Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Frosty and Less Humid

We did have a pretty hard frost the night before last. When I woke up yesterday morning, there was ice on the lawn (and on this fallen rose petal)...

...and the bird bath was frozen solid.

I was finally able to pick up our dehumidifier from work, where I had it shipped (and where it arrived last Thursday). I brought it home on the tube, unboxed it and plugged it in, and it began humming with a soft white-noise sound. I left it overnight, and this morning I emptied a liter of water out of its reservoir! I'm going to move it from room to room for a few days. It certainly seems effective. I swear I can even feel the difference -- my skin feels drier in this room, and this morning there's no condensation on the windows.

Our library Christmas tree arrived yesterday. I got out the lights and dutifully strung them on the branches, and plugged them into the extension cord that we store in the ceiling for that purpose. So now it's wired and the kids from the Middle School librarian's homeroom class can add the baubles and whatever else they desire. (That's my hope, anyway. I don't mind doing the lights but I'd much rather have them do the rest!) I'm going to take some of our own ornaments to school and add them to the stash, since Dave and I seldom bother with a tree of our own -- aside from the avocado.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Unexpectedly Sunny

Yesterday turned out to be much better weather-wise than I thought it might. Not only was there no snow, there were barely any clouds. It was cold, though, and I think we froze again overnight. The forecast this morning is calling for "potential disruption due to snow and ice." (Mostly ice, I'm guessing.)

Olga went out the door early yesterday morning and began trying to "bark down" the squirrels in the trees. She's normally not a barker when we're at home, and all I could think of was the poor Russians probably trying to sleep upstairs, so I went out and collared her and brought her back inside.

I cleaned for part of the morning, tackling another slightly moldy spot on the wall near the back door. I think I realized why those spots are damp. It's not entirely indoor humidity -- the woodwork around the top of the brick wall on the outside of the house is badly deteriorated. (A piece of it fell off yesterday, revealing rot and a hole beneath.) So I wrote to the property manager with photos and said they may need to do some maintenance. I suspect rain water is getting into the wall.

Meanwhile, our new dehumidifier should be at school waiting for me to pick it up. Woo hoo!

Olga and I went to the cemetery in the afternoon, and in shady areas there was still frost on the ground. I wonder where the turaco is hiding out? We never see or hear it in the winter. The ring-necked parakeets, on the other hand, are everywhere and despite their tropical appearance don't seem bothered by the chill.

On the way home, Olga and I found the world's smallest bicycle abandoned on Finchley Road. Perhaps its owner outgrew it.

I also read for part of the day -- my latest Newbery book, "Tales of Silver Lands" by Charles Finger, from 1925. They're short folk tales allegedly collected by Finger as he traveled in South America, though he doesn't explain where many of them come from and by and large they are shatteringly boring. (I fault Finger, rather than the stories themselves, which I'm sure were lively and interesting when told at the source.) This book has a reputation for being one of the driest Newbery winners so I knew it would be a challenge. It's palatable if read in small doses. Like medicine it must be taken sparingly.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

On to the Next Thing

Our trip back from Bray yesterday morning was uneventful, aside from the abominable weather. I walked Olga before we left the cottage and my hands got numb in the blustery, freezing wind. Time to dig out the gloves, I guess.

When we got home to London we found that Storm Arwen had blown all the leaves off our Japanese maple, littering the ground (and the yellowed hostas) with a carpet of red. It had also knocked over one of the potted hydrangeas, and after Dave righted it, it fell over again almost immediately. Arwen clearly has something against it.

I set to work getting the house in order, running the laundry and organizing.

'Tis the season to put the Christmas lights back on the avocado! As you can see, I did not trim off its brown-edged leaves. I figure the tree will drop them when it's ready. If they're hanging on they're probably still doing some good.

Olga, meanwhile, has slipped into the kind of deep relaxation that comes with being back at home. I think she's always a little bit alert while we're away, even when she's resting. She slept all yesterday afternoon, snoring deeply. By evening she was more awake and aware -- you can see her peering at me with her half-open eye, thinking, "Oy, not the camera again!"

The temperatures dipped to just above freezing last night, and they're supposed to go lower tonight. We might even get snow flurries this afternoon. I brought in the geraniums and put the canna lilies in the shed. We're as ready for winter as we'll ever be!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A Book, a Walk, a Meal

Yesterday's weather didn't turn out to be as dreadful as I feared. It was intermittently rainy and it got quite windy in the afternoon -- Storm Arwen was battering the northern part of the country -- but the sun peeked out for part of the day and Olga and I had time to escape Clamato Cottage and go for a long walk.

