Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Rebellion of the Pipes

I am starting to get a little stir-crazy sitting around this house. I considered walking the Thames Path yesterday and I wound up not going because rain was expected -- but as it turned out the rain was light and I should have just done it. So it goes.

Instead I took Olga for a walk through the neighborhood. We walked a long loop through the Maygrove Peace Park and back along Mill Lane and West End Green (above). You can see our two neighborhood Christmas trees in that photo -- one in the park and one just beyond it on the high street. Also, una paloma blanca!

Here's Olga trudging through that weird cage that surrounds the path known as Wayne Kirkum Way along the railroad tracks. I don't know whether the cage is meant to protect pedestrians from passing trains or vice versa. Probably both. It's like descending into Dante's Inferno in a giant shopping cart.

We are experiencing more domestic drama. Yesterday, very suddenly, our kitchen sink stopped draining. It worked fine when I made coffee in the morning, but around 11 a.m. I found it completely plugged. As an experiment I ran a load of laundry to see if the washing machine is also affected and yes, it is, as I learned when water poured onto the kitchen floor through the backed-up drainpipe. That means the dishwasher won't drain either.

So after cleaning all that up, I called British Gas, because our landlords have BG home protection coverage which includes the drains. They were unable to book a repair and kept saying they'd call me back. They said this multiple times and never did. Meanwhile we tried a plunger and liquid drain-opener with no luck. Finally, in the evening, I called our management company's emergency repair number and a plumber came out at 10 p.m. and basically said all he could do is submit a quote to our property managers because it wasn't technically an emergency. Being unable to use the kitchen sink feels like an emergency to me, but apparently their bar is set pretty high (i.e. we were not dying).

I'm sure we're going to have to live with this problem through New Year's Day, at least. I blame the Russians and their renovations. They probably poured plaster dust or God knows what into the drain yesterday morning and that clogged it up. Why else would it happen so suddenly? I asked Mrs. Russia yesterday evening but of course she played the wide-eyed innocent.


On a brighter note, this post concludes my eighth consecutive year of blogging every single day -- and for three years before that, from 2012-2014, almost every day. I'm pretty happy with that record, though I'm sure some of you think, "Geez, what's he whining about NOW?!"

I will admit I have been whiny of late. Sorry about that. It's been a challenging month, first with being sick and then with all these problems in the flat. I am definitely ready for a fresh start.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Yum Yum Tree

Another rare sunny day yesterday. I investigated the possibility of getting tickets to the elevator up the smokestack of the Battersea Power Station, but none were available. Apparently we need to plan farther ahead than that. So instead, we just walked the dog.

We went to the cemetery, where she ran around with great enthusiasm, having been mostly shut up indoors during our recent rainy spell.

Another dog-owner, there with some little old feeble Dachshund-ish thing, asked if Olga was friendly. "Usually," I said, and she retorted, "Usually?! That's not what I want to hear." The truth is, Olga does sometimes snarl at other dogs, just as any dog will get into a temporary, territorial spat. Just yesterday morning, in fact, she encountered a young staffy named Daisy who lives across the street, and Daisy jumped on her in a puppyish way, and Olga responded by biting down on her snout -- not hard enough to break any skin, but enough to serve as a reprimand from an older dog to a younger one. The owner didn't mind and we laughed about it.

So, hey, I was trying to be truthful.

Anyway, Olga wasn't interested in the Dachshund-ish thing nor vice versa, so the question was moot. She was too busy chasing her tennis ball and rolling around in the muddy grass.

"Look at me, with mud on my face and possibly other dogs' poo on my flanks! I'm a happy dog!"

(A happy dog in need of a bath, which she got when we returned home.)

The Christmas tree recycling pen at Fortune Green has been set up again, and already has some business. By the end of next week it will be piled high. Someone discarded a little tree in the middle of our street yesterday morning -- I pulled it to the curb and may eventually walk it down to the recycling station. Honestly, why don't people just do the right thing?

I also raked the leaves in the garden, tidied up the freeze damage on our banana tree, and did some other light trimming and pruning. And I hooked up our new DVD player, which is indeed a tiny thing that seems like just what we need. Now if I want to watch "Monster" (unlikely), I can!

Last night's movie was "Under the Yum Yum Tree" from 1963, with Jack Lemmon, Edie Adams, Imogene Coca, Paul Lynde, Dean Jones and Carol Lynley, among others. It's another film I've been curious about for years, since I like many of the actors involved, but I found it tedious overall. Two hours of my life I'll never get back! I rented it straight from YouTube, which I'd never done before.

We just had an early-morning visit from a plumber to assess the leak in our hallway. He's talking about possibly replacing our entire shower. That should be fun.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Sorting Out the DVDs

This was one of our few moments of sunshine over the past several days. I think that's why the golden afternoon light and the shadows caught my eye -- it was a rare sight! Our forecast is for rain, rain and more rain right into mid-January.

