Wednesday, August 31, 2022


Here's another photo from my walk on Saturday. This really shows the gritty urban reality of certain stretches of the Grand Union Canal, with the graffiti, the mysterious pile of garbage by the bench (no idea why that's there) and the train running over the bridge.

I have to be at work early this morning because we're closing early this afternoon -- so my hours are shifting. Something about a meeting in the library space. Yesterday was busy as all get-out, with new students being introduced to the library, and all the sixth graders going on a scavenger hunt that required them to run up to my desk in groups of four or five and yell "WHO WORKS HERE?!" at the TOP OF THEIR LUNGS. (They were supposed to list the librarians' names on their scavenger hunt form.) I also finally got departed patrons deleted from the Lower School system, and I've been working on getting back copies of the student newspapers bound into books for our archives, so I was e-mailing back and forth with a bindery in Southwark.

On the home front, I had to schedule our annual gas safety inspection, and I was e-mailing our landlord to ask about tree-trimming in the back garden. We have a green light to go forward with that; now I've got to call a tree service and have them come and give us an estimate.

Dave, meanwhile, was getting a PET scan to help determine the cause of his hand tremors. He said the experience was pretty interesting; apparently it involves being injected with radioactive glucose (I think?) from a lead-covered syringe and then lying in a full-body scanner. I asked whether Olga and I could safely sleep next to him -- I remember when my cat got a radioactive iodine treatment they told me not to sleep with her for a few weeks, a request I ignored -- but Dave assured me it wasn't a problem. (Famous last words.)

So, yeah, a little bit of activity around here.

This is Olga's newest trick -- lying on top of plants in the flower bed. That's a phlox right under her back. I have no idea why she's started this but suddenly she thinks this spot is the best place in the world to be.

I will leave you with some quintessentially 21st-century food for thought. Do you know those Google ads that appear on web sites, and say things like "Click now to see this video before it's banned" with a slightly provocative picture, or "Do this secret thing to improve your hearing -- they hide this from you"? It's called "clickbait":

Here are four common examples: Doctors are stunned by mysterious weight-loss vegetable (often with a picture of some food that's not a vegetable, or in this case, run-of-the-mill lemonade); Beautiful twins, then and now, ALWAYS with girl twins who look like they've been created by CGI; Puppies that allegedly turn out not to be dogs; Dangerous animals with a photo of some unidentifiable thing that may or may not be an animal. There's also the man who saves the bear cubs and mama bear does an amazing thing, or the most dangerous bridges in the world, or five places people die taking selfies, blah blah blah.

Anyway, I never click these ads, but I'm intrigued by the way they're constructed to draw us in. Evidently everyone's looking for easy weight loss (nothing new there) and we're all seduced by peril. We want to see "forbidden" videos that might be racy and we believe that experts (the famous "they") hide valuable knowledge from us. Sex, beauty, risk -- the marketer's trifecta.

They're like miniature experiments in psychology. Still, don't click them. They'll just stack your computer with useless cookies, pop-up ads and malware. Does everyone else see these same ads, or am I alone in getting weight-loss vegetables and dogs-that-aren't?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gin, Chips and a Dirty Mystery

Olga surprised me on our walk yesterday morning by going after a young starling. She was sniffing around intently underneath a car parked on the street, and I figured a squirrel or cat was probably under there, but then she lunged and a small bird rolled out. I held her back as it wobbled to its feet and made a few flopping attempts to fly, and I was afraid she'd injured it. But then it seemed to come to its senses and fluttered up into a nearby tree. It may have PTSD but I think it will recover.

I spent the morning on minor household tasks. For example, I potted a buddleia that had sprouted in an inopportune place next to our front steps. If it survives we'll replant it in a better spot.

I also gathered up a mound of soil that appeared next to our fence some time in the spring. This is a weird story: We thought a fox raked it up while digging a hole, but even after the hole had been refilled there was a lot of surplus soil, and it wasn't of the clayey type that predominates in our garden. I think what actually happened, and I'm surprised it took me so long to realize this, is that Mrs. Kravitz (or one of her gardeners) dumped a bucketload of soil onto our side of the fence. I think it came out of her raised bed where her compost bin used to be, and the foxes then dug into it because they smelled food compost and/or rodents. Am I paranoid? Possibly.

Anyway, I scraped all that extra soil into a garden trug -- completely filled it! -- and put it in the shed. I have no idea what we'll do with it. Maybe when winter comes and everything dies back we can spread it elsewhere in the garden, more evenly.

