Friday, December 31, 2021

The Royal Zebras

It's ridiculously warm here for practically January -- about 60º F yesterday. I took Olga for a walk along the high street in the morning and wore shorts! And then I ate lunch on our garden bench in shorts and a t-shirt. It's bizarre.

Olga literally ran rings around me on her walk. She has the attention span of a gnat, and she zigzags down the sidewalk from one smell to another. I ran into an acquaintance from work and was trying to talk to her and her two kids and manage the dog at the same time, and as a result wasn't paying attention when Olga stopped to pee on a tray of cyclamens on display in front of the florist. Argh! Fortunately she only hit one plant. I bought it out of a sense of obligation.

The rapacious parakeets were back on our bird feeder, and in fact we were running so low on suet balls that I walked to Homebase to buy another tub. God forbid we should run out over the holiday weekend.

You can see once again how blue that front ringneck's feathers are. He really stands out in a crowd.

Homebase still had stacks of Christmas trees out front. I counted 35 in this area alone. They were giving them away, but who wants a Christmas tree for any purpose after Christmas? Maybe for mulch?

A man walked past me as I was taking this picture and said, "Kind of sad, isn't it?"

He then proceeded to ask me all about my camera, which always makes me a little nervous because I'm afraid it might be a prelude to being hit over the head and robbed. But I suppose a robber wouldn't ask questions, would they? "Hand it over -- but first, how many megapixels is it?" Besides, this guy didn't look very threatening.

The garden center at Homebase was just as sad as the exterior, with dozens of live Christmas trees in pots  waiting to be sold. I'd say Homebase severely overstocked on trees this year.

I could have bought a vase shaped like a zebra with a crown. Weirdly, I kind of like them.

The afternoon was spent lolling around the house. I'm mired in "The High King" by Lloyd Alexander, another Newbery book, and I'm not enjoying it. It's the fifth book in a series and I haven't read the others, and as I've said before, fantasy novels with kings and swords and magic are not really my thing. Maybe my Newbery patience is just running thin. I'm more than a third of the way in and I'm seriously considering quitting it entirely, but then I couldn't say I've read all the Newbery winners, could I? So I suppose I'll suck it up and keep going.

We also watched a laughable '70s horror movie called "Ants!" that I remember from my childhood -- specifically, the scene where a licentious Suzanne Somers gets bitten to death in bed while in post-coital slumber. Dave just rolled his eyes. It's on YouTube so feel free to share in the horror and mirth.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Also Not My Pictures of Morocco

Two days ago, when I blogged the pictures of Morocco that I found on the sidewalk, you may have noticed that I said there were six of them -- and I only posted four.

Here are the other two, just in case you're curious. I like the one above, which was well-timed.

I'm not convinced about this one, though. It's atmospheric but it doesn't really have a focal point, does it?

This is going to be a very short post because we had a dinner party with our friends Carolyn and Mark last night, and I'm hung over exhausted. Dave made a beef rib roast, parsnip and apple cream soup, a terrine (kind of like a paté or high-end meatloaf with various meats), and cheesy cauliflower gratin. Every course had a wine pairing, including dessert, which was store-bought Christmas pudding with homemade brandy cream sauce. Any cardiologist would have run screaming from the room. I'm surprised my heart didn't stop overnight.

Olga, as you can see, really, really wanted some of Dave's terrine (which hadn't even been cooked at that point).

Our third dishwasher load is now churning away, and I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Goodbye Sandy Heath

The planets finally aligned yesterday -- the rain stopped for several hours and the dog felt energetic enough to go for a walk -- so we went to Hampstead Heath. We hadn't been on our West Heath route in a couple of months and I was missing it.

Here's the kind of day we had:

Not exactly bad weather, but definitely wintry-looking. The temperatures are warmer than usual, but supposedly that will change after New Year's Day.

We passed the pond on Sandy Heath, and rather than get in with the other romping dogs, Olga stayed on shore and kept an eye on...