That's not Clamato Cottage above -- just some picturesque nearby houses.

Here's the unusual gate of another house down the street -- Rose Cottage. 

And here's the war memorial, decorated with bright new poppy wreaths for Remembrance Day just a few weeks ago.

Olga and I walked westward out of town to Braywick Park, which was looking very autumnal.


There were several sculptures like this along the trails, known as the "Guardians of the Green Way" by Nick Garnett, according to the little plaque. (The Green Way is a network of trails between Cookham and Bray.)

Here's the outside of Clamato Cottage. This was after our walk. Olga was ready to get back to the fireplace.

Oh, and I solved my lack-of-a-coffee-mug problem! See that container, used to store the kitchen utensils? Well, it works just fine. It's a bit on the large side, so of course I don't fill it up, but a mug that's too big is better than a cup that's too small. (Don't worry -- I washed it first.)

I also did a lot of reading yesterday -- I finished "Lawn Boy," which I enjoyed a lot. I found it an interesting and compelling novel exploring class and identity, and aside from some mildly sexual and salty language it's perfectly harmless. I'm happy to add it to the library for the high-schoolers. I'm convinced the right-wingers are fired up about it mostly because they haven't read it.

Last night, Dave and I went to The Hand & Flowers, chef Tom Kerridge's pub in the nearby town of Marlow. The food was excellent. I had a duck liver parfait starter and guinea fowl entree, and Dave had a pork terrine followed by a lamb "bun" that looked like a big pear. We finished up with dessert -- a blackberry souffle with bay leaf custard and walnut ice cream (me) and to be honest I can't remember what Dave had because by that time I'd consumed three glasses of wine and wasn't paying much attention to his food.

Today, we bid farewell to Clamato Cottage. We'll be back on the train to London around lunchtime.

Friday, November 26, 2021


We survived our odyssey to Bray, via tube, train and taxi. Olga coped well except for the cab, when she had to ride in the "wayback" (as we used to call it when riding in station wagons as kids) and she didn't like that very much. She wanted to sit with us in the back seat.

We're staying in a little house called Clematis Cottage, which is just steps from the Thames. We have a view of both the river and the fancy Waterside Inn, where we stayed the last time we were here, from our upstairs bedroom window.

In keeping with the clematis theme, the inside of the cottage is decorated in shades of purple, with gilded wall sconces, fluffy rugs and velvety furnishings. It may sound like a bordello but it doesn't come across that way at all. It's surprisingly nice. There's even a little Christmas tree, precariously perched on an end table. (It barely fits.)

We have a butler, though he can't seem to hold my drink level. I think maybe he's been imbibing himself. Jeeves!

Our hosts provided us with complimentary gin! Two kinds!

And there is indeed a functioning fireplace, which Olga loves.

Here's the downside -- the staircase. It is incredibly steep and the treads are very narrow. We have to help Olga both up and down it, and last night when we went to dinner we closed the inside door to keep her in the living room so she wouldn't attempt it by herself. All I need is an elderly dog falling down the stairs.

There are also no mugs in the kitchen -- only tiny, thin, delicate little cups that hold about two-thirds of an ounce. They do not work for my morning coffee. This morning I'm drinking it out of a bowl, French-style.

Dave posted to Facebook that we were staying here, and in doing so he misspelled clematis as "clamatis," which reminded me of Clamato, that clam juice/tomato drink often seen on store shelves in the states. So now we call our dwelling place Clamato Cottage.

In the afternoon Olga and I followed some walking trails which led out of the village to a nearby wilderness park. Maybe we'll explore it more today. There's a path along the Thames, too, but it's on the other side of the river, and darned if I can figure out how to get over there without swimming.

We also walked through the St. Michael's churchyard, where the "Buglins at Bray" insect hotel still exists! When I blogged about it more than seven years ago it was brand new. It has now settled into the landscape and I'm guessing it contains more bugs than ever. (But I didn't look closely.)

The Buglins name, incidentally, must be a play on Butlin's, a well-known chain of British holiday resorts. I don't think I knew that when I first saw it.

This is where Dave and I had dinner last night -- The Hind's Head, part of chef Heston Blumenthal's collection of restaurants. We both started with green pea soup, followed by a delicious halibut main course for me and oxtail & kidney pudding for Dave. A non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, but a satisfying one! The servers, detecting our accents, were careful to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving, even though it is not a thing here in England.