Dave and I went to work on the cabinet in the dining room that's been damaged by the leak from upstairs. We emptied it out, and almost everything was fine, except some paperwork stored on the bottom shelf (next to the floor) that felt slightly damp. We took the opportunity to go through all the CDs and DVDs and some other stuff, and wound up with four bags to give to charity. I carried it all down to Oxfam.

Dave was reluctant to get rid of all the DVDs, though, so we still have quite a few. Every time I showed him one he'd say, "Oh, that's a great movie!" Well, yeah, but why do we need a DVD of it? Can't we just stream "Monster" or "Swordfish" if we want to watch it?

Apparently not.

You may remember that we don't currently have a device to play DVDs. We were playing them on one of my old laptop computers, but this computer (which I bought when we lived in New Jersey almost 12 years ago) has suddenly decided of its own accord that I must enter a password to access it. I never set the password, though, so how to get past the log-in screen that now appears when the machine is turned on is a complete mystery. I took it to a computer repair shop yesterday and the guy insisted I must have set the password and forgotten. I told him, trust me, it's never required one before.

He offered to erase the whole system and re-install it, and said that might work. If it did, he said he'd charge me £50. But I decided instead to just buy a dedicated DVD player on Amazon. We could get a brand new one for about £35. I know, I know, this is not a particularly eco-friendly solution but I really think that old computer is on its last legs anyway.

Now I have to figure out how to safely dispose of the computer. The repair guy said he'd take it for free but that makes me nervous -- I'm sure it still has traces of data on it. I think I may take it to school and have them dispose of it. I'm sure they have a data-secure method for getting rid of old machines.

So, all of this is a long way of saying we are making progress on cleaning things out around here.

One of our orchids, our Cambria hybrid known as Nelly Isler Red Velvet, has decided to bloom once again. It seems a strange time of year for an orchid to bloom, but who am I to question why? It last bloomed a little more than a year ago.

Last night I watched a movie called "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," from 1969. I have been curious about this film for ages -- it has a cast of thousands including Suzanne Pleshette, Norman Fell, Peggy Cass, Mildred Natwick, the folk singer Donovan and even Luke Halpin from "Flipper." I've never been able to find it in the past, but now (like everything else) it's on YouTube. It's a sort of humorous look at the early days of American package tourism to continental Europe. Many of the so-called "stars" barely have any lines, and it's not deep or meaningful by any means, but it's diverting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

iPhone Photos Holiday Edition

Time for another quick look at the random photos that have been accumulating in my iPhone over the past couple of weeks!

First, an estate agent's shop on the high street, festively painted for Christmas.

A defaced advertisement on my walk to work. Isn't it funny that for time immemorial, people have been graffitiing mustaches onto faces? Why do we think that's funny? To say nothing of black eyes, or scars.

V. V. Rouleaux, a craft and trimmings shop in Marylebone that I've blogged a few times before, is once again decked out in festive ribbons.

Remember that house on the next street over that's been completely gutted? Well, now enough of the roof has been taken off that they've had to build a gigantic shed over the whole structure to protect the interior. I bet the neighbors love this. And I thought the Russians were bad! 

And remember the neighborhood patio with the drought-parched plants (which then became very weedy once the rains returned)? Well, they've almost all been removed. In fact that whole apartment has been cleaned out and appears empty. Not sure why those last two pots were left behind.

One of the stranger signs I've come across. Why would someone "tape" a car?!

Names stuck to a signpost in Hampstead. When I Google them individually I get results but not when I combine their names. Maybe they attended an event in Hampstead and disposed of their name tags afterwards?

Finally, this is me on the couch yesterday with Olga. Can you see how she's buried her head in the space beneath my knees? She had her own little cave.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


Someone asked a day or two ago how I'm feeling. My fever is entirely gone, thank goodness. I still cough a bit and have some sinus congestion, but I feel like my energy levels are pretty much normal. I cleaned the house yesterday morning and then took Olga on a walk to Hampstead Heath.

We got a late start -- about 2 p.m., I think, and the sun sets before 4 p.m. -- and Olga moves more slowly these days, so on the way I texted Dave and told him not to panic if we weren't home by dark. And realized that my phone battery was only at one percent. Always prepared, just like a Boy Scout!

N marks the spot?

We wandered through the woods of the West Health and then went to Golders Hill Park to check out the squirrels at the stumpery. We also visited...

...the "Golders Hill mob," the park's collection of Bennett's wallabies. Olga just stared and stared as if she couldn't believe her eyes. The wallabies stared back. They were behind a double chain-link fence so there was no actual contact.

Then we began the slow walk home, and as it turned out we got back at dusk. So the timing was perfect.