...the ducks, occupying a little marshy island of reeds in the middle of the pond. That single Mandarin duck stood out like a jewel among all the mallards.

We walked all the way to Hampstead Heath Extension and returned via Golders Hill Park, where the Kong Pond is once again full of water. (You may remember it had been drained, I assume for maintenance work.)

I found a few pottery chips to add to my stash.

Overall it was a fun walk but it carried a tinge of sadness, too. Olga dragged, particularly toward the end, and I have to think harder about her needs. Are her walks more for her or for me? I know I've said this before, but I think doing that full loop -- West Heath, Sandy Heath and Extension -- is just too much for a canine lady of her advanced age. She could barely walk last night, she was so sore.

In the future, we'll stay closer to home, maybe sticking to the West Heath and Golders Hill Park -- if we go to the Heath at all. Olga is now 11 or 12, and I can't pretend she isn't aging. It's not fair to her.

Last night Dave and I watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix about Joan Didion, who died last week. Called "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold," it came out in 2017 and was directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, and it offered an affectionate, respectful overview of her life and work. I've long been an admirer of Didion's and already count "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" among my favorite books; I got on Amazon and bought "The White Album," a later book of essays, immediately after seeing the movie. I still need to read "Blue Nights," as well, but that we have in our school library.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Not My Pictures of Morocco

When Dave and I walked Olga to the cemetery on Friday, we passed a blue Ikea bag sitting on the sidewalk next to some rubbish bins. The bag contained numerous framed photographs. The rubbish had already been collected, but perhaps the trash guys didn't take the bag because they weren't sure whether it was trash. I said to Dave, "If that bag is still sitting there when we go home, I'm picking it up."

Well, it was, and I did.

When I got home, I looked through the six framed pictures. My intention was just to donate the frames -- black Ikea frames mostly in good condition -- to a charity shop. But I was surprised to find that all the images appeared to depict Morocco.

As many of you know, I lived in Morocco as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer from 1992 to 1994. Of course it's just coincidence, but it felt like these pictures -- which admittedly could be of another North African country like Algeria or Tunisia -- had been sent especially to me. A gift from the Universe.

(I've previously blogged some of my favorite Morocco pictures from my own camera.)

I don't think these images are very old. They were printed by Snapfish in 2017, according to the back of the photos. But the frames were very dusty, which makes me think they've been sitting in a closet or some other storage space for a while.

I cleaned up the frames -- I had to discard one, which was broken beyond repair -- and I left the pictures in them. I may go ahead and donate them in the hopes that someone else will like them as much as I did. In any case, they have a second chance and hopefully won't go to a landfill.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Wing and Flame

We had more interesting visitors to the bird feeder yesterday morning. I'd just been telling Dave that I hadn't seen many tits around recently, but then this blue tit showed up -- and it shared the suet balls with a great spotted woodpecker, which was exciting.

Not long afterwards, Dave looked out the windows and back toward the maple tree, and said, "What IS that out there?" It was a big brown bird and at first I thought it was a small hawk or raptor. But when I looked at it through my zoom lens I realized it was a European jay. It was probably looking for the peanuts I set out on our garden bench one day last week when I cleaned out the feeders.

Once again I tried unsuccessfully to take Olga to the Heath. I think she would have gone if it hadn't started raining about ten minutes into our walk, which prompted her to turn right around.

On the way home we passed a box of discarded CDs in front of a shop. I looked through them -- Ray Charles, James Brown, Bob Marley, some more modern bands I hadn't heard of -- but didn't see anything I wanted.

And then we passed this shop nearby:

Obviously there'd been some drama here, as the door and window were smashed and the interior was blackened and full of ash. I got home and found this maddeningly non-specific story that I assume must be about this incident. (It would help if the reporter had said exactly WHERE that fire occurred and WHO occupied the shop in question, among other things. What about witnesses? Neighbors? A statement from the shop managers or owners? It seems she didn't try very hard.)