The village of Bray contains at least three Michelin-starred restaurants and there are others in nearby communities, so it's the perfect place for someone with Dave's culinary expertise and training. (He's a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, a fact I don't mention much here anymore, now that we have devoted our lives to educating middle- and high-schoolers.)

We had clear skies and a pink sunset yesterday evening, but I think our weather is supposed to become less ideal today.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Fish Gates

When I was walking near Smithfield Market on Sunday, I came across this empty shopfront and was immediately impressed by those metal grills over the doorways in the shape of fish. Apparently this place used to be a restaurant called Polpo, and before that La Cucina Italiana. The fish gates existed even back then, thirteen years ago. I hope whoever occupies the space next keeps them. They certainly are distinctive.

Today Dave and I are off on our little holiday adventure. It's nothing too dramatic -- a trip to Bray, a village west of us near Windsor where we went several years ago. We have reservations at a fancy restaurant tonight and a couple of nights in a cottage with a fireplace, which we anticipate Olga will especially love!

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving (if it's something you celebrate) and I'll report back tomorrow on our journey!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Theatre of Memory

When I was walking near the Barbican on Sunday I came across this unusual object set out with someone's trash. It's not every day you find an architectural model lying on the sidewalk.

It was labeled "Theatre of Memory," and although it was a bit bashed up it seemed quite solid and sophisticated, with perfect little plastic power poles (say that three times fast) and clear pieces covered with what looked like diagrams or blueprints. The pieces were labeled "Restaurant," "Main Theatre" and the clear floor marked "Act 1," "Act 2" and on through "Acts 4 & 5."

Needless to say, I would love to know more about this and why it was abandoned there, but Googling "Theatre of Memory" doesn't produce any readily relevant results (I apparently have a thing for alliteration today). So it must not only be a Theatre of Memory, but a Theatre of Mystery.

Probably some architecture student's final exam. Or maybe a conceptual art project.

Yesterday I mentioned the Methuselah of all cacti living in the staff lounge at work. Some of you questioned whether they were alive or even real, so I took a closer look yesterday afternoon. As you can perhaps see, they are indeed living. I'm not sure why they aren't bigger, unless they're just incredibly slow-growing or maybe they're restricted by that pot. (Which seems a very unlikely container for cacti, given that it has no drainage.)

Another mystery. I'm full of 'em today.

Our students are already on Thanksgiving break, so today will be just a half-day for staff development and meetings at work. I'm mobilizing to get out of the house early because we need to be there at 7:45 a.m. -- quite a bit earlier than my normal starting time. Then tomorrow, Dave and I are off with Olga on a Thanksgiving adventure! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Staff Lounge

This is the view out the window of our staff lounge at work. When I went to get my morning coffee yesterday that beautiful tree caught my eye, with the sun brightening its colorful leaves. (And yes, the coffee machine was actually working! Whatever the "flow error" was, it has been corrected.)

Remember our missing and ridiculously expensive DVDs? Well, they arrived yesterday, and we were thrilled. This seems to be a replacement package -- my boss e-mailed the vendor on Nov. 11 when the first package failed to show up, and apparently they took it upon themselves to send another shipment that same day. Either that or they never sent them in the first place, and that whole goose chase was over a different box. (We did belatedly learn that apparently the package in the CCTV image from the loading bay was not our DVDs.) Anyway, long story short, they're here now and we didn't have to pay any more to get them, so it's a win for us.

I read an interesting article in the Nov. 8 issue of The New Yorker about a somewhat obscure Bennington College professor who compiled what may be the world's longest and most complete diary. Apparently he began writing in childhood and basically never stopped. He painstakingly saved everything, and although he is now dead, his papers have been acquired by the Getty Research Institute and are gradually being made public.

The professor, Claude Fredericks, knew famous people and traveled in intellectual circles, but according to the author of the article he could be a somewhat stultifying writer. Still, he strove to be open and honest, which he felt were essential qualities for a diarist, and I found the discussion about how and why people keep diaries pretty fascinating.

After all, being a blogger isn't all that different -- except that we're writing for an immediate audience, so there's a certain amount of self-editing going on. That editing raises its own questions. How truthful are we being? How completely are we presenting ourselves? Are we sacrificing accuracy for brevity? When keeping a truly private diary it's easier to be more honest -- although that isn't guaranteed either, because we deceive ourselves about our own behavior and motivations, and if we envision that our diary may eventually become public -- even years in the future -- we may be selective about what we say. But it's also easy to say too much, to be too verbose and revealing, because there really are no editing constraints. It sounds like Fredericks fell into those traps fairly frequently.

