I honestly wasn't sure we'd make it, but the adults are in charge again and it's a huge relief. Now if there's a crisis I don't have to worry that we'll respond as a wounded adolescent, lashing out either verbally on Twitter or, worse, physically through bad policy.

Dave and I watched the inauguration live online via ABC news. We had a bottle of Taittinger champagne in our cabinet that someone gave us long ago -- I don't remember who or why -- and we popped it and toasted to Trump's departure and the new administration. It was so heartening to see President Biden up there, with the Obamas and Clintons and Bushes behind him and Vice President Harris at his side, creating a sense of continuity reaching back to the past and toward a hopeful future.

I thought his inaugural remarks were just right, touching on the need for unity:

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured. Through the civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward. And we can do so now. History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.

And the need for truth:

Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders who have pledged to honor our constitution and protect our nation – to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

I liked this part, too:

The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment. Because here is the thing about life: there is no accounting for what fate will deal you. There are some days when we need a hand. There are other days when we’re called on to lend one. That is how we must be with one another. And, if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future.

We're already moving forward, with Biden unwinding the gnarled knots of Trump's bad policies. Rejoining the Paris climate accords, for example. The USA can once again say it is a global leader, participating internationally to do what we can to care for the planet. We're once again cooperating with everyone else, rather than treating other countries as adversaries.

Dear God, what a relief.

Oh, and can I also say -- Lady Gaga! What an amazing performance of the national anthem! That woman has pipes and her outfit was fantastic. I was glad to hear "This Land Is Your Land" from J Lo, and Amanda Gorman's poem was profound and beautiful and heartfelt, and I so look forward to hearing more from her. (And their outfits were beautiful too. In fact everyone looked pretty darn phenomenal up there.)

So, yeah, we drank quite a bit of that champagne. And now life goes on, a little more sane, a little less adversarial. Someone on TV mentioned Harris tweeting something and Dave and I just groaned -- I don't know about you, but I'm ready for politicians to get the heck off Twitter. I'm sure Harris and Biden will treat Twitter more responsibly than their predecessor. But still. I have a Twitter hangover.

Otherwise, I read most of yesterday, plowing through Matt Haig's "The Midnight Library," which I really enjoyed, and starting another Newbery book. We also had a Zoom meeting with our school administrator, who said she suspects it will be early March before we're all back on campus.

I'll be back in the library today, working on a few things, but I think at some point they'll probably have to furlough me because there's just not enough to do for the next month and a half unless we're able to start checking out materials somehow -- and I don't see that happening. C'est la vie. I honestly don't mind, as long as I still get paid, as I believe I still would under the UK government's furlough scheme. We shall see.

(Photos: Snowdrops budding in our garden and dead leaves on our stepping stones, which we made with pottery chips collected from Hampstead Heath.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Pretty in Pink

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is) and away from political flights of fancy. Thanks for indulging my musings yesterday, and let me just say by way of celebration: TODAY WE GET A NEW PRESIDENT!!!! Wooo hooo!!!! (yes, I am shouting)

It's a shame school's not in session, because normally we'd put the inauguration up on the big TV in the library for everyone to watch. I remember when Trump was sworn in we did it, even though we were holding our noses. It would have been nice to have the same opportunity now.

I saw this woman (above) in her fetching pink outfit in Hampstead when I was walking Olga on Sunday. She's kind of striking a pose, isn't she? Very "Vogue" in her fuchsia trainers. At least she was wearing a mask.

Yesterday I worked in the garden. I cleared out the wildflower bed, cutting down whatever dry, dead stalks remained from last year, and removing the blackberries that seem to infest every corner. They're incredibly persistent -- I cut them down and they come right back up. We allow them in a few areas, so we can pick blackberries in season, and I trimmed out the dead stalks in those places too. (And got scratched up in the process.)

I also removed a lot of ivy from our side fence. It was quite bushy and although pretty, it was just getting out of hand. I felt bad because I know the birds like it -- I even found an old nest -- so I left some behind for the critters and did not denude the fence entirely.

Between this and the rose-pruning Dave did on Sunday, we have six bags of yard waste for collection on Friday.

And then I worked on some indoor plants. We have these two cacti -- the one on the left was a recent rescue from the library, where it had been abandoned. See that ridiculous ring of false flowers around its middle? Poor thing! I bought some cactus potting mix and now they look like this:

Much more dignified.

I also rescued a couple more orchids from school, where they'd been left on a common windowsill and were slowly perishing from neglect. We now have 14 orchids, which is a little ridiculous. Many of them are in the process of sending up flower stalks, so we should have lots of blossoms in a few weeks.

Today we're supposed to have some dramatic weather, with a 90 percent chance of rain and wind. Apparently this is related to Storm Christoph, though we're not getting the brunt of it here in London -- most of it is striking to the north. (Why does this storm have a French name? Haven't we Brexited?)