Anyway, assuming this is indeed the fire that occurred in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Dave and I had no idea. And we only live a couple of hundred feet away, as the crow flies.

Last night we watched "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain," which I enjoyed a lot, especially after seeing the exhibit of his work just a few days ago. It was well-acted and full of interesting visual effects, including an animation sequence showing how Wain himself may have been experiencing his own psychedelic cat art.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day

This is the Churchill Arms pub in Kensington, all decked out for the holidays. It's known for its all-consuming exterior decoration, from flowers in the summer to Christmas lights. I've photographed this place before but I've only ever been there two or three times; if I remember right, it's much smaller inside than it looks.

As anticipated, not a whole lot happened around here yesterday. I plowed through three or four magazines and opened the rest of my magazine stash (still sealed in their postal mailers), revealing four more to finish before I can say I'm caught up. Argh! I'd also like to start another Newbery book and I need to get off my butt and do some walking.

I did try to motivate the dog for a walk yesterday. I remembered taking her to the Heath at Christmas last year, so I thought we'd go there -- but she was having none of it. I got her down the front steps and then she dug in her feet and turned for home. She barely touched the street.

Sometimes she's just not in the mood -- and it is rainy out there, which is always a deal-breaker for her.

The downside of having a less active dog, though, is that I am also less active. She used to run me ragged, but it was good for me. I suppose I could just go to the Heath myself, but that seems kind of pointless.

We had this very handsome visitor at the bird feeder. Look how colorful his feathers are -- that flush of blue at the back of his head and the distinct pink and black ring. (I'm thinking it's a male, as is generally true of the most colorful birds of many species, but I'm just guessing.) Often these parakeets are just various shades of green, with indistinct neck rings, but this one is a real Beau Brummell.

Dave and I watched "Don't Look Up," on Netflix, a brilliant portrayal of the human capacity to get distracted and ignore bigger problems. We loved it! And we also Zoomed with his family, which was chaotic (as his parents had a terrible time managing the technology and connecting to the call) but we finally got everyone together. My brother doesn't particularly like Zoom and my mom wouldn't really understand what was happening anyway, so we didn't try to connect with my family, but I sent them greetings. (And my brother said the box I mailed to my nieces almost two months ago without tracking arrived as expected, so that's a relief.)

Also, my mom got my flowers and candy, and my brother e-mailed me a picture showing that they'd arrived, so I was glad to see they weren't misdelivered and sitting forlornly somewhere else in her retirement center. As I told him, "Yay! My hundred bucks didn't go for nothing!"

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Festive but Rainy

I think this may be the first Christmas when I have absolutely nothing to give Dave. (And as far as I know, he has nothing to give me.) It's a strange feeling of lightness, of freedom. I think we may have finally done the holiday right this year!

Not that we're not celebrating. As I've already written, we put up our colored lights in the avocado tree, and Dave is going to cook a few special things, including a meat paté that has him very excited. I'll do the cleanup, as usual, but otherwise I'll probably read and watch television. Oh, and walk the dog, as Dave and I did together yesterday.

I did have a special holiday outing yesterday afternoon. My boss had tickets to a sing-along Christmas carol event at Royal Albert Hall featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Choral Society, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and the British Imperial Military Band. Dave ultimately decided not to go -- he was too concerned about Covid -- but I went. We sat in a box so we were somewhat distanced and shielded from other people, except when I stood in line for the bar at intermission behind a woman who could not stop coughing.

("I swear it's not Covid," she said. "I already had that three weeks ago!" Remarks that did not exactly inspire confidence.)

Plus we were all masked and had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get in. It's not easy to sing through a mask, but I gave it my best shot. The wine helped.

Here's a little taste of what the event was like:

The emcee had everyone raise their illuminated phones, which is a pretty clever way to reproduce that candle-like glow. (If my phone has a light I have no idea how to turn it on.)