Then I took Olga to Hampstead Heath.

Exactly one year ago, I took her photo on the far shore of this same pond, with this bridge in the background. Here's the reverse view.

We had a good walk and she got a chance to splash around in the dog-swimming pond (which is not the pond above). Just a quick wade, really, but enough to get her belly wet, which she always likes.

On the walk home, Olga dove into a shrub and I thought, "Oh no! More baby birds!" But then a cat emerged on top of that brick column, and stared at her defiantly (and disdainfully). I'm not sure Olga ever saw the cat. I think the leaves were in the way.

I found some interesting china chips on the Heath. It's been a long time since we've walked anywhere I've been able to find them, so that was a fun blast from the past. I love those black-and-white ones, which were right next to each other and obviously go together. They're pretty thick, so I think they're from a tile rather than a piece of dinnerware.

In the evening I made my Craft Gin Club cocktail, the name of which I forget but it includes orange juice, gin and a simple syrup. I added a bit of Campari because that also came in the Craft Gin Club box and the picture with the accompanying recipe seemed to suggest it (though the recipe never mentioned it). For once, I liked the cocktail of the month!

Finally, because you asked, this is what a Turkish summer blanket looks like. Ironically, the brand is "English Home." Go figure!

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Green, Green Grass of Home

Look how well our grass has come back after just a few days of rain! Not only did it turn green again, it began growing like crazy. I had to get out the lawn mower yesterday for the first time since the beginning of July.

Above is the "before" picture...

...and here's the "after."

There are still some patchy brown areas, but they'll recover. I'm not a fanatic about the lawn anyway.

I caught up with the Russians yesterday. Mrs. Russia did indeed bring me a present for watering their plants -- a Turkish summer blanket. (Apparently they've mostly been in Turkey this whole time, not Russia, although Mrs. Russia did go to the homeland briefly.) Within hours they were working on yet another home improvement project, pulling up the decking on their terrace, and they're also going to have some people come and fix the roof and replace windows in their upstairs flat, which is going to necessitate the construction of another scaffold on our patio. Things sure were peaceful while they were gone.

I finally finished "The Wych Elm" yesterday. I thought it was good -- one of Tana French's better books -- but it did go on too long. It's more than 500 pages, and by the time I got to the end I was practically gasping from the exertion.

Has anyone noticed that commenting problems with Blogger seem to have improved? For the last several days I've had no legitimate comments going into my spam folder. I wonder if I've just been on a lucky streak or if Blogger somehow sorted out that problem.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Back to Wormwood

Olga and I were yearning for a change of pace so we went back to Wormwood Scrubs for our walk yesterday. We hadn't been there in almost a year! It's a long walk -- given her age, probably too long -- but she did fine. She chose the speed and we plodded along, one foot in front of the others.

As usual, we walked along the Grand Union Canal first. Olga was intrigued by these swans, who had two cygnets in tow (just out of the frame). I was nervous enough to tell her "No!" even though she's not likely to plunge into the water and go after them. Even in her youth she never did that. But a swan can mess you up, so I'm cautious around them.

We found some rather provocative graffiti. I'm deducing that the artist, although capable of rendering some cartoonish semblance of a human breast, hasn't yet figured out how to paint eyes.

Never mind the grammar. It's a nice sentiment.

Turning off the canal, we walked to the entrance of the Scrubs. Wormwood Scrubs is known to many as a prison, and there is indeed a prison adjacent to the park that bears the same name. It's also next to the Old Oak Common rail yards, which have undergone vast expansion in recent years as part of the HS2 project to improve rail access to northern England.

You may remember part of the Scrubs was torn up for some utility work related to that rail yard expansion, and that project is still going on. A chunk of the area where we used to walk is still walled off and filled with construction equipment.

But there are several woodsy copses and some remaining forest, good for walking and squirrel-chasing. (Or squirrel-barking, really. There's less chasing going on these days.)

And the big grassy expanse of the Scrubs playing fields is still ideal for stretching out and relaxing.

Here's the view from where we lay: From left to right, prominent buildings include Trellick Tower; the St. Charles Hospital in North Kensington; the BT (or Post Office) Tower in Fitzrovia; some residential buildings in Westbourne Green and, beyond that, Centre Point near Tottenham Court Road; 22 Bishopsgate, a huge new building way off in the City;  the tippy-top of the "Walkie-Talkie," or Fenchurch Building; several more nondescript structures; and finally, The Shard.