I am seriously thinking I might cancel The New Yorker. Usually they're impossible to keep up with, which is a nightmare in itself, but now I have the opposite problem -- they've basically stopped coming at all. I haven't received any magazines since mid-November. I think this might have something to do with the postal strikes. (Who knows what other mail we're not receiving!) It underscores the silliness of mailing a piece of paper across the ocean every week. I should be getting all this stuff online, and I can get it through my library. So, yeah, I think I'm pulling the plug.

Speaking of antiquated media, I also need to decide what to do with our DVD and CD collections (which are housed in the cabinet we have to dismantle because of the leak in the dining room). I only have a handful of CDs, but Dave has a bagful, and we haven't played any of them in years. We don't even have anything to play them on. Likewise the DVDs -- our DVD player died when my old computer went on the fritz. We could buy an inexpensive portable player for not much money, or maybe we should just toss them all and stream what we want. I'm leaning toward the latter solution.

Monday, December 26, 2022


Here's a picture from my walk along the Thames a few weeks ago. This statue, "Taxi!" by J. Seward Johnson, stands on John Carpenter Street near Blackfriars. As Londonist put it in a headline, "This bloke's been trying to hail a taxi since 2014!" Apparently he used to stand on a street corner on Park Avenue in New York, where he was equally unsuccessful at catching a ride. Maybe the barricades are meant to keep him from diving into traffic in desperation.

Yesterday was possibly the quietest Christmas of my entire life thus far. This is not a bad thing! We did no presents. We didn't go anywhere. We didn't listen to Christmas music or watch Christmas TV (well, we watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on Christmas Eve, but nothing yesterday). Instead Dave dabbled in schoolwork and I read, and we agreed last night it was an ideal holiday.

We did Skype with Dave's parents and one of his sisters, who for some reason we could hear but not see. And Dave made coq au vin for dinner, so we had a special but not ridiculously complicated Christmas meal.

We have also finalized our plans for Florida in February -- we reserved airline tickets using the credits from our cancelled trip. Let's try this again!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Leaks Present and Christmases Past

Yesterday I added an ornament to our Christmas avocado -- a festive alligator-in-drag that I bought several years ago in Soho. This ornament always amuses me so it felt good to dig it out and put it on display.

In the process, though, I discovered another water leak that has caused damage in our flat. It's above the storage cabinets in the dining room (which is where we keep the Christmas decorations) and this time it's definitely from upstairs. I took pictures of the unsightly brown patch and alerted the Russians, who located the source -- an old radiator pipe that had once been sealed off but had somehow begun dripping again. Mr. Russia put a small basin beneath the pipe to catch any drips and told me he'd have his plumber seal it off. He also offered to paint the affected area in the dining room.

So now we have two leaks -- one in the hall of uncertain origin, and another in the dining room from upstairs.

Dave and I have sent all this info to our landlords, with photos. I think they're going to go back to the Russians to talk about how to handle the situation. I'm glad we don't have to wrangle with any of that, though of course we'll have to live through whatever remediation is needed.

Dave is thinking more and more that we should simply move when our lease is up next summer. This flat does need some fairly substantial work, especially in the bathroom and kitchen, and I think he'd like to start fresh. I'm concerned about trading one set of problems for another, though -- at least here we know what we're dealing with. And I'd hate to leave our garden.

Anyway, none of that is very Christmasy so we'll leave that debate for another time.

Since I'm thinking about my family at this time of year, here are a couple of my favorite old Christmas photos. First, my stepmother with our bulldog Meatball, back in 1979 or so. Meatball was a character -- such a ham. This is at my dad's house in Florida, where my stepmother still lives.

And here are me (R) and my brother, in Maryland in 1977. We're visiting my grandmother's next-door neighbor, a nice old lady named Mrs. Daniels. She had a Polaroid instant camera and took this photo after giving us those boxes, which turned out to contain toy trucks from Hess oil. We loved those Hess trucks, which as I recall had headlights that lit up. Mrs. Daniels was always super-nice to us and we visited her whenever we went to see our grandmother, a couple of times a year. Unlike Grandmother, who was rather austere, Mrs. Daniels was very crafty and at Christmas her house was full of handmade or sewn or embroidered or crocheted Santa Clauses and other holiday paraphernalia. 

Incidentally, we called that shirt I'm wearing the "chocolate milk shirt."

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Squirrel Tongue

During my recuperation on the couch, I've been keeping an eye on our bird feeders. The suet feeder is always the most active, with small birds like robins and tits as well as big ones like parakeets and magpies. This persistent squirrel has also been amusing me.

As you can see in super close-up mode, it's actually licking the suet. It's having trouble getting a bite but it's determined. How often in blogland do you see a picture of a squirrel tongue? I'm glad to once again provide you with something here at Shadows & Light that you are unlikely to see anywhere else.