And this was the big finale featuring soloist Zara McFarlane -- and, briefly, Santa.

Finally, here's a video on Twitter of the entire crowd doing what the emcee called a "Mexican wave" (I can't imagine why it's Mexican, but whatever). I'm in there somewhere, in one of the boxes near the top of the screen.

By the time the event let out around 5 p.m. it was dark, and as I walked through rainy Hyde Park to the bus stop, I began to think maybe it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. An urban park at night?! Plus I found myself in a corner of the park where the gates were all locked and I had to backtrack to an open stile to get out. But I eventually made it home with no drama.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

(Photos: Day and night views of a tree on the high street near our flat.)

Friday, December 24, 2021

Wow, a Snowbear

Some more pictures from Croydon today. This is another overly optimistic shopfront. Doesn't that launderette make you want to go "Wow"?!

Nearby, this was someone's holiday (or at least winter) decoration. Is it a bear? Is it a snowman? A snowbear? It looks like they had plans for another one but ran out of canned snow.

We are definitely moving into winter. Here's our weather forecast for the foreseeable future (in Fahrenheit, obviously). Looks a bit monotonous, doesn't it? At least it's not going to freeze, which means the geraniums and the sage can stay outside.

Do you remember our friends Chris and Linda, who lived across the hall from us in Notting Hill? I've mentioned them several times here on the blog, mostly during the Brexit campaigns, when they were pro-Brexit and we were anti-. We used to get together for dinner every couple of months. Well, we got some bad news about a week ago. Chris, who was well into his 70s and has been in poor health for some time, died on Dec. 13 -- from Covid, which he presumably acquired in the hospital. He was vaccinated, but as I said, he had other health issues.

Of course we're sad about it -- mostly for Linda, who now must adjust to life on her own. (Chris and Linda used to bicker all the time, and Chris once told me that despite their decades of marriage he thought they were ill-matched, but you know how relationships are. No matter how fraught, they're bound to be mourned when they end.)

We bought Linda a card, and a co-worker who also knows them got them a card and gave it to us to deliver. Several days ago, I put the two cards in a single envelope and took them to the post office to mail. I even had the guy at the counter weigh them so I could be sure they had adequate postage. Imagine my surprise when they came back through our letter box a day or two later!

I could not figure out why. Frustrated, I took them back to the post office yesterday morning. The clerk looked the envelope over and said cryptically, "Sometimes they just don't read." She wrote TO above Linda's address and FROM above my smaller return address on the back of the envelope, and threw the whole thing back in the mail bag. So, fingers crossed, Linda will get it this time.

We're planning to go visit Linda after Christmas.

On the way home from the post office, I had a pocket full of change, so I decided to pop into a local bakery and spend it on some kind of sweet treat for dessert. I had £1.69, and I spied a chocolate cornflake bun -- sort of like a Rice Krispie treat -- priced at £1.60. Perfect! I chose it and paid the guy at the counter with my miscellaneous coins.

He looked at me with a confused expression and said, "It's £1.20."

I looked back at the sign in the display case, which definitely said £1.60, as did all the signs for the muffins and gingerbread cookies on that shelf. But I couldn't very well argue that I wanted to spend more, could I? So I'm still left with 49p in spare change. In the states I could have thrown it into the bucket of a Salvation Army bell-ringer, but we don't have those here. Back into the change bowl it goes.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Magic and Insanity

Yesterday I went down to Croydon, in far south London. I was not in search of a magical haircut (given my hairline any haircut I receive would have to be REALLY magical) but I was in search of this shopfront. I saw it from the car when my friend Chris and I drove to Hastings in August, and ever since I've meant to photograph it. I'm always struck by overly optimistic shop names, and this fits the bill -- especially given the condition of the shop.

As it turns out, though, it's still possible to get a magical haircut in Croydon. The business appears to have simply moved across the street. Here it is in 2018 on Google Street View.