Olga seized the opportunity to roll in the grass on such a perfect summer day. (That brown building behind her is a new medical research building at Hammersmith Hospital, which is right next to the prison.)

Anyway, it was a good walk -- or "trudge," really -- but it's hard not to feel a bit bittersweet about it. I strongly suspect it's the last time we'll go to Wormwood Scrubs. It's a pretty arduous outing for a canine lady of advanced age. She's still in bed as I write this!

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Not a Dead Cat

I often pass this cat on my walk home from work, lying out in roughly the same place in its front garden, in the sun. The first time I saw it I was afraid it was dead -- but no, it's just snoozing.

More getting-things-ready work in the library yesterday. We put together another display, pulled a couple of carts of books for some classes, re-shelved, had a librarian meeting, and attended an "intercultural competency" training session, among other things. It was a pretty full day, and I didn't get to delete departed Lower School patrons as I'd planned.

Oh, speaking of deleting patrons, some of you asked why I couldn't just delete EVERYONE and let the system repopulate with the people who are still here. The "nuclear option," you might call it. The problem is -- and Ellen D. nailed it in the comments -- that would delete everyone's checkout record too. When the system repopulates it won't reconnect each person with their personal checkout history. So we'd lose all the data about which books have been checked out by whom. (It's sometimes useful to see who's read a certain book or what a patron's reading habits are like, in order to make better recommendations.)

And now we're off on a three-day weekend! Monday is a bank holiday and we have no plans. Probably just more walking the dog. (Her dog-walker gets that day off too.)

Friday, August 26, 2022

Plush Animal Update

Several readers commented on the creepiness of the stuffed pink panda I found on the sidewalk and posted to the blog a few days ago. (The consensus seems to be that it was a dog toy.) I decided to run the photo through Waterlogue, an app that turns any picture into a watercolor painting. It's still creepy, but perhaps more artfully so.

Meanwhile, I was encouraged while walking on the high street with Olga to see this:

This is another stuffed animal from that same post, now given a prominent spot in the window of the charity shop where we last saw it abandoned in a plastic bag. (No word on what happened to its identical twin.) It's £8.50, in case you're interested.

For no reason at all this morning, I woke up wondering if Shirley Jones was still alive. (Well, my train of thought was more complicated than that. I woke up singing a Leo Sayer song that was featured in a TV show I watched last night, which made me think of the '70s, which made me think of Shaun Cassidy, which made me think of Shirley Jones.) Anyway, in case you're also wondering now, she is indeed still alive -- she's 88. Shaun Cassidy, her son, is 63.

There's your trivia for the day.

I spent most of yesterday removing departed patrons from our library computer system -- families that moved away, kids that graduated. For some reason, our system automatically imports new patrons, but the old ones have to be manually removed. It's a long, slow process because I have to look up each person, verify that they have, in fact, departed, and if they have no remaining siblings, also take out their parents (who automatically get library accounts along with their kids). It took me a couple of hours but it's sort of fun. It's the kind of work I can bury myself in and time seems to fly.

And fortunately, it's foolproof. If I accidentally delete someone who's still here, the system adds them back again when it updates against our enrollment records.

I still have to do the same for the Lower School, which has a separate library, so that will be my task for today. Fun times!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Old Zinnias

The zinnias in our garden have reached that tattered, slightly moth-eaten stage, but their colors have grown richer and more interesting. A single flower can hold a spectrum of shades. It's another sign that we're slowly sliding into autumn.

It's raining right now, more steadily and heavily than I expected given the forecasts. It's amazing how much of a difference that single heavy rain last week made. Watering the dry earth evenly, as opposed to just spot-watering with a hose (which is now temporarily illegal), gives all the plants such a boost. So I'm glad we're getting more rain.

This also means I won't have to walk the dog. There's no way she'll go out in this!

My bites from the insidious flower bugs are doing much better. I think yesterday was the first day I wasn't conscious of itching. Instead I was conscious of freezing -- the air conditioning in the library was modified over the summer and now it's almost TOO effective. And apparently there's some snafu where the maintenance folks aren't able to adjust the thermostat -- they're working on that now.

Some of you said you wouldn't mind hearing about the work stuff that's occupying my mind at the moment, but trust me -- there are no good stories yet. Not until the kids show up. Right now it's all about putting things in order, building displays, editing our policy manual and other administrative stuff. BO-ring.