Anyway, as a lifelong journal-keeper, I find others' diaries endlessly interesting. (I have the second volume of David Sedaris's diaries sitting in my to-read pile as we speak.) For me, keeping a journal (or a blog) is a way to process and record the events of my life, however ridiculously trivial those events may seem, and I enjoy employing the (modest!) skills required to produce and edit fresh content every day.

Here's another view of the staff lounge -- this was taken when I went for my afternoon cup of coffee, several hours after that first photo. Dramatic sunlight at this time of year! (When there's any sunlight at all, that is.)

See those cacti on the right-hand side of the windowsill? They've been there as long as I've worked at the school. Here they are way back in 2013. I don't know who cares for them but they seem to be holding their own. Either that or they've become petrified.

Oh, and I did order a dehumidifier yesterday. I left several windows cracked open when I went to work. Olga may have been a bit chilly but the house seemed much drier when we returned in the evening!

Monday, November 22, 2021


Yesterday morning turned into a marathon cleaning binge. It began with me trimming some of the plants, and then noticing that the floor around the plants needed cleaning, and then noticing that the floor under the couch needed cleaning, and then noticing that the specks of black mold that tend to grow on the wall behind the couch had once again reappeared with our damp autumn weather. Before I knew it I'd cleaned all the floors and the wall and moved furniture and vacuumed, and changed bedsheets and cleaned baseboards and God knows what else.

Bathrooms! I did the bathrooms too.

I told Dave it might be nice to have a professional cleaning team come in and give the house a good once-over. I think I'm a pretty good housekeeper, but I'm sure there are things I don't see or just don't bother with that should be done. For example, I rarely clean the outside of the kitchen cabinets, especially the upper ones. I rarely clean radiators or molding.

We're wrestling with some serious indoor humidity at this time of year. The house feels like a steamroom. All the windows are closed (because it's chilly out there) and there's condensation on the glass and between our showers and Dave's cooking (which yesterday meant a pot of spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove for hours) we have got to get rid of some of this moisture. I'm thinking maybe we need to finally invest in a dehumidifier, although I worry a little about how it will affect the houseplants.

So, yeah, that was my morning. Then, in the afternoon, I went to the Barbican to see the Isamu Noguchi exhibit.

Noguchi was a sculptor, product designer and landscape architect. His work was very popular in the mid-20th Century, and you may have seen his famous coffee tables and Japanese paper lamps. I was a huge fan back in the '90s, when I owned books about him and even traveled to his museum in Long Island City for a visit. He'd sort of fallen off my radar in recent years, but seeing this show at the Barbican reconnected me with his art. Many of the pieces I remembered, and hadn't thought of in years.

Early in his career he was an apprentice to Brancusi, whose influence is apparent in his early works (above).

Eventually he found a more distinctive voice, creating larger, organically shaped structures with nesting parts that interlock and balance on each other. They look like they belong in an Yves Tanguy painting.

He was also a set designer, creating backdrops and set pieces for dancer Martha Graham and others. The "jungle gym" and "rope tree" at back left in the photo above are stage elements.

Anyway, it was an interesting exhibit. I bought a Barbican t-shirt and had a coffee on the outdoor terrace, where I sat reading The New Yorker. There were several photographers wandering around and one of them stopped a few feet away and took some shots of me, which was a strange experience.  I'm used to being behind the camera! I didn't move or even acknowledge seeing him, though, because I hate it when I have a great shot and then the subject moves and ruins it -- and besides, God knows I've taken plenty of pictures of strangers, so I could hardly object. I just pretended to be engrossed in my magazine.

On the way home, I shared the tube train with this:

Not quite as elegant as a Noguchi creation, but I'm sure it will make some kid happy.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A Corsage and a Panto

Olga and I took a long walk on the Heath yesterday, where we visited the grounds of Kenwood House. Don't you like her autumn corsage? (Yes, I put it there -- further testament to Olga's tolerance of my photographic shenanigans.)

It was a good outing and she had plenty of energy for activities like...

...leaf rolling.

Most of the leaves have fallen now but the Heath is still spectacularly beautiful. I saw another guy, about my age, walking with (and talking to) his dog Rosie (or was it Lola?) and singing a Beatles tune ("You Won't See Me"), and I thought, "Oh my god, it's ME!"

He had hair, though. And looked slightly...eccentric. I'm sure I do too, but never mind.