I hesitate to say it, but I think I've turned a corner on my illness. My fever yesterday afternoon and evening hovered around 99º F (not really a fever at all), without paracetamol, and I am feeling better. I'm still coughing but I suspect that may go on for a while. I'm still going to take it easy today.

I got a call from next-door neighbor Mrs. Kravitz* yesterday evening asking me if we could care for her dog today. Apparently they're away and they accidentally told the dog-sitter they'd be home yesterday, when in fact they're not coming home until tonight. And the dog-sitter has Christmas plans. Of course I said we'd help, but it turns out the dog-sitter found another solution so it looks like K-dog will not be staying with us today after all. Which is just fine with Olga.

The weirdest thing was, when Mrs. K called, she asked how I was feeling. I thought, "How does she know I'm sick?" We have the same dog-walker, so Dave's theory is she called the dog-walker to pick up her dog from the sitter and floated the possibility of dropping it off with us, and the dog-walker told her that I'm sick. Either that or she reads my blog, which is a chilling thought given all the grousing I've done about my neighbors.

I guess it's a good reminder that we shouldn't write anything online about anyone, unless we're prepared for them to read it!

I finished "Sometimes People Die," Simon Stephenson's medical mystery novel about unexplained deaths in an underfunded East London hospital. It was a really good book, quite the page-turner, and an interesting depiction of what life must be like for junior doctors within the cash-strapped NHS. I have a few minor quibbles but overall I'd recommend it.

*Not her real name

Friday, December 23, 2022

Another Day, Another Fever

I am running out of pictures to blog! I had to really search to come up with this one, from our outing to the cemetery with Olga last weekend. Back when I felt healthy and still thought a trip to Florida was happening. Seems like a long time ago, and yet it was less than a week.

I wonder why someone would put a little figurine of what looks like an otter on someone else's grave. There must be a story behind that.

I thought I was getting better yesterday. I felt better, but my fever has stubbornly hung on. I'm taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) and a wonderful British concoction known as Lemsip. I don't know why we don't have Lemsip in the United States. It's a powdered lemony drink mix that you add to hot water and it contains various medicines (including more paracetamol) to control cold symptoms -- and it is fabulous. In the states there's something called Theraflu that's similar, but I'm not sure it's the same. Anyway, I sing praises to Lemsip.

I stayed in bed most of the morning, until one of the juvenile Russians upstairs began bouncing a ball around in the room directly over my head (!). I moved out to the couch. At some point in the afternoon I managed to take a shower, which made me feel better. But then last night I started feeling crappy again, and I woke up at 4 a.m. shaking under my blankets with my fever back at 101º F (38.3º C). So apparently this thing is not done with me yet.

The question remains -- what is it? Dave has suggested going to the doctor but I feel certain they'd just tell me it's a virus and leave it at that. We were both so convinced it's Covid that he bought a new lateral flow test yesterday, thinking that perhaps our tests (which were handed out by our school soon after our lockdowns) were out of date or not sensitive to newer varieties. But I was Covid-negative on the new test too.

I don't think it's flu. As I understand it, flu usually hits hard and all at once, but this was a slow ramp-up of symptoms over a couple of days.

That leaves something called RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which the CDC says causes "mild, cold-like symptoms." The New York Times created an interactive chart to help readers evaluate their symptoms and determine whether they have Covid, flu or RSV, and it indicated RSV is the most likely culprit in my case. But I would not call these "mild, cold-like symptoms." This thing has kicked my butt. I haven't been this sick in years.

Dave said he has also felt twinges of illness but he's doing much better than I am. He may be having the "mild, cold-like" version of RSV.

I'm just lucky, I guess!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Water Where There Shouldn't Be

Well, I think I felt about as bad yesterday as it's possible for a person to feel. My fever got up to 101º F again (38.3º C) and I'm still coughing up a lung. My sinuses feel positively on fire, when they're not so closed up that no air can get through, and the burning sends me on dramatic sneezing jags. It's a lot of fun, let me tell you.

I spent the morning in bed, reading my new book, an engrossing hospital novel called "Sometimes People Die." (In retrospect maybe not the best thing to read while sick!)

This was snuggled up next to me:

No, she's not spoiled at all.

We had some excitement in the afternoon after I'd moved to the couch. I was reading, listening to the Russians relentlessly pounding upstairs on whatever the hell they're doing, when I heard the distinct sound of dripping water. I found a trickle of water coming from a crack in the ceiling of a hallway cabinet, and then dripping onto the floor. It was from upstairs, obviously something to do with the Russians' renovations. I ran next door and told their handyman and the water did not reappear.

Those people are going to drive me nuts.