Mrs. Kravitz has been outside with a gardener -- sometimes a couple of gardeners -- issuing orders about trimming plants and moving bushes and god knows what else. Yesterday she borrowed three yard waste bags so she could throw out all the stuff she's clearing from her garden. I don't know what's possessed her, especially at this time of year and in these generally dry conditions. We've pretty much let the garden go gently and naturally on its downward seasonal spiral.

We do need to get some tree-trimmers to come and cut back the overhanging branches of the Philadelphus and hazel and to thin out the canopy of the walnut. I suppose I should get on that.

Although the Russians' teenage son is allegedly living upstairs, and watering their terrace plants, I never see that kid. I very occasionally hear him going up or down the stairs, but that's all. I suspect he lives on the top floor with the blinds drawn and plays video games all day. I'm not sure what he eats. Presumably his parents are in touch with him. They're coming back tomorrow and their plants are still alive, so my sense of responsibility is fulfilled.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

In the Pink

I had to cut this pink dahlia off the plant because the stem was so long it was bending down and sweeping the grass. Our hosepipe ban starts today, so from now on no watering with a garden hose. Light rain is forecast for tomorrow night, but otherwise there's no rain expected for the rest of this month. It's not as hot and dry as it was, though, so at least what moisture we do have is sticking around longer.

I really have nothing much to say today. My mind is full of work-related stuff and no one wants to hear about that!

Dave and I finally got a chance to watch the first episode of "Pistol," Danny Boyle's miniseries about the Sex Pistols, last night. You may remember I saw it being filmed on a little side street in St. John's Wood last year. I was mainly interested to see how that strip of storefronts that they turned into the King's Road of the 1970s would appear, and here are some screenshots:

That pink shop with the big "SEX" sign, a stand-in for Vivienne Westwood's boutique, wasn't there when I stumbled across the set. But the other shopfronts and that yellow awning are all visible in my photos, taken from the intersection at the end of the street where the red bus is visible. There are some blooming trees on the housing estate across the street, and it's cool how they worked them into the shot above. In real life those shopfronts are all empty -- or offices -- and painted a bland white.

The show seems interesting, though I am not at all a Sex Pistols fan. I'm sure we'll watch the rest of it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Demise of the Plush Animals

Today we have some more random pictures from my neighborhood wandering. First, remember the person who put the anti-Boris posters in their windows? Well, now that Boris is on his way out, they've made them more generally anti-Tory.

The frightening carcass of a pink panda, found on my way to work.

The apple tree down the street has dropped tons of fruit. I don't know why no one picks these apples or does anything with them. It's too late now; the whole driveway smells like a cider house.

I took this picture for our chronicler of street fashion on the Costa del Sol, Mitchell. This person was walking toward me and she seemed to be wearing a very Mitchellian mixture of patterns.

How do you make sure no one steals your parking place? Why, put a bidet in it, of course! When I took this photo, the guy in the background asked me what I was doing. (A pet peeve of mine, but never mind.) I told him I just found the scene amusing. "You have a strange sense of humor," he said.

I found this little cluster of dried flowers lying on the sidewalk. I have a phobia about dried flowers in the house -- I consider them dust magnets -- so I didn't bring them home, but I tucked them into a bracket on this light pole for a little neighborhood decoration.

Some toys outside a charity shop on the high street. Not one but two gigantic stuffed dogs! I can't believe we're still burning up the planet's energy and resources, and further warming the atmosphere, in order to churn out this kind of useless junk.

Finally, I noticed that the bathing beauty has a stylish new summertime bathing cap. Too bad about that fly on her face, but she's too busy trying to claw her way out of all that ivy to mind.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Blooming and Fruiting

I basically did a whole lot of nothing yesterday -- just sat out on the garden bench reading Tana French's mystery novel "The Wych Elm," which I am liking so far. (I'm about halfway through.) It was a good way to spend the last day before our first full week of school. Dave and I are both working as of today, so now summer really IS over. And the Japanese anemones, which always bloom just as we return to school, are right on time.

Someone asked how our sunflower is doing. Here's what it looks like. It's hard to photograph, being so tall and yet in a relatively narrow part of the patio at the side of the house. I kind of have to shoot straight up. You can see the Russians' plants in the background, the ones on their terrace that I had to maintain.

Funnily enough, there's also a sunflower growing in one of those pots. A bird must have dropped a seed. I told Mrs. Russia about it via e-mail so she won't be tempted to pull it up when she gets back in four or five days. It's not as far along as ours but if she leaves it alone they'll have a nice flower.

Anyway, I planted several sunflower seeds in our garden in late spring but the others never grew much -- they're still tiny and spindly. I'm glad at least one of them got to blooming size.