I'm working from home today (which basically means reading Newbery books) so I'll be staying inside.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021


Dave and I tried to watch "Bridgerton" last night, given all the buzz about this Netflix show. We got 17 minutes into it before I turned to Dave and said, "I hate this." He said, "I do too." We turned it off.

It's entirely likely (even probable) that we gave up on it too early, but I truly don't understand the appeal. A bunch of people prancing around in Austenian garments, wielding posh accents, and having soft-core sex? If you're a fan, please help me understand what I am missing. Maybe I need to read some reviews.

Now, on to the real subject of this post. You may remember that I suggested a few days ago that Biden consider pardoning the Capitol rioters. I said that sort of off the cuff, but I've been thinking more about it. I probably shouldn't have said "pardon," because it's way too premature -- the cases haven't even been adjudicated. And I do think we need to seek some form of justice, particularly in the killing of the Capitol police officer.

But what I think would be immensely powerful is if the Biden administration -- the same people that those in the cult of Trump think are communist "Demonrats" who are going to exterminate white people and Christians and destroy the country -- instead showed some degree of compassion. Wouldn't it be a kick if Biden did the most Christian thing of all and forgave those people for their delusions? Where would that leave their expectations of persecution? Would it help defuse their anger? What could Biden do to show that he is, in fact, supportive of all Americans, liberal and conservative, even those on the fringes?

Believe me, I am as appalled and angry as anyone at what happened in the Capitol. But I think it could be argued that those demonstrators were manipulated and deceived by Trump, having already been made vulnerable by their own political paranoia. It could even be argued that people who believe in Q-Anon and similarly insane conspiracies need mental health care. I think many of them are essentially lonely, and spend a lot of time online feeling bonded to others in their twisted community, trading secrets that the rest of us don't get. They would hate being characterized that way, but the fact remains that manipulation of the vulnerable and the mentally unstable are extenuating circumstances when it comes to prosecutions.

One could even argue that there's been a measure of punishment already -- the public exposure, the loss of jobs, the national humiliation.

I'm not saying pardoning is the answer. Again, some punishment is appropriate, but I also think it will be incumbent on this government to reach out to those people somehow and show them that they are not despised, as they believe themselves to be. Working with them would go a long way toward defusing the fury of the right.

Perhaps charges could be dropped in all but the most extreme cases. Forgive the people who broke the windows and roamed around taking selfies, but prosecute the ones who stole government property and most directly caused that officer's death.

This perspective may be rooted in my years of practicing Zen Buddhism. I think a compassionate response to this situation could make all the difference in helping the country to move forward. Will there still be people who think Democrats are evil communists? Of course. It won't cause the keyboard warriors and gun nuts to set aside their weapons. But it might deprive them of another opportunity to be persecuted martyrs to their misguided cause.

So, something to think about. I'm not sure what the answer is. Which is why I'm not president, I guess.

(Photo: A billboard near Willesden Junction, torn up by storms a few weeks ago.)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Parakeets and Marcus Aurelius

After our rainy, miserable Saturday, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunny Sunday, with temperatures that seemed relatively comfortable for January (about 47º F, or 8º C). Olga and I took off for Hampstead Heath.

We had a nice walk, but it was very muddy. I even slipped and fell at one point -- fortunately I caught myself and managed to keep my clothes out of the mud. Olga was a little less energetic than usual so we did a slightly shorter loop around the woodsy areas of the north Heath, where all the squirrels live.

We saw a flock of green parakeets squawking in the trees. Olga lost her tennis ball as I was taking this picture -- like having slightly less energy, this seems to be a consequence of her age. She's just not as good at hanging on to things.

I stopped and sat under a tree for a moment to give us both a chance to rest. I was sitting on a root, so Olga, following my lead, sat on a root too!

On the way to and from the Heath, we always pass this curious apartment in Hampstead that is packed with books. They've been stacked up in this window for years -- all the years we've been walking there, I think -- with Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations" on top.

Once again, I was surprised by the number of people who were out and about. We're supposed to be locked down, but in Hampstead there were lines for coffee shops and food stands and the high street was pretty crowded. Olga and I kept our heads down and kept our distance as best we could.

Meanwhile, back home, Dave was pruning the roses in the garden. Even though we pruned them earlier in the season than usual, they had new growth already -- but only a tiny amount. Climate change!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How to Heal

I've just been reading the news. Are we living through strange times, or what? The people who stormed the U.S. Capitol, leading to five deaths and chaos and property damage, are asking for presidential pardons. And the "My Pillow" guy is apparently meeting with Trump and his minions in their continued effort to overthrow democracy, and carelessly carrying his notes so all the rest of us can figure out his half-baked plans.

It's really head-spinning.

Just three more days until we're rid of the Trumpster, but all signs indicate they're going to be crazy days.