I then discovered we seem to have a slow leak in our own plumbing, which has caused the plaster to bubble on one wall. (Now that I'm home all day I'm noticing these things.) I reported that to the management company.

Last night we watched "The Poseidon Adventure" followed by "The Empire Strikes Back," a double helping of cinematic comfort food.

(Top photo: Abbey Road on Dec. 12, the day after our most recent snowfall.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Not-Covid Christmas

Any misgivings I had about whether we were right to stay home fell by the wayside yesterday. I felt even worse than the day before, and my temperature climbed to 101º F. Can you imagine if I'd been on a plane feeling that bad?! Even paracetamol couldn't knock my fever back entirely. In addition, I am a coughing, spluttering, nose-running mess. I doubt they'd have even let me on the flight.

The one bright spot in all of this is that it appears NOT to be Covid, though it easily could have been. My test this morning was negative, and I'm sure if it were Covid, it would show up by now. (Unless, as Sabine mentioned in yesterday's comments, it's some newer variant that doesn't show up on older lateral flow tests. I don't know anything about that.)

There is some satisfaction in knowing that we did the right thing. If I'd gone to Florida I'd be laid up in my stepmother's guest house right now, with no Internet, after potentially ruining the Christmas of hundreds of strangers on a plane.

Dave said yesterday he thinks he's a couple of days behind me -- meaning he's feeling the first twinges of it too. So he'd have been infecting people as well. We'd probably have been sick the whole time we were in Florida.

In other news, you may be wondering what this sheep-shearing illustration is all about, to the right.

Remember how I said the Russians were piling bags of stuff at the front of the house from their renovation project? I was mystified about what all this stuff was. They told me several weeks ago they were replacing floors, but this clearly wasn't flooring. So I peeked into one of the bags, and it turned out to be old plaster and wooden lathe. Clearly they are knocking out at least one wall.

Leaving aside the insanity of the Russians for a moment, I was amused to find tucked into the old plaster this cigarette card. Back in the day, cards like these were sold in packets of cigarettes as a sort of collector's item. Often they featured athletes. You may remember I found one years ago on the sidewalk depicting a rugby player from the 1920s.

This one is from a series called "Products of the World" that highlighted the production of raw materials in Britain's far-flung colonies. My guess is, some tradesman tucked it into the wall before plastering over it -- creating a sort of time capsule. The Russians just put it out with the trash. It makes me wonder what's in the rest of those bags, but someone came last night and picked them all up, so it's too late to find out.

I don't think it's valuable. Here's a whole set of "Products of the World" cards for sale for just £20. According to that page, they're from 1928, which is consistent with what I've heard about the age of these houses.

So, a pretty cool little find! But way more information than I ever needed about sheep washing.

I finished "The Last Resort" yesterday, and I enjoyed it. Thank goodness I have lots of books to read during my illness. I checked out more than I thought I would need from the library, and as it turns out, I need them all.

(Top photo: Morning on Finchley Road, last week.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Things Fall Apart

We're supposed to be leaving today for Florida, right?

Well, you're not going to believe this, but we've had to cancel the trip. The whole shebang.

Two days ago I developed a little tickle in my chest. It wasn't much but it was making me cough, and as time wore on I began to feel worse and worse. Yesterday it really began to catch up with me, with a sore throat and a stuffy nose, and I developed a very low fever (about 99.8º F) in the afternoon. I was testing Covid negative but I remembered when I did have Covid, back in February, that the test took a couple of days to turn positive even after my symptoms developed -- and those symptoms were very similar. Dave and I had several co-workers who came down with Covid in the last week so it seemed entirely possible that's what it was.

We had a serious "what if" discussion. We agreed that getting on a plane with a fever was irresponsible, even with a mask. We also agreed that it would be the worst possible outcome if we got to Florida and tested positive there, especially if we'd already met up with members of my family. And if Dave tested positive after me, we'd potentially have to isolate the entire time we were on vacation. And we have no health insurance in the United States. (We have travel insurance for emergencies but it's a fairly limited policy.)

We called Travelocity to try to bump our tickets forward by two days, so we could see how my illness played out. But doing that would have cost us an additional $5,000!

So we looked at our airline tickets and there was no penalty for cancelling them. There was no penalty for cancelling the hotels. We'd have to pay the billion-pound dog-sitter a fraction of her agreed-upon wage, but that seemed doable. We reasoned that we'd seen Dave's family over the summer and I saw my mom and brother in October, and we could reschedule the trip for February break. (With the added benefit that we wouldn't be traveling during the madness of Christmas.)

So we pulled the plug, which was surprisingly easy to do -- essentially just a matter of clicking buttons on the Internet. I felt the worst about cancelling on the dog-sitter, who now loses a lucrative holiday gig, but she was very understanding and said she felt so bad for us.