Now -- assuming it's the same business -- it's in a third shopfront, right next to the second one, and called Magical Barber. Which isn't quite as good a name, in my opinion, but maybe they were trying to point out that they do more than haircuts and your shave or your beard trim would be equally magical.

Having satisfied my interest in the supernatural barbers of Croydon, I walked along the high street and through the downtown shopping area, taking lots of pictures. Then I hopped a bus and rode out to the Bethlem Royal Hospital, where there's a museum exhibit I wanted to see.

Bethlem, from which the word "bedlam" is derived, is a psychiatric hospital that has existed since the 1200s in several different locations in London. As you can imagine, back in the old days, mental health care was pretty primitive and the place had a horrific reputation. Now it's a modern research and patient care facility on a large campus with spreading lawns and its own museum.

One of Bethlem's patients, back in the 1920s, was Louis Wain, a Victorian artist who was famous for his fanciful portraits and drawings of cats. If you're like me, you'll remember Wain because his artwork was often used in textbooks as evidence of the effects of psychosis. I specifically remember reading about this myself, in college -- his cat portraits were shown in a series, from easily identifiable to wildly abstract, with the contention that they got more and more fanciful as Wain's schizophrenia progressed. I found it scary that someone could so lose control of their mind and their perceptions.

Well, Bethlem now has an exhibit of Wain's works, and I wanted to see those kaleidoscopic cats in person. As it turns out, the idea that they depict Wain's psychiatric illness is something of a myth -- or at least conjecture. None of the drawings are dated, so no one knows the order in which Wain produced them, and he was always interested in textile patterns and embroidery and other artistic imagery that might have lent itself to such abstraction. In fact, there's doubt that Wain was psychotic or schizophrenic at all, although he did live the last years of his life in mental hospitals.

Anyway, it was an interesting exhibit, made all the more timely by the imminent release of a movie about Wain's life, called "The Electrical Life of Lewis Wain," with Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy. It comes out around New Year's Day and I'll definitely go.

My bus ride was interesting, too. I sat next to a woman who yammered on her cell phone with a friend about the intimate details of a third person's relationship. "Just because he loves her don't mean he likes her," she said at one point.

I took a few more pictures in the Shirley neighborhood of East Croydon, and then caught a train back to London. Thameslink trains run directly between Croydon and West Hampstead, making it incredibly easy to get down there and back with no faffing around on the tube.

Finally, and speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch, last night Dave and I watched "The Power of the Dog," Jane Campion's new film on Netflix. It's slow-paced, but I enjoyed it and it definitely left me with images and ideas to ponder -- some of them relating to mental illness, incidentally. If you haven't seen it yet, give it a go.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Dinosaur Wellies and a Santa Cake

As you might expect, my random neighborhood photos have lately taken on a holiday theme -- which means I'd better post them now! Above, a Santa cake in the window of a bakery around the corner. We've bought cupcakes at this bakery, because I do try to support the neighborhood establishments, but they've been hit-or-miss.

This pair of dinosaur-themed, kid-sized wellies was sitting outside the front door of a building on West End Lane. They are cute and if I were a kid I'd have loved them, even though they look none too clean. (They're wellies -- surely they clean up pretty easily?)

A discarded, and thus apparently feral, oven-hotplate combo? Again, none too clean.

This was an advertisement in the tube for a company that will bring you groceries on demand. The idea is that rather than raising your tap water, you could have them bring you wine at the last minute. But I was mostly confused about "tapwater" as a single word -- isn't it two words?

Not one but TWO pairs of glittery gold high-heeled shoes in the window of a local charity shop. I guess if you're going to unload donated gold and red shoes, this is a good time of year to do it.

A push-toy, helpfully labeled, discarded by a trash can on a nearby housing estate. My first thought was that Ms. Moon's grandson Levon would get a kick out of it, but it looks like it's seen better days. Maybe someone else adopted it.