Finally, here's a garden surprise. Remember that mysterious tree we relocated a couple of years ago? It was a baby sprig when I found it in a discarded pot and planted it in the garden, and then we moved it when we realized it was going to get much bigger. Well, now it IS much bigger -- probably 12 feet tall or so -- and this year it produced fruit! We knew it was a Prunus (plum tree) of some kind, but I thought it was purely ornamental, so the appearance of several miniature plums the size of ping-pong balls was a bonus. They taste really good, too!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Paparazzi in the Park

It's been an interesting several days around here. Although we had tons of rain the other day and the ground, for the most part, is still damp, we have a "hosepipe ban" kicking in on the 24th. That means no watering gardens or washing cars with garden hoses. We can still water, but we have to lug the water through the garden in a watering can. Supposedly this greatly reduces water use -- I assume a lot of people just let some of their plants go under those kinds of restrictions.

We've also had more transit strikes. The tube and trains were closed on Friday and I heard many services were down on Saturday as well. The fun never ends!

Despite all that, I managed to get some stuff done. I went to the dentist on Thursday for a second cleaning, at the hygienist's urging. She seems happy with my brushing now that I'm using her recommended electric toothbrush. I don't mind it so much now that I'm getting used to it, but it's still very...foamy.

Yesterday I did a bunch of laundry and then took the poor, neglected dog on a long walk to Hampstead Heath.

We hadn't been to the West Heath in ages, and Olga nibbled grass and barked at squirrels and even chased one or two (a less frequent event these days). She found rainwater accumulated in a natural cup at the base of this tree and stopped for a drink.

While walking through the woods we heard distant applause, and then what sounded like a bunch of people singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" out loud. Was it a Beatles sing-along? I couldn't check it out because chasing it down with my slow-moving dog in tow seemed like too much of a task, but if Sir Paul was there and I missed it I'll be annoyed.

We went to the cafe at Golders Hill Park for a coffee and a rest. This is a good way to break up the walk, and it gives Miss Olga a chance to be fawned over by complete strangers. When I was in the cafe buying my coffee I looked out to see her surrounded by a gaggle of young women, all taking photos with their phones. I suppose she's on someone's Instagram now.

On the way back we walked through the stumpery, with its profusion of squirrels, and past the zoo and the deer enclosure, where Olga found herself face-to-face with a fairly nonchalant occupant. I don't think she's ever seen a deer so close. She probably wondered what the heck it was.

Last night we finally finished the excellent "Night Sky" on Amazon. I really liked it, and it came to a better resolution than I was expecting. When I heard it had been cancelled I was afraid it was going to end on a cliffhanger and it didn't, really, though there were openings for a second season if the producers so desired. We also finished Ewan MacGregor's "Obi-Wan Kenobi" on Disney+, and it was OK, but many of these new "Star Wars" shows seem really geared to kids. Earlier this week we finished the first season of "Only Murders in the Building," and now it's on to Season 2!

(Top photo: A shopfront on my walk home from work. It's colorful but kind of a mess. I'm not sure that place is even open.)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Rescued Slides, Part 2

Here's the second installment of my rescued slides.

This first image has no date. I'd guess early to mid-'70s? The women are drinking cans of Younger's Tartan Special Ale, which is from Edinburgh. Maybe that's a clue about the location -- which doesn't look very comfortable, by the way.

October 1985 -- I did a reverse image search on this photo and learned it's the old Porth Wen Brickworks on Anglesey in Wales.

No date -- It looks miserable, doesn't it?!

October 1969 -- This is recognizable right away as Windsor Castle. It didn't look a whole lot different the last time I was there. (Granted, even that was quite a while ago -- back in 2003!)

October 1969 -- This guy has a kind of Peter Lawford, brat-pack vibe. He looks like he's off to have another martini and play golf.

October 1972 -- Here's our mystery woman again, striking a pose in her cat-eye sunglasses. This was taken somewhere in Britain, given the red phone box at lower left, but I have no idea where.

June 1972 -- And here she is again! This was a pretty creative way to take this photo, leaving the indoors in silhouette. For some reason, I think this was taken in Cyprus. Maybe there was a note on one of the slides or slide boxes, I can't remember now.

June 1972 -- Another photo from the same trip, and perhaps my favorite one of all. She seems so relaxed, really basking in that Mediterranean warmth.

My plan is to put all the scanned slides on Flickr. When I do I'll link to the set in case you'd like to see the rest.