I unpacked my suitcase and went to bed, and woke up in the night shivering beneath my sheet and two blankets, with my temperature at 100º F. I croaked to Dave, "I think we made the right decision."

Now, this morning, I'm not so sure. My Covid test is still negative. I think I just have a cold.


If I'd had just one more day to wait before making a decision, I might have decided differently. In fact, if we'd waited until this morning, I might have decided differently. Then again, who knows what I'll feel like later today.

What's done is done. Looks like it's Christmas in London.

Olga is happy, at least.

(Photos: We put the suet feeder back up in the garden, and the parakeets have discovered it once again. The bright blobs are Christmas lights on our avocado tree, which was in the foreground of my shot.)

Monday, December 19, 2022

Beach Reading

This is a restaurant around the corner from the school where I work. It appears to have once been a pub -- you can see the old name, The Blenheim, up near the roofline -- but now it's called Cafe Med. I like their Christmas tree over the doorway.

London is thawing out. The snow has melted from our back garden and the ice is finally gone from the front steps. (Fortunately, so I don't have to worry about the dog-sitter slipping on it.) I spent yesterday mostly indoors, doing lots of reading. I am loving "The Last Resort," the book by Sarah Stodola that I mentioned yesterday -- she takes us to all sorts of exotic locales (Cancun, Sumba, Barbados, Nicaragua, Fiji) and explores the relationship between modern, all-inclusive beach resorts and the nearby communities and ecology. It may sound dry but it is not. Stodola is lightly snarky about the overpriced cocktails, mediocre buffet food and absurd creature comforts, while weaving in lots of history about beach vacationing and the origins of certain resorts, and their future prospects in an era of pandemics and climate change. It's really good travel writing.

I did run out to do a couple of minor tasks -- buy trash bags, pick up our cleaning. I had to get some cash to leave the dog-sitter (part of the deal is that we pay her a daily stipend in cash, in addition to her daily wage, ostensibly for her fresh food which seems ridiculous to me but whatever) and I wanted to get a card for the dog-walker as well. Must keep Queen Olga's attendants happy!

Queen Olga, however, wasn't interested in a walk yesterday because it was raining.

I feel like all my pictures have been very monochromatic over the past week or so, so let me give you a blast of color:

I found this poster in the tube a couple of weeks ago. It amused me that they felt the need to specify drunken abuse. Surely sober abuse is no better? (TFL stands for Transport for London, the organization that runs the tube.)

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Snowy Cemetery with Fenced Squirrels

Yesterday I took Olga to the cemetery and I actually got DAVE TO GO WITH ME! This never happens. Dave considers walking a necessary evil and doesn't do it unless required. He would certainly never think to do it recreationally. So I considered it a major victory when I suggested walking the dog and he said yes.

We went to the cemetery, which as you can see above was still pretty snowy.

Before we got there, Dave threw Olga's tennis ball in less-snowy Fortune Green -- once he could get it away from her, that is.

She stood and stared for several minutes at some squirrels on the other side of an iron fence. But she didn't try to get at them -- she's learned that it's futile when a fence is involved. She was frozen in prey-stalking mode and I had to put her leash on her to get her to budge.

We found a water dish beneath a spigot sitting next to an icy echo of itself.

Olga blends right in to the snowy landscape. Some of you asked in comments on a previous post whether she gets cold or needs a jacket. Olga has a pretty substantial fat layer beneath her skin so she never seems cold. I think she's made for this kind of environment, and maybe the color of her fur is evidence of that!

Otherwise it was a very domestic day, involving laundry and cleaning and relaxing. I started a new book, "The Last Resort" by Sarah Stodola, an examination of humanity's fascination with beaches and seashores that I saw mentioned in The New Yorker several weeks ago. I'm only about 35 pages in but it's good so far. I figured it was the perfect book to read as we prepare for Florida.

Dave and I finished the second season of "The White Lotus" last night. We loved it. I'm not sure I could find a single thing to complain about. I'm also almost done with "1899," a surreal thriller on Netflix involving a sort of ghost ship and inter-dimensional (or something) travel. Dave doesn't like it but I think it's intriguing, partly because it's a show without a dominant language -- the characters speak English, German, Danish, French, Polish, Chinese and Spanish, and they all use their native tongues. It's an interesting idea if you don't mind subtitles.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

An Apple for the Teacher

When I walked Olga yesterday morning, this was the view over the nearby tennis club. Looks a bit chilly, not to mention slippery, eh?

Well, I made it. Winter break has officially begun. No school for the next THREE WEEKS! Woo hoo!

Unfortunately I do need to go back to the building to print out the instructions for our dog sitter, because I forgot to do it yesterday. We have a printer/scanner here at home but we never use it for printing because I refuse to pay a bazillion dollars for the ink cartridges, and we use it so infrequently. I just scan with it and print at school. I'll do it on Monday and it will give me an excuse for a walk.