We found the demolished carcass of someone's dog toy. I can't imagine how many dog toys and lost tennis balls are lurking in the undergrowth on the Heath.

Back home again, I finished another Newbery book and then last night went to a holiday panto performance with some co-workers. A panto is basically a small-scale musical theater performance popular at the holidays. This one was a bawdy, campy take on the legend of Dick Whittington and his cat. (In our panto, the cat was a dog, only the mildest example of how we didn't stick close to the traditional script.) Pantos require a lot of audience participation -- you have to yell out at certain times and react vocally to the characters, and we wound up singing rounds and acting up in all sorts of ways. It can be quite exhausting, especially after three hours on the Heath!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Data Tree

When I was walking in Lesnes Abbey Woods last weekend, I came across this strange signpost-like sculpture atop the trunk of a dead tree. Its arms carried words including "family," "Wuthering Heights" and "Boletus edulis," as well as golden figurines of a monk, a boat, a heart, a shark's tooth and more.

I found it a bit perplexing, to be honest, but also interesting and weirdly beautiful. It was difficult to photograph against the surrounding trees.

You can see it better in silhouette against the gray sky.

When I came home I looked it up and found that it's called "Data Tree," by artist Jonathan Wright. Here's an explanation of the installation's various elements (but ignore the picture because, weirdly, that's not the same sculpture). Apparently it rotates, maybe in a high wind, but it wasn't moving the day I saw it. I was most interested to see that "Wuthering Heights" is a reference to talented singer and songwriter Kate Bush, who apparently went to school nearby and enjoyed walking in the woods. Brush with fame!

Remember our missing DVDs at work? Well, despite several public appeals, they never turned up. I suspect they got accidentally thrown away. Some mysteries are never solved, right?

We've had another ongoing incident of missing property -- the library's Guardian newspaper has been disappearing each morning. We subscribe to two newspapers, and the Times of London always comes, but the Guardian has been iffy. We wondered if it simply wasn't being delivered, but we did some research -- again using security camera footage -- and found that one of the teachers was taking it off the front desk as he came into school! My boss contacted him and he was very apologetic. Apparently he thought it was there for the taking and didn't realize it belonged to the library.

There were fireworks going off in our neighborhood last night. Were these leftovers from Bonfire Night, or was something else happening? I'm not sure. Mrs. Kravitz's daughter had a party involving hordes of screaming teenagers but they weren't the source of the fireworks. I went out this morning hoping to find her garden covered in beer cans and toilet paper in the trees, as after a house party in a John Hughes movie, but everything is as pristine and silent as usual so I guess the kids were well-behaved on the whole.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Montage of Miscellany

The headline above could describe almost any of my posts, because my brain is full of miscellany and I inflict it on you here every morning, but today's post is especially miscellaneous because it's yet another collection of random iPhone photos.

First, a very autumnal scene on my walk to work. This section of Abbey Road, just north of Belsize Road, is always good for shadows on sunny mornings at this time of year. Something about the angle of the light.

Here's a look through the window of a new shop opening in St. John's Wood, specializing in antique textiles. Seems like a very specialized line of commerce! I wonder what they'd make of my great-grandmother's quilt?

Another view of the tall construction crane down the hill from our flat. I took this through a tiny gap in the plywood wall (or "hoarding," as the British say) surrounding the site. I'm always intrigued by what's going on behind walls and fences at construction sites. In New York there's often a hole in the wall so passers-by can look through and indulge their curiosity, but here in London we're apparently expected to mind our own business.

A curious and rather abstract figure in someone's front garden in Hampstead. A Frankenthaler Frankenstein?

I found this sign on the ground and couldn't help wondering what it used to be stuck to. And what a curious smiley face! Took me a while to work it out -- I've never seen one with a neck.

Another autumnal shot -- Olga putting her olfactory skills to use on her morning walk.

When I was over near Paddington on our recent trivia night, I decided for old times' sake to walk past the Shakespeare Hotel, where I stayed when I first came to London on a trip in 2000. I stayed there again on a second visit in 2003. It was a perfectly good budget hotel with a view over Norfolk Square and I remember I enjoyed their breakfasts. I haven't been inside for almost 20 years so I have no idea what it's like now, but the front door looks the same!

The coffee machine at work was displaying this error screen a few days ago. I've never seen this before and it amused me. It seems so emphatic, with the exclamation point, and yet the green check mark seems to suggest that everything is fine. It can't make up its own mind. (Oh, that's right, it doesn't have one.)