Personally, I hope Trump hangs his followers out to dry, and then Biden pardons them. I know that seems insane, given their level of treachery and delusion, but it would be a huge step toward healing on a national level. I've been wondering if America needs something like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- an official forum to allow people on both the right and left to testify, discuss the issues, receive amnesty and hopefully reveal some semblance of truth and common perspective. The political divisions are now so severe, with the right and the left believing in entirely different realities -- I just don't know how else we overcome that. If we simply move forward as if the Trump years never happened, those divisions will remain and the questions will go unresolved, and that's a poisonous situation, it seems to me.

I also worry that Biden and Harris are being put in an impossible position. A lot of us think rainbows and unicorns will appear on Jan. 20, and let's face it -- the world will simply move forward with all its myriad problems. True, we'll be better equipped to face them, but they'll still be there. On the other hand, Trump's followers think a hammer & sickle flag will immediately appear atop the White House. I'll certainly be happier with Biden, but he won't be able to make any of us entirely, perfectly happy, and I suppose we shouldn't expect it. We're still going to be living real life.

Yesterday was rainy and grim. I threw our faded lily bouquet out into the garden, and droplets accumulating on the wilted petals made a nice picture. Olga couldn't be coaxed into going for a walk. Twice I put the leash on her and got her to the front door, and she firmly planted her feet and wouldn't go outside. We did manage to get her to venture briefly into the garden.

I know I've said this before, but I wonder if she's feeling some side effects from her anti-inflammatory medication. Apparently lethargy is one of them. She barely got off the couch all day, but she's eating normally so I'm not too worried. We probably need to get her a checkup at the vet, but that's not as straightforward as it sounds in a time of total coronavirus lockdown. I'll call them tomorrow.

I spent the day reading, finishing off my accumulated magazines, dispatching another Newbery winner in my ongoing quest to read all of them, and beginning Matt Haig's most recent book, "The Midnight Library." In the evening I made a martini and we watched "Sharknado," which was laughably, hilariously bad and yet bizarrely entertaining. We followed that up with a movie called "Rialto," about a middle-aged, married Irish guy who hires a rent boy. I had a terrible time understanding the dialogue, the accents were so thick (at least to my American ears), but I could make out enough to follow the plot and it was an interesting film.

Today's weather should be better, so hopefully Olga and I can get out of the house.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Statistics and Spreadsheets

My weather app says it's raining outside, but through the window I see something more closely resembling snow flurries. It's still dark, so it's hard to tell. In any case, Olga probably won't want her walk!

I spent yesterday working from home, as planned. I sat across the dining room table from Dave while he conducted his classes via Zoom, and while I managed to stay off-camera it was kind of like sitting in on them. He wore headphones so I couldn't hear the kids -- just his instructions. It was interesting because the kids made him laugh pretty hard at times, and I realized once again how much he really does enjoy teaching.

Meanwhile I updated the library's database usage report, which involves getting statistics from numerous research sites we use and plugging them into spreadsheets in various configurations. It may sound boring, but I find it calming. It requires pretty intense focus (Zoom music classes notwithstanding) and while I worked on it the hours flew. Surprisingly, our databases got used pretty thoroughly last year, even when we were on distance learning -- I guess the kids really were doing research.

I took these photos on a quick afternoon walk around the neighborhood. Olga went off with her dog-walker so it was just me and the camera -- a nice break. Which face shape are you? I think I'm probably oval. In fact, I have glasses that look a lot like those. But no curly French mustache.

My brother tells me that my mom, in her retirement home in Florida, got her first Covid vaccine. It's good to know that's one thing we probably no longer need to worry about. Not on her behalf, anyway.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Random Photo Friday

I think I'm going to work from home today, since there's nothing for me to do in the library. I have a report on database usage that I need to compile so that will probably be my task.

Meanwhile, here are some random photos from my trusty iPhone that I've accumulated over the past several weeks!

Above, you may remember a photo of this scene that I took last October. I ran it through my Waterlogue app and this was the result. It makes a nice "painting," doesn't it?

This is the newest creation by an eccentric individual living near school who already has a giant spider in his or her garden. Is it a frog? Why does it only have one back leg?

Stencils on the sidewalk near school.

Also on the sidewalk -- someone's discarded school notebook. Which makes me wonder -- do kids need the same school supplies when they're doing distance learning?

An image from a grave marker in the cemetery. Someone must have been an equestrian.

I saw this cheerful, cartoony van on my walk home one day. Fortunately, Olga is not the kind of dog who needs a groomer. As we've discussed, she just needs a quick rinse now and then and she's good to go.

This poster has been hanging in the window of a shop near the high street for ages. The event it's advertising took place in November 2015!

Someone spray-painted the word "LOVE" in several places on the sidewalk along the high street. This is in front of the George Michael ceramics shop.

This was propped against the wall at the tube station. I haven't the foggiest idea what it means. It looks like a piece of a countertop?

And finally, over Christmas, someone strung white lights through the plants on the windowsill in the library. The funny thing is, none of the librarians know who did it -- but we all agreed it looked nice! And then, after the holidays, whoever put them up took them down. It's a mystery.