A curious sign discarded along my walk to work. Are they apologizing for their own bullying? In what context would someone hold this sign?

And finally, our tiresome anti-vaxx local graffiti writer is at it again -- this was painted along a wall on Finchley Road. The pandemic is still raging, so who says we've done enough? It seems clear that we still have more to do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

British Guiana

You didn't think I'd go all through the winter without showing you some teasels, did you? Here they are, nestled down in their flat rosettes to bide away the colder months before their flower stalks grow next spring. We've got a ton of them out there -- maybe seven or eight?

Well, here it is, Dec. 21, and I have nothing for Dave for Christmas. I've been racking my brains for some ideas, but he just doesn't need anything. He's got a closet full of clothes and I'm not buying any more kitchen gizmos that never get used. Plus, I'm not really inclined to go shopping.

He's been wanting to make a couple of household purchases, so I think we'll do some of those for Christmas and call it a day. Among the ideas are new window blinds, a new stove top, a light fixture for the dining room and a new armoire for the bedroom. Some of these I've been resisting because, after all, we rent this place, and why should we pay to install a stove? But it doesn't look like we're going anywhere, so I may as well give it some thought.

I did, however, buy myself a present yesterday. You may remember that I was an ardent stamp collector as a child. You may also remember that I wrote several months back about the world's rarest stamp, the one-cent magenta from British Guiana, purchased by London stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons earlier this year? I tried to go see it at their shop in August, and it turned out I was too early and it wasn't yet on display. Well, I still haven't seen it and only just learned that its display period ended on Saturday (argh!). But Stanley Gibbons is selling shares in the stamp, and I bought one, so I can now say I am part owner of the world's rarest stamp.

As you can see, I even got to virtually add my initials to the back of the stamp, as its previous owners have traditionally done.

Of course this is all kind of ridiculous but I couldn't resist the opportunity. That stamp is just about the most famous in the world of philately. I have no idea what happens to my "share" if it gets sold again or appreciates (or depreciates) in value. Time will tell. Basically I just bought bragging rights, and hopefully at some point I'll get to see the darn thing.

Oh, and I did clean the heck out of the bathroom yesterday, so that's a job done. I cleaned the walls and I think I can get away without repainting them. The bathroom is another part of the flat that seriously needs an update -- the fixtures are old and when they get dirty it looks downright squalid. After my scrubbing it's slightly better, maybe less like Afghanistan and more like...Bulgaria.

Monday, December 20, 2021


I can't believe I forgot to give you an update yesterday on Olga's nose. Basically, everything is fine. I looked at it the next morning and it looked like it might still be a little swollen, but it was so barely perceptible that I wondered if I'd made the whole thing up. You saw it, though, right? And the vet saw it. So I'm pretty sure it was for real.

Kudos to reader Ellen D. for identifying the mysterious plastic object I posted yesterday that I found in the cemetery (and have found in the past elsewhere). It's a "J-pod," a cartridge used in Juul vaping devices. Apparently they're refillable and often used with cannabis oil. Which, as I told Ellen, explains why someone might have dropped it on the ground rather than reusing it or throwing it in the trash -- they were lost in the stratosphere at the time.

Olga was in a walking mood yesterday morning, so we ventured westward toward Kilburn and through the Maygrove Peace Park. Along Wayne Kirkum Way, which connects the estate behind the park to Mill Lane, we found this graffti:

There's a level of frustration with Boris Johnson's leadership these days, and he's seen as politically vulnerable. "What's it come to," indeed! (I assume "gezza" is like "geezer," which in Britain is a colloquial expression for a man -- not necessarily an old one, unlike in the States, where "geezer" connotes old age.)

On the way home, we passed our neighbor a few houses up the street, unloading two Christmas trees from the back of her car. "Two trees!" I said. "You're going all out!"

She laughed and gestured toward her house. "Well, we may be locked up here for weeks!"