It's not like the instructions for Olga are very complicated -- basically just opening a can of dog food in the evening and taking her on a walk twice a day. But once you start writing instructions it can be hard to know when to stop. I found myself explaining how to work the TV, the washing machine, the dishwasher, when to water all the plants and how to water the orchids. I went on for THREE PAGES! She's going to think I'm a lunatic control freak.

At school, I got some little treats for Christmas -- a box of chocolate from a student, some candies from my boss, some shortbread cookies from a co-worker. Dave, being a teacher rather than a mere librarian, got a much better haul -- two bottles of wine, some chocolate truffles, some funky socks (in the aesthetic, not olfactory, sense) and other stuff.

When you were in school, did you take presents to your teachers at the holidays? I never did, and I don't remember my friends doing it either. Perhaps in public school USA in the '70s it wasn't as common. Then again, there is that stereotype of giving the teacher an apple, and that must go back to the time of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe I was just an oblivious, ungrateful brat. That seems entirely possible.

This year I've backed away from gift-giving entirely. Even Dave and I aren't buying anything for each other. It's a wonderful feeling.

The Russians are still pounding away upstairs on whatever endless renovation they're doing now. When I came home from work yesterday there were black bags of debris piled in the parking space outside the front of the house -- old boards, plywood and a bunch of other stuff. We hear them hammering sometimes while we're watching TV in the evenings. I hope the dog sitter doesn't freak out about the noise. We've learned to block it out but it might bother her. As long as she doesn't charge us a noise premium!

Friday, December 16, 2022

Laser Eyes and Luggage Thefts

Did you see Donald Trump's latest fail? His super-hero digital "trading cards"? The guy has always been delusional, but honestly, I think he's lost the plot. His followers are, by and large, people of modest means who are not going to spend money on an NFT and probably associate them with depraved elites. He has managed to alienate them while making himself a laughingstock.

When I first saw Trump's post about his "major announcement," featuring his costumed, muscular torso and space-laser eyes, I sent it to Dave and said, "LOL! Did you see this?!" We both had a good laugh. Trump later tried to backpedal by releasing some gobbledygook about free speech on the web, and his toadies pretended that was the major announcement rather than the trading cards, but the damage is done.

Reader comments that I've read in the right-wing media are almost uniformly negative, and many people say they're switching their allegiance to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. I'm no fan of DeSantis, but I think he's better than Trump. A President DeSantis would be scary, but he wouldn't leave me feeling the same level of existential dread that President Trump did. I think Democracy could survive DeSantis.

Anyway, just another sign that the orange one's days are numbered.

As long as we're talking about crazy news stories, have you seen the news about the official from the U.S. Department of Energy who was arrested for stealing women's suitcases from luggage carousels at airports? It's had some play in some media outlets but my former employer, The New York Times, has assiduously avoided the story, and I think that's a shame. It gives credence to the right-wingers who depict the Times as friendlier to Democratic administrations than Republicans. If this were one of Trump's staffers, the Times would be all over the story. I suspect the editors are telling themselves that Sam Brinton is too minor an official to warrant coverage, or that the charges themselves are too minor. But it's felony grand larceny! So that's balderdash.

The library has been pretty crazy this week. The high school is on a special schedule because students are taking exams, so they only have two classes per day (!) and the rest of the time is for studying, meeting with teachers, etc. Of course, rather than study, what they all do is come to the library and hang out, eating potato chips (which they're not supposed to do in the library) and giving me agita.

I am ready for this week to end!

(Photo: Frosty teasels in our garden.)

Thursday, December 15, 2022

I'm Not Dying

Last night I heard back from the scanning centre about my abdominal MRI -- it was basically normal. No gallstones, no bile duct issues, a healthy pancreas and that benign cyst (once again) on my spleen. So that's a relief.

Y'all, I am not kidding when I say that two or three weeks ago, I thought I was dying.

You see, I may appear sane, but deep down, I really am a crazy person. Every year or two I will suddenly decide that I have some dread disease. In this most recent case, I initially thought I had lung cancer, which morphed into worry about pancreatic cancer, driven by an urgent imperative to find it NOW while I could still get early treatment. What brings these episodes on, I have no idea. I suppose it's generalized anxiety manifesting in a physical form. I did have a conversation with my boss several weeks ago in which she told me about two friends of hers (our age) diagnosed with lung and pancreatic cancer, so that may have been the trigger, although I wasn't aware of feeling anxious when we talked.

At any rate, I have learned to be skeptical of any symptoms I feel that aren't objectively observable -- in other words, that another person can't measure or perceive. If I have a fever or rash, I know I'm sick. If I simply hurt in some vague way, it's entirely possible (perhaps probable) I'm making it all up, or misattributing a minor pain to a major condition.