We are indeed facing a possibly intensified lockdown, though not a full one like we experienced in the early days of the pandemic. Apparently Omicron is romping unfettered through the UK population. Yesterday I saw an article that said the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which is the one I had, isn't as effective as Pfizer and Moderna for preventing Omicron infection (though it does help prevent hospitalization). At least I had a Pfizer booster. Maybe that toughens up my armor.

Finally, remember last year when Olga and I came across some hedgehog monitoring cameras in the cemetery? Well, apparently that project determined that Hampstead Heath is a local "hotspot" for hedgehogs, but they're declining elsewhere in London. I've found bits of a dead hedgehog on the Heath but I've never seen a live one. I would think with all the dogs around -- not to mention the occasional python -- they'd have a tough time of it there.

(Top photo: A dark street near our flat on a recent early morning.)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Wreath, a Rat, a Stone, a Thing

When I took Olga to the vet on Friday, just to make things even more interesting, I bought this Christmas wreath at a store near the vet's office. That way I could walk 45 minutes back home trailing a lollygagging elderly dog and carrying a natural wreath on a little wooden pallet. I was certainly happy to hang it up when I got to the house.

Doesn't it look good on our front door, next to those completely useless anti-theft stickers from the Metropolitan Police (which pre-date our tenancy)?

I don't know what it's made of, and none of the tags tell me. They just say it's not for consumption. Which is a shame; I was going to boil it up.

Yesterday, as predicted, was mostly spent lying around the house. I did clean the floors. Housekeeping at this time of year is a challenge because it's so muddy outside, and somehow clots of dirt invariably find their way indoors. I found one in the hall the other day big enough to be a divot from a golf course. I take my shoes off when I come inside and even that doesn't prevent it, probably because it comes in between Olga's toes.

The idea of taking shoes off at the door reminds me of my grandmother, the one who lived in Washington, D.C. She bought new carpet at some point in the late '70s and you would think if she wanted to protect it she'd have had us take our shoes off at the door. But no -- she had a theory that the skin oils from our bare feet would actually make the rug dirtier, so she required us to wear shoes or socks indoors. I have never heard of this before or since.

In the afternoon, Olga and I took a walk to the cemetery. We hadn't been there in weeks so it was good to go back.

Does anybody know what this is? I found it at the cemetery and I often find them lying around town. I thought it was a sort of electrical fuse but Google says it's an LED. That doesn't seem right, but what do I know?

A. Alvarez got a new, rustic-looking headstone.

And we found a little statuette of Ratty, from "The Wind in the Willows," next to someone's marker. He had fallen over so I stood him back upright.

We got back from our walk just as Dave was about to Zoom with his tuba student. He's been working with this guy, who's in his 20s, pro bono because the student is marching with the Madison Scouts, a Drum Corps group, and Dave is a Scouts alumnus. It's a way for Dave to contribute to the strength of the group. Anyway, I always tease Dave because everything he says to this student sounds weirdly sexual; he's always talking about tightening embouchures or positioning the lips and tongue in certain ways. A few weeks ago he said to the guy, "I think there are very few things in a brass player’s life more personal than multiple tonguing." It was so funny I had to write it down. (Fortunately the guy lives thousands of miles away so I'm not worried!)

We wrapped up our day by watching "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," which I always find entertaining. Despite the presence of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, it's an incredibly gay movie. I thought Dave might really like it because he loves "Auntie Mame," and it's similar in its Technicolor extravagance. But he was lukewarm. We then watched "Annihilation" with Natalie Portman (big genre change!) and it was entertaining enough, like a good TV movie, even though the final scene looked like a Martha Graham modern dance number. If you've seen it you'll know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Swollen Sunrise

We had this nice sunrise a couple of mornings ago. Yes! Sun! For a brief moment and only on the horizon, but still, it counts. (Otherwise the heavenly orbs have mostly been hidden by clouds lately.)

Finally, FINALLY, Dave and I are on break. I have no plans for the next few days but to sit around and read. I feel as wrung-out as a wet washcloth. I do have some holiday goals, though -- a heavy-duty cleaning of the bathroom and, if I get really ambitious, possibly repainting.

I also thought I might clear some more dead stuff from the garden, but Dave is arguing that we should leave it to decay and restore the soil (and protect the critters and roots in the ground from freezes). I'm cool with that, so I guess that's the plan. We'll deal with it all in the spring.

We were supposed to go last night to a choral concert in a church with some of Dave's co-workers, but with Covid numbers ramping up they decided not to go and we followed suit. Dave called and surrendered our tickets in case others were trying to get in, but I don't know what the demand is like at the moment. We have another Christmas concert next week at Royal Albert Hall; fortunately there we'll be in a box seat, with some space around us, so hopefully that will go forward as planned.

We've been having some mysterious trouble with Olga in the last few days. Can you see how the left side of her snout (in the photo) is slightly swollen? It's barely noticeable but it's definitely out of balance. I looked at her teeth and gums and couldn't see anything unusual, and she doesn't seem to be in any pain and is eating normally -- even chewy treats! But in an abundance of caution I took her to the vet last night. (THAT turned out to be an odyssey, because our usual vet, around the corner from our flat, had no available appointments until next week -- so I had to walk Olga over to the Hampstead branch of their office, and as Olga is a leisurely walker these days it took 45 minutes to get there.)

The vet said he couldn't see anything unusual either, so his theory is that it's just temporary and we should go back if it isn't gone by the middle of next week. The waiting game!

I had some interesting comment spam this morning -- it's not just Ratana anymore. Now it's someone posting LOOOOOOONG messages wanting to sell antiquated sleeping pills like Nembutal. (Isn't that what Marilyn Monroe overdosed on?) Anyway, in deleting them, I discovered a handful of comments from real commenters tucked into my Blogger spam folder, going back several months. I never check that spam folder, but I guess I should! Sorry if I ignored your comments until now!

Friday, December 17, 2021

Neon Trees

Well, yesterday turned out to be sheer madness -- a steady stream of middle school classes coming in to the library to check out books for the holidays. I didn't have time to do anything but cope with the crowds -- no newspapers, no blog reading. How dare they make me work at work?!

Today, however, is just a half day so it should be more manageable. After noon I'll be a free agent for the next three weeks.

Some of you voiced surprise that our library allows talking. I think the days of strictly enforced library silence are over. There's a recognition now that libraries should be more friendly, active spaces -- more like community centers. That's certainly true of school libraries, and I think it's fine as long as there are some silent spaces offered. As I mentioned, we do have separate rooms for quiet and silent study.

Above is the entrance to the O2 shopping centre, near our flat. It's basically a mall with a movie theatre, a food court, some floundering shops and a big Sainsbury's grocery store. The whole thing is supposed to be torn down sometime in the not-too-distant-future for redevelopment, but they're still working out the plans. Meanwhile, I like its cheery neon Christmas vibe! (Disclaimer: I don't know whether those trees are real neon, or just neon-looking, but either way they work for me.)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Yes You Can

I came across this bizarre shopfront in London Bridge train station. Eye-catching colors, but activist teddy bears in tropical prints? With donuts?

We're having kind of a crazy week at work. It's a special daily schedule because the high schoolers are (in theory) taking final exams at the end of the term. But it seems like many teachers aren't giving exams, so the end result is a lot of kids wandering aimlessly around the building for several hours. The library has been packed with students waiting for something to happen. They're all chatting and hanging out and the noise levels have been setting my teeth on edge. We're not "shushers" in our library, unless someone's doing something really out of hand, so I don't try to keep them quiet. I just grin and bear it. Just two more days until break! (And tomorrow is a half-day -- woo hoo!)

1. Still waiting patiently
2. I wholeheartedly agree
3. Reputational privilege!
4. Proven inaccurate almost immediately after eating my fortune cookie