Nonetheless I'll then go to the doctor and get a test or two -- which gives me a sense of control -- and that's usually enough to make me relax. At this point my entire torso has been examined pretty thoroughly so I'd say I'm good for another couple of years.

(And like I said in an earlier post, I paid for my two recent scans out of my own pocket at a private scanning center, so I don't think I can be accused of wasting NHS resources.)

Meanwhile, my stomach discomfort has lifted over the past several days, so I imagine that antacid medication and my dietary changes are doing their job -- in addition to me calming down, which will certainly help. Apparently the only followup I need is to have a conversation with the doctor about my blood lipids and cholesterol. I suppose it's not entirely a bad thing that an annual anxiety attack prompts me to get a physical.

Of course, some day I will be dying -- but let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?

In other news, we had a staff and faculty holiday party in the library yesterday afternoon, so we closed slightly early. I didn't stick around for the party, though. It's funny how my enthusiasm for such events has waned. This is partly because I don't want to expose myself to a bunch of germs before flying to Florida, but I also think it's age. There was a time when free champagne from my employer would have been an irresistible draw, but now, I'd just as soon lie on the couch with Olga and watch a rerun of "That Girl."

(Photo: Belsize Park, last week.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Hold It Together

Our Florida trip, which is less than a week away, is suddenly seeming very real. You know, when you plan a trip far in advance everything seems abstract, almost as if it might never happen. It's just an idea. But now it's happening!

Yesterday, while I was at work, my phone started pinging with texts from some high school friends who are planning a get-together dinner on the 21st. I'm excited about that, since these are people I haven't seen for several years. That's the night after we arrive in Florida, so hopefully I won't be asleep on my feet, but we'll make it work.

When the phone was pinging I was also, of course, trying to check out books and perform other work tasks, and it was stressing me out trying to participate in the planning as well as doing my job. One of my co-workers was laughing at me as I was trying to juggle things. Modern life, right? Distract-o-rama.

I just have to get through three more days of school. I can do this.

(Photo: Belsize Park, last week.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Thanks, Kid

I had to resist titling this post "Winter Wonderland," because it's such a cliché, but as you will see it would have been appropriate.

This (above) was the back garden when I woke up yesterday morning. Olga walked out there like she sees it every day and began eating the snow.

Here was the view from inside our cozy living room.

And here was the view out on the street in front of our flat. As I walked down the hill to work right after taking this photo, I passed a little girl and her family coming the other way, and the girl -- who was probably about four -- was singing "Winter Wonderland" at the top of her lungs. She even knew the words!

Later on, we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland

It all sounded strangely sophisticated coming from the lips of a four-year-old.

And then I was singing "Winter Wonderland" the rest of the morning. Thanks, kid.

The tube was said to have severe delays because of the snow -- in fact, public transportation is a mess this week, with not only freezing weather but several days of planned rail strikes -- so I walked all the way and took pictures as I went.

Although we got a fair amount of snow -- a couple of inches, anyway -- I don't think it's going to stick around very long. In fact a lot of it has already melted or been trampled to slush. The nights will be below freezing through this coming weekend so it's probably turned to ice by now.

I finished "French Braid" while at work. I liked it more than I have liked some of Anne Tyler's other recent novels. It was an easy read and I felt involved in the story, although there was no grand resolution -- just an acknowledgement of family life as an ongoing phenomenon that outlasts any one of us. This is a book that I bought in Jacksonville last spring and hauled back to London for the library because the American cover art was so much better than the British edition. I'm glad all that effort wasn't wasted on a bad book!

Monday, December 12, 2022

Visiting the Ents

Our frosty days got even frostier yesterday. I took Olga to Hampstead Heath and it was so misty and gray that it looked like a landscape from Tolkien.

Someone provided a splash of color in the form of lumpy gourds abandoned on a log. Is this what people do with their autumn decorations when the season turns -- sacrifice them to the critters of the Heath?

Olga was momentarily distracted by a magpie on this fallen tree. See how thick the frost is? It's almost like a thin layer of snow.

We've been to this particular spot many times, but rarely when the pond is iced over.

Talk about winter wonderlands! Doesn't it look otherworldly?

Anyway, we had a good walk, and I spent pretty much the rest of the day on the couch reading "French Braid" by Anne Tyler, archiving photos and doing some other online errands. And then, in the evening, as Dave and I turned off the TV to go to bed, I was stunned to look out the window and see REAL snow. About two inches of it had fallen silently and we hadn't even noticed. Snow is sneaky!

We rushed out and covered the banana, but it may be too little too late. Honestly, if that banana dies it wouldn't be the worst thing. It's taken over the patio.

I'll get some snow photos this morning.

My fortune cookie from our Chinese takeaway was seasonally appropriate!